Monthly Archives: September 2016

Why Mass Effect Morality is lame

The Mass Effect series is supposed to revolve around a dichotomy between being a “Paragon” – doing things by the book, following the rules and trying to be nice to everyone, and being a “Renegade” – doing things efficiently, breaking rules which get in your way, and getting the job done.
 
This breaks down through play though, because in almost every single case it is at least as efficient to do things the nice way, sometimes in ridiculous ways that undermine characters and weaken the player’s sense of responsibility. One example is the choice about whether to spare or kill the Rachni queen in ME1. It is made very clear that this is a species that will devour and destroy other species if left unchecked. If the ME games stuck to their guns then the “Paragon” choice of letting the Rachni queen free to grow her species again should lead to her creating an expansive force which wreaks havoc in part of the galaxy, possibly tying up a large part of the Alliance. Instead what happens is the opposite – the Rachni queen becomes an ally and there are no negative consequences. If you kill the Rachni queen – of a species that is genetically suited for galactic conquest – then all that happens is a few people are annoyed with you.
 
Time and again, if the player does the nice but on the face of it stupid thing they are rewarded. This doesn’t just encourage the player to operate as an idealistic fool, but makes everyone who is a pessimist about niceness in the frontier situation of the Mass Effect games into a fool too. The entire premise of the Mass Effect story, one that is drummed in time and again by the characters with experience throughout Mass Effect 1, is that space is a dick and you’ve got to be a dick to take on space. But it turns out that the best approach to galactic catastrophe is essentially to behave like Peter Molyneux.

That is why the morality of Mass Effect is lame.

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How to be a Mungo

People sometimes (genuinely) compliment me on my excessive Facebooking and my  style of conversation. And very occasionally, very unusual humans ask me how it is that I come up with whatever nonsense I’ve been putting about recently. If you are one of those statistical outliers, or you would like to learn about my process for any other reason, then this is your lucky blog/article/post/day. Here is my advice on how to be a Mungo. Take it at your own risk:

  1. Work by volume. A lot of what you say or think will be irredeemable, stupid, incoherent or horrible. But a very small quantity will be interesting or at least comprehensible. If you’re ever going to have something worthwhile to look back on then you will simply have had to have made a butt-load of crap in the process. I know that sentence was crummy. BUT IT LED TO THIS ONE. Oh no, that was crummy too. Carry on!
  2. Abandon the bad. Seriously. It doesn’t matter how much time and energy you’ve put into it, if you’re going to make a cool video game then you have to put down the mic and stop doing terrible stand up comedy. And you have to stop going for dinner and having phone calls and cutting your hair and tidying your room.
  3. Abandon the fun. Everything that is not the most important? Stop doing it! Make that game! Write that awesome status! Do the important thing, not the fun thing!
  4. Apologise, continuously. This actually can become very annoying for the recipient, but it is in your nature as a Mungo. I didn’t say being a Mungo is all good.
  5. Tell everyone they are amazing. Because they are, you flatterer. You’re so good at flattery.
  6. Hold both pessimism and optimism within your mentality. You must be pessimistic about human receptiveness to facts and reason, optimistic about the state of the world today compared with arbitrary point x in the past, pessimistic about politicians and the electorate, optimistic about your own future and also pessimistic about your own future at the same time.
  7. Embrace irrationality. Being a Mungo involves knowing that there are gaping holes in your knowledge and understanding, and striving to fill them in, but also taking perverse pride in all your cognitive and emotional failures.
  8. Make strange noises. You must hum, sing, sigh, buzz, sniff and laugh spontaneously. It is the law of Mungo, and you like to think it is because you are concentrating so hard that you lose control of your audio output.
  9. Obsess. When you are writing a post, nothing exists apart from your screen. When you are talking to someone, there are no pavements or public around you. Being a Mungo involves concentrating on one thing at a time, often for a very long time.
  10. End things abruptly and without explanation.
  11. Always seek feedback. Do you like this article? Let me know, I’ll write another one! I don’t know anything without you! Don’t like it, also let me know! I can change! I can be a better man I promise!

I don’t care. I SO don’t care. (I really care.) (quick draft, fiction)

I am the queen of not caring. I will say anything and do anything. I don’t swing to your banana. I don’t rumble to your stream. I am my own breezy paper air-plane, floating on the wind. Nobody holds me. I glide.

So don’t think I’ll be sitting in your groove. Don’t expect me to say “please” or “thank you” or “you look nice today” unless I mean it.

No, that’s not right. That’s rude.

I am torn between good manners and rebellion.

I choose good manners.

After all, I don’t want to upset anyone. Not that I care.

The man in the monkey (quick draft, poem)

There was a man inside a monkey.

He saw the world through a monkey’s eyes.

He smelled all the smells that a monkey smelled.

He felt the fur, bristling in the cold afternoon breeze.

He tasted flies and other bugs.

He conspired to be head of the monkey community.

He was a monkey.

A monkey. Not inside a monkey. Just a monkey, really.

But, that doesn’t make such a good story, does it?

Too many coats! (quick draft, fiction)

There are too many coats in my house. Too many people too. Why are the coats all so similarly coloured?

I really can’t stand the habit of making all coats various shades of black, olive green and really really dark blue. I mean, bollocks to that. I’m confused!

They’re everywhere. In the corridor, under the stairs, in the cellar. I think it’s because of that growling long-eared uncle who gives us each a coat every Christmas. Why does he do it? Doesn’t he realise that we have too many coats already? And why get coats? They’re very expensive presents.

It must be because he never had children himself. Why would I say that? Urrgh, I’m such a curmudgeon. Complaining about coats. Coats coats coats. I’m done.

Rules for new quick drafts (quick draft)

  1. As far as possible, the quick draft must not be about the writer himself (or herself). This is the easiest source of writing material and it is also the laziest and possibly the least interesting for the reader. I spend my life in my own head analysing what I’m saying and what I’m thinking so this is a frame of reference that is going  to have unique meaning only to me. Also writing this here doesn’t count. Because I said so. I know, I’m writing this deliberately quickly.
  2. Minimal rewrites. This is about making the text flow. Making it fairly cogent, fairly quickly, not creating masterpieces. There will be years in future to perfect writing well. And faster is always better because I can rewrite tomorrow or whenever.
  3. Write fast. Seriously. Write, and don’t look back. Because then you might not finish. If you want to learn something, then maybe adopt this approach. It might not work though, I haven’t thought this through.
  4. No overuse of the phrase “this is about”. Bad use of language. It happened up there, but IT STAYS, WE KEEP WRITING. Why does “This is about” suck? Because it is a vague phrase. It is used to often fill in a gap where something more specific and concrete should be. “This is about making the text flow” should be replaced with “The quick draft should be created in an uninterrupted, continuous process, without break”. It makes point 2 and 3 start to merge into one another a bit, but now we have learned. Maybe we would have learned anyway if we’d reread. We’ll never know.
  5. Keep it short. Don’t bore self. Don’t bore readers. Don’t stop movin’, everybody groovin’
  6. These rules are subject to amendment. Cos this is a FAST AND CRAZY PROCESS. I hope you folks enjoy this. I know I have so far. And if you don’t, you can just skip this pointless verbiage. Hooray for freedom. Onwards!

Fate, destiny, work (quick draft)

Hollywood films are obsessed with destiny. Neo must save humanity, Anakin must restore balance to the force,  John Connor must triumph against the machines.

What is destiny? In films it is normally some kind of goal will inevitably be achieved. It is positive. Salvation. This is distinct from the destinies of the ancients, who were often doomed to terrible fates, such as pushing a stone up a hill for eternity.

What I do here is not destined. I am forcing myself to write with the aim of improving my skills in this area. Those of you who have seen me lately will probably have found me telling you with a tired satisfaction that I spend a large part of my life now making games very, very slowly. I tell people that I’m looking forward to writing again at some point when I have the time to plan a big story out and really make it into a project. But I can’t do that while I’m making a game.

While I can’t write anything big, at least at this stage, I can squeeze out passages that are hopefully halfway readable, if entirely self-referential and content-free. So that’s what I’m doing. Keeping my writing-brain alive. Pushing the muscles a bit. Pushing forward minimally in a tedious way when I’m feeling a bit tired after working on the game. But this is progress! Because I wasn’t writing anything before today and I have done my game work for the week.

Yeah.

Innit.

What I am not going to do now is commit myself either publicly or internally to any kind of writing target, because I’m already absorbed enough in the game-making targets that take over my life and my conversations (apologies to anyone I have spoken to in the past ten months).

What I am going to do is write crummy pieces that I haven’t edited very much and then chuck them out here for people to gaze at in all their unfinished intestinal gory