Thursday, August 26, 2010

Bioshock 2

Continuing the ongoing series in which I review games many months after their release (I'm thinking it might have managed a year actually), I recently played Bioshock 2.

Its pretty fun. Rapture is a gorgeous world to explore, and playing as a big daddy was cute, and also gave you a clear motivation, something that wasn't entirely obvious in the first game. The story is adequate. There are no real twists and turns, and the main villain's plan is basically nuts- there is an attempt at the notion of a competing philosophy with Lamb's collectivism, but the reason it fails is not as evidenct as with Ryan's plans. It does the job. One nice element thats added in is that along with the little sister choice from before you can now choose to spare several npcs, which is a really nice touch (although I don't know how any humans survive in rapture- one thing the game never makes very clear is how they manage to command the splicers at all), and has a fairly interesting impact to the game ending. Its certainly a bit more nuanced than the original game.

The action is a lot more fun, than the original. You end up fighting over the same areas a lot, and with the ability to use plasmids and weapons together it can get very good. The game has a habit of throwing hordes of enemies at you, which is mostly fun. It doesn't always work. Part of the game is protecting little sisters as they gather adam, but you can't choose which corpses you gather from. This is probably a way to make sure you don't use the same part of the level repeatedly, but it would have been far better if there had been multiple choices, each in a different area. There are certain corpses that require defence from all angles and end up being incredibly frustrating.

Also the completist in me likes to do these sections all at once, and they eat up ammo and health, which the game is a bit stingy about to be honest, so the only real choice is to wonder and explore, or just keep coming from the vita chamber. The vita chambers make a mockery of the little sister fights, which are my least favourite part of the game. The big sister appears after you have saved the final little sister in any section, which means you are usually low on health and ammo, and thus often get sent to the vita chamber and have to fight again... while being even lower on health and ammo. Their health reduces, so you wittle them down, but its hardly an epic fight. I suspect you can turn the chambers off, and its probably the best idea, to force you to re-load and fight better, as the alternative is just boring.

Still, at a certain point in the game you find yourself with massess of ammo and powers, which makes the last third of the game immense fun as you conduct massive battles, harnessing all your considerable power.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

on censorship and taste

Liam Fox wants the latest medal of honor game banned. Well, he is our defense secretary, so I suppose his ideas on freedom of speech don't matter that much, but it still makes him a reactionary idiot.

Banning stuff is bad for society. It drives bad ideas underground where they can't be quashed, and raises the eternal question- where is the line? What is acceptable and what isn't? A healthy society can deal with horrid content by not consuming that content. If a film or game is offensive, it is your right not to watch or play it, but it really isn't your right to stop other people from doing so! When we begin to talk of what public money is spent on, then perhaps we have a clearer argument, but even then I would prefer to err in favour of freedom of speech.

For me there are precisely three exceptions to freedom of speech: libel, profit from illegal acts and genuine public health risks. If you deliberately spread malicious mistruths that can harm another person's reputation, then you should be controlled. If you attempt to film genuine illegal things in a gratiutous manner then you should be censored (because criminals shouldn't profit from their acts), and if you are doing something that could pose a genuine health problem, such as inciting violence (and this has to be pretty DAMN clear), then you should be stopped.

Medal of Honor, to my knowledge, will disobey none of those. None the less, its a pretty tasteless enterprise. A game set in a conflict that is still going on is pretty poor taste, especially an action game. MOH is hardly going to be an insightful look at either side of the conflict- it'd just be as bad as Stallone creating his next vechile there.

If the game is as tasteless as I suspect it is, I have an excellent choice over calling for it to be banned. I'll simply not play it.

Labels: , ,

Friday, August 13, 2010


Tom wrote a nice post on extreme atheists recently, but I think he got the title wrong. The people he's talking about aren't extreme atheists, because that conjours up images of bloodshed and violence. Instead, evangalist atheist is a more accurate title.

Evangalists are, from my personal experience, people who have often converted later in life- they have mostly either been a fervid believer of something else, or been surrounded by people of that belief system and felt constrained by it. Finally they discover something new and empowering, whether thats god or the lack therof, and they are so astonished by this revelation that they want to tell everyone. They can't believe quite how stupid they were before, how they swallowed their previous belief systems ideology, and are happy to make their decision known to others, by pointing out those failings.

Sadly, most evangalists are obnoxious. Their inability to talk about anything other than their new faith (yes, I'm going to call atheism a faith for the purposes of this post), and to force it into every conversation, is extremely tiresome. Most, I suspect, calm down after a while, and learn that being rude to people is not an effective way of changing their opinions. I want to change minds, and I'm happy to engage in a discussion, but I am fully aware that ranting to every non-atheist that I meet about how stupid I think their beliefs are are not going to win them over.

I know I've discussed evangalism before, and I do think its a dangerous habit, because evangalists tend to exaggerate the problems of their old beliefs way past what they are. But my primary reason for writing this is to point at this post by John Walker.

John Walker is an excellent games journalist. He is freelance, and has worked for several magazines. I am mainly familiar with him thanks to the splendid pc gaming blog rock paper shotgun, plus his and Nick Mailer's podcast, Rum Doings, which I would heartily recommend (Nick Mailer is not a video game fan, so be not put off by that!) He writes on various subjects, including skeptisism and television. He's a fun and interesting writer with opinions that are worth reading.

This latest post on his blog is very much about his belief in God, and how he thinks an advert for church is exceedingly misleading. Now some people have disagreed with Mr Walker over said advert- indeed I sounded a note of caution as well, which I'm not going to discuss here. Incredibly shockingly though, one person threatened to unsubcribe from his blog, and another actually did.

Good grief. This is an astonishing reaction to have to discovering someone's beliefs. I understand why people might be disappointed, certainly, to discover that someone they enjoy reading believes something they do not agree with, but to decide to never read that person again (and announce it to them, in a rather rude manner)... thats bizzare. He hasn't changed. He was never not a christian, he just hadn't mentioned it on his blog before, and theres absolutely no indication that that is all he will ever write about again. I literally cannot imagine doing that on such a harmless discovery. If he had revealed that he was a holocaust denier, perhaps, but he revealed a very personal faith- he's made it quite clear that he doesn't impose his beliefs on others, and in most indications he's a very liberal minded gentleman.

I really have nothing more to say on this matter, only disappointment that there exist people who would act in such a manner.


Thursday, August 05, 2010

The Beschel test

I posted a link to this, with the Beschel test, which asks

1. Are there at least two women characters in the film?
2. Who talk to each other?
3. About something other than a man?

So out of curiosity, I decided to apply this to imdb. In interest of fairness, I shall apply this to both men and women. (note that this is done from memory, so mistakes may be made)

[note: I started writing this list a while ago, so places have shifted slightly. In particular, 25-50 were done about two weeks after 1-25]

1.The Shawshank Redemption. Does not feature any female roles.
2.The Godfather. Does have female roles, but they rarely converse with each other, and if they do, its talking about men
3.Inception. Does have some strong female roles. When Adriane and Mal chat, however, they are only talking about Cobb
4.Godfather part 2. Same issues as the godfather.
5.The Good the Bad and the Ugly. Been a while since I've seen this, but i'm not sure there are any female roles at all in this film.
6.Pulp Fiction. Lots of female roles, but they are often passive. And none of them talk to each other.
7. Schindler's List. Not much for women to do in this film. I think it technically passes from certain scenes in the film.
8. 12 angry men. Faiiiils.
9. One Flew over the cookoo's nest. a strong female role (although a villain) in Ratchet isn't enough to pass. A couple of girls do join in later on, but I don't think they have a terrific amount to say to each other.
10. Toy Story 3. I'm going to say a sort of pass here. There are lots of female roles, and they do talk to each other a bit at least.
11.Star Wars Episode V. Fail. Unless we count C3PO as a woman.
12.The Dark Knight. Nope. Only one woman here, move along please.
13.LoTR: Return of the King. No. Definitely not. The women get more lines than they do in the book, but that is not hard.
14.Star Wars, a New Hope. With Lukes foster parents, the film does manage two women at least, but they are rather geographically seperated.
15.Seven samurai. Nope. There is a romance subplot, but nothing much else of women in this film.
16.Casablanca. No.. This is beginning to get depressing. Certainly there is an excellent role for a woman here, but theres only one of her.
17.Goodfellas. Mostly men. There are several women, and good roles, but once again they don't really talk to each other.
18.Fight Club. Once again, men men men. A big female role, but she's got no-one to speak to.
19.City of God. Fairly small roles for women... and they're talking to the men.
20.lord of the rings, fellowship of the ring.Fail
21.Rear Window. I thiink this passes. Its been a while since I've watched this, but thanks to his nurse and Grace Kelly being in the film, I think it makes it. There are very few roles in this film anyway. It comes close to failing for both men and women (note, this would be the first film that would have failed for men. It didn't).
22.Raiders of the Lost ark. Nope. One main female role.
23.Psycho. This does fail, but again almost fails for men as well. There are some strong female roles in here, to be fair.
24.The Usual Suspects. Biiig fail.
25.Once upon a time in the West. Yet to see it.
26.The Silence of the Lambs. Been a while since I've seen it, it fails for women, but does have an extremely strong female lead
27.The Matrix. This pretty much fails. Theres a snippet of conversation between Trinity and the other one, but its very, very brief.
28.Se7en. About two guys on the hunt of a killer. Does have Brad Pitt's wife, but shes got no-one to speak to
29.Memento. Fail. Christopher Nolan tends to fail this consistently. Theres a reasonaly large female role here, but meh.
30. Its a wonderful life. Its been a long time since I've watched this, but seeing as the entire film is about George Bailey, I suspect it'll probably fail. There may be snippets of conversation between female characters along the way I suppose.
31.The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Fail fail fail.
32.Sunset Boulevard. I really need to get up on the films of Billy Wilder.
33. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb . Distressingly there are no female roles at all here.
34.Leon. Well this fails for both men and women, seeing as theres really only a female and a male role. I think a double failure can usually count as a success.
35.North by Northwest. Fail.
36.Forrest Gump. Fail
37.Citizen Kane. Fail. The females in this film do not get much of a look in
38.Apocalypse Now. To my shame, not a film I have seen. I'm gonna guess failure, but obviously won't count it.
39.American History X. This just about passes, but really, the conversations between the mother and Ed Norton's girlfriend don't really count.
40.American Beauty. This passes, although most of the conversations the female leads have are about boys.
41. Taxi Driver. A fail here
42.Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Faaaaaail.
43.Vertigo. I... can't remember if this passes or not now. I don't think the two females are congruent at any point here.
44.Alien. Major pass. Alien was written genderless, and is one of the few on this list that manages an excellent female character. Ripley becomes more feminine as the series continues- Aliens is about motherhood to some extent.
45. Saving Private Ryan. Guess what. A faiiiil!
46. Lawrence of Arabia. Haven't seen it.
47. Amelie . Pass. This is the first pass with a male fail on the list here, I think.
48.WALL-E. While Wall-E can be viewed as male, thanks to the voices, if you actually go in without expectations you can view the reverse as true. I'm gonna let this past.
49.The Shining. Faaaaail
50.A Clockwork Orange. Guess what... fail!

So lets see, of 50 films we have

SIX passes. And thats including Leon, which really doesn't count
I haven't seen 4 films on the list.
Its also worth nothing that we can divide films into ensemble films, or films driven by a strong lead. There are 17 films that are pretty much all about their male lead. There are 2 about their female lead.

Seriously. Thats really a bit depressing. To be fair, I suspect imdb is a male dominated data base- look at the number of sci fi/fantasy films that manage it in to the top 50, but there are a LOT of classic films here that just fail that test.

Look, theres no reason to think that we must have a male lead- Alien is the case in point, Sigourney Weaver wasn't unique, she was just given a good script. I'm not saying EVERY film needs to meet this test, but I am saying that it really sucks that there are less leading roles out there for women then there are for men. There are a lot of reasons this happens, and I don't think anyone goes into making a film hating women, but we go in with preconceptions, and these shape our culture. This is what frustrates me when people say women have it fine- our culture simply does not reflect that, and women are simply not at parity at men. Theres work to be done here.

The most striking point for me is not only that this fails for women, but it barely ever fails for men. I thought I'd see both a lot more, but it just doesn't occur.

Labels: ,