Sunday, 30 June 2013

Warhammer 40,000 Eternal Crusade – Fan Questions Answered

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Ever since it was announced, fans have been speculating about the upcoming MMO title Eternal Crusade. Filling the void left by the never completed Dark Millennium, the game will be  Warhammer 40,000's first major online multiplayer title and hopes have been high. Between the questionable future of the Dawn of War series, THQ going under, and the steady decline of Warhammer Online, the franchise needs new hit titles.

Details about Eternal Crusade have been few. While the factions have been listed and the free to play format the game will follow has been made known, many details were left for fans to question. This lack of information combined with Behavior Interactive's history of titles, many of which were film tie-ins or lacked critical acclaim, left many wondering if the developer can deliver. Thankfully we've been given the first indication they truly can.

In a Q&A session on the Vigila Mortis community website, game developers answered the questions by a number of fans ranging from atmosphere to basic features of gameplay. Head of Studio Miguel Caron and Brent Ellison gave a number of answers detailing what they had planned for the title.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Dead Space: Aftermath (Film Review)

... This is probably the worst kind of film to look at. When it's good it's outstanding, but when it's bad? It contains every cliche imaginable and lacks any truly redeemable factors.

Following on from the events from Dead Space, in the wake of the disaster surrounding the Ishimura and Aegis VII, the film unsurprisingly emphasises upon the aftermath of events. Having lost their major objective, the Unitologists set about trying to recover anything of value from the disaster. With ties to a number of fleet captains, the religion assembles a group of specialists and a ship to transport them in before sending them after traces of the marker.
Days later their ship is discovered adrift, the crew slaughtered and only a handful of survivors hold up in the engine room. Employing a ruthless interrogator, they begin extracting the stories of what happened from each of the survivors.

The film shares a number of elements with another of Film Roman's productions, Dante's Inferno. Often bombastic, insanely over the top and with characters yelling, the studio utilised a number of different artistic styles for each part of the film. To give the film credit, unlike Inferno the film has far more of a reason to be structured in this fashion. The previous film utilised different art styles and designs to differ between the levels of hell. The chief problem with this was dramatic shifts in character designs, environments and basic elements which otherwise would be consistent.

With Aftermath it is used to give a different flavour to each person's perspective and change events in subtle ways. For example, the death of a character in the first viewpoint tale is relatively bloodless and limited in terms of visible wounding. This is done due to a lack of connection with the focus character and their state of mind during this time. When it switches to the brother of the dying man, his wounds are far more horrific and he's visibly suffering while dying. Something emphasising on the emotional trauma of the event and how perspectives of things could change as a result of emotions or being closer to something. 

Where it fails is in the CGI'd sequences between such moments. It makes sense to have somewhat clinically clean or stiff movements to contrast with the more emotive artistic sequences, but the quality here is insanely low grade. People complained about the CGI quality in things like Ultramarines,but here? It's on par with your average episode of Reboot, if not worse at times. While the actors might be doing their best with what they are given, the limitations of the graphics on screen are a constant distracting factor and simply look crude. Horrifying moments such as a bleeding child look cartoonish at best, while others like spiders seem so basic it's hard to believe they were not made to be intentionally fake.

The voice acting talent of the film itself is varied. Unfortunately Aftermath went with the celebrity route and tried to rope as many big names into its cast as possible. While this sometimes works, as the Animated DCU has proven many times with the likes of Clancy Brown and David Warner, it doesn't always work. Christopher Judge and Ricardo Chavira in particular feel out of their element with characters which are either vaguely written or just don't fit them, while Peter Woodward and Kari Wahlgren fit their roles perfectly. The same really goes with the writing, strong with one character and extremely weak with the next. This is especially problematic with the first two tales which are far too event focused and despite some personal elements involved fail to really utilise their characters to any great extent. Lacking the individual touches and depth that they could have offered.

The main plot itself is hindered by its introduction. We know which characters will survive, what the state of the ship will be and it ultimately makes the plot predictable. In and event by event examination, it really has little to offer. Besides some hints as to the Unitologist's methods in covering up Aegis VII and brief ties into Dead Space II, it felt too tidy and lacking in developing any major part of the universe. You could argue that Downfall was the same, but as a prequel that's somewhat excusable.

The film is ultimately at its best once the characters leave Aegis VII and are dealing with problems on-board the ship. Well paced explosive sequences and a far more horrific descent into madness by one character help to spice up the otherwise bland plot, giving something for the audience to engage in. The latter is easily the best part of the film, showing the world dissolving around the character and the insanity of the marker truly setting in as he tried to understand the artifact. Unfortunately it really proves to be too little to keep the film afloat.

While it might give some added depth to one part of Dead Space II, this is really only one for devoted fans of the franchise. It has a handful of interesting elements, but it fails to do enough to justify purchase. Skip it and stick with Downfall if you're looking for a Dead Space film.

Friday, 28 June 2013

Iyanden: Character Examination - Iyanna Arienal

The last two parts more or less covered everything which did need to be said about the Iyanden Codex Supplement. It was more of what was expected, bad from beginning to end save for a sliver of a halfway decent idea here and there. Despite this, there is one last thing which needs to be talked about in the form of the characters, and what has been done to them. Yriel everyone knows and while I could spend time talking about some of the minor changes to his character and later actions, the one who suffered the most is Iyanna.

Iyanna Arienal, as mentioned last time, was an old character brought back for a new book. Alongside the likes of Nuadhu was someone introduced back in third edition but had fallen by the wayside and only cropped up in the occasional mention. While never the deepest of characters, suffering from a common problem of being written to surround events or the actions of others, she had a place in the craftworld's history.

Along with a long standing opposition to Yriel, she was an especially gifted Spiritseer capable of guiding and communicating with the dead far more effectively than many of her kind. Her background strongly suggested a big reason Yriel had anything left to rescue was her ability to quickly utilise the souls of the recently fallen and send them into battle. While lacking in comparison to the better written details of today, it was enough for the time and had neither any major flaws or problems. It was simple enough to not be contradicted by other writers, had a few small elements which could be interpreted in different ways and contained nothing overtly stupid.

You can guess where this is going.

For starters, the new book makes huge efforts to have the two even more opposed to one another than before. Rather than having served alongside one another and built up any kind of relationship which can be worked with, Iyanna only became a Spiritseer following Yriel's disgrace and the death of her family. Who cased her family's death? Yriel of course, when he left Iyanden open to an exterminatus attack. No, that doesn't make any more sense reading it now than it did then. 

Following Yriel's exile Iyanna left the Path of the Witch and wholeheartedly devoted herself to her duties as a Spiritseer. Rather than being driven mad with grief or sorrow, she focused her efforts upon her role and her service to the craftworld. Her section specifically notes "her mind was ever afield in the infinity circuit, communing with the kin she had lost." 
Crude and more than a little heavy handed but serviceable as a background, save for that last bit. What's wrong with it? Well, in Ward's desperation to ramp everything up to eleven (exterminatus strike rather than just an attack, Iyanna's connection to the dead stemming from the loss of her family and countless other examples) he decided that having thousands of eldar killed wasn't enough. Apparently instead the strike was so powerful that it destroyed the spirit stones of all those hit by the cyclonic missile.

So yes, Iyanna is now communicating with family members in the infinity circuit that have been written elsewhere to have been consumed by Slaanesh. Either they were somehow saved despite a lack of spirit stones, or she's hearing voices in her head. This is either a continuity error, or something intentional which will result in a potentially very disturbing characterisation.

We already covered what had been done to Ynnead last time, and Eldrad's warning, but here's what that specific part of the text stated in full:

"When Eldrad Ulthran brought warning to Iyanden, he spoke of more than the Great Devourer. He spoke too of Kysaduras the Anchorite, of his predictions that the Eldar's only chance of atonement lay with Ynnead, the God of the Dead. Just as the Council of Iyanden ignored Eldrad's warnings of the Tyranids, so too did they dismiss his talk of Ynnead as a morbid fantasy. To her, the prophecy of Kysaduras sang out as the most dazzling of truths. The future Eldrad described was inevitable, Iyanden doomed, and she swore she would be prepared for its arrival. In a moment of enlightenment, Iyanna perceived a glorious apotheosis, where the spirits of the living Eldar would become as one with the dead. The resulting psychic backlash would stir Ynnead from its slumber, she believed; Slaanesh would at last know defeat, and the Eldar would endure within the infinity circuit's embrace."

Okay, you got all that? You might notice one very specific thing here: The text never confirms if she's right or not, or even substantiates her personal beliefs. Nearly all of what she thinks Ynnead will do is just coming from inside her head and is never truly confirmed by others. We know Eldrad's mentions of the prophecy causing her to believe this, but it never really cites research, thought or even consideration on her part as to whether this could be true or not. She just sees a vision which comes completely out of nowhere and believes it.

While there might be some substance to this, Warlocks and Seers have never been depicted to truly have far-reaching gifts of foresight. When operating in groups yes, or performing rituals with multiple people but rarely if ever as individuals. That's what Farseers are for and Eldrad himself was one of the few who was noted to see something as galaxy shaking as Horus Heresy would surely occur. The only recent example of a lone Seer catching a far reaching glimpse of the future we've had was Thirianna in Path of the Seer. She saw the impending threat to Alaitoc which would prove to be an Imperial invasion force, largely due to the deaths it would cause. This is from a book which, again, was made non-canon with this recent codex, and even taking it into account it's nothing so grand as seeing the fate of the entire eldar race. 

I'm not saying that food for theories, ideas or vague hints is a bad thing in Warhammer, if anything it's something many armybooks need more of, but here there's nothing to support her. Absolutely nothing is done here to help make the reader believe she could be right and it makes her look more deluded than it suggests her to be a prophet or savior.

Things only get worse in the aftermath of the Battle for Iyanden. To try and set up further infighting and conflict between the survivors, Ward ultimately divided the remaining eldar into two camps. Those who had rallied behind Iyanna and those who ultimately had accepted the return of/still followed Yriel. Now, in fairness this was actually an initially good idea. One thing people have brought up is how well several thousand battle hungry corsairs would adjust to being a part of a restrictive craftworld again and the potential divides between the people. There are good ideas behind this and opportunities for clashes of ideology, but this is crushed beneath Ward's other plans.

As mentioned last time they act more like C.S. Goto's romulan eldar houses and are constantly arguing and bickering against one another over very stupid things. In this case it's the fact that Yriel's faction wants to take the Kurgan route and burn out rather than fade away, while Iyanna wants to rebuild the craftworld. This already raises many problems from the fact Yriel had come back to save the craftworld only to now want to destroy it, the fact all eldar are traditionally depicted to seek survival above all things, and the fact that they know they can recover if they are smart about it. This is only made worse by Ward's inclusion of various prophecies and the determination of the faction's leaders to carry them out. Something which results in insanely contradictory behavior.

Despite being the head of group preaching about survival above all, Iyanna is written as being hellbent upon fulfilling the Phoenix Arisen Prophecy and bringing about Ynnead's birth. To this end she is determined to find the artifacts known as Morai-Heg's tears and recover them as they might assist her. Despite her characterisation as caring for the dead and rebuilding the craftworld, she seems to suddenly want these items above all things. Her efforts to reclaim them result in what can only be described as an intergalactic rampage. Coming into conflict with humans, orks and various alien species and leaving almost a dozen worlds in complete ruin just to gain one of these mythic items.

Let this be made clear: Despite her goal of long term preservation, she is more than willing to bring the weakened Iyanden into conflict with just about everyone in her way and enter multiple wars to fulfill her personal beliefs.

Rather than people questioning if she's right in the head, this results in her only garnering further support among the craftworld's populace. Iyanna herself serving as a figurehead to the belief in Ynnead and their ultimate goal of salvation through the god's awakening.

Here's what we have so far in terms of her characterisation:

  • Iyanna has suffered a traumatic event in her past which has likely resulted in emotional or mental scarring.
  • This resulted in her having a fascination, a borderline obsession, with the dead of her kind.
  • She receives mental images of an unknown source and lack any factual backing displaying a grand vision of the future only she can realise, along with possible voices. This causes Iyanna to put her faith in something widely ignored or dismissed by her people.
  • Following a great cataclysm she gains support and becomes a spiritual leader. Obsessed with a single prophecy she begins following it above all things, despite only a single mental suggestion indicating this is the right thing to do.
  • She claims to support the craftworld's future but puts it at risk to fulfill her own ambitions and behaves just as badly as the group she seems to oppose.

At the moment the "Angel of Iyanden" reads less like a hero of her people and more like the figurehead of a cult. Again, nothing has been done in this codex to truly substantiate her personal beliefs or indicate she's in the right. As a result we have no reason to think any of what she's doing is beneficial to the eldar to think she has any rationale for going on her merry crusade. All Ward would need to do is keep the old fluff about Ynnead to make her actions seem justified, but no, that's now gone. Hell, if you actually look at the book as a whole various examples are brought up which are against the vision she had and suggest it's a falsehood. The biggest of these being something shown to Yriel by the Harlequins, with the Eldar Gods reborn and a true war against Chaos in full swing.

Still, this book needs that one slight more push to turn her into a true monster; a completely irredeemable religious zealot who even in 40K's twisted morality scale would be disturbingly immoral. Naturally, Ward gives us this:

"the Spiritseer Iyanna Arienal begins the preparations that she believes will cast the souls of Iyanden into the infinity circuit, and hasten Ynnead's awakening." 

You can find that on page thirty-five of the book. As usual this means one of two things, mostly because this could be an intentional statement or a result of the author doing no bloody research. Why? Because it simply states the souls of Iyanden. It's not referring to the departed souls or those who have succumbed to old age or battle.

  • Option A: Ward has forgotten how the Infinity Circuit works yet again while writing this book. He has failed to realise that the heart of the craftworld stores the souls of dead eldar despite, as quoted above, Iyanna communing with those same souls. It's unlikely, but just about possible.
  • Option B: Iyanna is planning to kill and harvest the souls of those still living on Iyanden in her final gambit. Turning on them once she has what she needs from them and ultimately using their essences for her own ends. Forcing them into the infinity circuit and trapping them to supposedly awaken Ynnead.

... I can only imagine somewhere in the distance Asdrubael Vect is watching this with a shocked expression, announcing "WOW! That's pretty brutal even by my standards!"

You can claim this is justified, you can bring up other examples of where similar things have taken place, but just remember one thing: Ward specifically rewrote Ynnead's existence so no one was sure if it was real. He never gave any solid indication that any of what is being done was going to work nor that Iyanna was doing the right thing. Her crusade killing millions, her apparent preparations to sacrifice the craftworld's entire populace; all could be for absolutely nothing.

When the Black Ships harvest billions of psykers from across the galaxy and feed them to the Emperor, they at least know it's working. They know that it will sustain his spirit and can see their work is needed due to the astronomicon's existence.

When the Word Bearers use the blood of innocents to call forth the Brazen Host to murder millions and feed the souls of countless worlds to their gods, they at least know it's in the name of an actual deity that exists.

Iyanna? She has no true backing, no indications she is doing what is right and is in-fact betraying the long standing efforts of their race for continued survival. Here she is not just a cult figurehead, but the master planner behind a ritualistic suicide cult in service of the god she is somehow the prophet of. Nothing in the book indicates anyone beyond her is aware of this or her long term plans to achieve Ynnead's awakening via the sacrifices of others. 
To say this has destroyed all prior characterisation of her goes without saying. As do any points citing how this makes no sense and contradicts half the things written about this race both in the actual codex and all prior books. Instead I'll just leave with this:

When Ward first got his hands on the Sisters of Battle he diminished them from a powerful military force, to a minor faction of limited influence of only a few hundred thousand. He then proceeded over his next several books to sever all connections with the Inquisition, any role they would truly have with the Ordo Hereticus, suffer repeated humiliating defeats and had Grey Knights slaughter them in a daemonic ritual.
This (the first time he has really gotten his hands on a female major character without editors or other writers involved) has him turn a savior of a craftworld determined to keep her people alive into a deluded religious fanatic. One whose long term objective is to sacrifice everyone in the name of a possibly non-existent god.

Just food for thought.


Warhammer 40,000 and all related characters and media are owned by Games Workshop.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Shadowrun: Summon Bigger Sprite - 15/05/2013

In what's going to be a disappointment to many, this recording of one of our sessions began with a minor retcon to the previous events. After a minor discussion with the GM and realising that Poultry's cybereyes could likely pick us up in spite of invisibility, he allowed Killbo to warp space time. Using his edge and a few odd tests, he was able to shut the painting over the safe just before the troll looked his way. Sorry for the cop-out.

Despite being out of immediate danger, this did result in Poultry walking up to within inches of Killbo, opening the painting and trying to enter the safe. Cue "breathing loudly" tests to see if he picked us up. Just barely avoiding being heard, the dwarf listened to the sounds of the troll turning the dial and recorded everything he could from the troll nearby. Sounds, sights, everything his enhancements could pick up. Grabbing something from the safe and slamming it shut, the troll stomped off out of the room leaving the duo to sigh with relief.

Now, on the one hand we had some useful info. Killbo's recordings showed that the dial had to be turned twenty-seven times and had a very rough estimate of what number they were stopping at. On the other, we didn't know which direction each one was going in or a specific way to bypass the security systems besides it. Sending the data to Amoral briefly for analysis, the dwarf found himself stumped.

Amoral wasn't having too much fun himself. Managing to analyse the data easy enough, his first foray against Hedge's computer's defenses was disastrous. Forced to bug out after things went wrong, Amoral had an extremely near miss almost both being detected and suffering damage as a result. Stopping with his efforts for the moment, the technomancer joined Killbo in trying to crack open the safe.

After a long period of checking what was what, locksmith tests and all, the dwarf eventually had a halfway decent idea of what the combination was. Setting to work on the electronic lock, keypad and eye scanner, Amoral began metaphorically taking them to bits one by one. Also threading the recordings from Killbo's cyberears he managed to break past damn near everything. This just left Killbo to figure out the safe's basic design, a miniturised version of something he'd seen in bank vaults and break the code. Something even he couldn't screw up with all the bonuses he now had.

As the door swung open it was immediately obvious that something large had been taken from within. The few wrapped items left were placed in positions which left a specific space for something else, so we'd already lost out. Not by much however. Unwrapping the objects within we found the safe contained a number of dragon's claws. Pillaging promptly followed. As did framing, with Amoral getting Killbo to burn "WILSON SENDS HIS REGARDS" into the safe's rear.

Locking it again, and being healed from the fading damage thanks to the medi-kit, Amoral returned to the server. He'd been denied once. This, of course, was all the prompting he needed to bring out the big guns. Wading in again, the technomancer broke out multiple spites, a number of which were rating eight, and proceeded to give the machine the thrashing of its lifetime.

As Killbo watched the door, Amoral entered mortal combat with the machine and raced desperately against its security systems. First trying to prevent it alerting the system to his presence and then halting a reboot of the system to screw with him. Managing to cancel this he promptly ended up facing an IC program. This one appeared to have been programmed by an idiot as it switched off almost the second it activated.

Almost the second he tried to proceed though, Amoral ended up facing down a much more compitent BlackHammer program in the form of a fire-breathing wolf. A gigantic black mallet rose from the program's back, attempting to beat him into the ground as they entered AR combat, Amoral flipping over the hammer and unleashing his sprites into battle. Taking off a full third of its boxes, the program reeled back and tried to jam his connection port. Amoral being a technomancer, this did nothing and just allowed him to promptly beat until the BlackHammer went offline.

Despite the server screwing with him and the node scuplting trying to kill him (causing the ground to fall away as he entered a fantasy style castle) he managed to find a decent amount of data worthy of taking. Consisting of more than they could possibly carry, Amoral broadcast as much as he could to Killbo's com-link before pushing on. A few more scans found nothing of interest, but some eventual through searching uncovered a very suspicious hidden node.

Sculpted like a dungeon, said hidden node seemed to be empty besides a single door. Or rather, a portal to the resonance realms, but something above his level of technomancy unfortunately. The fact it was scrupled in the shape of a dragon was enough to make him realise leaving it alone was likely a good idea.

Making a few edit checks to hide his presence, Amoral left the terminal but spotted something of interest on his way out. A brief glimpse of an image - Hedges standing before a very familiar looking building with men in white coats. If you've been reading up to now, you can guess what was he involved in.

Our limited capacity for professionalism spent, the two proceeded to openly try to dick with Hedges. Killbo broke out araldite from somewhere and immediately opted to make life difficult for whoever entered next. Passing it to Amoral, he squirted some big globules over the draw allowing access to the terminal before very carefully closing it. 

Unfortunately (perhaps thankfully) before Killbo could get to work sticking various bits of furniture to the ceiling, Poultry re-appeared for some mysterious reason and approached the safe. The same one we'd spent so long screwing with it was going to immediately reject him. Booking it as the alarms went off we managed to just remain in earshot long enough to hear the following from the troll "Sir! Intruders have infiltrated the upper floors, they've... the hell!?" a loud smashing noise followed "Sir, they've broken your desk!" Sprinting through the crowds of people as sirens screamed and Poultry appeared out of the office, part of a desk and a terminal stuck to one hand, we hurled cartwheeled and dived into the elevator.

Suddenly heading down, we managed to spot the team of armed security guards on the bottom floor preparing to rush inside, causing Amoral to jam the lift. Obviously we were now taking the difficult way out. Breaking through the upper hatch to the roof, a eagle eyed guard seeing this and yelling "look, they're invisible!" we got onto the narrow roof. Upon looting the equipment from the dead guards (yes, they were still there), Killbo leapt onto the maintenance ladder on the side of the lift shaff and slid down, Amoral climbing at a considerably slower pace after him.

With the guards second behind us, Killbo was forced to grab a falling Amoral almost as soon as his feet touched the ground, one guard firing blindly down the shaft. This clipped the unfortunate dwarf, and the guards followed up with grenades just as Killbo blew open the door into the basement with explosive foam. With the weapons detonating behind them, the two sprinted for the stairway leading to the upper building. Amoral's drones still stationed there bought us some time, shooting up the entrance to the bottom level and then heading out through the sewers. Something to at least make it initially look like we were trying to escape via ghoul alley.

As the guards didn't have the foresight to post a sentry, escaping proved to be relatively easy. Less easy proved to be sneaking through the building with security on High-But-Not-So-High-The-Guests-Will-Notice-Alert and find Leona. Finding her, we discovered the good ans bad news. The good news was that she had tracked down our second to last target, Beaumont. The bad news is thanks to her, he was unconscious and tied to a bed in her room.

This was going to make negotiations difficult.

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Shadowrun and all related characters and media are owned by FASA Corporation, Fantasy Productions and Catalyst Games Labs.

Source of cyber combat image is located here.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Recon One-Five: A Nineteen Galaxies Novel (Book Review)

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Tuesday, 25 June 2013

The Failure Of Truth, Justice & The American Way

Before we begin: This is about the Superman comic What's So Funny About Truth, Justice & The American Way? Better known to some as Superman Vs. The Elite and a major argument as to why Superman is still relevant today. It has nothing to do with American values, the United States Constitution or any politically charged subject matter. It's about people who fly through the sky, pile-drive trains and fight crime.

Everyone got that? Good. Hopefully this will mean i'll only be getting hate mail from DC fans, not misguided patriots.

The comic, written by Joe Kelly, served as a criticism for the rise in popularity of anti-heroes within comics and one specific group known as The Authority, one of Wildstorm's major superhero teams. In it, a superhero group known as the Elite is garnering public support for their vicious executions and "eye for and eye" approach to justice. Embracing extremely heavy handed tactics, a disregard for human life and treating criminals as if they had no rights; they are everything Superman has been taught is unethical. This clash of ideologies eventually results in a battle between the metahumans, concluding with Superman proving their way is ultimately wrong.

The comic supposedly rejected the principles of Warren Ellis and Mark Millar presented within The Authority and any right for such a group to ever exist. Showing them as hypocrites, bullies, and what would happen if someone like Superman ever took up their mentality. Things like killing being required to defeat certain foes, torture, their attitude towards the public and direct intervention in human affairs. Serving as far more of a sledgehammer to willingly interceded in any area of their world they decided to make their business.

The comic is well written, well thought out and while very heavy handed at times it did serve as a good argument against someone like Superman killing others. The story's problems begin to arise when you really look at how the stand ins for The Authority are presented. Just for starters, this isn't The Authority as a whole they're aping, just Mark Millar's version if it. This is something which really needs to be looked at separately but when you compare Ellis' original run with the characters to Millar's years, the differences are considerable. Along with any restraint, the characters lost many subtleties and minor elements when it came to Millar writing them, even their goals in some respects. 

When Ellis' created The Authority the group served as a semi-covert strike unit protecting the world against threats it could not deal with personally. Like Superman they largely held back from screwing with human development and forcing their way into delicate matters. Of the three threats they faced, two were military invasions the countries of the world had no hope of stopping and the third was a ancient god of the outer dark. They weren't openly forcing their way into delicate matters or refusing to let humanity make its own choices as many critics claim, they acted more as protectors watching from above and getting involved when necessary. Limiting damage rather than letting it run rampant and trying to ensure humanity would see a better tomorrow by nudging it in the right direction or getting involved when it was needed.

Take for example the events of the first arc of Ellis' run where Kaizen Gamorra (long time WildC.A.T.s villain with a complex history) managed to get cloning tech, advanced shield generators and metahuman genetic enhancements. Using it for a cloned superhuman army deployed en mass to eventually bring down world powers through force and become a dominant ruling power. After he was defeated, rather than with most superhero comics, the Authority made sure that the technology would be found by the right people. United Nations investigators who would see that it was regulated and introduced over time to give various countries access to the advanced tech.

Major superhero battles within cities were shown to be horrendously devastating and with a massive level of collateral damage. Think Man of Steel levels of destruction. Unlike many comics which would skip over this however, the arc showed how people being caught in the fighting and deaths being caused due to the conflict. Rather than just flying off however, members of the team are seen helping with aid workers to recover trapped people and rebuild from some of the damage. They never go so far as to do the aid worker's jobs for them, but find the people they missed and rescue those beyond their reach. Furthemore, the run didn't glorify killing nearly as much as the Elite did. Once the final battle in Los Angeles was over the results of their actions are questioned with exchanges like this:

Swift: How many people you think we killed?
Hawksmoor: How many people would've died if we hadn't been there? It's not a great answer, I know; but it's the best there is. We saved more people than we killed.

While the comic is never all doom and gloom, it doesn't glorify their killing or show the heroes reveling in it. Making jokes to ease tensions, the odd sociopathic remark by Midnighter (as seen right), or the Joss Wheden style battle/post-battle speak you'd see in things like Buffy or Firefly; but not pretending their acts didn't matter. At some level they seemed to understand what they truly were - A necessary evil. A force which needed to exist because there was ultimately nothing else to halt the major threats the world was facing on a global or galactic scale. Ellis himself described them as villains who fought bigger villains more than once, and his writing did seem to constantly reflect this fact.

As you might have guessed, Mark Millar's run didn't. It contained many of the elements which the Elite embraced and suffered from some of the worst aspects "mature" comics are usually criticised for. Along with abandoning their aloof presence in favour of a pop-star style existence of media publicity, the group is seen systematically destroying dictatorships and showing no remorse for slaughtering their foes. While the comic would never quite regain the same themes and style Ellis had once Millar was gone, many aspects were considerably toned down. Less frequent acts of rape, less government destroying actions (barring one particular semi-justified arc) and more defending humanity from threats it could not personally combat.
As such What's So Funny About Truth, Justice & The American Way? is less a criticism of The Authority itself and more one specific run of the comic. Along with the various superhero groups who might share its attitude.

However, where the story really fails as a criticism is the universe it is set in. Grim as the DCU might be sometimes, it has countless superhero groups, generations of people willing to fight for justice and enough metahumans to ensure humanity would see a better tomorrow. As such, the situations which led to the Authority being created would never arise in that universe.
Another aspect people like to forget when looking at What's So Funny About Truth, Justice & The American Way? is that the Authority wasn't founded on some whim. It wasn't created immediately and in fact many of its heroes tried to find less extreme ways of improving things with less bloodshed. Either personally helping those who could or watching as groups who tried to do the same died in the attempt.

Ellis' most famous arc on StormWatch featured a kind of proto-Authority called the Changers who worked in passive ways to try and improve the world. They didn't speed around destroying governments, toppling dictatorships or killing monsters but instead set everything up for a new global society. One where hierarchies, governments and leadership figures were not needed. Where the suffering of many was not needed to benefit a comparative few. Like the Authority, their plan was to fade from the public eye once their job was done and leave humanity to its fate. All of them were killed before they could initiate their plan fully. Murdered, betrayed and undermined by figures who wished to retain control over others and hungered for power. Their unwillingness to resort to violence to truly secure their future was their ultimate undoing.

Next was StormWatch itself. Moving in far more subtle ways than the Authority would, the United Nation's metahuman taskforce worked from inside. Obeying the U.N.'s will but repeatedly clashing with acts deemed unethical, resulting in America pulling its support from the group. It would combat figures from the shadows, decapitating tyrannical leadership where it arose and tried to keep humanity on the right path. Even going so far as to fight against the countries it was supposed to serve covertly when it was clear they were going too far. StormWatch ultimately met its end at the hands of a massive xenomorph invasion (yes, those xenomorphs) showing that it had been unprepared to truly fight a full scale planetary assault. Any chance of it being founded once again was crushed by StormWatch's own actions, and the level of freedom Weatherman Jackson King had displayed in opposing their will.

The members of the Authority consisted of survivors from StormWatch and those who had known members of the Changers personally. Each desired the better future they had been working towards, and founded the Authority in an effort to learn from the mistakes of the past while retaining the same goal.

This long history of events, problems and political intrigue simply didn't exist with the Elite. The environment which would lead to the creation of such a group, the problems and the lack of a major superhero group capable of acting on a global scale; none of these were problems with the DCU. In this respect the Ultramarine Corps were a far better criticism which suggested a team like Ellis' Authority was needed, but only in universes far worse off than the DCU.

Again, What's So Funny About Truth, Justice & The American Way? is a great story. You just have to remember it's a great Superman story. When it comes to actually trying to deconstruct and criticise the existance of the Authority, big flaws in the narrative and aesop begin to appear.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Bioshock Infinite: The Character Of The Songbird

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Sunday, 23 June 2013

Soul Drinkers: Annihilation (Book Review)

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Ragnarok Online II: Legend of the Second (Video Game Review)

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Friday, 21 June 2013

Dead Space: Downfall (Film Review)

Dead Space has always seemed to be an strange franchise on the whole. Between its non-traditional style of zombie survival, gradually shifting genre from horror to action and oddly placed characters it never seems to quite know what it wants to be. Sometimes it's trying to be a blockbuster action piece, in others a Lovecraftian cultist tale of alien influences and mind control, and once in a while it's trying to be an up and up zombie survival title. Long term tonal consistency is a surprising rarity within the series and it can be very quick to jump tracks. What's truly surprising however is that the one installment of the franchise which manages to actually nail horror and stick with it is a spin off, Dead Space: Downfall.

Released on DVD and the SyFy channel, Downfall is the story of the U.S.G. Ishimura's decay and loss to the necromorphs. Arriving above Aegis VII, the ship performs an illegal planet crack to take resources from the colony below in a secret arrangement. Unbeknownst to many of the crew however is the Unitologist influence over the captain and their secret goal of recovering an alien relic from the planet.
As a surge of violent outbreaks and murders which started on the colony begins anew on the ship, Head of Security Alissa Vincent finds herself facing things far more dangerous than humans...

As a prequel to the original game, Downfall has the job of setting up events and explaining a number of specific instances on-board the ship. Along with having to stick to certain, half seen, events and leave the plot open enough for the game to follow it had quite a job of standing out on its own. Despite all difficulties however it manages to just about do this.
Many elements crucial to the games' mechanics are explained here but are progressively detailed rather than info-dumped. How the necromorphs increase their numbers, their weaknesses and how the Marker influences others are all introduced as plot elements and explored over time, with the characters naturally learning of them through experience.

Many characters crucial to the game's plot are given enough of an introduction to make them relevant to the film, but never tries to foreshadow their greater roles within the game. Returning figures like Mathius and Kyne are utilised only as much as they need to be and . Furthermore, the film doesn't waste time with showing the colony going to hell and skip to the end of events there. Showing audiences just enough that they can understand what's going on and how everything began to go to hell on the ship before moving onto the ship itself. 

The plot actually understands why keeping things simple is a good thing and unlike many other tie-ins, goes out of its way to keep things relatively self contained. The few times the plot does need to link into the game by setting things up are woven into events well enough to be put down to one character's fearful insanity.

Many of the horror elements mentioned are built up over time. Unlike the games themselves, the film has the luxury of not being required to throw blade armed zombies into the mix within the first couple of minutes. As such the first signs of things going wrong are surprisingly human, beginning with those suffering from psychotic breaks in increasingly severe degrees before introducing the monsters at about the half-way mark. By that point the atmosphere has been built up so their appearance as real meaning, emphasising upon the severity of their threat.

The unfortunate thing is that while Downfall handles the video game characters and villains with expertise, the writers just couldn't handle compelling heroes. Many of those which are followed are cannon fodder and the few which are not are average at best, doing just enough for audiences to remember their actions but not their names. Even when the otherwise decent character designs go out of their way to give them distinctively memorable looks, they look more ridiculous than interesting.

A further problem comes in the form of the actual disaster itself. Dead Space's audio logs suggested the ship was overtaken after prolonged months of isolation while here everyone dies within a few hours at best. Even taking Kyne's actions into account, it's an insanely fast speed and makes the humans look more incompetent than anything else. This isn't something which can entirely be excused by growing insanity or mental influence either, as the film makes it clear when someone is being influenced.

At the end of the day Dead Space: Downfall is an enjoyably average horror animation. It doesn't stand out from the crowd, but it has enough tension and gore to satisfy anyone wanting a quick, enjoyable horror film. If you can't find anything better to watch then you won't regret wasting seventy-five minutes on it, but you'd do better to find something else.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Games Workshop Vs. Chapter House Studios - Everyone Loses

If you've been keeping track of Games Workshop lately you'll likely have noticed the lawsuit between them and the company known as Chapter House Studios. Having alledged infringed upon their copyright, Games Workshop moved against the company and tried to sue them for selling bits. Namely the ones openly advertised with things like "space marine compatible" and with designs only a blind man would claim were not taken from Warhammer 40,000.

The end result of the lawsuit had both sides claiming victory. While Chapter House is now required to pay Games Workshop for infringing upon their copyright and remove a number of products from their stores, it has not been shut down. Furthermore, in this one act, Games Workshop has opened a proverbial can of worms. It has shown itself as unable to protect many of its I.P.s and has cleared the way for independently made Warhammer bits products to flood the market. You can read further details here and here, but this is a discussion of something else.

Supporters of Games Workshop are calling foul, while those players jaded by a decade of Games Workshop's greed and "legal bullying" are calling this justice. The sad truth of the matter however is that no one won here. No side was ever going to win. In the long run, the wargaming hobby as a whole has just seen the beginning of the next stage in its decline.

To let me explain this properly, please ask yourself this question: How did you get into the wargaming or miniatures hobby? Or, if you don't play yourself, how did your friends and their friends get into the hobby? This is something you could ask to almost anyone and the result will always be the same: Warhammer.

Both 40,000 and Fantasy are not just two globally recognised brands, they're the only truly globally recognised brands. While others are certainly successful, if you were to ask the average person on the street if they knew about Warmachine, Confrontation, HordesInfinity or Dystopian Wars, you would be met with confusion. Ask them about Warhammer however, and they tend to know what you're talking about. Even those who are not a part of the hobby tend to pass by stores and recognise space marines when they see them. The only one which can potentially compete with this is Battletech, and even then that's a franchise usually better known for its video games.

Having existed for well over two decades and established multiple stores on many high street corners, Games Workshop is literally a gateway into the hobby. People hear of it, join, and those who stick with it become invested in miniatures wargaming. From it the new blood learns of more wargames and as a result the hobby keeps gaining an influx of new people. If Games Workshop ceases to exist the hobby doesn't just gain a massive power vacuum, it loses a vast amount of public attention. 
A similar example to this would be if Dungeons and Dragons suddenly ceased to exist or be supported in any way. RPGs would lose their biggest name and the primary method for getting new players interested in the hobby or for people to learn of it in any way. Miniatures wargaming, for all the great ideas it has produced, has failed to gain anything to truly rival Warhammer in terms of scale or presence in the public consciousness.

This being said, while Chapter House might have shoved Games Workshop into its grave, the company had been digging it for a good few years now.

In every PR and business sense, the company has been in a state of prolonged suicide. First it has continual price inflation over several years with considerable jumps and increases, recent codices jumping from £20 to £30 of late.
This drives away new people and makes it difficult for many players to remain an active part of the hobby, turning it into a niche market. The company then proceeds to ignore the niche it has created itself, to the point of attacking its fanbase taking down fan and community websites for little reason, to try and still focus upon appealing to new players. Then there's the case of the various embargoes placed upon locations outside of Europe, the severe difficulties it has caused for independent stores and hobby centres. They more or less were directly responsible for forcing many to shut down and closing many websites keeping the hobby active in areas without a local GW.

You then have to consider the sheer drop in quality and reliability. Multiple books are released without models to represent their units, various bits are made difficult to come by, the entire collectors range for 40K is removed from their website, all Specialist Games are openly discontinued after years of trying to kill them off. Finecast proves to be an utter disaster upon release due to cost cutting measures, multiple efforts are made to milk more cash from customers and even Black Library products begin to visibly suffer from this. The collectors edition Horus Heresy tomes and increased price of ominbuses, softback editions and the rise of limited release novellas all support their price gouging image. The company is so deaf to its negative PR, reviews or criticism that it willingly keeps on individuals who have earned nothing but the ire of critics and players alike. Hell, they'll keep them on even after they get into open pissing matches with major authors by trying to retcon books they dislike from existence.

Furthermore the company itself has been in visible decline for some time now. Between slashing staff numbers in 2011, continued borrowing debts and flat sales, it seems to only be staying afloat via temporary measures; specifically via selling off assets, the aforementioned price hikes to milk their remaining customers and the resurgence of interest in Lord of the Rings thanks to The Hobbit. Many of their actions resemble a traditional cut-and-run mentality, making as much cash from the franchise and brand name as possible before they completely drive it into the ground.

Even if Games Workshop had completely "won" this case it would have done nothing to halt its decline, and victory would likely only increase its arrogance when dealing with legal cases. This loss has only shown the circling vultures its weakness and will likely hasten its end with third parties now producing products for their games.

Let's be clear: Despite what many say there is no "good guy" here. There is no "justice" being performed and no good outcome as a result of this. Perhaps the only way we might have had any kind of remotely good resolution would be if both backed down, which even then would solve very little in the long run.

I'm not claiming that this is any kind of legal or courtroom analysis of the outcome or the decisions made in this case. Don't try to quote this as such. All i'm doing is basing it off of what i've seen and spoken with to others over the past few years, hoping it might talk some sense into sides arguing that one company is entirely in the right. Things are going to get more difficult from here on. Some people were saying that Games Workshop would meet its end sometime within the next five to ten years, and when it goes Chapter House and many entirely separate companies might start to go with them. With this latest turn of events i'm beginning to believe them.


Warhammer 40,000 and all related characters and media are owned by Games Workshop.