Nozdormu is Representative of Hearthstone’s UI Problems

Hearthstone is a game that I have a love/hate relationship with. I enjoy more or less stock CCG gameplay in a f2p model and it’s popular enough that I can easily key into discussions about it online to get an idea of things like the metagame. There are also a lot of things I absolutely loathe about this game, chief among them are the UI and assorted elements. Nozdormu is a perfect encapsulation of my problems. Let’s not waste any time and jump right into it.

First, it’s important to understand the design decisions that were made to have Hearthstone look the way it does. The short turn timer, the animations, the ability to poke stuff on the battlefield, layout of hand and board and so on are all meant to keep players engaged and make the game good for streaming. These decisions have clearly paid off to some extent, but there are drawbacks. Take the turn timer for instance, it punishes the people who have things come up such as answering the door or running to the bathroom, people who don’t think quickly, people with various tech problems and who don’t have the requisite manual dexterity. That’s not the only thing though, Animations are often gratuitous and some of them are grating, to be charitable. The obfuscation of cards in hand and that you can see what your opponent is looking at means that you’re rewarded for knowing what everything is, and being able to see what everything is. Hearthstone’s graphic and UI design are ableist, exclusionary in a way that I honestly can’t think of another videogame that does so in the same ways.

Nozdormu exacerbates all of these issues. He’s a legendary, big flashy effect that you can only have one of in a deck, whose text reads “Players only have 15 seconds to take their turn.” Not only that, but it adds a layer of dust to the board. This isn’t a competitive card, it’s a joke that showcases what digital design can do and is a unique effect, what Legendaries should be. Of course, that doesn’t excuse the problem inherent with the card. Nor does it address the fact that Nozdormu is a part of a combo/control deck. Now if you’re not familiar with how it works, you can probably guess. It uses animations, either youthful brewmaster or joust, in order to stagger animations to the point where your opponent can’t do anything on their turn. It’s an unintended exploit that’s been around from the beginning that’s only being dealt with because of the efficacy of joust.

Nozdormu may be egregious, but it is still an encapsulation of problems that Hearthstone has worked into its system. These problems probably can’t be fixed in this game, but they are problems that future games should take heed of it and not correct. Next week, I’ll be talking about Fury Road and disability. Till next time.

 

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Review: Narcos

Netflix’s latest original series Narcos is about the rise and fall of Pablo Escobar as well as the DEA agents who hunted him. It’s not my favorite show, but it is interesting enough and does enough stuff right that it’s worth reviewing. Let’s not waste any time and jump right in. Trigger Warning: Sex, Drugs, Violence, Blood, Guns, Language

Narcos has all the technical expertise that one has come to expect from a Netflix series. There just isn’t anything else to say. So, that leaves the narrative, which is worth talking about.

Beware of spoilers ye who enter

 

This is a period piece that uses actual people from history, so its relation to factual history is important. Each episode opens with a disclaimer “This television series is inspired by true events. Some of the characters, names, businesses, incidents and certain locations and events have been fictionalized for dramatic purposes. Any similarity to the name, character or history of any person is entirely coincidental and unintentional.” At first, I assumed this was primarily a way to protect themselves from lawsuits. A cursory Google search revealed that the show was taking somewhat major liberties in the chronology of events.

Fidelity to the source material is a virtue, not the only virtue. This is true for any adaption, but there are major differences between say Peter Jackson’s interpretation of Tolkien and Gone with the Wind. While the former has politics involved on some level, as all works are political; the latter has politics in the forefront. Now, I don’t really know much about the era in question, just what I gleamed from Wikipedia so it’s hard to pinpoint what political message it’s actually arguing for.

There are several reasons for this confusion. First, there’s the issue of how the show handles narration. It has Agent Murphy, one of the main characters reminiscing about the era. While most of the narration is fairly neutral, there are just enough instances of him being jaded and not as jingoistic compared to his modern day counterpart that the message becomes muddled. In general though I’d say the show leans towards a somewhat critical view of the U.S.. While the people who are hunting Escobar engage in a fair amount of torture, I never really got the sense that the show wanted me to support it outside of comparison. While the Search Bloc might beat people to death and shot up clubs, at least it wasn’t blowing up civilian airliners. The biggest reason that I don’t want to comment on the show’s politics is because I just don’t’ know that much about Colombian history. The show should be treated like all historical fiction, not inherently true. Although this show has gotten me interested in the time period, which is a success in its own right.

What sets Narcos apart is how it relies upon actual news footage to contextualize events. This is fine; the show is based off of historical events after all. It did accentuate one of my key problems with the show though. The narrative felt timeless, not in the sense of the story is universal, but in the sense of when things were happening. Things happened, but it was hard to appreciate the gravity of decisions and the arcs of characters. Characters responded to one another’s actions, but there was no telling how long these things lasted in the grand scheme of things. The result is that the storytelling feels more episodic; things that happened early on just stop mattering as the viewer is invited to focus on the current thing. This doesn’t really work on Netflix, where most shows are available all at once and binge watching is common.

Perhaps the biggest example of this is how the show starts out in medias res with the La Dispenseria massacre and Poison’s death. The event is set up as being a major turning point and gives the viewer something to work off of as a reference point timeline wise. In actuality, it’s a relatively minor event and any attempt at using it as a chronological anchor is useless.

This timeless sense seems to be intentional though. The show opens with an explanation of magical realism and the show draws heavily on it in an early episode. The idea of dreams and reality mixing together is interesting, but it’s not a rock solid reading as the idea isn’t substantiated throughout the entire season. Also, it seems like an idea that would work in narrative’s resolution, something that we’re not close to. Given that the show has already been renewed for a second season, this will be the most interesting thing going forward.

Narcos isn’t the best show, and you have to add several qualifiers before I’d call it the best in any given category. It’s still an interesting show and is worth giving a shot if the subject matter is interesting. Till next time.

DS9: A Show of Two Tales

DS9 is a show about many things, but broadly speaking it wants to tell two kinds of stories. The first is a show about religion and faith. The other is a show about politics, the Federation, Cardassia, the Dominion and other groups. You only need to watch the pilot, ‘Emissary’ to see this. On one hand you have Benjamin Sisko finding himself becoming a part of the Bajoran religion as he comes face to face with the Prophets in their Celestial Temple, or wormhole aliens in a stable wormhole if you prefer. At the same time he’s been instructed to bring Bajor into the Federation and is fighting off Cardassian attempts to reclaim the station. The show stays with these two things throughout its run but it does less than ideally, to say the least. This disharmony happened for two main reasons, so let’s not waste any time and jump right into it.

Spoilers for all of DS9 follow

First, are the problems with the presentation of the Bajoran religion, or rather, the lack thereof. We know basically nothing about the tenets of faith: there are Prophets, or a nonlinear alien species, who live in a Celestial Temple/wormhole that have been guiding Bajor for eternity and there’s a schism in their ranks as a group, known as the Pah Wraiths, were banished a long time ago. Also there’s something about Orbs and grabbing people’s ears to read their energy. These are things you can hang on a plot on or use as a shorthand for being religious, but it’s none of these things are actual articles of faith. All in all, this is fine; outside of ‘In the Hands of the Prophet’ the fact that there is a religion that characters believe in is good enough.

It’s important to talk about ‘In the Hands of the Prophets’. Not only is it’s A-Plot cringe-worthy as it attempts to raise a parallel between Creationism and Bajor’s belief in the Prophets; but because it centers around the notion that the Prophets are just advanced aliens. This is Star Trek after all where “the Enterprise goes into deep space, finds God, and God turns out to be insane, a child or both” as Harlan Ellison described it. Between a metatextual trend like that and the in universe ideal of vaguely nonspiritual Christianity, of course you wouldn’t believe in God. If the Bajorans want to believe that the Prophets are gods or at least some sort of benefactor is fine. That the Bajorans get an uncritical view of their religion while the Dominion never gets a shred of credence shows the limitations of what the writers wanted to do.

‘Faith, Treachery, and the Great River’ is silently one of the better episodes in the entire series. The relevant part being how it gives some depth to Vorta beliefs, Weyoun’s response that of course gods would engineer their creations to worship them. It hints at a deeper belief system. This also shows the limits of what the writers wanted to do with the topic. The Dominion didn’t interact with religion cause the Dominion was a part of the second tale. The problem is that these two issues converge on the wormhole. On one hand, it’s a transit point between the Alpha and Gamma Quadrants. On the other hand, it’s the home of alien species who have taken an interest in corporeal affairs. That the wormhole serves these two different functions and is only recognized as both rarely and to poor effect is a perfect illustration of the problem. The Prophets sweeping away the Dominion fleet after the minefield falls just makes one wonder why they were content with all the previous Dominion forces going through.

Sisko’s personal arc answers that question, as his entire existence had been orchestrated by the Prophets, which does explain the selective intervention if nothing else. This isn’t a plot that lends itself well to playing with other parts of the series. The biggest attempt at unifying these two tales is with Dukat. After his reaffirmation of being a villain in ‘Duet’ becomes fixated on the Pah Wraiths; but his relations on the show withered to just Kira and Sisko. Dukat’s part of the finale is again self-contained, and tacked on in the last half hour of the show.

All of this comes back to points I’ve made before about the show, albeit in other contexts, that the show is really good but its approach at some things can be haphazard. Granted in this case part of the problem can be attributed to the writers not being aliens who exist outside of linear time; so writing non-corporeal aliens can be tricky. The issue is that in theory this is one of the things that DS9 sets out to do based on the pilot, and it doesn’t. That’s because DS9 tells a very good story about politics, with rich characters that people like me talking about it 20 years after the fact.

I don’t know what I’ll be talking about next week, and there’s a possibility that I end up skipping next week because of MAGfest Classis. Till next time.