Dettlaff: a Vampire follow-up

Ever have a great idea for an all encompassing post on a topic then forget several major things from said topic?

In my last post I talked about my own personal experience with the vampire myth, highlighting my favorite portrayals, films and even games. And yet I left out possibly one of the most defining recent examples of a vampire story-line, one that had me once again rooting for the vampire: Blood and Wine, the expansion to The Witcher 3. This is all the more egregious because it was one of the prime examples of a case where the vampire was the tragic hero in my eyes. So let me make up for leaving this out by telling you the story of how I met Dettlaff in The Witcher 3, and the impression he left me with. Spoilers ahead, you have been warned!

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The Witcher is a story about a mutant monster-hunter, in a fantasy world, named Geralt. He wonders the land killing dangerous creatures nobody else is willing to face in exchange for coin. Every now and again though he is sought out by more wealthy and powerful people, even kings and queens. One such event takes Geralt to the land of Toussaint, where the local duchess asks him for help finding out what kind of monster is killing her knights. As the title of the expansion suggests, it is not hard to guess that the creature in question is a vampire, a man by the name of Dettlaff, as Geralt finds out from a friendly vampire he knows, who shows up to help track him down. But the thing about the Witcher is that nothing is as it seems. The writers of the series love to frame situations with clear heroes and villains, that would be totally straight-forward situations in other stories, then toss a few twists in along the way. Good and evil are completely subjective terms here, and as with most Witcher story-lines, this one too is far from as simple as it seems.

marcin-blaszczak-thumbVampires in the world of the Witcher operate by somewhat different rules than in most other versions. They do not burn up in sunlight, for instance, nor are they repelled by garlic or religious symbols. Their transformation abilities are restricted to a single, massive, bestial human-bat hybrid form. But by far the greatest departure from the common rule-set is that vampires do not require blood to sustain themselves. Blood is like alcohol to them, a substance they can survive without, but one they love and crave despite that. So there is nothing other than cruelty and greed behind those vampires who choose to hunt humans for their blood. As a matter of fact, I’m not even sure they count as undead in this world.

Geralt’s vampire friend describes Dettlaff as one who does not partake in the addictive behavior of blood consumption, and through magical means we even get to see Dettlaff execute one of his murders, all the while showing great regret both before and after the deed. Almost as though he is not in control of his own actions. The answer ends up being quite close. As it turns out Dettlaff was being blackmailed. A woman he fell in love with had been taken hostage by criminals who were using her as leverage to force him to kill the duchess’ knights. This kind of moral gray area is pretty much standard for The Witcher. Was he wrong to do it or not? I’m not just being leading when I say “you be the judge”, because I honestly can’t be sure myself.

Giving the monsters human sides is another thing the Witcher does often, so sympathizing with Dettlaff was not surprising to me, hell, I was kind of expecting it. But this would not be a main quest story for a Witcher game without at least one more big twist, and huge moral choice at the end. Geralt goes to rescue the captive lover to free Dettlaff of the blackmail, only to find out that the woman in question was the one leading the bandits. She is the duchess’ sister, and she is out for revenge for her childhood banishment for being born under a bad omen. And as you can imagine, when Dettlaff finds out he goes mad with anger, demanding that the woman be handed over to her or he will wreak devastation on the city until she is. And he follows through. Despite the fact that the sister wanted desperately to murder her, the duchess is entirely unwilling to hand her over to Dettlaff, so Geralt has to take matters into his own hands. As the result of a series of end game choices as to whether to lure out Dettlaff or kidnap the sister, one of several things happens. So let me try to be as systematic as I can with how I approached the endgame. Trust me, this is important.

Based on the interactions I had with the sister (I know, I forgot her name and am too lazy to look it up, sue me) I had absolutely no qualms about handing her over to Dettlaff. Her backstory ends up being something along the lines of being banished from her home for being born under a bad omen, then being abused by the knights quite badly. I don’t know many of the details because when prompted to inquire further about her past I simply told her I didn’t care. Geralt, who speaks more from his own hearth than mine most times, did take the words right from my mouth when he told her she was less interesting than she thought she was. I’m not denying that she has the right to be angry for what was done to her, I’m not even going to argue that the knights didn’t deserve death since even though they never acted as anything other than perfect gentlemen to me she may have known a side of them they didn’t put on display. Where I drew the line at the time was what she did to Dettlaff. He loved her. He loved her enough to murder people he considered honorable men to keep her safe. To a vampire struggling day after day to keep his evil urges in check, to force him to kill, turning him into an accessory… that was more or less the point where I thought to myself: Fuck her. I would hand her over to him, and if he ended up killing her I would say she had it coming. Alas, this is the point where I expected too much of the game.

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Due to my gamer tendency to complete everything I possible can, I ended up helping the sister retrieve an item of sentimental value to her. I did this not because I cared about her feelings in any way, just because it was a task and I wanted to tick it off. However, when I went through with my plan to hand her over to Dettlaff it came into play. I was expecting Dettlaff to prepare to murder her, at which point I would be given the opportunity to interfere or let him (as it happened in a previous expansion in a similar situation). Instead the item in question teleported her away to a place of safety. Dettlaff was furious. He was convinced I had tricked him, and would listen to nothing I said. In his rage I had no choice but to kill Dettlaff, and because I earlier ignored the finer bits of the sister’s backstory, I was missing key information for a certain line of dialog. As a result I received the bad ending, where the naiv duchess tried to forgive her sister, who ends up killing her with a hairpin just before getting shot herself by a crossbow bolt. Fuck me, right? To then make matters worse, the friendly vampire – whose name I do remember: Regis – I mentioned earlier ends up hated and hunted by his kindred for aiding in the death of a fellow vampire, so literally all my intentions went to shit, everyone I cared about died or ended up otherwise for the worse.

tesham-mutna-syanna-is-deadAnd the irony here is, that if this was all a result of wanting to hand over the woman to the vampire, if it was some cruel act of karma come to teach me a lesson and punish me for being bad, I wouldn’t be making such a fuss about it. But it was an act of compassion that ruined the whole thing, namely me going the extra mile to get the sister her keepsake. I know this, because I naturally reloaded my save game from before that event and ignored it. The events change in the following way: Dettlaff kills the sister; I was given the choice to let Dettlaff go, which I immediately took without a second of thought; the vampire swarm attacking the city disperses; the duchess has Geralt thrown into prison for a bit, until she has her mind changed by on old friend of the witcher’s; the duchess lives; Regis is not hunted by the other vampires. And the ending I got still seemed to try and convince me that this was the wrong choice.

Out of curiosity I looked up the other ending, the one the game considers to be the “Happy ending”. Basically imagine the original scenario I got playing out, except if you talk more to the sister, you can eventually convince her to forgive the duchess. In the same scene, where the two got killed for me, they end up hugging it out, and they all lived happily ever after. You know, except the two vampires. One is dead, the other now ostracized by his kind. But who cares about them, I guess? This was not the first time The Witcher’s sense of the correct conclusion to a plot-line was very far from mine, but this one really stuck with me. Specifically because the game made damn sure we saw how much Dettlaff hated to kill, so I assumed he would get some redemption in the end. Yet what the game considers to be the good ending ends up with him dead.

Anyway, that is the beauty of games like these: they are open to interpretation. Each player has their own experience, and what you expect or hope for will likely be very different from what I do. I am pleased that my version of the story ended in a way I was happy with, even if the game did its damnedest to make me feel bad about it. After all, who hasn’t felt so betrayed by a woman, who tricked them into murdering her enemies, that they later unleashed a swarm of angry vampires on humanity until they handed her over to them to execute themselves? … No one? Just me? Well… pretend you didn’t hear that. Later!

Tyrande’s Senitnels

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Activision Blizzard has come up among the topics of my blog posts quite a few times. As of the past decade or so, give or take, I have had very little good to say. As a matter of fact my opinion on the company is just straight up terrible. For the most part I don’t like drying attention to Things I Hate. On the internet the opposite of love is, after all, not hate but apathy. I make a constant exception in the case of Activision Blizzard for one reason and one reason only: Very few companies I can think of have been this consistently responsible for creating some of the most defining works of entertainment that I experienced as a child. To put it simply: Blizzard’s games defined my childhood, and it breaks my heart to see what they have become.

Warcraft. I imagine many people have that one specific story that changed everything. As children we were told fairy tales. Evil creatures would do evil things, and valorous heroes would perform heroic acts to put a stop to them. But at some point the lines became blurred, heroes could become villains, and good deeds would not always go rewarded. For me that story was Warcraft. I was too young to understand the story of StarCraft back when I first played it, my deep appreciation for the storyline of that game would not develop until much after I had finished Warcraft 3. But Warcraft was the video game that shook the foundations, the story told to me that turned Fairy Tail into Fantasy.

Anyone who knows even just a little bit about me or my work knows how important powerful female characters are to me. Being able to play such a character in a video game has actually become an important selling point when I shop for games. This was also the period where that started to mature, where the women in the games that I played began shaping my perception into what it is today. A while ago I had done a series of tribute drawings to those women in video games who stuck with me as the most prevalent, the ones who had the strongest influence. Warcraft, even just Warcraft 3, has no shortage of such characters. Ladies search is Jaina Proudmoore, or Sylvanas Windrunner stand out as such. And while I am fond of both of those characters, as far as I’m concerned neither can hold a torch to Tyrande.

“Women! They’re women!”

“Yes. They almost look like elves, but they’re far too tall, and far too savage.” said Grom Hellscream when the night elves were encountered for the first time, for the Orcs were on edge as the whispering voices in the woods gave them a haunted feeling. Indeed there were spirits among those ancient trees, but they were not the danger. The sentinels were. While literally all than night elf men spent centuries sleeping, the protection of the forest was left in the hands of the sentinels, Night elven warrior women, who’s prowess in battle and fearsome tactics were enough to keep even orcs on their toes. Common Tolkien fantasy would have us thinking of elves as peace-loving Forest dwellers, who welcome guests with open arms, warm fires and leafy food. Not these elves. If you do not respect nature then the only greeting you will receive from a Sentinel is an arrow to the chest. One can imagine what an elf must be like, if an orc would characterize them as “too savage”.

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Priestess of the Night Elf goddess Elune, Tyrande is the leader of the sentinels. Despite the previously mentioned numerous other prominent women in the campaign of Warcraft 3, Tyrande still stuck out the most to me. When I think Warcraft 3 it is her face I see. She is both a powerful priestess, and a cunning warrior, though not without her own flaws. Many millennia of protecting the forest clearly made her weary of outlanders, she would not give her trust easily. These all perfectly complemented by her love, arch-druid Furion Stormrage, and his softer more peaceful perspective make for possibly the only fictional couple you make me question my thoughts on relationships.

 “You realize that we will age as these mortals do. Our powers over nature will wane in time. “

“If pride gives us pause, my love, then perhaps we have lived long enough already. I will proceed to the summit and prepare our defenses there. Whatever comes, my love, remember… Our bond is eternal.”

I stopped following the Warcraft storyline after Cataclysm. Any and all semblance of interesting writing has completely surrendered to the games Alliance vs Horde mentality, which in my cynical opinion, is a despicable attempt to profit off of a fanbase of rivaling groups. As such, my interests in any further developments have long since evaporated. But as I have probably mentioned before, I have chosen not to let the company Activision Blizzard has become to Taint the fond memories they gave me as a child.  I acknowledge, that the game is nowhere near the masterpiece it appears through nostalgia goggles in terms of storytelling, but that will never make it any less special to me.

Post on DeviantArt here!

Undyne to the rescue

Undyne from the video game Undertale has been on my shortlist for a while now. I have yet to make a list of my favorite video game women from current games as opposed to those of my childhood, but if I did, this fish-lady would easily make the cut. Determined and headstrong, as well as the true hero when you need one most. Among others, she saved me from my slump.

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As someone who is not a professional artist I lose my confidence like I lose my TV remote: all the bloody time. I am 90% self taught. I took just a year and a half of professional training in classical art at the end of high-school, other than that my only teacher has been practice. I don’t have the drive to look up and watch videos, I don’t even have the willpower to convert to another art software. My only means of improvement has been drawing. Just drawing, drawing and drawing again. I need to finish pictures in order to keep myself motivated, the method of producing page after page of posed hands just doesn’t work for me, even though it would really do me some good. My drawings are far from masterful, but often I end up with a finished drawing that doesn’t even meet my own standards. It is times like these when I lose most of my confidence in my ability to draw, and that sends me into a slump.

If I convince my self that I can’t pose a figure, then for the next few attempts I am guaranteed to mess up all my poses. If I get the sense that I cant compose a picture, I will be unsatisfied with anything that comes out of my pen. This will then lead to several sketches I start doing and then give up on less than half way through. That then leads to weeks or even months without a finished drawing, without something uploaded to my site or my DeviantArt. My recent addition of making timelapse videos also has a tendency to hold me back. When I know I’m going to record my process it gives me the need to have the composition ready in my head, so that the start of the video doesn’t contain the many minutes of me messing around with the starting sketch before I get the final one. But if I just draw without recording it, that’s another drawing that doesn’t get uploaded to Youtube. The need to go all out, combined with the unwanted extra pressure has the effect of keeping me from sitting down and starting to draw.

There is only one way I have ever been able to combat this problem. When I get stuck like this, the picture I do finish has to restore my sense of ability, and make all the pressure pay off. Simply put, I have produce a kick-ass drawing, and that means I have to draw something that really inspires me. It is always some awesome, badass woman who comes to my rescue in such a case, one even more so than the ones I draw regularly. Below are a few examples of the women who restored my faith in myself at such times in the past.

This time it was Undyne.undyne_casual

Undertale is as close to a timeless game as I can think of. It has a simple but appealing visual style, amazing soundtrack, engaging story with a cast of wonderfully written characters, and a method of storytelling that touches beautifully on video games as a medium. Without being overly explicit, the events within the game world make subtle comments on concepts like player agency, choice and consequence, persistence in the face of adversity, and even watching video games played on video or live-stream. To say anything more is to spoil the game, so beyond that I shall only say a few words about Undyne.

Now I know you aren’t just some wimpy loser. You’re a wimpy loser with a big heart!undyne_the_undying

Tough and relentless on the outside, but warm and fuzzy on the inside with a heart of gold. She can come off as hard and overly aggressive, but when push comes to shove you can count on her to put her life on the line to protect others, and no danger of any size will get her to give up. She is the perfect character to help inspire me not to back down from the things I love and, above all else, to stay determined.

You’re going to have to try a little harder than that!

Link to the drawing on DeviantArt here: Armored, Casual, Undying.

The Queen of Blades

I still have Starcraft on the brain. As such I feel like talking about Sarah Kerrigan, the Queen of Blades.

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A while ago, before this website existed, I did a number of tribute drawings for my personal five most influential female characters in gaming when I was young. Kerrigan was one of them.

Starcraft is a sci-fi story that takes place in a far future setting, where certain human colonies in space had broken off from the home world, and taken on lives of their own. The Terrans share that sector of space with two other alien species: the insectoid, hive-minded Zerg; and the ancient, far advanced Protoss. Their are no real good guys in this story, nor any single, world threatening villains. Almost all factions in the sector are full of jerks, and all you can do is try to stay alive while being as little of a jerk yourself as you can. For this reason, Starcraft was probably the most mature story in a video game I experienced as a child.

Sarah Kerrigan was a psychic special-ops soldier, known as a Ghost, fighting for a militant rebel group known as the Sons of Korhal. Arcturus Mengsk, the group’s leader was set on overthrowing the Confederacy, the ruling power of the sector. He helped rescue Sarah from a life of being experimented on by the Confederacy, and so earned her loyalty. Later Mengsk would lure hordes of Zerg to ravage Confederate planets, and leave Kerrigan behind to die. His methods would earn him the position of Emperor. However, Kerrigan did not die at the hands of the Zerg. Rather they transfigured her into a Zerg-Human hybrid, unshackled her psychic powers, and tied her to the Zerg Overmind’s will. When the Protoss forces later destroyed the Overmind, Kerrigan was released, free to get revenge on all who wronged her.

No matter how hard the writers of Starcraft II would later try, Sarah Kerrigan is not a redeemable character, nor is she a tragic hero. She is a villain, plain and simple. While under Zerg control the Protoss Templar, Tassadar used her predictability against her. “You are your own worst enemy.” he told her. And she took that lesson to heart. Once freed she hatched a plan to destroy the Overmind for good, and get vengeance on Mengsk. She united the Terran and Protoss factions of the sector against the recently arrived United Earth Directorate forces, only to whirl around and betray her pawns once they had outlived their use. She killed Mengsk’s best military leader, and left him to rule what little rubble there was left of his old empire.

Kerrigan

Oh, come on, Arcturus. Did you really think I’d allow you to come into power again? You practically fed me to the Zerg on Tarsonis! You’re directly responsible for the hell I’ve been through! Did you honestly think I’d let you get away with that?

But you said revenge was secondary to defeating the UED!

I lied. I liberated this planet because it was the UED’s primary staging point, not because I was under any obligation to you. I used you to destroy the Psi Disrupter. And now that I’ve got my Broods back, you’re no longer necessary for my plans. I think I’ll leave you here, Arcturus, among the ashes of your precious Dominion. I want you to live to see me rise to power. And I want you to remember in your most private moments that it was you who turned me loose in the first place.

In the same day she would also kill Fenix, a Protoss warrior who fell in battle, and was placed into a mechanical body, called a Dragoon, so he could continue to fight. He had proven to be a resourceful warrior, even in his weaker state. So he too needed to be dealt with.

kerrigan2This is a betrayal, most foul, Kerrigan! We were fools to have gone along with this charade!

You’re right Fenix. I used you to get the job done, and you played along just like I knew you would. You Protoss are all so headstrong and predictable, you’re your own worst enemies.

That’s ironic. I can remember Tassadar teaching you a very similar lesson on Char.

I took that lesson to heart, Praetor. Now, are you ready to die a second time?

The Khala awaits me, Kerrigan. And although I am prepared to face my destiny, you’ll not find me easy prey!

Than that shall be your epitaph!

With Fenix dead, Mengsk’s empire in ruin, the UED fleet crumbling, and her former close friend, Jim Raynor swearing revenge, the Queen of Blades had insured her position.

It is done, Cerebrate. They’ve all been destroyed. Let us return to Tarsonis to rest. For the first time since my transfiguration I am wearied of the slaughter.

As I mentioned, Starcraft II would continue to try and strip Kerrigan of her complexity, her independence, her character, and any clothes she wore previously. She was retconned into being in a romantic relationship with Raynor, who would go on a mission to cleanse her of her Zerg transfusion and her evil intent simultaneously. But as far as I am concerned none of that happened. It could not. No magic artifact could undo the Queen of Blades, because no one made her either. She may have been betrayed by Mengsk and infested by the Zerg, but all she did after, she did of her own free will. She slaughtered millions, ravaged worlds, used and betrayed those once close to her, and all without the slightest sign of regret (excluding perhaps that one line above).

She is no hero. But she is easily one of the most influential female character in gaming from my childhood, and I maintain: in my eyes the most badass villaness, strike that, villan in gaming to this day. The heroines of my childhood showed me the good that strong women had within them. Kerrigan is a constant reminder to me of the power they have at their disposal, should they ever give in to their own lust for power and payback.

You see, at this point… I’m pretty much the Queen Bitch of the Universe. And not all your little soldiers or space ships will stand in my way again.

DeviantArt link here!

Remastered Marine and an essay on StarCraft

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I was a huge fan of the internet personality Totalbiscuit (John Bain). He passed away this spring due to cancer. In his absence his Youtube and Twitch activities are being carried on by his widow, Genna. She had appeared in several of his gaming videos before (E.G. WTF is … Octodad), and they were always my favorites. The whole situation has obviously left her in a great deal of stress, so as a fan of the channel, and of her, I decided to show my support the only way I know how: by making a drawing. Keep it up, Genna!

Let’s now talk about StarCraft. Yet again we are talking about one of my favorite games, and wouldn’t ya know it, it’s a Blizzard game… My love-hate relationship with Blizzard stems from the dissonance between what the company gave me in the past, and what it has become nowadays. I know this can sound a lot like a “back in my day” argument, but personal taste aside, there are plenty of objective reasons to dislike the modern day Activision-Blizzard.

But that is off topic. I want to talk about StarCraft. A real- time strategy game that became one of the most prominent esports of its time. The expansion of the game, Brood War, is still touted to be one of the, if not the best competitive video game to date. I’ll leave the truth about that statement up to the experts, StarCraft was never that to me. I never competed in the online scene, I was there for its story.

Oh, yes! There was in fact a time when Blizzard wrote really compelling, mature stories, rather than the Saturday morning cartoons they create nowadays. StarCraft took place in the distant future, where societies of humans had broken off from Earth and created factions out in the farther sectors of space. Also inhabiting this area of space were the hive-minded Zerg, a race of giant, insect-like creatures bent on spreading all across the galaxy; and the Protoss, an ancient race of highly advanced aliens who saw themselves as superior to all others. There were no good guys here. The Zerg just wanted to consume all, the Protoss were bent on eradicating all life on Zerg infested planets indiscriminately, and the several Terran factions were just as bad as the others. Indeed, the Terran story of the game has you leaving the corrupt and incompetent Confederacy to join a militant group called the Sons of Korhal, only to find out that they too are just as vile as the ones before. This is why I found this game so intriguing. There was no single big galactic evil to overcome, just you and your buddy Jim Raynor trying to not be bad in a world of bad guys.

Not the first game, nor the expansion had any happy endings. Victory in the first game came only through the self sacrifice of the Protoss hero Tassadar. In the aftermath, the betrayed ghost operative turned infested Zerg psychic, Sarah Kerrigan enacted a plot to wipe out all other factions. Heroes like Alexei Stukov and Fenix lost there lives to betrayal. And if you have never played any of the games, than none of these names mean anything to you, but to me every mention of them brings back feelings. And the treatment of this beautifully dark and tragic story in the second game and its expansions invokes anger. I won’t go into detail here, know only that it was new Blizzard working on the story now. Characterizations were radically changed, what was once mature and interesting became dumbed down, and formulaic, relationships were altered to fit a simpler revenge story, and overall the whole thing just sucked. The game play was loved by everyone, and the multiplayer scene was huge, but as I said, the game was never that for me. But the truth is Activision Blizzard just doesn’t make games for people like me any more.

StarCraft did give me many things. Awesome gaming memories, one of the my favorite female characters in video games, beautiful music, and a fantastic story.

DeviantArt link here.

The story of how I taught kids about Space Travel using a video game

Last week I completed my final exam in Education, and the really cool thing is that three of the major pieces of work I needed to turn in all had to do with video games. My thesis was about teaching Information Society using Civilization IV, my vocational practice was completed at a gaming research group, and my compulsory volunteer work was a neat little project of my own.

I have stated this in several videos I made in the past: If Kerbal Space Program had existed back when I was in high-school I would likely be pursuing a career in aerospace engineering by now. I didn’t discover how much I loved the subject until I was well into my training in Education. When I was informed about the volunteer work required to complete my semester I got to thinking. How many kids could there be out there like me, who might love space travel, but will likely never get exposed to the subject? The thought lead to an idea, and with a wave of determination that is remarkably uncharacteristic of me I set about making it a reality. I wanted to help a group of students make their own virtual Space Program.

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For those of you who are not familiar with Kerbal Space Program allow me to give you a short introduction. Kerbal Space Program is a spacecraft construction and space flight simulation video game with minor business management elements. Basically you build spaceships, launch them into orbit, and fly them in space in a small scale but physically accurate solar system. The game can be challenging to learn only from the tools provided by the developers, however a niche culture has developed around the game, where you can easily find folks on the internet who make guides and videos aimed at helping others learn how to play. I myself have made a good few videos about it as well.

The concept

The concept I came up with was the following: I would organize a group of 8th grade students into a small simulated space program, with the ultimate goal of landing on the Moon before the school year comes to an end.

Prior to the use of the Kerbal Space Program software I planned to hold several lecture style presentations on the history of space travel, the physics and mechanics involved, the organizational workings of space programs, and the basic use of the game itself. Once the students have a good grasp on the basics, we would form three work groups with different roles: Scientists, Engineers and Astronauts (or rather pilots).

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The Scientists would be responsible for coming up with mission plans for the individual missions leading up to the Moon-landing. They would be responsible for deciding where their resources get allocated to, what types of vessels need to be built, what construction plans get approved, and any other administrative decisions. The scientist group could also have some kind of director, who acts as the head of the program in general.

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The Engineers build the actual spacecraft themselves. They would receive the mission parameters from the scientists and construct a vessel to meet the requirements within the budget provided.

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Finally, the Astronauts pilot the assembled spacecraft on the actual missions, and provide feedback to the engineers regarding possible modifications.

Generally a regular loop would look like this: The Scientists would decide what the next step in the program should be (most likely based on a long-term plan). They would specify the parameters of the mission, such as achieving an orbit, a fly-by, a rendezvous and/or docking, and so on. The Engineers would build a craft capable of completing the mission, and start “simulating” the flights. Using the game, the Pilots would perform several simulated missions to see if the craft performs according to specifications. If it does, then the Engineers can submit the craft for manufacture, and the real missions can begin. This is then repeated until the final objective (the Moon-landing) is accomplished.

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I had several “rules” planned to enhance the experience. Every action would have a “cost”, and the program would have to operate within a specific budget, with possible options later on for acquiring additional funds. A “simulation” can be used to train the Pilots and test out spacecraft. Simulations would cost much less than building and launching a rocket, and could use all of the games quality of life features (quicksaves and quickloads, flight reverting, placing objects into pre-calculated orbits, etc.). They would, however, not count towards completion of a goal. For that they would have to fly non-simulated mission. These would use up one of the manufactured rockets, and would have to by flown from start to finish without “cheating” (I’m considering adding some sort of leniency rule for the future).

For the most part students would have full control over how they use their time. After the main goal has been given, the path they take to accomplish it is up to them. If at any point they would require assistance they could turn to me for help. However, in sort of a Dewey approach, I would let the students work on their own, let them figure out the mechanics and tricks by working together. At most I was going to hold a few presentations on common topics involving space travel, and anything that they themselves express interest in knowing more about.

What I ended up with

Even when I first thought this whole thing up I was convinced that there was no making this a reality. The fact of the matter was that it was the spring semester, half way through the school year. The assignment was handed out to me in March, and by the time I managed to get into contact with the facilitating school and got the course off the ground (see what I did there?) it was already well into the middle of April. The school was very enthusiastic about my idea, but warned me that by now most students’ extracurricular time-tables were already full. With not enough time to start the course in full, they offered me an alternative solution.

launch

This school had something we in Hungary call a Technika-class. Not sure how you would translate this into English, but the point of this, is to teach the students mechanical skills that could come in handy in every day life. Sadly, in this school the class was still broken up into boys and girls (boys learn to use tools and machines, girls learn to sew and cook. Its horrible, I know…), which meant that I would be able to teach only the boys of the 8th grade classes. I hated having to make that compromise, but at least I only had to deal with half a class, instead of a full one.

As the year was coming to an end fast, this also meant that I would only have 4 classes with 2 groups of 8th grade boys (8 classes total, 1 and a half hours each). This meant that I had to radically condense my plan into a four-class set of sessions. I tried to strike a balance between lectures and activities, and came up with a simple four-step path to the Moon.

  1. Achieving Orbit around the Earth
  2. Flying behind the Moon (and potentially achieving Orbit around it as well)
  3. Achieving Rendezvous and Docking of two spacecraft in orbit of Earth
  4. Landing a craft on the Moon, and bringing the crew back to Earth

Each session would consist of me giving a short lecture about the day’s goal, and the students attempt to accomplish it. The sessions were far more directed than the original plan due to the lack of time. I did have to step in and provide direction more often and keep the students on track. The scientist role was trashed, leaving just a group of students to build the ships, and a second group to fly them. In the end though, crammed as the sessions were, we managed to achieve my adjusted goals within the time available.

Experiences

I was happy to see a high level of engagement from most of the students who attended. Once visually showcased, and given the opportunity to mess around with them in-game, the kids quickly grasped the basics of orbital mechanics, and understood how objects in space move and maneuver. During the lectures they had lots of questions and observations, many demonstrating impressive awareness of current developments in the field of space flight.

The individual mission goals were almost all accomplished (one group was unable to fully complete the docking procedure before we ran out of time). Each group had there own unique design of spacecraft (one of the groups insisted on having ships with LOTS of antennas), and both groups managed to land their ships on the Moon (again, due to time constraints, I did have to dock the Lunar Modules and fly the ships back home myself). Here are some images of the spacecraft built by the students:

Group one

 

Group two

 

When the class was finished the students had nothing but positive things to say. They were bombarding me with questions about the old space programs, the future Mars plans and many other things, far too many to get through in the little time we had left. Several students even came up to me in the breaks to tell me they had gotten their hands on the game themselves, and asked me to give them pointers on subjects like atmospheric landings and inter-planetary travel. I had conversations with many of them in the minutes leading up to the sessions about space stuff. Best of all, I found out from outside sources that many of the girls had gotten wind of what was going on in those classes, and apparently asked their teachers to let them take part in what they were calling “astrology class”. (Their teachers denied them, sadly, but it did make me happy to be reassured that girls are just as interested in all this engineering stuff as boys are. I would have been overjoyed to have them.) Both teachers who were present during my presentations had the same reaction: they thought that it was great to expose these students to the subject, which they likely never would have been otherwise. They themselves also were fascinated by the material, and were happy to learn so many interesting things as well.

Thoughts and Conclusions

While I was there I was also trying to identify possible areas for improvement in my concept. While I was thrilled that the idea even in its condensed state warranted the level of engagement it got, there are many things that I need to think about if I want to move ahead with my idea in the future. One of the two teachers gave me a piece of feedback that was really helpful, and was also something I was pondering during the planning phase earlier. For this class I used my own personal laptop, so that meant that at one time only one instance of the game could be running. In an actual session that would mean only one group can do their task at a time, while the others would have to wait for their turn at the computer. I would have to find tasks to occupy the various groups during this downtime, or alternatively I would have to acquire more computers so the groups can work simultaneously (Astronauts can train in orbital maneuvers while Engineers build the next craft, etc.).

I initially thought that the Astronaut role would be the most popular. Surely the most fun comes from being able to fly the ships, right? Turns out that almost everyone wanted to be an Engineer, to build cool spaceships without having the responsibility of guiding it safely along its path. While it would likely be optimal if all students stuck to their initial roles, I should consider options for rotation. I imagine many students would feel let down if they joined the course to be able to fly a spaceship, and ended up stuck in an administrative position for the whole program (though that would likely be very true to life). I have to, at the very least, provide opportunities for everyone to try out the various roles, maybe even before they pick permanently.

Also since I didn’t get to try out this course in its original form I am sure other difficulties will present themselves, and I will have to deal them as they come. It has been said before: Plans are useless, but planning is essential.

kerbal_fistbump

All in all, I can safely say that this Space Class has been by far the best experience of my three years in Education training. Throughout the teaching of the classes themselves, as well as the organization and communication involved, I have grown as a person and a professional unlike in any other activity I took part in. If my future studies afford me the time I would gladly spend more of my afternoons helping get more young people interested in space, to provide them the boost that I wish I could have gotten at that age. I eagerly await future opportunities to send more 8th graders to the Moon and back.

I’m considering buying an EA game at release

Here is a strange turn of events. I hate Electronic Arts. Despite growing up with the company being a permanent influence on my childhood I absolutely despise them on account of the crap they’ve been pulling for the past decade or so. I hold them single-handedly responsible for the ruination of one of my favorite sci-fi franchises (Mass Effect), I consider them one of the most prominent builders of the video game industry’s most resilient creative dead-end (But keep working Activision-Blizz, you are catching up!), and the sheer amount of unrestrained greed they exhibit at every release boggles my mind. And yet, for the first time I’m actually considering buying one of their upcoming games on release.

Trailers for Battlefield V have been under bombardment since they appeared on the web, just as the reveal of the game’s box art, that features (dramatic pause) A WOMAN!!! Now anyone who attacks the game for this has already either stopped reading, or  has already written their response as to how wrong I am, even though I have literally not even started arguing yet. I know I am inviting trouble by even addressing any of this, but you know what? I started this site in part to share my thoughts on popular subjects. So here it goes.

Above this paragraph you can see the controversial trailer I mentioned earlier. As with all Youtube videos, however, the real entertainment is in the comments (provided you are not too squeamish about human stupidity, and what I really can’t call anything other than insecure sexism). To WWII enthusiasts I’m sure the problem is blatantly apparent: Women during the second World War were not front line fighters, despite what this trailer seems to be depicting. The response to this (as well as to the prosthetic arm) were, to say the least, a disaster. The irony is that besides those points, the trailer is as bog standard as they get. Now I’m sure that there will be tuning, and mechanical improvements, and quality of life improvements from previous games, but for someone like me, who is bored to death of the myriad of military FPS games, nothing at all new or interesting was shown. Just the bloody women.

Now before anyone starts tossing around the SJW accusations, I honesty think that this is good, but my reasons have nothing to do with social justice. Beyond the fact, that I truly believe diversity is a good thing, my reasons for liking this are purely selfish ones. You see, I like women. I pretty much always feel more comfortable in their presence than men, and I find them more intellectually stimulating to interact with as well (Though I’m sure this has much to do with the specific company I find myself in. Yay, Hungary… ). However, video games are foreign to many of the women in my circles. They either don’t care about them, or just don’t know enough about them to form any opinions. Since video games are possibly my most prominent hobby, that means that favorite conversation topic is useless. I want more women to like games. I want them to enjoy the hobby as much as I do. Thus I want them to feel welcome in the world of video games. It honesty blows my mind that there are so many men (or lets be honest, boys) who cling to the opposite.

Inclusiveness is probably the one thing EA consistently does that is good. The first FIFA game to include women’s teams was the first sports game I wanted to play since FIFA 2004. I remember thinking that this might be one of the ways to help elevate women’s football by making it popular among young girls, just as the men’s game is among young boys. Having Battlefront 2’s main character be a female imperial was also a breath of fresh air (that admittedly turned sour after she almost immediately joined the rebels…). Of all the shitty practices that EA indulges in I see no reason to chastise the company for one of the few good things it regularly does.

battlefield-5-reveal-screenshot-11-720x720

The “historical accuracy” argument I actually find hilarious though. I am not well versed in the topic, so I don’t know if women occasionally fighting on the front lines was a thing or not (outside the French resistance). But at the same time I can’t help but roll my eyes at the sheer stupidity of bringing up the problem of realism in a Battlefield game. Were all these outraged people attacking EA with torches and pitchforks over the previous game, where half the soldiers on a World War I battlefield ran around with automatic weapons, or every other ludicrous piece of technology that at most only existed as prototypes at the time? We are talking about a franchise, nay, a genre where soldiers run around battlefields discarding half-loaded clips, or clips they fired a few shots out of. Where combatants can move at full speed after taking on multiple bullet shots, and even the slightly annoying red blur that covers their vision disappears after a few bandages are applied. Where death lasts no more than 30 seconds at most. When games are designed, the point is to take aspects of real life and adjust them to fit the comfort level of the players. To make deadly scenarios slightly less deadly. To make frustrating elements less frustrating, or even fun and exhilarating. They already bent the rules of physics and biology to make these games more enjoyable, I see this as no different. If anyone ever made a historically accurate FPS, it would be the most boring, non-enjoyable experience ever. War is not fun.

It’s also worth mentioning that the usual predatory business practices EA use in their big-budget titles are not going to be present here. Or at least that is what they have been saying as of my writing this (trust for EA is in short supply). In essence this is no different from when Marvel Comics made the character of Thor into a woman, or made Captain America black, or Spider-man Hispanic. Huge controversy, but in the end the comics never really changed anything. The same will happen here. People will realize, once they get over the anachronistic fighting females, that this is still just a Battlefield game. Another WWII FPS, that have been made a billion times in the past. And for that reason it will sell like all the rest, and both EA and the butthurt audience will move on like they always have. And maybe, just maybe, a change like this might bring on some new fans to the franchise, who now feel that much more comfortable with the character they get to play as (like myself, for instance). And honestly, those who decide to get out on the count of women and social justice “invading” their games, I feel justified in saying that gaming is better off without them.