the saga of Isildros the Tamed

Lately I have been playing Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. Bought it cheap on the Sony store’s Black Friday sale, it’s your basic sprawling open world full of marginally small variants on the same three or four gameplay units. It’s impeccably crafted but it really feels like its biggest virtue is that there sure is a hell of a lot of it; I keep on scrolling through my inventory and marveling that every single thing in it has a sentence or three describing it. Every sword. Every dagger. Every spear, every bow. Every piece of armor. Every piece of loot that I interact primarily with by hitting the “sell all my miscellaneous loot” button when I’m looking for a few more drachmae to throw into upgrading my favorite sword at the blacksmith’s stall. Someone sat there and wrote all of this stuff.

There’s also this thing going on where you get registered in the Mercenary Ranking and are kind of casually murdering your way up their ranks as they keep on getting sent your way after someone puts a bounty on your head for, I dunno, “shanking their kid as you slaughter your way through a Spartan war camp” or “setting a minor local functionary on fire to destabilize the region so you can join in a battle between the Athenians and Spartans to control the area”, or… whatever. It’s not really a goal (unless you decide to make it your goal for a while; climbing the rankings gives you assorted bonuses in other parts of the game), they just kinda show up sometimes and try to kill you if there’s a bounty on your head.

Each mercenary, of course, has a name, and a paragraph or two about them, and a set of body sliders and a list of gear they come with. You kill one and another pops up in the All-Greek Mercenary Ranking to take their place. I’m guessing there’s probably a few hundred of them; I’ve been murdering my way through them and haven’t seen any repeats. Someone had to name and describe every one of these guys. Or maybe someone built a really finely-tuned Mercenary Paragraph Generator, I dunno.

They’re all pretty much disposable.

But I read the description of one of them. “Isildros the Tamed” was known by this epithet because he’d lost a certain amount of his edge after having kids, and grandkids. And, I dunno. I just didn’t feel like I wanted to murder him because of that. Murdering a grandfather just felt really wrong.

So the first time he showed up I just ran away. And every time a mercenary popped up on my screen, I’d make sure it wasn’t him, and refrain from murdering him if it was. It added a little narrative tension: there I am merrily sneaking my way through a Spartan fortress, popping out from the shadows and high places to kill them one by one, occasionally getting seen and leading a mad chase through the whole place until I could find some cover long enough for them to stop hunting me… and in waltzes Isildros, and I suddenly have to be aware of where he is and do my best to not get him involved in a big battle.

I kind of wrote a story in my head that he’d developed a glancingly polite relationship with my character. Here she is again with another bounty, and he rides off after her. And even though she’s a good ways up the Mercenary Ranking Table (he was in the lowest tier, and has pretty much remained there while I kept on killing my way through the ranks) she never kills him. She’ll kill other mercs he teams up with right in front of him sometimes, but she just nods at him and vanishes. They know each other by name and are perfectly cordial, even in the heat of battle against each other.

And then finally when he popped up nearby as the subject of a “kill a random character from the Mercenary List” mission, I decided to try something. I saved my game and I went off to hunt Isildros… non-lethally. Stun arrows and bare hands only. I didn’t want to kill him. I just wanted to knock him out and walk away, making it absolutely clear to him that I’ve singled him out for Not Dying in the hopes that he’d just stop coming around.

We had a lengthy battle in the middle of a modest city. Another, much-higher-ranked mercenary showed up in the middle, which complicated things immensely. But I hid and waited for him to leave, and smacked Isildros on the back of a head with a stun arrow before he left as well.

Eventually, of course, it ended with him knocked out. And I stood there next to his motionless body, looking at the plume of light coming from it indicating he had rare gear to loot. And I contemplated the two options that showed up on my screen, as they do for any character you’ve knocked out: I could kill him while he lay there helpless. Or I could recruit him for the crew of the ship I’d become the commander of for no real good reason beyond “they gave you a ship like five AssCreeds ago and it was a big hit so they’ll keep putting it in next year’s AssCreed”.

And of course there was the third choice, just walk away and have him keep on showing up, and keep on dodging him or knock him out. It’d be a good running bit of flavor to my game, you know?

But I recruited him. And my headcanon here is that this took place over an amphora of nice wine, and ended in my character hiring him to train the crew of her ship in the fighting arts. Because if you are a career soldier who has grandkids, you are going to have accumulated a lot of dirty tricks in the course of your life, and that’s a valuable resource.

She probably slipped him a few extra drachmae to send home to the grandkids, too.

And then I saved the game and turned the PS4 off because I wanted to go out and try and get something done despite my Seattle winter habits wanting me to spend several months under a blanket in front of this sprawling pile of virtual Spartans who aren’t gonna shank themselves.

Cultist Simulator: not quite a review.

A while back I played this art game called “Sunset”. In Sunset, you took the role of a maid, wandering around a super awesome bachelor pad the developers had built based on a spread in a late sixties issue of Playboy. You found messes, you clicked on them, the screen faded out and back in, and then they were cleaned up again.

There was something about a romance between your character and the Brazilian dictator who owned the place, told through furtive notes left lying around as the game progressed. But I don’t remember anything about that. What I remember is that after a while playing it, I closed the game, got up, and did some cleaning around the apartment that I’d put off. I never returned to it afterwards and probably never will.

I bring this up because I am feeling the same sensation from Cultist Simulator.

I drag a few cards into slots, I watch a timer expire, and then I am told I have Made an Art, which resulted in some mix of money, fame, and the occasional emotion. Sometimes, at random, I am told I have made a Great Art. If I made it secretly about something majgickqghahl then I get a lot more famous a lot faster. Which is not without its own problems, but it sure makes it easier to make money making art that’s about nothing but my own passions.

I look at my Tarot deck and the obvious opportunity presented by reprinting it, and I feel the same sensation I felt playing Sunset: “get up”, my brain says, “get up, stop pretending to do this, do this for real”.

And maybe get up and break out the books on majgicqgh and try to spend a little time with that more days than not, too. Probably not to the extent that I become a notorious cult leader who sends her minions off to raid libraries and ruins for ever-more-esoteric texts and trinkets, that sure sounds like some work.

Cultist Simulator is a much more compelling system than Sunset. There’s a lot of things to play with. A lot of things to figure out. And I can feel it tickling the same parts of my brain that the beginning of an idle clicker game does, before it starts taking longer and longer to build up enough resources to do anything interesting. There’s a lot of neat little stories that assemble themselves out of the masterfully-crafted snippets of prose throughout the game, and those are fun to see when they happen.

But I can feel restlessness growing inside me. I can fee the urge to get up and resume the Great Work, whatever I determine it really is.

And if there is one thing this game has taught me, it is that Restlessness turns into Dread after a little while, and that if enough Dread piles up then you succumb to it. And die.

Five stars out of five. Would stop playing again.

Fallout 4

Kerri: “so what’s the Fallout 4 verdict?”

My response:

It sure is another open-world game from Bethesda. You’ll never be shocked or amazed while playing it, but there sure are a lot of side-quests and sub-systems to distract you and fill up your winter hours.

And the characters are slightly less robotic than usual. They actually make attempts to emote instead of standing there like plastic automatons delivering woodenly-acted tapes. Still ain’t gonna win an Oscar or anything for its acting.It is a huge pile of okayness that I will probably put hours into, finish the main quest, snark about it, and do about a third of the sidequests of. And every moment I run out of action points and have to do the realtime combat up close, I’ll wish I was playing Bloodborne instead, because holy crap the weapon swap method is so awkward.

I’m also just never much of a fan of the post-apocalypse setting tbh. I keep on looking at its dingy, run-down future and wishing I was playing a similar free-form game set in a bright, happy, optimistic future. Something best summed up as “GTA Coruscant”.

(There was an actual open-world rpg set among the scumlings of Coruscant in the works for a while, but it got canned despite looking pretty promising. That makes me sad every time I think about it. But it doesn’t have to actually be the Star Wars license; I’d be happy with any giant future city full of aircars and ray-throwers and aliens and a customizable PC and sidequests.)

Hohukum Translation Key

I pulled out Sony Santa Monica’s lovely little game “Hohokum” last night for the first time in a while. Found a few more friends. Today I booted it up again and flew around in the carnival area for a while. Last night I’d been wondering if all the alien text in it was translatable; turns out it is.


click for full size

If I recall correctly, there’s text in various other screens, too. I wonder if any of it will be more enlightening than the stuff in the carnival zone? Probably not. I may update this post as I find ’em, or I might just keep it to myself as I keep playing. This is a game that should be a little bit mysterious, IMHO.