Chaos in Hollywood


The new Ghostbusters barely started filming, but people all over the place are already (and have been since its announcement) declaring that it will absolutely and inevitably suck. Some attribute this to the general tendency of remakes to be… less than great. Others blame the director. Most, though, don’t even bother to hide that it’s because of the cast. Specifically, because the cast are women. And then get all defensive when you ask them if they’d be as angry at the remake if it were to star a cast of men, and if they maybe, just maybe, might be a little sexis-
“You only like this because it’s women, what if we genderswapped Alien, you’d be up in arms about that!”
Yes, that happened. And it actually got me thinking. I’d be pretty much okay with that. Why? Because, and let’s bask in the delicious irony here for a minute, in that case, the cast would still be female by a vast majority. Five of seven crew members of the Nostromo were men in the original. Genderswap the cast, and you’ll have a film with a crew primarily made up of women. Somehow, I don’t think Original Commenter would be okay with that, either.

So how about this, Generic Brodude Commenters suggesting to genderswap female-led films: We genderswap all films. As in, every single film Hollywood is going to make for, say, three years from now. No exceptions. And no cheating – you write the exact same scripts as you would now, but the cast will be 100% genderswapped. So yes, you get your dude-led films you seem to want to much. But we also get the lady-led films we want so much. And it will be glorious.

Let’s look at this for a moment:

(Infographic from Lee & Low Books)

This is sci-fi and fantasy only, and it’s marginally better if you take all genres into account, but the problems this hints at are still there. So, according to this lovely (and also sad and disgusting) infographic, the next three years would be amazing (especially for me, because yay sci-fi!). In fact, let’s take it a little further. Let’s genderswap the directors, too. Also, every role that would be cast with a white person now gets cast with a person of colour, and vice versa. As would directors. Let’s also take about… let’s say 15%, that’s a manageable number for now, so 15% of those films and write the lead as homosexual, bisexual, trans, nonbinary, with a disability… or any combination of these. And then cast with actors accordingly. So every gay man on the screen is played by a gay man. Every trans person is played by an actual trans person. Every disabled character… You get the idea.

…I admit I’m kind of in love with this idea. Too bad I’d need a magic want to make it happen…

If you now say this is ludicrous, there’d suddenly be women and people of colour and gay people everywhere… please, enlighted me: How is it any less ludicrous when there are straight white men everywhere?
So far, no-one had an answer for that that wasn’t the old “people don’t want to see that” crap. Which is bullshit no matter how you look at it. The Hunger Games films are doing pretty well. Still Alice made back eight times its budget so far, and isn’t out on DVD yet. Annie did well enough. Spy and, god help me, but Fifty Shades of Grey and The Fault in Our Stars are making tons of money, too. And even though people keep insisting they are crap, the Resident Evil films so far have made almost a billion dollars (spoiler: Some of that money is from me. Because I like them. A lot).

The point is, the “argument” that people don’t want to see films made by and/or starring women is bullshit. I mean, the most kickass charactes in RE are Alice, Rain and Claire (please let Rain be back in the last one…) – and before you try and argue the quality of those films, go look at Fast & Furious and tell me how, exactly, those are better. Or Rambo. Or any other brainless action film that has a plot thinner than my patience. And yet somehow, those films all keep making money.
Marvel has proven with Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man that people will see anything as long as you slap the big red logo in front of it. So how come I need to wait for almost twenty films in the MCU to see one that stars anything other than a white man? And Alien proved over thirty years ago that you can make amazing all-time classics with a woman in the leading role.

So, for our little experiment, I predict absolutely zero change in box office money. Because people like me finally have a ton of reasons to go to the cinema, and brodudes have so few options that they would have to go see films with all sorts of people but straight white guys in them if they want to have some entertainment at all. Pretty much just like it’s now for me. And it sucks. But that’s the point. Depressing as that sounds, most people will only really try and change something if it negatively affects them personally. People, in general, are assholes. So “making” them watch diverse films for a few years might be the only way to shake Hollywood up enough to bring about real change, and not at a snail’s pace. And it would, I’m pretty sure of that, drastically improve the overall quality of Hollywood films.

And then we go and do the same for video games!


…no? Too much?

*sigh* Fine. Too much. But one day, we will. And it will be amazing.


So. Age of Ultron.


Disclaimer: I enjoyed the film. I really did. I had a hella good time at the cinema, with only the occasional facepalm moment. Age of Ultron has a high entertainment value. But that never has and never will excuse shitty things, and AoU is no exception.

Also, spoilers ahead (for pretty much the entire MCU). And swearing. You have been warned.

Joss Whedon has one thing down cold: Tricking you into thinking whatever you’re watching is amazing while you are watching it, covering up the, once you think about it, glaringly obvious issues whatever product you’re consuming has. Firefly suffered from this. I watched a few episodes and enjoyed them, then didn’t have time and took a break, and while I had time to think about what I’d watched, I realised that, even without the obvious problem of “I’m telling you that humankind is basically a mash-up of the USA and China at that point but I will proceed to show you mostly white people”, no, the show isn’t all that great. Same for Cabin in the Woods. It was fun while it lasted, if you will, but its supposed subversion and parody of common tropes and clichés was actually just mostly common tropes and clichés.

Age of Ultron has the largest gap so far between the fun I had watching it and the number of things that have been driving me nuts about it since I left the cinema. Now I think the writing wasn’t really that good, the “wit” of many conversations was mostly just bad puns and thinly-disguised insults (mostly directed at poor Hawkeye and Cap), and the most genuinely funny thing was everyone teasing Steve, the eternal gentleman, about being opposed to swear words. Clint, on the other hand, got told that his (allegedly) not having a girlfriend is something that needed fixing, and that he’s supposedly impotent. Hilarious.
The short(est) end of the stick goes to Natasha, though. She gets flashbacks alluding to her training in the Black Widow program, telling us a little more about how and why she became who and what she is. Oh, and that bit about being a monster because she can’t have biological children. Nope, that’s what she says, pretty much a direct response to Bruce telling her that he “can’t biologically have children” and therefore isn’t good enough for her (a notion that’s problematic on its own). Now people argue she’s not referring to the sole fact that she was forcibly sterilised as part of her “graduation ceremony”, but rather means that the entire thing, being trained and basically brainwashed to become a merciless killer, but the way the dialogue is written has the line about not being able to bear children come directly before she says to Bruce (probably paraphrased, I’m translating here) “you’re not the only monster in the room”. There is a direct connection made by the script, and you can’t tell me that’s a coincidence. And Bruce doesn’t react. He just looks vaguely doubtful, instead of, dunno, telling Natasha that she’s not a monster because she had this procedure done to her without her consent that rendered her infertile, maybe giving her a chance to say that she doesn’t think that specific thing makes her a monster, but that she meant the whole ordeal she went through when she was young, making it clear that she was referring to her being an assassin for so long, and that she only told him about the sterilisation to make him see that there are other people out there struggling with their inability to have children, that he isn’t alone with this and that it doesn’t make him worthless as a romantic partner. That the monster comment indeed was meant to make him see that because he becomes the Hulk and possibly hurts innocent people when he can’t control himself doesn’t make the Bruce here and now a monster, just like her past as an assassin killing innocent people doesn’t make present-day Natasha a monster (returning to the red-in-her-ledger theme from the first
Buuut instead of exploring the struggles of both Natasha and Bruce and how they bonded over sharing the burden, if you will, we get a stupid-ass conversation that measures a human’s worth pretty much entirely by their ability to have biological children. It occurs for both Bruce and Natasha, but in Natasha’s case there’s a whole string of issues attached to it, from centuries of measuring a woman’s worth almost exclusively by how many children/sons she had to the stigma women face even today when they don’t have children (by choice or by circumstance), making the whole thing so much worse for both her and the women in the audience who, for one reason or another, don’t or can’t have children (not to mention that this hints at the horrible notion of what defines a “real woman”, and subsequently a “real man”).
Also, there’s this weird romantic subplot between Natasha and Bruce that just came out of nowhere and progressed from friendship to smooching hella fast. Figuratively speaking. Actual smooching did occur, but only because Natasha needed to distract Bruce for a moment so she could push him into a giant hole in the ground to make him turn into the Hulk to fight Ultron, which turned the already weak romance into a hot mess of “wait, so was she pretending the whole time or was she just desperate for the Hulk in that specific moment?” I’m still not a hundred percent sure.

Let’s move on to Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. Oh boy.
I like those guys. I really do. And Olsen’s performance was really good. But… can we talk for a moment about how they are basically just Wanda and Pietro by name in AoU, and pretty much nothing else except their superpowers? Sure, they couldn’t make them mutants, but why did they have to go and make two Jewish Roma people into two very white people who actually volunteered for fucking HYDRA? As in, the super-Nazis of the MCU? I mean, if they didn’t know it was HYDRA and they just wanted revenge on Tony Stark, okay, but that never gets mentioned? And neither does their heritage? If you had to be an asshole and cast non-Roma actors because you don’t have the balls to break Hollywood’s unspoken “token and no more” rule (and you already had Rhodey/War Machine and Fury and Dr. Cho, so of course you couldn’t cast any more non-white actors, jeez!), then at least don’t completely erase every part of their heritage? Is it too much to ask for a throwaway line or two to tell us that they are Jewish and/or were raised by Roma parents? I mean, Steve gets his line in Avengers about how there is “only one god, and he doesn’t dress this way”, hinting strongly at a (probably protestant) Christian background, so why not give one of the twins a line like that? Someone mentioned a possible comparison of the old church where the twins first meet Ultron and their old synagogue which “is a lot nicer”. Or maybe have them talk privately in Romani, or give one of them a one-liner about how fighting an evil robot isn’t how they “imagine a quiet passover” or whatever. Anything that hints at their comic origins that doesn’t paint them as mutants would have been possible, you chose nothing at all. Awesome. Another lost opportunity.

Those were my biggest issues, but the rest of the film is far from perfect. I remember watching the scene where they try to lift Mjölnir when the teaser came out, and when the scene played in the cinema, I was hella confused. Everyone gets some kind of quip when they try to lift the hammer, and Tony made the hilariously funny “joke” that, when he’d lift the hammer and get to rule the world, he’d reinstate prima nocta: the alleged right of feudal lords to sleep with anyone’s new wife before the husband did. Basically legal rape. Yes, they went there. Even though that right is pretty much a myth (at least in Europe, apparently it did exist elsewhere, in different versions, but it never was a wide-spread law).
The original line was something about him being “firm and fair” – not a rape joke. It was good. Fit Tony’s personality as a megalomaniac with a ginormous ego. Why they decided to make him joke about sleeping with someone else’s wife whether said wife consented or not is beyond me. That’s not even something one could attribute to the playboy side of his personality. He’s a womaniser, not a fucking rapist.
The stupid kidnapping of Natasha by Ultron, that served no fucking purpose at all except to give Bruce an opportunity to rescue her. Literally nothing happens, Ultron has no reason to even keep Natasha alive, so why did you just have to include that? Was Natasha too independent for your taste? Couldn’t you imagine a better scenario to show us that even super-spies sometimes need help, and Bruce can be a hero without the Hulk, too? Something that’s not completely stupid and lazy writing, and actually is grounded in the plot and not a done-to-death trope?
Then the suggestion that the fact Clint is supposedly single is something that needed to be “fixed”. Why? What the hell is wrong with people who think that single people are somehow inherently broken? Screw you, Whedon. Seriously.
Speaking of Clint, he’s married and has a family and that’s good for him. And he kept his family a secret from SHIELD and his fellow Avengers to keep them safe. But his wife’s last name is Barton, according to the cast list? For the love of god, why? That’s about the easiest measure to take to prevent anyone from finding out about your family, dude! I’d say something about masculine insecurities here, but a) Hawkeye is fictional, b) he’s probably the least traditionally macho type of the group, and c) my mum kept her last name, too, and it hasn’t shattered my dad’s ego, either, so there really is no excuse for the secret government agent/superhero to not take this extra measure and ask his wife to keep her last name to eliminate one more official connection to him that could be found.

And the myriad of other things that just didn’t make sense in the larger context of the MCU. How did Steve’s search for Bucky go? How did Natasha become so close with Bruce and so good at calming the Hulk? What’s up with the new heroes we saw in previous films, like War Machine and Falcon, where are they when the killer robot shit goes down in Sokovia? Chilling on Hawaii? Somewhere without cell reception? And didn’t Tony basically retire from being Iron Man at the end of Iron Man 3? Shouldn’t he be way more reluctant to don his suit again? Where is Loki hanging out? Shouldn’t he have a vested interest in getting back his Infinity stone if he wants to be king of Asgard? And where the fuck did Fury find an intact helicarrier that he could just take on a ride to Europe after Winter Soldier?! I’m guessing he actually made an ass pull joke in that scene, going by his line in the German version? But that is not a satisfying explanation! Making random shit happen yelling “Magic!” and expecting people to just swallow it is fucking lazy.
A lot of what happened in previous films just doesn’t seem to matter anymore in Age of Ultron, and the writer in me is really angry that someone so famous can get away with this lazy bullshit, and so many people seem to think he and his creation(s) are somehow immune to criticism. No. No, they are not!

I’m pretty cross with Marvel in general and Whedon in particular right now. I probably wouldn’t feel this way if he didn’t constantly talk about how he’s so much of a feminist, and then mention that declaring one’s alignment with specific political views destroys one’s art (in reference to people telling him that writing lines that shame people, especially women, for making choices he doesn’t agree with is not feminism). He even said that you “change people’s (sexists, in this case) minds” through your actions, not through words, and then proceeds to do stuff that’s 100% not what feminism stands for. He says all these things and then throws us lines like the monster one, or the “single people need fixing” reference, and renders his pretty words little more than lipservice to an audience he wants to appeal to because he likes money, I guess?
I’m glad he’s not doing Infinity War. I hope Marvel get their shit together and learn from the criticism they got for AoU. But I probably won’t go see Infinity War at the cinema. I didn’t go see the last few MCU films, and then went to watch AoU because Winter Soldier pleasantly surprised me. Shoulda stayed home and saved me some money.
For me, it’s just not worth it anymore. I just want a fun ride that has some sort of overarching plot attached to it that pays off in a huge, loud, colourful showdown, and instead get told by the film that I’m a broken human being because I don’t have a partner or kids, other people apparently don’t exist because they aren’t “white” enough, and rape is funny. Sorry, but I’m not giving you money to get insulted. Do better in the future, and I might reconsider. The last scene was a good start, with the “new” Avengers being trained by Natasha and Steve. There’s potential there. But I have a feeling it’s going to go to waste one way or another…


Paid mods, and why that’s a bad idea


UPDATE 28/04/2015: The paid mods system has been pulled from Steam. While I do appreciate this quick reaction to community feedback, it’s a little weird that the defense of the system and the 180 they did with pulling it from Steam are so close together. Still, it serves to show that they maybe still do value their customers as more than ATMs with opposable thumbs. For some reason, I can’t read the original article because I get rerouted to the German blog that doesn’t have it, but from the quotes I read on other sites, I gather they actually meant well, in a strange “let’s do this it’s for their own good” kind of way. maybe they decide to scrap this system altogether, maybe they rework it according to our feedback and bring it back later as an improved version, I don’t know. But for now, I hope that both Bethesda have learned a lesson and the conspiracy theorists/screeching banshees of Reddit have been taken down a peg.

In light of this, I ‘d like to revise my earlier assessment (a.k.a. test run for community-created DLC). Perhaps their intentions were good right from the start, and they just messed up the implementation. Probably mostly because they a) were so secretive about it and b) tried it with a game that has a large community working within an established system already. Had they tied this experiment to the next game and stated clearly that it was just an experiment, and free modding would still be allowed and encouraged to exist beside this option, the backlash wouldn’t have been nearly as bad as it was.

We’ll see what happens next.

A few days ago, Bethesda and Valve announced a new feature for the Steam Workshop: Paid mods. The reaction was pretty instant, ranging from “good idea, terrible execution” to “go f§%k yourselves!”, from modders pulling free mods from sites like the Nexus and putting them on Steam for money to, polar opposite, modders pulling mods from Steam and hiding the free versions on the Nexus in protest. There are a few civil discussions and many, many people frothing at the mouth about this, for various reasons.

Now I had some time to think (and a really freaky dream about bumbling around in a hopelessly broken modded Skyrim…), and I have to admit, this whole situation gets me on several levels. It’s not just the fact that the system is here now, it’s also some of the reactions from the community. Posts talk about how modding is a passion and shouldn’t be done for money, that the cut of 25% for the modder is outrageous, how the system is overall terrible and won’t work for anything that’s not purely cosmetic – all the way to very volatile, generalising posts about “you shouldn’t expect to get paid for something you like to do anyway”.

Modding is hard work. People put dozens, hundreds, thousands of hours into their creations. They keep them up to date. They create patches so they work with other mods. They take community feedback into account and update accordingly. All for free or optional donations. I understand completely when someone would like to see a little financial appreciation for their hard work, the time and resources put into the project. But. Modding is still not a job. Can’t be, in fact. Mods are piggybacking on someone else’s product. They are fan creations. Like fanfiction, fanart, cover versions of your favourite song. You can create all these things, but you can’t sell them for profit (Fifty Shades of Grey notwithstanding, though that is basically a shitty original story with someone else’s characters).

Now Bethesda tries to “license” mods and generate a profit from a previously untapped well of potential customers (a.k.a. the modding community). They are essentially offloading the “risk” and initial investment of time and resources on the modder but at the same time collect a large portion of the money people are willing to pay for the mod. No risk, high reward, and an overall shitty move that ignores so, so many aspects of the hows and whys of modding.

First, there is the legal aspect. Many mods rely on each other to work. Now say Mod A is for sale, but relies on Mod B that isn’t. Say Mod A makes 500$. Does Mod B’s creator get any of that? Can they prohibit Mod A’s creator from selling the dependent mod until they make a version that doesn’t rely on Mod B? And what if it’s the other way around – SkyUI will be a paid-for mod as of version 5.0. SkyUI is used in so many mods that won’t work properly without it. Say someone steps in and creates a new free UI mod to replace SkyUI that emulates its functionality – if SkyUI is a licensed mod now, can they or Bethesda take down the replacement mod for copyright infringement?

Then there’s the technical aspect. Mods are never guaranteed to work with any given game. Every modder knows that, and anyone messing around with mods does, too (should, anyway). And even if they work with the vanilla game, as soon as they are going beyond merely cosmetic changes, they probably won’t work too well with each other. Requiem and Frostfall are popular mods often installed together, but they need a patch to work with each other (and a shit-ton of tweaks to the load order *sigh*). Now add the Civil War Overhaul and Dragon Combat Overhaul to the mix, and you have a compatibility nightmare that is mitigated by patches that sometimes are not made by the mod creators, but by someone else (also, legalities here: Would that still be possible with the pay model?). Would these mods still work together if they were put behind the Steam paywall? Where is the incentive to create compatibility patches (or go for compatibility in the first place) when you get paid before the customer figures out that the mod won’t work with their game? Who can guarantee that the mods I download will a) work and b) not break my game? No-one, that’s who. A DLC is guaranteed to work with the game I already have. It won’t break my game or my saves. A mod could do both – so basically I could pay for a product that isn’t only broken itself, but will proceed to break other things as well, and with the god-awful return policy, I’m cheated out of my money either way; you don’t get your money back if the mod doesn’t work, you get the money transferred to your Steam wallet – store credit, basically. Say that happens with one out of ten mods, and each mod is 2$ (which is generously cheap, since my mods tend to be a lot bigger than “reskinned sword”). I currently have 100 mods in my list, and ten of those don’t work, so I get 20$ in my Steam wallet that are tied up now. I can not use the money for food, a new shirt, nothing. Valve can. They can work with my money now, even though the product I purchased was broken, and I can’t get an adequate replacement in the store (which store credit should be for). They are free of any responsibility, and Bethesda is as well. They are not responsible for creating a working DLC, which they would be if they made and sold it themselves (but they sure like getting money for it anyway).

Which brings me to the next point: The questionable ethics surrounding this step. There are huge mods out there, mods of DLC scope like Falskaar, Wyrmstooth and Frostfall (which is at least on par with Hearthfire). If these mods were made by Bethesda, they would need to hire a team to work on them, make sure they are compatible with the base game as well as existing and future DLC, and keep them updated, fix bugs etc. That calls for an initial investment by Bethesda (a.k.a. hiring the devs necessary to make the content), which will be repaid once the DLC is being sold. I’m about 99% sure that, if mods like Frostfall, Requiem, Falskaar etc. were made and sold by Bethesda, they’d sell like crazy, because they are amazing and would be 100% compatible with Skyrim and each other. With the Steam Workshop system, Bethesda doesn’t have to invest a single dime. The modders work on their own time, and only ever get paid if the mod sells well enough to make 400$ minimum, but Bethesda gets their cut no matter what. That doesn’t sound like such a good deal to me, and it certainly doesn’t sound very fair to the modder. The idea “pay modders for their hard work” is a good one, sure, but this system is a horrible way of doing that.

I’m not saying I’m completely against modders getting some money out of the hundreds of hours of work. But as I said above, the entire concept is iffy. It’s “early access” all over again, selling possibly horribly broken products and leaving the customer in the dirt when something goes wrong (worst case, but the entire concept of modding makes it infinitely more complicated than “we need a bugfix for this and the devs won’t give us one!”). It’s a recipe for disaster, and until Bethesda (and probably other studios who now think they can get away with the same thing) come around and rethink this, I won’t support it. The system as it is shows very little respect for content creators, treats them worse than freelancers, denies them any firm legal boundaries to operate within, and overall turns the amazing thing that is modding into a travesty. It’s like someone looked at the Nexus, thought “Hey, what if people would pay for these like they do for DLC, and we got a share of the money?” and then went to concoct the worst possible way of treating mods, modders and the community. And I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what happened.

Why was that even necessary? We already have the (unpopular) DLC system in place, and that would’ve been a great place to start: Approach the creators of large, popular mods like Falskaar and Frostfall, offer them access to better tools and some measure of compensation for their work and have them create a proper DLC to sell for something like 2,99$ on Steam, possibly with a percentage of the proceeds going to the modders. I’d say that’s a far better deal for everyone, including Bethesda.

Lastly, I’d like to address the “don’t expect to get paid for your hobby” comments. I’m not sure if the people making them just didn’t think about it or if they genuinely believe that, if you like your work, you shouldn’t get paid for it. Either way, those comments did get me riled up a bit. I’ve been on both sides, the fanwork side and the original work side of something that’s generally seen as a hobby and “not a real job”: writing. Not getting paid for the fanfiction I write and publish has never been, and never will be, an issue for me. I’m playing with someone else’s intellectual property and giving the results away for free. I’d never dream of asking for money, even though I did spend hundreds of hours writing those stories, simply because, when it comes down to it, they don’t really belong to me. Modding is pretty much the same. Modders play with someone else’s toys and put the results up for anyone who wants them to use for free, because the basis of their product doesn’t belong to them. For decades it’s been clear that, unless you are under contract and create a licensed product within clear legal boundaries (like merchandise, film adaptations, tie-in novels…), you should and can not expect to get paid for your fanwork.

People, do not lump these in with original content, with novels and games and music people create and wish to sell to maybe make a living (or just a little cash on the side). These things do not belong to someone else; they are our creations, and we do have the right to ask people for money before we hand them out because we are not leeching off of someone else’s work. If you don’t get it, it’s a simple legal matter of intellectual property. My Doctor Who fanfic is me playing with someone else’s intellectual property for fun; I can’t expect to get paid for it. My novels are my own intellectual property; I created the worlds, the characters and the stories myself, and I am not obligated to give them away for free because they belong to me 100% and I can do with them whatever I want, including selling them. THAT is the difference. Stop using the “if you like doing it don’t expect to get paid for it” argument, it’s insulting and despicable to think that way. You don’t not pay a prostitute because she happens to like having sex with her boyfriend, do you? Or not pay for that delicious bread because the baker happens to like cooking for his family? Why are creative endeavours any different, according to you?


I’m still not suite sure what to make of this entire situation. I’d give Bethesda and Valve the benefit of the doubt and say that they watched the modding scene for so long and thought “Hey, those guys deserve some recognition, let’s give them a way to legally make some money!”. But I can’t. I think this is a test run, just like ESO was. ESO came with very few features of a traditional MMO; features that aren’t necessary in a single player RPG, but very necessary in a game designed to be played in a group. Minimap, buff bar, loot designation… you need addons/mods for that. Player-made mods. For things a game like this needs in order to be playable without a constant headache. This was testing the reaction of players to having to add features in themselves, for free this time. Now they are running a second test – what will players do if the features aren’t a necessity, but a luxury, but they have to pay for them? None of the mods on Steam are essential in any way (technically speaking, though there are some that I’d argue are very much essential – the unofficial patches, mainly, and a few other fixes for bugs that have been in the game since launch and that Bethesda hasn’t seen fit to fix in an official patch). They are luxuries, enhancing a full game, and it’s easier to make people pay without complaints for something they (think they) want rather than something they need. Now Bethesda is at E3 this year for the very first time, and everyone’s expecting a big announcement, either TESVI or Fallout 4. Both are franchises that are kept alive for years after their usual shelf life by mods. People are still playing Morrowind because of mods. People are still playing Fallout 3 because of mods. And Skyrim wouldn’t still have a player base this large and people willing to pay for the game more than once without the multitude of free mods (myself included, I went from PS3 to PC for modding purposes). Until last Friday, I hoped it would be one of those games; I was fully prepared to buy either one close to launch, a rare exception for me. But now I can’t help but wonder what else will be announced. Whether they are willing to piss off a large portion of their player base by announcing that all mods will be behind a paywall in the future, and they are going to try and make sure those are the only mods the game accepts. They might cite “stability” as a reason, or “anti-piracy measures”, or “appreciation of the hard-working modders”. And hope people fall for it, just accept it and hand over the modding scene without a fight. I hope that won’t happen. I don’t think it will happen. But when money calls, more than one moral compass might turn around (not that I blame them, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it). But this new paid mods system didn’t go over very well with a large part of the modding community, if not just for moral reasons, then simply because it isn’t feasible. How do they expect someone with several hundred mods to pay for each and every one of those? Pay the price of a brand new computer for your mod list? I’d say most people are going to answer that with a resounding “Hell no!”. Not because we don’t appreciate the modders and the work they put into their creations. It’s because we can’t. Even with a relatively low price of 2$ on average for a mod, I’d have to pay 200$ for my current list, more like double that amount for every mod I ever had for Skyrim, and that’s not counting my other Bethesda games I modded. I just can’t afford that, and even if I could, I wouldn’t, especially so long as the next mod I buy could potentially break my game and all the other mods I bought with it. It’s just not worth it. I’d rather buy a different game.

And somehow, I don’t think that could be Bethesda’s goal here in the long run.


I’m lazy and my brain is melting


Well, that’s partially true. I’m not so much lazy as I’m very much unmotivated to do my job at the moment. Mainly because it involves polite written conversations and summarising. I mean, how is it that I had very little trouble writing this book, but putting an adequate description of the events into less that two-thousand words is hell? Even editing wasn’t as excrutiating. Boring, yes, but this is beyond just unpleasant. This is agony. (I dare you to call me a drama queen, dearest reader. I dare you!)

I should just self-publish and be done with it. Screw agents. At least I won’t have to figure out how make fifty words into one.

…okay, that doesn’t sound so bad. It’s probably just a little tedious.

I still hate it.


Can’t I just go back to Dragon Age and play that horrible, horrible Lost in Dreams quest? No?

Did I mention that I hate this?


Of Walkers and Talkers


[Fair warning: This is long, and kinda rant-y. Also, The Walking Dead spoilers for seasons 1, 2 and 3 ahead, thought that might be moot at this point when season 5 just premiered…]

I’m probably the last zombie fanatic on the entire planet to discover The Walking Dead. I’ve heard a lot of noise about this show, mostly about how it’s something new and exciting, and is something like the Game of Thrones of us zombie people. I kept putting it off for various reasons, but now it’s on German Netflix, so I thought, what the hell, might as well finally give it a shot. I’ve pretty much run out of shows to follow anyway.
I have purposely avoided ‘spoilers’ before watching; I didn’t even read reviews on Amazon, as I usually do. So all I’ve heard about the show was praise, either from the few media outlets I caught mentioning it or from friends of mine who love the show. So I binge-watched the first two seasons in three days to see what the fuzz was all about.
My own reaction was… uh… how to put it… confused. Yep, that’s pretty much what this show does to me – it confuses the hell out of me, on so many levels. Mostly, though, because still I like it, for some reason. It’s like Supernatural all over again. I like the idea, and the general vibe of the show, but so, so many things make me angry about both of those shows that I just want to scream at the TV sometimes. I still started with S3, but with much less enthusiasm than I had when I watched the pilot.
For SPN, it’s the ridiculously convoluted plotlines since season 3, the metric shit-ton of ultra macho angst in every other episode, and the fact that it’s a total sausage fest and treats its few women in an infuriating way. For TWD, it’s the ridiculously uninspired plotlines (though that might be due to the source material; haven’t gotten that far into the comic yet), the forced drama in every single episode, the total lack of character development (unless you count Rick going from Nice Guy to sociopath in the span of three episodes), and here, too, the fact that most female characters are tropes instead of characters. Most male characters, too, but the show at least attempts to give most of them something more.
Those things in combination with the generally good idea and overall quality of the show (writing notwithstanding) make for a show that managed to hook me and still makes me fume quietly over at least half of each episode.
Let’s dissect this from the top.


I. Plot and structure

I’ve said the plot of TWD is uninspired. Allow me to elaborate. Zombies have been used for ages as a vehicle to tell stories about humans, about civilisation versus animal instincts, about individuality versus crowd mentality, just plain survival and whatever else anyone could think of. They are great for that. An enemy that’s not human but somehow still is, that reminds us about the fact that, under the right circumstances, we all can be monsters, and then can be used to explore just how extreme those circumstances would have to be for any given individual.
TWD tries that, and fails miserably. Part of the reason why might be the short lifespan of each season. Six episodes in the first, thirteen in the second. Yet they crammed so damn much into those seasons: The apocalypse itself, naturally; Rick waking up and coming to terms with the new world; Lori apparently moving on; Lori and Rick getting reunited and the resulting tension between not-really-moving-on Lori, Rick and Shane; Carol’s abusive asshole of a husband; the group deciding to move on and splitting up because of conflicting goals; the ‘maybe there’s hope – there is no hope’ CDC plot; Shane slowly turning into a sociopath; Fort Benning; Carl getting shot; Hershel’s farm; Sophia getting lost; searching for Sophia; tension between the groups of survivors; Andrea maybe-or-not killing herself; the walkers in Hershel’s barn; Lori’s baby and the ‘Who’s the daddy?’ plot; the group being allowed to stay at the farm just to get yanked out of their perceived secure ‘paradise’; Rick killing Shane; Rick assuming Shane’s role as the designated sociopath and all-around asshole. And then repeating some of those plotlines again: The Govenor as the nice-guy-who’s-actually-a-total-dick; his keeping his zombie daughter locked up because “maybe she’s still in there”; the safe-place-that-isn’t-so-safe-after-all. Plus all the ‘little’ things, like someone dying all the time for really dumb reasons, people getting in trouble for really dumb reasons, and people arguing for really dumb reasons.
And that’s just the first two-and-a-half seasons. Really? Believe it or not, there is a limit to what you can cram into a single season (especially one that’s shorter than average) without it looking like you’re trying too hard. At some point, it’s getting tedious, then ridiculous, and then flat-out hilarious. In this case, hilarious began with Lori’s stupid car crash. I don’t even… what? How would anyone manage to crash their car on a deserted road like that? Out of sheer stupidity, that’s how. Lori crashes the car by not looking at the road for almost ten seconds and hitting the only lone walker on the whole damn road. This accident should not have happened, especially since it does nothing for the plot, at all. Lori wants to go after Rick (an ex-cop) and Glenn (the guy who, according to the show, is the best at traipsing through walker-infested cities undetected), who went after Hershel, who went to get wasted after his walker-wife was killed. She has no reason to go after them other than manufactured drama. Not to mention that she’s a) pregnant and b) has a son to protect, too, which she frequently seems to forget.
Point is, the show can not maintain tension through anything other than forced drama and surprise zombie attacks that most of the time should not be surprising or, and that’s my favourite, shouldn’t happen at all. An example of the first kind is Rick’s arrival in Atlanta, a city with over five million people in the metropolitan area, and even if you only count the city, it’s still half a million. The walkers swarming Rick should have surprised exactly no-one, least of all Rick, the guy living in the zombie apocalypse. An example of the second variety is the attack that drives the group off the farm at the end of season 2. A heard of zombies heard a helicopter and started following it, even long after it passed, and ended up on the farm. But. In the first episode, there was a helicopter doing exactly the same thing, and the walkers didn’t give a fuck about it then. And if zombies behaved that way, the city would be empty, and huge zombie herds would be walking across the land, because they apparently don’t stop after starting in the direction of the noise. It would’ve also made killing them really easy; just do the World War Z thing, blast some AC/DC in stadiums and then nuke them when they’re full. And even if we are willing to suspend disbelief for this, there’s still the question how a relatively quiet helicopter drew so much attention; there should be ambient noise, wind, buildings crumbling, animals and whatnot being just as loud or louder, so the helicopter shouldn’t have the impact it has.
I’d totally be willing to suspend my disbelief for TWD, really. It’s just that the show fires its drama missiles at a rate that makes it way too predictable. You just know when something is going to happen because there always is something happening; it’s not a surprise anymore after the first few episodes. A good show has suspense, sure, but it allows for quieter interlude episodes, too. I need a chance to calm down, to get used to the way things are, to allow myself to believe that this time, they really are safe, that this time, they made it, before you throw another catastrophe at me. Them. Whatever. I cared about Dale’s death because I had time enough to get to like him. I didn’t care about Amy’s death because I’d seen her for about two episodes before it happened, one of which she spent whining. Sophia’s death was sad, but more because she was a child than because of me genuinely caring about her.
Overall, I feel like the writers just got lazy at some point. The first few episodes were cool, but then it just seemed like they didn’t know how to write actual human drama (I refuse to call the constant squabbling ‘genuine drama’), so they decided to go the ‘shake things up all the time’ route. They keep adrenaline levels in the viewers high with action, but can’t hold our attention with anything else, so they decided to stick to the ALL THE DRAMA! approach. And the only way they try to break up this roller coaster of zombie action is by inserting deep and meaningful (achem) dialogue on a regular basis, where characters talk about things that either have been shown already and don’t need verbal emphasis, or could have been shown better by action rather than by dialogue. It gets to the point where zombie attacks get interrupted for some conversation – one moment, there’s a walker about to eat someone, the next the same someone is waxing poetic about some stuff we could’ve waited to hear until the immediate threat of death by zombie has passed. But there’s always a convenient break in the action for discussions to happen, and that takes a lot of the threat out of for me. Because I just know those two idiots should get eaten while they argue but won’t, no matter what. It’s important storytelling, after all.


II. The characters

Oh boy. Where do I start?
Right. Main characters. I think that’s Rick and his family, with Shane and Dale being close second, and the rest are supporting characters. So far, so good. I don’t expect a specific kind of character; nice protagonists, mean protagonists, criminal protagonists, sociopathic protagonists, I can handle all of those. But the show should a) be somewhat consistent in the portrayal of its main characters and b) give me something, anything, that makes me care. TWD makes it really, really difficult to like or root for any of its main or supporting characters (with the exception of Daryl, maybe; he’s kind of a dick, but at least he’s an honest dick, and he gets a nice character arc later to make up for that).
Rick starts out okay. Confused guy trying to deal with the shithole the world has become and searching for his family, then trying to keep them alive and get them to safety. His primary antagonist, apart from the zombies, is Shane – they compete for group leadership (open, more encompassing conflict) and Lori’s affection (private, human conflict). Shane is set up as a violent, narcissistic sociopath who, in the end, has to die for the good of the group. Good, I can dig that. But then it’s a shit move to make Rick turn into the exact same person Shane was and not just letting him get away with it, but trying to make me like him that way. That is so, so weird and so, so wrong. You can’t give me an antagonist who dies for a certain ‘sin’, and then have the protagonist commit that same sin as well, but since he’s the hero, it’s okay. Shane is criticised for his violent temper, but when Rick tortures Randall, it’s okay because he’s just trying to keep the group safe. Shane tries to decide for everyone, regardless of their opinion and gets shit for it, but when Rick says, literally, that the group isn’t a democracy, it’s fine because he just wants what is best for everyone. And that’s not even touching on the inconsistencies in Rick’s character: Searching for Sophia for days even though logic says she is either dead or safely somewhere else at this point, but then dismissing Andrea as ‘dead anyway’ after the attack in the season finale. Insisting on saving Merle and later Randall, but then torturing Randall for… information, I guess? The show is rather vague about that. Before that, Rick is adamant they give Randall a fighting chance by dropping him off at some place where he’s relatively safe and can get some supplies, but when the guy mentions something about going to school with Maggie, Rick takes him back (presumably because maybe Randall isn’t so bad, then?), only to decide then that Randall will be executed because he’s a threat. Rick is doing so many 180s in the second half of season 2, I’ve just given up trying to understand it. I wish he’d just kick the bucket and let Michonne take over as the protagonist.
Then there’s Lori. She’s either an annoying, angsty bitch, or simply a vehicle for Rick’s angst; either way, she’s a horrible character, and I was relieved when she bit the dust in the prison. She’s supposed to be a caring person and awesome mother who just happened to have banged her presumed-dead husband’s best friend for comfort, but I don’t see much evidence of either. She frequently is selfish and reckless, and she keeps losing track of Carl in critical situations, like, you know, zombie attacks. The same Carl she is supposedly so worried about, but who somehow manages to wander off and end up in danger all the time, whenever it’s needed for the plot. Beyond those supposed traits, which get mentioned a lot, but aren’t really seen on-screen, there isn’t much else about her. I know her as ‘Rick’s wife’ and that’s it. No backstory, no relationships, no nothing. I didn’t really pay attention to it, but I’m not sure TWD at the end of season 2 has passed the Bechdel test (Edit: Wait, it does, with the laundry scene in episode 2 or 3). And that’s another reason why I have a beef with TWD: In a world that has gone to hell (and then come back trying to eat your face), where the top priority is surviving for another day, the roles are distributed like a bad 1970s post-apocalypse film – the men protect and gather, and the women maintain the camp and keep an eye on the kids. This is mentioned once, the question isn’t resolved and then it’s never brought up again, in a show that is supposedly ‘not about zombies, but about what humankind becomes when the old structures disappear’. The whole misery is excellently highlighted by the various characters’ priorities in Lori’s baby situation. Maggie goes ballistic over the ‘abortion pills’, Lori frets about whether or not she even should have a baby in this world, and Rick and Shane go all macho over who’s baby it is. Gender stereotypes at their finest.
Let’s move on to Carl. I’m still not sure if I’m even supposed to like him. He’s a mini-me of Rick, sometimes, then he gets all sensitive, and then it’s suddenly ‘Let’s shoot my dad’s dead best friend!’ again. Not to mention that he should have died of stupidity ten times over by the end of season 2, but magic and plot conveniences keep saving his ass. It doesn’t help that he doesn’t have many aspects beyond ‘Rick’s and Lori’s kid’. ‘Sophia’s friend’ maybe, but that’s more the other way around. He never asks about grandparents, friends, or whatever else he could possibly care about other than shooting things with guns he shouldn’t have. He gets a little better in season 3, but barely.
That’s what irks me about the supporting cast as well. They have so little backstory in addition to what they do on-screen, they might as well have none at all. Dale is an exception, he’s got a consistent backstory that ties in with what we see of him in the show itself. Daryl is okay, too, but only gets his story told in season 2. The rest? Not so much. There’s Ed, the abuser, and his wife Carol, the abuse victim. Andrea, who is angry. Merle, who is a racist asshole. Amy, who is young and blonde. Glenn, who is the group’s doormat. T-Dog, who is… black, I guess? Seriously, he barely has any lines, and the longest dialogue so far has been with Merle about his being black and Merle’s racist bullshit. Glenn gets a little more personality after they arrive on the farm and takes up a relationship with Maggie, and in season 3, these two are actually my personal favourites. But that takes way too long to happen for my taste.
In season 3, we get Michonne, who I really dig, but gets very little backstory since she doesn’t really talk. She’s still one of the more level-headed and sensible people around, given the circumstances, and would make for a much better leader than Rick. But I suppose since she’s a woman, that won’t happen, ever. Also, she’s black, and TWD has a disturbing track record of axing its lone black character when the next one comes along. T-Dog dies for Big Tiny, Big Tiny dies for Oscar, that guy dies for Michonne, and now there are actually two more black characters, and I’m waiting for the next one to snuff it. Not a good sign.
Aaand season 3 also got us the Govenor. What. The. Hell. That guy is as cliche evil as they come, but of course, nobody but Michonne notices. How? How in the world does nobody know that, or then calmly accept it when it shows (as with the zombie fight club thing)? Is everyone at Woodbury nuts? But the show says no, those are normal people who want a normal life, but are somehow okay with this? The Govenor also isn’t a very logical character. He does everything he does for his own gain and judges people by their usefulness to him. But when he could gain some very skilled allies with the soldiers, he just nonchalantly has them killed for… what reason again? Because he wanted what they had? Which he could’ve gotten by letting them stay, plus their skills in potential fights? And then he does the same with the prison. He literally wants to kill everyone there just because. Because he doesn’t want another group so close to Woodbury. Which shouldn’t be an issue, since apparently, the way between the two locations is dangerous and requires a car to safely get from A to B. They probably wouldn’t know the other group was there. Yet he plans on killing all the people to… not move into a much more secure location? Because he can? Because he’s a dangerous and violent sociopath who somehow still manages to appear charming despite being clearly out of control and delusional? Nevermind that there’s about fifty people living at Woodbury, and even if we assume half of those can and will fight, that’s not ‘severely outnumbered and outgunned’, especially when the smaller group resides in a freaking fortress. I’m so not buying this character and this plot.
The rest of the (still) living minor characters are people I don’t really care about, mainly because a lot of them rotate very quickly, with lifespans of a few episodes tops. I already mentioned that I’m rather fond of Daryl, Glenn and Maggie, but those three aside, I couldn’t care less of any of the others died. I fact, I keep laughing when ridiculous stuff happens, like the ‘walker bomb’ when the Govenor attacks the prison, or the zombie heads in fish tanks. If that’s not intentional, it speaks tons about the writing, and it’s not compliments.
Who’s left? Well, all the people in fridges. Morgan’s wife; Amy; Hershel’s wife; Michonne’s boyfriend and child (I think); the Govenor’s daughter; Dale’s wife. Though the latter gets some semblance of a character when Dale tells about his life with her, and how she wanted to travel but couldn’t anymore before she died. And while some of those people gets fridged for a woman (Amy for Andrea, Michonne’s family for her), all of them are female with the exception of Michonne’s boyfriend.
In any case, TWD would really benefit from a few more fleshed-out, less stereotypical characters, both in leading and supporting roles. And if the protagonist has to be a psychotic dickwad, at least make his actions more consistent with the world around him and his own characterisation. He doesn’t have to be likeable, just understandable.


III. The pacing

I mentioned this before, when I said that I find it hilarious how there’s always time for talking, so long as it’s ‘relevant’ (your mileage may vary) to the plot, no matter how dire the situation is. That illustrates nicely how skewed the priorities of both the writers and the characters are. Sure, sometimes, it’s good to slow things down a bit to talk about issues, but not in the middle of being overrun by zombies. And certainly not several times per episode. It gets tedious, and if it happens in the middle of an action sequence, I get so distracted by it that I forget that I should be on the edge of my seat. There’s not logic to these interruptions, either, and so they happen and confuse me and more importantly anger me, and I skip ahead to when I see the next zombie being decapitated. I started doing this recently, but after enduring so much talking for no good reason, I have my doubts that the scenes I skip are any more important.
The same weird structure is applied to the rest of the show, too. The season typically starts out with some action, then slows down a little, and then starts jumping from ‘quiet’ to ‘hectic’, plot-wise, really frequently. If there is a single episode that’s mostly action, or mostly quiet, day-to-day life, it’s a miracle. The individual episodes don’t have a consistent tone; it’s not that I can’t handle multiple plots at once, or some jumps from someone running through the woods to someone huddling around a fire. But it happens so often, I have hardly enough time to focus on one thing before the next one gets thrown at me. Hence the ‘I don’t give a shit’ attitude. I have so little time to get acquainted with the characters before my attention is required elsewhere that I don’t have time to develop ‘feelings’, if you will, of any sort. Very few characters get enough screen time for that. Of course, with a cast this large, that’s hard, but then don’t give me dramatic danger/death scenes for the minor characters and expect me to care. Because I don’t.
If the show could linger on individual scenes or situations for a wee bit longer, I’d be so, so happy. I don’t mind spending an entire episode or two watching the group clean the prison and figure out how to make it liveable; I see that anyway, just in little chunks scattered through the season. And if the ‘rebuilding society/creating a new one’ aspect is supposedly so important, it shouldn’t matter whether or not those episodes don’t have breathless chase scenes or whatever. But they do, and I suspect the only reason is ‘don’t make it too boring’. Well, if you think one of the main themes of your show is boring, then maybe you shouldn’t have made that theme a focus in the first place.
Basically, I wish the show wasn’t so erratically jumping around the playing field. Moving the pieces slowly, but consistently, to set up a big confrontation, works better in my opinion for a show that prides itself on being ‘not just about killing zombies’. Because for that, you sure are killing a lot of zombies, whether it’s necessary or not.


All in all, I’ll probably keep watching TWD, since it’s on Netflix and we have that anyway. But I probably won’t buy any DVDs or go out of my way to catch the new episodes the day they are released. It’s just not worth the effort and money, and frankly, if the quality keeps declining like this, season 3 might be the last for me. We’ll see.



Edit: Wooo, this is post #100 in this blog. Go me! I think…

Merry Christmas



…and a happy New Year, too, since I probably won’t post for a while (will be busy playing ALL the video games, I suppose)^^

I meant to post our actual Christmas tree, but my phone can hardly take decent pictures when it’s not dark, so this most accurate representation will have to do. Just… picture a purple tree topper and a replica of the Bride’s katana from Kill Bill, and that’s pretty close. Yes, I got that katana. My brother is awesome. Just saying.

Anyways, enjoy the holidays, whether you actually celebrate or not :)


I’m awesome :D


Winner-2014-Web-BannerI won! :D 50,190 words at 18:30, Nov 29th. First time I finished early^^

And I’m in the process of wrapping up a novel, too. I think this warrants a little celebration. In the form of a new toy video card. Actually, I more or less need a new one, anyway. This one is starting to complain loudly whenever I turn on the computer. Literally; the coil whine is getting super annoying -_-


Anyways, happy first of December, whether you finished NaNo or not, won or just tried, or if you don’t know what I’m talking about^^