Bioshunt Infinite

Spoilers regarding Bioshock Infinite.

With a nod to the advice we give our children, “If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all”, I’m going to keep this brief.  I just finished Bioshock Infinite, and I’m not pleased.

From the moment the mind-bullet of the first Bioshock was fired deep into my gray matter, I’ve held the franchise up to a high standard.  I’ve mentioned before that I felt let down by the second.  The rule of threes seems to be in full effect; Bioshock the Third has shattered my confidence in the universe.

Here is the drop: Your character is an alternate reality version of the bad guy(??) who created the flying city you’ve been running around.  This other you takes your baby and raises her to be kind of a jerk, so you go back in time to kill you/him.  Actually, the sweet girl you protected/tortured drowns you.  Wait, actually, TEAM Girl You Protected/Tortured kills you.

image

What?  The last scenes of the game draw in Rapture, talk about infinite yous in infinite universes all destined to engage endlessly in the same scenario…and we’re going to drown one dude rather than accept the futility of that gesture?

When did sweet little Elizabeth become such a ruthless bitch anyway?  Possibly while following you on your hours-long murder spree.  Point Bioshock I suppose.  There wasn’t something in that multidimensional handbag they could have used to fix things rather than drown her only friend?

All that said, I can’t recommend Bioshock Infinite, but I respect that they were aiming high.  Plenty good can be said about the game, and it’s a welcome reprieve from mindless bullet storms.  This franchise might want to stow the twist endings for a while though, and try a different tactic.

P.S: I did read an article that pointed out that Booker/Elizabeth could control the bathyspheres, where only Andrew/Jack could in the early game.  So possibly Booker/Comstock was also the protagonist/antagonist of the first game, in a way.

Gigapause: Crisis of Faith

Homestuck is in stasis.  Hussie made a questionable, but probably wise decision to finish the last of his story before releasing it to the internet.  You know, like basically most authors, artists, film-makers and game publishers do.

image

I can’t help but feel disappointed that the method has changed in the final months though.  While the work may be better for it, I’m not sure the community or the experiment itself benefit in quite the same way.  Sure, the common methods yield the chance to make changes, adjust vision, polish and polish again, but we had something special.

That’s a paltry concern compared to the real weight on my mind: Will Homestuck end too quickly?  Some of Hussie’s comments warn readers that they aren’t guaranteed that the remaining Acts will be of considerable length.

Better, more experienced readers are conjecturing what will happen at the close of the story.  Instead, I will only say that I feel the main characters have so much more to tell us about themselves and so much more to say to each other.  Other, more minor characters, will feel neglected if we end without getting to know them better.  Here I speak specifically of the Pre-scratch Trolls.  I get that they’re vehicles for insight into the Post-scratch Trolls, as well as puzzle pieces for classpect theorizing, and miscellaneous story columns.  However, a few characters like Meenah and Aranea have tumbled long stretches of spotlight, while the others fade away into oblivion, more setting than character.

I barely feel I’ve gotten to know Dirk or Jake at all, to be honest, though there may be more there for me in the inevitable gigapause second reading.  But there is so much I still want to see from this comic.  From these characters.  It’s possible I just don’t want to let them go.

All this boils down to is a crisis of faith.  Hussie hasn’t let me down so far, but so many authors and stories fall apart at the end.  I’ve felt the sting before (I thumb my nose at the last 3 episodes of Soul Eater here), and I’ve let this story get close enough to it will more than sting if the narrative rushes to an unsatisfactory conclusion.

My answer is there, obviously.  Hussie was good enough to get me involved and concerned with his imaginary people.  I know he has the skills necessary to land this flight of fancy.  I just have to have faith he will put them to use.

In happier news, second read-through coming up, including more posts hear on the subject.  I’ll also be taking a slightly different look at the dialog thanks to the good sirs at Colab creating an animated rendition of the comic.  Their voice-acting is great fun and I highly recommend Let’s Read: Homestuck for listening at work.

The Death of Daisy Fitzroy(?)

A warning: This post will contain spoilers for Bioshock Infinite, and probably for other games in the series.

The price Bioshock Infinite dropped to a meager thirteen dollars a few weeks ago.  I purchased the second game in this series years ago while I was still motivated by the head-spinning pleasure of the first game’s revelations.  

I was not as impressed with the sequel.  I have not been able to relive that wonder in this latest Bioshock either.  It’s pretty and no less fun than any other FPS I’ve played recently.  Mostly I’ve been running around killing people though, with little snippets of story and a whole lot of atmosphere that doesn’t quite feel real to me.  Here I mean real in the sense that I’m not fooled.  My sense of disbelief is still very much on the case, badge and gun well at hand.

Surely there’s some turn of the story I haven’t tripped over yet aside from travel through different realities.  It’s possible that I’ve engorged myself on so many fantastic tales that Old America x Magic Powers x Gospel x Dimensional Travel just can’t get me off anymore.  I fear that like some aging pervert I will have to seek ever newer and more intricate exotic experiences to please myself.  How awful.

But no, something is missing, and while I can’t quite identify the fly in the ointment, I did happen on one obvious oversight.

Exhibit A:

image

Above we see Daisy Fitzroy stabbed from behind by a pair of scissors.  Elizabeth has been boosted through a duct, while Booker distracts Daisy, who clearly means to shoot the tyke (whom I have no name for currently).  The room is dark behind, presumably to ratchet up the suspense as she finally puts the gun to the kids head (mumbling predictable lines about pulling up evil weeds at their root).  She suddenly spasms, and the kid breaks free.  Nobody is surprised, despite all the setup.

No offense to the Bioshock Infinite team, of course, but look at Exhibit B:

image

That is a view that tells us a story.  Elizabeth getting her hands bloody for her beliefs.  Elizabeth dealing with the trauma of stabbing a woman.  It’s a great shot, but think about what we missed.  Elizabeth sneaking up behind Daisy.  Searching for a way to stop her.  She spies the scissors, picks them up.  She approaches, hesitates.  Then, Daisy puts the gun to the child’s head and Elizabeth has to make a choice.

Imagine her face right before, and during this attack.  We lost that.  In exchange, we got the dark room: a moment of tension that was mostly predictable.  Was anyone expecting Elizabeth to fail and for us to watch the kid die?  In the end, the dark room effect set up something like a thriller we already knew the ending to.  

Or not.  I could be taking this too far, but I maintain that watching Elizabeth get ready to stab Daisy would have had a higher payout.

One more thought about Booker’s accomplice: A lot of people have said that this game is one long escort mission.  Finally, they say, an NPC you must escort who doesn’t get in the way, isn’t helpless, and even assists you.  Fair enough.  But I can’t be the only one who wishes Elizabeth needed my help once in a while.  She’s unarmed, never attacked, and rarely balks at walking into a gunfight.  She one big obvious hole in the game’s realism.

That said, she’s great and I like her as a character.  Just pointing out a few places where I can still see the game designer’s seams.

Keeping Everything Straight

So what’s happening in Homestuck?

image

The glitching continues.  Gamzee continues to flip out, sparking up some heated debate about abusive relationships in the bits of the community I lurk around.  Is beating up Terezi blackrom?  Probably not.  Is blackrom about abusive relationships?  Obviously not.  Considering the way Hussie reacted to the Caucasian joke, I doubt he was looking to stir up that kind of trouble.  

The topic bears some discussion, but far away from the comic proper and we should be way too busy dissecting these updates anyway.

I wanted to point out that the image shown above, more specifically the dialog attached threw me for a loop.

KARKAT: OH ******HELL****** NO

And for a moment my ignorance heated up like the twin-fire ensconced pool of lava below everyone.  I couldn’t figure out for the life of me why Karkat’s expletives were suddenly being censored.  Dug a little and realized he’s used this kind of emphasis before.  My memory betrays me again.

People are calling for Psyche! considering HIC being outside of the sucky curtains.  Fair enough, but I’m betting against it.  Something keeps nagging me about the curtains, Homosuck in general, and Caliborn’s journey through art.  I need to go back and read the parts where he’s talking about making a circle out of right angles.

I am… fed up with watching Karkat and Kanaya stand in stunned near-freeze-frame ready to go.  And of course, we don’t get to see what happens next.  Is it too much to ask for there to not be another confusing time-skip/cannon-lapse/whatever?  Somehow, I doubt we’ll be dropped back into the scene as we’ve last seen it though.

Last scattered thought: What’s the deal with spider-eyes showing up over Terezi as she reaches back for her cane (presumably to get back to stabbing… where’s that going to take the abusive relationship controversy I wonder?)?

Tomb Raider (2013)

Hello!  

This is the vanguard submission of my thoughts to the internet singularity.  I have opinions and you get to hear them!  More precisely, I have some thoughts that just won’t stay locked up.  My reaction to the current Tomb Raider reboot has been agitating most urgently, so I’ll start there.

I will be talking about Tomb Raider, specifically Laura Croft and her significance in video game character realism.  I think Crystal Dynamics has reached a milestone and given the game dev community a goal to reach whenever we field a new imaginary person.  But, I should confess in the beginning that I have played none of the original Tomb Raider series.  None of it.

If you’d asked me who Laura was before playing this title, I would likely have pointed out her surreal polygon breasts and their affect on the gaming community’s view of women in games, with a possible aftershock of “I think she might have been one of the early 3D adventure game pioneers”.  I don’t know her history, or where her games fit in the history of the genre.  I’m speaking purely from a position of common-enough ignorance about her pedigree, back story, and impact before the reboot.

Forget the old Laura.  Because of her, I had to preface this review with talk about imaginary breasts.  Let’s look at the new Laura.

From the intro and the notes scattered throughout the game, we know that she’s something of an adventurer already.  She’s not on the Endurance by accident.  When her instincts tell her that the find the crew came looking for is in a potentially dangerous, stormy section of the sea, she backs everyone else down and leads them headlong toward discovery, storms-be-damned.

Not to give too much away, but she then spends the majority of her time on the island living off the land, killing people, and hurtling through the air (often accompanied by a Michael Bay-esque series of explosions).

Laura falls and impales herself on a piece of exposed rebar early on, drags herself through pools of blood, and tolerates more stab wounds and gunshots than my suspension of disbelief was wholly ready to forgive.

Badass?  Check.

Most game protagonists stop there.  It’s all we ask from the leads in our action movies, after all.  But let’s take a minute out to peruse her motivations.  She did just kill a few hundred guys, after all.

Laura has left in search of a mythical city, ostensibly because she’s a huge history nerd and thrill seeker, but also because she’s chasing after the legacy of her father.  This theme is the point around which the story turns, as she forces herself to transition from scared survivor to determined savior.  The story takes a moment to meditate on what it means to be a Croft, and as it turns out, being a Croft immediately means two things:

1. You can climb rock walls and have the grit to purposefully throw yourself through the air.  She’d been doing this in response to external dangers, and occasionally out of necessity, but up to this turning point with Roth, she had been visibly and audibly reluctant.  Basically, I recall her doubting herself and bemoaning her fate a little more pre-pep talk.

2. You do what you have to do.  You do what others are too weak or afraid to do.  This also clearly means looking out for your friends.

It’s significant that Laura’s murder spree isn’t one continuous action movie kicked off by a singular situation or revenge-motive.  Throughout the story, she keeps getting herself to a situation where she can seemingly put down the guns, having found her friends, and walk away, give up, let the team shoulder some of the burden, etc.  However, new wrinkles pop up.  Different friends are in danger for different reasons.  

Sometimes she shoots a guy because she needs to get by to make it to her friends in time.  Sometimes because they’re trying to keep her in or out of somewhere she needs to go.  And sometimes, she’s blasting them just to survive.

Laura’s whole story revolves around dragging her friends out of the mess she put them in, and though we don’t see a whole lot of remorse for her role in putting them there, we do see her taking responsibility.

Okay, so she’s less a killer, more a survivor, and occasionally an agent of justice.  But mostly, she’s a bodyguard.  She wants to live up to her father’s name.  Also she can’t help but gawk and murmur about the various historical treasures around her.  She wants to put out the fire she started, be a good friend, and not shame herself.  We’re doing alright in the motivation department.

You could say the above about a fair number of action heroes, but I think she stacks up well against the likes of Nathan Drake, who is more driven to achieve, with a side-order of survive and help friends, and a huge dollop of vindication.

So what makes Laura stand out as a real character?  Obviously, she’s beautiful on the screen.  While some of the other characters shown in the game slip back into the uncanny valley, she makes good use of her trademark jumping skills and leaps easily over to the human-friendly side of the gulf.  I mean that she looks like a person.

More importantly, she moves like a person.  Throughout the game, Laura hunches to crawl through narrow spaces, peeks around corners, and drops into cover convincingly.  The way she cradles her arm after a bad fall is the pinnacle of this behavior modelling.  Where other game characters resume ass-kicking as usual, leaving no lasting impression of the event, Laura nurses her wounds and changes her posture long after the tumble.  I really feel like the impact meant something, and it moved me to consider not just how bad a fall she’d taken, but what kind of guts it took for her to make the leap, or how scary her situation was.  It engages my empathy.

Backing all of this up, are her verbal cues.  Crying out when she burns her arm on a steam pipe, talking herself through the terror of the island, and grunting as she pulls herself up a ledge all sell her as a real human caught in a surreal adventure.

The culmination of these effects is a scenario about a third of the way through the game where Laura wounds herself badly.  The gray-screen effect that has signaled near death in combat becomes permanent for the duration.  This shows us she’s hurt, but more importantly it cements that colorless view as a fact of the game, even outside combat.  Whenever we see this from that point on, we equate the damage she’s taken as equal to the life threatening wounds from earlier.

In her search for medicine and bandages, Laura cannot climb simple ledges.  Attempting to force her to do so results in a cry of pain.  When Laura drops away from the ledge, disoriented, we realize we’ve taken her abilities for granted.  She’s not a superhuman avatar; she’s a real, vulnerable person.  

I may come back to this later, specifically to illuminate a few points and clean up tense.  Possibly to talk about this victory particularly for female characters.  But for now, I think this is good.