Haunted By A Million Screams

Check In: Where last I left off, I was talking about the problematic alternative history of Homefront: The Revolution. I already talked about the difficulty of invading and occupying the United States, and since then I’ve been researching the history of Korea, and the unlikely notion that it might become an economic superpower, in lieu of California. And so it turns out that Korea has a rich, tempestuous history featuring spies and assassins and meddling by competing, neighboring powers that all want the Korean peninsula as their own. Things got turned up-to-eleven when nations from the west started bring in their own trade and religion, and lots of gunboats. Anyway, I’d been working on that at length. It’s still a work in progress when, well, when the Douglas High School shooting happened.

I will get back to the Korea thing.

Yesterday, Nikolas Cruz (still only a suspect), alumnus of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School returned to his Alma-mater with an assault rifle (currently listed as an AR15-style) and killed seventeen victims. I can’t find any reports of wounded at the moment, and I hope that means there are no other casualties. Curiously, it’s been acknowledged as the anniversary of the Northern Illinois University shooting but not of Valentines Day, proper, nor the infamous Saint Valentines Day Massacre. Though were I to guess, only Valentines Day is likely to be of significance.

If it bleeds, it leads, the old saying goes. My morning scan of the Washington Post frontpage found the Douglas High School incident leading with a banner headline about a lack of new developments. Early in the articles are how this shooting compares with other shootings. It is the worst high-school shooting ever and the second-worst school shooting. Our press discusses it like it’s a sports event, new data on a leaderboard to inspire the ambitions of future rampage killers.

The headline of the hour is that we don’t yet know why Cruz decided to commit a shooting rampage, as if we can expect there to be a singular, clear reason a man goes amuck. His past behavior suggests he was already a prime candidate for suicide / rampage, waiting for a terrorist recruiter, say with an agenda such as making a white-supremacist statement, or an anti-abortion statement or maybe even an Islamist* one. But I’ve observed before ideological crusades are invariably incidental to what drives rampage killers (or suicide bombers, or lone-wolf assassins), and we really don’t need to give time-of-day to the specifics of the assailant’s battle cry, often spoon-fed to the guy by a skilled handler.

Generally, rampage killers are like suicides: They’ve led a sucky life and have hit a seemingly irrecoverable low and just want their own suffering to stop. Ours is a society in which we give few fucks about other peoples’ suffering and call such people cucks and snowflakes and crybabies. So why not take out a dozen or so unsympathetic bastards? This is the world we live in. These are the names we’re given. (Thanks, Genesis.)

Typically, those interested in the motives behind our killers are, rather, looking to affirm their own agendas. Once a monster is revealed, and people are desperate once again to understand and prevent such horror, it’s easy to find some aspect of the assailant’s life and fixate on that, whether it’s violent video games, or Satanic rock-&-roll or hobbyist interest in guns or whatever. We amplify it large, until someone is saying Dance Dance Revolution is turning our kids into killers.

And personally, I’m annoyed that it never comes down to any of the concerns I believe might push someone (e.g. might push me) over the edge: The cruelty with which we treat our employees kids neighbors fellow netizens everyone; The profound inequality in our society and the obstinance with which we deny it or only recognize part of the equation; The massacres quietly executed by the state in the name of national security; The antagonism our government, its departments and its agents express toward the public; the pronounced suffering of others we justify as necessary for our own well being. Heck, the daily embarrassing antics of Our Dear President that have made the US a joke on the world stage, and has embossed large the absurdity of our species.

The US has become the no fucks given state, and the occasional rampage killer gone amuck is one of the natural byproducts of our embrace of such a culture. There are plenty of things we could do towards reducing the incidents. I’ve recommended before we could take mental health seriously. We can give these raging suicides actual alternatives. But that involves actually caring, and for now we appear to be super committed to not doing any of that.

Look upon our works, ye mighty and dispair.

* Islamism (as best as I can grok it) is the goal of creating and expanding an Islamic state, something that frightens the crap out of us westerners, even when we can simultaneously believe spreading our own culture is a good thing. Here in the states we have American Exceptionalism, what is standard indoctrination fodder in US education systems. And yet it looks scary and pretentious to non-Americans or, really, to anyone who thinks about it for too long.

Most Islamists (by far) seek to expand the reach of Islam by seeking to serve their respective communities and serve as exemplary neighbors. We westerners may identify this tactic most with the Great Commission: Be a cool dude and when someone thinks you’re awesome, tell them it’s only because Jesus is your co-pilot. Here in the United States we associate American patriotism with gung-ho attitude and bringing extra meat for the barbecue. Islamists are typically looking to be good people, serve the community, and then blaming Islam for why they’re so nice.

But then there are the violent ones. Violent Islamists are uncommon and regarded as radical and extremist by ordinary Muslims. But since the 9/11 attacks (which was, according to their architect, a strike of retribution rather than an effort to extol the virtues of Islam) the people of the United States have been commonly wary of Muslims in general, and have presumed all Islamists to be radical and extremist.

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Homefront: Invading America

When Homefront: The Revolution first came out, I wasn’t particularly interested in it because of the big dragon in the room. It’s time to talk about that.

When the original Homefront came out in 2011, it looked like an interesting game with a curious premise: The US had been successfully invaded by North Korea.

Wait, what?

This is not just extreme alternative history, but absurd alternative history.

Deer Of Teal Prancing Afield

Why such a premise is crazy takes a bit to explain, and granted not everyone wants to concern themselves with all the nitty. So here are the general points.

The United States of America is really hard to invade, and harder still to occupy. That’s what I talk about below.

Korea, presently divided into the Republic of Korea and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, has had a really bad 20th century. It’s unlikely that it’s going to reunite back into a single sovereign state. It’s unlikely that it’s going to become a major economic power anytime soon, and it’s unlikely that it’s going to wrest itself free of the political tensions between China, Russia and the United States. North Korea’s only military ambition at this point is to stay noticed by the global community in order to get humanitarian relief. Let alone invade someone. Let alone invade the United States.

Neither of these issues necessarily make Homefront: Revolution a bad game (nor the original 2011 Homefront, though I haven’t played it). To the contrary, play of Homefront: HR sells well the notion of a resistance campaign. The silliness of the invasion itself notwithstanding, the invading forces in the game are serious and formidable, and fighting them with guerilla tactics (id est, terrorism!) is interesting and fun.

Why we have this game (as opposed to what I think might be better choices) has most likely to do with a AAA game design best practice. Specifically, games have to be about America, about Americans, even about white guys. Games that don’t do this (so AAA development decision-makers believe) risk selling less well. This is why we sometimes get speculative games about invasions of the US and resistance against an improbable occupation, rather than stories of real places that had been invaded in which resistances actually formed. One such place being Korea. Twice!

A Dove House Filled With Doves and Pigeons

(Shudders Hell through all its regions.)

The US is big. Really big. It’s got a lot of people, and a lot of them have guns. This was a defining factor in both World War I and World War II, hence efforts by the Germans to dissuade the US from entering the European campaign in both conflicts. Before WWI, Germany incited Mexico to attack the US, and before WWII Germany encouraged Japan to do the same thing (though preferably not by surprise attack, thanks). Once the United States war machine started stamping out GIs and Tanks and shipping them to England, the European Axis was doomed.

I should clarify: By doomed I mean Germany was fated ultimately to surrender to the Allies. Hitler couldn’t understand this. He was an ideologue with Parkinson’s and not only believed in racial supremacy of the German people but believed it was a force multiplier that could compensate for vastly smaller numbers and shorter supply in contrast to the US and USSR. (This is to say, Hitler was bad at math.) But his generals knew it. Their best hope was to put up enough of a fight to secure a conditional surrender from the allies, maybe to keep some of their conquered gains, and at worst, not get hanged in the aftermath. They were even willing to stage a coup and overthrow Hitler (thereby shortening the war), but only if they could negotiate terms with the Allies. The Allies were having none of it. Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin agreed to only accept unconditional surrender from Germany, even if it meant prolonging the war and expending additional troops.

This is to say the US and USSR both had additional troops to expend. And how.

All of our Red Dawn scenarios involve the enemy securing a massive army by which to occupy the states. That’s hard to do. In the twenty-first century we have concerns because China could create such an army, and given they have a lot of disposable males. An excess of guys is often an excess of angry guys, so China might send them off to some war. Still, attacking the United States would involve a massive troop-transportation logistical nightmare. (Though a spectacular, glorious one, if successfully accomplished.)

North Korea, unlikely. Though a bizarre scenario in which China supplied North Korea an army as some sort of proxy attack would be… conjecturable.

A Dog starved at his Master’s Gate

(Predicts the ruin of the state.)

This is not to say the US is not impossible to invade, but the conditions need to be right. As Vizzini advised never get involved in a land war in Asia. Napoleon and Hitler both failed in their attempts to take Russia. And yet it can be done (and has been). It’s just a good idea to invade when Russia is facing its own political upheaval, which it often does. (Also, it’s a good idea to avoid winter and the mud season.)

So it is with the United States.

United we stand, but to differ from our pledge of allegiance, we are not indivisible. All states have radical secessionist extremists, but we differ more commonly among larger regional clusters. New England doesn’t like the Dixie states much. The feeling is mutual. And neither of them like West coast. And then the Midwest and Mountain states are even more fractured regarding culture, ideologies and priority interests. All these sectors have widely diverse politics, none of which are represented well by the two primary political parties that dominate elections. The seams where we are weakest are clear and evident. It is how the public has become so susceptible to foreign social-media propaganda campaigns. If current trends continue within the US, as wealth disparity increase, as we lean towards tribalism and our parties disregard their constituencies for corporate interests, the people will continue to become more open to desperate measures. This includes secession from the greater federal union.

Once the US fractures, the people will be distrustful and all the more ready to misbehave against the the new / revised administrations. The US people and armed forces might be too disorganized to put up much resistance from a foreign invader coming in in the guise of delivering humanitarian aid. It would be an expensive gamble, but hardly a futile one.

Probably not by North Korea, though. I’ll get to that.

Homefront: Bad Mother Brady

Brady from Homefront: The Revolution is not a very nice guy. He’s something like Animal Mother in Full Metal Jacket, a general dick all around, but we’re glad he’s on our side because he’s willing to lug the M60 around and only use it on the enemy. Brady is like a bull, the kind of guy who gets nicknamed Bull. He not only carries two full-sized primary weapons (and a crapload of ammo and field mods) but he also lugs around the big bolt-cutters for obstinate locks.

But Brady will knock you over if he’s going somewhere, and not even apologize. And not once has he acknowledged the nice safehouse watchman who greets him. Not once.

Problem Machine in his playthrough of Alpha Protocol noted the short-fuse timed-dialogue system, also the convention when he ran out of time that the game would choose a dialogue option for him. His interpretation of this system was to suggest Secret Agent Michael Thornton is impulsive and belligerent sometimes to the point of idiocy or absurdity. Problem Machine pondered to what degree this was an intentional design choice by the developers. But regardless of intent, the design choice informs how Agent Thornton plays out.

In Firewatch there’s a similar effect — this time undoubtedly intentional — with Henry’s short, stubby fingers and heavy build. For those used to playing third-person games (or first person games that include the hands and body — many don’t) Henry’s awkward build contrasts to the proportionate vetruvian build we see in other games. Henry is not merely an everyman that people can identify with, but a specific unexceptional guy, and the story is a personal one, exemplified also by the substantial prelude.

Brady is a silent Freeman, a blank personae in which players can position themselves. And in that light Brady’s badassery (his athletic prowess, his exceptional carrying capacity and ability to absorb damage) can be argued to just be power fantasy material. But there are other effects in the game, some perhaps derivative of old gaming conventions, that inform who he is. For instance, Looting is fun, or addictive at least. And it’s a common convention to pepper a level with lootable containers. But that informs the character of Brady: He is the sort of guy who will assume an invitation to hang out means he can raid your refrigerator, then your garage, then your box of electronics and take what he wants without asking.

Brady also has resting murder face. People keep expecting a fight from him. I’m not going to fuck you and I’m not going to fight you. So get lost. a resistance bomb-builder tells Brady.** Meanwhile I am simply trying to remember which safe house Brady’s woken up in, and where the exits are. Other resistance tell Brady he looks like he hasn’t slept. Others tell him to calm down: he’s safe here. And passersby in the streets keep suggesting something’s wrong with Brady, that is if they don’t infer from Brady’s presence that shit is about to go down in their neighborhood. (It usually is.)

Brady is also enthusiastic in his takedowns (that is, knife-kill animations). Very enthusiastic. Often his resistance sense will point out civilians being harassed by KPA peacekeepers, or a house about to be raided. The easiest solution is often to run up to the offending officer and drive Mr. Stabby into his eye. But then Brady gives the knife that extra bit of wiggle to assure the victim’s brains are good and scrambled.

Brady likes Mr. Stabby. He likes up close and personal. He’s glad for this occupation as it gives him cause to stab people without his buddies going all not cool, man!. If this were another time, if Philadelphia wasn’t full of oppressive soldiers that needed killing, if society was kinder and gentler, Brady probably wouldn’t fit in very well.

But as it is, Philadelphia is occupied by a cruel military by a callous, unsympathetic foreign interest. And as such, it is Brady’s day, today.

* The last time I noted that Brady was informed (online, not in game) to be Ethan Brady, and his / her shadow is overwhelmingly obfuscated by a blocky parka. It’s still possible to assume Brady is a woman for the most part, though I’ve now seen his facial hair through the camera lens of one of the remote-control cars used for sabotage. But if I want to pretend Brady is other than a white guy, it’s still easy to do. I’d have to work at it to break the illusion. (Oh yeah. There are RC cars with cameras and bombs. They’re pretty great.)

** Some Resistance express their gratitude that Brady’s here and in their zone. Others cheer him on for past exploits (taking a stronghold or singlehandedly taking out a tank). In contrast to all the get lost!, chill out and you got a problem? comments, I wonder if the gratefuls are hitting on Brady.

Homefront: Quiet Brady

Rise and shine, Dr. Freeman. Rise and Shine.*

When I start playing Homefront: The Revolution everything looks… familiar.

My name is Brady. Everyone calls me Brady. At some point I’ll find out online that I’m Ethan Brady, but for now I’m a voiceless everyman first-person hero. It’s not clear I’m a guy. As far as I know, I could easily be Cindy Brady (who’d be kinda old, but not out of the question. There’s actually a lot of Bradys). Granted, my shadow (in the rare moments I can look at it) is all blocky and masculine, but also obscured by loose trail clothes and heavy gear. Really, I’m okay with being just Brady.

I could be Dr. Gordon Freeman, frankly, who just never contradicted a guy who called me Brady. I am in a first-person shooter after all. I’m quiet, and I’m in a foreign-occupied city. But I’ll get to all that.

(Later, I hear, Mr. Ethan Brady gets a voice in one of the DLC campaigns, only to have his fellow resistance tell him to shut up.)

Brady has more game-informed talents than his MIT-alumnus predecessor. He carries three weapons: a primary weapon and a sidearm, and later, a heavy RPG. Brady can run indefinitely. Brady can also mantle up ledges and low roofs like Garrett from Thief, and he can slide like a baseball player.

Brady also can Judo Stab which is like Judo Chop but augmented with trusty Mr. Stabby. Brady’s takedowns look less like the practiced martial maneuvers of Agent 47 and more the berserk rage-stabbing technique of Violette Summer of Velvet Assassin. (Summer had a personal grudge against Nazis she was working through.)

Brady is also tough as nails (a common trait of first person heroes) and remembers to take his vitamins, or in this case, his health syrettes which were imported pretty directly from Far Cry 2. (Homefront TR uses the CryEngine, like Far Cry, but unlike Far Cry 2 which used the Dunia engine. Simple, really.)

Brady also has scavenger vision. It’s like Thief-vision from Deadly Shadows, in which lootable containers glint and remind him to look under sofa cushions. Brady’s career aspirations before the foreign occupation (that I’ll get to later) remain unknown. Since the occupation, he’s been a scavenger, scrounging stuff from garbage and abandoned junk. Most of it electronics cannibalized from broken devices to restore others to functionality. Other stuff is things people like: toys, clothes, wedding rings; trinkets from before our society was someone else’s bitch.

Then there’s materials used to craft terror weapons, specifically IEDs, molotovs, firecrackers (for distractions) and ECM Hacking Chirpers, just called hacks.

Oh yeah. Brady is a dyed-in-the-wool terrorist. To be fair, so was Dr. Freeman. And also in all fairness, the resistance is an organized front, targets the occupying enemy and seeks to avoid civilian casualties. Still, guerillas who fight the establishment are what we commonly call terrorists. Mind you, this establishment, much like the one of City 17 is very not-nice-at-all.

The place smacks quite a bit of City 17, actually.** Tall fences and brutal concrete delineate districts and zones. Helmeted peacekeepers in high-tech armor stand around or walk in patrols and otherwise corral a despondent public. Run-down tenement architecture is accented by ad-hoc foreign technological appliances forged in an unidentified alloy.

Surveillance drones scan passersby. But these drones don’t do the old flash-and-shutterclick. No, instead they bathe their targets with green laser light. When a scan is found wanting, the drone’s lasers turn red, and peace officers rapidly close in to arrest the objectionable subject. Brady will learn to loathe these drones, and their larger airship cousins that scan entire city blocks from the sky.

But this is not City 17. It’s Philadelphia. (According to game reviewers who’ve been there, it’s An effective rendering.) It’s 2025 and Philadelphia is under martial law, occupied by a high-tech foreign military force. Allegedly, they’re North Koreans, and the resistance calls them Norks. How they’re here is crazy. Why is complicated. Both are worthy of discussion on their own. But from where Brady watches, the occupation and the oppression are here. And happening right now.

That déjà vu starts to make sense: The right man in the wrong place can make all the difference in the world, or so the G-man once said. But Gordon Freeman was a legend in his own time, possibly bigger than he was. Brady, in contrast, is a nobody. A resistance trainee who thought he might do something more with his life than selling crap. It’s a choice he soon regrets, as Brady gets captured and tortured before the day is done–twice.

Wake up and smell the ashes.

* The quote is actually Rise and shine, Mr. Freeman… though Gordon is an MIT alumnus with a PH.D. meaning the title Doctor is appropriate. Other characters refer to Freeman as Dr. Freeman, when not the more familiar Gordon, and the G-Man himself calls him Dr. Freeman in the game’s closing. Time, Dr. Freeman? Is it really that time again?

** Much like Half-Life 2 and its City 17 Train Depot, Homefront: TR is hazy white. Realistic rendered video games in the late aughts had a lot of brown and were called brown shooters. (tip: do NOT Google brown shooter. Just don’t.) Desaturated gritty / realistic games became a thing to which the industry responded with a generation (or two) of super-bright overly saturated games. White shooters which include Tom Clancy’s The Division and Homefront: TR aren’t all white, but sunny environments seen from shady places are white and hazy, as is everything when the sun is in the field of view. (And to be fair, The Division takes place in winter, NYC, which features a lot of fog and snow as well as sun.) If only we could call them Hazy-shade-of-winter shooters.

The scanner drones (sometimes simply Scanners) are one of my favorite game creatures. They’re not actually much of a threat to Gordon Freeman. A drone might obstruct a narrow path, such as a ladder. And a drone can dazzle Freeman with its photo-flash. But even if a drone gets a clear snapshot of Gordon, it doesn’t actually summon Combine units or point nearby units to Gordon’s location. Still they represent the high-security heavy-surveillance oppressiveness of City 17, and are a nod to the camera-happy surveillance quarter of the Soviet Union. (Amusingly Valentin Demchenko from Saratov, Russia has developed a working flying model of the Combine scanner drone.)

The KPA Seeker Drone is a bit more proactive, and will detect known members of the resistance, including Ethan Brady. KPA units are alerted and summoned to dispatch any resistance in the area while the drone continues to track movements of identified subjects. These drones make manifest all the horror raised by the drones of City 17.

Hitman: Thwarted

I’ve had it with Hitman: Absolution.

Over the course of the Christmas holiday and into January. I have, or rather I had been playing a lot of Absolution, and as such, this is yet another chapter in my gush-and-gripe run. But unlike other posts, I’ll be Spoiling some parts of the story. The thing is, these are story beats that drove me to disappointment and frustration, ultimately driving me to discontinue playing (albeit with three chapters to go). So this warrants a double warning. Firstly, here be spoilers. But secondly, given the story has problems, those who might be considering playing Hitman: Absolution might want to be spoiled anyway, to be spared the frustration I had to endure. BEWARE!

I quit Hitman: Absolution properly after the chapter Skurky’s Law, but in my murderous rampage to follow, I discovered the game plays better as a cover shooter than as a stealth game. To confirm this notion, I played through Operation Sledgehammer. The chapter that followed, One of a Kind is a short chapter on Agent 47 getting a new suit.* Early on in Blackwater Park I was able to dispatch all the exterior security guards with a stolen UMP at which point I realized I was too apathetic about continuing on.

So how did I get to this dire end? Begin at the beginning, I suppose…

Absolution begins with a grim mission. 47 is tasked with assassinating his own handler, Diana Burnwood (who assigned him missions and served as mission control through Blood Money). Burnwood has gone rogue and taken custody of an agency asset, a schoolgirl named Victoria. As this is a tutorial mission, 47 encounters a sequence of obstacles that allow him to try out all his tools, before shooting Burnwood while she’s taking a shower.

47 goes rogue and takes the asset, Victoria, hiding her away and disappearing into the Chicago streets.

The story from here, forward is a litany of cutscene failure and obstruction. 47’s completes level after level, only to be followed each time by a cutscene revealing he failed at his task after all. It’s a story of compounding frustration.

In chapter three, 47’s target is Blake Dexter, an arms dealer camped out at the top of the Terminus hotel. 47 sneaks through a couple platoons of hired irregulars to finally reach Dexter’s room …only to get bushwhacked in cutscene by Sanchez, the genetically-engineered ogre.

In chapter four, after Dexter teabags 47 a few times (proverbially, but still) before leaving an incapacitated 47 for dead in a hotel fire. 47 escapes but the Chicago Police Department, on high alert, is hot on 47’s tail. 47 is a master at disappearing into the night, or into a crowd. He does this several times, only to have the police reacquire him in-cutscene. Multiple times.

In chapter five, Dexter’s own lieutenants are hunting 47’s temp handler, Birdie, and 47 has to dispatch three of them in Chicago’s Chinatown during the new year fireworks celebration. 47 disposes of all three, but in cutscene Birdie is abducted anyway.

In chapter six, Birdie sings like a mockingbird and reveals to Dexter Victoria’s hiding place at the Rosewood Covenant. 47 is only steps ahead of Dexter’s team and takes Victoria down to the basement only for the elevator to shut down between floors. 47 leaves Victoria in the elevator to manage a company of Dexter’s masked nun-and-orphan-murdering marauders lead by a mercenary named Wade. 47 evades / dispatches the morass of goons. If 47 outmaneuvers Wade in the boss level (thereby avoiding getting teabagged by Wade) then Dexter’s son Lenny pops out of a cutscene to steal Victoria away.

47 tracks Lenny to Hope, North Carolina, in chapters seven, eight, nine and ten. He eliminates Lenny’s gang of fifty’s-era hooligans and then interrogates Lenny, who reveals he handed Victoria off to Sanchez the Ogre.

47 tracks Sanchez to the Dexter Industries factory grounds (Chapter 11), through underground testing labs (Chapter 12) and to the fight night cage match arena where Sanchez fights the Patriot. If 47 swaps out with the Patriot to find Sanchez himself (47 has the option to do otherwise) he learns that Sanchez gave Victoria to Skurky, Dexter’s lieutenant and sheriff of Hope. (Failure results in getting teabagged by Sanchez.) It’s not made clear how 47 gets on Skurky’s trail if he kills Sanchez another way.

After an interlude in Chapter 13 where the Sexy-Nun Assassination Squad from the Agency attacks 47 in a hotel (part three of which is probably the funnest level in the game), 47 tracks Sheriff Skurky in Chapter 14 from the Hope courthouse to the Hope jails, only to get (in cutscene) bushwhacked by Sheriff Skurky. In Chapter 15 the agency’s company of armored death agents comes to massacre the Hope Town Fair while looking for 47. 47 evades them only to be forced into a quick-draw shootout with Skurky. Skurky teabags 47 if he wins.

That’s as far as I got when I realized I had ceased having fun with the game a while back.

To be fair, this is the first Hitman game (and possibly the only one) in which a going rogue story took a downstage position to the mission/contracts structure. The Hitman paradigm is much better and more focused when there’s a clear kill-this-guy objective (and many possible approaches to doing it). But creating a sequence of missions in which each one is made subsequently moot by the end-level cutscene turned quickly into a tiresome chore. It went from frustration to dealbreaker at the point 47 got cut-scene captured a second time.

I felt thwarted. It was a lot of thwart. All the thwart of ever.

Also, this alone wouldn’t have bothered me enough to stop playing. I have other grievances about Absolution that exasperated the rage, a couple of which may be discussing in future rants: At some point it is worth discussing stealth mechanics, and I may also have to gripe about this strange propensity for game devs to shoehorn arena matches into games when they’re dubiously appropriate. (Though, being fair, Absolution‘s arena match was opt-in and not entirely inappropriate, just cliché.)

Still for now, I’m breaking from Hitman, made easier since Homefront: The Revolution is doing it for me. Especially surprising given that The Revolution was panned by reviewers. (It had a buggy release, and has been mostly patched since.)

* New suits, or more accurately new skins (a term derived from customizeable user interfaces for apps are a game feature I often enjoy. I’ve discussed before my joy of having a wardrobe in Saints Row, The Third, and seeing the numerous ways I could express the Boss’ character through fashion. At worst, unlockable skins allow me to choose an alternative when the default outfit is disagreeable. Tomb Raider Anniversary had only a limited selection, but I could dress Lara at very least in an outfit more appropriate to spelunking and adventures in the wild (id est, ones with pants — Lara Croft fans are commonly more interested in fanservice than field utility) In Absolution, 47 goes through a number of suits, some significantly more shabby than others, but the option to unlock suits with time and choose from the ones unlocked would both allow both avoiding disagreeable outfits (and enjoying preferable ones) and examining the full range of funeral-appropriate gentlemen’s attire.

It’s possible I missed this feature if it was available in the contracts section of the game.

Children

When babies are born, they’re a whole lot of cute, and we grown ups get lots of good feelings for engaging them. But soon after, babies quickly become an annoyance and too much responsibility for a single parent.

This has presented me with an anthropological quandary: When pre-historical Mom was overwhelmed with her poopy, hungry, colicky, wheezing, red-faced wailing, no-longer-cute-at-all infant, what stopped her from drowning the tot in the nearby stream? Parenting would cease to be fun within the first year, and while parent-child love can go a long way, it doesn’t counter the magnitude of outrage and frustration that an infant can compel. What stopped moms from deciding this parasitic abomination was A Totally Bad Idea and calling it quits early?

To be fair, children before the modern age uncommonly reached majority. Often child-death statistics were very grim. Seven-in-eight kids would succumb to famine, plague and elements during typical eras. In harsh eras, that number could climb to fourteen-in-fifteen children who’d never see adulthood. I’m sure moms had to work overtime to keep that number as low as it was, let alone avoid the temptation to add to these numbers with river drownings. It was generally just a matter of time before most tots met their unfortunate ends, and a child that grew to adulthood was a proud, glorious thing, indeed.

Meanwhile there are also legends aplenty of children being swapped out with fairy changelings who would function as brood parasites working the parents for all their toil and nurturing until the those parents perished from exhaustion. The only thing for it was to trick such creatures into revealing themselves before disposing of them, say, in fire.

How did our species survive? How is it that we didn’t go extinct tens of thousands of years ago from a pandemic of river-drownings by mothers who’d just had enough? I don’t know.

These days, of course, we have laws against river-drownings of infants, though one could get away with quite a lot of accidents until very recently. During my childhood in the 1970s and 1980s, parents were given a lot of latitude regarding how they raised their kids. It was poor form to call Children’s Welfare Services even over chronic symptoms of abuse, or repeated sounds of fights. The social norm was a hands-off it’s-not-my-business attitude.

These days, we’re quicker to intervene, and less inclined to trust parents with the well-being of their progeny. But also, all fifty states now have legal safe-surrender-sites. Infanticide and abandonment are still problems, sharply reduced thanks to safe-surrender. But there isn’t a line at the safe-surrender service window. And I’d think there would be.

Getting more specific, I spent quality time with my grandson, yesterday. Personally, I like my quality time with very young people in short bursts, say, enough time to repair a Transformer (the line of toys, not the electrical component) but illness and prior engagements conspired to leave my grandson in my custody for over an hour.

He was not poorly behaved. But he needed a lot of attention and a lot of focus, and that level of demand was exhausting. And he certainly didn’t comprehend the threshold where harmless play ended and destructive rascality began. In trying to set him up a movie, I was connecting together a bit of tech. And he wouldn’t stop meddling. I was beside myself trying to stop him. Especially when he wouldn’t acknowledge no.

Frustration prevailed.

In my adventures trying to understand Ren, I found that I lose my temper about the time that he bites me and draws blood. My first impulse is to throttle the poor pooch (and he and I have since commiserated on the problem of having feelings that compel us to do things we later regret). The situation with my grandson was escalating to where it might have gotten dramatic. But thanks to my experience with Ren, I am aware of my potential for violence and I wanted to de-escalate the situation before that was a risk.

This, incidentally, is an example of mindfulness, what is a simpler, more practical tool version of cognitive behavioral therapy, where the point is to intercept compulsive unwanted behavior by avoiding or changing the circumstances that lead to it. As an infant, we start the process of delineating those points where we end and the rest of the universe begins. At first our lessons concern our physical limits. But this process continues through the rest of our lives, and as an adult we learn both how to avoid circumstances in which we will be compelled to behave badly, and how to encourage circumstances in which we will be encouraged to behave well.

But getting back to my grandson and I, fortunately my sweetheart arrived in time to relieve me. And to be fair, he was doing that hyper wound-up thing that little boys do right before they poop-out and collapse for naptime. We had taken a walk to the playground and around the complex, and that probably burned off some of the lad’s excess pent-up energy. All might have ended well without intervention, if he was only a few minutes from falling over.

But I’m used to relating to people to whom I can say no and getting some kind of acknowledgement. And when that doesn’t happen it feels hostile and dangerous. A problem I have with children, it appears, is they don’t behave like adults. Granted, many adults and adult institutions don’t either.

And, then again, my tolerance for those people is also accordingly short.

Hitman: Judo Chop

I’ve been playing a lot of Hitman: Absolution, and as such, I may gush and gripe about it for a few blog posts. As a warning, I may some spoil some minor details about the game.

My most recent adventures as Agent 47 in a late level had him sneaking around a landmine test facility. I was supposed to murder one Dr. Marcus Green landmine designer and hater of pigs (as in literal swine). Dr. Green’s elation was conspicuously similar to that of movie-director Andy Zhen in Saints Row, The Third (both are voiced by Yuri Lowenthal), but I digress.

Magic Bullet Hypothesis

After infiltrating the landmine testing facility 47 took a wrong turn and encountered Dr. Green face to face. I tried to judo chop (see below) the good doctor only to break into combatant melee. Up to this point he was portrayed as a non-combatant, if a designated target, and in confusion 47 deflected his blows while pondering this new state of hand-to-hand combat in which I had to either kill the doctor, or get killed, myself. My delay provided enough time for alert guards to gather around and start firing their guns into the melee.

Sadly, the developers hadn’t accounted for friendly fire. The horror of this was realized in full during an earlier level in which 47 was spotted by SWAT guys in a crowded subway, and they gleefully emptied their clips into the dense crowd like bad movie Nazis (or bad movie Soviets, depending on the era). The bullets passed through the crowd without harm taking down 47. Back at the lab, the guards, just as gleefully, shot into the ensuing melee between Dr. Green and 47. Green was immune to the bullets and 47 perished.

Still, bad optics for the next-day morning paper.

Judo Chop Technique

Judo Chop technique is explained by The Urban Dictionary. Wikipedia redirects to knife hand technique, which it explains thoroughly. But this is at best an approximation, and is only distantly related to Judo, let alone Judo Chop. I believe twenty-first century Judo Chop technique originated with Austin Powers, but its identification with Hitman is a Northern-Lionism. At any rate Judo Chop is a hero’s ability to take down another man-sized target with a single blow, and is the more aggressive version of the Vulcan Nerve Pinch (In fact, the nerve pinch was invented by Leonard Nimoy as he felt Judo Chop was out of character.)

In Hitman 2016 I believe (am not sure) that 47’s judo-chop capabilities are fully realized That is, 47 can punch out anyone with a single blow if he’s willing to forgo silence to do so. He still has to use a very pythonesque constricting chokehold method to KO someone silently. In Absolution, 47’s Judo Chop technique only works on non-combatant civilians. Combatants such as guards or mooks require a second takedown strike that uses a QTE action (press the designated key to attack, or any other key to get punched). This can be condensed by having an in-hand object or by Bonetti’s form (or is it Agrippa?), attacking the target on a flight of stairs.

In Hitman: Blood Money, 47’s Judo Chop was only in its formative stage (which is to say I was mashing on the punch button wishing there was a better way to pacify the guy wearing my disguise). But that was during 47’s younger years, when he felt less like a veteran assassin and more like a young goon who was stumbling around, wearing an old goon’s fancy suit.

KOs IRL

They don’t work.

One of the complex problems of human conflict resolution in the real world comes from the current lack of any consistent safe effective means to render belligerents unconscious. (More accurately, rendered immobile and incapable of action, preferably not suffering.)

In fictional media, a problematic person can be taken down by a knock to the head, a choke hold, some kinds of electric zaps or a fast-acting one-size-fits-all tranquilizer dart. Harry Harrison’s Stainless Steel Rat future not only featured a safe, fast, effective knock-out gas, but a revival gas once he rendered his target to a safe place. No waiting for natural recovery!

In reality all of our takedown methods suffer from inconsistency. Some victims shrug off a knock to the head or a tranq dart while others are rendered thoroughly brain damaged or dead-as-a-doornail, which renders moot the whole point of going non-lethal. This truth was horribly realized during the 2002 hostage crisis at the Dubrovka Theater in Moscow. After a two day stalemate during the seige, Russian law enforcement deployed knockout gas in the theater’s ventilation system. (As of this post, the specific incapacitation agent has not been officially revealed.) The intent was to knock out everyone, hostages and suspects. As a result, about 130 hostages perished from the gas out of 850 total. (All 40 identified terrorists were killed while unconscious.)

This is to say, in the real world, technical pacifism, in which a soldier or guardian uses only non-lethal attacks, is impossible. Even our general anesthetics come with a significant risk that the patient won’t successfully recover.

This is at least so far. In 2017 development continues on ways to incapacitate folks without killing them for law enforcement purposes. Most of our less-lethal weapons (which are still too inconsistent to be non-lethal) aim more towards wrecking the target’s day than knocking him out, focusing on making him hurt too much to be functional, let alone a threat. Sadly, agony isn’t quiet enough for infiltrators, who have to resort to lethal methods when evasion fails to work.

For a committed killer like 47 it means things get messy sooner. But for a no-kill purist like Batman, he would not only have a body count, but a significant one that neither his lawyers nor his conscience could explain away.