Look at Me, I’m Contrarian

Or, “The Beginner’s Guide to Not Liking Thing.

Hey, remember when Digibro said that everyone loves Legend of the Galactic Heroes?

No? I’m the only one who’s been grinding an axe over that? That was a throwaway comment irrelevant to the actual point of the video? It would be pointless in the extreme to take it as a call to write a huge blog post detailing why I don’t like Legend of the Galactic Heroes?

This video would make an excellent jumping-off point to talk about Virtue Signalling and other twaddle. But no, I’m just here to complain about a show I didn’t like. I dropped it at around episode 25 or so. This is more time than I give to most things that I like, and far more than the “3 episodes/chapters/blocks or 5% of the content, whichever is larger” rule that I usually use to decide when to give up on something, so I think I gave it more than a fair shot.

(okay, I mean, obviously Digi didn’t actually mean everyone everyone, so I’m not gonna be the pedant insisting that we all use “almost” in almost every sentence, but still. I wanna bitch.)

So, LotGH. It’s a long anime about warring space-nations. Arguably the best said anime. Except, actually, it’s not about warring space-nations. It’s about warring horse-and-musket nations separated by oceans, that tries to pretend it’s set in space.


This isn’t news. It’s generally known that LotGH is really a paean to the Napoleonic era of warfare, filtered through a vaguely sci-fi coloured lens. Nonetheless, it is my first reason for disliking it. The show and the lens don’t fit. The above image really sums it up. I loved both the original games in question when I first played them. Both got HD remakes recently, both of which I played. But only Homeworld managed to pull me back in and make me love it again, because Cossacks just isn’t that great. It’s a fun recreation-of-sorts of a particular era of historical warfare, and it looks great to have these vast armies of musketeers and hussars flowing across the fields, but both on a tactical and strategic level, there’s not much depth. Most nations’ units are mechanically indistinct – often the only distinction between armies is their colour. The overall game strategy is also pretty much identical between nations – same buildings in the same order for the same purpose. It fundamentally fails as a strategy game, because it’s trying so hard to be historical. And flaws of the exact same pattern haunt LotGH also.

Homeworld 2, on the other hand, is quite possibly the best space strategy game ever made.

So my first complaint is that the show is purportedly science fiction warfare, but is actually historical recreation warfare. Any pretense of Space as a setting goes right out the window when you consistently forget the notion of a third dimension and sometimes have your ships form triangles and make actual cavalry charges at each other.

There’s the choice of medium. Animated works are great for specific things. For creating a visual style that outlasts the aging of your technology (great example: Psychonauts). For visual scenes that can’t be done with live-action, or would look terrible and inconsistent. For impossible camera angles and lighting effects and art styles that go beyond what costumes and make-up can begin to accomplish. This, I think, is why many of the best anime are genre fiction. Ones that aren’t, don’t need to be anime.

But look at LotGH. There are fight-scenes between spaceships, yes, but those have been being done with models since the dawn of TV sci-fi and no one’s minded. There’s no uncanny valley or the suchlike, after all, or at least there wasn’t at the time. Improvements in computer rendering are slowly creating one, but that’s another story. There are some pretty big “planetary-scale weaponry” scenes that maybe would look awful if not animated. But honestly, these scenes all looked pretty awful anyway. Without the benefits of nostalgia-vison, most of yesteryear’s big-budget eye-candy looks dreadful today (thanks hedonic treadmill). LotGH is no exception; another casualty in the inexorable grind of everything getting better all the time.

I’m not enough of an expert on visual media to explain why it looks so bad properly, but I’ll try anyway: there’s very poor sense of motion. It feels rigid. Details aren’t applied to where they need to be, and are often over-applied where they shouldn’t be. It looks for all the world like one of those old puppet-motion shows.

But the vast majority of the show just doesn’t need to be animated at all. People standing in rooms talking? Sounds like a good use of live-action to me. This would immediately fix all the show’s problems with wooden stances and expressions. The choice of medium is poor at best.

A point of praise is often noted to be the soundtrack, which is largely composed of classical European music. It’s very appropriate, considering the show is a Napoleonic costume drama. But that doesn’t necessarily make it the best possible choice. I’ve loved a whole bunch of choices with respect to soundtracks, but LotGH just doesn’t stand out. They wanted to seem fancy and refined, and chose classical music. Okay. Makes sense.

That is to say, the soundtrack is boring. Cliché. Uninspired in the absolute extreme. It’s not even a choice at all so much as the default. To say it leaves me unimpressed is an understatement of planet-busting magnitude.

And then there’s politics. “Ohhh, but it’s bad to not like a thing because you think its politics are wrong, you’re supposed to be objective.” Nope! If anything, the opposite. I’m not here to be objective: I’m here to complain.

If Utopianism and Dystopianism are flawed paradigms, then all the more so LotGH, which flirts with both. Granted it never falls into the worst traps, the starry-eyed optimism that ignores flaws or the dismissal of interesting questions by adding “… and then no one ever enjoyed anything ever again” as an unqualified assertion of the inevitable results of the author’s least favourite social policy. But nonetheless, for a show hyped for its amazing political commentary, LotGH is just So You’re A Reactionary: The Introductory Guide to Wishing for Kings. It pits an idealized monarchic state against a democracy that it clearly wants to be “warts and all” realistic, but the show can’t seem to bring itself to show anything except flaws. The ‘hero’ character of the republic is a mouthpiece to deploy further polemic, and a historian who loves the past. He has some lines mumbling something about believing in what he’s fighting for, but the sentiment is never really felt compared to his idolisation of bygone eras and admiration of his enemies.

Granted, the Empire is not all sunshine and roses in LotGH, but the hand on the scales of the political commentary is blatantly obvious and deeply obnoxious. Are political statements allowed to be art? Sure, I don’t see why not. But it’s harder to respect art that definitely picks a side, and art that picks a side while claiming not to do so is even worse, and art that picks the side you’re not on is always going to be less appealing still. But art that picks the side you’re not on and then tries to pass it off as objective or unbiased is borderline infuriating.

The sad thing is, I can see why people would love this aspect of it. No matter how much we dismiss the Puppies’ methods, specific aims, associations and general appearance of being destruction-seekers, their complaint that science-fiction has a leftist slant is pretty accurate. Of what rightist SF/F there is, most is pretty garbage. Finding something that flatters your preconceptions without going too far and being a transparent exercise in political propaganda is hard, and I don’t fault anyone for loving things that achieve that delicate balance for them.

I mean, I get it. Star Trek TNG in particular is egregiously left-of-center, and I can understand why people would be put off by that; please try to sympathise with my being put off by the exact mirror scenario.

The characters are also raved about. I won’t have much to say about them, though, since I can’t remember most of them. Some are obnoxious; some are contemptible, but the vast majority are just boring. No one in this show seems willing to stand up for their ideals (and no, “I really want to conquer the galaxy and rule all with an iron fist!” is not an ideal, no matter how nicely you phrase it), and no actual character conflict seems to occur. Characters are either Enemies, in which case they try to kill each other, or Allies, in which case they fight together (possibly while plotting betrayal for personal gain). Maybe they get to that later, but there’s a point where you go past “taking your time” into “taking the piss,” and that point is definitely less than 25 episodes into a show.

While I don’t want to dwell too much on the political angle, and I’m aware that reactionary readers would scorn such criticism, the show really lacks women. Like, people complain about Lord of the Rings for being sexist, but it at least has one strong-willed woman with goals and stuff. I’m not a fan of the Bechdel test, so here’s my test: could you randomize the genders of the cast without losing any important story aspects? If so, why didn’t you? The answer for both LotR and LotGH are that they’re a product of their era, and contain an implicit expectation that Fighting Is For Men. However, LotR is set in a fairly distant alternate past, and can be expected to take an ultra-conservative position – but instead includes the Shield-maiden for no reason other than it seemed cool and made sense. Whereas a good sci-fi author might try to extrapolate social trends into the future, which extrapolation for LotGH somehow concluded that the social structure centuries in the future would be uncannily identical to 17th century Prussia.

A list of questions the show never even pretended to answer:
How does interstellar travel work? What are the weapons the spacecraft use? What’s their effective range? Fighter-type craft are seen a few times – how is the balance between what look like battleship-type craft and carriers so near to perfect (in reality, naval combat turned from battleship-doctrine to carrier-doctrine very rapidly)? Why do space-battleships descend to planetary surfaces so often? How does interstellar communication work? Is it faster than travel, and if so, how? How do both sides maintain their large single-government existence across vast distances? How does the configuration of the strategic arena conspire to allow chokepoints such as Iserlohn (it’s outer space, just go around)? Speaking of Iserlohn, how is its energy generated? And why was it crewed exclusively by morons who can’t follow even the most basic security protocols? When a fleet’s supply lines are being discussed, what supplies are we talking about here? Food and water? What kind of timescales are we operating on (see earlier question about interstellar travel)? Why does anyone care about conquering anything at all when you have the technology to travel between stars? What possible desires are there left to satisfy by conquest? What happened to all the other, more plausible images of the future to prevent them happening (admittedly basically nothing ever addresses this one)? Why are static defenses used, ever? Why is Yang considered a genius for using “hit it with something moving very fast” against said defenses? Why are any of the heroic characters considered geniuses, given that frankly their strategies aren’t that brilliant and what we’re shown is simply that their presence in a fleet exerts some sort of auric influence that makes their ships shoot better, shrug off hits, etc? Seriously though, why did massive space battleships land themselves on planets like a bunch of delta-v-wasting chumps? Why did the original writer apparently not bother learning the basics of orbital mechanics, stellar physics, or it seems any science whatsoever before making the attempt? Did they think using fission weaponry against the entire surface of a planet would be efficient? Wait, are these spaceships carrying around fissile materials? Why not just lug a big ol’ box of rocks around space with you while you’re at it? Where are all the EVAs? The fancy futuristic spacesuits? Why did they end up fighting in an Ouroboros shape in the first episode? The Wattsonian reason, that is, the Doylist one is really obvious and really stupid. Why no relativistic kill vehicles? Are planets so individually valuable (in an entire galactic civilisation!) that you can’t afford to melt the crust of even one if doing so might put an end to an interminable bloody war? For that matter, why are mass drivers so rare in general?

You get the idea.

A lot of these questions may seem pointless. Surely all that irrelevant technobabble is what we want taken out of science fiction, to leave the pure essence of the story? No, it doesn’t work that way. The fundamental point of science fiction is that technology and story are inextricably bound up with one another. The constraints on what characters can do inform the audience’s expectations of what they will do, which in turns controls how the story can fulfill or defy those expectations. A great example of this, from the point of view of a character with near-godlike powers. But if you never learn what the constraints are, eventually the story dissolves into a disjointed series of events without any explanation. Oh such-and-such is travelling to wherever to stop so-and-so. Who will get there first? Hah, tough luck, there’s no way to determine that. It’ll happen when the story demands it and not a second sooner, y’hear! Maybe growing up reading fantasy stories that always include a map spoiled me.

Most importantly, why is explaining the above not even worthy of a throwaway line? “mumble mumble hyperspace inhibitors.” There, easy. That’s how Homeworld did it, and while it’s a total write-in of an explanation, it’s sufficient. Here’s my reasoning, which ties right back to the very first point. Legend of the Galactic Heroes is not science fiction. It’s literary fiction: the kind of fiction where you don’t have to explain anything because the assumption that the story takes place in the contemporary world and involves ordinary humans doing ultimately ordinary things is an assumption that is shared by the author and the audience. LotGH is a reskin of that, but the change is only surface deep.

It would be a lie to say I’m not interested in any literary fiction. It’s sometimes very good. But I am inevitably going to be dissatisfied with a literary piece trying to pass itself off as sci-fi, for the same reason that I’m not happy with even the very best coffee if it’s sold to me as tea. It doesn’t help that coffee is not a drink I enjoy even when I know what I’m getting in to.

In conclusion:


Look at Me, I’m Contrarian

GGG Design Philosophy – Points and Counterpoints

It’s a fairly common complaint, amongst both hardcore and softwcore players, that Path of Exile has no combat log that can be used to analyse the cause of a death after it happens. A point raised often in this thread is that “GGG doesn’t want to include a combat log, it would give players too much information.” The problems raised with players having too much information are:

  • The game would become too min-maxed, with players calculating how much survivability they need and getting exactly that much.
  • The presentation of the additional information might be overwhelming.
  • The game is supposed to be mysterious and difficult to understand.

I doubt the significance of these problems.

On the question of min-maxing, there are three realities to address. The first and most obvious is that most powerful hits from major bosses already have known approximate values. The idea that any information is actually being concealed here is laughable: the information is simply made less easily accessible. Second, the game simply doesn’t allow for such straightforward calculations. Between base damage variance, critical hits, overlapping AoEs, using defensive curses, being cursed, map modifiers, the various effects that can buff an enemy unexpectedly, and party-play buffs to enemies, as well as non-standard formulae for calculating the effect of armour and evasion, there are more than enough ways that players would be punished for trying to have only barely enough survivability. And third, the game is already a hugely complicated mess of mathematical min-maxing. That’s why people like it.

As to the question of presentation, I present that it is just that and no more. There’s little demand for ‘floating number’ style information – a combat log accessible after death would be quite sufficient. This might lead to a demand for always-accessible logs, which might in turn lead to third-party programs displaying numbers over the game (this sounds like it would be interacting with the game in memory, which I believe would violate the ToS and almost certainly be detectable). But even so, so what? If people want to debase the game, fine. They’re not gaining any unfair advantage by doing so (if anything, they’re disadvantaging themselves by obscuring the screen).

Lastly, there’s the philosophical point. We can break it into two parts:

  • Should a game have mysterious elements – information kept deliberately hidden from the player?
  • If so, is the manner in which a character dies an appropriate place for this?

On the former, I think a good case can be made either way. On the plus side, it can make a game more involving, letting players decide how deep down the rabbit hole they want to proceed. ARGs are the pinnacle of this: the entire game is the hiding of the information. Puzzle games somewhat less so, all the way down to straightforward board games like Chess or Go where the rules are laid out in their entirety from the very beginning. On the other hand, it is also fairly pointless. Consider the hiding of card rarities in early Magic history. This accomplished basically nothing except making the game harder to understand and creating booster packs where the rare card was a basic Mountain.

So maybe PoE should conceal certain information from the player. My contention is that this is not the right place to do it. Compare vendor recipes. These are pieces of information that are very well-suited to being concealed. A recipe, once discovered or learned, is permanently a part of the player’s ability to play the game. Not knowing a recipe may make a player less effective, but it does so “invisibly” – without the player being aware of what they don’t know until they learn it. And it’s predictable, both in the sense that a recipe can be shared easily across multiple players and experiments can be done to find hidden recipes. It’s practically the ideal example of a game developer hiding information from the player community in order to create fun experiences.

Now consider a character death in a hardcore league for comparison. Learning how much damage an attack deals is inexact and doesn’t permanently increase your skill – intuition won’t transfer well between characters with different survival strategies. For the same reason, the information transfers poorly. But most importantly, it’s really up-front and obvious when you don’t know why your character died. And it’s really frustrating. Learning that you could have been turning in your items differently for better rewards is a “kick yourself” moment. Learning that sometimes you’ll just die and the best way to avoid it is to just not do anything in the game because you can’t determine what is and isn’t dangerous might not cause immediate uninstallation, but it erodes a player’s desire to keep playing. After all, it’s not like there’s any practical difference between a game you play but don’t do anything in, and one you don’t play at all.

Overall, I don’t think there’s any good reason to not include combat logs on death in Path of Exile. The stated reasons either seem oblivious to the actual state of the game and the world – failing to account for the increased availability of information since the dawn of the ARPG genre – or philosophically tenuous, generically aimed at creating fun moments of discovery that simply don’t happen in the specific context in question.

GGG Design Philosophy – Points and Counterpoints

Against PJWs

Fiat justitia, et pereat mundus
-Ferdinand I

Epistemic status: mostly just complaining about deontologists’ constant attempts to frame arguments on their own terms.
Also, a smart person once said never to use politics as an example of more general issues. This is excellent advice and you should not emulate my total disregard of it.

Let us consider Procedural Justice. It contrasts sharply to Social Justice, which concerns itself with creating a good society through consideration of people. Procedural Justice is concerned with with creating a good society through consideration of rules.

The SJW, or “Social Justice Warrior,” has become a modern archetype. I am now convinced that, unlikable as they are, there is a brand of keyboard crusader I like equally little or potentially less: the Procedural Justice Warrior.

Consider the argument:

In a free market, all trade has to be voluntary, so you will never agree to a trade unless you believe it benefits you.
Further, you won’t make a trade unless you think it’s the best possible trade you can make. If you knew you could make a better one, you’d hold out for that. So trades in a free market are not only better than nothing in the opinion of the traders, they’re also the best possible transaction you could make at that time according to your judgment at the time.
Labor is no different from any other commercial transaction in this respect. You won’t agree to a job unless you believe it benefits you more than anything else you can do with your time, and your employer won’t hire you unless she believes it benefits her more than anything else she can do with her money. So a voluntarily agreed labor contract must benefit both parties in their opinion, and must be preferable at that moment over any other alternative.

What, exactly, makes the society that results from such actually good? Well, it’s not that the people in it are happy, fulfilled, free to pursue their dreams or generally flourishing. One can imagine this being the outcome, certainly, but it’s equally trivial to imagine how anarcho-capitalist society gives rise to misery, malcontent, and oppression. After all, this has already happened, probably more than once. Even with a magical power preventing “use of force,”  this would happen with probability near 1, unless we populate the society with robot angels. No, the reason this society is Perfect with a capital P is because it was arrived at by following the right procedure. It’s good by definition! Why should mere facts be allowed to interfere?

As Weltanschauung put it:

When it comes to social liberalism, libertarianism says “do not use the legal system to favour or disfavour any particular lifestyle”. Neoliberalism says “work to make sure society is approximately neutral between different lifestyle choices”. These are very very different! Libertarianism is, in theory, comfortable with cultural discrimination if done through “legitimate” means (i.e. respecting personal and property rights). Neoliberalism wants anti-discrimination law—whether regarding religion, race, gender, age, sexual preference—enforced on private businesses, charities and the government alike.

(emphasis mine). Libertarianism is in fact comfortable with any level of awfulness, provided it is done through “legitimate” means. It is an exact reversal of “the ends justify the means.” Instead, the means are supposed to justify the ends.

Let’s try a change of tack. What about:

Eurosceptics often claim that the EU is undemocratic. They argue that the EU’s decision-making procedures make it difficult for EU citizens to influence policy. Due to their complexity, these procedures also seem inaccessible to the ordinary voter. EU citizens do not feel that they have an effective way to change the course of EU politics and policy. Public disaffection has been expressed in the low turnouts at European elections, which reached an all-time low in 2014 with an EU average of just 42%

(Or the inverse case, Trump being defended as being Democratic and therefore Right)

The idea of being democratic has been elevated above the idea of getting things right. The heuristic has become the whole and sum of the law.

The essence of procedural justice is the implicit belief that if you perform the right ritual, goodness will happen as an automatic result. The elegance and obvious-rightness of the simple rule or rules is simply too enchanting to resist.

Just as SJWs approach arguments for conclusions they dislike by calling them racist etc, likewise PJWs have a default response. Think about the intention of calling someone a racist. They will usually hurry to disprove the accusation, noting that they have done un-racist-y things, etc. This will not save them, but it concedes the critical point that whether or not they’re a racist is important. The PJW, on the other hand, challenges someone to find ‘where the badness comes from.’ Like finding a mistake in a mathematical proof, if one step in the procedure is flawed, all that stems from it is dead at the root and cannot hold. But the trick was always in the structure of the argument. By trying to meet the challenge, just as with the SJW, the arguer walks into the trap. They implicitly concede that the structure of a mathematical proof, where goodness flows from good axioms to good theorems, is the appropriate structure for determining what is good.

I am only mostly a fool: it is probable that you, the reader, are yourself inclined towards a Procedural Justice view. It will be very tempting to say that it’s just obviously true that if you start with good axioms and can’t find anywhere for badness to come into the situation, then the outcome, whatever it may be, is obviously the best. This is exactly the same feeling the SJW has – that it’s just so obvious that good is what happens automatically when you just get rid of all the Oppression.

I really don’t know how to communicate across the inferential gap, though. I can give analogies, knowing they’re flawed:

Suppose we identify that electrons, protons and neutrons are fermions. We say these particles are “fermionic.” Then we ask whether a helium atom is fermionic. Since it has 2 protons, 2 neutrons and 2 electrons, it must be six times as fermionic as any one of those particles. But that isn’t the case, because the property “fermionic” isn’t an abstract basic quantity, but rather a specific state of affairs that can be cancelled out. Likewise, just because any one voluntary trade of property makes both parties better off, it doesn’t follow that any possible arrangement of voluntary trades of property makes all involved parties well off.

But this is hopeless. It can’t overcome the intuition. The Chasm is deep, and full of terrors.

The important part is that I’ve found a way to feel superior to both.

I am not inclined to agree with Chapman’s conception of “metarationality.” It seems like the only reason for it is to attack a straw caricature of rationality while selling something that smells strongly of the old box-outside-the-box. But maybe he has a point. His straw-rationality seems to be strongly similar to the PJW archetype. His proposed solution doesn’t seem very, uh, concretely defined, but might be a step in the right direction – away from the idea that goodness comes from having the right system, and towards the idea that you must choose the right systems to produce goodness.

The thing to remember is that systems designed to produce good outcomes aren’t guaranteed to do so. Of course, this doesn’t mean we should throw the system away every time it gives a result we don’t like – sadly, there’s no procedure to decide when to do so. Sorry about that.

Against PJWs

Code Diary 03 – AlphaVEN highlights and lowlights

The code this time is too long to reproduce here in its entirety, so check it out here if you’re interested. I’ll be going over some of the more interesting and ugly parts here.

Keyword Arguments Everywhere


    def __init__(self, **kwargs):
        """Create a new Maker."""
        self.title = kwargs["title"] if "title" in kwargs else DEFAULTOUTPUT
        self.fadetime = kwargs["fadetime"] if "fadetime" in kwargs else DEFAULTFADETIME
        self.format = kwargs["format"] if "format" in kwargs else DEFAULTFORMAT      
        #Not yet implemented functionally speaking:
        self.resolution = kwargs["res"] if "res" in kwargs else DEFAULTRES

kwargs are great! Important usage note:

    def createMakers(self):
        """Create a Maker for each of the outputs."""
        self.makers = []
        for para in self.paralist:
            #Extract the inputs and transitions
            paratitle = para.split('\n')[0]
            lines = para.split('\n')[1:]
        paramaker = maker.Maker(title=paratitle, **self.gensetdict)

If gensetdict is empty, this calls maker.Maker() without any keyword arguments. This lets me avoid having separate code for calling functions when I don’t have any arguments for them. Very convenient!

The Worst Function I’ve Written (so far)

Speaking of createMakers, it might be the worst function I’ve ever written. I won’t reproduce it here, because it’s huge, and also because it should probably be quarantined. It went through about 5 versions and used to be much worse, but is still 81 lines long and definitely not performing just a single action. It should be set on fire restructured into several functions. However, those would probably have to have a whole bundle of inputs and outputs.

Object Orientation
        if "fadein" in kws:
            if kws["fadein"]:
                self.fadein = kws["fadein"]
            elif not (kws["fadein"] == None or kws["fadein"] == 0):
                #If the fade time isn't explicitly 0
                self.fadein = self.videosegment.parentvideo.maker.fadetime
                self.fadein = None
            self.fadein = False

Man, look at that chain of objects! I have no idea if this is a good or bad idea, but it certainly looks cool. And hey, imagine if it were Java:
Ewwww. And that’s assuming you don’t need to cast the fadetime to the right type of numeric, heh.

Abusing Truthiness

Notice how in the above code, I check if kws["fadein"] is exactly equal to “None” or “0” rather than just checking if it counts as True (both None and 0 count as False in Python). This is to distinguish three cases:

  • There is a fade-in, and it has a time.
  • There is a fade-in, and it should use the default time.
  • There is a fade-in, and it has 0 duration.

(ok, maybe this is actually the worst code I’ve ever written)

Why Doesn’t This Come With The Package?
def timediff(t1, t2):
    """Find the absolute difference between two datetime Times.
    Returns a timedelta object.
    delta1 = dt.timedelta(hours=t1.hour, \
                          minutes=t1.minute, \
                          seconds=t1.second, \
    delta2 = dt.timedelta(hours=t2.hour, \
                          minutes=t2.minute, \
                          seconds=t2.second, \
    return abs(delta2 - delta1)

Seriously, why did I have to write this? Is there some reason to not define a difference between two times?

Overall Thoughts

On the one hand, AlphaVEN was hideous before this. It didn’t even assemble the videos itself, which meant rendering every video twice – a massive timesink. On the other hand, this was a pain to write, isn’t particularly impressively done, and not necessarily fully functional. There are some definite improvements to be made.

Python is 100% the right language to do this. A powerful, flexible language that still functions like a shell script when needed. (I do use other languages. Sometimes. But usually, I find myself wondering why I would want to make life hard for myself).

This ought to make assembling streams into videos really easy, if I get round to actually doing so.

Code Diary 03 – AlphaVEN highlights and lowlights

A Series Of Very Short Reviews Without Any Particular Theme

Almost all of these short stories feel too caught up in their own cleverness. Some, like Silver Fire, also seem to be struggling with the weight of a not-particularly-brilliant political message. Potentially worth reading but you can easily find better things to do.

Oh, they tried so hard. Really great serious near-future sci-fi, right up until the end where (spoilers) several character arcs derail badly and we’re left with a message of “don’t trust brown people, and keep women at home where they belong.” Yes, I am indirectly judging other people’s culture. Still recommended.

The Martian
At first I loved it, but the almost episodic storyline and weird, badly-done breaks to typical omniscient narrative perspective dragged it down. Combines both of the above in terms of originality and well-researched hard sci-fi, but lacks on the storytelling front. Flip a coin for it.

It’s exactly the right length. Definitely worth watching.

Nadia and the Secret of Blue Water
The great parts are truly great. The good parts are enjoyable. The bad parts are all too numerous. If you’ve watched every Ghibli movie twice and still need more in the same vein, give it a go, otherwise probably don’t bother.

9M9H9E9’s Narrative
When it’s weird and metaphorical, it’s good. When it’s literal, it’s still good but in a “good for a creepypasta or SCP entry” way rather than “just good literature” way. Arguably closer to an ARG than a story.

Ori and the Blind Forest
I guess if you’re really into Metroidvania games and basically only care about visual appeal, this one’s for you? But really, the two conflict too much – precision platforming doesn’t mix with pretty, hitbox-obscuring art-style. The best feature mechanically is letting you save anywhere by expending MP, except when the game decides to not allow that, which, you guessed it, is whenever things are most difficult and frustrating. The soundtrack’s good, I guess.

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane
On the plus side, it is amazing on every level. On the minus side, Pratchett won’t be writing any more witches books, and Gaiman’s version is just a little short of that level of amazing while still being heartbreakingly reminiscent of it. Read this.

Log Horizon
Utterly charming, and a delight to see “taking the hypothetical seriously” done so well. It feels strange to say this, but it’s sorely let down by its aesthetic (or lack thereof). The visuals just come across as “cookie-cutter modern anime” where they could have done so much more. Still a must-see.

Persona 4
Several characters are good, but the game feels ludicrously bloated and has terrible pacing. The mechanical aspects are polished, but this is absolutely a guide-based game. At the very least, I think you’re supposed to play it twice and take notes on how to maximise your numbers rather than enjoying the plot which just seems wrong. Skip this one.

A Series Of Very Short Reviews Without Any Particular Theme

The Ten-Minute GG

Or, “World’s Most Delusionally Hopeful Support Tells Their Team To Not Give Up Yet, They Can Still Win If They Work Together :)”

I expect Brexit to happen, or at least be alarmingly close, for roughly the same reasons I expect a Trump presidency: it’s too stupid to avoid.

Consider DotA. In the game, when your team starts losing ground, there’s usually someone who gives up. They say something like “gg mid noob I afk jungle.” The Leave campaign reminds me strongly of this. Things aren’t going as well as they want, they’re not willing to coordinate on how to fix it, they sure as sugar don’t want to take the personal loss of abandoning the game outright and maybe ending up in low priority (this would be the equivalent of moving to a different country because you don’t like the one you’re in. A really awful different country where people only speak Russian swear-words and can’t last hit for beans).

Now, the quitters don’t always follow through on their promise, but even when they don’t, would you care to guess how often you win those games? It’s not very often. To be sure, DotA is a snowball game and it’s always hard to come back from a bad start, but it’s noticeably worse when morale is falling apart and people are bailing on even trying to help the team win.

This analogy is rather unfair. In DotA you are inherently, by the structure of the game, stuck trying to achieve the same goal as the rest of your team. But in the case of Brexit, the argument is that we’re not inherently on the same team and in fact don’t share the same goals. I’m not at all convinced that this is the case. It seems like the broad goals of the EU – peace in Europe, free trade and movement, the ability to compete with the likes of the US and China on things like space programs and particle physics research – are things we actually benefit from a lot. So insofar as we want these things, how is being the aggrieved carry player bitterly disappointed that his team aren’t as undeniably amazing as he is going to help us get them?

The arguments for leaving fall into roughly three categories: appeals to abstractions like Independence without any attachment to reality; arguing that immigrants are bad; and bleating that the Stay campaign are scawy fearmongerers who abuse their authority to manipulate public opinion, which is not in fact any kind of argument at all.

The argument around abstractions I find annoying. Arguing issues like, say, fishing quotas, is fine. Just trying to blend all of one side of those arguments together into a big glowy ball of positive affect with a name like Self-Governance is cheating. It doesn’t actually answer the question of any of the individual issues! “Oh but we have a right to self-govern.” No we don’t! Rights don’t exist! And even if they did, they’d relate to individuals, not groups! And if that particular right existed, you could use it to argue all the way to having Little Winchfield secede. Does any group of people (how large?) get to break off from anything any time they fancy? Gaaah.

The immigration argument I try and fail to sympathise with. I can’t seem to find any way to make it work without requiring that Brits be inherently more important to me than other humans, which they aren’t. The closest anything gets is that certain public institutions are close to breaking-point, and adding more people makes them less effective for everyone – so it’s not like an immigrant takes healthcare away from one Briton for a net change in supplied health of nothing, but rather reduces the availability of it for a hundred Britons, giving a net negative change. The problem with this is that no one saying it was previously arguing that we need to curtail all forms of population growth at all costs, and they still aren’t. This leads to the unpleasant conclusion that the people saying this don’t seriously believe it and are mostly about the nationalism. Insofar as it’s a good argument regardless of whether they believe it or not, my position is that we should try to build stronger institutions rather than trying to decide which people are and are not worthy of being allowed the use of them. If the latter appeals to you, why not just privatise everything? This would give us a very simple way to determine which people deserve to access British healthcare: the ones who can afford to. Interested?

Overall, the Leave position seems very weak, but my core reason for thinking so is that the people arguing for it remind me of people I hate playing a video game with, so my position is definitely biased.

The Ten-Minute GG

Dear Dinosaur,

So, a year late to the controversy party, I read “If You Were A Dinosaur, My Love” on the recommendation of Eneasz Brodski. But does this sound familiar: a tragic story about loss is presented using masterful language and receives great critical acclaim, from which follows a backlash from those who don’t consider it part of the medium it was being acclaimed in?

I can’t remember how long ago I ‘played’ Dear Esther, but it was fairly soon after it was first released as a kinda clunky mod rather than its own ‘game.’ I liked it a lot, almost entirely because of its haunting visual beauty (only gets better in the final release), great choice of soundtrack and delightful narration/writing. But note the absence of any actual video-game elements from it – apart from the random choice of narration fragments, you’d think it could be done just as well as a short animation.

In fact, Dear Esther only works when the player can treat it like a game even though it’s not. By expecting to be involved in the story in the way a game’s player is, you end up being exactly that. You have to believe that you are the story’s teller in the same way you can believe that you are Chell or DeWitt, and the absolutely minimal amount of control – just enough to walk around as you please – is necessary to achieve that.

Now compare If You Were…, which is not a SF/F story. But by believing it kinda-sorta-is, the reader can be persuaded to humour the narrator’s flights of fancy for just long enough for the author to throw out a BE SAD NOW, drop the mic and leave. As far as I know, though, If You Were… never sold itself as being SF/F, it just got a nomination for a Hugo from fans willing to push a boundary.

If You Were… is perhaps less genre-fiction than Dear Esther is a game. But the resemblance is nonetheless quite striking, especially when you take into account the reaction each received. It should come as no surprise that the “urgh who put this smug literary crap in my vidya” faction quickly allied with the “urgh who put this smug literary crap in my SF/F” faction.

Overall I liked Dear Esther a lot more. In particular, while both are well-written, Dear Esther impressed me a lot more with its focus on meter and pace. Also, it’s really pretty.

Dear Dinosaur,