E3 New & Notable Games (Day 2): Star Wars Battlefront 2

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Star Wars Battlefront 2

The second of EA’s games to make an impression on me was Star Wars Battlefront 2 (SW:B2).  I’m a massive Star Wars fan and I bought the first game.  However, because there was no story campaign and I was trying to apply for PhD programs when it released, I didn’t get to play it as much as I would have liked.  I dipped into a couple of modes and played a few multiplayer matches, but nothing like what I probably should have for a game of that length and scope.

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Even though they mostly showed extended multiplayer footage of the game, I still think that the single player campaign will be good and that this will be a good game and the story (at least from the trailers) looks interesting. Below are links to various elements of the game and this is one I’m looking forward to when it releases later this year.

Story/Campaign Trailer

Assault at Theed Multiplayer Demonstration

Well, that’s it for EA–I’ll move on to Ubisoft games that were interesting in the 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!

Star Wars: The Key to the Force is Belief

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This week I find myself ruminating about the power of Belief.  I received my first rejection back for my story “Silence Will Fall.”  The story came out as well as I hoped.  It differed from my dream slightly (the ending), but matched the tone that I wanted.  I decided to submit it to a larger publication for SF, but alas, as always it seems, it came back fairly quickly.  Like, an earlier post this year, “The Well is Dry,” I find myself wondering what’s the use?  Publishing a story every 2-3 years is NOT the way to build a writing career.  Unlike that post, however, I find that I’m trying to take the lesson that Luke learns in the trilogy and apply it so as NOT to write another post like “The Well is Dry.”

STAR WARS

Luke, in Episode IV, gets a bum rap.  He gets tagged with the character traits of “whiny,” and “callous” and “annoying” in popular culture than he really should based on the movie.  The character is a product of his time and a teenager to boot, so it should come as no surprise that Luke acts like a (surprise!) a teenager from the 1970’s (yes, I know in the fiction, Luke comes from “A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far Away,” but Lucas’ model was the 1970’s–the fuzzy dice hanging from the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon is a dead giveaway.)  Yet, Luke’s journey with the Force is the KEY to the character.  Luke goes from being able to sense the Force during his practice against the remote to actively using it in the battle against the Death Star.  They pivotal scene for me is when Luke switches off his targeting computer.  The power of Faith/Belief in something larger than yourself is on full display with this scene.  When Ben’s voice implores him to “use the Force,” his switching off the computer is an act that signifies that he can’t trust the information of the physical world to help him, but that in order to be successful, he MUST believe in the Force and use it to help guide him to the perfect time to fire in order to destroy the death star.  The movie even shows the result of blindly relying on technology when the first X-Wing’s trench run results in the “bomb’s just impacting on the surface.”   The Force is NECESSARY for the success of the mission–without it there can be no victory.

EMPIRE STRIKES BACK

“I don’t believe it.” (Luke)

“That is why you failed.” (Yoda)

This sums up the entire movie–the lack of faith.  Even though Luke is following his dream and learning more about the Force, he is living too much in the physical world.  He doesn’t have the same Faith in the Force.  Like any student, he must question his teacher and ask the why of things.  Now that he is learning about the Force at a deeper level, the need to know seems to override his instinctive reliance on the Force and listen to its rhythms.  Yoda, for instance, tells him that he will not need his weapons in the cave of the Dark Side, but Luke doesn’t listen.  The look on his face is actually one of incredulity and defiance.  What do you mean I won’t need my weapons; this place is dangerous, the look seems to say in one quick glance at Yoda.  What Yoda knows and Luke later discovers is that the cave is an illusion and is meant to show him what the Dark Side holds for Luke should Vader and the Emperor manage to turn him to the Dark Side.  Another instance where Luke doesn’t believe in the Force’s powers is when he rushes to save his friends before finishing his training.  Both Yoda and the spirit of Ben counsel Luke to stay and finish his training, but Luke ignores the  counsel of both of them who are far greater in tune with the Force than he is.

THE RETURN OF THE JEDI

If The Empire Strikes Back is a repudiation of the Force, then Return of the Jedi is a calm acceptance of the Force.  Han doubts Luke’s abilities (“you’re going to die here, you know,” as he tells Luke when the are on Jabba’s barge on the way to the Sarlacc pit.  Luke calmly tells Vader “that my father is truly dead,” when Vader prepares to bring him before the Emperor.  Even at the end, when the Emperor goads Luke to take up the Lightsaber and he has to fight Vader, he is able to stop himself before he becomes like Vader.  Even the resolution of the story rests, not on a massive fight scene to the death, but a son’s belief that there is still a good man wrapped in the evil shell that is Vader.  Luke’s agency in that scene is that he trusts in his intuition and insight into his father’s character.  Without that trust, without having faith and accepting the Force, even when it seems contrary to what is happening in the physical world, Luke would not have succeeded.

IMPLICATIONS FROM MY WRITING

This is something that I need to remember for my own writing.  The rejection letter came from the first market on Wed. (10/19).  Add to the fact that I was sick with a sinus infection or something, and it really seemed like hopeless.  After reflecting on the movie, I just have try and believe–even when it seems hopeless.  I just sent the story to a 2nd market today and I have a 3rd market ready to go should it also quickly come back this week.

I really believe that Silence Will Fall is one of my best stories and that eventually it will find a home.  I just have to my part and keep sending it out until it does.

May the Force Be With You, Always.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Impressions (No Spoilers)

Star Wars Force Awakens

So, I wanted to wait a little bit before posting because I wanted to make sure that I thought about what I wanted to say and phrase it carefully because I didn’t want to spoil in any of things in the story & also because I wanted to make sure of my own feelings toward this movie.

STAR WARS 101

I think that this movie is great!  If I was grading it, I would give it an A (95-98).  It wouldn’t get an A+ for reasons that I will discuss later (no spoilers), but this is an Excellent movie (going by the “grading scale” of many universities).

No offense to George Lucas (as creator of the world and characters), but this is the Star Wars adventure I was hoping the Prequel trilogy was going to be when it released.  This one had old characters and new merged into an exciting new adventure.

THE FORCE IS STRONG WITH THIS ONE

I love both the old characters and seeing them return, but I also like the new characters.  I like the characters and the actors portraying them.  I think that they have enough depth to carry them through a trilogy and the story definitely gave them room to grow in future episodes.

I won’t reveal any of the characters twists, but I will say that BB-8 has probably become one of my favorite droids.  Like R2, the audience can’t decipher what his “beeps” mean without another character translating, but as expressive as R2 is, BB-8 is more so.  They convey a surprising amount of emotion through the droid and it is well appreciated.

LAUGH IT UP, FUZZBALL

As many internet reaction videos will attest (and you should watch NONE of them until you’ve seen the movie for yourself), the humor is really good in this one.  I think one of the reasons that I like Star Wars so much is the use of sardonic humor.  Rather than slapstick, SW has this wry humor that pervades the action.  From the “cheesy” dice in the Millennium Falcon’s cockpit in SW, to the way Vader “disciplines” Star Destroyer commanders & the “hyperdrive” subplot with both Han & Lando, to Han’s outlandish comments to Chewie during the tense scene when they are trying to pass themselves off as a shuttle crew when they are sneaking to the moon of Endor (“I knew it was going to work,” Han says.  He had just told Chewie moments ago to fly “casually”).

Again, without spoiling anything, I think that the wry humor is back and updated for the “new” generation.  I could definitely see some humor that would appeal to Millennials, but there were also some nods back to Gen X’ers like myself.

Whatever you do, keep a close eye on BB-8.  For a CG character, many of his humor beats are pure comedic gold.  He’s a scene stealer almost every time he is on the screen (can you tell I really like this droid?)

THERE IS A DISTURBANCE IN THE FORCE

Now, I’m not going to lie and say that this is the best movie EVER.  When we were leaving the theater one young lady was remarking to her friends, “that was the worst movie ever–they way overhyped it.”  My mother was in instant disbelief.  Myself, I could only shake my head as it wasn’t the marketing folks who overhyped it–it was the young lady herself.  She went into the movie with the wrong mindset.

It is not an revolutionary movie like the original SW was, but an evolutionary one.  It takes the SW series back to the path it was on BEFORE the Prequels.  The Empire & Death Star were such an engaging conflict, of course we want to find out what happened AFTER those events.  SW:FA gives that opportunity.  It also gives us new characters with which to continue the adventure–just as Lando added history to the Millennium Falcon and Han’s backstory in Empire & Jedi, so to do these new characters give the audience a way to into the story.

The reason why I personally wouldn’t give this story an A+ is for 2 reasons: 1) while I like it and think that the movie is well worth the admission price, it isn’t my favorite SW movie.  I’d still have to rate the original series higher (nostalgia is coloring my perception, probably, but there it is).  I think this is the BEST movie I’ve seen in 2015, but I still like the original series of movies (as a whole) better and  2) they do have a lot of story elements from the original series as both a callback and as a structure.  If you have the original SW movies memorized like I do, then it will be EASY to pick out the story structure.  In one of the final plot elements, I had to willingly suspend my disbelief CONSCIOUSLY in order believe an element that happened.  Luckily, it was the only time and I felt that they were trying to appeal to nostalgia rather than just poor plotting, but I did have to do so.

THE FORCE WILL BE WITH YOU, ALWAYS

Still, even with those distinctions, I have no problems recommending this movie.  If you are a SW fan, you’ll love this movie.  If you’re not, or aren’t a Sci-Fi/Fantasy fan, you’ll be fine as long as you keep your expectations in check.

Remember, there can only ever be one REVOLUTION.  Everything else that follows is an EVOLUTION of the original.  Sometimes that evolution can be misguided and lower the value of the original (the Prequel trilogy in my opinion) or it can raise it to new heights (Empire and Jedi, again in my opinion), or it can reset the bar and establish a new course and new bar for the original (and that’s where I think SW:FA comes in and accomplishes wonderfully).

In short, if you haven’t seen it, run, don’t walk to the theater.  For myself, I can’t wait to see it again to pick up on the things that I missed during the 1st viewing.

May the Force (Awakens) be with you!

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So, in preparation for the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens movie releasing soon, I went back and finished watching my 6 disc set of Star Wars Blu-Rays. I’d started watching them way back at the start of school, but I’d fallen away from them. I went from 1-4 (using Lucas’ numbering scheme), but needed to finish 5-6 (The Empire Strikes Back & The Return of the Jedi) for the uninitiated. Over the past two weeks, I finished these two movies and they rekindled my love for all things Star Wars and Science Fiction and Fantasy in general.

Child of Star Wars

I saw The Empire Strikes Back (ESB) first when I was a child. Heresy, I know, but when Star Wars came out, I was only 4 years old and my parents didn’t think that I would like it. As a matter of fact, we weren’t much of a movie going family per se. That changed in the early 1980s, when my preference for all things Sci-Fi & Fantasy began to emerge. My mother and stepfather took me to see ESB and I was immediately hooked. So much so, that they took be to the bargain theater the next weekend to see SW and the X-Wing trench run had me talking about it that entire summer.

When I was a kid, my grandparents used to subscribe to an oversized magazine called Life and in it, there was an extended interview with George Lucas. It talked about his early life, his car accident that nearly cost him his life, the movie American Graffiti and his making of Star Wars. I remember devouring that article.

In one interview, not sure if it was the one I mentioned above, Lucas mentioned that he kept the subtitles in his movie because he wanted to inspire kids to read. He wanted them to be so fascinated by the visuals that they would want to learn to read the text to figure out what they were missing in the scene. Or so was the gist of what I remember from the interview. I already was reading and reading well, but what Lucas’ movies did for me was show me that there was a niche of media available to me that focused on the futuristic and the fantastical. I began to search out those avenues wherever I could find them–in the library, on TV, in games (the Atari 2600 & Commodore 64 were my console and “PC” respectively).

Lucas took, for me, what was simply a preference and turned it into a passion. I can (& will) read non-genre works, but given the choice between a contemporary work or a genre work, I’ll almost always choose the genre (Sci-Fi/Fantasy) work.

Creating Science Fiction and Fantasy

Like many creators, I want to create my own works because (except for a few exceptions) people don’t seem to be writing the kind of things that I want to read/watch anymore.

I recently tried to read a fantasy work by an author whose cover art and cover blurb looked promising. When I started it, however, the F-Bomb was littered all through it. It completely turned me off–there’s no way that a “fantasy” milieu would use a vulgarity like the F-word in the same way and context that we would in today’s society, but that’s exactly what happened in the story. It was as anachronistic as playing the song “We Will Rock You” at a joust. At least the movie A Knight’s Tale used that ironically, but the author didn’t seem to even know how anachronistic his use of the word was. Its always dangerous trying to pretend to know the mind of an author, but it was almost like he thought, “Hey, this is how my friends and I all talk to each other, so sure, its okay that my characters in my fantasy novel talk this way too.” Um, no, it’s not okay. Even in Sci-Fi, if you’re going to use vulgarities, you need to take into account how the language might have shifted over time in your universe. Just shoving a contemporary vulgarity into your story because we (as a culture) use it now is, in a word, lazy. I loved Stephen King’s Dark Tower series for a while, but the vulgarities (among other things) eventually drove me away. King thinks we Americans talk like that, but in reality, we don’t (or at least we don’t in contexts that King writes about). In public spaces, we tend to moderate our vulgarities. It is only in small groups or online where anonymity reigns do most of us seem to cut loose.

Another area that I’ve talked about is the rise of the “Anti-Hero” in Fantasy. I stopped reading much of the Sci-Fi written in the 90’s because there was an “anti-Star Wars” reaction where everything had to be dark and gritty. The same movement is happening in Fantasy at the moment (the rise of Game of Thrones is evidence of this phenomenon). I’m beginning to read more Science Fiction now because it is more in-line with my own tastes due to the resurgence of military Sci-Fi at the moment.

I’m hopeful that the Force Awakens heralds a resurgence of the type of Fantasy and Sci-Fi that I personally like. Perhaps then, my stories will be able to find an audience and I’ll be able to read/watch more of the media in the genre that I love. I suppose only time will tell.

Almost there . . . Wi-Fi and the Writer

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Almost there–this post takes its title from Star Wars: A New Hope (aka Episode IV) during the “trench run” sequence.  I think that I finally figured out the problem with my wifi (crossing fingers, knocking on wood, throwing salt over my shoulder, and any other good luck myths that I can use).

If so, that will solve a HUGE issue for my for my writing and should make me more productive and regular in terms of fiction and this blog.  I’m on summer break and I should be using this blog to explore ideas for writing for the upcoming writing year.  I’ve decided that, hey, I’m a teacher, so my writing year should start and continue all throughout the school year.  Kinda’ sorta’ like what companies do with their fiscal year.  Summertime should be a time to let projects lie fallow (for editing), trying to come up with rough drafts (for things to turn into stories later), and finally new ideas for new projects (that can turn into rough drafts later).

But, with no wifi, I’m chained to the one area in the house that my ethernet cable will reach and its really affected the way I write.  I finally think I tracked down the issue: long story made short, it appears to be an issue with the mac and the airport utility (firmware) used to communicate between the router and mac.

So here’s what I *think* happened: (new) airport basestation –> downloaded (new) firmware when I plugged it in and connected it.  (new) firmware and (new) airport basestation ≠ (old) 2008 macbook pro and (new) OS X (Mavericks/Yosemite).  plugged in old base station.  (old) base station + (new) firmware did not get along, resulting in an unstable wifi connection (up and down constantly with new and old basestations).  finally reverted back to (old) basestation with (old) firmware with (old) 2008 macbook pro with (new) OS X (Yosemite).  Did you follow all that?  That’s 6 months of reading forum posts, trying different OS X solutions, YouTube vids, and waiting to see if new updates of IOS/OS X would fix the problem (hint: it didn’t).

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Fingers very crossed that going backwards on everything but the OS results in a stable wifi connection again.  The computer is long in the tooth, I know, but it still has life in it and does everything I need it to do.  It runs all my software (except the games on Steam, but that’s what I have my PS4 for anyway 😀).  I would hate to spend money on a new laptop just yet when it really isn’t needed just to get wifi working on the new router if the old one will work just as well with the correct firmware.

I can’t say that I fault Apple for this–I mean this is a 7 year old computer.  But still, Apple has knocked it out of the park for me so often in that the software just works.  I never thought that I would experience a compatibility issue with Apple’s own router and firmware because of the age of the computer as everything worked seamlessly so far (and even when I used Apple software on Windows machines like Airport Utility for Windows, Safari for Windows, and iTunes for Windows–those all worked flawlessly).

More to the point, however, is how wifi affects me as a writer.  Unfortunately, I live in a neighborhood where it isn’t a good idea to show off your possessions (even a 7 year old laptop), otherwise I’d be living the writer’s dream and writing on the deck in all seasons except winter.  Since that can’t be the case, I find I write better (and more) when I find places inside with lots of sun and that are sun-warmed.  Ethernet, while giving internet access, limits me to the family room area (which is pretty dark and relatively cool), exactly the opposite of what I like as a writing environment.  Hence, my reluctance to write and one of the main reasons this blog is so haphazard.

I’m going to think positive and hope that I am “Almost There . . .” in getting my wifi situation sorted and moving up to be more productive and professional as a writer.