Category Archives: Me and Mine

Anything about me and anyone I care about. Personal garbage.

How RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars Season 3 Turned the Competition Into a Game

I’m a huge fan of reality competition TV shows, particularly RuPaul’s Drag Race. It’s a creative, funny competition between some wild personalities that never fails to entertain. But the All Stars seasons have broken the competition in ways that turn the results from the best of the best to the winner of a game, and there’s a big distinction between the two.

If you’re unfamiliar with the show, here it is. A (flexible) dozen drag queens start. Through a series of challenges playing to the strengths of a well-rounded drag queen, they’re eliminated one by one until three (sometimes four) remain. Each episode, after a challenge, a panel of judges helps Ru select the top queen (who gets a prize) and the bottom two, with the rest being safe from elimination. The bottom two perform a lip sync and Ru picks who stays and who goes home. In each stage of the competition, the panel of judges and RuPaul select the winners and the losers. This is standard RuPaul’s Drag Race.

All Stars has been messed with from the start. The first season put every queen into a pair with a competitor. They both had to perform well to win challenges and it wasn’t until late in the game when competitors were judged on their performance alone. All Stars season two course corrected by starting everyone out on their own, but it still changed the competition. Instead of Ru picking the winner and loser each week, Ru picked the two winners and three losers. The winners would lip sync for the right to choose who went home. The losers pleaded their case. In the end, Ru still picked the top all star, but it was from a selection whittled down by the competitors and not the judges.

Throughout this competition, Roxxxy Andrews was consistently, repeatedly in the bottom. She was almost always up for elimination. She was consistently saved by her friends in the top. None of them would send Roxxxy home. They, arguably, sent home more talented drag queens, because of their personal biases. When Alaska won All Stars season 2, it could be said that she won it with an asterisk because she didn’t have to compete against the best; she just had to make sure none of the competitors sent her home.

But factors in season 3 of All Stars broke the competition in ways that fundamentally changed it from a competition to a game; no more a matter of being the best but playing better than the others. What follows will contain spoilers for All Stars season 3, which very recently ended! Do not keep reading if you are avoiding spoilers!

All Stars season 3 followed the same formula as season 2; winners pick who goes home. But it broke in three different ways. The first is that it offered an eliminated queen a way back into the competition. Every show does this, but it’s a bigger mess when they were eliminated by someone else possibly still in the competition. There was a big segment where all of the (currently) eliminated queens met with the competitors still in it and they argued about who eliminated whom and why. In the end, they brought back Morgan McMichaels, the first eliminated queen.

This is a problem. Morgan didn’t compete for most of the show. She had to sit out because she was eliminated. Being brought back when most of her competitors were already gone means she stood a greater chance of convincing the rest to keep her. Also, Morgan said from the start that she was going to eliminate her biggest competitors. Not the worst queens, the best. She’s not alone in this, as everyone is free to choose who they want to eliminate for any reason, but it puts a huge spotlight on the problem with letting competitors eliminate each other. Sometimes the best go home in a moment of vulnerability because they’re the best.

The second way in which the competition broke was that BenDelaCreme was allowed to eliminate herself. She was the obvious front runner, she won a lip sync late in the competition, and she sent herself home. Her reasons are inconsequential, but the result is that she was shaping the competition by having a strong presence at the start, and then she cut herself out, leaving everyone else to know that their victories are only viable in her absence. Ru consistently put Dela in the top two because she’s the best. When she dropped out, it let everyone know, including Ru, that she had no competition. Anyone who wins season 3 All Stars has to know that if Dela hadn’t quit, they probably wouldn’t have won.

Finally, and the worst way in which the competition broke, is that the final two queens were chosen by the eliminated queens. Bebe, Kennedy, Shangela, and Trixie all had claims to victory, but the decision on which of those two would lip sync for the finale was put in the hands of the people they eliminated. Shockingly, they chose Kennedy and Trixie. This is shocking because, while a strong competitor and a great drag queen, Kennedy won the least number of challenges of all of the top four. Shangela, who won the most, was eliminated by the queens who were no longer a part of the competition. For whatever reason, they chose Kennedy. The finale was between someone who was top 2 twice but won no lip syncs, against someone who was top 2 once, won that lip sync, but spent most of the competition in the bottom.

Trixie Mattel is an all star. She deserves to be recognized as such. But her win was cheapened by the changes to the competition that turned it from a best-of-the-best to a best player of the game finale. In the end, this was not the Olympics of drag. It was the Catan of drag. It was a game that could be lost by the best player for simply not having the personal connections to assure victory. While Trixie was crowned, no one achieved a victory because the best player could’ve been in the competition but they were recognized too soon and eliminated by those who could see it, and the best player walked out. While I expect twists and surprises in these kinds of shows, I hope that the next season of All Stars sets out the rules fairly from the start and reduces the amount of input by the eliminated queens so that they have less influence in the finale. It’s just not fair to anyone to call someone an all star if they’re not competing on an even playing field.

#content

Wow, it’s been a while. Not because I’ve done nothing, but because I’ve been stuck. I’m in a post-game slump after Assassin’s Creed Origins. After I finish a good game, it’s hard to pick up something else. I spent a lot of time trying out some games that weren’t up to Origins quality. I went back to Origins and did more leftover side quests. I played more less than great games. I “finished” Tom Clancy’s The Division, and tried to get into Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands. Now I’ve got something good, Bayonetta 2 on Switch, and it’s going to take some time to get through it. It’s great, and I’m glad I’m out of the rut.

But while I work through Bayonetta 2, I’m chewing on ways to talk about some of this stuff I played without reviewing it. I’ve touched about a dozen games that either didn’t do anything for me, or just didn’t hold my interest long enough to get to the end. It’s rare that I review a bad game because life’s short and the supply of video games that are worth playing is huge. But there might some value in constructively criticizing these games that I didn’t find great. And then there are games like The Division, where I’m far past prime review time, but I still feel like I have something to say about it. Is that a review? Probably not.

All this is to say I’m still alive even if I don’t have much to say now.

 

Night in the Woods

There’s an audience for Night in the Woods that this game will hit harder than the rest. Here are just a few touch points this audience will identify: instant messenger, away messages, sleeping until 4pm, dropping out of college, being in a band that never plays a show, working in a low paying, low skill job for too long, bailing on said job as often as possible, living in a dying town but coming back because it’s home. All of these things come together to form a picture of Night in the Woods, and it’s not going to connect with everyone.

You play as Mae, who’s recently dropped out of college and returned home. You pick things up with your old friends, learn what they’ve been up to since you’ve left, but there’s something else going on in Possum Springs. Mae has nightmares or visions and strange things around town that cannot be easily explained seem to follow her.

To Night in the Woods‘ credit, the characters are well-defined, and it’s a pretty big cast. Each has a unique voice and the often more to them than their initial presentation. This clarity of character definition extends to the beautiful art of the game. Night in the Woods has a distinct, clean art style that never looks bad or dull.

Where it didn’t quite come together for me was in the narrative and gameplay. It took a long time for the story to build to a point where it had to hooked. It is a slow starter. This may be purposeful, as a lot of the draw of the game is the connection you should feel to the characters, but it felt tedious at times. Adding to this tedium is the gameplay loop.

Here’s the loop: wake up and check your computer for messages from your friends. Talk to mom in the kitchen. Walk all over town, talking to everyone. They’re always in the same places, but they always have something new to say. After you’ve talked to everyone, go back to the one friend you want to hang out with that night and tell them so. Then go to a character specific scene that nudges the story forward a little bit. These end at home where you talk to dad, check your computer for more messages, and go to sleep.

Again, this may be purposeful. They’re replicating some of the tedium of living in a small town, where you know everyone and they’re all going through a similar routine. But it’s not particularly thrilling and I wish there were a way to move a bit faster. Mae’s not a quick walker and I got a bit tired of walking all over town at her slow pace. It plays like Super Mario Bros. at half speed and, instead of squishing dangerous mushrooms, you’re chatting up your friends and neighbors. If it moved a bit faster, maybe it wouldn’t have taken me nine hours to complete a story that could’ve fit within maybe a quarter of that time.

I picked up Night in the Woods because so many people whose opinions I respect loved it. I get why they loved it, because the writing is good and the characters are great. But I found it pedestrian to the point of being just okay. It’s got its moments but they’re deep in there, surrounded by a lot of slow walking and repetitive gameplay. I was honestly quite surprised to find this game has an Overwhelmingly Positive user rating on Steam. It is very much not going to please everyone.


Reference: Infinite Fall. Night in the Woods [Finji, 2017]

Source: Purchased from Steam store.

2018 Goals

The new year is coming, so why not draft up some overly ambitious goals? Goals are better than resolutions. Resolutions rarely come with an end state. They’re just bland statements of things I’d like to do better without any particular way of measuring whether or not I am doing better. I can resolve to eat healthier, but healthier compared to what? “Eat healthier” won’t get me to the end of the year because I can’t point to any accomplishment. It’s hard to hold myself accountable with “eat healthier”.

With that in mind, I want to improve some things so instead of saying I’m going to improve them, I’m setting some goals. To keep myself honest, expect something like a monthly check-in. That’ll serve a dual function, allowing me to share what I’ve done throughout the year, and experience public shame over what I don’t do. That’s healthy, right?

Writing/Production

I’ve been writing a lot for the last several years about video games and it’s almost always reviews. Criticism has some value, but I’d rather get away from criticism and closer to critical thinking about the games I play. In 2018, I’m going to write about something, probably video games, without that writing being a review. Additionally, I want to do more videos. I dipped my toe in video production in 2017, but I want to do more of it. I’ll probably supplement reviews with video or do video reviews.

Goal: One video per month

Goal: One non-review per month

Exercise

I didn’t run much in 2017. I took most of the year off from running because I ran a marathon in 2016 and the training for it really burned me out. I started doing weight lifting instead, using the Stronglifts 5×5 program. I wasn’t perfectly consistent with it, but it got me started. In 2018, I’m going to switch to a program (GZCLP)  that I think will help me get to some weight lifting goals. I’m also going to do it while keeping my weight under control and not losing my ability to run a 5K.

Goal: Keep my body weight under 200 lbs.

Goal: Increase max 5 rep weights

Exercise Current Max Goal Max
Squat 200 300
Bench Press 140 200
Deadlift 225 325
Overhead Press 95 150
Barbell Row 115 150

Goal: Maintain the ability to run a 33:00 5K

Being a person

I spent entirely too much free time in 2017 sitting at home, doing essentially nothing. I also have a terrible tendency to buy RPG source books, read them, love them, and never play them. In 2018, I’m going to kill some free time by playing these games. I’m guessing I’m going to end up running more of these than playing them, but I’ll get some use out of them. I’m also going to go to a gaming convention of some sort. I’m going to interact with and talk to people who share interests similar to mine, like some kind of person.

Goal: Play each of these games once

  • The Dark Eye
  • The Strange / Numenera
  • Dungeon World
  • D&D 5th edition
  • Swords Without Masters
  • Stars Without Number

Goal: Go to a con

Get Even

The number of video games that actually do something with medium that less interactive media (movies, TV) can’t accomplish is so vanishingly small. Video games are so frequently linear affairs without much opportunity for deviation that the rare ones that do something different stand out. Get Even stands out.

You are Cole Black and you can only remember one thing, a hostage rescue gone wrong. You wake up in a run down asylum where Red, your captor, has strapped a headset to you that can explore and replay memories. By replaying these memories and exploring the asylum, you have to put together the pieces to try to find out who you are, what you were doing, and who’s behind all of it.

In a lot of ways, Get Even reminds me of Condemned: Criminal Origins. Like Condemned, you have a handful of non-gun tools to explore environments and collect evidence, like blacklights, thermal vision, and an environment scanner. Collecting this information and finding documents are an important part of the game as you attempt to sort out Black’s memories. While using these tools to meticulously scour rooms is kind of fun, often I just found myself in rooms littered with documents to dump a lot of information.

However, this isn’t a walking simulator. There are guards and mercenaries everywhere. Black is equipped with a couple useful weapons, but discouraged from using them. This means most levels are stealthy affairs, and the stealth in the game isn’t exactly great. You can view enemy vision cones with your map, but the enemy’s vision extends far beyond what the cone indicates. This is no Metal Gear Solid. Additionally, you’re told upfront that your actions, including killing people in your memories, have consequences. So you’re given a cool weapon to play with, and told not to use it.

What Get Even does really well is mess with the player. At the start of the game, you know as much as Black does, so the game can reveal things to you and Black at the same time. This exploring of Black’s memories where Black doesn’t know what happens next leads to some situations where you as the player can and should question whether what you’re seeing is what actually happened or only how Black wanted to remember it. This merging of perspectives and unreliable narration are head games that other media can’t pull off, so Get Even‘s experience is pretty unique.

Looking at The Farm 51’s past titles, Get Even should be the game that gets them more positive attention. It’s a cool game that tries to create a different experience from most games and succeeds in many ways. Get Even seems to have flown under a lot of people’s’ radars, and it deserves more attention.


Reference: The Farm 51. Get Even [Namco Bandai, 2017]

Source: Purchased from Steam store.

2017 Dream of Waking Video Game Awards

I play a ton of video games. It’s about time I made my own yearly awards. In an attempt to escape a simple list of games I’ve played, I’m making some categories that may or may not return next year. But that’s enough talk, let’s give out some awards!

2017 Game of the Year

NieR: Automata

I played NieR: Automata to completion twice. I’ll be the first to admit that the combat wore on me after a while, but I spent 76 hours playing this game. It was absolutely worth it. It’s an incredible game that blends good gameplay with an experience that can’t be replicated in other media. It’s instantly accessible, with plenty of options to turn down or turn up the difficulty, and you can buy all of the achievements, if that’s all you care about. NieR: Automata just wants to play it, and you should.

Runners Up: Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus, What Remains of Edith Finch

2017’s 2016 Game of the Year

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

I didn’t get into Mankind Divided as quickly as I would’ve liked, which is why I bounced off of it when it came out in 2016. However, after giving it a real chance, I fell deep into it. While the main story isn’t all there, the side quests fill in the gaps very well. The city of Prague is extremely detailed and every problem has several solutions. It’s a great game, so it’s a real bummer that it didn’t do well enough to warrant a foreseeable continuation.

Runners Up: Hyper Light Drifter, Quantum Break

The “I Wish I Had More Time for This” Award

Endless Space 2

Endless Space 2 combines two things I love, 4X space games, and Endless Legend. It’s really well polished and has received several free updates with new heroes, units, gameplay improvements, and other cool stuff. I just don’t find myself with enough time to dedicate to it to really learn the systems and stick through a game.

Runners Up: Torment: Tides of Numenera, Glittermitten Grove/Frog Fractions 2

The “I Wish I Liked This Game More” Award

Prey

Prey has a lot going on that should work for me. Space, shape-shifting aliens, heavy System Shock influence. But seven hours in, it hasn’t really kept my attention. I think it’s cool, I like it, but I don’t find myself wanting to go back into it anytime soon. I couldn’t even really explain why either, it’s just not clicking with me.

Runners Up: Resident Evil 7, Pyre

The “I’m Never Going to Finish This, But It’s Still Great” Award

Heat Signature

Heat Signature’s combination of gameplay systems leads to some surprising results that never seem to run out of fun. It’s a sprawling game, and the difficulty ramps hard, so I’m almost certain to never see it to conclusion. Still, it’s fun to jump into and run a couple missions.

Runners Up: Hollow Knight, Dead Cells

Awards for Things That Aren’t Video Games That I Loved in 2017

Best Film – Blade Runner 2049

Best Album – Charly Bliss Guppy

Best Novel – Neal Asher Infinity Engine

Best TV Show – Great News Season 1

Non-Review: Destiny 2 by Bungie (developer)

Nameless Midnight is my favorite weapon. It’s a scout rifle with explosive rounds and decreased recoil. It’s good in PVP, but it’s amazing in PVE. Every shot is a bloom of damage numbers. With sixteen rounds, I can empty a room with it. Dump a whole magazine into an elite enemy and I’ve probably killed it. Since it’s a scout rifle, it’s second only to a sniper for range too, so I don’t even have to be close. It’s not even an exotic weapon, so I can still carry my Hard Light as a backup. They’re an amazing pair.

One of the most damning things I can say about Destiny 2 is that it’s more Destiny. Outside of dozens of quality-of-life upgrades (like not having to level weapons or worry about stat rolls), it’s very much the same game in function. There are about a dozen storyline missions, twice as many sidequests, and an almost limitless number of background activities. There’s PVP multiplayer with a handful of modes and maps. You still can’t matchmake into a Nightfall strike (a more difficult three-person mission), and you still can’t matchmake into a raid (a time-consuming dungeon crawl for six people), but they’ll give you some tools you can use to find people to play with. Instead of relying on grinding out strikes in the hopes of getting a good roll on a reward weapon, you get a weekly list of activities that promise better equipment with a relatively short time commitment. But the game is mostly the same.

There are two reasons this is a non-review. The first reason is that Destiny 2 is so similar to Destiny that I may as well copy-paste that review into this one. If you didn’t like Destiny, it’s really unlikely Destiny 2 is doing anything to win you over. The core of the game is the same. And if you’re a Destiny fan, good news! Here’s another 30 hours of new Destiny to play. It has cutscenes and a story now. It’s great!

The other reason is that part of the game that is reportedly the very best it offers is the raid, and I’m not ashamed to admit that, as an adult, I can’t glue five more friends together to commit to something like six hours of consecutive game time. I’ll be lucky if I can get two more to join me for a Nightfall strike. I understand the reasons why Bungie didn’t include matchmaking for the raid, but I’m so very disappointed that I’ll never experience it because it requires such a high bar of commitment. The raid might be the thing that pushes Destiny 2 from a very solid 8 to a 10, but not everyone is going to get that experience.

Compared to Destiny, it feels like a gift that Destiny 2 only requires about 5 hours of time to check the boxes on some weekly tasks to get loot worth chasing. I’m happy with Nameless Midnight and I’ll keep feeding more powerful weapons to it because I like Nameless better. But there are things in this game I’ll never see, and that sucks. It ultimately hurts the game that it tries to strike a balance between people who only have 5 hours to play per week, and those who have 5 hours to play per day. It’s “fair” for me to review Destiny 2 without ever seeing that stuff, but I won’t. You should know what you’re getting into when you play Destiny 2, and that means reading all these words I wrote about it.


Reference: Bungie (developer). Destiny 2 [Activision, 2017]

Source: Purchased via Microsoft Store

SoHP: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (movie)

I’ve been putting this off subconsciously and consciously for weeks now. I’ve had little desire to watch another mediocre movie. Today, I bit the bullet and watched it. Huge shock, it’s terribly Hollywood! More so than the previous movies, it felt like this one was really on fast-forward. They barely hit all of the critical plot points, and that’s it. It’s missing every single thing that didn’t have to do with the Tri-wizard Tournament, and a ton of stuff that does have to do with it but isn’t absolutely necessary.

These movies continue to do a disservice to the novels, so who are they for? I guess they’re just kids action movies. But if those kids had read the novels, they would likewise find the movies disappointing. I have enough reason to believe kids would notice the same differences I do, and likely more if they’re re-reading these novels frequently because they love them. But if the novels are not supposed to be on-ramps for the movies (because the movies aren’t made for fans), then they’re still not doing a good job of building the brand. If you manage to enjoy the movie enough to seek out the books, the books will ruin future movies for you. And if you don’t enjoy the movies, why would you watch any more of them? There are eight of these things!

A Confession

I have a confession to make. Some games make me so anxious to play them that I don’t play them. The absolute worst thing in the entire world (1) is the feeling that I’m wasting time, even when I’m playing video games. This is why I dread playing multiplayer games and I’ll never get into something like Dota 2. If I spend 45 minutes playing a game, I don’t want to lose. I can’t play RTS games, because if I do something dumb and screw up so bad that the whole mission is a waste, I’m not going to go back to it. I can’t play XCOM. I can’t shake the feeling that everything I do is going to lead to me failing the whole game because I let a rookie die. Even save scumming doesn’t help because I don’t recognize long-term problems until it’s too late. I’m not going to back to an earlier save to correct a problem if I’ve wasted hours learning I screwed up.

Where this truly bites me in the ass is when I use this excuse to avoid playing games that I genuinely enjoy and would have a great time with if I could just get over myself. It took me a decade to play Deus Ex because I wanted to see and do everything. It took me 10 years to realize that it was stopping me from playing a really good game and it’s not even vital to the game to “see and do everything”. You shouldn’t play it that way. I used the same excuse to avoid Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, a game I really, really loved once I got into it.

Today, this is manifesting in my third serious attempt at Dishonored 2. I was really excited for Dishonored 2. Then I started it and all of the choices and freedom overwhelmed me. I stopped playing almost immediately after the tutorial. Later, I came back to it and got halfway into the first real mission. I got to a room with an upgrade rune in it that I couldn’t figure out how to retrieve without murdering a lot of people. I’m trying not to murder anyone, so this was a real problem. Since I couldn’t get that rune, I quit.

But today, I got over it. I just finished that level leaving behind two runes. And I’m okay with that. I had fun. That’s what’s important! Video games should be fun. If they’re stressing me out, I’m not going to play them, but some of it is give and take. The time loss with RTS and MOBA games isn’t something I can avoid. It’s part of the game. But a stealth/action game with tons of options on how to play has those options so that you can feel free to enjoy it, not constrained by artificial limits.

So tomorrow, I’ll forget I wrote this and drop Dishonored 2 again.


  1. Literally not the worst thing in the world.

SoHP: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Did you think #SoHP was over??? It’s not over! It just took me too long to read this book because it’s significantly longer than the previous three! I’m beginning to think the Summer of Harry Potter is going to bleed into the Autumn of Harry Potter, and maybe even the Winter of Harry Potter.

I liked the Goblet of Fire despite the Triwizard Tournament. How weak was the competition that Harry Potter, a couple years junior of all of the participants, was able to beat them fairly handily? Did none of them have friends like Ron and Hermione? I get that Crouch was cheating to support him, but the tournament was designed for wizards of the age and skill of Diggory, Krum, and Delacour. Where were the officials who were supposed to keep someone like Crouch from interfering?

But Goblet of Fire did a ton to progress the overall plot of Voldemort’s return. I do find it a little funny that, even surrounded by evil wizards and fighting the newly reborn Voldemort, Harry Potter is able to survive. I know, this story ending here wasn’t going to happen, but I guess we need to handwave the lack of power the totally scary Voldemort has when he’s just been pulled out of a cauldron.

I also loved the introduction of the Death Eater trials and Aurors. I was way into the character of Mad-Eye Moody until he was revealed to actually be Crouch. He had me convinced; Crouch as Moody acted like someone who’s been fighting dark wizards for ages. Paranoid but vigilant, on the verge of seeing dark wizards in every shadow, which is understandable considering Moody was an Auror during Voldemort’s reign of terror. Moody’s probably seen some real shit.

The last five chapters or so (when the third task starts) really sucked me in, so I’m ready to pick this back up and start The Order of the Phoenix!