Category Archives: rainmaker97

I Finished Fire Emblem: Awakening, and Now My Life is Empty

FireEmblem

Since late January (yes, I snagged the game early thanks to the infamous shipping fiasco that resulted in tons of preorders going unfulfilled), I’ve been playing Fire Emblem: Awakening almost constantly. I’m a huge fan of the series, so there was never any doubt that I was going to love the game, but for previous games in the series, I usually spent about 60 hours (not all at once!) beating the game and then put it on the shelf for a few years. All of them have long, deep campaigns, but little in the way of replay value. Perhaps a New Game Plus with a few new characters or maybe the thrill of Lunatic difficulty, but nothing in the way of additional story chapters.

Being a game of its time, Awakening was supported with weekly DLC from a week before release (Day Zero DLC, if you will) to almost four months after its original ship date. I bought every single one of these DLC packs, which were, on average, about $6.50 for three half-hour-long maps. I spent double the price of the vanilla game on DLC. And if they had kept releasing DLC, I probably would’ve spent even more money.

Every week, I’d get a mix of free characters, free sidequest maps (which, despite occurring chronologically before the final boss fight, felt a lot like cool little epilogues), free rare weapons, and paid DLC maps. It was an overwhelming amount of extra content for a game that was already easily the most feature-packed of the entire series, and it was enough to keep me playing for months on end.

Of course, the well had to run dry sooner or later, and the final piece of DLC was released a few weeks back. The ridiculously difficult Apotheosis episode took me almost a full night to beat, even with my maxed-out characters (carefully nurtured over months of grinding). When I finally laid the last enemy Hero to rest, I sighed. My total time clocked in at about 200 hours. I knew that I would probably never have the patience to start a new save file. A younger version of me might have gleefully subjected himself to something like that, but alas, 200 hours is too much for these creaky old bones to endure twice.

If you follow me on Twitter, you probably think that I hate almost everything. I love video games a lot, and unfortunately, I’ve come to hold them to a very high standard as of late. A lot of my complaints are in jest, but I genuinely feel that many games fall short of excellence. I can probably find something I don’t like in nearly every game I’ve played, but please don’t mistake my criticisms for actual hatred; I pick these things apart because I care. Fire Emblem: Awakening is one of those rare games that are difficult for me to find fault with. Even things that should be easy targets in a JRPG (cookie-cutter story, braindead dialogue) don’t really apply to Awakening, which is all the more surprising considering past games in the series were pockmarked with cliched anime end-of-world scenarios and horrible mock-medieval dialogue (Awakening does include these tropes to some extent, but they’re subverted pretty well).

When I play games, I always look forward to the end. I want to greedily consume the experience and then move on to the next meal. With Awakening, I wanted to savour it as long as possible, which was entirely weird for me. It’s been so long since the last time I played a game that made me feel that way; I hope it’s not too long until the next one.

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So I Just Got Netflix

Netflix

I admit it: sometimes it feels like I’m living under a rock. I usually adopt the latest electronic trends fairly late, what with my waiting until 2012 to buy a smartphone and a gaming PC and still not having Xbox Live. Netflix was never on my radar because I’m not a big television or film guy, and I felt that most of what I wanted to watch was readily available online. And yet, Mitchell Hurwitz decided that Netflix was going to be the exclusive home of Arrested Development’s fourth season, so I knew I had to get it eventually.

I’ve been slowly exploring the service’s offerings and it appears to have a wealth of shows and movies that have been recommended to me over the years. Now that I actually have a high-quality means of watching them, I’m looking forward to broadening my horizons. I’ve always mostly assumed that TV is generally crap, but I’ve since realized that’s kind of unfair, and I’d like to at least give it a chance. But I’m going to need the help of people far more experienced than I to help guide me on this vision quest. I need to know which shows are worth watching.

Here are a few things I’m considering watching:

  • Arrested Development (obviously)
  • Community (Currently halfway through season 2. Really liking it so far.)
  • The Office (UK) (Recommended to me by many people as far superior to the American version. I haven’t seen the American version, but Stephen Merchant, Ricky Gervais, and Martin Freeman are decent dudes, and the prospect of a live-action Dilbert comic seems funny).
  • Twin Peaks (I know nothing about this show other than David Lynch made it and lots of hipsters think it’s really good.)
  • Global Metal (Documentary on heavy metal, and sequel to Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey, which I really liked)
  • Anvil: The Story of Anvil (spiritual sequel to This Is Spinal Tap, only it’s an actual documentary of a mediocre Canadian metal band…yeah, I like metal, and I’m sad there isn’t more stuff on it out there)
  • Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny (again, metal…I’m only watching this because Ronnie James Dio and Meat Loaf are in it)
  • Sherlock (Just starting the second season…really enjoying it)
  • House of Cards (I love characters who are willing to trample others to get what they want…also, Kevin Spacey)
  • Spaced (watched this years ago, it was really raw and unpolished, but a good start for Pegg/Frost/Wright…want to watch it again in preparation for The World’s End)
  • Archer (Has some of the cast of Arrested Development on it, and I guess it’s all the rage right now)
  • Fawlty Towers (John Cleese is a boss, and I’ve heard this show is legendary…but does it still hold up?)

So, Geek Force Network…please help me! Tell me which of my picks are worth watching and which are a waste of time. Also, please feel free to suggest any other shows that I’ve missed. I’ve noticed from our Twitter conversations that our tastes in TV and movies are extremely varied, so please, try to force your opinions on me! I welcome it. Please enlighten this ignoramus!

The Ballad of Bob Summerwill: A Fanfiction

EA logo

As a senior software engineer at EA Sports, Bob Summerwill was usually a pretty busy guy. Today, however, Bob leaned back in his chair, placed his hands behind his head, and smiled smugly. With the launch of the Wii U back in November, Summerwill had anticipated a long year ahead of having to develop for an extra console, but today, his company had publicly admitted what Summerwill had known for weeks: the company had no Wii U games in the pipeline. And that meant all Summerwill had to do to get his paycheck was just show up.

With little else to do, Summerwill pulled his phone out of his pocket and did a quick Twitter sweep. He was a passionate, loyal employee, and he wanted to see how his company’s latest statement was being dissected by the social media sphere. EA had been having a rough go of it in the press lately, what with CEO John Riccitiello’s departure as well as the rather dubious honour of being voted the “worst company in America”; however, Nintendo had also attracted their fair share of fanboy hate lately thanks to their tanking console as well as their recent encroachment on YouTuber advertising dollars. Summerwill’s face broke into a wide grin as he imagined the vicious NeoGAF hordes finally turning their attention away from his beloved EA as they focused on a new target.

However, as Summerwill perused his Twitter feed, he came across a tweet from Scott Hanselman asking (rhetorically, probably) whether there were “problems at EA” that resulted in their decision to not develop for the Wii U. A dark shadow crossed Summerwill’s face. Those stupid gamers were still twisting EA’s words and throwing them back in its face! As his blood boiled and his bulging veins stretched his neck skin, Summerwill came to a single definite conclusion: this will not stand.

Angrily, Summerwill composed a rebuttal to Hanselman’s tweet. “The Wii U is crap,” he typed, his fingers a conduit for his righteous fury. “Less powerful than an XBOX360.” Summerwill wasn’t actually sure whether this was true; he was a software engineer, not a hardware engineer, so what did people want from him, anyway? At any rate, the capitalization would surely let the dumber readers know which console Summerwill preferred. “Poor online/store. Weird tablet.” Just stating the obvious, he thought. Everyone knows it’s true. But what can I say that’s culturally relevant and still a pretty potent burn? “Nintendo are walking dead at this point.” Yeah, that’ll do it.

Summerwill’s finger froze above the “Tweet” button. Deep in the back of his mind, he wondered whether this could potentially come back to bite him in the ass at some point. He vaguely recalled an incident only a few weeks ago where a Microsoft employee was fired for commenting on company business on Twitter. Summerwill knew he had to be careful.

And yet, his mind was his own, was it not? EA doesn’t own me. The disclaimer on his Twitter bio, right after stating he was an EA employee, proudly proclaimed that his tweets were his own. Surely that would be enough to protect him from any overzealous and out-of-touch boss-mans who might be looking to put the kibosh on his airing of Internet grievances. It was a free world and he lived in a free country. He could say whatever he wanted and he would say whatever he wanted; and in the end, wasn’t he just defending the company name anyway?

With an air of confident finality, Summerwill tapped the tweet button and let the Internet work its magic. Someone somewhere instantly started a new NeoGAF thread.

Oddly, the tweet left Summerwill feeling somewhat empty. At first he thought that maybe he was subconsciously anticipating some backlash, but he quickly put that absurd idea out of his mind. After a little deep thinking and a quick round of Angry Birds, Summerwill soon identified the true cause of his uneasiness: he hadn’t made his point clear enough. He needed to say more.

Summerwill took to Twitter once again. The world needed to hear his message; he was the divine messenger of a great and noble cause. “Nintendo are still operating like it’s 1990. They should have “done a Sega” and offered Mario/Zelda as PS4/Durango exclusives.” When he gazed at his own words, he marveled at the simple truths contained in them. Summerwill couldn’t believe that no one else had ever thought of such a sound business strategy before.

He knew he was very close to gaining the trust of the people. In time, they would come to embrace his words; he could already see the retweets by prominent games journalists pouring in. Summerwill knew the time had come for absolute transparency; it was time to put on his spokesperson hat and give the entire Internet a glimpse into the internal workings of EA Sports.

“It is an utterly intentional decision to focus our resource on markets which actually matter… like mobile, and Gen4,” he wrote with genuine candor. “Nintendo platforms have always been very poor revenue-wise for third parties. Only Mario and Zelda make money.” Summerwill again felt a small twitch of apprehension after re-reading the way he described his company’s business practices, but he shrugged it off quickly. His cause was now above the petty mortal world of corporate infighting, performance reviews and HR complaints; it had become a holy crusade, the ultimate goal of which was to let my people know. If his words woke up the Internet and helped them realize what an “awful” console the Wii U was, then he could take whatever corporate lashing his bosses deemed necessary.

When Summerwill thought about it long enough, though, he knew that his sacred words were beyond reproach. He had defended his company’s honour and ultimately struck a massive blow to Nintendo and their “crap” console. Who on Earth could find fault with his methods? As he tucked his cell phone into his pocket, he felt refreshed and energized. He felt ready to engineer more software than he had in his entire life; all the softwares, even. As he grabbed his mouse and got ready to open up a new project folder, Summerwill felt a tap on his back. His boss was standing behind him, his face red with what Summerwill perceived to be embarrassment. Summerwill chuckled to himself; he wanted to make sure his boss understood that there was absolutely nothing embarrassing about thanking an employee for doing such a great job, but he realized it would be awkward to do so in front of some of the company’s lesser workers, so he accepted his boss’s invitation to join him in his office. Summerwill kept his face as neutral as possible, but on the long walk to his boss’s office, all he could picture was the extra zero that was surely about to be added to his paycheck.

Alien Races in Mass Effect

Alien Races in Mass Effect

The Mass Effect series appears to have a number of fans among the staff of GFN, including yours truly. I mean, there’s a lot to like about the series: the large cast of characters, the easy-to-learn shooter mechanics (vastly improved after the clunky gameplay in the first installment), the rich array of exotic alien landscapes, the sense of RPG-fueled character progression, and what have you. Although I personally think the dialogue is “great for a video game” rather than just “great,” people often hail the series for its engaging and cinematic writing style.

Although I enjoyed the storytelling and the universe-building for what they were, I gotta touch on something that felt out of place throughout the series. I’m probably not the first one to make this point, and it’s actually something I’ve noticed throughout the majority of science fiction, but it seemed particularly distracting in a series whose message was, arguably, diversity. I’m talking about the fact that the alien races in the Mass Effect universe often seem like they’re widely generalized, with individual members of each species often acting like little more than perfectly interchangeable mouthpieces for the entire race. Turian A behaves exactly like turian B, etc.

I know a lot of fuss has already been made about how similar every alien species is to humans in terms of aesthetics, hanar and elcor excepted (but even they have analogues to animals found on Earth, one of them even being a not-so-distant human relative). I understand the technical reasons behind the similar body shapes (easier to cut and paste animations if everyone has the same number of limbs), but even without that excuse, I still don’t mind how humanoid everyone looks. The familiarity is comforting, in a way, and there are enough visual distinctions between species that each race looks sufficiently unique. No, my argument is not “all asari look like humans, or even “all asari look alike”; it’s the behavioural similarities between individual members of a given species that put me off.

You know the tropes. All krogan are aggressive, stubborn, brawn-over-brains types. All asari are either stripper-prostitutes or well-spoken mystics (or both). All batarians are rough-hewn thugs. All turians are serious, uptight, and procedural. The only times these tropes are ever broken are when they’re played for humour; meeting an elcor Groundling in the Citadel DLC is funny because they’re typically emotionless and sombre, and you wouldn’t expect one to have thespian aspirations. There’s no spectrum, only two extremes with little in between.

I don’t buy the argument whereby the individual’s behaviour is dictated by their profession, either. Every mercenary in Mass Effect is surly and gruff, every military commander is grizzled and disapproving until you really get to know him and then you find out he’s got a heart of gold, and so on. It’s one thing to say that most krogan generally go into mercenary work because they’re tough to kill and physically intimidating, but it’s another thing entirely to say that because they’re guns-for-hire, they all have to have a uniformly bad attitude. Couldn’t there be krogan mercs that are nervous, chipper, passive, or eager? I mean, sure, it’s possible that the mercenary life nurtures certain behaviours in those that choose it, or even that aliens with certain personalities and habits will be more adept mercenaries, but come on. Predispositions or not, an entire galaxy’s worth of grumpy batarian mercs doesn’t make a lot of sense. A little variation among NPC backgrounds and behaviours would be nice.

The asari are particularly puzzling. Their genetic pool is more of an ocean due to their custom of taking aliens as their mates (intermarriage between two asari, such as the union between Benezia and Aethyta that produced Liara T’Soni, being frowned upon), yet the vast majority of them are particularly eloquent, sultry, and even-tempered. Even though Liara went through the improbable transition from doe-eyed archaeologist to the galaxy’s biggest crime lord, she still speaks like she’s reading from a book most of the time, just like the rest of her race. The only exceptions I can think of are Aethyta (who blames her crass speech and her tendency toward aggression on her father’s krogan genes) and Aria T’Loak, although the latter is really just Carrie-Anne Moss with blue skin. Aria always felt more like a token “bad bitch” character than the strong female character Bioware was probably hoping for; the sooner writers realize that women don’t need a potty mouth and a bad attitude to be “strong,” the better. One Michelle Rodriguez is more than enough.

Another annoying trope: all aliens of a particular race seem to hail from that race’s homeworld. All salarians are from Sur’Kesh; all krogan are from Tuchanka. Is it inconceivable that even a few krogan were born on Earth? Couldn’t a few salarians have been born to an away team or a group of colonists on some backwater moon? We see human colonies like Eden Prime and Horizon, but no alien colonies outside of the asari world Ilium. Given their belief in increasing genetic diversity, you would think that the asari would’ve allowed Thessia to become a haven for outsiders, but no; the planet seems to be entirely made up of asari, just like Sur’Kesh is entirely made up of salarians, and so on.

And on these alien homeworlds, where are the wars? Do we really expect that on a planet of ten billion crafty salarians, all ten billion of them are in perfect agreement? For all the effort Bioware put into making these aliens look and act like humans, they left out our defining feature: our tendency to kill members of our own species. Sure, the krogan are constantly fighting each other in ritual clan warfare, but they’re all vicious barbarians, right? It’s to be expected. I’d rather see the civilized council races quelling internal disputes than watch the krogan mindlessly banging their heads together. This is, after all, the species that nuked their entire planet to dust. But yeah, for the most part, the series seems to indicate that each species generally speaks as one unified voice, which, as humans, we know is complete and utter bullcrap.

Ironically, the geth are embroiled in a civil war during the events of Mass Effect 2, and they’re the only race where it would make perfect sense for all of them to look alike, act alike, and reach the same conclusions on all matters. Instead, we get this half-hearted “heretic schism” explanation for the geth divide that ends up being little more than a front for eventually getting a badass geth on your team. You know, that whole “my enemy is now my friend” plot twist. I like Legion as a character, and I liked playing through his segments in Mass Effect 2 and 3, but the whole geth civil war thing is such crap.

I know I said these things bugged me as I played through the games, but they really did very little to impede my enjoyment of the series. It’s more like, in my perfect sci-fi game, I would want the aliens to display vastly different behaviours from individual to individual, just like humans. The Mass Effect games are so human-centric, so focused on making the Alliance the saviours of the world (the galaxy-scale equivalent of “Go ‘Murica!”), that we often see the other races (who, in the cases of the turians, salarians, and asari, are developmentally and technologically superior) reduced to mere caricatures. Meanwhile, there is rich variation among the humans, both in appearance and personality. In any game, in any genre, I’d like to see that degree of diversity extended as far as possible.