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Monthly Archives: November 2011

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Skyrim, the Initial Impressions

Skyrim is to Oblivion as Windows 7 was to Vista, the basic guts are the same, but the surface has been polished, it runs trimly and there are so many pretty things that you overlook the old problems.

Oblivion’s biggest problem was that it lacked a reason for being. It was just another generic fantasy world where bad guys were trying to do senseless things and you were supposed to run around stopping them because there wasn’t much else to do. That isn’t true of Skyrim which gloriously brings a Nordic fantasy world to life with hot springs, waterfalls and angry people who sound like a certain former governor of California.

But there’s more to it than that. In Oblivion nothing really mattered, Skyrim puts you at the center of a conflict from its opening cinematic and asks you how you feel about it. Do you sympathize with the Stormcloaks who are resisting a brutal empire or the empire which maintains a certain order in a land where the native population might easily turn on the elves and other minority races. It’s not the deepest question in the world, but it adds layers to the landscape and the landscape adds layers to the people.

The engine still has many of the faults of the old, and the faces still need work, and up close the landscape doesn’t always look as good, but details are for nitpickers. It’s the bigger problems that are the problem.

You can spend hours running past streams that flow with the perfect ripple of glacial water, but your tasks mostly involve stumbling into the same old caves and fortresses and clearing them slowly of generic bandits who distribute themselves at one or two to a room in massive complexes of caves. The only way to make this any less fun would be for combat to still be the same pointless bash and blast, which it is.

Dual wielding makes combat more fun, but it doesn’t make it any less pointless. Set on Adept, the combat is almost too easy. The designers want you involved and killing things, which helps delay the moment when you notice that the combat isn’t really any fun and the missions are boring.

Then there’s the interface, designed more for consoles than PC’s, forget conventional inventories, you get to fumble with keyboard and mouse to scroll past lists and then try to figure out if you’re wearing them or using them. Right mouse button equips weapons or magic to the left hand and the left mouse button to the right hand. Use whatever is in your right hand with the left mouse button. This isn’t just counterintutive, it’s irritating to the point of breaking the immersion.

The consolization of Skyrim shows up in other ways. The RPG element is almost gone without anyone noticing. You can still build up skills and pick up perks and some of the numbers are still under the hood, but like Dragon Age II, it’s blended and simplified so that it hardly matters.

The water flows that have been lavished everywhere, even in some dungeons, are amazing, but the character animations and faces are weaker. Lydia, the first NPC, you’re likely to spend any time with is infuriatingly generic as a character and compares poorly to any of New Vegas’ companions. The voice acting hasn’t gotten all that much better. The guards still insist on saying stupid things over and over again. Some of the voices sound a little too much like Arnold Schwarzenegger, whether intentionally or not.

So what’s my initial feeling on Skyrim? So far it’s still amazing as an open world game. As an RPG though it’s far weaker. Still there’s no denying its spectacular vistas or the romance and legend that its designers have managed to infuse into that landscape. And if it’s not quite Morrowind, it’s much closer to it than it is to Oblivion.

The One Promotion That Skyrim Actually Needed

The one piece of promotion that Skyrim actually needed is this trailer. It’s not great, the dialogue falls to the cheesy and the dragon fights aren’t even here, and you can see that the old Oblivion look is still here, but it also nails down some of that Morrowind vibe.

How?

1. Politics. There’s more here than just going around trying to stop the end of the world by stabbing demons. Morrowind’s complicated political situation is what made it interesting. If Skyrim actually lets you navigate that complexity, so much the better.

2. Design. That’s the big one. Oblivion was bland even by the standard of a conventional high fantasy setting. Skyrim shows off some interiors here that suggest the good stuff, strange complicated designs, cultures burrowing deep to create a rich heritage and some bits of wonder here and there. That’s what Morrowind had and it’s what made it special.

3. Music. Maybe it’s subjective, but I got a bit more of a Morrowind feel from some of the music.

4. The engine. Yes it’s still Oblivion around the edges, but some of the landscapes look worth it, the autumn forest especially. The faces also look okay now, though the bodies are still off. And while the early Skyrim footage of a town didn’t look good, there’s some grand and impressive scenes here.

What’s odd is that B waited this late in the game to release a trailer showcasing some of what the game can do, instead of constantly showing us dragon fights. Okay dragon fights are popular and are going to be a keeper. So is fighting giants. But showing some of the structures and people wouldn’t have been a bad thing either. Better than constantly talking about dual wielding.

At this stage Skyrim may be an amazing game that changes everything, it may be a solid entry or it may be another Oblivion. But at the very least this trailer puts it somewhere in the middle.

Happy Endings

Happy Endings is Friends refracted through Modern Family, a single sitcom turned multicamera, a gay man and a black man thrown in for diversity, and most of the comedy cut out. Only in a comedy starved environment could Happy Endings be anointed as a great comedy. It’s not. Occasionally it’s a sharp one. And sometimes even smart. But that’s buried underneath all the pandering.

Happy Endings does one thing well and that’s write twenty something women on the cusp of growing up. It’s something you don’t see much on TV. But it does everything else badly. Happy Endings writes men as badly. Which is a problem because that’s half its cast. Its male lead is a one dimensional manchild. And the ensemble is filled out with a gay man and a black man. The show is so concerned that you realize that one is gay and the other is black, that those are the first words out of their mouths. Seriously. Maybe there was some reason why audiences needed to be told a character was gay instead of just showing it, but did they really need to be told that a black man is black. Maybe the writers did, because on the page the character is a complete blank.

Again Happy Endings writes the female side well. Better than most shows on network TV. And that’s something. Had the show stuck to it without the three guys and three girls ensemble format, it might have worked. But networks fear losing the male audience too much to let something like that happen. So for the occasional pointed comment and realization by a female character, the male characters go through sitcom antics. It’s a contrast and not a good one.

Asking To Be Hacked

“The naked truth: Stars are asking to be hacked”

Does Frazier Moore actually think this or does he just write stuff like this because it will pick up hits? Today with the sad state of journalism, it’s probably the latter.

What was going on in Johansson’s pretty head when she, like so many, snapped candid self-portraits

Probably that she was sharing private photos with one person, not the whole world.

This sort of head-in-the-cloud narcissism (or is it head-in-the-iCloud?) fails to acknowledge that, more and more, people live in glass houses — especially famous people, whose houses are bigger and even more transparent than others.

So assuming that your photos won’t be hacked is now narcissism? Does Moore even understand the words he’s using.

In this era of digital snooping, why would any celebrity delude himself or herself that his or her physical seclusion guarantees privacy?

I don’t get it, are celebrities supposed to wear clothes all the time? Are they supposed to live their lives assuming that all their emails will be read?

Let’s go a step further. People know where celebrities live. If someone breaks into their house and steals their things, weren’t they asking for it by assuming that physical seclusion guarantees privacy?

However high the walls surrounding one’s property and however well-staffed one’s security detail, why would any celebrity store nude photos on any electronic device that connects to the Internet — unless, of course, the celeb is a closet exhibitionist and secretly hopes the stuff will go viral.

Clearly. Celebrities who have anything private in their private email accounts must be exhibitionists because they don’t assume that they are doomed to be hacked.

But she didn’t know better than to leave ripe for the picking those photos of her in her birthday suit, as if to dare some hacker to share them with the world. Sure, Johansson is one of many victims of cyber-hacking. Maybe she was also asking for it.

So by leaving photos in a private account whose contents the hacker couldn’t have known before hacking into it… she was really asking the hacker to do it.

I’ve seen rape defenses better thought out than this. Actually this is every rape defense ever boiled down with the added celebrity tag.

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