Thursday, November 23, 2017

ST:TNG - Hollow Perspective

In an effort to relive my early teens, I am re-watching old episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It is both better and worse than I remembered it, as was my youth most likely.
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Seriesdate: 3.14
A Matter of Perspective

It's Rashomon - in spaaaaaace!

Oh noes! Riker done a-'sploded a stereotypical old antisocial mad scientist after raping his wife. Except maybe he didn't. Except maybe he did. The only way to get at the truth is by making up diverging plausible stories in the holodeck.
I said it's the only way, damnit!

Sure we could follow the engineering crew subplot in the background concerning that weaponizable chandelier behind Mr. Wizard, but the real point of the episode is watching several different characters sitting around saying "computer, run program." Weirdly enough, it works. Yeah, you kinda know they cheaped out on sets, costumes and rehearsal and fed you three different takes of the same three scenes for most of the episode. You don't care, do you? There's a phaser, a chunky-style explosion, arguments about Federation legality, a fistfight and enough technobabble droning in the background to drown out your logic circuits.

Both episodes I'm discussing tonight manage to roll surprisingly gracefully through what could have been dull material if handled incorrectly, probably thanks largely to Cliff Bole's experience directing action series. Due to firm transitions and some decent writing for once, the holodeck finally finds its place aboard the Enterprise, no longer monopolizing plots or used for incongruous or extraneous period pieces but mediating the crew's interactions with the larger Star Trek universe. It's one of those cool-sounding futuristic technologies which keep elbowing each other for primacy on Star Trek, each one mind-bendingly overpowered under scrutiny: teleporting, synthesizing pork chops out of thin air, force fields, artificial gravity, Data, etc. When you see the laughably Tron-like graphics on control consoles on the bridge, you have to wonder why all information processing isn't simulated on the holodeck.

So anyway, yeah, spoiler alert: Riker didn't rape or murder anyone, which is probably just as well since Frakes, in all fairness, doesn't quite conjure up the same haunted wild-eyed menace on screen as Toshiro Mifune did. This being the main divergence (phasers and teleporters aside) from Kurosawa's classic, begs the question: why doesn't every mention of this episode begin with "in this Rashomon rip-off, our valiant space-samurai investigate" - ?

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Seriesdate: 3.21
Hollow Pursuits

I know I usually start these off by a sardonic take on the episode, but for once the gravity of the subject at hand demands my most sober and tactful analysis. To delve into the somber realm of addictive escapism we witness the lurid holodeck fantasy life of one Reginald Barclay, and weep we must at his plight for there is nothing funny about grown men in puffy shirts and feathers in their caps boisterously mangling period jargon while measuring epees.
...
*snicker*
Okay, so maybe there's plenty funny about it.
Hi, Broccoli!
Dwight Schultz as Barclay
First off though, let's take a moment to acknowledge the half-assed casting/make-up job on the stunt double for Barclay's swordfights.
Work your way down from the pompadour. Not only was the double visibly younger but had the Jedi agility to match. The fight scenes look like Barclay keeps turning super-saiyan every five seconds. Anyhoo...

Hollow Pursuits may not be on everyone's list of top TNG installments but even at ten years old I felt an immediate kinship with Lt. Barclay the social anxiety basket-case who prefers to live imaginary lives. I suppose that might stem from me having grown up as one of those solidly introverted kids who fill entire notebooks with meticulously logged and detailed monsters, spaceships, castles, giant robots, imaginary expeditions and maps of Never-Neverland. That I would get into Star Trek in junior high seems only logical, captain, and there seems to have been some debate on whether Lt. Broccoli hit so close to home because the creative team knew their fans or because they actually were those fans. Trekkies are after all one of the prime lotophagous examples of the television age... but then again TNG's crew itself consisted to a surprising extent of Original Series Trek fans and embodied many of the characteristics of SF fans in general. See Michael Piller as quoted here:"It really was not intended directly at Star Trek fans. It was certainly about fantasy life versus reality. More than any other character in the three years I have been at Star Trek, the character of Barclay was more like me than anybody else."

Now as to my views on trekkies, see my commentary on Spock's death a couple of years ago. Escaping humanity in one way or another is vital to any mind peeking above the crass morass of dumbass comprising humanity, but need not involve surrendering one's dignity, much less intellectual integrity. Hollow Pursuits works as well as it does for maintaining a consistent sympathetic position vis-a-vis its otherworldly protagonist while nonetheless denouncing fixation. I don't agree with the insistence on dragging poor Reginald back to the "real" world by the scruff of his neck but still... when it stagnates, escapism loses its intellectual superiority.

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I've said it before and I'll say it again: I don't like the holodeck. Unless it's a core concept, the notion of a game within a game or a movie within a movie comes across as a cheesy postmodern sophistic gamble writers pull out of their asses when they're low on funding and/or ideas. It breaks immersion more than it helps it and tended to monopolize TNG whenever it came up.

Still these two shows make quick work of the costumes and old-timey slang belabored in past episodes and instead manage a much better integration of this discordant element by focusing not on the holodeck itself but on how the Enterprise's crew uses said deck. How does such technology help or interfere with that seeking out of strange new worlds and new civilizations which is supposed to be the show's point? How does an unimaginably powerful interactive environment like that figure into the neuroses of what is for all intents and purposes a cabin-feverish submarine crew?

If you can get past the shallow novelty of dressing your characters in poofy skirts and fedoras, there's some storytelling value to be garnered by holo-decking. The Rashomon routine benefited from a medium within their universe onto which witnesses could project their subjective interpretations. The character interactions in Hollow Pursuits come across as much more natural than usual Star Trek fare, with all-too-human bickering, commiseration, concern for both efficiency and individual well-being. All the more so for the various crew members being juxtaposed with their cartoonishly goofy holodeck eidolons, which to be honest could fit perfectly into most of TNG's first- and second-season cesspit of bad writing.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Rape of the Lock

A quick explanation of the Weinstein effect, which is really just an extension of gender politics as usual in the human species:

If you deny a woman the inalienable right to use her sexuality as a weapon, you're a filthy slut-shamer, you sexist pig.

If, however, you are male and you've ever so much as raised an eyebrow in a woman's direction, regardless of how much she came on to you and led you on, you're a vicious criminal and a threat to society. She can come back at any time, whenever convenient to herself, even decades after the fact, and claim she was victimized. Then, based on her subjective interpretation (of acts which if she'd performed them herself would be laughed off as party antics or condescending favors) all of your friends, coworkers and various organs of the body politic will proceed to destroy your reputation, ruin you financially and ostracize you. That's if you're rich or lucky enough not to get thrown in prison as a rapist to be raped to death on a vindictive bitch's say-so.

Obviously, according to feminist doctrine, this exultant, unstoppable witch hunt, the willingness of the entire socioeconomic system to uncritically burn any man as soon as a woman points a finger at him, must somehow only be further proof of male power over women. 'Cuz ovaries... or some shit.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Terrible Law

"Don't take it away from me
I need someone to hold on to"

Nine Inch Nails - Terrible Lie


So's-I's-a'wuz-a-thinkens, I've never entirely liked the way the law/chaos axis has been handled in cRPGs and much of dis, like, dislike has to do with lying. Bad enough that chaotic or freedom-loving characters get painted as mere spazzy goofball comic relief or frequently insane. Need we heap further insult upon them by labeling them liars to boot?

After all, lying is in the real world more often than not the very mortar holding up any power hierarchy's foundations, in the form of a big lie, a blatantly false dogma which must be sustained by continual, unyielding, authoritarian falsehood. Religions give us the prime example. The very notion of the existence of the "super"-natural must be supported by constant, ritualistic repetition of the lie, in unchanging chapter and verse, to the point where not even the threat of truth but minor secondary embellishments of the big lie are apt to spawn pogroms, inquisitions and jihads. There's nothing at once as lawful and as dishonest as a mantra or catechism. Brainwashing. Capitalism, communism, primitivism, feminism, veganism and tribal identities of all stripes similarly depend on repeating, ad nauseam, their own particular big lies. Everything's always the fault of the (insert evil here): Jews, welfare queens, carnivores, bourgeoisie, white imperialism, technocracy, black imperialism, patriarchy, polka-dot-imperialism, etc.

Pick your poison and if it doesn't sound convincing, just keep repeating it until it drowns out dissent.

In fact, let's make a game of it. Literally. In the spirit of RPGs which allow you to play evil characters, create a game in which your roleplaying choices center on upholding a particular big lie. Fabricate fake news and fake statistics, bribe and smear and silence the opposition, subvert and divert rational criticism by emotional manipulation, monetize your true believers, feed unrelated scandals to shift scrutiny off yourself, foment moral panics, bury evidence, play the victim, play the people's champion, found entire institutions dedicated to legitimizing your propaganda in the eyes of the public. Base success on how consistently, how lawfully the player manages to uphold a blatant falsehood.

Most of the world's population is either already playing this game, or wishes they could. Someone should really cash in on it. If it plays in New York, it'll play in Neverwinter.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Galaxion

Always up for some Sciencey-type Fiction whether in book, flick or comic form, I've been flipping through Galaxion's archive recently, so as to refine my already mighty eye-rolling powers. Call me a jaded old escapist but most of its foreshadowed plot twists seemed blatantly telegraphed even for its presumed intended audience of naive adolescent comic book store layabouts.

Well duh, of course the experimental hyperdrive is going to land them in an [redacted][redacted] and of course the [redacted] is going to be an alien and the survivors will be mingling with the [redacted] of world-wide [cockadoodle] and the accident must have been sabotage by one of the [redacted]s acting under a latent form of [red][acted] and eventually somebody's gonna probe that damn cat.

Okay, fine, maybe I've seen a few too many Twilight Zones and I'm a bit too familiar with Chekov's phaser by this point in my star cruising. While not fundamentally creative, Galaxion's still adequately paced and doesn't unduly belabor its revelations, walking that successful popular entertainment line between facile and engaging. Meh, worth a skim, I guess.

What really gets me is the ship's crew, and by that I mean it gets me wanting to open up all the airlocks and vacuum out some stupid. How do you make Captain James T. Kirk look, by comparison, like a realistic portrait of a professional, hard-bitten explorer? Replace him with a spacefaring version of the cast of Saved by the Bell. Which might be fine if Galaxion sold itself as a goofier, more fanciful tale, but not if you want to involve military ranks and life-or-death situations. This well-coiffed ditz with the heart pendant wouldn't inspire confidence in a kindergarden classroom, much less in the grim, barren, icy depths of space. Suits her fine since her crew all seems to hail from Planet Sunshine in the Star System Lollipops, grinning constantly like maniacs, never backbiting or shirking duties or trying to climb the ladder over each other's corpses or acting in any other way human.

The only character I find even remotely relatable's the one token unlikeable, surly, overly-formal crewman who never talks to anyone. He fits into SF. The rest of them, I don't know what infernal, saccharine kids' puppet show they emigrated from, but it's not the cold, impersonal genre of emotionless ideas.

Surprising, the ways in which an author can surprise us. While I can predict a chapter or so ahead of Galaxion's young adult version of fictional science, I can't for the life of me figure out which cast member will be filling which role. Who will be sacrificed, who will save the day, who will berate whom? They are spawned by a mind utterly alien to my own.

Oh, that human element.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Behold tha kratos o' dem !

"Let's admit America gets the celebrities we deserve
Let's stop saying 'don't quote me' because if no-one quotes you
You probably haven't said a thing worth saying

Ask not what you can do for your country
Ask what your country did to you"

KMFDM - Dogma



I was in my last year of high school back in 2000 when his most holy imbecility the child king Bush II was anointed to ruin the world to the best of Dick Cheney's abilities, so the whole embarrassing mess was etched rather painfully into my loopier, darker, soggier sulci. (For you young'uns, just ask your parents about "hanging chads" and see them roll their eyes.) Only... I didn't see the point of it. The whole slapfight over those few thousand Florida votes seemed like small potatoes to me. Forget the two thousand retards who might have voted Bush and worry about the whopping fifty million who really did vote for him. I repeatedly pointed out that regardless of who technically won the election, roughly half the country wanted to be mastered and commanded by a drooling, bumbling, illiterate oaf. Choke on that!

It was about a year ago that were were afflicted with the curse of President Trump, who makes "Bush with the IQ thereof" look like Pericles by comparison. Seeing the yuppie outcry over every single one of Trump's deliberately distracting media stunts, seeing the obsessive focus over this one media figurehead, I can't help but wonder how in a single generation we could have completely forgotten that most important lesson from the 2000 and 2004 elections. Stupidity is elected by stupidity. Nero and Caligula were pretty damn popular with the rabble initially as well. Donald Trump is the will and embodiment of the people.

That knuckledragging rabid baboon represents at least 63 million "people" plus all the ones who got too drunk on the way to even find the polls, plus most of the Democratic voters as well. Oh, yes. Those same Democrats loved him on "The Apprentice" after all. They love him as the embodiment of domineering profiteering. He represents their own chauvinistic sexism and racism, their greed, dishonesty, pettiness, laziness and ignorance. They just wouldn't vote for him because he was born the wrong sex and wasn't insulting the right evil skin color.

Forget Trump. Whether he finally gets impeached or not, whether Trump himself fades from the limelight, the Trump problem will not disappear and that problem is human nature itself. Look around you. Look at all the degenerate vermin who voted for Trump or would gladly have voted for him if he'd had a vagina: all the dudebros and soccer moms, all the valley girls and barflies, the rednecks and gangbangers and church-going mommas with their rodential litters in tow. That filth, that utter subsapient filth is the enemy. Normal human beings. The majority. Scum.

The People do not represent me. I am no longer of your kind. I am Werwolfe. A much wider gulf divides intellect from stupidity within the human race than the average human from a chimpanzee. Let's stop pretending we're all one species. The perennial, all-pervasive side project of every intelligent individual should be to extricate other intellects from the mindless glut of simian mediocrity. You've committed no crime to warrant such penance as subjecting yourself to the howling imbecility of the people. Stop trying to educate or change the majority, the vermin, the Trump wannabes. Just help the worthwhile few escape their grip. Abandon humanity.

Escape.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Spacecom

I can't think of a song tie-in for this one... maybe something from Tron?


I was debating whether even a screenshot's justifiable, given how little screen there is to shot. Yes, that's actual nail-biting interstellar fleet-on-fleet SciFi action right there, looking like the mere tactical minimap of most RTS games.

I'd added Spacecom to my GoG wishlist some time ago. Now that I've shilled out a whole dollar for it on sale, I do wish I'd bought it years ago at full price while it was still "popular" for whatever definition of popularity applies to a 2014 game with 1980s graphics. In contrast to the despicable "neo retro" trend in adventure games and platformers and the like over recent years, Spacecom manages to stand on its own merit instead of merely banking on suckering in a few hipsters and nostalgic 40-year-olds trying to recapture their 8-bit youth by buying anything pixelated.

Yes, it's a very limited game using a very old premise: conquer your way through a two-dimensional network. You've got:
-three types of nodes (solar systems) of various sizes, each capable of either producing your one resource, producing ships from that resource or repairing them.
-three types of ships, for fighting other ships, destroying solar systems or capturing them.
-three types of optional defenses for each system.

Yet from those simple elements plus various patterns of linking nodes and the always thorny element of time arises that same sort of surprising complexity found in classic abstract strategy games like chess or Go. Play offensively or defensively, tentatively or decisively, scorch earth, steal supplies, stall and reinforce. Spacecom's lack of immersion comes with a lack of interference as well; unpretentious and streamlined, the interface delivers everything you need at a glance, clearly and intuitively. Though I usually prefer broader, more freeform activities, I could see myself jumping online for a half-hour match now and then with some regularity, were it still being played.

Aye, there's the rub. This is obviously a multiplayer concept, and as it seems to have failed to build or maintain a critical mass of players, if you buy it now you'll be left pummeling the largely incompetent AI into submission until bored of its repetitive antics. For under ten dollars it's still worth it (especially as an example of clean, sober, focused, professional, no-frills game design) but I do slightly regret not having gotten in on Spacecom while the getting was good.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The British Lolcat Broadcasting Corporation

I typed "news" into my web browser and this popped up as my top interest-grabbing hit from BBC World News: "Little girl's stolen puppy returned by remorseful thieves" - and I swear to that idiotic primitive superstition the rest of you call "god" that when I visited BBC's site to grab the link for this post, the very next hit after it was "Australian jockey Caboche suspended for punching horse."

Flying Spaghetti Monster, give me strength.

You morons!
... Ok, I suppose that second story's so close to a literal "man bites dog" headline that journalists might feel tempted to play it up, but it's still not close enough. If he'd instead turned around backwards and kicked the horse, then I might be interested, and even then only as a one-liner. The real issue is that this bull horseshit popped up as "world" news. It's not. It's really, really not... None of us over here in the platypus-free world gives a crap what Australian jockeys do. Nobody in Estonia or Paraguay or Asshead, Arkansas has ever woken up with a burning desire to plumb the mysteries of ethical conduct among diminutive down-under horse-humpers. Trust me on this one.

But a story about a cute puppy? Is this seriously a BBC World News article or am I being trolled? Is this shit seriously being promoted front and center on the world stage while in a tiny sidebar wait tiny mentions of Trump visiting China to kiss the asses of the most prolific human rights offenders in the world? While news of rampant worldwide tax fraud hides meekly in the corner?

Yes, I know "Mittens the kitten" segments have been used to lampoon reporters for over a century, from at least the time of Mark Twain and Ambrose Bierce. I'm in my thirties and I've never known any news media, whether in print, radio, tv, internet, blimp, whatever, to actually deliver the sort of sober, factual and above all relevant reporting on which we should all be able to depend. However, it's gotten much worse.

For one thing, "Mittens the kitten" used to ridicule local small-town news segments, not international ones. For another, news media fluff pieces have only grown more ludicrous with the onset of the internet, because now the public can make its own fluff. We're self-fluffing! Anyone who wants to know about Australian jockeys can visit those jockeys' Facebook pages. You want editorials about vampire-themed role-playing video games or anime or comics or the ethics of sniping in online shooters? I provide those right here on this blog! If this is what it takes to convince you, I will go into Dwarf Fortress and somehow name one of my dwarves' pet kittens "Mittens" then have a kobold steal it. I can write that article, and these half-dozen chumps giving me hits on the blog will actually read it. Amazing! - and amazingly enough, it doesn't take a multibillion-dollar international investigative conglomerate to produce that story.

BBC News, of all things, used to at least maintain some dim pretense of respectability, bit o' the old stiff opper lip, wot? When did the BBC grow content with becoming a Monty Python parody of itself? Do you know why everyone stopped reading the news? Because you, all of you from Los Angeles to Moscow, stopped doing your jobs in the late 1800s. If I can replace you by typing "funny cat videos" into Youtube, you don't get to whine about the public's apathy or low sales. You do not deserve your jobs.