Friday, July 30, 2010

Why Inception Is A Bad Movie

Inception is a bad movie. I'm going to skip over some complaints that aren't a big deal, then I'll address the main problem.

Dreams are completely different in real life and in Inception in basically every way. Someone pointed out that the movie would work much better if they said "subconscious" instead of "dreams", so let's just pretend that's what they did.

The rules throughout the movie are completely inconsistent, and often ludicrous. Falling in your sleeping body is supposed to pull you out of your dream, but later in the movie, they pull a switcheroo and have the dream person fall to wake up the sleeping body. The entire Limbo thing was particularly dumb, if you can just kill yourself in Limbo to wake up, then Limbo isn't a real threat, or it wouldn't be if they were being consistent. The increasing speed at lower levels is an interesting idea, but completely unjustified by the (incorrect) idea that the brain can work hundreds of time faster than it normally does*.

The naming of the characters is particularly silly. Ariadne? Are you serious?

In defense of Inception, it's not actually that confusing or hard to keep track of or understand: Some guys use a magic dream penetrating thingy to insert the idea of breaking up a company into a businessman's psyche.

The idea that there's so much "meaning" and "interpretation" to be analyzed is just piffle. There's no subtext whatsoever, and the only interpretation anyone makes is "was scene X a dream or reality?" A popular interpretation is that the entire film was a dream, which could be said of any movie whatsoever, and is therefore completely inane. There's no logic to think that the "real world" of the movie is real or dream, there's no system to determine what's real or not. The most popular dream question is the final scene, which must be a dream, unless Christopher Nolan would have us forget that children age in the real world. The time that the apartment across the street was the same apartment that Dicaprio was in was an interesting, almost subliminal, visual trick, but it doesn't mean anything.

Now the big stuff, starting with the second largest problem: The "antagonists". Inception is interesting in that it has no character serving the rolê of antagonist, the obstacles they have to work against are psychological. At some point, the people making the movie thought this would be boring, so someone decided that dreams defend themselves with gun wielding characters who attempt to eject foreign dreamers. This makes for a constant video-game-esque gunfight against faceless goons for absolutely no reason. This provides no real narrative pressure or threat, since it's a dream, and we don't care about the protagonists.

That's the largest problem with Inception, we don't care about the protagonists**. There are only two people in the movie who actually have character, and they're both rather obnoxious. The businessman is just a stuck up clichè. Leonardo Dicaprio's character, oddly named Dom Cobb(?), is the person that we're supposed to sympathize with, but he's totally uninteresting. Without an antagonist, and without a sympathetic protagonist, and with action that's almost entirely in someone's subconscious, we're left with a plot about no one in a conflict with no one over nothing in a place that isn't real. No wonder I didn't care about what happened. For such a long movie, I'd like more payoff than "unsympathetic Dom Cobb gets over the guilt of his wife's death".***

I've heard people say that they were hit hard when Cobb actually got to see his children's faces. Maybe I'm just cynical in my old age, but they didn't see that coming from a million miles away? It's so shamelessly manipulative and predictable, I can't believe people accepted that as resolution.

PS. I don't care whether the end was in a dream or not, but the way the top wobbled just a little, then ending with a cut to black, that was genius. It's very rare you hear everyone in a theater groan. Even I had a visceral reaction to that trick.

* We do not use only 10% of our brains, a myth the movie alludes to without actually quoting. There's no way we would evolve the ability to think hundreds of times faster without the potential to do it. Evolution doesn't work that way. Interesting side note: they should hook up geniuses to the dream stuff to have them do centuries of theoretical mathematics over the course of a few months.

** We also don't care about the mission. "Stop an enormous energy company from getting larger!" That's our rallying cry? Really? 

*** Why didn't Dom just tell his wife that he had Incepted the idea that they were in a dream? "Honey, I stuck that idea in your head, that's why you can't get over the idea," is better than your wife killing herself.**** And why are there so many rules about Inception if no one else had ever gotten it to work before?

****Maybe we're just not supposed to notice, but every time it cuts to Dom and his wife waking up from their Limbo dream, they don't have any of the dream sharing equipment.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Inception In A Word


The Engineer Update

I really like the Engineer update. It, more than any other class update*, flat out increases the power of the class. The ability to move buildings is a huge bonus, and has no drawback whatsoever. More than a few times I've seen an Engineer plonk down a level 3 sentry near an enemy spawn, thereby winning the game. To be fair, this doesn't work most times, but occasionally it does. There's no way an Engineer could have reasonably done this before the update.

The Frontier Justice is balanced, if you ask me. Having only three shotgun shells is a pretty big drawback. The guaranteed crits are cool, but the Engineer is so fragile that you can't go on a roaring rampage of revenge. Revenge Crits don't survive after your death, so you'll rarely actually use the 14 crits you earned on that epic sentry.

It seems that most people agree that the Wrangler is basically a buff. The pistol is pretty crummy in most situations, and the Wrangler is HUGE in adding versatility to the Engineer. Now you can put Sentries in spots that would make no sense without the Wrangler. Basically, sniper decks are completely legit for sentries with the Wrangler. It seems to me that Wrangler sniping is de facto balanced, since it has essentially the same power level as a good sniper in the same spot, and has the same weakness to enemy spies and snipers that a sniper would have. A long range Wrangler is extremely vulnerable to snipers in particular.

I want to experiment with using the Wrangler while being physically distant from the actual Sentry. There's nothing requiring you to stick with the Sentry once it's built. Seems like you could use the shotgun to penetrate around corners, then back out into the open and wrangle people if they tried to pursue.

The Gunslinger is a lot of fun. Dropping mini sentries is sweet, and the extra 25 HP means you can get into the thick of it a little more. It requires a different mentality to use the mini sentries properly: you have to use them to add to the force around you, not as a force of its own. In other words, you don't use a mini sentry to defend a point, you run ahead with your team and drop the sentry in the back of the fight, hoping to get the extra damage in to push them back or finish of one or two people. The position of mini sentries is less important than the timing of mini sentries: if you can get one up while the enemy is still engaging your allies, the enemy has to deal with the sentry, your allies, and your shotgun.

I love carrying the mini sentry with me. When you're redeploying it, it goes up so fast, the enemy has essentially no time to react before it's shooting. I'll build the sentry around a corner, pick it up and drop it so it peeks around the corner to benefit from the faster build time.

The other thing about the Gunslinger is that you shouldn't protect or reload** mini sentries, so you're free to wander away from them. The true Gunslinger remembers to instantly put up a new mini sentry the instant the first one goes down, even if it's in a bad position, since you can move them now.

The big question now is, "will moving level 3 Sentries or the Wrangler be nerfed?" It's clear Valve wanted this to be an update that increased the power of the Engie, but is this a little too powerful? The way that level 3 sentries re-assemble can make it very difficult to destroy them; I've put up a level 3 under fire from a Heavy in medium-close range, and I ended up winning the fight. That doesn't seem right.

PS. The Southern Hospitality is almost purely better than the wrench. Who cares about a vulnerability to fire as an Engineer?

*Except maybe the Backburner, which was fittingly nerfed.
**Fully reloading a mini sentry costs about 100 metal, you may as well just build another.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Alien Swarm

Alien Swarm is a fun game, and it's free. It has shooting aliens, and it's free. It gives you a hat in TF2, and it's free. It has Achievement Grinding, and it's free. Did I mention it's free? It's on Steam. Go get it.

I was going to write more, but I'm off to play some Alien Swarm.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

High Heels

What do Jedi, Asari Justicars, Borg, Vulcans, Cylons, Aeon Flux, and many Super-heroes and Super-villains have in common?

They're all serious action-oriented types, people from cultures that reject humanity, or never had human culture in the first place. They all put practicality before all else; they're all function before form. They're often modest, and put their own interests after those of others.

And they wear high heels if they're women.

I hope I don't have to explain why this is crazy/sexist, because I'm not going to.

Am I the only person who's bothered when a practical character is wearing shoes that would make it impossible to do anything other than walk on a flat surface? There is a single excuse that I accept: the woman is short enough that you need to bring her head up to fit into a camera angle with the other characters. Even then, it shouldn't be part of her character that she wears high heels in her adventuring gear, it's just an unfortunate necessity.

The worst is when Digital characters wear high heels. If you want a digital character to be taller, just make them taller, don't put (Jedi/The Entire Cast of Mass Effect) in high heels.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Mass Effect

The Mass Effect series is really good. It has many of the standard elements of an RPG of its type, but it avoids many of the flaws of its counterparts.

The first thing that has to be addressed for both Mass Effect games is their length. It's standard for games in this genre to be 80+ hours, with enough missions to occupy twice that length. Of course, a lot of that is walking overland, so that's not really content. In Mass Effect, you're either in a mission, or you're not. The closest thing to an overworld is the Capitol city space station, or whatever you want to call it. That place has plenty of missions to do, so there is never a place in the game where you're just trudging along, waiting until you get to the next city, or whatever.

Taking all that in mind, both Mass Effect games take about 20-25 hours, even if you do a lot of the optional quests. This is not necessarily a disadvantage though. People like to mock the idea of a hero tasked with saving the world wandering off and doing chores for losers. Although there are a few trivial missions available at the beginning of the game in the starting city, after that, any missions have lives at stake. This helps retain the idea that Shepherd is a real hero, who only does stuff that needs to be done.

Speaking of Shepherd, Mass Effect does a great job with character. The NPC's in Mass Effect 1 are pretty good, but Mass Effect 2's characters really shine. Even better than any of the NPC's is your own character. Shepherd is a one of the best starring characters in any games I've ever played, and it's largely because you get to choose who it is. You get to choose the appearance, (make sure to play without your helmet visible, the face is a big deal) and you get to choose the personality. Being able to import your character into Mass Effect 2 really helps, because it's hard to make a face that looks like what you want. The one thing I don't like about the advertising of Mass Effect is that they show us Shepherd's face. This would be fine for most games, "But that's not my Shepherd! Who's that impostor?"

The Renegade/Paragon dichotomy is infinitely better than the Good/Evil system of other games. I know Yahtzee has ridden this entire thing to the ground, so I'll be brief. In games with Good/Evil systems, Good and Evil are generally idiot options, with the Good options being stupidly moralistic and self-sacrificing, and the Evil options being cruel for its own sake, making you look like a jerk with none of the bonuses. In Mass Effect, "Paragon" isn't Stupid Good, it's "Relying on Principle", and tending to rely on people and the laws. Renegade isn't Stupid Evil, it's "cutthroat", or "Sick of all this being polite and ****". The best part is that the Paragon and the Renegade still have the same goal, Renegades feel like taking shortcuts along the way. This means you can realistically take a Renegade action even if you've been doing Paragon actions most of the time, and vice-versa. In other words, you don't feel constrained by your previous decisions, you feel free to be the character you want to be.

There are some minor complaints, no matter how much time you spend on designing someone's face in Mass Effect, they still end up looking like someone nicknamed "Fishface". In both games, there's an occasional pause between lines of dialogue, which can make the conversation stilted, especially when one person is supposed to be interrupting another*. The combat in ME1 is a little awkward, especially when compared to ME2, which has a hugely improved system. The dialogue system (which is still great) can have some really weird and counter-intuitive options sometimes**. Quick guide to dialogue: Go paragon, and you're basically a Jedi. You can give comically simple advice, and people will just follow it. You can tell criminals to reform, and they'll act as though they had never heard of the idea of going legit. It's not so much that you become really persuasive, as it is the people you're talking to become really gullible.

Despite all this, remember that I still think that Mass Effect 1 & 2 are really good.

*Despite this minor flaw, Mass Effect does a million times better job of constructing conversations in a way that seems like you're actually talking to someone, instead of just accessing someone's data files through an oral interface.
**There was this one time that I was talking with a reporter about the time I ***SPOILER ALERT*** let the Council die at the end of Mass Effect 1, and I wanted to say "It was more important that I save the whole Galaxy than saving the council, then all life in the Galaxy being exterminated, including the Council." That seems like a reasonable response to me. When I chose the PARAGON OPTION(!), Shepherd said "I felt that humanity needed to cut itself free of the Council's influences" or something to that effect. In other words, Shepherd said "I didn't like the government, so I let them all die." That is not the calculation I made, and it doesn't seem very Paragon-ish.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Engie Update Achievement Contest Results

Well, I think the results of our little contest is best summed up by el_dawg:

el_dawg: probably fair to just call it and say everyone lost

We did so bad, I think it would be too depressing to try to figure out who won.

Anyway, I may do a post about the new items for the engie later today, while waiting for them to actually release the update. (I think they're going to include the Polycount Pack with this update, so I'm expecting lots of items)

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Engie Update Achievement Guessing Contest!

Doc Holiday

Get 1000 healing points in a single life as engie 

No Man's Land
Get 25 Defenses as engie
Trade Secrets
Kill 10 people carrying the intel
Death Metal
Get 10.000 kills with buildings. (Odd image, seems to be about wrecked buildings. Second guess: lose 10.000 buildings through enemy action)

Land Grab
Kill an engineer with a wrench with a wrench.
Git Along!
Destroy a sapper on something that was far away when it was initially sapped.
How the Pests was Gunned
Destroy 20 Sticky Bombs
Honky Tonk Man
Give some sort of Stat Bonus to your allies with the guitar
Breaking Morant
Kill ten snipers?
Rio Grind
Get 50 kills with the wrangler + sg
Patent Protection
Kill someone with the SG controlled by the Wrangler as you're under enemy fire.
If You Build It, They Will Die
Kill 3 people with a Sentry within 30 seconds of it being upgraded to level 3.
Texas Ranger

 Build the standard engie base ahead of the rest of your team's progress. (No way this one is accurate. Secondary theory: Blurred out area is the Robot.)

Assist or be assisted by another engineer 25 times.
Drugstore Cowboy

Destroy your dispenser, then build it in a spot where people are healed by it (other than you).

Circle the Wagons

Hide behind the sg with the dispenser healing you and repair your sg against damage for 10 swings.

Built to Last

(The Dispenser is backwards in this picture, no wonder it looks funny.) Have a single Dispenser accumulate 500 points of damage.

(Not So) Lonely are the Brave
Heal a single person for 30 cumulative seconds with a single dispenser.

Battle Rustler
Accumulate 100 teleports
Kill the person who killed your sg with Frontier Justice 10 times
Search Engine
Use the Wrangler to kill a fully invisible spy.
Pownd on the Range

Kill someone with a level 1 sentry that's out in the open somehow.

Building Block

Save your Sentry from destruction with the use of the Wrangler's shield. (when it otherwise would have died).

Get 8 Revenges with the Frontier Justice
Quick Draw

Destroy the sappers of two different spies within 10 seconds.

The Wrench Connection

Kill 100 spies with the wrench.

Silent Pardner
Upgrade someone else's building to a higher level 50 times.
Fistful of Sappers
Break 4 sappers in one life.
Doc, Stock and Barrel

Kill a fully charged medic with a SG.

Best Little Slaughterhouse in Texas

Accumulate 5 kills with a level one SG.

Frontier Justice
Kill a spy with the Frontier Justice after he killed your sg.
Six-String Stinger
Give someone a deathcam shot of you doing the guitar taunt.
Uncivil Engineer

Give someone a deathcam shot of you taunting and your sentry.

Texas Two-Step
Kill someone with combined fire of the shotgun and sentry.
The Extinguished Gentleman
Extinguish 100 people with a dispenser.

Monday, July 05, 2010


There's a test to show how sexist media is:

"Does the media have a conversation between two women that is not about a man?"

This doesn't seem like a very demanding test, but it actually demands a lot of things that many TV shows and movies aren't interested in. There has to be more than one woman in a show. They have to be together in one scene.* The women have to be characters, in the sense of having their own interests, and they have to be interests outside of romance. Many shows have no interest in women as characters, the (male) writers seem to think that women can only be a source of sex, and their role is entirely one that denies or accepts that role. Sex denying women are robotic and unpleasant, sex allowing women are emotional and incapable intellectually.

Before you think that this test is unfair, (After all, what is the chance that Uhura and Nurse Chapel are going to talk about something other than another member of the crew?) just try this test the other way around. How many TV shows and movies pass this test with the very first line of dialogue, when applied to men?

I think this demonstrates pretty clearly that the people who design media think that the default "person" is a male, and when they're casting their show with "minorities", they include one woman in the central cast, and one in the secondary cast. It's pretty funny that people consider women to be a minority, after all they're treated like one, but they're actually more than 50% of the population.

*Star Wars famously has only ONE SCENE in Episodes 4,5, and 6 that has two women on the camera at the same time.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Template Changes

I've had the same template for ages on this site, and it's about time I changed it. There are new tools for it on blogger, so I thought I'd mess around, as a safe way of testing changes before I put them on the bardcast site, since I actually care about that one.