amusements


Youtube has for some reason decided to show me clips of the new Harley Quinn animated series.  And they’re great! Actually watching the show costs money, so I haven’t seen a full episode.

This is the first clip I saw, and one of the best:

(I notice that my borders make the viewer too small, so feel free to follow the links to watch on Youtube instead.)

I love this version of Catwoman, and the interaction with Ivy is brilliant: she goes in an instant from bad-mouthing her to Harley, to sucking up in person– a very human reaction that tells us a lot about both characters.  Ivy normally plays slightly-wiser older sister to Harley, so the turnaround is even funnier. In my favorite Catwoman interpretations she’s a bit nicer, but failing that I love seeing her super-competent at what she does, as here. And all three characters avoid the oversexualization that surfaced in the Arkham games.

Follow-up to that scene, where Catwoman shows off more of what she does, and Ivy has a cringey boyfriend with the poorest of timing:

jwz’s review is right on:

This is the greatest DC cartoon series ever made. It had not occurred to me that what was missing from these stories was lots and lots of swearing. But it is. It really, really is.

Elsewhere, the story can get pretty dark, which I’m not too fond of. (Take that as a warning if you don’t like cartoon gore.) But it’s not grimdark, it’s comic darkness, and that makes a huge difference. A lot of the humor is aimed at the grimdarkness or at least the over-seriousness of regular Batman, anyway.

Plus, focusing on the second tier of supervillains turns out to be the key move for comedy. Comic heroes are hard to do; though it can be done (cf. The Tick), it tends to leach the drama out. And making the top psychopaths (Joker, the Penguin) funny weakens them. But Ivy, Harley, Clayface, King Shark are just the right level: they can be made fairly human and fairly dysfunctional as needed, and they’re in just the right place to make fun of both the top tier villains and the heroes.

(To be clear, Mark Hamill’s Joker works, in Arkham City. But he’s a clowning psychopath, not a comic villain. He’s not usually funny, though he does have some good lines. Joker’s jollity isn’t meant to amuse onlookers, including us; it’s a marker of the way he really enjoys being a psychopath.)

Over on my board, we’ve been amusing ourselves with this toy. You enter a short text, and an AI will then attempt to continue it.

You may remember my Markov generator. This is similar, but uses a neural network. The really impressive thing is the ability to keep on topic! I assume it’s using parts of a corpus, but it’s able to continue using words you suggested.

Here are some of my attempts; my starter text is in bold.

When the aliens came, no one was quite prepared to see what came out of their gleaming blue spacecraft: ersatz humanoids, but in real human form. With no sense of the Earth, they had no reason to attack New York City.

The aliens returned six weeks later with the first prototype: a new, streamlined model for the ship that still looked rather human, but now glowed blue. A group of young scientists in a nearby laboratory, now working in harmony with the machines, began work on a “computer” that could communicate with the craft’s computer.

The most important element of this “computer” was the ability to speak alien languages. The ship quickly became a popular meeting point among alien visitors. In fact, a number of countries soon decided to take over the job of managing this new alien visitor.

2

Although the existence of God cannot be proven, scientists now believe that there is evidence for the existence of godlings. Although scientists agree that there is life on other planets, they do not believe there is life on planet Earth.

As Godling, Adam is seen in biblical accounts as being a being that had great knowledge, wisdom, skill, and courage.

Adam was known to have given his brother the serpent a rod, which was so powerful the earth trembled under it. And God was also given a man whose name was Seth, whom Adam called his brother, and he became father of all the living creatures on earth. (Genesis 3:1-2)

3

I have a killer idea for a video game. You can play as anyone you like from history, and replay their life in their own culture. Let’s call it “Nostalgia: It’s the way we feel when we were kids, or our parents were.”

You’ll be the first to hear about my new game if you help me raise $1,000 to pay for all the artists, people, marketing, and travel to Montreal. I want to get it out there so that we can show how we can make a game with real people, from people who didn’t expect it to take off like this. This game is going to make a lot of people’s families cry. As you might have read in the last post, “All the art I use is original. All the art is original.” All the art is for sale – it doesn’t exist anywhere else. But a lot of people seem to be confused about where to look for it.

4

In the year 2510, the remains of human civilization are run by three corporations: Facebook, Google, and Walmart.

Walmart is a corporation founded by a former United States Marine named Sam Walton. In the year 2510, after the government’s attempt to shut down Walmart has fallen flat, Walmart decides to shut down Walmart. One of the key differences between Walmart and most other corporations is: The majority of the population can’t survive without Walmart’s products or services. It is also a company that can sell its products or services even in other countries at a lower price than its competitors.

After a number of years, a series of disasters leads to Walmart’s demise. This leads to the “Walmart Effect”: After Walmart’s demise, a whole chain of stores, restaurants, department stores, hardware stores, and grocery stores are created, with the name “Walmart”. A number of other Walmart franchises and subsidiaries become available, often to other companies that are in conflict with Walmart. These corporations provide products or services to the populace that are more in tune with their worldview.

 

From ZBB member alice:

When I told the ZBB about my new theory which combined syntax, pickles, and tea, she tried to give me the run down she had about the ZBB being a place for people to read about my theories. I went to the ZBB as a new visitor a few times and didn’t even leave a note so I think they might have figured that.

I think the main reason why I didn’t go back to the ZBB is because I liked the layout. I didn’t like the idea that the only way I was going to get to read about my theories was to buy a book, a tablet, and send them via airmail. I wanted to learn about the ideas I had come up with, not just go to a bookstore.

I also like going to other coffee shops, but coffee isn’t the only thing I like to drink!

Raphael found this one:

It was twenty years ago today. Sergeant Pepper told the band to play. The band played, until they couldn’t anymore. It was the longest, most embarrassing performance at a music festival in history. They didn’t even start it, they just ended it.

In the twenty-three years since that day, Pepper has had to wear many uniforms, in many different countries. He has had to do a lot of traveling – to Europe, the Middle East, South Africa. He has had to make many compromises, to keep everything intact. For the past twenty-three years he has lived alone – in a large, modern brick apartment at the top of the same building (he could never bring himself to live alone). His apartment was as clean as a church’s. It was the sort of apartment you might take with you in a warzone, if you had to. He had gotten so involved in this band (he has since moved onto another project), that he had become a bit overwhelmed by the idea of not sharing it with a partner. He hated to share it with a partner, especially since he didn’t sleep very well.

And from Pabappa. Note that the AI continues to use the supplied name Repilia, but ‘decides’ that it’s not a country but a woman.

“Our war against Repilia must come to an end. Repilia will rule our homeland; our men will be disarmed. There shall be no future wars within our territory, as our battles were fought in disobedience of Gahanaya.” When the women in the assembly heard this, they began to worry about the soldiers camped out to the north of the temple. “My, that wasn’t bad. I would have thought they’d have been happy to see our leader come back. But what about the soldiers south of the temple? It seems Repilia may need them.” “My lord, the northern forces were not under our commands. They are my soldiers, and I am not going to give them arms. That may be a little harsh, but I hope it’ll appease the women at the assembly. After all, Repilia is not the same woman she looked like just the two of us.” “If that’s the case, then the army must fall. The army that led us to Repilia is all that’s left in northern territory.”

You may have seen this on the Twitters. Manga artist Ikku Masa pointed out that this still from Studio Ghibli’s My Neighbor Totoro has two vanishing points where you would expect one:

ghibli-1

I thought it’d be interesting to “correct” the perspective.  This is more or less what the image would look like in one-point perspective:

Ghibli3

(Yes, I had to take the sliding doors off. Just take it as necessary to show what the entire room looks like.)

Now, why did the background artist “cheat” the perspective? I think the best way to understand this is to concentrate on the blue lines. Moving the vanishing point left, to the center of the back wall, means the lines have to spread out more. That in turn means that the left wall gets a lot bigger. The right wall is bigger too, though not by as much.

The middle frame ends up smaller, including on top, so we see more of the partial wall at the top.  (And because this frame is narrower, including the doors would block most of the far part of the room.)

The overall effect is to make the room look smaller. You don’t feel like you’re looking into an expansive room; it’s more like standing in a tunnel.

What would you actually see in the room?  Well, not quite either view. For one thing, you have two eyes, which see slightly different views. For another,  the moment you turn your head, you’re not getting a one-point perspective at all, but a two-point perspective. Once you look at the left wall, you see it as facing you, not slanting toward the distance.

On the other hand, you wouldn’t see the Ghibli view either. The artist’s choice emphasizes the walls facing us and the floor leading to it. Plus it creates a maximally wide space for the characters to move in.

(One more thought: the tatami mats on the floor, in the original, don’t lead to either vanishing point— or to a single point at all.)

Anyway, it’s a really interesting example of an artist straying from camera realism and getting a nicer result by doing so.

I saw that PC Gamer has a list of their top 100 video games. This is a profoundly silly idea, since they change it every year, making it unstable even as a record of their own opinions. But making lists is fun and I thought I’d try it.

arkcity for blog

Big warning: this is strictly for fun and I may not be any better than PC Gamer at sticking to these opinions in a year.

Part of the amusement value is precisely in the absurd comparisons– trying to decide if (say) The Stanley Parable is better or worse than Fallout New Vegas.

Some reflections, and responses to your shocked protestations, after the list.

Arkham City
Overwatch
Saints Row IV
Civilization 2
Dishonored 2 (incl. Billie Lurk DLC)
Borderlands 2
Mirror’s Edge
Portal 2
Saints Row The Third
Arkham Asylum
Team Fortress 2
Katamari Damacy
Beyond Good & Evil
Borderlands
Empyrion: Galactic Survival
Dishonored (incl. Daud DLC)
Civilization 3
Half-Life 2
Fallout 3
Portal
Saints Row: Gat Out of Hell
Kings Bounty Armored Princess
Jade Empire
Conan Exiles
Oblivion
Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines
The Stanley Parable
Mass Effect 2
Fallout New Vegas
Tomb Raider (2013)
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
Left 4 Dead
Arkham Knight
Sam & Max Hit the Road
Jazzpunk
Gotham City Impostors
Left 4 Dead 2
Bayonetta
Heroes of the Storm
80 Days
Kings Bounty Dark Side
Euro Truck Simulator 2
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel
Civilization 4
What Remains of Edith Finch
Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Sim City 2000
West of Loathing
Superhot
Rise of the Tomb Raider
League of Legends
Viscera Cleanup Detail
Kentucky Route Zero
Gunpoint
Space Colony
Mass Effect 1
To Be or Not To Be
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
No Man’s Sky
Witcher 3
Arkham Origins
Telling Lies
Grim Fandango
Tacoma
Nier Automata
Singularity
Skyrim
Dragon Age Origins
Tomb Raider Underworld
Sim City 3000
Fable III
Hydrophobia: Prophecy
Gone Home
Tropico 1
Remember Me
Dungeons of Dredmor
Saints Row 2
Zeno Clash
Gorogoa
Sam & Max (Telltale)
Secret World Legends
Dead Space
Chronicles of Riddick
Mirror’s Edge Catalyst
Californium
Dreamfall
Bioshock
Bugdom
Fallout 4
Half-Life Deathmatch
Destiny 2
RAGE
Sunset
Monaco
World of Goo
Assassin’s Creed 1
The Longest Journey
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
Sleeping Dogs
Max Payne 2
Torchlight
Kings Bounty: Warriors of the North
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Torchlight II
Agents of Mayhem
Don’t Starve
Grand Theft Auto IV
Dota 2
Dead Island
Silk Road Online
Kerbal Space Program
Black Desert Online
Braid
Cloudbuilt

Some explanations:

  • I rank replayability very highly. I’m not one of those people who say “I’ve played this game for 200 hours but it sucks!” If I’ve played a game that long, it’s doing a great job as a game— even if I have a list of complaints about it.
  • Contrariwise, if I liked a game but have no desire to play it again, it’ll be ranked lower than games that invite replays.
  • I’m a sucker for a really original setting or bit of gameplay.  This is mostly important in the middle of the list– things like VTM Bloodlines or 80 Days or Kentucky Route Zero are pretty high just because they’re so dang creative.
  • I tend to get bored with sequels. Some are far better than the original (note how far down Saints Row 2 is), but there’s a certain novelty that makes a game great. And with some series, like Civ, I played the earlier ones so damn much that I can’t even finish a game in the latest editions.
  • That goes for genre too. That’s just bad luck for a lot of games where I played something like it before.
  • I rank a game way down if I haven’t finished it. It’s hard to claim that a game is compelling to me if, y’know, it doesn’t compel me to keep going at it. In some cases, like Fallout 4, I could explain why I was disappointed; in others, like Witcher 3, I’m not even sure.
  • It’s hard to evaluate co-op and team games, because so much of the fun depends on your friends. Just on a gameplay level, I’ve probably overrated the Borderlands games, but I they’re up there because I had so much fun playing with my friend Ash. On the other hand, playing against your friends can be really painful when there’s a huge skill gap, which is why I soured on Left 4 Dead.
  • This list covers several decades.  As noted, I have no interest in Civ now, but I played the hell out of it in the 90s.
  • I really don’t like platformers.

You have to get almost to the bottom of the list before getting to games I actually disliked. If I really bounce hard off a game, I just don’t spend much time on it.

There’s a few games that I installed and tried, but either hated them so much I got a refund, or just realized they weren’t for me (e.g. Dead Souls, SpyParty). I didn’t put them in the list because I don’t want to imply that I have an actual judgment on them.

If you want to write a game that rockets to the top of this list, extremely neat gameplay might be enough (Portal 2, Mirror’s Edge), but balanced variety will really help. The mix of stealth and combat helps send Arkham City to the top, and it’s why games like Beyond Good & Evil and Saints Row IV are so high up there. They’re not only fun, they’re fun in different ways at different times. (The “balanced” bit is important: if you have two types of activities but one isn’t much fun, that’s not great.)

I’ve probably reviewed most of these games on my site or on the blog– use the custom search feature on zompist.com.

Finally, most of the fun of these lists is in disagreeing with them. So I encourage you to take some time to make your own list!

I already reviewed Golden Age Wonder Woman, written by Charles Moulton and drawn by Harry G. Peter, but I just finished Volume 2 and I thought I’d go over some of the weirder panels in it. These are all from 1943— they wrote and drew over 400 pages that year.

ww-punish

Moulton’s fascination with bondage gets a little more overt. These girls are former slaves of Paula the Nazi, who has now reformed and become an avid Amazon. The girls are in Amazon prison, which they love.

ww-kanga

Comics love one-off, improbable solutions to problems, but Moulton sometimes leaps to complete absurdity. WW needs to get to Mars right away.  A spaceship won’t do; she needs an elephant-sized space-hopping kangaroo. Just like the ancient Greeks used to get to Mars.

ww-japanese

We were at war with Japan, so naturally the Japanese are ugly and nasty, but I just want to highlight the utterly atrocious attempt to represent Japanese writing. (Also, Chuck, Snidu is not a very good Japanese name.)

Oh, and WW understands them because one of her minor powers is knowing all languages.

ww-feet

Yep, WW spends the night with the goddess’s feet on her head. Moulton, I think your fetishes are showing again.

ww-cheetah

Introduction of the Cheetah, a longtime antagonist for WW. What’s notable here is Moulton’s blithe assurance that, you know, psychologists use mirrors like this all the time. It’s just standard practice to show you your inner costumed supervillain, who will then make you create a costume to look just like her.

ww-president

There’s a lot going on here. WW, in 1943, is looking at the future on a viewing machine her mother has. The country finally elects a female president— though, to keep anyone from scoffing, it’s 1000 years in the future. And it’s Wonder Woman, or rather her civilian identity— which she’s managed to keep secret for a thousand years. (To be fair, WW isn’t the first female president in this timeline.)

Dig the 30th century clothes, which run toward short dresses for women (long ones here for a presidential look), and shorts and muscle shirts for men. And 1940s hairstyles.

Earlier Moulton says that women make better rulers because women are “more ready to serve others unselfishly.” Here, though, he can’t help declaring that “all men are much happier” when dominated by women.

New Testament II
Yes, Satan has been defeated, but now Satan’s son Sataneus is back for revenge. A generation later, Jesus has to incarnate again and re-save mankind… just as the Romans are mobilizing to wage war against the Jews.

Henry V II, III, IV, V
After successfully conquering France, Henry goes on to conquer Spain, Arabia, Barsoom, and Atlantis.

Three Kingdoms Two
The three kingdoms of Wei, Wu, and Shu Han have been reunited under the Jin dynasty. But the Jin dynasty too becomes corrupt, and the last Jin empress, Lee, is the puppet of warlords. The Cao, Sun, and Liu families once more intrigue and war across the plains of China and, this time, India. Finally, with the aid of Candragupta, Sammy Liu helps Lee restore the Jin Empire.

Journey to the South
The Monkey King is assigned to accompany Sanzang’s daughter Mulan on an epic journey to the south, southeast, and west, representing on a spiritual level the journeys of the Ming treasure fleets.

Lord of the New Rings
Sauron has been destroyed, but a set of nine new Rings have fallen from the sky, and Thorthaur, Sauron’s son by a previously unknown orc-maiden, seeks to use them to subdue Middle Earth. Arajulie, daughter of Aragorn and Arwen, assembles a coalition of heroes to destroy the New Rings and oppose Thorthaur’s human champion, the Wild Man turned rebel Ghân-buri-Ghân-buri-Ghân.

The Sitayana
Sita has left Rama for casting doubts on her purity while she was in Sri Lanka. But then she hears that Rama has been kidnaped by Navana, the king of the Nagas. She teams up with Hanuman, Durga, and her sister Rita to rescue him. Then she must decide whether or not she can forgive the big lout.

The Divine Bromance
Dante enjoys his life with Beatrice in Heaven, but after a foolish quarrel he’s thrown out. He happens upon Virgil, who has been thrown out of the Pagan Paradise. This time the unlikely pair must explore the para-worlds of Greek and Roman mythology, seeking justice for Virgil. Should he seek reconciliation with Beatrice, or just stay with the Roman poet?

Gilgamesh Part Min
Gilgamesh has gone into a sulk when his favorite temple prostitute dies. The spirit of Enkidu must rouse him from his apathy, and he has just the thing: urge him to take once more to the road to find the secret of immortality. And this time, the companions know what mistakes to avoid.

Orlando Ritirato
Having been in love, and then cursed with madness out of love, Orlando is now in retirement, but the Emperor comes to him for one last job, as the Moors are invading France.

King Arthur Redux
The Holy Grail, used by Jesus at the Last Supper, has been taken care of. But now the knights of Arthur must pause their lusty shenanigans to quest for Jesus’s carpentry tools, the wine jug from Cana, and St. Paul’s reed pen.

With a few hundred thousand other people, i’ve been mesmerized by Jon Bois’s 17776.  It’s over here.  Take an hour and go through it all.

pioneer10

Avid football fan

Now, I am one of the few American males who does not get football. Never really mastered the rules, and nothing about it makes me want to. But I love Jon Bois. He has a series called Breaking Madden that’s hilarious. He takes a football sim (that would be Madden), forces it to do insane things, and tells the results as a story. Sometimes the game cooperates, sometimes it glitches out, it’s all good.

The elevator pitch for 17776 is “What football will look like in the future.” And he gets there! But 17776 is so much bigger and weirder than that. It’s a science fiction story. It’s a multimedia experience. It’s about sentient space probes.  It’s about human beings.  It’s a utopia— a bittersweet one.  It’s about friendship and God and in a couple of places it’s really moving.

First, the football.  No, wait, that won’t make sense without the basic situation. His method is to insert one wild hypothetical, and draw out its implications with no further magic. The hypothetical is this: in 2026, for no reason ever explained, people stop aging and dying (and being born).  That’s it.  Everyone finds themselves immortal. What do they do?

For one thing, they play football. For 15,000 years.  The rulebook gets really long and strange over that time. Bois invents half a dozen or more weird versions of football. The least weird of these is the first one he gets to: the playing field is the state of Nebraska; the end zones are Iowa and Wyoming. There are thousands of players at any one time, but only one ball, and the game lasts for years.

We’re introduced to this game, by the way, because the protagonists are watching it. They’re space probes— two Pioneer units, and a Jupiter probe that in 2017 hasn’t launched yet. One of the units— Pioneer 9— is woken up at the beginning of the story, which gives us a character who has to learn about all this world just as we do.

The story is mostly text conversations, but it plays with the medium expertly.  There are pictures, found documents real and imagined, GIFs and videos. Many of these use Google Earth to bounce over the globe, zooming effortlessly from outer space down to individual houses or football stadiums. (I’m inclined to say: don’t try this at home. Bois makes it work, but I really don’t want every story to be told this way.)

Bois has an interesting take on utopias / the future.  In his scenario, the people of 17776 are the same people who were alive in 2026. And for the most part, their society is ours, only perfected: nanobots keep people from injury and want; war and capitalism are gone. His take is that people will try the fancier visions of sf writers— flying cars, robots, etc.— but ultimately get rid of them because they don’t like them. People want to have jobs and walk around and cook and hold elections and hang out with their pals, to say nothing of playing and watching football. Plus, they’re 2026ers at heart and they stick with what they know.

Granted, his approach may only make sense in the narrow scenario he’s created. But there’s a lot of wisdom in his take. Other writers have seriously considered what people would do with near-immortality— Julian Barnes and Jorge Luis Borges, for instance. Bois is by far the most optimistic of them. Barnes and Borges concluded that most people would get bored within a thousand years; Bois thinks the human sense of play is enough to keep us going indefinitely.  (My own sf future envisions more change, but also doubts that getting too far from our primate heritage is a great idea.)

17776 is full of novelty and pure fun, but what makes it unforgettable is Bois’s heart. There’s all sorts of grimness and outrage these days; we don’t always get this full blast of benignity. Bois seems to just like people. There’s no real villains here— except maybe for a few cheap moves in some of the football games. And it’s hard not to surrender to this future of Nice But Not Amazing.

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