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20 Point and Click Games You Should Play Right Now!
1.Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge Monkey Island 2 follows Guybrush's continuing adventures some time after defeating the Ghost Pirate LeChuck. His arrival on Scabb Island was in pursuit of the legendary treasure of Big Whoop.LeChuck's Revenge plays like most SCUMM-based point-and-click adventure games. Actions and dialogues are depicted on an Animation Window which covers the top of the screen; verbal commands are listed in the lower left-hand corner of the screen, while Inventory items are shown as icons on the lower right-hand corner. A Sentence Line is located below the Animation Window and serves in describing the actions of the player.The game was one of the few adventure games that offered the player a choice in levels of puzzle difficulty. In some versions, before starting the game, the player is prompted to choose between regular version and "Monkey 2 Lite", a relatively stripped-down experience that bypasses many puzzles entirely. On the back of the game's packaging it is (jokingly) stated that this mode is intended for video-game reviewers. 2.Day of the Tentacle The game, a loose sequel to Maniac Mansion, is focused on Bernard Bernoulli — the only one of the three playable characters that was featured in the first game — and his friends Laverne and Hoagie, as they help Dr. Fred Edison using a time machine to prevent Purple Tentacle from taking over the world. The game utilizes time travel and the effects of changing history as part of the many puzzles to be solved in the game. Day of the Tentacle follows the point-and-click two-dimensional adventure game formula, first established by the original Maniac Mansion. Players direct the controllable characters around the game world by clicking with the computer mouse. To interact with the game world, players choose from a set of nine commands arrayed on the screen (such as "pick up", "use", or "talk to") and then on an object in the world. This was the last SCUMM game to use the original interface of having the bottom of the screen being taken up by a verb selection and inventory; starting with the next game to use the SCUMM engine, Sam & Max Hit the Road, the engine was modified to scroll through a more concise list of verbs with the right mouse button and having the inventory on a separate screen.Day of the Tentacle uses time travel extensively; early in the game, the three main protagonists are separated across time by the effects of a faulty time machine. The player, after completing certain puzzles, can then freely switch between these characters, interacting with the game's world in the separate time periods. Certain small inventory items can be shared by placing the item into the "Chron-o-Johns", modified portable toilets that instantly transport objects to one of the other time periods, while other items are shared by simply leaving the item in a past time period to be picked up by a character in a future period. Changes made to a past time period will affect a future one, and many of the game's puzzles are based on the effect of time travel, aging of certain items, and alterations of the time stream. For example, one puzzle requires the player, while in the future era where Purple Tentacle has succeeded, to send a medical chart of a Tentacle back to the past, having it used as the design of the American flag, then collecting one such flag in the future to be used as a Tentacle disguise to allow that character to roam freely.The whole original Maniac Mansion game can be played on a computer resembling a Commodore 64 inside the Day of the Tentacle game; this practice has since been repeated by other game developers, but at the time of Day of the Tentacle's release, it was unprecedented. 3.The Secret of Monkey Island It takes place in a fantastical version of the Caribbean during the age of piracy. The player assumes the role of Guybrush Threepwood, a young man who dreams of becoming a pirate and explores fictional islands while solving puzzles. The Secret of Monkey Island is a 2D adventure game played from a third-person perspective. Via a point-and-click interface, the player guides protagonist Guybrush Threepwood through the game's world and interacts with the environment by selecting from twelve verb commands (nine in newer versions) such as "talk to" for communicating with characters and "pick up" for collecting items between commands and the world's objects in order to successfully solve puzzles and thus progress in the game. While conversing with other characters, the player may choose between topics for discussion that are listed in a dialog tree; the game is one of the first to incorporate such a system. The in-game action is frequently interrupted by cutscenes. Like other LucasArts adventure games, The Secret of Monkey Island features a design philosophy that makes the player character's death nearly impossible (Guybrush does drown if he stays underwater for more than ten minutes). 4.Loom Loom is based on a serious and complex fantasy story. With its experimental interface, it eschewed the traditional paradigm of graphical adventures, where puzzles usually involve interactions between the game character, the environment, and items the character has in their possession. Loom's gameplay centers instead around magical four-note tunes known as "drafts" that the protagonist, Bobbin Threadbare, can play on his distaff. Each draft is a spell that has an effect of a certain type, such as "Opening" or "Night Vision." Some drafts can be reversed by playing their notes backwards, so the "Dye" draft played backwards becomes "Bleach," while others, such as the "Terror" draft, are palindromes (e.g. C–E–E–C) and so cannot be reversed in this manner. Bobbin can learn drafts by observing an object that possesses the qualities of the desired draft; for example, by examining a blade while it is being sharpened, Bobbin can learn the "Sharpening" draft. When the game begins, Bobbin is only able to play drafts using the notes C, D and E, limiting his ability to reproduce more powerful drafts. As the game progresses and additional notes become available, so his ability to play new drafts increases. The game can be played at three difficulty levels, each differing in how clearly the notes being played are labeled. For example, the "Standard" level indicates the notes on a scale below the distaff, while the "Expert" level shows no notes and must be played by ear. In the original release, expert players are rewarded with a cutscene that does not appear for the other two difficulties. The later CD-ROM release, however, shows an abridged version of this scene to all players. 5.Beneath a Steel Sky Beneath a Steel Sky is a 2D adventure game played from a third-person perspective. The player uses a point-and-click interface to interact with the environment and to guide protagonist Robert Foster through the game's world. To solve puzzles and progress in the game, the player collects items that may be combined with one another, used on the environment, or given to non-player characters (NPCs).The protagonist converses with NPCs via dialogue trees to learn about the game's puzzles and plot.Clues and other information are obtained by clicking on items in the inventory and on objects in the environment.Unlike in most adventure games at the time, the protagonist's death is possible, after which the player starts from the last save point.The player controls a character called Rob Foster. Rob was rescued by a tribe of bandits as a child after he was found as the only surviving member of a helicopter crash, on which his mother was also a passenger. He is raised by the tribe and comes to look upon them as his family, learning skills such as hunting and building himself a robot from discarded scraps found in local garbage dumps. They inhabit a barren wasteland known as "The Gap", a deserted area that was once part of the Australian outback, a harsh place where daily survival is a struggle. 6. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: The Graphic Adventure Last Crusade was one of the most innovative of the LucasArts adventures. It expanded on LucasArts' traditional adventure game structure by including a flexible point system—the IQ score, or "Indy Quotient"—and by allowing the game to be completed in several different ways.The point system was similar to that of Sierra's adventure games, however when the game was restarted or restored, the total IQ of the previous game was retained. The only way to reach the maximum IQ of 800 was by finding alternative solutions to puzzles, such as fighting a guard instead of avoiding him.This countered one common criticism of adventures games, whereby since there is only one way to finish the game, they have no replay value.Also, the point system helped the game to appeal to a variety of player types. Some of the alternative fights, such as the one with the Zeppelin attendant, were very difficult to pass, so the maximum IQ was very difficult to achieve. 7.Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis The plot is set in the fictional Indiana Jones universe and revolves around the eponymous protagonist's global search for the legendary sunken city of Atlantis. Sophia Hapgood, an old co-worker of Indiana Jones who gave up her archaeological career to become a psychic, supports him along the journey. The two partners are pursued by the Nazis who seek to use the power of Atlantis for warfare, and serve as the adventure's antagonists.Fate of Atlantis is based on the SCUMM story system by Ron Gilbert, Aric Wilmunder, Brad P. Taylor, and Vince Lee, thus employing similar gameplay to other point-and-click adventures developed by LucasArts in the 1980s and 1990s.The player explores the game's static environments while interacting with sprite-based characters and objects; they may use the pointer to construct and give commands with a number of predetermined verbs such as "Pick up", "Use" and "Talk to".Conversations with non-playable characters unfold in a series of selectable questions and answers.Early on, the player is given the choice between three different game modes, each with unique cutscenes, puzzles to solve and locations to visit: the Team Path, the Wits Path, and the Fists Path.In the Team Path, protagonist Indiana Jones is joined by his partner Sophia Hapgood who will provide support throughout the game.The Wits Path features an abundance of complex puzzles, while the Fists Path focuses heavily on action sequences and fist fighting, the latter of which is completely optional in the other two modes.Atypical for LucasArts titles, it is possible for the player character to die at certain points in the game, though dangerous situations were designed to be easily recognizable.A score system, the Indy Quotient Points, keeps track of the puzzles solved, the obstacles overcome and the important objects found. 8.Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers Sins of the Fathers follows the eponymous Gabriel Knight, owner of a rare book store, and fledgling writer, as he investigates a series of local murders he plans to use as the basis for his new novel.Its story unfolds, mostly linearly, over a sequence of "days", each of which has a required set of actions which must be performed before proceeding to the next day. However, within each day, play may be nonlinear. Throughout the game, a running score is kept as new challenges, both required and optional, are completed.Unlike newer graphical adventure games using context-sensitive cursors that change based on what the cursor is hovering over, Sins of the Fathers uses "dumb icons" or "dumb cursors" so that the correct cursor must be chosen for a specific interaction with an on- screen object. The various cursors are accessed by either selecting the respective icon from the "icon bar" or by cycling through the cursors in a predefined order. The available cursors are: "WALK", "LOOK", "ASK", "TALK", "PICKUP", "OPEN/CLOSE", "OPERATE", and "MOVE". Inventory items can also be used as cursors with the active inventory item also available in the cursor cycle.Also located on the "icon bar" are the "INVENTORY" and "RECORDER" buttons, the active inventory item window, score, and the "CONTROLS" and "HELP" buttons. Clicking on the "INVENTORY" button will open the inventory window, where items can be selected and combined as well as cursor icons that allow the player to use "READ", "OPEN", and "LOOK" commands with any inventory item.The "ASK" and "TALK" cursors differ in their functions. The "TALK" cursor functions as a short, general, interaction with most characters. The "ASK" cursor is available in "interrogation mode" and is only available with main characters. Interrogation mode allows the player to ask the main characters questions by clicking on a topic from the displayed list. Global Topics may be asked of any character and are always present in the lists, while specific topics are unique to each character and are subject to change. Past conversations are accessible through the "RECORDER" button which opens a recorder tapes window that displays tapes for each of the main characters.At certain points during the game, the player is required to translate and send Drum Codes and Voodoo Codes. This is done by either selecting the correct character for the Voodoo code or by selecting the correct sequence for the drum code. 9.Full Throttle Set in the near future, the game's story follows Ben, the leader of a biker gang, who is framed for the murder of a beloved motorcycle manufacturing mogul and seeks to clear his and his gang's names. Players can move the player character to any place on the scene, interact with objects that are highlighted by the cursor, or leave scenes via exits - either on foot for most scenes, or via the character's motorbike, both types denoted by their own icon. As with other LucasArts graphic adventure games of the era, dialogue plays a large part in the game, presenting story elements and information necessary to advance, as well as fleshing out the characters. During conversations with other characters, several choices of dialogue are presented. The currently selected choice is highlighted, and once clicked, the player character responds with the selected choice. Choosing the correct response allows the player to advance the conversation and ultimately advance the scene.Following on from LucasArts' previous graphic adventure, Sam & Max Hit the Road (1993), which introduced a new inventory and interaction system to replace those of their prior games,Full Throttle continued to refine on the changes introduced in Sam & Max Hit the Road: Objects or characters with which Ben can interact are indicated by a red square appearing around the cursor's crosshairs when it is placed over the object. When this occurs, holding down the control on this causes a contextual pie menu to appear - designed upon the emblem of Ben's biker gang: a flaming circle topped by a skull and flanked by a boot and a gloved hand. The player hovers the cursor over elements of the emblem and then releases the mouse button to attempt various interactions with the object; for example, selecting the skull's mouth to speak to a character, its eyes to examine an object, or the hand to pick up, use, or pull the object. Right-clicking anywhere on the screen brings up the player's inventory of collected objects, which can be examined or dragged and dropped in order to use them with other items in the inventory, or with objects or characters in the scene. 10.Sam & Max Hit the Road Based on the 1989 Sam & Max comic On the Road, the duo take the case of a missing bigfoot from a nearby carnival, traveling to many Americana tourist sites to solve the mystery. The player uses Sam to explore the pre-rendered cartoon environments of the game and solve a series of puzzles using a simple point-and-click interface.The game's puzzles have logical solutions, although a number of them have far-fetched solutions due to the game's cartoon setting. Players can set the game's cursor in a particular mode to designate how Sam interacts with the environment: Sam can walk around an area, talk to other characters, look at objects, pick them up or otherwise try to use them.The cursor's graphic changes when it is hovered over an in-game entity that Sam can interact with. When talking to another character, the player is given a choice of subject areas to discuss, depicted in a conversation tree as icons at the base of the screen. In addition to specific topics involving the game's plot, Sam can inject unconnected exclamations, questions and non sequiturs into a conversation.The game incorporates an inventory system for items that Sam picks up during the course of the game. Items can be used on other entities in the game world, or can often be combined with other inventory items to provide a new object necessary for solving a puzzle. Although Max's character will walk around the game's areas by his own will, Sam can also use Max at various points by using an inventory icon of Max's head on game objects—usually on characters where the solution to a problem involves violence.Sam and Max travel to different locations in the game using their black and white 1960 DeSoto Adventurer, which when clicked on in-game will present a map of the United States with all the available locations the pair can travel to shown. As the game progresses, the number of locations on the map increases.In addition to the main game, Sam & Max Hit the Road includes several minigames. Some of these, such as a carnival game based on Whac-A-Mole but involving live rats, must be completed in order to receive new items and further the game's plot, while others, such as a car-themed version of Battleship, are entirely optional as to whether the player uses them.As with the majority of LucasArts adventure games, Sam & Max Hit the Road is designed so that the player characters cannot die or reach a complete dead-end. 11.Simon the Sorcerer The game follows a boy named Simon, who is transported to a parallel universe to embark on a mission to rescue a wizard called Calypso from an evil sorcerer named Sordid. As a point-and-click adventure game, the player controls Simon using the mouse.Gameplay involves moving Simon around and interacting with objects and other characters. The player can make Simon perform actions such as giving an item to another character, talk to another character, and pick up (add to inventory), examine, use, move, consume, wear, or open or close an item. Some actions are binary: they involve two objects and the player sometimes, after telling Simon to use an item, needs to specify what to use it with.A map that enables Simon to instantly transport to a major landmark (if it has been discovered) is provided.The postcard is used to load, save, or quit the game.The game includes parodies of various popular books and fairy tales, including Rapunzel, The Lord of the Rings, Discworld, The Chronicles of Narnia, Jack and the Beanstalk, and the Three Billy Goats Gruff. 12.Simon the Sorcerer II: The Lion, the Wizard and the Wardrobe The Evil wizard Sordid is brought back to life when a magic-book of his is set ablaze and thrown into the middle of a chalkboard pentagram by the father of Runt, a young boy wanting to become a mighty sorcerer. Sordid promises him that he can become his apprentice if he helps him exact his vengeance on Simon.Several months later, Sordid's Fortress of Doom is reconstructed and Sordid has a new robotic body. He sends a magical wardrobe to fetch Simon but it accidentally ends up on the doorstep of Calypso, the wizard Simon had to save in the last game. Simon then starts to look for a fuel called mucusade which he needs to power the wardrobe in order to get home. 13.Flight of the Amazon Queen Flight of the Amazon Queen is a point and click graphic adventure game. It follows a pilot for hire named Joe King who is hired to fly a famous actress to her next job, but ends up in a lightning storm and crashes deep in the Amazon Jungle. In the jungle, Joe uncovers a plot by a mad scientist to take over the world by creating an army of dinosaur women created from Amazon women. 14. Dark Seed Unlike most point-and-click adventure games, which give the player time to explore, many actions in Dark Seed must occur within precise time limits, or the game will end up in an unwinnable state. As a result of this, one must start over repeatedly to win without resorting to a walkthrough. Amiga Format, in its review, stated with regards to Darkseed's gameplay: "Too many things in the game need to be done within a specific time, or in a certain order, and you don't necessarily know when you've passed that 'critical point' after which you're fighting a lost cause. As a result, you often have to play the game several times over, going through scenes you've seen countless times before." Certain events/puzzles rely on the player dying and then learning from there what to do: for instance, on day two, police wait outside Dawson's house in the afternoon to arrest him if he steps outside the front door, with no clue as to their presence until it's too late, resulting in a game over. Similarly, the player must take a painkiller each morning in the bathroom or the protagonist continually complains about a headache after every line of dialogue; there is no hint or indication to do this.The player has three real time hours within which they must complete the game, which is the equivalent of three in-game days. Time can also be passed by using the in-game wait function, and the time can be checked by looking at Dawson's watch, or by inspecting the grandfather clock in the house. At the end of each day, Dawson goes to sleep and upon going to bed, each night he has a nightmare of the Dark World. Dawson automatically goes to sleep at ten P.M. each night, regardless of where the player is. If it becomes night while Dawson is in the Dark World, he will fall asleep and die, resulting in a game over. Dawson is able to access the Dark World on day two upon receiving a piece of a mirror in the mail and re-assembling it with the rest of the mirror, creating a portal to the Dark World. Every room, person and object in the normal world has a Dark World equivalent and this is often necessary for puzzle solving.When interacting with objects, the options available to the player include look/inquire, touch/manipulate, and move, denoted by a "?", a hand, and four arrows pointing inwards respectively. Looking at an object and manipulating an object are context-sensitive: the "?" becomes a "!" when the cursor is over items or areas of interest and the hand icon points upwards when the cursor is over items that can be picked up or manipulated. 15.The Dig In the game, the player takes the role of Commander Boston Low, part of a five-man team planting explosives on an asteroid in order to avert its collision course with Earth. Discovering the asteroid is hollow, Low and two of his team are transported to a long-abandoned complex, filled with advanced technology, on a strange alien world. Low and his companions must utilize xenoarchaeology to learn how the technology works, discover the fate of the alien race that built it, and solve other mysteries to find a way to return home. The Dig is a point-and-click adventure game, where the player, as Commander Boston Low, uses the mouse cursor to point to people, objects, and other parts of the environment to look at or interact with them, collect and use items in their inventory, and talk to non-player characters. The game runs on the SCUMM game engine, and was the eleventh LucasArts game to do so. A minigame can be found on the communicator menu, consisting of "Asteroid Lander", a Lunar Lander like game. During development, there were plans to include role-playing game elements, but these were scrapped before the game's release. 16.Maniac Mansion It follows teenage protagonist Dave Miller as he attempts to rescue his girlfriend Sandy Pantz from a mad scientist, whose mind has been enslaved by a sentient meteor. Maniac Mansion is a graphic adventure game in which the player uses a point-and-click interface to guide characters through a two-dimensional game world and to solve puzzles. Fifteen action commands, such as "Walk To" and "Unlock", may be selected by the player from a menu on the screen's lower half. The player starts the game by choosing two out of six characters to accompany protagonist Dave Miller: Bernard, Jeff, Michael, Razor, Syd, and Wendy. Each character possesses unique abilities: for example, Syd and Razor can play musical instruments, while Bernard can repair appliances. The game may be completed with any combination of characters; but, since many puzzles are solvable only by certain characters, different paths must be taken based on the group's composition. Maniac Mansion features cutscenes, a word coined by Ron Gilbert, that interrupt gameplay to advance the story and inform the player about offscreen events.The game takes place in the mansion of the fictional Edison family: Dr. Fred, a mad scientist; Nurse Edna, his wife; and their son Weird Ed. Living with the Edisons are two large, disembodied tentacles, one purple and the other green. The intro sequence shows that a sentient meteor crashed near the mansion twenty years earlier; it brainwashed the Edisons and directed Dr. Fred to obtain human brains for use in experiments. The game begins as Dave Miller prepares to enter the mansion to rescue his girlfriend, Sandy Pantz, who had been kidnapped by Dr. Fred. With the exception of the green tentacle, the mansion's inhabitants are hostile, and will throw the player characters into the dungeon—or, in some situations, kill them—if they see them. When a character dies, the player must choose a replacement from the unselected characters; and the game ends if all characters are killed. Maniac Mansion has five possible endings, based on which characters are chosen, which survive, and what the characters accomplish. 17.The Lost Files of Sherlock Holmes: The Case of the Serrated Scalpel In November 1888, Sherlock Holmes is engaged by Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard to help with the murder investigation of a young actress, Sarah Carroway. She was killed outside a theatre in the Mayfair area of London. Lestrade thinks the manner of her death shows that this is another strike by Jack the Ripper, but Holmes believes someone else committed the crime. It appears that the victim was killed with an unusual knife, one shaped like a scalpel but with a serrated blade.The investigation takes Holmes and Dr. Watson to many parts of late 19th Century London, including a perfume shop, the zoological gardens, the morgue, a pub, several dwellings, Surrey Commercial Dock, Savoy Street Pier, St Pancras Station, and of course 221B Baker Street. They encounter a number of characters connected to the case and also get assistance from Inspector Gregson, the leader of the Baker Street Irregulars named Wiggins, and the invaluable tracking dog Toby. The player moves around London via an elaborate overview map. Additional locations become available when Holmes finds additional leads. In each location, the player can select nine different verbal options to interact with objects or people. When accessing the inventory menu, the player has three different verbal actions to manipulate any items Holmes has picked up. When talking to people, Holmes has different dialogue options to gain information or try to get their cooperation. Dr. Watson can give his views, which may serve as puzzle hints. He may even help Holmes to perform an action he cannot do alone. Dr. Watson's journal also references the events in the gameplay.The graphics are VGA, with MIDI music and a few scenes with digitalized speech (in the intro and end sequence, and the cutscene at St Pancras Station. In the other scenes there are sound effects, but no speech). The player interacts with the characters through a command menu with verb icons that is intuitive for anyone who had played other adventure games of the period. The 3DO version consists of full voiced dialogue and the portraits of the talkers were replaced by clips with filmed actors, but also drops Dr. Watson's journal feature.In the video clips in the 3DO version, Sherlock Holmes was played by David Ian Davies, and Dr. Watson was played by Laurie Main. 18.Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders The story is set in 1997, 9 years after the game's production. The plot follows Zak (full name Francis Zachary McKracken), a writer for the National Inquisitor, a tabloid newspaper (the name is a thinly veiled allusion to the National Enquirer); Annie Larris, a freelance scientist; along with Melissa China and Leslie Bennett, two Yale University coed students, in their attempt to prevent the nefarious alien Caponians (who have taken over "The Phone Company", an amalgamation of various telecommunication companies around the world) from slowly reducing the intelligence of everybody on Earth by emitting a 60 Hz "hum" from their "Mind Bending Machine". The Skolarians, another ancient alien race, have left a defense mechanism hanging around to repulse the Caponians (the "Skolarian Device"), which needs reassembly and start-up. Unfortunately, the parts are spread all over Earth and Mars. 19.The Curse of Monkey Island The game's story centers on Guybrush Threepwood, a wannabe pirate who must lift a curse from his love Elaine Marley. As the story progresses, he must deal with a band of mysterious pirates, a rival stereotypical French buccaneer, a band of cutthroat smugglers, as well as his old nemesis Captain LeChuck. The Curse of Monkey Island is a point-and-click adventure game. The SCUMM engine was also used in this Monkey Island installment but it was upgraded to a "verb coin" (modelled after Full Throttle), an interface that consisted in a coin-shaped menu with three icons: a hand, a skull, and a parrot, basically representing actions related to hands, eyes and mouth, respectively. These icons implied the actions Guybrush would perform with an object. The hand icon would usually mean actions such as picking something up, operating a mechanism or hitting someone, the skull icon was most used for examining or looking at objects and the parrot icon was used to issue Guybrush commands such as talking to someone or opening a bottle with his teeth. The inventory and actions were thus visible on click, rather than on the bottom of the screen as previous point-and-click games by Lucasarts.The player controlled a white 'X' cursor with the mouse, that turned red whenever landing onto an object (or person) with which Guybrush could interact. Holding left click over an object, whether in or outside the inventory, would bring up the coin menu, while right clicking it would perform the most obvious action with this particular object. Right clicking a door, for example, made Guybrush attempt to open it, while right clicking a person meant talking to him or her. 20.Grim Fandango Grim Fandango takes place in the Land of the Dead (the Eighth Underworld), where recently departed souls aim to make their way to the Land of Eternal Rest (the Ninth Underworld) on the Four Year Journey of the Soul. Good deeds in life are rewarded by access to better travel packages to assist in making the journey (such as sports cars and luxury ocean cruises), the best of which is the Number Nine, an express train that takes four minutes to reach the gate to the Ninth Underworld. However, souls who did not lead a kind life are left to travel through the Land of the Dead on foot, which would take around four years. Such souls often lose faith in the existence of the Ninth Underworld and instead find jobs in the Land of the Dead. The travel agents of the Department of Death act as the Grim Reaper to escort the souls from the Land of the Living to the Land of the Dead, and then determine which mode of transport the soul has merited. Each year on the Day of the Dead, these souls are allowed to visit their families in the Land of the Living.The souls in the Land of the Dead appear as skeletal calaca figures. Alongside them are demons that have been summoned to help with the more mundane tasks of day-to-day life, such as vehicle maintenance and even drink service. The souls themselves can suffer death-within-death by being "sprouted", the result of being shot with "sproutella"-filled darts that cause flowers to grow out through the bones. Many of the characters are Mexican and occasional Spanish words are interspersed into the English dialogue, resulting in Spanglish. Many of the characters smoke, following a film noir tradition; the manual asks players to consider that every smoker in the game is dead. Grim Fandango is an adventure game, in which the player controls Manuel "Manny" Calavera (calavera being Spanish for 'skull') as he follows Mercedes "Meche" Colomar in the Underworld. The game uses the GrimE engine, pre-rendering static backgrounds from 3D models, while the main objects and characters are animated in 3D. Additionally, cutscenes in the game have also been pre-rendered in 3D. The player controls Manny's movements and actions with a keyboard, a joystick, or a gamepad. The remastered edition allows control via a mouse as well. Manny must collect objects that can be used with either other collectible objects, parts of the scenery, or with other people in the Land of the Dead in order to solve puzzles and progress in the game. The game lacks any type of HUD. Unlike the earlier 2D LucasArts games, the player is informed of objects or persons of interest not by text floating on the screen when the player passes a cursor over them, but instead by the fact that Manny will turn his head towards that object or person as he walks by. The player reviews the inventory of items that Manny has collected by watching him pull each item in and out of his coat jacket. Manny can engage in dialogue with other characters through conversation trees to gain hints of what needs to be done to solve the puzzles or to progress the plot. As in most LucasArts adventure games, the player can never die or otherwise get into a no-win situation (that prevents completion of the game).
How a Danish university dependent on corporate America fosters corporate loyalty in students
Students of Roskilde University ("RUC") have no choice but to accept, become dependent on, and support these corporations:
Mathworks Inc (students of statistics)
At RUC there is no escape from Microsoft. Mathworks is only avoided by students who avoid taking statistics.
E-mail service that establishes trust in Microsoft (and how it evolves into loyalty)
RUC has outsourced e-mail service to Microsoft. Students are obligated to access their Microsoft-served e-mail in order to receive official correspondence from school staff. There is no opt-out mechanism. Regular exposure to MS corporate branding in the student's UI establishes brand awareness using freemium. Students become accustomed to the look and feel of the Outlook UI, making them more likely to develop trust and cling to that interface more in the future. It's through repeated forced bonding with Microsoft's UI that leads ultimately to fostered loyalty. The loyalty is deepened further when the student grapples with idiosyncrasies like booking a room because the struggle leads to the user acquiring vendor-specific knowledge. The user is rewarded when their skill with the tool advances as they become more efficient with overcoming flaws and anti-features; as if they filled up a Starbucks loyalty card and got a payout. Unlike a loyalty card these advancements continue rewarding the user as long as they keep using the tool. When the user faces the decision to use an alternate tool they are less inclined to give up the vendor-specific knowledge that has accumulated. So overcoming non-intuitive aspects of a UI actually leads to more loyalty. The university sharpens this effect by trapping the student on the tool. Whereas being outside an organization includes freedom to switch tools anytime a use-case becomes non-intuitive. RUC has disabled IMAP access, thereby crippling students who would prefer a vendor-neutral standards-complying mail user agent ("MUA") or an MUA of a different vendor. Forcing Microsoft's non-standard protocols and favoring Microsoft UIs creates biases that raise the barrier to exit. Diligent motivated users who install Evolution or hack together a davmail proxy can escape -- but these users are a small minority and ultimately still forced to share their email contents with Microsoft and to feed Microsoft's bottom line. And what about independence? If the university can't handle being independent from corporations itself aren't students therefore conditioned to lack confidence in overcoming corporate dependency? When a self-sufficient student or outsider who runs their own residential mail server tries to send an email to an outlook.com/ruc.dk recipient, they are blocked. Microsoft has configured their mail servers to force individuals to be dependent on a corporation for email delivery. RUC has aligned with a corporation who pushes corporate loyalty even beyond the school, dragging outsiders into the Microsoft loyalty program and causing collateral damage to those who don't comply with Microsoft-dictated policy on how email must be transmitted in order for MS to accept it.
Document preparation: Office 365 or Google Docs (LaTeX discouraged)
Students are free to choose their document preparation tool, but professors and supervisors discourage the use of LaTeX. Scientific papers are produced within group projects with supervisors serving as mentors. Some supervisors are reluctant to learn LaTeX or review LaTeX code. Consequently professors urge students to avoid LaTeX to accommodate limitations of supervisors. RUC equips students with MS Onedrive accounts and one writing tool: MS Word, which is supplied with gratis copies of Office 365. This implies that using MS Word with its co-authoring feature and Onedrive is the only approach on which students can expect official school support. Note that Office 365 is unavailable to Linux users who are therefore limited to the feature-poor in-browser Word app should a Linux user end up in a Microsoft-aligned group. Some groups opt for LaTeX (vendor-neutral) and use Overleaf (a service of Writelatex Limited) for collaboration, but this choice comes with risk. If just one student in the group opposes the steep learning curve that LaTeX entails, that student likely already has vendor loyalties that they developed in post-secondary school and they will fight hard to avoid the effort of learning something new. RUC basically has the back of students who resist LaTeX, which bends groups in the direction of a corporate solution that builds vendor loyalty. Google Docs is seemingly the most popular choice. The school discourages use of the most suitable vendor-neutral technology so students gravitate toward Google Docs. All realtime collaboration options (msword, gdocs, latex) have stumbling blocks and idiosyncrasies. The LaTeX variety of issues lead students to learn something useful about the language or text editor, which furthers their knowledge of technology in a generic way that can be useful in the future. The MS Word and Google Docs varieties of issues lead students to learn about workarounds for specific flaws and limitations of those particular tools. This vendor-specific knowledge is not generally portable to other tools. It's without foundation and does not generally form a basis for building more knowledge. It's knowledge that bonds the user to the tool. The increased efficiency of knowing workarounds for vendor-specific tools serve to heighten vendor loyalty. The user becomes less inclined to migrate to a competing tool later because it entails wasting the knowledge that has no other applicability while inviting new issues to tackle.
Proprietary software labeled as "Free Software" helps propagate brand loyalty
RUC distributes gratis copies of licensed proprietary software under the heading "Free Software". "Free" has two meanings in English: freedom and gratis. The software industry specifically assigns "free software" special meaning: software that gives the user freedom. The software offered by RUC under this heading is quite the opposite of the industry-accepted term. Microsoft Office 365 and Matlab are commercial proprietary binary blobs that deny students the academic freedom of looking at the source code. The distinction between gratis and freedom when discussing software is paramount. RUC's use of the term misinforms the students they are tasked with educating. Use of the word "free" has a bigger problem: it's one of the most powerful forces in neuromarketing used to manipulate consumers according to Dan Ariely's study published in Predictably Irrational. RUC has refused to correct the heading on their English website from "free software" to "gratis proprietary software". RUC is exploiting the persuasion of the word "free" to maximize the number of students who will install software that will induce brand loyalty.
Research material jailed in corporate walled-gardens of Google and CloudFlare
Copenhagen housing crisis and Facebook's role in it
There is an acute housing shortage in the whole Copenhagen region resulting in apartments with waiting lists as long as five years. There is also a shortage of on-campus university-administered student housing that's so severe that Roskilde University has restricted the units exclusively to exchange students. Permanent full-time students are ineligible for these rooms. The school provides no service to help the 8000+ permanent students secure a place to stay amid the shortage. Students are given no information about how to directly get in contact with owners of apartments in close proximity to the university. RUC publishes a list of commercial profit-driven brokers who charge students a fee for helping with the hunt for housing or roommates. In some cases the fee is not based on placement so a student could pay fees to simply communicate with a prospective roommate or landlord without actually acquiring housing - which is a very likely scenario. Students are made dependent on a dozen or so private corporations before school even begins. RUC pays a premium to one of them ("Housinganywhere") to give RUC students VIP treatment (which in this case entails answering e-mail from students), and Housinganywhere falls short of responding to e-mail. These brokers have no obligation to get a student a booking. Students often arrive homeless or become homeless mid-term. This illustrates the inherent problem of outsourcing to private corporations something as essential as student housing particularly when resources are severely limited. The brokers' objective is to maximize profit not maximize student placements. One of the brokers charges nothing to the students but designed their website to deny service to students who don't have a CPR number (a number that can only be acquired after establishing a residence), so students entering Denmark for the first time are blocked from using the one broker who charges them nothing. Another corporate artifact is age discrimination. Some buildings try to cater for students and to keep the rentals marketable to students they impose an age limit. Every "dorm" in close proximity to RUC imposes age restrictions so older RUC students are pushed out of the city to suit corporate policy. RUC and the housing specialists and brokers RUC endorses have come up short. Enter Facebook. Facebook is the hack by which students find housing. Facebook secures student loyalty in this case not by clever marketing but simply by actually serving as a hack to an otherwise ill-served need.
Facebook invasion into official school communications
Of all the corporations RUC fosters loyalty for, Facebook is the most insidious. Facebook is a cocaine addiction compared to others. Copious articles try to help people break away from Facebook. The stranglehold of Facebook loyalty has driven Cornell University to study it. Facebook is used to make announcements to RUC students and the internal website is littered with Facebook references. In particular, there are social events that are officially school-sanctioned which appear exclusively on Facebook. Some might say "fair enough" because social events are non-essential and purely for entertainment. However, RUC has organized all the coursework around group projects. A culture of social bonding is considered important enough to justify having school-sanctioned parties on campus. The organizers have gone as far as to strategically separate student parties and to discourage intermingling across the parties so that students form more bonds with the peers they work with academically. Social bonding is a component of the study program. Announcing these social events exclusively on Facebook creates an irresistible temptation for non-Facebook users to join. It also destroys any hope of existing FB users who want to break away from Facebook from doing so. Students without Facebook accounts are naturally in the dark. Facebook non-patrons may be able to catch ad-hoc hallway chatter about school events but this is a reckless approach. When the official class schedule is incorrectly published students who discover the error in advance announce it on Facebook. Facebook then stands as the only source of information for schedule corrections, causing Facebook non-patrons to either miss class or show up for a class that doesn't exist. Unofficial student-led seminars and workshops are sometimes announced exclusively on Facebook. These workshops are optional but academic nonetheless. Sometimes information exists on the school website and is duplicated on Facebook. The information becomes very well buried on the poorly organized school website because the maintainers are paying more attention to the Facebook publication that they assume everyone is reading. Specifically the study abroad program has two versions of the document that lists all the foreign schools for which there is an exchange program. One version is obsolete showing schools that no longer participate. Both versions appear in different parts of the website. The schedule of study abroad workshops is so buried that a student relying on the school website is unlikely to know that the workshops even exist. Removing the Facebook distraction would perhaps mitigate the website neglect. RUC does not instruct students to establish Facebook accounts. There is simply a silent expectation that students have them. Some of the above mentioned problems can come as a surprise because Facebook excludes non-members from even viewing the content, so non-patrons don't even have a way to see what kind of information they are missing. There is an immense undercurrent of pressure for RUC students to become addicted patrons of Facebook's corporate walled-garden.
VPN depends on GSM
RUC's VPN service requires two-factor authentication ("2fa), and the possession factor is met exclusively by SMS messages. There is no opportunity to opt-out of 2fa and no possibility to use an alternate mechanism. Phones and service are also not provided. This forces students into the marketplace to buy phone equipment when most phone vendors have a long history of unethical conduct. Many GSM service providers have the same problem. If a student can manage to find non-controversial hardware and service they are still subject to needless tracking that's inherent in GSM technology while being pushed into establishing loyalty for the corporation, baited by the lower pricing of phones and plans that are marketed with contracts. A student should be able to reject all GSM hardware and service vendors without being denied access to the RUC's VPN service.
The FabLab uses Telegram Messanger. Offering to collaborate through a service like this is an advancement away from corporate dependency in principle because it enables voice communication without GSM service. However, Telegram is centralized and requires users to disclose their mobile phone numbers (which they may not have) just to register for an account even if it's only going to be used on a desktop. Some Telegram competitors have figured out how to offer gratis account registration without imposing GSM service on the user.
The statistics class is structured around MATLABtm, which cannot be installed without registering at Mathworks website (under Dynatrace tracking mechanisms), signing click-through agreements, and disclosing an email address. The email address is later used to promote Mathworks' products and to ask students to help Mathworks with product promotion to others. Students would normally be charged for a MATLAB license but RUC pays a high premium to ensure students pay nothing. This creates a brand awareness using freemium scenario. Mathworks marketing tries to draw students to more Mathworks products. Students have little choice but to become entrenched in acquiring vendor-specific knowledge on MATLAB to get through the class. This creates a bond and potential to manifest into brand loyalty.
Microblogging centralized on Twitter - loyalty required (new section)
RUC uses Twitter exclusively for microblogging. Without a Twitter account students are only permitted to read RUC's timeline and cannot participate in any discussion. Students must become loyal to Twitter Inc. if they want to participate in RUC's microblog. Twitter registration requires Tor users to have a phone number and to disclose it. This forces students to either expose their IP address to Twitter for their records or to trust Twitter with their phone number. Both situations compromise anonymity and as a consequence chills speech. Students are also forced to agree to Twitter's one-sided non-negotiable terms before they can communicate with RUC. Twitter is a private corporation with ultimate authority over which students may talk to their school and what they can say. Twitter has a right to refuse service to anyone for any reason, and they use it. My account was locked because (apparently) using an API over Tor is (falsely) treated as robotic use. So here I am among the public with the need to communicate with my public school, and this private corporation has blocked it. RUC gives Twitter this power.
If RUC wants to foster independence from sketchy corporations and enable students to boycott unethical players:
RUC needs to replace..
outlook.com mail server
in-house mail server, IMAP service (perhaps consult UCLA for guidance)
MS Office 365
shell accounts on vendor-neutral OS, version control, emacs+Rudel, Gobby or the like, LaTeX, LyX, Libreoffice
non-CloudFlared sources if they exist, otherwise show an apologetic warning of GDPR breach next to the CF link & state where to complain
"Free Software" website heading
"Gratis Proprietary Software"
(†) actually Copenhagen Library needs to do this, not RUC. (‡) RUC does not push students to use Google Docs; inertia brings students there. RUC should guide students away from that particular privacy-hostile walled-garden.
My read on Torment, and maybe yours too [SPOILERS]
TL;DR at the end I beat Torment: Tides of Numenera (TTON) Friday night, and I gave myself some time to digest it before writing about it. But I knew I wanted to write about it (comprehensively) and see the reactions and insights from this community about it. Some background: I'm a big fan of Numenera. I own every book, I've read every novella, I even have the tshirt (it's from Red Bubble and very soft, I recommend it). It's my favorite setting, and one of my favorite tabletop system. I'm also a big fan of Planescape: Torment (PT), though I'll admit I never fully finished it until almost one year ago. I think we can all admit it's an incredibly dense game that isn't easy to get into. Oh, by the by, expect spoilers for TTON and PT here. I'm not going to tag it because that feels like a waste of time. I didn't expect TTON to be like PT. PT hits you in that rare way that only a good book can. Seeing the Nameless One (TNO) at the end pick up the axe and head off into the endless war, you just gotta take a walk for a second. It's like you're dead but don't quite know it yet. It's like finishing a damn good book, like I said. TTON has a lot of aspects to it that are PT-esque. But it's missing the soul. I don't necessarily blame the writers, this is Numenera's biggest issue as well. It's an interesting setting, but it's also very cold and stale. It's missing real humanity or drama. It's like taking all the cool sci-fi ideas in Dr. Who or Rick and Morty and removing the human drama. It mistakes the interesting hooks of those series for the staying power and enjoyment, when in reality it's the study of human drama against wild sci-fi ideas that makes the genre so prolific. I don't want to talk about the mechanics because that's been covered already and honestly, if anyone cared about mechanics then Earthbound, Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines, Fallout: New Vegas and their ilk would not be considered classics. When you've got a good story, no one cares about bugs or the UX. Also, this isn't a review of the game, more of an autopsy. I enjoyed it, I'll play it again. I suggest anyone interested in game narratives play it. This is more of an autopsy, because poking through the remains of the cold corpse that is this game I've consumed is interesting to me, and feels at home with the overall vibe of the game anyway.
The Big Question
To start with, let's talk about the catalyst, which is the theme of the game. PT had "What can change the nature of a man?", TTON has "What is one life worth?" I think this is the start of everything, and the start of how the game's narrative was hamstrung. A lot of thought went into this question, you can see it for yourself on page 6 of the Explorer's Guide to Numenera splat. Doing the reverse of PT is a clever approach, but it isn't a question that's all that compelling. PT's question has many answers and none of them are completely satisfactory. TTON's question is only relevant given context, and even then the answer is rudimentary. A life is worth a life, no more no less, the real question is if you as a person can fairly decide in the heat of a tricky choice. Much like those tired train car philosophy questions with "no easy answer". The answer is actually easy, it's just the one being questioned is put into a tight spot having to decide the fate of one life or many. PT's question in contrast is one that's deeply personal, which works because PT is a deeply personal game. By making the big question an external (and tired) generic moral question, TTON is forced by its theme to consider everyone else, rather than the self. Yet ironically the internal "struggle" of The Last Castoff (TLC) is presented front and center, and bookends our adventures into TTON. PT is afforded the full gamut of answers to its question, while TTON winds up being a binary pursuit. Sure, your reasons can be multi-faceted, but in the end it's a choice between helping the many or a few based on a binary metaethical question. Aside from setting up TTON to be at odds with the framework of PT which in turn is copied into the DNA of TTON's storytelling, this approach presents a second problem. Namely that it does not make for a good story. The reason people turn to storytelling often is to experience things an individual might not experience and learn from the mistakes of the main character. PT does this artfully because the way in which you answer it's question "What can change the nature of a man?" can have profound effects on how you view your own life, it's questions and vague answers are immediately empathetic and understandable. But TTON's on the other hand slips into that moral quandary philosophers have been arguing about for decades because the question preys upon the grey areas of moral obligation. Not to mention all the answers are just parsed out to five single tides, but aren't really questioned in the ending. For a better example of how to answer TTON's question right AND have a pretty baller ending, see Obsidian's Tyranny.
Next I wanted to think about the main difference between the two games that I believe the team writing TTON missed, and in effect missed out on one of the more engaging parts of PT. Namely the fact that PT treats morality and ethics as an external supernatural force. In interviews and discussions about the Tides, inXile mentioned the Tides as this gray atypical approach to a morality system. Similar to DND's alignment chart, but without the hard-edged assumptions of right and wrong. I remember distinctly one of the writers bringing up the NPC Fhjull Forked-Tongue. In fact, it was Adam Heine in an awkward article where he relates each of the tides and sums them up to some character in PT. The irony being that the alignment is a tangible force based on an intangible concept made manifest, while the Tides wind up being the opposite. Forked-Tongue's actions are forced upon him, so it's hard to say that he's inherently charitable because he doesn't mean to be charitable. The irony is the interest here, as he's going against his own nature which is it's own form of torment for him (get it? ehh? ehh?) While the Tides pretty much just force people to do what you want them to do... when the options show up... sometimes? Maybe? In limited ways? What the team failed to understand in creating the Tides system is that treating the alignment system as a real tangible thing is inherently interesting, and creates a world of moral questions and quandaries as you pit Moral Objectivism against Moral Realism. PT removes that level of abstraction by making the intangible tangible. TTON's Tide system is so ill defined and it's gameplay effects are felt so little that it's hard to even have much of an opinion on it other than it doesn't really work. Maybe there's something I'm missing, but bumping against the alignment system is a lot easier to understand and play with. I bet that the writing team went with the Tides after jumping to the (well trod) conclusion that the alignment system has good and evil, of which there's no such thing. But the honest truth is people knew that in the 90s as well, which is why PT works. Making the alignment system tangible creates a criticism of the banal concept of good and evil. Which is strange to think about since many of the major players for PT were on board for TTON.
I don't know how the individual companions in PT were written, but I do know TTON's companions were created in the Obsidian approach. Where each character is created by a single writer and worked on that way. It's why Durance is so unique to the other companions in Pillars of Eternity, or why there are a bunch of ho-hum human companions in Fallout: New Vegas alongside a scary nightkin grandmother and robot dog. Most of the companions in PT were made compelling by contrasting their inner desires against their morals or philosophy or nature. Nordrom, Vhailor, Dak'kon and Fall-From-Grace represent this. All of them suffer in some internal way related to who they are. The characters in TTON suffer from external forces and drives. More on to the point, none of the companions suffer in any way that ties itself to the main theme of TTON. Which is... that feels like a real missed opportunity. I suppose Castillege kind of ties into the theme... If you squint a little. Also, they're all more or less boring humans. I know most of the characters in the ninth world are humans, but there could've been an abhuman, mutant, visitant, varjellen. Hell, maybe even a Nibovian Wife! You want to talk about the value of human life look at them! Each of the companions would be interesting and unique in a different RPG, but when you're in a game series where in the previous title you had a succubus who runs a whorehouse based on mental stimulation and gave birth to a street, you have to up your game a little.
The Last Castoff and The Nameless One
This should be short like the last section. Namely, TNO has internal struggles and is more or less his own being. He can be played in a multitude of ways, but I still got the sense he was a character all on his own. He would pontificate and give his own opinion on a myriad of subjects. Whereas TLC takes on more of the modern RPG protagonist trappings of giving simple answers to questions and allowing the player to express themselves more. Aside from having the effect of the character not being as interesting, it means that mostly TLC is beholden to generic solutions that will later be mapped to the Tides, and (surprise surprise) that means most solutions and answers are either Blue/Gold or Red/Silver. Which, in effect, is morally "good" or "evil", even if they aren't called that. Asking more questions will always reveal more answers which always reveals the preferred "Good" choice or gold. But being a short jerk with people results in red/silver. I think there were two times when the option I chose which I assumed would be gold turned out to be red. Or red/gold. And only occasionally indigo. I'm going to bring back Tyranny a moment to use as an example. Since Tyranny is an "evil" campaign, none of the solutions are ever really good, but rather you're guessing at which solution is chaotic, lawful or neutral (justice). Each solution is a kind of justice, but the larger political implications of your choices are more important than the moral ramifications. A chaotic choice can be justified if it furthers your goals while protecting the interests you deem important at the same time.
Weirdness for Weirdness Sake
To be fair, this is an issue with the tabletop setting as well. The setting is full of weird things, and often leans on oddities to create some interest. But just having weirdness for weirdness sake is tiring and gets old quickly. Not to mention it makes no sense. Much like the Fallout games where apparently hundreds of years have passed and yet no one has bothered to sweep the floors. The Numenera are strange and weird, but how is it sensible that nine worlds (and maybe more) have come and gone and no one cleaned up anything in between? If there's a neat floating orb that sings that was created in the second world, then why does it exist has discarded in a building that might've been created in the fifth? It's not like I can walk down the street and trip on a native american clay pot. The excess of weirdness means that everything needs to be weird, cthonic and alien. And while every encounter in PT was certainly weird, there was a limit to the level of weirdness. None of the strange qualities of PT manifested as Lovecraftian non-euclidian cotton candy or anything. An eyeball may be a key to another dimension, but you could fully understand that the eye was a key, not a vaguely described goo that takes three paragraphs to talk about until you finally (maybe) understand as a key. This is an issue that has been largely covered before, but I wanted to discuss it from an additional angle. That being that TTON is way overwritten when it comes to descriptions. The writing in PT was more truncated and punchy, instead of struggling to describe how this form of headache is different from that other headache you had five minutes earlier. And I am aware I am complaining about overly long descriptions in a post that's full of overly long descriptions.
TL;DR: OK asshole, what are your solutions?
First, make the big question something that speaks of an internal struggle with multiple answers. In fact, I see no reason why "What can change the nature of a man?" couldn't be the question again, but using the setting to contextualize that question differently. Love, regret, revenge and fear are all good answers, but TLO's loves, regrets, vengeance and fears are unique to him. A context could be written around TLC. Second, get rid of the coy playing around with moral objectivism. You either throw away the moral choice book (The Witcher series, Tyranny, Fallout) or you put it front and center and break it (Planescape: Torment). Everyone should know about the Tides and what they represent, and they shouldn't be colors but the actual names of the concepts they represent. Maybe people color themselves based on the colors they feel represent who they are, but contrast that against who they may really be. A brutal warlord may dress himself in indigo and gold thinking that he's a charitable but fair ruler, when in reality he's an amoral tyrant. Contrast and internal struggle will make your story interesting, not forcing someone to not be a dick because you picked the gold option a lot. Everyone on the writing team contributes to the companions, and they all need to be interesting internally as people and externally as concepts. You're working against a lewd floating head, why should I care about Matkina? Don't be afraid to make The Last Castoff a unique person with his or her own desires. Let the options be variances on a theme, instead of a blank slate for the player to roleplay through. Cut out the weird weird weirdness of the Numenera setting. Dial it back a little. Check out how Adventure Time, Rick and Morty, Dr. Who or Samurai Jack can have an alien futurescape with all sorts of cool stuff but still make sense. No one cares about the purple goo that lets you see the ghost dimension, they care about how that purple goo got the local flower girl in touch with her estranged (now dead) aunt. Ok, I'm done and out of whiskey now so...
Off Base Once in awhile, when the stars align, you are allowed off base in AIT. Since I was a barracks rat, this prohibition on fun didn’t really affect me all too much. Fort Gordon, for those of you blessed enough not to know the area, really offers only three venues for soldiers – the mall, the tattoo shop, and the bar. There are eateries on base - a Waffle House, Popeye’s and a Taco Bell, but they usually involves people who outrank you. I am an E1, everyone outranks me, no thanks. The mall is where you go to see Privates in the wild. If you’re ever around an AIT base, you’ll know it in a heartbeat. Go to a mall on a Friday around 6.30 and sit down in the food court. About five minutes in, you’ll see what you swear is a community college brochure come to life. You’ll get a black guy in a Bulls jersey joking with a white guy in cowboy boots, with an Asian guy in a button-up right behind. There are no “work-friends” anymore. Training is temporary, and time out is oh-so limited, so friends are your fellow soldiers, period. One thing the commercials get right is the diversity in the Army. One way diversity shows up is how everyone dresses. Everyone’s got their own style, and when you’re “back on the block” you usually hang out with people with the same clothing style. Thing about the Army is, you have no idea what people wear other than the uniform. I honestly forgot jeans were a thing until after Basic. As such, you make friends without knowledge of their style - almost like we’re human beings. Normally, if you approach me in a Tap Out shirt, cargo shorts, a backwards hat, flip flops and some sort of ill-fitting costume jewelry, I might avoid you. I’m sorry. Likewise, if you are just vehemently anti-flannel, we might have to be in different social circles – it is what it is. No love lost. So, the Augusta Mall, about ten minutes by taxi out of the gate, was where these packs of wild enlisted would roam - always in threes. Now, this mall had the typical amenities - a Gamestop, clothes and sporting goods stores, a food court and around seven Lids stores. Seven. One style I inexplicably picked up in the South was wearing those flat-billed hats - truly one of my biggest regrets in life. To be fair, I shaved my head every two weeks, so stupid hats made me look a bit less like a skinhead. The real problem arose when I maintained this haircut after getting home, because I’m a cheap bastard. It wasn’t until a woman pulled her child out of an aisle I was shopping in I that I connected the dots - shaved head, blue eyes, leather jacket, motorcycle hel- … ohhhhhhh shit. Nobody ever told me either, they had me looking like the Nazi Youth for a solid year. Anyway, that’s the mall. However, the Augusta Mall, like all shopping centers around military bases - cater to stupid eighteen year olds with lots of cash. Now, everyone loves payday. For most of the world, it’s the time you can pay off enough of the bills to keep the lights on and buy yourself a celebratory Happy Meal. For soldiers, all Hell breaks loose. Now, we’ve established my conservative tendencies, but most of the armed forces does not agree with my frugality. We live on the “edge,” and most motherfuckers spend their paychecks on weekends and lady friends – I can’t blame them, honestly - nothing beats some good ol’ fashioned,booze-fueled, consensual sex. I understand it now, I didn’t then. Now, as an E1, you're looking at maybe $600 a paycheck on the first and fifteenth. This is big money for a guy whose only previous job experience involved directing parking every summer at county fairs. One thing about my upbringing, is that I’ve never been “rich.” Of course, I always had food to eat, and a roof over my head, but that’s because my parents worked multiple jobs, and undeniably busted ass for us kids to get where we got. Being raised in this environment though, meant that you’d grow up to be frugal motherfucker – which I am to this day. I spent about 15 dollars a week during training, and came home with 10 g’s. Some guys were broke by day three. Why? Because we’re fucking kids, that’s why. I had a roomie buy a 600 dollar knife, multiple times. Privates were buying cars, and jewelry, and whatever the fuck else teenagers buy. Meanwhile, I was shaving my head every two weeks to save the seven dollars from the barber. My biggest purchase? Skyrim, the day it came out, and I was entirely too stressed over the purchase … with thousands in the bank. There’s a reason you find a lot of homeless vets - there’s not a ton of fiscal training, and the only repercussion for spending all your cash in Active Duty is not being able to go out anymore - rent and food is paid for. Anyways, at least partly responsible for this financial shitbaggery are the predatory merchants everywhere around bases. The worst are car dealerships - offering you automatic loans solely for being in the military. The problem that many of my fellow soldiers discovered is that while twenty bucks a month for an iPad may seem like a good idea, the final price was somewhere around 2500 bucks - the Mustang everyone somehow buys winds up being in the 60’s. Plus, attractive chicks aggressively try to sell you jewelry “for your girl back home.” Even outside of the PX, there’s a couple guys trying to sell you a fucking claymore sword with your “family crest” on it for about a thousand dollars. A claymore, for those of you who haven’t seen Braveheart, is a 5-6’ two-handed sword. Where they thought we’d be stashing these massive melee weapons I don’t know. One kid actually bought one, and when he tried to bring it up into the barracks, he was sent directly to the post office to send it home. If they don’t let us keep Swiss Army knives in our rooms, I don’t know how he thought they’d let this William Wallace monstrosity through the doors. Whatever, this was shopping, one of the three venues. The next hotspot was the tattoo parlor - there are more tattoo shops around an Army base than Starbucks in Orange County. Trust me on this. There’s a few ways to tell someone’s in the military when they’re outside of uniform. If they are really playing up the “Army” aspect at a bar, you’ll probably catch some dog tags around their neck – you’ve found yourself a Private. Just as obvious, for males, is the haircut. Again, if they seem to be surrounded by people with similar haircuts, but in vastly different clothing styles, you might have a winner. If you’re in California and hear a country drawl, there you go. When that fails, check for that tattoo. Tattooing is almost synonymous with enlisted soldiers. It’s a rite of passage. Having one bad tattoo, bringing home a “4,” waking up hungover and missing pants – everyone’s got a story. I, of course, wanted to be no different. As soon as you graduate Basic, you have a honeymoon period with the Army. You’re a “real soldier” now, part of the team – completely unjaded. 18 year olds also find themselves with some real dough for the first time in a while. What does unbridled patriotism, a heightened sense of toughness and a couple thousand dollars equal? A tattoo. A terrible, terrible tattoo. For a lot of reasons, the Army is like high school. The jocks (infantry) look down on the junior varsity (other combat arms) who finally look at everyone else like they’re the founding members of the Scrabble Club. As the founding member of my high school’s Scrabble club, it was offensive, but entirely deserved. Another high school attitude in the military is that being too “in to” something is lame. Unlike that kid who only watched anime and ran through the halls with his wheelie backpack, you gotta blend in. The problem is, is that tattoos are supposedly a permanent art form. The thing is, when you were drunk on “hooah,” all these privates went out and got the American flags, the Iwo Jima picture, maybe an eagle. Now, there are tons of excellently done patriotic tattoos. However, some are essentially the “tribal tattoos” of the Army. “One shot, one kill” for example. You’ve got “Death before Dishonor.” One poor kid got the whole soldier’s creed on his ribs. But none hold a battery-operated church candle to one proud private. Down his arm, from shoulder to elbow was “Hooah!” in Army script. I’m sure he regrets that now. Be smart about your ink everybody. So, about four or five times over the months of AIT I’d go with a buddy while they got tattoos. Of course, I was pretty uncomfortable in the tattoo parlor we frequented - the dude at the front literally had flames tatt’d from his eyebrows to the back of his head, with spacers in his nose. You weren’t finding the social upper crust in downtown Augusta, that’s for sure. Anyways, some guys get tattoos as often as people go to the movies - with the same amount of forethought. “Wanna see a movie?” “Yeah!” “Wanna get tatted?” “Sure!” So I had my sleeve-length tattoos all drawn out - yeah, sleeves. Plus I had all the upper arm and chest tatts I drew on myself once in Sharpie - It took a week to wash off, and I had to be careful no one saw me in the shower, because that’s how you get nicknames. At the end of the day, I ended up bitching out, which I’m glad I did, or else I’d be explaining a few lewd tattoos to a grandkid a few years down the line. The third venue that we trainees frequented was the bars. I never went - I hadn’t so much as sipped a beer until my first time home on leave. However, it was always evident who went out during the recall formation. Every weekend night, there would be an accountability formation held at 11 PM, and you had to have your ass back there. Warning - here comes a rant. We weren’t allowed weekend passes like other companies, couldn’t buy a vehicle like other companies, and couldn’t live off post like other companies - despite these privileges being authorized by the Post Commander. Now, I have yet to be disparaging about any officers, because that’s not how I do things. Thing is though, in training companies, officers are attached there temporarily - so they don’t really give a shit about their soldiers since they are already on their way out the door. The problem with this is that officers will arbitrarily restrict soldiers’ activities in order to make themselves look good. It was constantly brought up that our company had no drug, alcohol or violence issues in something like 500 days - a battalion record for which the CO, not the soldiers, got the recognition. While the CO got another bullet point on the performance review, all 300 soldiers slowly went stir-crazy at our confinement. My battle buddies from other companies were having hotel parties,or driving home for the weekend. while we stood in the cold for role to be called. Rant over, but it was some real horseshit. To all future leaders, look out for your soldiers, and your soldiers will look out for you. We’re not stupid, we know when you’re playing games. Anyways, because soldiers drink like … soldiers, half the company was blitzed out of their minds at recall. I normally had no issue with this - do what you do. The issue came about when drunk people, as drunk people do, decided to run their mouths at inopportune times. Before you were allowed to head inside the barracks, an alphabetical roster had to be read through and then your ID had to be checked at the door. The poor bastards at the end of the roster knew their time wasn’t coming for a while, and so would chatter and yell through the whole thing. Some duty sergeants - pissed that they didn’t get to be buzzed on a fine Friday evening, would stop role entirely until the commotion died down - it didn’t. They’d yell “Abner” or “Alvarez” and the peanut gallery would scream “AWOL!” or “He’s dead!”and laugh and laugh. By the third or fourth name, the especially ornery NCO’s would put everyone in the front-leaning rest until it was over. All in all, weekend bed check normally took an hour at the earliest, up to two at the worst. So, I’m “M,” middle of the pack regardless. I’d go inside, brush my teeth, and watch a little TV in my room, then rack out. The inebriated folks would run through the hallway screaming, or kicking in doors, or lighting shit on fire until the duty NCO came upstairs, yelled, and sent everyone to bed. This was life for nine months. My weekends usually went a bit differently than the drinkers. Now, I’ve since had my “drink, get into shenanigans and generally live an entirely unsustainable lifestyle” phase. Hell, I lived in a frat house. I’m 23, and if I make it to 30, it is a gift from God. Anyways, my AIT Fridays, in contrast, were some depressing shit. There’s no food allowed in the barracks – none. Seriously, Sergeants would open ceiling tiles and flip lockers to find some Poptarts (Hint - hide them under layers of civilian clothes or in ziploc bags in the latrine ceiling.) Fortunately, about a hundred yards away from our barracks was the “IET” Initial Entry … something, essentially a rec room with a pool table, a couple tv’s, a coffee shop and a mini Domino’s Pizza inside. I was a regular, because NCO’s weren’t allowed in - not that they’d want to be in there anyway. I had a very rigid weekend schedule. Fridays, we got off at five, so I went to chow with buddies, returned to watch How I Met Your Mother until 8, then off to the IET to buy cheesy bread and a Sprite. Return by nine, watch a movie until recall, then sleep. Everyone else got their drink on while I patiently waited for Ted and Robin to hook up. I finished that show four times - this was before the horseshit final season. It was one of the only shows on my hard drive. Saturday and Sunday I’d form up at nine, and get that beautiful breakfast chow, Now, it’s a proven fact that breakfast food is the best food. If Ron Swanson says it, you live it. Breakfast is the best part of the Army - by far. Maybe it’s just so we don’t have even more reason to kill ourselves, but, again, Army food isn’t bad. Seriously. So, every day we’re not in the field you get some powdered eggs, some bacon or sausage, and biscuits or something - they even had some fancy parfaits if you were feeling especially dainty. Bomb-dig spread there, Army. Plus, I’d fill a couple cups with ice, then throw the coffee on, mix in some chocolate milk - boom. You’d think I was Bobby Flay for thinking of making iced coffee. There was no rational reason for missing breakfast chow. Plus, you knew that PT is over for the day, and that makes the occasional pancake so much better. After lunch, it was either the mall or the px, be back by dinner, watch a movie, then get to recall. I was a real party fucking animal. This would go on for months. Nine sad, long, unchanging months. I stopped going on Facebook because people back home having fun made me sad. Not quite sad enough to kill myself though, that would be another guy. The Classroom When we weren’t busy raking lines in dirt, eating breakfast, or killing ourselves, we went to class. This was the entire point of being at Gordon - learning our specific job. Really it’s where we spent months in a windowless room with computers, only to venture outside to step inside bigger computers with satellite dishes. Before you ask, there was no internet on the computers, and we could not have our phones on us from 7 AM until 5 PM. For the thousands of hours I spent in Sierra training, I have almost nothing funny to contribute - it was by far the most brain-numbingly boring activity I think one can complete. They spent a week teaching us binary, for really no fucking reason. It took me about a month of class before I asked when we’d learn about the drones my recruiter had promised me, and the instructors laughed their asses off. It was then that reality sank in - I was in for a rough year. My job, as a 25Sierra, is essentially being the Army’s wifi - I turn on my equipment, hit a few buttons, and blam, I’m done. Really, the training could have been thoroughly completed in two weeks. The shit we were trained on - for months - isn’t even in use anymore. I got to my unit after training and they said they hadn’t used the equipment I’d been trained on for over a decade. Half our training was on “satellite theory” - as if we fucking needed to know about geosynchronous orbits and signal polarity to make the antenna autotrack. I got so bored I created a lavish beach scene out of router connections and modems on the training module - I spent three whole days on it - until I was discovered and smoked accordingly. They were even less impressed when I made the giant robot attacking it the next day. I’m hoping it’s still lurking in some database somewhere in the schoolhouse - I put a lot of work into it. I think the most important lesson learned in the schoolhouse was the danger of wearing civilian clothes, as an instructor, to the schoolhouse. We had one instructor, who thought he was the House, MD of satellite communications. He was always yelling, and tried his damndest to ensure that we, the peasants, feared him. He was moderately successful with his ruse until he showed up on his day off, and we lost all respect for this dude. There he stood, with some Beatles glasses, a billowing Red Wings jersey, baggy cargo pants, and TOE SHOES. Yeah, those goofy fucking toe shoes! Man, it was tough to listen to the guy after that. Note to all you future leaders out there - stay in uniform. I'm not sure how it worked in other training schools, but in AIT, when we got to class, we had to form up and sing the "Army Song," “The Signal Corps March,” and recite the "Soldier's Creed." Every day. This daily routine is performed by a soldier pulled - at random - from the formation. Now, this was before my vocal smart-ass phase, so I was not on the leadership’s radar. (Instructors at the schoolhouse are different from those who are responsible for you at the barracks. Think of your grumpy landlord versus an equally alcoholic professor.) So, since I was Non-Descript White Private #6, I blended in. I hadn't said a word to any of the instructors outside my classroom, so they didn't know how my voice sounded. This went on until the last fucking day, seriously the last fucking day of class. Out of the blue, I get called up to sing it out. However, the end was in sight - I could see the light. So, I thought, fuck it. Now, due to my complete lack of athletic ability, general intelligence, or prowess with the ladies, I've had to develop a special set of skills. While rescuing chicks on boats and karate-chopping Albanians would be my number one choice, I had to settle for the fact that I can make a lot of different "voices" - my favorite being a pretty good imitation of the old-school Batman narrator. So I take my place at the head of the formation, and I belt out the "Soldier's Creed" in the voice, straight-faced. The soldiers in formation started laughing, but the leadership didn't really respond - maybe this kid is just fucking retarded. I get through all the songs n' such, and it comes time to march us in for another riveting day of bullshit. When you march in a formation ("File from the left, column left!") the first soldier in each line yells something to their line (either "stand fast" or "forward") What these cheeky bastards did was copy my voice as best they could. Not cool guys. And at that moment of realization, the head instructor sprinted over, nose to my cheek, and screamed "What the FUCK do you think you're doing, Private?!" Well, for one, he was the guy walking and talking on his phone in front of everyone’s formation during the Creed. One, walking and talking on a phone isn’t allowed - and this is the fucker that would yell about regulations and stray boot laces. Two, it’s definitely disrespectful to mosey around in front of any formation, anywhere, and it was just the tip of of this guy’s sheer patronizing asshaterry iceberg. I was having none of it. So, with a rogue wave of self-righteous indignation, I screamed back - "I’m using my COMMAND VOICE, Sergeant!" So, he lost his fucking mind, sending everyone scurrying into the building, while screaming at me. He attempted to give me an “Article 15” (an Army punishment that can strip pay and rank - a big deal.) Luckily, my First Sergeant was having none of it and it didn't go through (since apparently Schoolhouse Sergeant didn’t have the authority give me one.) He asked me to demonstrate the voice, which I did, and he thought it was hilarious. Top, if you’re out there reading, thanks for looking out. I’m actually scared to mention you by name, but I hope you’ll find out somehow. Anyway I was now authorized to use my narrator voice when the new Privates were getting in trouble. "Loook ouuuut Privates! Platoon Sergeant's coming! “Meeeaaanwhile, in the hallway!" Plus, the next time we saw Instructor Asshat on a company run, our 1SG made him do push-ups while we jogged in place. A little extreme, but hey, Army is Army. Sometimes I get in trouble even when I don’t open my mouth. Like I said, the Army is super uptight with all the PC stuff. The problem is, is that most current leadership is from the “old Army,” where every non-alcoholic is a “faggot,” and a woman’s worth is based solely on the shapeliness of her ass. So, to compensate, some of the old timers have swung hard to the opposite side of the spectrum. Only some though, the rest go even harder to compensate. Another fun Army rule, is that you can never have your hands in your pockets. Need to grab your keys? Your hand better hurry the fuck up. No dilly-dallying in there either. Is that a limp wrist? Police yourself, Soldier. Anyways, so without pockets, you really do have a limited option for idle hand placement. Usually, you default to “at-ease,” but once in awhile you switch it up. My personal favorite is the “John Wayne.” The JW involves you hooking your thumbs through the belt above your pelvis – it’s comfy and natural, whatever. This pose was completely unacceptable to one random sergeant, as I was once “verbally counseled” for sexual misconduct. The reason? “I was bringing attention to my genitals.” I think the real problem was that a certain staff sergeant’s genitals weren’t getting any attention. Another constant in the Army is good ol’ AR 670-1. This Army regulation dictates all appearances you as a soldier are authorized to have. On and off duty. This includes haircuts, length of fingernails, and the acceptable state of repair of one’s blue jeans (seriously.) Some make sense - dudes can never have earings, you dirty hippies. Some make less sense - no super cool mohawks allowed. Some make no sense - you can not have any object on your dog tag chain unless it is religious. This is a problem, because we need to have our locker keys on us at all times, including in our decidedly haphazardly pocketed PT shorts. Now, the drill sergeants in Basic, being the pragmatic DGAF individuals that they are, instructed us to attach our keys to our dog tags. But oh no, in AIT we had to abide by garrison rules - which means no keys allowed. However, leading a successful insurrection, I drew a cross on my key, thus making it the sigil o’ Christianity. The instructors were less than impressed with my manipulation of the system. This is about the extent of my raging against the machine, but it was a sweet campaign that the bards will sing of for centuries. Slumber Parties with Spiderman Very, very few times in life, being inept can work out in your favor. I cannot make a bed to military standards. I can’t fucking do it. Really, I’m sorry. In Basic, I slept underneath my bed as much as possible. It got to the point in AIT, that I had my room flipped so often for having incorrect hospital corners, they got tired of trashing it, and authorized my ass to get civilian sheets. Now, choosing your own sheets in the real world might not seem like a big thing, but when you’ve been forced to sleep on top of an itchy, wool blanket from World War 2 for 25 weeks, your own comforter is a great thing. Being the immature assholes we are, soldiers never get your typical, adult sheets. Oh, no, we were men in twin sized beds that would never be seen by a woman. So, we got ridiculous. We had guys with Dora the Explorer, Transformers, and Thomas the Tank Engine – I decided on Spider Man. Yes, I would return from a full day and collapse on my crisp, blue, Spiderman sheets. It was truly a great time to be alive. We did have a particular NCO who had one strict rule when it came to our rooms - only one. Because of the longevity of our training, soldiers were able to get to know their NCO’s real well – almost developing a clearly hierarchical, but still sometimes amiable, verbally abusive step-parent relationship. Now, I sure as shit did not, which is for damn sure. They didn’t learn my name in 9 months, and I’m totally cool with that. Sure, a couple knew my face, but also thought my name was “Private.” It worked just fine for me. One of the things about working alongside these fine non-commissioned officers, is you realize that they too, are almost humans. One’s from Texas, one enjoys LARPing, one is a female – real deep shit. One such quirk we realized is that a certain SSG Bueller HATED Pokémon. Absolutely hated anything pocket monster related. Any such contraband would be tossed out of a window. Why? Well, dear reader, poor SSG Bueller had spent 18 months in Iraq in the most hipster way possible – he got there before it was cool. This meant that there were no significant bases, no infrastructure, no massive tents to go watch Shania Twain on her golden guitar. No, this meant, the only thing you could entertain yourself with when not getting shot at was whatever you carried with you. For some soldiers, they carried sketchpads, journals, or letters from back home – real Band of Brothers-type shit. But SSG B was having none of that. Oh no, SSG B had a motherfucking Game Boy, with motherfucking Pokémon Gold. The problem was … that was all he had. I don’t know how to tell you guys this, but a handheld game meant for twelve year olds can be completed pretty succinctly in twenty or so hours – more if you were that one asshole who actually tried to catch them all. Thing is, poor B had this game – and only this game – for a year and a half. Yeah, 500’ish days of a game meant for Japanese schoolchildren. Needless to say, when he got back home, SSG hated anything and everything Pokémon. This was in fact, his only rule implemented, and I quote, “No Pokémon shit.” That’s it. Of course, as the giggling manchildren we were, we thought this request was hilarious. We didn’t take into account that maybe a grizzled veteran wouldn’t like to be reminded of one of his many tours every fucking day while sloughing through another equally-as-shitty Georgia day. No, we wanted to be cute. And so we did - Pokemon sheets, Pokemon dolls, people would even mail him Pokemon dolls after they’d left and we’d laugh and laugh while he died a little bit inside every time. Sorry, SSG B. Hope you catch ‘em all someday. Newbies I have a particularly long MOS, so I was in AIT for around eight, nine months. The thing with training companies, is that there's an influx of new soldiers as soon as an old class graduates. Of course, as soon as I get to the party, it's decided to funnel all the newbies to other companies. This means that there becomes slowly less and less soldiers in my company. This sucks. Why? Well, reader, there's a thing in the Army called "fire guard." This is usually a two, four, or six hour shift of you wrestling errant flames. (Not really, you sit at a desk, and try not to sleep.) The problem is, is that this duty is bequeathed by alphabetical roster. Month by month it got smaller and smaller - by the end, we went from 300 soldiers to 50, split between the day, night, and swing shift. This meant guard duty every night, and cleaning the barracks was a bitch and a half. Luckily, two days before my class shipped home, we got fresh meat. You forget how lost in the sauce you are getting to AIT fresh out of Basic. Where you had every second of every day planned, there was now a bit of leeway. So, like the good soldiers we were, we fucked with them. Another bullshit fact in training is the "bed check." This entails grown-ass men waiting outside their doors at 9PM in order to ask permission to go to sleep. If the duty sergeant starts at the other end of the building, you're fucked. However, the new bloods don't know this - they just see "Bed check 2100 (9pm) for all new soldiers." At 8.55, all of us older cats start freaking out around the privates. "Guys! What the fuck are you doing?! It's almost bed check! You better get down there ASAP!" They freak out and start hauling for the duty desk until we stop them. "C'mon guys, it's bed check! You have to get your mattress cleared your first night in the barracks. Hurry!" So these poor kids all grab their mattresses and one of them even managed to get it out a door by the time sergeant got upstairs. "What the fu- what is this happy horse shit!? Who the fuck are you?! He pops his head in the room to see the new guys confusedly grasping at their twin-sizes “Wait, there's more?! Goddammit!" Anyway, these guys spilled in right before we left on our final AIT FTX. This FTX was to be a five day long FOB (Forward Operating Base) scenario - like” little Iraq.” For the first time, we were mixed with soldiers who weren’t satellite peeps. I thought we were idiots, but apparently, we’re the fucking cream of the crop in the commo community. Some of the people assigned with us were Limas - the guys who essentially just plug shit in. They were at Gordon all of six weeks, and were bitching about how long they were there. These guys were the GED fuckers I thought I’d left behind in Basic. Now, I mean no offense to the Limas of the world, as it isn’t a fair representation of all y’all, but the kids we were stuck with were some real goobers. Anyway, the cadre at the FOB took their job entirely too seriously - trying to be drill sergeants when they weren’t. I guess it made sense for the guys who have only been out of Basic for a month, but for those of us who’d been at Gordon a while, we were thoroughly unimpressed. They screamed and yelled and dumped our shit on the ground, and divided us all into different musty tents. The week comprised of marching around, playing Army, and getting “bombed” every couple hours. Being bombed meant that a siren would play in the middle of the camp, flashbangs would get thrown, and we’d all hustle out to squeeze into some bunkers - simple enough. At night, because some people decided to change clothes for some reason, the only required equipment was your helmet, body armor, and weapon - too easy. Because I am a dirty nasty, I didn’t change for the entirety of the op, because it usually paid off. There were no ladies to impress, so who cared that I smelled like a JV locker room. One night, a buddy and I were coming off guard duty at 2 in the morning, after an exciting “attack” (us two gate guards shooting blanks at bored instructors being “OpFor.”) We hadn’t been fake bombed all night, so I knew for a fact that we were going to be hit soon. I walked into the tent, stripped off my armor, helmet, and blouse (for a pillow) and laid there. My buddy laughed at me for never taking off my boots. Five minutes later, we get “hit.” This was towards the end of the exercise, so they threw tons of shit at us. Explosions and sirens everywhere. I laughed the whole way to the shoddy pallet stack that was our “bunker.” Within two minutes, the rest of the twelve man tent has slid in, in various forms of dress, but with the three required pieces. At least, we thought we had everyone. Private fucking Snarf, a Lima who would lose Trivial Pursuit against a bag of potatoes, was nowhere to be found. An instructor stuck his head in - “You guys up?” (meaning “is everyone accounted for, and uninjured.”) We just stared at him until somebody nodded. He left to check on everyone else. At this point, everyone around the FOB is done hustling and bustling, the siren has stopped, and Snarf still didn’t show up. Then, in the distance, we hear … slapping? But it was getting closer to us. Closer. ...Closer. The dude closest to the bunker entrance stuck his head out, and just whispered “Oh, Goddamnit.” In slides Snarf, wearing just PT shorts, a helmet, and ... flip flops. Nothing else. “Did I miss it?” Ten minutes after the “raid,” the entirety of our bunker stood at attention while Snarf did some push-ups. Whatever, it didn’t matter, because graduation was a couple days away. There was, however, a bullshit scavenger hunt type check list before you were allowed to leave Gordon - including another CIF turn in and even making sure you didn’t have any outstanding fines at the library. Ha - library. I had been in maybe twice, and only then because it was the only spot with wifi. You’d think the Army’s communications headquarters would have some wifi, but you’d be wrong. Our company had three computers with internet in the day room, for three hundred of us. Yeah, welcome to the Army, asshole. Graduation AIT graduation is a lot less pomp and circumstance, and more just an annoyance to everyone. No one really gives a shit, but this is the Army, damnit, so we’re gonna play some brass instruments and put on fancy clothes. The fancy clothes, or dress blue’s, had to have our new ranks sewn on, be pressed and perfect to the centimeter - there were inspections. About two months before, a large group of us E-1s were promoted to E2. Does this change anything? Not really - you are still called “private” and are treated no differently than you were before. However, in AIT, it was a big fucking deal. The rank structure in initial training is so fucked. PFC’s actually commanded respect, and junior privates had to listen. Specialists were just untouchable. In reality, being E1-E4 doesn’t change jack shit - everyone’s mopping the same bathrooms together. This being the case, getting promoted was just the tits. Now, we, as E2’s, got to look down on the peasants that were the E1’s - I think it’s literally the least amount of power that can go to one’s head. We’d call them “fuzzies.” Because E1 has no official rank designator, the velcro patch on their chest would be left blank, or fuzzy. It’s jarring to see one now, It’s been a solid year since I saw a buck private. Anyways, we got the stupid “mosquito wings” sewed on our blue’s for graduation. The ceremony itself was pretty straight forward - you walk across the stage into a spotlight, say your name, MOS, and where you’re headed (I was tempted to say “Fort Couch,” but I didn’t want to push my luck.) Of course, for the slower soldiers, this became a herculean task. Three things guys, three. Plus people got confused on exactly where to stand, so bewildered NCO’s literally ran masking tape arrows across the stage. We had to practice five times. Anyway, so the day before shipping out of Gordon, we had the graduation. There was really only twenty family members who showed up - half of us were flying home the next day anyways. I’m not going to lie, I was excited to march over to the graduation venue that morning. We passed by the chow hall, in our blues, which told all the other companies waiting for grits that we were done. Fuck y’all, we’re out (except for the one poor bastard who got stationed right back in Fort Gordon.) So, we have the ceremony - and yes, people still fucked it up. Afterwards we headed back to the barracks and some people went out to go party for the last time. I did not, because tomorrow was the flight home. So, of course, I spent the night packing, right? Wrong. We had an exit locker inspection to keep us from maybe having a smooth exit the next day. Ship day was nuts. Breakfast, and then we lucky reservists had a brief with the National Guard liaison on what to expect back home, and who to report to as soon as we got there. Blurbity blah blah. The Active Duty members of our class had an additional two weeks of instruction ahead of them. We were not subtle with our smugness. Our Gordon departure times were kept a secret until we got back to the barracks - where we discovered that nine of us had to be on the road in twenty minutes. We had 1200 seconds to pack everything we owned, throw away the rest, and say goodbye to the people we’ve spent 80 hours a week with for almost a year. The bitch of the bunch is you are only authorized two army green duffels for travel - one of which is completely filled with your uniforms, boots, and the like, the second which is also about half full of armyness. Most my clothes, a couple boots, my beloved Spiderman blankets, and a sweet lcd monitor I found in the hallway all got the boot. I gave the monitor to some new Privates, which now that I think about it, is the opposite of hazing. Anyway, the good part is that there wasn’t any time to say a long, awkward goodbye to anyone. Just a quick handshake and a nod with about ten people, then we piled into the van. On the final check-out, my platoon sergeant didn’t even know who I was, despite me seeing him every morning for forever. Whatever, I really didn’t give a shit about him, just my buddies - it was a bittersweet morning. I’ve only seen three guys since - one in Kansas, and two in California, out of the 300 I started with. CONTINUED IN PART SIX
Funny you should say that... we interviewed Jason Statham, and some thing came up about some movies of his that weren't well received, and he said that you don't think you're making a bad movie when you're in the middle of shooting. Cut to three months later, I'm interviewing Rosario Dawson, and she's joking about some of her Tomatometer scores, and I tell her what Statham said about not thinking a movie is going to be bad, and she says "Oh no, I knew that Pluto Nash would be bad" But she said she couldn't turn down the opportunity to work with Eddie Murphy.
We'll get a bunch of links to reviews from critics or sites that don't meet our qualifications.
We'll get asked to change a rotten review to a fresh one, because the review is neutral.
In the case of #1, we'll just say that the reviews don't qualify. In the case of #2, we'll ask the critic if we've scored it right. If they tell us to change it, we will, but we have to hear it from the critics.
2.5/4 may mean fresh to some reviewers and rotten to others. Our hope is that people are actually clicking through to read reviews, rather than basing their entire decision about the score.
We've thought about the possibility of changing things up, but in all honesty, keeping the system mostly simple is probably going to be our best bet. It allows for a level of transparency that we like, where as averaging out scores adds in a lot more subjectivity and reinterpretation than I think we're comfortable with.
Ultimately, we're going to change how our comment threads are set up so that there isn't a thread for each review, and I think that will help a bit. But we're a pretty big platform, and once you hit a certain traffic level, the trolls definitely come out.
In many cases, the critic submits the review with their own rating. But when we pick up the review, sometimes everyone in the office will read it, and if we really can't agree on a rating, we'll ask the critic. But if something's truly neutral, we'll usually mark it fresh; the phrase we use in the office in that case is "tie goes to the runner"
That incarnation of the show if over, but we're trying to cook up some other things. And I'm trying to get Brett and Ellen to come on the Rotten Tomatoes Radio show; I see Brett every week at Current, when I'm shooting What the Flick.
Regarding scores, I think they can be a good tool in the decision making process if you're on the fence about seeing a movie. But if you're dying to see a particular movie, then go see it; it's ok to see (and like) a movie that the critics don't like.
No stock, but total freedom to write and cover what we want.
If I'd had any doubts about that, they were erased the week Dark Knight Rises opened. No one at WB gave me any direction on how to handle the commenter issues, or what to do when the incident in Aurora happened. After that week, we got some feedback from corporate PR that they thought we handled everything well, but at no point did they ask us to do anything differently.
We never heard anything like that while we were part of News Corp, either.
I could go on a huge rant here (I just did on last week's Rotten Tomatoes Radio show), but I'll just say that I don't think there's any justification for texting in theater full of people. You're either too dumb to realize you're distracting others that paid to see the movie, or you just don't care. Take your pick.
There are some people I'd like to see do better movies, like Adam Sandler, but Happy Gilmore and Billy Madison still make me laugh. But there's no one I really hate; I save my hate for people I know personally.
The neutral ones can be really hard to interpret sometimes. Sometimes three or four of us will read the same review to try and find a line that really defines where the critic stands. If we really can't figure it out, we'll ask the critic directly. That comes up a lot with Hollywood Reporter and Variety, where some of the reviews are as much about the box office potential as they are about the quality.
I like to think I'm relatively movie-savvy, but there are plenty of people who know more about the art and the business of movies than I do.
Before I was at RT, I had an online music business that failed (which is why I got back into web-based entertainment journalism) and before that I was at Yahoo Movies. I've been covering entertainment on the web off and on for about 15 years. I started out as a Universal Studios Tour Guide and I think I've taken that training to it's ridiculous extreme.
One movie I really tried to talk up last year was Warrior, and I was really happy to see Nolte get an Oscar nomination. He had a scene in that movie that had me in tears.
Rotten Tomatoes began as a side project for a few employees at a company called Design Reactor in Emeryville, CA. This allowed them to fully develop and take risks with the RT concept. Once it became clear this was going to be huge, the site branched off onto its own.
A lot. One of the coolest things about working at Rotten Tomatoes is that almost everyone in the film industry seems to know who we are and they use the site. I interviewed James Remar a couple of weeks back and he joked about how many bad movies he had on our site.
My favorite was probably interviewing the Broken Lizard guys. I love Super Troopers, and they all said to us "we love you guys, but you HATE us."
I don't think there is that large of a difference, but there are some with a difference of 40-50%. But I think comparing critics scores to user scores is an apples/oranges comparison. Users mostly choose movies they think they'll like, and they're usually right, so most users scores come from a self-selecting pool of people biased towards liking the film. I'm painting in broad strokes here, but the I think the numbers are kind of a false comparison.
Regarding writing reviews to get traffic, if someone's flagrantly doing that, we try and address it. But it's slippery slope - we're not trying to enforce some kind of group think, and if someone can legitimately argue against the popular opinion, that's their right.
I'm not sure what the future holds for movie distribution, but I think we're going to see fewer story concepts get distributed in a theatrical experience as the years go by. But I don't know that it's going to be a sudden tipping point, so much as it will be a slow erosion. I think we're going to end up in a place where most movies are released "day-and-date" - all countries across all media (theaters, TV, internet) at the same time, and movie theaters will be a specialized event experience, like going to a ball game, instead of staying home and watching it on TV.
Yeah, we're planning to move away from having individual comment threads linked to specific reviews, because I think that helps focus the dogpile that happens when someone goes against the majority. We'll have one thread for each movie that will be easier to police.
We've thought about doing something like that, but we suffer from a severe lack of development resources, and it's hard make the case for that level of expense (developer time=money) when other parts of the larger corporate organization have other priorities.
Anyway, that was a decision by the producers, and we didn't have much input on it. But my take is that since Rotten Tomatoes is about critics' reviews, I feel like having professionals was closer to the spirit of the site.
The days vary over the course of the week, because we see most of the reviews come in on Thursdays and Fridays. Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays will be a lot of time planning coverage for the coming weeks, and then going to screenings in the evenings. On Thursdays I do a bunch of radio press appearances, my team is amassing reviews, shoot What the Flick, and then we have Rotten Tomatoes Radio. Fridays have more reviews, more press, and then eventually I go home.
Last updated: 2012-09-10 02:50 UTC This post was generated by a robot! Send all complaints to epsy.
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