Taking Another Bash At the Shield, Part 1

I could have done the black square thing for Black Lives Matter today, but instead I am going to link you to this list of places you can send support and post a review of a TV show about police corruption as a reminder that this has been a long time coming.


One of disgraced LAPD policed chiefs Daryl Gates’ innovations was the CRASH program – giving each LAPD district a specialist CRASH team with a brief to suppress gang activity. It was the sort of tough-talking, dogwhistling deal which Gates had made his trademark, and it paved the way for the Rampart scandal, one of the biggest police corruption cases ever, when massive corruption in the Rampart district’s CRASH unit was exposed.

The full measure of what happened is still unclear, with numerous investigations having petered out and the city authorities allegedly obstructing a lot of the investigations into what happened, but what was proven was more than enough to put the name of CRASH beyond the pale and prompt its disbandment and replacement.

This inspired a brief flowering in the 2000s of media works taking the idea of the CRASH unit as inspiration for the depiction of police brutality. Grand Theft Auto 3: San Andreas did it in Rockstar’s characteristically flippant fashion; more thoughtfully, The Shield was a seven-season exploration of the subject, focusing on a single badly-underfunded LAPD precinct house in the fictional LAPD district of Farmington (or “the Farm” for short, so the police HQ is known as “the Barn”).

For this review, I’m going to take a look back at the first season. Content warning: this is about a cop show which is unflinching about showing the worst of police corruption and brutality on the one hand, and the worst stuff the police have to deal with on the other, and in this season there’s at least one episode which deals with the subject of child pornography. Continue reading “Taking Another Bash At the Shield, Part 1”

Dirty In the 1970s, Outdated By the 80s

Police-themed action movies issued forth like a flood in the 1980s, and it’s hard to find any of them that don’t owe at least a little something to Dirty Harry. Essentially an attempt to transfer Clint Eastwood’s steely persona honed via his work in Westerns into a modern-day San Francisco context, at their best the movies were controversial for all the right reasons – raising questions about police brutality and the rule of law which, despite knee-jerk reactions in some quarters, the movies were handling with more nuance and less simplistically than they were given credit for. At worst, they replicated the worst excesses of their imitators. How did they lose their way? Let’s see if we can find out.

Dirty Harry

Give the original Dirty Harry this much: it’s not at all coy about where it’s coming from, displaying its colours on its sleeve when at the beginning it shows a memorial to San Francisco police department officers killed in the line of duty, effectively dedicating the film to them.

From that opening shot we fade in to our antagonist – Scorpio (Andy Robinson), a character inspired by the Zodiac Killer’s apparently random murders and his taunting of police. Scorpio uses a silenced sniper rifle to observe a random woman in a rooftop pool; after leching over her through the scope, he shoots her dead for the sheer fun of it. Cut to “Dirty” Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) arriving on the crims scene, sussing out where the sniper’s nest must have been, and getting down to some hard-edged police work with a funk soundtrack…

Continue reading “Dirty In the 1970s, Outdated By the 80s”

GOGathon: Sierra’s Muddled 1991

So far in our journey through the graphic adventure output of Sierra we’ve seen how the first King’s Quest trilogy bedded in the AGI engine before a range of new games explored a wider variety of genres and then the debut of the SCI engine brought about new technical improvements. Further experimentation followed, and 1990 saw the end of Sierra’s EGA graphics era and the dawn of the VGA era.

This included the unveiling of Sierra’s first fully point-and-click-based adventure game, King’s Quest V, which ditched the old text parser in favour of an icon-driven system. In 1991, four new games in very different genres would take this system out for a spin – but who would excel in this brand new world where the mouse ruled supreme, and who would reveal themselves to be stuck in the game design ethos of yesteryear? With LucasArts’ Secret of Monkey Island having released the previous year, this question is all the more important…

Space Quest IV: Roger Wilco and the Time Rippers

This picks up right where Space Quest III left off. Roger Wilco has saved the Two Guys From Andromeda and dropped them off safely at Sierra’s headquarters, and now he’s set a course back for his home planet of Xenon, which he hasn’t seen since the start of Space Quest II: Vohaul’s Revenge. Stopping off at a bar for a drink, he immediately runs afoul of the Sequel Police – a time-travelling paramilitary force under the command of Vohaul himself, who still lives after a fashion.

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Mini-Review: The Hardboiled Old Boy’s Club

Pulp Fiction: the Crimefighters is a compilation of hardboiled detective stories, overwhelmingly from the 1930s and almost all from the classic Black Mask magazine which in retrospect is considered the most important magazine in the genre, much as Weird Tales is regarded in the sword and sorcery and cosmic horror fields these days. Compiled by Otto Penzler, it’s pitched as an introduction to the genre – if not the first stop you make, perhaps the first thing you look into after you’ve covered the obvious bases (say, a Raymond Chandler collection and Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon).

The anthology leads off with One, Two, Three by Paul Cain, which showcases most of the salient features of hardboiled detective fiction – from the classic first-person narrative packed with terse witticisms to the tawdry view of human nature, in which few people are innocent and nobody is infallible. It’s the flawed fallibility of hardboiled detective fiction protagonists which in some respects have saved stories like this from aging even more poorly than they already have. Sure, the protagonist doesn’t meet a significant woman in the story who isn’t working an angle – but the same is true of the men he interacts with. Sure, he uses a now-dated racial term at one point, but it’s easier to accept this as part of the characterisation of a flawed man in a realistic depiction of the seedier side of the era. Racism lazily ported into fantasy or science fiction is galling in part because it suggests that the author cannot imagine a world without it. A contemporary depiction of the 1930s which did not include some racism or misogyny on the part of characters is engaged in whitewashing.

That said, seeing pulp-era authors calling out the era’s own racism is endearing. A collection like this wouldn’t be complete without a pinch of Dashiell Hammett, and the chosen story is The Creeping Siamese. That title might put you in mind of a racist narrative steeped in orientalist nonsense, but it isn’t – it’s a story of how someone who’s too used to clichéd crime plots of the era tries to spin such a story for the Continental Op, only for the Op to see through their shit. (As far as the other big name of the hardboiled era, Ray Chandler goes, he’s represented here by Red Wind – but that’s in The Simple Art of Murder, and if you’re exploring pulp crime fiction you’ve probably already read that.)

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GOGathon: Sierra’s 1980s Peak

1989 saw the fifth anniversary of King’s Quest, and with the old AGI game engine well and truly retired and the shiny new SCI engine firing on all cylinders, Sierra were not resting on their laurels. As well as pushing the technical boundaries of graphical point and click adventures, they had also developed the medium to a point where they could reasonably be said to be pushing at their creative boundaries too, and 1989 would prove to be a fantastic year on that front, with five games which each in their own way developed the genre in a different direction and based in a different genre.

Two of these would be sequels to big-name Sierra series, two would initiate series of their own – one much-beloved, one more remembered as a bold experiment that laid the groundwork for better things – and one of them was absolutely terrible. Which is the stinker? Let’s find out?

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GOGathon: The Dawn of Sierra’s SCI Era

The story so far: after pioneering the graphic adventure game genre with the first three King’s Quest games (with the third one also being the first good graphic adventure game), Sierra decided it was time to branch out a little – releasing adventure games in a range of different genres, including both obvious videogame fare like science fiction to less well-trod territory like police procedural dramas and bawdy sex comedies.

All this was accomplished using the AGI system, which – as I explained at the end of the last article – was developed for the original King’s Quest I and, whilst technically advanced for 1984, clearly wasn’t passing muster by the late 1980s; 1988 would see the debut of a triptych of new games produced using their exciting new SCI engine, and for much of the next decade – until they switched to 3D engines, effectively – Sierra’s adventures would be produced using various updates of SCI, which both allowed for superior graphics and sound card support and included scripting tools useful for adventure game design processes.

But did a superior toolkit yield superior games? Let’s see…

Continue reading “GOGathon: The Dawn of Sierra’s SCI Era”

GOGathon: Sierra Spreads Out

In my previous dive into the classic Sierra adventure games, I covered the first three King’s Quest games, over the course of which Sierra developed and refined their adventure design processes and principles. Come 1986, the time was ripe to apply these principles to genres beyond the fairy-tale fantasy of King’s Quest.

For this next exploration of the Sierra catalogue, I’m going to look at the first Space Quest game, which emerged in 1986 alongside King’s Quest III as Sierra’s first jaunt into another genre. I’m also going to cover their adventure game releases of 1987, a year in which they put out three games in extremely different genres – not one of them a King’s Quest release – and represented perhaps the apogee of what you could call their “AGI era” – the time period when they produced adventure games using the Adventure Game Interpreter system developed for the first King’s Quest.

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