The Death of Critical Thinking (or Buy, Buy, Buy!)

Image Source: https://blog.education.nationalgeographic.org/2017/01/20/12-things-we-learned-this-week-8/ultimate-critical-thinking-worksheet/

Okay, so there’s something that I’ve noticed in the past few weeks that has come to a head with the launch of Anthem–the idea of being a “critical thinking” is under assault like never before. Now, this is nothing new–politicians often want to sway public opinion. This has been the case in western civilization throughout history so there’s nothing new there. However, when I was in school, both in elementary school and high school, we (as students) were taught look at a situation, a work (literary or entertainment-based), a problem–whatever it was, and analyze it critically. The goal may be different–how to navigate an unfamiliar situation, how look at a non-fiction work to for its educational properties, how to decipher what is the better value, and so on. However, tied into the rise of the idea of “alternative facts” and “fake news” is this idea that social media knows all and is the ultimate arbitor of who you should be and what you should be doing, irregardless if it makes sense for your life. And–if you can’t tell–I’m not okay with this.

They’re called “Influencers” for a Reason!

Now, “marketing” has been a major for in American capitalism since their ascendence in the 1950s (see Madmen), but before social media, the focus was on the product and on the competition. How can we make our product better (or more competitive–which isn’t necessarily the same as better)? How can we show that our product is better than our competitor’s product? How can we increase our market share? Now, however, the marketing departments are targeting the consumer. For instance, Mike Ybarra, an executive for Microsoft, took issue with the critical reviews of Anthem. Okay, we get it. You would like Anthem to be this awesome game that you can then use to promote the X-Box “brand.” However, ignoring the flaws in the game and spending money on an experience that you will probably dislike doesn’t do you, the consumer, any good, while it does help the company’s bottom line. I’m so incensed about this because there’s this idea that that reviews are no longer relevant–they’re old, outdated. You should be watching a “streamer” play the game. I’ve heard this at least twice from two different people in the gaming industry.

No, No, and NO! Reviews are part of the critical conversation that is essential to the critical thinking process. The best reviews provide pros, cons, and context to the piece being reviewed. A streamer (or influencer) plays the game and the company relies on peer pressure to influence your purchasing decision. Look at how much fun this person is having–or if it is like Anthem, see how pretty the game is, surely the problems can’t be that bad. Rather than allowing you to make an educated decision as to whether something is valuable and/or useful to you, they’d rather use the pressure of your peers and the appeal of the product to sway your decision. And I’m not a fan.

Toe-May-Toe or Toe-Mah-Toe, it Still Equals Tomato, Except On YouTube.

Think this isn’t truly the case–then take a look at pretty much any comments section of a YouTube video, especially one where the speaker pronounces a word differently than others. Beta is something that is usually (in America) pronounced as (Bay-Ta), but some people pronounce it (Bee-Ta). However, there’s no room for individuality on the Internet–everyone has an opinion. For the Beta video that I’m referring to, pretty much every third commentor was focusing on the speaker’s pronunciation of Beta–not the actual news story that the Beta. Social media relies on the idea that all the “cool” people are doing this, so you should be doing it too. Don’t like that movie, what’s wrong with you, don’t like that game, you’re so square, love that show, everyone knows its crap–why are you even watching it?

Others can be swayed by this “death-by-peer” mentality forced on us my the various social media platforms, but I value my critical thinking skills and will continue using them. Corporations–want me to buy your product? Give me a good product at a fair price. If that’s too hard, then no amount “hype” from streamers/influencers is going to sway my opinion. Governments–want me to believe you? Show me, not by your words, but by your actions.

A critical review is a thousand times more useful than social media–and I’ll fight tooth-and-claw for my right to continue to exercise my right to think for myself–as much as corporations and governments may hate it.

Sidney

Please consider supporting these fine small press publishers where my work has appeared:




  • Current Work-in-Progress–February 2019: Starlight, Starbright (Sci-Fi Short-Story — 2nd Draft — “Opening Incident” (2/5 sections)
  • Current Work-in-Progress–February 2019: Project Dog  (Sci-Fi Short-Story – 1st Draft — Character Draft “Finished”)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Ship of Shadows (Sci-Fi Graphic Novel – Script, Issue # 2, Currently on Script Page 32)
Advertisements

Anthem: Wait and See

Those of you who have followed my blog for a while know that I’m interested in all varieties of games, from racing to action to shooters. However, I have a soft spot for science fiction action games, no matter the genre (about the only exception to this is “puzzle” games, but even then, if the game maker can really sell me on the concept, I’ll at least take a look). However, after being burned by Mass Effect Andromeda two summers ago, I’ve taken a more “wait and see” approach towards games published by EA (Electronic Arts) as they seem content to release games that are not quite finished in order to 1) not disrupt their “pipeline” with future releases that that have in the works for later in the year and 2) satisfy their investors over their game-playing audience.

Early Reviews

So, Anthem “partially” released to subscribers of EA’s early access “subscription” platform and the reviews have been, for the most part, mediocre. While most praise the graphics and the flying and the gorgeous world, many are also criticizing long load times and the multiplicity of loading screens, bugs/glitches, and a story that doesn’t necessarily delve as deeply as many fans of the developer’s (Bioware’s) stories. Early reviews are generally speaking a 7 out of 10–okay, but not great.

Yes, I know you have a whole slate of games planned for the fall–Jedi: Fallen Order is one that we know of, and rumors persist of a “new” Need for Speed game, but Anthem is an important game for EA, so why not give it the time it needs to finish “baking?”

Fool Me Once, Shame on You; Fool Me Twice, Shame on Me

So, I’m waiting on the game, even if EA isn’t willing to do this. EA would prefer that I buy it and wait for them to fix it over the year and make it a good game, so that they already have my money to add to their numbers for their investors. I’m looking for a good product for my purchase price. So, unlike Mass Effect Andromeda, I’m not going to pick up my preorder based on both my perception of the game (in its current state) and the early reviews of the game. While I think that the graphics are top-notch, I’m not as sold on the flying/combat as even the reviewers are based on their reviews, and I’m certainly not impressed by the frequent loading screens. To be honest, the game reminds me of Knights of Legend, an Origin game that really wanted owners to own a hard-drive, but came out on the Commodore 64 (C64) with a disk drive. I was always switching out disks based on whatever activities that I needed/wanted to do–the same seemed true with Anthem. Everything that I was doing seemed to need a load screen (and that’s with the 2nd demo–for me, the first demo was plagued with the “infinite loading screen bug” where I couldn’t even load into a game for most of the afternoon). After buying Mass Effect Andromeda brand new (which also had major issues due to lack of development time), I’m choosing to (at best) wait quite a while before purchasing the game.

Sidney




  • Current Work-in-Progress–February 2019: Project Dog  (Sci-Fi Short-Story – 1st Draft)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Ship of Shadows (Sci-Fi Graphic Novel – Script, Issue # 2, Currently on Script Page 32)

Commodore 64 (C64) Nostalgia Review: Starflight

  • Project Paradise Word Count: 357
  • Project Skye Word Count: 1617
  • Project Independence Word Count: 1723 
  • Project Ship of Shadows Graphic Novel Page Count: 12

As you can see, I didn’t manage to get any writing done Friday or Saturday.  I didn’t even feel well enough on Friday to get out a blog entry–sorry about that.  I’m still also trying to fine-tune my “process.”  I think I have too many projects, especially since Summer classes are about to start and they tend to be these intense periods of “crunch” time because you’re trying to cover a semester’s worth of stuff in 4-8 weeks.  I trying to decided if Project Skye or Project Independence is the one I want to focus on for May and then I’ll shift the other for June.  I do want to keep working on the graphic novel in the “background” (on weekends?), but I’m not really sure when to fit this in.  I’ll cogitate on it and try to decide on a course of action in the next two weeks before school starts.

Late to the Game

I’m not sure that I have all that much to talk about when it comes to Starflight published by Electronics Arts (before their rebranding as EA.  This was an early space ship explorations/simulation game, heavily inspired by TV shows like Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica (the OG shows, not the newer modern reboots.)  In it, you controlled a spaceship and chose which worlds to visit and explore.  As I recall, you could choose destinations and fly your ship there, land on planets, and (I believe) scavenge for resources and discover aliens.  Just browsing through the manual, it looks like you could create, train, and utilize crew members on your ship.

starflight-commodore-64-screenshot-configuring-your-ship

Screenshot, Image Source: Moby Games

Uncharted Territory

As i mentioned above, I don’t really recall that much about the game.  It would probably have been one that I played and enjoyed and would have probably been one of my favorites, except, as I recall, Electronic Arts didn’t publish this on the C64 right away.  If memory serves, this was a PC game that absolutely “blew up” in popularity.  It wasn’t talked about so much outside of gaming circles, but from what I remember, this was “hot stuff” in the world at the time.  The C64 port came sometime later and people think that modern day Ubisoft “downgrades” graphics are bad (i.e., shows an enhanced game during their presentations of the game and then “downgrades” the graphics so that the game will actually run on current hardware), but the game’s graphics were truly watered down–so much so, that my uncle nicknamed the main character sprite/avatar “Caspy” after “Casper the friendly ghost.”   

starflight_02

“Caspy.”  Image Source: Lemon64.com

More Time and Space

Unfortunately, this meant that I didn’t get the game until the very end of the C64’s life-cycle in our household.  By then, CD-Rom systems like the Sega Saturn and Sony Playstation were beginning to be talked about in the gaming magazines, and the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo ruled the roost at that time (if memory serves), so a hack-and-slash game like  Golden Axe was more in-line with what I was playing at the time and I didn’t really devote a lot of time to “Caspy” and his adventures (even though I’m a spaceship sort of guy.). I don’t want to turn off modern gamers, but I remember it being a old-school version of No Man’s Sky (which I actually don’t think is as bad as everyone who hates on it, says it is–it’s just slow and more about survival.)  I would actually have kept my copy had I not been in grad. school–I realized that even though I would be able to tolerate it and have some fun with it, but it just took too long to do anything and that I just didn’t have the time to invest in learning its systems and getting really good with them.  That’s sort of how I felt when playing Starlight.  Electronic Arts really should have had a port ready for the C64 much sooner–or if they did, they needed to have advertised it better so that I could have made it a priority Christmas/Birthday request.  As it was, it was a good game that I just didn’t get to put a lot of time into because the “gaming” world had moved on by the time I got to it.  I could only find a DOS play through and not a C64 play through.

Here’s hoping you have a good week!

Sidney




Amazon Associate Disclaimer:
I earn a small commission on the purchase of these items.

C64 Nostalgia Review: Knights of Legend

A Birthday RPG

I cannot quite remember how I heard of Knights of Legend by Origin as a child.  It was either through an article or advertisement in a magazine that I bought at Waldenbooks called Computer Gaming World (CGW), although it could have been in a different magazine–I just can’t recall.  Regardless, I read either the article or adcopy (no internet/interwebs for public, only military/government at the time), and thought it was neat.  There was a go-to place that I found that would do mail-order for Commodore 64 games that I’d ordered from in the past, so I asked for this for my birthday.  I remember it coming on-time and after I got back from school and had dinner, cake, and ice-cream, I remember opening up the game and diving in.

The game came packed with 6 (!) floppy disks and a packed-in insert exhorting owners (of the IBM/IBM compatible versions) to get a hard drive and install it on there (a review I found said it had 4 disks, but I remember 6, though perhaps I’m wrong–I’ll check when I get home and revise this as necessary–regardless, it had many more than was normal for the time).  Now, understand, most games came on one floppy disk.  Sometimes the game might use front and back to store the floppy, but two disks were rare.  Some of the most intensive games out there used two disks and if they were really, really pushing the capabilities of the system, they might use up to 3-4 disks (for some reason, I’m thinking of the AD&D Gold Box games here), but for a game to need 6 disks was practically unheard of at the time.  Unfortunately, the C64 was older tech and did not have the option of adding a hard drive, something that was just starting to take hold in the PC/IBM computing space of the time, so I had to make do with the floppies.

Unique Races

Now, when I looked up this game on Wikipedia, I was fairly shocked to find that very few outlets seemed to have covered it and that it had an abysmal rating in the few outlets that did give it a look.  I (ultimately) thought it was a bad game (more on this in a moment), but I didn’t think (at least initially) that it was all that bad.

One of the things that this game had going for it was that it had (from what I recall), a fairly unique set of races.  What the game did was combine the RPG systems of race and class into one, so that whatever you picked determined your profession.  Some examples: a Kelden Cliff Guard, Ghor Tigress, or a Klvar Elf (a magic-user).  Each one of these is example of a race/nationality combined with a type of class to get your profession (fighter, magic-user, etc.).  At first, creating a class seemed really fun and unique and it occupied my time during the rest of the school year.  It wasn’t until the summer vacation/break that I was really able to dig into it and discover its flaws.

knights_of_legend_screenshot_indieretronews

Knights of Legend Screenshot.  Image Source: Indie Retro News.

Encumbrance and Fatigue System No Bueno

The real problem, I soon discovered when I tried to actually do anything is the problem that the game’s designer, Todd Mitchell Porter was 1) far too ambitious with the ideas that he implemented in the game for the technology of the time and 2) confused complexity with fun.  The game’s manual (which I’m holding in my hand as I write this post) is a whopping 142 pages in length.  (There are actual RPGs from that era that are shorter than this manual–yes, I acknowledge that they were mostly “home-brew” RPGs by amateurs or very small RPG companies, but still, the fact remains true).  I once had a professor note, as I had once praised a piece of criticism that was very long-winded, that just because it is long and involved, doesn’t necessarily make it good.  That’s the way that I feel about this game in hindsight.  Teenage me loved the sprawling “epicness” of the game for the sheer possibilities that it seemed to offer, but in actuality, the game collapsed under the weight of its own systems.

Case in point–the fatigue and encumbrance system.  Once you got out of the character creation system and outside of the town, into the wilds and into combat, that’s when the game fell apart.  The game used a “hit location” system, meaning that limbs could be incapacitated without killing the body and your characters were “flimsy” meaning that the weakest of strikes could render them critically injured, so the best strategy was to wear the heaviest armor you could find.  However, you could carry only so much, so that you’re armor and weapons weighed you down and every time you took an action, you became more and more fatigued until you couldn’t fight and had to rest.  In combat, this came to down to two results: 1) wear too light of armor and getting your party decimated or 2) wearing too heavy of armor and having your characters able to withstand encounters, but leaving you too fatigued to swing your weapons.

I once had a Kheldon fighter (who had wings and could fly), fly up to his opponent to attack, but after flying, he became exhausted and had to rest each and every turn because his weapons and armor kept him from recovering enough to do anything and the enemy slowly battered him to death.  I did win a couple of battles, but on the whole, I discovered that the entire system was broken because it prioritized “realism” over “fun.”  The possibilities that had seemed endless when I bought the game and when I was just creating characters, turned out to be limiting and frustrating when one actually played the game because of the way the systems interacted with one another.  Just because something works a certain way in real-life, doesn’t mean it should work that way in a game.

Needless to say, the game didn’t really receive a whole lot of attention after that summer. I dabbled with it here and there, but for the most part, it was back to AD&D Gold Box games until I got my first PC where I tried another Origin game, Wing Commander II by another visionary developer, Chris Roberts, that I found more to my liking.  But that’s another blog post, for another day.

Sidney




Amazon Associate Disclaimer:
I earn a small commission on the purchase of these items.

 

Mini-Review: Alien Legion, Vol 1, Issue 14

So, as I try to come to grips with the Ship of Shadows graphic novel that I am writing, I am trying to relearn many of the lessons about graphic storytelling by rereading my comic book collection that I amassed as a teen.  Unfortunately, I weeded the collection down back in the late 90s/early 2000s and lost quite a few issues that would have been good to have.  I kept what I considered were the essentials, however.  So, I decided what better way to wrap my head around writing a graphic novel than by revisiting the comics that I so loved (yes, I know there are books like Scott McCloud’s seminal work on graphic novels–and I even own a couple–but what better way than to actually read the works that I’m trying to write and breakdown what those successful creators have done to really learn the form).

I’ve always liked the concept of Alien Legion ever since I first discovered it in a comic book spinner at Waldenbooks.  The idea of a galactic Foreign Legion spoke to my inner child just coming off the high that was Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.  The characters are extremely captivating.  I guess the parallel that I could make would be to have intergalactic Fast and Furious.  Wait, I take that back–that’s not interesting at all, forget I said anything like that–that’s actually a very bad comparison (I say, as I hurriedly scribble down the idea to get it written before someone else does).

In all seriousness, it really is sort of like a “Dirty Dozen” in space.  You have a group of alien soldiers, mostly humanoid, who go on missions.  Being that this is an “Epic” imprint from Marvel (a “darker” imprint than normal Marvel comics published at the time), this allowed them to go into more adult territory.  This particular issue is really unique as it deals with domestic violence and   the effects that it has.  Yes, this is told in such a way that it can be digested in a YA comic, but for 1986 and for a medium that was often marketed to children, this one deals with some pretty revolutionary issues for the time.

While the artwork is a little rough, it is still easy to read and follow the action.  The actual dialogue and story is also well done–I like how it establishes each on of the main characters through action and dialogue.  Captain Sarigar, a snake-like alien, is obviously the protagonist of the story, but I like how he involves two of the more hard-bitten Legionnaires in what is obviously a personal mission based on their reputations for being hard cases.  The story is very well done (for all of the “heavy” themes) and illustrates the dangers of domestic violence, both physically and emotionally to the victim.  For a comic book, it handles the subject matter surprisingly well and still manages to tell a strong story about a brother who, despite his obligations as a Captain in the Legion and a fierce warrior, only wants to protect his sister from an abusive boyfriend.

Overall Grade: B+

Sidney




Amazon Associate Disclaimer:
I earn a small commission on the purchase of these items.

The Black Panther (Marvel)–Non-Spoiler Movie Review

Black Panther Movie Poster_IMDB

Wow.  Just wow!  I saw Black Panther over the weekend and I was absolutely floored by how good of a movie it turned out be!  Based on the traffic on the site over the weekend, it looks a fair number of people came to check and see what I though of it.  Apologies for not posting this review sooner, but I always like to take a day or two to think about my responses–positive or negative to reflect before coming online to talk about them.  I also watched several reviews (spoiler and non-spoiler) to get a feel for how other critics were talking about the movie (I only watch reviews after I’ve already seen something–too many “non-spoiler” reviews give away too much of the plot by focusing on the story.  And this is one story that you don’t want spoiled!  Sure, thanks to foreshadowing, you can see somethings coming in this movie, but still, it really, really works!

A Great Marvel Movie

One of the things that I want to stress is that this is an excellent Marvel movie.  Don’t think this is some cheerless dirge -like epic.  The filmmakers expertly crafted humor, drama, pathos, action, and suspense into the movie.  If you liked other Marvel movies, then you’ll like this one.  However, it also has a sprawling, epic feel to it.  The setting–Wakanda specifically and Africa, in general–is almost a character in itself and is very much a visual spectacle.  The colors really pop (esp. later in the movie) and I really like the way the filmmakers integrated the music into the narrative.  Really impressive stuff.

A Great Story–Plot

This is also where the movie shines.  Don’t worry, as this is a non-spoiler, I won’t talk about the specifics.  However, I will say, from a plotting standpoint, this is “aspirational” for me.  I would love for my stories to show this level of drama, suspense and action sequences.  The filmmakers–for me, at least–got the mix pretty much perfect.  I’ve seen a few reviewers ding it for not having enough action, but I think that, much like any other “origin story,” the filmmakers chose to focus on the introducing us to and developing the characters rather than on slam-bang action.  There are definitely action sequences, but they aren’t there at the exclusion of everything else and they make sense in the context of the story, unlike other movies that I could name.

Great Characters

This is where the movie truly shines.  The characters in this movie are awesome!  There isn’t a character who did not land in terms of characterization, motivation, or development.  I have to say that all the characters really exhibited a pathos that was interesting to watch on screen and really helped to engage me as an audience member.  As a writer, I saw the true power of characters to literally “pull” the audience into the story and then propel them to want to finish the story (again, aspirational for my own writing).  There are standouts of course, but I don’t want to highlight too many, for fear of spoiling things, but I will say that T’Challa has a sister and her banter with her brother is not to be missed.  Her lines are some of the best in the movie (humor-wise) and reminded me of the banter that my uncle and I shared before his untimely passing.

Afrofuturism

I’ve talked a few times about Afrofuturism on this blog in relation to school, but I’ve never really defined it.  Black Panther is probably the best representation of it that I’ve seen on-screen yet.  Afrofuturism is about the African/African-American experience, but rather than focusing on the past, it instead looks to the future.  Sure, there are references to the past, but rather than dehumanizing, the subject of Afrofuturism acknowledges that the past happened, but it looks to a brighter future with technology and with heart to note that a brighter path is open to all, if we only have the courage to embrace it.  While I may be reading the movie with an Afrofuturistic lens, it does have elements sci-fi that help to make it a movie that isn’t just stuck in the past retreading the same old ground.

Overall Grade: A+ (Excellent)

Really, this movie is an Excellent movie and does all that it sets out to do exceptionally well.  Is it perfect?  Of course not.  Again, some say it doesn’t have enough action.  I noticed that the very first mission (few scenes) are very dark (although my suspicion is that this is on purpose to make the colors pop when you first enter Wakanda, but it does make it hard to see the very first action scene).  However, I try to grade movies (or other media that I review) with the same grading scale colleges use and Excellent is used when there are either no blemishes or the blemishes are so minor that they don’t detract significantly from the overall experience.  I can’t decide if this is my favorite Marvel movie yet (although I think it might be), but I can safely say that it is in my Top 3.  I’m glad that the filmmakers and actors got a chance to make this movie and that I got a chance to see it!  I don’t usually make recommendations–but in this case, I’ll just say, if you’re at all interested in Marvel movies, or are just curious as to what all the fuss is about, to me, this one didn’t disappoint.

Sidney



Commodore 64 Nostalgia Review: Super Cycle

So, Super Cycle is one of my favorite games.  It isn’t my favorite game, but it up there.  I really enjoyed playing it and wish that the series had continued into present day.  It is a racing game (which, when done right, is always a crowd pleaser with me).  It featured racers on motorcycles who raced across the country in various settings.

It wasn’t anything too special and it wasn’t very unique.  It was just a motorcycle racer, in various environments (which were really just green for meadows, yellow for desert and bluish black for night), in which you raced the clock to get to the next checkpoint before time expired while avoiding other racers and obstacles on the side of the road.  It essence, it was a motorcycle “clone” of the very famous and very popular Pole Position video game (which was similar in design, but featured a “unrecognizable” jumble of pixels that was supposed to represent a Formula One/Indy car).

It didn’t have the depth as some of the racing games that I bought and enjoyed, but I always enjoyed putting the disk into the C64’s disk drive for a good while and I always remember that I had fun with it even when I wasn’t doing so well (crashing and the like).  I think the only thing that could have made it better for me would have been more stages/environments.  I think the C64 version topped at 3–meadows, desert, and night (although I could be mistaken).  Regardless, I don’t remember it being able to capture my attention long-term (for hours) because of the quickly repeating stages/courses.  Still, I remember it fondly and it is one of the reasons why I still gravitate to the racing genre in games even today.

Here is a YouTube Video for the game (ah, that intro music really brings me back) 🙂

The game was developed by Epyx, a studio that I don’t know too much about–they were never really profiled in magazines like hot new studios such as Electronic Arts (EA), Activision and Imagic were at the time (I suppose I can do a google search and report back on what I find at some point), however I remember the few games that I got from them–I know I have at least one more–their games were pretty good–always above average in terms of quality and fun factor.  Like Super Cycle, I wish they were still around and programming/producing games as a Design Studio.

Well, that’s all for today.  Have a great day!

Sidney
Read Skin Deep for Free at Aurora Wolf
Read Childe Roland for Free at Electric Spec