Wither Alternate History

So, I was in that awkward position. I was getting annoyed at arguments and the board surroundings on Alternatehistory.com, but still felt semi-obligated to post there. So I tried an experiment. I’d go without posting on there for one day, and see how it went.

So I stayed away for that day. It was hard, like resisting an addiction. But I made it, and once I stepped back, I wasn’t eager to go forward again. Now, this should not be construed as a public “I’M NEVER GOING BACK THERE AGAIN!” boast. (Most of the time, the arguers come back soon anyway). I still browse and have posted since the date, but my activity there is far, far less than it was. (from multiple posts a day to only one a week, and probably less).

There’s one redeeming niche to AH, albeit one that’s still slipping. It is a place where people knowledgeable on obscure minutia can be. But that assumes interest, which isn’t always there. But hey, there’s talk of obscure car brand what ifs! And a few good stories.

That was the good. Now for the bad.

The Staff

First, it’s understaffed in conventional terms. It has far fewer mods per user than Spacebattles, Sufficient Velocity, or most other forums. It’s not uncommon to go to another board and see more mods earmarked to one section than AH has overall.

There is a mechanism around it, and it’s actually interesting to watch from a distance. It’s almost the opposite of Spacebattles/SV, as an AH regular turned recent-SBer noted. Basically, if SB is more uptight and enforcing of small violations but relatively lenient about banning, AH is the opposite. There isn’t the energy or will to deal with so-called “shitposters”, but cross a line and get the axe.

The worst thing the board leadership does is use sensitive political topics as a form of entrapment. Instead of declaring a moratorium, they simply ‘invite’ users in to post something against the grain and then ban them.

This is why going through any thread on AH from a few years back will find a mountain of members with “BANNED” in their title.

That’s one problem. But it’s actually not the biggest problem-after all, the staff’s hammer falls most often in the dreaded “Chat” (or ‘Polchat’, as it’s nicknamed), and I almost never went there. (And with good reason.)

The Userbase

The bigger problem for me was the sort of users the board has. Since I generally view AH as a kind of second War Room on Spacebattles, the quality of poster there is much lower. It feels like a barbel. Young and/or clueless posters on one end, and bitter old cold war vets on the other.

SB’s userbase in the War Room tends to be between the groups, contains a lot more recent veterans, has the average user being more knowledgeable, and their high-knowledge posters can talk in a more accessible way.

The userbase is highly compartmentalized, which leads to the surreal example of a “look at the Abrams go!” 198X WWIII TL being right next to a contemporary one where Iran kicks the US’s teeth in to cheers and schadenfreude.

As for the younger posters, they’ve gravitated to pop-culture timelines, which leads to a major problem in why I left AH. But overall, the combination of the staff and userbase leads to this weird mutually unsympathetic situation where the staff acts in a heavy-handed way, but the user they crushed seems to have deserved it nonetheless.

Still, bad users are a problem anywhere. What made me finally pull away was…

The Stories

Ok, so I was following a lot of narrative TLs on AH, and even helped contribute to a few. This is the reason I stopped. Users and staff are a distant second. I could no longer enjoy them-not even a “follow them till they stopped, then think ‘what was I thinking’?”

Like all too many other internet fiction places, there’s an attitude of stories receiving little but unconditional praise. Many of the stories also have a lot of not uncommon wish fulfillment. If only it was that. No, the two annoying examples are:

  • People saying “What about the thing?” What about this person, or that person, or this game, or that song, or whatever. This happens most frequently in pop culture timelines, but pops up now and then in other places.
  • Rivet-counting. There will be technical nitpicks and criticisms, some more valid than others, in any sort of detailed TL.

That’s it. Very little about narrative, even less about characterization. I’ve repeatedly characterized the clunktastic The Big One as on the level of a middle-of-the-road alternatehistory.com timeline. It certainly does fit the template, even if its politics don’t. Slides in next to, or maybe a little above the 198X WW3 tinny Red Storm Rising knockoffs. At least those have a story.

The timelines unto themselves don’t. I see too many brown M&Ms, and my brain has changed. Some of them can be interesting and/or plausible, but I’ve seen behind the curtain. My belief in mega-butterflies doesn’t help. All I see of cause and effect is “because the TL writer wants it”, and thus all the psuedo-historical timelines have all the organic flow of someone building a toy tower.

I ditched Massively Multiplayer because it was wish-fulfillment (however intentional or not) and had a commentary of “what about the thing?”. The other timelines I dismissed for that narrative reason alone.

This is kind of a rant I’ve been wanting to make for a long time. But I must emphasize I have no ill will towards people who want to stay there, or write in that board’s style.

I’ve just grown not to like it. And because I used to like it, I felt the need to see what I think happened to make me not enjoy it anymore.

 

Changed Tastes

In some ways concerning fiction, I’ve become far less judgemental. In others, I’ve become far, far more so. In some cases, it’s authors I used to like becoming bad, in others it’s me changing in tastes and sophistication, and seeing them as bad.

Three “rules” remain for me:

  • The more something is hyped, the more skeptical I become.
  • If something aims low, I will be less critical than if it aims high.
  • I will find criticism of everything, even stuff that I like. But fiction without pretense is critic-proof.

Indoctrination Theory

There was a discussion on Space Battles about what people thought of the “Indoctrination Theory” of Mass Effect 3’s infamous ending.

(If you’re brave you can see a detailed site on it here. The short version is that Shepard was mind controlled). Bioware has officially stated that it is not canon and forbids discussion.

Now, my post on the subject had three parts. (Read the whole thread, it’s very good)

  • Mass Effect is not an ambiguous art game like say, Yume Nikki. It was supposed to be clear.
  • By itself, the theory is just a goofy one, much like the theory that the entire Pokemon anime is the dream of Ash in a coma.
  • However, the real ending was so bad a critical mass of fans attached to the weird theory.

I’d also like to add, after a night of reflection, that the ending, much like the Reapers, was set up to fail. The expectations were so big, and the lack of planning so great, that A: Anything was bound to be disappointing to someone, and B: The chances of a slip up, as happened to the villains, were great.

So that there was controversy wasn’t surprising. What’s a little surprising to me is that there isn’t more controversy over Bethesda’s tiny, bland endings to their Fallout games. You couldn’t take a page from New Vegas?

 

 

Indian Ocean Fury

Gunner98 has released two new Command scenarios for testing. This one is the Indian Ocean Fury set, taking place in the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf. (The out of order numbers are no cause for alarm, simply because some scenarios take longer to make than others)

The two are Indian Fury 1: Persian Pounce and Indian Ocean Fury 3: Socotra Scramble.

Both are as big and complex as you’d expect. I’ve noticed that Gunner98 throws in a lot of minor nations as allies to the USSR-everyone from Algeria to Finland to Eritrea has thrown their hat in the ring in his various “_____ Fury” scens. I don’t know how much of this is motivated by plot concerns and how much of it is motivated by gameplay ones.

Not just the FE Battalion Anymore

My crazed mind continues.

So instead of stuffing the Fire Emblem cast into one battalion, I spread them out all over other units. This I’ve found is a little different than the battalion idea, in many ways for the better.

  • I can sideline physically incapable units.
  • I can go across all levels, rather than from “private” to “Battalion commander”.
  • I can make the protagonists argue amongst each other about strategy in ways that they couldn’t as small-unit commanders.
  • From a meta example, I can put them in different technology levels in a way that’s easier than “Hey, you’re WWII cavalry now, then you’re a Gulf War battalion, now you’re a modern light infantry one!”
  • Pegasus knights as pilots, anyone?

Arcade, Elektra, and the REAL Comics Diversity Problem

So, reading the latest entry in Marvel’s new Elektra series, I began to fill with rage. This was bad-and not the sort of enjoyably bad I can chuckle at, this was-bad bad. Ok, at least I can have fun screaming at it.

I’ll admit the only reason I read it was because it had Arcade in it, making me perhaps the only person to check out comics for that character. And maybe I shouldn’t have. It’s awful. Terrible. Turgid. Has no sense of fun for what should be a zany trip to Murderworld. Arcade is working for the Kingpin and he’s rambling, and Elektra’s rambling, and the whole thing is an unintentional parody of an unintentional parody of Frank Miller’s classic style. It’s eighth-rate noir (suddenly, This Is The Police doesn’t look so bad) interspersed with a deus ex machina-resolved fight against an Arcade-piloted giant robot that only served to remind me of Arcade’s far superior portrayal in Ultimate Alliance.

Ugh.

There’s no reason for this series to be here. And this brings me to the next topic of this post. There is an unmistakable comics diversity problem. It’s just not that kind.

The “Marvel Diversity” controversy is something I’ve tried to bypass. I tend to just ignore it or roll my eyes at either the most ridiculous demands on the internet or the most hamfisted attempts to implement it. I couldn’t even react with the sense of bemused chortling I had with the internet slapstick that ensued when Blizzard made Overwatch star Tracer a lesbian. (My slightly tasteless guffaw was that she would make history–by being someone that fanfic shippers would force with no evidence into being straight.)

I think there is a diversity problem in comics, but it has absolutely nothing to do with what the characters are. No, it involves an excessive diversity of titles that dilute and get tangled in each other. Elektra got involved in a wave of Daredevil spin-offs around the same time. Is there really a need for this? Really? And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

To return, one footnote that shows how twisted and tangled this whole comics mess is that there were multiple recent low-number Elektra titles. It took me a bit of effort, I can’t imagine what it would be like for a comics neophyte.

Like I’ve said before, superheroes are held down by comic books. You could argue they’ve outgrown them. The millions of people who bought Ultimate Alliance saw an Arcade far closer to his original form, and his character concept than the low thousands who bought the 2017 Elektra or his abominable butchering in Avengers Arena. And for that I’m thankful.

Alternate History Brown M&Ms

I’m seeing too many of what I call “Brown M&Ms” in alternate history timelines.

Now, the term comes from a line in Van Halen’s contracts where they specified that there would be a bowl of M&Ms backstage, but no brown ones were to be in it. Often misinterpreted as them being crazy, it was in fact a way of seeing if the contractors read the fine print for safety reasons.

I see a lot of brown M&Ms in alternate history timelines. The most common are historical figures from our time being relevant when they probably shouldn’t be. (Rule of thumb-any real political figure still in the same or similar office higher than a safe legislative seat two or more election cycles after the point of divergence is the brown M&M for me.)

This is why, for all their problems, I have a liking of pop culture timelines, which bizarrely enough seem to be better at world events than a lot of ‘serious’ timelines. Although even there the brown candies still emerge too often.

 

This Is The Police Review

For the summer sale, I got This Is The Police, a police simulation game. I went in loving it, and came out feeling mixed about it.

First, what I liked about it:

  • The gameplay is basically serviceable, and more about timing management than anything else. There’s an investigation mode I struggled with, and I was reminded somewhat of Black Closet’s similar but more detailed mechanics. It’s serviceable, but not enough to carry the player through the overly-long campaign.
  • The dark humor brought a smile to my face. If the game was more open-ended, had “survive for this long”, and had officers asking to leave for the dumbest reasons and weird false alarms from callers with either too much or too little mediciation, I would love it. The problem is the main plot, which in addition to its own problems, contradicts the wacky hijinks to a huge extent-it’s trying to be both The Wire and The Simpsons at once.

Now for what I didn’t like:

  • The game is too long, and has the “flail around blind and probably lose or robotically follow a guide and win” effect. Way too long. It could have been half as long as it was and still be as good.
  • The story. Oh, the story. It’s too dark, the characters are cliches, and it doesn’t fit the dark humor goofball trend of the gameplay. Here should be this weird management simulator, and instead I get a fifth-rate wannbe-noir plot.
  • There’s too much disconnect between the good man trying to hold the police together even as he’s sucked into evil that the main character is in the story, and the guy who had mobsters kill three officers so that he could sell their corpses to a mad scientist for cash I played in the gameplay.

The game is still fun and still worth getting (especially on sale), it’s just it could be more. For this kind of investigative game, if you can tolerate the high-school setting, Black Closet does it better mechanically.