26 April 2013
I love our local (now, Chicagoland) library. Not that our previous Wisconsin library was bad, but there's just so much more selection here. On our first trip there, we borrowed a copy of one of my favorite Studio Ghibli movies,Castle in the Sky. I realized as I went through some of my previous articles that I hadn't written a review of this movie, so I made sure to watch the movie closely so that I could put up a Too Late Review and a few comments.
Not that this really needs Spoiler Space, but here's the warning nonetheless.
This is the story of Sheeta and Pazu. Sheeta is the long-lost princess of a magical floating city in the sky, Laputa. In the very first scene of the movie, Sheeta is being held on a airship. Suddenly, air pirates led by the matronly Dola arrive to attack the ship. She tries to hide outside the airship, but accidentally lets go. After a couple seconds, the necklace that she took from the guy inside the ship glows, and she floats to the ground unharmed.
At this point, we meet Pazu. He's an eager sort who wants nothing more to help... he goes to help Sheeta while on an errand to help his boss. He manages to catch Sheeta before harm comes to her, and after his shift is done he takes her back home for her to continue to rest.
In the morning, he plays the trumpet as the day starts. I mention this because the soundtrack rocks, and there'll be more at the bottom about this. The pirates have figured out where Sheeta landed, and the army has too. In a rather wild piece, Pazu and Sheeta run and run and run from everyone and both end up falling... so that Pazu can experience the power of Sheeta's amulet.
More plot is revealed in the mineshaft through Pazu's hermit uncle. When they escape, they're instantly corralled by the army as the pirates look on in fright. Pazu and Sheeta are imprisoned in a fort, but Sheeta arranges for Pazu's release. Pazu goes back home dejectedly... and meets the pirates.
At this point, the pirates now are on the side of "good", or at least have a similar goal to Pazu as both want to find the Floating City, Laputa. While in the fort, Sheeta uses the power of the amulet to accidentally wake up a robot. The robot looks frightening, even scaring my seven-year-old son, but as the sequence goes on you can find the heart contained in the metal shell... as the movie shows that this robot has more feelings, paradoxically, than the entire army who is more than happy to shoot at it and doesn't care if Sheeta gets hurt.
Sheeta drops her amulet but is saved by the team of Dola and Pazu. The three of them join up with the rest of the pirates to follow the army to the city of Laputa. Sheeta and Pazu manage to get there first, and the stillness of the city is broken by robots and the occasional small scurrying animal... this structure is a city in ruin, choked and overrun with plants and animals, and very much looks the part.
The army and the pirates arrive. Sheeta is taken while Pazu escapes to try to figure out a way to save her. The leader of the army then backstabs the rest of the army, as we find out that all he wanted was to control the flying city and its amazing contraptions. Pazu, through his determination, reaches Sheeta. Sheeta, for her part, manages to free herself and obtain the pendant back, and through the power of the pendant manages to self-destruct the city. The tree in the middle of the city saves them, as they manage to entangle themselves in the roots and float away. We also see the pirates at the end, who managed to still walk away with a sizable amount of booty.
Spoiler space completed.
I absolutely love Ghibli characters. Dola is definitely one of my favorite characters in this movie... she takes absolute pleasure in what she does and brings that joy into every scene. Cloris Leachman provided the voice, and seemed to have such enjoyment through the role, matched by the animation, that it's hard to dislike her after the pirates' conversion. Pazu and Sheeta as the lead characters are also very effective and interesting; Pazu's determination seems to see him through every single challenge, and Sheeta is no shrinking flower. She's willing to get her hands dirty, and while she does end up getting led by Pazu a couple times, she's still willing to carry the action herself, sacrificing herself more than once for the greater good as well. The robot from the fort gets another mention here, as hopefully the audience learns like Sheeta does that even if the shell looks frightening, it does not automatically mean that the spirit on the inside is frightening too.
The last note here is that I love the soundtrack for this movie. The theme, as stated by Pazu (in trumpet form!) is a stately cadence, almost as if you can hear the march of time itself as the sun comes up and the people wake up. There's the promise of a new day, and not knowing where the day may take you. There are many other moments where the soundtrack is good, but I really thought that it shined brightly when Sheeta and Pazu landed on Laputa; both the uncertainty when they were first discovering the structure and the wonder when they realized what it was and learned of its wonders.
I absolutely recommend this movie, I would give it a 3.9 on my 4.0 scale, with the one-tenth off purely due to the length. It is a bit longer movie, and if your attention does wander a bit it will do so towards the end. However, it is a terrific movie, one that will be added to the collection when the opportunity arises.
20 April 2013
Okay, after finishing this game, I felt I needed some time to process the whole experience and here's what I've come up with. Warning: Full Plot Spoilers follow:
This game, set in the year 1912, has you playing the role of a former Pinkerton detective and a generally wretched human being, Booker DeWitt. Booker narrates to us how he was hired to find a girl named Elizabeth and bring her back to New York in exchange for eliminating his gambling debts. Unfortunately, Elizabeth can only be found in the city of Columbia, which has seceded from the Union and floats above the clouds like a balloon. A very heavily armed balloon.
Once you get to Columbia, you are awestruck by the majesty and beauty of the city and honestly, those first couple of hours exploring the city were probably my favourite part of the entire game. But it doesn't take too long for you to realize the evil that lays beneath the shiny surface of Columbia and next thing you know, you're ripping someone's face off with an skyhook. Yeah.
Some people have complained about the level of violence being too excessive with this game given the tone and setting of the story, and yeah, I agree that performing executions does come off as more than a little excessive. But to be fair, they give you the choice whether or not to perform an execution or simply melee your foe to death. It makes the game a little more difficult and the end result of death is the same, but it's considerably less bloody if you're squeamish about that sort of thing.
As you continue your search for Elizabeth and gather information through private viewing booths and audio diaries, you also manage to pick up plasmi... sorry, VIGORS which give you supernatural powers. Now this, I had a problem with. While the original Bioshock explained the purpose and reasoning of the plasmids and why they were being used and abused, they just appear in this game for no real reason other than it's a Bioshock game. I mean, I know HOW they appeared in Columbia, but they don't explain WHY they're here or WHY very few residents use them against you.
So, when playing the game, I made the decision to only use Vigors when absolutely necessary, such as powering up a conduit with my lightning. Again, this made the game more challenging, but oddly more satisfying. Of course the game chided me quite a bit when I didn't use them, apparently deciding I was an idiot who kept forgetting they existed, but I tried not to let that bug me... too much. ^_^;
When you finally meet up with Elizabeth and rescue her, she becomes your companion and thankfully, she can take care of herself so the game isn't just one long escort mission. In fact, she ends up bailing you out of trouble by throwing health and ammo at you, and I can honestly say she was probably the most useful NPC I've ever seen in a game.
The makers of the game spent a great deal of time and effort on her character and it shows as she reacts to everything around her and had a well developed personality. By the end of the game she does become a bit 'Q-ish', but I guess that's unavoidable when you wield that much power, I suppose.
Before I go on, there is one major annoyance I want to address. Unlike the first Bioshock, you can't manually save your game here, autosave is your only option. I don't like that practice and I wish it would stop but the main reason it became a big deal for me is because the autosave is buggy and I actually lost about 4-5 hours of gameplay at one point.
It's either a testament to the game's greatness or my own patience that I was willing to play through the game again to finish it, but I was NOT happy about losing that time and I STRONGLY recommend they patch that issue sooner than later. ^_^
Now I'd like to talk a bit about the story. The villain of this game is an insane, extremely racist, self-proclaimed prophet named Comstock who is all but God in this city and declares Booker to essentially be the Anti-Christ who needs to be stopped at all costs. As a result, you're constantly fighting wave after wave of policemen and soldiers as you enter each area.
While the enemies do get tougher as the game goes on, I found it to be a little too repetitious at times and I wish the first person shooting could have been interrupted more often for alternative gameplay other than a few optional fetch quests for ciphers. Perhaps the future DLC will cover this, I dunno.
I will say that the tougher enemies can take quite a bit of damage before they fall, especially the Handy Men, who, while not nearly as compelling character-wise as the Big Daddies in the original Bioshock, are considerably tougher and will kick your ass from one end of the street to the other if you don't keep moving.
Back to the story, Comstock has big plans for Elizabeth, who only wishes for her freedom and the chance to travel and visit places like Paris. She possesses the ability to create small riffs in time and space and either bring back items to help Booker or step through into another reality. It's more than a little convenient for you and even Elizabeth directly refers to it as 'wish fulfillment' but I can't deny its usefulness and it does make sense in the end, more or less.
However, Elizabeth previous attempts at escape are always thwarted because of Songbird, who is basically a Big Daddy reimagined as a huge flippin' bird. Once considered her friend and protector, she now sees him as her jailer and deeply resents it. She can't even escape to another reality because Songbird just appears there shortly afterwards to stop her. Elizabeth even begs Booker at one point to kill her rather than let Songbird capture her again, showing just how desperate she is to escape captivity.
There are other plots going on as well, the city of Columbia exploits and abuses minorities due to Comstock's blatant racism and another prominent figure named 'Jeremiah Fink', a capitalist's capitalist who sees minority workers as nothing more than cattle and treats them even worse.
One of these minorities, a woman named Daisy Fitzroy, was formerly a servant of Comstock until she was framed by him for the murder of his wife. This lead to her starting a resistance movement called the Vox Populi to fight the power which eventually leads to a very bloody revolution and the tormented becoming the tormentors. At one point, Booker enters a reality where he was a martyr to the Vox Populi cause but Daisy still orders Booker's death because the Booker of her reality died a hero and his being there alive, in her own words, 'complicates the script'.
Also, there are two mysterious figures, a man and a woman who repeatedly appear and disappear out of nowhere during the course of the game to speak cryptically about you and your mission. They end up becoming very important to the overall story and thankfully aren't too smug or annoying, as interdimensional beings tend to be. ;P
Their relationship is also a bit creepy as she lovingly refers to him as 'brother' and is content simply to be in his presence for the rest of eternity, which becomes even more disturbing when you realize that he is an alternate version of her. I know it's important to love yourself but YIKES. ^_^;
Another plot has a former soldier named Cornelius Slate whom you once fought beside, demanding that Booker give him and the men under his command a soldier's death because Comstock, whom Slade previously supported, lied about fighting in the battles where Slate's men gave their lives, took credit for his accomplishments, and stripped Slade of his position when he dared to confront Comstock about it.
This leads to a rather bizarre sequence where you're forced to fight the soldiers among two horribly racist exhibits of battles fought at Wounded Knee and the Boxer Rebellion, highlighted with ugly stereotypes of both Indians and Chinese.
While I assume these exhibits are supposed to demonstrate the depth of Comstock's deep rooted racism and hatred, it came off as more than a little ridiculous, and personally, I just found it embarrassing. Whatever the writers were trying to convey, I think they missed the mark and I'm not surprised some people are upset about it.
Finally, I want to talk about the ending, which seems to be the main focus of discussion with this game. Whether you like Bioshock Infinite or not, the fact that its ending has provoked so much discussion is a good thing and I give due credit to the writers for accomplishing this.
Booker DeWitt claims to be a man who deeply regrets his bloody past, he can barely speak about it to Elizabeth when she asks and it seems to greatly pain him. And yet... he's Comstock. To be specific, Comstock is revealed to be an alternate version of Booker DeWitt.
Booker wanted to be reborn and wash away the sins of the atrocities he committed at Wounded Knee, and as Comstock, he falls back into becoming a murderous racist with delusions of Godhood. He shows no signs of realizing this hypocrisy. At all. Yes, you could say he became insane with all the dimensional travelling and reverted back to type but that just seems too easy an answer.
If Booker's racism ran that deep, then what exactly was he repenting? The loss of innocent lives? Killing women and children? Taking joy in the act of killing? It's never made clear and while being open to interpretation can be a good thing, I was more confused about his motivations than anything.
Just to be clear, I don't mind when an evil man simply is, I've complained in the past about villains who were needlessly complex when I was more interested in seeing them get what they deserve than listen to them endlessly drone on about their motivations and philosophies. I encountered this problem mostly in Japanese RPGs, I admit. ;P
But consider the masterful job they did with Andrew Ryan in the first Bioshock game, making him a villain and yet a compelling person whom you could actually sympathize and possibly even agree with at times despite his flaws. By making Comstock merely insane, he basically becomes a shallow criminal, thoroughly uncompelling and implausibly having an army of followers, without whom he'd be nothing. Even if Andrew Ryan had nothing, he'd still be an interesting character. Comstock's just a hypocritical nutjob.
Anyway, Booker DeWitt learns that in his reality, he rejected the baptism that created Comstock but still committed his own sins by working as a goon for Pinkerton and incurred gambling debts so severe that he chose to sell his own daughter, Anna, to settle them. Elizabeth, who we learn is Anna, tells him that to save her and prevent the atrocities of Columbia and the birth of Comstock in all realities, he has to die. Booker accepts this sacrifice and is drowned by several versions of his daughter, eliminating all realities with Comstock and causing Anna to fade away.
This would probably be one of the most depressing endings to a game I'd ever seen except for an epilogue after the credits where Booker DeWitt is still alive and will seemingly gets a second chance with his daughter, whom is now once again a baby. But I couldn't help wondering why Booker would be returned to this specific moment in time, where he's still guilty of war crimes at Wounded Knee, whatever he did as a Pinkerton Agent and possibly still loaded with gambling debts to dangerous people.
Even if we believe Booker wouldn't try to sell his daughter again, it's still a rather grim ending if Booker still has sin on his conscience and has no immediate way to pay off his gambling debts, assuming the interdimensional twins didn't take of it. Granted, a slim second chance is better than no chance at all and perhaps future DLC will continue the story, we'll just have to see.
When the game was finally over, I wasn't entirely sure what to feel, I needed time to process the whole thing. I'm still not sure I've reached a definitive conclusion either since there's future DLC to come that may expand the story further or offer nothing of true substance. Still, I don't think I'm going to return it as it may well be one of the last interesting games of this console's generation to be released.
If you have the chance to rent it, I would definitely do so but I wouldn't buy it unless you were really into the combat aspect or you wait to see if they add a multiplayer aspect and if it's any good, get it for that, I guess.
18 April 2013
Watching Escaflowne, episodes six through twelve, and there's a few more themes that are coming up in the show. I'll break directly into Spoiler Space going on from here...
Taking up from episode six, Vaan and the Vaanettes are still in Asturia. The ruler of Asturia completely doesn't believe them, he's solidly on the side of Zaibach. As Asturia's king talks, Vaan's older brother shows up. This is the guy that was unable to take Fanelia's throne for some odd reason that we will hopefully find out about. Vaan gets targeted by Dilandau, sitting in her mecha, but Hitomi saves him at the last minute. In the next episode, Hitomi gets sad 'cause Allen has a lovelife and gets herself captured. After she is rescued, Vaan, Hitomi, and Merle the Cat Gerle escape off to the forest.
Vaan targets Gaia's version of an oil field and manages to save the girls again. Hitomi gives back the favor in the following evening, alerting Vaan to the invisible mechas attacking them in the forest. In around here, we find out that Vaan has always been a two-winged angel, that he's Folken's stepbrother, and that Folken for some reason wasn't able to live up to his birthright. Also, we get to meet The Old Dude, the leader of Zaibach who seems to be a cross between Emperor Palpatine and Quincy from Bubblegum Crisis 2040, who goes on about his fortune-telling probability machine and how Hitomi is messing everything up.
Vaan, the girls, and Allen and his troopship all meet up in the next kingdom over, Freid. They also manage to bring along a Zaibach prisoner from the aforementioned battle. The itty-bitty prince of Freid doesn't know what's happening, and Vaan/Allen try to tell him that Zaibach's trying to <Brain> Take over the worrrld! </Brain>. There's a speedbump though, in that the are bringing in an interrogator.
The interrogator gets waylaid by another "new concept" kind of thing... there's shapeshifters in this universe and they work for Zaibach too. The shapeshifter "interrogates" the Zaibach prisoner, who gives an exceedingly poor excuse and even more tortured reasoning, but is accepted by the seven-year-old prince. This results in jail time for Vaan, Merle, Allen, and Hitomi. Next, the shapeshifter interrogates Hitomi. He hypnotises her, and then asks to have her magic medallion. Once the two of them make contact, they go into a together trance where Hitomi predicts his death.
The shapeshifter disappears and Vaan volunteers to go after him. The shapeshifter manages to report to Dilandau, but Dilandau decides to kill him 'cause she's not crazy about him. Vaan manages to fight off another group of Zaibach mechas, and now he's got Hitomi's detection powers too.
That's about it for the Spoiler Space.
There's two things that conspired against me on this review. The first one is that my late-90's vintage Escaflowne tapes ran out on episode 8. We waited for quite a bit to have Netflix fill in the gap, and then caught up on a couple of other things before circling back. So, some of this review was reconstructed from rememberies generated through Wikipedia's episode list, though we watched the last four episodes through the previous week.
The other thing that worked against me is that it seems a lot of spinning of the wheels. At one point, Zaibach arrayed their forces against Freid. From what they showed, Zaibach had more than enough to wipe out pretty much every city that Vaan and Allen weren't in. So, why don't they? I... really don't know, there's not a satisfactory explanation there. After all, Fanelia was little more than a gnat to them.
I understand that they have to "get the Dragon" (speaking of the mecha Escaflowne)... but, well, they've got Dilandau, who's willing to burn the rest of the world. Why don't they turn Dilandau loose to give Vaan no port to stash the big ol' mecha? As it is, Dilandau is more than happy to kill allies, and I'm sure that Dilandau would barely even need three additional mechas to burn the world down.
There's not really an overarching message to gather from this middle portion, because the show is still trying to set up the stakes and position the characters... but we're quickly getting to the end of the setup, I think... I hope... and then I may have a better idea of theme to write about for the next portion.
15 April 2013
#2LR - "Air Emergency", "Seconds from Disaster": Disaster Porn and the reality-show and procedural update for the millennium:
Yep, long title, though there's plenty of ground to cover with this topic...
I remember a long time ago, watching television and coming across Bud Light commercials. This was back in the day where two guys would fight to the death to label Bud Light as either "Tastes GREAT!" or "Less FILLING!" It wasn't enough that Bud Light did one thing well, it had to do two things well. Of course, the selling point is that it did both things so well, when the implication is that the watered-down mess of swill you have in front of you can't do either one right.
I'm not sure if this counts as my guilty pleasure, much as someone you know and love admitting they buy Us Magazine for all of the Kardashian coverage, but I enjoy both "Air Emergency" (also known as "Mayday" or "Air Crash Investigations" internationally) as well as its sort-of sister show, "Seconds from Disaster". The best part about a guilty pleasure or a vice is that a person has a ready-made excuse as to why they like what they like, and I would be more than happy to go into that excuse below.
It doesn't help my case that my first reason is morbid curiosity. After all, what does happen when something designed to land happily onto the ground... doesn't? Every person that files onto a plane has the same expectation that the plane's systems are working 100% correctly, that their pilot is a master flyer, and who above all else do not expect the system to break down. Only problem is that if the equivalent to a flat tire for a car happens to that plane, it's far more serious and doesn't entail just a couple hours of waiting and a few extra bucks for repair.
I suppose that this is the one thing that fascinates me the most about the disaster porn aspect of the first fifteen or so minutes of these shows. The systems did work... enough for these people to get off the ground, or at the very least enough for these people to strap themselves into a piece of machinery that goes really really fast. One of those variables gets changed up there, though. What really happens when that variable gets changed? How many other variables get cascaded and changed by one single variable? If a person suffers a neck injury and has a spinal cord get injured, that affects the whole rest of their life... one little spot on their neck. And, as I've watched a bunch of these, the same goes for an airplane as well as the people inside.
There's a reason that we don't have machines running the world quite yet, and that's because every time a new variable pops up, the machine isn't designed to take it into account. Humans, however, do their level best to take these new variables into account. Unfortunately, the variable overcomes them many times in these types of shows, though there is always the odd show (such as the one documenting the plane landing in the Hudson River with no one perishing) that still allows you to keep faith in the human race to roll with the punches.
The thing that strikes me even more than the variable change is the way that these people have managed to wall themselves off from the world. At thirty-thousand feet, a plane with 300 passengers may as well be on Mars... if something's happening, there's no Plan B. No escape pods exist for these people, nor even the crew when something catastrophic happens. (On the flip side, I suppose that if the world gets nuked while people are on planes, those lucky few people get to deal with the new world order...)
The kicker is that all of these episodes are true stories... this really really did happen, and not in a Claire Danes Titanic kind of way. If you've paid enough attention to news or recent history, you may have even heard about one of the accidents that ends up getting featured on the show, or known about it because it's affected your sports team ever since it happened (Man U, 1956 through Lokomotiv, 2011). When they list names, that person was involved. When they reenact the pilot/co-pilot dialogue, in many circumstances you're listening to the last words of someone, literally, who managed to be in a place to have those last words recorded.
In some ways, this is disaster porn of the highest caliber. George Kennedy never got killed ONCE by an airplane, no matter how many "Airport" movies were filmed. However, none of these poor souls ever thought for a second that one of those variables would get changed on their flight, and paid for it in injury or in death. The only way that this sort of disaster porn could be of any greater vintage would be as the world's most insane snuff film, where there are no actors. As it is, it's certainly macabre enough.
Of course, my justification for liking these shows is what happens afterward. After whatever event befalls the poor victims, the show turns into a procedural for whatever's left of the time, crossed with a reality show. They have people being interviewed that take you through their mindset, telling you about the theories they tried, the clues they found, the investigations that they ran. In this way, the second half really is the Bud Light, where someone would point to the reality of the matter, where the people interviewed really do their level best to try to take you back to the past and tell you their mindsets as they were going through the investigation. On the other hand, there's an honest-to-goodness investigation going on, and clues will be had... sometimes by the truckful, but for every time they have one of those, there's a damaged cockpit voice recorder or flight data recorder lurking in the weeds.
Just as the variable change fascinates me in the beginning, there's other things that fascinate me in the procedural part of the show. Some of my favorite moments are when the investigators use the data they *don't* have to make a judgment. I typically think through problems in as few paths as I can, and seeing the mental gymnastics that these investigators are called on to do is absolutely amazing. There are times that these investigators can isolate problems, down to a single cork within a propeller blade, or a discolored panel, that they are able to find inconsistencies and figure out exactly why something happened.
I have to try to pick my way into the next statement carefully, but I want to make sure that I pull no punches. As far as me, personally, I would like to think that if an event was so momentous that it caused my death as well as the deaths of others, it would be nice to realize that it would not be a death in vain. If I were to die from a random traffic accident, or from an illness that looked enough like something common (e.g. pneumonia), there would not be an investigation into why I died, and the same problem has a high likelyhood of happening to someone else again. It's nice though, to see from these investigations, that when a plane with people comes down... even if no one is injured... that event is investigated from every single angle, and the industry is made safer. To be trite, the death (or injury) has a cause behind it, and for darned sure everyone would be warned about making that mistake in the future. Even when the pilots were found to be completely ignorant, methods were figured out to make them less oblivious in similar situations and these professionals are trained in those methods.
I know that this could sound horribly insensitive, but the for-instance comes from my wife's family. Her grandparents were killed in a drunk-driving incident. Nothing was learned from this... the drunk driver ended up getting some jail time for involuntary manslaughter, and that's the extent of the punishment. The worst part is that I don't even know if the original drunk driver learned anything from this, and this kind of accident will happen again... guaranteed.
At any rate, disaster porn with a side of reality-show and police procedural is my current drug of choice, of which I am a junkie. There is also a fallout amongst people who love the person who has fallen victim to this vice. Mine may be extremely insidious... of my children, I managed to make two of them scared to even take a step into an airplane. I have no idea what the future may or may not bring as far as air flight, peak oil, etc... but I can't imagine that this is a healthy attitude to have going forward for them, especially since now they expect every single plane that has ever gone up into the sky to come down in a horrible, fiery wreck. I have not been party to an intervention just yet, but there's always a chance.
As you can see, I can't exactly be subjective about the topic, so there's really no chance for a "rating" per se. Just rest assured that if they manage to combine more genres, I'll be there to check it out.
14 April 2013
After much work and fretting, I'm finally ready to release my first ever Let's Play for a short AGS adventure game called 'Paul Quest: Gold Edition'. You can find all four parts on YouTube at the following link:
All comments and criticisms are greatly appreciated and I sincerely hope you enjoy it. :)
After much work and fretting, I'm finally ready to release my first ever Let's Play for a short AGS adventure game called 'Paul Quest: Gold Edition'. You can find all four parts on YouTube at the following link:
All comments and criticisms are greatly appreciated and I sincerely hope you enjoy it. :)