Review: Hannibal, delicious gothic silliness
Jun11

Review: Hannibal, delicious gothic silliness

This review is spoiler free!

I first tried watching Hannibal when it debuted, and it didn’t quite click with me. I like scary shows, and I love Silence of the Lambs, so it seemed like it would my kind of thing. One of my pet peeves though is characters who are so “brilliant” that it’s sufficiently indistinct from magic. Think of Vincent D’Onofrio’s character in Law and Order: Criminal Intent, taking one look at a suspect and knowing exactly what happened because he is some kind of brain wizard. Now imagine two of him on the same show.

hannibal 500x281 Review: Hannibal, delicious gothic silliness

At its core Hannibal is about the relationship between the brilliant but unstable Will Graham, unofficial brain wizard for the FBI, and the brilliant but unstable Hannibal Lecter, also an unofficial brain wizard for the FBI. I don’t think I’m giving away any essential plot points when I say that Lecter is in fact a serial killer with a taste for bizarre murders. (See what I did there? Huh?) Much of the show consists of Graham and Lecter staring at each other meaningfully, presumably locked in some kind of silent brain wizard battle.

It was all too much for me to take early in season one, but both of the existing seasons recently popped up on Netflix Canada so I figured I should give the show another shot. I ended up watching all 26 episodes over a few days. (The show has been renewed for a third season which is expected early 2015.)

Credit where it’s due: the show is beautifully framed and shot. It looks incredibly expensive, and I was gobsmacked to learn later that it airs on network television. The food design — yes, this is important in Hannibal — is simultaneously mouthwatering and unsettling. The cast, lead by Hugh Dancy, Mads Mikkelson, and Lawrence Fishburn as Jack Crawford, is really good even when dealing with potentially ludicrous material. And I would be amiss if I didn’t recognize the guest star casting which delights this genre fan: Gillian Anderson, Michael Pitt (Funny Games), Katharine Isabelle (Ginger Snaps), Eddie Izzard, Amanda Plummer, and so many more.

The writing is… slightly better than average, I would say, but not amazing. The characters frequently fall into overly gothic and flowery speech patterns, which while fitting for the setting is kind of obnoxious. There are too many throwaway “monster of the week” episodes, and the need to constantly top the last dramatic and gory (oh, so gory) serial killer murder quickly leads to ludicrous scenarios that crumble if you think about it for even a moment.

And then there’s the fact that for a show about two psychological geniuses who work with one of the best FBI profiling groups in the country, everyone seems to be terrible at their job. People close to the cases disappear and turn up mutilated at a fast pace, and yet Fishburn’s Crawford in particular spends a great deal of the show sort of shrugging it off and attending dinner parties. Another lab tech horribly killed and had their organs removed? Eh, I’d worry about it but Lecter invited me over for foie gras! Hooray!

Even Lecter himself behaves in ways I find irritating as a viewer. I realize he’s crazypants in the most literal way, but there appears to be no rhyme or reason to his actions. He is apparently simultaneously incredibly methodical and incredibly prone to whimsy. It hurt his characterization overall. Lecter isn’t a criminal mastermind as much as a spontaneous madman who benefits from working with the most oblivious profiling unit ever.

However, even with my issues with some of the plot and dialogue, the show is pretty good and I thought it was definitely worth watching. I also have to give it high praise for never, in my opinion, veering off into uncomfortable sexual violence or focusing entirely on young women as the victims, as many procedural profiler shows do. (Criminal Minds, looking at you.)

If you like creepy stories, are not put off by moments of gore, and enjoy rich gothic tales, I would recommend giving Hannibal a shot.

WildStar: in defense of attunements

Jeromai and Syl have been looking at the attunement for 20-man raids in WildStar, and they are at best bemused and at worst concerned about what it all means for the game. I admit, I don’t really understand the problem. I am not planning on raiding in WildStar, but I sure will do the attunement chain because it looks like fun!

I mean hey, to each their own, but that list doesn’t seem to contain anything terribly exotic. Kill some world bosses, grind some reputation, speed run some dungeons, do a few special events — for the most part it’s activities that most players will be doing anyway. Syl described it as “excessive” and “excruciatingly frustrating” (note that neither of us are high enough level to have actually tried any of this yet), and I don’t understand where the frustration comes into it.

To be fair, so far content in WildStar has been pretty challenging! I did the level 20 dungeon last night, and we died a whole lot before finishing it. If you don’t want challenging content — and that is entirely reasonable — then you probably won’t enjoy it right now. I like a challenge, and I am really enjoying this.

There has been much written in the past few years about the “journey” in MMOs, and how we’ve lost sight of it in many ways. This attunement, my friends, is part of a journey. It may not be a journey that you want to take, and that’s okay, but to declare that it plain shouldn’t exist while simultaneously bemoaning the lack of GAME in our games is baffling.

Now, it’s totally legitimate to prefer that a game has no barriers to entry for raids! In fact, there is a game that already does that extremely well, and that’s WoW. It’s there. You can play it. Millions of people do.

But I get irritated when a game actually tries to appeal to players in a different way than WoW, and then a number of responses (generally, not Jeromai and Syl in particular) are a snobby “they’ll nerf it in six months” or “they’ll go free-to-play” or “the game won’t survive without appealing to the most casual market possible” and suddenly we don’t like innovation, we don’t like niche markets, we just want any nails that stick out to be slowly hammered into being just… like… WoW.

Of course attunements are a time sink. Games are a time sink. I did every weapon challenge in Bastion over and over again until I got the gold prize. That was a time sink! I did every combat encounter I could find in Costume Quest even if technically I could have stealthed by so I could grind levels on my character. That was a time sink!

Syl commented that “I don’t pay a sub to get a fat barrier of entry shoved into my face like that”, and I totally cringed when I read that. It’s the exact same argument that people made in WoW like five years ago, except many of the people who I see making it now don’t play WoW anymore in large part because they find it bland. These things are not unrelated.

It’s okay to not enjoy or play something! It’s okay to find X game suits your style more than Y. But man, I think these complaints about WildStar’s attunements generally boil down to “someone is playing a game in a way that I don’t play a game, and I don’t like it”. I’ve been struck by that madness myself at times and I’m sure I will again, but I think it makes for a weak analysis of games.

Friday Five: things I do instead of levelling in WildStar
Jun06

Friday Five: things I do instead of levelling in WildStar

Yes, one more WildStar post for WildStar launch week.

First thing first — here’s an animated gif that was made by Arolaide at the behest of Ellyndrial. In truth I don’t think WildStar or any game is a “WoW killer” and I wouldn’t want WoW to get “killed” anyway. Diversity in our MMOs is great, and Blizzard is very good at what they do. That being said there’s room for a little friendly ribbing, right?

wowvsws Friday Five: things I do instead of levelling in WildStar

My main character in WildStar, cunningly named Liore, is levelling as part of a duo. Unfortunately the other half of my duo decided that he didn’t like Esper any more and really wanted to level as Engineer (a reasonable thing this early in a game!) and so I’ve spent the last two evenings doing things aside from levelling while he catches up. As it turns out I have a number of options.

Have a great weekend, and if you’re playing Exile on Evindra give a wave to anyone in Cats in Space!

1. Play the cooking game.

Did anyone else’s jaw drop when they clicked on the “Tech Tree” tab for a profession? Crafting in WildStar is deep, man. For cooking in particular you discover recipes by trying to target them in what is essentially a grid. You combine 3 ingredients that you buy on the spot along with one or more farmed items, and each ingredient moves your target in a different direction. “Failed” crafts will just give you basic food items and a hint as to where the real target is.

cookingpanel 500x302 Friday Five: things I do instead of levelling in WildStar

Failing 3 times in a row can give you a nice triangulation for your true target, and once you craft, say, Spicy Jerky the first time you feel kind of like a champion.

2. Making money.

Oh, the early days of an MMO when everyone is broke. Everyone is scraping and saving to afford a mount at level 15 (10 gold) and level crafting and buy skills and don’t even get me started on purchasing proper lighting for my rockethouse. I figure low level crafting resources will never be as in demand as they are right now, and I’ve been making pretty good money from taking both mining and survivalism (wood gathering, essentially) and selling the raw materials on the Commodity Broker. (Here’s a hint: both the Buy Now and Sell Now options are bad for profits. Always place buy orders and sell orders instead.)

3. Finding datacubes.

Datacubes are pretty much exactly like datacrons in SWTOR — little collectibles that are hidden around the world. In WildStar, clicking on a datacron will unlock a short piece of lore. It doesn’t do anything for you, but particularly as someone playing the Scientist path I feel compelled to collect all the shinies! Also the world of WildStar has a pretty decent amount of stuff to see tucked away in the corners of the map, so I enjoy exploring.

4. Playing interior decorator.

Housing in WildStar is a lot like Dimensions in RIFT with two big exceptions: there are more pre-made objects, and plugs let you put genuinely useful things on your plot. (More on this in a moment.) As far as decorating goes, though, it’s very similar and the only limit is your imagination and gold on hand. I’m still working on my stairs, but Arolaide already made a sweet loft in her rocketship:

aro house 500x280 Friday Five: things I do instead of levelling in WildStar

5. Visiting neighbors.

Speaking of useful plots, I try to do a tour of all my neighbors every day or two. Not only does this give me the opportunity to see all of their neat decor, but also I can try any challenge plugs they have active and harvest their stuff! Players their harvesting plugs to reward a portion to the owner and a portion to the harvester, and plugs regrow roughly every 30 minutes. This means if I empty out a neighbor’s mine while they’re offline, we both get the benefits. It’s a pretty great system and I can’t wait for proper floating guild neighborhoods in the sky.

Cat Context 52: WildStar Launches!
Jun04

Cat Context 52: WildStar Launches!

cat context vertical Cat Context 52: WildStar Launches!

Hey guys, did you hear that WildStar launched this week?

All three of Liore, Arolaide, and Ellyndrial got in the headstart of Carbine’s new MMO WildStar, and we actually stopped playing it long enough to record a podcast!

This week we’re talking about our impressions of the game’s headstart launch, how we’re liking our original class choices, and everything else Nexus and WildStar. Where are we, and what buttons do we press now?! No one knows, and it’s awesome.

Also, we’re bringing up our favorite game soundtracks thanks to a voice mail from Syl. Thanks, Syl!

The official guild of Cat Context (snerk) is “Cats in Space”, an Exile guild on the Evindra server. Join us or just say hi!

Like to watch? This podcast has a livestreamed video version:

If you enjoyed this podcast, please “Like” or “Favorite” it in your media consumption method of choice! It makes us feel nice.

* The KeybindFreedom WildStar mod.
* The BattleBards podcast.
* Free Music Archive page for our theme, in THE crowd by The Years

WildStar’s Emphasis on Grouping

(Yes, I probably will be writing about WildStar all week! Bear with me…)

One of the things I didn’t realize about WildStar until I started playing it for real is how much of an emphasis Carbine has put on grouping up with fellow players. I didn’t play Guild Wars 2 so forgive me if my analogy is off, but I feel like WildStar was designed to be to grouping what Guild Wars 2 is to soloing. In some cases it is outright incentivized, while in others it’s just made a lot easier to group. For example:

  • Grouping with guildies earns guild currency that is spent on things like bank tabs and single use guild-wide buffs.
  • Grouping in general earns renown currency that is spent on crafting items and housing decor.
  • Scientists, one of the four special “paths”, get a group summon at a very low level.
  • There are (optional) areas in the world that require multiple paths to work in combination to access.
  • If you harvest a resource while in a group and someone else has the same skill, they’ll get a skill-up and a piece of the resource.

And perhaps most importantly:

  • The questing content is difficult — not impossible to solo, but difficult — enough to make grouping up attractive.

Even tradeskills have a high level of interdependence, which means it will be a lot easier to craft if you have friends who can help out with parts.

It’s all very exciting, honestly. For years now those of us with more old school inclinations have been saying how we missed MMOs with more challenge and encouragement to group up and talk to people, and it seems like WildStar fits the bill in many ways.

Will it actually help combat the “3 month” problem? We will have to wait to find out, but I feel like this game has the best chance we’ve seen in a while to create a genuine MMO community.

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