Six Damn Fine Degrees #22: Ultima VIII

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness.

Imagine a game that set you loose to roam a mediaeval world under the influence of a shadowy religious cult, that let you discover how to bake bread or milk cows while trying to save the world just because you could, a game that was dead serious yet could look upon itself with the wryest of smiles, a game that was shot through with a sense of familiarity and wonder in equal measure.

Now imagine a game that has none of that at all.

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How to recognise Star Wars from quite a long way away

This may sound a tad hypocritical after my critique of Rise of Skywalker a few days ago, but I don’t envy J.J. Abrams. In fact, I don’t envy anyone engaged in delivering new Star Wars content to a 2020 audience, a task that I imagine to be very similar to feeding the hungry inhabitants of a lion pit while dangling from a slender, fraying rope. The problem is this: what is Star Wars, what constitutes proper Star Wars? These are questions that a vast number of fans with different levels of zealotry and entitlement will answer very differently – but when George Lucas released his prequels to, let’s say, mixed results, the megaphone/Death Star combo that is Twitter didn’t yet exist. These days, creating, or even just acting in, a Star Wars thing that some people dislike can pretty much result in this:

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Seeing through the eyes of a gamer – and an announcement

There are some games that, while I’m playing them, change the way I look at the world around me. I remember times spent playing real-time strategy where in my mind’s eye I’d draw selection boxes around the people I’d see, or around a herd of sheep, and I’d plan out strategies of where to send these people to do my bidding. (I was young and silly at the time.) Or, when I was a teenager and had to bike to school, I’d see everything through the lens of the X-Wing and TIE Fighter games, zooming down the deathstar trench and evading incoming laser fire. Yes, I was and still am a geek.

One of the games I’ve been playing a lot of lately, Assassin’s Creed II, has definitely taken hold of my visual cortex – not least because of where I live. Check out these videos from the first and second Assassin’s Creed games, taking place in medieval Acre and Renaissance Venice respectively:

Living in Bern, I can’t help looking at the 17th and 18th century architecture and thinking, “Hmm… If I jumped up there and grabbed that ledge, then pulled myself up there and did a leap over to the other side… and the spire at the top should give me a great vantage point from which to plan my next assassination.” (Note: by ‘assassination’, I mean ‘shopping spree’. Or ‘cuddly kitten’. Or something else that’s inoffensive and doesn’t make me sound like a psycho.) Frankly, though, I think there’s only a slim chance that Assassin’s Creed III will feature the best of Swiss sandstone architecture – although Swiss banking would fit in nicely with Assassin’s Creed‘s conspiracy storyline.

More importantly than my geek musings, though, I’ve got an announcement to make that’s been a long time coming: a friend of mine will be posting book reviews on Eagles on Pogo Sticks. I asked him ages ago but then never got my act together. No more excuses, though – please give my friend a round of applause as he gets ready to introduce himself.