Entertainment in July

Stranger ThingsRejoice. This entry is spoiler free.

On Sunday I screamed at my friends, “You have to watch Stranger ThingsRight now!”

And they did. Alec added it to the to-watch list. Andrew binged it to completion on Friday while Manuel and his wife became so absorbed, he put down working a new cover for us to stream the entire first season.

If you haven’t heard of it yet, shame on yo— I mean, the show takes place in sleepy Hawkins, Indiana in November, 1983. A stormy night preludes the disappearance of young Will Byers (Noah Schnapp), setting the entire town on edge. Mike, Lucas and Dustin (Finn Wolfhand, Caleb McLaughlin and Gaten Matarazzo respectively) break the town’s emergency curfew to search for their abducted friend, and happen across a strange girl (Millie Bobby Brown).

Meanwhile the missing boy’s mother Joyce (Winona Ryder) struggles to accept her boy’s loss while Mike’s sister Nancy (Natalia Dyer) slowly becomes a part of the mystery herself. Toss in a police sheriff (David Harbour) with a tragic past and a mix-match of elements from The X Files and you have a phenomenal homage to all the great things from the 80’s; E.T., The Goonies, Close Encounters of the Third KindStarman and a whole slew of Stephen King’s best.

Speaking of the 80’s, I’ve finally figured out what is bugging me about Halt and Catch Fire. While the second season was generally good, the problem was that it spent too much time trying to wow us with “predictions of the future.” The first season focused on a single, great idea with the invention of the laptop, with hints of query-based operating systems. But the second season just went crazy with the fortunetelling; T1 cable lines, how chat rooms were the secret to America On-Line’s success, computer security, online gaming, time-sharing data processing, made-to-order custom built PCs and first-person shooters (aka Doom).

By the end of it, the audience is left with the impression that basically all the major growth in the computer industry was foreseen by just four people who all just happened to be in Texas. Halt and Catch Fire was green lit for a third season, but I’m not certain my inability to believe what I’m seeing is going to keep me glued to the screen. 

Admittedly, my reading has somewhat slowed because of a newfound love of podcasts. Or rather, that of Jason Weiser’s Myths and Legends. Podcasts solve my problem of not getting enough fresh, non or semi-fictional material, allowing me to work out or just walk to my job while absorb new tales. Unfortunately, sometimes the episodes run over the time it takes me to get to the metro. Since I’d rather wrap up the episode, this then cuts into my reading.

Watership DownBut I am closing in on the final chapters of Watership Down by Richard Adams. It’s strange how folks gape in awe when tell them I haven’t partaken in reading it before. Like there’s no respect for there being hundreds of classic books to read, and to expect even a prolific reader to have covered them all is ridiculous.

A brief synopsis goes that two rabbits, Hazel and his brother Fiver, tire of life in their warren where they are not exactly high ranking. Upon a prophetic vision from Fiver, Hazel gathers a crew to try and split off from their home without the approval of their elders. Escaping with a dozen bucks, they travel into a hostile world, facing unusual dangers and troubles until settling at a place christened Watership Down. Acknowledging that they have no does to perpetuate their warren, Hazel and company attempt to rectify the situation. This runs afoul another, more militant warren whose glory-seeking leader brokers no dissension.

Watership Down isn’t exactly something you can spoil; if you try not to explain the plot, you’re not left with much to describe it with. But it’s not about the suspense of “what happens next” but rather the journey itself, complete with cunning and tricks and the lore of El-ahrairah, a mythological trickster hero and the closest thing to lapine-religion.

Finally in games this week, I downloaded Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. Firmly understanding that it’s basically the tech-demo/prequel to The Phantom Pain, I’ve nevertheless invested time and effort mastering it, trying to earn the 100% completion rate before purchasing the main game. So far, I’m over 40%, so definitely doing alright.

Ground ZeroesMy record of playing the Metal Gear series is spotty. Peacewalker and MGS4 remain to be played. But I own Metal Gear Solid and Metal Gear Solid 2: The Sons of Liberty, the latter of which feels underrated as many fans did not like the main character being someone other than Snake himself.

And then my favorite, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater.

The game was strange as the third of any series is rarely the best and, as if not bizarre enough, it was also a prequel. And I’m not alone in this, as many polls suggest that the third installment was other gamers’ favorite as well. It was just… so unexpected. Initially I almost snubbed the game, but instead found my expectations totally reversed. I became less interested in getting MGS4, believing the emotional power of the third game simply couldn’t… and perhaps shouldn’t, be topped.

I’ve made few secrets before how Metal Gear has been quite the inspiration for some of my writing in the past. While the gameplay remains action and stealth based, the plots have frequently proven to have very few genre limits. The term “super hero” is never used, but several characters have abilities and skills that seem nigh-super powered. The rules of politics, military and science fiction are often bent and occasionally broken.

And while the thought of nuclear deterrence is a unsettling subject matter, some of the antagonists’ schemes have proven even more nefarious, such as the Patriot’s attempts to control culture itself by “info-cleansing” the internet. Given that all modern politics revolves around controlling the narrative, this actually scares me more than nuclear weaponry.

 

Dead Space News

Blast off into spaaaaaaace! ... oh wait, that's a bad thing.

Blast off into spaaaaaaace! Wait, this is the opposite of what I wanted...

So Kotaku reports that EA is not only working on Dead Space 3, but also spinning off the main series with a first person shooter, adventure and… flight game. Furthermore, Dead Space 3 maybe the last game to star everyone’s favorite systems engineer, Isaac Clarke.

Huh. To be honest, I’ve got mixed feelings about these developments.

In one sense, I get it. EA wants to really develop a rich, interesting and original universe of its own that no one else has. And they’ve been doing that already, not only with Dead Space and its sequel, but the various spin off titles, comics, animated films and novels. Clarke, though a deeply interesting character I’ve come to admire, isn’t necessarily central to EA’s success.

I really do agree with Kotaku’s statement that these genre changes really risks moving a game great series away from its roots. First person shooter? Not much of a stretch given how great Doom 3 was in combining horror with fighting. Adventure game? Yeah, I guess it can work if they do it right, maybe.

Flight game? What?

The only way I can see this game working is if we move away from the horror aspect, as in the necromorphs, and focus on the rising conflict between the Church of Unitology, EarthGov, and any other factions we’ve yet to see. In other words, it would be a politically influenced game rather than survival horror.

Yeah, that worked well for Pitch Black‘s sequel, The Chronicles of Riddick. Oh, wait…

I’m also sad to hear how this maybe the last we see of Isaac Clarke. Whether he’s going to die or simply fade into the canonical background, I don’t know. It’s a real shame that modern gaming heroes can’t have the same timeless, lasting appeal of cute, round heroes like Sonic the Hedgehog, Super Mario or Link.

Nope, instead we’re getting used to bidding adieu to these characters after their trilogies and main arc series are complete. The Master Chief of Halo, Kratos of Gods of War, and Solid Snake of the Metal Gear Solid series. They come into our gaming lives with their dramatic and intense tales, leave their mark and then fade away into gaming history.

Gone but never forgotten. Not a hero, but a legend.

But there’s something about Isaac Clarke that is… I don’t know. Beyond mysterious. It’s tricky because he spent the very first game as a silent protagonist. So I wonder if maybe he has more story then what can be told in only a trilogy.

But I digress. In truth, Kotaku is only reporting on rumors and hearsay. Time will tell if we see Isaac Clarke after Dead Space 3, just as it will tell if EA’s bid to develop a fully detailed, expansive universe will pay off.

I am quite skeptical that they can do this. But then again, it is said that the Mobile Suit Gundam and Star Trek franchises were nearly canceled early in their beginnings.

And look what became of them.

Level Up, Snake Plissken!

It was so rewarding yesterday, and again this morning, to use the 40 pound weights. I have never performed a bicep curl with one and to do so now is an indication of how much my body has grown since I was a pale skeleton back in high school. What can I say? Ding!

Also, found a nice compilation of music for body building.

Alright, so onto the thought of the day: Escape from New York meets Fallout. Hilarity and a great game ensue. Yeah, some say it was kind of done with The Pitt expansion. But that’s not enough for me, and I’ll explain some of my different ideas in a moment.

Defining 'bad ass' in the 80s.

Defining 'bad ass' since the 80s.

If you’ve never seen Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken, then I just don’t have anything to say. But the fact is that Snake Plissken not only defined what was awesome in the 80s, he became an inspiration for another character who goes by the name of Snake.

What kind of story would it have? Let’s say that the countries of Europe have managed to contact the Enclave or N.C.R. and are trying to set up a meeting. But the current president has been kidnapped and has access to technology that they were expecting to help them rebuild. Taking a line from Van Buren, they turn to the Prisoner to assist them. They throw in the bomb collar, but the prisoner can find a way to get rid of it on island to prolong his stay. And life.

So what exactly would I do to set it apart? Well, aside from the amazing hardcore mode in Fallout: New Vegas, I would add:

  1. You can be attacked while sleeping.
    Surprise! You find a sleeping bag or a spot for sleeping and crash for a few hours only to wake up attacked by a cannibal raiding party. These attacks can also be deterred with explosive mines and traps (which wake you up) or the ‘Light Sleeper’ perk which gets you up and in the action.
  2. Fast travel requires a vehicle.
    You can get a cabby or the ‘Driver’ perk if the cabby has had an unfortunate accident of which you had nothing to do with. You murderer.
  3. Escape from New York style weapons, perks and armor.
    Silenced uzi with a scope. Stylish shin guards. Molotov cocktails and crossbows. ‘Bad Ass Rep’ perk, which automatically gets you ‘in’ with a lot of people, instead of  ‘Lady Killer.’ I could day dream about this all day, but no one is paying me to do it. Yet.
  4. Escape from New York inspired gangs.
    Not just the Duke, a-number one. Cannibals, drug users, crazies. Again, I could go on.
  5. Vast ending options.
    Save the president? Maybe. Take him prisoner of your own if you get rid of your bomb collar? I like that idea. Escape the island on your own? Also viable.
  6. Urban environment.
    No more waste crawling. Tons of apartments and stores. Sewer and metro system. A single, but entire, city.

I could dig it. Problem is it needs to be bigger and badder than anything before. I mean huge. I might throw in additional ideas. Or maybe I’ll try to come up with a mod of my own so people can play my vision. I might even do away with the idea of ‘safe houses’ to get people to focus on survival instead of hoarding. Hoarding is fun but the survival aspect was one of the reasons I like the frustrating Dead Money add on. You take what you need and move on.

I’ll think about it some.

Another 10 Music Pieces

So immediately after my last post giving 10 pieces of music for writing, I started another post with more music. It takes a little research to find good music with little or no lyrics, while trying to avoid re-using artists I have already mentioned before.

  1. Nothing Else Matters, by Apocalypta.
    “What, no Apocalypta?” MisterEd asked on the Shoutbox immediately after my last music listing. Self-induced cranial knockings commenced afterwards.
  2. Blade Runner Ending Theme, by Vangelis.
    You may find this hard to believe, but Ridley Scott is actually looking to do another movie set in the Blade Runner universe. I honestly don’t know how to take the news given that the sci-fi/noir flick is one of my all time favorites, and that Scott doesn’t seem to have ever done a sequel in his life. We will see what comes of this. Until then, enjoy the original sound track.
  3. Escape, by Craig Armstrong.
    Just when you think it’s over, they’re still coming after you! Run, you fools!
  4. Canabalt Theme, by Danny Baranowsky.
    Canabalt is a simple flash game that came out sometime back. All you do is jump, timing yourself to avoid obstacles and land safely on buildings. Click the link to play, but watch the clock: Your day could disappear playing this.
  5. Factory, Vagrant Story OST.
    Vagrant Story was a one of a kind game. A dungeon crawler influenced by Shakespearean plot writing with supernatural elements.  I have heard talk and discussion of sequels to Ashley Riot’s story, but looking at the direction the Final Fantasy series went after the tenth or eleventh title, I’m not interested.
  6. Escape from the Tavern, by James Horner.
    Willow. Now there’s a movie time forgot. Let’s face it, Hollywood has only started to be kinder to the fantasy genre in the last decade or so with stuff like the Harry Potter series. Still, there maybe some treasures in the soundtrack, if one is willing to look for them.
  7. Give them a shot. You may find your new favorite band.

    Give them a shot. You may find your new favorite band.

    Babylon of the Orient (instrumental version), by The Shanghai Restoration Project.
    The Shanghai Restoration Project is a great band whose discography continues to grow. Most of their music has some lyrics to it and always has an Asian flair. You may also want to check out the lyrical version of this piece.

  8. Just For Today, by Hybrid.
    Oh man, I actually almost don’t want to share Hybrid simply because of how amazing their work is and how much it inspires me. Still, if I like a band I should support them by passing the word along. This song makes me imagine flying and fighting, but if you want something trance and dark, try Dreaming Your Dreams.
  9. Metal Gear Solid 2 Theme, by Harry Gregson-Williams.
    The Metal Gear Solid series continues, but will be doing so without Solid Snake. I can’t blame Hideo Kojima. He was probably scared to death of some other producer butchering his favorite character. Still, damn good music though.
  10. Promise, by Akira Yamaoka.
    My favorite of the Silent Hill series of games was Silent Hill 2. But the music overall has never disappointed. Spooky and eerie, like a ghost tale told properly.