Monday, October 3, 2016

A Message to Independent Voters

I would like to send a message out to a very specific group: Independent Voters.

How is that "Independence" working out for you? Are you enjoying sticking it to the two party system? You get all the pleasure of still having a Democrat or Republican in office but without all the benefit of being able to vote in a primary and thus having some impact on the internal party politics that are coming to define America.

I dislike the system. And I get your line of thinking to a degree, "Why affiliate yourself with a group you don't really believe in?" I can tell you why: Because you are a mitigating factor.

Registering with one of the two parties means that the candidates that run for the party nomination have to take you into account when campaigning. By not participating in the primary the only way to win is to cater to the hard line base, the people who will definitely show up. And they have to keep catering to them when in office or a real hardliner will run in the next primary (or even the general election) and pull them out of office.

See, you can't ever have a true 3rd party, there are too many issues with too many spectrums for a third party that exists between the extremes with a coherent ideology. And our system doesn't have preferential voting (where you rank candidates) and it doesn't have proportional representation in the legislature (where each percentage of the vote gets that percentage of the seats). The two extremes can only be mitigated by greater internal moderate challenges that have to be considered.

By sticking to the two party system, you are only taking your moderate thoughts out of the asylum. And in our system, the moderates are the doctors who treat the crazies, you have left the inmates as the only ones in the asylums.

So let me ask you a great big favor, to all of the people out there registered to a third party, Independent, or Unaffiliated… Register for one of the two real parties.  The ones that will actually win from time to time.  And trust me on this, the parties will be less shit as a result of all of you joining them.

In time we can all push for a better system… it will never get here because it would require re-writing a constitution too many people like in spite of it being junk, but we can at least make things better in spite of that.  Can’t we?

If you like or hate this please take the time to comment, +1, share on Twitter, Tumblr, or Facebook, and otherwise distribute my opinion to the world.  I would appreciate it.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Batman, Wonder Woman, and Identity Politics

I thought about this a while back when people were complaining about the casting of Scarlett Johansson as a traditionally Japanese character in the upcoming "Ghost in the Shell" movie and flashing back to Idris Elba being cast as Heimdall in "Thor".
That the Norse gods should be a definitively thought of as a white group of characters, seeing as the Vikings were in fact white.  This argument ignores that the Vikings also traveled the world as sailors and discovered many different races and could have acknowledged this diversity in their myths.  This also ignores the fact that the myths were collected 200 years after they stopped being actively practiced, this collecting was done by a white person in a predominantly white world and... the "races" of the gods become a little more fluid as the original iconography of Vikings in the pre-Christian academic world is not very clear.
Heindall as he might have once been perceived.

And as the fictional character is now perceived.
I would also see online people asking, "What about a white/Caucasian Luke Cage? Or Black Panther?" saying that you could color blind cast in both directions.  Ignoring for a second that taking one of the few recognizable minority characters and casting them with a white actor is in no way equivalent to casting a minority into one of the many-many roles that has been traditionally considered white, my response was that being black is a big part of those character's identities.
Luke Cage is blacker than the ace of clubs and Black Panther was designed to be a distinctly Black character, with a mythology that is all about being a mysterious and powerful head of an African nation that itself is cloaked in mystery.  Most (if not all) white heroes of the Gold and Silver Ages of comics are white because that was the default at the time they were created.  The books were marketed to white children and teens and the characters were white "role models".  Race as it informs or relates to their characters is nil and the number of times the subject is approached it is very lightly touched and then moved away from (mostly because of an industry wide “mums the word” policy of not discussing social issues).
So I asked myself what character would be the definitive WHITE character because you could easily see how their position in their world is informed by and tied to their being white.
Mr. Sunshine and Happy Times himself.
It's Batman.
Bruce Wayne is old money New England elite.  His family has a crest, they have an estate, and they have been part of Gotham (New York) high society for decades or centuries and can trace themselves back further.  The KNIGHT part of Dark Knight seems to very much infer the idea of old time very wealthy royalty using their money and means to protect the people of their Barony/County/Kingdom.  Bruce is the Prince of Gotham and Batman is his suit of armor both literally and figuratively.
Now other cultures have crests and shields.  They have totems that can be utilized to strike fear into the hearts of their foes.  They have family lines... BUT! We live in a culture in which the idea of a wealthy landed elite family THAT WAS BLACK did not, and still for the most part does not exist.  If Thomas and Martha Wayne were seen as upper crust high society people descended from well to do old money and they managed to navigate the racial politics of their day to plant Bruce as the wealthy playboy and Inquirer target… well, that just doesn’t exist in Americana.  It would ring false to the audience.  So, with that in mind, Batman is very "white".
In fact, we already know what you would have to alter and tweak to make a black Batman work, I have already mentioned him.  Black Panther is basically Black Batman.  The totem, the royal trappings, the legacy of wealth, and being the best as a service to one’s city/nation.  Also the reliance on gadgets and martial arts but also having frequent elements of mysticism present in the background.  That is how you would have to change the character to make the premise work, by so fundamentally changing the setting that the idea of changing the race becomes a non-issue.
"I don't see the resemblance." -Moron.
Superman could be any race (you can tell because they have made 10,000 knock-offs of the character and many of them are of different skin tones).  Martian Man Hunter frequently is multiple races and different authors have expressed the Martian race as being gender fluid as well, because of their shapeshifting (and I personally see that as the better interpretation, that when “he” refers to his “wife” who died on Mars, “he” is using terminology that makes the most sense to those “he” is talking to).
Wonder Woman, Flash, the various Green Lanterns (though they really need more women from earth to be considered diverse to audiences), and nearly everyone else on the Justice League could be a different race. Mr. Terrific was a white guy in the Golden Age of comics and Michael Holt, the character that carries the mantel now is a black guy (and atheist which is its own sort of minority in the Comics industry).
The NEXT person to hold a particular mantel (including that of Batman) could be any race without question, and many characters do have minority characters taking on the role of following the legacy of a character (Rhodes served as Iron Man, Sam Wilson is currently a Captain America, Miles Morales is a Spider-Man… Notice how much of this is taking place under the MARVEL header?  They are better at this).  BUT, Bruce Wayne-Batman makes the most sense in the context of Americana as a White person.
Let me take this a step further with discussion of another character that I imagine people would insist is “white” or “Mediterranean” depending on how particular you are of ethnic and racial identity.  You know, Wonder Woman really doesn't have to be Greek.
I think I might be the only person who thinks that the trailer to her upcoming movie looks awful too.
Like the Vikings, the Greeks were sea fairing and were aware of lots of races and cultures outside of their own. They would have seen black people.
The idea that Wonder Woman’s homeland of Themyscira is some extra dimensional utopia that is nothing but white women is also really fucking racist.  Like on its face.  Writing tip, if you ever make a Utopian society in fiction and go out of your way to point out that everybody is the same racial group, it is explicitly racist.  Having Themyscira be a multi-ethnic/racial matriarchal utopia that follows the principles and religious guidance of a very modern interpretation of the Greek Gods... not racist.  It is still SEXIST, no question there, but that is kind of the whole point/conflict of the character of Wonder Woman when she acts as a liaison between Themyscira and Earth.
I would also draw comparisons to Asgard and Marvel’s mythical Asian city of K'un-L'un (a popular destination for the superhero Iron Fist).  Certain earth cultures saw advanced and mythical civilizations and chose to emulate them creating the distorted myths that we know today in our world.  So, rather than the Marvel comics being inspired by the myths and everyone in real life bitching about how the comics and movies do not follow the myths, instead the myths were inspired by the Marvel civilization.  In that case Wonder Woman, Thor, or any other mythical figure could look however the comic artist wanted to draw them (African, Chinese, Hindi, Samoan, or European) and the "real" myths and history could be seen as the white washed versions.
Essentially in the DC universe Greek civilization emulated the Amazons (who are actually very diverse and “wise” … though still somewhat big into misandry) rather than the Amazons following and emulating Greek society. When the Greeks copied the history and myths of the Amazons they just made everyone Greek, and made Hercules the good guy of the story and played up the "masculinity = Good" angle (in the Wonder Woman comics Hercules was a villain).  You could even see this as a form of… It is white washing, but it is also male-ifying things… Penis-Washing?
Not to mention all the typical weird stuff going on in comics from the era of her creation that got thrown in right along side the strange sexual imagery.
This sort of Greek re-writing of Amazon myth would explain the disdain Themyscira has for Earth, and why the Amazons did not interact with "Man World" for thousands of years.  The Amazons did not like being taken out of their own stories and having their worldview coopted and corrupted to a Patriarchal and Misogynistic Greek culture which saw women as inferior.
“Women are the weaker sex… being born a woman is a divine punishment, since a woman is halfway between a man and an animal.” -Socrates
“The Male is by Nature superior and the female inferior and one rules and the other is ruled… This inequality is permanent because the woman’s deliberative faculty is without authority, like a child’s.” -Aristotle
Nothing going on here.
            It is easy to see how the Amazons might have interacted with Ancient Greece, taught them some things about the gods, art, and their history, and then left because they saw it getting appropriated.
            Of course this is all the diegetic explanation of things.  All of this is fiction.  Made by people to sell books and toys to children.  Batman was not made to push an Alt-Right dream of a world protected by its white betters, but I would point out that Wonder Woman was specifically designed to be a female icon in the genre and is rife with text of female empowerment, and subtext of bondage and sexual politics.

All of this is up to the authors and readers to decide what they want.  But the idea that a fictional character must be a certain way should be looked at in the context of what that character is and where they exist in their world.  Whether race, sex, gender, sexual orientation, or politics makes sense for that character should inform and be informed by who and what the character is.  Otherwise it is all just weird.
There is a great big multiverse out there, waiting to grow with weirdness though.  So whose to stop us?
If you like or hate this please take the time to comment, +1, share on Twitter, Tumblr, or Facebook, and otherwise distribute my opinion to the world.  I would appreciate it.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Batman of the 90's

Since I wrote about the “Arkham” games last month I have been thinking about Batman slightly more than usual (this includes playing “Arkham City” and lamenting the Catwoman portions of the game more and more).  I figured I would look back thru my “Ideas” folder, a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency section of my hard drive just in case I get the drive to get some words out of my head.   I needed to see if I had any Batman related thoughts this year that I could turn into a full blog today to help me work out a few other ideas that are related but I need some distance from them.  I have two Batman files, and this one relates more to the other thing.  (I will probably put the other one up next week).

Let’s look back on the 1989 “Batman” film directed by Tim Burton and starring Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson.  A mysterious figure appears on the scene to fight crime, corruption, and inadvertently creates Joker, a crime boss who is using his knowledge of chemicals to poison people on a massive scale, because he thinks it’s funny, “LOL”.
He'll look pretty different by the time the Fourth movie rolls around.
At the time it was a cultural phenomenon, with an avalanche of toys and other merchandise, and the best interpretation of the character in the animated series was created specifically to capitalize on this movie’s success.  “Batman” was (perhaps) the most iconic film of the year.  I thought it was pretty boring at the time (I was four), and now I just look back on it with only two complaints of any substance:
1)     The story structure is completely insane, most of the movie we are left following a reporter and photographer… Who seem to line up personality wise with Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane…?  Or, we are following Joker’s rise with Batman mostly relegated to the shadows.  There is also the decision to make Vicki Vale into the target of a love rhombus, as she draws the attention of the reporter, Knox; Bruce Wayne (& Batman); and becomes the taste of the month for Joker’s violent obsession.  The story is kind of all over the place.
2)     I think that both Jack Nicholson and Michael Keaton were miscast in their roles.  I think that Alec Baldwin would have been a better Batman, and I think that Michael Keaton should have played Joker.  If you think that is an odd choice keep in mind that Baldwin later played “The Shadow” (the character that Batman was originally the rip off of) and Keaton was already known for playing “Beetlejuice”, who is basically what people would picture the ghost of the Joker to be anyway, and a film that had Baldwin too, playing against type as the put upon everyman.

Keeping those two things in mind, there are two complaints that lots of people have that I do not share.  One that many fans of Batman would point to as a fundamental betrayal of the source material is the comically high body count Batman has by the end of the movie, which includes not only Joker, but the dozens of henchmen in the Ace Chemical Factory, and at least a handful of goons killed in hand to hand combat.  The Murderous Vigilante angle doesn’t bother me for the simple reason that not killing is just not brought up as an issue in “Batman”.  They chose not to make it a part of this Batman’s mythos, so it isn’t.  You are allowed to ignore elements of a character for the sake of telling a story in a new medium.  You are allowed to make a fundamentally different interpretation of a character.  They are, after all, fictional.
The other complaint is actually the one that inspired me to write this blog.  And that is this, “Joker did not kill Thomas and Martha Wayne in the comics, and by making him the killer the world gets very small and makes Batman’s character more about revenge than seeking justice.”  I disagree with this too, but keeping with my deluded fantasy of me being a mad genius, I disagree with this for reasons you will not expect. 
"You ever danced with the devil in the pale moon light?"
"I always ask that of all my prey.  I just like the sound of it."
In Tim Burton's "Batman", you could make the argument that Jack Napier wasn't the killer of Bruce's parents. That Bruce just conflated the two. It might be that every criminal Batman punches in that movie shares a face with his parent's killer, Jack was just the one that stuck out and crystallized in Bruce’s mind because the transformation into the Joker mirrored Bruce's transformation into Batman.
That change made Bruce think of Jack as a suitable foil to Batman. A good last chapter to him being the dark knight, a final dragon for him to slay to get his happy ending.  At the time Bruce probably thought that if he killed Joker he wouldn’t feel the drive to be Batman anymore.  Bruce already wanted out, that is why he wanted to tell Vicki Wale (A REPORTER) his secret identity, he wanted to be just Bruce, he wanted the hurt to stop, he wanted things to be okay again.
The theme of Bruce wanting the hurt to stop is explored deeply in this animated movie.
In it he speaks these words to the grave of his parents.
Bruce Wayne: It doesn't mean I don't care anymore. I don't want to let you down, honest, but... but it just doesn't hurt so bad anymore. You can understand that, can't you? Look, I can give money to the city - they can hire more cops. Let someone else take the risk, but it's different now! Please! I need it to be different now. I know I made a promise, but I didn't see this coming. I didn't count on being happy. Please...tell me that it's okay.
Why do I think this is the case?  Because it is the theme that carries thru the rest of the franchise.  “Batman Returns” has him fighting three villains that all mirror him in ways.
1)     Penguin, a disfigured millionaire who was abandoned by his parents as a child who grew up to become a criminal that uses gadgets and a legion of goons to commit crimes, which is a pretty distorted reflection of millionaire pretty boy who had his parents taken from him and uses gadgets to fight a lone war on crime.
2)     Catwoman, a person victimized by crime who takes up an animal totem in a black outfit to strike back at who wronged her and those like them.
3)     Shrek, a millionaire who wishes to use his good will with the city to push thru development to drain the city.  In the original script Shrek was supposed to be Harvey Dent who gets burned and transformed into Two Face at the end of the movie in the scene with Catwoman using the electrical cable… in the final version it just toasts him to a skeleton because they didn’t need him for a sequel.

            “Batman Returns” is about duality, and trying to take away the rest of the world’s power to hurt you by hurting it first.  Seems like killing the Joker was not the denouement Batman was hoping for.
FYI: This is my favorite of the 90's Batman movies.
It takes the crazy and darkness of the first movie and commits more fully to them.
In “Batman Forever” you can tell his being Batman is wearing on him because he talks about it with Dick Grayson, "You make the kill, but your pain doesn't die with (him), it grows. So you run out into the night to find another face, and another, and another, until one terrible morning you wake up and realize that revenge has become your whole life. And you won't know why."  Bruce can't stop.  He can't feel closure.  Though at the end of "Batman Forever" he makes peace with the idea. "You see, I'm both Bruce Wayne and Batman, not because I have to be, now, because I choose to be."  You’ll notice I spend less and less time on these movies, because we are getting away from my original point, bear with me.
This movie also has a theme of duality.
In case that wasn't obvious with Two-Face, and Riddler asking "Who are you?" as the climax of the movie.
But, to say this movie is less subtle would be an understatement.
As strange as this may sound, “Batman and Robin” continues the trend by having Bruce create a legacy with Batgirl and Robin just as Alfred, the man who raised him, slowly dies.  This makes narrative sense, forcing Bruce to acknowledge his limitations and the need to accept death, something he has been fighting against since he was a child, “No one dies tonight” is a common refrain for Batman in the comics.
This movie has an additional theme of, "Action figures make us a lot of money."
To recap: Batman is a crazy person who projects his inner demons outward, and internalizes his villains as part of his psyche.  This is not an original interpretation of the character.  Grant Morrison has written a lot on this with “Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth”.  This theme also appears in “Batman: Earth One” in which it is shown that the city of Gotham is designed like a giant spiral (or drain) that pulls in and traps crazy, and that Martha Wayne’s maiden name was Arkham, and her family had a big part in the design of Gotham.
You could say that 1989’s “Batman” differs in that the person who killed Bruce’s parents is an idea, while the Joker is a person.  In the comics and other media Bruce’s parents were killed by a person, Joe Chill, while the Joker is an idea, in that his secret identity is not known and his origin changes constantly (I have my own theory, I won’t get into it right now as this is already super long).
Whenever you look back on that scene of Bruce recalling young Jack Nicholson saying, “Ever danced with the devil in the pale moon light?” that Bruce is a crazy person desperately seeking closure on the event that has dominated his thoughts and life since he was a child, and that scene might just be a metaphor for him constructing his own ending to the story… an ending he never gets to keep.
Until Nolan came along and realized the symbolic nature of Batman allows for him to carry on without literally still fighting.
Also, spoilers for a movie that is now 4 years old and has been seen by everyone.
            Let’s take this all a logical step forward and apply these lessons to our own lives.  That when trauma damages us, not only on an individual level, but at a cultural and national level, that we must remember not only the who and the why, but go deeper than that.
Rather than transform ourselves into vigilant and vengeful monsters, out to destroy the various skulking predators of the world.  Out to stop those who seek to remake our safe world in their own mad image.  Instead, let us walk a different path.  Let us acknowledge that for some wounds there is no closure.  That for some things no justice can ever be fully felt.
We must stop constructing new targets and seeing every stranger as a potential foe.  We must stop demonizing those who are different from us or those that are like us but for small nuancesThere are two wolves within every person, one of good and one of evil, and as they battle only one thing can determine which will be the victor within each of our souls, the one with the strength to succeed will be the one we have fed with our own deeds.

If you like or hate this please take the time to comment, +1, share on Twitter, Tumblr, or Facebook, and otherwise distribute my opinion to the world.  I would appreciate it.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

My Top 10 Video Games

            I have not been posting nearly enough this year and I want to steer back from that.  To that end I have found a 30-day blog challenge and will be writing out entries, hopefully I can get all thirty days without any breaks, and if I manage to do that (since August has 31 days) I will think of an additional entry to write about.  I have done a 30-day challenge before, it for movies, but that was a while back, feel free to read those too if you like.

            Today is day 31 and the topic is “Top 10 Video Games”.
            This and yesterday’s entry were not a part of the original 30-day challenge, I added them to replace categories that I decided to excise for being lame.  Some of these games I have talked about before in this series, and some I have talked about before that, so I will link to those when apropos.  Cause I have written more than 25,000 words on freaking video games this month and I am pretty tired so I am not going to bust my ass on a rehashing of what I have already done.

I sincerely doubt this game is in many top 10's.
10) Fable
I have already talked about this one.  But to give a quick rundown of that: a game that emphasizes humor and a whimsical tone with basic gameplay and basic fantasy story.

This is probably on more lists.
9) Resident Evil 4
            Haven’t talked about this one yet.  This is the only good “Resident Evil” game.  It drops most of the BS science fiction to instead focus on a Lovecraft type horror, with giant monsters, twisted monstrosities, cults, zombies caused by parasites rather than a virus, and a plot to insert mind control parasites into the white house.  It is often playing things with a tongue firmly in its cheek, goofy elements, and random puzzles.  While most RE games take themselves too seriously RE4 lets you throw eggs at people.
As for mechanics it has the best quick time events I have seen in a game, though it is also probably responsible for that mechanic being added to every other action title that came out around that time.  The controls do not allow you to move while aiming, instead requiring you to be still while lining up shots in an over the shoulder camera model that works shockingly well.  There are also siege-defense, which allows you to push furniture in from of doors, or shove ladders away from windows, a small but really cool way to interact with the environment that adds to the survival horror element.
Lastly, the game is all about escort quests, as you attempt to save a damsel (the president’s daughter, Ashley) from the monsters, and it is the gold standard in this type of gameplay; Ashley anticipates your movements and gets out of the way, she takes cover behind you, she ducks when she doesn’t have time to get behind you, she can be sent thru some windows to unlock doors or throw switches while you keep the cultists off her, and in one of the cutest aspects of the story she gives a “yeah” mini fist pump when you kill a bad guy.
Resident Evil 4 is a fun and adventurous game that has a good sense of humor and solid gameplay.  I love it. 
This is definitely on top 10 lists.  Everybody loves this thing.  I kind of feel mainstream by picking it.
8) Portal
            I have talked about this one too.  And mentioned it positively a couple times.  To some up, it is a tightly designed puzzle game with one of the best mechanics, best bad guy, and best senses of humor in all of gaming.

I imagine people's negative reception to the ending of 3 might make this game unfairly neglected during award season.
7) Mass Effect 2
            I have talked about the characters of the Mass Effect series, but this is my favorite entry in the series specifically because of how good those characters are.  While I do find the action gameplay fun what I am really here for is the space politics and the space drama.  I like seeing the bigger issues of the galaxy explored thru the microcosm of diverse crew members you interact with.  It is funny, sad, and awesome in numerous measures.  One of the truly great games of its time and one of my personal favorites.

I am so out of juice these captions are giving me trouble.
6) Super Smash Bros Brawl
            I talked about how Nintendo is my favorite developer and this is a good example of why.  The only fighting game I like because it is so easy to play, and much like the rest of Nintendo, it is about having fun not really about giving everyone a competitive system to waste one’s life mastering.  (Note: I think E-Sports are stupid, they are as inane as any game and give you none of the exercise of sports and none of the creative or educational benefits of non-competitive games like Dungeons and Dragons).
            “Smash Bros” just takes bright characters and goofy environments and tells you to have fun with them.  The meta-narrative is that of all the characters all being toys and acting out the play battles of the “Master Hand”.  This even ties back to my discussion of “Alan Wake” yesterday, that I like the idea of characters taking on a life of their own and fighting to break free of their creators as the characters in this game square off against the Master Hand at the game’s ultimate conflict.
            I am sure if I had a WiiU that would be the iteration of the series that I like the most, but I don’t, so it’s not.

I've got to find a way out of here...
5) Spec Ops: The Line
Already talked about this one.  It is a dark exploration of the impulses that make people want to be a hero and the destruction such a self-serving drive has on the world.

Said the Joker to the Theif.
4) Age of Empires III

            Already talked about this one.  It is a Real Time Strategy game set in the colonial era of history.  It has lots of different units and a fun system for gathering and managing resources.

Breath that glorious desert air.
3) Fallout: New Vegas
            I beat this thing into the ground with my praise and the amount of time I have spent discussing it.  A mailman is left for dead, and now he is back and out for revenge in the post-apocalyptic desert of Vegas.

My brain is tired.  Maybe I wouldn't be cut out for it.
2) Psychonauts
            I already talked about this thing with a glowing review of how I wish I could live in this world.

This is from the opening cinematic of the game, but I have my doubts as to whether this would be the best place to settle down.  The river has advantages, but the mountains might make it too difficult to get enough workable tiles.
1) Civilization V
            This is my favorite game.  At time of writing I have 4100+ hours logged on this game via Steam.  This game introduced me to Steam and I have spent many a long night up playing it.  I love it, and I still to this day suck at it because I have no interest in ever playing it against anyone else.  “Civ” is what I do so as to busy my hands and mind while watching Netflix, Channel Awesome, or whatever else might be on the internet.
I have innumerable complaints and compliments for this thing (I still have no idea how the religion mechanic works), but I don’t want to list them all.  It would be pointless to as that 4100+ hours count would just underline how I have not let anything stop me from playing.  I have learned a lot about historical figures and great wonders of the world because of this game, and I look forward to “Civilization VI” later this year.

            What are your top 10?  What do you think of “get gud”?  How much time have you spent on your favorite game?


If you like or hate this please take the time to comment, +1, share on Twitter, Tumblr, or Facebook, and otherwise distribute my opinion to the world.  I would appreciate it.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Top 20 Video Games: 20 to 11

            I have not been posting nearly enough this year and I want to steer back from that.  To that end I have found a 30-day blog challenge and will be writing out entries, hopefully I can get all thirty days without any breaks, and if I manage to do that (since August has 31 days) I will think of an additional entry to write about.  I have done a 30-day challenge before, it for movies, but that was a while back, feel free to read those too if you like.

            Today is day 30 and the topic is “Top 20 Video Games: Twenty to Eleven”.
            I initially only gave out 8 honorable mentions in addition to my top 10, because I couldn’t find 2 more games that I liked enough that I could just make a top 20 rather than a top 10.  Isn’t that a bitch?
            Well, that mostly had to do with my unwillingness to just laud the various entries in one series or from one company.  Some top lists on the internet contain 3 games in a series in three different slots.  Just lump those together, there is no reason to eat up 3 entries on what amounts to one set of games.  You are not providing greater context on your tastes and interests by emphasizing those titles so much.  Eventually I realized that I should reach much further back in my memory to games that I liked a lot as a child to grab some more… Then I started to have too many entries and started cutting things because I don’t think nostalgia is a reason to love something beyond whether I still like it now.
            I am also a bit lazy in that I tried to talk about most of these over the course of the month so that I could just link to them and save myself from having to write too much here.  And I have talked about a lot of these in the WAY BACK of “before I started writing this 30-day challenge”.  So hooray for me for making all of this slightly easier to get thru.
And just like yesterday I am posting to the music.
20) Sonic the Hedgehog 2
My family was not wealthy and we waited several years before getting a new game system for the kids to play with, and by the time I got a Sega Genesis the game that was packaged with it was “Sonic the Hedgehog 2”.  I still consider it to be an adequate platformer from the era and I played the hell out of it.  I generally like Sonic as a character (I grew up on two wildly different yet completely acceptable takes on the guy) and still have a sort of soft spot for the whole thing.
A lot of Sonic’s themes are nature vs technology and perhaps it is because I grew up in the era of “Captain Planet” and other such environmentally conscious kids’ entertainment that I consider Sonic to have a little more meat to it (on a foundational level) than the straight forward goofy adventures of “Super Mario Bros”.  I would also point to those factors as to why the franchise has endured even though the game series has become a laughing stock, the cartoons are garbage, and the fandom is an overflowing asylum of creepy weirdos.

Look at these pricks with their flawless character design.
19) Tales of Symphonia
I already talked at length to this game’s merits, not only having a good story with good characters, but the art and gameplay that mark it as being a cut above.

Getting real lazy, reusing images from past blogs.
18) Batman: Arkham Franchise
I have already talked about this one and I again point to how its flowing combat system, stealth elements, and the iconic characters of the Batman mythos make this one of the most well regarded franchises in video game history.

I guess I should have done a screen grab of my version of the protagonist.
Well, just picture Harley Quinn but with giant gag-boobs and dressed in wrestling gear.  Voiced by Lust.
17) Saints Row the Third
I haven’t talked about this one yet and I imagine some people will point to the final complete game in the series “Saints Row IV” (a game I enjoy) as the best of the lot but I disagree.  “IV” had the burden of tying up the series and paid homage to all the previous entries with callbacks to characters, voice actors, game mechanics, and events… all jokes and references that went right over my head because I only played 3 and 4.
“The Third” does not have the issues of putting the series to bed, so it can instead focus on introducing new characters and locations that are treated as new places (and thus I, the player don’t feel like I am late to the party).  The tone is pure madness as I fight a legion of luchadores with grenade launchers, genetically engineered giants, weebo hackers, and an invasion of space age soldiers meant to take the city back from me.  The action is fun, the music is fun, and the dialogue is all fun.  The game sets a tone of silly and strange and keeps the pace at a steady escalation right to the end.  I love it.

This game is all about the tunes.
            16) Zelda Ocarina of Time

            Already talked about what is probably the definitive fantasy game of the last 20 years.

Waaargh.  Waaargh never changes.
Wait... Wrong franchise.
15) Dawn of War: Complete

I mentioned this game in my “Disappointing Sequels” entry and I think that blog covered most of my feelings but I would also like to again point out that the mythology of the Warhammer 40K universe is just delightful in all the oddest ways.  Violent to the point of self-parody, grim to the point of farce, and so earnest in its stupidity that I can’t help but like it.

This game is so old that it still has cool classic style fantasy art in its promotional images.  Boris Vellejo style.
14) Diablo II
I tried playing “Diablo III” a little and honestly it was one of my most anticipated games for a LONG time before it came out… and I could have (and should have) written about it in my “Disappointing Sequels” entry.  (Funny thing, I was anticipating the game for so long, the blog I wrote about my anticipation is on the site I used before blogger and I can't even provide a link, because I can't find it.)
For the time it came out “Diablo II” scratched an itch I did not know I had and I still think back on it fondly.  Much like Dawn of War the earnestness of its stupid plot about gory devils, skeletons, and goblins is just too sincere to hate.  It is a dumb little RPG beat’m up which has (literally) caused a mouse of mine to stop clicking from overuse.
I would point to “Torchlight II” as another title in this genre that I loved and I actually managed to play “Torchlight II” all the way to the end.
I am betting some people are telling me I got out while the getting was good.  But here is the thing, the only reason I quit forever is this: I got mad at them for charging me.
At some point they set up auto renewal and kept charging me even though I did not log in for a 6 month stretch and when I realized they had changed me 90 dollars for ZERO time spent logged in I left forever.
13) World of Warcraft
The appearance of two games by the same company back to back will be a onetime thing, though I am sure there are people out there who could make a personal best games list that would have lots of Blizzard titles filling slots.  Korean players certainly.
I got into “WoW” in undergrad and played regularly (30+ hours a week) for few months, then I would take a break and go back to a patch, play for a few months, take a break, and repeated that cycle for years.  I played thru “Burning Crusade” and felt no special attachment to any iteration of the game, I actually liked the game more each time I came back because of how much more accessible it had become (I do not have time to find the region the particular breed of slimes I am hunting is in).
I do think that “WoW” has had an influence that people might be aware of but do not fully appreciate.  That right now, in the cultural zeitgeist there are 4 fantasy properties that define the genre to people, “Harry Potter”, “Game of Thrones”, “Lord of the Rings”, and “World of Warcraft” each of them being more and more fantastical or distant from the real world than the last and these things have done a lot to bring the masses to the genre.  Even though I have not played “WoW” in 8 years, the fact that it is still going and that I have met people who met their spouse thru the game shows how wide and deep its impact is and how much longevity it has.
Call me crazy but any fantasy world that has room for Dwarfs dog fighting in biplanes is just making fantasy a more interesting place.

Not a very evocative title.
 12) Alan Wake
This will be a surprise to people reading this series, because I only mentioned this title once, and even then only in passing among other titles.  But, I have actually kicked around writing a blog about this for a while and for whatever reason it just would not crystalize, here is my best attempt at making my feelings readable.
To contextualize I am a big fan of the work of Grant Morrison, a writer who very much likes to write on the idea of creations coming to life and talking to their creators.  The idea that ideas and characters can take on a life of their own and have an effect on the world is a tantalizing concept to me as an amateur writer.  I am also a fan of HP Lovecraft and the idea that there are dark and hidden monstrosities in the world that seek to destroy us or drive us into a state of mass insanity.  Coupling these two ideas of a creeping darkness bringing to life the nightmares of a writer whose inner demons we do not want getting out, all of that is a very big and cool idea.
The plot is Alan trying to save his wife from the abominable terror, it took her into some world of darkness while Alan and her were going on a respite (really it was a trip to a detoxing resort) to help him get his creative spark back.  The game’s basic mechanic is having to weaken your opponents’ protective shadows via the use of light before attacking them with lethal force, that is a good metaphor, shining a light on the problem to reveal the greater crux of a personal issue and excising it.
The game also has lots of little fun things, like short segments of a “Twilight Zone” type show that Alan wrote for, one of the few instances in which I enjoyed a “Cut Scene” (the TV cut scenes in the mini-sequel “American Nightmare” totally failed in that regard).  There are also a good number of fun supporting characters with good dialogue and roles in the story, nobody has a bad thing to say about Barry, Alan’s agent, who comes to rescue him and actively helps in fighting the shadowy terror.
I would point to “Alan Wake” in much the same way people point to “Stranger Things”.  That it borrows a great deal from other stories in the genre (Alan takes a lot of Stephen King, Lovecraft, and “Twin Peaks”) but uses those elements to make their own thing with them.  A good apple pie does not have to be “original” so long as it is delicious.  “Alan Wake” is a delicious pie.

You can also thank this game for the lazy fucked up trend of every cover being some guy walking toward the camera away from explosions.  Maybe that was to indicate he was letting his health regenerate.
11) Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
I have already talked about this game in the context of it surprising me and how it surprised me.  It is the shooter that launched the contemporary setting for the genre because it has a very real feeling story in addition to its solid game play.  It crosses certain lines, but does so in a way that feels earned and impacts the player.

            What do you think of my list?  Do you have a list you would like to link to?  Do so in the comments.  Would you like to make a guess at my top 10?  Considering you are probably reading these months after I published it, you could just click on the link to tomorrow and read it (please do) but why don’t you make a guess first?  I offer no prize for a correct guess.

If you like or hate this please take the time to comment, +1, share on Twitter, Tumblr, or Facebook, and otherwise distribute my opinion to the world.  I would appreciate it.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Games I will be Playing

            I have not been posting nearly enough this year and I want to steer back from that.  To that end I have found a 30-day blog challenge and will be writing out entries, hopefully I can get all thirty days without any breaks, and if I manage to do that (since August has 31 days) I will think of an additional entry to write about.  I have done a 30-day challenge before, it for movies, but that was a while back, feel free to read those too if you like.

            Today is day 29 and the topic is “A Game I Will Be Playing”.
            I do not have a single game earmarked for this topic, so I picked something more nebulous, My Steam Library.  Way back on day 4 I said that the PC was my favorite system to play on, and that was because of Steam, and right now I have a shit ton of games all loaded and ready to play just as soon as I get past that initial push of actually turning them on.
            Let’s look at 5 games I have played for less than an hour, but I still want to play more of them, I just haven’t for whatever reason.
You can almost hear the moody low key score in your head.
Even if you have never played this game you can picture what it sounds like.
            1) “Deadlight”
            While I am sure of the narrative developing it is a solid platforming game.  I imagine that if this game had not been about zombies, which I am kind of sick of at this point.
Let me talk about zombies for a second.  The thing about fads in pop culture when they relate to science fiction and horror elements, be it vampires, werewolves, angels, or aliens; these things tend to show up, they get 4-5 movies or shows, then there is a brief period of backlash when people start to analyze the nuances of why they would and would not work, and finally the fad passes out of the system to get revisited a decade later with a fresh twist.
At this point zombies have not only been deconstructed, they survived the backlash and just kept on walking around, getting even more shows and video game tie ins.  We are going to end up hitting the revisiting/revitalizing stage of the cycle without them having ever dropped out of popular consciousness.  That is weird. 

This game also sounds exactly how you would picture it to.
            2) “Invisible Inc”
            I like turn based strategy, and a stealth game that utilizes a system akin to “X-Com” but for thievery sounds great.  I had actually hoped for a game with fewer narrative elements so I could just play it while doing something else, but with the story kicking in between every mission and sometimes during I can’t split my attention entirely, hence why I have not managed to play thru the thing.  I guess I will have to make time to go thru the thing rather than it just being something I keep busy with.

This is a longer game and has a more diverse sound.
            3) “Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning”
            This game has a style, both in gameplay and art, that reminds me a lot of “Fable” and I think that if I just give it a shot it will draw me in, but I’ve played it less than 2 hours.

This actually sounds nothing like I would picture.
            4) “Mark of the Ninja”
            This is a stealth platformer that is fun, but for whatever reason I found myself annoyed by being graded for my performance by the game while at the same time being unsure what it is I needed to do in order to improve my performance.  I think I will have to give it another chance and just ignore the repeated instances of me sucking.

This one sounds like the 90's cartoon adaptation of itself.
            5) “Shadowrun Returns”
            This turn based gameplay added to a cyberpunk setting, but with magic… This seems to have everything I look for in a story based game.  I liked the first half hour, but much like my non-starter romantic relationships in my life, I was afraid to commit.

Now let’s look at games that are downloaded, and ready to roll, but I haven’t actually played them, instead just looking at them for a few minutes before playing “Age of Empires III” or “Civilization V” again.  These were initially in reverse alphabetical order, because I thought that would provide a strange sense of symmetry to the list (as the previous list is in alphabetical order), but then I realized that if I put them in Alphabetical order I would have started the previous list with zombies and ended this one with zombies, and that seemed even more symmetrical.  I am a bit of a mad person.
I think this has music that is suitably a mix of grim and epic.
1) “Darksiders II”
I played the first one, and while I found it to be over the top it was still fun… Until I hit a boss I couldn’t beat.  I turned the difficulty down, played it several times, and then quit in a huff (This attitude is also why I have not played a lot of “Dark Souls”).  That experience with “Darksiders” left me a little uninterested in trying the sequel, but I got it as part of a game bundle when THQ went out of business and have been willing to give the series another shot but just haven’t yet done so.

Creepy and weird.
            2) “Dishonored”
            This is probably the most well regarded game on this list.  I have no idea why I did not dive into this the day I got it.  I have wanted to, but just haven’t.  I think I might have some deep seeded fear of starting something I will probably enjoy.

Bit of a color change with this title as compare to the previous entries.
            3) “How to Survive”
            Fucking Zombies again.  At least this one has a unique view of the gameplay, and seems to emphasize making weapons to fight the zombies in different ways.

Sexy chick in a cyberpunk dystopia.  Tell me I'm Dreaming.
            4) “Remember Me”
            A science fiction dystopia about manipulating memories and kung fu.  Am I in the Matrix?  No?  Okay.  But that’s what the game is about.

Windmills?  If I had played this it might make sense.
5) “Valkyria Chronicles”
This is a turn based strategy game set in an anime version of World War II, but they don’t call it that.  Cause, Japan.  Which is fine by me.  I have heard tons of good things but much like everything else I just haven’t done it.

Anything I write in this caption will be more words than what I wrote under the description.
6) “The Vanishing of Ethan Carter Redux”
This is about a guy walking around.  That is all I have managed to gather about this thing.

Even the music on this thing is better than the show.
            7) “The Walking Dead: Season Two”
            I talked about the first one being a masterpiece of storytelling (except for chapter 3) and I have put off actually playing this thing for freaking ever.  I no idea why.  Two of my buddies played it in tandem and invited me to watch it but I foolishly blew them off expecting to have played it on my own time.
            This is kind of where that lethargy toward zombies was really kicking in.  I had been giving the TV show a shot at this point (what a piece of shit) and this could just wait.

            I think it is pretty clear that I have allowed way too many god damn games pile up in my Steam library and have not done enough to actually take advantage of owning them the way I took advantage of how easy they were to purchase.  This is the problem I think with some online shopping that lots of people fall into, when you have instant access to something you want on an impulse and those impulses are stimulated frequently by sales, special offers, or just more content being released it feeds that squirrel part of the brain that just collects and hordes hunts until your squirrel hard drive looks like an overstuffed red bar.

            What games have you been looking forward to playing but haven’t had the time or the drive to actually hit “start”?  Or are there any games you only played for an hour before setting down?  Not because they were bad, just because you had other shit to do and it could wait.  And they continue to wait.  Please comment.

If you like or hate this please take the time to comment, +1, share on Twitter, Tumblr, or Facebook, and otherwise distribute my opinion to the world.  I would appreciate it.