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Oblivion: Gaming The System With Help From Wiki

Clearly this Xbox 360 blogging thing isn't worth a damn when it comes to counting days played streaks; it's claimed twice now that I had a streak, but never awarded me one, claimed I didn't play a day, then awarded me a streak anyway. So I'll stop paying attention to that portion of it.

Having pretty much done with Gears' solo campaign, I'm now devoting my play time to Oblivion. And while I don't like to use the word cheat, it's been increasingly difficult to avoid the temptation to use the exhausive resources of the Oblivion Wiki to... ah... enhance my play experience.

Since there's already way too many things to do in Oblivion, I've got little interest in optimizing the way I complete quests. Often there's several ways to do each, with different consequences. So after I've completed one, for curiosity's sake, I'll check the quest page on the wiki to see what the other possible outcomes were. I don't have any intention of backtracking to do it over, since there's already too many things to do and not enough time, and the idea of replaying the game later with another character is just too far off to even consider.

However, the resource is so well linked internally that one thing led to another and soon I was getting hints about things I hadn't seen yet.

It started when I got stuck in the Unfair Competition quest, near the very end. The gravedigger supplying Thoronir the merchant with his stolen goods was waiting in a tomb for me, along with a henchman, and every time I confronted him, he killed me. I got quite annoyed, since my most recent save was just inside the tomb door, and the tomb door locks behind you. The gravedigger, Agarmir, has a magic sword, Debaser, that drains Willpower and Endurance, that made him tough to beat at my low level (I think I was about a level 7 at the time). Agarmir is always one level higher than the player, plus he's got an accomplice, and the magic sword. I thought it was really unfair and unrealistic that the door locks behind you once you enter-- Agarmir can't have locked the door himself, since you stand between him and the door, and it was open when you came in.

Since I knew the quest was almost over and I suspected I was missing something obvious, I checked out the Unfair Competition page and there saw the suggestion to pickpocket Debaser off Agarmir before the confrontation-- you have to break into his house anyway in order to find evidence of his gravedigging activities.

This turned out to be the key for me to finish that quest, since I'm heavy on stealth and not too strong on combat. It also proved to be the gateway drug for dipping into the wiki for hints. Once I had the magical stolen sword, I had to figure out how to recharge it. It's not the kind of information easily gleaned from just asking, so I had to start looking at parts of the Wiki on enchantment, soul gems, and soul trapping-- since apparently that's the only cost-effective way to recharge a magic weapon.

That led to a page on other magic weapons, where I found out about Umbra, one of the better swords in the game, carried by a character also called Umbra, in a ruin quite close to the Imperial City that I had actually visited already; it seemed to have nothing much of interest, so I forgot about it.

The page on Umbra said she was lightning fast, self-healing, and tough to beat, but her sword was really worth it, especially for low-level characters. Since monsters level up with your character, it's almost more important to upgrade your gear than to level up.

The dungeon she's in is nearly empty: sandcrabs, rats, and not much loot except for what she carries. She isn't hostile to you unless attacked or pickpocketed. Still, I knew I'd be no match for her all alone. Wiki to the rescue!

There were lots of suggestions for beating Umbra: trapping her against level geometry works, since she has no ranged attack. However, if she dies that way, the sword can fall through the level. Bad idea. You can lead her into guards, but they might attack you, plus she's insanely fast. Bad idea. You can lead her into the gas traps, but her speed and healing makes that sketchy.

Or you can bring allies. Wait, I thought... allies? Yet another quest that I hadn't heard of, originating in Chorrol, gives you two invincible allies. Long story short, you reunite long lost identical twins and clear their ancestral home of Ogres for them, then lead them there.

Except... you never take them there. They follow you everywhere. They can't be killed, only knocked unconscious temporarily. They distract other enemies, and aren't bad fighters.

So there was part of the solution. The wiki also delivered the other: a magical staff, available in Imperial City to any level player if they could scrape together the cash. I was already close to having the money, and with my new allies, we cleaned out the nearby Vilverin dungeon of bandits and loot (taking several trips to cart away a lot of the heavier armor and weapons) to raise the rest.

Four hits did Umbra in. She only attacked me once (and knocked me down) after knocking out both my allies, just as I landed the last blow. Umbra was mine.

Have I cheated? Probably. I didn't know about the twins quest without the Wiki; although I could have. I just hadn't heard the required rumor in Chorrol yet. I'd been to Umbra's dungeon, Vindasel, but hadn't seen her. I'd been to the staff shop, but hadn't really been interested because I was more interested in bows and swords. Plus, I seem to be exploiting a quest bug by not taking the twins home. They don't seem to mind, though... and if they don't, why should I?

Twenty Days Of Oblivion

Not sure how this works-- since yesterday's update said I didn't play (even though I did) and today's says I played twenty days straight (which probably is true, but can't be if yesterday's update is accurate).

At any rate, I'm having a blast with Oblivion. I'd write more about it, but I'm having too much fun actually playing it to stop; by the time I think of something that's happened that I should write about, something else has happened.

A few notes on minor points, though. Graphics in games like this are getting so close to photorealistic that the whole genre may be dipping into the Uncanny Valley, which I'd suggest can be applied more generally to everyday objects and not just to human faces.

While Oblivion's NPCs faces are more detailed than Morrowind's, they still look plastic-like. And why are all the attractive female faces on marauders and bandits?

Blinded By The Light
Lighting is an issue at times. I've run into inns and taverns that despite torches and fireplaces are darker than any dungeon-- but even in the middle of the night in a rainstorm, have exterior windows that show sunshine coming through. That's also Uncanny Valley if you ask me-- the whole game starts to look and feel so real that things that would be brushed off with "well, it's just a game" before suddenly feel far more offensive. I've taken to turning the game's brightness up quite a bit, but this makes outdoor areas seem too bright.

One Does Not Just Walk Into Oblivion
Bethesda did a great job with the Mordor-like areas of Oblivion. In fact, too good. I don't want to go there. I've closed one gate, the one at Kvatch, because it's a main quest requirement. I understand that it should be a dreadful environment. It should be a place you don't want to go, as a person. But as a gamer, it should be a quest I want to do. It just isn't. I resent gates popping up, daring me to run through them.

On top of that, each gate is basically one of seven randomly generated environments, so once you've done a few, you've seen them all.

De-Levelling
I've intentionally stalled my advancement and the main plot before I have to take on another because I'd rather just to side quests for awhile. However, Oblivion gates keep popping up everywhere; spoiling the landscape, and populating the countryside with scamps, imps, and clannfears. They've done their job too well here. I think they made an intentional choice to not make "safe areas" and "dangerous areas"; Gates can (and do) pop up anywhere, and the change in levelling-- meaning enemies level up as you do-- mean that a difficult fight is determined by who, rather than merely where.

I'm not sure this is a good idea. It's too ingrained in me to assume that the area where you start near (in this case, the Imperial City) is pretty safe, and that the farther away you travel, the more dangerous things get. You can always control how hard the game is by where you travel. Of course, to complete the game, you'll have to go the more dangerous places, but at least you can control when.

Oblivion isn't like that. At certain times, even the city is dangerous-- once you've done one particular quest, members of the Mythic Dawn cult will attack you in broad daylight, in the Imperial City, in front of the guard. They're not that tough, but it is surprising to be attacked in what you'd reasonably assume to be a "safe area". One could argue that it encourages exploration, though. Because any particular area isn't guaranteed to be more dangerous than any other, you can wander to your heart's content. If it weren't for the gates.

I have a feeling I might enjoy it better if I just finish the main quest and close all the gates; on the other hand, without the gear and skills gained during the side quests, I'm not sure I'd be able to finish the main quest.

Irradiant AI
Much was made of the game's artificial intelligence; it was hyped pre-launch, and the subject of much grudging praise and bitter criticism afterwards. I think the major problem with it is calling it AI. Call it NPC behavior and I think you'll defuse most of the fuss.

Oblivion's NPCs aren't perfect, but are a damn sight better than Morrowind's. They do have their own behaviors; routines they'll follow. Some people stay in town, shuttling between their house, a job, and various taverns. Some are traveling merchants who visit several cities in turn, depending on the day of the week, and some will even get killed walking their routes-- whether or not you're even watching, which I found fascinating.

There are still problems, though. Nobody does anything about carcasses lying in the street, even after days and weeks. I can understand this in the wilderness, but in town? Just a simple tool tip to remind me that after X days, the town guard will cart off a corpse for burial would be nice, so I know I have to loot it soon. Or let me rob the grave later. It seems silly to see Mythic Dawn operatives, stripped naked, dead on the Temple steps, forever.

Monsters and NPCs can be fooled in combat pretty easily. Melee-only characters will try and follow you when you climb on top of rocks, where you can kill them with ranged weapons or magic quite easily. That's a bit of a minus, even if it helps me.

Monsters and NPCs can be lured into fighting each other, which I find awesome. I completed one quest by repeatedly attempting to pickpocket a Countess. Every time I failed, I resisted arrest, ran outside the castle walls, and jumped into the bay. Even if a guard managed to follow me, I'd then enter a cave, bait a troll into following me, run outside, and jump on a rock on top of the cave entrance. The trolls would then kill the guard. And although guards will swim to follow you, trolls won't. Once I swim back out into the bay after the guard is dead, the "enemies nearby" music stops playing, and I could fast travel back to a Thieves Guild operative to pay off my bounty. I did that pattern three times before successfully pickpocketing what I needed. That the Countess will still talk to you after that is very, very odd-- paying off the bounty might affect the guards, but doesn't she remember catching me picking her pocket? Guess not.

I've also led enemies from caves and mines out into the open near Oblivion gates, and let the enemies there fight each other. That worked well in one quest area that required killing five vampires.

Sneak attacks are great. But the sneak mechanism also has some quirks. Sometimes, if you have darkness and something to hide behind, you can get in two sneak attacks (or more) on the same enemy, if you're out of sight when the blow lands. This only seems to work when using a bow, or coming up directly behind a target. Usually, the sneak indicator will glow full after that first attack, indicating you've been seen. Your target will now magically home in on you no matter where you run, even if it has never actually had a line of sight on you and therefore couldn't have known where you went. A target will often run right at you, even while you're still under cover, even when the sneak indicator shows you as hidden. If they do, stay in cover and fire an arrow blind into the corner they're about to turn around. If the sneak indicator showed you as hidden when you fire, it seems that even if it lands when you can be seen, it counts as a sneak attack.

...And The Horse I Rode In On
When I first started playing, I exited the sewers near the stables outside the Imperial City. Since I was playing a thief, I thought I'd steal a horse.

There is no effective way to steal a horse. First of all, the horse itself can observe its theft, and invisibly and instantly report you to the guards, who come running.

The horse is marked as "stolen", which means every time you get on it after the first time, is another theft.

You can ride the horse to some other town, get off it, and talk to an NPC. Then, when you get back on the horse he just saw you ride in on, without making any remark about it whatsoever-- he will report your theft.

Even once you're in the Thieves Guild and have a way to pay your bounty, I can't see any way of getting a horse marked as your own property, or selling it. You can use stolen weapons and items throughout the game; you can't sell them to legitimate merchants, but you can use them. As long as you don't have a bounty, it never inconveniences you in the least.

I'd love to be an Oblivion horse thief, but there's really no way to do it.

Eating My Brains...

Stolen from mercuryeric's blog at http://mercuryeric.livejournal.com/129283.html

LiveJournal Username
The name of your zombie infested home town.
Your zombie killing weapon of choice.
How much do zombies scare you?
Oh noes!!11 A zombie! What do you do?
Blasting zombies left and right with a freaking twelve guage. What do you think? mercuryeric
Curled into a fetal position crying their eyes out. anton_p_nym
Is pwning some zombies with Don't Stop Me Now playing in the background. brannonb
Is sitting at home watching CNN and eating ice cream. heptarch
Get ripped to pieces by the zombies. Bummer. mercuryeric
Is the zombie king who you must destroy to end the zombie menace. heptarch
Number of zombies you decapitate. 402
Chances you survive the zombie swarm.

52%
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Kazakhstan On Line

Many people living in Kazakhstan spend a lot of their time on line. Shopping, banking, voting, even medical procedures, all require going on line, sometimes for extended periods.

In case you hadn't guessed, I don't mean by using the Internet. I mean by getting in a line-- or at least what passes for a line in the former Soviet Union.

Back in kindegarten one of the first things I recall being taught was how to line up single file. We lined up when the bell rang so we could file into the school. We lined up single file to go in to lunch. We lined up single file to leave school at the end of the day. We lined up single file to get on the bus to go home. Thankfully it was not quite the military. No one ever requested that we line up alphabetically by height.

Of course, even the most sedate and orderly of children (if those words may even be applied) know the difference between being at the front of the line as opposed to the back of the line. Sometimes being in the front granted no advantage whatsoever-- with each student assigned their own permanent desk, there was little incentive to be at the front of the line to file inside in the morning, unless the weather was cold. Lining up to leave was usually done alphabetically to avoid competetion for the first spots heading home.

Click "read more" from the front page for the complete article.

AutoDuel: Driving In Almaty

So after living in Kazakhstan for seven years, I'm now doing something I always said I'd never do here: driving a car every day in Almaty.

The reasons for not doing so earlier have changed over the years. Typically, employers provided a company car with driver, and personal drivers were always available as well. In addition, Almaty has quite an extensive system of public transportation, including buses, minibuses (called marshutkas) electric trolley buses, and two electric tram lines. Besides all of that, until the past two or three years just about every private car on the road was potentially available for hire as a taxi to go anywhere in the city for a few dollars.

Things have changed since then. In 1999, there were far fewer cars on the road. Most cars were of Soviet make: Zhiguli sedans, Niva jeeps. There were also quite a few decade-old German or Japanese sedans. A late-model foreign car was something to stop and stare at.

In the past couple of years, all that has changed. The number of cars in the city has absolutely skyrocketed. Almaty now has legitimate traffic jams. You can't swing a dead cat without hitting a Porsche Cayenne SUV or something far more expensive, and those driving BMWs and Mercedes sedans from the 1990s are beginning to feel like they're slumming it a bit.

Everywhere you turn, there's a teenage girl driving a right-hand-drive jeep brought in from Japan via Dubai.

Click "read more" from the front page for the complete text.

What's the big idea?

Recently I found Patrick Curry's blog Thoughts on Game Design, where as an exercise he's promised to do a game idea every week. Already he's up to 26. He describes each idea in terms of high concept, platform, the reasons to make it, a more detailed description, and why it would be fun.

As someone who does little more for games than describe what I do or don't like about them, this idea struck me as brilliant. I'm not a 3D artist or a programmer, nor do I think it likely I'll ever be one. On the other hand, to do little more than be a critic seemed a little too facile.

So I thought I would also give it a go to come up with a few game ideas of my own. I'll be posting them here, rather than at Rampancy.net, because that's more specific to Bungie and the Xbox platform than it is to gaming in general.

Curry's ideas are all very specific, detailing setting, plot, and sometimes characters, and even what platforms are best suited to the game. I thought what I would rather do is try to come up with some of the underlying archetypes that already exist on games and find ways of putting a new spin on them.

Journeys and Escapes

Lots of story ideas, whether in literature, movies, or games, involve journeys of some kind. You create a character in a setting and then invent a reason for that character to leave that setting to go somewhere else, which provides opportunity for conflict and drama. Maybe your character has to return to a long-forgotten home. Maybe he's lost and is returning where he came from. Maybe he has to leave his home and find a new one. The journey might be to do battle or to destroy some evil object, LotR being one of the most identifiable examples of this.

One of the lesser-used variations of this journey theme is escape. Setting this up can be a little bit more complicated. It's usually easy to understand why a character has to leave a pastoral setting-- because such settings don't have the conflict and drama needed for an interesting story or interesting gameplay. All we need to do, for instance, to send Frodo packing from the Shire in Fellowship of the Ring is identify the Ring as an object of evil that evil forces will attempt to find, steal and control. As such it threatens not only the characters in the story but their entire world. It sets up the contrast between the Hobbits and their Shire and the rest of Middle Earth in general and Sauron's Mordor in specific.

Escape takes more setup and perhaps more care with the ending because it reverses the direction of the journey; you first put your characters in immediate peril and they have to find their way out. The conflict exists before the characters are set up, so your audience may not identify with them right away. It may also be necessary to explain why and how your characters got where they are. A common setting for an escape story is some kind of prison. Since the audience isn't going to automatically empathize with a prisoner, you've got to take time to create that empathy.

Bethesda's Elder Scrolls games play with this idea a bit; nearly all of them begin with the protagonist being a recently-released prisoner with no knowledge of his past. It's an interesting device, and calls to mind other games with protagonists with mysterious sides-- such as the security guard in Marathon who may, or may not, be a cyborg killing machine manufactured from the corpses of dead soldiers, and the similarly (if less gruesomely) enhanced Master Chief of the Halo series, whose face we never see in the games and of whose background prior to his abduction and training in the Spartan II program we know very little.

Matroska

I think an interesting twist to put on an Escape game would be to vary the kind of gameplay needed for each phase of a multi-stage escape.

The player would start off inside a solitary confinement cell in a high security prison. At this stage, the player has almost no resources at his disposal and no knowledge of the background story; he or she may have been drugged, injured during torture, lobotomized-- anything.

Gameplay at this stage might closely resemble the Flash-based series of "escape from the room" games, where through a combination of manipulation of objects at hand and assistance from an unknown outsider (a guard? another prisoner?) the player must find a way out.

Once outside the cell, though, the prisoner is still trapped inside the prison. Now, with more freedom of movement but still not much in the way of resources, we could have gameplay heavily based on stealth, where a premium is put on staying in shadows, being quiet, perhaps changing costumes at appropriate times in order to make your way outside of the prison.

Once outside, though, the player discovers the prison itself is just the worst part of an oppressive police state. Still there are controls on movement and material, but outside the prison the player may find allies. To what use he or she puts those allies to use will be up to them.

The key conflict here may be that now, at last, more traditional conflict-based gameplay is available; weapons and allies. However, the player may have to choose between taking this more traditional route, or taking another route to help discover why they were put in the prison to start with. It may not be what you think. The best variation of this may be to have what the reason is change depending on various other choices the player makes along the way, much as the endings of some of the Silent Hill games are similarly variable-- although I think care should be taken so that these "choices" are not as minor and arbitrary as they are in some of those games.

In the endgame, the player might choose to lead a prison break and free all the inmates, perhaps as part of a general rebellion against the police state. They might instead lead an expedition to escape from the walled city into the wilderness beyond, and leave the society behind. Or, the player might choose to eschew deploying large-scale force and instead try to unravel the mystery that led to his imprisonment at the start-- and each of these approaches may be incompatible.

The name for the idea, Matroska, I took from the famous Russian doll where inside each doll is an even smaller doll, to evoke the situation the player finds himself in at the start-- trapped inside a cell inside a prison inside a walled city inside a repressive society, with different skills and actions required to escape from each.

A Bat In The Belfry

Okay, so a second floor walk-up doesn't qualify as a belfry. So sue me.

That didn't stop a small brown bat from somehow zeroing in on a tiny kitchen window less than a foot square last night while we were working on our computers, and finally finding its way into our living room where it circled the ceiling lamp almost silently a few times before settling down into the folds of our curtains.

While my wife quickly gave the alarm and scrambled for cover, I couldn't decide for myself what the thing was for a few seconds.

How Evil Am I?


I Am 68% Evil


I am very evil. And I'm too evil to care.
Those who love me probably also fear me. A lot.

Aeon Fans Fluxed Over By Paramount

I intentionally avoided reading reviews of Aeon Flux starring Charlize Theron before viewing it last night. In retrospect, it was a good choice. Had I read even the smallest sampling of reviews, I probably would have spared myself the trouble. But that would have deprived me of the opportunity to write this review. So I'll call it even.

Despite not seeing any reviews, my expectations were fairly low from the start. Aeon Flux's beginnings on MTV's Liquid Television show, as well as its run as a series in its own right, marked it as an avant garde work. It regularly flouted narrative traditions, featured confusing and sometimes disturbingly adult themes, and flat-out refused to provide a neatly wrapped up explanation of what you had just seen. It not only challenged conventions of storytelling, it also challenged the audience to question themselves-- about why they like it (or dislike it) and what we actually mean when we say "story".

This is not the stuff of Hollywood films. It is no longer the stuff of MTV, if it ever was. And in the pursuit of what one can only assume were purely financial goals-- goals almost assuredly to go unattained unless they involve tax writeoffs-- Paramount made a live-action adaptation of Aeon Flux while specifically choosing not to involve Aeon's creator, Peter Chung:

Chung's input didn't factor into that large-scale effort. Other than a few script notes he passed on to the filmmakers — notes he claims that they "really didn't pay that much attention to" — Chung was not a part of the production. In fact, he actually had different hopes for the property.

"I wanted to make an animated feature. That's what I lobbied for. I wasn't really sure if the fans of the show wanted to see a live-action version. I think [MTV's] thinking was, 'We're not going to just make a movie that's for fans of the show. We want to really open this up to a wider audience.' I guess they figured that live action was the way to do that."

From TVGuide.com

The questions that leap first and foremost to the mind of an Aeon Flux fan are answered here. Why wasn't this animated? Chung wanted it, Paramount didn't. Was it to save money? Perhaps, but unlikely. The film reportedly cost between $55 and $75 million dollars, almost none of which can be seen on the screen. Despite evidence to the contrary, not only does the film not look that good, but it looks nothing at all like the animated serial on which it is based:

In the upcoming film, Aeon is played by Charlize Theron, and in answer to the two key questions certain to emanate from the fanboy quadrant: yes, and yes — her short, jet-black hair and her skin-tight, jet-black bodysuit have made the transition from Chung's remarkable small-screen animation to the big-budget, live-action theatrical release with nary a change.

From MTV

This person: A) has never seen Aeon Flux the animated series, B) has never seen Aeon Flux the movie, C) saw a version of Aeon Flux the movie far superior in production value to what was actually released, D) is blind, or E) is lying.

In no way let the fact that the above text is hosted on MTV's servers impact your answer to the above question. I'm assuming that Ben Cosgrove is blind, as are his compatriots Larry Carroll and James Montgomery, who provided "additional reporting". If this were not so, surely each of them-- or indeed any of them-- would have noticed that the flat black fabric with which Theron is clothed for the majority of the movie in no way resembles the attire of Aeon in the animated series. The lustrous, almost ultraviolet look of the animated series-- something that looks like a cross between leather and PVC-- is nowhere to be seen on the big screen. Most of Aeon's outfits look like a child's Halloween costume. One half expects to see her break out a pair of cat ears at any moment. And the hairdo? Don't even start.

These are not the only details in the Aeon Flux movie that not just different from the animated series, but so vastly different in word and spirit that it is difficult to imagine them being related at all. It is as if Paramount took a group of writers, locked them in a dark room with copies of the animated series, but gave them enough time to view only a small portion of them all, and then required them to write their notes about the series in crayon on the back of index cards. These index cards, out of order, were then handed to a completely different group of people, who then went on to make this film.

The screenwriters practically admit this themselves, in MTV's own promotional materials. It's as if they know that the film they've made is not Aeon Flux. It isn't even Aeon Flux Lite. It's Charlize Theron cosplaying Aeon Flux through a tired screenplay that at its very heart is something the animated Aeon Flux series never was and the animated Aeon Flux character always refused to be: conventional.

"What Peter did with that show," Manfredi says, "and what he did with his animation was so unique that, in a sense, there was no way to make that into a live-action film. And so our goal, the whole time, was to make something that stands beside it, as a companion. The two visions complement each other."

With companions like this, who needs enemies? Having freed themselves from the obligation of even making a good faith effort to translate Aeon Flux to the silver screen, Paramount then went on to create a star vehicle for Theron.

That's how it feels; like a hollow star vehicle. Characters and themes from several different episodes are mixed and matched with reckless abandon and predictably dismal results. The writers seem to have confused the idea of being deep, which the series surprisingly was, with being confusing, which is what the film leaves us with.

The only time this film does break the rules, you wish it hadn't. "Show don't tell" gets a bullet to the head in the first few seconds, as the entire back story of Bregna gets spelled out in a way that never was in the shorts or the series, removing every bit of mystery from the agent's dystopian universe. The need to have explained what need not be explained-- what must not be explained-- consistently ruins the vision that ran through the original work. In its place, we get a second-rate remake of Logan's Run, a far better film, in which the last remainders of the human race cower inside their last walled city after the world was ravaged by a virus that destroyed most of the human population and left the remainder infertile, necessitating the constant replenishment through cloning, something that is not common knowledge but is quickly discovered by Aeon shortly after her sister, Una, is killed.

Una, of course, was a character from the series, most prominently in the epside Isthmus Crypticus. Except she wasn't Aeon's sister and died in a completely different manner. But nevermind.

It would only be normal, at this point, to assume that some of the negative reaction to the film, especially coming from self-avowed fans of the original series, is less an even-handed appraisal of the film and more a knee-jerk reaction to seeing any changes made to a beloved work. One might even begin to wonder if, even a scant ten years from the original show's release, a bit of nostalgia might be creeping in, imbueing the original with greater depth and quality than it actually had. Or else might might wonder that those at MTV and Paramount simply didn't understand the material they owned, and might be forgiven for thinking it was a simple action movie property and therefore adapted it as such.

Let's blow those assumptions right out of the water here and now with the words of Aeon Flux producer, David Gale:

The show, as you know, is built on a kind of an anti-narrative. It’s about questioning straightforward narrative. So what we talked about with Peter – Peter Chung was here for a set visit recently. We didn’t talk to him during the process but Karyn [Kusama, the director] and David talked to him for years now about this, where our ideal is that these two things exist as parallel worlds to each other. For us we’re really conscious of the responsibility you have when you try to adapt something that’s very special. The show itself is very special. A way to protect it is to do your own thing that tries to do justice to the thought and the feeling of the original, but you take it in such a new direction that the two things can exist on their own. The movie isn’t a bastardized version of the show. The movie is its own thing.

From CHUD.

So, right from the horse's mouth we get that Gale does understand what Chung's original work was about: deconstructing the idea of narrative. He knows that some fans are going to hate it. He knows, in effect, that this is a bastardized version of the show. He wants to escape having it labeled as such by calling it a completely separate work, but yet somehow still call it Aeon Flux.

Gale, if you didn't want us to call this out as bastardized, you shouldn't have put "Aeon Flux" in the title.

Of course, once the film has committed itself to being a throughly conventional spy thriller, it immediately starts to conflict with the few remaining vestiges of the Aeon Flux universe that remain. Such as, if Bregna is indeed the last remaining city.. where do the Monicans come from? The episode which shows rebellious Breen trying to escape to Monica has been discarded, but somehow the Monicans survive. How a band of rebels that are so secretive that they hold drug-induced rendezvous within their own minds can run about all wearing similar clothing is beyond comprehension. That part of Aeon Flux's style makes sense within Chung's original. Here it's just baffling, and not in a good way.

The Monica-Bregna conflict only got fleshed out when Flux transitioned from shorts to series. But just like the plot elements that Id Software added to Doom 3, for the transition to the screen, Hollywood just thinks it knows better:

Mtv gave Chung the opportunity to develop the character further with a ten episode series which aired in 1995. Here is where Aeon Flux was given a voice and became and interesting character. Initially she began as an expendable member of a resistance movement, but with her own series Chung made Flux an opportunist who was neither bad nor good. Her playground was not only Bregna, but the rival nation of Monica which existed just over the wall. Her episodic illegal crossings into each territory were deadly excursions inspired by Chung's experiences in North and South Korea. Aeon aided the side that served her needs and occasionally made a moral choice or two. Leather clad and nimble female saboteurs may seem like old hat after "The Matrix", but Chung's heroine is an obvious source of inspiration to many.

From Latino Review.

The Matrix's Trinity might owe much to Chung's Aeon, but the "wider audience" that Paramount is appealing to is going to see the shoe on the other foot, no doubt.

When the animated original transitioned from being short pieces to a half-hour series, there were changes that were made that were controversial. The originals were, for the most part, without dialogue. There was no plot thread that joined the shorts together, so no one story was sustained for as long as twenty-two minutes. Aeon Flux often died, either at the end of the short or sometimes much earlier.

The episodes of the series become something else; it became the story of two major characters, the rebellious Aeon Flux and the megalomaniacal dictator, Trevor Goodchild. But the series still made you question everything. Were they enemies, lovers, or both? Was Aeon a patriotic rebel, a vicious terrorist, or both? Was Goodchild a benevolent despot, a scientific genius, a lunatic-- or all three and more? The series became the story of the relationship between these two, embedded in layer upon layer of reversals, betrayals, revelations and self-realizations.

The film does away with all of that. The film's Trevor is a teddy bear. They go through the pretense of portraying him as the bad guy for about fifteen minutes before revealing that the real enemy is his brother. How original. The story becomes how Aeon Flux and Trevor Goodchild are going to revenge themselves on Trevor's brother for attempting to usurp the former's place and succeeding in killing the latter's sister, along the way discovering, as in Logan's Run, that the world outside the city is, in fact, livable, and that the human race is not, in fact, infertile, and that Aeon and Trevor's ancient ancestors were, in fact, husband and wife. That this last detail was also plundered from something suggested in the original series only adds insult to injury, as this revelation comes bereft of the many hours of intrigue that preceded it in the animated series.

In the series, Aeon and Trevor spend most of their time together physically at each other's throats, just on the edge of falling in love. During the film, they spend most of their time in each others' arms, on the edge of falling asleep, which puts most of the audience to sleep, and makes me want to put my hands around their throats.

The film similarly mines other items and themes from the series. Aeon's sometime co-conspirator, sometime rival Scaphandra, who lost her feet running a machinegun gauntlet surrounding one of Goodchild's lairs and had them replaced with hands, which she preferred, returns in the film, inexplicably renamed Sithandra. I'm told that at least for the Russian speaking audience, this makes at least some sense, as her original name sounds like a gender-bent version of the word for "spacesuit". What's more important here is that Scaphandra isn't given anything interesting to do with her modified manipulators except to pick up a gun with them once, and the gauntlet-running sequence that could have been lifted right from the series, shot for shot, is re-imagined in a way that makes it much less interesting.

For those who don't remember, that episode-- also the one that featured Trevor's cloning machine-- featured the lab protected by automatic guns that surveyed a wide expanse of labyrinthine concrete. Aeon can't make it in and out by herself; she needs Scaphandra's help to infiltrate it by distracting the guns. One of them moves at a time, quickly darting out and then finding cover. While the guns remained trained on the last moving target, the other one makes a run for some cover, and in this way, eventually the two make it across.

The film takes this simple concept and manages to screw it up. The automatic guns are still there, although now they're inexplicably reimagined into spike-firing fruit trees. And despite the fact that they open fire nearly as soon as the two agents appear, they are both always moving, even while Scaphandra uses her feet-hands (hand-foots?) to climb one of the trees and commandeer the deadly fruit to take out other nearby trees. What the rest of them are doing while she's doing this is unclear. A concept from the original series that was so simple as to be nearly idiot-proof clearly ran into a better bunch of idiots here.

The only thing memorable about this sequence is the only decent stunt, and the only frames that are at all evocative of the original character. At the end of the gauntlet, Aeon makes a nearly impossible leap, landing spread-eagle with her nose inches from some nasty-looking grass-like glass spikes. Scaphandra, having already come face to face (face to foot? Hand to foot?) with the sharp tendrils, leaps in at the last moment to pull her away. For that one brief second, Aeon's impossibly suspended body, inches from certain death (or at least disfigurement of Theron's pretty visage) reminded me of the contortions of the original Aeon. But the resemblance begins and ends there.

The film has clearly been dumbed down to reach not only a wider audience than what the original series appealed to, but to be more child-safe and get a PG-13 rating. The series' Flux was ruthless and amoral, even to the point of being willing to consider killing innocents to achieve her goals, even when her goal was nothing loftier than proving that no one can tell her what to do. If you don't believe me, watch The Purge from the original series-- what might be called Chung's adaptation of Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, where Trevor implants those of his citizens he considers morally deficient with an artificial conscience he calls a Custodian. The episode shows you a range of moral choices made by Aeon in a variety of situations, and then gives her a chance to make one more in a game-show setting with Goodchild as the host. The trick is, we don't know at that point whether or not Aeon was implanted with a Custodian or not. And when the episode ends-- we still don't know!

There are no such moral dilemmas in the film. Flux is ordered to kill Goodchild, but fails to follow through, not because of any moral quandary, but because she can't shake the feeling that she knows him from somewhere. Of course, a reel later we realize the bad guy is really Trevor's brother, not Trevor, paving the way for the two to become both lovers and co-conspirators, free of any of the conflicts that made the show so interesting. It's as if the first act of Romeo & Juliet had ended with the Capulets and the Montagues allying themselves against a third family made up to order, and urging their rug rats to get hitched to seal the deal.

Utopia or Deuteranopia from the series features some of its more bizarre imagery, as Trevor has apparently kidnapped the rightful governor of Bregna, and with the help of a nameless device that seems to distort reality through vibration, is building what looks like a love-nest for himself and Aeon inside a red-curtained room he reaches by opening the Governor's chest with a device that looks like the key to a chastity built and crawling through.

All that remains of that in the film is the vibrating device, except here, it's used only to conceal the hidden laboratory that Trevor is supposedly using to help save the human race from infertility, an objective he somehow manages to pursue without an ounce of sexual chemistry between himself and the film's protagonist. The other problems with that scene are that the laboratory itself is concealed in a hidden library so secret that it opens up right in front of Aeon automatically when she walks over its entrance, and that the device that reveals the library's true nature as laboratory is hidden in plain sight; in fact, the device practically mugs her as soon as she touches it, as if begging to reveal its secret.

Once revealed, the lab itself looks like a half-dozen mail-order chemistry sets spread out over a single table. The entire lab is destroyed in a fight between Aeon and one of Trevor's henchwomen only minutes after she finds it. But later in the film, we still have to go back there for Trevor to retrieve his research-- only to find, of course, that his brother's henchmen have gotten there first and burned it all.

Once that's done, the film needs some other location to fixate on, which turns out to be the jellyfish-like zeppelin that floats over the city. Aeon sneaks aboard once to find that it's a repository for all the city inhabitants' DNA, and is used to recreate them through cloning after they die. Naturally, the first thing she wants to find out is where the reincarnation of her sister is. After she's assured herself that her sister is now safe and alive again, of course her next reaction is that she is supposed to be a nihilistic terrorist, so she has no choice but to destroy the entire cloning operation, which leads me to believe that the screenwriters have confused the word nihilistic with the word nonsensical.

The film climaxes, if that is the right word, with a hilarious shootout where Aeon Flux stands near-motionless, on low ground, in the center of a small garden, surrounded by conveniently masked attackers, all of whom fall prey either to her dual-wielded machine guns (which look like nothing so much as a ripoff of Halo 2's Master Chief with dual SMGs, despite the fact that she seems to fire only one of them at once) or to the sniper rifles of the other Monican rebels ensconced in the nearby towers, seemingly ready to assassinate Aeon and Trevor. At the last moment, a tearful appeal from Aeon convinces Scaphandra and the other Monicans to off Trevor's brother instead. In the ensuing firefight, despite the advantages of distance, height, and scoped weapons, each of the snipers is picked off in turn, the last by Trevor's brother in his dying moments, with a rocket launcher. Meanwhile, the much easier target-- Aeon herself, armed with only two measly spray-and-pray weapons and inexplicably still for long periods of time-- escapes unharmed. Suspension of disbelief doesn't come close to covering it. This requires you to check your brain at the door, Doom-style.

One can make an argument that at times, the original animated series opted for style rather than substance, and only had a chance within 22 minutes to hint at themes it couldn't truly explore in that format. Aeon Flux the movie cuts through that Gordian knot easily by failing to have either.

Sources:

Kazakhstan Takes 2nd In WCG Counter Strike Tourney

[image:1266 left hspace=5 vspace=5 border=0] On November 20, 2005, Team k23 from Kazakhstan grabbed second place in the Counter Strike:Source competition at the World Cyber Games 2005 competition, falling in the final to Team3D from the United States.

The first game, on DE_Inferno, was a close 16-12 win for Team3D. The second game, on De_Dust2, was more one-sided, wwith Team3D defeating k23 by a total score of 16-3.

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