Solid copy, Commander

I’ve been playing the expansion to XCOM: Enemy Unknown, which is called Enemy Within. It adds a great many things, including a new alien-friendly enemy, but perhaps the largest amount of fun comes from the new MEC troopers. These poor souls have all their limbs amputated so they can be fitted into giant mechs (not that anyone ever thought of NOT amputating their limbs and creating mechs that can be run by normal, four-limbed humans). The resulting combination is so fast and deadly that it’s hard for normal humans to keep up.

Also, I went back to State of Decay and finished it by avoiding the cheap death trap entirely through the judicious use of manually backing up the saved game folder. This felt only slightly dishonest.

State of Decay

It’s quite possible that this game, State of Decay, is simply not for me. Normally I like a zombie apocalypse or two, but this one has two features that make it difficult to like.

One is permadeath, even though it is just the kind that makes you switch characters. I must have killed a few hundred zombies and convinced myself of my general competence  before one uber-powerful one came out of nowhere and kicked my ass. It was nothing I could have prepared for. Maybe it was realistic, but not fun. Sadistic, really. Why continue? I was sort of attached already to my character and his cheap death didn’t exactly win me over.

Two is offline death, where characters die and resources dwindle while you’re not playing the game. This was even more insult to injury. I am lucky enough to have a job and a life; I can’t babysit a game. I’m lucky these days to play on weekends. I’m already addicted to caffeine. I need something I can play, then stop, and return to, as I see fit, without randomized penalties.

A game that did permadeath pretty well in single player PC in recent memory was XCOM. That game allowed saving and loading, there was no offline deaths and draining of resources, and death still mattered. (And they did it turn-based, too! Kudos!)

Why can’t State of Decay manage the same?  I can understand why the developers made these  two decisions – there are plenty of young, masochistic gamers out there who will replay a game again and again after a largely randomized death. What to me is crummy design is to them a badge of realism.  I’m older, more temperate, and have less time on my hands, alas.

What particularly frustrates me, if it is not already clear, is that I would like to play more of the game. I really would. I would like to work around its weaknesses and derive enjoyment from it. But I can’t justify the attempt, and that makes me conflicted – again, not something I want in a game.

The Bat

So I finished Batman: Arkham Origins a few days ago. Despite some game-crashing bugs which have now been resolved, it is my favorite of the Batman: Arkham games, mostly because the villains, as numerous and crazy as ever, have some decent social critique of the Bat to share along the way. As Anarky would say, the Bat would seem to be part of the problem.

The plot of the game revolves around Black Mask hiring eight super-villain assassins on Xmas Eve to kill a young, more physically direct Batman, and while some of them confine themselves professionally to just trying to kill Batman (Deathstroke comes to mind) others seemingly go out of their way to cause civilian causalities (Firefly) or simply don’t care either way (Mad Hatter). This antiapathy forces Batman to start to acknowledge he is responsible, in more than one way, for the overall situation in Gotham. His refusal to take life has consequences, by allowing individuals like the Joker, who arguably need killing, to continue to go on spree after spree. Batman, for all his super-competence, has resigned himself to the role of super-villain janitor, sweeping them again and again into Blackgate or Arkham.

That’s why Batman is my favorite superhero – he places some real limits on his actions that are not based on being a Boy Scout, like Superman. He won’t kill you, but thinks nothing of sending you to the hospital first. He won’t shoot you, but he will break your legs. He won’t break the law capriciously without reason, but he is a vigilante.

Stasis theory part 2

In a previous post I noticed that certain sources have a different version of ancient stasis theory than the one I knew to be accurate to Hermagoras.

I initially thought Crowley and Hawhee’s Ancient Rhetorics for Contemporary Students was the source of this difference – namely, the introduction of a fourth stasis, policy, that replaces jurisdiction – but apparently it goes farther back to an article by Fahnestock and Secor in 1985, “Toward A Modern Version of Stasis.” Crowley and Hawhee correctly identify their version as a “hybrid” in a footnote, but don’t mention Fahnestock and Secor. F&S have a textbook that apparently furthers their stasis model.

There is also a reference to George Kennedy’s “reconstruction of Hermagoras’ lost treatise” in C&H, but the text they’re referencing is not in the bibliography. In fact, in A New History of Classical Rhetoric, Kennedy lists the four stasis questions, and they’re the correct classical ones from Hermagoras (98-99).

Now what is the significance of this, you may ask. On one level, I’m just being nitpicky about representing something as classical – and getting the ethos that this bestows – when it is really modern. On another level, though, I wonder if the policy question actually adds anything to the theory. Still digesting that one.

VW stops making the T2

Here.

My first car was a late ’70′s Transporter with fuel injection. It developed an astounding 70 horses. No AC and the weakest of heaters. I bought it to make a cross-country trip from Arizona to Massachusetts, which it completed, before promptly breaking down during a second trip to from Boston to D.C. in the winter. It was a gallant, if high-maintenance vehicle; I sold it for what I paid for it, as rust-free VWs are rare in the Northeast. Sometimes I wonder what became of it.

Tooth

So I have a pair of pliers and a good grip on a man’s healthy molar. He’s yelling and whimpering. My wife, having watched me hook the man up to a car battery earlier, is getting uncomfortable, so I tell her not to watch. In a series of deft maneuvers – with my off hand, no less – I rock the tooth out. It falls to the ground with a wet plop. He’s willing to talk now.

Yes, I’ve been playing GTA V. There is indeed a torture scene in the game, which also involves a wrench and a gasoline can filled with water. It’s satire, of course – the entire game is a satire of Californian/American civilization, with all its excesses and debauchery – and a lovingly detailed and fond-of-its-subject satire at that. Cars, trucks, and motorcycles are a joy to drive, the scenery is huge in scope, and the three characters you get to switch between at will – Michael, Franklin, and Trevor – are all interesting, funny, and nuanced studies in criminal behavior. Trevor, a unique homicidal maniac that I doubt anyone will be forgetting anytime soon, is especially twisted, embodying the lawless open-world spirit of the game in a way that no GTA protagonist has before. And it’s incredibly funny to use him to play golf on the game’s nine-hole course.

I read a review recently, the location of which I’ve now forgotten, that the plot of the game was a cross between Heat (Michael), Boyz in the Hood (Franklin), and Breaking Bad (Trevor). That’s a fair assessment. There are heists, drug deals, meth labs, crooked FBI agents, everything you’d expect. Hundreds of people, especially cops and security guards, are killed and the city barely blinks. But that’s how the GTA universe works. And it’s fun, despite H insisting that I obey traffic lights while driving.

Stasis Theory – Changing?

So I was prepping a quick lesson on stasis theory for my undergraduates and popped online to confirm the four categories. The first link on Google for stasis theory is the Purdue OWL. Unfortunately it is incorrect from what I remembered of  ancient stasis theory – the fourth question is translatio, a question of jurisdiction – not policy, a question of what to do. The second link, the Forest of Rhetoric, gets it right. The third link, The Everyday Writer is back, however, to policy

The guilty party appears to be Crowley and Hawhee’s Ancient Rhetorics for Contemporary Students, which is cited here and there in teaching materials online. What’s going on here? There is nothing in Hermagoras or the Ad Herennium or Cicero to support a ‘policy’ question. Even Wikipedia gets the four categories right. Is this some kind of reinterpretation?

Breaking Bad

So Breaking Bad ended last night. It was a very satisfying, all-loose-ends-tied-up experience.

I have to wonder, though. Of the best adult episodic TV of the last ten years, the high water marks – let’s say The Wire, The Sopranos, Mad Men, Deadwood, and Breaking Bad – are all about largely despicable characters that are heavily compromised morally and ethically. We’re not watching these shows out of escapism, to reinforce values, or for laughs, though there is humor. It’s entertainment more on the level of watching a train wreck in the form of human beings. This is not a complaint – more of a celebration, really – given what TV had to offer in the ’90s or ’80s. Sitcoms still churn on, but now we have these more layered, ambiguous entities available over on HBO and AMC.

pay no attention to that man behind the curtain