Thursday, May 31, 2012

Mirror's Edge, and my playing of it

I originally intended to write this post on the same day as the post about cheating and saving and whatnot, but as you can see I've been slow to get to it. Part of that is that I'm not entirely sure exactly what I should be writing about here, and part of it is that I don't know where to start.

So first thing is that I've decided to split this into two posts, this one will contain no spoilers, the next one will.

I'm not sure whether this will turn out being more about Mirror's Edge itself, or more about my experience playing it which, after a certain point, became much more about the fact that I'm not very good at games and therefore needed to find a way to cheat.

Definitely going to start with the game itself though.

I first heard about Mirror's Edge months ago when it played an important but small role in the story of someone standing up for his little brother to his dad in a game store. That is not the way that I hear about most games. Then again I've been kind out of it for the last … I'm going to say: ten years, so I don't usually hear about games that much anyway.

I ended up getting a copy of the game about a week ago and was initially blown away by it. It was, at first, very much the kind of thing I needed. It was engaging, it was distracting from the problems of my life, and it just plain fun.

I was expecting that I'd soon make a post about it that basically boiled down to, “You have to get this game, it's amazing.”

Set in a Utopian-Dystopian future that's apparently inspired, in part, by a misremembering of Firefly and Serenity* government surveillance is omnipresent and the dissenting factions were shut down (violently) years before, which has given rise to the runners. The runners are couriers who hand deliver objects and information thus allowing those who would rather not be spied on to communicate without the surveillance picking up on it.

All electronic means of communication are monitored, so one can't make a phone call or send an email without the government listening in or reading it over, and cameras are everywhere so you can't talk face to face without the government knowing you talked face to face.

Thus the runners. They've converted the rooftops into their roadways, they live free running, and they'll deliver stuff from point a to point b.

Your character, Faith, is a runner returning to work after a fall took her out of commission.


The gameplay managed to take things I'd usually hate, and make me love them. (Again: at first.)

Consider the fact that the game is built around the idea of a character who jumps from rooftop to rooftop. It's a game that's filled with jumping puzzles. I hate jumping puzzles. I especially hate first person jumping puzzles. This is a game with first person jumping puzzles around every turn. And I started playing and it was awesome. I didn't know it was possible for a game to make me feel that way about jumping puzzles, and yet it did.

One might ask about Portal to which this game has been compared on the jumping front. I don't think of Portal as really being jumping puzzles. It was puzzles that occasionally involve jumping. Don't get me wrong, I see similarities**, but the two games a very different in most ways. They feel nothing like each other. So, while I liked Portal, I wouldn't say that Portal made me find first person jumping puzzles fun.

Mirror's Edge did. Almost indescribably fun.

Another thing is what I think of as “Kato vision” but given that Mirror's Edge came out before The Green Hornet (2011) perhaps I should describe it as “Faith vision”. The name isn't important. In the movie The Green Hornet when Kato was appraising a situation in an instant objects of interest would be highlighted red, thus letting the viewer know that he was noticing that specific thing. In Mirror's Edge certain objects of interest are highlighted in a similar way to help the player notice them. (This can be turned off for those who do not like it.)

I've seen this sort of set up before, though the color in question wasn't red, and thought it was one of the stupidest thing's I'd ever encountered. I don't feel the same way in Mirror's Edge, I like it in Mirror's edge. Mostly, I think, because it's handled better. Much better.

In the other game I saw it in things were highlighted if they had an interest to you the player, which would indeed be helpful because otherwise there was no way to separate fluff from the potentially useful, but from an in world perspective there was absolutely no rhyme or reason to what was highlighted. The stuff that wasn't was more or less identical to the stuff that was, and there was no reason your character should be able to distinguish so it just came across as, “You're in a game. You're in a game. Oh My God, did you know you're in a game? HEY! YOU! YOU'RE IN A GAME! A silly game. La, la, la. You're in a game.”

Now it's not that I ever forget I'm playing a game when I play a game, but I generally like to have at least a hint of verisimilitude. Suspension of disbelief and all that. (Also note that the game it was in wasn't intentionally silly.)

In Mirror's Edge things being highlighted actually makes sense. It makes sense because the things that are highlighted are, generally, things that Faith has been trained to recognize, and more than that has practice (years of it) in recognizing so it makes sense that she can look at these things and have them pop out at her at a glance. She notices them without having to work for it, we, the players, not so much. The mechanic of highlighting bridges the gap.

Also --and I don't know if this is really necessary to explain it since the real world phenomenon of being able to almost immediately notice things you've spent a long time being trained to notice can probably cover everything-- if there is ever a place where that doesn't quite cover it you've also got a sort of metaphysical connection that that the runners have to the city. They feel “the flow” which guides them in the right direction. But as I said, I'm not sure if you ever have to resort to that to explain the highlighting.

So that's another thing that I've felt antipathy toward in the past which I thought worked in Mirror's Edge.

Pretty sure there were other things. For example the way that you are very much placed within the character, noticing her movements, her breathing, her feet if you should feel the need to look down to make sure you don't walk off a building, and so forth is something that I usually don't approve of because it usually doesn't work. It worked.


Actually playing started out in a place that was sort of like a strange combination of euphoria and frenetic panic. The character is a runner, not a fighter, and before your first confrontation in the game a hint pops up saying, basically, “You should try to run away rather than fight.” Those aren't the exact words, but they give you the idea.

And for a while that's what the game was, running, with bullets landing all round me and helicopters chasing me and enemies at every turn I ran as fast as I could to get the hell away and keep from being shot and, while I died on occasion, it was fun. It was very, very fun.

Part of this may be that, not being very good at straight combat in most games, run and hide is often a strategy I have to fall back on and can end up being my default, so a character whose default strategy is to run and hide is probably a good fit for me, and more than that she does it with style.

Running away as Faith didn't feel like running away as most characters. With other characters running seems to represent a failure. With Faith was natural, it was exciting, it was fun. Most of the time escaping doesn't feel like a triumph, but it did, and did I mention it was fun? Because, damn, was it fun.

I reached a point where I really felt like the game could use a quicksave feature, but that frustration eventually passed and I was back to having a lot of fun.

I reached a point where I was kind of sort of ambushed by multiple enemies, I grabbed a gun from one of them, got in a position where the others would have to go through a choke-point to get to me, and then picked them off one by one.

And then felt liked I'd screwed up badly. I mean even if everything were to work out in the end, I'm a cop killer now***. Even if I prove that I'm innocent of the crimes that I'm accused of I'm still guilty of this, and what are the odds that the cops will care what I have to say if I do find proof, now that I've killed their colleagues?  Also, beyond any moral or plot concerns, the actions felt wrong.

Faith isn't a fighter, she's a runner. Standing and gunning isn't what she should be doing. I'd been sprinting through almost a third of the game at this point, running away from confrontation.  Now I'd changed their ambush of me into my ambush of them. It seemed out of character. Not Faith-like.

And then I remembered that I was playing a game where I couldn't save.

One of the many functions of saving is to be able to try things different ways. To navigate the infinite delta streams of future possibility by going back to a point before the branch and saying, “Ok, what if I try this?”

You need two saves to do that. One at the point before you choose the fork in the road that you can go back to, and another so that you don't lose the progress you made after that going down the first branch. Because “What if I had tried something different?” isn't the same as, “I want to lose all of the progress that I made in this timeline.”

Mirror's Edge isn't designed for that. Starting a new game literally means destroying the old game.  (There's a warning and everything.)  And a game with rules like that isn't likely to have the complex interplay of cause and effect that would mean my decision on how to deal with these cops mattered.

It still felt wrong though. Not so much from a moral standpoint because the cops weren't characters so much as obstacles. This isn't a game where they have family or friends or personalities or favorite colors. This is a game where, with all of three exceptions, the enemies aren't people they're just abstractions in people suits.

This is not a criticism of the game, by the way. Some stories work better that way. I, personally, think it was a mistake when the Dark Forces games† began to humanize the foot solider opponents starting in Jedi Outcast. If you're going to make a game that gives me the job of indiscriminately killing people and expect that to be fun, you've got to make sure that “people” is used in the loosest sense possible. Once I start hearing them talk about their hopes and fears and goal of retirement, a game that sets me on the path to destroying them isn't going to be fun. Well, not nearly as fun as it could have been. I'm still a fan of the Dark Forces games, all of them.

Realism should only be used in the kinds of games that call for it. A game where you kill almost everything that moves is not one that calls for that kind of realism.

So it wasn't really morally that it felt wrong.

No, what felt wrong was that I fought instead of ran. Faith, as a character, was, to me, about running. About moving. Stopping to have a fight instead of keeping on moving felt wrong. Killing instead of running felt wrong. The game, it seemed to me at that time, was first person action but not really a first person shooter.

I decided that in the future, wherever possible, I would run instead of fight. I'd try to keep moving. Even if it seemed like fighting might be safer or easier, if I could run I would run because it was what felt right for the game and right for the character.

Anyway, I got moving again, and then I hit the spot where things fell apart.

About a third of the way through the game there was this one jump that I simply couldn't get right. I'd try it, I'd fail, I'd get sent back to the beginning of a long sequence, get back to the jump, I'd try it, I'd fail, get sent back to the beginning of the sequence, and repeat. Over and over again. I'm not sure why that gave me so much more trouble than everything else, but it did.

If this were a game with quicksave I'd save right before the jump and then be able to get right to the jump without having to do the sequence over and over and over again. I could just do the jump and the jump alone until I got it right.  I'd probably also save after the jump so that I wouldn't, as I did, end up losing all of that progress by missing a simple thing right afterward.

But this wasn't a game with quicksave and I couldn't do that. So I had to do the same thing over and over and over again, and even though I got everything before that jump right in the beginning and everything was nice and fluid and going with the flow, by the end there wasn't as single step in that long sequence that I hadn't fucked up at least once.

Gave up, went to sleep, tried again in the morning, same results. Everything else I could do the vast majority of the time, that one part not so much.

And that's when I tried to look up cheats. There are cheats. Including one called “Jesus mode” that I really want to know what it does. Does it let you walk on water? Multiply the loaves and fishes? Does it make it so you can die but you come back three units of time later? What?

I may never know, because the cheats have been disabled along with the console, which is disappointing because on seeing the cheats I came to realize that this is an Unreal game. A different version of the engine than the one I know, but it looks like there are some of the same console commands still in use and I have had fun with the console commands.

Deus Ex, running on the first generation of Unreal, introduced me to the concept of console commands. Far beyond the realm of simple cheats, they're like magic. It is console commands that I used to summon my herd of loyal fire breathing lizard-chicken minions. Four console commands. One to make them loyal, one to make them follow me around, one to make them pop into existence, one to make them breath fire instead of spitting neurotoxic spit.

And that's what they do, they put the power in your hands and you can rewrite reality as you see fit. The laws of the game-world become your playground, and you can finger paint upon the canvas of existence.

Also you can cry out, “Imperial battleship, halt the flow of time!” and have the order be obeyed. So long as you phrase it as, “playersonly” (to freeze everyone and everything but you) or, “slomo .01” (to slow down everything including you a lot.)

Slomo is an especially useful command because most of my problems with gaming have to do with my reaction time. With slomo you can set the time to whatever percent of normal you want. (It can also be used for troubleshooting if your game and your computer don't like each other very much and as a result the game runs too fast or too slow.)

But, like I said, the console is disabled. Can't do anything. Ditto for the cheats. You can find them, which is how one knows that Jesus mode exists, but you can't use them.

In trying to activate the cheats before realizing that that doesn't work I bumped into something else. It appears that the engine has quicksaving built right into it and the keys F5 and F6 were still bound to quicksave and quickload respectively. So it looks like the failure to include quicksave wasn't an effort saving measure, it was just a, “Fuck you,” to anyone who might possibly benefit from it.  As near as I can tell.

That was an aggravating realization.

Finally I downloaded a trainer, a third party program that, basically, implements cheats that were never programmed into the game. It turned out that the trainer made use of the arrow keys and I couldn't rebind it which meant that I had to play the game using my left hand for the keyboard and my right hand for the mouse. No good can ever come of that.

But I made it passed the trouble spot, found myself a savespot, ditched the trainer, and moved on with the game. And my weekend was rescued.

I ended up with another trainer (that didn't tie up the arrow keys) which I needed to help me with combat because damn I suck at that. I'm not quite sure how I managed to take out those cops so easily the first time.


So, combat in Mirror's Edge.

In, I think, most games I've played combat involves guns which hit their targets right away. That makes combat two dimensional. You've got the horizontal dimension (180 degrees right to 180 degrees left) and the vertical dimension (90 degrees up to 90 degrees down). If you've got things that are not instant hit it becomes more complex, at close range with relatively fast projectiles you can still more or less point and shoot, but at longer ranges, or with slower attacks, or at longer ranges with slower projectiles, it suddenly becomes four dimensional.

In addition to left-right and up-down you have range and time. You need to take into account how far away your target is (range) and where it's going to be by the time your attack reaches them (time).

So you've got four dimensions and time really requires you to think about your target's velocity which is itself three dimensions (two of direction, one of speed.) It's a lot more complex and I tend to have difficulty.

Mirror's Edge is very much in the more than two dimension's side of things.

If you get your hands on a gun then it does largely collapse into the two dimensions of the standard first person shooter, but guns are not the primary weapons available to Faith. Her main weapon is her body, specifically her hands and feet. Of those, her feet are the stronger weapon.

To deliver a kick does not mean walking up to someone and hitting the kick button. There is no kick button. There is only an attack button. Attack means kick if you're jumping toward someone or if you're sliding toward them. Both of those require you to be thinking very much about range and time. You need to be the right distance away otherwise you'll land/run out of momentum and stop sliding, before you reach the opponent. You need to be accounting for time otherwise when you get there they'll be elsewhere.

To say that I suck at the combat in Mirror's Edge is like saying that a black hole is a bit heavy.

Though, in fairness to myself, I've since discovered that there seemed to be something borked with my set up that might have been making it so that even some of the time I did get everything right my strikes didn't land. (And that did happen after I had the easy time with the cops, so that could account for some of the difference.)

Faith's best move of all is neither punch nor kick, it's a disarm. Now it's not something to be used all the time because it takes a while to complete and during that time you can be shot by people not being disarmed, but it does take the person being disarmed out of commission and get you a weapon. (I'm looking at dates and wondering if this is where Human Revolution got the idea for takedowns. If it is, they messed up severely by pulling a person switch, it's much less jarring to stick in first person.)

Anyway, that generally requires starting your attack at a very specific moment, indicated by the weapon going into Faith-Kato vision. See the gun change color and then hit a button is exactly the sort of thing that crappy reaction time makes you mess up.

The game actually has a feature called “reaction time” that will slow down time for you, which as you might imagine is exactly the kind of thing I could use. But you get one shot and then have to recharge it by running, which means one chance to get one thing right, and if you fail (and you're like me) you're screwed.

So the combat was not fun for me, and as the game progressed there was a lot more of that going on. Though I assume a better player who was quicker at assessing situations could have done a better job at getting away from it.


Anyway, I cheated. Which allowed me to get through the combat, and I had to switch back to the first trainer for a thing where even with “reaction time” properly used my reaction time was still too damned slow every single time (well almost, there were, I think two times I made it and then allowed myself to do stupid death-causing things soon after ) and the second trainer had nothing that could get me through.  That was interesting because, as I already mentioned, the first trainer reserved for itself all of the keys that worked well with a right hand. As it turned out that part required enough finesse even with the trainer that I needed my left hand on mouse, so that put me in a weird sort of crossed had position. Anyway, that was a short sequence and once I was passed it I could return to normal.

The biggest problem I had was that spending two fucking days missing the same damned jump over and over again completely screwed over my confidence in just running and trying to make it work. After that, every step of the way I hesitated. Even after noticing I was doing that I couldn't make myself stop. The game is about going with the flow, and constant failure had made me so I couldn't flow.

Progress was halting rather than smooth, and that messed up everything. The game is about momentum, I lost the ability to sustain it. Later on I went back and returned to the beginning, sure enough I was worse than when I started.

Still, I did have fun playing it.


So I'm not sure what to say about the game. If if I could quicksave I don't think the part that really screwed me up would have been a problem. Once I realized I was having trouble with it I could have concentrated on that part, and just that part, until I got it right. That wouldn't have taken nearly as long. I probably would have had a lot more fun for the remaining two thirds of the game.

If it were possible to access the console then there would be workarounds for any conceivable problems one might have with the game. Not to mention infinite possibilities for replaying. When you can summon anything or anyone, and change the laws of physics as your fancy is suited, the possibilities really are endless.

But in the non-hypothetical land of reality, it has neither of those things.

So if I recommend it and someone actually gets it (which, what are the odds? No one has listened to one of my recommendations yet) will they enjoy it as much as I did in the beginning, or will the end up with the frustration?

I'd like to recommend it because it was so much fun in the beginning, and really even the final two thirds were pretty fun as well even though I was increasingly thrown into combat which I didn't like nearly as much as the non-combat and I had lost the ability to just go with the flow.

Looking around I see that one of the frequently repeated complaints (beyond lack of quicksaving, which other people agreed with me on) was the length. It's not a long game. Pretty short actually. Normally I wouldn't comment on this because I'm out of touch enough that for all I knew it was average, but given that it was a pretty frequent complaint I'm guessing that is actually objectively short even by the standards of these past few years.

I have some thoughts about where it might have been good to expand it, but the key point is that there's not a lot there. There's an inconsistently reported sequel in the theoretical works (As in: “It's on.” “It's canceled.” “But we still respect you.” “No wait, it is on.”) and given where the game left off that's pretty well necessary if you're interested in story. Not to say that it left on a cliffhanger, there is closure on the narrow focus of the game, but there's a much broader story at work and it's impossible to interpret what happened in the game without knowing how the broader story goes.

I don't know. I really want to be able to recommend this game because at it's core, the actual act of being a runner in the unnamed city, it is very fun. But the lack of saving is a problem, and the fact that you can't cheat means that unless you're going to be using a third party program, you actually have to be good enough to play. I'm not.**** No idea if you are.


* The project lead cites as an influence a completely botched quote from Serenity. A tip to all who may one day wish to cite their influences, before you say, “In [movie], [character] actually says,” double check that [character] actually said that in [movie].

That's not all he says, if it were then I wouldn't list Firefly as an influence above, but the one specific example he gives beyond saying that the two things influenced him isn't actually accurate.

** They're both first person games, with female protagonists whose primary abilities revolve around a mode of transportation, that end with songs called, “Still Alive.”

*** Actually, some of those disarms seemed to me like they might very well be deadly. On the other hand, after Human Revolution came out with their obviously-lethal "nonlethal" takedowns, I'm not sure if you're ever supposed to think about whether or not hitting someone in the head with something really, really hard might be lethal in a game. Faith certainly never does anything while unarmed that seems as lethal as those allegedly nonlethal moves. Hell, some of the times she shoots people I think the victim is more likely to survive than some of the people AJ "non-lethally" takes down in Human Revolution.

**** I could almost certainly beat the game without cheating. There is no way in hell it would be fun. If a game isn't fun, I don't see the point.

† The games are these:
Dark Forces - In which stealing the Death Star plans is only the beginning
Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II - In which you become a Jedi Knight and fight seven Dark Jedi.
Mysteries of the Sith (an expansion for Jedi Knight) - In which you play as Mara Jade
Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast - In which you become a Jedi Knight again after quitting last go round.
Jedi Academy - In which you play as a student of the original guy.

* * *

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Twilight: She said she wasn't hungry

[Originally posted at Ana Mardoll's Ramblings.]
[Bella and Edward's lines are from the original, as is Jessica's first line.  Some of the descriptors are too.]

"I got lost," Bella told me sheepishly. "And then I ran into Edward," she gestured toward him, and it seemed normal enough, but something bothered me about the way she said it. There was something that I couldn't quite place, something off. For a moment I thought it felt like fear, but I brushed it off. What was there to be afraid of?
"Would it be all right if I joined you?" Edward asked.
My brain shut down. All I manged to say was, "Er... sure."
Angela apparently didn't have that problem, because she she explained to Bella that we'd already eaten. And apologized for doing it without her.
Bella took it well and said, "That's fine -- I'm not hungry." On the one hand, it was a good thing she didn't feel left out. On the other hand she seemed to skip meals a lot, and that worried me. Reflecting, I would have been willing to spend a meal watching her eat if it meant I'd know for sure she got a good meal in her. On the other hand, it wasn't my place to tell her when and what to eat.
"I think you should eat something," Edward said to Bella in a low, commanding voice. One might even say menacing. I didn't like the way he said that to her at all.
"She-" I started, weakly. He cut me off.
"Do you mind if I drive Bella home tonight?" The syntax said question, the tone of voice not so much. I felt like I shrank, and I think in a sense I probably did. My shoulders lowered, as did my gaze and with it my head, I got ready to curl up, instinctively preparing for the attack that I didn't actually expect, but I felt would come if I spoke back. "That way you won't have to wait while she eats," he finished.
On the one hand, that seemed reasonable enough. Why have us wait around for Bella to eat when someone else, who apparently hadn't eaten himself, with a car could stay with her and drive her home? On the other hand I did not like the way that he was pushing Bella to stay with him, and pushing us to leave. His low authoritative tones were there to turn suggestion and request into command, and I don't trust those who try to command their equals rather than persuade them.
And on the third hand, I was afraid. I started to talk anyway, "But..." and stalled after one word. The way that Edward glared at me made it hard to think, I got cold and an unpleasant feeling took over my stomach.
Then there was warmth as Angela took my hand. I wanted to look to her for reassurance, but I knew I had to respond to Edward so I kept my eyes on him and tried to stand up straighter, "She said she wasn't hungry, so there's no need for you to give her a ride. We can drive her home. Now."
"Honestly, I'm not hungry," Bella insisted, looking up at Edward.
"Humor me," he said, the same commanding tones. The same indication that it was an order not a request. The same attempt to push her around.
There was a moment's pause, and I broke it with, perhaps, more force than was called for, "No!" Edward and Bella both seemed surprised. "She doesn't have to humor you and you don't get to order her around." Bella looked relieved, Edward looked like the world had turned inside out and the buildings were washing up and down while the sea stayed steady as a rock. "Bella, would you like to go home now?"
Apparently she did because she came to us, and we headed toward the car, Bella between Angela and I. I tried to set a fast pace, I wanted to be gone before Edward recovered.

Captain Tribulation

[Originally posted at Slacktivist in two places.]
[Someone called Mike suggested, "maybe it's a Captain Planet kind of thing. "By your powers combined, I am Captain Tribulation!"" which got me thinking along these lines.]

[First post:]

I'm trying to think of what the rings would be
Fire and Brimstone!
Demon Locusts!
Water turned to Blood!
By your powers combined, I am Captain Tribulation!
[Second post:]

Carrying on with Captain Tribulation:
Captain Tribulation, not a hero,
Gonna take the population down to zero,
He's our powers magnified,
And he's fighting on disasters' side
Captain Tribulation, not a hero,
Gonna take the population down to zero,
Gonna help to put the world under
Rule of a God likes to rage and thunder
(Nicolae:)"You'll pay for this Captain Tribulation!"
We're the tribulateers
You can be one too!
'Cause saving our planet is the thing to not do,
Heroics and brave action is not the way
Hear what Captain Tribulation has to say:
Looking at the original lyrics, do people really say, "put asunder" in that context?


[Left Behind Index]

NRA: My arm is tired

[Originally posted at Slacktivst.]
[The background is that everyone puts their hands on Rayford, and keep them there as he navigates the lesser known streets of Chicago in an attempt to get around the traffic jam created by World War III.  And as time goes on (and on, and on) the hands remain there.  Even though keeping your hand on the driver's shoulder isn't the most comfortable thing if you're in the back seat on the non-driver's side.  (Which someone had to be.)]
[Everything in italics is from the actual book.]

Rayford busied himself maneuvering his way through the incongruous traffic jams. Why were people out?  What did-
-they expect to see? Weren't they afraid of more bombs, or fallout?
“I need to get to the Chicago bureau office,” Buck said.

“You can use the car after we get to the church,” Rayford managed. “I need to get the word out about Bruce.”
Rayford relied on his many years in the Chicago area-
-to use back roads and side streets to get around the major thoroughfares, which were hopelessly clogged.
Rayford wondered if he should have taken Buck up on his offer to drive.
But Rayford had not wanted to appear weak.
Rayford knew-
-his life could be even worse.
He could hardly imagine not having come to know and love Bruce Barnes.
"First off, that's not at all slash inducing.  Second: Dad."
He had learned more and been enlightened and inspired more by Bruce than anyone else he'd ever met.
"Nice to know that I'm not inspiring, but seriously I have something to say."
And it wasn't just Bruce's knowledge and teaching that made the
It was his passion.
(Annoyed:) "What?"
"This is a really awkward and uncomfortable position and my arm's been protesting for a while now.  I'm tired and achy and I'd really like to stop putting my hand on your shoulder.  Have you reached the point where I can stop reassuring you without you collapsing into a crying ball, or must this discomfort continue?
"Also, the guys with the guns, you know: the two guards by the overpass, they seem to be waving at you.  Or possibly pointing and laughing about the guy who can't drive a car without three people holding him from different angles, but I think it's them trying to get your attention."


[Left Behind Index]

[Correction, this is a Nicolae Rise of the Antichrist (NRA) post, not a Tribulation Force post.  Welcome to the new book.]

Monday, May 28, 2012

Quicksave, Cheating, and the Sanctity of Singleplayer

The background is that I got ahold of a copy of the game Mirror's Edge, I'm probably going to make an entire post on my experience of playing it, which will be very much related to some of the stuff discussed here, but for now the important information is that my impressions of the game were as follows:

First impression, "Oh my God this is amazing, I have to recommend this to everyone and there should be more games like this."

Second impression: "This game could serve as an object lesson in why there should be quick saving as an option in all games."

Third impression: "I want to inflict physical harm on whoever decided you shouldn't be able to manually save."

I found some third party programs that allowed me to cheat my way around most of the frustration, but having to do that circumventing when all I needed was a bog standard save feature was itself pretty damn frustrating and in the process of all of this happening I again found myself reading about what seems to be a perennial internet debate on gaming.

Should games let you save whenever you want to?  Should games have cheats?

First, it's important to note that this is about single player gaming.  Quicksave and multiplayer would mix like an oceanliner and a desert, and cheating in multiplayer has some serious moral problems because you're breaking the rules to the detriment of someone else.

And second, I suppose, I should say what those two things actually are.  Saving you probably already know, even if you've never so much looked in the general direction of a videogame.  You save your progress so that, should something go wrong, it will not be lost.  Also so that you can get back to it if you have the need or desire.  It's just like saving any other file, and it protects against some of the same things that might go wrong.  (E.g. your computer losing power.)

Quicksaving is saving that you can do without having to open up a menu screen.  You just push a button and it saves the game.  Generally there is one slot for quicksave so quicksaving overwrites the previous quicksave.  Thus it's not for something you might want to go back to later, it's for saving your progress as you move forward.  (Quicksave tends to be accompanied by quickload, which, again at the push of a button and without a menu screen, loads your quicksave.)

Cheats are many and varied.  Probably the quintessential cheat is god mode which prevents you from dying. Infinite health, no risk of being shot to death.  Depending on the game you might also be able to use cheats to fly, or alter the flow or time, or summon a bunch of lizard chickens, make them loyal to you, have them follow you around, and have them defeat your enemies by breathing fire at said enemies.  (Console commands in Deus Ex, I love you so.)

Saving and cheating can both serve multiple functions.  They can eliminate frustration.  For example saving can make it so a single stupid mistake doesn't require to repeat an entire lengthy sequence that, while it might have been fun the first time, is not so fun on the 16th or 64th time.  Cheating can get you passed a trouble spot where you always seem to get shot in the head or fall off a cliff even though it shouldn't be causing you such problems.

They can add to your fun.  As the above example with the fire breathing lizard chicken loyal minions.  Or if you have a part that you really like surrounded by some parts you don't like so much, you can save right before it and be able to go back and replay the part you like without having to suffer through the parts you don't like.

They can make something more accessible.  For example I have the reaction time of a tortoise and the aim of something that doesn't aim very well.  If not for the ability to cheat most games would be beyond my abilities because I am simply too damned slow to play right.  (I'm also a horrible spotter, if you give me the job of calling out where rocks are while we go down rapids, the canoe will end up capsized before the end.)  By the time I've reacted to incoming fire and taken aim, in most games my character will have been nearly killed or killed outright.

Cheating can help with that, so too can saving.  With cheating I can regenerate health, slow the game down to give me more time to react, and if all else fails become invincible.  With saving I can save after every encounter I manage to survive, or even mid encounter should I have gained an advantage I don't want to lose.  (This is, I think, why some people consider quicksave tantamount to cheating, it can get you through spots where your skills alone would fail.)

My general slowness also means that if ever a game requires you to time something just right (not in a "You have 15 seconds to do X" way but in a "When you see Y you have to press button Z right away," way) I will fail pitifully.  This is a wonderful time to pull out the cheats and change the flow of time.  Likewise for needing to hit multiple buttons at nearly the same time in a given sequence.

They can also let you find enjoyment in places you otherwise never would.  For example I was playing Jedi Outcast one time and I reached a point where I had one point of health left.  If I couldn't save then the logical response would be to use force healing and get back to reasonable amount of health before proceeding.  But I could save, so I did save, and then I went on to the next area, filled with enemies with powerful weapons, and saw what fun could be had.  Turned out quite a lot.  It generally ended with me dying, but I had saved so that wasn't a problem.  I found that maximum enjoyment came from bringing cheats into the mix and kicking the flow of time into extreme slow motion.

Anyway, it probably comes as no surprise that when it comes to the question of either saving or cheats I'm on the side of letting the option exist.

Often times, when I talk about this game or that, the person I'm talking to will say that they don't play games because they're not any good at them.  I generally respond by saying that I'm not either but I get around it by cheating.  Part of the reason I say that is because if I don't it feels like I'm claiming that, unlike the speaker, I am good at games.  I'm not.  But I think that part of it is also that I want them to know both that the option exists, and I think it's important to have people admit to cheating in order to show that there's no shame in it.


Ok, so, things defined and described, time to talk about the actual debate.

First off, I should point out that it's more complicated than I'm going to get into in this post.  Like most things there's not a simple binary but a sort of continuous spectrum from one position to the next, and since there are more than two poles it becomes a sort of tetrahedron of positions.  That said, for this post I'm only concerned really with those who say that quicksaving or/and cheats should not exist and how those people relate to everyone else.

I honestly do not understand these people in the least.  If they were saying that work shouldn't be put into including these things because the effort would be better spent elsewhere I'd at least understand where they're coming from.  But that's not where they're coming from.  (Amoung other things, most games have cheats already because they get used in the debugging process.  Making games cheat-free involves more effort than not doing so, only a tiny bit more, but more none the less.)  No, the argument is primarily moral and apocalyptic.

These things cannot be allowed because they're wrong.  (They make the game too easy, you see.)  And if they are allowed they'll ruin everything for everyone.

When people not of this persuasion ask how this will happen answers are not as forthcoming as one might hope.

Other people will ask how what someone else does in the privacy of their own home with their copy of the game could possibly effect these people's experience of the game.  How does person X using cheats in single player harm your relationship with the game?

At this point the conversation always seems to shift sideways in a way that allows the person to not answer.  On the rare occasion that it doesn't I'm left with the impression that they think whatever isn't prohibited is mandatory.  They say that the game will be too easy, never seeming to realize that they don't need to use cheats and if they don't like quicksaving they can just never hit that button.  (They can even unbind the button so, should they ever be tempted, they will be unable to.)

If people point out that, even when there are cheat codes, its entirely possible to not use them this seems to either not register, or do the aforementioned going sideways.  Ditto for saving.

The sideways going tends to go into generalities, for example the idea of overriding right and wrong that means that what they're against is bad and harmful and whatnot just because, or the idea of deservingness.

People who can't win/enjoy the game via traditional means (though at this point I think cheat codes and saving are both pretty damned traditional) don't deserve to partake in the institution of game and letting us in will bring the whole thing down.  Somehow, they never really say how, opening it up to more people will cheapen and defile it for those deserving people who already have it.

Now to some people this might sound vaguely familiar to something from an area completely unrelated to gaming, or it might not in which case never mind, but I'm honestly not trying to take any steps to make the two things seem more like one another than they are.  I'm not trying for any extended metaphor here.  This is really a thing.

I think this area pretty much the only place I've encountered this kind of thinking outside of the intersection of religion and politics.  In the very secular realm of single player video games there's the idea that there's some kind of universal property to the thing so that if anyone does something you don't like, that will defile everything for everyone and somehow harm you.

It's not enough to just follow your morals for yourself, you have to make sure that everyone else does it too because, even if no one else is affected directly, it somehow harms you indirectly to have them doing it.

There's also the same, "If we let people do this then everyone, even people who don't want to right now, will do it," thing we see elsewhere to stop people from having nice things.  (Or, indeed, basic rights.)

Things that people don't want for themselves have to be made impossible.  I remember an occasion where someone found out that the game they were playing had cheats enabled by default. There were not cheats activated.  Which meant that, even with cheats enabled,  the only way actual cheating would take place was if they opened the console, deleted the command "say" (because the console was theoretically there to communicate in the non-existent multiplayer, not cheat in single player), typed in a cheat code that they would have had to look up first, and then hit enter.  Which is to say that cheating wouldn't happen unless they actually actively wanted it to.  That wasn't enough for them, and they were left freaking out over it because the mere possibility of cheating cannot be allowed to exist.

That incident was actually pretty moderate, they just wanted to disable cheats and then alter the game code so that it could never be enabled again on their own copy.  Most of the anti-cheat people want that done for everyone, and want it done that way for all games before they're released to the public.

I don't understand these people.

I don't understand these people because their morality tells them that what is important is not harm or help to actual people, but whether arbitrary rules are broken.  Rules that sometimes exist only in their own minds.  They can't be happy unless the know that everyone has to play by their rules and no one they consider undeserving is enjoying themselves.

None of that makes sense to me.

In the end, so long as we don't cause ourselves discomfort or sabotage our enjoyment, my feeling is that we can't cheat ourselves at solitaire because, being solitaire, it's up to us to determine how the game is played.  If someone wants to play in a way that violates the rules I know, say if they want to have all the cards turned up so that they know exactly where everything is and can try to work out the most efficient solution or whatnot, that's not going to bother me.  If they can enjoy that then good for them.  (Looking at the Wikipedia article linked to above I can see that that means of "cheating" is actually considered a game in its own right.  It is called "Thoughtful Solitaire".)

Friday, May 25, 2012

Godzilla versus The Seamonster

I wanted to get a post written today, but it's been one of those days where I can't really make my brain work.  I tried to think of various things I've been meaning to write, and most of them would require more cognition than I can muster.  So Godzilla versus the Sea Monster it is.

I've been wanting to watch this for a while, not really sure why.  Haven't been able to locate my tape.  And it is on tape.  One of the three Godzilla movies I have on prerecorded VHS instead of recorded off of television and full of commercials.  (I think my family did most of our Godzilla viewing via rental when I was young.)

This is not the first time that I've had the urge to watch the movie only to realize that the tape is missing.

First off, there are two versions.  The tape (what I had) is a specifically American edition where the DVD is what's known as the international version and was created by Toho themselves.  The American version is somewhat shorter and has changed the order of some scenes.  It's also generally considered to have better dubbing.  The international version keeps the scenes intact and in their intended order.

I have, for the first time, seen a bit of the international version.  Specifically the beginning of it.  I'm not sure how much of this is that most of my viewing of the American version was as a child, but I found that the international version was a lot easier to follow.  It's not that I found the American version difficult to follow, it's just that I drew some wrong conclusions about it.  (I was filling in the blanks, incorrectly no less, without realizing that's what I was doing.)

Anyway, that's not what I wanted to write about.  What I wanted to write about was how a variety of different stories intertwine in it.  Spoilers abound.  Seriously, if you don't like spoilers buy, rent or borrow the movie now and then come back or something.  Because I'll be spoiling everything.

The first story you meet is that of Yata, the lost fisherman.  His mother goes to a medium who tells her that her son isn't dead because she's scoured the land of the dead and he simply isn't there.  We then switch to Yata's brother Ryota and exactly what he's doing depends on which version you're watching but that's not the point so footnote*.  Ryota will be completely devoted to locating his lost brother at all costs.  That's one story.

Ryota will meet two people who were trying to win a boat in a dance contest, Nita and Ichino.  They're going to get thrown into the middle of things they don't understand as a result of the seemingly simple decision to cheer up a random stranger by taking him to look at boats.

All that they know is that he really wants a boat, so they decide to take him to look at boats.  Not feeling particularly constrained by things like laws and property rights, they take him right onto a boat and have a look around.  There they meet Yoshimura, who claims to be the owner, holds them at gunpoint, threatens to call the police on them, and then ... lets them stay the night.

Yoshimura is a thief.  He singlehandedly stole over 4,000,000 yen (more than 50,000 US dollars which, adjusting for inflation, is apparently about a third of a million in today's money.)  He's hiding out on the boat for the night.  So in addition to the guy looking for his lost brother we've now picked up the robber who is going to become increasingly heroic as the movie goes on.

Ryota steals the ship in the middle of the night, with the other three still on it, considering it a gift of the gods. He's the only one who knows how to run the ship.  And thus the other three have to let him take it where he will.  The international version makes it a lot more explicit that the other three do not appreciate being kidnapped.  The American version, with a few cuts here and there, manages to make it seem like they're more willing to go along for the ride.

Ryota is taking them to the South Seas.  Specifically the two island area, a wonderful vacation spot known for its frequent thunder storms and giant monsters.  Upwind we have what I'm going to call Lobster Island, guarded by a giant lobster and home to an evil paramilitary organization, a giant condor, and even the sleeping Godzilla.  (Who looks an awful lot like cookie monster for this movie.)  Downwind we have Infant Island, home to Mothra, two tiny singing twins, and a population of natives who can easily be kidnapped and put to work by the evil people on the upwind Lobster Island.

A thunder storm and giant lobster will leave our four intrepid adventurers stranded on Lobster Island, the money will be lost with the ship.

We'll soon meet our remaining stories.  First, our adventurers will find an impressively shiny metal sword, which will be our first hint of the natives.  Soon after, they'll catch sight of the evil people's ship and, by looking to see where it makes port, the evil people's base.

The Red Bamboo (their name isn't given in the American version) are a group of evil slave drivers who are making materials for nuclear weapons for an unspecified headquarters elsewhere.  So now we have the story of a bunch of James Bond villains.

Finally, we have the natives being rounded up from their neighboring island and used as slave labor.

I suppose we could add to that some territorial disputes on the part of giant monsters.

The ship that the four saw coming in was carrying a shipment of slaves, some other slaves decided to use the distraction as a way to escape by making a break for a small boat already positioned.  (Don't ask me how they got he boat there, I have no idea.)  A combination of a machine gun emplacement, guards with guns, and a giant lobster make the escape go very badly.

One of the newly arrived slaves makes use of the attempted escape to make her own escape, her name is Dayo, she has a very shiny metal knife†††, and she quickly bumps into the four.  All five of them are soon on the run and end up taking refuge in a Godzilla containing cave.  Godzilla is napping.

A thunderstorm breaks a hole in the top of the cave, Dayo prays to Mothra, it is revealed that Yata is on Infant Island, a plan is made to sneak into the James Bond Villain Base, and then they finally notice that Godzilla is in the cave.

At this point, I think, we have all the major perspectives.  For Ryota this is the story of how he found his brother.  For Nita and Ichino this is the story of, "I'm not even supposed to be here today."  Though I suppose their arc could be learning to fight by using their brains, which I haven't quite gotten to.  For Yoshimura its how he went from not very personable thief to hero who plans to try for an honest living.  (Don't do it, you're cooler as a thief.  Go Leverage.)  For the Red Bamboo it's the story of how their carefully laid plans for, I'm going to say, world domination were foiled by those meddling kids.  For Dayo it's the story of how her people were freed from slavery.  It's also about having faith in one's god, I suppose.  For Godzilla it's about being awakened from a nap to find unfriendly individuals (James Bond Villains, giant lobsters) have moved into his territory.

The movie didn't need so many plots.  Multiple Godzilla movies got by on nothing more than Godzilla in territorial disputes, similarly multiple movies exist where the plot revolves solely around an evil organization trying to get their hands on nuclear weapons.  Basically any one of the things listed above could have carried a whole movie.  It interests me that they were all thrown into the same one.  (And then, apparently, not thought enough since we also have a giant condor thrown in for no apparent reason.)

The focus is so much on the various human stories that Godzilla doesn't wake up until more than half way through the movie and when he does it is as a result of conscious human agency.  But I've gone through the movie chronologically so far, so I'll keep on doing so and get to that when I get to that.

Yoshimura was the one who recognized that a Mothra worshiper would have come from Infant Island, Yoshimura is the one who suggests that they investigate the base, Yoshimura is the one with the skills that will get them inside, basically Yoshumura is a really capable character.  I felt like pointing that out.

Yoshimura suggests that they investigate the base, this will... not necessarially turn out to be the best idea but given that the stated alternative was to do nothing I'll give him points for trying.  Ryoka is immediately in because to get to Yata he needs to get off Lobster Island and he doesn't see a way to do that by sitting in a cave.  Dayo is likewise in because she wants to help her people.  Nita and Ichino don't want to leave, but then they notice Godzilla is in the cave, thus they all go together.

They make a fake bush to hide behind.  Note to self: When I am Evil Overlord my guards will know the position of every bush.  If Great Birnam wood should come to high Dunsinane hill I want them to notice the instant the first bush moves.  If they should hear something and turn the spotlight on a plant that wasn't there yesterday, at the very least there should be investigation, possibly they should just open fire.

There is some discussion about their chances given that they're only weapon is a sword (apparently the one making that claim forgot Dayo has a knife) but Yoshimura says they're going to fight using their brains.

After making a noise Dayo releases a bird which causes the guards to stop being suspicious.  This is, possibly, the single most intentionally useful thing Dayo will do in the entire movie, so it needs to be highlighted.

Yoshimura lockpicks them into the facility, first they find a room with smoke bombs and steal a few, they eventually find a nuclear reactor and conclude that the factory is for making nuclear materials to be used in bombs.  They're caught *smoke bomb* they escape (but are still inside the base), they're noticed being suspicious, they're attacked, Ryota becomes tangled in a balloon and is carried away, Nita tries to come with him but his rope is broken and he's captured.  Ichino, Dayo and Yoshimura escape.  They end up back at the cave while the Red Bamboo carry out a more thorough search of the island, meaning it's only a matter of time before they're discovered.

Ryota drifts downwind to Infant Island, where he's reunited with his brother.  (Who seems surprisingly ignorant of what's going on for someone who has spent months with the natives who speak Japanese just fine and have been spending the vast majority of their time praying that Mothra will wake up and solve the situation.)  Nita is thrown to work with the captured natives where he learns that they're forced to make the mix of special herbs and spices needed to keep the lobster at bay.

The three who remain free think things over, and in the process notice that Godzilla is very definitely alive.  Ichino suggests that they wake Godzilla.  Yoshimura responds in a fully logical way.  He thinks such an idea is nuts.  My temptation to paraphrase him as, "Waking a sleeping giant isn't a goal to be achived," leads into all kinds of thoughts about the symbolic meaning of Godzilla, which I'm just going to throw into a footnote**.  Ichino argues that with Godzilla involved the Red Bamboo won't be looking for them, that Godzilla will not in fact destroy the world, and that Yoshimura said they should use their brains.

So they use the sword as a lightning rod and wire, which Dayo stole from the Red Bamboo base to use as a necklace, to rig it up as a lightning powered Godzilla waking machine.

Nita, also trying to follow Yoshimura's advice to use their brains, comes up with the idea of making fake giant lobster repellent so that the evil people will get eaten.  The natives apparently like this idea.  Unlike Nita they also know how to implement it.

Yata and Ryota head back Lobster Island, having been supplied with giant lobster repellent by the natives of Infant island.  Just as they're arriving a storm finally comes.  The storm washes away their lobster repellent, but it also wakes Godzilla who fights the giant lobster giving Yata and Ryota the distraction necessary to escape.

The Red Bamboo get hit by the fallout of the dragon-lobster fight.  They call in reinforcements.

The next morning Yata and Ryota meet up with the free three, and then Yata immediately runs off intent on rescuing all of the captive natives right now.  As the others try to convince him that, at the very least, they should wait until dark, guards come, a chase ensues, and the Dayo ends up trapped right in front of an attentive Godzilla.  (This is almost certainly a King Kong scene as Godzilla is not known for his interest in individual people.)

I giant Condor attacks.  It is roasted.  The Red Bamboo's entire air force comes.  They meet a similar fate.  Dayo escapes during the confrontation.  Godzilla decides to destroy the base.

While that's going on Yata and Yoshimura run into the base.  Yata intent on saving everyone, Yoshimura following Yata.  Once they get to the base Yoshimura ends up giving directions, and when they get to the people it is Yoshimura who is actually able to contribute to a rescue: he picks one last lock.

The island has a nuclear self destruct mechanism, which is activated.  Two hour timer.  The soldiers run away, but the lobster repellent is fake, so they get eaten.  Godzilla fights the lobster, in the end removing its claws.

The natives build a basket, Mothra finally wakes up and makes the flight from Infant Island to Lobster Island, Godzilla seems unhappy with the moth's presence, the moth knocks Godzilla over, picks up the people (in the basket) and flies away.  The people feel sorry for Godzilla, try to tell him to run.  He doesn't listen (doesn't speak human) but does end up jumping off the island shortly before it goes boom anyway and survives the ordeal.

Yoshimura plans to start over, no longer a criminal.

The end.


If I were making this movie I'd have Godzilla have a different look.  Cookie monster is not a good look for him.  He needs a longer snout.  Also I wouldn't have him sit in front of Dayo the way he does.  If the scene is really necessary, I'd have him curl up on the ground or something.  Think of how a dragon goes to sleep.

Parts of the plot really don't make a lot of sense.  If the natives know that they're making necessary giant lobster repellent, then how did the ones who tried to escape in the beginning possibly think that they had a chance of getting away?  (And where did the boat come from anyway?)  Also, are we really supposed to believe that they never considered making a bad batch of lobster repellent?

Nita's advice to make bad fluid would make more sense if something had changed and he were informing them of that.  They should have considered doing it before, and they should have come to a simple conclusion: if they made a bad batch the soldiers sill on the island would retaliate.  Nita's advice would make more sense if he knew when Mothra was coming back, or at least knew that they'd be able to escape before the fluid was put to use.

Either Ryota's kidnapping of everyone needs to be given more weight, or an explanation needs to be given for why it should have less.  As is Ryota seems like a complete bastard, but the narrative doesn't treat him that way.  Even having him at some point realize, "I wanted to save my brother at any cost, but maybe when I reached the point of kidnapping I should have realized, 'at any cost' isn't a good standard," and then apologize to the others for what he's put them through would be a major improvement.

Ryota's plan hasn't succeeded yet.  He and the others are on their way to Infant Island.  The same Island his brother, Yata, has been stranded on for the past couple months.  He hasn't rescued his brother so much as joined him.  Now maybe the newly awakened Mothra can give them a lift somewhere, but that's in no way made clear in the movie.

For that matter the Red Bamboo are still out there, down an airforce and a base, but their headquarters, as well as wherever they launched the planes from if different, is still out there.  Which is to say that the movie doesn't quite end.  It more leaves an opening for a sequel or some such.

Nita does mountain climbing.  Ichino wants to be a scientist but failed first year courses.  Beyond that I know nothing about these two characters, who aren't even supposed to be here.

One thing that I'd definitely consider doing with those two, which would make Ryota a bit less of a bastard, is to have them actually be his friends and have them be in the contest because they're on board with Ryota's plan to go looking for his brother.  Then what he does to them seems less like completely out of the blue abduction and more like starting the expedition earlier than they expected (and, you know, stealing a boat with the alleged owner still on it.)

Mothra kind of seems like a crappy god.  She's sleeping for the whole movie until the very end when she comes to the rescue.  Which, on the one hand, make her kind of like Odin in Thor, on the other hand Mothra has historically had some much better reasons to not show up than that.  Like not being hatched yet or being in a cocoon.  I think it would work better if the natives spent the whole movie praying to either of those things instead of an adult mothra ready to fly at a moment's notice who seemed instead more content to either:
a) Nap. Or
b) Watch the praying people do their prayer dance.

If Mothra is sitting there thinking, "Yeah, I suppose I could save our people, but first you all have to dance.  Do you hear me, you will DANCE!" it doesn't seem to reflect well on her.

There was probably other stuff, but I'm really tired at this point.


* In the international version Ryota first tries to get an authority figure of some kind to send out a search boat, no luck, and then ends up in a newsroom where he happens to see an ad for an endurance dance contest: last one standing gets a boat.  Which he rushes down to.

In the American version we find out that Ryota has a plan, and immediately cut to the dance contest.  This left me unclear who was who and drawing all the wrong conclusions about what was going on.  Though it looks like if I'd paid more attention to later scenes I would have been able to figure out, but bad first impressions tend to stick with you.

I should probably make a post just about that phenomena, because right now if I want to point to what I've said about it before I have to link to my introductionish thing to Deus Ex and tell you to look at the tangent.

Anyway, the impression I had was that Ryota knew the two people he meets, and one of them winning the contest for the purpose of getting a boat to search for his brother was the plan.  In fact he doesn't know either of them and they don't know why he wants a boat.

** It was only after I thought of that phrase that it occurred to me that, given the historical context of that phrase, perhaps attributing it to someone Japanese isn't a thing to be done lightly.  Then I remembered that the theory goes that, in the earlier movies at least, Godzilla represented the United States (and Ghidorah China, seriously this is a thing) which means that waking Godzilla really would be equivalent to waking the US.  Thus the phrase seems appropriate.

That places the conversation into an interesting context:
Ichino: "Why not wake Godzilla?"
Yoshimura: "Wake Godzilla?  You must be kidding."
Ichino: "No, I think we ought to try."
Ichino: "If Godzilla's awakened, they won't look for us."
Yoshimura: "Wake that monster?"
Ichino: "Why not?  They're secretly building nuclear weapons on this Island.  They're liable to destroy the world, aren't they?"
Yoshimura: "And Godzilla would do that."
Ichino: "No, he wouldn't, I know that."
Yoshimura: "I'm against your idea.  If we awaken Godzilla it'll come after us, the same as it will after all the others on the island."

The Red Bamboo organization is thought to symbolize China, which preformed its first nuclear test a couple of years before the movie was released.  In which case the symbolism seems to be:

"We can't stop China on our own, perhaps we should get the Americans involved."
"The Americans?  You must be kidding.  They're as likely to destroy the world as the Chinese are and they'll come after us along with the rest of Asia."

On the other hand early Godzilla symbolism gave way to later Godzilla symbolism and there's a question of whether or not Godzilla is really symbolizing the US here.  The article that puts forward the idea sees this as the first instance of Godzilla symbolizing something other than the US and it is certainly the case that originally King Kong (a Polynesian thought to symbolize Pacific natural resources that can be tapped by the Japanese) was originally meant to be in Godzilla's place in this movie.

However the interpretations in the article are not beyond dispute, I originally found it by bumping into something disagreeing with its interpretation of Frankenstein.  And in this case I think that the article's interpretation is a bit shaky.  The interpretation would have us believe that Godzilla shifted from symbolizing the US in the movie before this, to symbolizing Japan/the Pacific islands in this one and the one after, then back to symbolizing the US in the one after that, then back to symbolizing Japan/the Pacific islands in the one after.

I don't think that works for a number of reasons.  Chief amoung them being that if Godzilla is Japan then why is Yoshimura afraid Godzilla will destroy the world?  That seems much more like how you'd see a foreign empire.

Also Godzilla's portrayal here fits into a larger pattern that started with ones where Godzilla was thought to symbolize the US.  Godzilla's redemption begins with the introduction of Ghidorah.  Godzilla is still damaging Japan, Godzilla is also more concerned with fighting against his current foe Rodan (thought to represent the USSR***) than face the problem of China==Ghidorah. He and Rodan have both had some problems with humanity==Japan before†.  But Godzilla is eventually talked into it (well, shamed into it, infant Mothra takes on Ghidorah alone) and helps out.

Next movie Godzilla and Rodan are recruited to fight Ghidorah IN SPACE!  But it was all a trap and they're put under mind control and until such time as they're freed from it end up working alongside Ghidorah.  Godzilla isn't precisely on the side of good, he's more looking out for his own interests after he got duped.  Still not the good guy, but no longer the bad guy.  A powerful force that will bite the hand that mind controlled it if the mind control is broken.

So when we come to this movie, where Godzilla is still regarded with suspicion, and still not precisely good (he's not trying to help people, it just works out that way) it seems more like a progression in the existing direction than a shift to brave new symbolism.  Especially given the fact that he's assumed by Yoshimura to be just as likely to destroy the world as China.  Then again, Yoshimura might think that of the Japanese.  He doesn't exactly seem to have much respect for the establishment.

*** This is the one I have the most trouble with.  Rodan is the USSR why?  Godzilla, being a thing that attacked the Japanese at sea before bringing nuclear destruction to a major city had strong connections with the US from the beginning, but Rodan started off as nature unleashed.  The miners dug too deep

† Godzilla had all of his flesh melted off, or more likely that happened to a close relative with the same name††, then Godzilla was encased in ice, then Godzilla was beat up by a monkey working for the humans, then Godzilla was encased in sticky stuff by a couple of giant moth larvae working for the humans.  Rodan was trapped in volcano the humans set off with his lover.  It was believed that they both died but this movie says that, no, Rodan lived.  Still means that his girlfriend was burned to death by lava.

On the metaphorical side, I think we're meant to be thinking about whose side Japan was on in World War II.

†† "No, that was not Godzilla, that was Godzilla. There are 10 of us, all of family Godzilla, each one named Godzilla. Slight differences in how you pronounce. Godzilla, Godzilla, Godzilla.. You are seeing now?"

††† I thought that I mentioned this, but apparently not.  On the one hand, the knife lets us know that maybe that sword did come from a native, which will later be confirmed.  On the other hand, when I think Polynesian islands, I don't really think about that kind of metal working.  I don't think that's a failing on my part, I'm pretty sure I don't think about it because they don't do it there.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Am I being unreasonable here?

The story is this:

I am on food stamps.  Well, not actually food stamps, the program that replaced food stamps.  It involves a card that can only be used to pay for food but otherwise operates like a debit/credit card.

When someone gives me a ride to the store we check out separately.  Part of the reason is that it's flat out simpler.  If we each check out separately then it is completely clear who has to pay for what, and thus there's not calculation or confusion.  Part of the reason is because I can't pay for other people's food.  It's illegal.

Now neither I nor anyone likely to take me on a trip to the store is going to try to get around that law, but if we were to show up in a checkout line, put all of our stuff together, have the other person pay a certain amount in cash, and have me pay whatever is left over... well it looks like I'm helping them buy their food.  At least it looks that way to me.

If I were working the checkout line and one person started paying, ran out of cash, and then another person put the rest of the order on a card, my guess would be that the second person was helping the first person pay for the order.  And if I knew that it was illegal for the second person to help the first person pay...

With all that in mind, my sister suggested something where we could use some coupons she had if we put our stuff on the same bill, she'd pay her part in cash, I'd pay my part on my food card, and then all would be well.  And I asked her to explain to me how this was supposed to work in a way that didn't look like we were breaking the law.  To be clear: as long as the portion of the bill she paid was equal to or greater than the actual cost of her stuff it wouldn't be breaking the law, but it really seemed like it would look like it to me.

So I asked how she planned to have it not look like we were breaking the law.

She got angry.  Well, actually, first she acted like I was an idiot, then she got angry when I tried to explain my concern.

My concern, for the record, was not that the checkout clerk would get on the hotline to government investigators who would in turn throw me in jail.  My concern was that I get uneasy doing things that potentially give off, "I'm doing something wrong," vibes.  So even though it would be legal, and even though bad things were unlikely to happen regardless of how it looked, I didn't want to do it unless it would look as legal as it actually was.

She never did explain.  The result is that it is not going to happen, and she is pissed off at me now.  That second point is clearly because she thought I was being unreasonable but I don't think I was.  I'd like a second opinion though.


And now I return to writing a post on Godzilla versus the Sea Monster, already in progress.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Snarky Twilight - The Encounter in Port Angeles

[Originally posted at Ana Maroll's Ramblings.]
[This actually covers two Ana Mardoll posts worth of material, so those wanting full context should also read the post before the one linked to above.]

Jessica: So we got our dress shopping done way sooner than expected.
Angela: Probably because we don't have that much experience with this, I mean who goes dress shopping right before an extremely minor dance?
Jessica: And the thing is...
Angela: We have no idea what to do now.
Bella: That's ok, I can feel the plot calling me elsewhere.
Jessica: You can?
Bella: Yeah, so I'll just head over this way and I'll catch up with you later.
Jessica: Is that wise?
Bella: I'll be fine.
Angela: Are you sure, because we could come with you.
Bella: You two enjoy yourselves, I'm clearly supposed to wander off on my own into the dangerous wilds of this residential small town.
Jessica: Ok, but be careful.
Bella *pats cylindrical case she's brought with her* I'm armed. I also have a cell phone and martial arts training. And, more than that, I'm the narrator.
Angela: You're sure?
Bella: Yes.
Angela *takes Jessica by the hand* Then lets go!
*Angela and Jessica leave*
*Bella goes to a store, waits outside*
Storekeeper: Are you going to come in or not?
Bella: I'm conflicted. On the one hand I'm trying to reward the narrative when it keeps a certain character away from me. It wants me to be dismissive of you and move on. So that means I shouldn't come in. On the other hand part of me is screaming that you're just the kind of person who might have useful information, and the narrative and I don't like each other all that much, so maybe I should come in.
Storekeeper: Useful information about what?
Bella: *somewhat nervous, half expecting to be laughed at* Vampires?
Storekeeper: The kind we have around here?
Bella: Yeah.
Storekeeper: Pale as bleach with disconcerting purple scar-like circles under their eyes, perfectly comfortable in daytime but avoid direct sunlight, super fast, super strong, eyes that change color, and a superiority complex that seems like it could only have come from from over the top hyperbole?
Bella: Those are the ones.
Storekeeper: I know nothing about those vampires. I'm the wrong stereotype I'm afraid. Perhaps you should try someone less white.
Bella: I actually already have, but thanks for you time.
Storekeeper: No problem.
Bella: It was nice talking to you.
Storekeeper: You too.
*Bella wanders into the nonexistent warehouse district*
Bella: Phone, where am I?
Phone: You are off the edge of the map. Here there be monsters.
Bella: That's nice.
Phone: Also, you happen to be heading South South West, even though way back is North North East.
Bella: So I should turn around.
Phone: Continue in your present direction and have and unpleasant meeting in three lines.
Bella: Ok
Four Random Men: We're talking to each other too loud.
One of them: Hey, there!
Bella: Hello. (to phone:) That wasn't that unpleasant.
Phone: It's not over yet.
One of them: Hey, wait!
Bella: Sorry, just following the narrative.
Phone: Turn east now.
Bella: Before coming here I examined satellite reconnaissance of the entire area-
Phone: Why?
Bella: You have your hobbies, I have mine. Anyway, this layout is impossible. The warehouses, the barbed wire fence, the area behind the fence, none of this can be here.
Phone: I told you you were off the edge of the map. Have an unpleasant realization in one line.
Bella: I think I'm being followed.
Phone: Turn north at next intersection.
Bella: Thank you, I could have figured that out in my own.
*upon turning north*
Phone: Realize you were being herded all this time.
Bella: And how could they have been herding me given that they took no steps to control which way I turned at the intersections we passed.
Phone: No idea.
Men in front of Bella: There you are!
Men behind Bella: Yeah. We took a little detour.
Phone: Get sick of narrative and go off script.
Bella: Phone, shut up.
Phone: If I shut up, you will not be able to hear me any more. Are you sure you want me to shut up?
Bella: Yes.
*Bella mumbles about phones always asking if you want them to do the thing you just told them to do*
Bella: Creepy guys, it's been fun, but I'm ready to call this whole adventure to an end now.
Creepy guy in front of Bella: Don't be like that, sugar.
Bella: See, you're still on the script, but I'm off it. Seriously, I'm done now. I'm not playing anymore. You don't have to either. You have a choice. You can walk away now.
Jerk 1: Why would we do that?
Bella: I'm the narrator. Do you even have names?
Jerk 2: What does it matter if we have names?
Bella: Who do you think has a better chance of surviving, the one telling the story, or the unnamed characters threatening the protagonist?
Jerk 3: We're big scary men! You're just a girl.
Bella: I've toppled empires.
Jerk 1: You're bluffing.
Bella: Why would I bluff? I know when my parents were married, I know where I've spent every summer, I have a birthdate and a hair color, I've traded insults with vampires and traveled the stars, I've seen triplet moons and sailed amoungst the clouds, I once delivered a semi-mammalian squid-like thing because the doctor was out and I've rescued beautiful creatures from ravening princesses. I'm the protagonist, I do things. Do you even have back stories?
Jerk 4: It doesn't matter if we have back stories. There are four of us and only one of you.
*Bella readies her cylindrical case*
Bella: Don't say I didn't warn you.
Jerk 3: *extremely sarcastic* Oooh. What've you got there?
Bella: A pocket full of kryptonite.
*The men approach*
*Suddenly a silver Volvo screeches onto the scene*
*Bella uses the confusion created to hit one of the jerks with the case*
Edward: *Furious* Get in!
Bella: What are you doing here?
*Bella elbows a man approaching her from behind*
Bella: Are you responsible for all this?
Edward: Of course not, get in!
*Bella hits a third man with her case*
Bella: But I don't actually trust you.
Edward: Don't be stupid, I'm here to rescue you.
*The fourth man comes at Bella, she uses his momentum against him and in moments he's on the ground*
Bella: Luke Skywalker you are not.
Edward *even more furious* Get in!
Bella: Remember what I said the last time you tried to threaten me into a car?
*By the end of the fight Bella has restrained the four men via crafty deployment zip ties. She's on the phone with her father*
Bella: No, I'm not tuning into a vigilante. ... I was just out for a walk. ... Look can you just call whoever and have them send someone over? ... I'm not sure, it seems to be a non-existent warehouse district. ... *checks street signs* It is on the corner of Unrealistic and Creepy. How did you ... Uh-huh. Ok. I'll be waiting.
*Bella puts phone away*
Edward: My way was better.
Bella: Your way would have left them free to do horrible things to other people.
Edward: Who cares about other people?
Bella: I do.
Edward: Well what about me? I'm furious and in a rage and I might kill someone.
Bella: It's always all about you, isn't it?
Edward: Yes!
Bella: Well if I can keep from killing them you can too.
Edward: You don't count.
Bella: And you wonder why I don't like you.
Edward: You need to distract me from my totally angst inducing deadly predator/possessive love interest rage.
Bella: If you kill anyone today I'll kick you ass.
Edward: You really don't understand the concept of-
Bella: And then drop you into the sun.
Bella: The sun, you see, is very hot. 5505 c at the surface. Which I think is just wrong. We need to find a way to raise it's temperature by 50 c. Then it would be 5555 which is much nicer looking. Anyway, the point is that if I drop you into it the experience wont be a pleasant one.
Edward: Can't you prattle about something else?
Bella: You know, *shows Edward cylinder* I haven't had a compelling reason to use this yet, and you're making me very tempted.


[Snarky Twilight Index]