Sunday, March 22, 2015

Critical Switch: Rest in Pain

I realize that what you came here for, what a good 37 of you pay $163 a month for, is to hear me talk about videogames. But I'd like to think that, for the most part, what that really means is “here's a good game I'm gonna talk about, and here's why it's good, about 90% of the time or more. You can get my personal brand of cynicism on Twitter. If people listening right now trust my taste in videogames, I hope that means you also trust my taste in music, in films, and in television. So from time to time, you'll hear me do an episode on a medium that isn't videogames. For your pleasure and mine.

This week I'm going to be talking about Twin Peaks. If you haven't seen it, watch it. It's on every major streaming service, I'm sure it's pretty easy to acquire one way or another, and it's quite possibly the best show to ever air on American television, a reputation that precedes it and whatever statements I may make on it.

Take note: Twin Peaks is a detective story whose primary plot thread involves multiple instances of sexual assault, it can be deeply disturbing. This episode also has significant spoilers for Twin Peaks. I'm serious, I tell you who the killer is, if you don't want to know, turn back now and watch the show first.

Without further ado:

I feel like all of my favorite scenes from Twin Peaks don't make anybody else's list. The ones that have resonated most strongly with fans are the scenes that are the weirdest or most Lynchian: the red room, or Audrey Horne tying the cherry stem with her mouth. Those can be a bit . . . surface-level(?) for my liking?

I mean, they're good scenes and all (a show with two seasons on the books doesn't get remembered for being inconsistent,) but they're also somewhat self-explanatory and they can tend to be obfuscant of the totality of what the show is. The red room is weird, David Lynch is weird, Twin Peaks is fuckin weeeeeeiiird man, but that surface level weirdness acts mostly as a premonition for the murder mystery, it's not the kind of weirdness that exists in most of the show. Sherilyn Fenn is astoundingly hot but reducing her to that one quality or that one scene covers up her independent side, for example, the fact that the reason she's there in that scene to begin with is because she's doing independent investigative work on the murder of Laura Palmer.

There's at least one scene in the show, however, where all of the things that have surface-level appeal to Twin Peaks and where so much of it's subtext comes together just beautifully.

The funeral scene in Season 1, Episode 4, “Rest in Pain,” written by Harley Peyton and directed by Tina Rathborne, for which Peyton was nominated for the primetime drama writing Emmy is probably my favorite moment on the show and that makes it a pretty strong contender for my favorite moment in any television program.

That the funeral itself is even happening, at least in this particular moment of time, is an indicator of the town's old-time values, and even a sign of resisting outside forces.

I'm gonna represent events in the episode out of order here to create a sort of thematic progression. Laura Palmer's funeral is scheduled for the day of her autopsy to be performed by Dr. Albert Rosenfeld, played by Miguel Ferrer. He's arguing with the local police coroner so he can continue investigative work on Palmer's body while the locals, in this case represented by the Richard Beyman's slimy businessman Ben Horne, demand he release the body for the funeral that day. Rosenfeld is foreign to the audience at this point, and his verbal disregard for the town and characters we're already familiar with is meant to make us dislike him.

However, he's also completely right: allowed more time with the body he might've found, just to name an example, DNA evidence of who violated and murdered her. Cooper, in his empathy for the town and it's values, demands Rosenfeld to cut his work short. Cooper, the townspeople, and presumably the audience, make an utterly damnable assumption here, that Rosenfeld's vulgarity is a lack of sympathy. This is plainly false. We learn later in the series that the man is a pacifist, which is perhaps why he tries to contain physical violence through acerbic verbiage, but it's also why he investigates crimes, and he thus brings the full weight of personal interest into his work. This, I think, reflects nicely in Ferrer's performance in a later scene where he presents his findings to agent Cooper and Sheriff Truman. He's dry in presenting the evidence, but mournful that he was only allowed so much time.
A couple more days with the body who knows what I might've found.

Excuse us, we have a funeral to attend to.

In making this assumption of Rosenfeld's cynicism and shall we say “Yankee-ness,” we also ignore something about the town: that they have something to hide in all this. While many townsfolk are unconvinced they played a role in Laura's death (we'll get to that), we also know that Palmer was a walking monument to the night culture of the town that it does not want outsiders to see: taboo sex and hard drugs, the sort of thing centrists might call “alternative lifestyles” as though there's some inherent normalcy to the missionary position or drinking beer instead of smoking pot (or snorting blow.) We should note in the earlier scene at the morgue that the representative of the regular townsfolk is Ben Horne, the slimy businessman, a guy with a lot of dirty secrets himself, the closest thing the show has to a legitimate villain at this point in it's run.

Mr. Rosenfeld, please! Now, uh . . . Leland Palmer couldn't with us today, but I know I speak for everyone, the Palmer family included, when I say that, uh . . . we appreciate . . . and understand! The value of your work. But as their representative I must insist that we consider the feelings . . . of the Palmer family as well.

Ben reveals his true colors right before the funeral. We overhear him discussing with his wife about how best to get their son, Johnny, who has what are described as “emotional issues,” to remove a Native-American headdress he constantly wears so he can appear respectable for the funeral. There is little compassion in his words. His mentally disabled son is not able to easily conceal what he truly feels like the rest of the town, and Ben is ashamed of him for that, for his son's disability. Ben Horne has other, more human moments, but I think in this moment he also speaks as a representative for the town, revealing their inner cynicism, and their wish to conceal truths they don't want to engage with, like his son's disability, or Laura Palmer's life.

As Cooper leaves the autopsy room, having ordered Rosenfeld to release the body, he places Laura's limp, dead hand flat on her chest. The limp hanging wrist is an honest image of death. By replacing that hand, Cooper takes part in a narrative that wishes to preserve an image of Laura of beauty and supposed innocence. The sad thing is, she was both, but the narrative that the people of Twin Peaks want to preserve about her life is, to them, unable to be reconciled with the life she lead. This, I think, becomes especially pertinent when we recognize that Laura Palmer was not only murdered, but raped multiple times before so. In attempting to privilege the details of what we might call Laura's “day life” the town is participating in a sort of silent victim blaming. It was Laura's fault she was raped and murdered because, in the eyes of the town folks (some might say in the eyes of the show's creative team), Laura's lifestyle choices are inseparably linked from the cause of her death, and that those who live more puritanically avoid such fates.

That's a bit heavy. Let's take a short break and enjoy some more of the music of Twin Peaks, shall we?

Earlier in the episode, we then have Bobby Briggs performed by Dana Ashcroft with his father the Colonel played by Don S. Davis, both of them just immense fucking talents shining brightly in these roles.

The Colonel, a soldier by trade obviously, has had his run ins with premature deaths just like Laura. Bobby is a fair bit like Laura: hes always walking on the wild side, selling cocaine, occasionally drinking while he drives, smoking, and dating Laura before her death while also having an affair with a married woman. But while he's danced with death, he's always taken lead.

Laura's death represents the first time his mortality is ever really apparent to him. As his father sits back calmly attempting to explain how funerals allow people to come to terms with death and accept it, Bobby plays with a lighter. At first, he opens it, flicks it, lets the flame burn briefly, and then shuts it, extinguishing the flame. This is a process that Bobby Brigs has probably performed countless times until this point, as have people he associates with, those who walk with him on the wild side. As quickly as life begins, so suddenly is it gone. Now he opens it again and leaves the flame, standing the lighter on the table, cupping his hands around it to preserve it. The flame diminishes quickly, but we see here a greater appreciation to preserve things that can so suddenly end. As the colonel finishes his monologue, Bobby closes the lighter again. We can see it on his face: Bobby is angry. He is disgusted. He is afraid. But this may perhaps be the first time he has ever felt these things so deeply in his life, and he turns that anxiety into a performance.

Son, don't be afraid. We'll all be there together.

Afraid of what?

The funeral.

I'm not afraid of any damn funeral. Afraid? . . . I can hardly wait!

Now we're at the funeral. The funeral has this clear progression to it that I think represents everything Twin Peaks is about in a really, just utterly gorgeous way. As the funeral starts, the preacher gives a sermon, a pretty heartfelt one, about Laura's life, but the camera tells us the real story. These people aren't really thinking about Laura, they're thinking about themselves. That's fine and all, funerals are for living, not the dead. Donna Hayward has one of the more genuine expressions of grief as she looks down at the coffin. She legitimately was one of Laura's close friends. Bobby Briggs looks down, but his face is contemptuous. He holds this entire event in contempt. Agent Cooper looks at the preacher, I'd say in respect for a faith that is not his, as he has shown respect, maybe even envy, for this culture he does not belong to. Ed Hurley looks at the preacher as well, but, perhaps filled with guilt at his wife's undying love and his adulterous affair, looks away, purses his lips, his gaze shifting. The camera shifts back to Agent Cooper, always on the job, now looking at the other mourners: Bobby, still contemptuous, getting more annoyed as he breaks his gaze on the coffin and silently, but visibly, sighs. Cooper's gaze then finds James Hurley, who had spoken of his intent not to appear at the funeral, but is here now. James' eyes are fixed on Bobby, who he thinks is responsible for the murder. Donna's eyes then find James, who she is slowly falling in love with, before guiltily shifting back to the funeral. Audrey Horne, engaging her own infatuation, shoots a flirtatious look at Cooper. Cooper returns the favor. These people are losing focus, but it was never really on Laura to begin with.

As the preacher ends his sermon, Johnny Horne sincerely intones.

Amen. Amen!

And out of nowhere Bobby fucking loses it.


He's tired of this charade. He knew “the real” Laura Palmer, and he lives her kind of life. He knows these people don't really care about her just like they don't care about him, that they're trying to cover their tracks by appearing respectable. And he has had enough.

What're you lookin' at? What are you waiting for? You make me sick. You damn hypocrites make me SICK!!! Everybody knew she was in trouble! But we didn't do anything. All you “good” people. You wanna know who killed Laura? YOUD DID! We all did. And pretty words aren't gonna bring her back, man, so save your prayers! She would've laughed at them anyway.

The artifice is exposed. As is the nerve. James furiously leaps at Bobby and they begin fighting, people pick sides or try to hold the two back, and the funeral comes apart.

Leland Palmer, struck with grief, jumps on to his daughter's coffin, and the scene begins to take on a tone of incredible awkwardness that has been slowly bubbling beneath the surface. The reasons for this are threefold:

  1. Leland's landing screws with the very loud mechanisms by which Laura Palmer's body is to be put in the ground, and people have a hard time getting Leland off of the coffin as well as just putting the damn thing in the ground and getting this over with so people can go home.
  2. His wife intones, bizarrely, “Don't ruin this too!” As though the funeral is . . . what it really is: a social performance of grief. As though Leland had ruined something else in their family and was then an active embarrassment. This is all of course true because
  3. Finally: Leland Palmer, who is expressing this incredible grief, as a father might? Is the one who repeatedly raped and murdered Laura Palmer.

Thank you for joining me, I know it's been a heavy and unusual episode. In this episode we've heard the “Twin Peaks Theme,” “Audrey's Dance” and “Laura Palmer's Theme” from the Twin Peaks original soundtrack by Angelo Badalamenti. Critical Switch is supported entirely by listeners like you at, and that'll be linked in the description. Next week you'll be joined once again by Zolani Stewart.

This time from Redmond, Washington, I'm Austin C. Howe.

Do you believe in the soul?


More then one?

Blackfoot legend. Waking souls that give life to the mind and the body. A dream soul that wanders.

Dream souls? Where do they wander?

Faraway places. The land of the dead.

Is that where Laura is?


Laura's in the ground, Agent Cooper. That's the only thing I'm sure of.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Talk with Iris Bull

A few months ago I had a talk with Iris Bull about feminism, representations of women in games, and how people talk about digital bodies. With her permission, I’m posting it here.

Austin Howe: Can I ask you Questions About Feminism?

Iris Bull: sure

Iris Bull: anytime

Austin Howe: So I was on twitter expressing my frustration about Suikoden II that so far it seems like every woman exists to compliment you and be sexually suggestive

Iris Bull: i saw that

Austin Howe: One character in particular was implied to have performed a sexual favor for a guard to help get past them

Iris Bull: i don't know that i agree with [redacted]

Austin Howe: I noted that that character looks like this:

Austin Howe: And I noted that, in discussions regarding representations of women in media, if you were to side by side that design with Tifa from FFVII, Tifa would win without actually referencing the texts either character comes from

Austin Howe: This is despite the fact that Tifa's character is pretty much the exact opposite of what happens in Suikoden II.

Austin Howe: Which is not to say that she's so shy as to be Unsexual (as opposed to asexual, different thing obviously) but rather that there's a subtlety to her writing and with the other women that simply doesn't exist here

Austin Howe: So yeah someone basically said you can't slut shame Digital Women

Iris Bull: yeah, that doesn't really make sense to me

Austin Howe: I'm not really sure that adds up in . . .
Austin Howe: Well to put it simply it Does Not Work with any postmodernist critical framework
Austin Howe: It doesn't jive with Death of the Author
Austin Howe: And it doesn't work with reader response
Iris  Bull: media criticism is inherently associated with real people and events
Iris  Bull: because media is inherently associated with those things
Iris  Bull: not sure what he means by "philosophically equate"

Austin Howe: Well here's the other thing
I realize that People Have Problems With Postmodernism
But like

Iris  Bull: it's a novel without an ending

Austin Howe: The idea that the line between what is real and what isn't real has never been definite
Austin Howe: That's important
Austin Howe: And frankly it's kind of something that, without referencing explicitly, is kinda foundational to my entire approach to both art and criticism

Iris  Bull: you might even say: it is from the ambiguity of the real that we construct new possible social realities

Austin Howe: So frankly, not only would I disagree with the idea that you can't slut-shame unreal women (you definitely can by erasing their words and only considering their midriff, that's For Fucking Sure)
Austin Howe: But frankly, I'm not even totally convinced that games are "unreal"
Austin Howe: Which, I realize what kinda hole that starts digging
Austin Howe: But like, put it this way
Austin Howe: Even the basic ways that people talk about how media affects them kinda reflects that uncertain line between the two definites

Iris  Bull: v dangerous terrain, austin. v dangerous indeed.

Austin Howe: "This album saved my life"
Austin Howe: "I really related to this character"

Iris  Bull: ^ not evidence of the real
Iris  Bull: maybe we can think of The Real as a constructed model, but it is never an Object. we may Relate with the Real, but nothing is ever Real.

Austin Howe: So it's less that games and films have reality in them but rather that what we consider reality is not itself completely real

Iris  Bull: yeah

Austin Howe: Alright so then consider the inverted wording of this question I typed before that
Austin Howe: "If these things weren't real you wouldn't be able to relate to them?"

Iris  Bull: yea!
Iris  Bull: but no matter how you spin that for some people, there will always be someone you encounter who hasn't thought about Real as Fundamentally Not An Object

Austin Howe: And really, if fiction was truly "unreal" (still using casual wording here, work with me, Ye Educated Madam)

Iris  Bull: lol

Austin Howe: Then . . . how would we be offended by it in the first place?

Iris  Bull: to be offended = a particular relationship to a proposed reality that we reject For Reasons

Austin Howe: We can be offended by the appropriation of fascist imagery, for example, because we recognize the lineage from Real World Fascism to Fictional Fascism
Austin Howe: If fiction wasn't in some sense "real" then we would actually be incapable of being offended by that!
Austin Howe: Social critique of media would have no basis!

Iris  Bull: yeah :)

Austin Howe: So then, when we accept that there is "reality" contained within fiction objects
Austin Howe: We understand how people can be hurt by media
Austin Howe: And we can also understand how we might be hurt by other's reactions to media

Iris  Bull: :)

Austin Howe: I can be offended by a mischaracterization of Squall
Austin Howe: Because, as a character representative of mental illness
Austin Howe: I feel a sort of relatability or even a sense of brotherhood with him
Austin Howe: So when he is attacked
Austin Howe: I feel attacked

Iris  Bull: ^.^
Iris  Bull: fucking cool, right?

Austin Howe: So Squall is a "real" presence in my life
Austin Howe: Right, ok, it's super cool to know that how I think about media works in theory
Austin Howe: Let me finish this thought and I'll tell you about a thought I had in high school
Austin Howe: Ok so finishing on women
Austin Howe: This goes back to women

Iris  Bull: yup

Austin Howe: Because when people attack Tifa for her design and seemingly that alone
Austin Howe: It's singularly a critique not of the designer's decision to put her in those clothes
Austin Howe: But the fact that She Is Wearing Them as an abstract concept
Austin Howe: Critiques of Tifa are rarely critiques of Tetsuya Nomura's misogyny which may or may not be true
Austin Howe: (As in he may or may not be a misogynist)
Austin Howe: So you CAN slut-shame Tifa because you can attack Tifa in exactly the same way that you attack a human being
Austin Howe: Which is especially hurtful when it erases her personhood, it erases the fact that the personality we attach to those clothes is not the personality that Tifa has
Austin Howe: It erases the fact that Tifa actually shows discomfort with her sexuality at a few points
Austin Howe: Women can feel hurt by this because this story is arguably representative of certain experiences (I can't speak on this for sure.) I can feel hurt by this because I've seen people do to human women what they do to Tifa, reduce the virbancy of a person down to the makeup they wear and the figure they were born into.
Austin Howe: Ok, cool, I think I've reconciled now.

Iris  Bull: yeah, because if you're not interrogating the context in which Tifa was created, you're not identifying the work that her representation does in a variety of other contexts—you don't acknowledge her constitution as both a text and a tool with ideologic functions. In a way, Tifa can only represent agency, but much in the same way that the people around us—people Other Than Us—also represent agency. To recognize Tifa as complexly as a person is rhetorically important because we use those critiques on Real People, too.

Austin Howe: Yup
Austin Howe: So when I was in highschool
Austin Howe: Before I knew about the death of the author and things like that
Austin Howe: I had this approach to media which was something along the lines that media should be considered as something like an alternate dimension of existence
Austin Howe: Where authors are the creator-gods of their media who single-handedly determine the lives of the people living in their universes
Austin Howe: And I kinda used that as a framework by which to approach empathy for fictional characters
Austin Howe: It was weird

Iris  Bull: not weird

Austin Howe: But I guess my point is I always used to think that my approach to fiction was kinda, for lack of better term, insane
Austin Howe: That the way I thought about media was indicative and symptomatic of my mental illness
Austin Howe: So it's really great to see all these people who, when you rearrange verbs and nouns, think about stuff in basically the same way

Iris  Bull: i think i've always felt crazy. on my twitter avi where i list "weird stuff," that's how i couch my insecurities about how i make connections between different types of knowledge, different ideas/concepts. and i think it's often really easy to feel crazy when the people around you don't acknowledge how structures and spaces, people and things outside of us, how those things shape what we do and who we think we are. i feel most crazy around people who insist that ideas like "freedom" are Real. i am purposefully conditioned to feel crazy when my perspective of reality is not evidenced elsewhere—in popular media, in academic conversations, etc.—and i feel even more crazy when i don't feel like my words adequately describe my thoughts and feelings. i think that a lot of this comes from being conditioned to think that older people and past civilizations are/were wise—that they figured shit out. what i feel like i sense more and more everyday is how *little* people and past civilizations have done. but i also think that's an error in my perspective. i can only see the way things should be because it's easy to be dissatisfied with what you have. /ramble

Austin Howe: Well a woman fav'd my tweet about not slut-shaming in criticism

Austin Howe: So that's most of what I need

Iris  Bull: you do you, austin. you do you.

Austin Howe: I'm gonna copy paste most of this down and post it to my blog if you don't mind?

Iris Bull: No problem.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Critical Switch: On Legacy of Kain: Dead Sun

Check that link every week for new episodes! New stuff is gonna be slow here as I focus on Switch and the Final Fantasy VII book, so be patient, word lovers!

Here's the transcript if you'd like to read it instead of listening:

So there was a pretty significant leak recently of a planned reboot of the Legacy of Kain series entitled Dead Sun that was in development around 2012 but got canceled, I wanna talk about it for a little bit. Indulge me while I'm being less than critical for most of this.

So first of all, the official reason given for the cancellation was that fan interest in an LoK reboot didn't meet sales projections and that has to be addressed: of course a Legacy of Kain reboot didn't look like it was going to sell well.

The series was never a money bucket to begin with, plagued with truncated budgets and short development cycles leading to games that were 2/3 finished at best when they came out, leading to decreasing review scores, decreasing sales, and disgruntled fans. The last game, Defiance, came out when I was nine years old. We're talking about a franchise that hasn't seen a new game come out since the PS2 was just out of it's launch cycle.

That Square-Enix believed they could generate enough interest in the franchise to sell even a million copies is . . . well honestly it's indicative of the logic that says “let's make two sequels to the financially ruinous Final Fantasy XIII instead of focusing on something that 80% of our sales base wants to see” or “let's follow-up our largely faithful, limited-budget Deus Ex reboot that catered to that game's original fanbase with a bloated Thief reboot that tries to bring in a ton of new people even though it probably could've succeeded just by catering to the same Deus Ex crowd.” Square has never been known for the best financial decision making, (this stuff goes all the way back to the Enix merger,) but the idea of trying to turn Legacy of Kain into your next big western franchise is egregiously ignorant, especially given the age of HD remasters where they've yet to consider upscaling the PS2 era Kain games, all of which still look fantastic to this day thanks to incredible boundary-pushing in their time. (And for what it's worth, they also ran consistently at 60 FPS even though they didn't really need to.)

I say all of this partially because Dead Sun barely looked like a Legacy of Kain game to begin with. Now don't get me wrong, there definitely looked like some interesting possibilities in Dead Sun, especially the ability for it's protagonist to shift between realms at will, a feature that was always just about to happen in Soul Reaver and Defiance but just never made the cut. The spaces themselves were also gorgeous and looked really interesting to move through, which was another key strength of the Kain games.

All that being said, Dead Sun was clearly another example of a series reboot which shared a name, maybe some lore, and little else. The game was set to take place centuries after Soul Reaver, which is a great excuse for not featuring any familiar characters and also completely dumping the still-unfinished storyline of the previous games, and features seemingly entirely humanoid characters, which, sure, maybe this 30-minute snippet isn't representative of the whole game, but this was also a series that made really compelling central protagonists out of Raziel, a blue dude with an exposed spine and no jaw, and Kain, a dude with a skullet. The combat looks like it was going in a Defiance inspired direction, and featured the excessive blood and gore that was always a key feature. There's also of course the Arkham Asylum combo meter, which - Hey, wait a minute, I just found something to be critical about!

So there's the Arkham combo meter, which was probably inevitable, but seriously, if you ever wanna make your videogame combat feel tonally and thematically weightless, add a style bonus meter. That would be fine, except right after the first piece of melee combat we see there's a discussion between the two main characters about how and why they kill people and that sorta thing. That's a level of self-awareness that Legacy of Kain never engaged in on a diegetic level, which, ironically in this case, makes the combat in the older titles actually feel more serious. Defiance excluded, there is no reward to combat except Kain or Raziel's survival in a damned form which may never see them redeemed or forgiven. Given that combat is the fight for survival, a horrible thing that must, unfortunately, be done over and over and over again, and that this is acknowledged, the game is in no need to self-flagellate over how violent it is, even though the combat is genuinely grotesque and characters show little remorse. By making combat feel trite, Dead Sun is required to explain itself. None of that would be a problem if it was comfortable with the idea that combat did not need to be fun, or even necessarily engaging, as it usually wasn't in the Kain games leading up to Defiance, but rather, simply necessary.

Then we have the way souls work.

So in Dead Sun, souls would have been an in-game currency to buy new shit, some hackneyed God of War nonsense. Trite, but livable, and probably inevitable. It wouldn't be so bad except that you also pick up souls in a completely passive manner. This is a great example of a design shift in videogames that is not really based on critical investigation.

Souls in Soul Reaver and Defiance are Raziel's life force. Aside from taking damage, Raziel also, very slowly, loses his life force over time. To maintain his physical form in the material world, he must feed on souls, and this is a serious process. Raziel must expose his jaw, the lower half of which burned off at the beginning of the first Soul Reaver and stand completely still as he works to draw in the souls of his enemies. It is a process that, for Raziel and for gamers controlling him, requires free time, safe space, and concentration. It must be done quickly as well, for souls in the physical world quickly fade into the spiritual world.

I know why they changed it. It's a playability issue and always was a playability issue. Especially near the end of Soul Reaver 2, one would often be forced to watch the souls quickly fade away from the material realm while taking massive damage from huge demon enemies that resulted in an uncomfortable spike in difficulty. Artifacts of that problem exist all across the series.

Here's why it had to exist: from a game design perspective, without it, Raziel has no other weaknesses. He hurts like crazy and utterly dominates his enemies, even against large groups. Those are parts of his “gifts” in unlife: incredible strength, telekinesis, and in Defiance, the ability to control various elements. These gifts also allow him to perform feats outside of combat inaccessible to humans, for example, the ability to push really large blocks, or telekinetically activate distant switches. His weakness is then his fragility: he's not only a glass cannon, but his body also slowly degrades.

Like the changes to the combat, the alteration to how souls are picked up in Dead Sun also shines light on some hidden narrative depth that I never previously appreciated. While Raziel and Kain are both incredibly powerful, the concentration and time needed to feed really contextualizes just how desperate their struggles really are. The bloodthirst and hunger for souls that defines those characters truly is a haunting curse that consumes all things of their being, but there are no choices: Kain and Raziel must die, and leave the realm of Nosgoth unredeemed and irredeemable, or they must feed, and hope that perhaps saving Nosgoth means they can save themselves. That's wishful thinking, but in an existence so bleak, defined by a wheel of rebirth that damns all souls eternally, it is perhaps all there is.

One more thing before I go, briefly: in 30 minutes Dead Sun also takes the Legacy's representations of women maybe half a step forward and then multiple steps back.

The half step forward? Mostly trivializing the nudity of women's breasts and also doing so in a way I would argue does not sexualize them, drawing from the supposed tradition of female pirates fighting with exposed breasts to reveal their gender to the men they killed. (Fun fact: Hideo Kojima originally wanted to do this with The Boss in Metal Gear Solid 3 and was censored, leading at least in part to the somewhat sexualized unzipping of her stealth suit before the battle that was likely intended to be an asexual revelation. Emelie Reed of The Arcade Review has a really good piece about this o n her blog that I'll link.)

The steps backward? The series previously featured exactly one important female character of any kind, Ariel, and her existence was of course defined by her relationships with men. That is not a good thing. Dead Sun features no major female characters except one who was slated to be killed in the game's opening (which, let's be fair, also happened in Blood Omen, but that game also never tried for masculine vengeance.) All that being said, the dialogue, throughout it's endless reems of poetics, was rarely ever directly misogynistic, never so after the original Blood Omen. (Likely a result of the brilliant writing of series Director Amy Hennig.) The bits of dialogue we see in Dead Sun are immensely insulting in exactly that regard. This is especially tragic given that these women are enemies of the protagonist. The series already had those from Soul Reaver 2 onward, fighting in equal capacity to the men and with designs that did not sexualize their bodies for the players amusement. It's really unfortunate that in western games especially we have to choose between no women at all and horrid representations of them.

In any case, thanks for listening to me ramble here through my appreciation of Legacy of Kain and my rather scathing critique of a game that never came out. Y'know, considering the footage will live forever on the internet even though the project was cancelled, and the initial series itself never had a proper finale, you might just be like Kain, go right for the juggular and call this series what it is: undead.

Next week, you'll be hearing from Zolani Stewart again with an episode on Proceduralism in Videogames. I want to thank everyone who helped crowdfund his new computer, y'all're total lifesavers. We hope not to have any more unfortunate mishaps like that, and we appreciate everyone's patience and support.

To everyone in San Fransisco at the Game Developers Conference, I hope y'all had a great time.

In this episode you've heard “Ozar Midrashim” (hope I pronounced that correctly) from the Soul Reaver original soundtrack and “Ariel's Lament” from the Soul Reaver 2 soundtrack both composed by Kurt Harland.

Critical Switch is supported by fans like you at, and that'll be linked in the description. Thanks as always this week to all of our Patrons, this week special thanks to Patron Richard LeMarchand, who had a critical hand in creating the Legacy of Kain games that I so dearly love.

This time from Port Orchard, Washington, I'm Austin C. Howe.