Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Revenge Solves Everything

When stealth runs go wrong...
In Dishonored you play a good man brung low by the iniquities of the tyrannous, or so we are told. The truth is, you have options, few of which are entirely suggestive of a good man, but rather offer you a choice between a brutal 'poetic' justice and the razor-edge finality of personal vengeance. The Loyalists who spring you from prison to aid their cause speak of your unique contribution, and given that at that stage you haven't gained the favour of the Outsider yet, there really is only one thing that you, as Corvo Attano, are much better at than almost anyone: Making people into dead people.

I guess it's true what they say about a good man going to war.

The defining characteristic of a run in Dishonored is its level of 'chaos'. To what extent have your actions increased the general shittiness of the crapsack city of Dunwall? The primary factor determining this level is how many people you have killed, be they enemies, civilians or even the barely more-than-zombie weepers in the final throes of the rat plague; corpses mean chaos and chaos means corpses, as more chaos means more rats, more weepers and more death.

So, a low chaos run is the 'good' path, right? Well, sort of. It's probably the better path, overall, but it's not a nice option. As noted before, the nonlethal options are in a lot of ways nastier than honest murder, however much 'justice' may be attached to them. The High Overseer is a corrupt and monstrous hypocrite who uses his 'faith' as a maul against others while violating its strictures for shiggles. Among his crimes are the abduction of children to be trained as Overseers and the murder of a prostitute (or three) he believed to be blackmailing him. There is a certain narrative symmetry in exposing his crimes simply by marking him as anathema to his own order. Likewise, Slackjaw the gang boss will proudly explain how apt his punishment for the Pendleton twins is, having them shipped off as mutilated slaves for their own mines.

Whatever they may have done to deserve these fates, and however much they may avert the increase of chaos in the city, it would take a warped perception indeed to see them as a righteous course. Rather, the point of Dishonored is more that there is no righteous course. As Bioshock Infinite subverted the moral path of its predecessor by presenting choices that were mechanically meaningless and all led to the same deterministic ending, so Dishonored subverts the same expectations by providing equally or more horrid alternatives.

But why, you might fairly wonder, do these acts of horror produce less chaos than a simple kill? Perhaps it is because there is an appearance of social justice, in place of personal vengeance. When you brand Campbell you force the state to treat him as if he had earned the brand (and, as various notes will tell you, he has done.) The disappearance of the Pendletons is more mysterious, but less personal than the discovery of their stabbed corpses in the Golden Cat 'bathhouse'. When the assassin strikes, the city is at the mercy of a lone nutter with a shiv; when shit happens...

I guess that's just Chinatown.

Many articles have considered the question of Corvo's dishonour, and by what standard, if any, his conduct after the prison break can be considered 'honourable'. Some, in particular this article, make the point that while to an 18th/19th century pseudo-British perspective his actions (spying, murdering, witchcraft, trap setting and bomb throwing) are appalling, they adhere rather more to the vendetta code of the Mediterranean, and in particular Italy.

I would like to make a different point, and one only tangentially related to the protagonist's concrete conduct. Consider the discussion on the boat as Samuel returns Corvo and the rescued Lady Emily to the Hound Pits Pub. Samuel praises Corvo for 'doing the business' on the Pendletons. "What business is that?" Emily asks, to which Samuel awkwardly replies: "Grown up business, m'lady."

Emily is the future Empress of the Isles, although she is yet a child, but the Loyalists shelter her from their own actions and arrange for her to be instructed in etiquette while they plan insurrection on her behalf. Is this because she is a child? Perhaps, but perhaps it is because the dishonour is not Corvo's at all. Corvo was never an honourable man, although perhaps he was once a good one. It is the Empire that is dishonoured by the murder of the Empress and the ascendancy of a treacherous spymaster.

We're never actually told whether the late Empress was an effective ruler, but she was the rightful ruler, and Emily is the figurehead of the Loyalists not because she is expected to be perfect, but because she is the rightful heir. Her ascension to the throne is just and proper; it is the honourable thing, however terrible the deeds that lead to it.

Corvo Attano is not a shamed man fighting to regain his honour. His honour, such as it is, was always a bloody and personal thing and no frame in the world could have taken it from him. Rather, he is fighting for the honour of his country, his Empress, and for his daughter figure if not actually for his daughter. Like Serenity's Operative, he is the monster whose deeds bring about a better world than he has a right to live in. He is the scapegoat who bears the sins of all; or perhaps the angel with the fiery sword standing at the east gate of Eden, protecting paradise but ever standing with his back to its perfection.

The Escapist article also notes that Corvo is the weapon of the conspiracy, rather than a member. I would note also that the Loyalist nobles never give Corvo directions on how to undertake their missions. They are King Henry asking who will rid them of a turbulent priest, and none of their doing if the means of ridding are not within the rules of war. Maybe they thought that he would call the Pendletons out properly, as with Lord Shaw and the bizarre duel by proxy, or at least intended to claim so if the awkward questions were ever asked.

This of course begs the question of the nature of Corvo's work for the Empress. He is referred to as her bodyguard, but his skill set is not typical of that profession. His alertness is given no special note, his defensive fighting is of a fairly common standard. As I noted in the opening, what Corvo Attano is good at is taking alive people and making them into dead people. If he protected the Empress it was surely through the knowledge that attacking her could elicit a visit - just one - from the Lord Protector. One wonders if the 'bodyguard' job wasn't just a cover to explain his frequent proximity to the Empress, or if the Lord Protectorship might have been his door to a world of honour; a door slammed in his face when he is forced back to the path of the assassin.

Poor Corvo; was he ever destined to be more than a blade in the hands of an Empress, of a conspiracy, or of a remote and uncaring player? Is the whole game really a comment on the psychology of the first person shooter?

Monday, 15 December 2014

On gaming

A week ago, give or take, I posted the following on G+:

Dear IoD,

I'm pretty sure it's not you; it's me. Well, maybe partly it's you.

My life has changed significantly, to the point where we basically no longer want the same things. I've got a daughter now, and all in all I'm looking for something which requires less of a commitment.

I wish you all the best going forward beyond the reset, but I can't see myself coming with you.

All the best,

The Isles of Darkness have been the focus of my (RP) gaming life for a while now, but it's been an increasingly unsatisfying focus. Now, partly this is due to flaws in the system, partly to flaws in the society and partly to flaws in me; so it goes. Lately, however, it's simply been the fact that I don't have the time for a game that demands weekly attendance to remain 'competitive'*.

Currently, my enthusiasm belongs to my fortnightlyish online games - Agents of CROSSBOW, a Fate Core paranormal espionage game with lashings of ninjas; and a Dresden Files game in which I'm playing a vampire civil servant - and my future involvement in No Rest for the Wicked, a Warhammer 40K LARP with the sole but significant drawback of being mostly run in Scotland.

I've done a bit of soul-searching, and I think that this is basically just a natural progression; a growth process. It's time for something new, and moreover something different.

The IoD was for a while very intense and rewarding, and it introduced me to my girlfriend, the mother of my daughter. I will miss it. But there has also been a lot of frustration that I won't miss and I dearly hope that I will not lose contact with the people I've met in the IoD, who are increasingly the only thing I've been sticking around for.

I just hope I don't disappoint too many of the new recruits who were lured in by my mush on the advertising art.

*The fact that I feel a need to be 'competitive' is also a part of the problem.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

The Quality of Mercy

Thankfully, this humane alternative is available.
Man, Dishonoured's 'good' path is dark.

Don't feel like murdering the cruel, corrupt High Overseer because you feel that there should be a better way than answering evil with evil? Well, there is an alternative. You can brand fully half of his face, marking him as an excommunicate heretic and casting him out onto the streets among those who have most cause to hate him.

Still; it's not like you killed him or anything.

I can't decide if it's an ironic statement on ludonarrative dissonance or just self-consciously grimdark.

I am pretty much convinced that 'my' side is as bad as theirs, for the most part; it's probably something to do with all of the loyalists being creepy-faced caricatures who meet in a dive bar and drink wine as they plan the revolution in which the people will surely be with them.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014


Here is my impression of a BBC News comment stream:

Poster 1 - I thought BBC News was supposed to report news!
Poster 2 - The BBC is a government mouthpiece!
Poster 5 - Rar Israel!
Poster 7 - Rar Palestine!
Poster 10 - An interesting piece. Thanks BBC.
Poster 14 - Fuck the license fee! USA! USA!

Sadly the comments for the Have Your Say pieces are more:

Poster 1 - I disagree with you.
Poster 2 - I also disagree with you, and will raise you a personal slur.
Poster 3 - I see this personal slur and raise you accusations of benefit fraud.
Poster 4 - Rational defence of original post.
Poster 5 - People like the original poster and poster 4 are dragging this country down.

And it's all downhill from there. My sister once posted a piece about why the ConDemNation meant she was going back to voting labour and was practically told she was retroactively responsible for the rise of Hitler and the National Socialists.

Early Thoughts on Dishonoured

"The guards will be looking out for you, and since there are no
high-def printing presses in this industrial era city, it only
seems fair to give you a mask to make you super-visible to any
but the stupidest guards."
Now, technically nothing I have to say about Dishonoured can count as 'early' thoughts, given that it's been out for ages and I got it for about £2.50, but that's a maybe as King Gustav of Sweden once said and these at least are my thoughts on the early game.

Storywise, it's all a bit 'well, yes'. I kind of wanted to shank the conspirators on the way in because it was laughably obvious which ones they were. Moreover, although the Empress is supposed to be the good from which the Empire has fallen, she came off as weak and ineffectual more than trapped by an impossible situation (plague, deadly killer rats hordes;) it might have helped if they were a little more subtle in their hints that she and Corvo were totally doing it. I'm not sure if the Princess is supposed to be Corvo's daughter or if she knows it or is just way okay with Mum's new fella; perhaps it doesn't matter.

Anyhugh, you get captured and then sprung from jail and make your escape; picking up what appears to be a flick sword en route. At rebel headquarters you are told that you are needed to eliminate several key members of the new government and given a mask to hide your identity. This begs a couple of questions, such as: How is your actual appearance that famous in a pre-television world? Even if it is, how is a metal skull mask any less obvious in the open street? And isn't the point of an assassin's mask to hide your identity, and isn't that more or less pointless if your only identity becomes that of the scary guy in the mask?

As the icing on the cake, a god/devil/spirit dude gives you magical powers, because why not? Seriously, he's some sort of universal trickster dude, so he's pretty much 'have some powers; use them as you will'. The main power is Blink, a short range teleport useful for travel and stealth.

I do appreciate the grey and darker grey morality of the whole thing. Pretty much everyone who isn't dead or kidnapped is a complete dick, so I'm not going to feel too bad if I turn the whole thing into a dystopian nightmare with my choices and stealth failures.

As of this writing I'm in the middle of the first real mission of the game and struggling a bit. I confess I was thrown by the failure of a first person sneaker to be Thief. That first person aspect also makes it hella difficult to maintain a decent peripheral awareness, so half the time I end up being shanked in the side while trying to sneakily take down a guard with his back to me.

I also at one point fell through a tree that I wasn't apparently able to land on... after ninjaing the rest of the area completely. So embarrassing.

I'm now getting more comfortable with using Blink for stealth and hiding behind cover instead of just in shadows. It also helps that I'm using the correct button to block (ph3ar my 1337 skillzorz!)