Category Archives: video games

Game Review: The Witcher

The_Witcher_EU_boxI was very much intrigued by The Witcher the very first time I heard about it, back around 2005 or so. “Dark Fantasy” had not really been a huge thing back then and the concept sounded like a fresh new approach to the genre that to me was mostly defined by The Lord of the Rings and Dungeons & Dragons. The game was released in 2007 and I played it the first time not very long after that. However, I never actually finished it. And greatly enjoying the books now and wanting to play the second game again, it seemed the appropriate thing to give this game another go.

Background

The Witcher is based on a series of fantasy books written by Andrzej Sapkowski during the 90s. Basically it started out as taking themes and archetypes from Grimm’s Fairy Tales with some elements of Polish folklore and turning them into serious modern tales of violence and prejudice. It’s a bit similar to what Neon Genesis Evangelion did in Japan with it’s own take of children controling giant robots to fight city annihilating monsters to save the earth. Though usually there’s also a good amount of small meta-jokes here and there that really go a long way in keeping the books from drifting into grimdark territory. The main hero is Geralt of Rivia, the Witcher. When the world was still full of monsters that threatened the survival of human civilization everywhere, the Witchers were created to be superhuman monster slayers, highly trained in swordfighting and the basics of magic and turned into alchemical mutants through various potions that give them immunity to disease, resistance to poison, accelerated healing, hightened senses, and so on. But as the world has become more and more pacified many people doubt that these dangerous freaks are still necessary and there are only very few of them left and even fewer new ones being trained. But as monsters are starting to go extinct, it becomes very clear that this won’t make the world any more safer or peaceful as people are really one of the biggest source of violence and missery. While the last book in the series was published in 1999 and has been translated into over a dozen languages, the English translation has always been very late and the final three books are only being released in English right now, with the last one coming in 2017. The game takes place 5 years after the last book, which of course kind of spoils the ending of the series, but given the popularity of the games it’s pretty much like “I am your father!” and “Aeris dies” now. However, given the themes and moods of the series, I am really not feeling like this makes reading the books any less fun or exciting. The game does a very good job of remaining very brief on what exactly happened during the books and don’t really tell you anything about what was going on at the final showdown. Still, feel yourself warned when I go deeper into the story later in this review, where I will mention how the transition from the books to the game takes place.

witcher3Gameplay

The Witcher is in many ways a “classic western RPG” with lots of similarities to various Dungeons & Dragons games, The Elder Scrolls, or Dragon Age. However, because you’re playing a fixed character and there is a pretty clear main story, it’s in many ways much closer to the Mass Effect games. I think the closest comparison would probably be the Gothic series that was developed and released in the early 2000s, but to my knowledge didn’t get very popular outside of Germany. (It was a huge hit here, though.)

Geralt is very well known for the signature weapons of a witcher. A steel sword and a silver sword. Steel is the weapon of choice to kill people and animals but does relatively little damage to supernatural creatures. The silver sword is much better suited to that, but is more blunt in comparion and not ass effective against regular enemies as the steel sword. Though, how Geralt himself puts it “both are for monsters”. Since Geralt is a swordsman through and through, fighting with a sword and no shield is the primary, and effectively only form of combat. You can pick up daggers, axes, and clubs from enemies, but your skill with these doesn’t ever improve while you can become a total beast with your swords. There are three modes of fighting. A strong mode for big and heavily armored enemies, a fast mode that deals the most damage to small and fast enemies, and a group mode in which you lash out against every enemy around you. The group mode deals the least damage per strike, but since you’re hitting lots of enemies at the same time its perfect any time you are dealing with three or more enemies at once. While this is a neat idea in theory, there is very little strategy involved. Usually you can see immediately if the enemy takes more damage from strong or fast mode attacks and all you do is press the button to select the right mode for the current enemy. There is never really a question which mode might work best, it’s always obvious so there isn’t really any choice or tactics involved. The main tactical element of combat is deciding where to stand, which enemy to aim at, and when to move to a new position to avoid getting swarmed by to many opponents at once. But that’s also what you do in Baldur’s Gate or the first Dragon Age and while the animations of Geralt’s awesome fencing style look amazing at first, the novelty of it quickly runs out. Combat is serviceable, but not a particular highlight of the game. The second game went the right way with getting ride of modes and giving you a strong attack button and a fast attack button instead. Continue reading

Stumbling around in Morrowind

I first played Morrowind right back when it was first released in 2002. But I didn’t get very far as I was just too confused about what I was expected to do and how to figure out how the many aspects of the game work. A few years later I gave it another try but after 20 hours or so I gave up on it once more. Many, many years later I played Skyrim (though that was more than a year after it’s release), and being a much more polished game I had a much easier time getting into it. But again, I soon got bored with it after 30 to 40 hours once I realized that doing all those sidequests is ultimately pointless. All the enemies are scaled to your level and the game is pretty easy to begin with, and nothing stops you from just doing the mainquests all in a row. And possibly be done with them in 20 hours. All the other stuff you do has some interesting sounding dialoges at the start, but then you always go into either a cave or a tomb and kill everyone you find there to get the item at the end and return it to the person who send you to get it. But for what? That person never again has any interactions with you after that and it’s not like you established any relationships or made any progress towards something. You improve your skills and gain treasures, which you can use to make better equipment and learn more spells. But for what? You are already strong enough to deal with everything. You don’t get any stronger because the enemies will always be adjusted to remain just as difficult. And unfortunately, the two main storylines both suck.

But from what I’ve heard, Morrowind is quite different from Skyrim in these respects. The main storyline is much more interesting and the culture of the land original and not just standard generic vikings. And there’s a point to going on other adventures because you have to become powerful enough to be able to survive in the areas where the main storyline takes you to. So with new hope I installed Morrowind again yesterday and jumped straight into it after roughly 10 years.

And at first I enjoyed it very much. But after 5 hours or so, the initial excitement about the weird landscape and intriguing culture started to fade. And I think it was about 10 hours into the game when I made it to the big capital city of Vivec when all motivation to continue left me. And shortly after I’ve quite playing, I realized that this was pretty much the same part of the game where I stopped the last time, 10 years ago. Because in Vivec, the huge flaw of the game becomes terribly obvious. The game is totally dead. It’s lifeless and lacks any soul.

If you’re familiar, that might sound very surprising and completely unjustified. The world of Morrowind is one of the most amazing and creative fantasy settings ever made. Which is true. But the way this amazing world is presented in the game is just mind crushingly dull. It’s so boring. Almost the entire game conists of nothing but deserted paths through the landscape and empty hallways that always look exactly the same. And unless you’re in a tavern or guild house, there just isn’t anyone around. Technical limitations are something that usually is not to be blamed on the designers. Back in the day, Morrowind actually looked very impressive to me. But aside from the giant mushroom trees, the world is really extremely monotonous. The only kind of decorations you find in the towns are wooden boxes. No plants, no animals, nothing. I had to think back to Baldur’s Gate, which was released four years earlier, and while the towns in that game where technically extremely simple, they just felt so much more alive. The colors not as washed out and much more detail on the 2D buildings and flat landscape. And most importantly, it had ambient sound. You hear people yelling in the distance, noises from people working, and lots of animals. Morrowind doesn’t have any ambient noise at all, and that’s perhaps one of the things that really kills the game. Skyrim does and it makes a huge world of difference.

I’ve always loved the world of Morrowind and from what I’ve read it has a very good story. But possibly the worst thing you could ever say about a game is that it is vastly more entertaining to read about it than to actually play the thing yourself. But with Morrowind, this is exactly what is the case. I love the world, but the game is just bad.

My Star Wars Headcanon

I’ve been considering to write a series of reviews for the Star Wars movies for quite a while, and with everyone (but me) being excited for the new movies and someone convinving me that Revenge of the Sith is actually a terrible movie with barely any redeeming qualities, this seems a good time to actually get around and do it.

But not today. What I’ll be doing here is making my own personal list of Star Wars works that for me define what Star Wars is and which stories and characters I like to remember. And which in reverse implies which part of the Expanded Universe I’d rather ignore and pretend not to exist as part of the universe.

  • The Classic Movies: A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi, obviously. I heard Disney has announced theatrical cut version on DVD or Blue Ray. I’d really like to have those.
  • X-Wing: This was my very first videogame back in 5th grade. We just had gotten our first computer and one of my friends had this game, which we’ve played many days after school at his home for many months. Story is almost nonexisting, but it was my first game and the first Star Wars thing that wasn’t the movies. So it simply has to be on this list.
  • Tie Fighter: The second game in the series. And still to many people one of the greatest space combat and Star Wars game of all time. (Mostly people in their 30s, I would assume.) This one had a pretty good story, but almost nothing from it did ever get used in any other works. The exception being the Tie Defender, which I think was possibly the worst new idea introduced by it. But to my knowledge, it’s still the only Star Wars game with a story in which you play as the Empire, and had a huge effect on getting a look inside its military.
  • Shadows of the Empire: This one was created simultaneously as a book and a videogame and takes place between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. The book follows Luke and Leia as they are trying to rescue Han Solo and get involved with the organized crime of Corruscant while the game is about the mercenary Dash Rendar, who is helping the rebels by following other clues that might help with the search, and the two cross paths every so often. The book has a lot of problems and the game is just very, very weird. But damn it, I was 13 and I devoured it and loved it. It’s not great, but it did a lot to shape my own image of what Star Wars is.
  • The Thrawn Series: By the end of the 80s, Star Wars consisted of the three movies, a comic series by Marvel (which got almost entirely ignored by any other works later), and the roleplaying game. There also was a Han Solo and a Lando Calrissian book with various stories that are kind of their origin stories, I believe. But that was it. Then the Thrawn novels came out and Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, and The Last Command changed everything. These three books changed everything. They single handedly started what became the entire Expanded Universe. Quite probably because they are really pretty good. And when you were 12 or 15 in the 90s, they were mind blowing! I read them again last winter with a group of other people, and I’m definitly going to review them as well. There are so many things that are now taken for granted that really didn’t exist before it. Not just Grand Admiral Thrawn, who is just the most magnificent villain, as well as Mara Jade and Captain Palaeon, who became very major characters in their own right. It also established the New Republic with the capital on Coruscant and Han and Leia being married and having kids, who also became pretty important characters in later books. The entire New Republic era goes back to just this one story. It’s probably the most important Star Wars work ever, right after the classic movies. Without it, there probably wouldn’t ever have been any more movies and the huge number of novels and videogames we have now might not exist either.
  • The X-Wing series: I mean the books, not the games. The X-Wing series takes place in a quite rarely seen part of the Star Wars history, being set between Return of the Jedi and the Thrawn series. The central hero of the series is Wedge Antilles, a minor character from the movies and the one guy who survived both battles against the Death Stars. After Luke stops being a fighter pilot to pursue his Jedi career, Wedge becomes the most famous and skilled pilot in the Rebellion and leader of the ultra elite Rogue Squadron. Killing the Emperor and Vader and destroying a major part of the imperial fleet was a major victory, but it didn’t remove the imperial government from power. The first storyline that covers the first four books is just about that: Destroying the Empire and establishing a New Republic. For that purpose wedge assembles a team of elite pilots and commandos, whose task is to take various secret missions to prepare the conquest of the capital on Corruscant. I really loved those books and got them again in English, but have not yet gotten around to read them. The books that follow also have Wedge as the lead character, but this time he’s creating a new special unit made up of various unique individuals specifically selected for the most unusual of missions that go beyond the capabilities of regular commando and infiltration troops. Who also travel around in starfighters and are damn good pilots, because this is the X-Wing series after all. I read the first three or four of these and while I did quite enjoy them, I eventually lost interest. But the first four books rank very high on my list, right after the Thrawn series.
  • Jedi Knight: I actually only played Jedi Knight 2 and Jedi Knight 3 (Jedi Outcast and Jedi Academy). I always considered giving Dark Forces and Dark Forces 2 a try, but they are really old now and just don’t look that great. These games are the adventures of Kyle Katarn, a mercenary with Jedi training, who has a quite difficult relationship with Luke Skywalker’s new Jedi Order. He clearly is a good guy and often on the same side as the Jedi and the New Republic, but also very independent and difficult. In many ways like the early Han Solo, but clearly a diffent and well distinguished character. And the early games in particular were pretty dark for Star Wars. And the best thing about them: Lightsaber combat. In the games that I played, the lightsaber is awesome. It works like you expect it to work, easily cutting through enemies and slicing them to pieces instead of heavy impacts that take a couple of hits to deal enough health damage to kill. And there’s a lot of dark Jedi disciples to have lightsaber fights with as well. The stories of the games I played are not great, and as far as I am aware the characters or events were never mentioned anywhere else. But I like them and they feel very much like Star Wars. They are still pretty fun today.
  • Tales of the Jedi: I never really got into the many Star Wars comics. My brother had some, but I never gave them any real attention for a very long time. The Tales of the Jedi series was particularly unusual, as it was the only Star Wars work not set in the classic but instead 4,000 years in the past, at the time of the great wars between the Jedi and the Sith. Some of the characters and places were used as mythology references in the Jedi Academy novels, but that was mostly it. I think the quality is not too great, though the original storylines by Tom Veitch were quite interesting stuff. The later ones by Kevin Anderson really not so much. Their real impact came much later when the period got picked up as the setting for a videogame.
  • Knights of the Old Republic: This is one of the famous BioWare RPGs, which one might count as one of the biggest videogame series ever, going back to Baldur’s Gate in the late 90s and up to the most recent game Dragon Age 3. Counting the various spin-offs and sequels by Black Isle/Obsidian Entertainment, there have been 16 games in total by now. KotOR is probably among the most praised and once it was decided to no longer make licensed games, it led to the creation of the Mass Effect series. The first Mass Effect is very much a direct successor to KotOR with a different, but in many ways very similar setting. It is set a few decades after the Tales of the Jedi comic series and takes the name from one of its storylines. While I think the story and characters are not actually that amazing, the way the setting is represented really is. The galaxy is very much recognizable as Star Wars, but it’s also a quite different place from the later periods. Both the Jedi and the Sith are much more prominent, but at the same time everything is also much more decentralized  with various medium factions instead of just two massive ones. The game is a lot of fun, and I actually like the KotOR era even more than the classic movie era.
  • Knights of the Old Republic: Please people! Stop reusing the same titles for various different works! This comic is the third Star Wars story called Knights of the old Republic, after the first comic and the videogame. This one takes place shortly before the game and you see several familiar places and brief appearances of characters, but other than that really is a clearly separate story. Actually two stories, following the same group of characters. The central character is Zyne Carrick, who is possibly the worst Jedi ever. In the first story he gets caught up in a big conspiracy within the Jedi order and has to go on the run while he is framed for having fallen to the dark side and having murdered several Jedi. During the adventure he also gets involved in the Mandalorian War and crosses paths with Revan and Malak when they were still renegade Jedi fighting for the Old Republic against the wishes of the Jedi Council. The second story revolves more around Jarael, one of Zaynes companions, while he becomes a supporting character to her story. Both are really damn good, and this is by far my favorite American comic, standing shoulder to shoulder with Hellboy. I plan to read it again sometime, and then probably do a review of it.

Something quite interesting I’ve noticed a while back, is that most of the Star Wars works I really like and regard very highly don’t actually involve the movie characters to any considerable degree. The Thrawn series being the notable exception. I like the movies, but the heroes are the heroes of that story. Their story. Seeing them turned into statesmen somehow isn’t really doing it for me.

As you also might notice, no stories from either the Clone Wars or the New Jedi Order eras (and I don’t even know what this Legacy era thing is). I think the main reason is that they don’t really match with what I consider the true form of Star Wars. They feel more like spin offs with quite different styles and aesthetics. I actually wasn’t really happy with most stories set in the late New Republic era. The Correlian Trilogy was probably the last thing chronologically that I’ve ever read. And yeah, I wasn’t a fan. These stories also focus a lot on politics and seem to me to have lost the swashbuckling adventure style of the first two movies.

Retro Game Review: Thief

Thief: The Dark Project is one of the classic games from my teens, wich had gained an outstanding reputation back in the day, but for some reasons I’ve never really got very far past the first two levels. It’s a fantasy stealth game, and you could probably call it the stealth game that defined the genre for PC games. The same year, Metal Gear Solid was released for the Playstation, but even though they are completely different in almost any way, they both made the concept of games in which you secretly sneak around instead of killing all enemies popula. It was released way back in the great year 1998 (on the same day as Baldur’s Gate) for PC, and despite its age I was able to get it to run under Linux with WINE (with only an acceptable amount of trouble). I added some fan mods mostly for stability, but it also added some minor improvements like the night skies and water surfaces. I have to say it still looks pretty good for its age. Many games just a few years older have aged much worse when it comes to graphics. But this one is completely servicable. Audio is superb and I didn’t have any problems with controls or any glitches during play. My first impression had always been classic middle ages with a few anachronisms here and there, but as I got deeper into the story I discovered it to be actually following pretty closely to classic Sword & Sorcery traditions. It’s far more than breaking into castles and stealing gold coins and silver cups and candle holders.

Thief-the-Dark-ProjectThief is the story of Garrett, a master thief who in his youth was trained by the Keepers, a secret society of lorekeepers who also have knowledge of semi-magical stealth skills, which come extremely handy for Garrett during the game. Some halfway decent shadows are enough to make him practically invisible, even to people who are standing right next to him and looking straight at him. The other two important groups of the settings are the Hammerites and the Pagans, which is where the Sword & Sorcery elements really start to take center stage. The Hammerites are a religion of smite-happy fanatics who have tremendous power in the City, while the Pagans are a group of wild men and women who live deep in the woods outside the city walls and worship an ancient and dark god of fertility and chaos. During the course of the game, the Pagans become the main antagonists for Garrett. As he delves deeper into their hidden lairs and learns more of their ancient religion, the game is getting more and more surreal and fantastic. It reminded me a lot of some of the more bizare adventures of Fritz Leibers Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. The intro should give you a pretty good impression.

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Game Review: Dead Space

I’ve not really written much this month. And why? Because I was filling up some of the gaps in my collection of Playstation games. Among them being Dead Space, which I actually played once before five or six years ago but gave away or traded it for something else after I was done with it. Now I played the whole thing again and there’s really quite a lot to talk about in it. I usually don’t play Horror games because they are – yes, you’re right – too scary for me. Dead Space is one of the exceptions. Compared to oldschool Survivial Horror games it is relatively tame as the scariness goes and it’s set in a setting that I generally don’t consider particularly scary to begin with. I grew up with spooky Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes and it was only many years after having seen Alien that I learned that most people consider it a horror movie. Alien lifeform infiltrating a ship and altering the people on board is an old hat for me. If you’re not immunized to stories of this type, it might be much more scarier, though.

dead_space-1689615Dead Space was released in 2008, like a whole bunch of other great PS3 games, and while not one of those games that achieved immortal fame, it was still very well recieved and has a lot of great fans. The kind of success game developers can reasonably hope to achieve with a new series. The setup is very simple. The deep space mining ship Ishimura has send a distress call from a remote planet and the company sends a small repair team consisting of a computer technician, an engine technician, and three guards. You play the mechanic Isaac Clarke (little joke here that sci-fi fans should easily spot), whose girlfriend Nicole is also one of the medics on the Ishimura, who had send him a strange message before contact with the ship was lost. When their shuttle arrives at the Ishimura, the whole power is out and the automatic landing system malfunctions, causing them to crash into the hangar bay. Inside the Ishimura everything is in chaos and the whole crew gone. But no three minutes later a swarm of berserking space zombies tears two of the guards to pieces and answers the question where everyone has gone. With the Ishimura being out of working order and the shuttle wrecked, Isaac has to crawl through the giant mining ship, trying to find a way to escape while keeping the ship from crashing down into the planet. And of course try to find out what happend to Nicole and saving her if possible. Good thing he’s an engineer and not some kind of useless space marine or theoretical physicist. Overall, the game feels a lot like a blend of Aliens, Event Horizon, and The Thing. You could also call it Die Hard on a Spaceship. With zombies! Or, as I believe the correct technical term goes, serious fucked up shit.

This is an excelent trailer, by the way. It gives a good impression of what you’re going to get and, more importantly, doesn’t give away any details of the story. I watched this one years ago and quite liked it. And I think it was the only one I watched, which allowed me to go into the game completely blind. Which I think really was very much worth it. Many of the other trailer I’ve seen now give away way too many unexpected revelations in my opinion.

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2008: Also a pretty decent year for videogames

A year ago I wrote a post about the many incredible and amazing games that were released in 1998. Yes, I was 14 and everything was best when you were in your teens. But I think even then the list speaks for itself. Over the last months I’ve been completing my collection of PS3 games that I played but never owned myself or that I always wanted to give a try one day. And today I noticed that quite a surprising number of them were all made in 2008. It’s also quite the impressive list, I would say.

  • Februrary 12: Penumbra: Black Plague
  • April 24: Valkyria Chronicles
  • June 12: Metal Gear Solid 4
  • June 23: Battlefield: Bad Company
  • July 24: Siren: Blood Curse
  • August 22: Stalker: Clear Sky
  • September 25: Wipeout HD
  • October 13: Dead Space
  • October 21: Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia
  • October 21: Far Cry 2
  • October 27: LittleBigPlanet
  • October 28: Fallout 3
  • November 7: Gears of War 2
  • November 11: Call of Duty: World at War
  • November 11: Mirror’s Edge
  • November 18: Left 4 Dead

There were also Prince of Persia 2008 and The Force Unleashed, which are not highly regarded but I still think are a lot of fun, and Overlord got released on PS3. Probably won’t be long until we see the first games for 2018 being announced. Maybe we’ll get lucky and the trend continues.

The inherent racism of Star Wars

I am as big a Star Wars fan as you can get before it gets insane and embarassing. But I am also highly critical of it and more than just willing to recognize its many flaws. And, oh dear, there’s so much of them. But one of the biggest ones is one I’ve almost never see discussed anywhere.

Star Wars, at it’s very essence, is fundamentally racist.

And this has nothing to do with Lando Calrissian or even Jar Jar Binks. People have complained about the Neimodians talking in a Japanese accent and being show as ruthless conquerors driven by greed, and I can understand that to some degree. And really, the makeover of Watto in Episode II is indeed the most racist shit I’ve ever seen outside of Nazi propaganda cartoons.

 "All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental."

“All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.”

But no, I am not talking about that here. The problem I want to adress is at the same time less controversial but also much, much farther reaching. Many worlds in science fiction often get accused of being Planets of Hats, where the whole population really has only a single defining trait. Star Wars does that too. And very hard. And all the time. Even ignoring the accents of Neimodians and Gungans and any resemblance they may have to those found in some parts of the world, the entire worldbuilding of Star Wars is based on a way of percieving people and cultures that has a clear and unambigious term: Racism.

Racism, at its very core, is not specifically about discrimination or hatred or limited to any minorities. These are issues that result from racism. Racism itself is the idea that a group of people who share a common ancestry can easily be defined by a few traits that are shared among all of them. So if you have seen one person of that group, you know not only everything about that group, but also everything about every single member of that group. Racism is the idea that shared biological ancestry makes all people of that group the same in several fundamental traits.

And nowhere in fiction have I ever seen this principle applied so consistently and agressively. Though I think it neededs to be added, that this is primarily about the Expanded Universe, all the novels, comics, and videogames that build upon the movies. The movies themselves are relatively free of this since it is rare to ever see more than a single individual of any species other than humans. But in the EU it’s really bad. If you have one character of a species appearing in the movies, even in a really tiny role, that character is almost always turned into the universal archetype for the entire species in all subsequent works.

Take for example the Bith. The Bith really only appear for a few seconds and have no relevance to the plot. They are these guys.

1024.7sw.ls.103012The bar in which Luke and Obi-wan meet Han Solo and Chewbacca happens to have a band of Bith playing during the few minutes they stay at that place. Do we learn anything about these guys at all? No, nothing. Except that these are in a band that plays in a bar. As the EU is concerned, this is everything you need to know about the Bith. Because in the EU, the Bith are a species of performance artists and musicians. All of them. That’s what they are known for throughout the galaxy. When musicians get mentioned, very often they are Bith. It’s like the Bith have a monopoly on playing music for the whole galaxy.

Jawas_SWGTCGHere we have a group of Jawas. In their natural environment. Shoting at droids to repair and sell them. Jawas have many appearnces throughout Star Wars, but in the movies themselves I believe they really only have one significant appearance. (Other than background dressing.) And they are always surrounded by metal scrap and working on salvaged machines. Most often traveling around in their huge brown, angular trucks. Because in the movies there was one group of Jawas who had such a big brown truck, wore brown robes, and apparently salvaged broken droids to make a living. One group of 10 or 20 individuals. And what they did on that one day instantly became the template for the entire culture and nature of the whole species. You have seen one Jawa, you have seen all Jawas.

And there are virtually no exceptions to this rule. Chewbacca can fix shapeships and droids and in his backstory he used to be an imperial slave. Pretty much all Wookies you’ll ever see are good with machines and the entire species has been enslaved by the Empire. And not just the empire. In the days of the Old Republic, 4,000 years before the Empire, they were being enslaved by the Czerca corporation. Once a slave, always a slave. The whole species.

All Sullustans are good pilots, all Bothans are spies or politicians, all Verpines and Sluisi are great mechanics, all Twi’lek women are strippers, all Trandoshans are bounty hunters, Rodian culture is all about hunting, all Gamoreans are mercenaries, all Hutts are criminal businessmen (…slugs), all Chiss are military geniuses, all Noghri are super stealthy assassins, all Ithorians are pacifistic, all Corellians are roguish pilots with a problem for authority, all humans from Tatooine are farmers. It goes on and on. (And, being Star Wars, on, and on, and on, and on…)

In the Expanded Universe of Star Wars, the basic concept of racism is an actual fact. If just see one member of a species for a few seconds, you know everything there is to know about the entire species and every single individual. I can understand how it happens on a single episode of Star Trek that visits a planet only once, which then is never appearing again. But when it happens over decades and is done by dozens of writers in completely different stories, I find it rather inexcuseable.

Honorable mention goes to my favorite Twi’lek Nawara Ven, who has the distinction of being not some sly gangster but a starfighter pilot/lawyer of unquestionable integrity. But then, being a lawyer does kind of put him into a similar niche as smugglers and spies. It’s just their nature, I guess…

Game Review: Final Fantasy XIII

I was quite excited about Final Fantasy XIII back when it was announced, having just had a lot of fun with Final Fantasy X. Somehow I ended up actually buying it only much later after its release and then also only played it halfway through until I got bored with it or destracted by something else and forgot about it. And only now did I finally get to play the whole thing. I am not exactly a huge Final Fantasy fan. Before this one I played FF10, played maybe halfway through FF7, and also played a bit FF12. So mostly the most recent games. I don’t really know anything about the games before FF7, which I believe where really quite different things.

Final_Fantasy_XIII_EU_box_artFinal Fantasy XIII is set in the two worlds of Cocoon and Gran Pulse, the later being a big planet covered by wilderness while the former is an artificial hollow moon that has all the people living in the inside of the shell. Cocoon was created by the fal’Cie, a race of powerful and immortal crystal beings of huge size that runs the world both politically and mechanically. On Cocoon, the fal’Cie provide light, energy, food, and the entire infrastructure, making it a paradise for the millions of humans who live beside them. Sometimes they require special servants and pick more or less random people nearby to turn them into l’Cie, giving them great powers which they will need to complete their tasks. Those who complete their Focus are rewarded with eternal life, but those who fail eventually are driven mad and turn into rampaging monsters. Usually the fal’Cie of Cocoon send their l’Cie to fight against their great enemies, the fal’Cie of the planet Gran Pulse below and their own l’Cie which they send to attack Cocoon.

The game begins right in the middle of the action. It has been discovered that a Pulse fal’Cie has been hiding and sleeping on Cocoon for possibly centuries and now it has awoken and begun to recruit people from the nearby town as l’Cie. The response of the human military is swift and clear. Everyone in the town has to be deported from Cocoon and send to Gran Pulse, together with the huge ancient structure that is housing the Pulse fal’Cie. And they have absolutely no mercy. It’s either going to Gran Pulse or death. Anyone who tries to escape is killed immediately. But not everyone is willing to go along with it and we’re introduced to the heroes for this game as they crash the train in an attempt to give people a chance to escape. The most prominent character is Lightning, the lady from the cover of the box, but not truly a protagonist in the traditional sense. It’s not a story that is about her, but about all of the characters equally, though she quickly becomes a kind of inofficial leader of the group. Lightning is a member of the local police/military and looking for her sister Sera, who was the first person to be picked by the Pulse fal’Cie and turned into a l’Cie. The next character is Snow, Sera’s boyfriend and leader of a group of local vigilantes. There’s also Sahz, a middle aged man whose involvement in the whole thing remains quite unclear for a good while; a young boy named Hope whose mother gets killed when she joins Snow in fighting the military; and Vanille, an extremely girly and inappropriately cheerful girl who just somehow sticks to Hope in the chaos of the breakout. Soon all five of them find themselves inside the huge ancient structure in which the Pulse fal’Cie is hidden as it is getting transported to be thrown back down to Gran Pulse where they come face to face with the being and end up all getting recruited for a mysterious task as well. At that point their fate is sealed. Complete their Focus and be rewarded with eternal life by being turned into crystal, or turning into monsters. Both choices are not really appealing and to make matters worse they don’t really know what it is that the fal’Cie wanted them to do before they killed it. Over the course of the game they are trying to find out what’s really going on, what they are supposed to do, and how it might be possible to restore people who have been turned into crystal back to their normal form. Which doesn’t start out very well as both Lightning and Hope have a deep hatred for Snow, whom they both blame for Sera ending up as a l’Cie and Hope’s mother being killed. How the characters come to see things from different perspectives, learn to get along with each other, and how to deal with the situation they’ve been put in is the major focus of the story. And I think it’s done quite well. My first reaction to seeing the characters was thinking that almost all of them are really stupid ideas, but they all end up having a good amount of depth and interesting relationships with each other.

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Dead bodies everywhere

Feeling not particularly happy today, I looked through all the books, DVDs, and games I have for something cheerful. And realized that the only thing I have that would somehow fit that description is Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Pretty much every other piece of entertainment is about a world that consists mostly of huge piles of corpses and is about a protagonist tryint to prevent those people who still live from being all horribly killed by monsters, aliens, or super evil soldiers as well. Even the funny stuff I have generally has the world in shambles and most people dead, like Zombieland.

There are a few things I’ve enjoyed that are genuinly funny and happy, but those are nonsensical comedy that doesn’t really has anything to say about anything. Except perhaps about the value of friendship and love in a nauseating corny way.

And it isn’t just that I’ve only bought dark stuff over the past 10 years. All the good movies and games of recent year that I know about are ultimately about endemic suffering and everything either being shit or about to become shit if the hero can’t prevent it. Isn’t there anything intellectually engaging that isn’t about suffering?

Nonhuman characters in Sword & Sorcery

When talking about Sword & Sorcery and the essential traits and themes of the genre, there is almost always at least someone making the claim that the absence of nonhuman character is outright essential and that a work can not be Sword & Sorcery if it has any nonhumans that are not monsters. Yesterday someone made the commendable effort to provide a reason and supporting evidence why nonhumans are not a thing in the genre, by stating that there are pretty much no works of Sword & Sorcery which have nonhumans as counter evidence. Now obviously that gets us to a True Scottsmen argument. If your definition of Sword & Sorcery includes “no nonhumans”, then of course there are no works that have them. You could also say that Sword & Sorcery doesn’t have guns. But Salomon Kane has guns and I haven’t seen anyone claiming that he isn’t Sword & Sorcery. Guns are just uncommon, but not conflicting with essential traits of the genre.

However, I want to argue that there are in fact many works that have all the relevant traits of Sword & Sorcery and also nonhumans, and in which the inclusion of nonhumans doesn’t in any way conflict with with those essential elements and themes.

  • Atlantis: The Second Age (rpg)
  • Bound by Flame (videogame)
  • Dark Sun (rpg setting)
  • Dragon Age II
  • The first three Drizzt novels.
  • Elric
  • Primeval Thule (rpg setting)
  • Rune Soldier (anime)
  • The Witcher

I admit, most of these are fairly recent. But just because something is not found in the oldest works doesn’t automatically make it incompatible with a genre. It still walks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks as a duck.