Diecast #141: Lord of the Rings, Firewatch, Square Enix

By Shamus Posted Monday Feb 15, 2016

Filed under: Diecast 113 comments

Hosts: Josh, Shamus. Episode edited by Rachel.

It was just Josh and I this week. Mumbles was sick, Chris was on a trip, and Rutskarn is actually such an astounding nerd that our videogame podcast was not nerdy enough for him and he needed to go out and find something that is somehow even nerdier. Spoiler: This means no Spoiler Warning this week. Sorry. (You nerd.)

I might have some reheated content from yesteryear (an abandoned text LP I never finished) to post in place of Spoiler Warning this week. We’ll see how things go.

Show notes:

0:02:40: Mobile Devices

The experience of learning to use mobile devices actually gave me a bit of humility and a great deal of empathy for all the baby boomers who jumped on the Information Superhighway late in life, after the conventions and customs of internet culture were established. It really is difficult to enter an unfamiliar system that assumes you already know how to navigate it.

0:08:55: Lord of the Rings

You know that Peter Jackson movie from a few years ago? Someone adapted it to a novel! And it’s actually not too bad! Kinda overlong in parts, though.

0:37:05: Firewatch

Link (YouTube)

NOTE: We pretty much spoil the whole game. If you’re planning to play and haven’t done so, skip this.

1:02:38: Mailbag

Dear Diecast,
Last year you raised some understandable doubts about Square Enix’s plans for the release of Hitman, particularly because of the lack of available details.
However, in mid January, Square Enix published an article containing some details that might change your perspective.

To sum up their new format, at launch you can purchase the full game at $60, or the prologue and first mission hub for $15. If you purchase this “intro pack” you can purchase each new mission hub for $10, or buy all of the mission hubs for $50 in a sort of season pass.
While this obviously provides a $5 incentive to purchasing the whole game at once, it does give consumers a little more freedom of choice, and does seem to make it a little more like a traditional episodic release.

Do you have any new thoughts on this, or are you still concerned?

Yours, Merzendi.


From The Archives:

113 thoughts on “Diecast #141: Lord of the Rings, Firewatch, Square Enix

  1. Metal C0Mmander says:

    Unfinised text LP? Will this be bitch on SWTOR week?

  2. Dragmire says:

    Lost viewers for kotor? I wonder what is turning people off…

    I’ve been waiting for the series to finish so I can binge watch it.

    1. Phill says:

      Well it has rather dragged on. I’m still watching, but there are so many episodes where nothing much happens. Didn’t know so many others were having the same reaction though (although the number of comments on each KOTOR video now is about 10% of the number on the Mass Effect retrospective, which should be a clue).

      Maybe they just need to give up on the idea of playing through to the end. We’ve said everything there is to say about the game at this point. Feel free to stop the series rather than slogging through to to end. Or force Josh play the rest of it offline and just have the finale as an episode, and skip the rest.

      I have to say that I saw that KOTOR came out on android, and was thinking of getting it for a bit of fun on my tablet, but Spoiler Warning has convinced me not to buy the game now.

      1. 4th Dimension says:

        Considering the size of some of the games it would be nice to do the SW for, they should start thinking how to compress such games. Like have Josh play in between recordings and do the boring stuff like uninteresting sidequests and inventory and gear. So for witcher 3 for example actual episodes should only do couple of side quests that are along the way to the main quest and the main mission itself.

        1. Lachlan the Mad says:

          To be fair, that is what they did with the first season of Spoiler Warning (they cut literally every second of inventory management from Mass Effect 1). It’s certainly the only way they could ever manage to cover Witcher 3.

      2. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

        I’m behind in my viewing, but they’ve had the good sense to -when they have nothing else to talk about -to talk about something else. The Last of Us was much worse. I bailed out of that one after about a month.

        Part of the problem is the Seinfeld is Unfunny problem -a lot of what was good and innovative in KOTOR has been done again and better later. Part of the problem is that KOTOR is a fairly rote game (for good or ill, KOTOR 2 is the one that did innovative stuff both with the game and the story and lore).

        I’d be really interested in seeing KOTOR played by a group of hardcore Star Wars Nerds. Or, I might run screaming from that after 3 episodes.

        1. Geebs says:

          By “innovative stuff with the game”, are you talking about KOTOR 2’s innovative use of lots of pointless minefields combined with companion AI sabotaged so that it is totally unable to perceive mines?

          I finally gave up and read an LP of KOTOR2 after getting bored and giving up again immediately after the Handmaidens. I really don’t get what is so great about the plot; it’s entirely predicated on everybody apart from one character being an incompetent, self-defeating idiot and the total arse-pull of a “Force black hole”.

          1. Odd to read that, as the blind to mines problem I had in Kotor, not in Kotor 2.

          2. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

            I had in mind the use of character-dependent skills with plot relevance, the linking of skill points and leveling up to over-arching plot about the wound in the force, the set-pieces like the defense of Dantooine, and force link skill tree.

            Mines never really bothered me that much.

    2. Christopher says:

      The gameplay isn’t much fun to watch. It’s got very tiny subtitles, which is a bad match for people talking over the game and characters talking in made-up silly noise languages. Meaning it needs to be fullscreened and focused on completely to follow along with. It’s been going on for so long that the cast have mostly said what they had to say. It’s boring.

      I nominate just playing D&D over the rest of it like the underwater sections, that was a ton of fun.

    3. Wide And Nerdy â„¢ says:

      In addition to what others are saying, this is just a common thing with Lets Plays. People watch in the beginning and viewership tends to drop off as the run proceeds.

      1. Matt Downie says:

        True of most things, of course. More people are going to start from the start and then drop out than start from the middle. The first book of a series is likely to be read by the most people.

        1. Peter H. Coffin says:

          Plus anyone that stumbles on this in the middle of the run can (and probably will) go back and watch the earlier episodes of the series. They’re always available, after all. They only way anything but the first of a run will get more views than the first is by someone going back and *rewatching*.

    4. Jokerman says:

      I was really happy when i heard they were doing it, but its just not a great game to watch. Ive fallen behind, only on episode 43, been behind most of the series actually.

      1. Phill says:

        As you say, and Christopher says above, it’s not great to watch. The visuals are very dull for the most part. The combat is incoherent from a viewing perspective – crap appears on the screen, and soon stuff is dead, with no real sense of what is going on. When not running around ugly scenery or engaged in confusing fights, we are in dialogs where the viewer can’t read the subtitles, and doesn’t speak Wookie or Twi’lek, and again we are left with very little idea what is going on.

        This is usually redeemed by the interesting discussion and commentary from the crew, but once they’re reduced to mostly complaining about how bored they are with the whole thing, there is nothing but sheer inertia or stubbornness to keep people watching.

        1. Peter H. Coffin says:

          Campster using the funny voice that sounds like Henchman 24 makes up for a lot of complaining, though.

        2. Tizzy says:

          This helped me realize that I watch Spoiler Warning for more than just the conversation. And this game simply does not lend itself to what makes watching Josh play entertaining. Not enough opportunities to go off the rails in a spectacular way. Not only is the combat dull to watch, it doesn’t allow you to do anything crazy. And the rest of the world resists funny interactions. No chance to bed a Jarl or shout him off the top of his city’s walls, for instance…

    5. MichaelGC says:

      I’m enjoying it! But, I’m also rewatching the Fallout 3 season for the umpteenth time, so I think I’d have to admit that I’m possibly something of a judgment-impaired fanboi by this stage.

      Enjoyed today’s Diecast, too – it’s nice when there’s only two or three. Although it’s also nice when there’s like five or six, of course! So, er, essentially it’s win-win either way, and I might as well go ahead and change my name to Dr Fanboi McPangloss.

      1. MichaelGC says:

        I’m onto Bioshock now. They’re promising it will be plus happiness, bunnies; minus bile, vituperation.

    6. Cuthalion says:

      I’m actually baffled by all the negative reaction to the KotOR LP here. I’m a couple episodes behind, but I’m rather enjoying it! Maybe it helps that it was a long time ago when I played, and I never finished it, so more of it feels new? Maybe it helps that I often rewind to make sure I catch both what the SW crew is saying and what the characters are saying?

      Since I never finished the game myself, I hope they finish it so I can watch. Besides, aren’t they almost done?

  3. Nidokoenig says:

    I got a hand-me-down Kindle Fire a while ago, and it’s a pretty neat device. I did find using my finger was maddening, so I got a pack of cheap styluses, and not being able to kill a program can be annoying. It’s surprisingly open, too, for example I can run Plumble by installing from the apk , but without a mic(I had read a headset could work but no dice, apparently) it’s kinda useless. You can also read various formats of book, even pdfs, so putting public domain stuff on there is trivial to the point where I haven’t actually paid for a book yet thanks to Project Gutenberg and Archive.org and some nerd who made a novel-length fanfic. Well, I bought a couple of books, but Romance of the Three Kingdoms is free and huge so I haven’t gotten round to reading them.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      I bought the collected works of Lovecraft for $1 on sale on Amazon. I think I’ve read like a quarter of them, over the courser of a year? The space and weight savings are massive too; I think I worked it out, to something like 10^4 less weight, and 10^3 less space compared to dead-tree format. Something ridiculous like that. :)

      Gutenburg is pretty sweet; Frankenstein is on there, and it’s a great book. Too bad a lot of the stuff they have access too is incredibly boring and old. Frankenstein is just old, thankfully. :)

      1. Lachlan the Mad says:

        Frankenstein is pretty damn great for such an old novel, largely because Mary Shelley was writing it for her own amusement and the amusement of her friends, which was actually pretty rare in those days. A lot of the classic novel writers originally wrote for magazines which paid them by the word, and it took the authors approximately twelve seconds to figure out the loophole there (Dickens was particularly guilty on that front).

        1. krellen says:

          Great Expectations is such a bad novel because of this.

  4. Christopher says:

    Different languages are soo frustrating. If you understand them, it’s fine, but if you don’t, the translating makes a conversation take forever. I was in a law class during high school and at some point went to an excursion to a local court case. The suspects were three men from some different country, and so _every_ sentenced had to be repeated once by a translator while everyone paused. It was the most boring day of my life. I don’t think I have ever read fiction that replicated that incredibly boring experience save for the deaf girl in that 4chan dating sim, Katawa Shoujo. It’s a bad idea! But at least then, the whole point was to get to know this girl, and overcoming the language barrier(Like taking sign language classes) was a huge part of that story.

    1. Nidokoenig says:

      Multilingual settings with interpreters is boring, but for most interesting ones most people will understand other languages, they’ll just change what they use based on the social conditions, which is only really a thing you can portray with voice acting and subtitles, unless you go the Allo Allo route and use accents, though that was more comedic, especially when the English spy spoke French accent with a heavy upper class English accent. Easier to just use dialects and other modes of speech to show social divisions like that.

      Really, you can get most of what you’d want out of a multilingual setting by creating a couple of sets of phonology rules and have a program spit out all the “legal” words and decide who makes what, named what and is in charge to divy up where names come from. Constructed language or “conlang” nerds have various guides and tools for this kind of stuff, but it’s been a decade since I looked at this stuff so I don’t have links handy.

      1. SlothfulCobra says:

        It’s weird that Star Wars of all things has been pretty consistent on there being multiple languages. Of course, the way that’s normally handled is by just about everybody being able to understand everybody else, so they’ll talk at each other in different languages and still be able to understand each other. It’s only in Return of the Jedi that the language barrier means anything, and C-3PO gets to have his best moments.

        Stargate was good with language in the movie, but they basically dropped everything about that in the show, which left Daniel the odd man out, seeing as a linguist isn’t necessary if everyone speaks english.

        1. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

          It seems to me that, unless the language barrier is a plot point, it tends to retard drama rather than improve it. It only works in LOTR (for certain definitions of “work” -I bogged down in the middle of the first book of The Two Towers) because the entire work is treated as a bit of a travelogue in addition to the adventure. That is, part of the reason to read the book is for the songs.

          In my hobby writing, if I want to portray someone as speaking a language other than their own -or speaking to someone who doesn’t speak their own language, I’ll normally represent it by simplifying the vocabulary, dropping informalities (ie, contractions), and periodically having a weird construction around a particular word -that last one based on a real experience when I was speaking Spanish to a person who’s first language was Portuguese, and he didn’t know the word for “16” in Spanish, so he said “Ten y seis.” With fingers held up to indicate, in case I’d missed it.

          But again, that’s really just a variant of an accent, written without dialect, and I wouldn’t make a point of it unless it were plot relevant.

    2. ? says:

      That’s seems to be more at fault of court environment than language barriers being boring. Since someone’s freedom or even life might be on the line translations need to be more specific and faithful than any other place (even negotiations between two megacorps might be more relaxed). And even in single language courtrooms are impossibly dull due to legal technicalities. People laugh at court transcripts (Q: Can you describe the individual? A: He was about medium height and had a beard. Q: Was this a male, or a female?) but all this crap needs to be actually stated to go on the record, not just implied.

    3. Bubble181 says:

      Hi, I’m Belgian. Court cases in Brussels and the surrounding area are *always* completely translated and bilingual – even if all concerned speak the same language – because it *might* go to appeals and the judge or one of the concerned *there* might speak another language. Bonus: we have three legal languages, and if someone speaking the third comes along or gets involved, everything gets re-translated from BOTH originals to make sure there’s no linguistic gap – both translations are compared and differences noted and investigated.
      And if you speak English, yup, there are facilities in some courts as well. Don’t bother asking for Arabic, though – even though there are far more people speaking that than English around here, no facilities for them (yet)! Makes perfect sense if you’re a lawmaker, I suppose.

  5. Ninety-Three says:

    Josh joking about lost viewers on KOTOR made me look up your Youtube views, the rate at which views drop off is interesting. Now I need to make a graph or something…

    1. Ninety-Three says:

      So I got curious and made some graphs. Here’s the Youtube viewcount on the last eight seasons of Spoiler Warning for those interested: http://s17.postimg.org/oy654vh6n/graphs.png

      1. Shamus says:

        Thanks for posting this. While Echo Tango is correct that YouTube has analytics, it doesn’t really understand our blocks of episodes (seasons) and so it would be really hard to get something this coherent out of it.

        Interesting that most games have a smooth falloff, while Skyrim does that strange sawtooth. I wonder what causes that?

        1. MichaelGC says:

          Not sure about the overall pattern, but I’m guessing that sudden mid-season spike back up to 7,000 is Episode 30: “Escape from the Temple of the Boobs.”

          1. Wide And Nerdy â„¢ says:

            I thought perhaps you were referring to something funny in the episode but you mean the title don’t you.

            1. MichaelGC says:

              That’s right. Many share an endless fascination with temples.

        2. Ninety-Three says:

          The two spikes are Ep 30: Escape from the Temple of the Boobs (almost certainly spiked due to the name, you might think I’m kidding but I’ve done analytics on this sort of thing, putting boobs in the thumbnail gets you more views, so I’m not surprised doing the title does too) and for some reason I can’t explain, Ep 46: Enchanting Questions Part 3.

          1. Hitch says:

            My theory doesn’t account for spiking on the third part, but as I recall the “Enchanting Questions” episodes were less of a Skyrim Let’s Play than a mailbag-centric Diecast with Skyrim happening in the background and people who’d given up on the Skyrim play-through may have come back for that.

          2. Sleeping Dragon says:

            Is this the part where Josh is breaking the game by abusing the enchantment mechanics? Would it be possible that people are referring others or showing the episode to them as an example of how it can be done?

        3. Ranneko says:

          You can create Video Groups in YouTube analytics that you can analyse as a block, but that still does not do what these graphs here show, which is the view progression over a season. YouTube only really lets you see what a given thing is doing over calendar time. I really should download my own stats for analysis sometime.

      2. Decius says:

        If you’re still bored/curious, I’d be interested in superimpose all the seasons on the same scale

        1. Ninety-Three says:

          The only reason I didn’t do it is because I wasn’t sure how to handle the fact that they all ran for hugely varying amounts of time. Do I compress them all to the same length? Let them trail off? I guess I could make a version with both…

          1. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

            Put them on the same Y-axis scale, that’s what people are looking for. If the X-axis is variable, it can still be interpreted as percent of the overall series. (Though since the week-by-week breakdown is probably what we’re really interested in, I would also scale the X-axis and just have the lines end when the series ends.)

          2. 4th Dimension says:

            You shouldn’t really compress them because then you will loose the information on the actual rate of viewership decay.

            Allthough you could normalize them in the Y axis department by dividing the view count by with the first week view count.

      3. Tizzy says:

        Cool! What I found most unexpected is how the seasons have drastically different figures for first episode views. I have to assume that it’s not the regulars who drive this particular behavior. I guess some titles attracted people more than others.

        Also, Marlow Briggs deserves higher figures, but that’s just me. Where else are you going to find an LP of that game, for starters…

    2. Echo Tango says:

      Actually, Shamus/Josh would already have access to a graph of their viewers over time. There’s this handy “Analytics” tab that gives you that stuff. :)

  6. Alex says:

    Watch The Mechanic. That story you’re talking about, the kernel of not sucking at the heart of Hitman: Absolution? This is that movie.

  7. Wide And Nerdy â„¢ says:

    If you can find it, my favorite audio version of Lord of the Rings was done by Phil Dragash which used to be on YouTube. You’re not going to find it in a store as it wasn’t authorized and uses sound assets from the movie but it was a labor of love and IMO the best audio dramatization* of the work (and the only unabridged dramatization.) Dragash does an amazing job with voices and atmospheric sounds as well.

    For my part, I’ve bought the books and movies and audiobooks and theater tickets so many times, I’ve given plenty of money to this. I wish they’d authorize his version and if they did I’d of course pay for it.

    As for Bombadil, as much as it felt like it was dragging down the story the first time, to me he epitomizes what I now love about Tolkien.

    *I say ‘dramatization’, its a complete read of the text with good voice acting and background sound effects.

    1. Cinebeast says:

      I just looked at Dragash’s website and he seems like a pretty cool dude. He worked on a remake of Wand of Gamelon, for heaven’s sake! He’s clearly the best kind of nerd

      Anyway, I’ll check out the audio book. I’m probably due for a reread of the trilogy by now.

  8. Stomponator says:

    Concerning the LotR Audiobook:
    For german readers, I highly recommend the audiobook done by the late Achim Hà¶ppner (“Fellowship”) and Gert Heidenreich (“Two Towers” and “Return”). Hà¶ppner is the actor who did the german dub of Sir Ian McKellen’s Gandalf, so listening to him is like getting a bedtime story read by Mithrandir himself.

  9. Echo Tango says:

    Meta comment – Firewatch was at 37 minutes, not 27! :)

    1. Retsam says:

      Similarly, the mailbag is at 1:03:38 not 1:02:38.

      1. Echo Tango says:

        Meh. A difference of 1 minute is a lot less than 10 minutes. :P

  10. Leland J. Tankersley says:

    I have both the BBC radio dramatization (w/Ian Holm, Michael Hordern, Robert Stevens, and Bill Nighy as Sam) and the Robert Inglis audiobook version of LotR that you discuss.

    The LotR radio dramatization came out in the early 80s (I remember listening to it on NPR with my family — p.s. get off my lawn). I like it quite a bit, actually. It’s been re-mixed a few times — I think the version we listened to “live” was 26 half-hour episodes, I had a cassette tape version years ago that was 13 1-hour episodes, and a few years ago I got the show on CD, which has been re-jiggered a little bit to run as three long episodes, one per book, with a little framing story with Ian Holm (who plays Frodo) around each book, notionally as he’s finishing up his portion of the Red Book before heading off to the Havens. It’s not a reading of the book, it’s a radio play, with music, sound effects, internal monologues, and so on. It’s surprisingly stirring in places, but the thing you’ll notice in comparing to the book or the movie is how big action set-pieces get short shrift. I think the battle of Helm’s Deep (that long night on the walls, the orcs coming through the culvert, up to the ride out in the morning) takes a few minutes, tops — it’s done as a little montage of scenes. There’s more time spent in the build-up, though. Some of the poems and songs make the cut; often they’re abridged, or sung in bg for example. And they did a good job with the confrontation between Eowyn, Merry, and the Witch-King on the Pelennor Fields, and that’s my metric for “is this a good LoTR version?”

    The Inglis audiobook is long, unabridged, and pretty excellent. Seamus, you said “they don’t read the appendices” — well, they DO read some of them. The stuff about the calendars and writing systems isn’t in there, but the more narrative stuff about the histories of Gondor and Rohan made the cut, and there’s some stuff in there about the history of the dwarves as well. The “Concerning Hobbits” prelude is in there as well, but IIRC it’s part of the appendices, not at the start of Fellowship. (Probably trying to even out the running time a bit.)

    And I shared your experience of reading LotR, where the first few times I read it (probably around age 11 or so) I would just skip over all of the songs and the travelogue portions, skipping from action beat to action. “What happens NEXT?!” Now that the story is a comfortable, familiar friend, though, when I re-read I tend to savor and linger over a lot of it. (The pages of travelogue description of the kinds of flowers and brush that grow on the south side of the hill they are walking past still makes me glaze over, though.)

    1. Mike S. says:

      That LotR radio dramatization remains my gold standard for adaptation, not least for getting the pronunciations mostly right. (Which, along with the casting of Holm and Barliman Butterbur’s accent, convinces me that Jackson or someone involved in the movies was familiar with it even if they often chose a different route. Compare the Bakshi and Rankin-Bass adaptations of Tolkien, where the first syllable of Sauron rhymes with “dinosaur”.) It was also a formative experience because after each episode NPR (or at least our affiliate) broadcast this British SF comedy series I’d never heard of, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”

      (I still think the radio version was the best incarnation of HHGttG, though the TV version benefited from retaining a lot of the same actors.)

      NPR also did the radio play adaptation of “Star Wars” around the same time. (Which included the clever bit that all the “sound” in space was synthesized by the ship’s audio systems for the benefit of the pilots, to help them know what was going on around them. An oddly hard sf detail for something like Star Wars, but I appreciated it.) It really was a minor golden age for geeky radio drama that hasn’t since been replicated.

      1. Leland J. Tankersley says:

        Yeah, I remember the Star Wars BBC radio drama, too. They got the major cast to reprise their roles, didn’t they? And I remember they sort of expanded it with a lot of extended or deleted scenes, like I think there was a whole bit with Luke going into town with Biggs before the droids even landed on Tattooine.

        HHGttG was slightly different in that it BEGAN as a radio drama, and then got re-spun and re-mixed into the novels (and TV series, and movies… which later on were adapted back into later series of the radio show). I remember finding it very weird to read the books and have the major story beats be the same as the radio show, but a lot of the connective tissue explaining how they get from A to B be different, or swapped around.

        1. Mike S. says:

          They got Hamill and Anthony Daniels, but not the rest of the cast. (Though it looks like Billy Dee Williams did do Lando in the Empire adaptation.)

  11. Abnaxis says:

    It really is difficult to enter an unfamiliar system that assumes you already know how to navigate it.

    Haven’t listened yet, but 99% of my problems with mobile device isn’t that I don’t know how to navigate it, it’s that the basic functionality I need is almost always stripped out of the apps

    I can’t search a blasted document. I can’t just type in a page number to make my way around. Editing a typo in a text field is painful.

    My problem isn’t one of fluency, it’s that my expectation for the simple functionality just isn’t there, and it’s infuriating. I have yet to use my work-inflicted iPhone for anything other than reading email without frothing at the mouth.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      Sounds like you need an Android phone! :D

      1. Abnaxis says:

        Yeah, I didn’t want to jump into that flame war, but I actually have one of each.

        The Android is better about that stuff, but I still collectively curse every mobile developer any time I want to actually reference a PDF manual sheet for anything if I’m out in the field.

        I just don’t understand it–is there just this philosophy of “fuck functionality, we need less buttons” or something? I mean, I get that for some apps all you want is dirt simple, basic functionality, but the sheer lack of features is just pervasive in mobile applications.

        Also, screw whoever it was who had the idea to call every program an “App,” and then spread that jargon to all computing devices. And get off my lawn!

        1. Tizzy says:

          I’ve used both iOS and android, and I want to add another perspective: I get the sense sometimes that we’ll never get a good system, because they can’t pick the best in class for everything without being sued or having to pay insane royalties.

    2. Peter H. Coffin says:

      The absolute tragedy of all this is (and deep and unpopular opinion in this comment) Apple BURIED one of the few useful and functional portable-device text editing systems that ever existed, and I’m convinced it entirely happened because Steve Jobs was a vindictive jerk.

      The deep details of what this system was are in chapter 3 of This introductory manual, but I’ll touch on them quickly.

      First off, you wrote. (In spite of all the jokes about the Newton’s handwriting recognition, it was actually pretty good. About on par with contemporary voice recognition, at least, and you’ve seen what Siri and OK Google can do by now. In fact, that same sort of smart device direction existed then. “Invite Sally to lunch at Armond’s on the fourth” would A) create a calendar entry at noon on the next 4th day of the month and B) compose an email with the calendar details in it, to the mostly commonly accessed contact with the name “Sally” in it.) You wrote on the line you wanted to fill in. If it was a free-form text area, you wrote anywhere in it. And it REMEMBERED how you wrote the words for a long time, so you didn’t need to edit right then. If it picked the wrong word, you tapped and held on it for about a second, and you got a list of relevant replacements to pick from. If none was in there, you tapped away from the list to clear it, double-tapped the word and just wrote again, anyplace. (You had it highlighted with the double-tap, so THAT was what you wanted to replace, right? No need to tell it more.) Want to delete something? Scribble it out. Want to delete something precisely, tap and drag to select it and scribble. Want a whole word? double-tap as before. Whole sentence? Triple-tap. Want some room? Draw a thing that looks like


      under where you wanted the insert to start and it’d pull the text over that amount of space. Then write. When you tap someplace else to move the cursor, the text would automatically do the right thing to close up any remaining gap. Do the same thing vertically to open space between lines. Want to UPPERCASE a word? Select and draw a stroke upward through the word. Downcase? Same and stroke down. Go through the first letter to get only an initial cap. Literally dozens more of these kind of simple, obvious, almost instinctive gestures that made entry, editing and correcting of text an absolutely trivial task.

      But they pissed it away. Because the Newton was John Scully’s baby. And he fired Jobs, so forever more, anything Newton was poison. iOS still doesn’t support handwriting, even though Apple already owns the technology and has for 20 years. Because the idea of using a STYLUS on a TABLET is evil.


      1. Geebs says:

        Was the Newton’s handwriting recognition any better than on the later Palm devices? Because those had that peculiar class of functionality whereby even when it’s good, it’s still terrible.

        1. Peter H. Coffin says:

          Far, far better. At least the NewtOS 2 devices. There was basically no learning curve for most people that had reasonably clear handwriting in the first place. There were a few things that made it a little smarter, like using multiple strokes for “a” and “e” and exaggerating ascenders/descenders, but they’re all stuff that actually applies to writing more clearly on paper as well. And it handled script (cursive) remarkably well. I’m not even sure a highschool kid could read that now, and this was a machine with a 160MHz processor.

  12. Henson says:

    “In Hitman: Absolution, we went from infiltrating a super secret science lab to wrestling Danny Trehulk and killing him in front of hundreds of spectators to bondage nuns”

    But all that was the best part!

  13. Hannah says:

    But… you see a drawing of Henry (naked, I might add) within the first ten minutes of Firewatch, during the intro. Did Shamus not see this, or was this too late? I just didn’t really get that complaint.

    1. Jokerman says:

      He might of purged the shot of Henry’s penis out of his mind. I wonder who picked Victoria’s secret and who picked muscle man.

  14. MichaelGC says:

    Interesting article on Firewatch which seems to mirror a lot of what Josh was saying:


  15. Daniel England says:

    So I really liked Firewatch and wasn’t particularly disappointed with the ending. I think I might have preferred it if the game didn’t go the paranoia route with the conspiracy stuff, When I took my first break from playing I was still just dealing with the girls. At that point I walked away thinking really highly of the game. If it had stayed more mundane then I guess Josh’s problems with the game regarding expectations of what was actually going on wouldn’t have been a problem.

    But I was able to complete Henry’s arc before the ending. Towards the end of the game the player will start in the tower and find that Henry has decided to remove his wedding ring and place it on his desk. I picked up the ring, and the game gave me the option to put it on. I took about a minute to mull it over before I opened the desk drawer, and gently tossed the ring in. Closing the drawer I picked up my backpack and went out for a hike. Similarly at the start of the final day, Henry is packing up to leave and you get the option to keep what ever items you’d like that you’ve collected during your time here. Opening the desk drawer, I saw the ring was still there. I stared at it for a while before I decided to leave it here, to burn in the fire. It was a huge character decision that I made through gameplay without any real acknowledgement from the game (which I was more than okay with.) But then I picked up the photo of Julia and took that with me. Because Henry *did* love her, but she is gone now. And no vows will be able to bring her back. He might still visit her. But I didn’t want him waiting around shackling himself his wife’s dying body. I felt that this selfish option was the conclusion Henry had come to during his time out here, and that it was okay for him to make it.

    So yeah, Henry was no longer running away from his problems, like other people had. He made his decision and was going off to live with it. I can totally see why other people could feel disappointed with the ending. Like if the didn’t attach a lot of emotional and narrative significance to the scenes I mentioned above, as they are pretty easy to miss or ignore, but it worked for me.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      So, I think the whole paranoia/conspiracy/x-files thing probably differs wildly with the person playing the game. Like, between Campster and George from Super Bunnyhop, the game was basically experienced as a slow build-up to an X-Files-like place…that totally deflates in the third act because it was actually completely mundane. You yourself said it would have been more enjoyable if it had stayed more mundane. I myself however, thought the story was mundane throughout, and never got a let-down moment from the game, so my enjoyment stayed high, like watching a well-made film.

      The key difference, I’m guessing, is that I understood that the two main characters were probably going a bit crazy – cabin fever, from all the isolation and boredom. I myself have experienced this, with my experience doing aggregate samples for construction. It’s 12-hour shifts, dusty and hot as hell, and the only human contact you get is two minutes every three hours, when you go get a new bucket from the conveyor belt and talk to the tower supervisor.* So, when Delila and Henry started talking about X-Files type stuff, I just assumed their imaginations were getting the better of them, and set off to find out what exactly was truly going on.

      * My smartphone and data plan literally kept me from going insane that summer. :)

  16. Mike S. says:

    One issue with stripping out the Barrow-Downs with Bombadil. As noted, this means we don’t see them get their swords. This is important for Merry’s sword in particular: the sword was forged for the last war of one of the kingdoms of Aragorn’s ancestors against the Witch-King of Angmar, aka the Lord of the Nazgul. And that sword is, ultimately, the reason Merry and Eowyn are able to take him down.

    Without that element, the scene is pure prophecy: the Witch-King goes down because some guy said he was invulnerable to “the hand of a man”, leaving an opening. But that’s never how prophecy works in Tolkien. Fulfillment always makes sense in terms of the events on the ground: the Witch-King isn’t somehow simply magically vulnerable to Merry because he’s not a Man in one sense, or Eowyn because she’s not a man in the other.

    (Though that ambiguity in “man” is why Tolkien made it a collaborative effort; it’s a little linguistic joke.)

    He’s vulnerable to a sword that was specifically made to undo his protective enchantments. (Which wounds him in the leg and leaves him vulnerable to Eowyn’s killing blow.) The prophecy merely foresaw that it wouldn’t be “a Man” who would make him vulnerable or deliver the final stroke.

    Losing that isn’t fatal, and keeping it probably isn’t worth spending a sizeable percentage of a mass market adaptation on what’s basically a narrative dead-end. But I think it might be worth trying to recast that element so that it’s still somewhere in the story. E.g., Jackson had Aragorn summarily hand swords to the hobbits at Weathertop. A little dialog about their being from the war against the Witch-King and so specially effective against Nazgul might have introduced that gun on the mantlepiece for Merry and Eowyn’s climactic confrontation.

    1. ? says:

      I think it still works describing circumstances of his death – by the twist of fate none of the men who attempted to harm Witch-King succeed, but Merry and Eowyn ended up in position to kill him. Perhaps the only reason why the Nazgul was so reckless was because of false security given by the prophesy. He was vulnerable all along, his luck just run out at that specific moment predicted long ago. Macbeth isn’t magically immune to swords of men of woman born, it just happens that “born by caesarean section” is a little known trivia about a man that does kill him. The only reason Oedipus does his thing(s) and Paris brings ruin to Troy is because someone thought that by knowing the future they can avoid fate, when what has been foretold happens out of efforts to avoid it. It’s the hubris of relaying on prophecy and knowing what you are not meant to know that dooms you, not some magical macguffin.

      1. Mike S. says:

        Speaking of Macbeth, the end of the Battle of Helm’s Deep (and by extension, the entire existence of the Ents) is at root a Take That by an author disappointed at how Great Birnam Wood came to Dunsinane in the play.

        (“I’ll show you a forest coming to a battle, Shaxberd!”)

        1. ? says:

          “And the Isengard shall stand mighty against the ages until forest of Fangorn comes to it…”

          “That’s like literally only forest in Middle-Earth that can do this and it’s right next to it. That’s shit prophecy Glorfindel. Do you have Gondor lottery numbers?”


          “That gift of yours is sort of useless.”

  17. John says:

    I have played something like five of the twelve levels in Hitman: Contracts–which is the third one, I believe. Before you start each level, there’s a cutscene of a wounded Agent 47 staggering around, passing out, getting medical treatment, or some such thing. The levels themselves are thus cast as flashbacks to old missions. (I read somewhere that some of the Contracts levels are remakes of levels from the first two games.) I suppose that may technically constitute some kind of story, but it hardly matters. I don’t know why Agent 47 is hurt but I also don’t care. The levels are fine. I stopped playing because I suck, not because of anything the story did or failed to do.

    One thing I learned from Contracts is that the Hitman series has always been kind of depressingly lurid. It’s hard to find a level in Contracts without prostitutes, strippers, or sexy maids in their underwear.

  18. Mike S. says:

    The Kindle really appeared at exactly the right time for me. We’ve got bookshelves everywhere it’s practical to put them, and we were nervously watching the remaining empty shelf space disappear. (At this point people will suggest an alien concept called “weeding”, but neither of us really recognizes it as a possibility. What if you want to read it again? Or check a reference?)

    In addition, we were reaching the age where it appeared that someone had gone into our old paperbacks and replaced the lettering with tiny, difficult-to-read type. Especially the oldest of them. (I’m guessing that in addition to paper cost, packing as many as possible into a drugstore spinner-rack was a priority in those days before big box bookstores let alone Amazon.)

    So we’ve been Kindle-only for any new book that isn’t dependent on images or layout for years. (More recently, comics and illustrated books have become more viable with tablets, but screen size is still pretty cramped for those.) And our bookshelves are like the archaeological record of a civilization that underwent some big extinction event around 2009.

    And I have to admit I’ve started getting lazy about paper books, and will sometimes see if it’s practical to get the e-version, or at least borrow it from the library, rather than carry around some inconvenient stack of paper where you can’t even resize the text!

    1. Echo Tango says:

      Resizing the text, the spaces between lines, and choosing a specific font, are all things I use extensively nowadays. I often lose my vertical position, when going from the right side of a line, to the left side of the next line. Those settings make it trivially easy for me, and justify the cost of my e-reading device by themselves. Hell, I’d be happy if e-readers became an inch and a half thick over night (the thickness of an average dead-tree-format book!), because of the flexibility in font/size/etc.

      1. The Mich says:

        So for you having an e-reader is a net positive? I’m considering getting one myself, only I’m not completely sure what I’d get… is the ecosystem of the Kindle too closed? Is there a lot of difference between the various Kindle versions?

        Shamus, may I ask you what kind of model you have? Are you still having a good experience or have you encountered any gripes yet?

  19. Steve C says:

    The protagonist in Firewatch has the same cadence as Campster. Campster did you go camping and set some fires in June?

    1. Echo Tango says:

      Great Scott! Campster’s invented a time machine! He’ll be rich!

  20. krellen says:

    Some thoughts on Tolkien:

    Josh comments on Ian Holm doing an audiobook – he played Bilbo in the movies because he did the audiobooks; he was Bilbo in the radio plays and became the voice of Bilbo for a lot of people. That’s why Jackson cast him in the film.

    Bombadil is, I believe, a holdover from a time when Lord of the Rings was a different story. It used to be a children’s story (written for his children), and it evolved in the telling. I’m pretty sure there’s a Letter out there where Tolkien talks about it, and admits that Bombadil wouldn’t be in Lord of the Rings if he wrote it later, but he couldn’t figure out an easy way to write him out after he was written in.

    I think the world is lucky that Tolkien lived when he did and not now, for had Tolkien lived in a post-Gygax* world, he would have spent all his time running tabletop games in “Middle Earth” rather than spawning a genre of literature with it.

    *Let’s just ignore the fact that Gygax probably never would have invented DnD if not for Tolkien.

    1. Mike S. says:

      Nit: Holm was Frodo in the BBC Lord of the Rings. But obviously he was too old to play Frodo in the Jackson movies, so Bilbo was a natural choice there.

    2. Mike S. says:

      Man, those Inklings RPGs would have been something to see. Though the style clashes between, e.g., Tolkien and Lewis would have been epic.

      (I can also imagine Tolkien handing out background information in lovingly detailed Elvish writings and expecting the players to figure them out.)

    3. Ninety-Three says:

      I think the world is lucky that Tolkien lived when he did and not now, for had Tolkien lived in a post-Gygax* world, he would have spent all his time running tabletop games in “Middle Earth” rather than spawning a genre of literature with it.

      You phrasing it that way made me realize the world might actually be worse off for Tolkien having written books. Because yes, the books were excellent, genre-defining even. But that’s the problem, genre-defining. Like they mentioned on the podcast, people copy LOTR without realizing why it was the way it was. Half the fantasy genre consists of shameless Tolkien clones, in the way every modern MMO but Destiny is a shameless WOW clone.

      Maybe fantasy would be healthier, more innovative, if it didn’t have the easy out of copying Tolkien every step of the way. Or maybe the authors would just copy someone else.

      1. Mike S. says:

        Nobody really copies Tolkien anyway. They copy the quest narrative and the medievalish world, but not the depth or the melancholy sense of loss or the part where the hero fails to accomplish the quest.

        But I don’t think innovators can really be held responsible for the extent of their later influence and imitation. (And it is only part of the mix– Gygax in particular was much more influenced by Lieber and Howard and Vance and Anderson, inclusion of hobbits/halflings notwithstanding.)

      2. krellen says:

        Everyone copies. Everyone. Tolkien’s mythology is basically a retelling of the old Norse Volsunga Saga. If high fantasy wasn’t mainly Tolkienesque, it would just be someone else-esque. That’s just how culture works.

        (Which is a large part of why eternal copyright is bullshit. Culture stagnates without the ability to borrow and build upon what came before.)

        1. Mike S. says:

          Tolkien drew quite a bit from Norse mythology (and some from Finnish, especially for the Children of Hurin, and from Beowulf), but “a retelling of the Volsunga Saga” is going a little far.

        2. Echo Tango says:

          I can only dream of how many more cool books we’d have, if stuff like Pride And Prejudice And Zombies wasn’t limited to things over a century old. :S

  21. Aaron says:

    another local god d&d idea: a local god after numerous groups of humans keep changing what they expect of it wants to leave, and to do that you need to find out what is keeping it here…which would have been originally meant as a protection.

    this idea could incorporate tracking back through various cultures that the god who occasionally talks to you doesnt really have a full grasp of “oh yeah i forgot about those ones…dont really know what they wanted but they liked setting boulders on high things”

  22. It’s interesting to note that when it was noted that the Tom Bombadil section is like our heroes have jumped into an entirely different story – that’s pretty much entirely true.

    Tom Bombadil was already a cameo from another Tolkien book – ‘The Adventures Of Tom Bombadil’. From memory (being more then 15 years ago…) – it wasn’t very good, and wasn’t even really in Middle Earth.

    I used to get indignant about the omission of Tom Bombadil, but upon further reflection – he has no place in Lord of the Rings! He’s just kind of… there.

  23. SlothfulCobra says:

    If anything, Tolkien seems like he lowballs the amount of languages that would be involved. As far as I understand, most of the languages in Lord of the Rings are associated with their own politically independent group, whereas just taking medieval England as an example, at various points had the rulers speaking French (except for before 1066 when they were scandinavian), the clergy speaking Latin, and the people of the land would be speaking a combination of scandinavian, germanic, and celtic languages, which never fully boiled down to a single, uniform language to this day. And that’s not even getting into the separate dialects, merchants from afar, spillover from neighboring countries (the scottish speak something entirely separate), and the languages spoken by ethnic groups that don’t stick to borders, like gypsies or jews.

    But of course, it’s really hard to depict the language barrier and maintain a story where viewers/readers can know what’s going on at any given moment, so these things just default to everyone speaking a singular common language.

    Naming things is one of the big problems when you don’t have languages attached to your fictional world, but I feel like from an American perspective, we are incredibly used to names that seem like random strings of syllables, because we get most of our place names from non-english explorers, native americans, or we name things after people or foreign places, so we’re much further removed from the meanings of names, and we’re used to that.

    1. Mike S. says:

      The Lord of the Rings is set at a linguistically convenient period where everyone pretty much knows Westron (which is “translated” to English and related languages, names and all– Samwise Gamgee was really Banazà®r Galbasi).

      But for a lot of the history Sindarin Elvish is sort of like French in the early modern period (fancy folk from across the civilization speak it, but the common folk don’t), and Quenya Elvish is like Latin in the 18th/19th century (used for nomenclature and ceremony but not everyday speech).

      Hobbit speech has diverged a lot from what’s spoken in Gondor and Rohan, even if it’s still intelligible. (Hobbits have lost the formal registers, among other things. Everyone assumed Pippin was a prince in his own land, because he was using the familiar forms even with people like Denethor and Aragorn.)

      The non-Edain of whom the Wild Men are a remnant didn’t speak Elvish or Westron, and neither I think did the Dunlendings originally; they’ve just both been made largely irrelevant where they once were most of the subcontinent. The Rohirrim used to speak something related to Westron the way Gothic is to English. The Numenoreans spoke a different language (that Westron is partly descended from). And the Dwarves have their own language(s) that they mostly keep secret from others.

      So if you go a ways back, Middle-Earth is much more of a linguistic patchwork.

    2. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

      Linguistics joke I came across the other day in a discussion of dialects in the British Isles: “The difference between a dialect and a language is that the language has an army and a navy.”

      Joke probably works in Spain, too…

      1. Akhetseh says:

        Only not really, since, as of this morning, Galician, Catalan, Euskera or Bable are still undisputedly languages, not dialects, when using academic criteria (not political, because politics blah blah *REDACTED*)

  24. Cinebeast says:

    Does the podcast give any Firewatch spoilers? The summary doesn’t mention any, but I just want to be sure. (I haven’t finished the game yet.)

    1. Jokerman says:

      Yeah, literally the entire game is spoiled. They do give a warning in the episode though.

    2. Shamus says:

      Huge spoilers. I imtended to put that in the show notes. Will do so.

      1. Cinebeast says:

        Okay, I’ve finished the game now. Time to listen to the podcast! (And the next one, for that matter.)

  25. AdamS says:

    In regards to the “reading things aloud” discussion: I used to work with a disabled guy as a home-assistance worker, and when he was bed-bound one of his favorite things for me to do was to read fantasy and sci-fi novels to him. At first I mainly read stuff that I’d already read and vetted, which is when I first noticed the read-aloud/read-in-head discrepancy. Or more specifically, that it’s not as big a problem for people who aren’t me. There’s a wide variance of reading speed, and I’m a pretty damn fast reader….but there’s very little variance in how fast we can read to other people. It became obvious when one of his nurses started reading to him from where I left off, and would get about as far in a single day as I would.

  26. I’d like that LP posted, very much. I kind of miss those.

    As to fill with playing D&D rather than complaining on how boring it it or whatever, I’m all for it.

  27. Wide And Nerdy â„¢ says:

    You know what you could have done this week? Go back and do the quest with the lovestruck teens torn between two families on Dantooine. Great chance to rack up some Dark Side points.

    1. Josh says:

      They all died though.

  28. Duoae says:

    I’ll just throw this out there but I could be available as a back-up podcast/SW person. Just think of it as community service! :)

  29. Peter H. Coffin says:

    Honestly, putting the cinematic stuff in as an optional DLC would probably go pretty well, as info dump, lore, and exposition that’s either viewable as a standalone movie version of the game that OPTIONALLY adds cutscenes that would otherwise be text or minimalist.

  30. youlstn says:

    SPOILERS for Firewatch…

    I kept think that Delilah was somehow in on whatever was going on. I thought the game played up the suspision in this regard–maybe just in keeping with the theme of paranoia/going crazy or maybe the developer just did a better job of building things up than resolving things. But then again, things being built up then painfully fading away seems to be another theme they were going for.

    Here’s a video that points out some of Delilah’s somewhat questionable behavior…
    (This video is just speculation. “True Firewatch Ending” should be removed from the title, imo.

    1. Cinebeast says:

      Hey, Geek Remix! Cool, I’m watching their playthrough now.

  31. Tinkerton says:

    I don’t see what the problem is with Hitman’s new release model. Sure, cutting the FF remake into chunks doesn’t make any sense, but Hitman seems like the perfect game for this. The focus in Hitman never really was on the story (Absolution notwithstanding), and the meat of the experience were vast, possibility-rich missions that you could play many times. With Square Enix seeming to move away from Absolution and going a little closer to Blood Money with this release, it makes sense.

  32. NotSteve says:

    Lord of the Rings is long. My college had an event where people would read the Lord of the Rings out loud, taking turns. It took most of a long weekend to complete.

  33. Cuthalion says:

    Fascinating LotR discussion this week. It’s been awhile since I read it (though I’m in a tabletop RPG using the setting and One Ring game), and I enjoyed listening to the worldbuilding discussion.

  34. Neil D says:

    Firewatch spoilers, I guess.

    Firewatch was definitely interesting but it did leave me with mixed feelings about how everything resolved. Even at the very end, I was searching Delilah’s tower for some evidence that she had been playing me in some way – like that the teens hadn’t really been found after all, or something. (By the way, I think the implication was that they had been arrested and detained for three months without telling anyone, not that they just wandered for three months before getting arrested. Could be wrong, they would probably have to be at least 18 for that to happen without their parents being informed, but that’s what I took from it.)

    I also maintained a friendly-but-not-too-friendly relationship with her. Didn’t open up about Julie right away, etc. But I had a moment of weakness at the end that I instantly regretted, and asked her to come to Boulder. Don’t know, for a split second I thought, dammit, why shouldn’t Henry be able to have some happiness in his life, it doesn’t mean he has to stop caring about his wife and doing what he can for her long-distance. But then I remembered Javier, and that this is a person who, when the going gets tough, gets drunk, and also some of her more rash decisions, and realized this wasn’t actually someone I wanted Henry to wind up with. Anyway, she declined and I was glad, but I wish I had chosen differently.

    I did notice the first time when Henry’s wedding ring was on the table, and picked it up, and put it on. And every time I saw the picture of him and Julie face-down on the table, I righted it. More than anything, I think this was the central theme of the game, and I’m sure it was no accident that the final image of the game is of Henry’s left hand as he is helped into the helicopter.

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