Die Another Day

It’s hard to think of a name more iconic and ingrained in popular culture than James Bond.

Say James Bond to someone, and they instantly picture a man in a smoking, drinking a Vodka Martini (shaken, not stirred). We hear the music, we hear the voice, be it Pierce Brosnan or Sean Connery. We’ve seen tributes, video games, parodies and thousands of references to this movie series over three decades.

My personal favourite movie in the series is also the first Bond movie I ever watched: GoldenEye. I like it, because It’s funny when it should be, it’s serious when it has to be, the story is realistic, and there’s actual tragedy and weight to the characters. THAT is a good Bond movie.

Then there’s Die Another Day.

You know how some movies can jump the shark?

You know, when the movie does something so stupid, it cannot possibly regain any dignity or sanity. The point where you go “Ok, this movie is stupid”.

That’s not to say that movies can’t have silly moments. GoldenEye has Bond driving a motorcycle, chasing an airplane off a cliff, diving after it, catching up and flying away before the plane crashes.

But that is the closest that movie gets to testing our suspension of disbelief.

However…

You want to know how long it takes for Die Another Day to lose all credibility? Want to take a guess?

10 minutes?

6 minutes?

Try 41 seconds.

That’s right. This movie takes 41 seconds, (and that’s counting from the moment you press play, including the MGM logo) to become stupid. 41 seconds to throw all suspension of disbelief under a bus. How does it do that, you may ask?

Well, the movie starts on the North Korean coast. MI-6 is sending 007 to assassinate Colonel Moon, a north korean colonel/arms dealer/warlord/bad man.

Now, it’s a spy movie, so what method do you think they use to enter North Korea?

A midget submarine? Parachutes? Maybe some scuba gear? No, of course not! That’d just be silly! Remember, this is a highly risky plan on foreign soil by the cream of the crop of MI-6, with state-of-the-art equipment and government contracts giving them virtually limitless resources. Failure could mean an international incident and throw Britain into a war with North Korea. They wouldn’t use something as silly as a submarine!

No, they use surfboards.

I repeat…

They decide that the best way to enter North Korea, one of the most well known dictatorships in the world, is by surfboarding to the shore.

Are you fucking kidding me?!

Well, do they at least do it in a place that’s poorly guarded? No, they do it within SPITTING DISTANCE of two guards! There’s barbed wire, patrolling guards and a fucking OBSERVATION TOWER.

How did anyone think this would be a good plan!? You’re expecting me to believe that the hard-as-nails, no-nonsense, ice queen M, played by Dame Judi Dench, was sitting at her desk, this plan was suggested to her and and her only response was “Well, I think this is a marvelous plan. I look forward to hearing the results.”

I seem to recall there was a line in GoldenEye about this. What was it again?

If you think for one moment I don’t have the balls to send a man out to die, your instincts are dead wrong. I’ve no compunction about sending you to your death. But I won’t do it on a whim. Even with your cavalier attitude towards life.

Does that sound like the kind of person who’d greenlight this plan?!

And don’t tell me that “The surfboards were filled with supplies. How else were they going to carry them”`

How about a fucking BELT!?

But oh, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. That’s not even CLOSE to how stupid this movie becomes.

9 minutes later, just when the shock of the surfing stupidity has worn off, we have a chase scene.
What with, do you think? Motorcycles? Jeeps? How about HOVERCRAFTS?!

Colonel Moon fires at Bond with a grenade launcher, loaded with depleted uranium shells, which he previously described as a “Tank buster” before blowing up a helicopter with it. He’s a high ranking military officer. Can he hit the man following him in a hovercraft?

No. The hovercraft is just too nimble and agile for him.

When Bond catches up, he switches to a mounted heavy machine gun, firing at the hovercraft from the side. HE DOESN’T EVEN SCRATCH THE FUCKING PAINTJOB!

Does he switch BACK to the explosive ammunition now that the hovercraft is closer? No, he switches to a flame thrower. Which of course he fails to do any damage with.

I’ve never driven a hovercraft, but even I know that they’re not really agile and nimble. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Then again, these seem to be special models, since they explode in a great ball of flame whenever they hit something.

But suddenly, Colonel Moon finds himself right behind Bond on a narrow road. Bond cannot avoid him now. Does Moon switch to the grenade launcher, machine gun or flame thrower, or any of the other weapons on board?

No, he orders the driver to ram Bonds hovercraft.

Bond jumps up on his hovercraft, and Colonel Moon starts shooting at him with a gun. Bond picks up a bulletproof vest, and holds it up over his face and chest.

Moon proceeds to shoot the vest instead of his COMPLETELY UNPROTECTED LEGS!

To quote the great George Takei:

You are made of stupid!

And the chase ends with Bond running the hovercraft into high gear, crashing it through a gate, jumping 10 feet into the air, grabbing a log that beats a bell, and the hovercraft and Moon fall off a cliff.

He is then captured and arrested by Colonel Moons father for espionage, murder and presumably destroying the laws of physics.

What follows is a montage of him being tortured.

And thanks to the theme song, we’re being tortured right along with him.

Let me explain the idea of a Bond theme. A Bond theme should evoke style. Excitement. Action. You should feel that “Yeah! This will be fucking awesome!”
Also, it helps if it’s somewhat relevant to the movie.

GoldenEye understood this. So did Goldfinger and The Man With The Golden Gun.

Die Another Day did not. So instead of the suave, cool, action music we expected… WE GET A FUCKING TECHNO SONG!

Let’s make one thing crystal-FUCKING-clear! Techno should NEVER be used in a Bond movie. It has no place in a Bond movie.

BOND DOES NOT DO TECHNO!

Fuck you, MGM and FUCK YOU, MADONNA!

Oh, and after that, it gets even dumber. Later in the movie Bond gets hold of some diamonds, belonging to Gustav Graves. He figures out that they are “Chemically identical to conflict diamonds”. Their chemical composition shows they come from Sierra Leon.

Those are not my words. Those are the words used in the movie.

For the record, diamonds do not have different chemical compositions based on where they’re from.
All natural diamonds have the same chemical composition. They’re composed of CARBON. Nothing else. They are just carbon.

So yes, they are right that the diamonds are “Chemically identical to conflict diamonds”. Just like EVERY OTHER NATURAL DIAMOND ON THE GODDAMN PLANET!

Then, about halfway through the movie, we get a scene at a fencing school. Bond and Graves fence for a bit, until they decide to up the wager. And with the wager, they up the weapon. They switch from fencing foils… to ACTUAL SABERS. During the fight, they cause property damage, endanger other people and switch from sabres to katanas and broadswords. They fight for about 2 minutes, and it ends with Bond winning and Graves’ assistant Miranda Frost stepping in and putting a stop to it.

It’s a pretty nice action scene.

Just one teeny-tiny question about it…

IS EVERYONE IN THIS WORLD OUT OF THEIR FUCKING MINDS!?

Two people are fighting with REAL SWORDS, with no boundaries or rules other than “first man to draw blood from the torso”. And NOBODY steps in and stops it?!

You wanna know what would happen in the real world?

The moment Graves pulled the sabres from the wall, an official would step in and tell them to cut it out. Fighting with real weapons is forbidden in ANY PUBLIC PLACE, especially when the intention is to DRAW BLOOD from the opponent!

But no, that doesn’t happen. Because everyone is fucking stupid!

Let’s move on.

After some banter between M and Bond, we’re suddenly thrown into a scene where MI-6 is being attacked by… uhm… some people in sunglasses. Apparently, the filmmakers forgot what was written in the script and decided to film the second mission from “The World is Not Enough” for the N64.

So, Moneypenny is dead, and the place is overrun, Charles Robinson gets killed and M is taken hostage. Bond saves M, kills the terrorist…..

And it turned out it was all just a simulation.

Thank you, movie. Thanks for giving us a scene that had NOTHING TO DO WITH THE FUCKING STORY!

All that did was to
A)
show us that MI-6 may have way too much fucking free time on their hands
and B) set up another fake simulation gag at the end of the movie with Moneypenny where she’s in a simulation making out with Bond. Then Q walks in and Moneypenny says that she was “just testing it”.

You may notice by my tone that I’m not laughing. Instead, I will simply ask another question.

Why does the COMBAT SIMULATOR have a program with Bond making out with the user? If it’s not a finished program, it means it’s something you can add yourself, in which case: why is that an option!? Either Bond is so infamous in his flirting they had to add a training program for the female staff to deal with sexual harassment… Or Q is very, VERY creepy.

And then there’s the obligatory Q-scene. It’s the highlight of almost every Bond movie. He gets his cool gear and clever gadgets, and has some witty banter with Q. But instead of the think tank of scientific genius we’re used to, we’re just shown an old storage room of old props, and Bond is given a ring and a watch. That’s it.
Now, if this little hors d’oeuvre of disappointment wasn’t enough, we immediately get the main course of massive stupidity:

The Aston Martin Vanish, so called because it has the ability to become invisible. (Ha-fucking-ha) The explanation goes like this:

Adaptive camouflage. Tiny cameras on all sides project the image they see on a light emitting polymer skin on the other.

Very cool! Except… you know… that it doesn’t actually BEND the light, so the car would just look like it was made of glass. Very cool, but very, VERY visible.

This isn’t nitpicking! It’s common fucking sense!

What else is there….

Actually, what’s the point?

By the end of the movie, the villain wears something a japanese robot movie would laugh at, his superweapon is a giant magnifying glass and it’s controlled by a glorified powerglove and a trackball.

I’m sorry. I have wasted your time, and my own, writing all this.

There’s no point in complaining about this movie, because this movie doesn’t care. That’s all there is to it. A bad movie, I can live with. I can enjoy a bad movie. I can ENDURE a boring movie. But when a movie refuses to give a shit, when something actively insults my intelligence, I get upset. That’s when I get angry.

It took 41 seconds for this movie to become stupid beyond all hope. For 41 seconds, this movie was worthy the name and legacy of James Bond. But the people who were entrusted with this legacy decided to shit all over it, and make an idiotic mess.

Some movies, like Van Helsing, know they will not be great, and just decide to have fun. But this was a multimillion dollar movie. The 40 year anniversary of one of the most famous and iconic movie series in cinematic history, the 20’th movie in the series and the 60 year anniversary of James Bond himself!

THIS SERIES DESERVED BETTER!

This is one of the worst movies I’ve ever had the displeasure of watching.

If Ian Fleming saw what they’d done to his character, he would be horrified. If he had known this would be the result, he would vomit out of pure shame and horror.

This is, by far, the worst Bond movie that has ever been made.

Van Helsing

Oh my, kiddies, this is a very special movie. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie that confused me as much as this one.

Well, apart from “2001: A Space Odyssey” but there the confusion was tempered by the boredom.

I could write down, in order, everything that’s confusing about this movie. In fact, that was my original plan, but then I realized that would take forever. Instead, I’m going to make a list of things that’s strange, stupid or puzzling in it.

As always, I’m assuming you’ve watched the movie already, so I won’t bother with a plot summary.

Let’s begin.

The Battle with the Werewolf

Ok, so the scene has Prince Velkan tied to a post, as bait for the werewolf. When the monster attacks, Velkan leaps up on the pole, grabs a rope and is pulled up. Werewolf falls into a steel cage which is raised into the air. Velkan is about to shoot it, the cage hits him and he drops his gun. The other men in the group start shooting at the werewolf with muskets, and Princess Anna yells at them to get Velkans gun, since it has silver bullets.

First off, why did you have the cage rise into the air? The monster is stuck in a hole! Why raise it up?
Why have a cage at all? Why not just shoot the werewolf when it appears?
And If you knew you were hunting a werewolf, and you knew you needed silver bullets to kill it…. Why the hell did you give the people with the rifles normal ammunition?! WHY BRING WEAPONS YOU KNOW DO NOTHING BUT ANNOY THE MONSTER!?

The fight in the village

Where to start with this? The brides attack during the day. Right away, there’s a problem. They mention that it’s because they’d take Anna off guard. But why attack during the day? Why not attack her when she’s alone in her home? There doesn’t seem to be any guards around, just villagers. See, the problem with attacking during the day is the small issue of BURNING TO DEATH, SCREAMING IN AGONY! That’s the whole point of sleeping during the day! Luckily, it seems the weather is always crap in Romania, so it doesn’t really matter.

But that’s the least of the problems. Among other things, Van Helsing uses his repeater crossbow (and don’t worry, I’ll get to that) and he fires at the brides. He fires at them, as they chase princess Anna down the street. In other words, he’s SHOOTING AT THE PERSON HE’S SENT TO PROTECT! Great job, Gabriel. If anna takes a step in any direction, your mission is a failure.

Soon enough, he figures out that the crossbow bolts are doing absolutely fuck all to the brides. They don’t show any pain, or even annoyance about them. Carl notices this as well, and he comes up with a solution. To put holy water on the crossbow.

It’s a good idea… until you start thinking about it. Then you wonder WHY THE HELL HASN’T HE ALREADY DONE THAT!? They have traveled from Italy to Romania. That’s a trip of at least a week. What the hell were they doing all that time?

And finally, there’s how the fight ends. Carl throws the holy water to Van Helsing, but Verona (one of the brides) catches it in mid air and throws it into a well, telling the other bride, Marishka, to kill the stranger. All seems lost until Carl realizes that the church has holy water. And indeed it does.

In fact, it has holy water outside the church…. COMING FROM A TAP!

I don’t know much about Romanian plumbing history, but I don’t think they had running water in 1888. If they did, what’s the point of the well? And even if they did, they wouldn’t connect it to the church for distributing Holy Water!

So Van Helsing runs to the church with the crossbow, dunks the bow in the water and kills the bride. All well and good…. apart from the fact he dipped only the front of the crossbow. HE DIDN’T DIP THE BOLTS, SO THEY SHOULD BE JUST AS USELESS AS EVER!

Speaking of the which…

The Crossbow

The crossbow in the movie was invented by Carl. He is part of the Knights of the Holy Order, One of the oldest and most powerful organizations in history. He has the resources, the funds and the time to create amazing inventions. So when Van Helsing is ordered to go to Transylvania and kill vampires, Carl gives him the weapons he considers the most fitting for the job.

A Crossbow.

Like I said earlier, this movie takes place in 1888. The Colt Single Action Army revolver was developed in 1873. The Smith and Wesson Model 3 revolver was adopted by US military in 1870. The Winchester “Yellow Boy” Carbine was invented in 1866. Van Helsing himself walks around with two revolvers at all times.

Crossbows, meanwhile, have been outdated as weapons since the 17th century.

Also, the Crossbow is described as “Gas propelled”.

Crossbows are not gas propelled. The ammunition in a cross bow is propelled by, you guessed it, the bow! HENCE WHY IT’S CALLED A FUCKING CROSSBOW! If the gas propels the bolt, you have made a spear gun. But it has a bow, so it cannot be a spear gun.

So, If the gas doesn’t propel the bolt, what does it do? Is it gas operated? That can’t be true, since that term is applied on semi-automatic guns. It means the excess gas from the cartridge cycles the mechanism and reloads the weapon. It does not apply to crossbows, which, again, uses a bow!

And even if the gas cycles the mechanism, surely there’s a better way to do that? CO² gas canisters are not that easy to come by in 1888. Where do they get them? Look it up in a history book. Sodastream wasn’t really a thing in Victorian times. Soft-air guns weren’t that common back then. Why the gas? What was wrong with a spring!? 

What does the gas do?! I am genuinely puzzled! WHAT DOES IT DO?! TELL ME!

I know I’m expecting a sensible explanation from a character who claims to be a genius, and yet thinks that being a friar means you can swear and have one night stands (I admit, my catholic knowledge is a bit rusty, but I’m pretty sure that’s not how that works…) but this is really bugging me!

The Sun-Bomb

This one is fascinating to me. Van Helsing picks up this innocent little steam-punk snow globe paperweight and asks what it is. Carl explains it’s compressed magma from Mt. Vesuvius and pure alkaline from the Gobi desert. Van Helsing asks what it does, and Carl answers that it creates a light with the intensity of the sun. Van Helsing asks what good that’ll do, and Carl says he doesn’t know.

In case you missed that: They are going to TRANSYLVANIA to fight VAMPIRES, and they have a PORTABLE SUN… And NONE OF THEM KNOWS WHAT TO DO WITH IT?!

Then, later in the movie, Carl figures out that, amazingly, it can be used to kill vampires!

ABSOLUTELY GENIUS!

I’ve never seen such a clumsy attempt at “Chekhov’s Gun” in my entire life.

The Knights of the Holy Order

OK, so there’s a secret organization under the Vatican. Of course there is. I’m assuming the reason they are in the basement is because the other offices were already taken by the Opus Dei, the Iscariot Organization and the Illuminati.

But wait, it gets better. See, this organization isn’t just the catholic church. It’s EVERY MAJOR RELIGION ON THE PLANET. In this organization, we see Franciscan monks, Greek Orthodox priests, Muslims and Tibetan monks. Even if those are the only ones, you mean to tell me that all of these religions have put aside their social, political and theological differences and work together to fight evil?

That’s…. a surprisingly uplifting, albeit confusing idea. I like it. Well done.

Valerius’ Deal

In the beginning of the movie we’re given the backstory of the house of Valerius.

Our story begins 450 years ago, when a Transylvanian knight named Valerius the Elder promised God that his family would never rest nor enter heaven until Dracula had been vanquished from their land.

Four and a half century later, they haven’t succeeded, and now there’s only two left.

If they die before Dracula is destroyed, 9 generations will never enter the gates of St. Peter, and will instead “Slip into Purgatory”

(Let’s ignore for a moment that the point of Purgatory is that you go there after you die, and once your soul has been cleansed from sin, you enter Heaven. If you go to Purgatory, going into Heaven is just a matter of time. If anything, they would slip into Limbo.)

A pretty bad deal, considering Dracula can only be killed by a werewolf (for some reason). Now fast forward to later in the movie, and Carl explains the history of Dracula, trying to find a way to his castle.

He explains that Dracula was Valerius the Elders son.
That, by the way, is a load of crap, since Vlad III Dracula’s father was Vlad II Dracul. And don’t tell me this Dracula and Vlad III are not the same person. Vlad III signed his name Vladislaus Dragvlia, the same way Dracula introduces himself in the movie. The original Bram Stoker novel state that the vampire IS the historical figure, and as such share the same backstory.
(Small side note: the historical Vlad III was born 1431 and died 1477, not as this movie claims “Born 1422, murdered 1462”.)

Anyway, We learn that when Dracula died, he made a deal with the devil and was given life anew.

Then we get this line from Carl.

Your ancestor, having sired this evil creature, went to Rome to seek forgiveness. That’s when the bargain was made. He was to kill Dracula in return for eternal salvation of his entire family right down the line, all the way to [Anna].

THAT IS NOT THE SAME DEAL! Who changed the deal? They made it clear that Valerius promised God that until Dracula was destroyed, they would be denied into heaven. But according to his own notes, the deal is that if they kill Dracula, his family will be forever absolved of sin.

Did the catholic church change the deal?! Was that just what they told his descendants, so they would keep trying? Nice going, Knights of the Holy order! you’ve pretty much doomed an entire family, calling down the anger of an nigh-unkillable monster on them, hellbent on wiping them of the face of the planet.

And finally…

Dracula’s Plan

Let’s talk a bit about Dracula. He is, by far my favorite character in the movie. Part of it is because he’s played by Richard Roxburgh.

I mentioned him briefly when I talked about “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”, but I didn’t go into much detail.

Richard Roxburgh is, to me, a fascinating actor. He’s like a bizarro-Alan Rickman. I’ll explain.

Alan Rickman is good at playing villains. Whether it’s the subtle and suave Hans Gruber or the loud, Heart-digging-with-a-spoon-threatening Sheriff of Nottingham, he’s a great villain.
But from what I’ve heard, he doesn’t LIKE being good at playing villains. He wants to be the hero that comes in and saves the day. At least that’s what I’ve heard.

Richard Roxburgh is.. well, I don’t want to call him a bad actor, since that seems a bit harsh. He plays most roles fairly similar. He’s at his best when he’s playing the smug villain. But he LOVES playing villains.

Now, it’s possible I could be reading into it wrong, and he may actually hate being the villain, but the energy and the glee he seemingly has in every villain role makes him so entertaining to watch, I’ll gladly overlook any flaws in his acting abilities.

As for Dracula, the character, it’s pretty much the perfect role for him. He’s smug, he’s over-the-top and he gets the best lines. There is a great moment when Velkan is being strapped into the machine, screaming at Dracula, when he starts dancing for seemingly no reason. That just seems pointless, until later in the movie when you find out that he can hear peoples heartbeats, and he mentions he can “almost dance to the beat”. He is mocking Velkan by DANCING TO HIS HEARTBEAT.

Not to mention having one of my favourite movie lines of all time

Velkan: I would rather die than help you!

Dracula: Oh, don’t be boring. Everyone who says that die.

Now, you might wonder why I’m talking about this, instead of Dracula’s plan, like promised?

Simple. I need to remind myself of something good, before I delve into utter insanity.

OK, so Dracula needs the Frankensteins monster. He needs the monster to raise his children.

First off, there’s this question.
How the hell does he have children? They say that “Vampires are the living dead. It makes sense their children are born dead.

If they are born dead, how do they grow in the womb? And do the brides give birth to those big cocoon things? And they do that hundreds, maybe thousands of times, with each birthing? I know vampires have accelerated healing, but damn, that must be horrible.

Suddenly I understand why Dracula says he feels no love, fear, joy or sorrow. He has seen things that can NEVER be unseen!

But here’s another question. Why does he want to raise his children from the dead?

He mentions he wants the continuation of his species. But if he dies, everything made by him dies as well. Continuation of his species implies he want them to continue after he’s dead… but he lives forever….
And if there are more vampires in the world, there’s less food for him…

So it’s not to leave a legacy. It’s not because he loves them, since he doesn’t love anybody. He mentions that it’s because his brides demand it…

That’s it? I mean, I guess three women nagging you for a kid might get tiresome after a couple of centuries, but isn’t he their master? I’m not trying to justify some chauvinistic agenda, but Dracula is hopelessly evil. Shouldn’t his “Brides” be little more than glorified servants? Have I missed a page in how vampires function?

But OK, he wants to raise his children for whatever reason. So to do this he needs the Monster. To avoid this, Van Helsing hides the Monster in a crypt.

Then, during the mask ball, Dracula acquires the Monster anyway. How? By raising the bodies of the dead and having them bring the Monster to him.

Did you catch that?

In order to achieve his goal of raising the dead… HE RAISED THE DEAD!

WHY THE FLYING FUCK DOES HE NEED THE MONSTER, IF HE CAN RAISE THE DEAD AT WILL!?

So, that’s it. I’m sure I’ll find more things confusing about it, the more I watch it, but I think these are the biggest flaws. In conclusion, what do I think of the movie?

I love it.

I’m not joking. I absolutely love this movie.

You might be wondering why. Why do I like this movie? How can I like this movie, if it’s so stupid?

That’s just it. It’s stupid, but the thing is, it KNOWS it’s stupid. It knows it’s not going to be a great epic story, so it doesn’t try, and instead just has fun with the story.

It’s flawed, certainly. But my god, It’s entertaining.

This movie, more than anything, is a perfect example of “So bad it’s good”

Chapter II: How to Misuse Your Dragon

One of the greatest selling points of Skyrim is that you fight dragons. I don’t blame you if you bought it because of that. Out of the all reasons you could give me for why you would play this game, the prospect of being a bad ass dragon slayer is a pretty good one.

But I’m not sure you’ve really stopped and thought about the dragons. Sure, as a concept, killing dragons is cool and all that, but why is it cool?

I think a very big problem with Skyrim is that the dragons aren’t actually dragons.

I’ll explain.

What is a dragon?

When you hear ”Dragon”, what do you think of? Just a big, fire-breathing lizard? That also describes Salamanders in fantasy. Flying lizards? There are dinosaurs that do that.

What is it that sets a dragon apart from say, a troll or a giant gecko? Why are dragons so impressive? Why are they iconic as fantasy creatures?

The answer: Because dragons are intelligent. They’re not dangerous just because they’re big animals. They’re dangerous because they are superior both physically and intellectually. They’re often vain and arrogant, but that’s because they have very good reasons to be. They are older, smarter and stronger than most other creatures in Fantasy.

If you ever get the chance, google “Pathfinder Dragon”.

In case you don’t have time, here’s the crash course.

Dragons aren’t just another fantasy creature. They are THE Fantasy Creature. Any dragon that is older than 50 years is likely to be more powerful and intelligent than you can possibly imagine, and they do not answer to anybody but themselves.

Imagine Smaug with magic spells.

THAT is what you’re up against, if you decide to fight a dragon.

Now with that said, it doesn’t mean all, or even most dragons, will attack and obliterate you for the fun of it. After all, that is why Pathfinder has the D&D based alignment system of Law-Chaos/Good-Evil.

The problem is that dragons, as I mentioned earlier, tend to be somewhat vain, arrogant and proud. That means that when dealing with dragons, you want to be careful about what you say. When you see a dragon, you shouldn’t think “Great! I can kill that and get some nice loot!“.

You should be on your best behaviour, because if you piss that dragon off, be it intentionally or accidentally, it will fucking END you. And if the dragon is feeling sadistic and knows a thing or two about necromancy, you can look forward to spending the better part of the next century being continually resurrected and killed in different ways, for the amusement of the dragon.

Of course, I’m not saying dragons are or should be invincible. I’m just saying that trying to kill one is something that requires amazing skill, meticulous preparation and no small amount of luck, if you want to have the slightest chance of succeeding.

Now, how do the dragons in Skyrim compare to that?

Well, a single giant beats the shit out of a dragon. And the giant in question is wearing nothing but a loincloth and a beard, and his weapon is a stick with a rock on it.

THAT is what can kill a dragon in Skyrim. A tall, blue man in his underwear, armed with a stick. And he does it within 2 minutes.

Don’t you feel cool killing dragons, when that’s your competition?

Do you know why that is? It’s not because they have low health. It’s not because they have weak attacks. It’s because the dragons in Skyrim are FUCKING IDIOTS!

What makes me say that, you might wonder?

Well, my argument can be summed up in one simple question.

Why does the dragon land?

There’s no explanation for why it’d do that. It can breathe fire or frost! Meanwhile, you’re running around with a daedric greatsword, a weapon designed not only to kill, but to do it as painfully as possible. Why the hell would the dragon want to get close to that? Yes, you can shoot it with arrows, but what do you think is harder to hit, a flying target or a slow, lumbering target? It has an amazing advantage over you.

And yes, you have shouts that forces the dragon to land, and if you shoot enough arrows, it crashes. But that doesn’t change the fact it has no good reason to land voluntarily.

I’ve asked that to several people. and to voice their arguments in order to dispute them, I will require the assistance of my resident Devil’s Advocate, Dave.

Dave: The dragon gets tired from flying.

This, to me, is absolutely laughable. You mean to tell me that a dragon, a creature whose very language is magic, and has been designed for flying either by evolution or intelligent design, gets tired after 30 seconds of flight? I’m sorry, but that explanation doesn’t hold up. Look at a dragon crawling. Does that look graceful? Does it look like it was made to move like that. No, of course it doesn’t! It’s made for flying! There are birds that can fly for 10 years without landing. You’re telling me that in an endurance flight, a dragon would lose to a fucking albatross!?

And that is ignoring the fact that during the course of the game, we SEE dragons fly across the length and width of the country without landing, and at one point we RIDE on the back of a dragon. And we do that wearing full plate mail and a fucking ARMORY of weapons. Does the dragon land after 20 seconds? No. It flies over the highest mountains, miles away, and sets you down. Does he then take 10 minutes to rest? No, he flies away!

So no, the dragon doesn’t get tired. What’s next?

Dave: The dragon gets hungry.

Now, I’m no dragon, but if it were me, I’d probably try to eat something like a cow or a sheep. You know, something that has a lot of meat and doesn’t fight back. Wouldn’t you?

And even then, you wouldn’t land until after the thing was dead, right? Also, if you’ve paid attention, you’ve noticed that at no point in the game do we actually see a dragon eat something. The closest we get is the instant kill move, where the dragon bites your head, shakes you around, breaks your neck and throws you away. Clearly, it wasn’t that hungry, or it wouldn’t have thrown you away.

Am I wrong?

Now, how about some arguments that are slightly more compelling?

Dave: The Dragon is so arrogant that he doesn’t think he NEEDS to fight smart to kill you.

At first glance, that explanation makes sense…. Until you look at it closely, at which point it completely falls apart.

IF the dragon is so superior to me, if he thinks I am as amoeba to him… WHY THE FUCK DOES HE ATTACK ME?! Why does he give a shit about me, if I’m so unworthy of him?!

And then, we take this a step further. Let’s say that you’re a dragon. Let’s say you’re out flying, and you spot a humanoid walking around in the wilderness.

And for some reason you think ”That little germ is nothing to me. But I’m going to kill him, just to prove my superiority”.

That’s a bit weird, but let’s run with that. But if it’s so unworthy, so low and pitiful… Would you land and kill it with brute force, allowing the blood and guts of that piece of filth to taint your scales, your claws or your very TEETH!?

Or would you just swoop down and turn it into a speck of soot in a moment by yelling at it? No bad taste in your mouth, it doesn’t take long and you can get back to doing….whatever it is dragons do in Skyrim.

Not to mention that once you realize that close combat doesn’t work, and daedric greatswords hurt like a motherfucker, wouldn’t you want to stick to flying, seeing as that doesn’t involve close combat?

And finally:

Dave: The dragons, having been revived, can’t fully connect with their souls and memories. The time it takes them to get back to normal could be years. perhaps even centuries.

Finally, this should be the clincher, right? This explains why the dragons aren’t fighting intelligently! They’re not in their prime! At this point, they’re just dumb muscle to be directed by the far more intelligent Alduin. It all adds up!

That is, until you think about it….

First of all, let’s say I accept this explanation. What does that say about the dragons? Would anyone care to explain to me why I should feel cool for killing a dragon under those circumstances? Why the flying hell am I supposed to feel proud for beating a monster suffering from the spiritual equivalent of a concussion!?

That’d be like beating Usain Bolt in a hundred meter sprint, after someone broke his foot!

It kinda takes away a bit of the achievement, if you know what I mean.

And then, let’s not forget that the explanation still doesn’t add up! At least two of the dragons Alduin wakes up are perfectly lucid, speak coherent English (by dragon standards), and one of them even recognizes Alduin, having been raised from the dead moments before. Seems a bit odd, if they don’t have access to their memories, doesn’t it?

Not to mention that breathing fire or frost, in case you forgot, isn’t a biological ability of theirs. It’s their LANGUAGE! Just saying the Dragon word for “Fire” does nothing. Fully comprehending the meaning of the word is what gives it power. You’d think one or two dragons might have some difficulty producing fire, if their memories are all muddled and distorted. And yet, when do you ever see a dragon fail to breathe fire?

According to this argument, the dragons are lucid enough to remember people, two different languages, the ability to focus their knowledge to the point where they can breathe fire, navigate Skyrim….

But the basic god damn idea that staying in the air = not being stabbed with weapons that hurt like fucking buggery? THAT’S something they forgot?! That’s an awfully convenient type of amnesia, don’t you think?

And of course, the entire argument completely falls flat when you consider one detail: Both Paarthurnax and Alduin (neither of whom were ever dead) fight the same exact way as all the other dragons!

There is ABSOLUTELY NO DIFFERENCE between their fighting styles!

To put it bluntly, the explanations do not add up with the facts the game presents.

It’s ALMOST like it was an afterthought by the fans, trying to give a bullshit hand-wavy explanation to the shitty fucking writing or something….

Now, on it’s own, this portrayal of the dragons would be ok, if it was consistent.  If they made it clear that dragons are just beasts, with no higher reasoning, this behavior would be fine. But the problem is that we KNOW that dragons are supposed to be intelligent, so they just come across as badly written!

So why is this a problem?

Well, first of all, the game completely takes away the mystique and wonder of dragons. Not only because they’re not really a threat, but because, during a simple walk between keeps at higher levels, you can fight up to three or four dragons! If not for the Draugrs, they’d be among the most common enemies in the game!

(Incidentally, the Draugrs, the decrepit corpses of old Nord warriors? More of a challenge than the dragons.)

Because of this, killing dragons becomes routine in Skyrim, to the point where “Dragonslayer” may as well be a euphemism for “Pest Control“. It’s only really a challenge when you fight ancient dragons. But all it does is to make you use the same tactics you use on all other dragons. You just do it for a bit longer. They don’t change tactics, they don’t use different shouts. So why should I feel bad-ass about killing dragons in this game? Anyone can do it!

Dave: Well, the dragonborn is special! He can kill dragons permanently! Or what? Is absorbing souls not cool enough for you?

Oh, right! Of course! Killing a dragon permanently! What an accomplishment! And what do you have to do, in order to perform this amazing feat? Do you press a button combination? Do you play a minigame? Do you throw a spell? Surely such an amazing ability has some criteria? Do you train to unlock it? Maybe It’s it only accessible at a certain level? Pray tell, what excruciating trials must you endure to attain this phenomenal power?

Oh, right. you don’t do anything. It just happens automatically, because the gods said so.

I might as well be proud for making a fucking SANDWICH!

Hell, at least that would require some fucking effort on my part.

So much for “Amazing dragonslayer”…

Dave: Well, of course the dragons have to be easy to fight, you idiot! You have to kill dragons to learn the shouts! You have to kill three dragons per shout, so you need to be able to kill them quickly. I mean, how would you do it?

Well, if it were me, the first thing I would do: Remove the word walls.

You know, the big slabs of stone where you learn words in the dragon language, which you then use dragon souls to understand and use as shouts?

(I’d also reduce the number of shouts, since they make spells pretty much obsolete…)

Instead, I’d make the dragons fewer, much stronger, much tougher…

And then when you kill them, you go Highlander on their asses, and LEARN THEIR SHOUTS WHEN YOU ABSORB THEIR SOULS!

Kill one dragon, you get a unique shout.

Maybe weaker dragons could be in old burial ruins. The cramped space means they can’t fly, and they’re there because the better resting places have been taken by bigger, stronger dragons. Imagine running around some old ruined castle, entering the main dining room, and there’s a DRAGON sitting in it!

The stronger the dragon, the better the home. Giant Dwemer-halls, abandoned keeps, mountain tops… you get the idea.

You know what else I’d change?

See, one thing I just don’t understand is why exactly the dragons follow Alduin.
They clearly have no love or any real reverence for him, since they celebrate his death by the end of the game. The only one who seems upset about his death is Paarthurnax, and even he says that it was necessary.
It’s not because Alduin controls the other dragons, since they continue to be murderous monsters even after Alduin dies.
Is it just out of fear of dying? That sounds unlikely, since Alduins final goal isn’t to rule and govern humanity. It’s a well known fact that he intends to destroy the world and everyone in it, including the dragons.

There’s no good reason why they’d all be following him.

Instead, why not turn them into big, very hard to kill, very dangerous NPC’s?

Instead of hundreds of them, just have about 10 or 15. Maybe they were revived en masse, rather than Alduin going to each grave in turn and raising them. Then you can make every dragon unique, with different personalities, opinions, philosophies and powers.

See, this is a brilliant place for some sort of alignment mechanic to factor in. I’ll get into it more in later chapters, but let’s use the D&D system as an example.

  • Lawful Evil dragons follow Alduin, reasoning that they owe him or that it’s the will of the Gods that the world ends.
  • Chaotic Evil dragons might follow Alduin for the chance to rain death and destruction, or they may just strike out on their own.
  • Neutral Evil dragons refuse to follow Alduin, since helping him will get them killed, when they can exploit peoples fears instead. Either that, or they can fight for Alduin, until it’s clear that you are more likely to be victorious.
  • Chaotic Neutral dragons can reason that they never asked to be revived and owe Alduin nothing.
  • Dragons with any of the three Good alignments would obviously be unwilling to follow Alduin, and might even be willing to fight to stop him.
  • True Neutral dragons might refuse to get involved in the conflict altogether, knowing that if they stand up Alduin, they might get killed and if they support him, the world might end.

These are just a few suggestions. You don’t have to use the D&D formula. You can come up with something new.

Not only that, but the reduced number of dragons can be used to advance the story! Maybe Alduins army just consists of a crap-ton of fanatical cultists, with five or six dragons acting as lieutenants, but these dragons are incredibly powerful and devoted to Alduin, seeing him as a divine agent.

The ones who don’t follow Alduin could be characters to interact with. You could talk to them, argue with them, and if you piss them off by insulting them, stealing from them or hurting them, they might attack you. But they can also share rumors and ancient legends, having first hand experience of history from ages past, forgotten by most others.

How about this; you can choose to run errands for them in exchange for magic weapons, treasure or maybe you could even convince them to become allies, giving you a special shout that calls them to your side, I know that the game does that with one dragon, but it could be so much more! Suppose that by the end of the game, you might have a choice of five or six different dragons to call on for help, each with different shouts, different strengths and weaknesses, strategies and personalities.

(And don’t tell me dragons would never ally with humans. You know that’s bullshit).

Or you can take your chances and attack them, being rewarded with their specific shouts if you kill them. If you help them, and they become allies, you cannot kill them and you cannot get the shouts they know. Suddenly, you’d have to make a choice.

You know, LIKE YOU WOULD IN A ROLEPLAYING GAME! 

But hey, that’s just me. Why would we want something like that in a fantasy RPG? That’d just be lame, right?

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Fallout: New Vegas

As I’ve mentioned on previous occasions, I’m a big fan of Fallout 3 and New Vegas, with the latter being one of my absolute favorite games of all time.

Are they perfect? No, of course not, but the good things vastly outnumber any flaws in them.

But as I was playing through Fallout: New Vegas for the fourteenth time, molding and manipulating the factions and people of the Mojave Wasteland, like a machiavellian puppet master, to ensure my triumphant political and martial takeover and subsequent installment as sovereign überboss of New Vegas, I suddenly realized something strange about it.

It wasn’t some philosophical contradiction or anything big like that. It was something amazingly small, but very confusing.

You can’t smoke.

The game features cigarettes. You find packets and cartons of them throughout the Mojave, one of the supporting characters is identified from smoking a particular brand, you run around with two different lighters, one you use to light dynamite and one belonging to the aforementioned secondary character. One of the idle actions of NPC’s has them smoking a cigarette, there are smoking cigars in ashtrays all over the game…

So why can’t you take a puff? Why is that not an option?

Look, don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating smoking here. I don’t smoke, and I don’t see the allure of inhaling smoke, dragging tar and carcinogenic fumes into your lungs. I’m not saying the game is severely lacking the option. In the long run, it’s not that important. But with all the other options the game gives us, surely smoking wouldn’t be that far a leap?

I admit I know nothing about designing a game, but I can’t imagine it’d be that difficult to add some effects from smoking, and changing cigarettes from “miscellaneous” to consumable items. Maybe smoking gives you +1 to charisma or intelligence but a -2 to endurance, or a temporary reduction to action points, for example? The effect of one cigarette lasts 10 seconds, a packet lasts a minute and a carton lasts five minutes? Surely that’s not an impossible task?

Or is it just a moral thing? We can’t allow the players to smoke, because it’s ethically or morally wrong, since smoking kills?

I suppose that’s true, but you know what else kills? And does so much faster and more effectively than smoking? A .44 caliber bullet to the skull. And yet, with the exception of children, there is nothing stopping you from taking a Smith & Wesson revolver and turn some poor bastards head into a canoe.

Let me I remind you that, in this game, you can lie, blackmail, threaten, bully, torture, mutilate and kill people. You can set them on fire, turn them to ashes or into puddles of green goo with energy weapons.

You can sell your friends as slaves or as food for cannibals,

You can get addicted to wine, vodka, whiskey, scotch, beer and soda!

You can use and abuse drugs of such a variety and to such an extent you’d make Janis Joplin, Keith Moon and Jim Morrison look like a teetotalist girl choir by comparison.

You can quite literally sell out the future of the human race to an army of technophobic, misogynist slavers, murderers and pedophiles, led by a clinically insane dictator and self appointed living deity, who intends to wind social evolution back, undoing 2308 years of history, and your payment is just having your face stamped on a commemorative coin.

But having a smoke? No way, man! What do you think we are, monsters?!

Chapter I: In the Beginning…

Before I start, I should point out that throughout these chapters, I will make comparisons to Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas. They’re both, in my opinion, good examples of RPG’s, and I will use them as a benchmark.

Unfair, you might say. I disagree. One of those games is made by the same people who made Skyrim. I will judge the makers both on their own terms, and compare their efforts to that of people who KNEW WHAT THEY WERE DOING.

But I warn you right now. Clear your schedule. This will not be a quick read. There is a reason I call them “Chapters” rather than “Pages”.

Let’s begin.

The game starts with you, the player, as a prisoner on a cart, rolling through the wintry wilderness of Skyrim towards a small village/mountain outpost called Helgen. On the way, the other prisoners talk, and you’re made aware that there is a civil war raging between the Imperial army and a group of rebels, known as Stormcloaks, and that the leader of the rebels, Ulfric Stormcloak himself, is among the prisoners.

After a while, you arrive in Helgen, where you and the other prisoners are led from the wagon, and a guard asks you your name.

Cue character creation menu.

Well, So far, so good. You get a basic understanding of what’s going on, and then you get to create your character. Seems perfectly reasonable, right?.

You’ll be shocked to know that I don’t think so.

Let’s compare this opening to Fallout 3. That game opens with a radio sparking into life, playing “I don’t want to set the world on fire” by the Ink-Spots. Pan out to revealing the radio is in the dashboard in an old, broken bus. It pans out further, showing you the blasted remains of a city street. And finally, a Knight of the Brotherhood of Steel hoves into view. Then the narration by Ron Perlman begins with the catchphrase of the series.

War… War Never Changes

It then proceeds to explain the world in an abridged history lesson.
Nuclear war, humanity didn’t end with the war, and is now doing its best to survive.

Then the game itself begins with you, the player, being born.

From there, you’re creating your character.

In Fallout New Vegas, there’s a similar approach. A slow panning out from a poster on a casino wall, with the song “Blue Moon” by Frank Sinatra echoing out over the Vegas Strip, further past an NCR Ranger firing a gun. We follow the bullet through the air, until it hits a guy in the head. We then see a group of scouts from Caesars Legion surveying the city from afar.

We then cut to a bunch of people digging a grave, one person bound and on their knees and a man in a checkered coat smoking a cigarette.

What follows is the narrator explaining the world. This time, it’s less of a general description, and more an explanation of the current situation of the Mojave Wasteland. The NCR, Caesars legion and their history is explained in easily understood terms. You also get an explanation of what you’re doing in the world. You’re a courier. You’re also the person with their hands tied in front of the open grave.

Then the guy in the checkered coat shoots you in the head.

The game proper begins with you waking up in a hospital bed. You then start creating your character.

So I’m sure you’re wondering what’s wrong with Skyrim. They gave some exposition, and then you get to create your character. What’s wrong with that?

The answer: As is so often the case, the problem is in the execution.

The thing with the intro movie in Fallout is that it’s a MOVIE. You’re just supposed to watch it. It’s just an introduction given by the omniscient, impartial narrator. A factual description of the world setting up the style and feel of the game. Not a biased, unreliable account from people who are about to be killed.

Oh, and this might just be a small thing, but in case it’s your second time playing, you know what the great thing about an intro movie is?

YOU CAN SKIP IT!

In Skyrim, you press “New Game”, and you’re on the cart. And what follows is four and a half minutes where you’re stuck. you can’t click anything. You can’t talk to anyone. You can’t move. You can’t do anything other than look around, marvel at the scenery and hear idiots and assholes say things you already know.

Hooray…

So the opening explanation for what the hell is going on is clumsily given. It’s annoying, but it’s not really that bad in the grand scheme of things, I admit…

You know what is really bad?

The Character Creation.

Skyrim is a role-playing game. The idea with a role-playing game is that you create a character, and then you play that character. You decide who he is. What is he good at? What is he bad at?

Let’s look at Fallout: New Vegas, shall we?

The character creation in New Vegas is made in 5 steps.

First you pick your Name.

Then you pick your Appearance. Gender, Race, Face (how you look) and Hair (hairstyle, colour, beard etc).

Then there’s your basic Stats. In Fallout, they’re referred to as S.P.E.C.I.A.L.

Strength determines how strong you are (duh). How much you can carry without being slowed down, how hard you hit, and so on.

Perception means how observant you are. Apart from skill checks, this determines how far away an enemy is before they appear on your radar.

Endurance means how healthy you are. How much your body can endure, how much damage you can take before you become crippled, which may impact your mobility, your aim or your hearing and vision.

Charisma determines how good you are at charming, intimidating or bluffing people.

Intelligence decides your reasoning and common sense. it also affects how many skill points you get when leveling up.

Agility means how fast and limber you are. This has an impact on your action points, draw speed etc.

Luck determines how fortunate you are. How likely are you to get a critical hit in battle or how well you do when you gamble. It also gives a minor bonus to all skills

You get 33 stat points to assign to the stat you want. You can have 1-10 in a single stat. The higher the stat, the better that stat is. Nothing complicated.

All stats also affect certain skills. Strength affects the Unarmed and Melee skills, Charisma affects the Speech and Barter skills, and so on.

Next come the Skills themselves. You’re given three “tags” to assign to skills. Whatever skill you tag instantly gets 15 points towards the maximum of 100. You use skills for skill checks, of course. The higher the skill, the easier it is to do.

And finally, you get to pick Traits. For example, you might shoot slower, but more accurately, you’re harder to hit, but easier to cripple or you get +1 perception when you’re wearing glasses, but -1 perception when you’re not.

After that, you’re given a set of clothes, a gun, a wrist computer and go out in the world.

There you go. 5 steps, and you’ve got a character fit for a role playing game.

Now let’s compare that to Skyrim.

Skyrim as 2 steps.

Name, appearance, and that’s it.

What’s that? What about how strong, fast, smart or tough you are? Skyrim says “Fuck you. That’s not necessary in a role playing game”.

And you don’t get to pick what skills you’re good at.
Ok, that’s not strictly true. That’s all determined when you pick your race. Every race gets racial traits and a bonus to certain skills.

Wood elves, for example, get a bonus to the archery skill. The Khajiit get a bonus to sneaking. Nords get a bonus to two handed combat.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t there a word for when you take an entire race and say “This race is good at this thing and that race is good at that”? Can you recall what that word is?

Here, let me make it clearer, in case you can’t think of it,

This is like if, in Fallout New Vegas, you said that Caucasians get a bonus on speech, Hispanics get a bonus on sneak and Asians get a bonus to science. There is no difference.

Now, the traits they have, I don’t mind as much. The Argonians are immune to poison and breathe under water. The khajit have low-light vision. The Dunmer have a resistance to fire.

And there is nothing wrong with that. You cannot LEARN to breathe underwater. You cannot LEARN not to catch fire. Those are anatomical facts, distinct to their physiology.

But surely you can have that, without having to remove stats and skills in some ludicrous attempt to streamline the character creation?

And here’s the big problem.

Let’s say I sit down to play Skyrim. I scour websites and books, looking for a good name.

I go “Hmm.. I’m going to name him… Laertes, after the Shakesperian character.

I decide that Laertes is going to be a Dunmer, since they have a natural resistance to fire and get a bonus to destruction spells.

Then I spend HOURS configuring and changing the appearance of the character. The nose should be a bit longer, the hair should be jet black, I’ll give him one red eye and one clear white, with a scar over it. I’ll make him tall, but not too muscular, and a tattoo in bright orange under his left eye… Perfect! *Enter*!

I have now created a character.

Then you sit down, start the game and go “ Name? Uhm…. I don’t know. Bob. Race? hm… Dark elves look pretty cool… appearance? What do I care?! Standard type 1. there.” *Enter*

You have now created the same character I have. There is NO difference. You’re not smarter, stronger or faster than me. You’re not better or worse than my character in any way.

SO WHAT IS THE FUCKING POINT OF THE CHARACTER CREATION?!

The character creation is a joke! You just get the Illusion of choice. You THINK you’re creating a character when, in fact, your choices make no difference.

The point of an RPG is Choice.

And if there’s one thing I know for certain, it’s that Skyrim doesn’t like giving you a choice.

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