freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Last night's fun discovery in Mass Effect: Andromeda: if you are buggering around poking things in the fancy new outpost you've just set up on a planet you've just carefully won over in the teeth of extreme resistance (Kadara, and may I add, Reyes, you bastard!) and you accidentally hang around for too long on the bit of platform you didn't realise was a landing pad for shuttles, a large, enthusiastic shuttle piloted by your own Initiative people will arrive at speed out of nowhere and land on top of you, squashing you terminally flat and causing the fateful "! MISSION FAILURE" screen to flash up over your recumbent corpse.

I find this a particularly pleasing piece of essentially random verisimilitude, it made me giggle madly. It also caused me to mentally construct micro flash fanfic depicting the probable reaction of the poor benighted shuttle pilot who thus accidentally took out their own Pathfinder, who is the colonisation trailblazer, terraforming on-switch operative and the Milky Way travellers' only hope for survival. "Embarrassed" doesn't even begin to cover it. Probably a quick header into the nearest sulphuric acid lake would be the only decent response.

We have one of South Africa's merry conglomerate public holiday clusters coming up, Thursday for Freedom Day and Monday for Workers' Day, and I have taken Friday, Tuesday and Wednesday off with a sensation of palpable relief. I have had the same bloody sinus headache for several weeks now, it drifts in and out randomly, and I am conscious of a deep-seated need to do nothing for a week or so and bond with my new kitten. Next week is the ten-day vac, so it's also even possible that not too many students will actually explode in my absence. And if they do, someone else can deal with them. At this point in the proceedings I am astonishingly unmoved at the prospect.

My subject line is Hillaire Belloc, the dreadful story of Rebecca who slams doors, and meets her Inevitably Gruesome End at the hands (shoulders?) of a bust of Abraham. The poem has been circling my cerebellum gently since the Andromeda Incident.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
In my defence, my absence from Teh Intahwebs over the last couple of weeks has only partially been because of Mass Effect: Andromeda, although quite a lot of it has, indeed, been the result of kicking happily around another galaxy making dubious romance choices and taking out nasty alien fascists with elan, vindictive efficiency and a sniper rifle. The rest has been because the current bone-deep exhaustion which is still afflicting me after the worst registration season I've ever experienced, morphed into a sinus infection which laid me low for most of last week. I'm still a bit wan and floaty, drifting around in an exhausted disconnect which leaves me feeling as though my feet are not quite touching the floor, and with neither the energy nor the brain for Being Entertaining On The Internet. Patience, I tell myself. Soon, soon, I will have sufficient ducks in a row to quit the hell out of this job and find something that doesn't require me to ritually sacrifice myself on an ongoing basis. After which I may once again be something resembling a person.

Several days at home with a sinus infection did, on the upside, allow me to play significant quantities of Andromeda, which I am apparently 57% of the way through after just under a hundred hours of play. (I'm an extremely completist player). Initial impressions as follows:
  • Hell, it's pretty. The planetary landscapes and cool spacescapes are beautiful in the extreme. The Obligatory Ancient Departed Civilisation, known as the Remnant, have left the landscape littered with incredible subterranean vaults which are all black marble and weird shapes and gravity wells and giant, shadowy spaces stretching down and away. They're breathtaking.
  • They have given us jumpjets! A significant proportion of my gaming time is spent going "sproing!" and "whee!". Also the Nomad, which is an update of the old Mako, which means you can drive around planets at insane speeds while your party bickers, and which is ridiculously enjoyable.
  • All the old familiar races have followed us to a new galaxy, which weirdly presents only two new ones, one of which is the bad guys. The others are the Angara, who are sort of cuddly, collectivist, blue-and-purple lion-lizards who are extremely endearing.
  • The combat and skill and crafting structures are a maddening combination of limited and opaquely complicated. You can do some cool stuff. Eventually. To some extent.
  • The scenario and worldbuilding are... interesting, but, as Penny Arcade noted, a bit in the arena of a young and foolish vintage. This is clearly a comparatively inexperienced writing team, which is the result of them sectioning off Mass Effect to another Bioware location and leaving the experienced writers in Edomonton with Dragon Age. It shows - the writing is generally a bit patchy, plot and characterisation largely unexciting despite some good moments. I'm rather attached to the female Ryder, who's written as a bit wry and deadpan, but a lot of that is her voice, with which I am seriously enamoured: slightly alto with a throaty catch. The NPCs are almost all a bit bland. I'm finding myself making dubious romance choices because not even my Lawful Good can stomach the oatmeal of the "nice" characters. (On the upside, one of the dubious choices is voiced by Natalie Dormer, which may or may not be implicated in the selection process).
  • The fandom is dissing the animation all over the internet, and they have a point. There is a lot of the laziness and superficial glitz which characterised DA2: the game has, for example, made all the NPCs in each non-human race the same face, with vaguely different face-paint. This is, to say the least, disconcerting, and causes brief moments of paranoid conspiracy as you try to work out non-existent connections, but it's not nearly as disconcerting as the facial animations, which manage, in a burst of rare genius, to be of regressively awful quality which puts them back somewhere before ME itself. The original ME didn't try to get fancy and thus avoided the uncanny valley issue into which MEA consistently and with pin-point accuracy tumbles. Characters in this game have some really weird lip movements.
  • I am, probably as a result of contextual imprinting over the last couple of decades, extremely uneasy about this game's colonial agenda and its ecological implications. To date they're not being thoughtfully dealt with.

Also, you have an AI, whose voice alerts you to environmental hazards and resource gathering opportunities and input requirements to an extent which swings wildly between being useful and being repetitively redundant to the point of infuriation. Hence my subject line. It is probably a tribute to the actual good parts of the game that I'm still invested and enjoying it despite hearing the above in a clipped British alto twenty or thirty times in a half-hour burst of driving madly around sand dunes.

this is just to say...

Thursday, 23 March 2017 08:02 am
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
... that it has taken every ounce of willpower, Calvinist work ethic guilt and basic Lawful Good that I possess to be actually present at work today, instead of calling in sick in order to stay at home playing Mass Effect: Andromeda, which has been peaceably downloading for the last three days and which unlocked at 1am this morning, and towards the playing of which I have just dedicated, with remarkable absence of aforesaid Calvinist guilt, a stonkload of money in order to upgrade my system to the optimal spec.

This is possibly also just to say, by way of public service announcement, that the last six weeks of being basically antisocial because of work exhaustion will probably give way to at least a couple of weeks being antisocial because I am playing Mass Effect: Andromeda, which is, all things considered, a far better (or at least more enjoyable) reason to be antisocial.

Because at this point? I have damned well earned it.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
At this point 2016 can officially fuck right off and die. Seriously. I do not want this 2016, it is skraaatched. In my personal iconage, it has taken from us David Bowie, Alan Rickman and Sheri S. Tepper. It has given us Brexit, Donald Trump, destructive student protests and cancer in my cat. It and all its works can take a long fiery hike straight into the sun. Today it's the death of Leonard Cohen, who is not quite a personal icon but is still a Significant Good. It feels like adding insult to injury. Also, people keep posting covers of "Hallelujah", which infallibly makes me cry even in circumstances when significant portions of America haven't just lost the collective moral and political plot.

On the upside, Tumblr is circulating relevant post-election Cohen lyrics, namely from "Everybody Knows", which is a favourite of mine and also satisfyingly and appropriately despairing.
everybody knows that the dice are loaded
everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
everybody knows that the war is over
everybody knows the good guys lost
everybody knows the fight was fixed
the poor stay poor, the rich get rich
that’s how it goes
and everybody knows
In this dark time in American politics, I re-recommend you copperbadge's unabashedly fantasy wish-fulfilment political AU with the Avengers taking the White House. Leader of the Free World. Balm to the political soul.

Further in the Department of Frivolous Escapism With Which I Propose To Distract Myself, I hear really positive buzz about Mass Effect: Andromeda, whose release date has been delayed to next year, which is a Good Thing because if they released it in 2016, 2016 would infallibly fuck it up beyond redemption. Interesting details on the game's developments here; I like what they have apparently done to tweak the combat system, and I am really excited about the increased emphasis on character interactions, because as you all know I am a mad and desperate fangirl for Bioware character interactions. The statement "The squadmate with the least amount of lines in Andromeda has more lines than the squadmate with the most amount of lines in ME3" made me go "squeee!", although not quite as ear-splittingly as if they'd replaced "ME3" with "Inquisition". I shall set aside a two-week leave period around Andromeda's release date, upgrade my computer, and permit 2017 to establish its bona fides appropriately while waving two fingers in 2016's general direction. Because really.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I spent the weekend, as threatened, playing the latest Inquisition DLC, with rather more swearing than usual. This was because (a) I've been playing Mass Effect for the last month, and all my finger-twitches are habituated to big guns and biotics and using the space bar to interact rather than pause, and (b) because the latest Inquisition DLC is hardcore. It's all Deep Roads, caverns and underground cities and what have you, and you spend the first half of it being beaten up by hordes of Darkspawn, and the second half being beaten up by hordes of <spoilers> who have particularly nasty abilities in terms of <spoiler> and <spoiler>.

There was an especially bad set of curses at the point where the nasty, lengthy combat chipping away at the two rather ferociously indestructible <spoilers> ended with one of them, down to the last tiny fragment of health bar, falling through a glitchy bit of wall and getting stuck behind it so I couldn't finish them off, and I had to reload the damned combat and replay it four times before I managed to circumnavigate the glitch. (By dint of equipping my two tanks with the hook and chain thingy, gradually dragging the two bad guys out of the area and holding them away from the walls with static cage while we hacked at them. I confess to a certain vindictive satisfaction when the second one finally fell.) But it was at this point that I also realised why a moderately demanding DLC was ending up with me or my party down several times a combat and utterly out of healing potions: because (a) I was playing with the difficulty level at Hard rather than Normal or Casual, and (b) because this was my pacifist Inquisitor.

My difficulty level has been set at Hard for the last two games, despite my general lack of interest in heavy combat, because after the mumbleteenth replay of the same game I am so damned good at the tactics that combat was neither challenging nor enjoyable. And the pacifist Inquisitor is a combination of genuine roleplaying interest with sheer bloody-mindedness. I'm playing a human mage, which means a Circle origin - i.e. I've spent my life locked up in a mage tower learning magic while Templars breathe down my neck to make sure I'm not summoning demons. Magic in this world is heavily controlled, and I found myself wondering how likely it was that a mage would emerge from the Circle with any experience at all of combat magic. Because Dangerous and Bad and Templars wouldn't approve, surely? The most likely character trend would be towards academic geekiness and abstract or practical rather than combat spells. So my mental commentary at the start of the game constructed my Inquisitor as being horrified by the combat and somewhat violated at the idea of using magic - which is a very internal, personal sort of energy, I'd think - to kill stuff. And I developed her as far as possible without combat spells.

This was tricky, but possible - lots of support (barriers, resurrection, dispel, the whole spirit hog) and containment rather than damage (static cage, ice mine, etc.) I went ice rather than fire or electricity, as being less violently energetic, and eventually, and slightly counter-intuitively, developed her as a necromancer - i.e. animating already-dead corpses and scaring people off with Horror rather than destroying them directly. I also, in sheer self-defence, because you really can't be non-combat entirely in this sort of game, made the assumption that using a staff was a reasonable distancing mechanism, killing with a weapon rather than with your own life-force. The upshot being that she's fairly good at support but hopeless if anything gets close, hence the frequent dying. It was an interesting play-through, particularly in the demanding DLC setting, and interesting to see that it is possible to angle the game towards specific and slightly more coherent role-playing choices.

Of course, to play a demanding, combat-oriented DLC with a pacifist Inquisitor on Hard difficulty is sheer cussedness. I cop to the sheer cussedness. Possibly with pride.

My subject line is Death Cab for Cutie, a song which is a bizarre and idiosyncratic mix of sappy romantic with morbid. Fairly appropriately: if I have to spend a weekend following things into the dark while dying frequently, I have to say that this DLC is simply beautiful, especially in the lower levels where it's all dark blue shot through with lyrium veins, and in the final area which is <spoiler> and <spoiler> and generally exquisite.

medium armour rating

Tuesday, 26 May 2015 12:24 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I had supper with jo&stv the other night, and Jo had recently acquired a cuddly and slightly Cubist blue velvet elephant approximately the size of an actual toddler, i.e. large enough for its trunk to curl lovingly around your neck when you hug it. Apparently I give off a "needs hugs" vibe, because after I'd spent the entirety of watching Interstellar ferociously embracing said elephant, she insisted on donating it to me wholesale. Now I have a blue velvet elephant. My lovely cleaning lady Margaret, who also works for the aforementioned jo&stv, appears to be somewhat taken with said blue velvet elephant, to the point where she invariably and meticulously centres it on my bed after she's made it, regardless of the fact that I habitually cluster it with my plush Cthulhu and fluffy snowy owl on the chest in the corner. (I'm really not a stuffed toy person. Those I retain have particular and specific meaning and have been given to me by particular and specific people, and their function is more memorial than adorable. They thus don't generally merit bed-space, even supposing I actually were an actual teenage girl.)

Jo and I theorise that Margaret is familiar with said blue velvet elephant from its initial days in their house, and is merely externalising her sense of its multi-household significance.



I have christened him Dorian, via an entirely logical if somewhat opaque process which will only make sense to anyone who plays Inquisition and shares my aesthetic, crafting and party composition proclivities to a reasonable extent. He really is the exact colour and texture of ring velvet. Presumably his Tier 2 additions to attack, willpower and electrical resistance will be of use when I need to apply hugs to my insomnia in the small hours of the morning.

I should add, for posterity, that the current Eskom incompetences manifested as load shedding, are particularly maddening to one whose current leisure hours are whiled away by computer gaming. Even though they're predictable under the fairly well-run load shedding schedules, the blackouts are putting a serious crimp in my gaming, and causing me to retreat into reading somewhat grumpishly. On the upside, I've read a lot recently. Reviews to follow.

design for life

Wednesday, 28 January 2015 05:21 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Can't talk, orientating. Or, more specifically, completely exhausted and, for some reason, so utterly loathing the orientation experience this year that I can't even talk about it. Dragging myself from day to day. Bleah.

Instead, let me offer you an epiphany, courtesy of my Tumblr feed, which is really educational in all sorts of ways you possibly don't want to contemplate. Someone posted a series of Lifehacker gifs about Cunning Things To Do With Bras. I was scrolling down through it while simultaneously hoiking my bra straps up my shoulders in that way I have to do umpteen times a day because apparently I have substandard shoulders coated in teflon and built with mini ski slopes at the tops of my arms, and there it was. A series of images which suggests you stop slipping straps by connecting them together in the middle of your back with one of those giant metal paperclips, making a makeshift racerback bra. There was, coincidentally, a giant metal paperclip on my desk right in front of me. A couple of minutes of undignified groping later, and voila! No chance of slippage, and for some bizarre reason actually comfortable in a way I never find bras to be at all under any circumstances. (Invariable ritual arriving at home: open door, fall over cat, dump bag on chair, go into bedroom, kick off shoes, do the 14-year-old girl thing of unhooking bra and pulling straps out of shirt sleeveholes to get the fuck rid of the wretched thing because I loathe wearing them and only do so because attempted professional). Honestly, it quite made my month, which has otherwise been more or less uniformly horrible.

In other news, I have discovered Inquisition fanfic, which is surprisingly entertaining and rather overly endowed with BDSM and hot elf-sex. Fanfic, literature of spaces, etc. Also, subliminal Freudian metaphor, apparently.

My subject line because I have just played through the entirety of the Magnetic Fields in the car and have embarked, with inexorable alphabetical logic, into Manic Street Preachers.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Oh, dear, board schedule season. I spent large chunks of the last four days going through a 2-cm thick wodge of student records, 700-odd students, all Social Science second-years, which is a technical term meaning they're not first-years and not about to graduate, so in practice could be in year 2, 3 or 4 of their studies. Purpose: to count up their courses and, indexing same against number of years of study according to a complicated table of my own devising based on the faculty rules, decide if they're allowed to continue their studies or not. This is a vital process which is carried out in multiple redundancy by a team of three academics and an admin person for each board schedule, and we compare notes and make a final decision.

Long-time readers of this blog will be sighing and thinking, oh gods, is it that time of year again? Because my annual rant on the subject of board schedule checking, how inelegant the system is, how bad academics are at it despite my best efforts to train them, how the WHOLE DAMNED THING SHOULD BE DONE BY A PROPERLY-PROGRAMMED COMPUTER, DAMMIT!, is something of a tradition. And all of the above still applies, please take the rant as read, or, for added verisimilitude, dig back through the blog for examples. (last year and 2010 are fairly entertaining.)

But something has shifted this year, possibly as a result of all this therapy. I'd estimate that about 10 hours of my life went into this year's schedule, and I'm very tired and not very well, but the truth is I didn't actually hate it while I was doing it. There's an analytic interest to it, seeing how these student did, spotting trends, conceptualising individual lives from the spread of marks over the years. Student records are surprisingly revealing, not just in their course choices and overall degree strategies, but in the way one can pinpoint turning points - here someone discovered a new major they loved and their results took off, here something awful happened and they fell off the map, this trailing degeneration is probably depression. And there's a certain pleasure in feeling my own command of the system, my ability to use it elegantly and with precision. Possibly I am becoming reconciled to this job, more willing to adopt it as an identity rather than as a thing I do reluctantly and solely to keep Hobbit in the style to which he is accustomed.

The this-wasn't-terrible was in spite of the fact that I'm also still bloody sick, sigh, suggesting that the weekend before last was a precursor - Wednesday last week was a dead loss, some sort of viral thingy which flattened me with nausea and one of those damned headaches which simply won't quite regardless of how many painkillers you throw at it. I'm still very tired and very glandular and drifting into nausea and headache at add intervals, which suggests that whatever virus it was has prodded the glandular fever with a stick and it's up and prowling. (The ten minutes I spent reading through my board schedule rants for the last few years has also revealed that I seem to be headachy and unwell with suspicious predictability at this time of year. It's the end of the year, I'm tired, I'm stressed, I suppose it's inevitable.)

Fortunately there's Inquisition with which to while away my evenings while all of the above enacts itself upon my hapless form. Inquisition is HUGE! Andraste's knickers, there's a lot of it. That initial 15 hours of so of play are really the introductory first act, things really get going in the second act. It's still beautiful, and varied, and lovingly detailed, and the not-quite-open-world only drives me demented occasionally. I don't seem to respond too well to being told, via unclimbable cliffs or sulphur swamps, that You Shall Not Pass. But the character interactions have stepped up, and I'm finding these people interesting, likeable and frequently poignant - I don't think it's just my generally lowered state which is responsible for the fact that the companion interactions occasionally make me cry. And the sexual politics so far has managed to be surprisingly enlightened and sensitive. They can be taught, apparently.

(Still ambling through Eurythmics in the car. "Love Is A Stranger" is probably my favourite track of theirs for all time.)
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Well, that was lateral. Apparently last week's continual student demands + a three-hour session training curriculum advisors had a sneak build-up exhaustion effect, because I was completely wiped out this weekend. Saturday morning was fine, pottered around, talked to the cat, played some Inquisition, went out to do some shopping, hit Saturday crowds, and the wheels fell off. I can't handle crowds when I'm tired. I get shaky, and wibbly, and headachy, and want to crawl under my bed and never come out. I ended up cancelling both social engagements this weekend (sorry, nice people, I'm feeble) and actually napping on the sofa for a couple of hours on both Saturday and Sunday afternoons, much to the delight of Hobbit. (Recumbent human forms are clearly designed expressly as Hobbit-cushions, and induce sprawling and purring to excessive levels. Also biting, although somewhat lovingly). I never sleep in the afternoons unless I'm ill, but actually I think I'm a bit ill. Apparently this is a glandular resurgence, judging by the state of my neck (the Blunt-Toothed Vampire Nibbling effect). Phooey.

I also played much less Inquisition than I would otherwise have, because it's new and quite demanding and requires concentration which I don't really have right now. However, sufficient Inquisition was played that I can report the following:
  1. Inquisition still pretty. Ye gods, it's beautiful. The texturing and detail and the vividness of the different settings are quite something, I'm becoming wonderfully lost in these lovely landscapes. And it's huge. The whisper flies across social media somewhat repetitively - a lot of players are slightly intimidated by the scale. The sections sprawl in beautiful open-world profusion, although with possibly excessive levels of mini-quest grinding.
  2. Inquisition varied. The designers have apparently taken to heart the consistent player crit of Dragon Age II, which was the insultingly repetitive nature of the settings: rather than being all the same dungeon/bit of shoreline/house, they are all madly different and individual. And pretty. I approve. (Played bits of the Deep Roads yesterday - exquisite).
  3. The open-worldness is coupled with a completely marvellous and happy-making innovation, which is that structures and caves are not separate areas, you wander from one into the other without a loading screen, in one giant, open world. I cannot sufficiently express how wonderful this is. It suddenly and weirdly ups the realness factor in spades. (Which is just as well, as generally the wretched thing takes ages to load).
  4. Inquisition has ripped off its initial theme music wholesalely and unabashedly from that Billy Boyd song he sings to Denethor in Two Towers. Honestly: the first two and a half bars are pretty much identical. This seems to be a theme in video games - Skyrim steals theirs from Pirates of the Caribbean. I suspect this is a deliberate ploy to bolster recognition and identification.
  5. Inquisition all bloody wonderful, but not entirely Dragon Age: currently it feels like a rather more politically detailed and better voice-acted version of Skyrim. (And not just because the crafting is interesting). Companions feel a bit perfunctory, with to date no detailed mini-quests through which they join the party - they're just kinda there as a fait accompli. I haven't met any new ones yet, either. And so far they don't have huge amounts of personality. Reserving judgement a bit on this one, maybe it's just a slow start, but I right now it feels as if they've put even less effort into the companions than they did in DAII. Which is sad.

The Great Car Music Trek has catapulted me with alphabetical insouciance from early Eurythmics (Be Yourself Tonight) to late (Peace), which is entertaining because the first song on Peace is "17 Again", which is a direct engagement by an older, wiser and more cynical Eurythmics with their brash early days. I have completely ear-wormed myself with "I Saved The World Today", which is ridiculous catchy and causes outbreaks of singing in the corridors. Subject line accordingly. I'm a bit dead this morning.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Some early impressions of Dragon Age: Inquisition, which I have played for about six hours today, with a break in the middle to go and upgrade my computer. (New graphics card, more RAM, now it doesn't give everyone plastic hair and the graphics have stopped with the momentary freezing. The fact that I am in a stage of life where I can randomly and wantonly go and spend a couple of thousand rand on an essentially inessential upgrade just because I feel like it, still fills me with wonder.)

  1. Inquisition pretty. And far more open-world, hooray.
  2. Story interesting, world-building ditto. Thedas politics is always pleasingly chewy.
  3. Combat seriously unpleasant. They've done away with auto-attack and click to move, which means you have to button-mash horribly. In my case, particularly horribly, because I suck at it.
  4. ALL CODICES AND JOURNAL ENTRIES ARE IN ALL CAPS IT'S DRIVING ME COMPLETELY ROUND THE TWIST!
  5. I have played for six hours and just finished the intro section. I'm not sure what this bodes, but it definitely bodes.

In a completely characteristic attack of the Cosmic Wossnames, my weekend is filled with social commitments. Notwithstanding this minor impediment, I should imagine that further dispatches from the inquisitorial front will almost certainly follow.

(My car music has moved on to the Eurythmics, which is appropriate given my fondness for her kick-butt contralto and my inevitable gaming tendency to play kick-butt women. Hence subject line.)

grrr, aargh

Monday, 9 July 2012 10:58 am
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
I am catastrophically grumpy this morning, mostly because of (a) waking up, and (b) spending an hour in the traffic department after getting lost twice in the rain, failing dismally to book a learner's licence. (Because I didn't allow enough time for queuing in the wrong queue to pay, being told I should be in the other queue for the eye test, and realising I didn't have time to re-queue before my first plaintive student of the day). In retrospect, I am also homicidally grumpy because (c) the traffic department has clearly violated my religious principles, viz. LOTS OF CLEAR, UNEQUIVOCAL NOTICES TELLING YOU EXACTLY WHERE YOU NEED TO BE. I could probably sue them for abrogating my constitutional rights.

I am possibly also imitating the surly action of the badger because I'm halfway through the extended ending to Mass Effect 3 and have stopped in sheer boredom. Because really, being told exactly why in excruciating detail the three choices you have are equally lousy and don't allow you to role-play your character with any consistency, does not in any way prevent them from being three equally lousy choices. I have decided that I am probably mostly furious because the only choice which would allow my Shepard to live is a no-no in roleplaying terms, and I strenuously object to a game which requires that I rescind any further imaginative investment in the character via a pointless death I have no way of intelligently avoiding. If I want pointless death, there's a lot of real life for that. I thus have very little motivation to actually complete the game, as the imaginative investment ends the moment I do. Phooey.

On the upside, however, my mother arrives from the UK tomorrow, which is a Good Thing. I am also booked with plane tickets and accommodation for the Great Dual Conference Trip in August/September, am surprisingly unbankrupted by above, and almost have a Nesbit paper for the one. The other paper is on Catherynne Valente poetry and I kinda know what I want to say, so levels of academic angst about the whole thing are pleasantly low. Also, being a keynote speaker at the last one was a pleasing exercise in perspective. These two papers are 20-minuters, and I am a fundamentally obscure academic so no-one will really care if they're not plug-you-in-the-eye wonderful. It's a remarkably liberating feeling which bizarrely increases the chance that, joyously unpressured, I will actually write a good paper.

On a related note, I am planning on being in London for a sort of quantum period somewhere between the 1st and 5th September, and propose to drift happily between as many different venues as wish to see me and are able to offer me a horizontal surface upon which to sleep. Offers gratefully received, and will instantly solidify the quantum dates by observation.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Gossamer EndIt is remotely possible that my long-suffering readers were relaxing a tad, and thinking that I'd got all this Andraste's Knicker-Weasel stuff out of my system, and indeed, I have been peaceably (for which read "with the usual computer-game homicidal psychosis") playing Amalur for the last few weeks without much impulse to witter on about its narrative and identificatory processes, since they're really not complex. However, a certain sort of thematic disquisition has been sneaking up on me, with which I shall now unabashedly regale you. Fear not! I shall mention romance only in passing. Probably.

Various lifestyle choices being what they are, it's actually unlikely that I'll ever own my own home, which is possibly why computer-game home-owning is fairly high on the list in my personal Unholy Kick department. I love owning game homes. My gaming life is not complete unless I possess absolutely all and any homes available across the length, lingth and longth of the gameworld, plus those in various DLCs and mods and what have you. I'm a pack-rat accumulator in gameworld to an extent which I simply am not in real life, with minor exceptions such as books and films: somewhere to stash stuff is absolutely necessary if I'm not going to trek across the landscape followed by a small train of pantechnicons. (Poor Lydia, sworn to carry my burdens). And once I own them, I upgrade and furnish them to the max - or, in the case of ME, kit out Shepard's cabin with all the fish, model ships and other bits and pieces that I possibly can (SPACE HAMSTER!) - and in the case of Skyrim, stuff around more or less indefinitely with the console to adapt their contents and facilities to my exacting specifications.

All this being said, it's a source of continual amazement to me how badly thought-out most computer game homes are. Honestly, they seem to fling their design primarily to the art department, guided only by a sketchy, single-page function framework which has "feel free to ignore this" scribbled in the margins somewhere and is probably stored in an unlikely filing cabinet labelled "BEWARE OF THE LEOPARD". As a result, many game houses are exceptionally pretty, spacious, architecturally winsome creations, to actually live in which is productive of such irritation as to at least partially explain the usual computer-game homicidal psychosis.

Herewith, therefore, as a soul-soothing exercise, is an annotated list of What Players Really Want In A Gameworld House, by which, of course, I rather egocentrically mean What Players Who Have My Sort Of Gameplay Needs Really Want. It is remotely possible that in fact it only means What I Want In A Gameplay House, although I would wistfully hope that some of the items are logical enough to be semi-universal - feel free to disagree in the comments. At any rate, any game-designers who happen to read this, please take note. I shall cut it, on account of excessive ranty length. )

This post has ended up being accidentally thematically linked to my last one. Clearly houses are where it's at in the current State of Extemporanea. One way or another. For whatever reason, thank you for indulging me in Yet Another Knicker-Weasel Rant, and please feel free to disagree violently with my house-owning ethos.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Questionable Content has designed a new T-shirt which clearly and obviously has my particular obsessions in mind. It's not yet live for sale on TopatoCo, and I am poised to restrain myself from immediately ordering three of them by implementing the simple strategy of ordering one.

yolowls

Plus, as a bonus, it's an excuse to break out into additional Mass Effect romance t-shirts, from which I have only been restraining myself because I find Garrus a bit counter-intuitive.
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There's this rather sad fact about Skyrim: its designers don't always seem to actually think like players. You realise this if, like me, you really enjoy both the house-buying and the crafting aspects of Skyrim play (look, ma! It's not all about the violence, promise!). I get personal about my houses. Many of them are rather lovely spaces, and it's easy to become emotionally invested in the idea of living in them in between bumbling off slaying bandits and dragons and undead, oh my! I get an unreasonable kick out of games which actually expect you to sleep at night. There are no real penalties if you don't, but there's this sense of ineffable satisfaction (probably not unrelated to my ongoing state of real-life fatigue) in having the "Well Rested" message pop up on the top of the screen.

What I don't enjoy is coming home after a hard day's adventuring, laden with loot, and having to dash across half the town in order to access the blacksmith's forge to upgrade the weapons and armour before I sell them. And then, when you lug them back home to enchant them at your nifty enchanting table (which the Whiterun house doesn't have, what's with that, dammit?), your storage for soul gems and what have you is upstairs in another room because the designers couldn't be arsed to stick a chest or strongbox or barrel next to the place where, you know, you'd actually use it. Ditto with alchemy and your ingredients stores. And the barrels are full of apples, anyway. I have eaten a quite ludicrous number of apples in Skyrim, just to get rid of them. The country's fruit industry must be rolling in it. (And you find the wretched things down in sealed dwemer ruins, locked up for centuries but still perfectly fresh. Undead apples. Explains a lot).

In short, the designers construct the houses without much thought given to the most likely activities a player will pursue within its walls. How difficult could it be to put a grindstone or armouring table in a corner? A chest next to the enchanting table? Instead, houses are filled with an awful lot of pointless "decorative" guff, most of which you can't alter in any way; the things you can alter, like baskets and bowls, are pretty much useless for storage because it's such a royal pain to put things into them.

The quest for Sensible, Efficient Living Space led me to my first encounter with Skyrim mods. Someone has expanded the basement of the Solitude house, which is my favourite anyway, to include a full smithy and lots of storage, plus an update on the currently rather brutal sleeping arrangements for your housecarl (she has a pallet on the floor in a cellar). It's beautiful. I installed it no problem, and wandered around blissfully storing everything, and then left the house, took two adventuring steps, and hit a crash-to-desktop bug which was completely insurmountable. It's a known bug with this mod, and was mostly resolved with the latest patch, but even so still affects a minority of players for inexplicable reasons. I got unlucky. Growl. (And I shall not inflict on you the righteous rant about Skyrim bugginess generally, and the evident cardboard-and-string construction of a game when modding the interior of a house causes save and fast travel crashes a day later at the other end of the world map. But it's a righteous rant).

However, as another inevitable step, this whole debacle has led me to discover the developer console. In fact, half an hour of research on the web and some judicious fiddling, and I have managed to fill my very own basement with smithy tools and barrels and chests galore, my very own self. (The "placeatme" command, and using "help" + keyword, chest, barrel, whatever, to add it where you're standing). It's fiddly and trial-and-error bound, but actually not that difficult. You would not believe the degree of empowered satisfaction this causes. It wriggles right down and pointedly prods the particular and personal button which makes me rejoice in the correct utilisation of system for good. (As an added bonus, the basic object/NPC interactions are nicely done; you stick a grindstone into your house, and your spouse promptly starts using it as part of their wander-around-vaguely domestic routine).

But it also interests me, inevitably, on a broader cultural level. As with Dragon Age, the Skyrim developer console is perfectly accessible, and the web is rich with how-to pages giving codes and tips. This is a base level of player empowerment which is quite a lot more universal than the far more complex and technical toolset available to the much smaller subgroup of players who actually write mods. But the interesting point is the same: while a computer game is a commercial product, it's not, like a movie, a monolithic product. The base assumption of interaction which a game has and a movie doesn't, is expanded outwards: you are not simply expected to interact with the game, you're expected to interact with its construction. To, in fact, adapt it to your own needs via creative input. Compare this to the attitude of film producers to their product - thou shalt not, in their book, do anything other than passively consume it; they frown on excerpting clips, creating mash-ups, using stills - hell, they don't even like their trailers to turn up on YouTube, which is inexplicable to me. A computer game, on the other hand, actively enables the use of the game as the basis for personalisation, adaptation and play, on a meta level quite above the freedom of your avatar in the game world.

It becomes inevitable to put this aspect together with the other striking aspect of Skyrim, which is its community. This is the first time I've ever played a computer game the instant of its release, i.e. at the same time as the rest of the world - hitherto I've played the Evil Landlord's hand-me-downs, sometimes years later. It has been something of a revelation to find out how many people on, for example, my Twitter feed, are hacking through it at the same time as I am. You end up contextualising your own play experience across a very broad spectrum of shared play, whether it's amusing tweets, tips, discussions on wiki pages and forums, or silly Skyrim memes (viz. my subject line).

All of which is leading up to saying: gawsh, computer games, while commercial products, also have a component which speaks to folkloric functions. They are communal, and they actively encourage not just consumption, but production in that communal sense. The fact that they're communally created even at the commercial level probably contributes to this - DRM and bloody Steam authentication notwithstanding, the idea of creative ownership is already distributed. And, of course, in the interaction between you and a game, you are already putting your own storytelling stamp on it in a way you can't with a movie (unless you're a mad fanficcer, and that doesn't really give you access to the images).

And it's fascinating that this personal-production element is reflected on the level of actually stuffing with the game's construction in the same way that a designer does, not just re-shaping on the level of play. That is, the production company doesn't just allow tailoring of game elements, it actively encourages them through the accessibility of the tools. It's a clever commercial move, because it facilitates investment and a sense of ownership, and thereby builds a loyal following, but it also neatly mimics, even in a limited sense, far older, pre-literate patterns of production and distribution within a communal context. And it also suggests, to go full circle to the whinge with which I started this, that some of the omissions and logical thoughtlessnesses in house construction may be a sort of designer shrug - why bother, if the players will sort it out themselves? Thereby increasing their investment and loyalty. Sneaky.

Then again, I'm a fairy-tale theorist, and therefore by necessity a bit of a folklorist. Give a fairy-tale theorist a hammer, and everything looks like a glass slipper.
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Oh, dear, it's that time of year again: the time when a giant fun-run of some sort comes pounding past my bedroom window at 6am on a Sunday, causing really quite transcendent quantities of sleepy swearing, and a wistful longing for caltrops. They never bloody warn us about it, possibly in perfectly rational fear of the caltrop response. The road outside is all festooned with cheery, inspirational billboards inciting runners to greater heights in the name of health and charity, which as far as I'm concerned they absolutely don't need, being ridiculously cheery as it is. Nothing like wakening from a sound slumber to the strains of pounding feet, panting, and loud, jolly interchanges of exhortation and mutual support. Bastards. On the other hand, about half of the posters opposite our gate appear to have been ripped from their backing, which suggests that some of the runners find the slogans the precise opposite of inspirational. Heh.

It was all doubly ironic this year, as I'd just hung a new curtain in one half of my bedroom window, its darker fabric a deliberate attempt to cut out more light so I can sleep later in the mornings. Doomed. Sod's law for you.

Right, annual mini-rant over. I shall now return to the bosom of Dragon Age II, which I have rediscovered under the twin spurs of not enough sleep/concomitant lack of brain, and vague political interest. I'm playing a male Hawke, as I'm interested in seeing how it changes companion and NPC interactions. Today's fascinating geo-political ramification: apparently I'm much happier with playing non-Lawful-Good if the avatar is male. This is undoubtedly about reduced levels of identification, I caught myself thinking "Gosh, this guy looks like a bit of a bastard, let's go with the smugglers this time round." Hmmm. I suspect Anders gets knifed, too, if I last that long. Fascinating.

In other news, the house smells deliciously of gammon simmering in cider, in preparation for ham rolls to have with popcorn movies this evening. Rude awakenings notwithstanding, I am having a Good Day.
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When I went to see my doctor last week in re the exhaustion levels, I subliminally expected her to tell me to buck up, stop whinging and simply get on with my life, taking it slightly easy if at all possible until I'd regenerated some health. (It's easier in Dragon Age). The result of her unexpectedly concerned response is to somehow have given me permission to be ill: "take a week and a half off work" appears to have allowed me to stop pretending I'm not exhausted all the time, as a result of which I'm rather more than semi dead and very, very glad I don't have to drag myself up to campus. The mind is an odd thing. Also, her image choice ("you're starting to live off your capital") is really sticking with me in an extremely cautionary way. Things To Do This Week: rest. Also, wrestle boss in re extended leave.

Since ill health is boring, have some linkery of various degrees of joyous-makingness, depending on your personal proclivities.

  • For dance fans, fashion fans and fans of very nifty editing, this ad may hit your buttons with the cheerful octopoid multitudinosity with which it hits mine.

  • For players of Dragon Age II, particularly the girly ones, Fenris cosplay! Amazing costume, and the dude has the necessary level of elven emaciation going, but I have to say, the I Have My Arm Around Felicia Day Effect notwithstanding, he's way too cheerful for strict verisimilitude.

  • For music lovers of approximately the same vintage as me, and/or who cherish a fondness for 80s dance music, Goth or New Wave, She Wants Revenge. I had never heard of She Wants Revenge before [livejournal.com profile] matociquala linked it. How did that happen? It's like Bauhaus mated with Sisters of Mercy and had the offspring raised by Depeche Mode. It seem to make it slightly redundant to have actually gone through the 80s.



    In other slightly happy-making news, the problem with Winona seems actually to be the On switch. If I dig my fingernails under it I can persuade the thing to switch on for about five seconds and start to boot up, although it won't stay on. I don't want to fiddle any further because the rapid on/off cycling can't be good for the hard drive, but at least I have a diagnosis, if not a solution.

you go, girl

Monday, 15 August 2011 10:18 pm
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There is no moment when I'm happier or more myself than when I'm prowling around a classroom, such as today, refereeing a spirited discussion of "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" for 20 voluble and intelligent second-years. Lovely tut: I'm still buzzing. So we were dealing in some detail with the Victorian context, and the use of supernatural symbol to explore the desires and anxieties of the age, and in particular Stevenson's presentation of the classically Victorian dichotomies of "good" and "evil" through the figure of Hyde and Jekyll's complicity with him. At which point the discussion takes this sharp right turn:

CHATTY STUDENT (musingly): It's like when you're playing Mass Effect, and you score points for good or evil choices which affect the way your character is viewed, and the direction of events.

ME (surprised and pleased, but attempting to remain suave and professional): Why, yes. *inserts well-directed contextualisation contrasting Victorian views of morality with those of our contemporary age as reflected in computer games, avoiding, with consummate self-control, the word "postmodern"*

ANOTHER, EQUALLY CHATTY STUDENT: Actually, I think the Victorian view is more like Fable. Mass Effect has a lot of grey areas and points where the moral choice is not clear-cut.

ME (trying to repress flashbacks to the last few months of Dragon Age and related rants): Valid point, that's Bioware for you. Although I think that Stevenson is actually problematising the clear-cut dichotomies of Victorian morality... *reigns in and directs resulting melee of input without mentioning Dragon Age more than five times*

I should point out that my seminar, in a somewhat interesting intensification of the usual Humanities Demographic Effect, includes nineteen young ladies, one gentleman, and me. All gaming input up to this point has come from the young ladies.

SOLE GENT (raising hand hesitantly): Um, is this actually happening? I'm in a room full of women and they all game?

A quick poll suggests that they don't all game, but, in fact, seven of the nineteen do, indeed, game quite seriously. Eight if you count me. Subsequent discussions managed to remain bizarrely on the Jekyll and Hyde topic while simultaneously haring off in the direction of doubles, masks, the Hulk, superheroes generally, TwoFace, the doppelganger effect in The Vampire Diaries, and a brief and lateral attempt to get me to commit to whether playing computer games gives free reign to your Dark Side in the same way that taking a potion and releasing Hyde does. (For the record: no).

On the slightly disconcerting side, apparently Dragon Age is determined to colonise all areas of my life, however unlikely. On the upside, the gender balance of geekdom has changed radically in the last five or six years, is all I can say. And a good thing too.

*blat*

Sunday, 24 April 2011 11:02 pm
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The above being the noise of:

  1. Rain on the roof. And on the laundry on the line until I remembered to bring it in, in the middle of the morning's Easter wafflefest with the Usual Suspects. I'm still full. But happy, and happily aware of the garden being happily damp.

  2. Me hitting a very large, very fat mosquito very hard at 3.23am this morning, which was the time I woke up randomly and couldn't get back to sleep for two hours. Part of this was the irritating jet-fighter whine, the other part was because my sinuses were in a state of revolt, probably because I incautiously attended a braai. My body hates me, which is OK, because I hate it right back.

  3. Me hitting darkspawn very hard with a very large blade that's all coruscating with electricity and also randomly paralyses opponents at intervals. Dragon Age is still eating my life. I'm ok with that. Also, one of my companions has a pet nug called Schmooples. This makes me giggle like a loon quite often.

  4. Superheroes hitting things, possibly with other things. You can probably narrow the sound effect by referring to this handy chart.


Must sleep now. Happy Easter!
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In the Department Of The Approximately Three Million Things That Make Me Cry, Earth/orbit flute duets between astronauts and rock dinosaurs are a new acquisition. At least this one doesn't happen routinely. It's also, despite the fact that I cherish no fondness whatsoever for Jethro Tull, incredibly cool. (Via Making Light). Also, hooray for Yuri Gagarin. My geek starsign is The Astronaut.



In other news, I have just spent a happy half-hour searching Penny Arcade for Dragon Age references, the which I now actually get. (Especially this one, which for no adequately defined reason cracks me up.) This is to make up for the fact that EA celebrated my acquisition of my new computer by importing my techno-jinx into its servers, which thereafter refused to recognise my downloaded content (or anyone else's downloaded content) as valid. Sodding DRM. But you have to respect my techno-jinx. It thinks large. The servers are, fortunately, up this morning and my extra content is happily enabled, which is probably just as well as I was at a level of rage and frustration which might have powered the techno-jinx into a re-enactment of Y2K.
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... today's Daily Voice billboard headline:

CONDOM TRUCK SPILLS LOAD.

Except to add that making the font <big> made me snigger. Apparently I'm eight.

On an only tangentially related note, formatting those angle brackets to show has entailed using the codes for "greater than" and "less than", which is a bit painful at the moment following yesterday's unhappy Dragon Age discovery that (as [livejournal.com profile] smoczek knows all too well after hand-holding me through Excel formulae) I'm apparently incapable of distinguishing between them. This makes an astonishingly huge difference when you're setting party tactics to automatically hit the healing if your health drops to <10%. Or, as it transpires, >10%. No wonder I kept on running out of damned healing potions. Sigh. Maths, so not my strong suit.

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