Thursday, October 1, 2009

Archive material: me bitching about Yahtzee's writing

As I did once before, I wrote some guff in wordpad taking apart a short story by Yahtzee, this time called The Expedition, an ancillary addition to his ever-wanky Chzo Mythos Cthulu tribute. For backstory, it was a series of games that went like this:

5 Days a Stranger: Atmospheric but somewhat silly-plotted story where a cat burgler and four others find themselves trapped in the Victorian DeFoe Manor, stalked by a terrifying serial killer in a wedling mask.

7 Days a Skeptic (sic): Apparently a tribute to Z-grade sequels, as the same thing happens on a spaceship full of cardboard cutouts and endless cliches. Possibly successful in its aims, as it's nearly complete crap. One of the scenes that is a saving grace, wherein the ships doctor is found with bloody holes where his eyes were and weakly saying "It... needed eyes..." Yahtzee himself admits was stolen from the film Event Horizon, showing the level of effort put in to this. Ends with a retarded plot 'twist' that has no bearing on the plot and makes no sense at all. But the rest of the plot makes little real sense anyway..

Trilby's Notes: A marathon effort to save the series, by retconning everything into a sinister master plan by Cthulu Jr., aka Chzo, told through the drug-induced hallucination of Trilby the cat-burgler, now working as an investigator for the mysterious Ministry of Occultism. He shifts between the real world (The World of Science) and a horrific Dante-esque landscape (The World of Magick) and relives the encounters of many men through history with The Tall Man, an evil white-faced ghost of a Welsh druid who's body survives through an oak tree his soul was captured in - and he's the one REALLY responsible for the welding mask stuff.

Furthermore, he justifies the rubbish sci-fi sequel with a longwinded prophecy talking about a bridge to the modern day created by... fuck it, I can't be bothered to explain, it's all justification for..

6 Days a Sacrifice: Which I looked forward to idly but, really, is just where the 'wank overload' switch got hit. Everything cool is balanced out by something that doesn't make sense, and it's revealed that the player's job is to actually make the prophecy come true (more or less- you don't get much of a say in the matter) which doesn't even cause an invasion - Czho just gets a new henchman out of it.

Interestingly, I had no problem with most people's beef with the game, a sex scene between a lithe young girl and the main character, a young council worker whose back was broken after being pushed down a lift shaft. Given that the story is set in 2200, I found the idea of medical technology advancing to allow this miracle to happen less incredible than a bloke killing himself with a magical knife via ontological paradox turning him into a minor deity and convincing his younger self to kill his own father in cold blood to ensure the time loop remains stable.

So, basically it's a weird Lovecraft tribute that varies a lot in terms of sense ever made at any one time. Yahtzee tried to go one step further with his short story, and I think it was quite a failure - though it isn't quite Ron Mallet material, it shows a startling deficit between his own perceived prose ability and the actual article:

We came to the Ethereal Realm on the very early morning of the 28th of July, 1910.

Now, when you kick off a story with a sentence like that, grabbing attention through the blase presentation of something weird in a simple manner, you want to explain or expand upon it in the next sentence.

Captain James Troughton’s Special Rifle Brigade, of which I was a serving member, was assigned to protect a small scientific unit consisting of three highly secretive magician-scientists.

Generally, you don't make a statement completely unrelated to it. I'm also not sure how many magician scientists there were in the turn of the century - aside from Nevil Maskelyne I can think of none, and he's also an illusionist, of course, rather than one who practices magic. Active magical 'practitioners' such as Aleister Crowley liked to keep science out of it, and respectable men who had interests in the occult, such as Arthur Conan Doyle, liked to believe they were exploring unexplained phenomenon in the manner of scientists. After all, the British empire was very Christian, and magic was the stuff of the devil.

And for the boring military stuff - the highest specialist rifle unit in the British army were the 95th (where Sharpe was from) and the 60th Royal American (where Sweet William was from) Regiments. A brigade is generally made up of at least two regiments and, as it's name would suggest, would be commanded by a Brigadier. (Although it could conceivably happen if one brigadier, three colonels, and six majors all died unexpectedly. Or alternatively one brigadier if the captain was a naval officer) There's nothing wrong with blatantly naming him after a Doctor Who actor, naturally.

They acted in that haughty manner common to men of intellectual stock around common soldiery, understanding our importance to the mission but accepting it with nothing more warm than an air of reluctant tolerance. The only one who was even moderately cordial was the American Richard Statler, a boundlessly enthusiastic fellow on loan from some Tennessee paranormal institution.

Sorry... how many paranormal institutions would there have been? The words almost work as an oxymoron.

Interesting to note that he's boundlessly enthusiastic but also haughty at the same time.

His presence had been requested by the leader of the expedition, Dr. Harding, a greying man in his fifties who would exchange words only with the Captain, and even those were brusque and to the point. His first name was and remains unknown to me, as do his qualifications. Equally mysterious was the third member of the party, a quiet and nervous Scandinavian with round spectacles, a hooked nose and an angular beard. The man, identified to us as Ericsson, seemed gripped by a permanent state of excited terror, and never spoke when one of his colleagues could speak on his behalf. When caught alone, he answered monosyllabically and excused himself within seconds.

In a haughty way.

The three of them and our unit of twelve

For the record, a brigade is generally around 3,000 strong.

had had

Incidentally, I hate this. I understand the thinking behind it, one had for the past tense, the other to indicate it was forced, but a singular had conveys both connotations. And looks much better.

to sign a tedious pile of documents assuring our silence, an arduous process we were all quite used to by now, being specialist bodyguards for London’s highly secretive Ministry of Occultism.

So they're specialist bodyguards who refer to themselves as a military unit? And hold military rank?

Why the hell do they need to sign the documents before every mission? Wouldn't they sign blanket ones upon recruitment??

From the basement of that well-hidden institution we were transported by some abstract gateway to the same location’s equivalent within the Ethereal Realm. We emerged cacophonously into a wide plane of some bizarre species of grass, bathed in the eldritch light of dawn, a light somehow more speckled and orangish than the sunlight of which we were accustomed.

Orange is of course an adjective so the '-ish' suffix is redundant. Also, props for making such a remarkable event sound boring.

Our visit had apparently been arranged some time previously by our scientific cohorts. Some members of the Ethereal Realm community were present to welcome us. Presumably in some age long ago they had had some evolutionary ancestor not dissimilar to a human, but now only their faces and bipedal bodily structures remained to give that effect.

Incidentally, I have been wondering for a while if the way the narrative is written is largely influenced by the famous middle-class narrators of classic 19th century fiction such as Jonathan Harker and Dr Watson, without much thought given to the fact the story states that the hero is a common soldier. I can accept him writing his journal in a well-worded, polite manner, but it isn't it a bit much that he should have the word 'bipedal' in his head and draw conclusions about evolutionary history?

They were shorter than us, averaging at four or five feet, and their heads were hairless and much larger than ours, tapering almost to a point at the crown. Their skinny arms hung limply from their shoulders and in place of hands they possessed fingerless fleshy blobs. The rest of their bodies were concealed beneath finely-patterned, brightly-coloured robes. Bending their elbows to uncertainly shake Dr. Harding’s hand seemed to require the most tremendous effort on their part.

I'm not entirely sure what to make of the idea of magic devolving an entire species into floating Molochs, but I find it.. hmm, slightly hard to swallow. The idea of a creature that's unable to raise their arms being able to survive childbirth stretches the bounds of the imagination, and you have to wonder that evolution would even keep unused limbs intact..

It soon became clear that their form had developed from centuries of total dependence on magic. Physically, they were as deformed children, but it wasn’t long before they demonstrated power worthy of Gods. Instead of walking, they levitated effortlessly everywhere. Consequently their world had no roads

You'd think they'd want some landmarks to prevent them getting lost..

They made no noise, but their intentions were somehow communicated to Ericsson, the Scandinavian, who whispered them to his colleagues. The man was, I surmised, one of the rare telepaths of the Scientific Realm, brought for solely this purpose.

Solely this purpse, eh? No other skills at all? Why the hell does he call it The Scientific Realm instead of, say, the world?

Communication within our party soon became an infuriating game of Chinese Whispers. Ericsson would convey the intentions of the magicians to Statler and Harding, who would pass them onto the Captain, who would in turn announce them to us.

Is it just me or is that a fucking lot of effort for 15 people? Surely they'd go 'screw it' and just have Ericsson convey the whole story?

By this method I very gradually discerned the purpose of our expedition, but by the time the facts had been made perfectly clear to me, we had been journeying for several hours

See, there's my point. Not very practical.

and were being levitated across the waves of a broad and glittering sea. Too late to turn back, but the thought to do so did not occur to me.

Probably due to the fact you're levitating over the sea.

Knowing what I do now, the desire to go back and scream at my younger self to flee is unabated by the impracticality of such a task.

I know the feeling.

Though our primary purpose was scientific research and report, the magicians were hoping that while we were here we could do them a service in return by taking care of some ‘problem’ in a land to the north.

Sounds like those seven hours of talking were well worth it.

Just as we regarded the magic-users with awe, they were unreserved in their fascination for our rifles and physical stature, and the scientists would often find it quite difficult to pry the magicians’ attention away from us, the guardsmen.

Oh, right, they were too busy perving the whole time.

As Statler explained to us with characteristic American glee, all disputes in this world are solved through magical combat, but even the most powerful magical creatures were unprepared for the bullets and technological weapons of the Scientific Realm.

They can telekinetically move anything with no effort, but can't stop a bullet? Or telekinetically shift the rifle out of your hands? Or just explode your heart?

It was apparently proving difficult to extract much information from the magicians as to the nature of the threat we were being expected to combat. They became visibly anxious to even discuss it, if it was an ‘it’ and not a ‘he’ or a ‘them’, for they seemed confused as to whether our quarry was living or dead, sentient or not, an individual or an army. All we could gather was that the entity or entities had conquered a large section of land, and that a great number of people had ventured into them, never to return. Those that did returned insane, raving, often injured in the most unspeakable ways. They would convey nothing but meaningless expressions of suffering, and these poor wretches would be swiftly imprisoned to avoid paining other telepaths with their grisly thoughts.

Sounds like a job for twelve guys with slow-loading weaponry, to me.

When Ericsson was being informed of this by the magicians, he became pale and distressed, quaking visibly at the joints. When passing on the details, his speech was littered with pauses and stalls, and he made strange gestures with his hands. It was clear to me that the telepathic images he had received were considerably more disturbing than he could illustrate with words. Harding and Statler didn’t seem to make the connection,


and continued chatting earnestly amongst themselves, taking the occasional photograph of the mysterious lands that passed by far below.

"And, er, er.. the fires of death shall rain down.."
"Totally with you, man. Hey, Matt, doesn't that look like the forest by my house?"
"Totally taking a picture! CA-CHING! Anyway, what's after the fires of death?"
"The rape ogres..."
"Cool. Do you reckon I could kill somebody from urinating on them from this height?"

The orange sun was resting on the horizon by the time we arrived at our destination.

This information is kind of meaningless considering that we don't know how many hours in a day here of where the sun was when you arrived.

The mages touched us down in a thickly forested valley formed within the arms of a crescent-shaped mountain range. I use these words for convenience’s sake, for both the forest and the mountains were so alien to our eyes that comparison with earthly features feels unjustified. The ‘trees’ were flesh-coloured and had a smooth and rubbery texture. They lacked branches, each one instead being formed from a single tapering shaft, coiling insanely about and tying itself into knots as it grew. The distant mountains that loomed over us had a great many needle-sharp peaks like a gigantic bed of nails that seemed to have little to do with natural formation.

I would accepted 'ginormous knotted wangs' and 'needle-stacks' though.

The ‘trees’ were clumped thickly but there was enough space between them to afford the pitching of our tents, so we made camp where we had landed.

Total sausage-fest. Also, I guess the endless hours of floating around doing nothing must have really tired you guys out.

The magicians retired to some kind of magically-conjured dome under which they planned to meditate, as far as I could gather, but the thickness of the field made me feel that its main purpose was defense, not shelter.

"Err... can you make that dome a bit bigger?"

"The magicians are asking you to piss off, sir"

Their attitude was increasingly nervous, but they seemed reassured by our presence.

"Man, I'm really worried our god-like powers can't get us through this"
"Don't worry - we have a dozen guys with guns, remember?"
"Ah, right. Phew, that's a weight off my shoulders.."

It was almost dark and I was helping my squadmates

Squad? How big's your squad? Like, three people? For fuck's sake

Brigade (c3000) > Regiment / Battalion (500-1500) > Company (75-200) > Platoon (30-50) > Squad (8-15) > Patrol

Also, this is the British army presumably, and they don't even use the term 'squad' using 'section' instead.

with our tent when we heard raised voices coming from the tent that the scientists were sharing. For the first time Ericsson’s voice was loud and clear, expressing an urgent desire to abandon the mission and return to our arrival point, to commiserate ourselves with research of the surrounding area and await the return transportation.

Somehow I imagine they wouldn't be wanting to fly you back in a hurry.

His colleagues refused adamantly, of course.

I'm not sure why this is an 'of course' statement. Unless we're meant to think "Because they're DICKS" which I guess is what the story's been driving at.

The forest was a much more valuable source of materials,

Particularly of the wang-meat variety.

and the requests of the magicians could not be ignored, not while diplomatic relations between the two Realms were civil but cautious.

What about diplomatically declined? Also, you only have the word of an insane mumbling Scandinavian bloke that diplomatic relations ARE civil and or cautious.

After that point I gave up reading, which I think should be seen as perfectly understandable by anyone..


Youth of Australia said...

My God... it's full of crap...

I agree about the Mallet similarities - the vocab is better, but the construction is dead level.

I have nothing to add bar "you make Lovecraft BORING?! How can you live with yourselves?!"

Jared "No Nickname" Hansen said...

The thing that's annoying is that he has a fanbase who fawn over everything he writes.

He's far from talentless - nearly every game he's made is worth playing and he's a funny bloke in his videos and podcasts - but he posts stories like these where only the faithful will read them and they tarnish all his other achievements to me..

Miles said...

To be honest, Yahtzee annoys me. He's one of THOSE people who buys their own bullshit and believe that their opinion is what's right and that anyone else who thinks otherwise is an idiot. Yes, his reviews are occasionally amusing, but he suffers from the Mad Larry school of 'for every two or three sensible things he says, it gets drowned out in vitriol and the feeling of bitterness' that makes up a lot of our lives.

Jared "No Nickname" Hansen said...

Yeah, I pretty much agree with you. It's exactly the same thing as Larry, with me, in that I find him entertaining but discount nearly all his opinions.

I think the main thing wrong with his reviews is the fact that he works backwards - every game he plays gives him a gut reaction and he attempts to justify it. Or he doesn't know what his opinion is and just make a heap of knob gags (Often there's quite a bit of confusion other which games he does and does not like - apparently he though Assassin's Creed was really good. I had no frigging idea)

Hopefully he doesn't become as unfunny as Larry Miles has recently, but the last video of his I saw was astonishingly mirthless. (His Silent Hill 2 retrospective)