Phaedrus' Street Crew
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Everything posted by Gormongous

  1. Life

    I successfully defended my dissertation yesterday. It's (almost) the end of a grueling three-month process where I was promised another year's extension on the program deadline, denied that extension by the university administration, and then given the chance to defend an abridged version of my dissertation, after much bargaining and pleading with my department. I have a lot of feelings: pride that I was able to write almost 25,000 words in the space of a month while also working full time in order to finish a draft for submission, disappointment that my dissertation couldn't be the full work that I'd envisioned, relief that I got it all done anyway, humiliation that I was forced to spend weeks begging for professors and bureaucrats to suspend arbitrary and often informal rules that they'd always tell me they didn't personally agree with, and anxiety that... well, that feels a lot like low-grade PTSD, like I'm on the plane home but I'll always be ass-deep in that jungle muck. I've been incredibly lucky to have a lot of friends, not a few of them from this community, who've supported me in this decade-long process, and I owe each and every one of them my thanks. Whether or not I use my doctorate to teach, as I had planned, I'm incredibly happy to have achieved a lifelong goal of mine, against such odds.
  2. Clickbait Games Journalism: Polygon vs Kotaku

    Yeah, that's a big issue for me, too. At the peak of the site's output, two thirds of the "articles" were either podcasts or those discussion prompts that they've thankfully gotten rid of now. I don't know why they hired some of the best writers in games journalism in order to put them in front of a microphone and have them churn out half-baked gut takes on stuff. Lately it's been really frustrating that their Neon Genesis Evangelion (re)watch has been almost entirely "I like this" "I don't like that" with Austin doing some history lessons in between.
  3. Movie/TV recommendations

    Also, I was such a big fan of the first couple seasons of Letterkenny and I was hoping that the fifth-season premiere was a sign of better things to come, after the slump of the third and fourth seasons, but instead it was bad and the sixth season is even worse. Jared Keeso has clearly chewed through all his material about small-town life in rural Canada and, accordingly, has fallen back on the last resorts of every long-running comedy: flanderization and in-jokes. The show's tight dialogue, a cocktail of obscure slang run through a byzantine syntax, has devolved into repetitive patter that fills up way too much time. Sometimes a joke going on for too long can be funny (and it was, in earlier seasons), but it's basically Letterkenny's only class of joke at this point. For example, their gag about "To be fair" is four seasons old now and the humor is entirely that they haven't forgotten said gag. I wish they would. I wish I could. The fifth and sixth seasons are also odd because they feature cartoonish portrayals of Quebecois, Mennonites, and... gay men? I guess the show used up all its earnestness looking at farmers, druggies, and the natives on the neighboring reservation. I can tell that the writing of recent seasons wants to push this show to a fantastical place where everything can be exaggerated and outrageous (a place where there's more and easier material, presumably) but I just miss episodes like "A Fuss in the Back Bush" or "The Native Flu." Oh well!
  4. Movie/TV recommendations

    Saw Bad Times at the El Royale half a year late. Generally speaking, I like Drew Goddard, but this movie needed someone else on the script or a different person directing, because it was full of bright ideas (including one tremendous scene involving an a cappella rendition of "You Can't Hurry Love") but struggled to integrate them into its flashback-heavy chronology without gutting the pacing. By the time that a surprisingly miscast Chris Hemsworth showed up, I'd mostly broken up with the film, but I imagine it'll be one of those experiences where I remember only the high points a couple years from now, like its motifs of people pushed to the fringes and the need for absolution, and not that it overstayed its welcome by a good half an hour.
  5. I bought Star Traders: Frontiers last year on the dual recommendations of Rock Paper Shotgun and Tom Chick. It is everything that they say it is: a breathtakingly vast space sim where you can do well as an illegal or legal trader, a mercenary, a diplomatic courier, a pirate, a spy, or any mix of those roles. It's got as many interlocking systems as a Paradox game and it truly does its best to let you engage with or automate them, whatever your taste is. And yet I've played over twenty hours without really clicking with it. It seems at once too deep (the reputation and character RPG systems, especially) and too shallow (you make money to make more money to make even more money). I recognize it as an objectively good game, and I keep wanting to come back to it, but I just can't connect. Have my tastes changed? Is it the presentation, which is admittedly anemic? I don't know. Do you have any games that you should like and that you keep trying to like, but just... don't?
  6. Movie/TV recommendations

    If it makes you feel better, Martin's said that the endgame that he gave to Benioff and Weiss was just one possible outcome, so any resemblance to the books that'll hopefully come out someday will probably be only passing.
  7. Weirdly, I didn't have that reaction to Deus Ex: Human Revolution, but I did to Mankind Divided. I'm not sure what the difference was: the formula getting tired with another thirty- or forty-hour game, the layout change from corridor missions linking small open-world areas to a more holistically open-world design, the incredibly dumb and obvious "ripped-from-the-headlines" themes of Mankind Divided... Whatever it was, I played through Human Revolution twice but gave up ten hours into Mankind Divided.
  8. I also bounced off of Stardew Valley, despite the farming life appealing a lot for me, but it was because I couldn't handle the combination of (perceived) time pressure and missable unlocks. I know that it's supposed to be the kind of game where you say to yourself, "Aww, I didn't manage to plant the strawberry bushes early enough! Oh well, next year," but I'm just not set up like that. Also, I found myself getting kind of annoyed that you could give a nice gift to someone and they'd feel indifferent or even negative towards you, because of a secret list of likes and dislikes for every character. I guess what I'm saying is that I'm built for more of a management sim-style farming game, but I liked the surface vibe of Stardew so much...
  9. I'll drink long and deep to that!
  10. I feel you on Dead Cells. I can appreciate the intricacy and the skill of it all, but beating a boss or getting a cool new blueprint just leaves me feeling exhausted and frustrated, not exhilarated like in Dark Souls.
  11. anime

    Well, after watching too many airing anime for the winter season because of holdovers from fall and two girls-in-airplanes shows, I only have one anime that I'm planning to watch this season: Sarazanmai, the new show from Kunihiko Ikuhara. Do I think it's going to be good? No, not after the unevenness of Penguindrum and the blowout that was Yurikuma Arashi. Am I going to watch it anyway to see what will be, at worst, an interesting failure by the creator of one of the greatest anime of all time? Yup.
  12. Looking for TBS recommendations

    Yes, but could you have a tactics game like XCOM where you control zero characters? I think that's the more instructive edge between the two terms.
  13. Looking for TBS recommendations

    "Maneuver" or "move," I guess?
  14. Looking for TBS recommendations

    I think the distinction between strategy and tactics is important here. Strategy is the overall plan to achieve a goal, tactics are the moment-to-moment decisions that execute that plan. I think Divinity: Original Sin 2 probably has a lot of tactics, but I can't imagine that it has that much strategy besides "go to this place and talk to/kill everyone."
  15. Looking for TBS recommendations

    The word "strategy" is clearly dead and needs to be buried.
  16. The Good Place

    Yeah, there is possibly some manner of jurisdictional convenience in having the Middle Place exist that might have lead the Bad Place to allow or enable it.
  17. This is interesting, because Creative Assembly has made it its explicit goal since Rome 2 to reduce the number of systems to onboard new players more easily. I think there's a fundamental misunderstanding there, because fewer systems doesn't always mean less complexity and, often, the increased level of abstraction results in large, important systems that are very difficult to take in at a glance. Rome 2's weird, hyper-abstracted family trees at launch are a good example, they're simpler but so much less intuitive (because people know how family trees work but not vague "buckets" of individuals). I don't know, I keep hoping that Creative Assembly gets better at UX and systems interoperability, but I don't think that they actually need to because, like Bethesda and its games, they occupy their own subgenre with a loyal community of modders who'll fix all their oversights and mistakes.
  18. I agree with everything here. There's no character that functions as a moral center in Mad Men (or, rather, the moral center shifts from episode to episode as different characters have bad and good moments). I enjoy that the show is full of characters who are complicated and well-realized but deeply flawed and heavily implicated by the times in which they live, but I can understand someone else not valuing that too much. What condemnations of bigoted or regressive behavior do happen in Mad Men often come from people who are definitely not above it all in any way shape or form, like when world-class fink Pete Campbell blasts Harry Crane for being annoyed by all the coverage of MLK's death (offending Bert Cooper in the process). I do think that Mad Men doesn't endorse alcoholism and sexism any more than The Sopranos endorses being a mobster and killing people, but it's very unblinking in how it depicts the biases and failings of mid-century America as simple facts of life back then and expects you to care about characters up to their necks in them (even if, deep down, they fundamentally suck, like Don Draper does).
  19. Books, books, books...

    I have a friend teaching a history class with a vocal proponent of Peterson among the students and, even before he declared that 12 Rules for Life was his favorite book, he was really easy for her to clock. All of his fans, but especially the younger ones, seem to have these short but highly generalized and discursive scripts that they've internalized from his books and videos, usually about "feminine chaos" and "masculine order" and myth this and Western that. If you ever manage to get them off such a script, they'll throw around those buzzwords until you take the bait and then they can pivot back onto another one they've got ready. It's really tedious and anti-intellectual, which is rich when Peterson's held up as the thinking man's... well, everything. If anyone's reading this and want a good critique of Peterson, the article in Current Affairs is excellent, as is anything written by Paul Thagard on Psychology Today.
  20. Half-Life 3

    New favorite post by a drive-by spammer.
  21. Crusader K+ngs II

    The Steam sale was a good occasion for me to catch up on CK2 DLC and give the game another shake. I started as the Weimar count (but technically margrave) of Istria and forty years later I'm king of Carinthia with appurtenances in Verona and the Steiermark. I am mostly enjoying myself? I'm probably going to go home and try to squeeze some more time in before a date (which is ill-advised), but I think I'm already a solid list of pros and cons of the latest version. Pros The map overhaul is good. The balance of holdings in counties, counties in duchies, duchies in kingdoms, and kingdoms in empires works about as good as it's going to work in the game. Areas that are prone to fragmentation have their own little kingdoms that can form and break away, although independence revolts are still way too rare. It was very common in the Middle Ages for border regions to slip into nominal suzerainty and it's immensely frustrating that CK1 supported that dynamic but CK2 does not. The custom rules list is more inclusive and permissive. They let you turn off most of the combat overhaul, you can turn off the free casus belli that everyone gets now, you can fix how religion and culture and disease spread, they have rules that are really effective at curtailing border gore... and all of those options are available without disabling achievements! Paradox tends to have a problem with wanting you to play their sandbox games their way, but the custom rules list is a great feature that empowers the player (if it doesn't overwhelm them). The "shattered world" and "alternate history" game modes look really good if you put in the time to figure out which customization options appeal to you. I couldn't be bothered myself, but... The interface for raising a kid has a lot more clarity, making it virtually impossible to make a fucked-up idiot or to send away your heir to be raised by a cave bear. There are even highlighted icons to help you figure out what education is best for them! Cons The rest of the interface is abjectly terrible. The diplomatic menu is flooded with so many choices that you'll never take, the intrigue menu has a lot of good automation options but is otherwise a nightmare hidden submenus, and the council and laws menus are tabs within tabs within tabs. I have a great memory for these kind of things and even I get lost trying to find the button to click to forbid someone from leading an army or to change a law to let me appoint women to my council. I don't know how they're going to improve this for the next game, but they gotta find something better than medieval-themed pivot tables. The council is still a pain to interact with and a source of constant aggravation if you disempower them. There's this whole system of factions and agendas and favors, but ultimately it's irrelevant. Councilors will never vote against their own best interest, no matter their relationship with you or your rivals, so every law change is simply a matter of dumping money into the council. I literally can't imagine a player who wouldn't put the law that disempowers them on the fast track after a few decades of play. Relatedly, favors seem to be nerfed? There's not much that you can do with a favor, especially if there's a large power disparity between the character who owes the favor and the character to whom the favor is owed, except requesting to be on the council, but most characters on your council are the ones with high stats whom you'd want there anyway, so owing them a favor costs you absolutely nothing. Crusades and jihads are pointless back-and-forth all-or-nothing affairs that now leave you fabulously wealthy if you just go along with what the pope wants and don't try to grab land for yourself. I really have no idea what the new Holy Fury DLC changed in that respect, but at least you can set the custom rules to keep random AI rulers from getting Mediterranean-spanning empires, and the game makes it easy to switch to a relative of yours who claimed a title in the Holy Land if you want. I guess it's not as bad as it could be, but it's telling that my favorite thing about the system is that you can opt out, same as with the council. Empires, especially the Holy Roman Empire, are still far too powerful and stable. I think that they've changed the way that voting in the HRE works to keep the emperor from being able to push any law through with brute force by creating more vassal dukes who love him for giving them titles, by instituting a bespoke "elector" system, but it's still way too easy for the emperor to fend off all comers and to expand at the expense of its neighbors. The HRE is simply too big and too culturally homogeneous (especially after vassals in Italy and Burgundy start converting to German for the opinion boost) to stay weak and fragmented like it was historically. At the very least they've made the switch to primogeniture difficult enough that it takes at least a century before the emperor is the hereditary title of whatever family was in power when the stars aligned, but it's still deflating. I have been a constant thorn in the side of the HRE and it's still annexed Poland and much of Croatia, Hungary, and Denmark. The alliance system is still bad. A single-degree blood or marriage relation gives you a non-aggression pact, which you can upgrade to a full alliance with a diplomatic action, but the death of your current character forces you to renew all your non-aggression pacts that are less than three degrees and then upgrade them again to alliances, unless they remain within a single degree... It's so fussy and so easy to forget about until you're under attack and you realize that the king of Bohemia and the duke of Swabia have no diplomatic relations with you. At least they removed the penalty for allying with someone while at war? And don't get me started on coalitions, which seem to be a way of punishing the player for doing too much in an already-slow game. I turned them off in the custom rules and thank heavens I could. So... basically, it looks like my issues are largely the same as two years ago. Still ready for Crusader Kings 3! If they could have interpenetrating fiefs with multiple lords, that'd be great (and terrible).
  22. Netflix Originals

    The Haunting of Hill House was not good, but it was full of good moments that tantalized me, like chocolate chips in an underbaked cookie. There were themes that I really liked, most of all the implication that our experience of the present moment is, by the simple fact of how our consciousness works, inevitably and completely interpenetrated by the past and the future, and therefore that a solitary trauma can destroy someone's life with its reverberations. It's also interesting to think of a haunted house or, more relevantly, a broken social system as a predator that hunts us down through our anxiety and guilt and then feeds on our weaknesses. Unfortunately, that was all smothered by the writing's willingness to make a given scene about whatever was convenient for the next plot beat, so these motifs of damage and dysfunction had to coexist next to themes of openness, forgiveness, and community. Every part of the show was most concerned with short-term impact. The actors, though competent even down to the children among them, were stuck playing characters who spent so much time being dysfunctional that we didn't really get to appreciate the cause and effect behind that dysfunction. And don't even get me started on the endless succession of monologues and voiceovers in the last couple of episodes! God forbid we don't know exactly what's happening in any given second of an already broad and obvious narrative. The thing is, even considering those two paragraphs of griping, I mostly enjoyed it. It's sorely overwritten and overdirected, it's weighed down by a desire to scare without really upsetting you, and it's too long yet desperately in need of stronger characterization and payoffs... Yes, all of those things are true, but watching seemingly talented people making something ineluctably mediocre has become a private pleasure of mine, perhaps by necessity, so I don't mind Mike Flanagan trying to spook me with some grody ghosts while he wonders aloud what we owe each other. I do mind him lifting the opening monologue of S-Town about antique clocks and witness marks beat for beat, though. It's a far better allegory for the hidden intricacies of a person's life than for, uh... ghosts in a scary old house? Did Mike Flanagan just think that no one listened to S-Town and he could get away with ripping off its most enduring imagery? I'll never know because I don't want to find out.
  23. I Had a Random Thought (About Video Games)

    (Oh wow, The Mask looks really bad now.)
  24. anime

    Yeah, I'm not saying that the end result came as a particular surprise for me. I was already cynical about how big production companies, Production IG in particular, have made it a policy of consolidating legacy properties and giving them to young writers and directors in order to help them get their sea legs with a product that basically can't fail. In the abstract, I even approve somewhat, given that the first generation of anime creatives has begun to pass away and the second generation is looking to retire. I just wish they'd had something more to say with it? As it stands, the two sequels feel like a business decision rather than a passion project... which I know they were, but still. I guess anime's catching the fever for obligatory sequels, same as every other creative industry, and I guess that it's good that it's just as much to train the next generation as to make scads of money. I just want more, especially from something as storied as FLCL, and not for it to serve merely as a loose thematic framework for coming-of-age stories. At least, after making a dog's breakfast of Ghost in the Shell with the awful ARISE OVAs and The New Movie, it looks like Kenji Kamiyama's coming back to the franchise, hopefully to direct a third season of Stand-Alone Complex rather than to continue the over-grim, over-dramatic world of ARISE.