The Book of Henry

I was having a bout of insomnia and picked the first movie that looked like I might not care if I fell asleep in the middle.  That movie happened to be The Book of Henry.  I went in blind with only the blurb and cover art to guide me.  Based on those, I was expecting a whimsical yet dramatic tale (or, as I said to my husband, “possibly whimsical but also probably gay”), probably fraught with some sort of underlying moral lesson.  The “crime” tag intrigued me, though.

I think I was only 15 minutes in when I started googling reviews to see what I had gotten myself into and whether it would be worth suffering through.  The titular character was INSUFFERABLE.  Like, it says in the blurb that he’s a boy genius, but he was the WORST KIND of boy genius.  The first half hour of the film can be summarized as “Henry is very smart and they all would be lost without him, except for [plot adult] who does not listen to him despite all of the evidence that Henry knows best.”  The worst.  I didn’t think I could sit through two hours of it, so I glanced at the reviews.

The first review I landed upon (yay Wikipedia) was this one from Owen Gleiberman:

“There’s the kind of bad movie that just sits there, unfolding with grimly predictable monotony. Then there’s the kind where the badness expands and metastasizes, taking on a jaw-dropping life of its own, pushing through to ever-higher levels of garishness. The Book of Henry … is of the latter, you’ve-got-to-see-it-to-disbelieve-it variety.”

Oh god damn, I’m actually kind of excited now!  Let’s see what kind of train wreck prompted that!

Whatever you are thinking right now—it’s worse.  Believe me, it’s worse.

Spoilers will follow.  You won’t be missing out, but you might want to experience it for yourself first, just for the novelty of it all: Read more of this post

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Dark Souls I and II

We spent probably close to 200 hours obsessively playing the first two Dark Souls games this month, and now I feel like I should tell you about it.  Normally I try not to bother writing about mainstream games (unless there’s something to bitch about), but I misunderstood the Dark Souls games and now I feel like I should try to ensure no one else makes the same mistakes.

I bought Dark Souls I a looooong time ago, when it first came out on Steam.  I spent a fair amount of time fighting what I called ‘the first boss’, which was getting GFWL to fucking work.  Once I got past that ‘boss’, I spent a fair amount of time on ‘the second boss’, which was getting the actual game to work by installing player made patches to fix all the bits and pieces that the people who ported the game over from console didn’t bother to do.  (The second ‘boss’ was much easier than the first ‘boss’.  Fuck GFWL.)  Then I ultimately died to ‘the third boss’, which was getting the controls to work.  There were TOO MANY BUTTONS and I kept swapping shit when I didn’t need to and jumping backward when I didn’t want to and… it was hard :(.  I was so exhausted from fighting the first and second ‘bosses’ that I didn’t get very far with the third ‘boss’, and I didn’t get very far into the game before wandering off.

My second attempt at Dark Souls went much better.  I made it all the way to the actual second boss of the game and spent some time dicking around trying to farm up souls and get some items before trying to actually fight it.  Which is about when GFWL took a big steaming shit and the game stopped working entirely.  Frustrated, I uninstalled the game and put it in a Steam category labelled “Broken because of GFWL >:(“.  It remained there for years.

Then they talked about GFWL shutting down and removing it from games that were fucked by it and my ears perked up.  And then they decided not to do that and I sighed dramatically and closed the “Broken because of GFWL >:(” category again (which was starting to collect more and more titles…).

Then I discovered that they had FINALLY.  FINALLY. actually properly removed GFWL from the game and I reinstalled it.  My husband reinstalled it at the same time (he had gotten much further than I did, but didn’t actually finish it).  THIS time the game worked beautifully, all the online integration was smooth, I still had to install the fan patches to make the graphics pretty but that was all smooth sailing as well, and because I didn’t waste 20 hours getting the fucking thing working, I was able to finally commit the controls to muscle memory.

And then we binged.  We binged so much that my forearms got sore from holding my shield block button.  And then the Christmas sale happened and we bought Dark Souls II, which my husband had actually already bought, but now it had the Scholar of the First Sin version which was all updated and shit so he upgraded to that too.  We completed Dark Souls and jumped straight into Dark Souls II.  And we binged.  Like seriously, my wrists are probably fucked from holding this controller, now.  But we “finished” the game, in that we completed the main story but there’s probably another 30 hours of DLC for us to go through still.  We are now very much looking forward to Dark Souls III, and we’re super pissed that Bloodborne is not coming to PC.  We cannot co-op when it’s on a console (unless we buy two PS4’s, I guess, buuuuuuut…), and the co-op together is what launched the games from “really good” to “fucking amazing”, so there’s not even any real point for us to buy it.  Shitty.

We had a really good combo going, for both games.  I went super-knight, with high melee and armor, and my husband went super-caster.  I was all “fuck magic” (mostly because I didn’t want to have to swap another button around…) and he was all casty explody.  So we’d team up for bosses, I’d piss them off, and he’d blow them up.  It was very effective.  On bosses that were difficult to melee, I’d just dodge the entire fight and try to keep it distracted away from him.  On bosses that were resistant to magic, I’d beat the shit out of them while he mostly tried to stay alive.  Good times.  Without the co-op I’m not sure how far I would have made it into the game.  The boss fights were challenging, but knowing you could team up and make it easier made even a hopeless fight seem worth tackling.  We only really stalled out on a couple of the bosses, and mostly optional ones that we tackled before we were really ready (we abandoned one of the DLC bosses in Scholar, which we DEFINITELY were not ready for.  But at least now that we’re at the end of the game we can just port straight to it and give it another whirl).

Dark Souls has a reputation of being incredibly difficult and frustrating, and I think it’s been misconstrued.  It’s challenging for sure, and the co-op helped a lot with that, but I was MUCH more frustrated with Diablo 3 than I was with Dark Souls at any point.  In Diablo 3 I was continually getting fucked by randomness that I had absolutely no control over (wrong kind of rift that you have no chance of winning?  Welp lose that keystone I guess).  Nothing felt random in Dark Souls, and I was far less frustrated as a result.  I died a lot, but I could always see exactly why, and learn from it, and then come back and try again.  It was kind of interesting because I am far more patient than my husband, so I was willing to creep forward and scout, and wait out the enemies to attack them, and I ended up doing far better in combat than he did.  But he was far better at memorizing the layouts of the levels, so I’d focus on the monsters and traps and whatnot I was dealing with and then get turned around and be annoyed because I couldn’t figure out where to go next, and he’d zip through the level and forget that there’s a monster around that cor—oops you died.  In some of the particularly terrible twisty layouts (Sen’s fortress, or Blighttown with the god awful toxic shit) we’d just co-op to make the exploration smoother.  I’d deal with the monsters and he’d guide me through the place so I didn’t get lost.

At first it seems super punishing because you lose all your collected souls (which are used as experience and currency) when you die, but you only lose them if you cannot collect them again.  In reality, you really only truly lost the souls if you were reckless.  I found it very easy to position myself so that if something went wrong, retrieval would be easy.  And often I didn’t even care.  You quickly progress to a point where the majority of your souls will come from boss fights and victories, and any you manage to preserve on the route there are just a bonus.  My husband referred to it as “exploration mode” and “farming mode”.  When you first bust into a new area and you have no bonfires lit, you’re in exploration mode and don’t even bother worrying about the soul counter.  Once you have them all lit, you can clear it out a few times and build some levels if you want.

One of the things I was really hesitant about when I started the game was the PvP aspect.  Other players can invade you and kill you.  But they can only do that if you are human.  The only time this was an issue was in a certain area we were trying to co-op in (you must be human to summon your buddy, which leaves you open to attack).  Also, it’s not even such a big deal if you die in pvp.  You don’t lose anything except a few minutes of time to run back to retrieve your corpse, and once they hit you once you’re no longer human, so you can’t be hit repeatedly.  Unless you’re trying to summon your friend in a high pvp area… then it’s pretty irritating.

The summoning your friend aspect could really have been smoothed out, though.  We had a LOT of issues with it in Dark Souls I.  We’d sometimes have to reboot the game a few times to try to end up in the same invisible ‘lobby’ to be able to see each other’s summon signs, and sometimes it was frustrating to get it working at all (ok I was wrong, Dark Souls did frustrate me quite a bit… but it wasn’t the god damn gameplay that did it :P).  Also, once you kill a boss, you cannot summon each other anymore, which meant we screwed ourselves out of co-op on a couple of exploration areas by doing things out of order, which sucked.  I really wish they had made it smoother and let you summon your friends preferentially, especially now that it’s integrated into Steam.

Dark Souls II DID improve the summoning aspect.  I was worried at first because they tightened the summoning restrictions.  In the first game you must be within a certain percentage of each other level-wise (usually ~15 levels worth).  In the second, you must be within 10 levels and a certain ‘soul memory’, AND they added restrictions for how long another player can be in your game, solidifying the “I’m just here to help with the boss” aspect and making it less of a co-op exploration experience (although you can now summon each other at any time, even if the boss is dead… so they both tightened and loosened that restriction).  But then they added a nifty little ring that lets you choose a god, and then you can summon anyone nearby who has chosen that god regardless of requirements (and also prevent people who have not chosen them from picking you up randomly, which was far more of an issue in II than it was in I, due to much higher player counts I suppose).  The ring made coordination MUCH easier, and the lobby problem seemed to be resolved in II as well.  The only issue we ever had summoning each other in II was the day the servers crapped out, which we finally figured out when we realized we weren’t seeing messages anymore either.  It could still be done a lot nicer, but at least they made it less horrible to summon each other.

The other thing I really disliked when I first went into II was that it seemed to punish you for dying.  This is DARK SOULS dammit.  Why the fuck would you punish the player for DYING??  In II, when you die you lose a % of your health pool permanently, and on top of that, the monsters can be permanently killed.  In the first game you always had the option of just going back and farming an area to regain the souls you lost.  In II, you could kill monsters, take their souls, and then die and lose them with no way to get those souls back.  They would leave your game forever if you failed to retrieve them.  This was stressful to me.

BUT.  As before, it ended up being not nearly as bad as I imagined.  Just like in the first game, the majority of your souls come from bosses, not farming.  Being able to perma-clear an area actually ended up being a really NICE feature because you could spend 10 minutes clearing out that annoying asshole monster that fucks you every time, and then never have to deal with it again for the rest of your playthrough, which could be a strategy for clearing out a tough combo in an area.  And the health thing was a non-issue, because we were playing co-op.  Going human or helping another player restores your health pool completely.  It was less of a punishment for dying, and more of an encouragement to step out of a solo game and help other players.  Even if you hate playing with others, the humanity restoring items were everywhere, and you can burn them to prevent people from invading you if you were super worried about that.

The Dark Souls games are unique, which is a difficult thing to claim nowadays.  There have been a few attempts at copying it (all of which my husband has jumped upon, and then quickly abandoned), but they utterly fail at capturing the magic.  Also the games are GORGEOUS.  Even in the first game which has kind of shoddy graphics, there are plenty of places you just look around and go “Wow.”  The second is even better.  And what I’ve seen of Bloodborne is incredible (too bad I can’t play it >:(.  Fuckers.)  They really accomplish something with their graphics and I am impressed.

Very excited to require wrist surgery once Dark Souls III comes out.

Unfriended

Normally we don’t break into the crappy horror movies until October, but it’s been so cold and miserable outside that it feels like October and my husband started craving some cheesy Halloween style movies.  I picked up a few promising looking titles, and Unfriended was on top of the pack.

I was not expecting much from this movie.  A girl dies and then haunts people through Facebook?  What?  But it was surprisingly well done.

The entirety of the movie takes place on a computer screen, which is certainly a novel (and probably very cheap) way to film something, and I hope it doesn’t become the next ‘thing’ and get run down into a trench that’s the size of the Grand Canyon.  It was clearly done by someone who uses computers a lot, and it feels authentic, though there are certainly things that will annoy people who use computers a lot themselves.  For one: why is your internet connection so awful, auuuugghhh.  The video on the Skype connections is constantly blipping out, which is probably supposed to replicate the feel of a found footage shaky cam, but instead of increasing the tension I just found it fucking annoying.  Buy a new wireless card for fuck’s sake.  Also bonus marks for taking like 5 fucking minutes to download a 900kb file and then 2 seconds to download a 1.6MB file immediately afterward [/nerd rage]. There were also some minor errors here and there, which I at least found easy to ignore because there is a ghost in the computer!  But I did find it a little annoying when she shared her screen with everyone to show them that it wasn’t working, then immediately tabbed out and started typing private messages and no one seemed to remember that the screen was shared and they should be able to see it.

The story itself was well done, I thought.  A decent amount of tension and interesting outcomes.  The beginning was a little rough, since it’s basically just teenagers whining to each other and in general being annoying, but once it starts rolling it’s a fun ride.  I’m not sure if it’s a problem or not, since it is a horror movie and it’s basically par for the course, but there are no sympathetic protagonists here.  You will hate everyone and want them all to die.  Fortunately, it’s a horror movie!  So they do.  Oops, spoilers.

Eidolon

I should really play Eidolon more before I try to review it but I bought the Hexcells pack in the Steam sale and every time I start playing that it magically becomes 2AM… so I should probably bang out some semblance of a review before I get distracted and forget everything about it.

An eidolon is an apparition, a ghost, a remnant of something that used to exist but now does not.  The game Eidolon has you exploring a “post-human Western Washington”, uncovering all the ghosts of what used to be Seattle.

The game has a sort of “walking simulator” feel to it, where you wander around (mostly aimlessly) trying to uncover the threads of the stories to figure out everything that happened.  This part of the game is actually pretty interesting, I felt.  You have a journal where you collect all your little scraps and you can choose which thread of the story to pursue next, or just see what crops up.

I’m going to go ahead and get this out of the way:  The graphics are not good.  You are not playing this game for graphics.  It’s actually a bit unfortunate because I’m usually in it for gameplay so I’m pretty tolerant of low graphics (especially in games that cost 5 bucks or so)… but these graphics often left me wondering if I was having some sort of rendering problem that was preventing textures from loading.

This is a wall, I think?  A green wall?

I think this is supposed to be a crumbled wall, but why is it green?  Moss?  Let’s say moss.

That wasn’t even so bad until I wandered back and forth around a “rock” only to discover it was supposed to be a car.  I think.

This is a car, right?

This is a car, right?  Or a rock with a windshield?

Yeah… low poly trees are one thing but that car, man.  But the graphics are not without their own sort of “paper cut-out” kind of charm, either.

But anyway.  Gameplay!  As I said, you wander aimlessly trying to uncover the stories of the past, which largely include the individual stories of people who existed around the time the city was destroyed.  How was the city destroyed?  What happened to the people?  Well, that’s the game!

The game does not hold your hand at all.  You’re quite literally dropped into a forest with no explanation whatsoever.  Your journal says something about being too far from the beacon so you’ll die if you get injured or starve, but it doesn’t do much to explain to you what any of that means.  Where’s the beacon?  Are you visiting the planet from a space ship?  Time travel?  A different part of Earth?  Do you need to find that beacon?? Things do get explained to you (and there are lots of really weird and interesting things to dig up) but you have to work for them.  It’s refreshing, really.  It’s nice to just sort of pop into a world and get your bearings the old fashioned way instead of having a tutorial spoon-fed to you for the first 20 minutes.  My biggest complaint in the beginning was that it was a bit TOO aimless… the world is huge and there you are wandering in circles in a forest with no idea what to do or where to go.  I finally tripped over a story chunk and it gave me some direction, but I felt like the game should have started me with something to follow at first since the map is pretty much literally the size of western Washington.  Then I discovered there’s apparently a bird showing you the way to the first bits of story, and also I am an idiot.

What you’re looking for are little blinky cubes scattered around the world.  White cubes represent new tools, and green ones represent story chunks to add to your journal.  Once you’ve got a story chunk there’s a selection of related terms listed below it, and clicking one will give you a light to follow in the general direction of the next story chunk related to that story thread.  Or, you can follow birds.  Apparently.  The blinkies can be really easy to miss, as I discovered while I was attempting to warm up to make an attempt to swim across a channel to one in the distance, only to turn around and discover one right beside me /facepalm.  I did notice that sometimes they’re easier to spot at night, because they pulse.  But then it’s night and also really dark…

There's a green blinkie on the left, surrounded by haunting skyscraper skeletons.

There’s a green blinkie on the left, surrounded by haunting skyscraper skeletons.  Also it is coastal Washington so it’s raining ALL THE FUCKING TIME in this game.  Realism!

One of the first things I discovered was a fishing pole, which I promptly used to catch some fish, which I cooked on a fire.  Which leads us to the next part of the gameplay: survival.  Eidolon joins the ranks of the open world “don’t die” simulators, where you must feed and warm yourself or suffer the consequences.  These are some of my favourite types of games, and the addition of a super creepy post-apocalyptic world with stories to uncover just makes it better.  But I find the survival gameplay in Eidolon is somewhat lacking.  Food is everywhere, and you’re really in no danger of starving at any point (at least so far as I’ve gotten in the game.)  The only thing that has killed me so far is attempting to swim across a freezing ocean just to see how far I could make it.  (The answer was: really far).  Fortunately (?) dying has absolutely no consequences whatsoever in this game, so after dying in the ocean I merely popped up somewhere else at 100% and carried on my merry way.  I climbed a mountain (possibly Mt. Rainier??) and fell off a cliff and broke a leg (I assume.  It just said ‘wounded’) which later became infected and made me sick.  Being sick meant I would vomit periodically, which would drop my hunger levels, but I couldn’t eat to stop starving because I would immediately vomit and waste the food.  Because I was wounded and exhausted I moved very slowly, which was really pretty annoying because it’s not like you’re particularly zippy in the first place and those blinkies are really far apart, man.  I couldn’t seem to heal my infection, which meant I couldn’t stop vomiting, and I couldn’t heal my leg to move faster again.  I finally came to the conclusion that it would be best to just fucking die and start fresh (and move at a normal speed again), but dying turned out to be really god damn hard to do.  I needed to find another cold body of water to freeze to death in again because I was just too stubborn to starve to death, apparently.

So let’s see.  This game has really interesting stories to hunt down and creepy/fascinating sights to see, but you’re constantly hounded by a largely pointless survival system that will force you to abandon your story hunting to pick mushrooms (and discard them if you’ve had them for too long.  And may I just say I GREATLY DISAGREE that blackberries become “old” after one day, and furthermore that “old” blackberries are no longer safe to eat.  *shake fist*  Now, had you said mouldy I could perhaps see your point.), and periodically you will be arbitrarily slowed down with some sort of infection or wound that will prevent you from reaching your goal of finding more stories or interesting sights to see.  At which point the best solution is probably to just kill yourself and start fresh because there is no penalty for doing so.  This does not sound like a well implemented survival system… it sounds like a nuisance system that was included because they felt the game would get too much of a bad rep for “lack of gameplay” if all you did was collect story bits.  But on the other hand, it’s nice that it’s not such a strict survival simulator that you’re constantly losing any progress you made toward finding story bits because you starved to death or were eaten by wolves like in Long Dark (grr, fucking wolves).  May I suggest a toggle for “story only” vs “survival” mode?

Eidolon is certainly not without its flaws, but the world is interesting to explore and presents a unique setting that I’m glad to see they did some intriguing things with.  The map is apparently accurate enough that you can recognize landscape features, and there are lots of sci-fi and post-apocalyptic story surprises waiting to be discovered.  I recommend checking it out if you’ve been interested enough to reach the end of this review…

Her

I’m just going to copy/paste what I sent to my friend while I was watching this:  This movie keeps going from “lol” to “what” back to “lol” and then to “WHAT“.

I thought I enjoyed it, but I… I don’t know.  The only thing I am certain of is that it is unique.  Certainly worth a try, I suppose, but… what.

My husband’s review was “The thing I didn’t like about that movie is that they didn’t die in the end.”  So you might want to consider that, too.  (…spoilers?)

The premise is that a new operating system is invented that learns and tailors itself to become a companion to its user.  We follow the sad little life of a lonely divorcee who upgrades to the OS and, naturally, chooses the female option, only to start spending all his time with “her” (as does pretty much every other person who has one).  The OSes are programmed just a little bit too well, and start to gain autonomy and ask tough questions.

It’s great if you like artsy philosophy scenarios (I don’t…), fairly amusing from a nerd culture perspective (which is what I enjoyed the most, although I have often joked about my computer storming off in a huff and the concept of an OS that can actually do that is awful!), and contains a large number of incredibly awkward “sex” scenes that are kind of like watching someone have fucked up creepy phone sex.  Which is where most of the WHAT comes from.  It also moves pretty slowly and has a lot of talking which may or may not be at all interesting to you.  I actually wasn’t that bothered by it, but apparently my husband thought it came across as really whiny.  Viewer beware.

So I guess that’s a way of summing it up.  If you would like to watch someone whine about being lonely and then have creepy phone sex with a computer, oh boy have we got a movie for you!  If you find the philosophical themes interesting, you’ll probably enjoy it.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Good writing.

Good humour.

Great acting.

Great soundtrack.

Still understood it while drunk.

 

Thumbs up.

Paper Sorcerer

It’s been a month since I’ve written anything, and it’s entirely because the Diablo 3 expansion consumed my soul.  (Bonus review: the Diablo 3 expansion is really good.  Really really good.  Really good.)  After spending an hour before work, several hours after work, and all day every weekend levelling characters and farming achievements, we’ve got almost 100% completion and I woke up this Saturday and didn’t feel compelled to immediately log into Diablo.

This dawning of a new day happened to coincide with the release of Dark Souls 2, and reading about that put me in the mood for some dungeon crawling (of a non-isometric format, anyway), but something perhaps a bit cheaper than Dark Souls 2 since it will come on sale one day so why pay full price, right?  (spoiler alert: we also bought Dark Souls 2 tonight so I wouldn’t sit around mashing F5 looking for new updates after this, either :P.  Stupid games being good and time consuming and stuff.)  I stumbled over a game on Steam by the name of “Paper Sorcerer” and decided it looked interesting enough that I bought it not on sale for a 5 dollar price tag.

It’s good and you should buy it.  Because it’s 5 bucks.  And good.  I like to support 5 dollar games that are also really good.

It’s an “old school” first person dungeon crawler style, with turn based combat, but the art assets really make it unique.  The premise is that you are an evil sorceror/sorceress who has been trapped inside of a prison book as punishment for terrorizing the land with your summoned minions.  You traverse the dungeons within the book, regaining your powers and re-summoning your monster buddies (who serve as your party), while seeking to break the bindings holding the prison together.  The art is all black and white hand-drawn style, as is fitting for book illustrations, but it’s done in a really excellent way.  Exploration is satisfying, and loot is interesting.  It’s also challenging enough to keep you thinking about strategy, both in battle action choices and in party composition and skill layout, once you’ve unlocked enough monster buddies to have some options.  I’m on easy (because I am a huge wuss) and I still find myself sweating through the last few turns of a battle here and there.  The enemies and encounters are static and there’s no grinding to speak of, so it all relies on your decisions rather than your experience points. I think the catacombs have random fights so you could grind to overpoweredness I guess, if that’s your thing.  I chose the ‘rob everyone blind to have lots of cash available to buy skills’ style of grinding, myself.  The story isn’t the main focus (fear not, you won’t be stuck scrolling through text for 20 minutes every time you meet an NPC), but the writing that is there is well done and interesting.  The music is honestly a bit bizarre, but somehow really enjoyable too.

My major complaint (and only complaint…) is that the interface is a little iffy.  It’s fully swappable between keyboard and mouse, but sometimes it feels awkward to use one or the other, making you feel like you should be swapping… which is awkward in itself.  (So it is probably safe to say the UI is somewhat awkward, huh.)  I also find it a bit tedious that there are a lot of superfluous menus to click through.  I suppose it retains the “old school” feeling of “it was easier to program it this way so you have to agree to this option even though it’s literally the only option that will ever be presented to you” (e.g. having to pick “all enemies/allies” for group effects that will never be cast on anything but the entire field…), but it would have been nice to modernize that a little bit.  I also find the inventory a bit cumbersome.  Things are a bit better if you remember to hit Q and E to swap between your party members, but equipping new items on them can be a real chore sometimes.  Click(or spacebar) on inventory, click on Sorceress, click on desired item slot, double click on desired item, click on accept, swap to new character, repeat… unless you forget to swap before backing out, which results in having to re-select the inventory and character again before getting back to item select.  None of it is streamlined, and sometimes I feel like just selling the items I’ve found rather than worrying about whether one of my lesser-used party members might benefit from it.

But it’s five dollars and worth well over twice that, crappy menus and all.  Check it out.

Monsters of Men (Chaos Walking Finale)

Monsters of Men (Chaos Walking, #3)Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

These are good books and you should read them. The final book in the series holds up its end of the bargain and keeps you reading. It has its flaws (and a fair amount of cheesiness…) but it still deserves a five.

I still hate the random misspellings in Todd’s sections. They add nothing. Stop it. I don’t mean during dialogue where it dictates an obvious speech pattern, I mean in his thoughts where any word that ends in “-tion” is butchered into “-shun” for no reason. I got over it but it’s pointless. I still appreciate that every character sounds distinct, though.

Speaking of which, I absolutely loved the way the alien voice is written. It’s a challenging task to take on a language that is intended to be mostly pictorial and then change it into text, but it was effectively done (even if there were some shortcuts here and there). It felt alien. The worst thing about it is that I don’t think it can ever effectively be translated into a movie format. I almost hope no one tries to make this series into a movie because so much of it will likely be lost in translation.

Many of the complaints I had about the characterization of the villains were completely eradicated in the final book – which brings me to a whole new complaint (no, you can’t win). This series should not have been a trilogy. It doesn’t really feel like a cheap cash-in attempt (selling three books is better than selling one after all) but the books feel decidedly unfinished when you hit the break points between them. You need to read all three to get the whole picture and really appreciate it. It was amazing, but I wonder how polished it could have been if it were constructed as a cohesive whole…

FORCED

You know what I’ve always wanted?  I’ve always wanted the raid fights from World of Warcraft, but for 2-4 players.  Something that requires a lot of strategy and coordination, with specific roles for each team member, but without the need to collect and manage a group of 25 or more competent team members.

That game is FORCED.  We’ve played it for about 3 hours and only made it to the second set of challenges, but I already feel confident enough to recommend it.

The premise is that you are gladiators dumped into a ring, and you must battle through a series of challenges.  You can choose one of four roles/classes, then proceed into challenge chambers and try to succeed.  Succeeding at a challenge involves your standard “kill shit that is attacking you”, “avoid things that will kill you” (I accidentally referred to a giant spinning death beam as a “Lurker Beam”.  Sigh.  If you don’t understand that then, well, good.), as well as the novel mechanic which is passing an orb back and forth. The orb will activate switches which do various kinds of things (heal you, kill enemies, blow shit up, etc.), it might activate blocks which need to be pushed onto switches, or various other kinds of goals. Each encounter has three objectives: Succeed, succeed really fast (time attack, usually requiring a high degree of coordination), and a sort of “achievement” style challenge which can be anything from “do this perfectly” to “do this crazy shit that no sane person would attempt”.  Each time you complete a challenge you get a gem, which is used to unlock abilities, perks, and keys to bind things to.  I had originally thought that beating the chambers was fairly easy and that the real challenge of the game would be to complete all the extra challenges.  Then we had our asses kicked repeatedly in chamber 2.

People keep saying it’s an ARPG/Diablo clone, and I can see why because I also thought at first it was going to be a WoW/Diablo game (in fact… I think their own site refers to it as a Diablo style game)… but it’s actually not much like Diablo, aside from having a third person isometric camera angle and shit to kill.  There is no loot or experience.  The only progression comes from completing challenges and unlocking more abilities.  The real challenge is all on you as the player to execute the encounter correctly, and the advanced abilities only make that marginally easier by giving you more playstyle options that might better fit your comfort zone.  Basically, if you enjoy beating a challenge for intrinsic reasons (because it is challenging and then you can tick it off the “done that” list), you will love this game.  If you enjoy beating a challenge for extrinsic reasons (because it drops shiny items), you might wonder what the point is.

I also don’t see how this game will ever be fun to play with random groups.  My god, the ways you can fuck over an encounter… I can see this game ruining a number of legit friendships when they’re actually putting in effort, nevermind random internet assholes trying to grief things.  One tap of the space bar calls the orb to you, which calls it off-course from wherever it was going before.  A lot of the orb objectives require precise timing and aiming, and we screwed the encounter over so many times simply by losing track of which character was ours amongst the swarms of monsters.  Much cursing was heard.  And that’s on the second chamber with only two people who are physically in the same room and can yell instructions to each other easily.  I can only imagine it gets worse at higher levels, never mind with 4 people accidentally hitting space… and maybe some of them aren’t on voice chat… and then that one asshole keeps doing it on purpose…
Yeah.  Play this game with friends.  Very good friends that you aren’t likely to want to strangle.

The really unfortunate thing is that the game is suffering some launch issues, and I feel like that, combined with the misinformed “just another ARPG” vibe people are getting from it, will really hurt its reputation before it gets off the ground.  The netcode is apparently a little shaky, and the developers couldn’t afford to have dedicated servers for it.  The result is that the host has a perfectly solid game, but there are some pretty gnarly lag spikes for most everyone else.  My husband and I are in the same room and he was still having some connection issues (LAN doesn’t appear to be an option either…).  I’m really hoping they can iron it out or get some dedicated servers up before they lose rep.

My one legit complaint with it is that the camera gets in the way a lot.  The camera follows the orb, so when you and your buddies split up, it just zooms out so that you can still see everything.  Except you can’t really see everything and sometimes it messes you up.  Cameras are such a difficult thing to do correctly… it’s really only an issue because the game requires so much precision.  The other issue is that I found it really easy to lose my character in the mobs of monsters, or lose track of which character was mine on the screen (something that happened to both of us frequently, and it’s really bad because you’re like “Oh if I call the orb now it will hit that pillar perfectly!  … why is it going THAT w…, oh FUCK.”).  We were both on sinus decongestants at the time which probably wasn’t helping, though…

The game is fairly unique and I really want to support co-op endeavors like this, plus the developers themselves have a pretty awesome origin story and I feel like I want to support these guys.  The first review they list in their trailer literally says “Fuck your game!”.  What other evidence do you need!  Buy FORCED.

Mary and Max

I can’t remember how I found this movie.  I think it was when I was picking up random foreign films, since it came from Australia, but somehow we didn’t get around to watching it.  Last night we watched it and I went on a real rollercoaster, from “Wow this is awesome and unique” to “Woah, unexpected” to “I’m not even sure I want to write a review about this because I’m not sure what I think…”.  It was a GOOD MOVIE, don’t get me wrong, but much like “UP” you probably shouldn’t watch it if you’re looking for something to cheer you up, jesus.

The movie is claymation animation, which, according to evidence from some reviews I saw, probably fools some people into thinking it is for children.  It is not for children.  Good god no.  It almost needs its own genre… it’s a black comedy but also a drama and a bit of a social statement at the same time.  There’s a lot of very crude (non-North-American style of crude) humour (all well executed, I might add) layered overtop of a lot of very sombre issues.  The basic premise is that Mary is a lonely little girl who picks a name at random to write to because she wants friends.  She ends up writing to a reclusive man with aspergers, who also has no real friends.  They chat back and forth about the various issues in their lives, spanning many years of time.  Almost nothing good happens to either of them. Maybe that’s a spoiler but I almost feel like you should be prepared before you go into this thing because I sure wasn’t.  The ending was one of those bittersweet “I almost feel like this is a good ending and I’m kind of happy, but at the same time, fuck everything” endings.  I think that means it was a success… I’m not sure.

Probably the only thing I am going to actually bitch about is that the movie starts off saying “This is based on a true story”.  The events near the end of the movie were starting to make me a little skeptical (but then again, truth is almost always stranger than fiction) but it was convincing enough that I scampered over to Wikipedia to discover the origins of the movie.  I had to do a ctrl-f to even find the reference, and it pointed back to an interview where the writer said he had a pen pal once, and that’s pretty much the only thing not fabricated.  Disappointing, and downright false advertising, I say.  If I were giving it stars I would subtract one just for lying to me.

If you can handle the deceit and depression, I definitely recommend trying to find this movie.  It was unique and well orchestrated, and even though it was depressing I wouldn’t say it was trying to be emotionally manipulative, just blunt and raw.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

The Wonderful Wizard of OzThe Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

We were watching “Oz the Great and Powerful” (which was decent, but pretty shallow, and very Disney), and I realized I had never actually read any of the original Oz books. I knew I had them so I figured I should probably remedy that.

I’m probably going to piss someone off with this, but, what surprised me the most about it was how bad it was. Not the story! The story was imaginative and unique and perfectly captures that “fairy tale” feeling. What was bad was the writing. I was trying to put my finger on it, and I think it just feels amateur, which probably makes sense. It’s similar to what you would expect from a young author – there’s almost an obsession with documenting each and every trivial action of the characters, almost as if there’s a fear that the reader will either become confused, or call out the story for not describing how something came to be (even when obvious). It makes several parts of it unwieldy and wordy, but even more bizarre, it flip-flops into sections where absolutely nothing is described in detail, which is quite glaring after the painstaking details in every other section.
The oiling of the Woodman is a good example. The whole section is like: “Oil my neck”, said the Woodman. So Dorothy oiled his neck. “Now oil my arms”, said the Woodman. So Dorothy oiled his arms. “Now oil my legs”, said the Woodman. So Dorothy… okay we get it. There’s like two pages that could be condensed into the sentence “Dorothy oiled the Woodman until his joints moved once more.”
In another section, Dorothy pulls out a whistle and the book explains that she always wears it around her neck so it’s been there the whole time. My version was annotated, and the accompanying footnote said “Commentary has been unable to explain this suddenly appearing accessory.” I can take a crack at explaining it though – it’s lazy writing. Either the whistle was mentioned in a section that later got hastily chopped out and not cleaned up, or it was never mentioned and when this part got written, the explanation was jammed in on top with some hand waving.  That’s my interpretation.

Speaking of the annotations… I know this book has been analyzed backwards and forwards and inside and out for the past century, but I read books for the entertainment value, and I tend to analyze them on the same level. I generally prefer going into a book “blind”, without any encounters with any outside opinions to colour the formation of my own opinions. Which is why it drives me absolutely nuts (and I know I’ve bitched about this before in reviews…) to have a classic edition like this that spends literally the first 25% of the book going over the history of the creation of the book, the life and times of the author, their favourite passages from the book, and what they think those passages mean in a symbolic and allegorical sense, all before letting me start to read the fucking book. Put that shit at the END of the book, AFTER I have read the book. It’s absolutely mind boggling. What possible reason do you have for putting all of this shit before the content of the book itself. It’s not reasonable to expect that everyone on the planet has already read the book. What if a 5 year old child is reading this as the first book they have ever read, and now you’ve ruined the story for them! Way to go! [/rant].

That said, I found the footnotes amusing, in that they reinforced my belief that I will never get along with literary analysis. My god, the sheer effort spent trying to derive meaning from every little thing. The tin man rusts, but tin cannot rust! What can it mean! Well, it could have some sort of allegorical meaning, or, it could be that, back in 1900, L. Frank Baum didn’t understand how rust works. It’s probably one of those things. I skimmed over the whole “Oz as an allegory for economics”, as well as something about how Dorothy must have been a vegan because she is only ever seen eating nuts and fruit, and all I can think is that it’s entirely too exhausting to read things while trying to dig up clues that may or may not exist under the words.

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Metropia

Metropia popped up on my recommendation list because it was dystopian and sci-fi (…kinda).  We watched it and the whole time I was thinking “Oh man this is so bizarre and unique, this will be a great blog entry.”  And then we finished it and… I didn’t really know what to say.  I could barely remember what the movie was about, let alone say anything about it.  It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it, and it’s not that it wasn’t unique so there’s definitely some things to talk about… it’s almost like trying to grab on to something incredibly slippery and then it squooshes out of your grasp and out of your line of vision and you can’t remember what you were doing anymore.  I suppose that is appropriate for this movie, though perhaps not intentional.

Metropia is a European movie (Swedish, apparently), set in a future Europe where there is no more oil and vehicles are kaput, so everyone must use the underground rail networks to get around.  The main character finds going into the underground incredibly unsettling, especially since he’s starting to hear voices in his head when he goes there.  Over the course of the movie he discovers that the voices in his head are not imagined, and he sets out to uncover the truth.

That synopsis sounds kind of interesting, but I had to go read the plot on Wikipedia to summarize things because all I can really remember is him jacking off in the shower because of advertising, his wife’s creepy huge eyes, spending entirely too much time establishing his depressing life, his wife almost cheating on him with a huge asshole that was totally not worth her time, and something about a conspiracy involving dandruff shampoo that controls you.

The bit about the shampoo is kind of the whole plot of the movie, and yet it’s the part I remember the least.  I wasn’t even drunk!  Even after reading some synopses to refresh my memory, I’m not exactly sure what the world running out of oil had to do with any of it.  It seemed like it should be a huge part of the plot with how much the blurbs emphasized it, but it was more of a “now everyone uses these tunnels” and that was that. I’m not sure that the plot required them to be in tunnels, though.  And how many people are in this city?  Do they have a single person monitoring each and every one of them?  That seems expensive and impractical.

But anyway, it’s unique and probably worth a look if you like unique things.  The animation is certainly something else.  Wikipedia tells me all of the animation is based off of photographs of random people they recruited off the street.  The result is a highly bizarre and somewhat unsettling “uncanny valley” effect where you’re like “I’m not sure that I like this animation… but I also cannot claim that it is BAD animation…” which probably helps the atmosphere of the movie.  If this were a live action movie I suspect it would be wholly forgettable, really.

In short, I think I liked it?

Papers Please

To be fair, I have only played this game for about an hour, and I lost terribly, but it was enough for me to drop the demo and go buy it full price on Steam and start again.  I bought a game on Steam that wasn’t on sale.  It’s only 10 dollars, but still.

Papers Please is a unique indie game that simulates being a border guard in a communist country, trying to regulate who is legally allowed in and who is a terrorist that is going to blow your shit up.  Meanwhile, you’re making pennies a day (okay, dollars… but not MANY dollars) and you have a decent sized family that is freezing and starving to death.  Do you stop this guy’s wife from crossing the border because she has an invalid passport, or do you take the bribe and hope it’s worth it in the end?  Bear in mind, make too many mistakes (even intentional ones) and your pay is docked, which might mean you can’t afford food tonight.  If your bank balance is negative your ass is in jail and your family will be deported to their eventual doom.  Plenty of people want your job, you know.

The actual gameplay is probably something that will be considered tedious to some people.  A person walks in your booth and hands over their papers, you inspect them and decide if they’re legit.  If you see a discrepancy you highlight it and the game starts an interrogation, from which you can decide if it’s actually legit, if they should be rejected, or if they should be arrested and detained for suspicious behaviour.  A lot of the discrepancies are obvious, assuming you watch for them – expiry dates that have passed, names or serial numbers that don’t match, pictures that don’t match, even genders that don’t match.  Some of the trickier ones are watching for incorrect issuing cities (who the fuck is going to memorize all these city names and the countries they’re from!) or incorrect seal logos.  You have a handy dandy reference book, but you’re paid per person that’s processed so you don’t have all day to leaf through that thing, man, move move move your kid needs some medicine!

The interesting part of the game is in the background narratives.  Some people return over and over again, trying new tactics to get in.  Some people try to bribe you.  Occasionally a terrorist hops the fence and turns your guards into giblets.  Sometimes people slip you notes and ask for favours with regards to denying or approving a future passport.  Can your paycheque take the hit, or should you play it safe and risk retaliation from the seedy underbelly later?  Do you help the rebels try to free the country, or play it safe and try to keep your family happy and healthy with your steady (but shitty) job?

And if you’re not sold yet… you eventually get access to a full body scanner.  The game has a “nudity” toggle which confused the fuck out of me, but once I unlocked the scanner it all made perfect sense.  Bonus:  I confirmed someone’s gender with it!

Don’t get too excited though, the graphics are……… well, let’s just say not great.  It would probably be at home on my old Tandy 2000, with nostalgic CGA style cyan and magenta blocks.  The entire game is 37mb to download (lol) so yeah, don’t expect dazzling textures here.  I’m not complaining though – I enjoy pixel style graphics and it adds to the uniqueness of the game, but I know today’s crowd can be pretty fickle when it comes to things like that, so fair warning.  This is not a game you play for eye candy.

When I lost terribly, the game informed me that I had achieved 1 out of 20 endings.  So there might even be a decent amount of replay in this thing, too.  Unfortunately it seems like the beginning is pretty similar… the same people came through and asked for the same favours, the same terrorists hopped the same fences and blew up the same guards, the kid got sick on the same day…  I feel like it could be a bit repetitive to play a lot in close succession, but then again if you know who to accept and reject in advance you could save up one hell of a nest egg, if you’re that sort of “trial and error” gamer.  Of course, there’s also Endless Mode, which I have not tried, but I assume it will be truly random from start to finish.
[edit] So now that I’ve said this… I went and restarted and it actually lets you pick any day you’ve completed to start from, so the repetitive problem isn’t really a problem until you’ve finished all 20 endings, and by then you’ve probably got your 10 bucks worth. [/edit]

I feel like it’s unique enough that it’s worth the 10 dollar entry fee, but if you want to see for yourself, you can try the beta version as a demo: http://dukope.com/
The Steam version is definitely more polished with more events, and achievements, of course.  I made it to something like day 6 before just going and buying it on Steam – see how you do!

A Dark Room

This is an obscure one, but part of the reason I wanted to babble in a blog is to point out the obscure gems I trip over from time to time.  It’s a browser game called A Dark Room.

There are no fancy graphics here.  This is text, and on a good day some ASCII symbols.  You start out in a dark room (as perhaps you gathered, from the title) and your only real option is to start a fire and keep it going by clicking every so often.  After a bit you can go outside and start gathering wood to stoke it some more.  Every time you click it counts down, so impatient people probably roll their eyes and quit here, but the fun is just starting.  Soon a bedraggled traveller stumbles in and offers to start making traps and buildings for you.  Eventually you will have a whole village built up, with up to 80 people hanging out.  All the resource gathering is a bit slow in the beginning, but once you attract some people they’ll be doing the work for you.

Which frees you up to go explore the countryside.  At this point the game becomes something like a roguelike… there’s an ascii map and you have to watch your resources, making pit stops so that you don’t pass out.  “Dying” results in waking up in camp sans all the equipment you took, so it’s a setback but not the end of the game.  It’s more devastating when you find a haul of awesome goodies and then don’t make it back to camp.  Your exploration progress is not saved if you ‘die’, so a retreat back to camp to ‘save’ is often a prudent option.  You run around, clearing out nests of bandits who are holed up in abandoned towns, go spelunking in some caves, and explore old mining sites.

Then you find the spaceship…

I really enjoyed messing around with the game for a day or so, just leaving it running when I had to leave and coming back to find 35000 wood lying around in my stores because wolves killed all my people and then a bunch more migrated in to replace them and were set to the default wood gathering.  Good times.  It’s too bad I couldn’t make an account and log in from other locations, but the game isn’t really deep enough for a feature like that.

Probably my only complaint about this little time-waster is that I “won” (I think??), and there was no fanfare.  It just faded out and there I was, back in the dark room, stoking a fire and waiting for the builder to wander in.  All my progress erased, nothing to show for it, not even a blurb telling me if I actually did win or if I fucked up, or maybe this is New Game + and I should have kept going to see what was new?

I know nothing about this game.  I don’t know if it’s still being developed, I don’t know if it’s been sitting here for 20 years and I just found it now, I don’t know anything about its past or future.  I DO know it’s an interesting waste of a day or two, though, and you should probably check it out.