Character Sketches

 

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Character Sketch slide, Image Source: Slideshare.net

This will be a shorter blog post–limited time before class.  However, watching Star Trek:Deeps Space Nine has helped clue me into the fact that there is a piece missing from my writing: Character Sketches.

I can see clearly the importance that character sketches can add to the story.  In fact, this idea was one that I discovered sometime last year, but haven’t really put into practice when I saw a young lady on a motorcycle last autumn in Chattanooga.  She wasn’t riding a scooter, but a full on Kawasaki motorcycle with black leathers.  The only concession to her gender was a pink motorcycle helmet with the black sunshade pulled down.  I remember her vividly because I have a project that calls for a someone riding a motorcycle over the dunes of Mars and she fit the bill perfectly, but I never “wrote” her down in my notebook or anything.

Of course, I promptly forgot about this image and have limped along barely completing projects and wondering why the projects I’ve finished so far aren’t being accepted–and that’s the reason.  The young lady on the bike was compelling because of distinctness–she was a unique individual with a character all her own.  I create characters that are just ciphers for the actions that I want to happen in the story.  I need to create character sketches that match the complexity and uniqueness of the individuals that I see in daily life.

You can be sure that after class today, I will take a moment to put her sketch (& any other unique people I run across today) down in my notebook in order to remember that Sci-Fi is about people affected by science.  It doesn’t work without both parts.

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Star Trek Voyager: Series Review

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The Crew of the Starship Voyager from Star Trek Voyager, Image Source: Tales of the Marvelous

So I finished watching Star Trek Voyager over the weekend.  I enjoyed it, but it seemed a little more uneven than Star Trek Enterprise.  There were some episodes that I really loved and there were some episodes that I had to fast-forward through in order to watch.  I think the problem is that the series had a tendency to focus on certain characters too much and didn’t always work to mix the characters together as well as they could have.  I think too, that the way STV used the “subplot” didn’t really ring as true as it did with other Star Trek series.  Sometimes the subplot was used to great effect and really enhanced the story and at other times, the subplot was barely developed or didn’t have as much effect as one would have hoped it would, which made the main plot seem lifeless.

I think the problems that I’m having with the series as a whole are more on the writers/showrunners side than on the actors side.  I really liked all of the characters on the show–both new and old.  Having watched the entire season in a short span of time, I feel that there are two parts to Voyager: Kess/Pre Seven of Nine and Post-Kess/Seven of Nine.  The Kess/Pre Seven of Nine stories focus more on Capt. Janeway’s desire to get her crew home, while the Post Kess/Seven of Nine stories focus more on recovering Seven’s humanity and socializing Seven into Voyager’s crew.  The quest home, while still very much a plot structure, gets subordinated to the ideas of what it means to be human.  And Seven isn’t the only character who goes through this storyline–The Emergency Medical Holographic Doctor is also a central figure when it comes to this plot line as well.

I want to be clear–I liked this series!  It is a more complete “conceptualization” of what Star Trek is as a series than Enterprise was, I think.   The fact that it ran for seven full years, however, hurts it when comparing it to Enterprise which ended in its fifth season because you can see the “choppiness” and “uneven” nature of the stories even more readily the longer the series goes on.  I “fast-forwarded” through many more episodes of Voyager than I did with Enterprise because the episodes lacked the necessary tension to drive the stories (and the series) forward.

OVERALL SERIES GRADE: B- (mainly due to inconsistent writing/episodes), B+ for characters and overall characterization (only for that aspect)

Mass Effect Andromeda, Glitches

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Image Source: Gamesradar

So, remember when I said that Mass Effect Andromeda has some odd design choices–well, it also has glitches.  I’ve seen the effects of rushed games before Assassin’s Creed Syndicate was particularly bad (the patches for Assassin’s Creed Unity, however, made the game quite stable and glitch free, but Syndicate was just as buggy and crash-prone as Mass Effect Andromeda.  Here are two fairly egregious examples:

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This glitch came about when I was on the ice world of Voeld (?) and I happened across to “Resistance” fighters who had been “fused” together into one animation rig (take a close look at the aliens head, arms, and legs).  They “phased” in and out of each other but had two heads and you could clearly see that their bodies overlapped one another to create a “Double-headed” character.  Again, with more time in development this would have probably been caught by the Q.A. testers and put on what’s called a “glitch” list to be patched out either before the game shipped, in a day-one patch, or in a successive patch released down the line.

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The second glitch I want to highlight came about on the desert world of Kadara where a “raider” was supposed to be running at me firing her weapon.  However, this was kind of hard for her to do as neither of her arms worked correctly and were twisted out to her sides.  Her running animation also did not trigger, so she just “hovered” around the surface of the planet as if she had invisible skates.  It was both pretty funny and pretty painful considering that I spent the full asking price for the game.  Again, this is something, with enough time, that could have been seen and fixed before release.

EA, Anthem (another BioWare Game) and Quality Control

So what happened?  EA, the publisher of ME:A had another game by Bioware the company that made ME:A under development (Anthem).  Anthem is one that they are positioning to be a competitor to Destiny, a rival game from rival publisher.  This is where much of the focus went.  This new game was developed by a different “division” of Bioware, has a huge focus in terms of resources and talent, and more importantly was working towards a fixed schedule in terms of release date–2018.  EA also has another big game, Star Wars Battlefront II, in which they’ve invested a lot of time, energy, and marketing in coming out Fall of 2017.  So for EA to have done the right thing by consumers by delaying ME:A would have affected the publishing schedule of these two other games in the pipeline.  So they chose to release a game that was “not fully baked” because they didn’t want to impact the sales of these other two games.  So, in essence, EA sacrificed the fans of the Mass Effect brand in order to satisfy the fans of the Star Wars brand and to “win” (or at least make in-roads) against the fans of their rival in business (i.e., Activision and their game Destiny) having built up this fan-base all through the Playstation 3/X-Box 360 era of gaming.

Now I am a Star Wars fan, still a Mass Effect fan, (& based on the trailer) I will probably be an Anthem fan, but I’m no longer a fan of EA.  Doesn’t mean that I won’t buy EA games, but it does mean that I will be both more selective in the EA titles that I buy and I will be sure to wait both on reviews and patches on EA products.  I will probably no longer buy EA games immediately simply because I cannot trust EA as company to have my best interests as their customer at heart–ME:A proves that EA is more committed to sticking to their production schedule and releasing a game that isn’t fully polished just so they won’t risk cannibalizing sales of upcoming products–ME:A needed 6 more months of polishing, but that would have put it in and interfered with their plans for Star Wars Battlefront II and that is NOT the way a company should treat its customers.

Think I’m the only one who feels this way?  I’m at least committed to finishing the game.  Check out YouTuber gamermd83 take on why she “left” ME:A and why the game was such a disappointment to her.

I am Yeva (Short Story Protagonist)

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So I started a new science-fiction short-story yesterday.  The protagonist of the story is Yeva.  She is a Psionic (a person able to use the power of her mind to do wonderful or horrible things).  Think of the character Carrie from Stephen King’s work and you’ll have a rough idea of the what the character might be able to do.

I wrote a rough outline of the story yesterday.  Yeva lives in a rough world and has gone through a lot.  Just like I have this summer.  I decided to take all of the frustration and anger that I had because of this summer and put it into a character.  Yeva was supposed to be that character, but she surprised me.  Yeva hurts and she is angry, but she is not full of rage.  That honor goes to her sister.  Yeva can see that her sister is on the path to self-destruction, but Yeva doesn’t want her sister to go there.

Will Yeva succeed in saving her sister and herself?  I’ll have to write the story to see (& you’ll have to read it to find out).  If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.  If life screws you out of a restful and restorative summer, turn it into a story.

Comic-Con Week (Ready Player One)

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Image Source: Collider

Okay, okay, I know I’m behind the times on this one.  This project made the rounds about 1-2 years ago (maybe longer) and everyone one was talking about it.  It is a book by Ernest Cline entitled Ready Player One (RP1) and it apparently is a “pop-culture” phenomenon in that it references a ton of things from “my” generation (those growing up in the late 70s, 80s, and early 90s).  So, yes I knew about this project before the movie trailer debuted at Comic-Con.  And yes, I knew about the pop culture references and in-jokes that it was supposed to contain.  But here’s the thing: Game of Thrones. Now I’m going to catch heat (i.e., be flamed) for this, but RP1 had the same level of “hype” associated with as did Game of Thrones and I am NOT a Games of Thrones fan (I’ll do a deep dive into why at a later date).  So I figured this is probably just a Games of Thrones clone with VR as just The Expanse (another show I tried to watch) was just a Games of Thrones clone in space.

However, the trailer–Ready Player One Trailer–convinced me otherwise.  This is one of those where I had to “see it in order to believe it.” Steven Spielberg is the director and it seems (to me at least) a return to form.  It has an interesting world and the action seems like it is going to be amazing just from the brief look at it that we get from the trailer.  Also, try playing the “see what pop icon you can find in the trailer” game–I saw two obvious references–The Iron Giant and the DeLorean from Back to the Future.  Actually, I did see others, but that would be spoilers–see if you can spot them (hint look closely during the Iron Giant scene & during the robot fighting scene).  To steal a line from a 1970s commercial for the board game Connect Four: “Pretty sneaky, sis.”

I’m probably going to watch the movie first and then read the book–that tends to be the way I do things unless I’m ahead of the curve (rare, but does happen sometimes).  If the movie (& book) is as good as the trailer makes it appear, this is one project that I will be happy to have been wrong about.  I’ll take fun over depressing any day and this looks fun!

Comic-Con Week–Stranger Things Season 2

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Image Source: SDCC Blog

So the San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC) or Comic-Con as it is usually referred to, happened this week and this is a celebration of all things comic book related, but also it is a huge intersection for Science Fiction and Fantasy.  While I’m not really a “con” guy myself, I still have found myself drawn to Comic-con because of all the announcements and trailers of upcoming Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Comic Book movie properties in the past few years.

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Stranger Things Season 2 (Image Source: CNN)

So this week, like E3, I’m going to take a moment to highlight some of my favorite announcements/trailers from the convention.  Today it’s going to be Stranger Things, Season 2.  My understanding is that this series (Netflix only) appears on Halloween (Oct. 31) and I’m pretty stoked about it.

Even though I’m linking the trailer in this blog post–Stranger Things, Season 2 Trailer–I haven’t watched it all the way through.  In fact, I’ve only seen about the first 10 seconds (the very first scene in the trailer).  If you watch those 10 seconds, you’ll see the kids peering into an arcade cabinet and playing a video game, Dragon’s Lair (pictured above).  That video game is one that I played when I was a kid (& bought on my PS3 when it was offered for sale digitally). To steal a line from popular culture, “They had me at Dragon’s Lair.”  I’m in.  I’m hoping that it won’t veer too far into the realm of horror and that it will stay creepy and thrilling without getting to gory, but we’ll see.

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Image Source: Steam

I’m excited for show and based on just the first 10 seconds of the trailer.  Job well done, Netflix marketing department.  Well done.  *Slow clap.*

Mass Effect Andromeda: The Little Shuttle that Could

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Image Source: Forbes

So, Mass Effect Andromeda (ME:A) has gotten its hooks in me again.  After a month long hiatus, I’ve pretty much binged the game over the weekend to the exclusion of all else.  The game is pretty much my kind of Sci-Fi, space ships, combat, and an intriguing storyline that traverses multiple star systems in the Andromeda Galaxy.   It is also a rather large game, with one major story arc and many, many side quests.  Each of the “major” worlds that you discover has a mission or two that involves the main quest and then a ridiculous amount of the side quests to fill out that world.  And even when you’re done, more side quests tend to populate on that world, so while you can “finish” the world, it is not uncommon to spend quite a bit of time on each world.

Now, while I appreciate long games, I’m starting to feel that many games are simply padding their runtime with useless side quests and other story elements just to 1) artificially inflate their length (gamers these days supposedly value a longer game rather than a shorter game) and 2) to make sure that you play only their game for long periods of time (hence you don’t trade the game back in thereby decreasing the “used game” market).  “Games as a ‘Service'” is an idea that is slowly gaining hold in the gaming community with more and more publishers trying to extend the life of their games to accomplish the two goals and the idea of paid DLC.  My concern is that this is coming at the expense of storytelling.

For instance, there was a mission that I just completed on ME:A that had me chasing a woman with a highly contagious disease and I needed to try to stop her before she reached a populated center.  However, in her delusion she had stolen a shuttle and left the station.  Yet, in a shuttle, she was able to traverse several different solar systems (quite far away from the space station) and was able to crash land the shuttle on a populated world.  Her little shuttle served the plot rather than the story.  There was no way, based on the fiction that the game had set up, that the shuttle she was in should have been able to fly as far as it did and cover as many systems that it did.  I could tell this was done for game extension and nothing else.  Even the ending of the mission was also off–I won’t spoil it–but the resolution did not match what the exposition was set up as when the mission was first presented to me.

This is a problem that I see continuing to happen as games get bigger.  Instead of stories that make sense, we will get stories that exist to simply fill out the story and make the world bigger and the game longer.  Instead of tightly crafted games, many games will become more diluted and and will have to rely on more and more visual aspects and less story aspects.  I wonder what impact this will have on gaming in the future as more and more games focus on length and breadth rather than story?