March 2011


I think I’m done with King’s Bounty: Armored Princess.  But it was a hell of a ride.   I played through it almost three times.  It’s just really well done for what it does, with just enough challenge.   There are a lot of cute touches, like the slight glunt that the Cyclops utters when he’s hurt, or the alert-seeming idle animations of the Droids.  I like the fact that achievements give you perks.  And there’s some gentle humor in the quests if you actually read through them.  (It’s rather amusing that at the end, after she’s saved two worlds, the princess’s father decides that what his warrior princess needs is to get married.  He’d better have a good army…)

Amelie is sexy as a mage

 I tried playing as a Mage; you do get some serious damage with spells, but I found it a little too challenging… it wasn’t so fun when every enemy I ran into was annotated as Strong or worse.  Warrior is definitely the easiest.  I had some trouble with the final bosses till I looked over some of the wonders of Wanderer magic– e.g. spells to increase leadership by 20% and attack and defense by 10; they only last a battle or two but that’s all you need.  (The bosses spawn minions, but they do this less if you’re winning.  So the game does punish you for not being strong enough to take them on.)

Use your Wanderer spells, girl

I see from the final stats page of my last game that my Polar Bears did 20% of total damage, and Red Dragons and Guard Droids 17% each.  Paladins aren’t far behind.  There are some tasty perks if you win battles without a loss, so I focused on this; Paladins are great because they can give a resurrecting group hug, and Repair Droids can resurrect Guard Droids (while also being pretty good ranged attackers).  At first I’d inevitably lose a bunch of Repair Droids (who can’t be healed by the Paladins), but then I discovered that you can cast Phantom on them, creating a weaker temporary troop, which can be used to resurrect the Guard Droids.

I like Lake Fairies too, but in this last game I never found an endless supply of them.  Too bad; they could regularly deal out five figures of damage.  But Polar Bears could do even more.  I tried out a bunch more critters, which adds variety to the game, but I mostly stuck to my favorites. 

Other games are a bit sloggy right now.  I’m back in Fallout New Vegas, in a weird bit of the plot… I’ve been tootling around Freeside and then the Strip, and haven’t actually shot anyone for a long time.  The Strip itself is impressive and yet something of a letdown.  Mass Effect 2 is much better at making nightclubs that feel energetic and crowded, while Grand Theft Auto IV captured more of the fratboy sleaziness.  FNV is very good at evoking brutality and squalor; it just can’t evoke either sexiness or extravagance.  Its casinos feel dead, populated by automatons.

I’m also in the middle of Dead Space.  It’s great at evoking Space Horror, but it’s also just not as fun as (say) Half-Life 2.  What they really get down is the feeling of having to be careful because the next corridor could contain something ex-human that wants to rip you apart.  But it’s frankly kind of repetitive.  Well, maybe it gets better further in.

I’ve been following the news from the Mideast, but haven’t written about it, , because the illusion of knowledge here is overwhelming.  Who really knows what’s going on?

After the wave of democratization in Latin America, then Eastern Europe, then Africa, the Mideast has been an increasing anomaly, its regimes the last holdouts among the dictatorships that both the US and Russia found to be in their interest during the Cold War.  The conventional wisdom, that pathetic thing, was that this would continue indefinitely.  George Bush had some idea that invading Iraq would unleash a wave of democracies, which would somehow all vote for pro-American secular libertarians, but that was quietly shelved once Hamas won elections in Palestine.  And there was zero interest in pushing democracy on our allies in Egypt, Pakistan, or the Gulf.

The cheering thing about the wave of protests that started in Tunisia was that it was homegrown, as well as a kick in the eye to al-Qaeda.  It was exhilarating to see Mubarak kicked out in Egypt.  It was sobering, however, to think that the new governments in Tunisia and Egypt have their work cut out for them.  There was a clamor for democracy, but also for jobs and economic growth.  There are still powerful interests that aren’t interested in providing either… or don’t know how.

And then it looked like Libyans were bravely turning against Gadhafi.  And then things turned ugly.

Andrew Sullivan has been great at providing news about all this, but he’s also worked himself into a tizzy over Obama’s decision to get involved.  And he’s right to raise questions: are we getting into another quagmire?  Are we committed to removing Gadhafi at all costs– and if not, are we committed to a divided Libya for as long as that lasts?  What happens if the Arabs or the Libyans turn against the idea?  Why are we intervening in Libya but not Bahrain, where the Saudis intervened to prop up the monarchy?  Shouldn’t there have been the usual pretense of asking for Congressional support?

But there’s a really big question on the other side, too: What would have happened if Gadhafi were allowed to crush the rebellion?  That surely would have sent a strong message to all the autarchs: go ahead and crush yours too.   Would even the ‘finished’ revolutions continue?  It’s the Egyptian military, after all, that is running the country; do we really want to signal them that massive retribution against the people will go unpunished?

It’s also welcome that Obama sought to work through international institutions.  The Arab League asked for Security Council intervention, and the Security Council agreed.  This is, after all, how things are supposed to work; the US is not supposed to be a global vigilante.

In general I’m a noninterventionist.  But nonintervention is sometimes wrong.  It was the wrong thing in Rwanda; it would have been the wrong thing in Kuwait in 1990.  We’re closer than we’ve ever been to a world where dictatorships are a rarity and ones that massacre their citizens can be stopped, with multilateral support.  The long overdue independence of South Sudan is an example. 

But who knows, really.  The situation is incredibly fluid, with conditions and prospects changing hourly ever since the Tunisian revolution.  And we just don’t know the actors, for the most part.  I think to udnerstand any of these revolutions we’re going to have to wait for some really good books. 

In the meantime, the US had to do something… either support the calls for action, or just as decisively reject them.  Gadhafi was already assaulting Banghazi.  It’s a gamble either way.  If I were Obama I’d hate to get the historical rap for getting into a third quagmire.  But you know, past two, who’s counting?  I think I’d hate even further to be the one who could have assured the democratization of the Arab world and didn’t.

I finished revising Against Peace and Freedom a couple weeks ago, and sent it out for another round of feedback.  The results were encouraging: two readers pretty much liked the book and read it very quickly (always a good sign).  One didn’t like it.

It became clear that there are still some problems with the first quarter of the book.  I may have mentioned that AD 4901 started as a text adventure, and I adapted what I’d already got done into a narrative.  As the initial bits of the adventure involved quite a bit of random exploration, the initial chapters ended up quite episodic and expository.  Once I got past to new material, the book reads better.

So I’m going to rewrite the first few chapters; I also have an idea that should help illustrate what’s wrong with the Okura regime.

I’m also working on the front cover illustration, which is requiring an amazing amount of illustration and 3-D modelling for what will after all be about a five inch square picture.