March 2009 Archives

Angels and Feldercarb

Spoilers ho for the series finale of Battlestar Galactica.

It's hard to know where to begin. There were so many disappointing reveals and moments of lazy writing in the finale, it was as if the producers, much like the ragtag fleet itself, was just exhausted and wanted the long journey to be over.

  • Anders can just be put in a water bath and "plugged in", and suddenly he's a hybrid, and can "confuse the hybrids" and get them to shut down the defenses? How very Locutus of Borg. "Sleep... Data..." What the hell are the hybrids, anyway?
  • We never really found out what Starbuck was. A ghost? A spirit? Makes no sense-- they ran tests on her when she got back, so she was flesh and blood. And yet, when her "journey" was over, she just vanishes. Gone. And Lee doesn't blink.
  • Baltar and Caprica have been seeing ANGELS all this time? Angels that manipulate them in petty ways, with no obvious goal? Angels that did whatever the writers wanted them to do because they didn't have an endgame in mind at the time? Bah.
  • The dream of the opera house was about various people protecting Hera during the battle on the Galactica? Why did that need to foreshadowed to those people years in advance? It made no sense.
  • Speaking of no sense... Cavil agrees to give up Hera in exchange for Resurrection. I buy that. But when things go a little weird during the transfer of data, the Cylons freak out and start shooting everyone without being provoked. And then, in the midst of all this... Cavil kills himself. What?!
  • They'd already established that Ellen knew the secret to Resurrection, back when Cavil held her captive. So the Final Five needing to join minds in order to transfer that data made no sense. On top of that, it was just a deus ex machina for a) finally revealing to Galen that Tory had killed Cally, and b) getting the Cylons to freak out and essentially self-destruct.
  • Speaking of deus ex machina-- with a pilot actively navigating, a rock still flies through the canopy of a raptor and kills everyone. Yet that raptor-- now without a pilot to dodge incoming rocks or missiles-- manages to remain intact within that same debris field during a space battle, only to get nudged by a random impact so that it's facing the station when the dead pilot's arm falls on the exposed, unprotected, glowing FIRE button. Completely unnecessary and breaking credulity.
  • No surprise that the mysterious notes deliver the fleet to our Earth, but what a cheat that the "Earth" we saw earlier wasn't the one we're living on. They more or less telegraphed it earlier in the season by never showing an establishing shot of the planet where our continents were visible, but it still felt cheap.
  • We STILL don't know why Hera matters. They wound up on a planet full of primitive humans-- plenty of breeding stock. What's the big deal about Hera?

I wish more television writers would look to J. Michael Straczynski as a model for how to do long-form television with a roadmap. He planned Babylon 5 as a 5-year story, knowing the broad strokes of where all the characters and plotlines were headed before the first episode was written. The result was a series that thundered to a satisfying close with payoffs that made sense and felt natural. I suppose there's little incentive for television writers to go that route. It doesn't matter if the conclusion fails to satisfy, as long as they brought enough eyeballs along for the ride. TV writers are snake-oil salesmen, and we keep buying.


Comments (7) | last by Dave Heberer, Apr 24, 10:59 AM

Puzzle Hunt 123

The Microsoft Puzzle Hunt, which I've been working on for about 15 long months, is now over. This event broke me. It is probably the last puzzle event I will ever run with a volunteer committee.

We tried some big, risky things in this event, and I'm very happy about that. I'd rather fail spectacularly for trying something different than do something safe that doesn't push the envelope. At least one of our innovations-- timed puzzles that teams were encouraged to solve as a team as an in-conference-room event-- was a resounding success. This concept was born from my feeling that out-of-conference-room events represent a tremendous amount of overhead for something that a small percentage of players ever see. From a cost/benefit perspective, they're a horrible investment. I wanted to find a way to create special moments the entire team could partake in. Timed puzzles, specifically constructed to be conducive to group solves, were a great low-cost, high-impact solution, and they seem to have been universally adored.

Some experiments work, some don't. In retrospect, it's clear how different decisions would have made the event better. I take the blame for all the problems that didn't get corrected. There was no one leader-- the hunt was essentially run by committee. That doesn't excuse me from responsibility for poor design or execution. We had a chance during the event to correct the biggest problem-- players being blocked from accessing more puzzles-- and I pushed the wrong priorities. Instead of looking at the evidence that teams just didn't want to use our existing release valve of moving from the Competitive to the Recreational division, I stood by it under the belief that any change of course at 3 AM would represent a breach of trust to the Competitive teams that had moved beyond the blockage, and to the teams that had already switched to Recreational to get around it. I still believe that to be true, but breaching that trust and unblocking players may have been the lesser evil.

I feel deeply disappointed that, after 15 months of planning, the event we ran was not the event people wanted to play. I grossly misjudged what people wanted from Puzzle Hunt. Competition is deeply ingrained in the DNA of its players, and they accepted enormous amounts of frustration rather than give that up. Some people on the organizing committee thought that might happen, but I didn't believe it. I was wrong. I accept the blame. I deeply apologize to all the players whose fun was compromised as a result. I also feel terrible for all the puzzle authors whose work got less exposure because of it.

The event was created when two teams, each planning a Hunt, ran out of steam on their own and merged (the events merged; almost all of my original team simply bailed). That was reflected in many ways in the event, and usually not for the better. Elements conflicted with each other. Problems compounded each other. And mostly, the creators were just tired and ready to be done. It frustrated me to be the front man for an event that I didn't entirely believe in, and it depresses me to feel so defeated by the experience. I don't intend to put myself in that position again.

Comments (92) | last by, Jan 31, 5:01 AM

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