BABD Crosspost: Baldur’s Gate 3 (Part 2 – Minthara)

Originally written for Bikini Armor Battle Damage.

Okay, I covered the stuff in Baldur’s Gate 3 is mixed and complicated. Let’s talk about an objectively well executed character and visually designed – Minthara.

From a general writing perspective, she’s exactly what I mean when I say it’s not enough to support, women’s rights – we need to support their wrongs. She is complicated, ruthless and villainous in a way we rarely get to see female characters – and every aspect of her design supports and conveys it.

Spoilers below the cut.

Continue reading BABD Crosspost: Baldur’s Gate 3 (Part 2 – Minthara)

BABD Crosspost: Baldur’s Gate 3 (Part 1 – Introduction)

Originally posted on Bikini Armor Battle Damage.

It’s a great time to be an old school Dungeons & Dragons player, you get to smugly observe millions of people realizing the game is good actually… or at least that the game can facilitate heart touching romances with imaginary, terrible people.

Screencaps to provide front-on photos of Astarion and Shadowheart, similar to a line-up.
(To be clear, I’m not judging you – these two are, but I’m not)

As one of the biggest AAA games of 2023, it’s unsurprising that it’s big and complicated – and there’s a lot that can be talked about with many aspects of it – including female armour and costumes. Indeed, there’s already a lot of commentary on it and community activity, from the confusing, to the life affirming.

It has also been the topic of how corporate practices continually reward those who participate in the creation successful art with notice of dismissal.

And of course, both Dungeons & Dragons and Larian Studios have histories that we’ve touched on before – and I can confidently say it represents a huge improvement in quality, style and attitudes. Plus sometimes their advertising is just gay.

A screencap of the Patch 6 promotion, which was released two days after Valentine's day and used an image of Lae'zel & Shadowheart kissing.
Continue reading BABD Crosspost: Baldur’s Gate 3 (Part 1 – Introduction)

I played: The Red Strings Club

A beautiful pixel art game that is part mystic bartender sim and part future hacking adventure, created by Deconstructeam in 2018. I first came across the game largely due a controversy at the time about the mandatory path in the hacker portion of the game including discovering the deadname of a trans person and then exploiting this information.

It was met first with condemnation of normalizing of dead naming, followed by a comment from the trans development team member who explained that they felt it was an important inclusion due to it being a reality of being a trans person, particularly their experience. They also pointed out that, this plot point aside it’s very welcoming to LGBT people.

Really the the most confusing part of it all is that is honestly not the inclusion of it, nor the application of it – but rather how oddly it sits within the overall narrative and themes within the game. It also presents an interesting issue in terms of understanding representations of groups one is not a part of… and oddly, perhaps the solution too.

The Red Strings Club is essentially the presentation of a philosophical dialog about free will, morality, mental health and justification of unorthodox actions (lying, breaking laws, etc). Is it better to conform or to raise your middle finger to the rules?

Akara-184 says, "To properly answer that question I'll need to delve deeper into the meaning and implication of "rules"."

The whole process is coated in some amazing world building and character development, but it is essentially video game characters taking the roles of Socrates and the rest of people that Plato (totally reliably, honest) wrote about.

The unique mechanic in the game that facilitates these conversations is the mixing of cocktails with supernatural mood altering powers – a part which I found particularly compelling as a bon vivant. The cocktails can make your patrons depressed, excited or horny. This is the kind of realism in games that I’m all for.

The later portion of the game becomes a “hacking” sequence which, like the bar, reaches surprising levels of realism by not being about solving mini-games or math puzzles disguised as games – but rather through looking for weaknesses in people’s routines and then manipulating people into exposing more weaknesses.

Overall the game is not a conventional game (which I consider a plus), rather it is certainly a pretty interesting exploration issues that are very topic in the world we live in. It is definitely worth the time to play as an arthouse experience – though I strongly recommend that follow the game’s guidance to question everything as play. (Honestly, more games should do this kind of genuine philosophical approach).

The protagonists of the game all ask questions, all question whether something is good or bad – then they draw their own conclusions and contemplate the best path forward.

It doesn’t always work out, but it’s always the best they can do.

Screencap from the bar, Donovan the bartender says, "Ok. But don't be reckless"
This game is full of wisdom.

Further discussion including spoilers is below the cut.

Continue reading I played: The Red Strings Club

I read: The Calling by David Gaider

The second book in the adventures of King Maric, who is long dead before the Dragon Age: Origins game began – introduces some characters from the game in a way that is a mix of character and world building – and oddly transparent set up material.  Most oddly, it provides almost no insight into the titular topic, but rather seems to assume the audience is familiar with all the lore already.

When Dragon Age: Inquisition was released, many people expected the Architect to be the big bad or at least a pivotal figure – and reading through this novel it’s easy to see why.  It does very much set him up as a pivotal figure for future events, and somewhat rehash his goals revealed in Awakening.  Certainly the book suggests there is more than enough depth to make him the focus of a whole game in itself – its just all unrealised potential.

Reading the book, it feel a little as though watching a tabletop adventure game party consisting of a few player characters and a bunch of non-player characters included to assist.  It also unfortunately somewhat undermines the significance of the events in Origin, making the events seem oddly common due to a comical amount of negligence by various groups.

Ultimately its a story that feels very like it had a lot of potential but was under developed and under edited, being put out with a set agenda to achieve a few goals relation to the game rather than really expanding out the lore of Dragon Age or providing a satisfying story.  So much potential is on display, and yet so little of it is really fully explored.

This makes sense to a certain degree, since games are made as a collaborative effort and writing an expansion novel is largely a solo endeavour, both are done to deadlines but as the novels were secondary it seems safe to assume that less time was available (both relatively and actually)

Spoilers follow:

Continue reading I read: The Calling by David Gaider

I still think about: Alice and Kev

Alice and Kev was a blog project by Robin Burkinshaw in 2009 to use the Sims 3, a game primarily about obtaining happiness through success and materialism, to portray a homeless family.  The father (Kev) and the daughter (Alice) both started in a “home” built to be an abandoned lot with none of the basic amenities.

The blog took a while to find its voice, but ultimately it turned into a captivating tale built from a gameplay challenge combined with empathy for a group of people that society generally ignores.  It in turn, spawned a challenge of it’s own – but that’s not why I keep thinking about it.

Ultimately there’s two ways to play an Alice and Kev game, there’s the game like approach of trying to “succeed” in the Sims 3 Challenge – which can easily be derailed by the game itself with mods, knowledge of the game mechanics or random chance.

(The playthrough is btw, adorable and I really recommend checking out the chaos that occurs in ModdestSimmer‘s game)

The other way, which is how Robin played, is to use the game which was designed for vicariously living out success and/or drama, to explore what sort of decisions the homeless might find themselves such as stealing apples out of a yard to avoid starving, trying to talk strangers into providing much needed assistance and Kev’s never ending quest for validation from anyone he happens to come across – be they Alice, strangers or ghosts.

This, juxtaposed against the Sims general background of unlimited conventional “success” created a sort of contrast that isn’t really seen outside of games, with the exception of Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor.  It’s something that was and still is sorely needed in games as the medium grows (and hopefully matures).

Most games in most genres allow for you to go to a path of incredible success, or if they’re not intended to people will find a way to spin it (often in record time), there’s very little focus on ever considering engaging with the opposite.

I read: Hitman – The Enemy Within by William C. Dietz

Less a Hitman book and more a compilation of worrying fantasies vaguely connected by the presence of a character labelled as 47.  It’s like a fan fic, but written by someone who read reviews of the games.

It can be safely be said that the Hitman movies are objectively awful, yet they are both sublime masterpieces in comparison to this book – which distils the worst elements of the early game then displays a complete contempt for the rest at a conceptual level.

The story has a complete absence of tension, both due to pacing issues and the baffling assumption that in a world with competing international assassination agencies – everyone who works for the agencies directly or indirectly must be staggeringly incompetent.  Some of the plot twists could come straight out of an episode of Archer.

Approximately fifty percent of the story is spent on a side mission that focuses on trying to be shocking for the sake of shock.  The book also has a strange tendency to refer to items by their brand name, then later have details wrong.  Plot points are also put forward and forgotten in later chapters – resulting in an unsatisfying ending that resolves little and feels like it was more the result of a word target than planning.

On top of this the book spends more time describing and exploring the history of a single female character’s naked body than it ever does any aspect of the ICA (referred to only as “The Agency”), 47, his equipment or methodology.   The most stressed point seems to be 47 uses a DOVO brand straight razor.

There’s also a creepy fixation of threatening women with what could only described as extreme nipple torture (men just get regular torture regardless of their crimes or the situation).

Overall it’s a story that forgoes exploring anything from the world of 47 to instead favour instead a poor imitation professional criminal story more akin to the adventures of Richard Stark’s Parker than the globe trotting adventures of a genetically engineered super assassin who has a barcode on the back of his bald head.

Spoilers follow

Continue reading I read: Hitman – The Enemy Within by William C. Dietz