Pointless Nonsense

Posted in tv by Bill on April 27, 2017

Great News is a sitcom starring the girl I thought was nice looking in Neftlix’s Love, playing an actress on the Witchita show (it’s a CW/ABC Family kinda thing about witches in Kansas, get it?), and Andrea Martin who I guess is famous for SCTV but she seems sorta like a That Lady to me, as a daughter who ‘s a low level producer on a TV news show and the mother who gets an internship on that same show. I think whatshername is really cute, Tina Fey is a producer or something, and John Michael Higgins is always funny, so I gave it a shot.

It’s actually a lot better than it has any right to be. It’s a premise that feels expected, the young woman trying to make it in her dream career, the meddling mother invading her space. The side characters are pretty much stock characters, the blowhard news anchor guy, the blonde lady anchor who does fluff pieces, the jerk boss. But it has a certain charm, the cast is solid (Nicole Richie seemed like she’d suck but she’s actually not bad), and the creator is a former 30 Rock writer.

Posted in tv by Bill on April 25, 2017

Bill Nye Saves the World is the pop-sci celebrity’s new Netflix series for grown-ups. And I normally dig pop science, edutainment, hot models, and a lot of the things this show offers, but it’s pretty terrible.

They shoot it in front of a live audience, and he’s not really the kind of host that can do that without it seeming cringey. He’s a little awkward reading from a script (which could be fixed with edits if it was shot sans audience), the audience laughter throws off his timing, he’s pretty bad at the post-pre-taped-piece-Q&A with the correspondents, and the audience really gets in the way of the panel part.

Karlie Kloss is one of their correspondent type people for pre-taped stuff, and though she’s easy on the eyes, she’s a little bit awkward. Although more TV correspondents should be very, very tall women, because it’s quite amusing. When she first appeared on screen, I thought “who is that giantess?” And then when she was in some field piece in Venice, she wasn’t even wearing heels, but this engineer guy doesn’t even come up to her shoulders.

Topically, he’s basically preaching to the choir. Global warming is real, alternative medicine is not a substitute for real medicine and should be viewed skeptically, AI is cool, GMOs are probably perfectly safe. That kinda thing.

Posted in video games by Bill on April 21, 2017

Batman – The Telltale Series had a thing months ago on Steam to play the first chapter free. Which I did, and I liked it, but I’d gotten all the other Telltale games for super cheap in a bundle, so I didn’t want to actually pay full price. Then some time later, while I was playing the Witcher 3, it went in sale for $10, and now I’m actually getting around to playing it.

It brought a lot of the same voice actors from previous games, updated the game engine, it’s Batman, and I liked the first chapter. So what could go wrong? It turns out, a lot. Catwoman was basically perfect, but everything else? The worst of these Telltale interactive story games that I’ve played.

Story issues, which contain a few spoilers:

  • You don’t give an established “good guy” character a surprise turn into a villain. It’s kind of a betrayal of the character. In The Dark Knight, I’m sure every comic fan wondered for the first half why Gordon’s trusted hispanic lady cop wasn’t named Renee Montoya, but then (spoiler for TDK) you learn she betrayed Gordon, which is something Montoya wouldn’t do. So it made perfect sense that they didn’t use her name. Here, they have the masked villain turn out to be a known non-villainous character. So… bullshit.
  • You also don’t undermine the fundamentals of the Batman story. At the end of chapter 1, I assumed the story would be about proving these baseless accusations wrong. But then at the beginning of chapter 2, Alfred’s like “sorry, totally true.” So… also bullshit.
  • Basically, I worry if they did a Spider-Man game, that Uncle Ben would be a human trafficker and you’d unmask the Green Goblin to find Betty Brant.
  • The bad guys get hold of a drug that they can use to compel people to act against their will. They use it publicly in a few instances, and the police know it exists, as does the press. Then they use it on you, you get sent to Arkham, and and at no point can say “I was drugged, please note this injection site and other symptoms, can you draw some blood for a tox screen to prove my innocence/sanity?” And even though the fact that you’re in Arkham is literally broadcast on TV, you have to call Alfred to have him call your lawyer. Like apparently he’s too dumb to think to do that on his own. And once you get out, you get trashed in the press, but at no point do you present the “I was drugged” defense, you just take it like an idiot.
  • Dent becomes mayor during his downfall, and just starts violating the constitution left and right (hiring non-police, arming them, and authorizing them to conduct search and seizure without probable cause,  seizing land by fiat). And you never have the option to like… sue, call the state law enforcement, or FBI (I’m not sure which one you do when a local official just starts violating rights on a massive scale, but… one of those is probably right). Instead, you just put on your costume and go around punching people.
  • Smaller gripe, but you don’t pick a CEO for a multi billion dollar international corporation by reading their resume and calling their references. Your investors would google the name, and if it didn’t immediately come up with news articles and trade publications that indicate a long history in this or a related industry, they’d bail and your stock would plummet. This prevents you from hiring a career criminal who can fake a resume and get people to pretend to be references.
  • Smaller gripe, Gordon gets some information, then Two-Face gets it to do something bad, and then he tries to take out Gordon. You save Gordon, but then start to accuse him of helping Two-Face, which makes no sense because Two-Face was just trying to kill him. Then I pick the dialogue option “I’m not blaming you,” which I say, and then go right back to sounding like I blame him.
  • Tiny gripe, but the Penguin is lying on the ground and Gordon is standing straight up about 5 feet away, and somehow Penguin manages to spit in his face from that distance.

Choice issues:

  • You have a couple options early on to “brutalize” a bad guy. Which, as a fan of the traditional, non-psychopath Batman, I didn’t not take. But I still got shit from Gordon for roughing people up who I didn’t rough up, and compliments sorta from Penguin for beating the shit out of someone who I didn’t really beat the shit out of. I get that in order to keep a game’s scope within reason, choices have to lead you down the same general path. But I would think of you specifically choose not to be overly violent, there wouldn’t be subsequent dialogue about how you’re overly violent. And to be clear, these were some of the big chapter choices. A lot of dialogue options seem to not really matter at all, but Telltale will give you 5 big decisions per chapter and show you what percentage of your peers chose which options. And these showed up on that screen, so I’m quite sure it should be reflected in dialogue at least.
  • Looking through wikis and whatnot, most of the choices have very brief, cosmetic impact. There are 5 per episode that “matter,” but it seems like only 3 in the whole game make a real difference. It’s possible that’s typical for their games, but this is the first time I’ve been so frustrated with the story that I went back to find out if I could have saved it.

Technical/Interface issues:

  • Despite a pretty big update to the game engine with new features, their cloud save thing 100% does not work. I played chapter 1 for free, installed the game several months later, found that it created a whole new directory for save games, figured it might have been patched and I forgot a lot of stuff anyway, so I just decided to replay chapter 1. Got halfway through, took a break, then found I forgot to disable cloud saves, so it recorded none of my progress. So I actually ended up playing the first half of chapter one three times.
  • You can’t change the key bindings, which is normal for Telltale. Not normal for Telltale, shift+Q is sometimes a game-critical keystroke in QTEs. Shift+Tab, the button immediately next to Q, and fairly easy to hit by accident when suddenly reaching to hit shift+Q really quickly, brings up the Steam overlay, and prevents you from interacting with the game until you close it, and during which, QTEs whiz by, and you die. I mean it’s easy enough to disable the overlay, but did no one anticipate that problem?
  • There’s this really shrill beeping noise when you mouse over any of the menu options. The rest of the game volume is fine, but the menu sound makes me want to slash my wrists with a batarang.
  • Unskippable logo animation at the beginning that you can’t even alt-tab away while it runs. Maybe 5 seconds tops, but I’d think most people take 2 sittings to play a chapter at least, so that’s 10 times sitting through that logo.
  • It’s frequently telling me “to move, use WASD,” but A, S, and D are locked out, because it’s a scripted sequence to get you to walk to an exact spot, with the W key letting you turn on progress towards the scripted event. This is obviously pointless interactivity, a hallmark of Telltale games (“move the mouse back and forth to wipe blood of the sword” was my favorite in GoT), but why not “press W to move forward”?
  • They did an admirable attempt to bring detective work into the game by having this thing where you examine clues and then make links between pieces of evidence to construct the story. And sometimes that makes sense… link a bullet hole in a chemical container to a bullet hole in a dead body, and determine it’s the same bullet. Other times, it makes no sense at all. There’s a train car modified with a tank and a sprinkler, so I naturally tried to link it to the store of chemicals that will go into the tank and be dispersed, but they wanted me to link it to the location where the dispersal will happen. Most of the time I just make the links that make sense, and then hopefully there are only two things left over, otherwise it’s trial and error to find the right combination. Plus you have to match even the insignificant stuff… “I know who killed these people and where they went to, but I can’t do anything about it until I figure out what this bloody belt and this belt-buckle-shaped blood stain mean, could they be linked???” Also one of them is 100% pointless. You get a call from Alfred that someone’s coming into Wayne Manor, so you rush back home and find the place torn up and Alfred gone. So he was obviously abducted, and the mess probably means he put up a fight. So you spend some time linking shit together to determine that… Alfred put up a fight and then was abducted. Then only after all that investigating is done, next is a scene where you find a note that progresses the story.

Sadly, I’ll probably play any sequel too, if it exists and when it becomes cheap enough, but I might have to wait until it’s well under $10. But they’ve got another TWD game and a GoTG one both with chapters in progress now, so I’ll probably end up with those too when they get cheap enough. So even though I strongly disliked this game, that damn company has their hooks in me.

Posted in movies by Bill on April 19, 2017

Morgan is another movie that I think made it on my “to watch” list from a reddit post of underrated movies or of scifi movies, and I suspect my reaction was “you had me at Kate Mara.” Though she has kind of a boyish haircut that doesn’t look good on her (but it is character appropriate) except when it starts to get a little messed up (pictured).

The basic premise is that a genetic engineering company makes an artificial (super)human, but there’s an incident and a risk management specialist (Mara) is called out to assess the project. It also stars Rose Leslie, Brian Cox, Toby Jones, Paul Giamatti, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Michelle Yeoh, the guy from Narcos and Legion, and the title role is the actress who seemed from the trailers like main girl from Split, but creepy looking.

It’s simultaneously disappointing and surprisingly good. It builds up in the first act like it’s going to be this heady scifi thing, but there’s no decent payoff there at all. But the third act is straight up action and pretty good.

Posted in movies by Bill on April 10, 2017

The Discovery is Netflix’s original movie with Robert Redford, Jason Segal, Rooney Mara, and Jesse Plemons about the scientific discovery of an afterlife. (spoiler alert for about 1 minute into the movie) people start killing themselves left and right, because I guess if life is going terribly, but you know there’s something after, why not shortcut to the next thing? That’s about the last interesting thing that happens. It turns in some kind of weird romantic thing with an ending that (spoiler alert for the last ten minutes) turns into a Quantum Leap sorta thing for some reason? Pretty boring.

Posted in tv by Bill on April 6, 2017

Brockmire is a new IFC series which stars Hank Azaria as a radio baseball announcer who has a meltdown and wrecks his MLB career, and the series picks up 10 years later when he’s returned from overseas hoping his public humiliation will have faded, and he takes a job announcing for a minor league team in nowheresville owned by Amanda Peet.

I had some concerns early on that it might be one of those comedies that would rather be a drama, because of how Azaria was getting emotional in one scene, but it doesn’t shy away from jokes at all. If anything, Azaria’s commitment to keeping the announcer voice going prevents any real dramatic moments. It mixes some baseball with the kind of depressing, dark comedy that I tend to enjoy. Some high quality suicide jokes in the pilot. The second episode isn’t as strong, but it’s not bad at all.

Posted in movies by Bill on March 31, 2017

I keep a list of movies I’m interested in seeing, and sometimes I forget why a movie is on that list. Such is the case with Under the Skin, which my best guess is that it came from one of those lists that shows up on reddit every once in a while, an imgur album full of movie recommendations. I remember ones for movies that “flew under the radar” (most of which looked pretty lousy) and another for “scifi movies that will blow your mind” (most of which I had already seen, because I seek those kinds of movies out). So, this was probably on one of those.

Scarlett Johansson stars… and either she really likes scifi or she’s been pigeonholed as scifi girl lately. This, Ghost in the Shell, Lucy, Her. Also, I would have thought I’d have heard of this movie (even though it only made $7 mil at the box office), since Ms. Johansson is without clothing for a fair amount of it, and normally the internet freaks out over that kind of thing.

It is an art house type movie. Apparently well-received by critics. I thought my audio was messed up because of the first minute or so of dead silence, but then the 2 minutes of ambient strings told me it was working, but that the movie would be weird. A prediction confirmed by the 11 not-action-packed minutes before there was any dialogue. Excruciatingly slow-moving. I would think that unless you go for that sort of thing, this is not for you. And I do not go for this sort of thing.

Scarlett plays a… something (alien?) who lures men with her hotnesss to their deaths. That’s basically the first hour. A little more happens after that, but… not a whole lot. There’s like 3 minutes dedicated to her getting a piece of cake at a restaurant and not liking it. But I stuck it out all the way to the still-not-very-interesting end.

Posted in video games by Bill on March 29, 2017

Mass Effect: Andromeda is BioWare’s new spinoff from the highly successful and possibly my favorite franchise Mass Effect series. That sets high expectations for both me and the public. The public apparently decided to hate it because of some bad lip-sync and eyes that don’t look quite right, but I was much more interested in fun combat and a good story, so I kept an open mind.

In order to allow for the radically different endings of the original trilogy, this one takes the action to another galaxy. A group of large ships carrying 20,000 people in cryo-stasis sets off for Andromeda around the time ME2 started, planning to each explore and colonize a new world that long range scans indicate will be habitable, then meet up at a Citadel-like new structure meant to serve as the seat of government for a new galactic alliance of Milky Way settlers. But of course stuff goes wrong, you find some hostile natives, and you get thrust into an important position, trying to find all the colonists a place to live.

The characters are pretty good, only ok by Mass Effect standards, but ME1 characters didn’t really get interesting until later in the series. The story is good too, but frustrating, because all the most intriguing side plots are left unresolved, presumably for DLC and sequels. Damnit! But overall it was satisfying. I guess the highest compliment I can pay this game is that I expect to replay it sometime in the future on insanity difficulty.

I could write a giant essay on my feelings about the game, but boiling it down to bullet points will keep this from getting excessively long.

Pros::

  • Combat is fun. Had me worried at first, but once your powers are fleshed out, it plays like ME3 but faster. You can’t pause and you can’t give squadmates specific orders, but you gain the ability to jump and dash, as well as to mix and match powers with no class limitations.
  • They had some nice variety in the loyalty missions. Some were action/comedy, some more serious. They also had a lot of nice short character moment quests, along the lines of Garrus shooting bottles on the citadel.
  • Other than faces and the occasional glitch, the graphics are really good. Environments look awesome, space stuff is cool, you can even see the planet you’re orbiting through the windows when you’re running around on the ship.
  • They use focus really effectively to direct your attention. When I first noticed it, I was afraid they were going to overuse it, because it isn’t a thing I see video games employ too much, but they really used it only when needed.
  • The main story was interesting enough, but I can’t emphasize enough how interested I am into some of the subplots. Seriously, give me DLC ASAP.
  • No bordered off areas in the ship, so you can visit all your squadmates without riding an elevator or going through a security scan or whatever. There’s one door that I did think hide a loading screen, it occasionally took a second to open, but that was it.
  • Male Ryder voice actor is way better than male Shepard ever was, and the voice cast in general is good. Especially Peebee, who elevated what could have been an annoying character into a charming one. Cora’s is the only major character voice I didn’t think was great.

Cons::

  • Facial animations aren’t great. Apparently they’re algorithmically generated rather than done by animators to account for the many different possibilities. The internet lost its shit over it, but it mostly didn’t bother me that much.
  • They use the same face model every Asari but one, just throwing a different skin over it. That actually did bother me. Salarians and Turians didn’t have much variety either.
  • Romance options aren’t great. Original trilogy options were across the board intriguing enough that part of my reasons for replaying was to try another one. Here… I just picked the one that seemed the lest boring. Peebee’s story was fine, but on par with Josephine in DA:I as the worst I’ve played in Bioware’s two big franchises (Isabela #1, Morrigan #2, Tali #3, Liara #4, then… hard to pick between Jack and Miranda).
  • Planet scanning sucks again. The actual scanning is nice and painless, but there are 20 second animations when moving from one planet to another. They’re super cool looking, but scanning 6 planets in a system is about 1 minute of scanning and two minutes of watching animations. That gets old fast.
  • There’s a whole thing with a hand-held scanner that’s pretty boring.
  • The whole open world thing comes with some cons. You spend a decent amount of time just driving around in the new version of the mako. And they always have that thing where the map says you’re right next to the place you want to go to, but there’s unpassable mountains between you and your destination, and it’s unclear how you get to the passable part, so you end up driving around in circles for 5 minutes. That is never fun, and it happens in open world games always. It fits with the theme of exploration, but when compared to the loyalty missions, which were self-contained and a whole lot of fun, the open world parts seemed not so great.
  • There’s some inventory management problems. No ability to sort, piles of different crafting resources and I never really had a sense of what was for what. They did have a “sell all junk” button at least.
  • They do a terrible job of letting you see stats. I have like six different boosts to biotic recharge speed, but can’t see either the total of the bonuses or the resulting recharge speed for any powers. There’s a stats screen but it only shows your health and shield strength and a few other random stats (which pretty much mean nothing, because who cares what my health is if I don’t know how much damage enemies are doing?).
  • It’s too easy to interrupt ambient dialogue or companion banter by accident. Maybe having a complete conversation log in the menu somewhere might fix that (so you could just hit the menu and re-read what the interrupted dialogue would have said).
  • Most quests have nav points, but some don’t. Most places to start quests have map indicators, but some don’t. I find that kinda irritating, but some people might like the hidden-ness.
  • There’s a crafting system for weapons and armor, and it’s not so great. Lots of options to customize and as usual the best weapons and armor require crafting, but really you’re going to pick one type of weapon and craft a low level version of it early in the game and periodically craft higher level iterations of the same weapon as you gain xp. There are no special recipes to hunt down (that I’m aware of), or unique items you can get that are on par with the crafted ones (that I’m aware of). It’s just… “well I’ve gained enough levels, time to re-craft better versions of the same stuff again.”
  • There was one specific incident of being forced into a binary choice where an obvious happy medium existed which bugged me. It was AI-related, which is always my most passionate issue in these games, so maybe it didn’t bother other players as much as it did me.
  • You play a segment as someone other than your Ryder, which as usual, I don’t really like.

 

A lot of my gripes are a lack of polish, and being a AAA game, it should have had a little more development, but I’m used to bugs here and there when I play a game right out of the gate. Most of that will get fixed in a patch, I’m sure. Interestingly, the fact that a lot of Andromeda‘s flaws are apparent from the get-go, while Fallout 4‘s took a lot more play time to notice, pretty much meant Fo4 got considerably better critical response even though Fo4 was a much more hollow experience, because the critics get a preview copy and only a few days to rush out a review, so they really don’t get the full picture.

But some of the flaws are design decisions. I actually find the romance options most troubling for the direction of Bioware. This and Dragon Age: Inquisition haven’t had any options I thought were very interesting. Bioware’s trying (with mixed results) to be a little more diverse and inclusive, and that’s great, but they seem to think a part of being diverse and inclusive means not having any conventionally hot women.

Still, I did like it a lot. It’s probably the Dragon Age 2 of the Mass Effect series. Flawed but fun.

Posted in tv by Bill on March 18, 2017

Iron Fist is the latest Netflix Marvel series, about Kung Fu billionaire Danny Rand. I thought it would be the hardest to do, and it turns out to be the weakest of the four Marvel Netflix series so far.

Where other series had comic relief or a snarky main character, Iron Fist has no laughs. Where other series had charismatic villains, Iron Fist has no villain you love to hate, or kinda root for, or anything (it does have a possibly unintentional Donald/Donald Jr./Ivanka vibe though). I don’t remember even a slight chuckle, either at a joke or at surprisingly evil villainous move (for some reason those make me laugh). And really my biggest complaint: his hand glows yellow but it’s not on fire. And that’s before thinking about the weird racial issues (Netflix Marvel’s second “white guy uses martial arts to beat up hundreds of asian guys” show).

It’s entirely watchable, but it’s not great (or even good) TV like the other series have been. The actual highlights of the series are the “hey I know that thing from a comic!” moments, which are incredibly fleeting.

There are a lot of references to Fraction/Brubaker’s Immortal Iron Fist comic (Bride of Nine Spiders and someone who I think is Dog Brother #1 appear, they mention the seven capital cities of heaven in passing, plus a reference to an Iron Fist legacy and maybe Orson Randall), but the story is totally unrelated. It’s largely about The Hand, which doesn’t interact much with Danny in the comics as far as I know (being Japanese, while K’un-lun is more in the himalayan area).

Most of the cast is pretty unknown to me, other than people from other shows and David Wenham (Faramir). Apparently I’ve seen Jessica Stroup a few times, but her face doesn’t ring a bell.

Posted in tv by Bill on March 16, 2017

Trial & Error is NBC’s new single camera comedy, a mockumentary where John Lithgow is on trial for the murder of his wife. Harvey Dent from Gotham plays his lawyer (somehow he’s old enough to be Gotham’s DA, but he’s playing a novice attorney here). Bob Gunton is the victim’s father. The waitress from Heroes is the DA. Sherri Shepard is Harvey Dent’s secretary. And John Lithgow’s adult daughter is a not unattractive actress who I don’t recognize.

It’s ok. I wish it weren’t on Tuesday, but I might just let it sit on the DVR until Thursday, when I have next to nothing to watch. With a possible hiatus while I’m in Mass Effect mode.