Finished Mad Max (The Video Game)

So over the Winter Break, I finished Mad Max, a video game based on the Mad Max character and world, but not based on the movie Mad Max Fury Road.  It is an original game using the character of Mad Max and the apocalyptic world that he inhabits as the focal points to tell a unique story.  While I did finish it, I did also feel that it was a bit of a slog to get through (more on that later), but more than that, I had real issues with the way the story was told, or perhaps more accurately, how the story unfolded.  According to my year-end Playstation stats, it was the 3rd game that I spent the most time on this year, clocking in at about 124 hours.

Unsatisfying Journey
Part of my issue is that the story was really very good up until the final missions of the game.  Essentially, (without massive spoilers) the game is essentially a massive “rebuilding” operation where you do various missions for various “faction” heads and then “build” up that faction.  The missions were side missions, but they also acted as “gating” missions, meaning that your progress was locked (i.e., “gated”) until you completed the side missions/story mission for that faction.  The way it worked seemed to imply that at the end of the game, these “factions” would aid you in your story after you had done all of the things you could to help them–alas, this was not the case.

The “Circular” Story
In the last few missions of the game, your character (again, no spoilers) makes several choices in the cut-scenes of the game that you as the player probably would not have made and you’re left with the ramifications of the choices that he’s made.  For an open world game that is all about player agency and choice, the story oddly takes the narrative out of your hands in the most unsatisfying of ways.  In games like this, there are sometimes multiple endings (InFamous series springs to mind), but most often than not, the ending is the same, but little things are able to be changed here and there so that even though the ending is the same, the choices that you made seemed to have mattered (even if, in truth, they did not).  MM doesn’t even give you the illusion of choice–you see the moment when the creative director rips control from your hands and see the results of the outcome and then the game gives you back control.  Worse yet, the character doesn’t learn anything from the experience.  He goes back to being the exact same character that he was in the beginning of the game, which leads to a Why does this even matter question after one finishes the game.

The Audience changes, but the Character Does Not
In this game, the story wants the audience to feel for a character who doesn’t feel at all.  I can understand that narrative, but I also question it.  One of the reasons Hamlet works is because we see that Hamlet, the prince, is conflicted.  Hamlet isn’t dead inside like Mad Max, but Hamlet feels–one might argue that Hamlet feels too much and that because he doesn’t just kill the king when he has the opportunity, he sets in motion his own downfall.  MM falls into that nihilistic category that modern storytellers seem to love so much: let’s not change our character, but let’s instead change our audience.  Let’s tell them this really (insert adjective here–gory, sad, disgusting, etc.) story and then destroy everyone except the hero and then watch him or her ride off into the sunset.  This will wring pathos from our audience.  I was really disappointed with the way the story turned out–if it is an open world game, then please give me, the player, agency over the story.  That’s what video games are all about and that is the strength of the medium over other mediums, say books or movies.  Let the player decide the outcome of the story, rather than the other way around.

Sidney
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Mini-Review: Dark Matter, Season 3 (No Spoilers)

Without realizing it, I finished Dark Matter (DM) Season 3 (S3) last night, and overall, I liked it.  In my mind, it was a little more uneven than the previous two seasons were, but I think it is because they are trying to set-up multiple story threads to touch on in upcoming seasons (if the show has been renew–need to check as I haven’t looked to see if Syfy has renewed it yet).  Otherwise, the season had some ups and downs–more so than in the previous two seasons.

Permadeath & Exit Stage Right
They used death in S3 much as they had done in S2 to emphasize the (I guess) the capriciousness of the universe and to illustrate that they universe that the characters inhabit is a dangerous place.  The problem is, they used the deaths throughout the series, rather than at the traditional places where one might expect it, in order (again, guessing here) to keep viewers on there toes and to emphasize that no character is safe in this narrative.  However, they also had a fairly robust cast of “side characters” who existed in the world for a few episodes (or played a major part), who often left the ship for whatever reason, while others (new ones) would come on-board.  So this gave the episodes a less stable feel and very few characters on the ship were actually stable.  This contributed very much to the uneven feel of the episodes.

No Single Narrative Thread
There were many different plot lines running through DM: S3.  One such plot line (an important one that I won’t spoil) literally got introduced two episodes before the finale.  I think it (and another related “prophecy” plot line) should have placed earlier in the season, perhaps even in the first or second episode, and I think that would have gone a long way to giving the show a consistent plot “through line” to build on throughout the season.  As it was, there were many different elements going on–from double and triple crosses, to colonists rights vs corporate rights, to the idea of a good ruler vs a bad ruler, to searching for vengeance, to surviving, and et. cetera, that it all just came off just a bit jumbled.  A good kind of jumbled (for me, at least, as I love it when plots get convoluted), but still jumbled when compared to something that has a full season long arc that all the episodes have been building to (say, the final season of Star Trek Enterprise or Deep Space Nine).

Humor and Characters
One of the things that I really like about the show is that while DM can be a “dark” show (i.e., perma-death and all that), it isn’t all about blah, blah, world is such a bad place, blah, blah, blah, “Red Wedding,” blah, blah, blah, “hate all my characters, let me kill them all of in horrible ways,” blah, blah, blah.  (Yes, I know that this is a very unsubtle dig at Game of Thrones, but I’ll take any shot I can to restore a more “balanced” view of Fantasy that is more in line with tradition High Fantasy a la Tolkien, than the dreary, grim dark muck that we mostly have right now, even if that includes cheap shots).  DM allows its characters, particularly the character of the Android, but other characters as well, to inhabit an almost comedic space that one might find in a sitcom, rather than a drama.  Make no mistake, this is a sci-fi action show with the requisite space battles, warping, light speed, AI vs human conflict, etc., show that you might expect, but there are some truly hilarious moments that all characters get to participate in.  However, the Android gets to have some of the funniest lines, reminiscent of Data from Star Trek The Next Generation.  The actor’s deadpan delivery makes some of the lines truly laugh out loud funny.

Overall Rating: B (Above Average): Okay, so I was going to give it a B-, but then I got to thinking about all the fun that I had with the characters, especially the Android and I raised the grade slightly.  All it needs is a single through line for the season and less of a “revolving door” secondary character policy–let them stay on for an entire season.

Edit: Just discovered that Syfy has cancelled Dark Matter.  There will be no Season 4.  To be honest, I’m not really surprised, although it has more to do with Syfy than it does with DM.  To me, Syfy is just the television equivalent of EA at this point, with executives who care more about their investors and share prices that their audience.  I learned this the hard way when Syfy cancelled Star Gate: Universe just as it was finding its footing.  It put on the show Alphas as a replacement (only to cancel it after just two seasons).  Too bad, I really liked DM and thought it had room really grow.  I should let anyone know who might be interested in starting it though (a potential minor spoiler, but I don’t really guess it matters now): S3 ends on a cliffhanger (that is now likely to go unresolved).  Just thought you should know.

Started: Project Star & The End of the Semester

So I’ve started another short story–“Project Star.”  It has a title that I will reveal once I’m finished with the “Working Draft.”  It will probably be the last project I work on for the year.  It should take me up to Christmas Break.

Project Star was inspired by Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game (the movie–I’ve not had a chance to read the book yet), Diane Duane’s So You Want to Be a Wizard series, and by an idea that I’ve had in my head for a long time–years, in fact, of a protagonist who jumps off a very high place, but lands safely in a hovercar, similar to Anakin in SW: Attack of the Clones (so I guess that’s an inspiration as well).

Anyway, it is still in the early stages of development.  I know that I do want it to be a far-future project, whereas All Tomorrow’s Children was a near-future project.  I’ll (as always) detail more of its construction on the blog.

As I move towards the end of the semester, I will continue to write, but once the semester winds up, I’m going to shift my focus more to revising and getting the stories that I’ve finished in the Working Draft form, and move them into Submission Drafts.  Perhaps, with more “product on the shelf,” someone, somewhere will start to purchase.  I’ll also devote more time to my longer works and do more with them as well.

 

As EA’s Value Rises With its Shareholders, EA’s Value is Plummeting With Gamers (especially me)

 

Okay, as you know, I try to have this blog reflect my diversity of interests and as video games are now were a lot of really interesting things are happening in Science Fiction and Fantasy (& one could say Horror, with the explosion of VR and non-VR Horror titles), it is safe to say that I devote quite a bit of time to video games on this blog.

However, some may have noticed that I’m not talking about some of the games that I profiled earlier in the year from EA even though two of them have been released: Need for Speed Payback Star Wars Battlefront II (2018). This is because EA has lost their focus as a company and I’m not really interest anymore in the product that they are producing.

Let’s Talk About Audience
So this is going to be about micro transactions, right? Well, yes and no.  EA has been trying to walk a fine line for a long time.  They want to publish video games and make a profit by having more people buy them than it takes to make them.  However, they’ve increasingly wanted to appeal to their shareholders with business strategies that are designed to get more money, but not through games.  They had a program called Project Ten for a while, designed to get customers to pay ten dollars more for “Deluxe/Enhanced/DLC/etc” for their games, before that it was Season Passes, and so on.  They were the publisher who partnered with Microsoft to make the original Titanfall game an X-Box One exclusive (even while the console was “going down in flames” due to its original “Always On” conception & restrictive used game policies).  In the past month, EA has cancelled a Star Wars game, shuttered a Studio, and included micro transactions in two of its flagship titles (one of which it has “temporarily” rescinded).  All of this is great news to shareholders, but horrible news for gamers–the people who actually purchase games.  Currently, EA seems to feel that they’re number one job is pleasing the shareholders and not their core audience.  Not a great move.

The “Mass Effect Andromeda” Effect
So, I realized what happened after I bought the game Mass Effect Andromeda for full price when it was first released.  I reasoned, “yes, the reviews are lackluster, but this is a seminal “brand” for them–they wouldn’t completely mess it up or they would destroy their fan base.  They would have the same care of the ME brand as Disney had for the Star Wars “brand” after they bought it from George Lucas.  We’ll, Caveat Emptor (let the buyer beware).  The game was a buggy mess that was mediocre at best.  Yes, it ran, but not well–from glitches, to frame rate issues, to a storyline that started strong, but meandered and filled with quests and side quests meant to pad the length of the game–it was a huge disappointment.  I linked to it before, but below is a video of a longtime Bioware/ME fan who quit the game out of frustration for such a disappointing effort.

Why did this happen, you might ask?  The answer was simple: the game just needed 6 more months of development time.  However, six months would have put it into the window of Star Wars Battlefront 2 (which is releasing now).  They can’t push that game because of the movie (The Last Jedi) which opens in month, but also they have Anthem coming down the line, and so they chose to release something that wasn’t ready and sell it at full price.

I personally finished ME:A–my completionist nature at work–but I decided that, while I would still buy games from EA, they would now receive the lowest consideration on my part, to be bought only when I bought/played all the other games I was interested in playing.  It will be at least a year based on school and other games in the queue before I get around to purchasing an EA game–and I’m okay with that–and that’s the problem.

Unholy Alliances
Between that experience and the micro transactions, EA has proven that they care not a whit about me as a gamer and as a consumer.  They prefer their share holders over me, so I’m content to wait.  The whole goal of a company is to produce products that an audience loves and will purchase again and again–Apple, anyone?–not to try to dig extra money out of your audiences pockets through tricks and manipulative schemes, so that your numbers look all rosy at the next Investors’ Conference Call.  You can’t make “moon-calf” eyes with the angel while dancing with the devil.

As someone who has bought games from EA, back when they originated (heck, I even remember when Trip Hawkins founded the company and have some of the company’s newsletters from that time period) and they produced games like: Starflight (the “original” ME:A back in the day), Skyfox, and The Bard’s Tale II from the company’s inception, all the way into adulthood, I feel that EA is missing the point by chasing the fickle investor who will dump their stock like a ton of bricks no matter what EA does the moment EA’s dividend doesn’t meet with their expectations.  EA needs to get its priorities straight and until they do, I’ll buy games from other companies that still seem to “get it.”

Finished a Story: All Tomorrow’s Children

So, last night I finished the rough (very rough) version of my Working Draft of a new story that I’ve been working on.  I’ve referred to it in previous posts as Project Children.  It’s full title is All Tomorrow’s Children.  It is a Science Fiction story and it is in the “punk” genre.  In today’s parlance, many non-traditional sci-fi stories that are set in the current to near future and have a speculative element to them are labelled with some sort of label describing the setting and then “punk” added to it.  Gothic turn of the century technology = “Steampunk,” while a dystopian world set in an icy/cold environment = “Frostpunk.”  True story, as I’ve seen things as exotic as Magepunk.

All Tomorrow’s Children falls into the category of “Mindpunk.”  I’m not sure that there’s even a current “punk” associated with the mind, but “Psiberpunk” sounds too much like “cyberpunk” (the original “punk” genre) and too pretentious (for me) even though the story deals with Psionics and mind-powers.  I think “Mindpunk” best describes the story and is how I intend to market it: Sci-Fi Mindpunk story set in the near future.  While it is a different world (in my mind) than that of Skin Deep, it shares some of the same themes and deals with a story about those who have “mind powers” and those who don’t.

I don’t have time to do a full Author’s Note for the story, but I will definitely do one for it when I think I have the story fully revised and edited and I begin to submit it to publishers.  Right now, I’m just trying to bask in the satisfaction of having finished a (short) story after a long time, probably not since Silence Will Fall.  Now if I could just get the Ship of Shadows (Graphic Novel) and Project Skye stories off the ground, I’d be a really happy writer dude–but for now, I’ll guess I’ll stick with plain old happy writer dude!

Fae going on sale today!

Also, I just discovered over the weekend that FAE (the anthology where my story “Faerie Knight” was published) is going on sale today (11/13/17) at BookBub.com.  The email I received said it would be on sale on Monday, but I don’t know how long the sale will last, so if you’re at all curious about my story (and the story of other fine writers), you might want to head over and check it.

Writing a Scene

So last week I began to create a tentative “Bible” for the world of the novel.  It wasn’t much, I just put down on paper some of the ideas floating in my head and fairly hastily sketched out the ideas for the world that I needed to know such as the history, important people, and the important institutions of the world.  Again, nothing major, but all of it is helping me to refine my process of thinking about the larger world and Skye’s relationship within it.

This week, while I finally have decided on how Skye should look, I still don’t have a clear handle on her personality, so the consultant and I decided I should write a scene with her in it.  I know next week is going to be hectic for me so I actually wrote out the scene write after I the session.  I’m not sure that it accomplishes my goal.  It is an action scene, so it has Skye doing a lot of things and being clever, but she doesn’t really say a whole lot, nor does she really emote.

I think I’m going to have to try to find time to write a non-action scene that is heavy with dialogue as well to see what that looks like.  I can’t seem to find the emotional resonance with her character.  I’ll see what the response is next week, but I think the action scene doesn’t show enough of Skye’s emotions or feelings to really give an indication of who she is and how she acts in real life.  I really need to know more about her personality and what makes her tick in order to do this story correctly.

EDIT: While search for a heading image for this blog post, I came across this interesting Infographic about 5 ways to write a scene.  Considering that Infographics was one of the “genres” that I taught this semester, I thought it only appropriate to include one in my blog post–also, since I’m still having issues, maybe if I try writing a scene in each of the 5 “ways” that the graphic suggests, maybe by the end of the process, I’ll have a better understanding of Skye’s personality and who she is as character and person.

Potpourri–A Bunch of Little (& Stranger) Things

This blog post is just a random collection of little things that I’ve been working on over the past week that really don’t deserve a full blog post.

Stranger Things
So I started watching Stranger Things Season 2 over the past weekend.  Right now, I’m really enjoying it.  The first episode is reestablishing the characters and introducing new characters.  I like the vibe of the show, so far, even after only one episode.  It is like getting reacquainted with old familiar friends after a long hiatus.  There’s a lot of 80s nostalgia that is really forefront in this episode and also several new characters seem like a good mix for the show.  I can’t wait to see how it progresses.

iPhone 7
So my iPhone appears to be utterly and truly dead.  After talking with Apple, I’m going to have to take it to a local authorized Apple Dealer and see if they have a phone in stock that I can exchange with it, or if I’m going to have to wait for Apple to send me a replacement.  Ugh, very frustrating.  I’m just grateful that it was in the 1 year warranty period for the phone.  I’ll keep you up-to-date on the phone situation.  I did, by the way, have a great Technical Support experience and the Apple Advisor was very patient with me as we went through the process.  I greatly appreciated that!

Star Trek Next Generation – First Season
I’ve started STNG and the first season is much “rougher” than I remember.   I knew Worf’s prosthetics & makeup underwent a redesign, but it looks worse during the first season than I remember.  Also, many of the trademark elements that made STNG what it was were either still being formed or hadn’t yet been implemented, so the show feels like an “empty shell” rather than the rich, inventive show that I remember.

Well, that’s all for now–this post will have to be short and sweet.  Till next time!