What’s on My Bookshelf? InFamous: Second Son (Video Game)

So today on What’s on My Bookshelf, I thought I’d highlight a video game.  I know gaming is still fairly niche, but it has surpassed movies as the highest grossing entertainment genre, so I’d like to give equal time.  The game, InFamous: Second Son is the 3rd game in the InFamous brand.  Despite that, this feels like a “soft” reboot as the main character, setting, and supporting characters are all new, so it is a great jumping on point if you’ve never played an InFamous game.  The basic gist is that, thanks to an explosion in the earlier games in the series, a few people are not so “normal” anymore and have become “super-powered.”  So, essentially you get to play as a “super hero” in this game’s universe.

Characters, Setting and Plot

You play as Delsin, the younger brother to a cop.  Your parents aren’t around anymore, so you’re brother has had to take care of you and like any little brother, you’re just a bit rebellious.  How rebellious is up to you (see below).  The game is an open world game set in Seattle.  While not a one-to-one representation of the city, the game still bears a fair likeness to the city with many of Seattle’s landmarks on display (including a harrowing jaunt to the Space Needle).  As a super powered individual, you get to really let loose against the enemy forces, the DUP, who want to collar ALL “super powered” characters, regardless of their motives.  Add to the fact that you get to also “gain” new powers by absorbing them from other “super” characters that you face and the game gets quite inventive.


The thing I like most about the InFamous games is that they feature a morality system.  Actions that help the game world bring about a positive change (citizens take pride in their city and help clean it up, etc.) or you can do the opposite (being a bully and a pest drives the city into a state of dinginess and decay).  There are major choices that have this “good vs evil” paradigm along with smaller acts within the world.  Overall, the story still gets to the same resolution, but the game gives you the appearance of agency to affect the outcome of the story by giving you those moments of choice.

If you’re a gamer looking for something new to play, or maybe, you want to try out gaming to see what its all about, this is a good starting point and introduction to the gaming experience.  InFamous: Second Son is available for the Sony Playstation 4 video game system.

Have a great day!



Finished: Call of Duty: WWII (Video Game)

Call of Duty: WWII

So, a couple of weeks ago, I finished Call of Duty: WWII’s (CoD) campaign and I’ve been meaning to do a write up of it ever since, but I’ve only just now gotten around to it.  Outside of the campaign, it isn’t really possible to “finish” the game as the online modes (Multiplayer and Zombies) encourage players to play them over and over again, adding new maps over time through the release of downloadable content (DLCs).  Many CoD players don’t even finish the story, preferring rather to hope right into the multiplayer modes and totally eschewing the main story (campaign).  However, I’m the exact opposite, I always try to finish every campaign for the games–sometimes I wait to start the multiplayer modes until I’ve finished the game (something that I started doing in CoD Modern Warfare), but now, often as not these days, I’ll just play a mission or two of the campaign before playing 3-5 matches in multiplayer (by that time I’ve usually used up the time I’ve set aside for gaming and move on to something else).

Surprisingly Realistic

So, WWII is a return to past form for the CoD games in that they were originally set in the WWII era before they moved on to “modern” warfare and finally “future” warfare.  Here, however, we follow a squad using historically accurate weapons and fighting historically accurate enemies in (of course) historically accurate settings.  CoD games, even in the WWII setting tend to be bombastic in order to emphasize the “action” part of war, but they did a very good job this time around by toning things down just enough and focusing on the characters in the squad and their interactions to make the game feel more grounded and more realistic (it all goes back to characters and character interactions).  They even go into some detail about the treatment of prisoners in POW/labor camps in the game’s 3rd act that is really well done.  I really like the way they integrated teammate “actions” (requesting ammo/medicine, saving wounded soldiers, or interceding with some soldiers locked in mortal combat) into the flow of the gameplay and I thought that also helped to ground the story realistically.

Nothing’s Perfect

So, there were a couple of things that I noticed that I’d like to see improved if they were to make a sequel featuring these same characters (or another WWII game in general).

  1. Stealth Sequences were a drag: In general, the stealth sequences weren’t really all that fun.  There was one exception where you switch characters and infiltrate an enemy hotel as a spy, complete the mission, and escape and that sequence was well done, but by and large the other stealth sequences weren’t really well thought out or done all that well, in my opinion.  They were more tedious and frustrating rather than fun.  They brought the pace of the game to a grinding halt and you, the player, are punished with swift death if you attempt to “brute force” your way through (especially on the higher difficulty levels that  I was playing the game on).
  2. Vehicles didn’t control very well: Don’t get me wrong, I loved the vehicle sections in theory and the change of pace worked here where it didn’t work in the stealth sections.  No, here the problem wasn’t the sequences, but the controls.  I always felt like I was fighting to control whatever vehicle that I was in and it was really frustrating.  The tanks, in particular, were extremely tricky to control, but everything from the planes, to the jeeps, to even the AA guns felt very difficult to control and I wish that the designers would have taken more time to really have nailed down those controls before release.  These were fun segments brought down by irritating controls that never felt “just right.”

Overall Score: B

This is an above average entry in the CoD universe.  For those who are regular CoD players, this might even be slightly higher–not the greatest of all CoD games, but better than the average CoD game with characters and missions that, if you’re not usually a campaign player, might actually change your mind if you decide to take up the challenge and see the campaign all the way through.  I can honestly say I enjoyed my time playing it–and after all, isn’t that the purpose of games?


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Web 3.0 (Hopefully)

Technically, there is no such thing as Web 3.0 (yet), but I can only hope that this will be a “thing” in the very near future.  I’ll explain why down below, but I really think that the Web is beginning to transition into a new evolution, and for me, the transition can’t come soon enough.

Web 1.0 (World Wide Web–The WWW dot era)

So, when the web first came into its own as a way organizing and surfing information, it was revolutionary.  I got my first taste of the Web on AOL (that’s America OnLine to any younger readers of the blog) and I took to it like a duck to water (to use a Southern expression).  It was a great way to organize information for me and really fed my desire for signal (information) vs noise (communication).  I tend to be a high signal (lots of information), low noise (little of others comments and opinions) type of person.  I like being given enough information about the pros and cons of a product, issue, or debate and then making up my mind for myself based on the relevant data.

Web 2.0 (The Social Network Blight)

Then came the new “hotness” of Web 2.0 and that’s where my interest in “the Internet” dampened.  MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Vine, YouTube, etc., etc., etc., ad nauseum all popped up, became popular, and dominated the Web experience.  A few have died, a few are on life support, but most are rumbling, stumbling along cluttering the internet with opinions and such.  And yes, I know that technically blogs are a part of Web 2.0, but a blog is much like YouTube–it can be for both personal opinions AND information and I’m fine with that (one of my highest rated posts behind my ranking post of Marvel movies which is my opinion on the movies continues to be the Author’s Note for Here Be Monsters–many people seem genuinely interested in how that story came together–which is informational in nature).    My problem is with sites like Twitter (too short for REAL information, but just right for off-the-cuff opinions), or Facebook (although for families it probably is a great way to stay in touch, especially if they are flung all over the country or the world).  It just doesn’t interest me much–it isn’t that I don’t have friends, but it goes back to the signal vs noise paradigm.  Social Networking tends towards low signal (information) and high noise (communication).  I do much better with information, but I’m resistant to other people’s opinions (which are not necessarily applicable to me)

Web 3.0 (The Internet of things or AI/Deep Learning Convergence)

And now we come to the real reason that I wrote this post.  It seems like we’re transitioning into a post Web 2.0 phase and into what I’m calling Web 3.0–why the media isn’t calling it such, I’m not sure because that’s what it is (although I suspect everyone is still so much in love with Social Networking that they don’t want to see it go).  This era seems set to be dominated by connecting all of our various devices to the Internet (aka “Smart Appliances”) and the rise of AI/Deep Learning Systems (such as Google Assistant and Alexia, Apple’s Siri, Driverless cars, etc).  Now this is truly EXCITING tech to me. Why listen to someone natter on about X, Y, and Z on Twitter, with just a few simple commands, vocal or keyed in, you could have a machine (physical or virtual) do something for you now.  That’s exciting!  More exciting that the Natterverse that we currently have now, at least.

So, I’m back into the game.  I’m going to try to find an area where I can carve out a niche now that the balance is shifting from noise back to signal (I’ve already done arduinos which are little robots that you can program remotely via a simple command interface, but I think I’m going to investigate a little more).  Still, pretty much anything in the Web 3.0 paradigm would be preferable to me as it will require a high signal, low noise paradigm, which in my opinion–see what I did there–is what the Web needs now.


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OtherWorlds Top Ten Posts of 2017 (Happy 2018!)

Happy New Year_rukia_us

Sorry this post is late–I caught the flu on Friday and I’ve just now begun to feel better.  I’m still not 100%, but I wanted to make sure that I got this out today (it was supposed to go up New Year’s Eve, but I was just too sick to finish it).  Anyway, here it is!  Happy 2018 everyone!

So people love Top (Insert number) lists, especially at the end of the year.  So this year, I thought I’d get into the act, by going through some of my posts as displayed by WordPress as the ones that viewers to the blog have viewed the most.  Surprisingly, a few of the higher posts are older than 2017, meaning that the topics are either still relevant or popular even after long periods of time.

The overall winner isn’t actually a post, so I’m disqualifying it from the Top Ten List as it is the Home Pages/Archives Section.  It is by far the leader with almost 300 views and I can relate to that–people (myself included) like to browse.  Maybe readers want to see if I’ve done a post for that day, or maybe they like my writing posts, but not my Nostalgia C64 posts, etc.  The point is many people browse the site and that’s fine, but I’m going to try to limit the top ten to specifically those posts that people clicked on in 2017.  So in reverse order:

10. “Spahn and Sain and Pray for Rain”
2017 Post.  So this post was written in 2017, in the summer if I remember correctly, and it explains where this expression comes from and how my family used it as a sort of “code” or “shorthand” to basically try your best at all times.  I think it resonated because this world is difficult and sometimes we need a reminder (or at least I do from time to time) to give it your all because you might just be surprised at the results.

9. Player Unknown Battleground
2017 Post.  This was the “little” game that could apparently because even though this was written in the late Summer/early Fall time frame, it still managed to chart in the top ten posts for the year.  This one really reflected the desire of hardcore gamers to read about their favorite game.  PUBG really seemed to strike a cord with the gaming community this year just as Overwatch did in 2016.

8. Not Enough Time
2017 Post. Time (and time management) is hard to do consistently in today’s modern hectic world where everything seems to move at frenetic pace.  Here I tried to blog during breakfast times and that worked–for a while.  The problem became, ironically, time.  It takes time to write my blogs because they aren’t usually as short as this blog was and as such take up much more time than I have even at breakfast, so I had to modify this technique quite a bit to get my blog entries to post on a regular schedule.

7. Black Panther vs. Spider-Man: Learning How to Navigate Social Interactions through Comic Book Trading
2017 Post.  I think the popularity from this one comes more from the Spider-Man Homecoming movie than it does from Black Panther or comic book trading.  I learned a valuable life lesson here which I relate, but coming so closely to the movie, I think people viewed it more for movie/character impressions than for the content of the post itself.  I wonder how this post will do when the Black Panther movie releases in February?

6. The Outline’s the Thing (to Catch a Story) Redux
2017 Post.  So this post is a “sequel” of sorts to a older post that I did on outlines and outlining.  A commentor to the blog noted that he found the entire process of outlining not as useful as just jumping in and writing by the seat on one’s pants.  While I felt that I explained myself well enough at the time, I thought I’d write another post explaining that “real” life doesn’t usually happen by “the seat of one’s pants.”  We plan out what we intend to do (usually) and spontaneity, while useful for keeping one’s life from becoming dull, doesn’t really factor into our day to day lives.  In this post, I simply set forth an argument as to why we should also plan our writing lives and note some of the successful writers who do so.

5.  The Witcher 3 The New (Old) Rhetorics of Grimdark
2016 Post.  Okay, so I’m not really sure why this one is still so popular.  Perhaps it is the game as it was one of the best games to be released last year (2016).  Or it could be because people are interested in the “Grimdark” genre (a genre where “bad things happen to good people”).  Or perhaps it is a combination of both–whatever the reason, this one was very popular even a year out from when it was written.

4. Great Actors in Small Roles: Madelyn Horcher as Sgt. Leach
2017 Post. I’m actually very glad that this one was super popular this year as I think many of the big name stars get both money and recognition, but the smaller players are also integral to the story when they nail their roles.  I started this “Great Actors in Small Roles” to highlight actors who I thought really turned in a stellar performance.  While I’m no casting director or agent, but I’d really like to see these actors in more (and larger) roles.  So far I’ve only done two of them this year, although I probably should have done two for World War Z in 2013 (for two of the actors who played scientists late in that movie) as both performances were well done–both went on to a measure of stardom which I was thrilled to see.  I would love for the same thing to happen to the two talented actors that I’ve mentioned this year (even only one made the Top 10 List this year).

3. Author’s Note: Here Be Monsters
2016 Post. So, I’ve done quite a few Author’s Notes for stories that I’ve finished, but this is the only one that has “charted” in the Top Ten.  This is one of those stories that I think really could  sale and be really unique because of the realism that I put in based on the research that I put into the story.  The setting is unique, so I’m fairly surprised that the story hasn’t sold, but I’ll hold out hope that eventually an editor will recognize its worth and purchase/publish it.  As I type these words, it is currently out to an anthology, so fingers crossed.

2. The Outline’s the Thing to Catch a King (or in this case, to catch a story)
2016 Post. This one might be a bit of a cheat as I assigned it to my class to read after another blogger commented on this post.  We were studying different genres and this blog (& the comment section) is the perfect example of Editorials/Opinions Genre listed in the textbook that we use (The Bedford Book of Genres).  However, even though this gave this post a huge head-start, one can see be the popularity of the sequel post (at entry #6) which I did not assign btw, one can see the discussion of outlining vs. writing by the seat of one’s pants (aka “pantsing”) is really important to the creative writing community.

1. Ranking Marvel’s Cinematic Universe Movies–2017 Edition
2016 Post. By far and away the most clicked on post of 2017 was the ranking that I did of Marvel’s Universe Movies which shows the popularity of Marvel Movies is still going strong.  I have a feeling that this would have been more relevant had not my local theater changed ownership and if I could have seen more of the Marvel movies “on time” as I had been able to in 2016.  As it is, I’m still missing Thor Ragnorak and probably won’t get to see it until the Spring (Easter?), although I’m planning on perhaps seeing Black Panther at the theater (although it might not be my own here in Chattanooga–we’ll see . . .).  I’m also considering seeing the newest Avengers movie as well in the theaters.  People (right now) really love the Marvel movies, but if Disney isn’t careful, they could find themselves with franchise fatigue, but so far they are by far (based on the popularity of the post) still the most popular of the movie franchises.

Well that’s it for my Top Ten of 2017.  With any luck, I’ll be able to a similar post for the top posts of 2018!  Have a great and wonderful new year!

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!

Moribund Genres: The Western

Watching the Magnificent Seven over the weekend and reading some of the critical reviews of the movie (I often skip reading movie reviews until AFTER I see a movie as I want to go in fresh/not have any preconceived notions and/or opinions), I see that the Western genre, after having its hey day in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s is still in a moribund phase.  While the dictionary that I’m using lists several possible definitions, I’m going to use two as a way to guide my discussion.

1. Near death, dying
While I don’t think the Western genre will die, it might as well be dead to both movie-going audiences and the majority of non-genre (i.e., Western genre) critics.  Every year or so, we see one or two major movies released, but rarely do they seem to draw any real attraction to themselves or garner any steam (pardon the pun).  I can remember all the way back to the mid 1980s with the movie Silverado watching and enjoying a western movie that seemed to get no love critically or commercially (even though it helped to introduce Kevin Costner as a rising star who would go on to become a major movie star in another western Dances With Wolves).  For some unknown reason, audiences reached a saturation point with Westerns as a movie genre in the late 1970s and the lack of interest around the remake of the Magnificent Seven shows that the audience interest for western movies still remains tepid.

Now there have been bright spots here and there: the above mentioned Dances With Wolves (which I haven’t seen all the way through–managed to catch parts of hit) and Clint Eastwood’s early 1990’s movie Unforgiven were standouts both critically and commercially (and I’m sure that one can argue for others exceptions to the rule), but for the most part, the western is no longer a part of the American movie-going experience.

2. Not progressing, stagnant.
This probably the most important reason as to why western movies are having such a tough go of it right now.  In many of the reviews that I read, reviewers touched on the “cliches” of the Western genre and how many of them are in play in the movie.  The audiences (perhaps rightly so) don’t think they can expect any new surprises from this genre.  If you were to name ten “conventions” (or cliches) that one often sees in western movies, you could probably find at least half of those on your list in the Magnificent Seven.  Now all genres (Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Adventure, Horror, etc.) have certain tropes, but it is Horror’s turning the tropes on their head through race relations (GetOut), atmosphere (Stranger Things, Stephen King’s It) and flat-out scares (ANY of James Wan’s recent successful movies) that have turned Horror from the also ran of the 1980s and 1990s into the rising juggernaut that it is quickly becoming.

And there is an audience for Westerns as a genre.  One of the hottest video games during the last gaming console generation was Red Dead Redemption, an open world western adventure game and its sequel, Red Dead Redemption 2 is one of the most anticipated games for this current console generation.  So the audience for the genre is there, but filmmakers are going to have to look for new stories to tell and new ways to tell those stories.

More Does Not = Better


More Does Not Equal Better – Woman Drinking Coffee Image Source: YouTube

This was a piece of advice given to me by my Graduate Advisor at U.T. at Chattanooga (UTC) once when I was writing a paper.  My memory is fuzzy on the exact details of the paper, but I “seem” to remember that it had something to do with an essay in which I had fulfilled the length requirements, but kept writing way past the requirements thinking that more = better.  When I was informed that indeed longer doesn’t always equal better, I have to confess that I felt a keen sense of disappointment in that all of the extra work that I had done was probably wasted.  And then, when I went back and actually looked at the essay, I saw that my advisor was right.  Instead of being this tightly constructed essay where my points flowed one into another to create a satisfying whole, the essay was bloated and formless.  Sure it was long (and made sense), but the points just kind of kept going and going and going and it lacked my normal sense of “cohesion.”

I learned a valuable lesson that day from that assignment–the length of a work should be defined by what it needs to accomplish–no more, no less.  If it needs 25 pages to accomplish the task, then by all means devote 25 pages to it.  However, it only needs 2 paragraphs, then 24 and a half pages have been wasted if you expand it just because you want to write long.

I’ve seen quite a few “bloated” popular pieces over the past two years (2016-2017) where the creators/designers should have stopped far sooner than they did with their creation than they did.  For instance, last weekend I thought I was on the last mission of Mass Effect Andromeda, a game that I’ve been playing all summer.  Imagine my surprise when at the end of the mission, I find that I’m still not finished.  There is at least one more mission to go (perhaps a couple of more–I can’t really tell).  MEA would have been a really tight and suspenseful game at the 60-70 hour mark, but at well over 100 hours in and still no sign of stopping, the game has worn out its welcome and has become tedious and often boring.  I understand the rationale–our fans want more, so let’s give them more (if we give them more, then this will = better, but that’s not the case).  Unless each and every experience is meaningful then more for the sake of more is just more, not better.

Even in these blog entries, I try very hard to remember this lesson as I can often type for hours on a particular subject (unless I’m constrained by time).  So, as I embark on another school year and creative writing season, I have to take a moment to remind myself that more doesn’t = better.  Finely crafted and purposeful experiences are what = better.