21 July 2013

Review: Pacific Rim (film)

They don't even say "pacific rim" a single time in the movie.

I went into Pacific Rim with mediocre expectations1 but was very pleasantly surprised. I ended up loving it so much I felt a bit guilty about loving a movie with so much pointless action.

Just to spoil the first few minutes: The story is set a few years in the future. A portal has opened in the Pacific Ocean and giant monsters called Kaiju are invading from another dimension2. They cannot be defeated by conventional methods3 and their blood is very toxic and acidic4, which precludes nuking them to oblivion as the blood would spread everywhere. So the solution has been to build giant robots, "Jaegers", to challenge the unsavory invaders to a round of goode ole fisticuffes. The Jaegers, it turns out, cannot be piloted by one person safely, because the mental strain is too great5, but must be piloted by two people in tandem6. This is why I say the premise turned me off - it's simply asking me to just accept too many illogical things, even for a mecha movie. Happily, if you do accept them, the stage is set for an epic battle of giant robot on giant monster, which is very enjoyable!

I, for one, think non-anthropomorphic human war machines fighting anthropomorphic dinosaur monsters also looks really really cool.

And to spoil a bit more, I thought the sequence at the beginning had a lot of emotional impact, where we see the protagonist's brother and co-pilot get yanked out of the cockpit by a Kaiju. The way the characters are introduced, and the abruptness of the death is staggering, as you realize you are now watching what might as well be a movie about a pianist who broke his hands in the first few minutes.

Something that I really loved in Pacific Rim were the characters. They were like the characters of Street Fighter - every single one was larger than life, a combination of a fighting movie stereotype matched to a national stereotype. These surreal characters fit perfectly with the surreal mecha battle setting. The two scientists were something else, I loved watching their banter and friendly rivalry, and I loved how excessively, absurdly eccentric they both were. And lastly, I have to mention Ron Pearlman's character- he chewed the scenery like a great big scenery chewing thing, and every second of it was heaven. Briefly teaming him up with Newt, the scientist, was a great idea.

Mandatory mecha that fires a missile swarm from its chest.

Another nice surprise was a decent romance plot. Like in many action movies, the love interest has very little actual social interaction with the protagonist, so there is no time for them to discover how deeply compatible their personalities are, and so on. Attraction could only be physical, but since the movie is full of attractive women, then the question why the protagonist is so focused on her in particular comes up. This is nicely averted in Pacific Rim - the attraction happens as the two create the neurological bond. I'm not sure she can even rightly be called a love interest. The relationship seem to stay platonic for almost the entire movie.

Oh, so it's that kind of movie...

It looks beautiful, of course. Del Toro has put in a great deal of effort into building the entire cockpit interior for filming, and it's paid off. The in-cockpit scenes look great. The Jaeger CGI was also decent (the Jaegers themselves looked great but some of the weapons looked a bit too CGIish). My complaint with it is a minor one that's been raised elsewhere: Every single fight we see is set in night-time rain. While I appreciate the dramatic properties of such weather, is every single day in the Pacific now gripped in storm? Couldn't there be a few more scenes where we can just get a good look at the Jaegers?

The most bad-ass looking Jaeger, unfortunately its only purpose is to get its ass kicked by Kaiju to build dramatic tension.

Speaking of scenes, back to complaining: The whole backstory of Mako was done well, in terms of the emotional content of the scenes. However, I think the several cuts to young Mako were a bit excessive. One slightly longer Mako dream sequence scene would have been enough to tell the whole story and, and the screen time saved could go towards more cool giant robot fight. The whole movie had a bunch of scenes that showed things that were really blindingly obvious by the time they were showed, and it seems they were only included to keep the stupid people interested and ensure a good return (it wasn't particularly bad or damaging to the movie, so if it actually works, I'm okay with it - more good movies should perform better so that they keep getting made).

Pacific Rim isn't too attached to its secondaries, either. I have 2 problems here: First, the Russian Jaeger and the Chinese Jaeger were fucking awesome. Why did they have to be destroyed so quickly, barely having a chance to show off some of their stuff (especially the 4-armed Chinese one!)? Yes, I know, it's more dramatic this way... But I still wish I saw a bit more. Not to mention the death of the characters: It was just glossed over as something insignificant, even though these are elite, irreplaceable pilots and long-time heroes to the people.

I despise people who say "turn off your brain and enjoy it lol", and hold that whole genre in contempt. And I'll admit that Pacific Rim didn't really have anything artistic to it, except in its aesthetics (both the visuals as well as the characters and how the narrative progresses - the backstory is sloppy and lame, but the actual story told by the movie has some elegance to it). Despite that, I enjoyed it a lot. Perhaps the reason is that it wasn't manipulative or pretentious about delivering its dumb action (and didn't promise anything it didn't deliver).

Score: 4/5

1: Having seen the premise beforehand, I thought it seemed badly written, and suspected a "turn off your brain" movie which covers up bad acting with flashy CGI. Idris Elba is also one of my favorite actors, and I was a bit jaded with how Idris Elba's talent was wasted on a boring role in another big-budget recent film, Prometheus.

2: I never understood what this means, exactly. What other dimension? Length? Width? Time? Mass? Why can't sci-fi writers stop using this stupid cliche and just say the portal is a wormhole to another universe (well, technically the word "universe" implies there isn't any other, but anyway), or even better, a distant part of our universe? I gather that the intended meaning is that the "other dimension" is in fact a space accessible by moving from our familiar space along a dimension we are unaware of, but it still sounds silly and technically wormholes would cover this anyway.

3: This is one of the flaws that bothered me a bit. It is never quite explained why it is so hard to assault these large, hulking, lumbering monsters with tanks, airplanes and battleships. One could even devise ways of adapting conventional weapons to cause mainly blunt force trauma, such as artillery firing large, slow, solid metal rounds, helicopters dropping big wrecking balls, low-explosive yield cruise missiles which drive long metal rods into the Kaiju, and so on. We see some fighter airplanes do a fancy strafe of the Kaiju, flying between it's arms, legs, one getting caught in the jaw... This sequence was very annoying. Those airplanes were F-22s or F-35s (I couldn't get a good look, probably F-35 if this is the future). They do not engage with a machine gun. As a rule, jets from the late cold war onwards almost exclusively engage from dozens of kilometers away, with missiles. The GAU-12 cannon carried by some variants of the F-35 has a range of several thousand meters. It is an utterly stupid thing for these VTOL-capable supersonic planes to be flying right into the Kaiju's face to use their cannon (and not also using missiles). Why aren't they sending A-10s or just plain old bombers for a pure ground strike mission with no AA, anyway?

4: Another thing I don't like. Giving the Kaiju toxic blood seems like a great way of justifying giant robot fights, but it creates problems: First, if the blood is so toxic, why don't the Kaiju just cut themselves, and run all over important human areas, spreading their toxic blood everywhere before running back to the portal, to break the logistical capabilities of humanity with chemical warfare? And why isn't fighting them with giant robots just as harmful to the environment (the fights are shown to get very bloody quickly)? Even if the blood is that bad, one could lure the Kaiju into some kind of crater or volcano, and then nuke them; the blood would just stay in the crater.

5: Yet another thing that annoyed me. This is a common fiction trope, but utter bullshit. The brain is not like a toilet that clogs if you try to flush too much stuff in it. It just processes what it can get, and ignores the rest. It is impossible (assuming no neurological diseases) to injure your brain by "overworking it", the most that will happen is you will get a slight headache, and your brain will work so poorly from exhaustion that you'll be forced to rest (or you'll just fall asleep). When you try listening to 10 conversations at once, do you collapse in an epileptic seizure because of "too much information"? No, you just can't follow most of them, and the noise annoys you a little. The movie also portrays this "overload" by having characters lose consciousness with a nose bleed, which implies more of a blood pressure problem than a "brain getting overloaded" problem. Lastly, even if "brain overload" was a real thing, the pilots are asked to simply move their limbs, which the robot detects and copies - something we do all the time, every day. I don't see how you can possibly overload your brain by flailing your limbs around in a harness.

6: First, it's a bit odd that the "load" of a Jaeger just so happens to be too much for one person, but not too much for two people. What a coincidence! It could have been 10 people, or 50, why not? And if a second pilot is all it takes, couldn't you make a simpler Jaeger (maybe with no upper body and just some jet engines instead?) that is safe for 1 pilot? And, if you were going to divvy up the work of controlling a Jaeger between two brains, why divide it with complete symmetry? You could just do what modern tank crews do: One person is commander (and gunner), one person is driver, optionally a third person is a dedicated gunner. The commander could handle Jaeger ranged weapons, talking to command, watching the maps and sensors, keeping track of damage level, devising strategy, while the driver only moves and fights close combat. This would also reduce the burden on each brain, but you wouldn't need any particular synergy between pilots, so it's an open question why this design was not used by the Jaeger project executives.

18 April 2013

Review: Starship Troopers (book)

It wouldn't be right to judge a writer, especially a writer as famous as Heinlein, and with so many other significant works, based on just one book. But if I were to judge the author of Starship Troopers based on the book alone, with no other knowledge of him, I would surmise that he is stupid, naive, ignorant, egotistic and obnoxious.

The good

The most unequivocally positive thing I can say is that it's written skillfully. Or rather, it's not, really, not in the grand scheme of things. It's a quite shit book, in fact. But the prose itself is reasonably easy on your mind. I guess over the years, I got so used to godawful quality from genre fiction, that I stopped noticing it. Reading Starship Troopers, I quickly got a feeling of something is missing, except it wasn't that something was missing, but in fact it was not missing, whereas it had so often been missing before. That something being a prose style which doesn't require you to strain yourself to read it. I did strain myself while reading Starship Troopers, but I strained not to chuck away the book in disgust over the author's absurd "principles", not because reading it was the literary equivalent of chewing wood pulp.

It's still quite annoying to read. Perhaps it wasn't outlandish at the time, but Heinlein uses an odd sort of language and turns of phrase in a deliberate way which makes it clear how proud he is of his little cultural quirks. I think that for an adult, that's a very stupid thing to be proud of (and implies you lack any real virtues) and as a result there was a constant feeling of irritation while I read the book.

Starship Troopers probably also deserves the dubious honor of being responsible for the power armor trope, giving countless hack science fiction writers a very useful plot device, and just as many hack R&D "researchers" an effective myth for conning stupid laymen out of their money.


In psychology, they have something called the just world fallacy. You should know that psychology isn't really the study of the mind. It's the study of the 19-year old freshman psychology undergrad at American Ivy League universities who have been coerced into participating in experiments because it increases their Psychology 101 grade1. With this sort of framing, you can see how some theories can come out a tiny bit narrow.

The just world fallacy, like many psychological findings, is very familiar and intuitive when you learn about it. A moment of introspection yields piles of corroborating first-hand experience. But beyond that, anyone with any common sense will recognize related phenomena: Egoists, for instance, have a made-for-a-purpose world fallacy- they think it exists to please them, specifically.

There is considerable variance between our private world views of how the world is. Logically, we know that the universe is impersonal, uncaring and purposeless. But teleology is human instinct. It's very difficult to suppress it entirely, just as it would be to suppress the urge to yawn when sleepy, and just as pointless. However, an intelligent, educated, rational person learns to set it aside when serious, rational thinking needs to be done and not allow contamination. Those who do allow it can end up appearing quite ridiculous indeed.

There's fiction written with the conscious intent of making a point that the author considers important. In absence of such intent, it's sometimes possible to divine an author's particular world fallacy, courtesy of the little hints their subconscious drops for readers to find2. Moreso with poor writers-  it's a primitive habit, I don't think that morality plays of some guy's half-baked value system make for good stories.

The reason I mention all this is that with Starship Troopers, the world view is projected very strongly, and the nature of it is simplistic and offensive. Heinlein is basically obsessed with how wonderful his time in the military was, and the entire purpose off the book is to be one big ode to that.

Heinlein's experience working in the US Navy is not surprising at all from reading Starship Troopers. It's written in that hagiographic tone of someone who happened to, against all odds, enjoy the good military experience and keeps acting like because he made it, everyone else did too and if they disagree about how wonderful it was then they are lazy or ungrateful. He believes in this ridiculous myth of young lads from all walks of life, rich and poor, with no direction to their lives, joining up as starry-eyed idealists, going through hellish basic training which is so much worse than actual combat, because that's how the military's tough love is and that's how the military makes a man out of you, and then they valiantly fight and give it their honest best and rise through the ranks to become lieutenants at 25, and get cute, cultured wives with rich parents, and grow and mature and sneer at civilians because they are such sheep, not knowing what it's like to proudly serve in the almighty Army.

Heinlein never confronts, of course, the reality that military service is something people do when they are too dumb to get a proper job, when they don't know any better, where they do boring work, where they are subjected to official and unofficial psychological and physical abuse, where they get paid to be in harm's way only because the conflict makes money for the fat-cats sitting on top of the military-industrial complex. He ignores the fact that starting out as private and rising through the ranks is not something that happens, because it's fucking stupid to make a guy platoon commander for shooting a gun really well, while there's tons of guys who learned tactics and strategy for years coming out of the officer academy every year. It's left unmentioned that there's so many privates and only so few officer posts, and most people want to have a higher rank rather than lower, and statistically you're just not going to make it. His characters all have great military careers by author fiat, and then he has the gall to turn to you and say with a straight face and ask, "what fiat?"

Heinlein thinks the military is the best thing ever, because he was in the military in he had such a great time and he can't possibly imagine how anyone else could have had it any different. He's like the guy who won the lottery once, and now keeps preaching about what a great financial decision it was, and how if you didn't get rich too you just weren't trying hard enough.

What service isn't like

Reading the book is like listening to a stupid military man who thinks that just because he was some shitty grunt and did some busywork in the military, he suddenly knows everything about the military and how it's the most important thing in life (and thus knows everything important about life anyhow), and won't shut up with his stupid rants thanks to his conviction.

No, I mean, really, it's exactly like that. You know those pointless, boring autobiographies that random soldiers write? Nobody reads them, except people who worship soldiers, and even they only stare at the pages, they don't actually read it, think about it, they just use it as a prop to do their little ritual of Ave Milita. Because nobody could read it. War per se isn't glorious or interesting (unless you're one of the few who do glorious and interesting things in war). Nobody cares about how some random grunt got yelled at by asshole superiors and did dumb shit to pass the boredom.

Starship Troopers is just like that, except instead of "GI kit" it says "power armor" and instead of "ship" it says "spaceship" and instead of "zipperheads" it says "disgusting space bugs" (although I half suspect that Japanese, Chinese and Koreans were all basically like insects to Heinlein anyway, if he even bothered to distinguish the different kinds of "Asian"). And there's some batshit insane grandpa-fossil opinions on politics and morality sprinkled in.

I don't know why this is even science fiction. There's barely any actual science fiction3. Rico, the protagonist, won't tell us about how space combat tactics work- smarter heads than his worry about that and he's just a grunt. He won't say how the faster than light drives work, he saw this one cute mechanic girl in the mess hall once but that's the extent of his involvement with engines, and he was always too dumb for science stuff anyway, he's just a grunt. He won't even talk about how the power armor works or what the weapons are like. He's just a grunt. He doesn't know that stuff.

At least the movie had space violins. Fuck, if I had a violin
like that when I was a kid, I'd still be playing the violin!

Sure, in some autistic sense it's realistic. If he wasn't so dumb, he wouldn't have ended up as cannon fodder4. But let's be real here: The purpose of science fiction is to geek out about future shit. This is like hearing what Feynman's physics lectures were like- from the fucking Caltech janitor! What's even the point? Look, I'm not categorically opposed to a sci-fi writer who glosses over how the magic warp drive works if he just wants to write about something like space-laundry (though he better have have some top notch shit to say about space laundry). But there isn't any theme in Starship Troopers that's something which couldn't possibly have been relevant up until now and won't be in the near future, so it must be discussed in the context of speculation about the future. There's just Heinlein's shitty, wrong opinions on what government should be like, which are so stupid that nobody would take him seriously5, so he has to put them in a fairy tale fantasy6 for people to tolerate them.

If I had to sum up Starship Troopers in a sentence, it's basically Heinlein sucking the collective dicks of US armed forces. He starts off with an irrational premise that soldiers are the best. His description of the mobile infantry is basically the USMC as seen on propaganda and Hollywood movies. Basic training is a sadistic ordeal, but all the servicemen act like it is admirable and noble to torture and be tortured for no discernible reason, then wear it like a badge of honor. The training itself is ridiculously senseless and impractical, courses apparently chosen more for "hardcoreness" and "coolness" than what could be expected to matter for combat effectiveness.

At one point, a recruit questions the reason behind training with throwing knives. This provokes a bizarre lecture from the drill instructor:
"Well," answered Zim, "suppose all you have is a knife? Or maybe not even a knife? What do you do? Just say your prayers and die? Or wade in and make him buy it anyhow? Son, this is real - it's not a checker game you can concede if you find yourself too far behind."
Argument #1 is "backup weapon". Firstly, why is HQ is sending in their troops unarmed? You don't teach F-16 pilots to ram enemy planes on the off chance that they don't have missiles. The whole combat doctrine is built around having the equipment. It doesn't work without it. There's no point engaging when you don't have the advantage. Second, why is the primary weapon unreliable to begin with? And lastly, why not give them a real backup weapon, like a pistol, which is far more useful and needs much less additional training?
"But take the case you first mentioned; I'm you and all you have is a knife. That target behind me - the one you've been missing, number three - is a sentry, armed with everything but an H-bomb. You've got to get him . . . quietly, at once, and without letting him call for help." Zim turned slightly - thunk! - a knife he hadn't even had in his hand was quivering in the center of target number three. "You see? Best to carry two knives - but get him you must, even barehanded."
Ah, so it's for stealth kills. Couldn't they just... Uh... I dunno, use silencers? What if the enemy is too far out of gun range? Given that suited mobile infantry weigh several hundred kilograms and leap higher than buildings, I doubt you could sneak up into gun range very easily.

But regardless of the above, here's the real problem: In the book, the infantry are actually sent into the field with precisely 1 knife. What good is 1 throwing knife? A close combat, or utility knife I can at least understand. But what's the point of having 1 throwing knife? What happens if you need to take 2 sentries silently?

The knife isn't there as backup. It isn't there for silent kills. It's there, because it's a cool weapon fetishized by urban mythology of violence (that's why there's no close combat training- stabbing people is something common white trash thugs do, but throwing knives is for stone cold killers who are cool as fuck). Heinlein thinks that being a soldier is about self-improvement, philosophy, becoming a man, honing yourself into a warrior monk who has perfected the arts of warfare which have been deemed arbitrarily to be honorable.

Soldiers are unqualified workers who do shit jobs for low pay and thereby enable the government bully other governments. This is obviously not something to be proud of, and Heinlein really wants to be so very proud of his military days, so we get this bullshit about how soldiers are precise tools and blah blah blah.


Besides its gigantic hard-on for all things military, Starship Troopers also commits a grand sin of science fiction: Being about us, today, instead of the future.
Heinlein loves to mock and sneer at the 20th century. His characters call our democracies tragic, our culture misguided and blind, our demise inevitable. Supposedly, because we don't physically abuse our children for minor transgressions, we are unable to leave our house for fear of being killed by marauding gangs of juvenile delinquents (and in fact this has caused a total breakdown of our social order some 15 or more years ago- he says late 20th century).

His characters, and his world, are obsessed with the 20th century. They think the second world war was the most important war in history. They name ships after obscure world war one stories. Their references and quotes invariably point to the 20th century. Whenever they are interested in another time period, such as when Heinlein meaninglessly namedrops Caesar and De Bello Gallico to give himself the airs of credibility, they are always those which were popular during the 20th century.

I hate it when science fiction writers do this. We hear barely anything about their time, and their world's culture. What are that month's big movies? What's everyone reading? Which philosophers are fashionable? Which scientist has fallen out of favor? These things are the whole reason you would read science fiction in the first place, because you want to immerse yourself in the customs and ways of a completely different (future) world. But if hundreds or thousands of years into the future, everyone is still talking about the same things we talk about today, what's even the point of writing about that future? Might as well write about today! The reason why is, of course, that Heinlein's idiotic political ideas would be exposed for how ridiculous they are if placed in a contemporary setting. With his own universe, he needs to fear no cross examination of his rhetoric, which is why this piece of science fiction is so lacking in key science fiction merits: It's not written out of love for science fiction, but out of curmudgeonry.


I won't go in too much detail about it, but there are some very obvious problems with the politics in Starship Troopers.

First of all, the idea of restricting voting power: You've probably heard by now that in Starship Troopers, you only get a vote if you've volunteered for 2 years of military service. Any cynic worth his salt will find the idea of restricting voting rights attractive, I'm sure, but in the end, any human being with self respect will conclude that it's wrong for far too many reasons to name.

Second, if the military has all the voting power, who will represent interests of civilians? A taxpayer is arguably more good to the government than some 2-year grunt is, especially in peace time, so the system is an unstable equilibrium to begin with. What happens when some jarheads decide to raise the taxes on civvies? What about when a new law stipulates extra priviledges to children of veterans? Laws rapidly escalating the required time of service for citizenship, but only unless you have veteran connections or family? These things are overlooked because Heinlein thinks that just because you've shot a few people and gotten yelled at, you suddenly become supremely responsible.

But really, what's so special about veterans? Starship Troopers claims it's not that they are more intelligent or more moral, but that they have demonstrated, by enlisting, "willingness to put the common good before their own". This is preposterous. Serving in the military is not the only way of demonstrating altruism, nor does it always demonstrate it. A veteran has proven exactly one thing: He is willing to do a dangerous job for the right combination of money and post-employment prestige. And political power, if he's into that sort of thing.

There are also wholly unrelated factors which determine the appropriate size of a military. More military isn't always better- once you have enough, any more is a waste of money and any less and you're in trouble. This has nothing to do with how many citizens are interested in having political power and how many should have it. Coupling the two together is a crazy idea. Either the size of the military will not be optimal, or there will be people who want to have political power and want to earn it, but are unjustly denied their constitutional right (Heinlein thinks there's no such thing as rights because people can die sometimes). In fact, the book does say that nobody who wants to enlist is turned away, and they "find a job for everybody". Which means, if you're in a wheelchair, you get to be test subject for consequences of irradiation. Hurray for the handicapped! Guess no one likes them anyway, screw them.

And how does this "find everyone a job" thing work out anyway? What if technology advances to the point that the whole "military" is just strategists and drone pilots? What are they going to do with all the recruits who can't do it? Give every real soldier 5 volunteer butlers? Why aren't they doing all fighting with unmanned equipment? To give the fools who ended up in infantry something to do?


Starship Troopers is an easy to read book with poor characterization, storytelling, and practically everything.
A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
So basically, a Midwestern farmer who studied electronics engineering and served as an officer in the army? Well, that sure sounds familiar...

The thing with Heinlein, I'm afraid, is that he's so obsessed with how awesome he is, and how everyone else should be like him. He puts out these inane standards for what society and individuals should aspire to, they are invariably impractical and difficult, and they just happen to prescribe the exact same life that Heinlein is already living. And just to be extra safe for criticism, he uses the cop-out of "it's just fiction".

Starship Troopers is a novel written with a modicum of competence, a modest merit outstripped by its faults: It is an arrogant, overly reverent panegyric about the mid-20th century service in the American military, disguised with a thin veneer of pretense to be about science fiction. There are maybe two reasons to read it- either you've seen the far superior movie and just couldn't get enough of it, or you want to have read

Score: 2/5

1: Yes, I know I'm exaggerating. Fuck off, you miserable pedant.

2: Easier, in fact. With consciously pushed opinions, you don't know if they're genuine, but the subconscious doesn't seem to be much interested in deception.

3: I don't even know if there is all that much fiction. If Heinlein just sprinkled some space-y sounding nonsense in his preachy, boring "Maritime Memoirs"- hey, would've fooled me!

4: Before a combat mission, Rico and friends are clearly explained how they themselves have absolutely no value, but the equipment is quite expensive and should be protected. Wow, Rico, man! Your military life is so cool! It's amazing how tough everything was and how much people shat over you! I'm so in awe of your irrational decision to volunteer for this shit because you were too lazy and dumb to get a proper job!

5: That's future tense- no wonder this asshole didn't accomplish shit in politics, for all his idiotic rhetoric.

6: And Starship Troopers is science fantasy alright.

11 February 2013

"Review": Prison Architect Alpha 6

Imagine a game about an architect who had to go to prison for white-collar crime.

I played the Prison Architect alpha and wasn't impressed.

As far as I can tell, Prison Architect has two main selling points:
  • It's a game about running a prison.
  • It has emergent gameplay similar to Dwarf Fortress.
There's also the (all too familiar these days) deal of "pay now for an unfinished game and maybe we'll finish it one day". I think this is bullshit, especially with Prison Architect's $30 price tag and what you are getting for it.

The Business Model

As I will hopefully make clear below, the current Prison Architect version (Alpha 6) is worth nowhere near $30, if anything at all. So why would you buy it?
  • You’re not getting a pre-order discount. As far as I can tell they intend to sell the full game for the same price so you could just wait until they release the full game, and then pay the $30 for it if you still want to. At least you won't have wasted your money if the game they do make isn’t very good.
  • Regarding participation in the development process: This comes down to being their pro-bono alpha tester, and you can’t even put it on your resume as work experience.
  • It’s not supporting them to make this game. They could just offer up some cheap bonds to the public, and you could support them by buying those. If they release the game and you are satisfied, you can buy the game with the payout on your bond. If you're not satisfied, you get your money back anyway and the developer is disincentivized from not delivering on expectations. If they don't meet their release deadline, you still get your money back and you get the option of buying another bond if you still want to keep supporting them.
With Prison Architect, you pay $30 now for a game that might not even be finished, and even if finished you could still buy for the same price when it’s finished. You're gambling.

At least if you play the lottery1, there’s a chance you to get back more than you put in. With Prison Architect, you can only ever get back what you put in, and maybe not even that. The alpha itself is worth maybe $5, and I think the chance they will release a satisfactory game (at $30) is less than 83%2.

Emergent Gameplay

Emergent systems are systems that have complex behaviour despite arising from a set of simple rules.
It's common to define emergent games by swapping "system" for "game" in that statement, but that’s a bit misleading:
  • An emergent game's rules don't have to be simple - indeed, often they can become quite complex (much of Dwarf Fortress's large wiki is devoted to explaining the simple rules, and similar games tend to have big tutorials and/or manuals).
  • The "point" of an emergent game is not to watch it, have it guide you3 in creating a complex system. It's not just taking the game's rules, building a system, and watching what it does - that's making a simulation, not playing a game4.
When I first saw the Prison Architect trailer, I thought it was either a joke, or some kind of Art. It threw up tons of red “unplayable” flags. There's only one level. The graphics are too simplistic. The prisoner/guard AI would be hopelessly difficult to make. Unless your prison is tiny it'll run like shit. There's no sane way of evaluating prison quality. The demands and regulations of external legal entities would be a nightmare to model right. There are so many reasons it just wouldn't work!

Well, they did make it after all. And, lo and behold, it doesn't work very well. Precisely for those reasons.

Actor AI

There are three kinds of “actors” in this game:
  • Prisoners, which act like kids at Disneyland.
  • Civilian employees, which act like emotionless, unthinking machines.
  • Guards, which act like brainless zombies.
As you can see they aren’t the most realistic. 

Civilian employees

Employees spawn on your cursor when hired, and aimlessly wander around until there is a job for them to do. They never leave at the end of their shift. They never call in sick. They never quit work because they are sick of getting beaten up by convicts5.

Your cooks are particularly egregious examples. You can trap a bunch of them into a cell of their own in the middle of your max-sec wing, and they'll happily cook prison chow 24/7 for the rest of their lives. Who are the real prisoners here?

A fundamental challenge of running a prison is the routine interactions between inmates and civilian staff. But the only time employees in this game are endangered is when they enter a rioting crowd (riots are very predictable and preventable). Otherwise they are perfectly safe; they can readily mingle with the worst offenders without supervision, and never get attacked. In fact, it would be extremely difficult for this game to "work" if civilians without guard escorts were attacked prisoners – I doubt the guard AI could handle it.

Employees are the only civilians, by the way. Inmates have a "family" need, but they satisfy it using a payphone If they add visitations at all, I’d guess it will be a "visitation room", which must be 5x5 and have a chair and table, where "visitors" walk in, stand next to prisoners for a few minutes then leave (maybe the prisoners gain a weapon "from smuggling or pickpocketing"). What about "please don't make physical contact with prisoners ma'am"? What about smuggling in contraband? What about confidential lawyer visits? What about gang members coming to get orders from an imprisoned crime lord? What about inmates getting orders to kill other inmates? No other working feature has that sort of depth.


Your guards:
  • Wander off in groups to deserted, distant cells while all the prisoners are rioting at the canteen during mealtime.
  • On their own, do not distribute themselves logically to see the most cells (if you have fog of war on).
  • After much climbing of the tech tree and substantial investment in the form of offices and employees, you are allowed to station guards in areas. You can't pick which part of the area they will stand in, and sometimes they pick very bad spots. They will never budge from their position (even if you order a prisoner to be searched and there are no other guards) - they won't go to the infirmary when injured and eventually die.
  • Every day at 8 AM a truck arrives with new prisoners. These immediately disembark and obediently wait at your front door6. Fetching them is the highest priority task for your guards: They will drop what they are doing and run to the door, meanwhile your other prisoners are free to riot during breakfast.
  • Prisoners sometimes conceal weapons on their person. You will sometimes see them brandish it for a second, and can manually order a search... Guards won’t care if it happens right in front of them.
The only semblance of intelligent guard behaviour is that they’ll call other guards when they spot trouble. Still, good luck if you’re trying to make a prison with different wings: A fight between two people will still summon all of your guards, except stationed ones. They don’t try to estimate how much manpower is enough to handle a situation.


These are the worst group. They are downright ridiculous and the most damaging to the player's experience: They just don't feel like prisoners. They feel like customers in a hotel builder.
Unless they are rioting, they are absurdly obedient:
  • They won't plot or look for lapses in your staff's attention7.
  • Riot only because of unhappiness.
  • You can schedule prisoner activities on an hour-by-hour basis - whenever it's time for an activity, presumably after an intercom system announces it, all the prisoners dutifully run to the appropriate rooms for the activity. Even with no guards around.
  • If you order a lockdown, all non-rioting prisoners, even those in the rioting crowd, will immediately go to their cell and stay there. Even with no guards around.
There are four kinds of prisoner disobedience:
  • All prisoners (or perhaps it’s those with a “violent” bit set) keep rolling their “should I attack something?” die. If it comes yes, they’ll start attacking another actor or an object. Once they’ve damaged it a bit they stop.
  • They will randomly take a knife from the kitchen or a dead guard. If someone steals a knife, you’d think they’re planning to kill someone at the first opportunity, but they’ll just, and they won’t murder any unconscious adversaries. Mechanically, shanks are just a small damage bonus to their fists.
  • They will “try to escape” by making a beeline to the nearest map edge, and attacking any doors in the way. If they see an unconscious guard lying around they may decide to steal his keys one day8 which will let them open the doors (there’s no checkpoints).
  • Rioting. Each prisoner has needs just like a Sim, or any customer in every mall/hotel/amusement park/zoo/whatever management game ever, and if these needs are too low, they will decide to riot. One prisoner's riot doesn’t trigger a chain reaction (except that if they beat up someone, their "not getting beat up" need will drop).
Of these, all except riots are non-issues. If there are guards nearby, they’ll automatically go and beat up the troublemaker. If not, eventually you’ll hear the fighting sounds and manually send a guard nearby. It takes them ages to do any real damage so there’s no pressure, the only time it’s hard to stop is when a prisoner with keys makes a run for it – but oddly enough escapes are desirable, because they reduce overcrowding and there’s no negative consequence.

The consequences of not maintaining order (there's none).

So the only problem you need to deal with in this game, the only other challenge in the whole game besides not having enough money, is the “riot”. Riots happen in two cases:
  • It's meal time. The entire, always hungry prison population arrives in the canteen. If there aren't enough meals they will suddenly remember how hungry they are9and start rioting. I think only the hungry ones will riot, because there's always a bunch of guys who obediently eat their meals and then go to their rooms when ordered.
  • It's shower time. The entire, always filthy prison population arrives in the shower. If there aren't enough shower heads for literally all of them to shower right away, they will suddenly remember how filthy they are and start rioting. See above.
I don’t even know if these are really riots per se. It looks like that many prisoners just go into their “attack something” routine at once. They don’t behave as a riot crowd, they may attack peaceful prisoners or objects but they do so independently, not together. They won’t lock the guards out of the room. They won’t instigate riots as cover for attacking a prisoner or stealing something. The riots are never premeditated or unpredictable.

That last bit is what ruins it. You know the only way you could get a riot is if you both schedule a specific activity and they have very low needs. You can avoid riots completely by either keeping them reasonably happy, or by giving them 24 hours of free reign.

Yes, in this game, prisoners who are so pissed off that they will riot at the first opportunity can be freed to do whatever they please, with no bad consequences.

Prisons contain violent people who are very motivated to subvert official authority. They are often planning something devious, and their actions are governed by future expectations. Antagonising prison staff especially will be thoroughly premeditated, influenced by past experience and social (they will work together with other prisoners). But in a game like this, the best you can do is a Markov-like process where each prisoner considers only his present state to make decisions.

This is the best prisoner schedule.

For things like customers shopping at a mall, the real behaviour is impulsive enough that you can model your actors as taking only snap, uncoordinated decisions and it will look pretty convincing. But with situations like prisons, which expose the complex nature of human behaviour, you have to be really good at picking the rules or your AI won’t look convincing at all. Prison Architect’s rules aren’t particularly well-picked.

But fuck it, it’s a game, it doesn’t have to be realistic, right? Well the problem is, to “win” this game, all you have to do is build a rudimentary shower (a pair of showerheads can service a hundred people if they shower on their own schedule), a phone booth or two, maybe an exercise machine, and a single bare minimum holding cell with some beds and TVs. Hordes of prisoners will stream in, they will never complain, likely their needs will be quite satisfied because apparently ungoverned prisoners are very efficient, and you will count the crazy grant money (you get income per prisoner) without a care in the world. If you care, you can build a kitchen to feed them.


As I said in the beginning, Prison Architect has two things going for it: The emergent gameplay and the atmosphere. The first is heavily dependent on AI, and I’ve described in detail why I don’t think the AI in Prison Architect is very good.

The other interesting part of it is that this is a game about running not just any old establishment, but a prison. A grim and sordid place for where society exiles its worst. It has potential to be a rather dark sort of game. There’s even an electric chair and execution room!

Well, for one, the electric chair and the execution room are placeholders and do absolutely nothing. You can’t even dispose of dead bodies without hacking the save files yet.

Anyway, just the notion of a game about managing a prison already suggests an experience that isn’t altogether rosy. Much of publicity around Prison Architect has made a big deal out of this, and the developers have rolled with it. To be sure, there’s nothing wrong with them exploiting an aspect of their material… But this game is just so not grim.

The graphics are cartoon-like. The game is sanitized in language and mechanics10. And most importantly, as I’ve said elsewhere, there is no semblance of a prison in the behaviour. If anything, it feels like running a boarding school full of spoiled brats or a holiday resort full of stupid tourists.

It is ridiculous to claim that Prison Architect is somehow dark. If you had someone who is deathly scared of prisons, this game is the sort of thing you’d use to cure them. You couldn’t handle prison in a less dark way- the attitude is on par with a Looney Tunes cartoon. So what on earth are all these people smoking?

Other issues

Compared to the AI, the other issues are minor, but I think some are worth mentioning.
  • Your prison has only one floor. That sound you just heard was half of gameplay depth (ha ha, depth) evaporating away. You are trying to design an efficient facility with many incompetent, stupid actors with distinct, incompatible classes. There's no way of making tunnels. There's no way of efficiently micromanaging them. There's no magic to smooth things out, like pseudo-3D extra layers or actors spawning out of buildings. Late game is fraught with frustration.
  • The game is slow, especially with larger map sizes. Unfortunately, on small maps you quickly run out of space (doesn't help that you can't build up) so that isn't a real option either. On the one hand, I’m optimistic since this area will probably be improved in the final game, but then again, doing pathfinding for a hundred actors is expensive and a layout that makes escaping hard may trip up fast algorithms.
  • The only interaction with the government is through a placeholder grant system (optional quests with money reward, there's only 4 and they aren't dynamically generated) and a placeholder "prison valuation" page (escapes and murders apply a deduction).
  • The interface is really not smooth. The mouse is weird and clicking to select doesn’t always work. They have that annoying thing where if the game is slow, the interface will be slow, so your mouse clicks will get “lost” unless you hold the button long enough for a frame change to catch it.
  • The game frequently crashes when auto-saving, which corrupts your save, and makes it unplayable unless you manually delete the save file because on launch, the game just loads the auto save (no menu).
  • There’s nothing to do. You can currently feed and wash criminals, and allow them to hang out at the yard. Their needs are trivial to satisfy. You don’t have much leeway in prison design because between the bad AI11, the bugs, the performance problems, and everything else there are only so many efficient designs that are possible. You can play the “never-ending stream of prisoners” mode, but it’s obvious you will eventually run out of space, and have to give up on control your inmates or just use the cheap game breaking tricks. The gameplay is shallow and quickly exhausted.
You get these 4 grants in every map and that's all you ever get.

Just so you don’t say I hate every single thing

There wasn’t a lot about Prison Architect that amazed me. I was amazed by their ambition. It is, after all, a huge project for such a tiny company to undertake (but then again Dwarf Fortress is made by only one guy, so was much of Minecraft). It’s too early to judge, but if I had to, I wouldn’t say they did much with their ambitious undertaking, though.

That said, a lot of things elicited a sort of satisfied, approving “hmph”. I don’t like that it’s hard to tell what’s going on sometimes, but overall; I like the simple graphics a lot. They work well. And the shadows (although shadows are a bit broken right now) and time of day cycling just looks beautiful.

I like how you can turn the scroll wheel and seamlessly zoom in or out to arbitrary levels, and the sprites scale gracefully. I like how the game still looks fine when zoomed out or in all the way.

As I said, I have my complaints with the interface, but they’ll all probably be fixed, except maybe uncoupling the control processing form the game update loop. If they do that as well, and they probably will, the interface will be very good. With some intelligent organization of the statistics screens, it would be perfect.

The system for laying out walls and flooring is great, and having to research the ability to rubber-stamp sections of prison is a great idea (although I don’t understand what purpose is served by limiting the clone size to 4x4 tiles).

I like that you have to build a foundation first and then fill in the interior, although having only one level doesn’t exactly help the roofed/unroofed distinction. I love that they made lights be ordered automatically when you build a foundation.

I really like the look of the deployment screen. You get a white schematic of your prison where you assign guard stations, it looks very nice and works great (except for how AI responds to stationing orders), and I like how they’ve handled generation of the schematic. It’s quite clever and recognizes cell blocks as well.

I like the sounds in this game. They’re not great, but they are minimalistic like the graphics, and you hear them according to camera position or zoom level. The graphics are a bit opaque for conveying the action, but thanks to the sounds, a triangle-figure standing over a desk suddenly becomes a prisoner dining loudly or rioting.

For the most part, these aren’t core elements. But as far as non-core elements go, they appear to have done everything right. If core gameplay isn’t up to scratch (so far it falls a bit short), they won’t save the game, of course, which is why I really hope (despite my scepticism and negativity) that they exceed my expectations and make a really good game.


Once upon a time Minecraft was in alpha and sold for ten bucks a pop. People gave Notch their money, not because they wanted to support him, but because “fuck it, the game is already worth $10 in its current state and there’s nothing like it on the market, even if Notch stops developing tomorrow it’s still worth it”. Ironically enough, Notch did stop developing… But anyhow, as I was saying, some games have an alpha that stands on its own. Prison Architect doesn’t.

Now, I know it's normal for an alpha to be buggy and incomplete. I know they're selling the game this could become, not what it is (although I don't buy into that logic, as I described above). But the fact is, they do expect people to pay full price for the alpha. So all I can do is discuss my experience with the alpha and leave speculation about what they will or might make to the reader.

My experience with the alpha is quite negative. In a word, the game is frustrating. Factoring in that “it’s only an alpha”, I correct it to slightly negative. As I said, who knows, maybe they’ll make a great game by release date and I’ll eat my words. Certainly Introversion has made some decent games; they may very well pull it off. Obviously they will improve on the alpha in the future.

However, with the current state of the game, it seems to me that you’d need not to merely improve on it, but improve on it substantially for it to be good. Can they do that? Well I hope they do. But it’s not as obvious to me.

“Prison Tycoon”12 is a really cool game idea to think about and it gets you curious. I’d definitely recommend checking out some videos of the game to see if they’ve done something cool with it. They haven’t, really, not yet at any rate. It’s just a buggy tycoon clone reskinned with a prison theme. If they fix the bugs, it will still be a tycoon clone. If they put in some really innovative AI, it’ll be a great, unique game. And that’s about the deal with it.

Score: 3/5

Bias: +1 for not being finished yet, +1 for being an indie game.

1: In fact, you could literally take $30 to a grocery store and play scratchcards and it would be about as entertaining as playing the Prison Architect alpha 6.

2: Here's how I came to that figure: You pay $30, and you get $5 worth of stuff immediately (the alpha) so you end up paying $25 for a future game sold for $30. The chance of this happening has to be at least 25/30 for your purchase to make sense. Incidentally, Introversion has released 4 games so far: Uplink, Darwinia, Multiwinia, and DEFCON. If you thought any of those games weren't good enough to buy for full price when they were released, then based on historical precedent alone, it does not currently make sense for you to buy this game at more than $20 – add up $5 per previous game you liked plus the $5 for the current alpha (assuming they will sell it for $30 when finished, and assuming the alpha is worth $5, and assuming the future value of your money is not important to you).

3: You might wonder why a game has to guide you. Consider MS Paint that comes with Windows: Some people make amazing artwork with it, but you wouldn’t buy MS Paint for a hundred bucks because "look at all the awesome pictures you can draw in it!". Paint doesn’t enable you to draw all those great pictures - you can already do that. Its value is in making it easy for you to draw them - and unsurprisingly, MS Paint has practically no value in this regard. Likewise, you can already code up something like Prison Architect over a few days (the system itself is easy to simulate). You’re not paying developers for that. You’re paying them to do the boring, laborious boilerplate code, figure out a good model, and provide visualization tools (graphics) and an interface.

4: There's nothing wrong with liking emergent simulations, but it shouldn't be used as a cop-out to defend poor emergent gameplay. If you're into simulations, there are far better tools to explore them than currently popular emergent games, and especially compared to those tools, these games offer horribly awkward bases for simulating things. Trying to compete with actual simulation tools would also dilute and take away from the actual gameplay.

5: One hilarious, common occurrence is how at meal time, some hungry prisoners will walk into the dining hall, realize they are late and there's no food left, then go to the kitchen and start beating up the cooks. (Although it’s obvious that when unhappy, they roll a die, and if it comes up “attack staff” they go for the nearest employee, which happens to be the cook if they are in the meal area.)

6: There’s no police escort, just handcuffs. They will stand there for days if it takes that long for someone to fetch them, they’ll never attempt to escape, and they’ll never complain about being hungry or tired (although they might once they are processed into a cell). This is why I say the prisoner AI is bad – why don’t they try to escape? It doesn’t make any sense!

7: Prisoners act like guards don’t exist. They aren’t more prone to misconduct because no one is watching. Even when they are caught, there’s no “oh shit they saw me, better stop” moment, they’ll keep fighting or damaging furniture, while being hit by guards, until the guard “defeats them”.

8: Again, it’s not like “hey a guard’s down, get his keys quick!” at all (and certainly not “let’s start a fight so we can nick a guard’s keys”). The guard will lie comatose in some corner for days (because the other guards’ AI fucked up and won’t bring him to the infirmary), politely unmolested by the prisoners, until one day a prisoner thinks “hey man, I feel like stealing something!” and the closest thing happens to be the guard.

9: Another quirk of the prisoners is that their exceptional sense of personal responsibility. If you just give them a ton of free time (which means they can run about fulfilling whatever need they want) they will never complain even if their needs are low, presumably because they correctly recognise that they have no one but themselves to blame. Unfortunately, the moment a structured activity such as mealtime starts, their "reap what you sow" sensibilities disappear and they start complaining about how mistreated they are. Unfortunately, they will not eat without an official mealtime, but on the other hand they will assume that being hungry is somehow their own fault and won't complain, so it's perfectly viable to just set them to constant free time and leave them unfed.

10: For instance, there’s no mention of race tension, gangs, prison rape or corruption/misconduct from staff. I’m not crazy about having any of those things, but I would say those are some major things that make prison a grim place. Not a friendly round of fisticuffs with Joe over who gets to use the shower first.

11: Other than everything else I’ve described, there’s one thing that really pissed me off: Whenever I tried playing without cheating, I would always get a bunch of assholes who run into the canteen at meal time, after 4 hours of free time, and complain about how they couldn’t call their family. What the fuck have you been doing for 4 hours, you goddamn cunt? It’s like 5 minutes to empty your family bar, if you wanted it that bad, why didn’t you take a few moments out of your busy schedule of complaining about how prison isn’t a fucking picnic and call them? I’ve given you ungrateful dogs everything you want, how is it my fault if you are too dumb to use the goddamn payphone? I mean, for crying out loud. It’s literally just like dealing with a 5 year old. “Mommy, I want to pee! I don’t care that we left the station 5 minutes ago, the gods of childish incontinence have chosen to bless me now!”

12: Funnily enough, it seems there actually is a whole series of Prison Tycoon games made by ValuSoft. The fourth one sounds pretty bad, but oddly enough not that far off from the current Prison Architect. Yes, it’s an unfair comparison because Prison Architect is in alpha and Prison Tycoon is finished (and probably also because ValuSoft isn’t an indie darling). I just hope that when it is finished it does end up being much better.

All you assholes who put "Preferences" under "Edit" - fuck you!

Go to hell.
You know how those smug cunts keep putting "Preferences" under "Edit"? I hate those bastards.

I know what their narcissistic little brains are thinking: "Oh, you EDIT the PREFERENCES of the program, don't you? So let's put it under Edit, the menu with operations for basic manipulation of the data you are working on! I mean, it has "edit" in the name, it "technically" belongs there, doesn't it?"

Fuck you. No it doesn't. Edit is the LAST place I would look. It doesn't make any sense! File, Options, Miscellaneous, Windows, Help, those maybe but fucking Edit? Are you serious?

Hey, hey, I've got an idea: What if I just want to VIEW the preferences? Huh, smart guy? Why don't you put them under View?

Oh, and, the help function too. I mean, I just wanna, uh, VIEW the documentation, right?

And why don't you put them ALL under one big menu, called "Do"? Huh? And maybe another menu, called please? It never hurts to be polite!

I hate you all.

10 February 2013

Review: Irreversible

Pretentious fucking cunt, stop fucking with the letters!

What a shitty movie.

The plot is that a slutty libertine leaves her meek, pathetic husband for an idiotic douchebag, gets raped, then the douchebag and the ex-husband (who are somehow friends) go looking for the rapist, can't find him, and instead beat some random guy to death.

As you can see, it's a boring, pointless plot. Nobody would watch it if that was all, I imagine Gaspar Noé recognized that as well and added some gimmicks.

First, the movie is extremely tasteless in that way that is oh so appealing to eager teenage boys and immature persons desperate to show how mature, cool and edgy they are.

When is this stupid idea that provocation equals art going to die off already? Look, you show a man getting his face beat to a pulp1 with a fire extinguisher. You show a woman subjected to anal rape2. There's disgusting penises randomly dangling everywhere3. There's blatant racism4 and homophobia. You're not provoking me. You're not moving me. I'm just annoyed because I'm subjected to this crap and there's no point to it. It's tiresome. After having invested an hour and a half of my time into this asshole's movie, contributing to his popularity and profits, all I get in return is contempt, and I (I think rightfully) feel cheated.

The second gimmick is that it's told in reverse. Whoop dee fucking doo. It contributes nothing to the film (except that I have to keep switching back and forth to figure out who is who and what's going on) and it's not interesting. If this was at least the first movie to do it, I could understand, but it's made 2 years after fucking Memento. "Tell the story backwards" was the mainstreamest fucking thing ever by then. Of course, it's just another layer of pretentious stylistic bullshit slathered over a pointless core.

Gimmick #3 is the fucking retarded camera work: Half the time the lights are strobing on and off and the camera is veering all over the place. I don't just mean the "edgy" shaky-cam like in Battlestar Galactica (I actually didn't even hate that) - at some points the camera literally turns upside-down and does 360 around the room (while the action is going on in the corner and you can't see). The scenes are all dirty and dark and you can't see shit. I had to turn my monitor's brightness up just to be able to tell what's going on!

I imagine some fart-sniffers think this is totally awesome and artistic and what not. Well I think it's shit. Using a shaky cam to indicate disorientation doesn't work when A) the camera is shaky all the fucking time and B) the character doesn't even act disoriented at all while the camera is spinning. If I had to guess, I'd say the camera is so obnoxious simply to continue the trend of contempt for the audience disguised as art5.

There's no point to Irréversible. The only good thing about is that Monica Belluci has nude scenes. The story is boring and clichéd. The delivery antagonizes the viewer. The characters are all despicable. Gaspar Noé is a hack. Why did I even watch this? Enter the Void was a piece of horseshit.

Score: 1/5

1: Much of it looked quite fake to me. Even though I'm a big wimp about these things I couldn't help laughing at how terrible it was.
2: It doesn't even make any sense. The guy is a pimp arguing with his prostitute, then he sees some woman and just randomly decides to... rape her. In the middle of a wealthy area in Paris. Does he somehow figure he won't get caught? Does he not care? He certainly doesn't have much urgency about his movements. In fact, someone does see them, and then runs away. Why doesn't he call the police? I guess life is just shit and Irréversible is edgy and uncomprising like that.
3: A real rogue's gallery: Grimy patrons of a gay bar, a transsexual prostitute flashing her dirty hairy crotch, the forementioned rapist's tool after he's finished. If you're going to show porn, at least show some that isn't disgusting!
4: While looking for the rapist's favorite gay bar (no, I don't know why a gay man is raping a woman either) the douchebag, Marcus, becomes enraged because the taxi driver doesn't know where this particular bar (called RECTUM, because gay bars must always be the epitome of seedy and repulsive, probably because gays are subhuman filth) is, and asks Marcus whether he's gay (as I said, gays are scum so being so much as suspected of buggery is obviously the ultimate insult). The taxi driver happens to be Asian, and the douchebag hurls racist epithets at him. They then assault him and take his taxi. There's no consequence to this scene. It could be taken out and it wouldn't make a difference. But what I don't get is, why does the taxi driver have to be Chinese, and why must Marcus insult specifically his race? Can't he call him an old fuck, an idiot, an incompetent taxi driver, anything? If this was real life, I wouldn't put much malice behind the coincidence, but this is a planned out movie, so there's no coincidences. Gaspar Noé was writing the script, and he must have actually thought "You know what, I'll make this guy Chinese, that way I can have this character call him a slit-eye and it'll be that much more edgy!" at some point.
5: I think the way this works is, Gaspar Noé makes a movie that is as deliberately annoying and insulting to the audience as possible, and then pretends that it's all just part of the "art". Then, gullible idiots lap it up, because they want to prove to everyone how they are so refined, and they like such terrible movies that only a true film enthusiast could like because good films are an acquired taste.