Today we went down to the games store to play BattleTech. There's a small but loyal group of fans who play the original skirmish minis game there, in its modern incarnation which doesn't look out of place on the shelf even if its rules are still 80's-tastic.
For the uninitiated, BattleTech is basically what happened when North American military history enthusiasts got ahold of the first Macross Saga anime VHS cassette tapes, and officially licensed its mecha designs for a tabletop "wargame" of the kind that was state-of-the-art back then. Most people aren't into that kind of thing, so you're more likely to have heard of the MechWarrior series, which are PC and console games set in the BattleTech 'verse.
Over the decades, BattleTech has had tons of lore written for it, of a sort which is actually kind of refreshing coming from Warhammer 40,000. Because while "40k" fetishizes neo-feudalism, BattleTech deconstructs it, in much the same vein as Analogue: A Hate Story. The giant "mechs" shooting at each other are largely a backdrop for stories of political intrigue and interpersonal drama, each of which serves to underscore just how dysfunctional societies are in their time and have been throughout history.
Case in point: The recently released House Kurita Handbook, which we're dying to get our hands on, describes an interstellar realm which deliberately regressed to be an echo of feudal Japan ... or at least, of the parts of it that future space settlers idealized. Including state Shinto shrines devoted largely to warrior ancestors and the Coordinator, and not so much to nature or traditional gods.
Our personal BattleTech character -- we create one for every game -- is a shrine maiden at one of the few which enshrine Inari Ōkami, in our headcanon. Because this is a mecha anime, some of the miko are entrusted with the shrine's ancient BattleMechs, a "lance" of four with widely varying capabilities. They are some of the few women who were allowed to pilot these vehicles before Theodore Kurita's military reforms, and over the years they have been subordinated so much to the male-only DCMS that they are not even permitted to use live ordnance.
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When you first encounter her, you know Hyun-ae is being deceptive for unclear reasons, while Mute, on the other hand, just seems awful. She seems to at first despise everyone and is constantly snide. [...] Mute can be reliably counted on to have terrible views regarding women’s’ capabilities and what is 'proper’ for them.
Yep, that's about right. I didn't want to have anything to do with her in my first playthrough of Analogue: A Hate Story.
So when after [...] reading about the noblewoman being mocked and put-down by her husband and Mute asking my opinion on it, I select the 'she deserved it’ option because I figure that’s what Mute expects to hear. And then she disagrees with me, saying something along the lines of, “Well, in a way, true. She was a failure of a wife and a disgusting human being. But… that’s no excuse to treat someone like that, even her! No one should be treated cruelly like that."
I was floored. This was the point where I started to actually like Mute. Because it became apparent that Mute isn’t actually hateful. She has very messed up views, but she believes in them so strongly because she is genuinely convinced that these are the things that will be best for everyone’s well-being and happiness.
I think I grasped that pretty early on too, in my playthrough of *Mute's route. Which is maybe partly because, back when I used to say and believe a lot of hateful things I really believed in them, too. I hadn't had enough contact with the outside world yet to realize all these things were wrong. And most of the contact I did have, like browsing DA for furry art and reading webcomics, seemed so shameful that I learned to compartmentalize it.
Sort of like *Mute's fascination with "scandalous" women and acts.
All that said, let me get to the main thing I want to say about Mute in Hate Plus.
Author's note: This is an omake / crack fic that I wrote to decompress from writing the Analogue: A Hate Story adapt. It uses characters from Xcom and Portal, and features the Analogue version of *Mute and the Hate Plus version of *Hyun-ae.
Content note: Chryssalids being chryssalids, and *Mute being *Mute. So violence, sexism and homophobia played for laughs, and an attempt at Portal-esque dark comedy.
A darkened room, made out of sci-fi props and big-screen TVs displaying useless information. Their lights reflect on a middle-aged woman's glasses, as she puts down a coffee mug and opens an email on her computer.
Your performance in combating the alien threat has been excellent thus far ... and that is not a statement this council makes lightly. The leaders of the world's nations believe that you are making excellent use of their funding.
So excellent, in fact, that they are cutting it in half. Henceforth, all non-combat Xcom personnel under your command will be replaced with artificial intelligences, in order to save money. We have every confidence that they will perform just as well as the employees you're used to working with.
Good luck, Commander.
The woman blinks. Then she Alt-Tabs to Microsoft Word, and starts updating her resume.
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Absolutely no one has posted *Mute's lesbian ending on YouTube. And migrating to a new computer appears to have wiped out my saved games.
Guess who's about to speedrun Analogue? >_<
Barely any dialogue changes, I think, and I'm rewriting most of it anyway. So this feels kind of silly and trivial. But it's really important to me, because I have All The Feels about this story still and I want to be able to capture them.
That's the name of the Steam achievement you get for completing the reactor segment, in Analogue: A Hate Story. It was going to be the title of chapter 6 of the fanfic adapt, since so far -- with one exception -- all the chapter titles have been taken from the names of achievements.
The problem is, there's no actual fusion involved.
How do you portray a misogynist bigot as sympathetic, without outright saying "This is why I feel she's sympathetic?"
I don't think I did too well with that, in *Mute's scene in the last chapter. And a big part of the reason is because the investigator was quiet about why she felt sorry for her. Until right at the end, and the explanation there seemed forced.
With aliaspseudonym's help, I've fleshed out the investigator's backstory some, and rewritten the scene where she talks to *Mute. She's still not going to explain her background, so much, but it should become clearer why she's drawn to *Mute ... and why she feels bad for both her and *Hyun-ae.
You can read the rewritten scene here. It still plays out the same way, but the investigator explains her feelings much better. I also changed one line of her dialogue, in a small but significant way.
Analogue: A Hate Story had this in spades. One moment you're reading something horrifying about the Mugunghwa's patriarchy, the next *Hyun-ae's telling you about the "change_outfit" command. *Mute seems unfazed by the deaths of everyone else on the ship, and within minutes of meeting you starts cattily gossiping about people who've been dead for hundreds of years.
The game's largely powered by visual novel tropes, in other words. Which its sequel then torments you mercilessly for letting down your guard enough to accept. (Arguably, by the time you get to its Reveal, Analogue does too.)
It's really hard to adapt a game like this and maintain, not so much a consistent mood as consistent characterization. What's going through somebody's mind that they'd act like this? How much of their behaviour can be chalked up to, say, *Hyun-ae's loneliness, and how much of it needs to be thrown out or rewritten?
In the last chapter, we tried to play her bizarre behaviour for laughs, but forgot to underscore just how unsettling it would be to see that in person. At aliaspseudonym's suggestion, we went back and gave the poor investigator enough time to catch her breath, which turned out to be just enough time to be properly horrified. We also modified her reaction to *Mute a little, keeping in mind her feelings about AIs.
Behind the cut are the changes we made, in case you don't want to go back and read it again.
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