Monday, June 6, 2016

Critical Switch: DMC3 as Habitual Game

Devil May Cry 3 is, admittedly, a pretty strong argument for the sort of mechanically based analysis that I usually stay away from. Actually, it’s kind of frustrating. It’s a spectacular audio/visual piece that insistently breaks the tone and continuity of its world to have characters speak utterly silly dialogue and give you things like grades and points and you pick up orbs and all the rest of those sorts videogame-y things that make someone like me cringe. It also happens to be one of the best videogames I’ve ever played so . . . you win some you lose some I guess?

I’d love to try sometime, but at least for today I’m not going to be talking about Devil May Cry 3 as a piece of dramatic text. So I guess for today I’m calling a truce with formalism.
For today I simply want to talk about it as an action game, because, given that the discourse is currently dominated by an action game of a brutally difficult nature that I do not enjoy which shall remain nameless, I feel like I can contribute to that discussion by talking about a game whose approach to difficult gameplay is, in my opinion, much more mature and thought out with gamers in mind.

First of all, and this has been the subject of a lot of discussion lately, Devil May Cry 3 actually has difficulty modes, which is important for a number of reasons, including one I need to come back to later, but for right now it’s most important to acknowledge that it means the developers knew that different types of people would want to play this game for different reasons.

Second, the game always forces a break, both when you die and when you succeed. Every time you die, the action on the screen pauses before giving you three options.
Continue: Would you like to start from right before where you were, get right back into that difficult fight? (It’s worth noting that this almost always starts from basically right where you left off, given that short iteration cycles are a proven method of preventing frustration.)
Restart the Mission: Maybe you feel like you didn’t play so well earlier and want to give it another shot, or maybe you just wanna hype yourself up with some easier combat before giving another go at that boss fight?
Main Menu: Do you need a break? Are you done for the day?

You get a similar set of options when you finish a mission, when it asks you whether you like to go to the next mission, replay an earlier one, or go back to the main menu. DMC3 know it’s an intense game, and it also understands that being psychologically well-rested is key to playing it well.

As well, while at first glance, the style meter and mission grading system feels somewhat judgmental, it is a way to encourage curious players to come back to the game. It creates a visual metric by which one can judge their growth as a player, a form of digital, external validation that self-improvement in many other types of genres tend to go unnoticed.
So, in contrast to many other difficult games, Devil May Cry 3 is a game that is not indifferent to your playing it. DMC3 is not just designed like a habitual game, it’s also built like a game that recognizes our want to make a habit out of it, consistently rewarding player growth with ever increasing difficulty levels, new costumes, new playable characters, and thus becomes a game that gets an exponentially increasing amount of playtime out of what is, if you want it to be, still a relatively brief experience. It’s very emblematic of the design philosophy that guided some of the biggest hits on the PlayStation 2 in that way.

And I think the caring, encouraging nature of its mechanics (which, for better or worse, were also reflected in the carefree nature of its text) has shaped the community of truly dedicated Devil May Cry players in an important way. The famous Truestyle competition really wasn’t a competition at all, but really more of a non-judgemental talent show, with the competition’s third year featuring every character and playstyle equally, and where the community voted on their favorite videos in every category, but wisely avoiding trying to pick an overall “winner” of the event. In their own words, they decided fairly quickly that trying to find out the best DMC player was a fool’s errand, and to this day, the PhantomBabies website still features every video submitted for every category of the contest’s third year. And I think the contrast that shows with modern gaming communities speaks for itself.

From Olympia, WA, Play is Labor. I'm Austin C. Howe.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Critical Switch: Fallen Shadows - The Destruction of Lahan Village

Fallen Shadows: The Destruction of Lahan Village in Xenogears

Last year I finally finished Xenogears, that being my fourth fucking attempt at a full playthrough of the game that had been in my backlog since high school. The first two were aborted attempts from when I was emulating the game. I could never get the game to run at a satisfactoraly, Playstation emulation still being a messy, incomplete affair. Around Christmas 2012 I finally bought the game on PSN such that I might be able to play a representative version. I played for 30 hours, largely enjoying the experience until I got caught in a loop of bad game design during the raid on Shevat. So, there I was, playing the beginning of the game again after having put what should be enough time to beat the damn thing twice already. There was a benefit to this however.

Having played the beginning of the game so many times, I’ve come to more deeply appreciate how Xenogears develops the town of Lahan into a complex place filled with conflicted characters to make it’s imminent destruction more emotionally impactful, which is in stark contrast the to the idealized Doomed Hometowns featured in other games.

What’s interesting is that this is partially accomplished through an absolutely infuriating minigame of Rock-Paper-Scissors.

In Xenogears you control Fei Fong Wong who one night was left at the doorstep of the Lahan village chief, who then raised him as one of their own. Over the years Fei grows into a talented martial artist and painter, and the villagers come to accept him despite early skepticism from some. The day the game starts is the day before the wedding between Alice and Timothy, two friends of Fei’s. The gamer sends Fei upstairs where he talks to Timothy, who asks Fei to go visit Alice and keep her some company, and Timothy’s younger brother, Dan, who asks Fei to meet him outside. A crucial design decision: Fei does not follow Dan outside of his own accord, the player must guide him to Dan. This gives us the opportunity to explore the town at our leisure.

In one of the houses in town is a man who is extremely good at Rock-Paper-Scissors. He tells Fei that if he’s beaten five times he’ll hand over a special item. Make no mistake, when one challenges this man they have no clue what kind of shenanigans they’re getting themselves into. Of the 3 hours I have currently logged in this playthrough, probably 45 minutes of it was playing this asshole in Rock-Paper-Scissors. This NPC has a number of different strategies programmed, and only one of them has been fully discovered to be exploitable, and even then, he doesn’t always use that strategy, leaving players to brute force their way into winning by using the strategy, even when it doesn’t work, just so you can eventually catch him using the pattern that the strategy responds to. Even then, it’s only guaranteed to work for three games in a row. You have to win five times and after you win three times, the pattern resets and he chooses one of the three options at random again. This is, to say the least, frustrating. I probably had this strategy work for the first three rounds at least ten times before winning the five games in a row. Word of advice, as is often given in the Xenogears fan community: if you win, save, then copy that save.

If you lose to this dude, you lose 50g. If you win, you get 50g, and you can’t challenge him unless you have at least the 50g to lose. When you start the game, Fei doesn’t have any money to begin with. So what else can you do but send him to go look for it? Well first of all you can find 200g in Fei’s bed, but that’s only four losses in a row, can’t we buffer that out some? If you investigate rooms close to Fei, you can find various items just by pressing X near barrels or the jump button near a spider web, and pick it up. This piques curiosity. Perhaps there are money and items in all corners of the town? And in fact there are. Gamers do things like jump down the water well and they’ll find a number of items, but to really rack up some loot they start talking to the townsfolk. Then something happens: the townsfolk are interesting.

A gamer with any genre-savvy already knows as soon as the happy music kicks in and the bright colors show up onscreen that this town is some variety of doomed. And the game shows it’s hand upfront with a short scene that shows the village destruction already in progress. In other games, it would already be difficult to care especially given how utterly typical this all is. But there’s a specific contrast to be made. The townspeople of Lahan do not live perfect lives. They live fragile, human ones. Certain characters I talked to to get money, or specific items like the Mermaid’s Tear, but I found myself so compelled in these stories that I had to talk to more of them and see the lives they were living.

There is, for example, a drunkard at the bar you can try and console. There's a woman next to the cow-creature thing that tells us about her insecurities as a woman in this small town. The other women simply get married to the men in town, but she wistfully thinks of a more independent life that she doesn’t think is possible in Lahan. There’s a child standing on the roof of a building who misses his father who’s chasing his career in a distant city, and his mother, who misses her husband and worries for the state of her family. Alice and Timothy are set to marry the next day, and the bride-to-be openly wonders whether she might've ended up with Fei instead had he arrived in her life years earlier. Cold feet? Genuine remorse? We don't know and we never will.

These stories all come to brutal ends when the two warring nations of Aveh and Kislev end up sparring over Lahan. Neither is directly responsible for the town's destruction though. That would be Fei. He, in an attempt to defend his adoptive village, commandeers one of the military mechs and loses control of it and himself, causing a blast that absolutely levels the town, and kills most of the villagers. Why did Fei lose control? What mysterious forces is he wrestling with? And what would've happened to these people had such a sudden tragedy not occurred? These questions become so much more compelling because they are directly related to the guilt that Fei feels continuously throughout the game that we as players empathize with being we spend so much time with Fei throughout the game, and they're the questions we ask continuously as we probe the mysterious secrets of Xenogears.

From Olympia, WA, Play is Labor, I'm Austin C. Howe

Thursday, December 31, 2015

On 2015

Was It A Good Year?
Honestly, yeah, pretty good, all things considered. The road to the ending has been mercilessly stressful, but I think I'll be alright.

Greatest Professional Accomplishment
This year was chock full of 'em: Moving out, the Alternative Digital Arts Festival, finishing the first draft of the FFVII book (tentatively titled Heroism Is The Labor of Sacrifice,) but probably the biggest is now being able to earn all of my rent and utilities entirely through freelance writing.

Biggest Personal Accomplishment
Coming out as agender? I guess? It feels like a non-event honestly, probably since it means identifying as a non-gendered person.

Best "Weird" Console Title
None. (Technically MGSV, but, eh.)

The Reason There Is No Best "Weird" Console Title
I'm really not sure why I held out hope for Xenoblade Chronicles X to be any good.

Best PS4 Game
Well Metal Gear Solid V is great, but it has a hot contender in Final Fantasy VII, new and improved with a no random battles feature that more easily accommodates low level runs.

Best Indie Game
We Know The Devil

Worst Game

Least Favorite Game
Xenoblade Chronicles X

Best Old Game Austin Just Played This Year
Resident Evil (2002)
Best Movie
Mad Max: Fury Road

Only Movie Austin Went Out And Saw This Year, But Fuck It

Mad Max: Fury Road

Movies Austin Managed To See Before The Year Ended He EnjoyedStar Wars: The Force Awakens

Best Metal Album
Two-way tie: M - Myrkur and The Ark Work - Liturgy

Highest Concentration of Bangers
Trivium - Silence in The Snow

Austin's One New Rap Album This Year

Travis Scott - Rodeo

Degree to Which FFVIII Improved With Age This Year
Bigger leap than in any previous year, arguably deserves some kind of "Most Improved" award.

Worst Pieces of Games Writing This Year
Tim Rogers' Bloodborne article on Gamasutra (#GamaHateReads), Frank Lantz's response to "Ludocentrism," (#GamaHateReads) but the worst without question was Phil Owen's What The Fuck Is Wrong With Videogames, which comes to us courtesy of The Year Two-Thousand And Seven.

New Year's Resolutions
Put out the book and make this the last year I don't develop a videogame. Record (and release?) the metal album I've taken the past year and a half to write. As well, take more responsibility for myself, and be aware of and uphold my responsibilities to those around me.

Destroy any doubt that I am among the best at what I do.

- Austin C. Howe, Washington and Florida, December, 2015

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Critical Switch: The Joy of Bob Ross

On Bob Ross

Hi, glad you could join me. Today I thought I'd share a happy little page of some thoughts on the benefits of watching Bob Ross before bed each night, for the growing creative.


Bob Ross' gentle voice and tame Floridian accent, along with the comfortable patterns of his speech, (his catchphrases in particular, parental in their practical wisdom and comfort) and the simple, procedural instructions he vocalizes make him the perfect thing to listen to while getting ready to sleep. Sometimes I even turn on an episode of The Joy of Painting and turn the phone over such that the video doesn't glow in my eyes, and simply listen to Ross speak. This is a man of a particular expertise, with decades of experience in his craft. If we are lucky, someday we might be able to instruct in our craft with similar ease and comfort.


Bob Ross shows that anyone can paint, including you, and all you have to do is do it. And he does it by demonstrating his techniques, each day, from a blank canvas (covered in magic white.) This is incredibly important as a rhetorical technique: the first step to doing something is of course to start, regardless of whatever happy accidents we may make along the way towards creating a finished product.


The purpose of The Joy of Painting is extremely simple. Using a limited color palette and a limited set of painting tools, Bob Ross instructs beginner painters in some of the basic techniques of wet-on-wet landscape painting. When we watch The Joy of Painting we are witnessing the practice of craft, in the most literal sense. By the time Bob Ross began hosting The Joy of Painting, he was already a master of the techniques he presents, but each time he performs them for us, he keeps his skills practiced and refined. Ross was lucky that any number of people paid him to practice his craft, many of us are not so lucky, but we should strive to work like Ross and refine our basic technique, constantly, and consistently, such that we get better at what we do, and stay good at it.


Ross reminds us that, when painting, we have control over the world we wish to paint. For Ross, this meant an opportunity to create images of idyllic landscapes, separate from the petty toils of living, and the corruption of society, a world that is happy. As writers, musicians, visual artists, what have we, we often choose other purposes than to make our audience our ourselves happy. But the important part is that we choose, consciously, what that purpose is, and we know intimately what we wish to attain with our work.

In Conclusion

To watch Bob Ross is to immerse one's self in the basics of craft, and as such, serves to refresh our willingness to practice our craft, our want to improve in our craft, and our passion for our craft. He sends us to rest with dignity, and respect for ourselves and our work. 

From all of us here at Critical Switch in Olympia, WA, all one of us, Play is Labor, I'm Austin C. Howe. God bless.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Survivor Series 2015 and "Theses on Roman Reigns in The Main Event"

 To get business out of the way: Almost every single match on the card ranged from good to very good, though I wouldn't call any of them instant classics like I did with Reigns' cell match last month. The booking behind the matches made many of the results predictable (that the bracket managed to kill a singles push for Kalisto is especially worthy of reprimand, Cesaro slightly less so given his recent injury,) but the quality of the matches worked ended up making that more or less irrelevant, especially since most of the matches had “the right” endings from a booking perspective. Originally I'd've booked Owens to beat Ambrose so Reigns could feud with Owens, which continues their history from the #1 Contendor's Tournament from before Rollins' knee injury, but given the swerve cash-in ending, Ambrose and Reigns fighting a clean face vs. face match for the title was the smart move.
Highlights for me included: Del Rio showing up to work and putting on a really physical match with Reigns that far exceeded my expectations for the US Champion who's run so far has been marked with spotty, slow matches.

As well, Charlotte worked her best match as Women's Champion thus far, with the progression of the match naturally creating the needed pace without needing the forced drama of kayfabe injuries that make finishing with the Figure-Eight nonsensical. Paige also showed off some very natural and well-studied heel work in the ring, taunting her opponent, the audience, and brutalizing Charlotte with submission maneuvers and hard hits. Charlotte's own offense was aggressive in nature, including an attempted pin with her knee on Paige's throat, but I think logic would make that excusable given the lengths Paige went to to question Charlotte's ability and credibility. This feud is probably ending here after the faux pas on RAW about Charlotte's family, but this match may have actually been the highlight match for those focused mostly on technical ring work.

As well, WWE successfully bit the bullet and resisted the temptation to make either of their top babyfaces turn heel in the main event, which would've been career-threatening for both men, incredibly obvious, and incredibly short-sighted.

The one match that didn't have the right ending was The Brothers of Destruction vs. Bray Wyatt and Luke Harper. I'm not sure what Braun Strowman did to piss people off backstage, but he got buried hard tonight, and Bray Wyatt's credibility as a heel took a huge hit yet again in a match that he and Strowman both really needed to win and also that Undertaker really needed to lose (and I mean he needed to eat the pin) to make stakes for what will likely be his final Wrestlemania match. Last month Wyatt could disregard match outcomes as he reorganized his Family, but this match made the entire family look weak. All of this only amplifies what I talked about last month: Undertaker won't be on RAW tomorrow and he won't work a match at TLC, the Royal Rumble, or Fastlane, the roster is hurting for credible heels, and older wrestlers on WWE's roster have done a horrible, horrible job putting over new stars who need wins a lot more than they do.

With all of that out of the way, I present to you:

Theses on Roman Reigns in The Main Event.

I: How Human Voices Work

I'm doing a lot of generalization here, but stick with me. Grown women and children have naturally higher voices than grown men do. Children occupy an alto-soprano range voice, with girls capable of reaching the treble range and boys capable of reaching the soprano range, and while women's voices lower as they age, their voices remain naturally high, also tending to occupy an alto-soprano range (typically the Soprano I range, with a rare few being capable of retaining Soprano II range as they age.) Men, however, reach down into the countertenor, baritone, and bass ranges. For any number of reasons, these tones, and thus, these lower voices, more easily project across a wider range, which, combined with the tendency for mean to speak louder, means that grown men are more easily heard.

Thus, it must be noted than when you hear Roman Reigns get booed (or John Cena), he is never being booed nearly as universally as one might think. This was on display during Reigns' barn-burner HIAC match against Bray Wyatt last month, wherein we heard the noted “Cena split”, where the higher voices of the audience, the women and children, chanted “Let's go Roman!” while the deeper and louder voices of the audience chanted “Roman Sucks!”

In short: if you think WWE going with Reigns as a main-eventer is stupid because he's getting booed, I refer you to the above. The WWE does a lot of stupid things. They don't put belts on people who don't draw or make merch money.

This is to say nothing of the fact that in the internet age, when there is more backstage reporting than ever before, babyfaces being booed is pretty much inevitable, because the booing itself is a political act mostly meant to perform the supposed hardcore-ness of the wrestling fans who do it. The booing doesn't say “this guy's a jerk, he should lose” or even “this guy isn't good” (though it does say that) but mostly “I'm not getting what I specifically want right now,” and aside from possibly the return of Daniel Bryan (whose push towards Wrestlemania XXX played on these internet politics) and thrusting him back into the main event, pretty much nothing would ever silence those boos, and WWE does well to ignore them while listening to the kids who will continue to be their most dedicated fans.

II : On The Possibility of Ambrose or Reigns Turning Heel

I'll talk about Ambrose later down but we need to focus on Roman first, because there are a number of levels, almost too many to write about, on which the concept of the Roman Reigns heel turn simply does not work.

First: it's what the Rock did. And as I've discussed before, the “Samoan Heritage” angle is not going to get Roman over, partially because of vile racism, and mostly because for the brief moment that WWE did highlight his Samoan heritage and pointed out his relationship to The Rock, people believed that he was only getting pushed because of his relationship to The Rock, something that can only get you heat. As well: Rock 2.0 (which is ultimately how people would view Heel Reigns, regardless of the character he performed, because of the expectation that he will follow a similar character arc to The Rock, because Nostalgia) is not a sellable character beyond nostalgia, and is not something that WWE can rely on for someone they want to make into their next long-term babyface while John Cena slides back down to the midcard. For Reigns to be The Man he has to be his own man, and turning him heel would undo most of the work done to establish him as a separate identity from his relatives.

As well, Roman's key weakness (which he has been steadily improving) is his mic work. For any number of reasons, a babyface can afford to have less-than-stellar mic work, but a heel needs to be able to talk for days. They need to be able to talk shit. They need to be able to rile up a crowd. The only heat Roman has is with smarks who hate him for whatever god-forsaken reason, and he gets booed during his promos precisely because for the longest time his promos were very weak. (That they have notably improved has had little effect on those who boo him at live events, which is as unsurprising as it is disappointing.)

On top of that, Roman's moveset, while hard-hitting and slam-oriented, is ill-suited towards heel work. This is not to say that he couldn't learn the submission moves and limb-specific work that would be required of him as a heel, but suffice to say that his in-ring work as it exists is not already well-suited towards him being a heel.

In short, Roman would be ineffective as a heel in a way that he has not proven ineffective as a babyface. This brings up an uncomfortable truth for the IWC to confront: what they see as being desperately necessary out of Roman because they believe that Roman gets booed because people hate him is actually incredibly risky. If Reigns doesn't work as a heel (and he won't) he has to do a lot of work to turn back face, and that quite simply may not work with the fans he has, particularly children, who may find it difficult to forgive him. He may only be a few years old in the main roster, but for good or ill, Roman Reigns is already John Cena, and if WWE wants him to be John Cena, in terms of being their hero for children, they cannot make him a heel.

Ambrose, on the other hand, is frankly just an incredibly obvious heel, who might actually excel in that role. However, a turn for him now serves to sever one of the few dramatic bits of humanity on WWE TV that has proven resonant with fans of Ambrose and Reigns: the friendship shared by the both of them. (That breaking up that friendship also delays the reuniting of the SHIELD should not go unnoticed of course.) Moreover, Dean Ambrose may be able to effectively work and talk as a heel, but it is very likely that his heel persona would be dealing in some incredibly offensive stereotypes about mentally ill people, given that his already uncomfortable “Lunatic Fringe” merchandise (that he rarely ever wears) already plays off of it. On top of everything else, he is already a well liked babyface, and while he is really in need of a hot feud to put him back in the spotlight, I personally think it makes more sense for him to be wrestling for the IC or US belt while he waits to be put back into the main event (where he definitely belongs after Reigns' next title reign comes to an end.)

III: The Match Itself

In the moment the match felt obviously rushed because what could've been a 20 or 30-minute main event was forced down to 10 to fit in Sheamus' cash-in, but this was a well-constructed 10-minute match that featured my favorite developing feature of Roman Reigns: his tendency to use his high-impact moves sparsely and intelligently while working around his opponents offense (as well as simply absorb it, Reigns can eat a lot of finishers on PPV.) At Hell in A Cell, this resulted in a matchup that had more one-sided paces, with Reigns dominating early, Wyatt getting the advantage only with weapons, and then Reigns managing to counter a number of Wyatt's in-ring moves to close out the match. Here, it resulted in a more even matchup with counters abounding on both sides as Ambrose's speed occasionally overwhelmed Roman's defense, as well as his unusual reversals of momentum on the ropes and apron. As well, being top guys, both managed to absorb at least one finisher from each other, with Ambrose kicking out of a Spear earlier in the going. Ultimately, as deeply-underrated commentator Michael Cole said, it came down to the last man with the ball. Ambrose went off the turnbuckle and winded up for a big move, and Reigns hit him suddenly with the spear for the pin. For a moment, Roman Reigns was your World Heavyweight Champion. It was not to last.

IV: On Consistent Storytelling and Metatext

Roman Reigns' loss to Sheamus tonight was heartbreaking, and genuinely tragic in structure. Allowing himself a brief moment to vent his frustrations with how opportunity has been stolen from beneath him despite effort upon effort, Reigns rejected to have his hand raised by Triple-H and Speared the COO, at which point he was immediately Brogue Kicked by the Irishman, who immediately cashed in the Money in the Bank Contract. Reigns kicked out of the first finisher, but he ate a second almost immediately and that put him down. Sheamus is your World Heavyweight Champion, and he doesn't deserve to be there.

This is where we hit the consistent drama and the metatext: Roman Reigns spearing Triple-H is not representative necessarily of beef with Triple-H, but of Reigns' frustrations with WWE as a structure. How the inherent unfairness of the Money in the Bank briefcase lead to him being screwed at Wrestlemania XXXI and how shoddy officiating led to his failure to achieve retribution by using that briefcase himself, and then Triple-H had the gall to offer him a place in the Authority despite having never shown him any love before, not to mention causing the betrayal of his once-friend Seth Rollins. It's also about how WWE has mismanaged Roman Reigns. How they screwed up his push towards WMXXXI and his characterization basically since the breakup of the SHIELD. How they've managed to make something as simple as making Roman Reigns a main event superstar and screw it up, just like they've screwed it up with so many guaranteed winners before. For fans of Reigns, seeing him Spear Triple-H is satisfying on a number of levels because of all of these factors both inside and outside of kayfabe.

That Spear also represents a minor betrayal of the sort of values that Reigns is intended to embody as a babyface, as deserved as it is. It was a display of hubris, and it also betrayed the sort of calm Reigns has portrayed. It's the kind of short-term and short-sighted satisfaction that one is not supposed to strive for as a babyface.

And as punishment, Reigns was cashed-in on, again, and lost to Sheamus, the man who he lost the MiTB contract to after deserving to win it so obviously. (Note: this would be a great setup for a feud if Sheamus was even remotely threatening as a heel, or entertaining as a wrestler.) Yet again, Roman worked so hard to get where he got to, and lost it all because as tough as he is, and as talented as he is, he's only human. And this time it even happened again, during a title match, with a Money In The Bank cash-in. And he lost it to Sheamus, a total jobber who's been an absolute afterthought for most of the year, and who totally deserves it because he's a lazy in-ring worker and an at-best uninspired talker who's W-L record can never back up the bark. (Something that I can't help now but think was planned as a way to make his cash-in win as much of a swerve as possible.) The consistency of that is pretty admirable.

It's also smart: Roman has been slowly regaining popularity throughout the year because he's continued to work hard and yet continually lose on a number of occasions, and nothing else builds fan sympathy easier. I'd have to run the numbers again, but since Mania, Roman has barely more than a 50/50 win-rate on PPV, and that's only after two consecutive PPV wins these past two months. And while his sudden push to win the title here felt a little rushed, it now makes a lot of sense since we're learning that satisfaction is likely going to be delayed until at least TLC, though I think for pure excitement WWE shouldn't pull the trigger on that until the Royal Rumble in January. Last year's event, though the Rumble itself was obviously a huge disappointment, had an air of real excitement in the triple-threat between Cena, Rollins, and Lesnar, as we were left predicting who might win the Royal Rumble, as well as wondering who might be the Champion, leaving the Mania card itself totally empty. With smarter and less predictable booking (I know, I'm asking a lot) WWE could really capitalize on a similar setup again in January.

All in all, I really enjoyed Survivor Series, and, while I think Sheamus' reign should not be long, I do think that WWE showed a lot of restraint here by not making Reigns champion and by avoiding the obvious heel turns they could've created for short-lived drama. That makes it unbearably “safe” for some, but to me, sometimes “safe” just means smart.

- From Olympia, WA, Play is Labor, I'm Austin C. Howe.