Suspending Disbelief: The Line

This is another article I wrote for Uproar Comics.

Suspend Disbelief

When it comes to films, games, and even books, we’re often expected – and required – to suspend our disbelief concerning certain things. Giant, transforming, alien robots…okay. Scientist turns into a big green monster when he gets miffed…fine. Peter Quill floats in space for a minute and survives?! Absolutely unacceptable!

That was the complaint about Guardians of the Galaxy (a year ago now) that sparked in me the question: where is the line? And why is it there? I don’t expect to be able to answer the question, or make a coherent argument with whatever it is I’m about to write, but that’s not going to stop me from diving in.

So let’s start with that complaint. Guardians of the Galaxy: a superhero film (kind of – I’d argue about that, but it’s irrelevant) about a group of criminals coming together in a distant part of the galaxy to prevent an already-powerful blue person from using an alien artefact to wipe all life from the surface of the planet Xandar. Yep, all good so far; why there’s barely any disbelief to suspend.

The aforementioned group consists of a human kidnapped by aliens as a child, an artificially enhanced green assassin, a big red angry man who takes everything literally, a bipedal talking raccoon, and a talking tree monster. All fine. Nothing untoward there.

However – and here is where the film apparently crosses that line – what GOTG seems to have drawn the most criticism for is a scene where Gamora the green assassin finds herself floating in space. Quill, the human, gets out of his ship and puts his breathing mask on her. A minute later, they’re picked up by another ship and they’re both fine.

‘How unrealistic’, people said. Unlike the talking raccoon arguing with the talking tree.

First off, let’s look at what happened in the film versus what would happen in real life.

Fiction

Guardians of the Galaxy

Gamora’s ship is destroyed, leaving her floating, unconscious, in open space just outside the atmosphere of where they’ve come from. Quill, in his leather jacket and t-shirt, gets out of his own ship and floats over to her. He takes off his mask, which allows him to breathe, and puts it on her. As he watches her, his eyes and face begin to freeze over and he loses consciousness. Shortly after, they are picked up by another ship, and as they tumble into the cargo bay – or whatever – he wakes up. Seconds later, so does Gamora.

Reality

Let’s assume that Quill was a real person, floating just outside the atmosphere of Earth, without a spacesuit. What would happen to him? That’s rhetorical; I’ll tell you:

  • Ebullism – The low pressure of a vacuum means the boiling point of Quill’s body fluids drops below his body temperature, causing the formation of gas bubbles in said fluids. His blood won’t boil, but he will swell up to twice his normal size. Which will hurt.
  • Within about 15 seconds, the lack of oxygen will cause him to lose consciousness. He’d then die a couple of minutes later. If he tried to hold his breath to extend that time, that air would expand rapidly, rupturing his lungs.
  • Although it’s a touch chilly, he wouldn’t freeze to death, because the vacuum means the transfer of heat would be so slow, the lack of oxygen would get him first.
  • The sun’s UV would burn him quite unpleasantly, then it would join other things such as gamma radiation and X-rays to damage his DNA. In turn, this would cause mutations and probably cancer.
  • He would, however, have about one or two minutes to be rescued.

Going by memory alone, I think Quill is exposed to space for between thirty seconds to a minute. After removing his mask, he did indeed lose consciousness pretty quickly. So the most unrealistic part of that scene seems to be that he didn’t swell up, he didn’t burn, and he froze over. We could argue that he only froze on the surface and that this might happen (I’m not a scienceer). How fast he would swell and burn, I don’t know; perhaps it would take longer than he was actually out there.

So that leaves the DNA mutations and cancer. But where are they?

AstronautNot here, in our solar system. Are they being exposed to the same things as they would just outside Earth’s atmosphere? In the same quantities? I don’t know. Do you? Do the complainers? Would so much time travelling in space, on different planets, etc, have changed the way his body would react to things? Someone probably knows, but it’s not me. Perhaps the NASA advisor they used for the film knows.

So these people can deal with a talking raccoon (in the same universe as a god of thunder, teleporting mutants, and gargantuan ‘celestial beings’ whose skulls are used as cities floating in space), but the fact that the rest of the film after this scene didn’t deal with the tragic loss of Peter Quill to cancer is too far over the line. Interesting.

What if it was Superman in space? Would the same people be annoyed that he survives rather than dying horrifically?

The line is different for everyone, of course. My grandmother would never watch something like Guardians of the Galaxy – or indeed Superman – because they have ‘weird aliens’. There’s plenty of things I’ve watched that made me roll my eyes, though I can’t think of any now.

Beyond the Guardians

Shadow of the Wraith, Kindle coverI’ve complai…uh…mentioned before a 3-star review I’ve had on my first book. According to the review, it lost a star due to taking ‘an unexpected turn into fantasy territory’. I won’t bother mentioning the inane nature of complaining about a science-fantasy novel having fantasy elements (oops, I just did), but this is perhaps her line. When sci-fi becomes science-fantasy, she can’t suspend her disbelief any more, perhaps. Star Wars is fine until the Force comes into play. Likewise, mine was fine until telekinesis came into play. Or, as she called it, ‘use his “special powers”’. Not that I’m bitter.

And what about within the book? If someone went into it, open to the inevitable fantastic elements of a science-fantasy novel, where might their line be then? The telekinesis, telepathy, etc, that are possessed by one of my alien races? The not strictly realistic space battles? The androids? The dragons? I suspect the last one might be a line for a lot of people. Until they open book two and discover immortal ‘gods’, angels and zombies. Technically not zombies actually. But the dragons are alien animals, not creatures of myth. Does that help? It might help person A but not person B.

What about CSI? ‘Enhance!’ ‘Enhance more!’ ‘Enhance again and zoom in on that reflection in the reflection and enhance!’ Most people can’t quite suspend their disbelief enough for that, but others can. Perhaps it depends simply on how much you know – or think you know – about the subject in question.

I hope you don’t think I’m going anywhere with this, or making any kind of point. Because…I’m not. Maybe I should. But I won’t. Don’t be annoyed – I told you at the start this wasn’t going to go anywhere! It’s simply a question that can’t be answered. Not by me, anyway.

So, what’s the line for you? What was the last thing that made you roll your eyes and groan?

E.T. And Earth 2.0

In light of the discovery of Kepler 452b in July (or at least its announcement then), I thought I would repost an article I wrote a year ago about the search for life, and the possibility of another habitable planets. It’s interesting to see how things change in the space of a year. Also it means I don’t have to write anything new.

Kepler 452b/Earth

“I would venture to say that most of my colleagues here today say it is improbable that in the limitless vastness of the universe we humans stand alone.”

This was said by NASA administrator Charles Bolden during a panel discussion on the search for other forms of life in the universe, about a year ago.

There was a claim at the time that NASA had said they would prove extraterrestrial life within twenty years, but where the twenty years part came from was associate administrator John Grunsfeld saying that scientists are closer to finding another Earth-like planet than people realise. Apparently, with the telescopes we have now, and those we’ll have in the future, we may be able to find life on other planets in as little as twenty years.

The agency has plans to launch the Transisting Exoplanet Surveying Satellite in 2017 and the James Webb Space Telescope in 2018. These will be used – as the former’s name suggests – to find and study new planets and determine if they are capable of harbouring life. Or if they already do!

Thanks to our existing technology, we already know of at least one potentially habitable planet. Considered a prime candidate for life, Gliese 832-c is a super-Earth. The term sounds pretty promising, but in fact a super-Earth is only defined by its mass, which is higher than Earth’s but no more than 10 Earth masses.

Gliese 832-c – a very catchy name – is about five times the size of Earth and closely orbits a red dwarf star. It’s thought to have Earth-like temperatures and is one of the closest potential habitable worlds to us, at about 16 light-years away [Edit: Kepler 452b is actually only 1,400 light-years away]. But we don’t really know much more about it. Because of its orbit, the planet could suffer from drastic seasonal shifts. It could be a gas or water planet. Its atmosphere could preclude life. We don’t know.

Gliese 832c

In fact, because it’s so massive, Gliese 832-c quite likely possesses a massive atmosphere too. If so, that may well render the planet inhospitable. Such a dense atmosphere would trap heat and make it far too hot for life – more like Venus than Earth. So while it’s potentially habitable, it probably isn’t.

But let’s put things in perspective. Go to Google Sky and start zooming in. How many stars can you count? Perhaps I’ll save you some time and tell you that there are around about 300 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy alone. Astronomers estimate that there actually are up to 400 billion. And that’s our galaxy alone.

How many stars are there in the universe? Well, there are some galaxies out there with up to 100 trillion stars. Others are smaller than ours. There are an estimated 170 billion galaxies in the observable universe. Again, that’s just the part of the universe that we can see.

So if we use our galaxy as an average, and we multiply the number of stars in the Milky Way by the number of galaxies in the observable universe we get something around a septillion.

That’s 1024­­. That’s a 1 with twenty-four zeroes. That’s 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars.

So how many planets are there? That’s a bit tougher. The Kepler Space Telescope, between 2007 and 2013, found that there may be an average of about three planets orbiting each star in our own galaxy. So to make an unscientific estimate, that’s a potential of over a trillion planets. The lowest scientific estimation is between 100-200 billion. And that’s conservative. Others think up to 10 trillion. That might be a little on the high side.

But let’s forget that average of three and imagine for a moment that every star has one planet. That’s still a septillion planets in the observable universe alone. Or perhaps three septillion? Let’s not even touch on the theory that ours isn’t the only universe…

Consider now that in May 2014, Dan Werthimer and Seth Shostak, respectively director of and astrobiologist at the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute, told congress that billions of the planets inside our galaxy are Earth-sized and within the ‘Goldilocks’, or habitable, zone. That is, not too close to and not too far from their sun – not too hot and not too cold. Of course, that doesn’t automatically mean those planets are habitable, simply that they are a lot more likely to support life than those not in the Goldilocks zone.

Shostak apparently also said that he believes we’ll detect alien life within twenty years.

So what do we think? What do you think? I think it’s incredibly foolish to think that, in all that space, among all those stars and all those planets, there’s no life but our own. Foolish and arrogant. What kind of life that may be, though, is another matter. Bacterial, perhaps. Sentient life like our own is a bigger leap.

Alien

Of course, what we’re talking about is life as we know it – carbon-based. It’s entirely possible that there are life forms with another chemical basis, such as silicon. When we talk about whether life is possible elsewhere, we can’t really be too sure what other kinds of life there may be. We may say that planets are inhospitable to life, but again, it’s only life as we know it. Even on Earth, we have found life in places we previously thought it wasn’t possible to survive.

I would say if we’re here, then perhaps somewhere else there are similar life forms, cutting down their own rainforests and killing each other. There is a theory that our life here was seeded from elsewhere; that Earth’s organisms and whatnot came here via an asteroid, perhaps. If this is the case, then it would make sense that those same organisms would have hitched a ride to other planets. Whether or not those planets were conducive to that life is another matter. We already know there are plenty of planets out there in their star’s Goldilocks zone, and so are potentially habitable, but the ratio of those to uninhabitable ones lowers the odds somewhat.

How life may have come to be on Earth is a fairly interesting topic in its own right, but it isn’t this one.

So we’re perhaps more confident now in the possibility of life elsewhere. But what about sentient life?

We think of intelligent life as a natural stage of evolution, but that’s not necessarily the case. Life elsewhere might be mostly bacteria and plants. Stephen Hawking posits that intelligence may very well be just one of a large number of possible outcomes of a largely random evolutionary process. He says it’s not clear that intelligence actually has any long-term survival value.

Let’s stick with Stephen Hawking. He likes the idea of there being life out there. He supported SETI, until it lost its funding. However, he seems to be of the opinion that, should we receive any radio signals from space, we should be very wary of answering back. It seems he thinks that any intelligent alien beings who have developed enough to be able to communicate with us, or indeed travel to Earth, could very well be hostile. In fact, I seem to recall him saying this last bit was more than possible: it was likely. Don’t quote me on that, though.

Stephen Hawking's aliens

I can kind of see why he would say that, as we ourselves have developed to be quite an aggressive and unpleasant species. If we were to encounter alien life less advanced than us, we would almost certainly exploit it. I don’t entirely agree with this theory, but nor do I entirely agree with the idea that a species more advanced than us must also have evolved into wise, benevolent beings. Quite probably, they’d be like us: nice and complete ass****s, all in one.

Hawking says that to meet an advanced civilisation while at our stage of development might be like the Native Americans meeting Columbus. This makes more than a little sense and does make me stop to consider how wise it is to be looking for life. But that’s just one of many possibilities.

As for whether aliens have already visited Earth, there’s interesting evidence (or ‘evidence’, perhaps), but who knows? That’s a whole other topic, too, and one more suited to conspiracy theory forums.

So, in the end, I think we’ll find life at some point. Perhaps it will be fish in the oceans of Europa, bacteria on an asteroid, or Asgardians patrolling the outer reaches of the universe. But we are not alone, and the truth is out there!

What’s Wrong With Games

This article/rant was, again, was originally written for Uproar Comics. Continuing my quest to have some kind of content on my blog now and then.

Video Game Characters

Media and somewhat brainless parents alike are fond of blaming computer games (I don’t the term video games – it’s too American) for…well, just about everything. If you haven’t heard arguments about how a game caused someone to go and shoot people, or fly into a rage and kill their family, then you’ve probably been residing beneath a rock for many years. The mildest argument is that games reduce people’s IQ, and they’re for children, so if you’re an adult and play games, you should grow up and get out more.

Let’s take the first part. A lot of violence and killing has been attributed to games. Mostly, I think it’s fair to say, by the atrociously incompetent and biased Fox News. Fox News is quite well known for exaggerating, misleading and outright lying. They bring in ‘experts’ who aren’t experts in anything relevant to their news story.

An easy, well known example of Fox’s hate-spewing is when they set their sights on Mass Effect. It was a long time ago now, but still stands up as a good example of biased reporting from the media. The following could be applied, with a few names and terms changed slightly, to almost any news story about a game.

Faux News

The news report/discussion started out by showing a short trailer for the game. As the trailer came to an end, their headline and subtitle popped up. “SE”XBOX. That was the headline, ‘cleverly’ placed quotes included. Followed by ‘New Video Game Shows Full Digital Nudity And Sex’.

Now, for anyone who played the game, it was immediately apparent that Fox either had gone into this without doing any research whatsoever or had simply decided to outright lie. For those who haven’t played, there is one scene in the game where, if you have chosen to pursue a romantic relationship with one of your companions, it results in a bedroom scene. The scene consists of a brief montage, lasting about a minute and then fading to black. If you count seeing a person’s back as nudity, then the subtitle is spot on. To watch the scene in question, click here.

It then cut to the reporter – and frankly, with Fox, you have to use the term loosely – already with her nose turned up as though she’d just watched someone kick a puppy. She went on to claim that the game contains graphic sex, where the player gets to decide what happens, ‘If you know what I mean’. Well, actually, she didn’t know what she meant.

From here, it pretty much went downhill. Lies, a lack of understanding, a lack of simple common sense, a fake ‘expert’ who knew absolutely nothing about games (a ‘psychology specialist’ and author), and a dedication to shutting down the one person who was there on the side of games. That person was Geoff Keighley, fairly well known in the industry as a game journalist and presenter.

They claimed that the game was played by adolescent males, who were being taught to see women as objects – ignoring, naturally, the fact that the game could be played as a male or female and that the relationship is an entirely optional outcome of an entirely optional, genuine relationship.

Of course, the first thing Geoff Keighley asked the ‘expert’ is whether or not she’d ever played the game. She answered no, with a laugh, as though it were obvious. Well, actually it is obvious, from each word that comes out of her mouth. That kind of shows the level the media are working at when reporting on games, doesn’t it? The reporter hadn’t played the game and even the ‘expert’ they brought on to talk about it hadn’t played the game. This style of ‘reporting’ is repeated again and again, not just by Fox – although they certainly seem to have it in for games. I think games may have run over their dog once.

Halfway through the report, the reporter said goodbye to Geoff Keighley, after talking over him and allowing the ‘expert’ to be incredibly condescending and spew more lies. She then turned to a panel of people, all of whom were, of course, fully against games (and fully ignorant of them). ‘Luke Skywalker meets Debbie Does Dallas’, one of them called the game. They seem horrified at the idea that they might have to be involved in their child’s life, by actually looking at the box to see the rating! How awful for them! You don’t have to do that with films or TV, do you? You don’t have children to look after them responsibly!

That is just one example, old yet somehow fresh and current. Actually, after that, the Fox ‘expert’ had to issue an apology, admitting that before the show she’d simply asked someone else what they had heard about the game.

The sad thing is that people – parents mostly – who know nothing about games, don’t know any better than to listen to these reports. The fact that the words ‘expert’ or ‘specialist’ are used when they bring people on to attack games makes them think that they should listen, not even considering how the person’s expertise is in a field entirely unrelated to games.

5000 years of gaming

Games have been called murder simulators, sex simulators, they’ve been referred to as training devices. After a school shooting in 2009, the (old) game Counter-Strike was blamed. The shooter supposedly ‘enjoyed the game’, and they claimed that he used it to train to shoot people. They said he was dressed like the characters in the game. In reality, he was wearing black. That’s their idea of dressing like the characters. Clearly they’ve never been to a convention and seen cosplay.

How does one go about using a game to train in firearms proficiency anyway? Are real guns controlled by an Xbox controller? A Playstation controller? A Wii remote? When I’m playing a game, do I get the same recoil from the controller as I would from a gun? You can’t use a game to train like that.

There was a story about a year ago about how a man killed his baby daughter because she knocked over his Xbox. Is that because of games? Or is it because he was on hour 6 of a gaming session, because he was a moron? Because he was scared he didn’t have the money to pay back his brother for a broken console? Is it because he was broken in the head?

The baby had signs of a broken arm, suffered weeks before she died. The parents had a history of neglecting the child. Even the killer’s comments in court showed there’s something wrong with him. Sociopath, psychopath…I’m not a doctor.

FarmvilleSo do we think that it’s fair to say that the kind of people who would commit such violence would do so with or without games? Those who snap over a game would snap over bumping their arm on a door, or burning their mouth on a hot coffee. I don’t think Hitler played Call of Duty. I don’t think Genghis Khan played Counter-Strike. Games are just the newest scapegoat for a sick and violent species.

Similar things were said for television. The last thing was comic books. When comic books were new, they were an evil blight on children. According to ‘studies’, one particular comic book taught ‘sadistic tendencies in kids’. That comic was Superman. The symbol of hope. The boy scout, who does no wrong.

Japan is perhaps the world’s biggest consumer of games. The Japanese, in broad generalising terms, can’t get enough of them. And yet it has a relatively low crime rate per capita. Far lower than that of America. Recent statistics put the murder rate at 1.02 compared to America’s 5. Murders with firearms are at 47 compared to America’s 9,369. Total crimes is listed as 2.85 million compared to America’s 11.88 million.

But that must be because games have lowered Japan’s IQ so much that they don’t know how to leave the house to commit crimes, right? Because games make us so stupid. Except that tests have shown that games improve cognitive flexibility. They encourage creative problem solving and ‘thinking outside the box’. They improve reflexes and reaction time. They improve the capacity for learning.

Level Up

Now compare that to TV. Tell me how gamers are lazy. Explain how it’s better to sit on your sofa in front of a TV, letting it all just wash over you, not having to think for a moment, just staring at it for hours. That’s far better than a game where you have to think about how to proceed, solve problems and puzzles, engage in and push forward a storyline. Right?

And as for ‘Aren’t you a little old to be playing games?’, perhaps the answer should be ‘Aren’t you a little too intelligent to spew disproved, old-fashioned nonsense?’ Statistics show that, in America (keeping with a large country), the highest percentage of gamers are over 36 years old. The average age of gamers is 30. And in case you’re wondering, the myth about it only being ‘for boys’ is dispelled by the 45% of female gamers.

It’s so immature to enjoy interactive storytelling, isn’t it?

So the next time someone suggests that games promote violence, or are for children, you can gently suggest that they take ten seconds to look up the facts.

The Galaxy Needs KOTOR III

It’s not the first time I’ve written about it, nor will it be the last! This article was originally written for Uproar Comics.

Knights of the Old Republic

A long time ago, not too far far from here, I picked up a gaming magazine of long forgotten origin. This was before I had decent internet or knew how much content I could find therein. Within the glossy pages that made a nasty creaky, squeaky noise against my thumbnail, I saw a Jedi. The Jedi was fighting another Jedi. There was a yellow lightsaber and a red lightsaber. It was a Star Wars game! Oh, but it was an role-playing game. And it was set in the Old Republic, not even the time we’d seen in the films. Never mind then: it would be a bit rubbish. The graphics weren’t even that great.

At the time, I hadn’t played many RPGs, and my gaming knowledge was pretty much limited to things like Half-Life, Doom and Unreal Tournament. And, of course, Jedi Knight 2! The idea of turn-based combat sounded incredibly boring, as did wandering about picking things up and talking to people. If I’m going to play a Star Wars game, I want to be going about cutting people’s limbs off and Force throwing them off ledges, not having a conversation.

So I didn’t buy it when it came out. The only game I knew the developer, BioWare, from was Baldur’s gate. As brilliant as that top-down fantasy game was, I couldn’t see how it could properly translate to a 3rd person Star Wars game and be in any way exciting.

As time went on, I forgot about it. I think it wasn’t until the following year, coming up to Christmas, that I heard about it again. My dad mentioned it a few times, asking if I’d played it yet and saying it had very good reviews, etc. But I still wasn’t interested.

Then Christmas came. I opened my present from my dad, and there was a plastic box with some bald man, a big-headed woman and a General-Akbar-a-like staring at me. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. Goddamn it.

I pretended to be pleased and grateful, even though I’d said multiple times that I wasn’t interested in the game. I went and installed it on his PC and started it up. First things first, I had to choose to be male or female. Scoundrel, Scout or Soldier. Then I chose a face from a handful of presets. Next, I had to assign attribute points and choose ‘feats’. Bored already. Name? When the hell do I get to play?!

Finally, the music burst to life and the yellow text started to crawl away from me. At least it felt like Star Wars.

KOTOR - Reven and Malak

For the next eight hours or so, I was glued to the computer. I fought my way off a besieged spaceship, falling out of orbit. I rescued an ungrateful Jedi. I listened to my companion’s whining about his family. And eventually, I became a Jedi myself! Or it felt like it was me, anyway, and not the character.

The combat, while pretty simple, allowed me to give some commands and sit back to watch the fight. I got to dress my character how I wanted, use whatever kind of weapon I wanted, and best of all, talk to people how I wanted. I got to have conversations with my companions and get to know them, almost as though they were real people.

The story was a typically simple Star Wars story. Big, bad Lord Malak is trying to crush the Republic and you’re the only one who can stop him, with the help of your trusty companions.

The game is perhaps most famous, though, for its big twist. Perhaps a little more than 3/4 of the way through the game, some information is revealed to you, which left most of us open-mouthed. I probably shouldn’t overstate the quality of the twist by comparing it to that of The Sixth Sense, but to this day it’s often voted as gaming’s best twist. It’s not the twist itself so much as the fact that you don’t see it coming until the very moment the game wants you to. Even while Malak mocks you for not knowing, you’re trying to work out what it might be.

That is, in any medium, the best kind of twist. Not only do you not see it coming, but when you replay the game, you can’t for the life of you see how you didn’t see it coming. It’s clear as day. They practically spell it out for you. And yet we were all shocked when it was revealed. Kind of like The Sixth Sense…

This was my first experience of an RPG of this kind, and it couldn’t have been a better game. It made me feel like I was that character – even though he wasn’t voiced – and it made me want to be a Jedi! It’s probably just as well that I’d finished my first book before I played the game, or else it may have turned out to be a Star Wars clone.

I must have played KOTOR about 20 times over the next year, seeing how different the conversations would be if I played a woman, seeing how the game and story changed if I fell to the Dark Side, and stopping every now and then to check if my own Force powers were working yet. So far, they haven’t come to be, but I have faith…

KOTOR alignment

Then, just over a year after KOTOR was released, Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords came out. I knew it was going to be even bigger and better than the first, and I was prepared to have the longing for my own galactic adventure rekindled!

Unfortunately, however, KOTOR 2 was developed by Obsidian Entertainment. They were to KOTOR what Treyarch was to Call of Duty, or Warner Brothers Montreal was to Batman Arkham [XYZ]. They thoroughly screwed that intergalactic pooch.

Bugs galore, framerate issues, missing content, plot holes, one completely pointless villain (out of three). What could have been a good twist – the reveal of who the real enemy was – didn’t come as any surprise, because you’re basically told that this character is bad within the first few hours. But perhaps that was for the best. I can’t blame Obsidian for not wanting to try to follow the original’s twist.

The thing I couldn’t forgive KOTOR 2 for as I played through it the first couple of times was, as well as an unnecessarily convoluted storyline, the fact that they decided to alter the story of the first game, albeit only slightly. They basically told us that your character in the first game did what he did with motives unknown to us in that game. They even went so far as to practically ignore the fact that my character had been a Jedi. They were quite intent on making it canon that he’d fallen to the Dark Side. Now, that may have suited their own storyline better than him being a Jedi, but I didn’t like them saying that my hundreds of hours of play was kind of irrelevant.

The other problem was that the game was barely finished. In fact, it wasn’t finished. Whole planets were missing from the released product. One of your companions, the much-loved droid HK-47, was missing his side quest. This resulted in gaping plot holes and loose ends.

That wasn’t Obsidian’s fault, though, as LucasArts rushed them and forced them to release the game before it was ready. They were given very little time to make a very big, complex game. Despite this, many people have come round to the idea that KOTOR 2 is actually the better game. I’ll admit that the story, while convoluted, is probably better and more in-depth. It did an even better job of making you feel like a Jedi, albeit an outcast, exiled one. There were several parts of the story where Force powers actually had a place outside of combat – such as using the Force to control your breath while the room is flooded with poison gas. All these things were an improvement over the first game, but I just can’t bring myself to count it above the original. Although, you did get to wear proper Jedi robes in it, which was an unforgivable omission in the first.

But then came…nothing. No more Star Wars. BioWare moved on to other things, claiming not to like making sequels. Of course Dragon Age 2, with 3 upcoming, and the Mass Effect trilogy, with 4 upcoming, don’t count. They don’t like to make sequels. But is that a good thing?

Mass Effect 2 was okay. It was nothing special and I didn’t like how much they changed it from the first, which is still just under KOTOR on my list of all-time favourite games. It was just padding to make Mass Effect a trilogy, really. It didn’t need to exist. The first Dragon Age is probably third on my list of all-time favourite games, but DA2…oh dear. From reused areas, to an overall claustrophobic play area, to magical nuclear bombs, it was pretty damn bad. Then came Mass Effect 3. Now, I could quite literally rant about ME3 for hours – and I have. But for the sake of brevity, let’s just say it was an absolutely abysmal, spit-in-fans’-faces atrocity. And I don’t just mean the controversial ending. From start to finish, it was piss-poor and, frankly, kind of disrespectful.

So do I really want BioWare to make KOTOR 3? Yes. They’ve fallen very far from their previous greatness: Baldur’s Gate, Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire, Dragon Age: Origins, Mass Effect. The time that I didn’t even have to think about whether I would buy a BioWare game or not has long passed. But I don’t give a flying f***. It’s Star Wars. It’s Knights of the Old Republic, goddamn it. I need it! Sure, they’d probably simplify the combat and make it mindless button mashing, like DA2, but I don’t really mind that. In fact, I later came to quite like that button mashing. I just want to feel like a Jedi again.

Is it likely? No. I told myself and others that if 2014’s E3 didn’t bring news of Knights of the Old Republic III, then it would probably never happen. After all, the timing couldn’t be more perfect, with the Star Wars hype kicking in once again. But, of course, E3 brought ‘news’ – if you can call it that – of Mass Effect 4 instead, as did E3 2015. It seems BioWare is mastering the art of ignoring their fans desperate pleas and giving everyone what they don’t want instead.

They did make The Old Republic, an MMO that no one really wanted. And when they happily told fans that we didn’t need KOTOR 3 because TOR was essentially KOTOR 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7, we knew that our hopes and dreams were doomed. And that BioWare had become delusional f***king idiots.

Lightsaber

Help Us, Obsidian; You’re Our Only Hope

But that’s okay, because the fans aren’t alone. Obsidian Entertainment wants KOTOR 3 just as much as we do. In fact, to this day, more than ten years on, they are still trying to get permission to make it. They nearly did make it. The series was meant to be a trilogy, as the so-called ‘ending’ of KOTOR 2 suggested. And the closing chapter of that trilogy was in pre-production at Obsidian, but LucasArts never gave it the green light. Even Obsidian don’t seem to know why.

But even now, Obsidian are pitching a new Star Wars RPG (or they were – I haven’t heard a thing about it since). It’s not KOTOR 3; it’s set within the timeline of the films. But it is Star Wars, and it is an RPG. So it may not be the Star Wars RPG that we deserve, but it may be the one we need right now. I don’t know why no one has thought that a sequel to two of the most popular and successful games of all time could probably do quite well, but never mind. Not all hope is lost. Even if it will be an Obsidian game.

I don’t have a lot of faith in Obsidian, but after playing a few of their games, I’ve come to the conclusion that they actually have pretty good writers. They have some good ideas for gameplay and systems. They just can’t program. And they can’t seem to get on with each other all that well. The latter is a problem, but they aren’t alone in their inability to program. Look at Bethesda. I’m not even sure their programmers know Dark Basic, let alone all the coding they need to know for AAA games. And yet theirs are some of the most popular and loved games out there: Oblivion, Skyrim, and Fallout, most famously.

So all is not lost yet. Let’s pray you can help us, Obsidian; you’re our only hope.

Why Frozen Is So Overrated

Elsa & Anna, Frozen

This article/rant was originally written for Uproar Comics.

I know it’s been a long time since Frozen came out, but I still hear about it almost every damn day.

First of all, I want to be clear: I did not hate Frozen. It’s fine. It’s okay. It’s decent. But that’s about all it is. The reason it annoyed me so much has more to do with the hype around it and garbage claims, such as it being a new classic and the best Disney film since The Lion King, than the film itself being bad. I went into it thinking it was going to be pretty damn good, at least. I then spent the entire film thinking ‘When does it get good?’ until the credits started to roll.

I enjoy a good, clean, innocent animated film about as much as I enjoy a good Die Hard or Superman or Batman Begins, so it’s annoying when they overreach and don’t quite make it. Now that I’ve reached my weekly quota of ‘annoyed’s, here are the main things that got to me. Remember, I could also point out things that were good about the film, but this is about the things that contribute to it not being nearly as amazing as a surprisingly large number of people seem to think…in my ever so humble opinion…

Spoilers ahead (obviously)!

First of all is the spark of the film’s conflict. Elsa, a little girl imbued with some kind of ice magic, accidentally shoots her little sister, Anna, in the head with said magic. This results in…brain freeze? The parents, after bursting in with ‘What the shit have you done this time?’ already on their tongues, take Anna and Elsa to a family of rock trolls. The old man of the family is the typical wise character who is the only person who can help.

His solution is to take away Anna’s memories. She won’t even remember that Elsa has this ability. Apparently this is ‘for the best’, because although Elsa has the power to create ice and snow from nothing, the power to say ‘No I won’t perform magic for you, Anna’ is beyond her grasp.

This is where my expectations of the film were challenged by the reality. The supposedly loving father proposes that, in order to prevent the danger that the troll tells them about, they’ll lock up the palace, fire most of the staff, and not let Elsa engage with anyone ever again. Not even her sister. This is a fantastic message to children, I think. If someone is different, shun them and lock them up. The final nail in the scene’s coffin was the supposedly ‘wise’ little troll saying absolutely nothing about this ludicrous idea.

Then, of course, after stating multiple times that she needs to learn to control the ability, they proceed to…do nothing at all to help her learn to control the ability. They even come up with a ‘cute’ rhyme about concealing and ignoring her powers! And it’s not even as though all this is portrayed as stupid/foolish/irresponsible/bad parenting!

The entirety of the problems in the film could have been avoided with some half-decent parenting and common sense. The whole premise of the intro scenes is that both children are completely and utterly isolated, even from each other, and again it isn’t shown as being wrong in any way, just a bit of a shame. Poor things.

And why does Anna keep trying to engage with Elsa? I’d have given up a long time ago on the moping older sister who seems to want nothing to do with me and just keeps telling me to go away.

Then the parents die. And who cares? Seriously? Does anyone actually care? They aren’t in it enough to care, and they do nothing worthwhile with the screen time they have, so who cares?

And there are too many songs, damn it! It must have been about one song every ten minutes. Considering each of those is a couple of minutes long, that’s a lot of singing, even for a musical animated film. Granted, I’m more used to non-musical Pixar films, but it seemed excessive.

And now we come to the ‘modern day’ and we’re reintroduced to the boy and his reindeer who somewhat pointlessly kicked off the film. And I kind of wish we aren’t. Kristoff talks to his reindeer, Sven, and then proceeds to talk back to himself on behalf of Sven, in a different voice. This is…horrifying. It’s not funny. It’s not endearing. It’s cringe-worthy, it’s weird and frankly, it’s creepy.

Kristoff, Olaf & Sven, Frozen

In fact, I’d go so far to say that the only amusing characters in the film are the Duke of Weselton, Olaf the snowman, and the shopkeeper near the start. Note how I say ‘amusing’, not ‘funny’.

Now, it’s coronation day, as Elsa has come of age. It’s not entirely clear what age this actually makes her, but since everyone in this kingdom is apparently American (except for the duke, who we’re meant to dislike, so naturally he’s English), we’ll say she must be 21. This makes Anna 18 years old. Anna bursts into yet another song. This time it’s about how she might meet ‘the one’ at the coronation. This is fifteen minutes into a film that has been lauded all over the internet and by critics everywhere as a big step for feminism. It’s a film where the princess (or queen) doesn’t require, or indeed have, a prince or knight in shining armour to rescue her. Yet it takes only fifteen minutes for one of the two lead characters to have a song dedicated to desperately hoping to fall in love.

And of course, she does indeed fall in love. She meets a prince, naturally, and falls in love there and then, and they get engaged the same night. Hans is, according to the Disney wiki, about 23. The film has no qualms with outright stating that he is a man. Not a boy or teenager. A man. Engaged to an 18 year old. There are worse things, of course, but it’s quite an age difference for a Disney film to have no problem with. Kristoff is 21 (remember that weird voice he puts on? …at 21 years of age…). He and Anna later fall in love. Better, but it still just has a slight hint of inappropriateness. Of course, if coming of age makes Elsa 18, then…well, let’s hope not.

And speaking of Prince Hans, I don’t like to be snobby or whatever, but teaching children that princes say things such as “‘cause, like…’ annoys me. And now I’ve surpassed my quota.

Next, due to a confrontation with Anna, Elsa decides that the way to deal with her problems and responsibilities is to run the f*** away. In the process, she freezes the entire city and the port. But it’s okay because, even though her worst nightmare has just come true, she’s suddenly happy. She’s all smiles and building snowmen. Snowmen that inexplicably come to life. ‘Cause it’s, like, totes believable (what? Princes talk like that, why can’t I?) that after more than a decade of trying to suppress the magic, one minute in the wilderness and she wants to test her limits. While singing.

And while I’m on that, I think the only reason the song that the film is known for (‘Let It Go’) is more than just decent only because (the quite amazing) Idina Menzel sings it. That said, it has grown on me a touch. A TOUCH!

Meanwhile, Anna decides that she has to go after her, frankly, complete b**** of a sister. Let’s remember that, at this point, Anna has spent more than ten years being told by her sister to ‘go away’. Isolated from her and because of her. She brings the news of her engagement to Elsa only to be told the marriage won’t happen. Not because of the age difference or the fact they’ve just met, though. Because of Elsa’s own issues. And now, Elsa has frozen the whole damn place and run away, leaving Anna to manage the entire kingdom and deal with the people who think the family is cursed or monsters. So I think the insult is fair.

But despite that, Anna goes after her, leaving Hans in charge. Yes, leaving a man she met just that day in charge of her entire kingdom. Smart. Then of, course, when Anna’s horse returns without her, Hans leaves too. Who the absolute hell is in charge then?!

What is Elsa meant to be here? It’s hard to feel sorry for her when she’s so busy feeling sorry for herself. She’s too selfish to care about her sister, though she happily uses the excuse of her running away being for Anna’s sake. She endangers who knows how many people in her running away. Hits Anna with her ice magic again, though accidentally. She even creates a snow monster to throw Anna and Kristoff out of her new ice palace, and the thing arguably tries to kill them.

It seems to me that she’s meant to be some variation of the typical evil witch/queen. Which is quite good, if it’s the case. To have one of the two main protagonists verging on becoming bad, even if there’s never any real chance of it happening.

There are a couple of places where the film tries to use…I’m not even sure what term to use. Young person…internet language? Kristoff is given just enough time in the midst of some action to say ‘well, that happened’. Okay… That’s, what…amusing? Was I supposed to find that funny? That meaningless statement?

Next, because Anna is visibly affected by Elsa’s unintentional attack, Kristoff takes her to the rock trolls. Apparently they took him in when he was little. He doesn’t seem to put two and two together, however, and work out that the two little girls he saw the trolls heal that time are the same two he’s helping now.

Naturally, their arrival sparks off another song. This time, the rock trolls are assuming that the two are in love and try to marry them. Since the big thing about Frozen is the whole empowered females and no man to the rescue stuff, why are there these other ridiculous tropes? Why is it okay that the trolls assume that Kristoff just happening to be in the company of a female means that they have to get married? Not to mention the usual tired crap where said female is perfect, while the male, simply due to being a male, needs no end of ‘fixing’.

I could keep picking out little things such as the treasonous act of imprisoning the queen, but I’ve covered the main irritants.

There are, of course, good things about the film too. The snow looks nice. I liked how Hans turned out to be a villain and not the stereotypical prince charming. I particularly liked the twist on the typical act of true love being the only thing that could save Anna. Not only was it not that kind of love, but the act was performed by Anna herself to save her sister’s life. And that scene was done pretty well, too.

Elsa & Hans, Frozen

Overall, I was fairly disappointed, and intended never to watch it again. Only being asked to write this made me watch it a second time. I did enjoy it a little more the second time round though.

I could have gone into the more potentially serious repercussions of making out that this film is such a big step for feminism, but there are plenty of better-written blogs already out there dealing with such things. Besides, as a man (yes, I’m sure you’re surprised that a man just ranted for 3 A4 pages about a Disney animated musical), I’m not in the best position to argue about these things.

I don’t normally do it, but I’ll give it a rating, since I have now ranted about it at length. It gains a point for the twist on the act of true love. It gains a point for Idina Menzel. It would gain another point for what appears to be a gay couple and their children, but there seems to be a lot of argument about whether this is really the case. The fact that Disney doesn’t have a great history of being quite so…open-minded does seem to make it less likely, but I’m fairly sure they did sneak in their first gay couple, even if the shot was only about a second long.

6/10

P.S. Tangled was much better!

Batman: Arkham Knight

Batman Arkham Knight

I was going to write a blog post about how I don’t think it’s okay for the Ask EL James hashtag to have been hijacked by people just wanting to be abusive, but then I decided, ‘nah, I’ll write about Batman’.

Everyone is aware that I like games and I like superheroes, so it’s no surprise that I like games about superheroes. The best of these games (not that there are that many) is the Arkham series from developer Rocksteady. There is also the one that the publisher made themselves with their own development studio, but that was a bit rubbish, so we tend not to mention it. But I will mention it. Later.

First, we had Arkham Asylum, which took the gaming world by storm, appearing out of the blue from a little known studio with only one other game under their belt. It had Kevin Conroy, THE voice of Batman; it had Mark Hamill, THE voice of Joker; it had you play as the goddamn Batman (I don’t know why I enjoy quoting that so much). It wasn’t just the best superhero game ever made, it was one of the best games. It had the comic book, animated series feel about it, but was darker and grittier than anything a lot of people had seen from the franchise.

Next came Arkham City, where Batman took to the…well, the city. Rather than being cooped up in the Asylum, he was free to exercise his cape and glide about a large portion of Gotham. Fears that it wouldn’t be able to match up to the original were quickly allayed as it turned out to be even better than the first.

So the news that Rocksteady’s third Arkham game would also be their last was bittersweet. Although it would mean no more Batman from the studio who handled him so well, it also meant that the series was sure to go out with a bang (and that something very exciting might come next). Okay, hearing that Scarecrow would be the main villain of the game was a little bizarre, but with him would come a brand new villain – one that had been created alongside DC Comics themselves: the Arkham Knight.

This mysterious new villain seemed to have styled himself after Batman and looked as though he would be the ultimate match for the Dark Knight. Early trailers showed the Arkham Knight getting the upper hand in fights with Batman, and he seemed to have similar tricks and gadgets. We were all sure it was going to be good.

Well, the short version is: it wasn’t good. In my opinion, anyway.

The long version can’t really be put across without spoilers, so I’ll be sure to mention when they’re coming and start with the non-spoilers. As usual, there is no real structure to my ramblings, so let’s just start with, uhh…

The Batmobile

Batmobile

This looked like a promising addition to the series. The Batmobile is an iconic part of Batman’s arsenal, and so far we had only seen it in a few cutscenes in the other games (or game – I can’t remember if it was in City). Arkham Knight was going to take place in a bigger area than City and so Rocksteady were able to bring in the car. Car/tank, that is. The new Batmobile is one designed for this war that Scarecrow and the Arkham Knight have waged on Batman, and it transforms from car to tank in a fancy second. All the better to deal with those pesky drones driving and flying about (drones – i.e. conveniently unmanned so that Batman can blow them up).

My immediate thought was that the Riddler challenges that were sure to reprise their place in the game would be Batmobile-heavy. I was right. In fact, the entire game is Batmobile-heavy. To the point that several boss fights take place purely between your tank and theirs. Finish enough of the side missions and a new, unexpected villain appears to challenge you. One who is so sure of his skills, he would certainly give you a good fight and definitely wouldn’t cower inside a…why is he in that giant tank?

Yes, taking the place of the unique and varied boss fights is driving about trying to get behind powerful tanks to shoot their weak points, then doing pretty much the same on the boss’ tank. Except that each shot to the boss’ tank has to be followed by driving away very fast because it can somehow keep up with your jet fighter on wheels.

And that’s it. That accounts for most of the boss fights. There are two sneaky, ‘predator’ sections later on against two villains, but as far as I can recall, that’s it. Well, there is the Riddler fight too, but you’re not really fighting him in it. But THAT’S it.

It felt like Rocksteady spent so much time with the Batmobile that they couldn’t bear the thought of it being underused by players, so they forced us to use it over and over and over. In very uninteresting ways. Either that or they spent so much time on it they forgot they had to make the rest of the game.

It shows just how important it was to them that it gets damaged and worn over time, but Batman doesn’t. In the other games, his suit and cape get more ripped as the game goes on, they get dirty, his face gets bruised and cut. Not so in Arkham Knight. Not until the last 5% or so of the story.

I also can’t help but feel it’s a little stupid that you can drive into people, but it’s okay because they’re tased. Yes, tased by the front of a tank driving into them at 100mph. They’ll be perfectly fine. Even though Batman just reversed back over their unconscious bodies multiple times.

Disappearing Acts

Not too far into the story, something happens that causes Commissioner Gordon to get all stroppy with Batman and, at the time he needs the Dark Knight most, tells him to stay the hell away from his family. Makes sense. What also makes sense is that Gordon then disappears for most of the rest of the game. Only in the last two sections of the game does he reappear, with no sign of the temper tantrum he threw earlier.

Something similar could be said of other supporting characters. Nightwing, Robin and Catwoman all make an appearance and are all only in very small sections of the game. Robin has an excuse for most of his absence, but Nightwing is out there in the city, yet only appears to help beat up Penguin’s men and then disappear again. Catwoman is used only as bait. As a damsel in distress. Which I’ll complain about in a minute.

This is war. Batman is being targeted by an army. Where the hell are his allies? He had more help in Arkham City.

Underwhelming Villains

Scarecrow

Scarecrow was an odd choice. It was weird from the start. He’s not one of the more menacing villains in the Batman universe, is he? Maybe Rocksteady wanted to change that. Maybe they were just cashing in on how much people liked the Scarecrow fear-toxin-induced sections in Arkham Asylum. Who knows. They did make him a little more unpleasant this time, but they also made him a lot more sane than he seems to be in anything else – including Asylum. He has a very clear plan, a very clear goal and, it seems, a very clear mind.

But Scarecrow isn’t really the main villain, is he? Or is he? I can’t tell. I thought he was more of a backdrop for the Arkham Knight, who is working for him, but then the Knight seems to take the place as the backdrop. I think the real villain is the demon in Batman’s head. I’ll rant more about the Arkham Knight himself later.

[Potential mild spoilers here] Other villains were in the game – Two-Face, Penguin, Harley Quinn, Firefly, etc. – but they were very badly used. And under-used. They were were the result of completing some side missions. Stop a few bank robberies and Two-Face will show to take you down. There’s not even a boss fight: just take out his men and then do the same for him, just like any other enemy. Destroy enough of Penguin’s weapons caches with Nightwing and he’ll show (in a pretty ridiculous way, I might add) to teach you a lesson. Press one button and he’ll be the next one you’re driving to GCPD. It’s pretty pathetic.

Riddler is both the best and the worst of these side-villains. The others are minding their own business until Batman involves himself, but Riddler comes after Batman, just like he does in the other games. Except this time, he has built a very elaborate series of underground race tracks. Because those count as riddles, right? That’s the way to show that he’s smarter than Batman: make him drive the Batmobile round and round irritating courses. But at least there’s some form of boss fight with him…kind of.

Be The Batman

That’s how the game was marketed. It was probably how the other games were marketed too, actually, but whatever. The idea of Arkham Knight was that it was going to be the ‘ultimate Batman game/experience’. Yet, no Batcave, no meetups with Alfred for sage advice, no well-paced, meaningful encounters with other series characters. In fact, the whole game seems rushed. Not in the sense that they rushed to get it made, but that the player is rushed to get to the end. And not in a sense of urgency kind of way. Just in a ‘we can’t really be bothered to write anything much, so go and beat up the next person’ kind of way.

I think the biggest problem of all is down to…

No Paul Dini?!

Paul Dini was a writer for Batman: The Animated Series – the cartoon that is, to this day, considered one of the best animated series ever made. And for good reason. It was dark and scary, despite being for children, and really got the world and atmosphere of Batman across perfectly in those 20 minutes or so.

Batman Nightwing and Robin

Paul Dini knows Batman. He knows the supporting characters. He knows the world. He knows how to write! The same, it seems, cannot be said for the writers of Arkham Knight. According to Dini himself, he asked Warner Interactive (the publisher) about doing the third game and was told that they might not be looking so much to freelance writers for the next game. He took it to mean that if he had anything else interesting coming his way, he should take it. It sounds, then, like someone – whether Warner or Rocksteady – had already decided that they didn’t need to hire Dini for the last game. And what a massive mistake that was.

The writers of Arkham Knight actually wrote the other two games alongside Dini. It seems from this one though that Dini did all the heavy lifting. The writing here is incredibly weak, unsatisfying, nonsensical and lacking in substance and quantity. It feels like they wrote a game half the length of the game they actually made. It’s not just the writing, though; the directing is off a lot of the time. But then, the director is also one of the writers.

Even from the start, something felt off (I only later discovered that Dini hadn’t written it). The game just kind of…is happening. It doesn’t seem to start – you’re just playing. Things happen without explanation, characters know things that they have no reason to know. For [spoilerific] example, Scarecrow kidnaps Oracle at one point, but he doesn’t actually tell Batman she’s been kidnapped. He says ‘Let me go or she dies.’ A quick call to Oracle shows that she is still okay until the feed cuts off with her screaming. Which part of that says ‘kidnap’? Yet Batman starts talking about her having been kidnapped. Not to mention that atrocious writing where Oracle ignores Batman telling her to get out. She just tells him no one knows she’s there. What a moron! She’s Batgirl. She’s Oracle. She’s been Batman’s friend for a long time. She should not be so incredibly stupid and she should know better than most that when Batman shouts at you to ‘get out now’, you get the absolute hell out!

In short, the game was hit badly by Paul Dini’s absence.

Sexism

Yes, when I noticed something on Google about the game’s sexist treatment of women, I rolled my eyes and assumed it was probably Anita whatsherface spewing more hate and lies at anything that will get attention for her. But the more I played, the more I began to agree. ‘Sexism’ might be too strong a term for it – one that people love to use as much as possible for the smallest things, thus diluting it – but it’s certainly bad use of female characters. There are only three female characters of note in the game: Oracle/Barbara Gordon, Catwoman, and Harley Quinn. Harley barely counts, because she’s in it for a very short time. That said, the DLC that gives you 10 minutes playing as her does have her telling Penguin where to stick his umbrella more than once, so that’s…something, I suppose.

[Mild Spoilers] Catwoman is so badly used it’s almost laughable. She is there for no other reason than some weak justification for starting the Riddler’s challenges. He has taken her captive and will detonate a bomb collar around her neck if you don’t complete his challenges and help her get a series of keys to deactivate said collar. So she sits there while her Dark Knight in dull spandex armour goes off, heroically…driving his car round and round underground racetracks.

[Still Mild Spoilers] She does at least help you beat up some of Riddler’s robots, but even her part in some of the ‘riddles’ is as helper. Then as soon as you’ve freed her, she disappears. She comes back to help fight him at the end, but that’s it. Even her dialogue isn’t what it could have been. She tells Batman to be careful and thanks him at one point I think (in a roundabout way at least), which just doesn’t fit her character.

Oracle

[BIG Spoilers] Oracle is the worst though. I already mentioned one part of her awful writing. But even that bit goes a little beyond just bad writing. It’s making her the stereotypical helpless, oblivious female character who doesn’t realise the danger even though it’s being practically spelled out for her. Then, of course, getting herself hurt/killed/kidnapped/whatever. It’s the moronic ‘You’re in danger, you have to run!’, ‘Don’t be silly, I’m fine’ kind of nonsense trope. But it gets so much worse.

[Still BIG spoilers] Let’s not forget that Oracle – aka Barbara Gordon – was Batgirl until Joker shot her through the spine. So to have her kidnapped so easily and then dragged away without a fight is just ridiculous. Yes, she’s in a wheelchair. So the hell what? The character of Oracle has been, as far as I’m aware, something of an inspiration to comic book readers with disabilities. Being wheelchair-bound might have changed her life, but it didn’t destroy her. It put an end to the Batgirl alter ego, but gave birth to Oracle: the leader, among other vital roles, of her own team of superheroes. She makes people pay time and again for underestimating her either for being a girl or for being in a wheelchair. Rocksteady decided to brush that aside and make her just another damsel in distress, whimpering and screaming as she’s taken away.

[Still BIG spoilers] The best she could do while being taken away was cause the car to crash, giving her a chance to leave a clue for Batman. That’s it. No doubt had Rocksteady decided to show us that from inside the car, it would have involved her slapping and scratching the driver ‘like a girl’. But the worst was still to come. When Batman finally caught up with her, [Seriously BIG, BIG spoiler!] Scarecrow releases his fear toxin to make her fear Batman. In order to stop him ‘getting her’, she shoots herself in the head. Now, [Even bigger more seriously BIG spoiler!] I know that later on, it’s revealed that it was actually Batman who was under the influence of the toxin, and she didn’t shoot herself, but that happens so much later that the player is left with that impression of an incredibly weak and pathetic version of Oracle ingrained in their mind. Not to mention Batman should have known she wouldn’t behave like that.

The Arkham Knight

The Arkham Knight

I’m running out of steam, so let’s talk/ramble/rant about the biggest let down. The Arkham Knight is a ludicrously weak villain. From my first encounter with him, I was underwhelmed. Rather than the anti-Batman that I expected from the trailers, he just sounded like a whining, spoilt brat. He didn’t really get the upper hand on Batman, save for one time that had no repercussions at all. For the majority of the game, he just became one of those voices on the other end of the enemies’ earpieces that get on your nerves quite quickly, always throwing insults and empty threats at you – oh, they’re going to kill me this time, just like the last five times you told me that? He was a pitiful, disappointing character as the Arkham Knight and it only got worse once his helmet came off.

I wrote an article about who the Arkham Knight could be. My favourite idea was that he was actually Batman himself. The Dark Knight’s worst fears realised – an evil version of himself. The idea of Scarecrow’s fear toxin creating the villain was an intriguing one, but the moment the two interacted, it was obvious my already far-fetch idea was wrong.

[The BIGGEST spoilers!] I did, accidentally, mention the true identity though. It turns out that the Arkham Knight is none other than Robin number 2, Jason Todd. Which…is absolutely ludicrous. First, there was no mention of Todd in either of the other two games, even though Rocksteady said they had laid down their plans for the entire trilogy from the start. Second, and most important, Jason Todd is already Red Hood! I dismissed the idea as ridiculous, not only for this fact, but for the fact that Red Hood would feature in DLC for the game.

[Still the BIGGEST spoilers] Rocksteady did a stupid twisty thing, where this is kind of Red Hood’s origin story. He comes back as the Arkham Knight (thanks to Joker brainwashing him, rather than killing him), and then goes on to become Red Hood – because Batman talks to him for 10 seconds. It’s insanely stupid and weak. And if I hadn’t been so sure that Rocksteady wouldn’t be that stupid, it would have been blatantly obvious that it was Jason Todd. Not only from all that the Knight knew, but from the fact that Batman keeps seeing flashbacks of Todd in his mind.

The End

Not the end of the article/rant, sorry. The end of the game. I won’t even bother going into detail. I’ll just say it is absolutely atrocious and mildly insulting. There’s not even any proper closure to it, and it even gives rise to questions. Worst of all, it pretty well destroys any chance of an eventual Justice League game, which a lot of players were hoping was the long term goal. And why didn’t Superman have a cameo?!

The Good Bits

Naturally, it wasn’t all rubbish. Just most of it. The switching between characters mid-fight was pretty good, though kind of pointless at the same time. I think they just needed to add new features. The Batmobile was a good addition, just far too heavily featured. The fear takedowns were also very good but, again, there wasn’t a lot of opportunity to put them to good use.

[Joint BIGGEST spoiler!] The best thing of all though, was the Joker. Yes, the Joker is dead, but he also lives on in Batman’s mind. A combination of the tainted blood Joker injected him with in City and the fear toxin. Although it gets a bit much at times, his scenes are mostly pretty good. And while I thought the series was over-saturated with Joker, I found myself not minding the way he was in this game. Again he was kind of the main villain, but in a far more interesting way: trying to take over Batman, trying to make him kill.

So, although I really don’t understand how it got so many 10/10s (I think I’d probably give it a 7 at the most), at the end of the day, you get to glide about being vengeance. Being the night. Being Batman.

Batman

No Man’s Sky

No Man's Sky splashscreen

Science fiction is arguably the most freeing genre to write in. Almost any other genre can be slotted into it, and the range of hard to soft sci-fi means a writer/director/artist can do just about anything he or she wants. It’s one of the main reasons I’m drawn to write sci-fi (science fantasy, in my case).

No Man’s Sky, an upcoming game from Hello Games, seems set to relight the fire under our imaginations and renew our love of sci-fi. This isn’t the bleak dystopian or post-apocalyptic sci-fi that we’ve got used to lately. This is the colourful, vibrant frontier imagined in so many 70s and 80s sci-fi book covers. Sean Murray, the game’s creator, specifically credits the cover artwork of Chris Foss as inspiring the game. That is his view of what science fiction is.

I was watching when the game was first announced and have been looking forward to it ever since. I wrote an article about it not long after, saying:

During Spike’s VGX 2013 awards – catastrophically co-hosted by Joel McHale – a little game studio called Hello Games showed us a glimpse of their new game, No Man’s Sky. In the midst of games such as The Last Of Us, Titanfall, Grand Theft Auto 5, etc., this unknown game – from the tiny group of indie developers of Joe Danger – stole the show.

No Man’s Sky is, for all intents and purposes, infinite. We could buy the game on release day and we’ll have died of old age before we’ve explored every planet in it. A single planet could easily be the size of Earth. Think about that for a moment. Think about a game like Skyrim or Grand Theft Auto. It takes a while to wander around them, doesn’t it? No Man’s Sky has Earth-sized planets that you can get out of your spaceship and walk around. You could probably spend a few months exploring every inch of a single planet (on foot). There are billions and billions of these planets. Actually, I think the number is eighteen quintillion, give or take.

This is all made possible by the procedurally generated worlds. To put it simply, it would be impossible for the Hello Games team (initially 4 people) to create the galaxy and planets and lifeforms by hand the way other games are done. The team, therefore, created a system whereby they put in rough blueprints, and then the game takes those blueprints and their constraints to create unique flora and fauna, planets, terrain, weather, etc. The game does this on the fly as you play – it isn’t preloaded. And those constraints ensure that there’s a degree of realism to how and where plants grow, the physiology of animals, and so on. This results in players experiencing worlds that the developers themselves have never seen.

Most importantly to someone like me, it creates a much more real sense of exploration and discovery. You are literally, and quite genuinely, discovering these digital worlds and creatures that no one has come across before. That said, I can imagine the novelty could wear off after a while, especially when you start to recognise elements – ‘oh, look, that mouse has the same head as the dinosaur three planets ago’.

Sean Murray is reluctant to say too much about the lore of the universe and the storyline of the game. Which makes sense – it’s a game about discovery, after all. It sounds, though, like the story will be quite loose and in the background. Rather than having goals, we’ll have reasons to do things. This is where our imaginations will take over.

I’m not too sure what kind of things we’ll be able to do. We can mine, we can shoot things from our spaceship, and we can buy new ships and equipment. Other than that, it’s a bit of a mystery. My biggest concern for the game is that it will rely too much on the player’s sense of wonder and expect us to keep playing for the sense of discovery. As I said, the novelty of this won’t last long, so there needs to be actual gameplay that keeps us playing.

No Man's Sky

That said, we will no doubt end up creating our own storylines, our own narratives to go along with what we’re doing. That will be a fresh take on gaming for some people – we’re used to being told this is who you are, this is what you’re doing, and this is why you’re doing it.

I’ve said before that I hate how most games throw in a story as an excuse for shooting anything that moves, and that proper writers, like Rhianna Pratchett (Tomb Raider, Heavenly Sword, etc.), need to be employed from the start to create an immersive, properly next-gen (now current gen, I suppose) game. I might even write another post ranting about that at some point. But the equal of creating a story-rich game is perhaps to do just what No Man’s Sky seems to be doing: let us create our story.

It won’t surprise regular readers (or as regular as you can be with my infrequent ramblings) to hear that I have my own ideas for games if anyone was foolish enough to give me a game studio. No Man’s Sky is, amongst others, the kind of game I would want to make. Create a rich galaxy, a background story, and let the player do whatever they want. I want to craft a galaxy and its inhabitants and then let the player loose to make their mark on it.

Of course, I would want to go a little further – put more options and whatnot in. That would mean more funding. More funding means more constraints by a publisher. There’s a reason most games these days are so formulaic. The publishers are terrified of putting money into something that isn’t tried and tested. Much better to take a game that sold well, put a new coat of paint on it, change the name slightly, and push it out into the wide world.

Hello Games doesn’t have this problem, because they are indie developers. This is probably the only reason they are able to do what they are doing. Sean Murray worked at EA, so he knows the industry well enough to know to stay away from becoming the industry.

Anyway, there are many articles out there about No Man’s Sky, so there’s not much point in me going on and on. If you’re interested enough to have got to the end of this article, you’ve probably already read some of those other articles.

Suffice to say I am looking forward to become a frontiersman.