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?

“Spahn and Sain and Pray for Rain”

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Image Source: Vintages, Antiques, and Collectibles

“Spahn and Sain and Pray for Rain” is an old baseball “rallying cry” that has been shortened into this nice, pithy saying.  If you want the full details on this saying, there is a great synopsis of it on billjamesonline.com.  My uncle used to say this to me, not often, but every now and again.  According to Bill James, there are two interpretations of this saying: 1) Lack of pitching depth on the Braves’ roster, so praying for rain to help you get back to your most consistent and valued pitchers, or 2) praying for rain so that you wouldn’t have to face these two reliably dominant pitchers.  My uncle most definitely used it in the 2nd sense: Go out with your best!

Sci-Fi and Fantasy are my favorite genres–be it books, games, movies, television, comics, what have you.  Generally speaking, I’m going to gravitate to those genres before everything else.  So it makes sense that I’d concentrate my writing efforts on those genres as well.  I love the sense of adventure and wonder that Sci-Fi and Fantasy allows me to have in a mundane world of bills, intolerance, rudeness, and a general lack of concern for one’s fellow man.  Now to be sure, you can find those things–and more–inside the wrappers of Sci-Fi and Fantasy, but at its best you can find true wonder and adventure as warriors fight mythic beasts, starship captains struggle to keep their ships and crews safe, and young boys and girls grow up to be powerful warriors against the struggle of tyranny.

If I’m going to go out, then like Spahn and Sain, I want to go out leaving everything on the field and giving it my best and trying find a way to do so at a consistently high level.  Just as Spahn and Sain were masters at their craft, so too I strive to be a master at mine.

That’s why I continue to both read, watch, play, and write things that are Sci-Fi and Fantasy related.

For the sheer wonder of it all.

No Spoilers, Please!

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Image Source: Larkable.com

Wow. Just wow (but not in a good way).  So the first part of the two part storyline for the Season Finale of Doctor Who released over the weekend and it contained three MASSIVE revelations (i.e., spoilers to the story).  Do you know that I was “spoiled” on 2 of the 3 spoilers by people on YouTube?

Now, you know me, when I “review” something on this blog, I go out of my way to give “impressions” rather than actual “specifics” in order not to ruin the experience for others.  I HATE spoilers, unless I go looking for them.  What makes the spoilers for Doctor Who so  onerous is that I didn’t want to be spoiled.  I avoided looking at the “Coming Next Week” portion of the show (this is the first season I’ve actively avoided it), just so that I would have no clue as to what was coming next.

I’m trying to figure out the reasons (rhetorical) why someone would choose to be a part of the “spoiler” culture.  I understand that there are a group of people who get enjoyment for ruining things for others–but that’s not the sense that I get from the YouTuber who put the “spoiler” in the “thumbnail” for her video.  I had no choice to get spoiled because she put a spoiler not inside her video, but on the outside wrapping (as it were) to get people to click on it and watch her video (no, I do not subscribe to this person’s videos, but YouTube so “helpfully” put her video in my “recommended” feed, not recognizing that her thumbnail gave me way more of the story than I wanted).

I don’t think there was any malice in her video, but a kind of unthinking blindness to the fact that while you may know and want to discuss the story (before it is released), others just want to watch the story and then discuss afterwards.  I don’t want to paint her as just an unthinking fan (she did put the spoiler) in the thumbnail image for the video, so there was some forethought in the matter, but I think it was more of “isn’t this so cool,” rather than “I know more than you,” type of thought.

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Image Source: Radio Times

Either way, however, knowing ahead of time really blunted my enjoyment of this week’s episode (made worse that it wasn’t me who went looking for it).  I knew who the villain was and was able to make the deduction of what was going on about twenty seconds too early and figured out two of the three big reveals too early.  Not sure how I’m going to dodge the season finale’s spoilers, but starting next Thursday I may have to go on media blackout.  It’s pretty bad that it has come to this just to avoid knowing what’s going to happen in a story.

People always talk about the advantages of social media, but they never mention the disadvantages.  I remember when social media (or The Web 2.0 as pundits called back in 2010) was supposed to revolutionize the web.  Well, if this is the revolution, then I want to revolt against the revolution.

A Few Thoughts on Time Travel (in general) and the Star Trek Universe (in specific)

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Image Source: Topgentlemen.com

Time Travel is a favorite concept of Sci-Fi writers as it allows us to explore the possibilities of “What If . . .” and to mull about changes in the time line that did not occur vs. the reality that we see around us.  Popular culture is replete with television shows, movies, and other media that delve into the notion of what might happen if you could go back and change time (in effect, mulligan a decision or choice) to see what effect it would have on the timeline (if any).

I guess the reason that I’m thinking about this is two-fold: 1) Star Trek Enterprise has quite a few instances of Time Travel (in fact, most of the show’s 3rd Season is built around the idea) and 2) as a PhD student, I’m supposed to pick two areas of concentration.  As Creative Writing was off the table, I chose Composition and Rhetoric and Popular Culture.  There was a Call For Papers (CFPs) on the topic of Time Travel and how it affects/manifests itself in popular culture.  I didn’t get a chance to write a paper for it during the last semester (too busy trying to stay afloat!), but now I’d like to write at least a rough draft of some of the things that I’ve noticed in recent Sci-Fi shows/movies/media that I’ve watched recently (Doctor Who, Star Trek Enterprise, Dark Matter, and Mass Effect Andromeda to name a few) about how time travel is used (what effects does it have on the characters’ lives), and what pop. culture currently thinks about it.

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Image Source: Cellcli.com

One thing that I’ve notice that popular culture seems to use time travel for is the idea of Erasure, or righting a wrong and then resetting the timeline (so as to start again–from scratch as it were).  Now, the movie Back to the Future used a “literal” erasure from the timeline itself–and that’s not what I’m talking about.  This erasure is more of a “mulligan,” a do-over, a way to say hey, no that’s not the outcome I desired, let’s start again and try for a better outcome.

I think writers like this technique because it allows them to go into some wildly divergent territory with characters, but it doesn’t mean that they have to commit to changes to the characters (as the characters can be “reset” back to their pre-time travel/time incursion selves or entities).  It means that writers (and actors and directors) can stretch themselves creatively without destroying the likability of the characters.  In other words, characters can act and grow in ways contrary to their original characterization and then be reset.  I think audiences don’t find the this element of time travel as appealing because many times it seems like a “cheat” (much like the “and it was all a dream” cliche’).  Audiences want to characters change and interact in new and novel ways to conflict, but they (we) are fickle . . . change too much and we might lose what we like about a character.

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Image Source: Den of Geek

Star Trek (in general) and Star Trek Enterprise (in specific) seems to be a perfect test-bed for the idea of erasure.  While many of the elements and changes to the characters have “stuck,” most have not and most of the characterizations that have not stuck, or been “erased” through time travel are more radical characterizations/plot lines.  While I won’t know for sure until I finish STE, I’ve noticed that, unlike Doctor Who, for instance where there are often “cusp” events that are fixed and where time is more malleable (“Timey-Whimey, Wibbly-Wobbly”), events in ST’s universe, specifically STE tends to be more recursive (circular, or fractal–like the beginning image above.)

While this is a deeper dive than I normally do in a blog post, I wanted to just get a few thoughts down on the nature of time travel (esp. recent developments in media) down on paper.  I’ve done another post on time travel, Where You End is Not Where You Begin: Time Travel in Movies, and I will probably combine these two posts before the summer is over and develop this idea into a longer academic paper over next school year.  I don’t think that I can use this as my dissertation (I think that has to be Rhetoric or Composition based), but it is an interesting paper idea–and more importantly, seems to be something that I can be VERY LONG-WINDED about! 🙂

Star Trek Enterprise

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I am currently “binging” Star Trek Enterprise.  I am almost finished with Season 1 and I have to say that I’m enjoying it.  I tried to watch it during its first run, but not having many of the series staples such as shields, photon torpedoes, and limited Transporter use really dampened my engagement for the show, not to mention the overt antagonism between humans and Vulcans during the first season, so I ultimately stopped watching it.  I tried a second time while I was a Library Assistant at the Chattanooga Public Library as it was in syndication (re-runs) on one of the channels that I watched on my off day (on Wednesdays).  It was either on USA Network or TNT Network (or something similar) where they ran 3–4 episodes back-to-back of a show, so I’ve seen most of the first season already, but because TV was starting to go serial in nature (nothing like it is now for TV series, but there are fun little callbacks to previous episodes if you know what to look for), I wasn’t able to keep up.  When you miss large chunks of the narrative between off-days, its hard to stay invested in the characters/plots.

So far, I have to say that I’m enjoying it more than I had previously.  I still wouldn’t term it as my favorite Star Trek show, but it is no longer my least favorite Star Trek series.  I think this might have worked better as a movie.  Hear me out!  I think that this concept would have made a nice “filler” movie between moving from the original Star Trek cast with Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country and the Next Generation crew on Star Trek Generations.  I’ve always felt that Generations wasn’t a strong enough film to follow The Undiscovered Country and that Generations’ should have been more “epic” rather than the “tepid” movie than it was.  I think that a more exciting movie than Generations would have really cemented the Next Generation crew into the minds of fans and movie-goers.

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Had Enterprise been a movie instead of a TV series (let’s call it “Star Trek: Enterprise”) and set it in-between The Undiscovered Country and Generations, and had this allowed the producers of the Star Trek brand to craft a stronger story for the Generations movie, then I think Star Trek brand would have benefitted and may have not needed a “reboot” as soon as it did.

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Still, digressions aside, I’m enjoying the show so far as it is a nice diversion until the new season of Dark Matter (my current favorite “starship” show) returns.  I will probably return to Babylon 5 after I finish watching Enterprise and Dark Matter this summer, but here’s hoping that I actually am able to finally see Enterprise in its entirety as it has (finally) gotten its hooks into me and I’m now invested in the show and the characters.

Skin Deep Published in Aurora Wolf!

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Source: Aurora Wolf – A Literary Journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy (aurorawolf.com)

SKIN DEEP PUBLISHED!

Just wanted to let you know that Skin Deep, a short-story that I’ve worked on and detailed on the blog has been published by Aurora Wolf – A Literary Journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy.  Please head over to their website, read my story, rate and comment on it and (while you’re there) perhaps, read and comment on other stories that I are listed.  Right now my story is on the from page (with the above image – thanks to Aurora Wolf for letting me use the image!).  There is no cost to read the story, or  in other words, its FREE!

Skin Deep has been very much of a long-term passion project.  It was one of the first stories  I wrote with the intent of getting it published.  The story that is published in the 3rd major draft of the story.  My first draft came in the 90s and I submitted it to several markets found in Writer’s Market & Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market.  I only remember one piece of feedback that I received for it from an editor who thought the Psionics (mind powers) in the story strayed too close to magic for her tastes.

I put it “in the trunk” for a while and then I rewrote it substantially around late 2013 – early 2014.  The basis of the current version came from this rewrite.  I had the plot and most of the character, but something still didn’t feel right about the character and her motivations.  I put it up again (not submitting it significantly) until I revised it mid-2015.

As I noted in the blog about the story,  I changed the main character’s name, and really worked to increase the setting of the story and I think that’s what was missing from the 2nd draft–not enough setting to really ground the story.  In all, I’m glad I got to tell Mahalia’s story.  Please go read it if you have a chance–best of all, did I mention its FREE!

CHILDE ROLAND PUBLISHED!

In case you missed it, Childe Roland was also published late last year.  It is still up and, like Skin Deep, it is also FREE!  Please head over to ElectricSpec.com to give it a read as well if you have the time.

OTHER PROJECTS

Lastly, I’m still writing and working on other projects.  As you’ve no doubt realized by the slowness of the blog, I’m really overwhelmed with coursework and classes, but I’m trying to get a handle on the massive amounts of reading and grading that I’m having to do.  I will post more about other projects that I’m working on in the coming months.  Like a business, I need to refresh my sold “stock” with new “stock” if I’m going to make my writing career work, so I have lots of new projects in the wings.  More on these soon.  Well, that’s all for this week, and I’ll try to have a new post up next week (I promise, I really will TRY!).  See you next post!

Star Wars: Rogue One Mini-Review (No Spoilers!)

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Source: Starwars.com

A STAR WARS STORY

Star Wars: Rogue One (SW:RO) is a stand-alone story set in the Star Wars Universe.  It takes the exposition from the “story crawl” for Episode IV: A New Hope about stealing the plans for the Death Star and expands upon it.  While not flawless in its execution, the story is well told and is an enjoyable Star Wars experience.

CHARACTERS

This is an ensemble film and I really like the characters that are presented.  You can understand their motivations as they try to complete their mission.  Some characters get more screen time than others, but the Droid and the “Force-Believing” character are standouts.

TONE

For all that it is a Star Wars film, the tone is actually quite dark. Without spoilers, it is hard to clarify why this is so, but be assured this one is probably as dark as Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, maybe more so.  It does have the trademark humor, but most of it comes from one character in particular, so when that character isn’t on-screen, many of the scenes are fairly gritty.

3RD ACT

Where Rogue One comes into its own is its 3rd Act.  The characterization and Special Effects in that Act really emphasize the desperate nature of the characters’ struggle.  They are fighting for something that matters, both to them and to the plot.  The 3rd Act is truly where the film is elevated from merely good to great.

RATING/GRADE

So, on a A-F scale, I would rate this as an A-.  It is excellent with a few small flaws that keep it from being a perfect film.  The earlier action, while necessary to both plot and characterization, sometimes feels as if it is just going through the motions to get to the stupendous final act.  Also, some characters are given more time than others and we lose out on characterization of some of the more minor characters, but that is just the nature of ensemble films.

IMPLICATIONS FOR MY OWN WRITING

Having stakes that matter to both the plot and the character is a technique that I need to work on as a writer.  I often have things that matter in terms of the plot–if “character x” doesn’t do this something (usually bad) will happen.  However, I’m learning that I need to motivate the characters with some internal conflicts as well.  In Rogue One, Jyn Erso is motivated by a desire to find her father and later by her faith in her father’s words.  These are both internal to the character and intrinsic to the character.  Yes, the Death Star is bad, but that’s not why looking for the plans (can’t go any deeper without spoilers).  Her motivation comes not just from all the bad stuff the Death Star can do, but also how her father spoke about it and her relationship to him.  I need to do a better job of finding internal motivations for my characters.

Have a Merry Christmas!