Splice

We watched this awhile ago, so my memory of details is probably fuzzy, but I remembered it recently and movies like this are exactly why I decided to start writing blog entries about shit.

Splice is a movie about scientists doing scientisty things and messing with DNA and trying to cure diseases.  Their research has led to the creation of an apparent new species of lifeform created by throwing buckets of animal DNA into a blender, so they’re starting to pick up some speed on the research front.  Then they “accidentally-on-purpose” mix a little human DNA into the recipe (something that is ethically forbidden and they know it) to try to create something that can be better used as a human analogue for testing.  What emerges is……. not human… but more animal like and difficult to control.  The first little bit of the film is spent exploring this thing, trying to gain its trust (apparently it’s a grouchy little thing), and marvelling at how it has an incredibly accelerated growth rate and is quickly growing and changing forms (thank goodness, since the movie is only 104 minutes long!).  Even though they planned to terminate it because they totally just wanted to see what happened and didn’t really plan to let this experiment run, well, whoops we’re kind of attached to it now so let’s let it keep maturing and see what happens!  What could go wrong!  The creature eventually develops into what is essentially a little human girl, except gone horribly wrong and with a tail and stuff.  The scientists then attempt to raise it like they would their child.  The lab/company is appropriately named NERD (I laughed), so they decide to name the creature “DREN” (I facepalmed).

The whole first part of the movie was actually really interesting and enjoyable.  Splice is really a shame because it was almost really good and even had some potential for exploring deep philosophical themes, if you should so desire to write it that way.  But then it was bad.  And it wasn’t just bad, it was really bad.

The movie goes through its paces and addresses a number of interesting scenarios that might arise if you happen to be dealing with a humanoid-thing-made-from-DNA-soup, including the inevitable look into a mirror where the creature realizes “hey, I don’t actually look anything like mom and dad.  What am I??” (well acted out with expressions, I might add, since the thing doesn’t have proper speech).  Sadly, it is at that point the writers either ran out of things to write about, or realized they were actually planning to make a horror movie, and everything just goes to shit.  The biggest shit the movie takes is the point where “Clive”, the male scientist, realizes the human DNA that was chucked into the soup is actually the DNA of his wife, and apparently sees some sort of resemblance to her in Dren.  His natural reaction at this point is, well, what else!  The only thing any rational person would do.  He has sex with it.

I’m pretty sure I yelled “Are you FUCKING KIDDING ME” at the TV.  But anyway, it turns out, when you have sex with a developing creature that’s trying to learn how to behave, it learns that it should rape everything!  So that was great.  Good job, Clive.

It just gets worse from there.  …No, I take that back, that’s definitely the worst part, but it doesn’t get any better from there.  The rest of the movie is your typical cheesy horror slasher movie with dumb “twists”.  Since the creatures have been created with a blend of animal DNA, it gave the writers free license to give them whatever animal abilities they wanted to swipe, at whatever time it was appropriate for the plot (and surprising to the scientists, of course, because you certainly wouldn’t have any way to control or monitor which genes your DNA soup is expressing when you’re at the point of being able to create a new species).  The initial “not made from human DNA” creatures provide the foreshadowing and then “Dren” goes through all the same paces, except much more tragically and deadly, since it is human sized and much stronger and deadlier (and also not in a safe little cage in a lab).  I don’t even remember what else happens.  It was all stupid and I was still reeling from the “It’s my wife’s DNA! I’m totally going to fuck it now” decision.

It was almost such a good movie.  I mean, not like, amazing or anything, but fully enjoyable.  And then…
My brain hurts.

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Tomb Raider

Tomb Raider consumed a few days of my life, and now I am going to tell you about it.  I’m not sure that it really needs any kind of promotion, but I still feel like talking about it.  I paid 13 dollars for it and I feel guilty for not paying more (although apparently they didn’t even bother to count digital distributions when they calculated whether the game was a success or not, so, welp).  It took me just over 20 hours to 100% the game, but that includes all the time I spent running around aimlessly and trying to jump on/off things just to see if I could, and obsessively reloading because I fucked up a stealth kill and wanted to try again.

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3 Idiots

As a continuation of our “Apparently we have seen every movie except foreign films” adventure, the next movie I pulled from the top list on IMDB was 3 Idiots, the story of three engineering students and their trials and tribulations.   It’s from India and apparently the most successful film that’s been produced over there.  So successful, that apparently it’s being re-made everywhere, including a possible North American version in the works.  Or at least that’s what Wikipedia tells me.

I have never actually watched a Bollywood film before.  The whole thing was sort of a cultural experience, really – I was surprised that the entire film was a mash of Hindi and English speech.  It was so odd to be reading the subtitles and realize half of the sentence was English, just sort of randomly jammed in.  Wikipedia suggests that all of it is pretty much expected from a Bollywood film, so consider me enlightened, I guess.  When they broke into song, my husband said “That’s kind of what I was afraid of when I saw it was from India.”  I knew song and dance was the norm for Bollywood, and I usually enjoy musical stuff as long as the music is good, but it felt really forced in this one.  I’m not sure if that’s typical or not.  It’s like they were expected to have an average of 3.5 songs so they made sure to plunk a scene or two that led into them, even if it wasn’t necessarily a smooth transition.  I hate to say it but I don’t feel it added anything except running time, and I think the film would have been better without it.

Speaking of running time, the movie was 2 hours and 45 minutes long.  Holy crap.  There wasn’t nearly enough plot for that amount of running time, man.

We actually enjoyed it quite a lot, though.  The vast majority of the plot was very cliche.  I sarcastically commented “Wow, what a shocking twist!” on numerous occasions.  The main character was also a huge Mary Sue/Gary Stu, to the degree of almost following the template for one. That said, there was a lot of really good plot buried under all the generic plot.  If it does get a Hollywood release, I’m interested to see how they edit and clean things up (there is no way it will be a 3 hour movie after running through the Hollywood wringer).  The movie is a “comedy-drama” and it does it rather awkwardly: there are some genuinely funny moments, some really forced jokes (oh god, the slide whistle sound effect that accompanied some of them… AHAHAHAhahahaahaha), some jokes that are somewhat inappropriately placed… and a decent amount of dramatic moments that address serious topics.  The overall message of the movie was a good one, and it was thoroughly enjoyable.

I also see that it’s based on a book.  I was tempted to see if I could pick it up, but then I read that the book is more of a string of anecdotes and a lot of the plot had to be invented for the movie (which probably led to the whole Gary Stu thing), and I kind of lost interest.

I guess the bottom line is: I really wish it hadn’t been three hours, and I could have done without the dancing, but I don’t feel like we wasted our time and that’s always a good thing when dealing with entertainment!  I’m interested to see if it gets an American remake and what they will do with it, now.

Tomb Raider (The “Bobbing” Rant…)

I was very interested in the new Tomb Raider game when it came out, but I figured I have enough shit to do so I would wait for a sale.  Now it’s on sale at Green Man Gaming for 13 bucks.  Sold.  It probably means it will be 5 bucks in the Steam summer sale, but fuck it, 13 is a good price point.

I haven’t gotten very far yet, just through the tutorial section (at which point I can already say that the game should really be subtitled “Lara Croft has a very bad day.”), but I have a couple of things I want to say.

First: Holy shit this game is running incredibly well on my 5 year old computer that I am about to replace because the motherboard is starting to die.  Also it looks fantastic.  I’ve heard a lot of complaints about the game in that it’s just a series of quicktime events carrying you from cutscene to cutscene, but you know what, if it looks like this, I’m fine with that.  Lara is incredibly expressive, and the action events pull you in and make you jump.  And then you die horribly in brutal fashion, but it’s okay because it only sets you back to the beginning of the sequence.  So that you can die again.  It’s pretty awesome!  I’ve heard many complaints about that, too, but I’m mostly worried that it will become frustrating later on.  It’s not yet, though… but I would hope the tutorial sections wouldn’t be…

Second: The real reason I am writing this entry despite having spent about 30 minutes in game is because I need to take a break because the game has camera bob, and it’s not possible to disable it.

There are few things which make me as angry as mandatory camera bobbing.

The thing is, a large number of people (myself included, obviously) have issues with motion sickness when what your eye sees (lots of bobbing) does not match up with what the inner ear is detecting (not lots of bobbing).  Usually this is an issue in first person games where the camera attempts to emulate walking by bobbing up and down… except it never made any sense to me to do that because our brains compensate for the bobbing motion and we don’t really see everything bobbing up and fucking down while we walk, so why would you artificially emulate it?  Lots of people do not have motion sickness issues and do seem to like bobbing, though, to the degree that if you search for the easiest way to disable bobbing, you’ll inevitably find pages upon pages of people replying with “lol it doesn’t bother me just get over it lol” (except usually with worse spelling and grammar).  My issue isn’t so much that the bobbing is included – by all means include it if people like it and they feel it enhances their experience – my issue is that it is not offered as a mother fucking option that can be fucking TURNED OFF.  

That was probably unnecessarily harsh, but I’m getting really fucking sick of digging around in ini files to find the little line that says “head_bob = 1” and changing it to a 0, when you could put that fucking option in the settings screen so people like me wouldn’t be irrationally fucking angry at your shitty UI designers that should all be fired for not putting the fucking option there, assholes.

I did say “irrationally”, right?  Ok, good.

We include subtitles for the deaf (well… usually…), and colourblind modes for the colourblind (well… hopefully…), so why can we not include “no fucking headbobbing” modes for the bobbing impaired?  This is an important issue that must be addressed, guys!  Those of us who are going to vomit on our keyboards are being neglected by the game development community :(

I was actually surprised when I felt the familiar headache creeping in after 15 minutes of Tomb Raider, because it’s actually a third person game where you see Lara in front of you as you move around.  Usually if there’s an obvious thing in front of the eye (like Lara Croft’s huge boobs… actually they’re surprisingly mild in this game, come to think of it) the bobbing doesn’t trigger the “oh god our readings aren’t lining up ABORT ABORT ABANDON SHIP” reaction from the equilibrium system.  The camera shakes a lot, but it doesn’t really bother me so much in the cutscenes.  It’s a lot like watching a movie shot with shaky-cam (and motion sickness aside… why the fuck would you choose to emulate THAT of all things???) so if those kinds of movies bother you, the game might too.  The actiony scenes actually helped my headache ease off a bit because it’s more like the shaking is expected.  What brought it on in full was when Lara was staggering on a lovely grassy path in an otherwise calm scene, and the camera is swaying back and forth and jittering like the cameraman was dying of hypothermia on the deck of a sinking ship.  I can see Lara swaying, why does the camera need to be swaying?  I am not seeing this through Lara’s swaying eyes.  I do not need the camera to explain to me that she is swaying right now.  Why can’t I turn this fucking swaying off?  Fuck you.

Unfortunately, I also can’t seem to find any sort of camera sway options in the ini files.  It doesn’t look like there’s an easy fix for it.  The camera effects in the cinematic sections make sense, and I probably wouldn’t even want to turn those off… but just moving from place to place… uggghhh.  But I guess if they’re all part of the same programming it would be pretty hard to put in a way to disable one and not the other.  Still, I would like an option to disable it wholesale and deal with the decreased experience that not having a cinematic camera leaves me with.  Right now it’s a choice between having a decreased experience of having a splitting headache and nausea vs a decreased experience of having to take a break (and write an irrationally angry blog entry) every hour or so.

But the headache is easing off now so I think I will go see what hilarious end Lara will meet next.

Update:  I mentioned to my husband that I had bought Tomb Raider and he said “How big are her boobs?”
So I said “Pretty average, really.”
“I hate it already. Worst game ever.”

The Intouchables

We felt like watching a movie last night, and in particular I felt like watching a good movie.  I went to my favourite recommendation site (Movielens… it’s my favourite mostly because I already have like 800 movies rated on it so it’s usually got some reasonable recommendations for us.  I can’t be bothered to rate all those movies on another site, god.) but all the movies at the top of the list seemed to be either war or romance (or both!).  I was not in the mood for either of those.  So I wandered over to IMDB and looked at the list of the top 250 rated movies.  Surprise… we’ve already seen most of them, too.  But there were a few titles I didn’t recognize, so I checked them out and it turned out I didn’t recognize them because they weren’t in English.  We’ve only recently really expanded into foreign films so there are some untapped resources waiting there.  (We’ve already seen the sci-fi ones, of course…).  One of the first ones on the list was The Intouchables, a french film about a wealthy quadriplegic man who hires an ex-con as his caregiver, after he comes in for the job interview merely to get his welfare papers signed to prove he “tried” to get a job.

There’s nothing much unique about the story – it’s pretty much exactly what you expect.  Two very different worlds collide and everyone learns valuable life lessons in the end.  It would be almost insultingly cliche, if it weren’t actually based on a true story.  Well… sort of.  After the movie is over, there is a shot of the real people the movie is based on, and you discover that Philippe is portrayed accurately, but “Driss” is named “Abdel” and he is Arabic, not African.  My eyebrow raised at that change… if you’re portraying a true story about an ex-con arab, why would you feel the need to change it to an ex-con black guy?  Especially since the movie seems to tap into some of the stereotypes of black people in poverty stricken areas and it might have been nice to explore a different nationality attempting to deal with things.  Adding to that, it really felt like the story of Driss’s family was truncated and unfinished, possibly because they had less source material to work with?  It just seemed like the decision to make changes resulted in a lot of awkwardness.  I had to go do some research and sources didn’t exactly pour out of the internet, but it seems as though their explanation is that they simply had an actor in mind already and he happened to be black.  It doesn’t really change the story, and the actor they got is amazing, but it still kind of sets off my OCD.  It’s not accurate dammit!  Of course, it was already sort of bothering me because “intouchable” should not be a word, let alone a title.  >:(

Inaccuracies aside, the movie itself was really, really good.  Any threats of being boring or cliche were buried by amazing writing and excellent pacing.  It seems as though a lot of the situations that are portrayed are based on things that actually happened (in the one interview I found, they only mention two scenes which were fabricated, and a few things that happened but played out slightly differently in reality.  I also highly suspect the scene where Driss is compared to Barack Obama did not happen to Abdel…) and the scenes and lines roll together in an incredibly natural fashion (with the exception of a few that felt very “plunked”.  Like they wanted to include them but didn’t know where, so they just got stuffed in wherever).  The writing is actually quite funny, which is something you may not expect in this sort of movie, but it also plays into the points the movie seems to be trying to make.  At no point did it seem to be inappropriately funny, nor did it ever get so serious that it was oppressive, even when dealing with serious subject matter.  I felt it was really well balanced.

My husband’s review was: “That was really good, but they definitely overused the dramatic piano music.”
So there’s that, I guess.

While looking up the background of the movie, I also discovered it won, like, every award, and was like the second most popular movie of all time in France.  I originally figured I wanted to use this blog to bring attention to things people might miss otherwise (and to bitch about popular things that suck, of course) so I guess this movie doesn’t really fit that criteria, but I do hope the need for subtitles doesn’t prevent people from checking this one out.  Subtitles are actually pretty great because you don’t have to worry about speaker volume imbalance and not being able to hear words over the background music!  Although it does make it infinitely more annoying when the cat walks in front of the TV…

Neverwinter – Second Impressions

I feel like I have to comment on the absolutely masterfully managed* (*this is sarcasm) situation that Neverwinter has become.  You’ll find more and better details on probably every other site on the internet, but I feel like I should comment on it anyway.

I commented before that Neverwinter released as “open beta”.  They also promised they would not be doing any more wipes.  So really it just means “This is a full game launch and it’s going to be buggy as shit, so we want the Beta label as an excuse.  Also a year or whatever from now when everyone is sick of it and people aren’t playing anymore, we can “release” the “full” game and attract a new wave of suckers!”

It’s a great strategy, unless you actually need a beta period.  Beta exists solely to test and find bugs that will bring your game to a crashing halt, so that you can fix them and present a fully running game at the time you release it.  Open beta lets you test it with a huge wave of players, which is useful both in server capacity tests and also because the more players there are, the more likely they are to look under the carpets and find the bugs your disgruntled coders may have swept away and hoped no one would see.  Opening as a “beta” and then promising not to wipe anything just means that if you find an absolutely game crushing bug, you can’t actually fix it because you can’t wipe the damage away.

Guess what’s happened!  You’ll never guess!

A game crushing bug was found.  Well, several of them… like the ability for certain classes to one-shot anything in the game, or people to drop and re-take quests repeatedly to just collect the reward chests over and over and over again… but one bug in particular.
If you’re not familiar with it – Neverwinter has a free to play model where you can pay real cash for Zen, or you can earn Astral Diamonds in game and then buy Zen with those.  The auction house deals solely in diamonds, you can’t use any other currency on it.  Someone discovered that if you bid a negative amount on the AH, it paid you that amount.

Of all the things you’d think they would test in closed beta (or alpha…), anything that might possibly come in contact with their revenue model would be something you would expect to be near the top of the list.  Buuuuttt… nope.

What’s worse, apparently this bug has been known about for awhile.  I’m just going off internet posts, mind you, so god knows how accurate any of them are… but supposedly it was reported in closed beta and never addressed.  Then it was exploited for awhile awhile after release, until someone or someones finally got banned for it, at which point they spilled the beans and word got out.  The AH ground to a halt, items and Zen flew all over the place like party streamers, and the game was finally taken offline for an extended period.

Well, now what.  The game has just been brought to its knees, the diamond market is fucked, the zen market is pretty fucked (directly threatening the profitability of the game…), tons of ill-gotten gains are floating around out there… and you’ve promised no rollbacks.

They did some rollbacks.  Responses have ranged from extreme outrage to flat out cognitive dissonance of the “I paid real money for a lot of items on the Zen market the day before, and I seem to have lost them all and not been refunded, but it’s a beta so it’s totally expected and it’s okay because I can just buy them again!” style.  My personal response is more of a bemused incredulity.  Could this have been handled any worse?  I’m glad they did a rollback because jesus… but supposedly they’ve only really rolled back the period of time that the exploit explosion happened.  The exploiting that occurred earlier than that was not so widespread, and it was salted well enough into the playerbase that they can no longer track “dirty” transactions and separate them from innocent ones.  The problem is that it happened at all and to this extent before something was done.  Especially if it’s true that it was reported during early Beta…

As a token of apology, every character created before the disaster got some items in the mail, including some cosmetic thingys like a cape commemorating the incident, to some exp boosters and teleport scrolls which are kind of handy.  That was cool of them, but I’m utterly terrified of actually spending money on their market if this is how well things are being handled back stage…

I wasn’t personally affected by any of it because I hadn’t logged in for awhile.  I think I’ve gained my last five levels through crafting on the Gateway.  The gameplay itself just isn’t really grabbing me the way I had hoped.  Going through quests and dungeons is kind of fun with a group of friends, but then again few things aren’t when you have buddies to shoot the shit with on voice chat while fucking around in a game. We’ll probably go back and finish the levelling content, but… ehhh.

I bitched about it before but the game seems to be poorly designed for co-op.  Quests that are steeped in interesting lore are tedious in a group because of the way dialogue works in a group. I’m a speed reader so I can blow through quests solo and enjoy the writing as well, but in a group it’s like you have to choose between missing all the text or coordinating with everyone to discuss the story over voice chat (decidedly not the path of least resistance… and the writing usually isn’t interesting enough to bother :/).  A simple log that shows text you’ve missed would help a lot even if it meant people stood around uselessly reading it after everyone else is done and ready to go, but it’s so clunky right now.  All it takes is one hotshot who’s in a hurry and the quest dialogue is meaningless because they’ve clicked through it all.  Since the quests themselves are all variations of “go here, kill/get that”, the dialogue is really what’s needed to set things apart.  There’s rarely any branching quest decisions to make, and if the foundry is any indication, it’s because it’s not supported in the game design.  Quests are very linearly laid out in the foundry, which makes it hard to do anything unique.  It shows when the developers who created the tools can’t even do anything really interesting with them.

I really dislike the quest marker.  It can be turned off, but that means absolutely nothing when you’re grouped with random people because they haven’t turned it off.  Dungeons are completely wasted in Neverwinter… you can spend tons of time making an amazing location with hidden goodies, but it means nothing because every group will follow the sparkly line from start to finish and ignore everything else.  And since they’re conditioned to do that throughout the game, you can’t just disable it either or that’s immediately the least favourite dungeon and no one will do it.  We can hope that won’t be the case, but it likely would be.

DDO did it much better in that regard.  Your individual actions in a dungeon are tallied against a score sheet, and you got your reward at the end.  Exploring mattered.  Disarming traps mattered.  Killing huge groups of mobs only mattered in that you needed to not die because you needed to get to the end.  I really feel that it’s a better design for a group dungeon – give them objectives and have them to work together to succeed.  Not “This monster has so many hitpoints that you need a group of 5 to reduce them to zero”, but stuff like “the path is branching and we need two people to push a lever at this end and two people to push a lever at that end, otherwise the door won’t open”.  DDO was full of clever stuff like that.  Neverwinter is full of a sparkly line that everyone follows like they’re tethered to it.

Neverwinter is definitely a more casual game, though.  Assuming there aren’t more hilarious disasters (there probably will be…), it’s definitely a fun game to pop into and dick around with for awhile, especially if Foundry content gets enough upgrades to let players be creative.  It just feels so shallow right now, though.  It’s all such mindless combat so far.  I’m finding it unsatisfying.

—-

EXPLOITS UPDATE:

Apparently people discovered that almost anything in the game was susceptible to memory editing, meaning it’s all handled client side.  It looks like they’re scrambling to move it server side now, but… wow.  To their credit, Zen was handled server side, so someone over there has a brain, but how do you create an MMO that handles important game stats client side in today’s day and age?  They learned that was a bad idea twenty years ago before memory editing programs became common…

Neverwinter – First Impressions
Neverwinter – PvP

Lockout

Lockout was a rare gem, in that it was a “science fiction” movie that we had not seen before.  I mean specifically my husband and I, because I’m pretty sure we’ve seen every single sci-fi movie that exists, so we jump on every sci-fi-ish movie that staggers out of the box office, even when they suck.  And boy do some most of them suck.

It’s actually kind of hard to tell that Lockout is sci-fi.  It is set in a prison colony that is orbiting the Earth.  The vast majority of the movie is spent inside the colony where absolutely nothing resembles space and everyone uses conventional tools like pipes to hit each other over the head, instead of futuristic laser guns or whatever.  You could alter a small handful of scenes and drop the sci-fi label from it entirely, so it was disappointing in that aspect.

The plot was so thin that I’m not entirely certain I can explain it to you other than “they go to a prison in space and blow shit up”.  That’s just about all you need to know to understand this movie.  It opens with a thing happening and a guy trying to clear his name but the guy who can clear his name is in the prison colony, and meanwhile a completely separate event happens where the president’s daughter goes to the prison colony and proceeds to not make a single good decision for the entire movie, resulting in every single prisoner getting out of stasis and wanting to rape her.  Naturally the president wants his daughter back and who cares about the other hostages, but hey if we storm in there they will almost certainly rape and then kill her, so we better do this covertly by using the guy who has an ulterior motive for wanting to go to the prison colony!  Also this guy is amazing at every single thing he does, is the only character in the entire movie who does anything correctly, and he may as well be superman because he is a pretty terribly written “Gary Stu” style character.

My god, the writing for that character.  The entire movie he attempts to be funny. Every single line – EVERY SINGLE LINE that this guy says is an attempt at a witty one-liner.  Some of them are amusing; I chuckled a lot in the beginning.  It very quickly became obvious that the writers were trying way way too hard.  They tried so hard that they began throwing in self-referential jokes where the other characters start making fun of his one-liners.  When you are writing characters that are making fun of you for writing badly, you should probably step back and reconsider whether you can write less badly instead.

They blow shit up.  Much shit blows up.  If you want exploding shit you will probably enjoy this movie.  I didn’t dislike it enough to give it an “I don’t like it” tag, but the bad writing was just too much for me to give it a like tag.  One thing I noticed while shit was exploding, though… a lot of the action scenes are artificially sped up and intentionally jerky to obscure what’s going on.  The speediness annoyed me and added to the whole “wow look at how fast this guy moves he’s so amazing” bullshit that I was already annoyed with, but then the arbitrary dropping of frames to hide actions just made me suspicious that a lot of corners might have been cut.  The exploding shit is all this movie has going for it, so it didn’t bode well.

I already mentioned the bad decisions on the part of the characters, but seriously.  Does she do anything right?  I think it was intended that we see her as some sort of badass independent-minded and intelligent chick who can take care of herself in the end, but, no.  You got off the fucking escape pod, meaning you completely wasted the fucking escape pod (not to mention all the time it took to escort your ass TO the escape pod) and now no one gets to use it, and all you accomplished by doing that is getting every single other hostage killed and also you got in the way of mister Gary Stu here who clearly does not need any help because he is perfect.  That was probably some kind of spoiler but it’s okay because you’re only watching this for the exploding shit anyway.

So there is your checklist:  Exploding shit – check.  Terribly written characters that will make you want to vomit or stab your eye out in frustration – check.  Snappy one liners that will probably amuse you (especially while drunk!) but get kind of wearisome by the end – check.  Sci-fi… uhh kinda not really but if you close your eyes you can pretend it’s sci-fi.  If the list corresponds to your “things I like in movies”, you should check out Lockout.

D.O. Ale Classic brown Ale

This is a brown ale from “Old Yale Brewing” from Chilliwack.  It was on the rack of 650ml bottles that changes every couple of weeks, and they’re usually interesting to try.  I also like brown ale!  It seemed like a safe bet.

Unfortunately for this ale, all I can taste is hops.  Not the nasty bitter “ear wax” flavoured hops; it’s the flowery kind of hops.  I don’t often come across this flowery flavour (probably because I avoid hops-y beer) but I vividly remember someone taking a sip of beer at a beer tasting party and saying “UGH it tastes like potpourri!” and everyone kind of recoiled in horror, then tasted it and went “huh… yeah, you’re right!”  I usually only taste this in really high alcohol content beer, because it easily hides the extreme boozy taste, but this stuff is only 5%.  It’s ALMOST good.  The texture is super creamy and there’s a wonderful nutty flavour buried in there, but then WHAM.  Flowery hops.  And they don’t meld at all with the nutty flavours, as far as I’m concerned.  Ugh. Unfortunate.

Beyond Belief

Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing EscapeBeyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape by Jenna Miscavige Hill

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I didn’t know much about Scientology before other than it seemed to be a “church” based on ridiculous beliefs that was taking advantage of its tax-exempt status in what should be a criminal manner in order to fleece its followers. And the internet started a war against them and a lot of suing happened, but not much else. I saw the title of this book and I knew that people had reported non-stop harassment for even casual curious inquiries into the “readings” and whatever else, but I thought to myself it was a little dramatic to label quitting as an “escape”. Couldn’t you just stop going to the “services” or whatever equivalent they have and just ignore the harassing phone calls and letters asking you to come back?

Boy, have I been educated.

This is the story of the niece of the man who took over leadership of the church, so her family was buried quite deeply in the organization, in the “Sea Org”. Essentially where the sun doesn’t shine, and associating with non-scientologists is considered a crime. You get a good look into the depths of the church – maybe not the actual heart where the decisions and rules are made, but the inner layers where the officers are trained. It’s also a fascinating look at how brainwashing works. I knew Scientology was known for brainwashing techniques, but this is brainwashing 101.

Jenna describes her entire life from very young ages all the way up to early 20s-ish or so when she finally manages to leave. I started reading and was thinking “This isn’t so bad… I mean, it’s bad but not completely unusual for fanatical religion.” And then it got worse. And worse. And worse… and … okay it’s pretty fucking bad.

What I found really interesting is the potential glimpse into the motivations of the church. I thought it was 100% a scam designed to pry every last penny from its followers – and it’s certainly that – but it almost seems like the church was designed as a money making scheme and it’s slowly been warped into an entity that, on some levels, actually believes it’s doing the right thing. Some of the decisions made make absolutely no sense if the only goal is to make money. In a lot of the decisions I can’t even see what the goal WAS. The church may have actually brainwashed itself at this point… fascinating.

The book is definitely not well-written, but when you look at the background of the author it’s easily forgiven. The sentences are stilted and dry, and often lack any emotion, but, well… it seems pretty damn representative of what the church attempts to do to a mind. Definitely worth a look if you’re curious.

I hope I don’t get sued for writing this “suppressive” review!

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Neverwinter Online – PvP

I tend to try out the PvP in every MMO.  I don’t know why, because I never enjoy it (and I’m certainly not good at it, which may or may not be related), but I always do.  I did quite a bit of battlegrounds in WoW and really enjoyed working toward new pieces of equipment that ultimately didn’t really improve my pvp experience at all, but I guess there was that little kernel of “once I get some gear this will be fun” that I was foolishly chasing.  Neverwinter actually has daily quests to do the PvP, so I’ve done a few matches now.  I feel qualified to bitch about it.

First of all – this is low level PvP.  In every game (except Guild Wars, because they scale you…) low level PvP tends to not resemble max level PvP at all.  It also tends to be significantly less balanced because no one bothers to balance it the whole way across and they just tweak the end result where people will likely spend the most time.  It makes sense from an efficiency standpoint.  GW is the only game that’s really done things right, in my opinion.  Not only do they scale your character so they only have to balance one playing field, but for the battleground portion they literally give you a separate copy of your character that is max level, so you can properly choose pvp-oriented skills and gear, instead of having to juggle it all on your pve character.

Something that is debatable about GW is the rewards for pvp.  In every game, you get shiny new equipment for success, which ultimately makes you more successful. And… ultimately raises the bar of entry to a degree that is intimidating to new players.  GW removed that paradox by offering cosmetic skins for everything instead of actual power increases.  I always thought WoW should have done that, and they kinda did… arena armor had different coloured skins for more success, allowing for bragging rights without a positive feedback loop of getting better to allow for more wins to allow for getting better.  The problem was the base armor was still a huge increase over everything else, which meant you were still stuck in that loop of “Need gear to compete – can’t get gear without competing”.  When GW came along I was like “FINALLY someone does it right!!!”  … but then it sucked.  It turns out there’s not much incentive to keep grinding when your character is just as powerful at level 1 as it will be at 100.  I’m not really sure what the solution is!  The pretty princess carrot wasn’t interesting enough for me, but the “get gear be powerful” carrot makes the barrier to entry too goddamn frustrating.

But anyway, I was going to talk about Neverwinter!  I have yet to find a glory vendor that sells low level gear, so it would seem that I am grinding up glory to bank it away until level 60.  There is a daily quest that gives you diamonds as a reward for doing PvP, and there is a rotating event that gives you bonus glory for participating.  If you do well in a match, it throws a random green item at you.  If nothing else the diamonds are super useful (you can trade them for zen which is the bought-with-real-money funbux) so I figured I would be doing at least one match a day until the gear became available at 60.

To give you an idea of how that’s going, I just logged in and said “Oh no, the daily reset already?  Now I have to do another match…”

PvP in Neverwinter is pretty much the same as every other game.  A group of players are dropped into a map which has some points to control (by standing on them until they change colour) and they run back and forth killing each other until one of the teams reaches the magical score number that means “you win”.  Granted, it’s only shown me two maps so far at lower levels, but both of them were like that.  When you are below the level of the match, it “scales” you to the top level… but you get none of the abilities and keep all your same gear.  So you still suck.

The problem lies in the whole “killing each other” step.  I’m a melee character which almost always has range issues in pvp no matter what game it is, but in Neverwinter, attacking prevents you from moving. (edit: Specifically melee swings stop you from moving.  I know those silly casters almost never get to move, but at least they get to attack from range…). So, each fight goes something like this:
Charge up to enemy – swing.
Enemy walks away and is out of range within a step or two.
Move toward enemy – resume swinging.
Hit once before they move away again.
That’s assuming they don’t roll away from you, since everyone has a dodge move.  Except shield bearers who just kind of stand there attempting to block uselessly while you kill them anyway (I feel bad for them… maybe they don’t suck at 60.)

I tried a match on my baby cleric as well and it was somewhat similar.  She attacks from range, but being locked down during the attack(and heal) animation still ensured she had difficulty dodging away from attacks.  I’m pretty terrible at playing her in general and only played one low level match though, so it’s hardly a fair review.

The real issue is that, in order to counteract the whole “you stand still while attacking” thing, it seems as though they gave everyone tons of “daze” abilities.  Which is the same thing as saying “everyone stunlocks”.  Because pvp is the most fun when no one can actually control their characters.  Ugh it’s like a glass case display of every bad decision in every example of PvP I’ve played over the years.

They also don’t seem to have anticipated the afk masses.  Perhaps they thought the carrot of getting random unidentified junk for performing well would be enough to keep people from idling at the entrance, but the fact is you get more glory for losing quickly than you do for participating in the frustrating stun battles at the points.

I am starting to see more cleansing happening, so maybe things settle down later on… but that just means it becomes a matter of “whoever has more non-afk cleansers wins”.

~BONUS BITCH~ – When you exit the battleground, everyone stays in your group.  And then the game nags you to add them to your friends list.  It does this for dungeons too, and it makes me irrationally angry each and every time.  Especially if we queue as a group and then have to either kick everyone out, or disband and reform our guild group every fucking time.  So Angry.

I will say this though… it’s making me feel like logging back into GW2 to try and earn some more pretty princess gear.

—–

UPDATE:

I just learned that there are also some very powerful enchants which are essentially only able to be obtained by paying real cash (you can attempt them for free but there’s a 1% chance of success without purchased items).  The enchants are usable in PvP and quite likely will be gamechangers (stuff like passive chance to stun.  Because there just isn’t enough goddamn CC flying around).  It suggests to me that the PvP game has a good chance of becoming “pay to win” once people figure out it’s nuances.  Fuck that.

Neverwinter – First Impressions (PvE focus)
Neverwinter – Second Impressions

Neverwinter Online – First Impressions

FINE Denise – I’m playing it and it’s ALL YOUR FAULT.

We’ve been playing around with Neverwinter Online for two days now, I think, so things are still in that sort of “honeymoon phase” before you discover the horrible truths of bad design underneath.  I can lay out what I’ve seen so far, though! Read more of this post

The Legacy of Nakuthcatten

After my entry on Gnomoria, I realized that, even though I was enjoying the game, there was literally nothing it did that Dwarf Fortress didn’t do (and usually better).  My gnomes met a horrible fate that was likely precipitated by expanding the value of my fortress (attracting ne’er-do-wells) before figuring out how the military system really works, so I decided to start up a proper Dwarf Fortress and compare the two.

What follows is the telling of the fortress of Nakuthcatten, legendary Dwarf Fortress in the world of Udon Tamun. Read more of this post

Liminal States

Liminal StatesLiminal States by Zack Parsons
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really struggled with how to rate this. I was originally thinking a solid 4.5, but then the ending was a little too ambiguous, so that dragged it down to 4… but the uniqueness of it deserves to be rewarded, so it bumped back up to 5. Eh, 5. Why not.

This is not a book for the faint of heart. If this book is made into a movie, they will need a very large “fake blood” budget. I meant to go back and see how many times the word “entrails” appears, but I forgot to. It was a lot, though.
It is also not a casual read. I discovered pretty quickly that it is not the kind of book you can read while half asleep at 11PM and still understand what the fuck is going on in the next chapter. The book is a masterful example of showing and not telling, and you have to pay attention to keep up.

How do I even describe this to you. At its heart, the book is a horror novel that reminded me a lot of Stephen King. A lot of the imagery is brutal or disturbing. Despite that, it somehow never seemed gratuitous. The story itself spans three time periods, which correspond to three different genres of writing. The old west, ’50s noir, and finally sci-fi and dystopian present/future.

I’m not sure I even can provide a quick synopsis of this. Let’s just say it involves a mysterious pool that seems to resurrect and provide immortality to someone who falls into it. Each section of the book follows the same characters (more or less…) but examines a different aspect of the consequences of the pool, seeming to widen the scope each time, beginning with individuals and eventually moving to a global scale.

Common criticisms seem to be that the different time periods don’t interface well with each other, making it more like three different related novels than one whole story. Looking back, I would probably agree that is true… the jumps are very significant and you have to re-orient for each one. While I was reading I did not find it to be an issue, and probably wouldn’t have mentioned it if it wasn’t commonly bitched about.

The different genres for each time period are well written and feel authentic. I’m not a big fan of noir, so the middle of the book dragged for me, but someone who enjoys the genre will probably love it. The sci-fi section had a decent “oh, shit is going down now” feel to it, and I thought the visuals worked really well. The over-arching horror story of the pool itself felt a bit vague, though. I read some discussion about it and it seems like it was intentionally left that way, and then a lot of the questions and backstory is resolved in a separate serial. I dislike relying on external material to understand a book… but to be fair, it doesn’t really matter for the narrative of the actual story, so it just left the situation ambiguous in an unsatisfying way.

If you’re looking for something unique, gripping, and disturbing, you should probably give Liminal States a try.

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