Erik Amundsen's Blog

December 21, 2015

At the Late Night Double Feature Picture Show (In the Front Row [Fuck the Front Row])


But if you are very... scrupulous about spoilers, or if reiterating well-known facts about the franchise is a spoiler danger, you might just want to wait.

Hermione dies.

Ok, now that we've got that out of the way, let me just say the things I said on Facebook.  Only expanded.

1) It's good Star Wars.  It's got space wizards, daddy issues and pew-pew laser beams.  The dialog only drags when certain characters are talking about certain other characters under the thrall of the Dark Side, and frankly, not even Sir Ian could polish up that turd, so don't worry.  Gone is any trace of Lucas' attempts in the prequels to aim the franchise younger with broad characters and slapstick.  I don't think kids needed that anyway.

2) Star Wars is formulaic.  It has always been formulaic.  On purpose.  It's a myth and myths don't adhere to the usual demands of believable causality.  It's a formula, but a tasty formula, and a satisfying one, so don't worry.

3) Part and parcel to myth is that things that happened once are going to happen again.  The characters from the original trilogy take up positions of the elders in the orignal and the younger characters sort of inhabit the places that the older ones did in the original.  Sort of.  One of them gets Luke's spot, another sort of works as Han, but there really isn't a new Leia.  Leia is kind of still Leia, leading the rebellion, in whatever form.  Fin becomes super interesting in this because he's an entirely new archetype.  I wonder what his influence will have on the tale of the Skywalkers and their Very Bad Decisions.

4) Actually, let's talk a little more about the new characters.  I like them.  I can pass the test of telling you about them - Rey is a more independent, mature, resilient and guarded kid from the backwater, strong in ways that grow naturally and organically from her background.  Fin is a good kid who had no identity other than a conscience until five minutes ago and has to create himself on the fly and decide very quickly and in a crisis who he's going to be.  Poe is a cool operative of the Resistance and a talented pilot, neither as red oni as Han nor as blue oni as Lando.  Kylo Ren ****SPOILERESQUE**** is all exposed wiring, pouring smoke and shooting sparks and fetishizing a Vader that only was on Bespin (and possibly in Star Wars Rebels).  BB-8 is not annoying, though I wish they had used female pronouns for what I will headcanon forever as her.  It doesn't matter, but it does.

5) I hate JJ Abrams' work.  I feel betrayed by LOST, got sick at Cloverfield, felt insulted by Super 8, and regard his treatment of the Star Trek reboots as an act of vandalism.  That said, I think that not only did he do well by Star Wars, he was, in hindsight, the logical choice for the first film of the new trilogy.  His love of myth, reliance on homage, and preocupations with daddy issues and half-baked mysticism put Star Wars perfectly in his wheelhouse.  It's the Hugh Jackman as Wolverine thing all over again - I don't much care for Hugh Jackman and I hate Wolverine, but I love Hugh Jackman as Wolverine.  Actually, I am softening on Jackman, but Wolverine is bullshit.

6) This is the big one and probably the most contraversial thing I came away from my viewing with.  I am more kindly disposed toward what Lucas was trying in the prequels because of The Force Awakens.  Hear me out.  Lucas is a effects guy.  He's never been a good director, he was just friends with good directors in the 70s and was a brilliant creator of special effects.  Now think of what was happening during the run of the prequel trilogy - CG was finding it's legs, pushing on its boundaries, and folks on the technical side of things were in love with it.  Especially Lucas.  ESPECIALLY LUCAS.  This was a guy who made no bones about the fact that the technical side of film-making was where his interest lay.  A new technology just beginning to blossom.  It wasn't his fault that no one knew in '99, '01 and '03 that that flower was going to be a big gaudy bloom with a nauseating stink that fills up the theater and lingers for more than a decade.  It's only within the last year (Mad Max: Fury Road and this - the Marvel movies are ok in this regard, but they sometimes screw it up) that I've started to notice films where CG gets used responsibly and with restraint.  Lucas is a big part of the reason why, both in terms of Lucasfilm pioneering the tech and as a cautionary tale (that came too late to save the Hobbit films from being unwatchable bullshit).

6.5) Lucas deserves a lot of shit for certain things, still: his painful dialog and his insistence on aiming the prequels at kids.  Weirdly, Star Wars doesn't have to be aimed at kids for kids to be on board.  Space wizards and pew-pew laser beams.  I have yet to hear a kid not be on board with that.  Unless that's not their thing, I won't judge your kids if that's not their thing (*judges*).  But in terms of having been in love with technology and what it might do, but finding out that it led down a dark path, much is forgiven.  Not all.  Give me a Willow sequel with someone else writing and directing and you using your power with responsibility and we'll talk.

Stupid daikini.
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Published on December 21, 2015 07:49

July 21, 2015

See the Beast

I am redoing Beast Fears Fire/Big Charry Almanac over on Wordpress. Come visit.
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Published on July 21, 2015 10:17

April 13, 2015

[Signal Boosting] Like two filmless film stars

Originally posted by sovay at Like two filmless film starsI have a Patreon.

Because I talk a lot about film on this journal, and I think it's worth paying for. Incentives include cat pictures and poetry. And film writing, of course.

Please signal-boost! Feedback is welcome, too.
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Published on April 13, 2015 07:11

March 13, 2015

A Whole Lot of Silence and Trousers - You Can't Spell the Fade without EFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF (2)!


- Gaslighting, Nonconsensual Drugging, Demonic Possession.

A game that's going to have a hefty run time has got to change things up every once in a while, or run the risk of things getting stale.  I am ok with this.  A lot of the time, I appreciate this. DAO tries this a lot, and I am want to get behind it, but the problem with it is that it tries it all in the Sloth/Fade sequence, and the result is a couple of nasty spikes in difficulty and a deep well of confusion, and nothing that persists beyond this one sequence.  Seriously, you can (and indeed must) learn four alternate forms in the Fade in order to progress to the end of the sequence, but if you go and confront the titty demon that possesses the Arl's son in the Fade, even if it is literally the next thing you do after leaving the Circle (and it was), you can't use them.  There is a whole part of the interface (which is dogshit, by the by) which handles those four forms and telling your party to hold position or move again.

Anyway, let's go over the things they introduce in Sloth's neighborhood of the Fade which never show up again.

Metroidvania - This one requires a bit of explanation.  Metroidvania, coming from the Metroid and Castlevania series (though missing from about half the latter's early games), is a way to describe games with a not-strictly-linear progression, whereby you see places you cannot access in the earlier parts of the game and gain means to access them as you progress.  In Sloth!Fade, there are areas which you can only access through mouse holes, giant blocked doors, incorporeal portals and on the far side of instakill fire, and in order to access these, you need to get the means to do so in other parts of the area.

Alternate Form - After a short time on Niall's part of Sloth!Fade, you get the ability to take on the form of a mouse, kind of like that Pride Demon in the mage intro-sequence.  A little alarming, but the mouse appears to... fade out... of the Fade (AUGH) instead of turning into the spikiest sex toy ever.*  Which allows you to travel through mouse holes.  There is also a golem, an undead guy on fire and an arcane horror form, each of which allows you to traverse certain obstacles.  While in these forms, you have certain different capabilities and vulnerabilities.  As a mouse, you can stealth, but you can't do anything else.  As a burning guy, you can throw fireballs (though any time you're the burning guy, it's because you have to traverse instakill flames, and everyone else is just as immune to fire as you are, so nuts to that).  As the golem you can throw rocks and stomp a lot, making people fall down.  As the arcane horror, you can cast a couple of different spells, which aren't as useful as the fireball and flamethrower would be if you could use that form somwhere you didn't need to use the burning guy.  These forms give you a little taste of crappier versions of the classes you could have chosen, and also set the Sloth!Fade up for serious dickish artificial difficulty potential.  Changing forms requires you digging through the dogshit interface to find the command and a few moments where you are not getting your ass kicked, something that can be hard to find.

Instakill Flames - Fire is not something you generally want to cuddle, I get that.  However, in the rest of the game, fire must sometimes be interacted with.  It is not pleasant.  It causes damage and makes your character scream like... well, like they are on fire.  Except in Sloth!Fade.  In Sloth!Fade, you touch fire, you die.  You touch kinda close to fire, you die.  These flames look no different than any flames you get thrown or blasted into your face elsewhere in the game.  These ones just kill you the instant you brush by them.

Artificial Difficulty - This one is a trickier and, I guess a more contraversial topic than the others.  Instakill flames are part of it, but those annoyed me enough to prompt a separate entry.  Artifical difficulty is what happens when a game decides to act like a 7th grade Dungeon Master, making a situation far more difficult than it ever has been or would have been by the placement of things.  For example, you must be in mouse form to pass through the mouse holes.  In mouse form, your only defense is stealth.  Stealth does not work on wolves, and so guess what is on the other side of many, many mouse-holes.  That or a tiny room with two already-rampaging golems.  They can't see you, sure, but they can't not hit the entire room and all it's contents anyway.  Or when you are the burning guy, you get into a room which is blocked off on both sides with instakill flames and has a couple of bonfires in it, then spawns in fire-immune creatures who you cannot damage in that form, but can damage you.  Or putting mages on the far side of golem doors, since you're vulnerable to magic in golem form.  Or golems on the far side of spirit doors, since you're vulnerable to rock in spirit form.

Door Puzzles - Go out door A, in Door B.  Go out Door B, in Door M.  Find the correct sequence, using that shitty map and your shitty memory to proceed.  Then get jumped by the SEVEN MAGE DEATH SQUAD.

And you're all by your lonesome - which meant that Harriet and her noodly mage arms were spending a lot of time in melee combat with 3 and 4 immolated darkspawn (and much of her bread and butter damage spells being - you guessed it - fire based).

None of these, not even the artificial difficulty, bother me in and of themselves.  Even together, they aren't bad.  Hell, you make an entire game out of this sequence, throw on a very unforgiving control scheme, take away the map completely, and have other players periodically beam into my game and murder me, and I will call it Dark Souls and eat it up like fried dough at a carnival to which I arrived three sheets to the wind.**  But if you slip them in 10 hours into a game in which they did not previously exist, I am going to... apparently, cry about it on livejournal.***

Well, anyway, you fight your way through all these, and you get a chance to rescue your friends from their dreams.  In Sooney's and Harriet's runs, I brought a grand total of Wynne, Shale, Sten and Alistair into the Fade with me, so I will tell you their dreams.

Alistair has to take a math test at templar school, only he hasn't studied and suddenly, he realizes he's nake... Not really, he's visiting his half-sister for the first time in Denerim and she's really nice.  Well, until she turns into a demon.  Given the choice, I will take Fade!Sister over Real!Sister.

Shale is stuck again, like she was in Honnleath.  Eventually, Sooney talked her out of it (Harriet did not take her) and some demons attack.

Wynne is mourning the mages she couldn't protect.  She gives you a lot of shit for suggesting this isn't real, but then the demons have to go and spoil it by making the bodies rise and tell Wynne to stay with them.  Twins, play with us forever, elevators full of blood, bigwheels, room 237, you were always the caretak- wait.  No, it's just another fight against lava poops.

Sten has the most interesting dream of the lot, as it lets you see other Qunari; in this case a pair of dead subordinates who sass him and sass each other and are just full of sass (but do not have horns, interestingly).  This one was the most interesting because it let you see Sten interact with his own people and be less of a grumpopotomus.  But he knows it's a dream, because Qunari game is better than your game, and cue the demons.

At this point, Harriet gets one more boss battle against Sloth, a demon so lazy he doesn't have his own body, and Niall gives her a spell that should help against the blood mages (I have no idea if it did), but he can't come back because he's been in the Fade too long and his body's dead.  And back to the tower.

At this point, there is only Cullen, stuck in a force field, having gotten his mind worked over by blood mages.  He's a trifle upset, as one can imagine, confessing his crush on Harriet with one breath and calling for mage-o-cide with the next.  This is a point at which you can get Wynne killed pretty easily.  If you sympathize with Cullen too much, he convinces the Knight Commander to purge the Circle anyway, and you have to help, I think.  Darkpaisley's first run through the tower ended this way, and she warned me off it, so I've never done it.  I think it happens after you fight Uldred, though.

Uldred is another boss battle, tiddly-pom.  I think that using the spell Niall gives you affects how many hunchback/mushroom/candle people show up, but I'm not sure.  I get the impression that it didn't work when I tried to use it.  Perhaps you have to use it multiple times in a fight.  I just know Sooney and Harriet used it once a piece, and there were a lot more mages left over from Sooney's fight.

Shady Dumbledore survives the fight, though, so when you all show up at the door, he and the Knight Commander make out, and promise all the mages you need when you need them.  Not really, but it would be awesome if they did.

* It's the purple.  And the sparklies.

** I imagine I would also be lurching around trying to find one of those bacon-wrapped roast turkey legs from Parks & Rec.

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Published on March 13, 2015 13:24

A Whole Lot of Silence and Trousers - You Can't Spell the Fade without EFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF!


- Gaslighting, Demonic Possession.

When last we left our Alt-character, Mage, and early last-gen Rhianna* impersonator Harriet Amell, she'd returned to the only home she's ever known to find it overrun by demons.  The templars, eager to see her (in their minds) back where she belongs, demons or no demons, let her in and Morrigan victim blamed the mages in the circle.  Harriet tossed her out and instead went with Wynne, slightly pedantic, but less annoying than Morrigan and with more healing magic to boot.

Then there were some demons, and some abominations, and some books that were suspiciously bitey, and a bunch of locked chests and armoires that stayed that way because SOMEONE FORGOT TO BRING A ROGUE.**  Then they got most of the way up the tower and met a demon who made them all fall asleep.

And thus begins the shittiest part of the game not in Orzammar.

Fact is, I am not certain if Orzammar is worse.  It's longer,*** to be sure, and it's hard to give a shit about the dwarves; the problems you have to solve for them are problems they could have solved much more easily, on their own, if they had a mind to, and it's hard to feel like you have a stake in the whole thing.  Also, a lot of the dwarves are assholes, the choices you make are all of the shit sandwich on white or wheat variety, and a couple of the boss fights are sons-of-bitches.****

But Orzammar doesn't have portal puzzles or instakills, or the 7 MAGE DEATH SQUAD, that took me 8 tries to clear on Filthy Casul difficulty.*****

Looking back, I see I forgot about most of the stuff that happens in the tower between Wynne and Sloth-the-Sloth-Demon.******  Well, let's explain - the interior architecture of the Circle of Mages in Ferelden is a slightly more complex version of the Tower at Ostagar, where you and Alistair go to get your shit handed to you while your boss and your king get theirs terminally handed to them.  And like that place, there's a bunch of jerks between you and the tower.  To wit: Rage demons, who look like angry poops made out of lava, with arms,******* abominations, which look like hunchbacks with 30 gallons of melted wax over the top of them, all the same skirts and they blow up when they die; and titty demons.  Occasionally, these will talk to you, treating you to scenes of them writhing in midair, feeling themselves up and trying out sub-undergrad philosophy on you.  I should probably keep a tally of how many times I praise Inquisition for quietly not including them, anywhere in the game.  Let's add +1 to that tally right now.  Bless you DAI.

 So yeah, you get to the floor below the top, and there's a bunch of people all sacked out, some fleshy redecorating going on and an abomination with a soothing voice, and everybody falls asleep. Woo.

Harriet dreams of Weishaupt Fortress, a place in the super-distant Anderfells (where ham tastes of despair********), to which she's never been.  Duncan is there, telling her the blight is over, the Wardens one, and now they're all becoming historians.  This turn of events has Harriet a bit confused, but asking about it only makes him attack her (with two other random dream-wardens who happen to be hanging around).  Once that's managed, Harriet discovers the truth: she's in the Fade and she hasn't beaten the Blight.  Hell, she hasn't even gotten through Orzammar, yet.  Also, Fade.  So naturally she does what any sensisble person would in this case, points her wand up her nose and says "Avauda Kedavra."

Not really.  Instead she meets Niall, a mage stuck in the fade who had been trying to bring a spell that protects against blood magic mind control up to fight Uldred and the Libertarians.  Poor guy is stuck here, too.  He's been everywhere, but can't figure out how to get free, and anyway, what's the point?

Well, he has an argument.  Also, crap, this is taking for damn ever.  OK.  Finish the Fade next time.  Or, at least, get the party members back.

* I didn't set out to make a character who looked not-entirely-unlike Rhianna, but once I got close, I decided to embrace it.

** Of course, If I hadn't, my only choice would have been Leliana, so no.


**** Or mothers-of-darkspawn.

***** Taking on seven mages by one's lonesome, regardless of the difficulty you're used to, is not recommended, especially if you have to use their shape-changing mechanic to get into the previous room.

****** Because nothing says sloth by not even bothering to have a name.

******* I have first hand experience with this sort of demon.  It involved a lot of beer and a spicy tuna roll that I think might have actually been escolar.

******** Catch that gag, it's running.
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Published on March 13, 2015 10:51

February 19, 2015

A Whole Lot of Silence and Trousers - Harriet Amell and the Order of the Penis-Looking Hats (Part 1)

- Imprisonment, Slavery, Genocide, Non-consensual Drugging, Body Horror.

Sorry I switched from Sooney to Harriet for all of this.  I chose her for this sequence since she has a lot greater emotional stake in the whole thing.  Sooney's objective was to collect as many mages from the circle as she could grab from the abominations, and she gives exactly zero fucks about everything else.

Actually, there is one thing I did learn about Sooney in all of this.  Magic annoys her.  It's far more trouble than it's worth, it's attached to the people in her party most likely to get up in her fries, and yeah.  Fuck magic.  Or maybe that's me saying fuck the circle.

Harriet's view is, predictably, a little more complicated.

When Harriet arrives, the templars are hanging out in the atrium, having barred the door, because that's all they've got at this point.  Knight-Commander Pronstache* is exactly as happy to see her arrive as he was to see her leave, and seems to have exactly the same amount of ability to do dick about it.  Or he thinks he does, a fact for which Harriet is not ungrateful, because there's no Duncan around to tell him to step off Grey Warden business, and no one to give him shit if he just straight-up murders Harriet.  I mean, when demons and abominations are overrunning your Circle, shit gets crazy.

Fortunately, Harriet has a plan.**  Well, it's plan enough to satisfy the Knight-Commander's mind.  She's going to go in there and kick the ass of everything that crosses her path, and save the mages thereby.  Knight-Commander mentions the big old rage demon in the room: even if she wins, the Chantry and the Templar Order is going to consider every mage in the place damaged goods, just saying.  But, at the same time, I figure he thinks that if Harriet goes in and kills a few things before he gets the paperwork filed to perform the Rite of Annullment,*** it will be a) less work for him to do and b) Harriet will be where the law says he not only can, but must murder every mage, and that's cool with him.  He's so sure this is going to work he even gives Harriet a chance to get out of being annulled with everyone else in the Circle tower: if she can bring back Sketchball Dumbledore to personally tell him everything is okay and all the demons are dead, then he won't just kill all the mages.

Quick aside: despite the fact that mages have to live with demons sniffing around 24/7/365, a mage who is in this sort of situation, where demons are possessing folk left and right, manifesting, making abominations is considered possessed unless they can prove otherwise.  There's not really a way to prove you're not possessed, which means, best-case-scenario, Knight-Commander should keep them all super locked down forever, if not tranquilize or murder the lot of them to be sure.  It's what Knight-Commander Meredith would do.****  From this, I've decided that Sketchball Dumbledore and the Knight Commander are lovers, the kind of passive-aggressive, codependent, frenemies-with-benemies shit that you only see in Dangerous Liasons.*****  Knight-Commander is fine with killing all the other mages in the Circle, but he just can't lose Irving.  Not yet.  Not when he could take credit for saving him.

That's my headcanon and I'm sticking to it.

Anyway, the tower is full of abominations.  Also demons.  The abominations in the tower get designations, depending on the demon that has possessed them and turned them into the lumpy, fungal hunchbacks they have become - rage, sloth, not appearing in this game, titty and pride.  How you can tell them apart is beyond me.  They all look like lumpy, fungal hunchbacks.  They also explode in flame 2 seconds after you land a killing blow on them, a fact that has my party looking like Elmer Fudd within moments of contact.

And shortly, our soot-stained party would discover a magic barrier and a party-member-to-be using it to hold off the demons from a gaggle of moppet mages.  A white haired, yet surprisingly fit educator and mage; ladies and gentlemen, I give you Wynne.  Wynne was at Ostagar, where Harriet (and Sooney) briefly chatted with her about the darkspawn and where they came from.  She returned with the others (including Uldred, our single-act Voldemort) after the battle and was there when Uldred Voldemorted out on everyone.  She's less than pleased to know about the turn of events downstairs (though she's not surprised), and she's not sure if Sketchball Dumbledore is still alive, but, she figures that the only way to save anyone is to go back up and find him.  She'll totally go with Harriet, if Harriet agrees to save the mages.

Morrigan flips out at this.  It's been pretty clear that she's been holding shit back since she arrived, mostly due to all the templars looking right at her, but now, on the other side of the big door which has marked the templar no-fly zone, she'd going to be fucking heard.  Her argument is fuck these guys.  They traded their essential liberty for security and not even their own fucking security, someone elses.  Slaves, she says, who chose slavery because they were afraid of freedom.

This is the closest Harriet has ever come to killing Morrigan.  See Sooney brough Morrigan, too, because Morrigan was the party's only mage, so there ain't no party like a Morrigan party because a Morrigan party is mandatory.  She rolled her eyes at Morrigan's rant.  Harriet was put in the circle super young by a family, that turns out, knows a lot about mages, since a whole bunch of them are born in their line.  She was then shipped out of her homeland to fantasy Alabama, put in a tower and taught her whole life that her freedom would cost the lives of everyone, everyone, including hers since the demons would be on her like... well, demons on mages.

None of that is even headcanon, that's a close reading of the text (mostly in DA2, but whatevs).  I remember Sooney had something heroic to say with only a minor dig at Morrigan.  I think Harriet's response was "Shale, Sten, I am going to close my eyes and count to five.  When I open them, I'm going to kill the first yellow-eyed apostate bitch named Morrigan I see.  Just so you know."

Generally, you end up with Wynne in your party and Morrigan not in your party.  Unless you want to kill Wynne now.  You can also kill Wynne later, if you don't do a good enough job convincing Cullen not to hate all mages (he's upstairs, getting messed with by demons, and don't worry, Cullen, there's a ginger mage named Pyewackit out there who loves you).  Really, you have to work very hard to keep Wynne alive.  It's also pretty easy to lose Morrigan, if you don't let her deflower Alistair (or get with her yourself if you're a straight guy who likes getting with the always chaotic evil), and thus, pretty easy to end the game with no mages.

I get the impression that the writers didn't much care for Wynne.  Digs against her age are very hard not to make, even if you do everything right and get her out of the circle alive (it's hard to do, first run).  Her "deal" is less interesting than everyone's except Zevran's.******  She's not Ferelden's McGonagal - she lacks the class or the badassery - she's a lot like the older, well-to-do, NPR listening white lady you can find by the gross in my general IRL stomping grounds.  A little school marmish, but then, she is, in fact, a school marm.  With fireballs.  Who can heal like a motherfucker.  Which is super useful, since Harriet and Morrigan were statted out for the murder.

This is going on longer than I thought.  Next time, we'll get from meeting Wynne to the only part of the game worse and Orzammar.

* He doesn't look anything like Mendez, but I'm going with it.

** It's always the same plan.

*** Yes, it requires paperwork to kill all the mages in your Circle.

**** She'd nuke the place from orbit.  It's the only way to be sure.  Then again, she did have a psychotic break and turn herself into a statue made of red lyrium, so maybe she's not our gold standard for decision making.  Silver, though.  Strong silver.

***** I cannot be arsed to go find the French for that, but I can be arsed to make a footnote talking about how I can't be arsed.

****** But Zevran gets a pass because he's a sexy elf boy and Tumblr loves them som sexy elf boy.
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Published on February 19, 2015 09:08

February 18, 2015

A Whole Lot of Silence and Trousers - Circle of Magi: Libertarians Ruin Everything

- Slavery, Genocide, Demonic Possession, Body Horror.

For those of you who missed or don't remember Harriet Amell's intro sequence, here's a short thing about mages in Thedas.  They're Marvel Comics mutants under the Mutant Registration Act.  For those of you with other things to do in your life but get comic book references, they're dangerous, and therefor tightly regulated, watched by big armored bastards altered to be resistant to their powers and mostly imprisoned.  Their Cricles are one part Hogwarts and one part Litchfied Correctional.  Oh the references.  Shakka, when the walls fell.  Read about Harriet's background here.

This is one part where Harriet (who I accidentally made to look like a last-gen console version of Rhianna, so you can follow along in your head) is taking over for Sooney, since it has a little more resonance and interesting juicy bits than Sooney's run through the tower.  Harriet and Sooney have largely been making the same choices, only Harriet is more about the Zevran, and keeps Alistair at arms length because the templar thing, and because Zevran (who has not show up yet in either run).

There's a little sequence on the shore of Lake Callenhad (the Cricle is on an island in the middle.  Very difficult to swim.  This will come up in another game...), where you have to threaten some templars with bureaucracy to get passage to the island.  They're the first clue that something is not right in the tower.*

Harriet, who grew up in that place, noticed it looks a lot like the tower at Ostagar, and is not surprised to learn she is going to fight her way to the to and have something bad happen up there.

The facts are these: while Duncan was at the Circle recruiting Harriet for the Wardens, a handful of mages were at Ostagar and Teyrn Loghain was recruiting one of them - a Libertarian (I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP) named Uldred.  In Thedas, Libertarians are a group of mages within the Circle who want to abolish the cricle and have the market regulate mages**.  Like Libertarians in our world, they tend to bring about disastrous consequences within moments of being able to enact their plans.  Loghain promises Uldred that if he can swing the Ferelden Circle's support for Loghain's bid for the crown, he'll abolish the Circle, free the mages and every day will be Ice Cream Tuesday.

I've come to realize that Loghain is basically the Michael Scott of Ferelden.  Precisely zero forethought or self-discipline, and believes that all his weaknesses are actually strengths, and all is plans are brilliant.*** Loghain gets attributed a great deal of cunning and forethought by the dialogue, with the notion that his hatred of Orlais has blinded him to the seriousness of the Blight.  I'd buy this if it had any support outside of dialogue.  His plans are shit.  They are obvious shit, and this one is the most obvious and shittiest.

Loghain wants to use the mages to take over Ferelden.  In order to do that, he offers the Libertarian faction of the mages what they want.  The problem with this is that, if he wins, he either has to give it to them or not.  If not, he's got a bunch of mages roaming the countryside that he told could be free and is now telling "J/K Back to Litchwarts Correctional Facility for Young Wizards and Witches."  But really, how are you going to keep the mage down in the Circle once he's seen Denerim?****  So you'll have a countryside full of Apostates, and you'll have killed all the templars in order to get them there in the first place.  Or, you can let them go, at which point you have a country full of slightly happier apostates and no templars.

Either way, you have a countryside full of apostates.  The problem with this is that, in so doing, Loghain would have made a heretic of himself, and... oh, I don't know... THE WHOLE COUNTRY.  Loghain is assuming that he's going to have to deal with an Orlesian invasion of Ferelden no matter what, and is looking at that, rather than the Blight.  Thing is, even if he was right about the Blight (and he's not) and right about Uldred being able to swing the mages (and he's not), what he gets in the end, instead of an invasion from Orlais (and he wasn't right about that, either), he gets invaded by Orlais, Antiva, Nevarra, the Free Marches, Rivain and every other place in Andrastendom.

See, Andraste went in against the mages of Tevinter and the fact that they were running everything in the first place.  Keeping the mages down is to Andraste what loving thy neighbor was to Jesus, and Andrastians are kind of passionate about that.  Also, the Divine has the authority in place to deal with stuff like that.

It's called an Exalted March, and the last time they did one of those, it was a fairly successful campaign of genocide against the elves, who were, by all accounts, in a better state to fight back against it than fantasy fucking Pennsyltucky.  Also, the circles who remain loyal are probably full of mages who would like nothing better than to be able to prove their loyalty to the Circle and the Chantry by going toe-to-toe with the handful of Ferelden apostates who managed to escape the circle, fight the Templars and win Loghain's civil war.

Really, Loghain should be grateful that Uldred brought his offer to the other enchanters only to have it thrown right back in his face.  So Uldred cocked his fedora*****, screamed, "This is about ethics in game journalism!" and summoned a bunch of demons to wreck the place.

And thats when our heroes arrive.

* The second clue is that they are there.

** The Invisible Hand becomes even less of a factor once you realize it's in your spell list.

*** Which implies that at least half of Ferelden is populated by Dwight Schrute.  I don't suppose we can regroup and face the Blight in Orlais?

**** Actually, Denerim sucks.

***** Oh, it's a trilby, my mistake.  Honestly, far better than the other mage headgear available in this game.  Yes, I am lumping MRAs GGers and Libertarians together.  Because apparently, I want to get SWATted.
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Published on February 18, 2015 08:16

February 9, 2015

A Whole Lot of Silence and Trousers - Redcliffe Castle

Content -
Imprisonment, Possession, Blood Magic, Psychic Domination.

The morning after the undead attack, people seem to be in really good spirits.  Bann Teagan, the Arl's brother who is sort of running the defense of the town, in case you forgot, gives a speech.  Revered Mother Principled gives a speech, and everybody cheers like they're certain this isn't going to just happen again the following night.*  Well, at least they have an elf, a dwarf and some flammible liquid helping defend, I guess.

I'm not saying much about the attack itself, because, from a story perspective, it's not that interesting.  Multiple waves of identically dressed and equipped zombies showing up and attacking the barricades and then popping out of the lake and attacking the chantry.  I suspect I made things easier for Sooney by doing all the pre-battle preparations, but it's hard to tell.

Teagan knows a way into the castle itself, via a path that opens to the windmill, and it just so happens that his signet opens the lock on the secret door.** But before he can lead Sooney and the crew down the path, the Arlessa shows up with the shadiest story that ever shaded.  It goes something like this "Teagan, you have to come up to the castle with me right now, and I can't tell you why or anything else about anything."  Teagan is all like "Seems legit" and Sooney's dialogue tree is composed entirely of being rude to the woman for reasons I can kind of understand, but really, Soon, you could tried to empathize and get some information out of the woman.  Well, ok, so Teagan goes with his sister-in-law, but he does leave Sooney with his ring and instructions to come up the secret path anyway.  So that's what they do, after a moment of silence for dear, departed Teagan.

I've seen this a few times in movies, games and other media, and I'm not sure if it exists in real life, but why, for the love of God and all that's holy, do people put the castle-end of their secret passages in the dungeon?  This seems like poor planning to me on multiple levels.  Anyway, Sooney took Morrigan, Sten and Shale with her in case she had to do something awful, since Alistair cares for the family, and Leliana is, frankly, kind of tiresome.  This proves to be a little mistake.  Well, unless you're Jowan, then it proves a death sentence.

Remember Jowan?  He was Harriet Amell's bestest blood-mage buddy in the mage opening, Harriet being the mage I started and may play a little more to refresh my memory of the shit that goes down in places that aren't Orzammar, because I HATE ORZAMMAR.***  Well, he ended up in Redcliffe (starting a little trend for mages on the run, that culminates in the rebels taking the place over in Inquisition), tutoring the Arl's son.  Who is a mage.  A fact the Arlessa has been hiding from everyone because a) she'd lose the boy to the circle and b) having mages in the family is kind of a scandal, and she forgets she's not in fantasy France anymore but fantasy Tennesee.

Anyway, Jowan got contacted by Arl Howe (aka Arl Dr. Evil McFrankenfurter) and strongarmed into poisoning the Arl on behalf of Teyrn Loghain.  The poison hasn't killed the Arl because his son got hisself possessed by a titty demon trying to get the power to save his dad.  And then the dead started rising from the grave.

So, seriously, fuck Loghain.  Literally everything he touches sprouts demons and everything he doesn't touch gets overrun by darkspawn.

Sten and Shale are all about killing this guy, and Morrigan is all like "well, he could be useful, but you should either kill him or let him go."  To Sooney, that sounds like three votes for killing Jowan, and her own is well... what did the chantry say about malificara?  Oh yeah, they'll control your mind if you give them the chance, so kill on sight.

Turns out what Sooney thought was three votes to kill was one vote against and two bloodthirsty abstentions.  Thanks for backing my play, you fucks.

The castle is full of the undead, and also a handful of doggies that no one told about us being the good guys.**** Fighting through it is more of the same we got in the undead attack on the town, only it's also the first appearance of a revenant.

Revenants are bad news.  9 feet tall, black armor, looking like a cross between Darth Vader and Warduke***** with telekinetic powers and big swords.  Expensive where the healing poultices are concerned, and architect of the situation I like to call "Oh fuck, I have to solo this as Morrigan again."  Fortunately, Peacekeeper commando training and winter's grasp manage to carry the day (again), so there's that.

Eventually our heroes make it to the great hall, where Teagan is doing his best Captain Kangaroo at the behest of the Arl's son (Connor, I think, because this game was made in the early millenium, so OF COURSE the kid's name was Connor), as ridden by the titty demon.****** There's a brief and incredibly awkward conversation where the demon does the demon version of not realizing they EVEN MADE WOMEN (Grey Wardens).  One day, I'm going to wring some one old and not conventionally attractive******* out of the character generator to make those conversations really odd.  The upshot is that the demon thinks Sooney is much prettier than the Arlessa, I imagine mostly to hurt the poor woman further, but fucking still, Bioware.  No one has time for this.

Also, Morrigan's just sitting back there going "What about me?  Am I not a woman?  Have you been talking to Sten, because he's got weird ideas about gender performativity and... You know what, I don't care, let's kill these motherfuckers.  If it unsexes me, at least I'll be unsexed without all these annoyances around"

This is also Sooney's vote, and anyway, the demon sends the possessed guardsmen (and possessed Captain KangaTeagan) to rush them.  Somehow, they manage to not kill Teagan.  Apparently, beating the HP out of him gets the demon out.  All the commotion fatigues the demon, and it lets go of Connor a bit.

And comes the discussion about whether or not we should murder a little boy (spoiler alert, we don't).  There's a general consensus that possessed is possessed and death is the only solution, but then, at the end Morrigan chimes in with "well, there is something else we could do.  It just requires a bunch of mages and lyrium or just one blood mage like the ONE YOU MURDERED IN THE BASEMENT."

"You told me to muder him!" Sooney says.

"I told you to murder him," says Shale.

"Mmm," says Sten, which we can all assume means "I did, too."

"Well, you could have let him go, then we could have had him sacrifice the Arlessa to get the power to send me into the fade to fight the titty demon and liberate the boy," says Morrigan.  "It only would have upset Alistair a little."

"Hey, I'm still planning to hit that!" Says Sooney.

"The Arlessa?"

"Me?" Says the Arlessa.

"No!  Fucking Alistair!  Andraste's g-spot, do try and keep up."

"Well, we could still go to the Circle and convince Shady Dumbledore to give us some lyrium and a couple of mages.  Maybe you could make that schoolmarm we'll be picking up there go into the fade instead of me."

"Oh no, Morrigan, you still get the titty demon."

I'd like to make it clear that swearing on Andraste's g-spot or the Maker's p-spot is not in the dialogue tree options.  Though both should be.  Anyway, this makes the quest point straight at the Circle, which happens to be geographically pretty close.  Until we end up marching all the way around the northern end of the lake, for ...reasons.

But first, Sooney makes a detour back through the basement of the castle to yell at a traumatized woman (the smith's daughter) and send her back to town, as promised.

* I guess all they needed was a honkey Sooney.  Still, it's weird that everyone acts like this is the last night the dead are going to attack, though there is no indication that is the case.

** You would think, if the passage is meant to help the important people escape from the castle when it's under siege, you'd want something that only opened from the inside, but whatever.

*** This turns out to be a pretty common opinion.

**** I have no idea what I was going to say about this, except that Mabari, as you remember, look like they are half rottie and half grizzly bear and are far more formidible than anything in the castle other than the Revenant.

***** The D&D Darth Vader Expy.  A guy that I like a lot more than he ever deserved.

****** Somehow, up until this moment, I never thought of how creepy that arrangement is.  Now, I can't stop thinking about it.

******* To the extent that Bioware's character creation can make conventionally attractive.  It's very easy and also impossible to make. But, I enjoy how these games allow you to make older looking characters but assume you never will, because no one ever has.  It does better than Dragon's Dogma, though, since that game assumes you are making a man, no matter what.  It makes no assumptions about your sexuality unless you rescue the duchess, at which point it assumes you are duchess-sexual.
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Published on February 09, 2015 08:12

February 3, 2015

A Review of Movies Recently Watched, Set to Music

Do You Like Uncomfortable Movies?
(To the tune of Violent Femmes "American Music")

Do you like uncomfortable movies?
Do you like uncomfortable movies?
I like uncomfortable moves,

Did you go see Oldboy? [2003 or 2013, I guess]
Your sex life it will destroy.
You won't get aroused for weeks.

I like Bong Joon Ho and Park Chan Wook
but every time I go see The Babadook [2014]
It reminds me of you.
It reminds me of you.

Let's talk Jake Gyllenhaal
First in Enemy and then Nightcrawler [2013] [2014]
Even Source Code now gives me the creeps, [2011]

Or how about Melancholia, [2011]
you won't mind if a star does fall on ya.
At least it wasn't as bad as Antichrist [2009]

I like Park Chan Wook and Bong Joon Ho
but every time I see Takashi Miike go
It reminds me to wince.
It reminds me to wince.

Do you like uncomfortable movies?
But I like uncomfortable movies best.

I like Park Chan Wook and Bong Joon Ho
But everytime I see Carell's prosthetic nose [Foxcatcher 2014]
It reminds me of me.
It reminds me of me.
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Published on February 03, 2015 07:55

January 24, 2015

A Whole Lot of Silence and Trousers - Redcliffe: the Recap Needs a Recap

Dragon Age Origins [DAO] - Actual Fucking Story, this Time
- Zombies, Coercion, Alcoholism, Grief, Implied Sexual Favors, Christian Theology Amateur Hour?  I'm terrible at content labelling.

On the road to Redcliffe, Alistair dropped the bomb of who his daddy was.  He'd been hoping it wouldn't come up, but now that we're going to where he grew up to help the man who raised him and knows where he came from, he's decided he can't avoid it any longer.

Too bad there is no option to say "You and Cailin looked almost identical from the eyebrows down, Alistair.  I am Sooney the Unsurprised, Teyrna of Genresavvy."  There are options to mock him, options to be mad at him, and options to be soppy toward him, and none of them fit.  Sooney has to split the difference between soppy and mockery.

And then she went into town with Morrigan, Shale and Sten, and maybe she should turn in her title, because she did get a little blindsided by their reaction to the situation in town.

The situation is fucked.  The castle is shut up, no one goes in, and the only thing that comes out are the LEGIONS OF WALKING CANNIBALISTIC CORPSES that come down to town to FEED ON THE LIVING.  Everyone who can fight is out in the courtyard of the Chantry and everyone who can't is inside talking to the Arl's brother, or something, Tegan, who has that ridiculous braided front and to the side rat tail that you couldn't skip fast enough when you were looking at men's hairstyles.  Of course he asks for help, and of course Sooney is going to give it to him.

And then everyone who walked into town with Sooney gets mad at her.

Morrigan says "why help these idiots at all?  Maybe well-fed zombies are slower, or they get sleepy and we'll have an easier time sneaking into the castle."

Shale says "Humans?  Meh.  But I am up for smashing things, if that's what we're doing.  Still, do these things have to benefit?"

Sten says "Undead =/= Darkspawn, so fuck that."

Sooney has to persuade most, if not all of them.*  And of the lot, I am disappointed in Sten.  Morrigan is just being an asshole, because that's her contractual obligation in this.  Shale doesn't care about people, and I don't blame her.  But you, Sten, you're a fucking soldier.  We need to kill a fucking horde of darkspawn, and right now there are Makerdamned SEVEN OF US.  Which is okay if you're samurai defending a town from bandits, but it's not any good against a FUCKING BLIGHT.  Alistair suggested we go here to get an army, and if the undead eat them all, we'll be stuck without.

Then again, if there's so few here that we make the difference, you might have a point.  BUT THAT'S NOT THE ARGUMENT YOU USED, so take your horns from out you ass and put them back on your head like a normal Qunari.

Thankfully, there are gifts in my inventory to bribe the fuckers so they don't hate me so much.  I give Bioware credit for making the "defend the village" sequence not mandatory, but I take it back for telegraphing that you are an utter shitheel if you don't.**  So it's still obligatory.  Well, if certain companions don't want to defend the town, they don't have to (except Morrigan, because she's our only mage.  She has to), so Sooney re-ups with Alistair and Leliana and starts searching the town.  During the search, Leliana comes on to Morrigan and Morrigan shuts that down real fast.  I'm not sure I understand your optimism, Leliana; this is a person who has shown you nothing but contempt from the moment you showed up and told you that the Maker said you got to come along... ok, there's your optimism, I guess.

First we find the smith (Alistair says "Someone's been drinkiiiing"), who Alistair correctly identifies as beening funk as druck and refusing to come out or repair any of the shit the milita's broken in the fighting.  Oh, yeah, we know about this guy from the mayor, who also didn't know that they made women Grey WarSHUT THE FUCK UP.  My fucking kingdom for a renegade prompt.***  The smith's deal is that his daughter was working in the castle when the dead started pouring out of it, and he's pretty sure she's dead.  Sooney's pretty sure he's right, but gives a promise to go up there and find her if he helps out, and because she'd maxed her Coercion, it works.

Redcliffe has a bunch of gated conversations that swing on how much coercion you've got.  The Smith is, I think, the easiest to persuade.  Next easiest is the Worst Spy in Ferelden.  I think.

Well, he is the next one we find, up in the tavern.  This songbird egg of an elf cracks under the mildest line of questioning, though, that might also be because Leliana is there, and since shade calls to shade, she seems to know he's up to something.  The something he is up to is watching the castle in case something happens and then go tell Arl Evil McJerk what it was.  Only he's stuck in town because of corpses.  A little arm bending persuades him to go down and join the militia.

Next, Sooney finds some oil, hanging out in the general store.  Might be useful later.  Also a dwarf who doesn't want to come out of his house.  She leaves him alone for the moment, only because we're going ascending order of difficulty to persuade.

Our next stop is the moppet closet.  The little kids in DAO are that kind of cute you see in the lesser live action Disney movies of the 70s and 80s.  That kind of creepy saccharine, mugging for the camera cuteness that I find equal parts cloying and unnerving.  But his sister is looking for him.  A quick interview as to why he's here (being scared with other people who are also scared got too much for him to handle, so the slipped off to be scared alone - I can't fault him that) reveals a possible good thing.  You can send the scamp packing to the chantry without much trouble, but getting him to tell you what he came here to get is trickier, and trickier still is getting the key, but Sooney can talk titty demons into doing what she wants so a 10 year old is no big deal.  This nets us the Green Blade, which Alistair is going to be carrying for a while.  It's ok, though, Sooney pays fair market value for it.****

Finally, we have the fucking dwarf.  He's not answering the door, and, for some reason, Sooney's and Leliana's lockpicking skills only end up wrecking the lock, so it's kick down the door time.  First, you have to convince the dwarf and his two human buddies with extensive facial tattooing not to attack you.  This is not so difficult.  What's difficult is trying to persuade him to join the militia.  Promises of favor with Ban Tegan don't cut it, bribes don't work, threatening starts a fight.  There is an option to offer sexual favors to the jerk, but I've never had the stomach to try it.  I've never played a man Warden, so I have no idea if that option is available to them.*****  So far as I can tell, you need to be maxed out in Corecion to get his help.  Which Sooney is.

Oh, but I forgot an equally difficult bit of persuasion!  The Reverend Mother.  I think of Sooney as a person a kind of tepid faith, but at least moderate respect for the Chantry, and yet she spends a lot of time either trolling, threatening or weaseling clergy into compromising their faith.  You see, up at the windmill, the halfway point between the castle and the town, the remaining knights of Redcliffe are trying to set up a position.  The oil comes in handy here, when you tell their commander, but he's hoping for a little more.  In this case, what he wants is a blessing from the Reverend Mother.

To explain why this is a problem, I need to reference Andrastianity's real world counterpart.  There are these religious tchotchkes that I think might be a Catholic thing called Cross in My Pocket.  XMPs****** are little cards in laminate that have a straw (I think) cross attached to them and the card has a disclaimer against any magical powers or protection from misfortune or evil spirits or any actual supernatural, spiritual or magical significance.  The language could be crassly insincere or mawkishly sincere depending on how you look at it, like most religious-inspired prose and poetry, but it's really super clear that this thing IS NOT MAGIC.  This is very important.

There's a lot of historical and theological reasons to be VERY CLEAR that magic and Christianity have nothing to do with one another; I can't do a lot of those reasons much justice and this entry has gone long, so just trust me on this.  There are a lot of words written about Tolkien and Lewis (both Catholic and devout, though the demarcation between Christianity and magic holds pretty much true throughout, even with the Charismatics who like to play with rattlers*******) and their approach to who has magic in their stories.  It's a thing.  It's important, and the Andrastians share it.  For good reason, too, since the Romans who killed their Jesus and oppressed their people were magic users.

So when the Revered Mother says, "No I am not going to bless the knights again," I come to understand, even though the above paragraph isn't communicated, nor the "Andraste doesn't cast cleric spells" nature of the faith in regards to what Sooney's asking.  But what the hell, Sooney's asking anyway, because I'd never actually made a character persuasive enough to convince her before (that I can remember).  But, lo, she comes around, taking a vacation from her principles, and she and Sooney work out a compromise that lets the knights think, just this one time, their sunburst medalions will give them something extra.  Leliana is upset, but, seriously, morale.  For the first time in my life, I as kind of wishing Joel Osteen had been in Redcliffe.********

With everything in place, all that was left was to wait for the night's attack.

And that's where I'll leave you.

* I don't remember if she had to justify it to Shale.

** And this is why Sooney will not have werewolves in her army.  Recruiting them involves fucking them over as well as the elves they've been gnawing on.

*** In Mass Effect, you sometimes get a chance to press a trigger button and enact options that either show you as a Paragon of what an N7 officer is supposed to be or as a Renegade COP ON THE EDGE.  The Renegade actions are usually a lot more satisfying.  In this case, I would have liked the Renegade option be to lay the mayor out with a left hook.  Actually, there are a lot of conversations in DAO I'd like to be able to end that way.

**** Assuming that Sooney is a capitalist.  It seemed fair to her.

***** I won't hold out a lot of hope.  If this was DA2 or DAI, maybe...

****** The fact that the acronym is what the weapons are called in Ingress kind of amuses me.

******* Many less theatrical Christians do consider serpent handling, glossalia and the like kind of tantamount to magic, or at least kind of dangerous and undignified, but Acts is almost as weird in places as Revelations, so different interpretations abound.

******** Now that I think of it, I'd kind of like to see Joel Osteen in a lot more violent video games...
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Published on January 24, 2015 16:15

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