Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

Here’s an old Kronos stop motion animation I did in college.



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Clash of the DotA Clones

DotA and its legacy:
Clockwise from top right: League of Legends, DotA, Dota 2, Heroes of Newerth, and Blizzard: Allstars.

I just got access to DotA 2’s beta-testing, played around a bit (a lot), and wanted to make a post about how important DotA is, both to me (as a game I’ve been playing in some form or another for 10 years) and to the evolution of video games. I think it’s important to differentiate DotA and its clones from other games because of their humble beginnings, massive fan base, complicated genre-bending gameplay, and exciting future. I’ll begin with an explanation and brief history of the genre, then compare current iterations of the game and discuss DotA’s future and place in videogame history. My experience with DotA consists of thousands of matches back in Warcraft days (2003-2008), a couple of LoL games, over 1500 HoN games (2010-2012), and a few hours in DotA 2 beta. Keeping in mind matches used to average an hour (but are usually only around 35-45 minutes nowadays, that’s a lot of time.

Defense of the Ancients, or “DotA,” originated as a custom map that could be played by Warcraft III players. With gameplay based on the Aeon of Strife map for Starcraft, Dota has passed through the hands of various loving authors, been developed into many different iterations, and evolved from a simple user-created map into a major new gaming genre on its 10-year journey into being one of the most popular games ever. Hopefully, it’s just getting started.

Gameplay: what’s the big deal?

The gameplay of DotA seems straightforward: two teams of 5 player-controlled “heroes” push back and forth in an attempt to destroy each other’s base. The heroes are assisted by wave-after-wave of weaker units (or “creeps”) that periodically spawn in your base and head towards the enemy’s in one of three lanes. The early game is a war of attrition in which players assist their team’s creeps in pushing into the opponents’ defense structures while defending their own. During the mid game, player-controlled heroes kill more of these creeps (and occasionally each other), they become more powerful, and eventually, the balance of power tips in one direction or the other.

the DotA map — bases are in the top-right and bottom-left corners, with three major lanes (top, middle, bottom) connecting them and a central river dividing home turf from hostile.

This is a simplification of course. DotA-style games often have over 100 unique heroes to pick from, with 4 levels of 4 unique abilities each. These heroes fall into a variety of categories more specific than the traditional strength, agility, and intelligence lineup typical of strategy games. Additionally, the order in which you level your abilities and the way you manage your gold in order to outfit your hero with a variety of powerful items are both extremely important in augmenting your hero’s ability to aid in team fights. A good team balances their lineup with a good combination of heroes that work together and can initially split up into a few effective teams of two. Here are a few classes under which DotA heroes fall:

Carry  Gets extremely strong in the late stages of the game
Disabler  Has abilities that can slow or stun enemy units
Nuker  Capable of outputting large amounts of damage very quickly
Initiator  Can effectively start a team-fight in your team’s favor
Pusher  Can push back creeps and destroy buildings rapidly
Support/baby-sitter  Protects a carry’s early-game farm and helps the team with .purchases that benefit everyone

On top of quick reflexes and decision-making skills, survival in a team-fight is very dependent on knowledge of all 400 spells, hero-specific strategy, and good communication and teamwork. A weak link can ruin a team’s chances of winning much more easily than a strong player can carry a team. Games used to last an hour on average, and a majority of players have hundreds of games under their belt, able to draw upon past experience and knowledge in making their every decision. How many people play these games? Many and more—millions of active users play one iteration or another every day.

Mastery of your own hero is only the first step towards DotA success

History: 10+ years in the making

The first version was released as a Warcraft III map by the enigmatic “Eul,” back in 2003, but his map was quickly taken and expanded upon by then-amateur mapmaker Steve “Guinsoo” Feak, who added many of the elements recognizable and beloved today. Although the developers went to great lengths to cultivate an original game, it’s important to remember that, as a custom map created with Warcraft III’s free map editor, Dota’s units look identical to those of the stock game, and it ran on Warcraft’s engine and through Warcraft’s online custom matchmaking . So, Guinsoo also fostered a strong sense of community in the clan “TDA,” in which players could congregate, compete, and most importantly, give feedback in order to improve the game. Because DotA had to be played “inside” Warcraft III, many of Guinsoo’s desired features had to be implemented through community regulation, and impressive innovations and work-arounds were created in order to perfect the online experience. Still, it was difficult to find a good match and there were limited repercussions for “leavers,” or players who left the match or dropped early, often ruining a game for the remaining 9 players.

old dota loading screen

Designed under the limitations of Warcraft III‘s mapmaker, Guinsoo’s heroes were simple but effective, with abilities very similar to those in the stock game. Around 2005, as Guinsoo’s involvement in DotA waned, he handed over the game’s development to “Icefrog,” a reclusive designer who added a plethora of bombastic heroes and creative spells that really challenged Warcraft III’s engine. Icefrog really took the game to the next level in terms of heroes and optimization, and was open to community suggestions. The DotA community thrived–by 2009, the DotA online community had over 1.5 million active members, and the number of actual players was estimated at many more times that–not bad for amateur game designers and a free game. DotA had come into its own and outgrown Warcraft III.

Legacy: DotA’s contributions and iterations

Critics argue over what to call the emergent genre: “DotA,” “Action Real-time Strategy” (ARTS), or “Multiplayer Online Battle Arena” (MOBA), but no one disputes the fact DotA basically created a new genre of gaming, combining many great elements from popular existing genres:

  • the thrill, coordination, and micro-management from action games
  • the planning, strategy, and wargames from RTS games
  • the teamwork and cooperation from online arena games
  • the character-building, leveling, and optimization from role-playing games

I believe DotA’s long-lasting success lies in its complexity and teamwork. Success relies on players initially choosing a good combination of heroes, specializing when necessary yet remaining adaptable if troubles arise. And although communication and teamwork are paramount—a team with a single slow-to-act player is punished, often severely—individual skill often comes into play. As stated before, memorization of the 100 different heroes and their roles, 400 spells, and 100-choose-6 item combinations is necessary to recognize, assess, and counter any scenario. It’s a complicated Rock, Paper, Scissors, and it’s too brilliant a design to be confined to a single game, much less a single map piggy-backing on a 12 year-old game.

However, this complexity is basically the major hurdle that Dota clones are attempting to address. The game’s learning curve is extremely steep and communities are notoriously unforgiving. Although efforts have been made to explain the basics of the game by means of tutorials and tool-tips, the fact remains nothing prepares a user for the vast amount of knowledge necessary to make the decisions required at every moment of play. Only through proper application of knowledge, experience, and a quick memory can a player have a good game. Don’t expect too much help from teammates either these games aren’t intuitive for casual players.

Head-to-Head: the rise of DotA clones and sequel to the original

DotA’s level of customization, engine, and skins were severely limited by Warcraft III, the platform on which it ran. By 2009, the graphics and gameplay were severely dated, and fanbase was dwindling. It was time for evolution. Two games, inspired by DotA’s gameplay League of Legends (2009), and Heroes of Newerth (2010) took DotA’s mantle in furthering the success of the new genre, each with their own pros and cons. Both “DotA Clones” modified the gameplay, map, and a healthy number of heroes from the original roster as well as created a variety of original content.

Because these games weren’t limited to Warcraft III’s engine, the developers have way more authorial control over gameplay, character-design, and community integration, and they both boast impressive stat-keeping (every stat imaginable is kept, from average kills:deaths to wards placed to win rate with individual heroes), game-tracking (every game played in the last few months are available to view and download), and match-making (users are matched with players with similar statistics and teams are balanced before a game is launched).

progression of two different heroes from 2003 to 2012 in 4 different games

By making changes to familiar characters, these three games have created a sort of pantheon of heroes. Names (Butcher–>–>Pudge–>Devourer–>Blitzcrank), appearances, and animations may changes–a scorpion who makes a dust storm in one game might turn up as a lava monster who makes a steam cloud in another or a sea serpent who casts a watery stomp can appear as a beetle who shoots spikes from the earth–but they’re easily recognizable  after you spend some time with them. It’s a pleasure to discover these old friends, and I consider them to be a bit like a new mythology–Romans and Greeks might have had different names for their gods, but the stories were the same. A tanky hero with an area-affect taunt, counter-attack, and a nuke that’s more effective if the enemy has critical health is the same whether he’s a noble legionnaire or a bloodthirsty fel orc. It comes down to preferences for aesthetics and style, because all the major players have great music, voice-acting, and graphics.

So, we have an original, 2 clones, a sequel, and a newly-announced Blizzard game that is a little like DotA meets Super Smash. As to which game is better, I won’t get into which is better because there are many articles on this and I don’t have an unbiased opinion because I love Heroes of Newerth, the obviously better game.  But with a direct DotA sequel on the horizon and player numbers in the millions for these other clones, it’s clear the formula is successful.

simple breakdown of 5 DotA-style games.                                                                                             Keep in mind DotA 2 is still in Beta stage and they’ve promised to eventually include every hero from the original. Also, even though it’s still in beta, it has more active players than HoN (around 50-70,000)

Free to Play: but how do they make money?

Wait—free? Yes. These games are completely free to play, with some restrictions on hero roster (that usually rotate). So how do the developers make money, you ask? The answer is through crafty micro-transactions, or low-cost purchase offers that many players take. If a player wants to use a specific hero for more than just a designated period of time, it’s possible to purchase the fully-unlocked hero for a few dollars. The same goes for less useful options like cosmetics, taunts, and early-access to new heroes.

The micro-transaction plan is catching on, with many games from Dota to the new Tribes to Team Fortress to iPhone apps implementing a free-to-play model. Although they don’t make the big bucks at the start, free-to-play games draw a much larger fan base than expensive ones, and their users continue to pay years after a purchase, oftentimes paying more money than a single $30-50 purchase. With LoL’s community well over 10 million, it’s not too hard to see how this strategy might make a buck or two. Plus free games combat piracy and encourage a much larger legitimate community (especially in Asia)…everyone wins!

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Part II

>>>Be sure to check out Part I: Season 2 Scenes that make Game of Thrones Better

The following are scenes that are either modified, reimagined, or complete departures from Game of Throne‘s source material, and I believe they improve on the story told by the books. Also, spoiler alert, obviously.


6 – Stannis “the Mannis” Baratheon

My 2nd favorite of the Baratheon Brothers, Stannis is a bitter, pragmatic, and has never, ever, been considered the life of any party. Night’s Watch blacksmith Donal Noye talks about the three brothers: “Robert was the true steel. Stannis is pure iron, black and hard and strong, yes, but brittle, the way iron gets. He’ll break before he bends. And Renly that one, he’s copper, bright and shiny, pretty to look at but not worth all that much at the end of the day.” Most Stannis scenes in the first two books are from either Davos or Catelyn’s p.o.v., but a simple scene in the first episode really explains Stannis’s character better than having another character do his exposition.

“This is Stannis Baratheon. The man will fight to the bitter end and then some.”

As Davos’s son takes dictation on a declaration of war to the Lannisters, Stannis insists he remove any formality, removing adjectives like “beloved” from before his brother’s name. “A harmless courtesy your Grace,” Davos reasons. “A lie — take it out,” Stannis snaps, “Joffery, Renly, Robb Stark–they’re all thieves. They’ll bend the knee or I’ll destroy them.”

Stannis is as unyielding as he is humorless, and although his courtesies earn him precious little respect from his bannermen, he’s developing quite the fanbase from his actions on the TV series, most of all his heroic siege on King’s Landing in which he demonstrates his belief in and devotion to his cause by leading his men off the boats, being the first up the ladder and over the wall, and generally being a total badass. This is a major departure from the attack in the books, but I love it.

I didn’t really like the choking scene, but it gets across Stannis’s extreme frustration at the outcome of Blackwater, and his doubts over placing too much faith in the interpretations and whims of an invisible god.


7 – Cersei and Tommen

Episode 9…what a ride! As Stannis attempts to raze King’s Landing seemingly single-handedly outside, back in the safety of the keep Cersei’s fallen into the wine and is teetering and bitterly slurring like a cougar without a mate at last call. She doesn’t miss this opportunity to torture Sansa and insult everyone around her. This is very similar in the book, although it’s acted perfectly. The real magic however, is in the next scene, which new for the TV series. I don’t care much for her thinly-vieled parable about a lion’s place among allthe creatures in the forest, but the fact she’s just about to kill her son and commit suicide rather than admit defeat speaks volumes about her character.

Even better, the credits for this week’s episodes aren’t the usual theme song but rather a brief rendition of “The Rains of Castamere,” a song related to the ruthlessness and pride of the Lannister family.


8 – Jamie and Cousin

Jamie’s imprisoned and in bad shape when his hapless cousin Ser Alton Lannister gets thrown in his cell. Totally starstruck, the young knight recalls the time he squired for Jaime to be one of the most magnificent experiences of his life. Although Jaime doesn’t initially seem to recall, he warms up and we see a charming side of the Kingslayer; a tournament story that captures what drew him to greatness in the first place, a compliment to his younger cousin, and an admission that Jaime probably wouldn’t be good at anything else.

“Because of men like you.”
“There are no men like me. There’s only me.”

It’s all very sympathetic, and the crowd begins to wonder who’s really the bad gu…oh wait, Jaime leaps up, murders his cousin as well as the guard who tries to stop him from escaping. He gets captured again, and his debates with Catelyn continue.

The TV show does a great job showing just hows good Jamie is at finding a sore spot and provoking anyone he wants: “I’ve never been with any woman other than Cersei, so in a way, I have more honor than poor old dead Ned,” he delivers, quite happy with himself.  Jamie is one of the few characters with no lust for power: he’s a lion that resents being caged, he acts on impulse, and he truly loves and desires his sister.


9 – Bronn and Sandor

Not much to say. Episode 9’s face-off is obvious fan service, but I liked it well enough. Everyone’s favourite cutthroat steps up to the Lannister’s drunk, depressed hound in a G.O.T. fanboy’s equivalent of Alien vs. Predator that was probably the source of countless drunken debates over who would win. Truth be told, I’m not overly fond of the Hound’s acting in the show, although he certainly looks the part.

“Bronn, son of____?”
“You wouldn’t know him.”

Bronn is much more developed in the show, to everyone’s delight, but most of his new material is in Season 1. However, there’s are a few great new interactions between him and Tyrion: one where he tries successfully intentionally irritates a studious Tyrion to alleviate his bordom, and another right before battle in which Tyrion sadly admits their friendship even though it’s apparent he has to buy his friends as well as his women.


10 – Theon

Poor, poor Theon. I haven’t met a new fan of ther series that doesn’t hate him, but surely I can’t be the only one to sympathize as I watch his internal struggle trying to reconcile the teachings of his foster family with those of his birth family. Watching him return unwelcomed to his home and seeing the contrast between his expectations and the cold harsh reality of the Iron Born is enough for me to at least sympathize. He’s misguided, and he’s way out of his league. Although he’s already a p.o.v. character in the books, the TV series has a few extra scenes featuring both his return to the iron islands as well as his capture of Winterfell. Yes, he comes across as childish, petty, and brash but at least…oh wait, there might not be any buts.

“Your father did what he could to gentle Theon, but I fear it was too little and too late.

Maester Luwin obviously sees the same conflict I see in him, even though Theon’s trying his best to put everyone’s doubts to rest as to how cruel and reckless he can be. “You’re not the man you’re pretending to be,” Luwin pleads, as Theon finds himself abandoned by one of his families kin and responsible for the destruction of his other. But it’s too late to change, and Theon knows it.


Honorable Mentions and Suggestions

  • Replacement of Lollys by Sansa in a near-rape is a great way to develop Sansa and the Hound’s relationship, emphasize Joffery’s heartlessness, and make Sansa’s life that much worse.
  • Khal “ripped a man’s tongue out” Drogo’s return in Dany’s vision: “If this is a dream, I’ll kill the man who wakes me.
  • Sansa blowing up at Shae over nothing shows the stress she’s under and how she’s bottling it inside
  • any other suggestions? Comment and I’ll write them in.

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>>>Don’t forget Part I: Season 2 Scenes that make Game of Thrones Better

>>>Or perhaps you’d enjoy my Prometheus Rant

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HBO’s award-winning show Game of Thrones, based on George R. R. Martin’s equally magnificent 7-book series (2 of which have yet to be written), has managed to wow TV scholars, superfans of the novels, and first-time viewers alike with resounding success. No doubt a major key to the show’s success is the ingenuity of George Martin’s intricate fantasy tale of kings and queens, knights and monsters, and the nature of power which spans hundreds of years in a medieval world not unlike our own. However, it takes more than a great story to make great TV.

George R. R. Martin, the brains (and looks) of the operation

When any narrative makes a crossover to a different medium, there’s often constant debate concerning canon vs non-canon material, incongruity with fan expectations, and narrative quality (sometimes from lack of direction from the original author, and sometimes from lack of original content from fresh writers). People’s mental images get shattered by casting, mise-en-scene, and acting. Fans get livid when their favorite characters are culled or plotlines are merged for brevity’s sake. This sort of crossover is a treacherous undertaking as epic as the series itself, but the HBO series navigated it with skill, remaining close enough to the books to appease fanboys while still delivering original content in its own unique style.

There aren’t many books that require a map and printed genealogy at your side in order to appreciate them.
Click the picture for an impressive interactive map.

A Song of Ice and Fire features the stories of 24 point-of-view characters (and over 100 well-developed major characters) as they quest, merry-make, scheme, kill, and generally vie for power in an alternate fantasy version of our own medieval times. With its 1000-page books, complicated history, vast cast, and countless and diverse locales, translating a.S.o.I.a.F into easily-digestible one-hour programs is a daunting task, and some changes and omissions have to be conceded in order to streamline the TV narrative. However, the changes (both additive and subtractive) to the original story are few and far between, often very well motivated, and well-within the character of the Game of Thrones universe (although I will not be defending the egregious and ribald “sexpositions” scenes G.O.T. seems so fond of whenever they need more character development).

So, in addition to Martin’s brilliant source material, Game of Throne‘s success is a result of superb casting and acting, the use of multiple, talented cinematographers who manage to bring the epic cinema look to the small screen, careful omission and editing of the source material, and very importantly, the addition of well-written new material that adds to and reimagines the Game of Thrones universe, much of which has George R. R. Martin’s consent, direction, and sometimes writing.

So, here are some of the new scenes and modifications in Season 2 that make Game of Thrones better. here be spoilers

1 – Every Scene with Lord Tywin and Arya Stark

An easy first pick and fan favorite, the interactions between the cunning patriarch of the House Lannister and an incognito Stark girl posing as a wine bearer at the haunted castle of Harrenhal really steal the show. Even though these scenes are totally non-canon, replacing Amory Lorch (a minor Lannister bannerman) with Tywin afforded the writers several opportunities for Tywin’s character development and dramatic tension. Arya hides her noble birth well, but Tywin’s shrewd eye misses nothing (although he doesn’t suspect she’s a Stark), and after he promotes her to wine bearer, she gains an exclusive glimpse into the inner workings of her enemies and their difficulties in fighting her brother (You’re too smart for your own good,” scolds Tywin).

“My legacy will be determined in the coming months. You know what legacy means? It’s what you pass down to your children, and your children’s children. It’s what remains of you when you’re gone.”

Tywin even confides in Arya his calculating motivations and concern over legacy, his effort in combating Jaime’s dyslexia, and her brothers supposed invincebility (“No, my lord,…Anyone can be killed,” Arya states…and the crowd goes wild). There’s an extremely tense scene in which Lord Littlefinger is present, presumably recognizes Arya, yet decides to remain silent that further emphasizes the fact Lord Baelish play the game for himself only. Tywin’s gets more character development earlier than in the books, he becomes a wholly more likable and sympathetic character, and tension and dramatic irony totally ensue…everyone wins!


2 – Margaery Tyrell

Poor Margaery Tyrell…a seemingly sympathetic and passive character in the books, Margaery gets the attention she deserves from HBO as a woman just as power-hungry and calculating as any of the challengers to the throne. Her marriage to the gentle Lord Renly must be tough on her, but I don’t think her obvious acceptance of the situation is simply a testament to her dutiful nature. It’s just another reminder than almost every union in Game of Thrones is for power (except Jamie and Cersei and Robb and Talisa). Margaery is just making the lot she’s been given work with what she’s, no matter the cost. In her case, in this universe, a woman’s position is fortified by childbirth and legacy. “The best way to stop them is to put your baby in my belly,” Margaery insists to Renly, who’s having another one of his “headaches,” that only her brother can soothe. “Must be the wine,” Renly says, turning away from his totally smoking nude wife. Ever the pragmatic problem solver, Margaery asks “Do you want my brother to come in? He can get you started, I really don’t mind” she helpfully suggests, “Or I can turn over and you can pretend I’m him.” She’s not even joking.

“Fleshing out a character” takes on a whole new meaning with Margaery Tyrell

It’s hinted at in the books, but HBO obviously doesn’t have faith in its audience’s ability to catch subtle hints and decides to out Renly and Ser Loras in scenes that leave no doubt as to the nature of their friendship. Audiences across the country were surprised with scenes featuring intimacy between her husband and her brother, but Margaery doesn’t seem to think it’s a big deal and neither should you. George R. R. Martin gave more than a few hints throughout the series. Here are but a few:

  • …I got Margaery. You’ll be pleased to know she came to me a maid.” Renly says to his brother. To which Stannis replies, “In your bed, she’s like to die that way.” Zing.
  • Now sheathe your bloody sword, or I’ll take it from you and shove it up some place even Renly never found.” Jamie threatens Loras.
  • Renly’s dubs his personal guard the “Rainbow Guard,” he’s well-known for being the best-dressed, and Catelyn notices he pays little attention to his comely bride.

Finally, in a great new scene after Renly’s death, Lord Littlefinger asks, “Do you want to be a queen?”  “No,” Margaery responds,“I want to be the queen.” And as easily as that, she assesses her situation, abandones allegiance to her dead husband’s lost cause, and agrees to wed the monster Joffery. She’s not charging into the lion’s jaws without any help, however. The power and scheming of Highgarden support her every move towards claiming power over Westeros.


3 – Talisa of Volantis

Talisa is a great an example of simplifying a storyline to a show’s benefit and she her character serves in showing some of the courtship and strain that causes Rob Stark to forsake his vows. In the books, Robb returns dutifully and happily married to Jeyne Westerling (of one of the Lannister’s sworn houses) after a night in which she “comforted” him and healed his wounds. On the other hand, Talisa is a medic who follows Robb’s camp, impresses him with her passion for treating the injured with equality, challenges his morality with biting comments, and flirts relentlessly with him. The substitution of the relatively undeveloped Jeyne and her secret wedding with Robb by Talisa and her slowly-building romance is fine by me. Plus, she’s not hard to look at.

Good scenes with Talisa include arguments with Robb over treating friend and enemy alike, a tale of a near-death childhood experience explaining her devotion to medicine, and epic interference by mother Catelyn Stark between the two young lovebirds. This courtship and the strain of command culminates in sultry boots-on sex scene in which begins with this adorable dialogue:

I don’t want to marry the Frey girl,” Robb admits.

I don’t want you to either,” she blurts, obviously relieved they’re on the same page. “But you needed that bridge.”

They hastily and hungrily commence undoing all the strings, latches, buckles, etc. typical of the attire of that time which are probably designed specifically to arrest this sort of irresponsible behavior.



4 – Littlefinger

A Game of Thrones (on which season 1 is based) has 8 point of view characters, and A Clash of Kings (Season 2) has 9:  five Starks (Catelyn, Sansa, Arya, Bran, and Jon Snow), Tyrion Lannister, Davos Seaworth, Theon Greyjoy, and Daenerys Targaryen. Because of a heavy Stark and Tyrion viewpoint bias in the first few novels, a lot of the conniving and court intrigue of Tywin, Littlefinger, Varys, and others happen behind the scenes and are often discovered (sometimes long) after the fact. Two great non-canon Littlefingers come to mind (although my first is more of a Cersei Scene), but he’s a delight every time he’s on screen.

As Cersei and Littlefinger trade veiled threats in a courtyard, Littlefinger (with his newly created house sigil) pushes her too far by claiming his knowledge of her incest is power. Seeing fit to teach him a lesson, Cersei commands, “Seize him! Cut his throat.” The guards leap into action. “Stop,” she sneers” Oh wait…I’ve changed my mind” She’s just toying with him. “Power is power,” she sneers at a visibly shaken Littlefinger. This scene is great because it shows Littlefinger’s ambition getting the better of him, and Cersei’s ability to still cut him down to size.

A second great new scene is when Ros (an example of a 1-shot character getting developed into a minor one) is being consoled by Littlefinger about her performance at his brothel. Sshshing and consoling, Littlefinger seems sympathetic at first, but then he matter-of-factly whispers to her a story about how this one time there was a prostitute not unlike Ros who was crying and not making him money. So he sold her to some client whose needs involve more than your average amount of slap ‘n tickle. So, after this compassionate pep-talk, he gives her a quick “you’ll be happy tomorrow hmmmmm?” Yet another scene showing how ruthless Littlefinger can be to the people who get in his way.


5 – Yoren

Yoren’s given a good deal more depth than he has in the books, and is given a more interesting role as protector and tutor of Arya Stark, serving as the next step in her education after Syrio. A perfect balance of couldn’t care less badassery and surprising decency, Yoren sticks to a code of honor, defending his ragtag pack of criminals more than most knights would protect the innocent. And every moment he’s not being a badass (by saving Arya’s life,  threatening a gold cloak, or Boromir-charging a platoon of Lannister men), he’s a hilariously pessimistic philosopher, in a way only spending decades without women or warmth on the wall can make a man.

“And one day, Willam came riding back into town. And I buried an axesword so deep into Willam’s skull they had to bury him with it.”                                                                                       There little girl…that’ll help you sleep.

His short bonding scene with Tyrion in the first season is funny (“And how do bear’s balls taste?” /”A bit chewy.”), his presence at Ned Stark’s beheading is epic (“Don’t look!”), his threat with his knife pressed against a mounted goldcloak’s thigh is very cool (“and there’s no-one nearby that can un-nick it’), and his last stand is heroic (“Get up you lazy sons of whores! There’s men out there that wants to fuck your corpses!”). However, my favorite new scene of Yoren’s is the advice he gives Arya on his last night which consists of a revenge tale from his past which inspires her to start saying the names at night. He understands her need for revenge and doesn’t dissuade her from following through, even though he knows how her thirst might be all-consuming. I like how Arya’s personality is getting shaped by a variety capable teachers– on her journey from Syrio’s Bravosii wit and zen-like water-dancing to Jaqen H’ghar’s elite assassin skills, Yoren is a pefect pitstop for her to harness her anger and hate into a fatalistic worldview.

>>>Like This Article?

>>>Continue to Part II: MORE Season 2 Scenes that Improve Game of Thrones

>>>Or perhaps you want to check out my Prometheus Rant

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Pre-article caveat: I concede that some of my expectations for the Alien franchise are not in line with those shared by the majority of the public

Prometheus Review

The way some people are talking about this film, it’s as if they think Ridley Scott to be the film’s namesake, gracing us with talent that could only have been stolen from Gods. After all, he has done it before, time and time again, with personal favorites including but not limited to Black Hawk Down, Kingdom of Heaven, Blade Runner, and especially, especially Alien. These films are epic in scale, beautiful to behold, and feature larger-than-life characters who act remarkably human.

So it’s fair to say I have high expectations of Scott, and higher ones of his return to the Alien Universe, which has been besmirched in its countless iterations. Ridley Scott returns to the genre he created (or at least reinvented) and honestly, I wish he hadn’t.

That’s not entirely fair. I still hope he will, and I’ll reserve my full judgment until after the sequel, but I have this nagging feeling  it is I who will suffer the fate of his film’s namesake, forced to suffer repeated punishment for attaching myself passionately to one genre. Perhaps I’m too particular with my sci-fi tastes. Maybe I should just go play more Dead Space.

Sure, Prometheus has beautiful and believable special effects, its share of visually arresting sets, and a decent score. But those should be a given in a Scott film. And yes, I did prefer it on my second viewing.  But I want more, and it’s insulting to Scott to expect less.

Here are my problems with the film; writing, acting, and direction.

Prometheus begins with a clockwork setup spanning millennia, promising an intricate story whose pieces just might explain the origin of the lethal xenomorphs (the alien monster), their connection with the mysterious Space Jockey of the first film, and, if we’re lucky, the answers to mankind’s most important questions of how, why, and who. Instead, the story stumbles over its complexity and ambiguities, gifting us only vague hints, half-baked ideas, and a enervating finale. I’m not one to complain about a few loose ends or inexplicable motivations, especially in a sci-fi flick, but these faults are the rule, not the exception.

Enter Damon Lindelof, co-creater of Lost, script re-writer for Prometheus, and master of recondite plots. Lindelof suggests the script is too reliant on concepts from the Alien series and proceeds to style the script into his “let’s see how much nonsense our fanboys will justify and media scholars with analyze to death because hey…it’s way too late to back out now” school of screenwriting he uses so liberally in Lost. He sees no reason to feature xenomorphs and all their familiar tropes because, after all, Prometheus shares only “strands of Alien’s DNA.” So sure, Prometheus is not technically a prequel. Instead of coming into its own, it comes across more like amateur Canadian fan fiction.

Lindelof begins Prometheus with a first-rate first act rife with religious imagery, mythological meta-stories, philosophical conundrums, and sci-fi tradition…everything that might imply an epic and intricate conclusion. It hints at depth without being too complicated and has many signs of being a great script. As Lindelof’s story gets more convoluted, it’s as if he confuses himself in his ambition. George R. R. Martin he isn’t, and Lindelof’s writing gets lost in its grandeur, totally ignores his protagonists, and then fizzles out when it should be going supernova.

The writing reminds me of the great leaps of faith the Wachowski “brothers” demanded of the audience with their The Matrix: Reloaded and Revolutions. It was apparent after the trilogy concluded that it takes more than liberal sprinklings of religious imagery, hints of a grander story, and promises of an epic conclusion to distract an audience from clumsy writing. It is said of the Targaryens that greatness and madness are but two sides of the same coin. Likewise, when writing with such ambition, I believe banality and profundity share the same relationship. Every time I watch a film with a wildly ambitious first act, I hold my breath, hoping the coin lands true. While I don’t need a director to hold my hand and tell me everything, I don’t want him to cast the widest net possible in the hopes his smarter viewers give credit where it isn’t due.

brilliant acting on Fassbender’s part

The real stars of sci-fi movies are all-to-often the special effects or grand plots, but it’s folly to ignore what I consider the most important element of space flicks…human interactions. What’s so great about space as a narrative device? It isolates and humbles humans with its lonely, vast distances and relative scales. It challenges us by making our most simple behaviors of moving, breathing, and eating difficult or deadly. And, as a young McCoy puts it: “Space is disease and danger wrapped in darkness and silence,” it scares us with its limitless unknowns. Prometheus touches on these elements, but its characters seem relatively unphased.

The Prometheus cast is rife with wasted or miscast talent, with the obvious exception of David, Fassbender’s curiously curious android. The acting is at times painfully wooden, with little and less motivation, development, or depth. It’s cliche to say the most emotion from any actor came from David the robot, but I’ll say it anyways. Why is Captain Janek so downright negligent? Why is Charlize such a bitch? Why is Holloway such a movie-bully to David? Why cast Guy Pierce as a decrepit old man? Why not cast Bishop? And the lead girl just sorta sucks.

I am aware sci-fi needs its share of negligent captains, boastful soldier-types, and reckless scientists, but it seems like the entire crew of the Prometheus is comprised of “first-to-die” nitwits, cowards, and hot-heads that have no business being on an interstellar expedition…much less a Ridley Scott cast. Darth Sidious’s appearance at the end of the film seals the deal of hilarious archetypes, unless you count Charlize “Ice Queen” Theron’s hilarious Disney death as a result of her inability to perform lateral movement.

Why wasn’t Giger contacted to write and direct? Why doesn’t a startup invest in a machine that can transmit his dreams directly into everyone’s head? I don’t have these answers.

When I think Alien, I want to think horror, and body horror at that. I long to see the tension and sheer terror as a result getting being hunted by some unknown, unseen horror. I want more David Cronenberg “new flesh,” foreign entities invading our body, humans slimed and cocooned and treated as egg sacs, men getting pregnant, etc.

Prometheus ambles along with no tension at all, and features precious few of the aforementioned endearing elements that are a hallmark of the Alien series: that brilliant abortion scene, some phallic/vaginal cobras the scientists mistake for a cute pet, a giant starfish and Darth Sidious’s thoroughly disgusting feet. There was little suspense, less getting chased or hiding, and when it came down to it, no fighting (where did that ax go?). I do believe the actors’ shortcomings are no small part of this lack of tension.

In terms of personal preference, beautiful sets ‘inspired by’ (ie stolen from ) HR Giger and revolutionary special effects (that level of SFX perfection where you don’t even notice them), weren’t enough to save the mise-en-scene from its lack of artsy composition or slower pacing that I prefer in my sci-fi. Some complaints point towards its unimaginative plot elements. But I believe sci-fi’s a referential genre—Prometheus is no exception, paying homage to its predecessors, Alien films included.

It takes more than a woman running around in her undies to make an Alien movie

There are a lot of great things to be said about Prometheus, and you can read them anywhere. So yea, it’s a great scifi movie. But I want more. I want a unbelievable movie…a  visceral movie. I’m selfish like that, and my disappointment  is a result of my high expectations of what I believe Alien to be.

The android David counters Holloway’s cruel ‘because we could’ comment with the riposte “Can you imagine how disappointing it would be for you to hear the same thing from your creator?” I’m glad Prometheus will never have to struggle with its own inadequacies, ever-fearful that Ridley Scott revisted Alien simply because he could.

I weep for what could have been.

Bonus Section: What to see instead

I wanted to make a mosaic of the xenomorph face from the genres of film that make Alien great, but I just don’t know how to do that.

Space is the Place:

  • 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
  • Blade Runner (1982)
  • Moon (2009)
  • Sunshine (2007)
  • Stalker (1979)
  • Duck Dodgers and the 24 1/2 Century (1953)

Space Horror/Madness:

  • The Host (2006)
  • Below (2002)…well, it’s basically space
  • Pitch Black (2000)
  • Solaris (1972 & 2002)
  • Pandorum (2009)
  • Alien (1979)
  • Aliens (1986)
  • Dead Space and Natural Selection (video games)
  • The Descent (2005)
  • Ren and Stimpy S01E03 “Space Madness” and S01E05 “Marooned” (1991)
  • The Terminator (1984)

Body Horror:

  • Tetsuo: the Iron Man (1989)
  • Altered States (1980)
  • The Thing (1982)
  • Event Horizon (1997)
  • Hellraiser (1987)
  • eXistenZ (1999), the Fly(1986), or any other David Cronenberg flicks

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I feel compelled to make a blog post, partially because I have something to write about, partially because I haven’t written in a long time, and partially because my long-time adversary (and only person I’ve truly considered my peer), Ronny Khuri, has begun to blog, and we haven’t competed in months.

Ronny's straight-up a better artist than I am.

I’m unsure of when Ronny and I initiated our friendship of convenience, cooperation, and competition, but it’s certainly the subject of its own blog post (if not entire book, complete with Instant Message conversations, supplemental photographs, and predictions for the future). All I know is that I was definitely losing until 6th grade, in which we both opted to draw the same girl (Metal Gear Solid’s Meryl), and our homeroom teacher (the lovable and knowledgeable Mrs. Nabers) told us, definitively, that Ronny’s art-piece was superior. At which point I buckled under, pulled myself together, and have been winning ever since (with one minor blip involving Dota’s Lycanthrope). Also, here’s a link to Hunter Swain’s blog. It seems we’re all becoming amateur pundits, and that’s not necessarily a good thing.

So I figured I’d talk about Chatroulette. Well, I intended to introduce and describe Chatroulette to my less internet-savvy audience in my first real paragraph, but since there is no Wikipedia page for Chatroulette (this is very perplexing???), I guess I’m going to have to resort to writing some original content… which means it will be brief, but by no means cogent or complete.

Chatroulette is a website that automatically pairs its anonymous users in one-on-one text and webcam conversations. You only need an internet connection and a webcam (if you’d like to videochat). This idea has been tried in the past unsuccessfully, but I think where Chatroullete succeeds is its ease-of-use and “cam required” tickbox which guarantees your chat partner also has a webcam.

It’s called Chatroulette because the second you’re finished, bored, or horrified by your partner, you can simply click “Next” and be paired with another searching participant from the thousands online. An equally descriptive name would be “RandomChat” or “anorandomchat,” or “chrandonomoust,” but “roulette” carries certain exciting connotations, and just like its namesake, Chatroulette is simultaneously exciting, stupid, and a great way to waste a lot of time.

Like I had to ask...

It’s possible to both cycle through hundreds of users or simply talk to an individual for the entirety of a session. It’s a simple concept that took too long to implement fluidly on the internet, and is what I consider the logical progression of this media trend towards reality TV and “bottom-up” media production and communication…a sort of casual voyeurism in which you can experience every sort of of interaction, from the most shallow form of voyeurism to artsy or subversive productions, to a particularly in-depth interaction.

So, instead of writing a well-researched and developed article, I’ll make a blog post, just touching briefly on thoughts that initially come to mind without any sort of editorial process or attempt to link them together into a more cohesive work.

First, I should probably write some Henry Jenkins shit about whether the mechanics and design of a medium itself or the userbase determines the manner in which an interactive medium is used. Maybe add something about semiotics, messages, and sender-receiver relationships (encoding, interpretation, interpolation, etc.). So bear with me—my essays about this sort of stuff were garbled and nonsequiter in the first place (maybe because I often resorted to reading summaries, or summaries of summaries, of the concepts). Being out of college and in Thailand for 5 months hasn’t done my English any favors. So…like I said, it’s possible to use Chatroulette in a multitude of ways—is this by design or a product of the diverse mindsets that employ the site? Does anyone care?

Thailand...puts a lot of academic drivel in perspective.

Now, this post (like most journalism) is already heading towards idealizing an institution…experiencing a subject for a brief period, ignoring the facets that would turn off a fanbase, and writing an artsy, whimsical piece is a job that should be reserved for NPR segments. Make no mistake—Chatroulette is exactly what you would expect from anonymous human interaction and dialogues. Consider the negative effect anonymity has on internet boards like 4chan, then apply it to direct communication. I don’t want to lie and say something like “of course, there’s the occasional nudity, racism, and aggressive/antisocial behavior,” because of course these behaviors constitute the vast majority of interactions on a site like this. Left to their own devices, people express themselves in distasteful ways, especially when they’re given the opportunity to do so anonymously. This blog post should be categorized under “marginally insightful, predominantly self-serving.”

"Anonymous," perhaps less thought-provoking than many of its supporters believe.

Nor do I want to call something like this “a revolutionary and enlightening social/human experiment, representative of the nature of human interactions and chillingly elucidative of our underlying psyche” because any behavior you come across shouldn’t come as a surprise, given the aforementioned nature of anonymous interactions and general makeup of the internet-using population.

But there are occasions that make this site worth it, and it’s during these that Chatroulette becomes beautiful. I find gems in every session…like two under-educated (to put it lightly) US soldiers, lounging in their barracks in full military gear making fun of me for being a hippie until we realized we’re both in Bangkok. Or white-collar-looking guys you can let your hair down with and make fun of each other for being metalheads, then bun it back up and click “next.” Or coming face-to-face with your doppelganger/long-lost brother (“It’s like looking in a mirror.”), and telling him to keep up the good work. There are people I give a compliment to, then disconnect as soon as I see the first hint of their smiling response, and there are people that have done this to me. Some people find doing this just as satisfying as insulting someone then disconnecting…I certainly do.

  • Some people turn Chatroulette on ready to give you a show (however mundane)—letting you watch them order pizza, brush their teeth, or unpack their luggage after a vacation. And a portion of the userbase loves to watch these little productions, appreciates the absurdity of watching everyday narratives, or is genuinely interested in experimental voyeurism. In this sense, Chatroulette is a tool that renders all of its users amateur filmmakers, with total creative control over how they choose to present themselves (framing, lighting, action, tone). They direct the action on their own small-screen show.  It’s a great outlet for shameless physical humor. Many people masturbate–literally, artistically, or academically (as I’ve been known to do on this site). And there’s an audience for all three.
  • There’s an additional layer of media production/consumption when peoples start making anticipating and making videos about their interactions on chatroulette. They premeditate and design a live comedy, based on their actions and assumed reactions. This is more likely to be an unintentional nested product of the design of this sort of medium. You’ll have people evoking a particular response for the sake of a different audience’s entertainment.
  • Some people turn it on and forget it’s there–they browse the internet and write and game at their computer, unwittingly transmitting every twitch, insight, personal moment, nose-pick they commit. And some people watch this until they see something they feel they shouldn’t, and click “Next” out of respect. Others just cycle through the list, deliberately pausing only long enough for their partner to witness their reaction to their first impression.

As it turns out, people aren't nearly as impressed by their first impression of me as I would like to believe.

  • Often, for me, Chatroulette is like a 30-second detective show. You’re given clues and must work quickly to determine the identity of the individual. It’s the type of interaction Sherlock Holmes lives for. Sports pendants, those stack-able college beds, hoodie? You got yourself a college student. Look out their window (weather, light/dark?), determine what’s on their posters, tshirts, and paintings, listen to their accent, notice the small details in their dress…or just start guessing aloud and verify your hunches by watching their subtle reactions closely without the fear of committing a social faux-pas by actively staring/scrutinizing. If you’re successful, maybe you’ve found a common ground on which to reminisce/debate/attack/anything else that qualifies as interesting conversation. This is just one way to enjoy yourself on Chatroulette.
  • And there are those who keep hitting “next” until they find someone they consider worthy of a deep conversation. Anonymity has proven useful in in the past in terms of seeking out advice. Forums designed to help people cope with any number of problems are appealing because sometimes, questions are too personal to be attached to one’s identity. People can speak freely, fearlessly, and often, intelligently. If they happen to be wearing a gold masquerade mask and white curly wig while you and he argue eloquently, politely, and respectfully, then so be it. This, too, is a great way to enjoy yourself on this site – develop an argument, attack an opponents, speak freely, or be converted. Maybe help someone with something you’ve had experience with in in the past.

M"m"M- "You got a little something under your nose there, Sig." SF-"Actually, most of the insults you direct towards yourself on this site are thinly-disguised attempts to fish for compliments...and you're totally oblivious when you do it. It's a textbook plea for insecure individuals. " M"m"M-Actually, every discovery you came up with turned out to be a fanciful, coke-induced rant and no-one in the field takes you seriously.

  • Another thought that came to mind was the use of a client like Chatroulette as a powerful tool for Social Psychology research. It’s not a perfect model, but one similar could be used in order to collect lots of data on first impressions—one could manipulate how a subject presented themselves (clothing, expression, smile,  camera angle, lighting, etc.) and record how long an average conversation lasted before the partner opted to click “next.” What are the rates of rejection for individuals that choose to smoke on video? This sort of data is valid in both same-sex and intersex interactions because the factor of anonymity and the lack of repercussions for shunning a partner. Or there could be research on how long it takes for individuals engaged in a face-to-face conversation before they feel guilty about clicking “next,” without saying goodbye. A study comes to mind about how the manner in which avatars interact online (turning a back to a teammate, running away, killing, etc.) has real-world implications on their controller’s feelings. But I can’t find it, so you have to take my word for it.

Nope, not this “Avatar.” Well…sort of.

Anyways. I can’t tell you what it’s like. Try it for yourself. Find someone with similar interests, find someone with different ones. Enjoy anonymous interaction. It’s good fun.

Question of the Post (QOtP): What is the optimum order in which to drink two light beers and one full-flavored beer?

PS. For those of you who were reduced to shambles when my PictureBag went down…It’s back up!

PPS. Watch Training Day again.

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A few weeks ago, I was looking through our library for my favorite childhood books when I came across a veritable tome that caught my eye. Quips, idioms, truisms, and queries cover all sides of this book in black. The book’s a workout—to lift and to read, and I’ve been casually flipping through it for days now. This book is Alan Fletcher’s The Art of Looking Sideways (Phaidon Press 2001).

It’s a tremendous book for casually browsing as every page is chock full of anecdotes, oddities, illusions, illustrations, photographs, excepts from essays, and trivia–all haphazardly organized into some 72 chapters with such intriguing titles as “Space-Time,” “Perfection,” “Perspective,” “Paradox,” and “Stereotypes.” In some ways, it reminds me of Adult-Swim bumps without the music, and any fan of that programming block could easily see the similarities between their favorite programs and Fletcher’s imaginative and absurd collages.


Get The Art of Looking Sideways on Amazon

However, give the pages the more critical look they deserve, and you’ll be justly rewarded with a highly-referential media consumption experience that challenges, educates, and demands a reader’s total attention.

Since I graduated with a degree in Film and Media Culture, I have had difficulty absorbing any media without thoughts of encoding/decoding, semiotics, meta-narratives, psychological and anthropomorphic needs, and culturalism racing through my head. Usually, any such remark or pontification expressed in a social situation is immediately shot-down or disregarded as rapidly as was my first foray into more experimental media interpretation, back in 11th grade (slightly paraphrased):


Mr. Shelton: The element water is often used in classical literature in order to thematically represent cleansing or renewal. Baptism or submersion imagery, in particular, are literary devices that represent a renewal or transformation. Characters may plunge into total immersion, only to find themselves emerge anew, transformed, or changed.

11th grade Andrew (dying to raise hand): So, like in the film Predator, the plunge into water reverses the tide of battle?

Mr. Shelton (raising an eyebrow): Andrew, this is an English literature class, we’re not talking abo…

Andrew (cont’d): …the previously-invisible Predator’s cloak malfunctions in the water, rendering him visible to Arnold, whereas his means of thermally seeing Arnold is also foiled because Arnold is able to disguise his heat emanations by covering himself in wet mud, thus rendering him invisible. It’s a role reversal and turning point in the film caused by immersion in water!

Mr. Shelton: Sure, and then John the Baptist grabs a Gatling gun and mows down bunch of orcs?

Andrew: No…it makes a lot of…

Mr. Shelton (interrupting): Moving on…

An entire class of sophomoric boys laughs uproariously, and Andrew is left red-faced, silent, but determined to apply traditional academics to the movies and video games he loves. His next comment citing the Classical unities of place, time, and action for the success of Die Hard met slightly less resistance and he moved on from there.


Even meeting considerable resistance from a young age, I knew I was headed for media study greatness

(I should note that the diminutive, chain-smoking Mr. Shelton was also one of my most influential teachers in high-school. His no-nonsense grading, resigned (yet tailored to perfection) method of teaching adolescent boys, and cynical attitude ending up teaching the lot of us to roll with the punches, to respect oneself regardless of the derision of an authority figure, and to perform one’s best when met with an extremely challenging situation).

However, back in the 21st century, I’m happy to say my education in media studies is totally applicable to this particular book.

The author, Alan Fletcher, has compiled an expansive compendium of word and image designed to tackle discrepancies between signifier and signified, find the bizarre and amazing in the routine, attack the passive acceptance of cultural consensuses, and reveal the contextual and arbitrary nature of any form of communication. A reader is forced to flex, challenge, and strengthen his visual and communicative intelligence as he finds himself making perceptual and mental jumps that defy convention.


Thanks to its referential and combinatorial aesthetic, The Art of Looking Sideways, ventures into the realm of postmodern collage, shattering conventions of high culture and combining them with science, popular culture, and non sequiter connections…but after reading this book for a few weeks, a reader might venture that after careful study, nothing is a non sequiter…

A reader fully commited to understanding this book must struggle to make meaning of the overwhelming amount of sometimes loosely-related stimuli presented to him. A single page might have an optical illusion, a clever turn of phrase, a hand-drawn nestled figure, detailed architectural blueprints, and a brief timeline of life on earth.

Victory, by Shigeo Fukuda

Victory, by Shigeo Fukuda

The reader finds himself shedding rigid perspectives in making links between different symbols and ideologies in the context of the overarching chapter..asking himself did Alan Fletcher deliberately design the theme of the page, or is “Nothing is a sign unless it is interpreted as a sign,” and as such, my decoding is as valid as any authorial input?


Besides being both an enjoyable read for a casual consumer, a study of cultural and social origins, norms, and iconoclasm for a psychologist, and an exercise in media studies for the media-culture scholar, The Art of Looking Sideways could also be a useful go-to for graphic designers or advertisers looking for inspiration. It’s a complex snapshot of our culture and aesthetic today, with insight of its origins, and perhaps its future. I definitely recommend it.


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