Category: Opinion (page 1 of 16)

Return of the Jedi (or possibly Sith)

Courtesy LucasArts

Maybe it’s because I’m hopeful Guardians of the Galaxy evokes the old feelings of wonder that came with A New Hope. Maybe it’s the discovery of the excellent X-Wing Miniatures game. Maybe it’s just nostalgia. But whatever the cause, I have been on a sizable Star Wars kick lately, and a big part of that is the time I’ve been spending in Star Wars: The Old Republic.

I did a first impressions post a few years ago when the game was in beta, and upon reflection, I ended up being a bit harsh in the name of blunting my nostalgia. I think leaning towards objectivity is good for anybody looking to present a review of entertainment for a wide audience, but I think it would have been okay if I had talked more about my curiosity and excitement about a new facet of the universe opening up and less about the clunky mechanics and the opinions of non-fans.

Playing it now, I’m definitely hooked. I’m curious to see where the various stories go. I’m doing my utmost to avoid spoilers, and I’m actually enjoying the quest structure. It doesn’t feel like a grind – I’ve never had more than two or three quests in my log at any given time. “Kill X amount of Y” only pops up as a bonus, and since I get jumped by uppity bunches of Y on my way to the objective anyway, why not pull in a little extra XP? It does still have a lot of mechanical similarities to World of Warcraft, but the little differences do more than their fair share in setting the game apart. The bottom line is, even moreso now than back in the game’s beta days, I see potential.

I think that’s been what keeps Star Wars a positive thing in my mind. For all of its flaws and missteps, the universe Lucas created has always contained the potential for truly great storytelling. The military sci-fi bent of Rogue Squadron stories, the antiquated feel of Tales of the Jedi, the way Dark Forces felt like so much more than a DOOM clone because you were stealing the Death Star plans… I could go on. Lucas may not be the best director or a very good scriptwriter, but the seeds he sowed almost 40 years ago were in very fertile ground indeed.

I’m interested in exploring the Edge of the Empire RPG, probably after I move, if I can rope my new housemates into it. I’m expanding my collection of X-Wing Miniatures. I’m going to play a lot more of The Old Republic. And I am keeping a wary eye on this new film of theirs. While I don’t agree with the official word ejecting the expanded universe as canon, JJ Abrams has always been more of a whiz-bang director than the intellectual contemplation that Star Trek really demands. In spite of my cautious curiosity, though, one thing is certainly clear.

Star Wars is back in my life. I enjoy Star Wars quite a bit. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

From The Vault: Drill, Baby, Drill

Watching Gurren-Hen last night, I come back to the reasons why I fell in love with Gurren Lagann in the first place. I want to revisit that.


Courtesy Rabbitpoets
Courtesy Rabbitpoets, will credit original artist!

When I encounter a new story that I find myself enjoying thoroughly, there’s a part of me that can’t just leave it at that. I have to look deeper than my superficial glee and take a look at what really calls to me about the tale. I have to examine characters, plot points, meanings and development. I don’t know if it’s my background in doing so for years at university, or my desire to better understand other stories so I can write mine better, but in any case, it’s what makes me review and critique stuff on a regular basis.

Case in point: I just finished watching the anime series Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann and I enjoyed the hell out of it.

I’m no stranger to big robot anime. Voltron and Robotech (Macross in particular) were staples growing up. When I hit university I was introduced to more – Macross Plus, Gundam Wing and the brilliant but bizarre Neon Genesis Evangelion. There are plenty of other mecha anime out there, and plenty of anime that get classified as shounen – aimed primarily at young or teenage boys with exciting action and plenty of fighting. One might think, with a cursory glance, that Gurren Lagann is in the same vein as these, even with its unique aesthetic, but it doesn’t take long for the series’s true strengths to reveal themselves.

In a few other series I’ve dipped my toe into and even enjoyed, the main character gets his special power or destiny, and pursues it with dogged determination that, while admirable, does not vary his character much. Gurren Lagann, on the other hand, lets its characters develop naturally. The character of Simon, in particular, goes through a lot of growth from the beginning of the series to its end. In addition to the respect I give a story for the willingness to actually end legitimately and well, there’s the fact that the Simon at the end of the story is a different person, a more developed person, than he was at the beginning. The same goes for Yoko; a character that easily could have been relegated to simple fan service is also allowed to grow, breathe, develop, and take on a life of her own.

Another way in which the series sets itself apart is in the fact that actions have consequences. Each victory that our heroes gain take them deeper into a world they did not anticipate, and as much as the show likes to treat the laws of physics more like loose guidelines than actual rules, there’s no cheap resurrections and no going back. Changes are irreversible, and consequences must be dealt with. In a general genre and specific sub-genre that is usually all about an empowerment fantasy free of consequences, seeing a show that drops the hammer on its character multiple times for things they do is refreshing.

As cool as it would be to pilot a giant mecha, Gurren Lagann seems to treat its unique and strikingly designed machines as exactly what they are: vehicles. They’re the means by which the story and its meaning are delivered, and the meaning is this: it’s okay to be yourself. In fact, the ideal way to live one’s life is to forge ahead making one’s own destiny with a sense of self-belief. Believing in yourself can be hard to do, especially when it feels like the whole world is against you, but when people have faith in you, and you have faith in yourself, there is literally nothing you can’t do. Rather than relegate such things to occasional character moments or after-credits messages, Gurren Lagann makes this the driving force behind its narrative, a massive drill that bores a hole right through your expectations. The individual’s sense of self-worth is a weapon in and of itself; when fully realized, it’s an extremely potent one.

I may be reading too much into an anime series, or drawing an inordinate amount of inspiration from it, but that’s who I am. I take the lessons I find from what I experience and I try to make them a part of my life. I am, as always, a work in progress. I will never stop learning, never stop growing, and never stop writing about it. That’s what I do. And the more I do it, the more proud I become of what I’m doing and what I will do in the future. I may not live up to some expectations, I may make mistakes, but I will make my future my own, because that’s what you do when you come to realize who you are and what that means to you and to the world around you.

I’m a writer. I’m a fanboy. I’m a critic and a philosopher and I fight for what I believe in.

Who the hell do you think I am?

An Open Letter to Online Gaming Fans

Dear Mr. or Ms. Online Gamer:

I’m writing to express my disappointment in your behavior towards games journalists and reviewers. How you behave within your games is your business; if I object to how people are treated within a game, chances are I won’t play that game, unless I find it really compelling on its own or several friends of mine play. However, how you behave outside of games is something that needs to be addressed, especially when it comes to people trying to inform and protect you.

Let me be perfectly clear. Yes, games journalists and some very fortunate reviewers do, in fact, get paid. They get paid to report on games, to discuss them and inform you of their merits and flaws. And 95-99% of games have both: few and far between are truly peerless games like Portal or true ludonarrative abortions like Ride to Hell: Retribution.

The crux of this letter is, however, the following:

Video game journalists are not paid by video game companies to write particular reviews.

There are a lot of reasons a particular feature is not mentioned in a review. The review could have been rushed. It could have been based on an early build of the game. The feature in question, for example the number of maps in the game or the available customization options, might not have factored into the reviewer’s reasoning and therefore was excluded from the review. You know what none of these things indicate? Greased palms.

Roger Ebert never got a payout from MGM for a positive review of a film. Rolling Stone doesn’t get sacks of cash from record companies or bands to talk up a particular album. Amazon reviewers aren’t given gift cards for five star reviews. I could go on.

Games journalists do have privileged positions. Nobody would deny that. Press passes and junkets do exist, and in some instances, companies will hold events or parties to try and ingratiate themselves. That’s part of business. But direct payouts between companies and journalists rarely, if ever, happens. And when these incidents do occur, any journalist worth their ink would scoff at the offer and stick to their wordy guns. I think you can look at the back history of any games journalist out there to see evidence of said journalist’s integrity.

I’ve had the privilege of working with a few of the people in this industry. I can tell you first hand that they work hard. They often have to work uphill against public opinion to discuss the truth. And as much as fat sacks of industry cash would make paying their bills easier, the ones I know wouldn’t take it. Their dedication isn’t to making money. Their dedication is to the truth, and to you, the video gamer at home, and whether or not your cash is going to be well-spent on a particular game.

Shame on you. Shame on your inflammatory words and questions of journalistic integrity. Stop being blinded by your loyalty to a particular game, and look at the situation objectively. Remove your inflated ego from the equation and realize that not everyone is going to share your opinion. There are other, more positive ways to get the attention you are clearly seeking, and all you do when you accuse an establish games journalist of this sort of unscrupulous behavior is come off looking like an absolute prat at best, and a bullying cretin at worst.

You can do better than that. And you should.

Best wishes, etc.

500 Words On Productivity

Courtesy Sona Charaipotra - http://www.sonacharaipotra.com/

To be honest, I kind of hate the word ‘productivity’. I hate the connotation that human beings need to produce to be valuable. Tireless housewives & househusbands produce nothing other than hot meals, clean laundry, and support for their hard-working spouses. Why should they be valued as lesser than someone who spends 18 hours of the day in an office?

That said, there’s a part of me that continues to romanticize the idea of freelancing as a career. Leaving the flat only when I want to, or I need more half-and-half or Johnny Walker Black. And maybe not even that, if I can move to a state that doesn’t have such strict laws regarding alcohol. Anyway, that in and of itself is going to involve some legwork, some networking, some time carved out around my current schedule to try and line up more work from various places to keep myself fed and housed.

I really can’t complain too much about my position at current, at least in terms of my specific dayjob as related to a certain skill set I possess. Everything I wrote about this morning is general, head-space stuff that would apply to any corporate gig. Nothing specific is wrong with my current situation in and of itself. I’m being deliberately vague. I hate doing that. But it’s a necessity of things like NDAs and not wanting to put my problems on other people when I can avoid it. Meh.

~

It’s been a long day. I only just now got in from the office and running by the store. Not literally running, of course. I don’t live that close to the office. Be kind of funny if I did, though. How would the days I suit up work, though? Would I have to strap a garment bag to my back? Roll up in my gym shorts and running shoes, then duck into the men’s or the VP’s office to change clothes? Not everybody likes me after a run. I tend to feel good, but apparently the sweat I generate is just too much for some.

Anyway, I’m home now, and I still have more ‘productivity’ ahead of me. Revisions to Cold Streets, freelance seeking, maybe even a first stab at some things for a new novel. Something, anything, to get me out of the creative ditch I’ve been in for roughly half a year. Maybe more. I really don’t know how long it’s been since I’ve seriously given up entire mornings or afternoons or evenings to what I really want to be doing with my life.

But I have to start somewhere. Or, more accurately, start over somewhere. I’m told it’s never too late to start over. I really hope that’s true.

Incidentally, the Friday 500 seems to be more stream-of-consciousness than anything, and I think that helps me. It almost feels Thompson-esque to write this way.

Don’t worry. If I start seeing phantom iguanas, or rambling about bat country, someone’s bound to call the cops. Or an agent.

I Like Big Bots (And I Cannot Lie)

Courtesy Warner Bros

The more I think about Pacific Rim, the more I like it. Yes, the characters can be somewhat stock, and the plot is fairly straightforward, but the scope and spectacle of the film are awe-inspiring. I think if you had told me even five years ago that big robots would be on the big screen in America all on their own without an anime series behind them, I would have balked at the idea. As much as I’ve been a fan of big robots since I was a child, and piloted robot fiction for a decade or two, I didn’t think it would happen. It’s something of a niche genre.

Still, big ‘bots have been a part of my entertainment since I was young. The original Transformers animated series made me look at boring old traffic in a new way. A sports car, a tractor trailer, even a construction vehicle could, at any moment in my young mind, become a giant robot ready for a fight. My first piloted mecha show was either Voltron or Robotech. As much as I enjoyed all three of the series that got jammed into the latter show, the portion in the beginning, Macross, captured my attention the most.

One of the first shows I sought out on my own was Macross Plus, the OVA (original video animation) that followed the Macross series. With beautiful animation, a haunting score by Yoko Kanno, interesting character dynamics, and Sharon Apple, it remains very much up my alley to this day. I was introduced to Neon Genesis Evangelion and my first Gundam series (Gundam Wing) at about the same time. Evangelion is very different from just about any other mecha series you’d care to name, damn close to a perfect deconstruction of the genre. It’s still talked about today, 18 years after it premiered. That’s right – there are people today, who might be reading this, who do not know what it was like to live in a world without Evangelion. Or the Internet. … Let’s move on before I feel too old.

It was always a shame to me that The Big O didn’t get more than a second season from Cartoon Network. The infusion of noir sensibilities and greater mysteries into piloted robot antics worked very well. Not long after that, I saw some of the massive body of work that is Getter Robo. It and Mazinger Z are pretty much the urtext of the other series I’ve mentioned, and while I haven’t checked out any Mazinger, I’m a fan of Go Nagai’s other work. And then there was Shinkon Gattai Godannar, which may take the prize for the most fan-service in a series that isn’t adults-only that I’ve seen. I mean, it’s a good series outside of the fan-service, and that theme song is catchy as hell, but… damn.

And then, most recently, there is Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. I went over that one in detail previously, and looking back on everything I’ve seen already, I do think that it stands head and shoulders above the rest. Maybe it’s just that stories that involve the indomitability of the human spirit get under my skin in ways others don’t. A lot of mecha tales approach this idea, from revolutionaries refusing to give up to human consciousness overcoming programming and restraint, but Gurren Lagann feels unique in the way it treats the fighting spirit of the human heart as a power source, and a nearly inexhaustible one at that.

I think that’s one of the things that sticks with me about Pacific Rim. Arch as the characters might be, many of them have that never-say-die attitude that I can’t help but admire. There’s also the fact that these shows are at their best when the big robots are less important than the people inside them. As cool as the Jaegars are, they are only animated when their pilots enter the Drift with one another. It’s something the film has in common with shows like Evangelion or Gurren Lagann, and why it sticks out in my mind as a good story, and one worth watching again.

Though, I could simply be biased towards big bots.

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