Monday, June 27, 2016

Game of Thrones Season 6 Reaction: The Good, the Bad, and the Sand Snakes

Season 5 was not good for "Game of Thrones". If you remember my post from last year, I summed up the season with something along the lines of:  "There is a point where it is just not fun. Watching a TV show should not feel like an extended funeral every week. Maybe that's what you're into in your entertainment, I won't judge too harshly. But I'm not." Or to put it another way: Season 5 fucking sucked. Between the rapes, the child murder, the terrible plotting, and Dorne, it was a disaster of a season.

The problem with Season 5 was not just the unrelenting misery or the "bad poosy". It was a victim of the same larger problem that ruined the last book of A Song of Ice and Fire, "A Dance With Dragons". That's the same larger problem that will cause "The Winds of Winter" to miss my pessimistic 2011 predicted release date of August 2016*. That problem is that George R. R. Martin is stuck. He's been stuck for over a decade now. He does not know how to get from his plodding middle section to the third act. We all know what has to happen:  Jon has to become King in the North, Dany has to beat the Slavers and go to Westeros,  and (eventually) the Wall is coming down and the Others are invading. But how do you get there? How do you line up all your pieces and just get there?

While GRRM has been struggling with this unsolvable problem, the show has suffered. Season 5 was not just bad bad because the villains won all the time in diablo ex machinas after diablo ex machinas. It was bad because the show was padding itself out. You could see the padding all the way back in Season 4 with entirely created arcs involving Night's Watch deserters and the fookin' legend of Gin Alley, Karl Tanner. Dorne didn't just suck because the Sand Snakes were bad, it sucked because it was irrelevant and took forever. Meereen is awful because it is a sideshow in the books and the show. Ramsay became an annoying character because he was not important to the overall story and to stall for time he was transformed into this ridiculous Hannibal Lecter-esque supervillain.

So Season 6 is not perfect by any means. It has padding, it has bad plotting, it has mistakes. But here's the thing:  it gets there. By the end of this season we are at the final act of the story. We are ready for the final wars. And even an uneven season with several mistakes requires a nod of recognition from me. At least it got there.

Thursday, June 16, 2016


This whole post is just more game reactions. But a lot of games did not get a full reaction from me, so I’ll write up quick ones reviews here before the detailed ones:

"Battlefield 1" is about World War I, which is cool, but also it’s a Battlefield game, so it’s instantly un-cool. "Dishonored 2" could be really cool but the story seems dumb and it only makes me wish I were playing "BioShock 4". "Prey" should be called "Prey 2" because if you call two games 'Prey' that just gets really confusing. "Watch_Dogs 2" should not fool anybody in 2016. "Gears of War 4" is more like 'Gears of Bore 4'."Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE" is a game that only I will ever enjoy. "Titanfall 2" is not "Overwatch". "Spider-Man "won’t be out until 2019. And I don’t know what "Mafia III" is.

Anyway, onto the reactions. I'll break this post up into categories:

Games I Really Want to Hate But Must Begrudgingly Admit Don’t Look That Bad:

"God of War 5" – I hate God of War. These games have been symbols for a very long time of everything that was wrong with gaming last decade. The first "God of War" was fun in a pretty shallow way. Now that "Bayonetta" and "Metal Gear Rising" exist I cannot really think of a good reason to play "God of War" in 2016. When I think of Kratos I think of teenaged boys who think they’re mature, eating Doritos, sipping Mountain Dew, and raging against the Wii for being “kiddie”. That’s probably unfair, but God of War really collected a lot of bad trends like QTEs, lame linear game design, and stupid empty-headed plotlines. If God of War was in anyway aware of its own insanity that was all lost in Kratos’ unrelenting brotastic fury. It was assholian to a degree that aesthetically turned me off.

Weirdly Seems like the guys making the games agree with me. "God of War 5" is a curiously specific answer to all my complaints.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

E3 2016 Reaction - Parte the Firste

Guess what? It’s E3! And unlike last year where I pretty much did nothing for the show, I’m actually going to write up some reactions. Because there isn't much else to talk about, other than really depressing serious issue like gun safety in this country, Islamaphobia, and the slow disintegration of the electorate into bickering groups screaming past each other in an endless national flame war. Games are a much easier topic, so I’ll talk about them.

While I did not go to E3 this year, I have done all I can to try to be there in spirit. That includes watching the long industry conferences, watching playthroughs on Youtube, and downloading the "Resident Evil VII" demo. But also I’ve simulated the experience by sitting in long soul-crushing lines of traffic, eating gross fast food breakfasts, and sleeping like trash all week. No, it isn’t the same thing, but at least work is slow so I have plenty of time to write up my reaction posts. Also I can pour all my frustrations at my failure to ever return to E3 into Reinhardt players in "Overwatch". You slow bastards never know what hit you.

On some level of topic: Every year the question is brought up: "who won E3?" Well, I cannot really say there were winners of E3 2016, because right now everything in the gaming industry is in such flux. Nintendo is holding its cards close to its chest while it transitions to the NX. At the very least Nintendo knows where it wants to be and seems to have a roadmap to get there. But Microsoft seems totally lost. The Xbox One is clearly the second place finisher after the PlayStation 4 and Microsoft does not know how to get back on top. Everything Microsoft has tried since 2010 has failed. Scorpio seems more like a threat than a promise of the future to me. These gaming half-steps show a console industry that has prepared itself badly for this generation and is looking for a way to catch back up to PC, consumers be damned. VR is here but it’s been floundering to make a true beachhead. Sony is giving it a big push but how serious they are is hard to say. While Ubisoft is celebrating thirty years with giraffes and dancers without bellybuttons, Vivendi is plotting a hostile takeover. Heck, E3’s showfloor itself is largely a ghost town this year I’ve heard. Konami and Disney are gone from the industry, EA and Activision left the showfloor, Nintendo has just Zelda and a treehouse. E3 as an institution itself is very much in doubt.

So with all uncertainty in mind, I’m just gonna talk about games. Because despite the industry's state right now, 2016 has been a phenomenal year of gaming so far, and this E3 was very good for games. Scorpio seems like a rip-off, VR might not work, Nintendo might be doomed, but while we all ride this train to our collective doom, we'll have games to play.

This is going to be a two-parter. I'll post the second part tomorrow night.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Overwatch vs Battleborn

So here's a topic I didn't think I would ever discuss in detail here.

I don’t play FPS games or multiplayer games very often. I don’t really know what a MOBA is other than it has something to do with eSports and lots of RTS games my friends played in college that I was not interested in at all. I do know that my natural inclination is to hate anything new and popular and that makes me suspicious and fearful of this MOBA thing. (What does "MOBA" even stand for, anyway?) However I do know one thing: one of these FPS multiplayer games is the best thing I’ve played all year, and the other hates me.

"Overwatch" has been on my radar for over a year now, ever since I played it at PAX East 2015. Normally a multiplayer shooter of any kind would be the very last thing ol’ BH would play. I’m a lone wolf, I got anime RPGs to finish. Also the FPS games I have played have reminded me again and again with horrifying KD ratios that I am utterly and completely terrible at those types of games down to a fundamental atomic level. But "Overwatch" was bright and appealing and there was a hint of what I did know at the time would eventually blossom into a full on romantic love with the character Tracer. I played a round, and sucked hard at McCree and did not suck as hard at Tracer, and that was that. Or so I figured. "Decent game, going to be cool for the folks that are down for it, but I’ll be busy with 'Bravely Second' or something when 'Overwatch' comes out in 2016." Instead "Bravely Second" has been ignored for over a week and I fucking love "Overwatch".

Now there’s "Battleborn"… the Pepsi to "Overwatch"’s Coke. Or more accurately, the decades-old can of Crystal Pepsi bought on EBay to "Overwatch"’s Mexican real sugarcane Coke. This is a game that stinks of “also ran” syndrome. "Battleborn" just looked bad. I did not have the heart to tell Randy Pitchford this when I interviewed him at PAX (hash tag shameless self-promotion) but I did have to bring up "Overwatch", because it was the game we both knew was going to kill "Battleborn". The only reason I’ve played "Battleborn" at all is that I was able to score a review copy. I have all the respect in the world for Pitchford, since he really seems to love his game or at least bullshits with a level of sincerity that I can only envy, but man… it’s just not good. And being “just not good” when you’re competing against what might be the best game of 2016, that’s going to hurt any game.