Thoughts

Stuff I think about.

Mass Effect 3 is way better than you’ve heard

The Reapers were here.

On paper, I’m an ideal candidate to be annoyed about Mass Effect 3‘s ending. After all, my complaint about Dragon Age II was that the game gives the player a ton of choices and then goes out of its way to make them all seem meaningless, which is not far off from the most coherent complaint about ME3. I also don’t like deus ex machina endings, and I was already kind of annoyed at the game because I kind of saw one coming.

And yet, it didn’t really bother me.

Spoilers.
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Why I’m not worried about Game of Thrones

In this week’s edition of me gainsaying io9, I’m taking a look at this piece, in which Charlie Jane Anders wonders if the second season of Game of Thrones will live up to the first. I’m going to be counter-contrarian and say that it will.

The article makes some great points, which amount to the fact that everything that made the first season hard will make the second season harder, plus they’ll need more  special effects. But I think the first point Anders raises is both wrong and the reason why I think the show will actually work.

Spoilers.

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Dragon Age II was kind of misleading

So it is written.

I really liked Dragon Age II. I liked the way they streamlined the combat, I liked that Hawke had a voice, and the dialogue wheel won me over pretty quickly. I could forgive the way they recycled dungeons because they seemed to have learned not to make them so monotonously huge, in the way that had destroyed Origins‘ replay value. Right up to the final battle, I was sure the game was head and shoulders better than its predecessor.

Then the game ended. There was like a three-minute cutscene, Cassandra says something cryptic, and it fades to black. There’s no denouement, no epilogue, the credits don’t even have music. It’s like they just stopped making it.

I got to thinking about this after I came across Kirk Hamilton’s reflections on the game in Kotaku. Because I’ve learned not to pay much attention to what people say about games on the Internet, I’d largely missed the backlash against the game while I was playing it.

While I understand some of the other complaints about DA II, but I think they’re overblown. But for all the work the team did to overhaul the gameplay, the best element of Origins — its story — is where the sequel fell down.

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Shocker: Different voting system might change something

Sometimes, the easiest way to understand why we have some particular status quo — for example, our insanely convoluted electoral system — is to find a bunch of people who agree the status quo is a mess and get them talking about what would work better. Committees are the force that turns great ideas into okay laws, and okay ideas into travesties.

I got reminded of this when I was reading this article on i09 about ranked choice, or instant-runoff voting, an electoral system that would let voters rank candidates in order of preference. This helps give a clearer idea of the voters’ preferences in an election where no candidate gets a majority of the vote, and therefore could encourage third-party candidates by getting rid of the spoiler effect.

The weird thing about the article is that it seems to view this feature as a problem.

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Craziest sequel ever

Sometime around the end of Clarion West last year, I took a drive up to the Barnes & Noble because I was tired of poking through the awesome University of Washington bookstore and really missed the big box experience. I hadn’t actually planned to buy anything, but then I came across two books that were so awesome just in principle that I couldn’t resist.

The first was a compilation of two novellas by Karl Schroeder titled Virga: Cities of the Air, which everyone reading this blog should find and read immediately. The second is the book I’m actually reviewing right now, thanks to the review feature on Goodreads.com. It’s an unauthorized 1898 sequel to The War of the Worlds in which Thomas Edison conquers Mars, cleverly titled Edison’s Conquest of Mars.

Fascinated yet? I was!

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Musings on Democracy

I just realized something. First I’m reading this from Matthew Yglasias about why Congress and the White House can’t work anything out:

Note that if Obama were a hereditary monarch, this would be something like the historical process through which the United Kingdom became a parliamentary system with a symbolic head of state. Parliament started with a relatively bounded authority over granting new tax revenue to the king. But the king would, in practice, need new tax revenue periodically in order to fight wars. This fact, combined with parliament’s greater democratic legitimacy, victory in the English Civil War, and successful perpetration of a kind of coup in 1688 allowed it—and specifically the House of Commons within parliament—to over time seize control of the entire policy agenda. But of course Obama’s not a hereditary monarch, and both the House and the White House have independent claims to democratic legitimacy.

Probably the most sensible resolution to this is the original British one — establish a single center of power by systematically destroying the influence of the others, in their case the monarchy and the House of Lords. In a parliamentary system, there’s one head of government who’s indisputably in charge, so people know who to reward when things are going well and who to blame when they’re not.

But that was way too straightforward for our founders.

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You’re Violating the Rules of Being a Weatherman

One of the unfortunate aftereffects of being a reporter is that I’m actually interested by journalistic ethics flaps. Actually, I’ve kind of gone beyond interested, because the journalistic ethics code is one of those bizarre things that makes less sense the more you think about it. Still, I can get dragged in on occasion, particularly when the issue involves news outlets I use.

So when, during the course of driving to get some lunch today, I caught this report about KUOW (Puget Sound’s public radio service!) dumping Cliff Mass from his regular gig forecasting the weather on Weekday, I ended up sitting in my car with the engine off waiting for the story to finish. It was a nice callback to my days in public-service journalism — that rare profession held in high regard by the people who actually do it and by virtually no one else.

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Today in Metaphors

From Wonkbook, the daily roundup of government news from Ezra Klein:

House Republicans feel their preferences should take priority because they won the last election. Sharp cuts to non-defense discretionary spending are nothing more than their due. Senate Democrats counter that they still control not just the Senate, but also the White House — the House Republicans are a minority partner in this play, and don’t get to decide what the government does or doesn’t do merely because they control one of the three major legislative checkpoints. An uncompromising force is meeting an unimpressed object.

If you follow American government enough, one of the themes you pick up on is that we’ve got so many independent power centers that whenever people disagree about what to do, nobody can decide who should have the final say. Since everybody can claim some kind of democratic legitimacy and nobody has enough power to just make things happen, our government tends to end up not getting much done. Which was the founders’ original idea, but the world has gotten a bit faster since the 1780s and we’re not doing a great job of keeping up.