The 3 Most Pointless Scenes from True Detective

So I’ve done my main review, but I wanted to mention a few weird things that really stuck out during this season of True Detective. And in the interest of publishing smaller, more bite-sized posts, this is going to short and sweet.

3. The Bar Singer

Empty Room and Singer
Who exactly are you playing for?

Okay technically she has multiple scenes, but they’re all pretty much pointless. Now I enjoyed the music in this season, it was one of the few bright points of this season, but I just could not figure out the reason the singer was actually present in the show. Overlaying music onto film has been around since before film had voices in them, and except for ones specifically about bands and the like, most of them don’t feel the need for their soundtracks to have a physical presence in their shows. At first I was willing to let it slide because she was playing when Frank was in the bar, and I figured maybe Frank was just the kind of egomaniac who has musicians play for him.

But then there’s this scene in the finale (the screenshot above), where she’s totally alone in the bar and she’s still playing. Given the show is overflowing with symbolism in an attempt to be “deep” I’m sure this singer must represent something, but hell if I know what it is.

2. The Orphan Brother

The Blade and The Bullet

Though you wouldn’t know it from his roughly two minutes of screen time, this one of the critical players of the show’s plot. He’s Caspere’s killer. He’s the catalyst for the inciting incident that sparks this whole chain of events, and we barely even get to meet him. Detective Mustache finds him in the transit station, pokes a knife in his back and implores the kid not to do something stupid. When the brother says he’s “The Blade and the Bullet” (which by the way doesn’t make sense since the kid doesn’t have a gun), Colin Mustachell says “okay then listen closely.”

This is usually the part where a cunning and elaborate plot is devised, but is kept from the audience so we can appreciate the plan’s brilliance when we see it all come together. Unfortunately we don’t get that here. Apparently what happened in the moments between this scene and the cop’s arrival, was Detective ‘Stache McCowboy told a mentally and emotionally unstable man to keep his big ass hunting knife and listen to his parent’s killer brag about killing them.

And then act surprised when the deranged killer acts deranged.

Totally unexpected
It’s okay, no way you could have seen this coming…

1. The Vinci Shootout

Vinci Shootout

After three episodes of near incomprehensible bullshit, the Vinci Shootout scene got me excited. As one of my twitter followers put it, it was a scene right of Call of Duty.

It’s true, if this scene had occurred in real life it would be the single deadliest shootout in U.S History. Yet this scene excited me because of something Stephen King once wrote in his book On Writing (which is an excellent read by the way, even if you don’t like his work). When he was writing The Stand he came to a point where there were just too many characters and the plot had become too unwieldy. He was blocked, he couldn’t figure out a way to move forward.

So he planted a bomb and blew up half his characters, culling the cast and giving the story the impetus it needed to reach its conclusion. The Stand became one of his most well regarded works, right alongside Carrie.

I was excited because I thought the Vinci Shootout was True Detective’s bomb.

Quite literally...
Quite literally.

It didn’t serve the same function as Stephen King’s bomb, in that it didn’t kill any important characters, but I still thought that such a climactic scene would propel the show out the quagmire that it’s plot had become. Surely this would flush out the perpetrators of the conspiracy. I don’t care how rich or politically connected you are, there were at least a half-dozen police officers killed, at least that many drug dealers killed and dozens of civilian casualties. That’s not something that would just go away.The conspirators might control the local police and government, but I’m pretty sure the F.B.I and Homeland Security are gonna want some answers too.

Do you know what 24-hour news conglomerates would do with a story like that? Let’s put it this way, they ran a story about that missing Malaysian Airlines flight for a solid month. The Vinci Shootout would give them enough material for a year.

Yet instead of this scene giving our heroes the leverage they need to solve the case and kicking the season into high gear… nothing happens. Absolutely nothing. In fact the story skips ahead two months instead and the deadliest shooting in US history is forgotten. You could remove this entire scene from the show and not a single thing would change because of it.

It was the most pointless scene in a show made up entirely of pointless scenes. And worst of all, Detective Mustache McStacheface shaved his glorious mustache after this shootout…

I hope it was at least buried with full military honors...
I hope it was at least buried with full military honors…

True Detective Season 2: What The Hell Went Wrong

True Detective’s second season finally came to an end on Sunday, brutally killing not only several characters but also any hope we had that the show would somehow redeem itself in the finale. While I didn’t quite get the transcendental experience others seemed to get watching the original season of True Detective, I still thought it was a great show with some amazing performances by McConaughey and Harrelson. So what the hell went wrong with this season?

Well let me lay out for you the mistakes that made this season of True Detective one of the most bizarre experiences in recent memory.

[Obviously spoilers are to follow, but quite frankly if you haven’t seen it, you might save yourself 8.5 hours of your time and just read this review instead.]

4. The Dialogue Was Awful

Wait...what?
Wait…what?

That up there is the closed captioning for the finale of Season 2, I turned it on specifically to make sure I was hearing what I thought I heard. Those words are spoken by Generic Russian Mob Boss #3209, A.K.A. Ossip, as Frank and Velcoro sneak up on cash exchange between Catalast [that’s not a typo by the way, that’s how it was actually spelled in the show] and the Russians, and it serves as a perfect example of how messed up the dialogue is.

What does that sentence even mean? Everything you start is unfinished, that’s why you’re starting it. The strange dialogue of season two was both a blatant attempt to recapture the magic of Rust’s poetic philosophizing and a great demonstration of how the show misunderstood its own popularity. There were several reasons why Rust’s dialogue worked in the first season, reasons that are completely absent from this season.

First of all, the dialogue was appropriate to Rust’s character, he was the perpetual outsider. The pariah who had trouble connecting with people on even the most basic level. That’s why he spoke the way he did, why he waxed philosophical at every opportunity, because it was representative of his inability to communicate with other people. To put it simply, Rust earned the right to speak like he did because it was core part of his character.

The second reason Rust’s dialogue worked was that it was counterbalanced by Hart’s dialogue. Whenever Rust would get particularly insufferable in his nihilistic preaching, Hart would jump in with a well-timed “shut the fuck up.” Hart grounded the dialogue by not taking what Rust was saying seriously. Rust was using big words and complicated philosophies to cover the fact that he has utterly miserable and pretending that misery made him special.

Rust from True Detective
Shockingly, this is not a mentally stable person.

And the most important reason that Rust’s dialogue worked was this:

Rust was the only one who spoke like that. 

Everyone else in the first season of True Detective spoke like a normal human being, with the exception of The Yellow King, who was the foil of Rust’s character. The Yellow King was basically the Anti-Rust, an insufferable philosopher driven by faith rather than nihilism. So again, both their respective dialogues made sense in context.

In this season of True Detective, everyone is now talking like Rust and the people listening it are taking it dead seriously, despite the fact this season features some of the goofiest lines ever spoken in a crime drama. I do not know how Vince Vaughn said “blue-balls of the heart” with a straight fucking face, but he deserves some kind of award for that. It’s sad that Vince Vaughn got saddled with a disproportionate amount of strange dialogue, because his character is the last person who should be speaking like that. Frank is a gangster who runs a bunch of casinos and who’s primary duties are interacting with other people, and getting them to give him their money. He’s a people person, a negotiator. He’s not a loner or a reader of philosophy, there’s not a single thing about this character that justifies him talking like this:

WTF IS THIS NOISE
You can see more of these gems right here.

Look at that fucking sentence up there. Herman Melville would look at that sentence and say, “Dude, no. Just no.” Even the Borg speak more organically than that. Was McConaughey adlibbing all his lines last season or did True Detective simply fire the editor in charge of proofreading this crap?

Whatever the case, the only time anyone spoke like a normal human being was when the characters sat down to spew out expository dialogue in a futile attempt to help the audience make heads or tails of the plot…

3. The Plot Was Buried in Subplots

Blue Diamonds True Detective

The main plot revolved around the blue diamonds stolen by corrupt cops in 1992, in which the jewelers were brutally executed during the heist. The orphans of those jewelers then kidnapped Caspere some twenty-odd years later, originally planning to interrogate him and find out who else was responsible, before the crazy brother ended up killing him in a fit of rage.

This is not a complicated plot. Any other police procedural would have been able to tell this story in a 42 minute episode. So why the hell did we all spend two months in a near constant state of confusion over what the fuck was happening in this show?

Stan Dead...who is he again?
I still don’t know who the fuck Stan was…

Well because the plot so was simple that an episode of Castle could have covered it, True Detective season 2 needed something else to make it interesting. There were several ways to do this:

A) They could have setup some character-driven subplots, a la the first season’s subplot about Hart’s constant infidelity and the tense relationship between Hart and Rust. 

B) Solve the main mystery quickly, but that in turn leads to the uncovering of the larger criminal conspiracy at work in Vinci, and the detectives have to protect the former orphans while collecting evidence about the conspiracy. 

C) Create a few carefully crafted subplots and use them to spice up the main storyline. :

D) Take the plot of every noir crime story ever made, make them their own dedicated subplots, and throw them all into a big bowl. Mix until plot is totally incomprehensible. 

Unfortunately for us all, they chose D.

The largest and most pointless subplot was the Railway Corridor, which ended up taking approximately all of the show’s running time. Seriously, more time and effort was spent trying to uncover the mysteries of this stupid land deal than was spent on telling the actual story of the show. The worst part is that the Railway Corridor was only ever tangentially connected with the main story, the corrupt cops were hoping to use their share of the diamond heist to buy their way into the land deal. If Velcoro, Bezzerides and Woodrugh stuck with actually investigating the diamond heist, instead of wasting their time looking into the land deal, they probably would have all lived happily ever after.

Seriously guys, you had ONE job.
Seriously guys, you had ONE job.

If the story had stuck to telling us about the diamond heist and then led us into the deeper conspiracy surrounding the rail corridor, then yes, this could have worked. But instead of doing that, True Detective apparently got bored and wandered off to tell us a dozen other different stories all happening at the same time.

We had a bunch of pointless scenes with Frank attempting to retain control of his clubs, even though roughly 100% of the audience didn’t have a single fuck to give about the intricacies of Frank’s operations. We even got a pointless fist fight between Frank and a fat dude with gold teeth, for reasons I still don’t understand.

We had even more scenes with Frank trying to have a baby with his wife and complaining about how hard his life as an orphan was.

Bezzerides took more than one trip to see her father, who knew some of the older conspirators in passing but the connection is ultimately meaningless.

Essentially 99% of the subplots in this season were pointless. Not only did they not advance the story, they actively held it back. The Russian mobster taking over the underworld? Pointless. He shows up three or four times, vaguely threatens Frank and then promptly dies at the end.

Wait, I'm too vital to the plot to die! *Dies* Oh, I guess not.
Wait, I’m too inconsequential to the plot to die!

The strange Mexican duo that looked like they stepped out of the 80’s? Nothing more than ethnic Deus Ex Machinas to make sure Frank died tragically. They literally only show up to advance the story (helping Frank find the Mexican prostitute), throw up obstacles (then killing the Mexican prostitute), and then putting the main character in arbitrary danger. Their presence was never explained.

Then there was the Black Mountain security company, which was alluded to throughout the season but ultimately contributed nothing but a couple of goons for the main characters to shoot at.

There was also a really strange, creepy fixation on the character’s sex lives. I understand the main theme of this season was sex (it wasn’t exactly subtle about it), but the show also doesn’t go anywhere with this. The first time we meet Bezzerides she’s having an argument with her boyfriend over her BDSM fetish, but the scene is ultimately irrelevant to the story. In fact the BDSM thing is never mentioned again.

Okay we get it, True Detective, she's kinky. Is there any point to knowing that though?
This scene is also another example of bad dialogue. “Are you into that?” Her boyfriend asks as she stands in front of her wall of BDSM sex-toys…

So instead of using this scene to give us a glimpse at her character, the whole scene just comes across as weirdly voyeuristic. The only point of this glimpse at her collection of paddles and straps is to titillate the audience. It did nothing to characterize her to the audience.

In fact there was very little characterization at all because…

2. The Characters Were Ignored

You know, I don't think all four of these actors ever ended up on the screen together at the same time.
The main characters spend so much time apart, there’s not even a photo of them in the same room together.

The main appeal of True Detective was that it was essentially an extended buddy-cop movie where the buddies actually kind of hate each other, but not really, it’s just complicated. The incredible performances of Harrelson and McConaughey combined with the unique narrative design of the flashback sequences and taped interviews with unreliable narrators made for a compelling show. The two main characters spent the entire season together, playing off each other and revealing more about their characters with every interaction.

Now compare that to season 2 where all of the main characters spend most of their time completely isolated from one another. In the start of the second episode, the state sets up a special investigative team and throws Velcoro, Bezzerides and Woodrugh together. They meet in some crappy warehouse for a couple of minutes, and then split up, never to be in the same room again until pretty much the tail-end of the show. We get some shots of Velcoro and Bezzerides driving around together, and these scenes are good. The two definitely had some chemistry together, but then the show inexplicably separates them again.

So instead of watching these characters interact and learning who they are from those interactions, we instead get to watch each character deal with their own personal issues separately. Frank dealt with his crumbling empire and his impotent balls, Velcoro was in a custody battle for his son, and Paul was desperately trying to catch a case of the Not-Gays. Bezzerides spent the first four episodes dealing with a pair of scorned lovers at work and then the last four episodes dealing with her childhood rape.

Gee, another strong female character defined by her rape story. Yeah, that never gets old.
Gee, another strong female character defined by her rape story. Yeah, that never gets old.

Even when the characters are together, they spend so much time delivering clumsy exposition that we never get any of the incredible character interactions that made the first season so memorable. When Woodrugh dies, in a goofy assassination scene straight out of a Victorian play, Velcoro and Bezzerides spend about two minutes mourning his loss before delving right back into expository dialogue about how to find the orphaned brother.

No one’s character ever experienced any kind of dramatic arc, or changed in any way, and without strongly written characters, the performances of the actors were severely ham-stringed. If they’d had a script that allowed them to act out their characters more often, rather than idly standing around explaining the plot of their show to the audience, they might have given us performances on par with Harrelson and McConaughey.

Ultimately though, they wasted most of their time explaining the show because…

1. Nothing About Anything Made Sense

Wait, why is this guy mayor? Did he like inherit it from his father?
Wait, why is this guy mayor? Did he inherit it from his father?

When you look at most of the events that occurred in this season of True Detective, you’ll come to one inescapable conclusion.

Nothing about anything ever made sense. 

The events of this show didn’t follow any kind of logic, except maybe some kind of internal logic of the writer that is incomprehensible to mere human minds. Instead, things happened because the plot demanded they happen. It was cheap and succeeded only in wasting everybody’s time.

One the most glaring examples of this plot contrivance is the raid on the sex party about midway through the season. Bezzerides has used her sister’s porn connections to get her into one of the sex parties that Caspere was such a fan of. Masquerading as a prostitute, Bezzerides gets drugged and stumbles her way through the party, eventually finding a missing girl who knew Caspere. Meanwhile Velcoro and Woodrugh are going full Splinter Cell, sneaking around the house and taking out guards. Eventually they stumble upon the architects of the rail corridor going over some documents. They steal the documents, save the girl and flee into the night.

Stunning Police Powers

Now let’s rewind and ask ourselves one very important question:

What was the plan here? 

Seriously, I’m asking, what was the group’s plan?

What was the reason? What were they looking for? Finding the missing girl and retrieving the documents were all purely happenstance, so what was the original objective? What was Bezzerides there to find out? Was she going to ask the other prostitutes who Caspere hung out with? Gather evidence of who was attending these parties?

Why was Woodrugh choking out guards and stealing documents? Shouldn’t he have been waiting as backup in the woods? Why risk discovery?

The answer to all the above is simple: the plot demanded that the characters be in a certain place at a certain time, and so they were. Now tons of stories rely on coincidences to drive their story forward, but most stories give their characters some reason for being at the right place at the right time. John McClane is in that building because he was attending a Christmas party at his wife’s work. Darth Vader’s Star Destroyer intercepts the Blockade Runner at Tatooine because that’s where Princess Leia was heading there to contact Obi-wan. Point is, most stories make an attempt to create a plausible reason for things to happen, even if that reason is paper thin it gives the audience a foundation for their suspended disbelief.

This season’s True Detective didn’t even bother giving us that foundation. I want you to look at something.

Dry Street

This is Velcoro getting out his car to say goodbye to his son after his successful heist of the Russian/Catalast money exchange. Notice that the street is as dry as only a never-ending California drought can make it.

This is what Velcoro finds when he comes back to the car.

“Later today there will be a highly concentrated rain storm under one man’s car.” – Plot Contrivance News, Weather Report

There’s a pool of water under Velcoro’s car. At first I thought the gas tank had been punctured and that’s what I was supposed to be seeing, but he drives away just fine. No, it’s just ordinary water and it appears spontaneously so that Velcoro can see a reflection of the red light on a tracking device in the water. This is just so lazy that I can’t even believe I’m seeing it in what must have been a multi-million dollar HBO production.

They could have put an extra out on the street watering his lawn. Boom, a reason for the water pooling under his car, see how easy and painless that was. That’s all it would have taken, it still would have been incredibly lazy but it would have been something at least.

And on that I rest my case, because if you can’t even move your plot along without a car peeing itself, then you have officially failed to tell a good story.

Confidence (Or the lack thereof) and Writing

So while I was struggling with my latest article on The Witcher 3, I got a helpful tip from a roaming robot about my blog.

Robot Taunt

First of all, it’s “too” lazy you god damn machine, if you’re going to insult me at least be grammatically correct. Second of all, how dare you impugn my honor!? Being lazy is only like 5% to %10 of my problem.

Okay, 50% at the most...
50% at the most…

To this spam bot’s favor, its comment did get me wondering… why don’t I update more? What the hell is wrong with me? That’s an excellent question. The answer is, as usual, I’m a terrible human being. 

No, not really. But that’s what my mind is always telling me, and that’s the problem.  I have no sense of self-worth I guess, all of my self-esteem is tied up in the opinions of everyone else. Last year I was staying with some friends in Portland when I got to interview for a job with Microsoft to do writing for the Halo series. When I got the initial call from the recruiter, my friend Emma described me as “glowing,” which I’m pretty sure is the only time I’ve ever been described as that. Then I didn’t get it, and I fell into a pretty black depression and didn’t write another blog post for three months.

That post about Microsoft was mostly trying to bluff myself out of falling into a depression, but obviously that didn’t work.

This is Pixar, they're better than you're annoying facebook friends.
I don’t need to say hello, we’re on a first-name basis.

So I lost a similar job opportunity with AT&T a few weeks ago. Of course my brain doesn’t focus on:

The fact that my resume managed to impress a recruiter enough to contact me.

That I got through four rounds of phone interviews with first the recruiter and then various members of AT&T team.

And then actually got an in-person interview.

No what my brain focuses on is the fact that, at the end I didn’t get the job. Sure, being sad you didn’t get a job is a probably a normal reaction, but it probably shouldn’t take my entire sense of self-worth with it. For weeks at a time. 

But then there’s not really much self-worth for these failures to take with them. Let me show you something else:

70 Drafts
Zoom and Enhance!
Yes, that says 70 drafts.
Yes, that says 70 drafts.

That’s a screenshot of my WordPress control panel, telling me I have 70 drafts. Now I’ve always assumed this was just a bunch of half-baked ideas I’d written down and just never followed up on. Spring cleaning that I’d never bothered to do, like the drafts folder of my email. I started hunting through my drafts after I thought I’d lost part of a Witcher 3 article I was working on (turns out the paragraphs that were missing were on my phone, I just hadn’t uploaded them), and about half of it was half-written ideas.

The other half though? Fully written articles that I never published. Just sitting there.

Draft Examples 2

The 5 tropes that need to die article, was just 5 sentences, a bare bones idea for an article (which I’d actually forgotten about but now I’m gonna finish it because these tropes are terrible). The other two pictured though? Total articles, both around two to three thousand words long. Pictures included.

Why did I decide to not post those?

I haven’t the slightest fucking idea. 

I didn’t take an exact count but, out of the 70 drafts I have, there are probably 20-30 fully and partially written articles. I could release one a day and have enough content for nearly a month. I could release one a week and have enough content for half a year.

Well maybe I’m just a really good editor right? I’m like J. K. Simmons in Spider-Man, I know when something is crap and I simply don’t bother my readers with it. Yeah, that’s it, I’m just a really great editor. The best.

Yeah, okay, maybe not.

Because this is another one of my drafts:

Draft Examples

These are two articles (the bottom one is only partially written) about Planescape Torment, and somehow my brain convinced me that no one wanted to read those. Even though one of my amazingly generous patrons (from my Patreon page. which you should still contribute to despite my just admitting how terrible I am) actually requested articles on this very subject, my brain still figured that no one wanted to read any of that.

My brain cannot be trusted. 

So in the interests of posting more frequently, and to stop wasting my time writing articles and then not posting it, I’m going to just post everything. I’m almost going to post everything. I’ll also start going backwards through my collected drafts and actually start posting them.  So look forward to that I guess, unless all these articles really are terrible, then… apologies in advance I guess.

The Nutter Butter Follow Up

Nutter Butter crop (1 of 1)Just wanted to give everyone who contributed to the Nutter Butter fund a HUGE thank you. The limp she had turned out to be a symptom of bone cancer, but it hadn’t metastasized beyond the the leg, so an amputation seems to have gotten most of it. Even if it does return, with your help, my parents have another year with her at least. So thanks everyone!

Newly three-legged Nutter, who doesn't seem to notice her missing leg.
Newly three-legged Nutter, who doesn’t seem to notice her missing leg.

The Nutso Nutter Fund

Hi everyone, I’ll be back with a post next week about some of my favorite moments from The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and some writing lessons I learned from that astounding game, but right now I need your help.

My parent’s dog is seriously injured and needs medical care. Unfortunately they don’t currently have the money for the diagnostic tests, let alone the cost of whatever treatment she might need.

Nutter Butter crop (1 of 1)You can read all about Nutter on the GoFundMe campaign I’ve created. My parents are who have supported my writing habit and without them I wouldn’t have been able to bring you posts on why you should have hope for humanity, Mass Effect’s terrible ending, or any of the other articles you’ve enjoyed reading over the years. If you’re currently contributing to my Patreon Page, I’d humbly ask you to stop and instead donate that money towards helping Nutter. The truth is I’ll keep writing even if I never get paid a single cent again for the rest of my life, but that money could help buy Nutter some pain medication and keep her comfortable until we raise enough to do the diagnostic tests.

Any little bit helps, so please donate what you can and I’ll be back next week.

Thank you.

Thank You CDProjekt Red

I already wrote about how The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a miracle thanks to having an amazing story and characters in a world filled with Dragon Age: Inquisitions, but the Witcher 3 is a miracle for a different reason.

I want you to read something:

Since it’s been all hands on deck working to finish and release this patch on time, we won’t be publishing a free DLC this week (don’t worry – free content comes back next week). We hope you understand our decision. We’ve gathered so much feedback from you over the past couple of weeks and we want to implement as much of it as possible. The full change list for the patch 1.07 will be coming later this week. Stay tuned for info about the release of the update itself. – Latest Witcher 3 Update

Did you understand that? Go ahead and read it again, because it took me three, four times to figure out what was happening.

They’re apologizing. 

And they’re not apologizing because their game literally doesn’t work. It’s also a not a “sorry, not sorry” for wanting their customers to pay twice for the same game or an attempt to justify predatory DLC practices. Or trying to explain how they can’t add female characters because they’re too hard.  Or any of the other billions of other awful, despicable things that game companies usually stumble over themselves trying to explain, justify and apologize for.

CD Projekt Red is apologizing for spending so much time on patching their game (again, a rare occurrence in the current market)  that they didn’t release another free piece of DLC this week. Of all the strange things that I’ve seen from CDProjekt Red, this is by far the strangest.

And that includes this
And that includes this

Why, you ask? Well because the game industry has largely become as greedy and corrupt as pretty much every other major industry in the world: they provide the least amount of content possible for the maximum amount of cash. In recent years even having the game working on its release date seems like it’s asking too much with both Arkham Knight’s PC version and Assassin’s Creed Unity both being barely functional upon release. That’s just in the last year too, go back five years and you’ll find a slew of games that were all released in a broken state.

And in this environment, where they could have charged for all of this DLC and none of us would have blinked an eye, they not only release it all for free but apologize when they’re late in releasing it.

You know how much any other game company would charge for the Temerian Armor Set alone? Of course you know how much, you see it all the time:

Oblivion: Horse Armor – $1.99

Fable 3: Industrial Knight Outfit – $2.99

DLC Quests:

Skyrim: Hearthfire – 4.99

Fable 3: Understone Quest Pack – $4.99 Alternate Hairstyles and Skins for characters?

Alternate character skins:

Borderlands 2: Commando Pack – $0.99

Shadow of Mordor: Dark Ranger – $1.35

So if we use every other game company’s DLC chicanery to price the value of Witcher 3’s DLC so far?

Temerian Armor Set – $3.00

Nilfgaardian Armor Set – $3.00

Skellige Armor Set – $3.00

Three Crossbow Set – $1.00

Beard and Hairstyle Set – $1.00

Alternate Look for Triss  – $1.00

Alternate Look for Yennefer  – $1.00

Quest: Where The Cat and Wolf Play – $5.00

Quest: Missing Miners – $5.00

Quest: Fool’s Gold – $5.00

Ballad’s Heroes: Neutral Gwent Card Set – $1.00 

Total Value: $29.00 

That’s before tax as well. And while I’m not naming names, if this was a certain game company, those numbers would be easily be double or triple.

Picture Unrelated.
Picture Unrelated.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is… Thank you CDProjekt for being a great company that values its customers, rather than viewing us as giant humanoid wallets to be picked clean. Thank you for not only providing me an amazing story to experience, but also setting an example that other game companies should aspire to.

Now, back to playing Witcher 3.

cdpr-default
Finally, a corporate logo that doesn’t fill me with rage.

Inside Out: There Will Be Tears

Pixar has once again shown the world why it’s the single greatest storytelling company in the world. After watching Brave I was afraid that Disney’s corrupting influence might have undermined Pixar’s ability to tell amazing stories. As I wrote in my review of Brave, while it was still a great movie that made me cry, the story lacked the cohesion I’ve come to expect from Pixar. I speculated that perhaps the corporate bigwigs at Disney were exerting too much control over Pixar in an attempt to sell  merchandise. I’m glad to say that, though I’m sure Disney is still as evil as ever, the crew at Pixar are still amazing storytellers.

This has all the hallmarks of an amazing Pixar movie; great characters, a captivating story, and laughs and tears in equal measure. Yet it was also more than that, because Inside Out is truly special; it’s one of the best and most accessible explanations of the human psyche I’ve ever seen. I think they should show this movie in elementary schools every year, because I can’t tell you how helpful it would have been to see this movie when I was that age.

If you want to understand how the human mind works forget reading the works of Freud, Jung, Skinner, or Pavlov. Just watch Inside Out. It shows just how amazingly complex the human mind is, and does it in a way that makes us all just a little more aware of the struggle all of our fellow humans are going through. And it did all of that while still creating an amazing story.

A story about being human.

Inside Out made me cry, and not just a single manly tear either. So be warned,  if you go to this new Pixar movie…

There. Will. Be. Tears. 

Pixar’s Inside Out

A Storytelling Review

The story follows an eleven year old girl named Riley who is forced to move from her home in Minnesota to the hellish dystopian nightmare of California. Thankfully its only San Francisco and not Los Angeles or this would have been a far darker movie…

San Francisco isn’t the setting though, and Riley isn’t the main character. Instead Joy, Sadness, and the other emotions that govern human behavior are our cast. And the setting is the inside of Riley’s mind, featuring islands of personality and glowing orbs that represent memories each colored by the emotion that defined them. Thanks to main character Joy, most of these memories glow a brilliant gold like tiny little stars.

Joy is voiced by Amy Poehler and I just want to point out what an amazing casting choice this was because holy shit, if anyone could personify joy it’s Amy Poehler.

Someone remind me to do a review of Parks and Recreation, because that's an amazing show.
Someone remind me to do a review of Parks and Recreation, because that was an amazing show.

The other character is Sadness who immediately starts screwing up Joy’s plans to keep Riley happy.  At first she seems utterly useless, even destructive, as she begins tainting Riley’s memories and turning them from brilliant gold into somber blue as they joy is washed out of the memory. Watching Sadness was like watching my younger self, a sad bumbling oaf that can’t do anything right. Which kind of ticked me off.

Great, I thought, another movie about how we need to ignore our negative feelings. Don’t get me wrong, I think we should all endeavor to be happy when we can but there’s just something… wrong about our society’s current trend of doing nothing but trying to ignore sadness and pain. If you have Facebook (and if you don’t, welcome to the internet new person, I’m touched I was the first web page you chose to visit) then you probably have someone or several someones posting nothing but a constant stream of image macros about being happy. You know what, sometimes sadness is the appropriate response to a situation.

And fortunately Pixar understands that.

This is Pixar, they're better than you're annoying facebook friends.
This is Pixar, they’re better than you’re annoying Facebook friends.

Joy ends up becoming a microcosm of that sickly, fake positivity that drives me crazy. When Riley is forced to move, Joy is determined to keep everyone happy at any cost. Joy spends the first act of the movie trying to contain and diminish Sadness.  Sadness, however, is compelled to try and touch all of Riley’s memories which irritates Joy to no end. Joy, like a lot of people out there, never really question why sadness exists. Joy sees her as a threat to Riley’s happiness, especially after Riley’s mother makes the worst request a parent can make of a child.

“We need our happy girl.” Riley’s mother said, and Joy is just all too happy to try and fulfill that request. Even at the expense of Riley.

After an embarrassing incident at school, Riley starts shutting down emotionally. The islands of personality, once bright and humming with life, turn dark and crumble away. To Joy’s horror a new Core Memory, a memory that helps define Riley’s identity, appears. Unlike the other five core memories though, this one is blue. A sad memory, and Joy goes insane trying to keep it from becoming integrated with Riley’s personality.

And ends up breaking the whole thing, getting sucked away from Headquarters (I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t actually get this pun until I wrote it out)  and into the sprawling vastness of the human mind.

inside-out-personality-islands
There goes the neighborhood.

Now it’s just Anger, Disgust and Fear running Riley’s brain. This is the best allegory for the depressed brain I’ve ever seen, because that’s exactly what it feels like to be depressed. Those who haven’t been depressed assume that it must be like Sadness taking over and Joy being missing, but its not. It’s both Joy and Sadness gone, and you’re left feeling numb. Anger, Disgust and Fear are all you have left and they only draw out a reaction in extreme situations. As you can probably guess, this doesn’t turn out well for Riley.

And while the others are screwing up, Joy and Sadness try to return to Headquarters with Riley’s core memories. It’s while wandering the halls of Long Term Memory that Joy and Sadness run into Bing Bong, Riley’s old imaginary friend.

Bing Bong - Riley's Imaginary FriendBing Bong has been nearly forgotten and now he wanders around the halls of Long Term Memory collecting memories of when Riley and he used to play together. That alone almost made me cry, especially when he begins recalling their magic flying rocket that was powered by music, they’re dream was to fly to the moon. But now all he can do is remember, and hope that one day he’ll be remembered too.

Joy’s first instinct is to try and cheer Bing Bong up, promising him that she’ll make Riley remember him when they get back to Headquarters. However she’s not the one that makes him feel better, it’s Sadness. Giving the audience the first glimpse at Sadness’s importance to the story, she doesn’t tell Bing Bong to be happy. She listens.

Because Sadness is Empathy, our ability to relate to another person’s suffering.

Empathy is why this scene was so hard to watch. (And why it was so damn familiar.)
Empathy is why this scene was so hard to watch. (And why it was so damn familiar.)

Sadness gets Bing Bong back on his feet and he leads them into the depths of Riley’s mind where they can catch the Train of Thought back to the Headquarters.

Unfortunately before they can arrive, our trio of bumbling emotions have managed to make the worst decision they can: They’ve decided to make Riley run away. The plan is to return to Minnesota to create new Core Memories for Riley, which is a charmingly 11-year-old idea. Pixar’s ability to realistically step into the shoes of their younger selves never ceases to amaze me. The emotional turmoil of this decision derails the Train of Thought and sends Joy and Bing Bong plummeting into the Memory Dump where old memories disintegrate into nothing (like the memory of where you put your car keys).

It’s here that Joy finally makes an important discovery while examining one of Riley’s Core Memories, a memory that both Joy and Sadness remember fondly: Riley’s championship hockey game. Joy remembers it as a joyous occasion when all of Riley’s friends came to celebrate with her and Sadness remembered it as the time Riley missed the final shot that could have won the game.

As Joy rewinds the memory she realizes that the only reason she remembered that hockey game as a time of joy, is because Sadness brought others to help Riley. Her friends came because she was sad, they came to help.

Life isn't happy or sad, it's happy, sad and everything in between.
Life isn’t happy or sad. It’s happy, sad and everything in between.

Sadness is a critical part of Riley’s personality, as it does in all of us. Sadness is what allows us to appreciate Joy, because without the contrast between the two than neither one would mean anything. It’s why Riley became depressed when they were lost, because Anger nor Disgust nor Fear can define our lives like Joy and Sadness can together.

With new found understanding of Sadness’s importance, Joy tries escaping the Memory Dump with Bing Bong using his old magic rocket powered by singing. This is the part where I cried so many tears, because they just can’t escape…

Until Bing Bong stays behind.

I was crying not only because of how emotional this scene was, but because I couldn’t remember any of my imaginary friends either. I started actively trying to think of them, I must have had some, but I couldn’t remember a single one.  I was crying because it was a great thought to think that this is how they were forgotten, because that was what was needed to help me grow as a person.

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“Take her to the Moon for me.”

After a tearful goodbye to Bing Bong, Joy rescues Sadness and returns to Headquarters. Joy tells Sadness to take over, and it’s the sadness that makes Riley realize what a bad idea running away is. It’s also Sadness that guides Riley to confessing to her parents just how unhappy she’s been. My eyes were sore from the tears at this point, but that didn’t prevent me from understanding the great message Pixar was sending me.

It’s okay to be sad. 

Sadness is an important part of our personalities, not just because it contrasts with Joy, but because sadness is how we let people know we need help. It’s not just some useless hanger-on that drags everyone down at a party, it’s a critical survival mechanism because it’s our distress signal to the world.

And more often than not, the world comes to help us.

Riley Family Hug

The other great thing about this ending is that Riley’s parents don’t tell her that she should be happy. They don’t offer useless platitudes on how her life is great compared to some poor child in Africa or some similar bullshit. Instead they do what everyone should do when trying to cheer someone up, they listen.

Because in the end expressing sadness is expressing our desire to be understood. 

Watch this movie people, just make sure you have plenty of tissues with you.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have something in my eye again…

 

Game of Thrones: An Ending Too Far

So once again, I loved this season’s Game of Thrones, even though this was undoubtedly the worst season we’ve had so far, it’s a great show. Still I’m nothing if not a picker of nits, so let me highlight why this season’s finale was lacking and should have run with the much better finale they already had.

The Battle of Winterfell Was Too Short (And Was Utterly Meaningless)

Battle of Winterfell Now I understand that battle scenes are a huge drain on the budget, but the “battle” at Winterfell was utterly pointless. I understand that Stannis was never going to win and I’m not saying they needed to spend an entire episode showing him fighting a losing battle. Still, the entire battle took literally three minutes, and that’s being generous by including every scene until Ramsey’s return to Winterfell. If we just include the scenes with actual fighting it’s only about sixty seconds long. Worse than that though, it skips the actually interesting parts of the battle. Yes seeing the battle from Sansa’s point of view is visually interesting, but we also get no frame of reference as to why we should care. So far the battles in Game of Thrones have been exhilarating because they always had a tight focus on one of our beloved characters: Tyrion at the Black Water and Jon Snow at Castle Black. Showing us the characters we love dealing with the chaos of battle is what gives the battle meaning and emotional weight. Here have no real reference as to why anyone should care: remember Stannis just burned his daughter alive, asking us to care without actually seeing him fighting is a big fucking ask.

The battle begins with Stannis is the middle of a snow covered field, and ends with him in a forest. There was at least a quarter-mile between him and that forest. I want to know how Stannis fought his way there, or how that final desperate defense in the woods must have played out to leave Stannis wounded and alone. There were a lot of interesting ways to play out this battle is my point, cutting the entire thing down to sixty seconds of CGI toy soldiers and two minutes of follow up wasn’t one of them. And speaking of follow up, who here thinks Stannis is really dead? Because I sure as hell don’t.

Just hurry up and kill him or get out of my way so I can kill him.
Just hurry up and kill him or get out of my way so I can kill him.

Again, like the rape of Sansa earlier this season, this is an example of lazy storytelling that we don’t expect from Game of Thrones. Cutting away just as she swings the sword is just boring and lazy, it doesn’t build suspense at all because we all know that if he didn’t die on camera, he’s still alive. So what’s the point of leaving this as any kind of cliff hanger? The better cliff hanger would have been to see Brienne falter in her duty and then march Stannis off into the woods, because that actually has some interesting ramifications for next season. And if it turns out that Stannis really is dead next season then that makes this scene even worse because there were people out there (namely me) who were looking forward to finally seeing him die.

Personally, after this scene, I was looking forward to Ramsey flaying Stannis alive.
Personally, after this scene, I was looking forward to Ramsey giving Stannis the full Reek treatment.

Myrcella’s Murder

thronesThis was undoubtedly the dumbest scene this season and that’s quite an achievement considering that the earlier rape scene with Sansa destroyed the character arcs of four characters in twenty seconds. It was stupid for a variety of reasons, first because it makes King Julian Bashir look like a fucking idiot. He’s already foiled an assassination attempt by his sister-in-law, he knows his brother loved using poison, and the three daughters all used poison weapons. And yet this happens only feet away from him:

Look at that death grip on her face? No one finds that suspicious?
Look at that death grip on her face! No one finds that suspicious?

Which brings me to my second point: it makes everyone look like an idiot, including the show’s creators. Let’s assume for the moment that everyone on that dock is suffering heat stroke and ignore the fact that each and every one of them should have found that final kiss alarming. It’s the middle ages, people were stupid, fine. But we’re not. 

Who staged this scene? I want to know and I want his resignation on my desk by end of business tomorrow because I really don’t know why this scene played out the way it did.

If they were hoping to surprise the audience with another shocking death, the possibility of surprise died when Ellaria latched onto Myrcella’s face like a fucking lamprey. If they had left it as Ellaria giving her a gentle peck on the lips and not played it up like Snow White getting that poisoned apple, there would have been some element of surprise.

Was it played out that way so the poisoning was obvious to the audience? If so, why? What possible purpose did that serve? It certainly didn’t make the melodramatic conversation between Jaime and Myrcella any more tolerable. Seriously, who came up with that scene?

I'm watching you, but not so closely that I'm going to notice you poison the girl in front me.
I’m watching you, but not so closely that I’m going to notice you poison the girl you’ve been trying to kill all season  in front me.

This was just a lazy, terrible scene in every respect. The only thing that could have saved it was if we’d seen Jaime’s reaction and end the scene with him sailing right back to Dorne to avenge his daughter. As it is, apparently Jaime is going to wait until he gets back to King’s Landing to file a formal complaint with the Dornish king who is apparently as blind as he paraplegic.

Queen of the Andals and the Idiots

Mother of Dragons Now I loved Daenerys escape last week and watching Drogon burn a bunch of people alive was well worth the wait. But this follow up scene was awful, mainly because it made Daenerys, one of the strongest female characters in the story seem like a whiny little brat.

“We have to go home.” – Daenerys says, suddenly developing a British accent.

That’s the first thing we hear her say to Drogon, not thank you for saving me from an otherwise fatal ambush or how are you feeling after taking two dozen javelin wounds. She spends the whole time sulking like a child and even tries to climb onto Drogon backwards for some reason I still don’t understand.

Drogon's mother: literally riding his ass.
Drogon’s mother: literally riding his ass.

Then she complains that Drogon is just sitting around instead of getting them supper. Oh, I’m sorry you’re hungry princess but were you not paying attention last week when Drogon took a dozen spear wounds to save your ass? Do you not see the holes torn through his wings?

You know what Drogon, just leave her.
You know what Drogon, just leave her.

Then she wanders off into the hills alone for some stupid reason and immediately gets captured. Seriously, is this the same team that gave us the past four seasons of greatness? I’m starting to suspect they’ve all been replaced by pod-people sent from NBC, ABC and FOX. If not for the amazing scene of Jon Snow’s reenactment of the Ides of March, I’d have called this finale a total disaster. Which is just infuriating considering they already had a much better finale.

The Finale That Already Was

Because THIS was finale material.
Because THIS was finale material.

Yes, the best episode this season is the one they should have ended on and not just because it was so well done, but because it would have given HBO and the writers more time to tell the stories. That was my main complaint this season, everything seemed to be moving too fast. Here’s everything that happened this season:

Tyrion goes from living in a box to being Ser Jorah’s captive to being a slaver’s captive to becoming the Queen’s adviser.

Jon Snow meets Stannis, becomes Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch and tries to save the Wildlings before pulling a Caesar and “dying”.  (In quotations because you know damn well that he’s going to be coming back in some form or another.)

Daenerys struggles to maintain control over the old slaver kingdoms and fails miserably.

Jaime is sent to Dorne to retrieve Myrcella.

And worst of all, Little Finger goes from a meticulous plotter to some kind of insane gibbering idiot in the span of two episodes. He delivers Sansa, the only person who can give him a legitimate claim to the North to the crazy ass Bolton’s and then immediately returns to King’s Landing, plotting to attack the Bolton’s after literally giving them the most valuable hostage in the seven kingdoms.

How about I give you a ride in my Benz and we call it even?
You know, I’m starting to think this was a bad idea…

You’ll notice that while some of the characters have a ton of things happen, others are left in a lurch of nothing happening at all. What this season needed was more time to tell the stories in a way that didn’t undercut the storylines of several important characters and allowed the events of the show to play out more naturally. By using Hardhome as the season finale Game of Thrones would have had more time to properly tell us the stories it needed to tell, to dedicate more time to the characters.

Jaime was perhaps the most underused character, almost criminally so because his was the one storyline from a Feast for Crows I wanted to see play out since it was the book where Jaime finally realizes what a bitch his sister is and burns the letter he receives from her.Of course instead of that happening this season, what we got instead was Jaime wandering around Dorne not really doing anything. Nothing happens in Dorne at all, it’s just a giant time sink. They could have used the time in Dorne to characterize Jaime and maybe lead up to his final abandoning of Cersei, but aside from him staring wistfully at Brienne’s homeland of Tarth, we get nothing.

And speaking of Tarth, the other problem with this season’s sprinting pace is the fact that it completely screws with our perception of time and space in Westeros. I already pointed this out in my earlier post on Sansa’s Wedding,  but it goes beyond Little Finger’s teleporting himself to King’s Landing. Journeys that took other characters entire seasons to complete now have bullet trains apparently. The opening scene of Game of Thrones always gives you that little pop-up map thing, and the world seems pretty big, but everyone seems to get where they’re going a little too fast this season. Take Tyrion for example: despite being abducted by both Jorah and slavers, attacked by Stone Men, and becoming a gladiator he still makes it to Queen Daenerys’ side in time for the Harpies to ambush them. Or Jaime for that matter, whose journey to Dorne took less time than the average ferry ride here in Seattle.

Maybe all these boats just have propellers we're not seeing...
Maybe all these boats just have propellers we’re not seeing…

Ending the season at Hardhome would have given the writers much more room to extend the storylines of various other characters and actually have them make sense. First of all Sansa’s storyline could have been given a lot more time and by extension maybe Little Finger’s plan wouldn’t look completely insane. The storyline in Dorne could have been given more time, allowing more time for Jaime to actually experience change in his character. And Tyrion and Daenerys’s storylines could have met without seeming like the laws of time and space were becoming warped. And perhaps most importantly, ending at Hardhome would have given the writers a more plausible reason for the Night’s Watch to kill Jon Snow.

Because THIS was finale material.
Oh wait, you can’t… you’re dead.

Don’t get me wrong, the scene with Jon Snow was amazing, but there was a niggling little voice in the back of my mind the entire time saying “this doesn’t really make sense.” This scene worked in the book because Hardhome doesn’t actually happen in the book, so the White Walkers are kind of like the climate change of our world. Yes, everyone sort of admits it’s there and it’s a threat, but everyone is also more obsessed about their own personal ambitions to really do anything about it. So when they kill Jon Snow, it make a certain amount of sense because to the other members of the Night’s Watch, the Wildlings are the real threat.

After Hardhome though? This whole “traitor” business is a bit harder to swallow. Eyewitness testimony to the rising of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of corpses isn’t enough to vindicate Jon Snow’s decision? The other members of the Night’s Watch didn’t point out that maybe he was right? I mean I know the hundreds of crew members on Stannis’s fleet didn’t say anything, because they keep landing on the north side of The Wall for some strange reason, but there were a ton of people with Jon Snow. No one spoke up in his defense among all those Crows who stabbed him?

The kid's motivation is really the only that stands up.
The kid’s motivation is really the only one that stands up.

I mean stabbing Jon Snow at this junction would be like people denying climate change after thousands of deaths from heat waves, huge unprecedented storms, and unending droughts…

Huh… Touché, Game of Thrones, well played…

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Review

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a thing that exists and that alone is a miracle. After everyone rushed to pile awards at the feet of Dragon Age: Inquisition, a game that was mediocre in every sense of the word, I was beginning to feel like no one gave a damn about stories anymore. After spending nearly a hundred hours in the world of the Witcher 3 though, I can say that this is one of the best RPG’s I’ve ever played. This game is everything Dragon Age Inquisition should have been, everything it promised and failed to deliver, was delivered in spectacular fashion by The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.

The open world is mind blowingly huge, and unlike Dragon Age Inquisition, there are no artificial boundaries that turn the maps into a series of corridors. You can cut through the middle of a forest or swim across a lake, just beware what lurks within. You never know when Nekkers will crawl up out of the ground around you, or you’ll be sailing along minding you’re own business or riding along on your faithful steed when a Griffon will swoop down and rip off the top half your torso.

Your choices have real consequences, some that are immediately apparent and others that won’t reveal themselves until you’ve nearly forgotten about the choice you made…only to have the stark consequences slap you in the face. Every single choice yo make has a consequence. At the beginning of the game I met a scholar who wanted to write about the war between Redania and Nilfgaard. I told him to go for it, tell the real story of the war. The next zone I entered, I found that scholar’s corpse dangling from a tree; hanged on suspicion of being a spy.

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But most importantly, the story is one worth experiencing. It’s not about some evil sorcerer trying to conquer the world or finding a plot McGuffin, it’s about characters. There are no pointless side quests in this game and no collecting ram meat for nameless refugees. Everything matters and everything tells you a story, and they’re all worth the telling.

That concludes the spoiler-free portion of my review. If you don’t want the story spoiled for you turn back now, just trust me when I say this is a story you won’t regret having experienced. What Game of Thrones did for television (completely redefining what’s possible for the medium) The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt does for video games.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is the game I’ve been waiting to play all my life.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

A Storytelling Review

Witcher3-geralt-of-rivia

The world of the The Witcher is George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones meets high fantasy. There are elves and dragons and magic, but this is no Tamriel or Middle-Earth. It’s a world of political intrigue and brutal warfare inhabited by monsters drawn from mythology of every culture. Yet of all the monsters you’ll fight in this game, none will be so monstrous as man himself.

The story follows Geralt, the titular Witcher, as he tries to find his old ward Ciri. The Witcher 2: Assassin’s of Kings made reference to Ciri, as well as Geralt’s former lover Yennefer, but they were so vague that none of it seemed all that important. The Witcher 3, however, does an absolutely astounding job with the characterization. Every single character feels alive and you’ll come to love each and every one of them, or love to hate them as the case may be. As you experience Ciri’s life through a series of flashbacks, you’ll become just as eager to find her as Geralt, if only because she’s so incredibly badass.

At first I was afraid this was going to turn into a “princess in the tower” scenario where you have to rescue Ciri from danger. But basically most of the story is spent chasing her because Ciri keeps rescuing herself  before Geralt can even get there.

This is no princess you have to save.
In Polish stories, the Princess rescues you.

Ciri is being pursued by the Wild Hunt, considered a legend by most  and a wraith by those who’ve seen him, but who Geralt and Yennefer know is very real. The Wild Hunt is a huge monstrosity of an elf from a parallel world, who is able to cross between worlds and is desperately seeking a way to save his world from destruction. Of all the characters, the Wild Hunt is the only cipher among them, he’s not really characterized at all and so he comes across as a bit of a stereotypical villain. He’s basically The Witcher 3’s Corypheus, only his boss fight is actually climactic and difficult, so even the weakest link in this game’s story is infinitely stronger than Dragon Age Inquisition’s entire chain. His part in the story is extremely small though, as it should be, and the focus is on the amazing characters you’ll meet.

Most of the game is spent trying to pick up Ciri’s trail and piece together her story from the peoples she’s met along the way. First all this is a brilliant way to do a story in an open world environment, because it lends itself to the exploratory nature of the game’s world. There’s an urgency to finding Ciri, but at the same time it’s not the same urgency as trying to stop an apocalypse. It makes sense that Geralt would choose to take on a monster contract while scouring a village for clues to Ciri’s disappearance. It starts making less sense once you find Ciri, but by that time I’d finished most of the side quests, and the main quest had become so intriguing that I rushed through to the end of the story. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

In the Witcher universe, that phrase usually means the Emperor has literally taken your head.
In the Witcher universe, that phrase usually means the Emperor has literally taken your head.

The game has an impeccable sense of pacing, for instance after a long arduous journey finding Ciri’s trail and finally deducing that Uma is the key to finding her, you have a chance to get some real work done: Drinking. Along with your fellow Witchers, Lambert and Eskel, you get the opportunity to relax. I can’t tell you how fun this scene was, but after what must have been 20 or 30 hours spent hunting Ciri and witnessing terrible atrocities in that time, this was exactly what I needed. Most importantly you remain in control and in character the entire time. So if you’re playing Geralt as a straight up professional, you have the choice to go to bed early. The game doesn’t just jump to a cutscene, and by doing that you feel completely immersed in the experience.

Now I’ve never developed a taste for alcohol, it just tastes so awful I can’t drink enough to get drunk, so I have no idea what it’s like to get drunk. Thanks to the Witcher 3 though, I feel like I really did get blind drunk and dress up in a frilly frock, because the scene was just that expertly written and presented. I felt like I lived it myself, it was that good. I also nearly broke a rib laughing.

The writers know how to craft a story, because after every major event and heart rending moment, there was moment to balance it out. The Battle of Kaer Morhen was quite possibly one of the most intense battles I’ve ever played in a video game. It’s just a handful of defenders against dozens of the Wild Hunt’s warriors, and yet the small number of combatants did nothing to detract from the pure epicness of the siege. In fact the small number of defenders made me feel like everything I was doing was absolutely vital.

More importantly, I knew the who each of the defenders was. There were no faceless, nameless defenders being killed in a failed attempt to raise the stakes like most video games. No, I knew the face and name of everyone fighting by my side, they we’re people to me, and that made every moment of the siege feel real. My heart was in my throat the entire time. And when Vesemir gave his life to save Ciri, I felt the same rage Ciri felt.

Burn them all, Ciri.
Burn them all, Ciri.

But back onto the point of pacing, directly after this incredible scene, the writer’s wisely decided to give us an opportunity to laugh. This is absolutely vital to any good story, because if it’s all horror and death the audience will grow numb to it and eventually bored of it, that’s something the Witcher 3’s writers understood. After a somber funeral scene and a few days to recuperate, we’re treated to a snowball fight between Ciri and Geralt. Again the incredible people at CDProjekt knew the best way to tell this moment was to leave the player in charge, so it’s you charging around exchanging snowballs with Ciri.

And when you’ve slain the Crones of Crookback Bog and avenged Vesemir by killing the Wild Hunt’s general Imrelith, you share a tender moment of peace while watching the sunrise. That’s the other great thing they did with Ciri’s character, they didn’t fall into the trap of making Ciri a badass by draining her of emotion. She laughs, cries and rages like every other person in the story. She’s human.

And it’s in these interactions with Ciri that Geralt is best revealed. Once again you remain in complete control, you can choose to not have a snowball fight with Ciri and play it cool and distant. But though you may not know it now, even these small moments have huge consequences on the story.

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My friend also played through the game and played almost the exact opposite Geralt, a pure professional who did only what was necessary. He didn’t have a snowball fight with Ciri, he didn’t gleefully smash up Avallac’h’s lab, and he didn’t let Ciri lay to rest Skjall (the man who led Ciri to safety in Skellige). In his ending, Ciri had disappeared and was presumed dead.

In my ending, as my Ciri stared into that strange energy field from which the White Frost was coming, in her mind’s eye flashed all the great moment’s we’d shared throughout the game’s story. The snowball fight, the lab, and the visit to Skjall’s grave where she told the villagers of his heroism. The moments that reminded her that there were things worth living for.

And she came back.

Together again.
Together again.

Again the brilliance of the conclusion is that I still retained control, I was the one who had “Sparrow” inscribed on Ciri’s new silver sword, and rode to meet her at the Inn in White Orchard where this whole story first started. When I talked about emotional closure and the importance of resolution in the Story Arc in my Mass Effect 3 and Dragon Age Inquisition reviews, this is exactly what I was referring to. A few brief moments when we can relax and allow the story to come to an end, like the last trailing notes of a grand symphony.

“Well then, let’s try it out…” – Ciri to Geralt 

Then of course we’re also given the slideshow ending that answered any unanswered questions and gave us resolution to the interesting, yet ultimately unimportant subplots such as the Nilfgaardian invasion. Much like Game of Thrones, The Witcher 3 dangles fascinating political stories for you to focus on that ultimately have nothing to do with the actual plot. This is a story about characters, and the slideshow tells you what became of the people you came to love.

Geralt spent a few months with Ciri teaching her all he knew of the ways of the Witcher, and then they parted ways, with Ciri going on to become a Witcher even more famous than Geralt. And as for Geralt himself?

He retired to Kovir with Triss, taking on occasional monster contracts, but for the most part living out the rest of his life in the peace that had eluded him for so long.

That was my story. My choices in the game led me to an ending that left a warm glow in my heart, and was one of the most satisfying experiences I’ve ever had in a video game. And if you haven’t already, get out there and start your Geralt’s story because no matter how it ends up, you’ll never forget the experience. 

TheWitcher
Hard to believe it all started years ago with a game so rough I can barely believe it got a sequel.

What’s Wrong with Sansa’s Wedding

Sorry it’s been so long since my last post but this new job has been hell. You know what  I have to do? I have to go into work and sit at a computer all day!

Oh God, I have to spend all day at a computer? My life is hell.
Oh God, I have to spend all day at a computer? My life is hell.
Ahhh, home at last.
Ahhh, home at last.

So I haven’t had time to play through any other games yet, though I’m currently working on Witcher 3 so you can expect a review of that soon. But I have been watching Game of Thrones, and you may have noticed everyone seems to be really mad about that last episode.

So if you haven’t seen last Sundays Game of Thrones, turn back now, because there’s about to be spoilers.

Game of Thrones:

What went wrong with Sansa’s Wedding?

Sansas wedding

Lots of people are angry over Game of Thrones latest episode, in which Sansa gets raped by Ramsey Bolton after their wedding. Other people are angry that they’re angry, because the honest truth is that we’ve seen far worse on this show. Season 1 basically starts out with Daenaerys getting raped by Khal Drogo and eventually succumbing to Stockholm Syndrome. Then there was the Red Wedding, where we literally watched a pregnant woman get stabbed in the baby.

So why are people upset by this? Why are some people saying this is where they draw the line?

I’m going to tell you why and… I can’t believe I’m saying this…

They hated it because it was badly written.

Yes you heard me. And I don’t mean it was bad dialogue or badly acted, both were great, I mean the situation itself was born of bad writing.

See people aren’t upset that there was a rape scene in the show, that’s what everyone is focusing on but that’s just the swollen red skin in their blister of anger. The hot gooey pus of the matter is that the scene added nothing to the story and derailed the character arcs of Ramses, Theon, and Sansa. And without a good story to back up this rape scene, it becomes violence for its own sake. Shock value is all that’s left.

And believe me, GoT, you already have plenty of that. You don't need to force more in.
And believe me, GoT, you already have plenty of that. You don’t need to force more in.

See the rape of Sansa does absolutely nothing for the story, and in fact hinders several important character arcs. You see we’ve watched Sansa suffer already, in fact it was getting kind of repetitive by the time she finally reached the Eyrie. But when she did get there, we finally got our reward: watching Sansa slowly begin asserting control over her life.

Little Finger is despicable and disgusting, but there’s no denying he taught Sansa how to survive. Like him, Sansa isn’t a warrior, she can’t survive on strength. What Little Finger teachers her is to play the strong against one another, and move in when both are weakened. She uses these skills beautifully and helps cover Little Finger’s ass after he kills his wife.

So now we come to the wedding, and several things happen that aren’t at all in keeping with what the story has been telling us so far. First of all, all of Little Finger’s obvious affection for the girl goes right out the window, not to mention his meticulous planning. He of all people must know about Ramsey’s sadistic insanity. Yet even though Ramsey might accidentally kill the girl he loves, he just dumps her off and goes tearing back to King’s Landing. (Where he arrives after using Westeros’s first automobile, seriously how did he get there so fast?)

How about I give you a ride in my Benz and we call it even?
How about I give you a ride in my Benz and we call it even?

Now this scene was the perfect opportunity to make Sansa’s character more than a victim. Think about it for a moment, Sansa has all the information she needs to turn this situation to her advantage. At dinner she heard about Lord Bolton’s  expecting wife and if she pays even a miniscule amount of attention to Ramsey, she would notice how much this upsets him. It wouldn’t take a genius to realize his greatest ambition is succeeding his father.

Then she’s confronted by Ramsey’s girlfriend and Sansa shows off that cool controlled poker face, showing us she’s capable of standing up for herself. She also gains another piece of valuable information, that Ramsey uses women like a five year old’s toys… he uses them and eventually breaks them. So she’s not going into this situation blind, and Little Finger has taught her how to use information to manipulate people. He straight up told her that she was the key to controlling the North, she was one of the most powerful pieces in the game.

So what could she have done? Pretty much whatever she wanted.

Really all she had to do was say something like this:

“You lay hand on me and I’ll throw myself out the window [or any other method of suicide/disfigurement]. Everyone knows you’re a monster, and they won’t believe for one moment you didn’t do it. Ramsey Bolton killing the last Stark; every banner man in the North would rise up in revolt and now that your father has a real son, he wouldn’t hesitate in flaying you alive to regain control. So here’s what gonna happen, you’ll wait in here for ten minutes and then return to your own chambers. And that’s it. From now on I’ll be your wife, but you will never touch me.”

It would have juxtaposed nicely with her last encounter with a betrothed lover...
It would have juxtaposed nicely with her last encounter with a betrothed lover…

Of course after he leaves we could see Sansa break down in tears, because obviously it’s all bluff. But it’s a bluff that Ramsey would totally have fallen for, there is nothing more important to him than the approval of his father (or perhaps more accurately, succeeding his father), it’s his Achilles heel. What’s more it would be a woman that brought him down, someone he would never have seen as a threat.

This also opens up all new realms of possibilities for stories and situations. The delicate balancing act between Sansa and Ramsey could have lead to some tense scenes as Sansa keeps a tenuous grip on Ramsey’s increasing anger at her control over him. Or maybe they would strike up an alliance of convenience, conspiring to kill Lord Bolton in order to avenge her brother and allow him to succeed him. Each plans to betray the other after Bolton’s death though, and it becomes a tense game of cat and mouse where we’re never quite sure who’s the cat.

Oh who am I kidding, we all know who the cat would be...
Oh who am I kidding, we all know who the cat would be…

But the Sansa Rape story? The only possible story that can come from this is her signaling for Brienne to rescue her. It’s boring and predictable which is precisely what we don’t expect Game of Thrones to be. It’s why we love the show, because it surprises us so much.

And while I suppose Sansa could come out of this experience stronger and able to take control of her fate, here’s the thing:

You didn’t need to rape Sansa to make that happen.

Which means it was unnecessary to the story.

And that’s why people hated it.

All That Matters is the Ending: Pillars of Eternity

Pillars of Eternity surprised me, but not in the ways I expected. I’ve always had a soft spot for Obsidian because their games are exactly how I would expect mine to be if I ever made one: an amazing story stuck in a lair of bugs. So I was surprised when Pillars of Eternity ended up having very little bugs, at least in my experience with the game. I was also surprised to find that the story was… okay. By average video game standards it’s a good story, but from the people who gave us Knights of the Old Republic 2 and Fallout New Vegas, it’s probably one of their least interesting stories.

Don’t get me wrong there is some absolutely amazing writing in this game, I mean god damn spectacular writing.

This what you call painting a picture with words.
This what you call painting a picture with words.

There were moments in this game that brought me close to tearing up and yet… I never felt truly engaged in the main storyline.

Pillars of Eternity came out two days before I began my new job as a transcriber, and I couldn’t finish the game in that short period of time. Yet when I started my new job I felt no desire to stay up late and play Pillars when I got home. At first I thought maybe I was just becoming a responsible adult, a truly horrifying possibility. But then I binged on watching Netflix’s Daredevil (review coming soon!) and stayed up till 3am on a Sunday to see how the first season concluded. So clearly I was still willing to screw my future self over for the sake of good storytelling.

The simple fact of the matter is that the Pillars of Eternity main storyline just never grabbed me. I feel bad that this is going to be mostly a negative review because I absolutely love the ambition on display here. Obsidian shot for the moon on this one and it just…didn’t quite get there.

All That Matters is the Ending:

Pillars of Eternity

pillars-of-eternity-pc-web

Pillars takes place in an entirely original fantasy world, and though the combat rules are pretty much just Dungeons and Dragons, the world itself is as alien as it gets.They very clearly spent a lot of time and effort on making sure their world felt lived in, and it has a history that goes back thousands of years. You could point to any location on Eora and there would be a fascinating story to be told.

For me I ended up wanting to be a sailor in this world, because the oceans of Pillars would be an amazing setting for an HP Lovecraft style horror game. In one of the many books you can read, there’s a description of Krakens the size of islands, great spiked whales that ram ships, and strange humanoid sea-creatures with hair of seaweed and great unhinged jaws like snakes that invade ships in the black of night. I really hope Obsidian does a sequel for the game because this world is absolutely magnificent, it really is.

And yet…

The sheer amount of information that needs to be conveyed means you get tons of exposition dumped on you a lot. For instance you’ll hear the story of Saint Waidwen and the Saint’s War a dozen times from various people. The first couple of times you’ll appreciate it because the history of this troubled land is incredibly complex, but after you’re halfway through the game and you’ve had it explained to you a dozen different ways you’ll end up wishing there was “shut up! I already know!” dialogue option.

Then there’s the backstory you’ll need to know about the War of Black Trees and War of Broken Stones that lead to the current situation in Dyrwood. Oh and you’ll need to know about Waidwen’s Legacy, which means you’ll need to know about Animancy, which means you need to know about how Souls work in this world, which means you need to know about the Glanfathan’s…

They basically needed to give you a history book to read before playing the game.

They basically needed a history book to be provided with the game...oh, nevermind, they did.
Oh…

I hate that their huge epic world ultimately becomes a negative to the overall story, but it is. There’s simply so much information you need to know in order to even understand what’s happening in the story that at some point you simply stop caring. Exploring and learning about new, strange worlds is half the fun of these kinds of games. Yet when you’re forced to refer back to your glossary just to understand the context of a conversation you just had, it’s no longer fun.  In many ways I think they should have limited the scope of their story, because while the story is confined to a single country on their huge world map, it’s a larger than life adventure that drags you into a huge history-spanning conspiracy.

What they should have done instead is make their story a character driven human drama, because that’s where the writing really shines. When I was learning about the various gods and the political machinations of Defiance Bay I was left utterly disinterested. When I found a the body of a small murdered boy and experienced his final moments I nearly cried.

When Lady Webb was trying to explain the political infighting between the Crucible Knights and the Dozens, I couldn’t have cared less. But when she told me about her love affair with Thaos, I was fascinated.

Humanizing a villain is always a smart move.
Humanizing a villain is always a smart move.

Which is why the ending really doesn’t work for me. For one, it was my relationship with Thaos that was the most fascinating part of the game for me. In the flashbacks that occur throughout the story, you relive your past life as a follower of Thaos; watching yourself go from an unknown acolyte to his right-hand man. I had actually grown to like Thaos character, especially after learning about his love for Lady Webb.  He was very human character, despite having lived thousands of years.

Yet at the end there was no real sense of resolution to this character arc. Instead we get one of the dumbest and most pointless plots ever conceived.

In the end you meet a woman named Iovara, who you’ve seen tortured to death in a former life. When you meet her she’s entombed by the gods for heresy and she tells you that the gods aren’t real…

Pretty sure Bender made the same argument about evil Santa, with pretty much the same results.
Pretty sure Bender made the same argument about evil Santa, with pretty much the same results.

Yes, after riding a magic carpet of souls made by the gods themselves, a ghost who has literally been damned by the gods tells you that the gods aren’t realI’m sorry, I thought I was playing a well written Obsidian game Iovara, I seem to have made a wrong turn. Can you point me back to the real story?

The gods in Pillars of Eternity are gods by every human definition of the word! They make themselves known to the world, speak directly with certain people and grant magical powers to their followers. These aren’t like the gods of our world, where they’re so ephemeral and distant their very existence is doubted. If the Christian God sent down a Jesus with a head made of blazing golden light, my first instinct isn’t going to claim his god isn’t real.

You're god damned right
You’re god damn right it’s on fire, kid.

Morrowind had a similar storyline but here’s why Morrowind’s story works: Morrowind let us peak behind the curtain. We got an opportunity to see Vivec and learn that he is not an all powerful god, but simply a man who was given god like powers through several powerful magical artifacts. And even before you meet Vivec, if you visit the ruins around Red Mountain, you can find writings and artifacts that prove the same point.

When I finally met the gods of Pillars of Eternity, they were exactly like I would expect a god to be: beings living on a different plane of existence. I got no impression from those meetings that these gods were anything than what they appeared to be.

This is made worse by the fact that Iovara doesn’t actually tell you what made her reach the conclusion that the gods weren’t real. She literally just says “I saw things and heard things that proved the gods weren’t real.” The entire argument basically boils down this:

Iovara: “The gods aren’t real!”

Thaos: “Are too!”

Iovara: “Are not!”

Thaos: “Are too!”

Iovara: “Nuh-uh!”

It’s like every internet argument atheists and theists get into on Facebook. Only this time the theists have some pretty damn compelling evidence on their side.

You're god damned right
Because again, flaming head guys. FLAMING HEAD!

And with all this overwhelming evidence of the gods existence, Thaos’ mission suddenly looks really, really stupid. Was all this death and destruction really necessary to make people believe? First of all I didn’t meet a single character in the game who didn’t believe in the gods, so it didn’t seem like this was a huge issue that needed an organization like the Leaden Key to prevent. In the flashbacks its made clear that Iovara eventually gathered a significant number of followers, but since we never learn what evidence she had, this seems more like a simple plot contrivance than anything.

Worst of all though, when you fight your way to Thaos, the game completely destroys any sympathy you might have had for him.

Thaos was a good villain for most of the game, especially once you uncover his love affair. An immortal man who has lived countless lifetimes but is still vulnerable to the feelings of love. His reluctance to kill his love, and the relative kindness with which he does it when his hand is forced, really made him a human being again after revealing his immortal background.

And of course that’s all utterly destroyed by his closing monologue:

“When the plague came to [a city I can’t remember now] I made sure the cure didn’t. They stacked their dead outside until the piles were as high as the walls themselves.”

Great…and that accomplished what exactly?

You know maybe if you shut up once in a while, you could actually do something right for a change.
It was a line straight out of “The Big Book of Evil Cliches” by Corypheus.

Thaos, up until this point, had been portrayed as a man who was willing to do what was necessary. He would kill and destroy anything to obtain his goal, but only if it were necessary. That and his love for Lady Webb were what made Thaos an interesting villain, he had motivations for what he was doing. Then here at the end of the game he throws both of the things that made him interesting away. First by joyfully telling you about the millions he’s killed, and then by telling you he was just using Lady Webb.

I mean maybe he was just feigning indifference for intimidating value, but it would have been nice if I could have pressed him on the subject. Something.

And then there was my relationship with Thaos. As strange as it sounds I’d come to think of Thaos as a friend by the end of my journey, I really had. He was so well written, and the amazing choices they offer in your flashback options allow you to roleplay your prior relationship anyway you choose, and I’d chosen to see him as a mentor in my past life. Like Lady Webb and Iovara both tell you, he is a master manipulator. And I hope to god whoever wrote his dialogue doesn’t become a political speech writer, because I might just believe every word he writes.

But at the end, when I relive the final moments of my former life, and have our final conversation… I’m forced to ask him whether the gods were real. Despite the fact that neither my current or former characters would have asked that.

What, you expect me to believe you just because you have giant unstoppable avatars of your god?
What, you expect me to believe you just because you have giant titans brought to life by your god?

Whether or not I believed in the gods was irrelevant to me. I wanted to know what Thaos thought of my character, to have a satisfactory and emotionally fulfilling resolution to our respective character arcs.  Yet in the end I felt like this whole relationship that had been built through the excellent writing, was left hanging in favor of resolving a plot point I didn’t care about.

One of my best memories in gaming is of the relationship between Kain and Raziel in the Legacy of Kain series. They start out as a bitter enemies, and I hated Kain so fucking much. He was twisted, sadistic bastard I wanted to see dead. But then throughout the series you learn the truth, that they were friends that had been manipulated into fighting by forces they didn’t understand.

“I am, as before, your right arm… your sword.” Raziel’s final words to Kain. I’ll be doing a full write up about the brilliance of this scene soon.

That was the kind of resolution I was hoping for from Thaos, not specifically that we’d been friends…just the satisfaction of seeing whatever our relationship reach its conclusion. Did he betray me? Did he hate me? Was he regretful of how he used me?

According to him, he didn’t even care. Which would have been fine had I been allowed to respond to that in some way, but he pretty much immediately launches into trying to kill you. When he died I thought, maybe now I can interact with his soul and see the truth about how he felt about me, but instead it just reinforces the same tired plot point: the gods aren’t real.

And the evidence we see is that these giant Glenfathan machines extracted souls from people and somehow coalesced them into gods. That’s it, that’s the big secret he’s been trying to hide all these millenia. That still seems pretty godlike to me.

If the ending had been framed as “the gods were created by an act of pure evil and we should stop following them,” then yeah I could have hopped on board with that. Or if it had been “clearly the gods are fucking up our lives more than they’re helping, we should get rid of them” then I could have worked with that. But the gods don’t exist? Yeah that’s not something the setting lends itself to.

This dude can hail down fire from the heavens through the power of faith. Atheism really isn't something that can exist in this world.
This dude can hail down fire from the heavens through the power of his faith. Atheism really isn’t something that can exist in this world.

I thought at the end of the story we’d find out what the Pillars of Eternity really were, and why they channeled souls. But it never is. In fact the titular Pillars of Eternity have absolutely nothing to do with the game’s story at all as far I could tell. Even the nature of souls, the core of the game’s story, are left infuriatingly ambiguous. How exactly were the gods created using these souls? Did the souls themselves become the gods? Or was their power used to grant a single being god like powers? And how was collecting all of the souls in Dyrwood going to bring back the Queen?

I know this is a fine line to walk. Explain too much about souls and the pillars and suddenly we’re back talking to the AI God and Architect, but explain too little as is done here and you have a story that ultimately goes no where and means nothing. Maybe a few months ago  I would have been content with having no answers at all for fear of having a Catalyst moment, but then I played Planescape Torment and now I know that you can reveal enough of a mystery to be satisfying while still sparking the reader’s imagination.

Of course all this said, it’s still a good game. It’s far better than Dragon Age Inquisition in that it’s writing is top notch and it doesn’t waste 100 hours of your time to figure out the plot is worthless. So pick it up if you have the money, because I’d definitely like to see a sequel set in the same world. That’s for sure.

This is but a tiny fraction of the world map of Pillars of Eternity. And somewhere out there is a story that will absolutely blow my mind.
This is but a tiny fraction of the world map of Pillars of Eternity. And somewhere out there is a story that will absolutely blow my mind.
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