King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017)

There are few movies of late that I have dared hope greatness from. A movie set in Arthur’s, uh… Londinium… was one such movie.

 

Start of the plot:

Some powerful mage almost destroys some powerful kingdom which was supposedly protected by some king with some incredibly powerful magical sword. The mage is piloting some siege elephant (which is so incredibly massive that it shows that Guy Ritchie probably hasn’t actually seen an elephant before), but he then dies without even pretending to fight back, even though it was his siege against what was apparently some last resisting stronghold.

The night after this apparently-hard-fought victory, the charismatic, well-loved, powerful-magic-wielding king is betrayed by some guy who gets nosebleeds while watching battles from afar. The king somehow has no friends, and is defeated without any real fight. His queen is also murdered. His son, floating away very slowly in front of his father’s defeater in an unprotected boat, is completely ignored so that there can be some further two hours of film.

During a minute of decently-done growing-up montage, the escaped son becomes a formiddable street fighter and brothel protector. He then goes into the room of some prostitute and hands her a pouch of coins he took from some Viking who’d beaten her.

Some guard knocks on the brothel door and tells the son that he beat up some protected guy and asks why, in response to which the son provides a Sherlock-Holmes retelling of how he woke up and then had some breakfast and then talked to some people and then talked to some other people and then talked to some people he’d forgotten to mention the first time and then talked to some other people and then cut some Viking’s braid off and then gave some coins to some beaten-up prostitute.

Then some tide goes out very quickly and the nosebleed-usurper gets worried because some sword in some stone is suddenly visible. He talks to some strange slithering part-woman creatures (technically cecaelii, but listed as “syrens” – a misspelling of “sirens” – in the credits), who tell him that he probably has to to kill someone and that they’ll need some sacrifice if he wants some more power. He’s building some tower that makes him stronger as it gets taller, though, so he files the thought away somewhere for a while.

The son is woken up by some merry-man companion who tells him to run because some guards want to catch and maybe even kill him. He gets out and then is nabbed by some patrol who takes him on some boat to take him to some previously-unmentioned branding ritual.

The son shoulders his way through to the front of some long, long line of people waiting to be branded and finds out that they are all supposed to try to pull some sword out of some stone first. He walks up and grabs the sword and pulls it out and falls asleep.

Then the movie tries to convince us that it’s woven a pretty smart tale thus far by having some guys who want to kill the son decide to wait for a while until he wakes up and some rebels are ready with a plan before they try some public execution for the son after killing some people he was close to.

From then on, the son tries to defeat the nosebleed guy.

 

Reaction:

It’d be lovely to have something nice to say about the film. I suppose it was nice to see Eric Bana playing Uther Pendragon, but apart from reappearing in some severely-recycled footage, he’s probably only on the screen for five unique minutes.

The story should have been easy to write. Arthur and Excalibur have been written about extensively. Not all stories are equal, sure, but where big budgets lie… so, too, should at least decent writing.

Scenes and dialogues change allegiance mid-film; sometimes jumping to gaudy, self-infatuated stop-start action sequences, sometimes taking refuge in face-locked chase sequences, sometimes panning across Middle-Earth landscapes, sometimes stooping to drug-bend-accentuation cinematography.

Characters are unloveable, apart from the ones that die at the start. They also (apart from a sullen mage who never changes) refuse to adhere to the logic of their own selves. Arthur, who has been seeking ways to beat up thugs and bullies ever since he escaped his parents’ death, gets upset that bullies and thugs still exist when he gets Excalibur and thinks that throwing the sword away will help things get better. The people who say they care about Arthur decide to tie him up and blindfold him and smack him around while telling him how much they care about him. Vortigern keeps killing his loved ones instead of killing the person he claims to want to kill, even though he is constantly provided with situations where he has the ability and power to do so. A mage (because mages have never been in film before and druids certainly weren’t a thing in Arthur’s time) displays stunning levels of power that could have been used to help things long before Arthur was found. Merlin simply refuses to show up.

Even the magical logic was confused. Aside from the aforementioned ignorance of the fact that it should have been druidry rather than magecraft, references are consistently made to towers that, the bigger they are, the stronger a mage’s magic is. Destroying the antagonist’s tower is in fact the crux of the protagonists’ plan to defeat him. But of the three characters who wield magic throughout the film, one is a woman who (perhaps to include silent feminism commentary) does not appear to have a tower, and another is Arthur, whose incredibly powerful magic stems from a sword that is probably two hundred times shorter than Vortigern’s tower. And yet Vortigern’s magic never matches either of theirs.

The film had a great cast. It had solid visual effects. It even had a brilliant musical score. It shouldn’t have been able to go wrong. But somehow, the movie kept refusing to grab hold of and run with its strengths. It even ignored the opportunity to be a decent non-Arthurian story. More’s the pity – historical fantasy set in England can be a lot of fun to watch.

As a retelling of the Arthurian legend, it falls far short of any recognizable mark. As a piece of standalone fiction, it… could possibly be submitted as part of a first draft.

 

Pros:

  • The Lord of the Rings footage
  • Sherlock Holmes footage
  • Sons of Anarchy footage
  • Star Wars footage
  • Tove Lo’s “Habits” music video footage
  • Robin Hood: Men in Tights footage
  • 300 footage

Cons:

  • None of the pros in their respective films
  • No Merlin
  • No Camelot
  • Druids replaced by mages
  • Logical inconsistencies
  • Flashback expositional explanations for every unimportant question
  • No explanations for any important questions

The Morning Bell Podcast 2016: In Review

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As befits review, I’d like to give honorable mention to a new addition to our little team: this year we welcomed on a new co-host, Ian (pictured above on the left), and he’s been a pretty swell (I think) chap to have along. Joel tells me he’s Luke v2.0, so maybe I’m getting the sack, but Ian’s fun enough to have along that you’d probably not really notice if that happened (#silentfarewell). Well, fear not, I’m not gone yet!
I’ve found The Morning Bell Podcast to be quite a fantastic opportunity. We get to talk to all kinds of writers, editors, publishers, developers and more about the cogs and gears of their jobs. It’s insightful stuff, and it’s all done in a laid-back, friendly atmosphere that lets everyone feel comfortable. We don’t (except on special occasions) dissect pieces of writing at great length; we converse about topics that (usually) are right up the guest-of-the-week’s alley, so that we can provide you (and ourselves) with a trove of interesting inside knowledge. Some days that means talking about what makes dystopian fiction so attractive to contemporary audiences; some days that means talking about how to write game narrative (and how different it is to normal prose); other days that means discussing subjects like relatability and inclusiveness in novels. It’s a lot of fun picking experienced people’s brains for information. I hope you guys find it as interesting as we do!
Joel is the dedicated constant of the podcast. Always there, always answering emails, always reliable and approachable, always making sure everything flows smoothly and everyone remembers when and where to go, setting up and maintaining the equipment – and then formatting and publishing the podcasts as well. My hat (if I wore one) well and truly off to him.
If there’s one thing I would like to see happen next year with the podcast, it’s some kind of industry funding. There are plenty of funds and grants that apply to what we do, and Joel (more than the rest of us) puts in so much work and money that I think he really deserves to get some back – but funding for The Morning Bell Podcast wouldn’t be as much about cash as it would be about career recognition by the arts industry. Whether or not that happens, though, Joel will soldier on and you’ll all get to keep hearing awesome interviews with interesting people.
All the best for the new year, and see you there.

Addendum

I am not specifically a vegan. If I wanted to generalize, I could say that a good portion of vegans are vegan purely for animal right issues (ethics). While I support that, I’m actually more interested in the science and the historical understandings of benefits of whole-food, plant-based nutrition. In other words, I’m not on an (albeit animal-friendly) Oreo-and-chips diet. Dr Esselstyn and Dr Greger both talk about the scientifically-proven detrimental effects of meat, eggs, dairy, other animal produce, and processed foods (including sodium and sugars and grains); Dr Esselstyn took this further in a lecture where he showed how (all) oils (along with several of the aforementioned ingredients) directly impact artery health and blockage and lead to heart diseases, strokes, and heart attacks. So this points back to what I mentioned above – I’m not trying to adopt the label of vegan; I’m eating whole foods as close to their natural state as possible (apart from some cooking and occasional indulgences on the sugary and salty sides). It looks like the best way to protect health (self and environmental) as well as stop harm coming to other living creatures on my behalf. I’ll let you know if it (somehow) doesn’t turn out to be beneficial – but don’t hold your breath.

The Food Conendrum

A little while ago, I decided that I wasn’t going to write any more generic information posts without having some sources and serious information behind me. I can’t say that I’ll never write a hasty opinion piece ever again, of course, but this is one reason my latest post had been resting for quite some time under a comfortable blanket of dust.

But the main reason is because I’ve been cramming. Over the past month and a bit, I’ve been flipping through information, drowning my mind in lectures and interviews and documentaries, drawing up comparisons and reasons, and generally just stuffing my brain full of knowledge (some of it quite old) that I hadn’t even heard about until lately. And it’s so important that I simply can’t keep it to myself. Do I sound like I’m holding the main point of this post back? I am. Consciously. You’ll understand why. Don’t worry – it’s not because I’m trying to sell you anything (I’m not selling a “this is the secret” book or anything, but feel free to buy my fantasy novel if that would make you feel better).

So let’s go through this in five sections.

 

The Start

Nearly two months ago, my wife announced that she and her mother were going to follow a general-health detox program for a period of twenty-eight days. I volunteered to join her to be supportive and because I somehow managed to fool myself into thinking it would be some kind of curious adventure of food variety. Over the first few days, I watched all of my favorite foods – starting with eggs, lamb, chicken, butter, milk, and bread – slide off the menu. My food palette was pretty slim to begin with, so that dropped me down to pretty much just rice and nuts in terms of what I considered tasty food. Before and during the detox I readily and regularly consumed salad, but primarily because I wanted to be healthy, not because I enjoyed vegetables themselves. To my horror, rice dropped off the menu as well. The adventure turned into a nightmare.

It’s important to note that my wife, completely appreciating that I was coming along for the detox, wasn’t just dropping piles of leaves and roots on our plates – she was experimenting with combinations and taste palettes and coming up with all kinds of interesting foods.

 

Night

Even though I appreciated her efforts, I sank into frustration. My tastebuds were telling me that everything I was doing to them was wrong and that I ought to give up and go back and stop tormenting them. I’d never gone through a true period of self-denial in terms of food – whenever I had taken anything off my daily plate, I had directly replaced it with something else that I enjoyed almost as much. This was a brutal step-by-step elimination of everything I had learned to love eating. It somehow registered in my mind that this was a permanent measure and that I would never be able to taste those tastes again. I even gave in and nibbled on snacks that I shouldn’t have while I was alone or at work. But my wife’s ongoing enthusiasm about the detox and our teamwork slapped me in the face for doing so. I told myself that I could handle a little self-denial for just the remainder of the detox program (only a couple more weeks at that stage). I replaced chocolate with dark chocolate for a couple of days and then knocked my habits aside and ate too many nuts instead to try and numb the addiction pangs. I checked how many days were left. Often.

It was never easy. I’m (still) convinced that a detox program is someone’s idea of torture and religion and boot camp all tied into one concept. I realize that it can help people find allergies and lose some weight, but I’m the kind of person who always considers anything I do (or try) for maintainability – can it work as an ongoing, low-maintenance lifestyle change? Although it’s hilarious to see that some people consider detox expensive (since when did vegetables and fruit juice and peanuts hit any kind of “expensive” status?), I’m aware that there are exploitative types who are completely willing to sell these programs for exorbitant sums with all kinds of attached products. Ours was free and recommended completely natural foods that could be sourced from any market, and several such healthy free detoxes or detox-style programs exist, such as the free 21-day vegan kickstart, which was designed by Dr Neal Barnard, to help people sort through health issues and nutritonal alternatives to everyday food. His was not the one we followed, but the host of our detox does not have time to regularly offer the program.

In the middle of the detox, shortly after my resignation to the diet for the remainder of the twenty-eight days, the program host provided links to several documentaries and sources of information, such as Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead, an Australian film documenting the experience of Joe Cross as he tries an extreme detox program of consuming nothing but fresh vegetable and fruit juices over a period of sixty days, and That Sugar Film, which is another Australian documentary that follows Damon Gameau as he tries to find out if there are any “healthy” foods that aren’t loaded with sugar.

I suddenly had a very dark picture of the food world I had been raised in and fed by. I’d always understood risks of eating too much sugar and junk food, but I’d never been challenged directly to try going clean – and certainly never while coming downhill after what had felt like an exhausting detox.

 

Dawn

Dark realization did not hit me alone, though. It came hand-in-hand with a challenge. There is a curious side-effect when you gain all your menu items back after being forced not to eat them for a period of time: you suddenly realize that you somehow survived without them all. I became curious about how long I could go without certain foods, and (unconsciously) set a day-counter in my head for how long it had been since I had eaten… chocolate, for instance. Before the detox, I had often ran through weeks where I would eat a whole block (200g) of milk chocolate per week-day. I wasn’t the epitome of health, but (somehow) neither was I morbidly obese. I had dropped these habits by a large percent to try and lose some weight, but to no effect (a slow crawl upward had continued until I was approximately 120kg). As the detox drew closer to the end, I decided to maintain as healthy of a diet as possible. But before the final week was over, my wife asked me to watch a lecture by Dr Michael Greger. I was stunned. Unlike a lot of sources slinging nutritional information around, Dr Greger openly and often encourages people to actually question his findings. I learned to critically analyze more than just political propaganda and Hollywood writers. My eyes started to open.

 

The Research

Dr Michael Greger was a refreshing start. Perusing his findings led me to discover other doctors and nutritionists such as Dr Neal Barnard, Dr Caldwell Esselstyn, Dr T. Colin Campbell, Dr Dean Ornish, and the (non-affiliated) Gary Yourofsky. Controversy is everywhere regarding all the things these men have said regarding nutrition and health, but of course I wasn’t about to let a couple of internet trolls stop me listening to good information, so I persisted. What I found was sound advice based on several things, including solid research, pure logic, and empirical observation. In fact, curiously enough, while all the medical arguments the doctors put forward were fantastic (how to prevent and cure our biggest killers, such as heart disease, cancer, and alzheimer’s), I found out that we can pretty much skip everything they say if we look at a simple observation that I first picked up in one of Yourofsky’s talks and then later from a transcript of Dr Sofia Pineda Ochoa’s video (she sourced a quote from Dr William Roberts):

“Although most of us conduct our lives as omnivores, in that we eat flesh as well as vegetables and fruits, human beings have characteristics of herbivores, not carnivores. The appendages of carnivores are claws; those of herbivores are hands or hooves. The teeth of carnivores are sharp; those of herbivores are mainly flat (for grinding). The intestinal tract of carnivores is short (3 times body length); that of herbivores, long (12 times body length). Body cooling of carnivores is done by panting; herbivores, by sweating. Carnivores drink fluids by lapping; herbivores, by sipping. Carnivores produce their own vitamin C, whereas herbivores obtain it from their diet. Thus, humans have characteristics of herbivores, not carnivores.”

This struck me as very nearly insanity. Humans, herbivores? That’d render half of my education, all of my eating habits, and most of my family’s holiday traditions as completely unnatural. But it also made so much more sense when combined with the medical studies referenced by Dr Greger and the others. This isn’t even something new, though, as Pythagorus himself said the following:

“As long as Man continues to be the ruthless destroyer of lower living beings, he will never know health or peace. For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seed of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love.”

But we still haven’t caught on? We pretty much only remember him for his theorum.

People talk about all kinds of reasons for us to eat animals and animal products. Vitamins, minerals, taste, religion, etc. Vitamins? The animals we eat got those vitamins from eating plants. Plants are a purer source of those vitamins. Minerals? Same deal. Taste? We actually don’t even (generally) like the taste of meat unless cooked and seasoned and oiled and salted. We enjoy the taste of milk products, but 1) we start our own lives with milk naturally (ever noticed that we don’t continue drinking human milk all our lives?) and 2) milk contains opiates, so addiction is not terribly hard to understand. Not sure who came up with the idea that we’re supposed to drink calf-grow-quick-juice for required nutrition. Religion? I haven’t yet seen a religious text that tells people to eat meat (or explains why) convincingly. Feel free to let me know if you have an example. In fact, Jews and Christians have reason to believe meat and animal products in general are off the table: the garden of Eden. What better ideal for Jews and Christians to strive to attain than nature in its perfect, sinless state?

“‘And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground – everything that has the breath of life in it – I give every green plant for food.’ And it was so.” Genesis 1:30, NIV

But they seem to be keen to be at the head of the meat-eating committee, and (Christians) like to quote Acts 10: 9-16 (Peter’s vision) as proof that we are to eat any/every animal. A nice spot of open-ended propaganda that actually never confirms itself, and is actually talking about a whole different concern altogether (Gentile acceptance).

We are told to drink milk and eat meat and eggs and countless other things. We believe it. We didn’t always believe it, as Yourofsky aptly points out – when we were little children, most (if not all) of us absolutely adored animals and wanted nothing to do with harming them. It’s not instinct. It’s learned behavior. We don’t even have intestines capable of properly digesting meat before it rots. Carnivores and omnivores have intestines three-five times their torso length; our intestines are ten-twelve times our torso length – just like all other herbivores.

I could go on and on about this and bring up details and examples (such as immediate, effortless weight loss, not to mention alleviation of “inherited” back pain after I stopped consuming dairy products), and I could fill quite a few more sections of details, but I’ll pause for now. Digest the information as you like, and drop me a query if you’re curious, but keep in mind that I’m not a doctor myself – I’m a history buff with a penchant for connecting dots and practical logic.

 

Beyond the Veil

Humans are herbivores. It was a stupendously hard realization for me to come to; my imagination has been fuelled and moulded over time by Asterix (roast boar feasts) and The Lord of the Rings (stewed coneys) and religious traditions (lamb) and images of English nobility’s menus (partridge and venison) and Robin Hood (“stolen” venison) and Viking drinking horns and my dad’s dad’s dairy farm. My favorite characters in history and fantasy alike are lone-wolf characters who (usually) double up their careers as hunters to keep coin in their pockets. So I’ve got no end of sentimental reasons to choose to ignore the things I’ve learned. But I also have no good arguments to support a continued non-vegan lifestyle. My family thinks I’m nuts, and when thinking about my choice from their point of view, I’m inclined to agree. I used to think vegans were just weirdos who probably smoked stuff they weren’t really legally supposed to smoke. I was wrong. They’re just humans the way we are supposed to be.

 

Note: I am not endorsed by – or funded by – any industry or person I have mentioned (or any at all). I have no connections or conflict of interest affiliations to skew the information provided in this post.

Pathrider

I had the privilege of speaking with the pleasant Mrs Edna Bruce just a few days ago. Edna was born and raised in Bairnsdale, Victoria, where her father had moved, along with her mother and two older brothers, in 1932. She was born a little over a year after they settled there.

Edna, now eighty-four years old, still lives on Macleod Street, although not in the same house. She takes her four-year-old great-granddaughter shopping with her every second Wednesday. This day was as normal as every other time had been: Edna sat on her Pride Pathrider 10 Deluxe mobility scooter (a recent acquisition, as it was gifted to her by her son-in-law to replace her old scooter), and her great-granddaughter sat on the front basket. She then drove them along Macleod Street, left onto Bailey, and then right onto the Princes Highway. Once on the Princes, she urged the scooter up to a frisky seven kilometers per hour and pointed the nose of the scooter toward the supermarket.

This day, though, she didn’t quite make it. A police car drove up beside her, lights flashing, and indicated that she should pull over. The two officers who stepped from the car gave her a stern reprimand and a $500.00 fine. This in itself astonished me, but when I questioned Edna further, the facts were in fact even more absurd. The officers looked her and her great-granddaughter over, then asked her if she realized what speed she had been driving. The fine was for driving too slowly.

I found and had a brief interview with the officer who had pulled her over. The officer (name withheld for security purposes) said it was not the first time he had given out a fine for slow driving, but that he had never expected that Edna would earn one. “She always seemed like such a law-abiding old lady, you know?” I asked if he had considered any other details about her circumstances, to which he replied: “Well, I did mention in passing that she should probably fit a seatbelt for the little girl, but I didn’t want to upset her too much.”

When asked whether Edna should have been cautioned against driving her scooter on a highway, the officer’s senior constable (name also withheld) answered: “We’re not about to tell someone what they can or can’t drive, nor where they can or can’t drive it. We simply want to make sure that wherever people are driving they are keeping in line with TAC and VicRoads policies to keep roads safe. If she wants to drive on the road, she’s simply going to have to drive at or slightly below the speed limit.”

Edna is already planning for her next trip with her great-granddaughter. “I’ll keep an eye on my mirror when I’m on the roads,” she said; “if I catch them coming up on me again like that, I’ll really put my foot down.” Putting your foot down on a Pathfinder 10 Deluxe amounts to something close to nine kilometers per hour. After a moment of unprompted reflection, though, she reconsidered this. “Or maybe I’ll just wear a scarf or sunglasses something. If I put my foot down they’ll probably put a ticket under my door. That’s the problem with such small communities where everyone knows where everyone else lives.”

(Author’s note: fiction.)

Walking the Straight and Narrow

There are three particularly prolific strategies to pick from when someone is approaching you from the opposite direction in a narrow passage or hallway (such as at work).

First strategy: set your shoulders and lock yourself into your lane. If they get run over, that’s their problem. You were there first. Probably. This is the second-most aggressive form of walking (the most aggressive I will mention in this post), and can be assumed by pretty much anyone who is bigger or more concrete than the average opponent. It’s occasionally the walk of the daydreamer, too, but daydreamers are generally flattened by streetlamps or cars or somehow-inconspicuous brick walls.

Second strategy: come almost to the point of walking into the other fellow, then stop, swap sides of the road (as does your opponent), swap again (him again as well), and then close your eyes and stand very, very quiet and still and hope above all hopes that he will pass you by. Might not hurt to bring some gold coins to drop when he passes, so that you can hurry away while he’s distracted.

Third strategy: plan ahead. With someone in the lane ahead of you, why not use an altogether different lane? Cross the road? Turn around and go back where you came from? Sure, you weren’t planning to take another road, and who knows – you might even get lost. Couldn’t hurt that much. You’ll probably learn something about another neighborhood at the same time as avoiding running into the fellow. You always wondered what the dark underpass was like anyways.

Top Five Coffees

There are five (alive) people I would love to have a lengthy, friendly talk with over a coffee (or three) about their lives. Chances are slim that I will ever get the chance to, so I’ll at least give them honorable mention here. There are, of course, more people I would like to do this with, but as the list might take up a few books, I’ll stick to this five for this post.

Sean Bean and Ewan McGregor

Both have amazing accents and both are naturals on the screen. Both have played wide varieties of characters. Both are awesome human beings. Ewan’s gone motorbiking across Asia (Long Way Round). Sean’s died heroically in nearly all his films. ’nuff said.

George Lucas

George Lucas directed Indiana Jones and he birthed Star Wars. Star Wars alone was the achievement of a hundred lifetimes, but adding Indiana to the list just added to his glory. A lot of people like to put George down for things he did with Star Wars, but I’ve yet to see a film-originated fantasy series that has broken as many records, inspired as many spin-offs, or enchanted as many fans. George’s legacy will stick around for several hundred years to come, and I’m proud to have lived through the prime of the Star Wars film and literature days. I won’t talk about Disney’s new regime. Curiously, I might have had the chance to talk to George over noodles lately in Adelaide, had I driven over there and gone to the right shopping center at the right time.

Matthew Reilly

Matthew Reilly’s a nice guy, and he writes stories protagonized by nice guys who double as decent role models. His books are a little overly popular, perhaps, but he has a life-size Han-Solo-in-carbonite at his house. All sins forgiven. That aside, though, I’ve been to one of Matthew’s events in Melbourne and he’s a cool guy as well as a writer of fun – and stupidly fast-paced – stories. His writing style has affected the way I approach action scenes in my own writing, and I’ve no regrets whatsoever about that.

Andrzej Sapkowski

I’m not sure what kind of a person Sapkowski is, but I’ve got to hand two things to him: The Hexer (Witcher) boasts one of the most amazing settings out of any book or series I have ever read (or played), and Sapkowski colored me stupidly intrigued by Slavic mythology/folklore and Polish culture. I’ve always had a (probably blood-related) thing for Celtic and Norse culture and mythology, but Polish/Slavic is pretty freakishly interesting as well. And Geralt is just a fantastic fellow.

As I mentioned at the start, there’s more people I’d like to buy a coffee for, but these five sit at the top of my list.

Melbourne Central myki Reader

File implementation complete. BiOps functions added.

Rebooting system…

Reboot complete.

Sensor activity: touch off
myki card number: 50843517966463
Balance: $5.70
Customer name: Hayley Michaels
Profile: unpopulated

Fetching profile…

myki profile fetched.

Profile: Sex- female. Age- error.notfound. Nationality- error.notfound. Status- single. Misc- student of Bachelor of Design at Melbourne University. Part-time employee at Box on Collins.
Criminal record: Active- no offenses. Inactive- no offenses.

Resolving errors…

No resolution available. Cross-reference against police records? (Y/N)

N

No system flags. Customer clean. Clearing cache for next activity…

Cache cleared.

Sensor activity: touch off
myki card number: 60243558366421
Balance: zone 1 + 2 pass (expires 08/11/2016), $20.80
Customer name: Christopher Locke
Profile: Sex- male. Age- 42. Nationality- Australian. Status- divorced. Misc- osteopath at Mind and Body Osteopathy. Graduate of RMIT University.
Criminal record: Active- no offenses. Inactive- three red light offenses, one drink driving offense.

No errors found. Cross-reference against police records? (Y/N)

N

No system flags. Customer clean. Clearing cache for next activity…

Cache cleared.

———————————

System.process.broadcast.mykiReminder(“When traveling with myki, remember to touch on at the start of your journey.”)

———————————

Sensor activity: touch off
myki card number: 20543268394127
Balance: $1.30
Customer name: error.notfound
Profile: unpopulated

Fetching profile…

myki profile not found.

Camera system activated. Image captured.

Cross-referencing image with database…

Near match located.

Image.crossReference(110333302396.png, cache.2893.png)

Match? (Y/N)

Y

Storing cache.2893.png…

New file name: 112203892375.png.

Associating 110333302396.png and 112203892375.png in database….

Done.

Cross-reference image against police records? (Y/N)

Y

Cross-referencing…

1 match found. Display details? (Y/N)

Y

Display.policeRecord(case43X1544)

Associate myki number 20543268394127 with this police record? (Y/N)

Y

Populating myki profile…

myki profile populated.

Customer name: Marcus Gatolin
Profile: Sex- male. Age- 27. Nationality- error.badformat. Status- single. Misc- ex-student of Bachelor of Commerce at Deakin University. Ex-employee at Telstra. Dangerous.
Criminal record: Active- manslaughter [details: error.badformat], murder suspect [details: error.badformat], wanted by authorities [details: error.badformat]. Inactive: no offenses.

Resolving errors…

Unable to resolve error.badformat. Manual correction required. [profile.nationality]

Unable to resolve error.badformat. Manual correction required. [criminalRecord.active]

Unable to resolve error.badformat. Manual correction required. [criminalRecord.active]

Unable to resolve error.badformat. Manual correction required. [criminalRecord.active]

4 system flags unresolved. Printing log for manual correction…

Print successful.

Active criminal record detected. Alerting myki officers to intercept…

BiOps notification successful. Cell 12F8 prepared. Enforcers en route.

Alert police? (Y/N)

N

Clearing cache for next activity…

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Guild Wars 2

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It’s time to tackle a big one. An MMORPG. Take a deep breath and relax.

To be fair, I’m going to approach Guild Wars 2 as a sequel to Guild Wars 1, even though the gameplay differs quite a lot. I’ve followed the trek of the Guild Wars teams since just after Eye of the North was released, and I racked up ~2k hours in the original before its sequel came out.

As a sequel to Guild Wars 1, the opening of Guild Wars 2 was a trip through story lane; lots of things happened and lots of things changed in the world. Many lands became inaccessible through politics or other means. Some kingdoms isolated themselves. Some races got over their differences (this began in Eye of the North). Some places (like Lion’s Arch) remained in the game for nostalgic/historical purposes. Lore-wise, the intro presented a pretty reasonable and curiosity-raising transition.

A few minutes into the game, it becomes chillingly apparent that you are (apart from the occasional human you bump into) completely alone. This is less troubling in explorable areas, but story gameplay and the very way your skills are designed beg the question: where did all our little AI party buddies go? It was quickly made clear that to survive, we would need to rely on a single, profession-specific self-heal skill. No tanking DPS while a monk tops us up, no making conditions backfire on casters, and very limited capacity for restoring party health. Guild Wars 2 is a lone-wolf design. Sort of. More on that later.

Guild Wars 2 tried, somewhat over-ambitiously, to market the idea that each player could (to paraphrase) have a different story. It’s neat that they thought so, but it simply didn’t happen. The game is an MMO, which logically cannot provide different stories to its players. Not unless a lot more thought is put into the design. Sure, you can branch out and choose which race to play as (this gives you about two hours of slightly disconnected story gameplay) and then the sub-faction you want to follow the main story with. This allows you to hear slightly different conversations, but the gist and the plot remains pretty much identical to every other player’s. Don’t get me wrong – it was a neat idea, and I pick the The Vigil every single time – it just can’t feel as organic as it was marketed, because if your world instance looked different from other people’s, synchronization of the MMO world would be pretty tricky.

Dungeons are strange things. They’re fundamental to the MMO experience, and they’re challenges for the semi-educated gamers to hone their co-ordination and tactics… but I’m not convinced that GW2’s combat system is designed for them. I’ve yet to see a dungeon taken conventionally (okay, I did see it happen once, but I’m not sure if players are supposed to die quite that often in any game except Dark Souls). Dungeons are run using hack-style mechanics, like stacking in tiny corners or pulling single enemies at a time and praying (with crossed fingers) that ArenaNet has not buffed the dungeon mobs yet again. With the recent expansion, dungeons also (for no apparent reason) became unprofitable. When both unsupported by combat mechanics and unprofitable… dungeons became unpopular places. I’m not sure if ArenaNet quite understands that players choose to use hacks simply because the experience isn’t fun to play conventionally. They certainly didn’t realize people were primarily running dungeons for the gold.

To support my concerns regarding dungeon combat in GW2, I ought to discuss the combat system next. Combat changed heaps between GW 1 and 2. Some of the changes made things smoother – combat flows better in GW2, for instance, and combinations such as shooting arrows through walls of fire (which makes fire arrows) are nice features – but a lot of things were made worse or removed. There is less synergy and less customizability in GW2. Skills are determined primarily by our equipped weapon, which generally has a couple of decent skills, a couple of mediocre ones, and the “spam 1” – an attack chain that defaults with auto-attack as it has no cooldown and replaces the basic attack from GW1. Each character can equip three class skills, an elite skill, and a single heal skill. For most classes, this is strictly a self-heal (rangers are an exception). Guardians can strap on a couple of level-based sidegrades to add minor healing to some of their AoE skills, and they have an optional elite skill (more on these shortly) that fully heals themselves and up to four other players. Elite skills are a disappointment. In GW1, elite skills were these fantastic skills you could obtain by defeating an enemy champion (which involved both a hunt and a battle challenge). They weren’t the be-all-and-end-all in battle (they aren’t in GW2 either), but they felt like they made a difference and made your character significantly more useful. They also acted like improved versions of regular skills. In GW2, elite skills are obtained by leveling. They are useful, but generally underwhelming. Most particularly, though (and unlike in GW1), they take a very, very long time to recharge. You won’t be using them twice in a fight. Maybe not even twice in two fights. Your character’s usefulness is shaved by an entire skill slot every four to six minutes. Water combat is still viewed on the whole as something of a joke. It’s a 3D, weightless combat system that generally allows you to spend all your skills without hitting anything due to average visibility and could-be-improved targeting on AoE skills. But as to the feel of combat, it certainly plays smoother in GW2. It’s a pretty nice feeling to be able to cast/attack/use skills while moving. You generally don’t have to stand still unless channeling something big.

When it comes to teamwork, it feels like the ArenaNet chaps groaned and said “if we have to”. Apart from a few combo effects, characters are designed to function on their own. There are very few support skills, and there’s no way to target specific allies with your skills (any skills you have that affect allies will prioritize your squad, so long as they’re within range). Targeting, supporting, buffing, and assisting were all key elements in GW1. If you didn’t work as a team you’d likely fail. This was because mobs in GW1 usually came attached to groups. None of this “one wolf spawns in the middle of nowhere and waits to be killed” stuff; foes came in squads, and generally were capable of buffing/saving each other while your group tried its best to do them in. GW2 comes with a “live alone, fight alone, die alone” feel, which effectively kicks teamwork out the door.

The maps are quite pretty. Ascalon (and north of it, in GW1) was my favorite landscape in the Guild Wars universe until the Charr came along and conquered it and then settled it, but it’s still the most charming biome in the game. It’s the way a fantasy kingdom should look. Big trees with leaves that turn orange and red and purple around harvest, rolling hills, rivers, fields, castles, keeps built into the sides of cliffs. Praise aside, though, I feel like GW2 is small. A lot of the places we had access to in GW1 were removed, and only some were replaced. As an explorer gamer, I really want that space back – and some more places to visit! (Pardon the pun, but one reason I went from GW2 to Elite: Dangerous was to explore more – the game is, quite practically, based in space.)

To showcase the new (and controllable) jumping mechanic in Guild Wars 2, ArenaNet set up jumping puzzles. It’s a little challenge with a souvenir at the end (usually just an achievement and a chest of stuff worth a couple of silver). Nice idea, as they are completely optional minigames. There are a couple of jumping puzzles that take hours and hours to complete because of that one jump you can’t make, but that just makes it all the more worth it when you make it to the end. Pity the rewards don’t scale based on how many times you fell down and died or nearly died.

Crafting is the economy driver. Gather resources, sell them to crafters. Crafters take materials, make junk, sell it cheap, then level up and sell things of more value. Higher level materials are (generally) worth more, so the higher the tier, the more return for gatherers, and so on and so forth. Crafting isn’t foolproof (the workbench does not have the most user-friendly layout), but it’s fine. Average. Nothing worth any special praise.

Guild Wars 2 has an average trade function (I’m pretty impressed by the paid-mail system in Elder Scrolls: Online). Trading in GW2 means either sending things directly to other players and not expecting anything back, or listing on the trading post. This is (amusingly) taxed heavily. In-game money, sure, but what in the world does ArenaNet do with the 10% of in-game money profit they tax on transactions (not to mention the listing fee)? In GW1 you could trade from person to person. Granted, you had to stand next to them, but that’s a small price to pay compared to 10% of a nice fancy 40-gold item.

Guilds are not as big a focus as the game’s title makes them out to be. Emblems are cool, guild halls are damned pricey, tiers are average and (nowadays) grindy, but it is nice to have guilds simply to collect your friends and fellow gamers. Guilds are chiefly hamstrung by one thing, in my opinion: items are one of the following: not bound, account-bound, and soulbound. There’s nothing for guilds specifically. There’s guild halls (kind of), but they don’t appear to be incredibly useful (yet?). Basically, guilds are just friend lists with politics.

World vs World is something I found to be a lot of fun. Ever wanted to play out a 100 vs 100 medieval fantasy battle? I did. And I had a ball doing so. Waves of allies crashing into banks of foes, pulling back, smashing into them again, popping buffs and consumables, crashing into them again, forcing them back, cutting off their retreat, circling and wheeling and crippling and knocking your foes down until the battlefield is littered with foes and little bags of loot (not kidding – WvW player kills actually drop items called bags of loot). Recent updates cut WvW back slightly, by replacing a nice map with an unattractive (well, some like it) and unpathable (I’ve yet to see someone say it’s fun to navigate)  map. Still, WvW is the focal point of guild fights, and almost lives up to the game’s title.

ArenaNet recently (well, last October) released the Heart of Thorns expansion for GW2. It added gliding and it added jungle maps. I’m not a jungle fan, but for the sake of somewhere new to explore I took them on. A lot of minigames were added to the new maps, as well as a lot of map restrictions (removed by progressing huge, map-wide events). It’s pretty tricky to get anywhere unless the map is highly-populated – and that brings us back to combat, which was not designed for teamwork. But gliding was a lot of fun. ArenaNet later added gliding to the vanilla maps as well, which is refreshing when traversing favorite old maps.

 

Pros

  • Good optimization for PC (this was hamstrung by the Heart of Thorns expansion, but hopefully that will be fixed by the time you read this)
  • Living World events and quests
  • Nice musical scores
  • Nostalgic locations reimagined and redesigned
  • Pretty landscapes
  • Solid, consistent, enjoyable setting
  • Smooth combat mechanics

Cons

  • Combat and teamwork hindered by restrictive skill design and capacity
  • Low focus on guild play (other than farming guild hall materials)
  • Poor selection of trade mechanics
  • The world feels small after its prequel
  • Tons of items that don’t need to be soulbound/account-bound
  • WvW has had some poor design choices, even though it is one of GW2’s most unique aspects

Story of the Writer, Chapter 224

A particularly unusual day. One of Bernard’s colleagues (twice removed, according to business line structure), known around the office simply as Jim, talked to Bernard for the first time.

“Hey, I don’t think we’ve met before! I’m Jim.”

“Hey; I’m Bernie.” Bernard tried to keep from making eye contact. He failed.

“What do you do, Bernie?” Jim asked, oh-so-brightly.

“Me? Oh, I just take requests and process them.”

Jim laughed. “No, you poor thing, I mean what do you do! Do you play any sports?”

“Oh, I’m a writer.”

“A writer! That’s fantastic! What do you write?”

“Me? Oh, I dabble in this and that, bit of prose, some other stuff…”

“That’s so cool,” said Jim. “What are you writing at the moment?”

“I keep myself busy,” Bernard said; “I’m in the middle of working on a new story at the moment.” He snatched a glance at his watch and then dropped his most agitated expression. “Ah, I’ve got to get back to work! See you around, okay?”

“Sure! Keep me posted about the writing and stuff, I’d love to read some.”

Bernard hurried away.

 

Hours later, in 2.30am darkness at his computer, Bernard gazed hollowly at the monitor. He trawled slowly through story files and blog posts. He revisited his blog. His shoulders hunched.

The blog interface provided him with a cordial greeting: “It seems you haven’t written a post in over 200 days! Click here to get started.”

From the kitchen (through two closed doors and a long hallway), a set of well-kept kitchen knives whisper: “Bernard, Bernard, Bernard…”

Bernard snorts. “Like I’ll fall for that again.”

 

POSSIBLY THE END