Monday, May 25, 2015

Here's this really dumb thing I did in the Witcher 3

I’ve been playing the Witcher 3 a fair amount in the past week, though due to work and youtube stuff I haven’t had a ridiculous amount of time with it yet. Once I reached the larger overworld I immediately set to exploring as much of the world as possible with no regard to my miniscule level; and lo! I found a pretty interesting quest line that was level 24. So I decided what the hell, let’s give it a shot. And somehow it worked, big assist to NPC helper buddies. The quest reward wound up being pretty crappy since I was so low level but it was really fun just being able to dick around 30-40 hours past where I was supposed to be.

Eibhear Hattori, an elvish scumbag, wants you to help him secure supplies so he can go back to being a smith, which apparently he’s pretty good at. However he was forced into the dire trade of “Master of Dumplings” (“mmm… tasty” says Geralt) and amusingly enough this has proven to be quite profitable; however he grows tired, hence the initiation of the quest. Eventually you wind up negotiating a la the Departed or something, but the guy you’re negotiating with really isn’t that unreasonable so you kind of just realize that Eibhear is a moron; regardless (I believe) you wind up fighting about 6 level 24-25 dwarves, all of which could kill me in one hit. So I went and cowered behind some boxes until the NPC guy did all the work. Hell of a guy that King of Beggars assistant.

This then leads to a few amusing scenes and Eibhear eventually runs, terrified, back to his shop. You meet him there and he keeps whining for a bit; but suddenly has a bright idea (why wasn’t this the plan all along?) to send you to Sukrus of Skellige; who you have to fight outside a bar. Took a while for the NPC to actually load in so I just sat around for about 45 seconds. Fortunately fist fighting isn’t scaled to your level so I still managed to kick Sukrus’ behind; and then we had a chat in the bar. Turns out he’s just a super cool dude; way less of a douche than Eibhear himself. I love the Witcher’s depiction of these kinds of characters that runs totally against the standard generic oaf.

Anyway you help him out so that he eventually helps you out, then you meet a guy who makes a Witcher 2 (and possibly book) reference, I wound up just getting level 3 in Axii to make this go smoothly. After this there’s a big rumble outside, but true to form the game provides you with more allies so you don’t actually have to do anything. Foolishly I decided to try to participate and died to the last guy when he had about 2-3% hp left or so (in one hit naturally), then it took me a few tries to find a safe afking location; but pacifism eventually won the day.

After bidding Sukrus good day I went off to see the smith and collect my shit, unfortunately even though the quest scaled to level 24 the loot didn’t and I wound with a level 2 “relic” sword that was worse than a random drop that I found on the quest. It’s possible the sword is upgradeable and it does look cool, but naturally this was a bit of a bummer; one that you’d expect a douche like Eibhear to provide. However I still immensely enjoyed screwing around with the game’s difficulty systems and unlocking a master smith super early on for the hell of it. I’ll revert to an earlier save just so the sword isn’t useless but this game’s pretty good; even if it seems like you’re directed on a particular main route you can still dick around wherever the hell you want and might even be able to finish elaborate questlines to boot.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Mad Max - Fury Road

Mad Max is easily the best pure action movie to come out in well over a decade, that doesn’t mean everyone will like it equally but the first 2 action sequences are amongst the best ever put on film. The final action sequence is almost as good but I think the audience will be very slightly weary of the same basic setpiece, even if it’s an incredible fucking setpiece. Also the leadup to the denouement is just a little bit too long, it’s certainly not tiresome in that process but if you want to compete with T2 your pacing has to not only be good or great but absolutely perfect.

So how does it stack up to Terminator 2? Well they both have ridiculous trucking fetishes that I’m sure most people will appreciate, they both have female badass characters, and they both have motorcycles and lots of explosions. T2 is mostly actually stuff they filmed though (including a helicopter flying under an overpass) and Mad Max is probably about 50/50 or 40/60 on CGI (which is certainly much better than most movies at present). I actually like the annoying kid from T2, I freely admit it, but for all the people that don’t this movie’s closest analogue is not that young and has so much gusto it’s very hard to dislike him. Nicholas Hoult, the guy who plays Beast in X-Men, plays this character and shows quite a bit of range so doing.

Just how metal is this movie? I think it’s probably the most metal you can fit in 2 hours before you ascend to Chrome Valhalla Heaven. As a Man’o’War fan I really appreciate the obsession with Norse Mythology and the fucking incredible vehicle/character designs going on. I suppose it’s worth mentioning that Mad Max himself (played well by Tom Hardy, I get the feeling this is the Bane voice minus audio editing) looks amazing when he has an iron imprisoned mask on and just looks sort of bland afterward. I mean the villain has a gigantic fuck off army of 60-70 vehicles ranging from Mustang-Tanks to VW Beetle Monster Trucks to a rival Semi the likes of which the legends speak. To prepare yourself for this movie I highly recommend this video:

It’s just so fucking cool, I don’t have any other way to put it, one admires the raw industry of the villain and his methods of controlling the populace. There isn’t really a comparable movie out there, every Super Hero movie follows a very similar arc so they’re inherently predictable; which ones are vaguely close to Mad Max in some way? Iron Man 3 is probably the best comedy in the past 10 years, the first Avengers is the best CGI action movie but still certainly vastly inferior to this on most fronts just due to the nature of CGI, Edge of Tomorrow is a much more interesting movie fundamentally but can’t stack up on the action side of things, The Dark Knight is probably a better movie but does flipping a semi in real life compete with blowing up 3 or 4 semis with explosive spears and the aid of CGI? I dunno. In a world where Furious 7 grosses 1.47 billion to actually have a good car movie come out is kind of shocking to be honest; sometimes the movie industry just pulls magic out of the hat and you really feel like there’s some originality and creativity left in the world. As long as there’s milk farms consisting of giant fat ladies the world is safe and sound.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Breaking Down a Game of Thrones Action Sequence

So this past Sunday the beloved Barristan Selmy was presumably slain at the hands of the “Sons of the Harpy”. This was particularly surprising considering he’s still alive in the books and is probably one of the more likely characters to not die for quite some time. I actually applaud this decision and the willingness to stray quite clearly from the path that the lethargic George RR Martin has set, it means the show will be less predictable and it also means that Peter Dinklage will likely have a more interesting role in the future; which can only be a good thing.

However in eliminating an exalted combatant such as Selmy one needs to take special care that the audience doesn’t lose faith in his skills in the process of him dying. In this case 7 Unsullied + Barristan fought around 20 knife guys and apparently everyone died except Grey Worm (Grey Worm himself being another of the foremost warriors in the world), this wasn’t an ambush in favor of the 20; no no no in fact the assassins were chased down and caught essentially, which in any case would put them at a severe disadvantage.

Non Orthodox troops, such as guerilla fighters in modern wars will only have a functional advantage when fighting regular Orthodox troops if they have the initiative; if the ambush is laid by them and triggered as they expect. Orthodox troops will absolutely annihilate non-Orthodox in a straight fight, and must be worn down over time. The Unsullied are supposed to be amongst the best troops in the world so naturally they would have an enormous edge in this fight, even when outnumbered. For the whole “Dagger beats spear” in close quarters argument, yes that’s true but Greek Hoplites also wielded swords and it’s rather farcical for spearmen to be roaming the streets as police when they could easily be using their swords instead; however even if they used spears they would probably still have an edge simply due to superior training and teamwork.

However in the show they really don’t have any teamwork, in fact there’s little or no communication at all once the fighting starts. The Unsullied could have easily held the hall with 4 or so men abreast on either side (reminiscent of Winfield Scott Hancock’s stand at Chancellorsville that secured the Union retreat); but instead they split up for no reason and just acted like morons in general. Even accepting that the Unsullied somehow lose this impossible to lose fight you still have Grey Worm and Selmy backing them up, and presumably these 2 could probably take a whole shitload more knife guys unless they were incredibly capable (from the shows’ depiction they just seem to be fanatics and not ably trained warriors).

For Grey Worm I’ll draw a comparison to one Zhao Yun or Zhao Zilong, Zhao Yun is historically one of the greatest Chinese warriors who ever lived and his most famous accomplishment was riding amongst a 200,000 man host with only a few companions and wreaking havoc for about 5 or 6 hours, saving the totally worthless Liu Shan in the process and even nabbing a really nice sword for more killing. This is ably discussed in Three Kingdoms but as far as I know this is not a fabrication, there are certainly elements of RoTK that are but Chang Ban is an historical event and Zhao Yun really did lead a cavalry charge through enemy lines reminiscent of JEB Stuart’s performance during the peninsular campaign. So essentially Zilong was worth say 200 guys or so on that given day, if he is capable of that then surely a fictional character in a universe with dragons and undead ladies is capable of taking on 10 chumps with daggers.

As far as Selmy goes he even has it worse, he gets in there right near the end of the fight which should have been quite a surprise for the Harpy bros and immediately starts murdering fools. But the harpys don’t even give a shit, they’re not taken aback by his presence instead they seem to fight with even more fervor; this is not how this supposed to work. He only had around 7 to fight and he could easily eliminated 3 of them with his opening salvo so there would remain 4 or so, and these 4 would not really be up for fighting immediately if he doesn’t give them a chance to catch their breath and pushed his advantage; he might take a few wounds so doing but this is the best warrior on the planet surely he can handle some random guys. Nope.

If we want to go more in depth with the numbers game we can look at more Three Kingdoms examples, such as Zhang Liao’s 800 man rush into Sun Quan’s army of 100,000 which led to the defeat of the Southern army. Yes perhaps in actual history Sun Quan only had 10,000 men or so but that’s still over 12 times as many troops; so yes 8 elite warriors can take on 20 knife wielding scrubs and even do so easily as long as they’re not in a horribly disadvantageous position. The preposterousness of the scene just eventually caught up to me, despite my appreciation for killing off Selmy randomly.

So, what options do we have to make the scene better? Well I count three. The first is simply to add a shitload more Harpies, hire more extras you cheapskate bastards, if there were 80 of those guys in there I would have totally bought what happened; but it just wasn’t compelling enough as is. The choreography could use some work as well but that’s beside the point. Though of course 8 guys could probably take 80 in a narrow hallway where the number advantage was largely negated, so this option is not really that great.

The next option is to let Selmy and Grey Worm win the fight, however as they reconcile and gradually walk off into the sunset out of the blue an individual harpy runs up from behind and stabs Barristan through the heart. Selmy is enraged by this impossible event, turns around and decapitates his assailant. He then says “I am a Knight” and dies in Grey Worm’s loving arms. This is a little silly but it does work, the only situation where the Non Orthodox troops will win in a straight fight is when they catch the opponent unawares.

The third option is a lot more interesting and would show a level of tactical thought that neither George RR Martin nor whoever directed this episode possesses, however one can dream. The Unsullied chase down the Harpies, who briefly fight and lose a few men and then run (as Non Orthodox troops would always do in this situation), the Unsullied give chase and wind up in a large empty room. Suddenly over a hundred Sons of the Harpy close in from all sides and bumrush the Unsullied. They still fight poorly in comparison but the positional advantage combined with the surprise leads to their eventual victory after taking many casualties (think Tet Offensive numbers); Selmy bursts in and the tide seems to be turning in favor of him and Grey Worm, but Selmy is mortally wounded in the proceedings.

This is called a feint, a simple action to pretend an offensive measure only to lure the opponent into a more dangerous trap; feints are a thing of beauty and something that Satellites have kind of ruined as far as major wars go. In executing this tactically brilliant maneuver the Sons of the Harpy seem much more threatening while Selmy’s erstwhile invincible reputation remains undisturbed and everyone’s pretty much happy in the end.  Except Bronn because he really is invincible.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Avengers - Age of Ultron

This film is odd, it comes out after literally millions of other marvel films have hit the market with the exact same template; only it has the Joss Whedon template as well which is also very similar between movies. The first Avengers may have had that issue going in but it had some really amazing action sequences and the movie didn’t really drag at all; there were a lot of characters in the first film but they didn’t feel the need to make every one of them feel super special and unique or anything so there wasn’t a shitload of idle dialogue.

That’s not the case here, almost every major character has roughly the same amount of screen time and they all have backstory (yes, backstory) embedded in the movie as though that’s what you’re looking for out of an Avengers flick. Aside from the villain I really don’t think anyone needed backstory in this movie; maybe Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, and Quicksilver but that’s about it. Essentially the film has mountains of “Mass Effect” style dialogue where the characters are just kind of standing around performing very similar animations that you’ve seen before and talking about cool stuff that doesn’t actually take place in the movie. So yes a Black Widow origin film could be good Mr. Whedon, but I don’t really give a fuck in the context of this movie so please just let me see some badass shit happen; that’s why I’m here after all.

It has to be almost an hour between the first two action sequences and the entire time is filled with exposition, backstory, or vaguely interesting but still somewhat terrible romance sideplots. So, how is the action, you ask? Well it’s good but it’s not the best which is what I would have expected from this movie. The coolest bits aside from Hulkbuster are when Thor and Captain America do a “team super” but those are each about 2-3 seconds long so it’s not like the whole movie carries that intensity. Jeremy Renner is fucking incredible in this because he’s Jeremy Renner and actually a good actor, but at one point he’s like “you know I just kind of have a lame bow and arrow” and while the line delivery is fantastic he’s absolutely right as well; to make Hawkeye work he really needs to be doing crazy/impossible trick shots at every turn or something but he only has a few in the movie and they linger for less than a second so the audience could blink and miss them.

How are the new characters? Again I think they’re alright, James Spader performs acceptably in his role; in fact with a better movie surrounding it I think his role would be perfectly functional; but he would really have to be intimidating/super awesome to negate some of the lethargy of the rest of the film. Scarlet Witch is played by Elizabeth Olsen (younger sister of Mary Kate and Ashley), who has been in a lot of movies and I know for a fact is a talented actress but she’s just underwhelming/disinteresting in this; I’m sorry. Quicksilver is okay, he sucks compared to the dude from X-Men though, who was in that movie for like 3 minutes. Paul Bettany’s role is improved I suppose and should be relatively interesting in future movies.

This movie kind of just starts and ends with no impetus on either side and only a little bit of legitimate tension throughout; in fact I think the trailer made moments in the movie that are underwhelming seem intense. There isn’t really an action climax to speak of; the end has 15-20 minutes of action that’s all pretty good but it doesn’t build up in a satisfying fashion and the pacing isn’t the greatest throughout. The movie kind of just ends with your stereotypical Joss Whedon plot twist thrown in there, but just due to the context of the film they couldn’t actually make that interesting or use someone important in the machinations (whereas the plot twist in the first Avengers worked rather well and didn’t just randomly happen at the end, even if it was also predictable).
In some sense this movie feels like Serenity, a movie where the characters are already beloved and you’re going to be seeing them for the last time anyway. That is obviously not the case for most of the characters in this film. Also Serenity had a 28 million dollar budget so the fact that it didn’t have a ton of action was understandable. For this movie they must have just spent way too much money on actors without actually bothering to put together a cohesive plot; so with 300 million dollars you don’t actually wind up getting all that much of that bombastic, ridiculous action that you go in expecting.

Alright so I don’t think this movie is bad, in fact I think it’s pretty good but there were 3 Marvel movies that came out last year that were better. There was Edge of Tomorrow last year and it completely obliterates this in every way imaginable (there’s a movie with 2 characters and it crushes your 15 character movie). The most interesting part of this movie is just going to remain how well it does at the box office; and if 30% of the audience feels that it’s underwhelming then presumably it won’t do totally insane beyond the first weekend. But we’ll see I suppose. Hopefully they learn some stuff from this and the third movie is fantastic again.