Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Well Arena's A Bust (For Me)



So for the past couple of weeks I've been trying to get back into playing Magic the Gathering. Extra Credits came out with a couple of episodes about how to play and it got me interested in the game again, though I was mostly there already. For the most part that's meant that's been me trying to get back into the lore or the game, write out cards I like, and figure out what is the basic deck tech would and could use in standard. Basically, I've been mapping a lot of stuff out in my notes.  

But I've also tried getting into Arena and I think I kind of hate it. 

How Did I Get Here
Before I get started I kind of want to be clear that I don't think Arena is a necessarily a bad game but I don't like my personal experience with it and will probably drop it. Which is to say you very well may have a blast with Arena. I just didn't. And a lot of that has to do with the void left by Magic Online 3.0.

Okay so in college I played the hell out of Magic Online. I was slowing down a bit after I graduated because I couldn't afford new cards but I hadn't really quit the game until Summer 2014 when they forced everybody to switch to Magic Online 4.0 and I just could not reliably get it to work on my computer. Eventually, I did but I never got back into the nearly daily habit of playing the game mostly because even when I got it working again I was broke and couldn't afford new cards. A couple of times I tried playing with my old stuff but getting anything past standard going in constructed casual Magic Online these days is hard. I should probably start a playgroup or something but that's beside the point. 


Why Do I Play
Some of my difficulty of getting into Arena but not all it of has to do with the fact that Arena doesn't really deliver on the things I want out of my Magic game. 

Lore


Before I even started playing the actual game I read The Brother's War.  For those who don't know it is a novel based around the lore of the Antiquities set.  Part of me is sad that Wizards has basically given up on novels but that's another post. The point I like to build decks that represent an aspect of the story Magic the Gathering.

We're closing from a third Ravnica block but I can't really play any of the older Ravnica cards in this app. So while I can make a red-blue deck I can't really make an Izzet deck. And the same goes for Dominaria, planeswalkers and tribal decks in general.   

Deck Building


So honestly I mostly play the game as a way of testing and iterating interesting deck ideas. The interface of Magic Online blows in a lot of ways but deck building ain't one of them (with the exception of stats. 3.0 let you see your deck stats. but I like their deck builder. I hate Arena's. To be fair I didn't spend much time with it, but I couldn't find a way to easily remove multiple cards in a deck at a time. So, for instance, the thing that broke me is I decided to splice blue into a green and white deck because I wanted a card draw. And it was a nightmare taking lands out so I could have space to add blue mana, and worse when I changed mind and wanted to change the deck back. 

Moreover, Arena is really grindy. I've been playing for a few days and at the rate, I'm going I don't really think I'll have the cards to make a deck that passes what I call muster and play against actual people for a month unless I dump a boatload of cash into the game. I'm not even talking a super chase rare tournament deck either, just something that has the uncommon and commons I use for basic deck tech, the types of cards that in Magic Online are worth about a penny

I Hate Those Animations
Honestly, I'm so hard up to get back into the game that I'm actually willing to put up with the other stuff but the game chugs on my P.C. I have an old as tar computer and half expect it from games. But this is a card game. All the bells and whistles are not inherent to the core experience in the same way for shooters and real-time strategy games. It's made all the worse because I'VE PLAYED HEARTHSTONE ON MY RIG FINE!!!! Because I didn't like the feel of it compared to Magic but it runs. My instincts are telling me that the reason for all the particles and animations that slow down the game on my rig is that Wizards wants to compete with Hearthstone. But you know what? Hearthstone runs on a cell.

To be fair it's still in beta but as it is I kind of hate Arena. 

Sunday, July 7, 2019

The Moment


So for a solid week everybody was talking about how Kamala Harris challenged Joe Biden on race and at least at the time my take was what were you expecting. For months we've all known what Joe Biden's Achilles heel is. He's an older politician who's been around forever and over the course of his career has said and done some stuff that the new guard finds distasteful at best and repugnant at worse. 

What's actually surprising is that he didn't see it coming. From where I sit, something like this was virtually guaranteed to happen and Joe Bidden was to have memorized "the speech". 

"That was 40 years ago. I've seen other perspectives and taken in some new information. I was wrong and have I've changed my mind on that particular issue."


But he didn't.

And that he didn't sort of encapsulates the broader race as a whole. 


You have a wing of the party which hates Donald Trump because they have an ideology and resultant policy goals based on that ideology that has been very slow to have been enacted even before Trump was elected and since then has ground to a halt and another wing of the of the party that hates Donald Trump largely because he brakes the machinery of state by being actively disinterested in said machinery. 

And this was the rare moment where you had representatives of both of those ideologies talking to each other. 

Sunday, May 19, 2019

It's Fine. I've Seen Worse.

So the scuttlebutt is that Game of Thrones is going to botch the landing tonight. And I have feelings about that, mostly surprise that I really don't. The truth is that while I understand folks' frustration, as far as unsatisfying television turns go Game of Thrones wouldn't make my list. For me it's still watchable. Maybe not as good as it could have been, but still a decent way to kill time on a Sunday night. Here's what would make my list of good shows that went to crap fast though. 

Lost


Is it as bad as Lost? 'Cause it's not as bad as Lost.

So the first season of Lost is good but unremarkable, Survivor but if Survivor actually had writers. The second season though is nuts. It was the middle of the writer's strike and whoever was left threw spaghetti on the wall. There were some interesting moments but as a whole, the show was an incoherent mess.

Then the back half of the third season managed to pull a minor miracle and actually explain all the weird stuff that happened. The island is actually a temporal anomaly.  The fourth and fifth seasons were about exploring a place where time doesn't work the way you think it does.

The sixth season pretty much junked every interesting thing that was happening in the show by that point just to answer a bunch a fan questions and theories that had long since stopped being relevant when the writers had a clear answer to shut everybody up.

Time Travel is a hell of a drug.

Heroes

The first season of Heroes is tight. Everything and I means everything that happens gets tied to the main plot. The second season also got tied up in the writers strike but it's just rushed. There are still a lot of good ideas in there they just aren't executed well, the third on the other hand, oh boy.

Mostly it's the character inconsistencies that bother me. Everybody got hit with it but the worst is Mohinder.

He's the series smart guy. Sometimes that's good. Sometimes it's bad. But Mohinder doesn't act rashly... until he injects himself with untested drugs so the writers have an excuse to turn him into the fly.

Once Upon A Time
I ...

....

Uhh

I don't hate Once.

I kept coming back to it but every season there would be at least one big thing that turned me off.  But there are two big ones.

The first was in season 3B when they brought back Rumplestiltskin. Season 3A is his redemption arc. Really to be honest most of season 2 is that as well. And his arc in season two is his slow realization and acceptance that he can't be the good guy. At least he can't be a straight hero which is what he wants. His death speech is all about accepting that and doing something worthwhile anyway and it was the best closure that character was ever going to get.

And they undid it in three episodes flat.

Season 5 was essentially the story mandating the Emma Swan turn evil for no other reason than the script said.  Which in my mind is actually worse because it undermines the redemption arcs of the villains having their magic being the source of all their problems when the show always hinted there was something else there. It retroactivley ruined almost everything that was good about that show. Specifically it makes previously interesting villains boring if all of their motivations could be boiled down to magic made me do it.

Andromeda

I don't know why but I never really gravitated to Star Trek as a kid but I did watch a lot of stuff that was, "Star Trek" adjacent. And Andromeda is basically a grittier Star Trek where The Federation has fallen and instead of being a naval crew comprised of the best officers in the sector, the cast is a bunch of ragtags brought together by chance and the promise of a big score.

Part of what made Andromeda interesting was that most of the crew were self-interested. They all had relationships with one another but at the end of the day, they all had secrets and ulterior motivations for staying on the ship. This ain't about the power of friendship and they all knew that.

Specifically Tyr. whose defining characteristic was that "Tyr only does what's good for Tyr".  The characters understood it. The audience understood it. Evidently, the writers didn't understand it.

Season 3 turned him into a cackling bad guy.  And I hated it so much. To be fair a lot of season 3 doesn't bring it up so it's watchable. The actor just isn't there after his character's sudden but inevitable betrayal. But in the series finale, he comes back basically as a Disney villain and I hated it so much.


Thursday, May 2, 2019

Colbeck's War on Social Studies

So, Colbeck's war on social studies is something I find infuriating, largely because districts, schools, and teachers, have to make value judgments in the material they elect to pass on to students and value judgments are a key part of political judgments.

Colbeck's not wrong to point that out and pull away the curtain.  I disagree with which way the needle swings and I'll get to that but if he just dropped the mic at the assertion that what kids are taught in schools over time can affect their political ideologies as adults and as such we need to be cautious as to preserve their right to choose what they would believe nobody would argue. 

But then I start reading about the things he actually doesn't like.

What Are Core (Democratic) Values



There are the rules and then there are the rules. What's more important than respecting a dead piece of paper, or even the system of is government it created is respecting the revolutionary ideas that it represented. Those ideas are the legacy of the founding fathers that we pass on to our posterity.

Those are core democratic values, the slow forward march against the rule of a dictator who could bar the doors of parliament and disband his country's legislature at whim. Those values did not start nor did they end with a single document least of all not one written by the United States but rather centuries of ongoing ever continuing debate about what constitutes the freedom, what constitutes power and the relation between the two and from where they derive.

And That is a civics class.



Or if you want to get fancy a political philosophy class.

Let's Talk About Equality


So Colbeck and to be fair much of the Republican party feels the government should not be responsible for equality of outcomes. I disagree but that is not the point. That is a larger and longer discussion. The point is that Colbeck is wary of the implications of the word equality and as a result wants to narrow the context of its use.

And I hate it.

When politicians argue over equality they are arguing over what seems to me to be implications of the ideal and this is no different. If we are all created equal does mean we should be all afforded by birth the same, rights, protections,  privileges, obligations and opportunities under the law. If that is the case we have a long way to go on that score. 

What does equality under the law actually mean?










Monday, January 28, 2019

My Thoughts on Titans


So after getting bored and cracking the tape on a free trial of DC Universe, I binged Titans and... I have no idea how I feel about it. So let me work my way through it.


The Good Stuff
Dick Grayson
So a common interpretation of Dick Grayson (Robin I/Nightwing/Batman but not that Batman)  is that he is Batman (sometimes literally) if Batman were well adjusted. He's Batman if Batman was able to move past the death of his parents and have a life outside of the pain of the worst moment of his life.

I like the idea of showing that getting him to that point was a process. And I really like the idea the impetus for the Nightwing persona is that he's realizing he's starting to act a little too much like his mentor for his own comfort, showing that those differences are a deliberate choice on his behalf.

It's an interesting take on the character that I like.


The Supporting Cast and Cameos

Almost every interesting character that the audience doesn't have to stick around with for the duration is gangbusters. Hmm, it's like they're from another show or something.


Starfire
Yeah, I got stuff to say about the costume but I actually really like this version of Starfire especially once the show reveals what's actually going on with her. It's a bold choice that makes sense given the character's background and history.

On the other hand, it's the penultimate episode when they drop those bombs.


Shrug (I'm Still Processing How I Feel)
Deconstruction
This show is very much in that Kick-Ass deconstructionist place of showing why it would suuuuuuuck to actually be a super. And if you're main exposure to these characters is either of the cartoons it's going to be jarring.

I think what they do with the Robins makes it worth it, but if you're tired of gritty DC superhero deconstructions and just want hero classic this ain't your show.

Raven
So the vast majority of the plot deals with the Trigon arc which is probably either the second or first most well-known story arch of Teen Titans. But they make one big change and how you feel about the show is going to depend on how you feel about the one big change.

Raven is a normal kid.

Yes, she has powers but when stuff starts happening she knows jack all of the Trigon business.

She's just a normal kid, when... stuff starts happening.

I don't hate the change but it does mean this character is fundamentally different from any other version. It didn't bother me enough to drop the show but sometimes it could be jarring when it's plot relevant that Raven doesn't know what's going on when in almost every other telling of this story she's the only person who does.

The 90's Came Back
The show very much has the feel of a 90's prime time genre show, especially for the first few episodes. I actually like 90's primetime genre shows. They had cheesy campy sincerity that I can't help but respect.

But I also have no illusions that said campy sincerity could come off as unnaturalistic and disconnected from reality. (Sorry Buffy)

Raven's Mom
This is going to take spoilers. In almost every other version of the Trigon story I can think of Raven's mom is one the angels and is often showcased as THE reason why Raven doesn't just let the world burn.

Raven is traditionally one of those characters where it's very clear that for want of a nail she could have gone "the other way" and joined "the other team". But she doesn't largely because of the influence of her mom(s)  and I don't know how I feel about taking that away from both of them.

The Bad Stuff
F/X
The effects get better as the show goes on, but it's very noticeable when they don't work and they very often don't work.

Hawk and Dove
So they reimagined Hawk and Dove in about the darkest way I can imagine short of going full-Watchman with it and I literally do not know how I feel about that There are a lot of moments with them that have emotional depth but there is one scene that has politics I disagree with so profoundly that it changed how I was perceiving these characters up until that point.

They may not be the bad guys but they sure as hell aren't the good guys the story thinks they are. Going back to the Watchmen example Watchman knows The Comedian is an asshole but this story is damn near convinced that Dove I is a saint and I'm sorry, no. No, he's not.

Starfire's Costume
I kind of hate Starfire's costume. It is just jarring and distracting for the whole thing. I don't hate the actress or the character. But, man I hate that costume.

On the other hand, Starfire has one of the most stripperific costumes in all of comics and there is no way to make that work.  The costume needed to be redesigned. I just don't think the redesign works.

Everybody else is running around in relatively normal streetwear, at least until the Robins gear up, then... "Last Dance". Even the sorceress supreme is rocking a goth hoodie that wouldn't be given a second look in any high school cafeteria.

All that having been said, it doesn't excuse the bile that's been thrown the actress' way.

I Hate Cliffhanger Endings
Season one ends on a cliffhanger and I kind of hate it. My view of television writing is that the season finale is supposed to be a bookend. It shouldn't end the story but should leave things in a satisfying place. This season finale isn't satisfying. It's made worse by a bunch of obnoxious ads DC has been running that have basically been lying to the audience about what the episode is about. Dear god I hate those ads. Because that scenario they're selling does not make sense within the context of the story and as such it does not have the dramatic weight those ads are selling.


...

Screaming spoilers ahead Batman!




















It's all in his head. The entire episode is taking place in Dick Grayson's head.


  • Jason Todd didn't get wounded in action, permanently losing his ablity to walk
  • And he sure as hell didn't advocate NOT killing the Joker
  • And for that matter Batman also sure as hell didn't decide to actually ace him anyway.
  • Or kill cops
  • Jim Gordon isn't dead.
  • AND DICK GRAYSON DIDN'T KIL... FIGHT HIS SURROGATE FATHER!!!!!

THOSE ADS ARE LIES!!!!!!! NONE OF THAT HAPPENED AT LEAST NOT IN THE STORY PROPER!!!!! HELL NONE OF THAT COULD HAVE HAPPENED IN THE STORY PROPER!!!!! I HATE IT SO MUCH!!!!!!

They took an entire episode, their LAST episode of the season just to take a break from all of the interesting stuff going on just so they can say ROBIN'S FIGHTING BATMAN! But surprise. It's all in Grayson's head and I was pissed. Like if they actually had the balls to go there and have Dick Grayson decide Batman needed to be put down for the sake of Gotham that would be one thing. It's very in line with his character arc. It does interesting stuff with Jason Todd.

But it's very obvious this vision in his head and ultimately does not matter to the plot which just kicked into high gear.  The show was teetering on being good and they finale got there with all the pieces being in place for a blowout and they wasted their last episode of the season.

Note: I deleted a link in this post to what I thought was just a movie quote not realizing that it had been edited near the end with a clip video of a real-life fight. I'm sorry I did not mean to do that. 



Sunday, January 13, 2019

There Has to Be A Better Version of Ready Player One



So I saw Ready Player One and it filled me with disappointment, not rage, not anger but disappointment.

I didn't hate the movie but the more I rolled it around in my head the more I realize within it's bowels it had the potential to be so much more than it was.

I think a lot of that maybe a result of going into the movie with expectations of emptiness.  I've only recently seen the movie but the internet is my playground. I was around when it was the big new thing to talk about and I didn't escape, "the dialogue" which centered around the book, which to be fair I have not read,  having not much more than an excuse plot to take the audience on a walking 80's nostalgia tour.

And to be fair the movie is an adaptation. Elevating it any further than Spielberg already did would probably lead to something completely unrecognizable as Ready Player One but still, as it exists there are some many plot threads, characters, and ideas that the story could have explored and chosen not to.

Welcome to The Bad Future

As I ruminate I think of all of the wasted opportunities the movie had to be better but the worst is it's ending which almost makes me want to beat up on Spielberg as an old man who doesn't get the internet and maybe shouldn't have put in charge of a movie fundamentally about how we use technology... and then I remember he directed  Jurrasic Park .and Minority Report, a movie that might as well be named "The Hubris of Silicon Valley"


If the man really wanted to create a polemic about the dangers of technology in the modern world even with his usual brand of humanistic optimism he could have.

Okay for those of you who haven't already seen the movie, the characters are about the future of and fighting in what is essentially a futuristic version of the internet.

And the movie has a golden opportunity to forge its creed about what the internet is, can be, and should be and its coda is... "the internet isn't the real world"

And that message seems so... 2002.



The movie goes through great lengths to signal to the audience that it's setting is a dystopia, that something has fundamentally broken down in society. It's not just that the characters we are following are poor the entire world is poor, the entire world is broken.

And what caused it.  The consolidation of economic and/or political power into too few hands? Nope. The loss of individual privacy?  Nope. Environmental devastation? Nope. Some sort of a pandemic? Nope.  A depletion of limited resources? Nope. A degradation of culture that leads to the mass loss of critical thinking skills? Nope.  The world becoming so automated that there is no-one left around who knows how to fix critical systems when they break. Nope. Rapid technological change creating economic and civil strife in a society unprepared for it? Nope. A societal prioritization of technological skill over emotional awareness. Nope. Fear of outside influence has caused the world to stagnate? Nope.

People spending too dang much time on the interwebs did us in.

To be certain there is a way to make the idea that the world ends when people spend too much time indulging in leisure activity without trying to solve critical problems compelling but this movie doesn't go there. Or maybe because my meat heart has been swapped with a cold dead machine.

Regardless that message as executed by this movie depends on believing that there is an online-offline binary I believe doesn't really exist anymore. The internet is nothing more than a highly advanced communications tool and most of it's problems are the same problems that exist in any communications tool.

Offline people act on the information they obtain online and vise versa.

Reference as Language


As mentioned I did not go into this movie blind and that caused me to lowere my expectations. I find the movie disappointing not because it's bad, but because as it went on I found myself becoming more and more invested in what could have been a pretty interesting commentary on how people use technology to communicate ideas in the modern world.

I am not the first or even the only person to point it out, but the movie doesn't really do anything with its references. My understanding is part of that was to fix the book where some members of the audience found the main character's narration explaining all the references obnoxious.

All the same, I would have enjoyed it if the references were used to communicate ideas the audience which is quite frankly how a lot of internet pop culture reference is used as a short to communicate complex thoughts and feelings via association with understood concepts.

Say Something, Anything!



I started the day I watched Ready Player One player one intending to binge Future Man and drifted off somewhere else. Don't ask. My life is complicated. But I couldn't help feel that Futureman does essentially what Ready Player One tries to do but better.

Future Man is essentially a series of extended plot references to 80's movies. But nearly every movie it references it also deconstructs and comments on the culture that birthed it.

P.S.
By the original purpose of this post was the to try to literally answer the question, is there a better version of this story which has so much potential", rather than writing a review.  The more I thought about it the more I realize that Anime has explored the thematic territory of Ready Player One for years. Watch Lain, .Hack//Sign, and Paranoia Agent, hell half Satoshi Kon's filmography really.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Well At Least Black Movies Aren't About White Assholes Anymore


So between awards season and the new year, all the media critics are doing all of their roundups of the best movies of the year. I'm broke so it's normally a while after a movie comes out that I've seen it and while that tail is shrinking it's not enough that I could do the best movies I've seen in 2018 without half of them having been released in like 2016 but it is enough so that I think I actually have something to say to cap off/start the year

Over the past year, I think black movies or at least the black movies that get the marketing push have finally gotten over the "overcoming" plot archetype.

Back in 2014, I wrote about my apathy towards a certain type of inspirational movie,   and my frustration that the "overcoming a singular racist asshole who keeps you down"  plotline. It's not one of the best things I wrote but I stand by the general point that I find these types of movies kind of boring and lazy at best discounting how they often portray racism as a thing of the past that no longer exists.

But over the last few years I have seen a plethora of black movies that weren't that, and moreover weren't that not because they ignored race or racism but because the characters had lives and agency outside of not only what "that white asshole" thought of them but that was intrinsic to them.

... The characters actually had a personality.

One of the problems that I have with the "overcoming" narrative is that it often boils blacks lives down into a singular experience and that can get tiresome, especially if that singular experience doesn't represent my individual life experience as an audience member.  And I don't want to dismiss any of the people who a lot of these movies are based on but their life is not my life their narratives often don't really speak to me as much as Hollywood assumes they do.

But this year there have just been so many good movies over the past few years that show a diversity of black vision. Many of which actually do come pretty close to my lived experiences.


(By the way I like all the Black super shows and movies that came out over the past few years but Static still wins since he basically was me at 15 at least in terms of his personality as a black nerd who is also kind of a wiseass at least in the suit. ... So basically the first incarnation of "Spiderman but if he were black." I hate that tail.)

I also want to be clear that not every black movie made before 2015 has been an "overcoming movie" but it's been frustrating to me that those seem to be the only ones that get the marketing push and these days that seems to be less and less the case.



And I like that but it makes me all the more frustrated that there are so many black movies from the past that aren't that haven't been exposed for the sake of "overcoming drams"

Well if only Black Panther or Sorry to Bother You won the Oscar.

P.S. I finally got around to watching Akeelah and the Bee and it's an exception to the rule, mostly because Akeelah actually has a personality and actively presses back on the role the movie gives her as the representative of all smart black kids everywhere as if to say, "this may look like that movie but this is not that movie. We ain't doin' that... okay we are but we're doing more than that"


Also, while I haven't seen it I've heard good things about Hidden Figures.

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