Thursday, April 28, 2011

Portal 2

I had this mental checklist going into Portal 2. I wanted it to be all the things I liked about the first game. Those being that it was: 

1.) funny
2.) disturbing
3.) fun and challenging
4. a tight, self-contained story
5.) and had female characters notable for their will, strength of character, and disregard for conventional roles. 

So...did it succeed? First of all let me say that it did.  I had a smile on my face when I finished it. (By the way, spoilers will be left out of this review until the end.) After the last scene I sortof felt like running around and jumping.  It wasn't better than the first one, but...let me move on to the above points. 

1.) Is it funny? Yes. And also yes. Mind you, the first section with GlaDOS disappointed me a little. I felt like somebody in the writers' room might have made a list of why GlaDOS was funny, put "she insults you" at the top, and just worked from there. I felt a little bit like I could see what strings they were pulling and what the writers' thought process had been. But then I played co-op and it was okay again, and there are some lines that are so quotable. 

2.) Is it creepy? Yes. One word. Frankencube.  All the austerity of the first game is still there, except now there's also things falling apart as you walk through them. The game pulls the floor out from under you (sometimes literally) many times, and each time felt inventive.

3.) Is it entertaining and challenging? Yes. I felt that the plot line was a vehicle for stuffing the game full of more puzzles, but that was fine. I wanted more puzzles. The different types of levels kept them from getting repetitive, and integrated various plot elements really well. And the zoom function was brilliant. I thought it was useless at first, but...no. I should have seen it as a promise of larger environments. In them, it was invaluable. 

4.) Is it tightly written? Yeeees. And that's a slightly hesitant inflection, as opposed to "yessss" which would indicate an enthusiastic inflection. I thought the first game was great partially because it was so short. It was like a finely crafted short story, referring only to itself. (And enough of Half-Life that people who got the references enjoyed them.)  This second game by nature had to be stretched. Unlike its predecessor, it was designed to take more than an hour to get through. Also unlike its predecessor, it was designed to be a hit. 

I still liked the story. It's not as tight as the first one. But it did what it was designed to do. 

Around the last few levels I thought the story got a bit wobbly, with the way a certain character who will remain unnamed for spoiler purposes becomes addicted to testing. Anybody else get this strange druggy vibe? I don't particularly want to be thinking of Aperture creating robots with addiction problems. It was just a "was this necessary and was it supposed to be funny" moment. 

5.) Was it feminist? Yes. Keep in mind that when I talk about "feminism" and "strong female characters" I don't mean raeg and girls with guns. I mean I want to see equality between the genders. I want to see female characters who are defined by more than their gender. They have strong opinions and aren't going to change them. They aren't necessarily good-- I love that GlaDOS is evil, or amoral. Because she's so consistently full of personality in her amoral....ness.  

GlaDOS is a great role model. No, I don't think we should all strive to distribute neurotoxin evenly throughout our places of work. But she's confident and brilliant and really makes an impression. I thought the conversations between her and Chell resulted from the most complex relationship in the game. And it's between two women. 

In Chell's case, she's silent. You can only see that she's female at all when you make an effort to arrange portals properly. She's got about as much characterization as Master Chief, except that where he's good at killing things she's good at solving puzzles. (All the killing she does, involves solving puzzles.)  The developers assume that it'll be just as easy for players to identify with her. Chell is almost less than her gender. And that's great. That's equality.  

We could talk about her costume change. Personally, I like it. The tank top is practical. It makes sense that she might have wanted the sweaty, moldy jumpsuit she'd been wearing for who knows how long in stasis off her skin. Yes, the elephant in the room is that the artists played around with a "sexier" look before settling on bared arms. (Link if you want it. It's on the wiki.) But the costume they settled on doesn't bother me. And this stuff bothers me. 

I have to say I was a little disappointed with GlaDOS at the end. Her dialogue just teetered on the edge of sentimental. Every time it teetered Valve tipped it straight again with a tiny bit of dialogue or something completely insane like the ascension cutscene. I really wanted GlaDOS to keep her evil edge, because it was funny and memorable. And partially she did. 

We actually get our first introduction of a male character in this game, unless you count the Companion Cube as male which I don't.  

And now I bring you into spoiler territory. Again, welcome....

~spoilers~

SPAAAAAAAACE!

"How are you doing? Because I'm  a potato."

Okay now that that's out of the way. The end was AWESOME. I just portal'ed the moon, guys.The moon. And it took me like a day to remember that the white paint is made out of moon dust, so it even makes sense. Awesome.

But we were talking about Wheatley.

So. Our first male character (disregarding disembodied voices, and ignoring the fact that turrets might in any way be gendered) is Wheatley. He is, I would argue, the third character to appear in the entire series. Other people such as Cave Johnson and Caroline are characters who might appear in stories of the past, but in the games they're set dressing. 

So we have Wheatley, who starts out as friendly. In pursuit of his (and Chell's) goal, he violently beheads and inhabits GlaDOS. Possession of what is referred to throughout as her "body" drives him mad with power and addiction. 

Intentional comment on gender roles? Almost positively no, or at least not in the ways I'm talking about here. Something a bored feminist commentator could write a paper on? Yes. 

But this is not that paper. I promise.  But Wheatley taking over GlaDOS was, I thought, the most frightening part of the game. 

~My Opinion, The Short Version~

I give it a nine out of ten. Tons of fun. The puzzles have high replay value. The co-op is hilarious. Some of the dialogue seems just as fated to go down in meme history as those from Portal 1.

Making a note here...

Do I even have to say it? 

Huge success. 


Friday, April 22, 2011

Standing on the Shoulders of Giant Books

On a visit to Borders today I found some interesting things related to fandom and copyright.

The first was in the introduction to a book about "mashup literature" such as "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" . It followed the trend of combining classic figures and grotesque monsters. If I can remember the title and find it on Amazon one of these days, I'll link you. The important part is that the editor talked about fan fiction and doujinshi, and how lax copyright laws in countries such as Japan and Germany allow the arts to flourish as compared to places with stronger copyright laws (such as America). Citation needed, but, still. Interesting.

*

The novel How To Live Safely In A Science Fictional Universe contains a scene where Linus Skywalker, son of Luke, goes back in time to try to kill his father. He's tired of always existing in Luke's shadow. (Keep in mind that this is in no way a Star Wars novel. I'm pretty sure it also never uses Luke's full name.) The author advises Linus to change his name.

I think this would be much more interesting than what's currently going on with Ben Skywalker in Fate of the Jedi.

*

I picked up Invasion by Mercedes Lackey (and someone else) because it a picture of a giant bird on it. Next thing I know I'm reading the little blurb on the cover, which unfortunately does not exist on the Amazon edition. The blurb said, "Inspired by the MMORPG City of Heroes".  I flip through to the introduction and find that the characters are based on the authors' characters in the game. I don't know enough about the world to be able to tell how close to the novel it is.

But think about that for a second. This woman is such a successful author that publishers will sell the stuff she writes about her RPG characters. I'm sure it's just as good as her other stuff. But still.

*

In unrelated news, Club Jade reports that Drew Karpyshyn is going to pen a TOR-tie-in called Revan. It will be of course about our favorite player character from KoTOR.  The Exile will also appear. Especially after Jaden Kor was established as a rather dull human male, I'm not all that excited about canon even touching other player characters. That and Karpyshyn writes some really notably unremarkable Mass Effect novels.

*

On a less bitter note, I'm currently playing Portal 2 and it is wonderful. A full review will probably come later when I finish it. Until then, I leave you with "Without the imminent threat of death, is it even science?"

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The William Wordsworth Paradigm in Mass Effect

Yes, this title is for srs. Back in the fall I wrote a paper for my Romanticism class. It was my first bit of academic fandom/gaming/pop culture studies.

Here it is.



Always In Laughter And Tears: The William Wordsworth Paradigm in Mass Effect
“Or is it some more humble lay, 
Familiar matter of to-day?”

“The Romantic Era” denotes a time period in the 18- and 1900s, but the Romantic ideals persist in the way people value emotion and set it up against other values. Thematic similarities between the video game  Mass Effect (developed by the BioWare Corporation and released in 2007), and the Romantic ideals as exemplified by William Wordsworth’s poem The Solitary Reaper serve to illuminate both mediums as well as the way in which non-academic, non-student individuals engaging in story may process Wordsworth’s words without conscious citation. The most surface level of this is a textual homage—one of the missions in Mass Effect is entitled Old, Unhappy, Far-Off Things. 

Mass Effect is classified as a role-playing game. A large portion of its mechanics are devoted to customization of the character that the player has control of; as experience points are gained, new options for abilities and events are made available. Mass Effect also offers a player character who is completely mutable at the onset of the game; while the player is always given control of Commander Shepard, a soldier in the far future, Shepard’s gender, appearance, personal history, combat style, and first name may be individualized. These are chosen by the player at the onset and remain permanent throughout the game, affecting non-critical plot elements of play.  Customizing a character in this way is not unheard of;  appearance and gender options appear for player characters as far back as 1988.  In order to complete the mission entitled Old, Unhappy, Far-Off Things,  the player must have chosen the “Spacer” history for Shepard (who will be referred to in this context as female for convenience of pronouns and personal bias). The Spacer story is the only option in which Shepard’s parents remain alive and present in her life, and Old, Unhappy, Far-Off Things concerns her mother. This mission is not central to the plot, but gains the player some experience points and a voice-only conversation with Shepard’s mother.

The phrase “old, unhappy, far-off things” first appears in William Wordsworth’s poem The Solitary Reaper, part of the 1803 collection Memoirs of a Tour In Scotland. This phrase is cited in other material, but a Google search reveals the phrase in the context of the Mass Effect mission for its first four findings. The fifth entry, Bartleby’s anthologies, presents the full poem alongside Wordsworth’s other work, and the sixth presents two lines from the poem without any context . Mass Effect is by this standard today’s most accessible window to this particular Wordsworth citation, which exists for a purpose entirely separate from him in the minds of its players. 

Mass Effect’s citation of Wordsworth comes, depending on the order in which one plays through the partially open world, after at least one major segment of the game. In this initial segment, the player becomes acquainted with Shepard and the vernacular of her world. It could not be an attempt to attract fans of Wordsworth—it is unheralded. Instead, it is inserted as an homage and a common theme, as well as a way to draw characters together. Poetry appears elsewhere in conversation in the game. Another character quotes part of Alfred Lord Tennyon’s poem Ulysses to Shepard, who has the option of returning the citation. Another point of convergence is found in the language of the titular Wordsworth poem. The Solitary Reaper refers to a woman whom Wordsworth spied or created in his Tour In Scotland; in Mass Effect, ‘Reapers’ are the antagonists, a race of extragalactic sentient machines. Their leader is the only one of their kind seen until the end of the game—a solitary reaper, a herald of import from the distance who reflects that import onto what it views, as does the poem’s narrator.

This paper’s structure will follow that of the Old, Unhappy, Far-Off Things quest’s narrative, in order both to introduce the pacing and subject matter of the game in an organic fashion and to  point out in detail the thematic elements also found in Wordsworth’s The Solitary Reaper.

The mission begins when non-player character Lieutenant Zabaleta calls out to player-as-Shepard as she walks through the Citadel. The Citadel is the hub of the Mass Effect universe, the seat of its government and the place with the widest variety of human and alien character models to indicate a diverse set of occupants. Zabaleta is a middle-aged human who refers to the player character as “that Shepard kid”—a stark contrast to most people calling her “ma’am” or “commander”. The mission advertises its focus on emotion and backstory right from the start. If the player chooses to have Shepard talk to Zabaleta, he reveals that he is looking for Shepard’s mother, Hannah, who used to serve with him aboard the warship SSV Einstein.

It may be productive to note that although this mission requires Shepard to have been born in space, partially bereft of Earth culture, it abounds in references to Earth’s history. Hannah Shepard’s current posting, as revealed later, is aboard the SSV Kilimanjaro.  The writers did not want players to forget that their character existed in the same universe as Earth, unlike in BioWare’s previous, award-winning role-playing game Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. The Earth references would have been out of place in “a galaxy far, far away”, but Mass Effect, placed in Earth’s speculative future, uses them to create its own mien. Wordsworth’s The Solitary Reaper is likewise full of references to the land and Earth’s locations—“Highland Lass” (2), “Travelers in some shady haunt/Among Arabian sands” (11-12), “Among the farthest Hebrides” (16). 

Shepard does not remember Zabaleta, but reveals that she does not remember much of her mother either.  One dialogue option prompts “I didn’t see much  of her at the time. She was always out on tour.”  Both Shepards are “solitary in the field”, estranged from one another because of their duty, and the dialogue leaves it up to the player to determine whether Shepard feels regret about that or not. Zabaleta asks Shepard to remember him to her mother, and reveals that he has lost all his money through drinking to try and ease the memory of a certain campaign during his military service, one which he does not yet reveal. Zabaleta is in a dire enough situation that he spends food money on alcohol, and for a brief time the mission becomes a more conventional opportunity to gain experience points by morally upstanding actions when Shepard is given the option to purchase the veteran a credit line at a grocery store. Whether or not this is done, belying the idea that the mission is about progress of game statistics as opposed to the progress of characterization, the player then has the chance to call Shepard’s mother.  

Hannah Shepard is only a voice; the scene is angled toward Shepard, so that the video communication cannot be seen. This follows along with the chance to customize Shepard; the player can also imagine the features of her mother based on their character. Hannah is brusque; her first line of dialogue includes “I don’t have time for personal calls right now.” Since their conversation is civil, this may imply that she and Shepard talk a lot in unseen scenes, and that such a call is not an unusual occurrence. She is formal, but when Shepard tells her about Zabaleta she becomes concerned and wants to make sure that he is doing well.   When Shepard says that Zabaleta “must have been a very sensitive man,” Hannah replies with  “He was. Always in laughter and tears.” Note that she uses and, not or; for a “sensitive man”, all emotion stems from the same source and is intertwined with all others, happiness with sadness, because they are both emotions. 

Zabaleta is a Romantic man—Hannah Shepard is not. There are no endearments when the call ends—she simply says “Kilimanjaro out.” This is military formality, but it is also the departure of the Earthly; the next step of the mission is to return to Zabaleta and the morality options (as well as to learn more about his past).  (Notably, Shepard’s ship is called Normandy—an echo of Earth even though it’s construction was an alien-human collaboration and it is officially owned by the alien-led government.) 

              Nor is Jane Shepard a Romantic character, but this is because she is an attempt at the ultimate expression of fannish immersion, the emotional engagement with a character. This engagement manifests today in the entertainment trade show subculture—con-goers dress up as their favourite characters, including the varied possible avatars of Shepard. (It is ironic in a way that they will clothe themselves in a character designed to be clothed in their own personality and preferences, but the topic of fannish relations to a customizable character would be another study entirely.) Old, Unhappy, Far-Off Things  presents a contrast between emotional Zabaleta, whose self-destructive actions are Wertherian but slower, and the Shepards’ rigid bearing. As in The Solitary Reaper, the contrast is also between recollection of an event (Shepard’s distant relationship with her mother, Zabaleta’s violent past, the poem’s “battles long ago”)  and the present (Shepard following in her mother’s military footsteps, the poem’s narrator, who is placed in time which at first seems to be present tense and concurrent with the events (“Behold her, single in the field”) and then becomes itself a recollection (“The music in my heart I bore,/Long after it was heard no more” (32-33)).   

Shepard returns to Zabaleta and passes on the message from her mother. She learns that Zabaleta is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder due to violence he witnessed in the war. The mission ends with the option of further gifting Zabaleta or of leaving him to go on with his life. Hannah Shepard is accessible in no other part of the game. Old, Forgotten, Far-Off Things is therefore an interlude; Shepard goes back to “reaping and singing by herself”, touched with the sadnesses of “battles long ago”, just as in Wordsworth’s poem the encounter between the narrator and the reaper is a brief one which does not affect the outside world. It is the interior world which is important. Both the poem and the mission are moments of sentiment, and of individuals sensitive to their feelings. They are rebellions against the Neoclassic ideals of dignity and restraint, showing that stoic Shepard has a family and that war—glorified in Mass Effect as much or as little as in any story that has a warrior as its hero—has its ugly side. The game found relevance in Romantic poetry not only as a place to mine words from, but as one to connect themes to. 

The Old, Unhappy, Far-Off Things mission serves as a conversation between the two mediums, a question of whether the Romantic ideals of emotion—what Wordsworth calls “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings”(Preface to Lyrical Ballads, 1798), such as Zabaleta admitting to Shepard the foundation of his fears. The Romantic ideals stand up in an alien setting even If they are surrounded by either a video game world or the pop culture of today. 


We Don't Want Zombies On Our Lawn

Except we actually do. 


At least, we do when it's Humans vs. Zombies time. 


Because it is indeed that time, when I was assigned to write a paper in the style of Roland Barthes' Mythologies , I knew exactly what I was going to write about. HVZ is pretty analyzable. 



Humans vs. Zombies is a current manifestation of the extravagant. College students take the roles of those classic B-movie monsters, the zombies. Instead of shuffling around with decaying bodies, they are hale and whole except for one marring mark-- a bright orange bandana around their forehead branded with their not-so-scarlet scarlet letter, the word “ZOMBIE” marked out in blocky capitals. Other students are the survivors, the humans left alive during the apocalypse. They have the same defining mark as the zombies, but the bandana is wrapped around their arm. They have the disease; it is only time until they succumb to it. But until a human is turned into a zombie, the symbol of potential enmity is safely tied to their arm, in their sight. The disease is controlled. The humans band together to prevent themselves from the enemy.

The Humans vs. Zombies website, where individual schools can coordinate their games, shows the trademarks of a horror movie. The color scheme is red, black, and white.  The background of the site looks like a blank white infected with black cracks, as if the darkness seeps into the internet. In the same way as the website looks cracked, playing Human vs. Zombies brings with it the feeling of a horror movie worming through the cracks in real life. Students rush from class to class with Nerf guns in hand, peeking barrel-first into every hallway and around every corner. They outfit themselves with Nerf brand tactical vests, or holsters cobbled together from guitar straps or ribbon. College becomes, for a little over a week, a war zone.

The website advertises the game as something serious in its campyness. The guns are bright orange plastic and the zombies carry their sketchbooks and weekly planners to class. But students enjoy taking the silly seriously. Because zombies will never become a real threat, they are one on which students can unleash their determination and intelligence. Maybe their anger as well, but that isn’t the primary emotion seen when groups of humans gather to talk about tactics or to survive the race from one academic building to another. Instead, they band together even if they never met before in their lives. The orange bandana becomes a sign of community through mutual outcast-ness.Players are viewed with disdain, curiosity, or annoyance by the non-playing population of the campus, but that only illustrates the subtler way cliques work every day. Now, the outsiders have a common enemy, and something that is commonly accepted as “cool”-- survival. At the same time, it is commonly accepted as fun. The very concept of seriousness is undermined.

Especially today it may be disturbing to think that the graduating populace hides an intrinsic need for war. I postulate that it is not death that the students want, but rather the appearance of death. Those who are “killed” become “zombies”, all false and in quote marks, but all also legitimate social distinctions which are acted upon for the duration of the game. A human does not fear “death” because he will be reborn as a zombie, the “undead”--the one who has escaped death. It is a victory unto itself, and some students celebrate it. Those who fear it, though, truly fear two things: change and parasitism.

If the fake zombies do not tag a human every 48 hours (thusly turning that human into a zombie) they will “starve”. They will be out of the game. Therefore, the goal of the zombie is to find as many humans as possible. He is dependent on them, waiting for them when they get out of class or when they leave their dorm buildings. Without humans there could be no zombies, and so zombies are parasites.

College, however, is intended to train people in being independent. It aims to prepare the graduate for a career in which they will separate from their friends and their families to have their own property and career. The zombie, though, cannot stake out his own property. He must always be moving, dependent on the population around him for his food. The student rebels against the idea of dependency because it implies returning to childhood, when the child subsisted off of his parents’ food and property. 

  The force of change is a resistance against parasitism, so that humans become fearful both of zombification and of their own conflicting feelings toward it. Change for college students prompts a look forward to graduation. Their college personalities must be “killed” at graduation so that they can change into an adult form. Zombies represent a dark mirror image of that adult form because of their parasitism, but it is also an appealing one. Zombies have freedom. They no longer need to be fearful of the people around them on campus. Humans cannot kill zombies, but can only stun them so that they need to stay still for a few minutes. They can try to pause the onset of change, but it is only postponed. Such a small time of immobility is no deterrent to a creature used to change, but it is a further example of the detractors of parasitism. The humans are like parents, ‘grounding’ the zombie for a set amount of time because of what he has done wrong. 

Humans vs. Zombies also came about from the closed nature of college campuses. Instead of rebelling against being placed between physical boundaries, the game embraces them. Playing outside campus boundaries is not allowed, and nor are humans allowed to leave campus for more than twenty-four hours. Depending on the moderators of the game, a human who leaves campus for longer than this period may either become a zombie, or be banned from the game entirely, adopting a no-identity which is different from that of a non-player. He is then something between human and zombie, having escaped the system but found that his identity is annulled outside it. 

The institution of campus as boundary is a practical one, but also a sign of the students accepting their own situation. It is at heart an optimistic game, with players intoning to themselves as they spring through the darkness that we are besieged (and have besieged ourselves on purpose); we are trapped; we are surrounded by the once-alive-now-undead, and we will have fun fighting them. The game started as a way to entertain students, and also to play with the concept of boundaries. Once the game starts, campus for the player is no longer just a place to reside. It is a war zone; it sets off adrenaline and endorphins. After the game, campus is seen in a different light. A bush is no longer a bush; it’s a hiding place. A stranger is no longer a stranger; he’s the one who told you there were zombies lurking behind the bush. People and places gain interconnectedness that they did not possess before. Therefore, synapses grow in a different way from the way they grow when a student is in class. 

The underlying significance of Humans vs. Zombies is to deconstruct the institute of learning, and to emphasizes the difference between students and graduates, or students who play and those who do not. It satisfies students’ needs for mythology just as it has its own created around it. 


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Mass Effect: Arrival

Reposted from my deviantArt.

So I finished Arrival last night (actually early this morning). This is the newest DLC for Mass Effect 2, and the one supposod to bridge the gap between the second and third games. I liked it a lot. It was short, and I was looking for a good place to stop so that I could finish it after I'd slept and make it feel longer. But there wasn't any part of the game where I felt I could let go; it was too combat-heavy and intense. (That's not to say that I liked the fact that there were multiple points at which you couldn't save until the three waves of enemies were over. But I comment mostly on story, not gameplay, because I know that language better.)

Mostly I came out of it with three main impressions: 1.) Intense, 2.) Too short, 3.) Shepard is a beast.

She punches a guard to death to get to Kenson, and then *spoiler?* rises off a lab bed like Frankenstein and takes out her guards with bare hands. It reminded me of the way George Lucas talked in the episode 1 commentary about turning the Jedi into the pursuers instead of the pursued so that they were scarier. I think it's gonna make me more careful about how I write my Shepard too. She's not the type to go cry in somebody's arms after she...but that's a spoiler warning and we'll get to that later.

(I use feminine pronouns because most of my PCs, including Mallory Shepard ,who I used here, are female. But whether you play a man or a woman doesn't matter at all in this DLC.)

So, onto what I liked:

1. Varren!
2. The cutscenes!
3. The vision Shepard sees at the end. It was so pretty, as was...well, everything at the end.
4. The fact that Shep's wall in the Loft turns into a screen. So that's where they watched Firefly in my first ME fanfic, "Movie Night". 
5. The way it sets up ME3. We do get hints at why we might be on Earth then.
6. The floor textures. Flagstones!

What I disliked:

1. So. Short! I wish there had been a divergence to Arcturus Station, both to see it and for more time. I would've been irritated if this had cost ~800 points, but seeing as it was a ~500 point purchase I do think it was priced properly. Just could have been a more epic introduction to ME3.

2. The way it was so obvious that they didn't hire Joker's voice actor just for this. I'm glad that he showed up (and-- *spoiler*), but who was that guy over the comm who said "Normandy incoming" anyway?

Not sure what I think about it:

1. The labyrinthine puzzle-dungeon in the first part. Very Legend of Zelda, except...simpler. But it did make my Shepard feel like McGuyver.

2. The costumes for the Project workers.

The following section contains spoilers! Read if you don't care about knowing what happens.

I love the bit where you have to fight your way away from Project Rho, but have to get knocked out to continue the game. It was very Reach. Stuff like that makes me feel like a game is playing with what it means to interact with the world.

Did we learn anything new and spectacular about the Reapers? No. But Harbinger was shiny. The writing in the whole mission wasn't quite as tight as usual, but it was fun.

Joker! Okay, so he didn't talk. But he just flew through a Mass Relay just before it exploded. Pretty awesome. He'll have something to say about that.

So....the elephant in the room. Shepard just killed three hundred thousand batarians. I think the animators did a good job of showing the conflict on her face when she pressed the button and afterward, when she was firmly talking to Hackett about it. Mallory agreed to turn herself in to the Alliance after it's all done. I reminds me of the way the plot of Fate of the Jedi was kicked off by Luke Skywalker being tried for crimes against the Republic. I imagine that Shepard's got a lot of guilt, but also...she's the kind of person who looks at a countdown that says "two days until death-by-Reaper-invasion", and asks Kenson how they did their math. She's cold. What I wish we could see is what the squadmates thought of it, and I've got that fanfic half written.

So I think it'd be interesting if Shepard was retuning to Earth to face trial in the beginning of ME3, and then the Reapers arrive and she's like "okay, I'll be back just as soon as I save y'all."

I think that's all I've got to say! The DLC certainly did what it was supposed to do and made me really eager for ME3.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Clone Wars: Wookiee Hunt

Being a review of the second part of the season finale. 

The Trandoshans have great, expressive, Jurassic Park-raptor faces. The first scene in which one chases Ahsoka down made me almost forget that they were sentient, until another pulled up in a warpainted hover platform and started talking to him. The fact that the platform had eyes and pointed teeth of its own painted on the front seemed a commentary on how appearance doesn’t actually match the nature of the thing behind it; the hover platform looks like an animal and isn’t; the Trandoshans sound like animals and aren’t.
The fights in both episodes of the finale are also very animalistic, without lightsabers and with a lot of tackling and crawling. Face-grabbing is a repeated theme. I’d suggest it was part of Ahsoka’s Togruta heritage getting her in tune with the jungle, but the other Jedi display it too. Anyway it was interestingly different. Ahsoka using the Force to make the Trandoshan pilot’s shots go wide was an inventive use of the Force that was also distinctly elegant and “human”, involving the hands and technology instead of the entire body. 
There were a couple great shots here, one of the Cerean’s eyes widening as he’s about to get kicked off the side of a ship, and another of that same ship crashing into the beach, the entire forward section swinging around like a boom and displaying the ship’s name (in Aurebesh) before it slams into the sand.
The appearance of Chewbacca is of course a Big Deal and probably discussed elsewhere on the internet. For me, the Wookiee’s undeniable appeal is a little less undeniable. He just seemed to me to symbolize the presence of the OT in TCW, as did the scene immediately after his rescue when the Trandoshans are “combing the desert” stormtrooper-style outside the crashed ship. Chewie as a character just always flew under the radar for me. Let’s see if this episode changes that. 
(Ahsoka, how do you speak Shryiiwook? How?! Someone please tell me this is explained somewhere. I thought Han and Revan were among the only humans to be able to pick it up. Wookieepedia tells me that there are in fact about thirty recorded individuals who speak it, and that it is a trade language, so they might have learned it in the Jedi Temple. Nevertheless I’m annoyed. I say that gives 'Soka another Sue point.The other lost Padawans can’t speak it...) 
I like the little interludes with the creatures outside the base. Some of them parallel the stuff going on with the Padawans, which is interesting storytelling without words. 
Apparently, if a mindtrick doesn’t work, smacking the guy on the head will make the next one go a little easier. That was amusing. 
I didn’t see the episodes that introduced Sugi, but seeing her charge to the rescue with a cadre of Wookiees was pretty cool.
The Trandoshan’s trophies were nicely gristly; I saw an Ithorian head, and lekku, as well as...was that the Crystal Skull? And a KotOR-era Mandalorian helmet? 
Ahsoka has some shamelessly cool kung fu poses in this fight.
The Trandoshan leader has one goal in mind; to avenge the death of his son. Ahsoka takes no responsibility for killing him, instead blaming “your own actions”-- the hunt itself. I’m not sure I agree with that logic. She seems to have this pathological inability to feel (or show) guilt about anything. She encourages Anakin not to blame himself for his actions either.
There’s a lot of Master-Padawan bonding in the scenes with Anakin. When Ahsoka says she survived because she remembered Anakin’s training, I thought that was nice but wished they had shown a hint of it during the fights themselves. Even if she had mentioned Anakin once it would have deepened the emotional aspect of the whole thing instead of making it seem like he was the only one worried. Yoda seems happy enough about the end result, though. 
We don’t get to see what happens to Chewie after the episode, and we don’t get to see whether this is the alliance he and Yoda mention in episode III. Am I disappointed in the lack of references to other parts of the canon? Yes. Should I be surprised? No. 
I also watched the trailer(s) for season four, which are available on YouTube last time I checked.  And what do we see there?
1.) Ahsoka falling into an ocean, maybe on purpose.
2.) Gungans (who thought that was a good idea?) including Captain Tarpals. If any of them can be cool, I guess it’s him.
3.) Suggestions of episode three. The music is there, and one of the clones intones, “Someday, this war will end.” I wonder if we’re getting closer to the dark times of RotS. 
4.) Clones being displayed like character selection options on Battlefront, showing off new armor. 
5.) Kit Fisto a la Tartakovsky, which I can’t say I’m not happy about. 
6.)A Besalisk (Dexter Jettster style) Jedi with two double-bladed lightsabers. I’ve expressed before that I think that’s a ridiculous concept for a fighting style, but TCW does tend to impress in regards to fights, and, well, the guy has four arms. 
The Cartoon Network announcer triumphantly declares, “It’s Star Wars...what else do we need to say?” I think I could write a paper on that line alone. 
1.) Does that imply that quality can fly out the window as long as it’s got the franchise name? 
2.) Well...doesn’t it? I’m still watching the stuff. They win. 
3.) The use of “we” might be common in Cartoon Network voiceovers, I’m not sure, but here it seems to imply a pre-existing audience of fans and overseer-creators, all backing this project and encouraging others to back it too. 
So, sometime this fall I’ll have a Clone Wars to talk about again. Until then, it’s back to writing fanfic about Savage. Have you enjoyed the season? It seems like such a long time since the people at Celebration were eagerly anticipating the episodes to come in January.

The Clone Wars: Padawan Lost

And now, what you’ve all been waiting for...Clone Wars reviews.  This post contains SPOILERS for “Padawan Lost”, the first episode of the two-part April 1 finale. 
This episode starts out with a reference that tells the more widely read viewer exactly what it’s about-- the koan’s mention of “dangerous game” . “The Most Dangerous Game” is a short story by Richard Connell (yes, I had to Google that, although I remember reading the story in middle school). In the story, the main character is pursued by a hunter who believes humans are the most satisfying prey because they can fight back. The episode, in which Ahsoka is set upon by a pack of Trandoshan hunters, also calls to mind battle royale stories such as “The Hunger Games”. So for once, I liked the koan. They better have done it on purpose.
We see Plo Koon, Anakin, and Ahsoka divvying up responsibilities in a battle against Grievous and his droids, presumably immediately after the Citadel fiasco where Master Plo lied to cover up Ahsoka’s impetuousness. 
The Felucian landscape is beautiful and detailed, with insects crawling around the inside of golden pods reminiscent of something from Avatar. Also cool are clone troopers with jetpacks and striped masks. 
The dialogue is about as subtle as usual. A Snivvian prisoner flatly explains that “These are Trandoshans. They’re going to release us and hunt us down for sport,” about which Ahsoka sounds about as disappointed as if she’d broken a nail. 
The Trandoshans themselves are pretty, especially the white striped one, and the voices are modulated with reptilian hisses and gurgles. But the main voice actor hams up his role like a wannabe warder from last episode channeling a Buck Rogers villain. 
I liked the fellow “younglings” Ahsoka encounters-- a human named Kalifa, a Twi’lek, and a Cerean. They inhabit a tree home that reminded me of the Lost Boys’ fort in Neverland. Unfortunately we don’t get much of a sense of character from them, nor of how long they’ve been on the Trandoshan’s private hunting ground. I’m predicting right now that whoever Ahsoka grows closest to is going to get killed off in the next battle scene. 
And now we come to the third time a Jedi Master has left Ahsoka to die. Plo insists that he and Anakin must leave Felucia, although the Chosen Angstpot refuses to like it. (Maybe Plo’s just trying to cover his own deception, eh?)
There were adorable little things in the background at 09:44, and then we’re treated to the sight of a Trandoshan seated in a wampa-skin chair.
I liked the dirt in this episode. Whatever filter they threw over the characters really works to make the place feel dusty. 
Ahsoka is very empowering in this episode. From cocky lines like responding to “Don’t overestimate your abilities,” with “I’m not,”, to stopping her fellow Jedi hopeful from killing one of the hunters, she plays a mentor figure. I have to resist...cheering her on. And that’s weird for me. At the same time as I want to see her brought down a peg and not be such a blasted Mary Sue, I can’t argue with a character telling others to believe in themselves when they prove that they can prevail against a scary situation, especially when it’s so-called girl power. Because of Ahsoka, Kalifa goes through the kind of transformation I wanted to see in Ahsoka, becoming strong in herself through growth instead of being that way to start with.
But Kalifa still can’t save herself without Marysoka, and...
Prediction correct. Except for the "next battle scene" part. 
I’ll move on to the next episode later and talk about them as a whole. As for this one, it did have a nice slow moment of dialogue at the end, but that dialogue was so muddled that it was practically a placeholder. And Anakin noticed.  I give it a resounding “meh”.