Going Deeper with BioShock

BioShock was released in August 2007 on PC, Xbox 360 and later PlayStation 3. This was a few years into the console generation but it was one of the games that really defined that generation; as indeed did a number of games released that year. It was a spiritual successor to the System Shock series with the creative director Ken Levine having being heavily involved in the development of System Shock 2. It was critically and commericially sucessful and saw two direct sequels over that same generation with BioShock Infinite arriving in 2013; the year the next generation began. It was also one of the last games I remember being truly amazed by when I first saw it running. That is after spending half a day on compatabilty issues with my video card but it was worth it. What’s more, it still looks great today due largely to the incredible visual design that is a fusion of steampunk and art deco; both also matching the game’s setting. 

Something saw on release and still today, was the focus many put on the socio-political aspect of the game’s story and setting. This aspect was not subtle as in the opening minutes of the game, on entering the underwater world of Rapture, you are presented with “No Gods or Kings, Only Man” emblazoned on a wall with a giant idol of the game’s initial antagonist Andrew Ryan hovering above it. If that was no obvious enough, you are then given a video monologue by the same man making his Objectivist beliefs about as subtle as a rusty razor. Following this, you are shown the beautiful underwater city before being introduced to its insane and murderous inhabitants who show the inward ugliness of this beautiful world. 

Gaming journalists of the time (and still today), thought they were very clever pointing out that “Andrew Ryan” was an anagram for “Ayn Rand” and even went so far as to claim it was some sort of interactive refutation of Objectivist philosophy. On the surface, there is truth to this analysis but if you go deeper (and in Rapture you will), then there is a lot more going on. I’d not be surprised to learn that many of these same journalists went no deeper than the game’s first few levels or at least, paid no attention to anything beyond what was fed to them in the opening moments. 

In truth, there is a lot more going on thematically and much of it is a lot more timeless than a 20th century polticial philosophy.

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Revisiting Arkham, Raiding Tombs and a trip through Mordor

As I just recently had the first big computer upgrade in almost a decade, I wanted to see how some games I’d previously played at release on low or medium settings looked today when on max settings. So I reinstalled Tomb Raider (2013), Batman: Arkham Knight and the  Shadow of War, the sequel to Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. Only one of these was a new experience but I will qualify that by adding that they all fit into what I described as The Genre Amalgamation three years ago. I also noticed in a recent video from David V. Stewart on Assassin’s Creed Shadows that he describes these games as “mud genre” which is a blunter but no less accurate way of describing them.

This post was also partly influenced by the disatrous launch of Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League with visuals objectively worse than Batman: Arkham Knight; a game that came out almost a decade earlier among many other problems. Having played the latter recently, I am struck at how great it still looks — even compared to much more recent games. That the former was made by the same studio is very illustrative of the rapid decline of major publishers and developers. 

In fact, despite last year being a very good one, there is still a dearth of innovation evident in major releases and outside of advances in visuals, games play much as they did more than a decade ago which also explains why so many remakes and remasters are being done instead of new games. The only new “feature” that publishers seem to want to include is that of “live service”. And this “feature” is much to akin to almost any introduced by Microsoft in that it is usually to the detremint of the software. In terms of games, it just means publishers want you to pay for the game and then keep paying for it with microtransactions for cosmetic items and other such digital nonsense that will be lost when they inevitiably shutdown the servers a few years later.

The purpose of this post isn’t to complain about current trends but merely to consider (or  in two cases to reconsider), the above games.

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Disney’s The Three Musketeers Review

Having recently finished re-reading The Three Musketeers, I decided I would review one of my favourite films which was the 1993 Disney adaptation of this book. The Three Musketeers is almost like a fairytale in the sense that many people are familiar with it whether or not they’ve read the original novel by Alexandre Dumas. This film was (I believe), my first exposure to the original swashbuckler. It was interestingly also one of the first films I can remember watching when DVD players started appearing under televisions though looking around today, it doesn’t seem to be widely available anymore. It was generally panned by professional critics on release but was a modest box office success which as is often the case, suggests the audience felt rather differently to the critics. Still, it is not a particularly well-remembered film.

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Thus Always to Leakers

I’ve written a few times before about the irrelevance of gaming journalism due to the Internet providing new avenues for both publishers and largely unpaid enthusiasts to spread information that was previously limited to trade shows, magazines and to a lesser extent: through broadcast media. As with most changes, it took a while for many to notice but the adjustments to this reality are now coming with ever more rapidity. E3 ended in 2021 the very year I wrote about how pointless it had become. I don’t claim to be a prophet on this as many far more knowledgeable had been saying the same for many years before that. A few years before this, in a post on the general state of the gaming industry, I devoted a few paragraphs at the end to the irrelevance of gaming journalism. I also listed a number of websites that had closed at that time and this has only increased most recently with lay-offs at The Escapist and even Kotaku struggling though both these websites are still active as of writing. 

Gaming websites now perform only a handful of functions and most of questionable importance. The only really useful one is writing guides which is something gamers have been doing unpaid for decades anyway. Two more are re-reporting press releases and announcements and less importantly: adding commentary to these announcements and through opinion pieces. The commentary is original content at least but again, is usually done better elsewhere and by people with genuine enthusiasm.

The only other thing they can really do is report on leaks and rumours which is at best, ethically questionable. Spreading rumours from “sources” which more often than not, turn out to be false is serving no purpose outside of generating ad revenue; which means that it is the purpose for doing so. Where these rumours or leaks do turn out be accurate, it is either no better than a guess or it is because someone in a trusted position has spread information they should not have which brings me to the subject of this post. Continue reading

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T.S. Eliot on Culture

This post is based on the second essay from Christianity and Culture by T.S. Eliot which is called Notes towards the Definition of Culture. I covered the first essay The Idea of a Christian Society  last month. After finishing both, it is clear that they fit very well together in a single volume as the ground they tread is very similar. Eliot sees very clearly the relationship between religion and culture. This second essay is slightly longer than the first and also includes the transcript of a speech he gave on a similar theme at the end. 

The essay was written during the war years but was published in 1948 at the end of the war unlike the first which was completed shortly before what is generally considered the beginning of the Second World War. This essay first wrestles with the definition of culture, noting the different way the word is used (and more often misused), when discusssed with regards to sociology, religion, politics and education. It is mostly considered with regard to the British Isles but also Europe and beyond. He considers religion to be unavoidably intertwined with culture and that any culture requires friction to survive. By the latter, he means that by being too closed, the culture will decay but by being too open, it will simply evaporate. These are not all his exact words but I don’t think I’m misrepresenting him and I am frankly finding the whole thing pretty hard to summarise. That he uses “Towards” in his own title suggests he was not satisfied he had reached a firm conclusion either.

As with the previous essay, I mostly just want to include exerts that jumped out at me along with some commentary of my own.

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Moral Order in Moral Ambiguity

A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin, Bantam Spectra, August 6th, 1996

After re-reading and re-reviewing A Throne of Bones recently, I decided I would follow-up by reading A Game of Thrones while waiting for the physical release of A Sea of Skulls. Like many, I was introduced to this series through the HBO television adaptation and was not previously familair with the books even in name. I really only started reading fantasy works beyond Lewis and Tolkien in my thirties; so am relatively new to much that has been written since (and even before). 

I also did this with some trepidation as the series remains unfinished and the last release was back in 2011 when the television adaptation began. Like Patrick Rothfuss, George R. R. Martin doesn’t seem to have it in him to finish what he started and by most accounts I’ve read, the latter books waffle on and introduce far more characters than can be easily kept track of. This was also true from memory of the television series, which became more and more convoluted before I stopped watching it around the seventh season.

Although they are both overweight gammas who haven’t finished their fantasy series’; these comparisons end when it comes to writing as Martin can certainly tell an engaging story with an interesting setting and characters. The world-building in this first book alone is incredible. Without slogging readers with long-winded exposition, it introduces fascinating histories, characters and a believable group of Houses vying for power and influence in the land of Westeros. Rothfuss’s book was a painful slog that imagined his otherwise uneventful days in university in a fantasy setting with him as the hero he certainly was not.

The only reason I have no plans to read past the first book, is because I know it will only get worse and that there will probably never be a proper ending. There is also the moral turpitude to consider which was certainly present in this book and only gets worse if the television series is anything to go by. Indeed, I have previously mentioned my decision to generally avoid such material. This book is thankfully much tamer than I expected though is still unecessarily crude in a number of places. I certainly won’t be watching the series again and likely never would have had I not started watching it before my conversion to Catholicism in 2017.

What is more important here is not what the series is but what it could have been. Because their are the seeds of a fantasy series that would have been loved well beyond the death of the author. Even in the event the author comes to finish it, I don’t expect it will be well-remembered by generations yet to be born though one can hardly deny it hasn’t been extremely popular in his lifetime. 

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T.S Eliot on a Christian Society

Recently I have been reading some of T.S. Eliot’s poetry. I am not particularly fond of poetry as the scant mention of it on this blog should indicate; but I do certainly appreciate it. I like hearing a good poem recited and the best prose is also usually somewhat lyrical. This recent exposure put in mind one of the many books that have long sat on my shelf unread: Christianity and Culture by T.S. Eliot. This is actually two essays, one which began as a series of lectures and the other, a series of articles. The first called The Idea of a Christian Society and the second Notes towards the Definition of Culture which are neatly combined in the title. The subject of this post will be the former essay which I believe I did previously read some years ago. The second may also be the subject of a future post. 

I should add here that Eliot frequently refers to the cultural historian Christopher Dawson who was a Catholic and contemporay of Eliot. I also have an as yet unread book by him on my shelf which I really must get to. 

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We Wuz Samurai

Recently Ubisoft announced Assassin’s Creed Shadows, the next title in their overly-long-running series. This would normally attract little to no attention from me as I don’t particularly like the series and never have. The only two I played through to the end were the original game and Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag which was set in the Caribbean and so was a refreshing departure from what had come before. This announcement was interesting for a couple of reasons. The first was that there was finally going to be a game set in Japan which is such a perfect setting for the series that I’m surprised it wasn’t done a decade ago. The second was that one of the game’s two protagonists was revealed to be a samurai of African origin. This latter piece of information overshadowed the former and has been the source of understandable controversy.

I wouldn’t normally bother with this as this absurd race-swapping is happening so much now that it is best to just ignore it. This one at least is based on a thread of historical evidence though it is a tenuous one indeed. What is more interesting, and so worth discussing, is that this is the first time to my knowledge it has happened in a non-European context. Continue reading

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Trouble in Babylon

I have held off writing about the incident in Australia’s Parliament House involving two staffers Brittany Higgins and Bruce Lehrmann that became public in 2021. As I have repeatedly stated in other posts, I don’t follow mainstream news so this is yet another example of something I only hear about piecemeal. Despite this, being familiar enough with how those in the media, government and indeed the legal profession operate, it is not hard to read between the lines and understand something of what has actually happened.

One might expect me to come down on one of the sides involved but that is not my intention in writing about this. The most interesting and important aspect of this public drama is that it has shown the Australian people the ugly face of the ruling class as well as their wretched, self-serving behaviour. I am confident that almost everyone involved in this scandal has been dishonest, cowardly or malevolent in some way. I would like to leave out the security guards but even they might have dirty hands given the interests at stake.

So as this scandal now seems to be coming to a close, I want to share some thoughts on it. 

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The Main Course of Selenoth Begins

A Throne of Bones by Vox Day, Castalia House, December 4th, 2016
(originally published by Marcher Lord Press on December 1st, 2012) 

Back in January I posted a review of Summa Elvetica and Other Stories which I read for the second time over the 2023-2024 holiday period. After letting a few books get in the way, I finally got to A Throne of Bones last month and have now finished reading it. As I mentioned in the previous review, I originally read this before Summa Elvetica back in 2013 so it has been over a decade since I first read it. This means there were a few connections with the previous book that I’d forgotten about that I didn’t include in the previous post. As of writing, I’m still waiting for the physical release of the follow-up A Sea of Skulls which has been available digitally for a few months now.

In preparing for this post, I also want to highlight the somewhat confusing release history. Both of these books have gone through a multiple releases and publishers and both were originally published before Castalia House existed. They were also removed by Amazon for never-explained reasons but are all available again as of writing. The best (and most reliable), way to buy them digitally remains directly through the Arkhaven Store. This all naturally makes publication dates a little confusing and that is reflected above.

This review will include some spoilers for the plot but I will try to keep them minimal.

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