Tuesday, November 27, 2018

If you don't communicate your rules

This post comes out of a new series of writing I do on ASOIAF meta and other topics of popular culture over at the Patreon of the Boiled Leather Audio Hour. If you like to read stuff like this, chime in just 1$ and you get access to everything I write. If you throw in 2$, you even get access to mini-podcasts I'm doing with Sean T. Collins answering questions by listeners of the podcast. Give the Patreon a look
 
I like playing the X-COM games. In case you never heard of them, you're tasked with defeating an alien invasion that threatens the whole world, which has taken the sensible step of pooling all its resources into an organization that has around three squads of very good soldiers and can respond to exactly one crisis at a time because they have only one transport. When the aliens become stronger, your funds are cut. Exactly what you'd need to do in case of an invasion. It reminds one of the premise of Pacific Rim. 
 
Anyway, the games are round-based tactical strategy, which means you order around your squad on a tactical map where each soldier has certain actions he can perform and try to outsmart the aliens. Between missions, you research new tech and perform other more strategic tasks. It's good fun if you like that sort of thing. 
 
If you REALLY like that sort of thing, you install the "Long War" mod. It's a giant fan-made modification that blows up the length of your average campaign from the reasonable twenty-ish hours of the basegame to something around 80-120 hours. It also offers a wealth of new options in upgrades, skill trees, strategic choices, etc. And it's fiendishly difficult to boot. 
 
Now, you might say: "Stefan, don't be such a coward! Difficult games have their challenges, and I'm glad that there are games like this!" And sure, I can see that argument. But the Long War mod does have three problems that for me destroy what in theory I could really like. 
 
You will inevitably fail. This is ok, again, it's upposed to be difficult. The problem is that your failing happens around ten to thirty hours before you notice it. That means you can be forty hours into the game and only then realize that you fucked up thirty hours ago. 
 
The second problem ist that your failing comes in the form of a vicious cycle. One mistake, or simple bad luck, can start such a cycle that will lead you into an ever devolving drain of further failure with practically no chance to escape. That's bad. The same happens for the base game as well, but because that game doesn't suffer from problem number three, you usually notice your failing earlier and don't lose too much time. 
 
So, problem number three is the one I can't excuse. The other two you can file under "high difficulty", and if you like that, fine. The third, though, I don't accept. It's not communicating your rules clearly. 
 
The Long War mod does something quite a lot of more complex video games do (Paradox Interactive is another perpetrator here): it gives you a ton of interlocking systems that work quietely in the background that you can influence indirectly and which are HUGELY important. But the game doesn't explain to you how they work or how you can influence them OR THAT THEY'RE EVEN THERE. 
 
And that's not difficulty, that's just bad programming. You can essentially only play the Long War mod (or one of those Paradox monsters) when you open the fan-made Wiki in another window and permanently cross-reference it. Because it's not like that stuff would work randomly in the background, work as essentially a Fate putting down her weight on the scales of destiny. That's Darkest Dungeon, and you can do that, and it makes a game difficult, and that's ok. 
 
Long War and other games guilty of this sin simply outsource writing a good manual or tutorial to the community. And that's really, really not ok. 
 
And then, because these people hate you, there will be semi-regular updates that change whole features and variables, so you'd need to constantly start the learning process anew.
I'd really like to like Long War and other games like this. In theory, they're totally my thing. But Problem Number Three breaks them for me. Sorry.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

How to detect Wonder Woman's villain in his first scene

 
This post comes out of a new series of writing I do on ASOIAF meta and other topics of popular culture over at the Patreon of the Boiled Leather Audio Hour. If you like to read stuff like this, chime in just 1$ and you get access to everything I write. If you throw in 2$, you even get access to mini-podcasts I'm doing with Sean T. Collins answering questions by listeners of the podcast. Give the Patreon a look!
 
I'm discussing the identity of the villain of Wonder Woman, so spoilers.
 
Back when I was was watching Wonder Woman with my wife for the first time and Sir Patrick came on screen for the first time, I said aloud "He's the bad guy." My wife, who had watched the movie in cinema, was incredulous. "How do you know?" Today, I want to share the magical powers of ruining a movie with you. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Tomb Raider - Movie Review

This post comes out of a new series of writing I do on ASOIAF meta and other topics of popular culture over at the Patreon of the Boiled Leather Audio Hour. If you like to read stuff like this, chime in just 1$ and you get access to everything I write. If you throw in 2$, you even get access to mini-podcasts I'm doing with Sean T. Collins answering questions by listeners of the podcast. Give the Patreon a look!
 
Tomb Raider recently came out on Blue Ray, and I watched it with my wife. I thought I'd share my two cents with you. Short version: Watchable. Long version: There are some really interesting conclusions to draw from this in two regards. One is basics of screenwriting and the second is the ever-present problem of adapting a video game to film. I guess this is the best video game adaption movie so far, but that's not been a high bar to clear yet. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

The height of Assassin's Creed

This post comes out of a new series of writing I do on ASOIAF meta and other topics of popular culture over at the Patreon of the Boiled Leather Audio Hour. If you like to read stuff like this, chime in just 1$ and you get access to everything I write. If you throw in 2$, you even get access to mini-podcasts I'm doing with Sean T. Collins answering questions by listeners of the podcast. Give the Patreon a look!
 
I played all Assassin's Creed games up to "Black Flag". What I've read from the reviews so far, I didn't miss all that much from the games that came after. I don't want to talk about gameplay here (very repetitive and simple), but the story. The height of the series, in my book, were the ones with Ezio Morricone (Assassin's Creed 2, Brotherhood and Revelations), and especially the last of those, Revelations. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

The "problem" with the Golden Age of Television

This post comes out of a new series of writing I do on ASOIAF meta and other topics of popular culture over at the Patreon of the Boiled Leather Audio Hour. If you like to read stuff like this, chime in just 1$ and you get access to everything I write. If you throw in 2$, you even get access to mini-podcasts I'm doing with Sean T. Collins answering questions by listeners of the podcast. Give the Patreon a look!

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Time and place in ASOIAF

This post comes out of a new series of writing I do on ASOIAF meta and other topics of popular culture over at the Patreon of the Boiled Leather Audio Hour. If you like to read stuff like this, chime in just 1$ and you get access to everything I write. If you throw in 2$, you even get access to mini-podcasts I'm doing with Sean T. Collins answering questions by listeners of the podcast. Give the Patreon a look! 

George R. R. Martin is a prolific and excellent writer. One of the biggest problems he has to wrestle with are the constraints of time and place. He famously labored for years over the "Meereenese Knot", the question which character would arrive in Meereen at which point on time, the conclusion of which determined the whole solution to "A Dance with Dragons". Given that that solution took the last third of the novel, that is quite a tall order. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Life is not a song


This post comes out of a new series of writing I do on ASOIAF meta and other topics of popular culture over at the Patreon of the Boiled Leather Audio Hour. If you like to read stuff like this, chime in just 1$ and you get access to everything I write. If you throw in 2$, you even get access to mini-podcasts I'm doing with Sean T. Collins answering questions by listeners of the podcast. Give the Patreon a look!
 
„Life is not a song, sweetling. Some day you may learn that, to your sorrow.” – Peter Baelish
Littlefinger is right, of course. Life is definitely not a song. However, that statement comes in the Song of Ice and Fire, which makes this into an almost philosophical riddle. Life is not a song, but if you are a character in one and know that, can you use it to your advantage? Fourth-Wall breaking has a long tradition in literature, and Martin is no stranger to the concept. So, if life is a song after all – or, to quote Shakespeare, the world a stage and we all players – then who exactly is cognizant of this fact? 

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

The posthumous gendering of Frozen

This post comes out of a new series of writing I do on ASOIAF meta and other topics of popular culture over at the Patreon of the Boiled Leather Audio Hour. If you like to read stuff like this, chime in just 1$ and you get access to everything I write. If you throw in 2$, you even get access to mini-podcasts I'm doing with Sean T. Collins answering questions by listeners of the podcast. Give the Patreon a look!
 
I don't know if this is a "Germany only" phenomenon, but I highly doubt it: in the last months, a ton of branded stuff of all stripes - shower gels, chocolate bars, caps, bed sheets, EVERYTHING - has hit all the stores. It always comes in two varieties: Star Wars for boys, Frozen for girls. So you get a black shower gel bottle with Yoda on it, and a pink one with Elza. You get the same damn toothpaste with Anna and with Kylo Ren. And so on and so forth. This isn't restricted to the usual merchandise shops, which is the weird thing about it, it's just about EVERYWHERE, and it's clearly gender-marketed. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

The problem with biopics

This post comes out of a new series of writing I do on ASOIAF meta and other topics of popular culture over at the Patreon of the Boiled Leather Audio Hour. If you like to read stuff like this, chime in just 1$ and you get access to everything I write. If you throw in 2$, you even get access to mini-podcasts I'm doing with Sean T. Collins answering questions by listeners of the podcast. Give the Patreon a look!

I recently watched "Darkest Hour", the biopic about Winston Churchill in May 1940. I'm usually not a fan of biopics, which are oscar-bait at best and boring distortions at worst. "Darkest Hour" begins really strong, but it falters in the last third, falling victim to the problems it shares with many other biopics. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Things to learn from Last Jedi deleted scenes

This post comes out of a new series of writing I do on ASOIAF meta and other topics of popular culture over at the Patreon of the Boiled Leather Audio Hour. If you like to read stuff like this, chime in just 1$ and you get access to everything I write. If you throw in 2$, you even get access to mini-podcasts I'm doing with Sean T. Collins answering questions by listeners of the podcast. Give the Patreon a look!
 
I watched the deleted scenes on the Last Jedi DVD recently, and there's some interesting stuff to learn from those. I'm not talking plot here, I'm talking structure, so strap in. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Gunpowder review

I recently watched the BBC miniseries "Gunpowder", starring "Game of Thrones" star Kit Harrington in the lead role. The 3-part-series follows the misfortunes of the gunpowder plot ("Remember, remember, the 5th of November" and all of that). Episode 1 is the introduction, episode 2 everything starts to unravel, and episode 3 sees the conclusion. It's not like you wouldn't know the plot ultimately fails, right? Oops, spoiler alert. 
Now, knowing beforehand how the story ends is not a major stumbling block. "Titanic" and "Rogue One" did just fine with a perfectly obvious conlusion of its story. Nor does anyone seriously doubt whether or not the Rebels will blow up the Death Star. No, "not knowing how it ends" is not where suspense comes from. Not knowing how our characters will do it, or if they will manage to pull through or survive with their principals intact, now, that's where suspense is coming from.


Unfortunately, for this to work, you need characters or a plot I'm interested in. "Titanic" had melodrama to spare, and innocent wide-eyed kids to drown. "Rogue One" had the substance of the Rebellion on the line, and at least mildly interesting characters. "Gundpowder" has neither. There are Very Serious People walking about, spouting Very Serious Dialogue, but there's little the viewer can connect to, and thar unravels the whole enterprise. There's no scene where this is more evident than in the finale of the first episode, where a mole is murdered by a man dramatically anouncing "My name is...Guy Fawkes!" This calls home Benedict Cumberbatch's ill-fated attempt at playing Khan, and it fails for the same reasons.


Plus, while it's only three episodes long, it's still way too long. This could have easily been a feature-length film and be done with it, and yet, it insists on being three hours long. God, this thing is boring!

Matters aren't helped by the fact that the worst clichees are mobilized. The king is not only stupid, degenerate and decadent, but also gay. His gay lover is a fool. The evil councelor Cecil has a hunchback. The good guys are looking, well, like Kit Harington (who, we're told several times, is the best swordsmen in England, as if that was relevant for the story). The king's soldiers even smash a load of apple's out of a random woman's arms just to make the point they're evil.

The show also dabbles in what seems to be the standard set by "The Tudors" for pieces set in that period. There's torture porn. A LOT of torture porn. People are put on the rack (check), burned alive (check), pressed to death, waterboarded (seriously), and so on.


The series has quite the line-up, with Liv Tyler, John-Bradely West and Mark Gatiss among the most prominent other cast members. The actors do the best with the stilted lines they're given (Liv Tyler has some of the worst, where she has to talk about how weak her woman's heart is).

So, you can easily give this one a pass. That makes two duds now for Kit Harrington trying to follow up Game of Thrones (after "Pompeii"). He's running out of options fast, and given that he co-produced and conceived this one will not help matters.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Learning bad dating lessons from popculture

This post comes out of a new series of writing I do on ASOIAF meta and other topics of popular culture over at the Patreon of the Boiled Leather Audio Hour. If you like to read stuff like this, chime in just 1$ and you get access to everything I write. If you throw in 2$, you even get access to mini-podcasts I'm doing with Sean T. Collins answering questions by listeners of the podcast. Give the Patreon a look!
 
The always brillant and insightful Pop Culture Detective published a video on YouTube recently (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rZ1MPc5HG_I) talking about how Hollywood continues to perpetrate the harmful clichee that stalking is a generally romantic thing that men do. I wholeheartedly agree with the video, but it got me thinking. I wanted to talk about this for quite some time, but I've never found a good angle for it, and maybe this is it. 

Thursday, May 24, 2018

X-Men Apocalypse

This post comes out of a new series of writing I do on ASOIAF meta and other topics of popular culture over at the Patreon of the Boiled Leather Audio Hour. If you like to read stuff like this, chime in just 1$ and you get access to everything I write. If you throw in 2$, you even get access to mini-podcasts I'm doing with Sean T. Collins answering questions by listeners of the podcast. Give the Patreon a look!
 
I never watched X-Men Apocalypse until recently. I really liked what "First Class" did back in the day, yet I was disappointed with "Days of Future Past", and the trailers for "Apocalypse" didn't look promising at all, so I only now got my hands on the DVD and watched it in lieu of something better to do. And boy, this movie is a mess. It's bad. 

Thursday, May 10, 2018

A "Dark"-Guide to Germany

This post comes out of a new series of writing I do on ASOIAF meta and other topics of popular culture over at the Patreon of the Boiled Leather Audio Hour. If you like to read stuff like this, chime in just 1$ and you get access to everything I write. If you throw in 2$, you even get access to mini-podcasts I'm doing with Sean T. Collins answering questions by listeners of the podcast. Give the Patreon a look!
 
If you watched Netflix' "Dark", and you're not from Germany, you might stumble over certain cultural things and historical references that you don't get, with this movie being set in Germany and all. Fear not, noble Patreons, I'm here to deliver you from ignorance. *pompous fanfare* 

Sunday, April 22, 2018

What Sansa Stark and Poe Dameron have in common

This post comes out of a new series of writing I do on ASOIAF meta and other topics of popular culture over at the Patreon of the Boiled Leather Audio Hour. If you like to read stuff like this, chime in just 1$ and you get access to everything I write. If you throw in 2$, you even get access to mini-podcasts I'm doing with Sean T. Collins answering questions by listeners of the podcast. Give the Patreon a look!
 
One of the main complaints many people had at "The Last Jedi" was Poe's plot in the movie. To recap (spoilers, duh), Poe disobeyed Leia's order in the evacuation battle to take out a giant First Order battleship, in which he succeeded with horrendous losses and achieved basically nothing. Later, he yet again disregards order and conducts are harebrained scheme in order to obtain the services of a master-hacker, use him to infiltrate Surpreme Leader Snoke's flagship, and take out their [McGuffin-Engine]. That plan derails when Finn and Rose get detained for illegally parking their space-ship on the beach (seriously) and gets even worse when they hire some random guy they meet in prison who sells out their secret plan to the First Order. 

Saturday, April 14, 2018

How Starship Troopers jumpstarted my interest in popculture

This post comes out of a new series of writing I do on ASOIAF meta and other topics of popular culture over at the Patreon of the Boiled Leather Audio Hour. If you like to read stuff like this, chime in just 1$ and you get access to everything I write. If you throw in 2$, you even get access to mini-podcasts I'm doing with Sean T. Collins answering questions by listeners of the podcast. Give the Patreon a look! 

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Halt and Catch Fire Season 3

This post comes out of a new series of writing I do on ASOIAF meta and other topics of popular culture over at the Patreon of the Boiled Leather Audio Hour. If you like to read stuff like this, chime in just 1$ and you get access to everything I write. If you throw in 2$, you even get access to mini-podcasts I'm doing with Sean T. Collins answering questions by listeners of the podcast. Give the Patreon a look!


It's always weird when a series that's "ok" suddenly finds a switch, turns it on and immediately becomes really good. The same thing happened to "The Americans" in season 2, after season 1 was entertaining yet not really all that special. It also happens with Halt and Catch Fire. The show exuberates a new-found confidence, using it in interesting ways and taking the story and the characters to places it didn't dare before. The result is a resounding success. 

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Halt and Catch Fire Season 2

This post comes out of a new series of writing I do on ASOIAF meta and other topics of popular culture over at the Patreon of the Boiled Leather Audio Hour. If you like to read stuff like this, chime in just 1$ and you get access to everything I write. If you throw in 2$, you even get access to mini-podcasts I'm doing with Sean T. Collins answering questions by listeners of the podcast. Give the Patreon a look!
 
 I now finished season 2 as well. Without Sean's explicit endorsement, I think I would've aborted my watching of it. In some ways, season 2 corrects some of season one's problems, but in other ways, it exacerbates them.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Halt and Catch Fire Season 1

This post comes out of a new series of writing I do on ASOIAF meta and other topics of popular culture over at the Patreon of the Boiled Leather Audio Hour. If you like to read stuff like this, chime in just 1$ and you get access to everything I write. If you throw in 2$, you even get access to mini-podcasts I'm doing with Sean T. Collins answering questions by listeners of the podcast. Give the Patreon a look!
Based on Sean's recommendation in the BLAH about 2017 in review, I started watching "Halt and Catch Fire". Everywhere you look, people say it's an ok show until it becomes great in season 3. I'm usually not hot for wasting two seasons worth of time until something becomes worthwhile, but Sean isn't someone to say this lightly, so I started on it. This is my review of season 1, spoilers and all. Short version: an ok show. 

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Civil Wars, past and a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away

This post comes out of a new series of writing I do on ASOIAF meta and other topics of popular culture over at the Patreon of the Boiled Leather Audio Hour. If you like to read stuff like this, chime in just 1$ and you get access to everything I write. If you throw in 2$, you even get access to mini-podcasts I'm doing with Sean T. Collins answering questions by listeners of the podcast. Give the Patreon a look!
 
I only just noticed a weird line by Padmé Amidala in Revenge of the Sith (yeah, weird lines in that movie, shocking). She says to Anakin that the whole civil war between the Seperatists and the Republic only came to pass because "no one listens to each other anymore". This reminded me instantly of the god-awful debate a few months ago, when Chief of Staff John Kelly attributed the much more real American Civil War to a "lack of compromise", which is basically the same thing. It makes about the same amoung of sense in both universes.