Mass Effect – 10 years on and some early thoughts.

By Tuesday, February 14, 2017 0 No tags Permalink 0

A decade after it came out, I finally decided to try Mass Effect. (Playing on an Xbox 360).

I’ve been talking with people of late about text and subtext and the kind of base assumptions stories make. In our charged political environment, there is a push by many people for entertainment to be “nor political”. There is, in many ways, no such thing. Those base assumptions are always around. The question is which ones are you accepting and which are you rejecting or subverting. But if you aren’t preaching at people, then it tends to be less irritating.

So having gone just to the point where I am about to get my own ship, I have a few thoughts.

1) It is almost absurdly pro-military.

You are a special military person. The military alliance is unabashedly the hero side. The military secret police is only a risk if they go rogue, and the implication is they should have powers above the law. (There is some push back from the police force, but not much.) The assumption is the military is above the civilian population, should be given free reign, and are generally default heroes.

2) It really does feel like they needed a replacement Star Wars. Spectres feel like Jedi with the serial numbers filed off.

The Spectres operate alone or in pairs. They council sends them places to handle operations the council can’t do openly. They are super soldiers, and also have awesome biotic (telekinetic) and tech control powers. Everyone is kind of impressed with them and they are mysterious, initiating people they choose who fit their criteria. They do track pretty well to the Jedi.

3) I really like a morality bar where both sides can go up.

I hear they get rid of it later, but I do like a system where you gain points in Paragon and Renegade separately, and actions don’t just move on one base scale up and down. I’m not sure right now if you can lose points in a given side or not, or if it just always additive. But I do like the sense of a more mixed system, allowing you to react in different ways at different times. I’d love games that have more of this sort of mixed morality system.

4) I’m not fond of bonuses for being more extreme. It would be nice for options favoring the even handed as well.

This is why I want a more mixed system. Bioware games seem to want to encourage role playing and consistent character by given you mechanical bonuses for being at the extreme edge of whatever morality you are at. (They do this with the relationship bars in Dragon Age as well, but it seems a bit less intrusive when it is tracking intensity of feeling.) It encourages being either a cartoonish Dudley Do Right or a vicious, rude jerk. Being a normal person who gets mad at some people and is more forgiving to others actually makes you less effective. I hate that.

5) I’m tired of “sex workers in space” as a trope.

There is a strip joint. You can even sit in a chair and watch a dance. I don’t think they would do that now, or if they did it wouldn’t only be sexy female aliens dancing. There is also the “Consort” who all species respect for her amazing companionship which isn’t just physical. It just feels tired as a trope. It can still be used well, but it needs a break, I think.

6) Kaiden is no Alistair.

I’m playing a female Shepard, and so far the obvious romance option (I presume Ashley is an option for a male Shepard) is not too interesting. They seem to have gotten better with this later.

7) Putting an annoying finicky mini-game in for lockpicking just makes things frustrating.

They give you a lockpicking skill, but then it makes you play a DDR-style minigame that is incredibly finicky. If you fail, you have to waste some of the magic omnigel to open it. It kind of cripples playing a support character because you don’t seem to really get the kind of benefit you should to open doors and storage. It just feels like extra padding in the game aspect, like additional level grinding or filler.

Ginger Shitake Soup

By Monday, October 3, 2016 0 No tags Permalink 0

Food is creative, right?

Shiitake ginger soup with noodles, since I am fighting a nasty cold.

A photo posted by LC (@light.castle) on

I posted the above soup on my instagram as I have been fighting off a cold all weekend, and since Lan and I roasted a chicken, we made stock we figured we should use right away.
We riffed off of a recipe they had, and tweaked it as needed.

Ingredients

  • Ginger/Garlic Stock (or Broth)
  • 1 medium onion, cut into crescent moons
  • 3 stalks celery, sliced into diagonals
  • 3 carrots, cut into matchsticks
  • 3 cups sliced shiitake mushrooms
  • Cooked meat to taste
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • A tiny habenero
  • Lime Wedges
  • Cilantro (chopped)
  • Green onions or scallions (Sliced)
  • Thin noodles

Preparation

  1. Make some Ginger Chicken Stock
  2. You’re aiming for about 6 quarts here. You can use broth, and it can probably be veggie instead if you like. Make the broth or stock however you prefer.

    The key here is to make the broth or stock with one whole head of garlic, cut in half cross-wise and a 1/4 to 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh ginger, or even more.

    Anything in the next stage is fair game to make the initial stock with, as well.

  3. Shitake Ginger Soup
  4. If you are adding meat, make it in advance. I used the chicken salvaged from the initial stock making.

    Add the onions, celery, carrots, shiitake, and habenero into the stock. Cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes. (Thai chili would probably be even better than habenero, but that is what I had. Tweak the chili to taste.)

    Salt and pepper to taste and don’t be afraid to add even more ginger if you want.

    Add the meat and cook for another couple of minutes to heat through.

  5. Garnish
  6. Place some noodles (any noodles that will cook quickly enough) in the bottom of the bowl. Ladle the soup over the noodles.

    Sprinkle with cilantro and sliced green onion. Squeeze the juice of a lime wedge or two over the soup. (You really want to add the lime juice. Trust me.)

Sure, Give ’em a Call.

By Tuesday, July 12, 2016 0 Permalink 0

The weird, angry saga that has been the internet reaction to the new version of Ghostbusters has been largely inescapable, with fans taking sides in a strange battle that has whipped together nostalgia, sexism, and the frustrations of fans who suffered through endless hopes of a return of the franchise only to have it finally happen in a way they didn’t want.

I like the original film (and even the cartoon show) a lot, and wasn’t thrilled with the idea of a remake but didn’t really have much investment either way. I thought the trailers made it look aggressively mediocre and I didn’t feel I was going to go out of my way to see it.

But when free tickets to an early preview fall into your lap, you don’t say no, so I hopped on over to a packed theater and saw a 3D film from the front row, which my neck is scolding me for today.

It’s fun! It is a nice, popcorn summer blockbuster that hits the marks of what it set out to do. Is it a classic? No. Is it terrible? No. It’s a fun, summer movie that lives and dies by the chemistry of its cast. (If they work for you, it works. If their humour isn’t yours, it doesn’t.)  Everyone should just relax and let it be that.

Continue Reading…

Artists

By Sunday, June 19, 2016 0 No tags Permalink 0

I’ve been sitting on this for a while, but my Zenith Comics partner Andrew linked to this piece from last year a while ago about the perception of writer vs artist in the indie comics scene.

My thoughts are very similar, especially at the entry level.  At the ground floor, the road is far easier for the artist (although that does change at the higher level of the publisher driven pieces from what I can tell.)

One of the difficulties of the whole Zenith Comics experience has been the fact that comics are a visual medium and while the Zenith Comics group has some very talented people helping out as a labour of love, the one piece we are missing is an artist.

While in the world of DC and Marvel (and some of the stronger indie publishers) you can sell a series and develop a following based on the writer, in the world of the independent fan base, the passionate following is that of the artist. The internet is a visual medium, and the casual fan base is for those who provides visuals.

That truth has been part of our struggle to keep momentum for Heroic.  We’ve worked with some lovely artists, and they have been excellent professionals. But we are still a part time labor of love, able to pay them (because we firmly believe in paying the talent) only through our Kickstarters. We don’t have artists who are just drawing in the world of Zenith Comics out of a love for the world and a friendship with Andrew, and so we don’t have that constant visual stream that would help build the fanbase and more importantly guarantee people keep seeing the world and investing in it. It has been frustrating.

The first two issues are out. Issue three is perhaps Andrew’s most daring in terms of story structure and plot complexity, but the stumbling block of an artist as a core part of the brainstorming is a problem. We are now ready to get back into it, but determining if we have the audience – something substantially harder to maintain with no fixed artist – is something we’re relying on a twitter count to do for us.  (You should all follow us)

I can’t think of another medium that suffers from this in quite the same way, although perhaps musicals and/or opera might be close. You can brainstorm the libretto, but the piece simply isn’t what it is without the feedback of the songs. (Film, oddly enough, can progress rather forcefully on script alone.)

I don’t really have a solution. Obviously, I’d like the comic to continue, but if that isn’t in the cards, it isn’t in the cards. We’re still working on the RPG, and there may be other media where the world can continue to grow and evolve. Nothing is ever truly lost.

But HEROIC! is a comic book, dammit, and that is really the way that story needs to be told. (You should all buy it.)

Life Will Find a Way (Steven Universe Speculation)

By Monday, May 9, 2016 0 No tags Permalink 0

I was late to the party, but I adore Steven Universe. It’s a brilliant example of slowly building your world building into an excellent story.  It has a huge and passionate fan base, so if you want analysis of its themes, storyline, gender politics, or song covers, you can find them all over the web.

Season 3 starts soon, and I wanted to get my thoughts down about one of the world building elements I hope to see play out.

Continue Reading…

In which I agree with Grant Morrison

By Sunday, April 17, 2016 0 No tags Permalink 0

While I liked Animal Man, in general I have not been a fan of Grant Morrison’s work in comics. I didn’t hate it, it just mostly hasn’t interested me. But I may pick up his new Wonder Woman comic, though. While I am deeply suspicious of his working queer themes and kink into the book (not because they shouldn’t be there, but my impression is he won’t do a great job handling it), I do like what he has to say about how he approached the character.

So my advice would be, study the original material and also make yourself as familiar as you can with the rest of what’s been done with the character. Because there have been so many different interpretations. There’s always a different one. The new generation will be the film interpretation and that will be Wonder Woman for a lot of people. So this, again, is just a little facet of the jewel that is Wonder Woman, to have a look at and think about.

He also mentions wanting to move away from the Greek Mythology focus and bring back aspects of the weird super science, which I think is a great idea.

Wonderful chap. All of them.

By Saturday, March 26, 2016 0 No tags Permalink 0

We live in the days of Franchise. The pop culture machine has (for a while now) gone whole hog on reboots, sequels, shared universes, and other elements that involve a mix of safe nostalgia and a built in fan-base.  I’m less angered by this than most, there is something to be said for the concept that revisting, appropriating, juxtaposing, adapting, and transforming material is how culture always evolves anyway.

But when you are faced with the specific challenge of taking a known work, with an invested fan base, and moving it forward, it does pose specific challenges and opportunities. This has been the dilemma facing comic book writers in particular for generations now, but also crops up in other media.

I’m a firm believer that we never have the “Perfect” version of a character.  We have better and worse ones, more and less interesting ones, but they all circle around some essential constellation of elements that no one version can ever fully contain.  In a way, this is the process of myth making, and one of the reasons I roll my eyes at people who say “the real myths” are any one interpretation.*

So it has been a particularly interesting few weeks as I happen to have stumbled across some creative types talking about exactly how they handle it.

This mutual interview on grappling with rebooting and continuing Xena: Warrior Princess  is a great read, as Genevieve Valentine and Javier Grillo-Marxuach discuss how they are approaching the challenge of bringing forth a comic book sequel and a new live-action reboot, respectively.   Hearing them bash around ideas of what parts are iconic, what aren’t, what each media type gives you as pros and cons, is  fascinating. Each re-invention, retelling of any story involves struggling with what is essential to that character. Over time, some things coalesce to become sacrosanct, others become important but open to riffing on a basic idea, and some things fall away.

Grillo-Marxuach puts his cards on the table on how he wants to remix the canon given the new more focused dramatic format, but he too has elements that are core to how he views the character, “There are a few things that are sacrosanct: the Chakram and the quarterstaff, of course, Gabrielle’s ambition to become a bard, and—most importantly—that Xena and Gabrielle be soul mates. Like I said, I’m not monster.”

The recent fiery reaction to Batman vs Superman has provoked unfriending and banishment on the social media of some people I know, because to believe these are legitimate interpretations of Batman or Superman is tantamount to treason. This is ridiculous, as Andrew Collas points out in his contrarianly positive review of BvS, pointing out a woman who liked the film’s Luthor, even if it wasn’t “her” Luthor (although she went so far as to deny him being really Luthor at all). And there may be some versions so out of sync that they disqualify themselves as options, although I think that incredibly rare. People who have adapted Wonder Woman have tried hard to refute that statement, though. (I like to think I did better when I took a shot at it a while ago, although if I’ve learned anything since then it is that I probably need to be reading Legend of Wonder Woman.)

I grew up on Doctor Who, which is a show that chose to embrace a mercurial truth about its core character. As the title quote shows, they are all the Doctor, and all unique even unto themselves. I was shown Rashomon when I was young. The stories will contradict, and that’s ok. They fold back on themselves and build on themselves, and your job as a creator is to take the strands you want to look at at weave them anew. This is fine. This is good. This is as it should be. What comes out of it will never be the Definitive Version. And if someone else did it, it won’t be Your Version.  It may not even be a Favourite Version.

But you’re allowed to like that version anyway, if you want.

 

*I’ve always found it amusing that Hesiod’s Theogony is often cited as the “real relationships of the Gods” when he admits up front poets lie, he is claiming authority, and some might disagree.

 

 

How Quickly Things Change

By Tuesday, January 19, 2016 0 No tags Permalink 0

And just like that, the FASERIP experiment is no more and we are off to another system.

There is always the tension between bringing something out that is your personal vision and bringing something out that reflects what the market expects.  It looks like we’ve decided to go with the former and bash out something close to a homebrew Andrew’s had percolating in his head for a while. It’s a snappy little system, with a quirky dice mechanic that makes rolls fun, so I think this might be the boulevard we strut down for the next little while.  Hopefully the near future updates will be tied to specific progress in the new paradigm.

Heroic RPG Update

By Saturday, January 16, 2016 0 No tags Permalink 0

How quickly things change.

So due to a combination of design decisions and someone else working in the Old School D&D space, the Heroic RPG has ventured off in another direction. As Andrew mentions in his video here, the core of the game is going to be based on the beloved classic Marvel Super Heroes. Consider it a spiritual successor, rather than a clone. It’s still definitely part of the OSR in many ways, since it is going back to basics in many ways.

It’s definitely overturned the apple cart from the original approach. Personally, I’ve always preferred the MSH approach to Supers than D&D. The biggest thing I like I about it has always been it is one of the simplest systems to wrap your head around what the stats mean. To this day, people who played that game can use the stats descriptors to rank everything. We aren’t quite going that way, but there’s a lot of good here, and I do think it will be a system that will play supers wonderfully.

It will be a fun road to walk.