The Glorious Day I Met Our Supreme Cyber Overlord.

So, a little while ago I was working with my cousin handing out food at a fair that Facebook was putting on for their employees. A man walked up to me and asked what we were serving, I told him, and with a look on his face that was the perfect combination of “meh” and “bummer” he walked away.

It was an expression I had become familiar with throughout the day as the deep fried food I was serving was something far more at home at a 4H meet in Nebraska than at a fair put on by a Silicon Valley tech company. There were plenty of people who were very happy to see the food, but they were all, invariably, from either the south or the midwest.

But as the man walked away a feeling of familiarity hit me. At first I thought it was just the setting. I had seen plenty of nerdy, socially awkward white guys that day and, to be honest, that tends to be a fairly common descriptor for the folks in my social circles as well (maybe I should branch out more…). But it was more than that. I knew that face, but from where?

Hmm…

“Think, think, think…” as Mr. Pooh suggests.

Oh, that’s right… I remember now.

That was Mark Zuckerberg… He only, y’know, owns the internet and the dreams, thoughts and wishes of the world’s population. How could I forget?

Sooooo, in 20-30 years I can tell my grandkids that I suggested some very delicious Deep Fried Pickle Chips to our Supreme Cyber Overlord and we’ll all squawk with glee as we perform the daily backup of our souls into the massive super computer that is our Supreme Cyber Overlord.

ALL HAIL OUR SUPREME CYBER OVERLORD! BEEP BOOP BEEP!!!

 

Rebellion is Dead and Nothing is Shocking… Maybe Now We Can Get Some Work Done.

Disclaimer: I don’t know why, but I’m apparently feeling all this stuff today. It’s long and (probably) obnoxious so bypass at your convenience or read it if you’re feeling like being accosted by a fool and his “mighty” soap box. Though, I think that the end is positive enough to make up for how negative the middle is… Either way, this is some of the stuff I’ve spent the last year and some change thinking about. I can’t wait to go back to my usual cares of resource management to keep my video game population alive and happy and what the future holds for the Marvel movie franchise. Pretending to care about stuff is frikin exhausting… Hooray for self-deprecation and belittlement. lol No one can undermine my gravitas and sincerity better than I can. lol Boo-ya.

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When a society’s cultural heels are dead that society will focus their attention on the true villains and corruptions among them.

10-20 years ago we had the last true cultural heels in America.

Marilyn Manson and Eminem led the way. They played the villains in order to open our eyes and spread some truth.

In the last ten years Marilyn has all but disappeared, his last 2-3 albums being mostly musical with little bite and no one listening. Meanwhile, Eminem has become absorbed into the mainstream consciousness and effectively neutered. Everyone else has either stopped making music or have become middle aged parents and are more focused on what matters to them personally as opposed to things they cannot change.

Fair enough. But very few people have stepped up to replace them and those that have are either unknown or are speaking so softly that their messages are all but lost. They’re not playing heels, they’re playing faces. They’re cultural good guys, but no one takes good guys seriously.

The only person that I can think of that speaks about serious issues in their music is MIA. You remember that catchy little diddy “Paper Planes”? Did you know it’s about refugees fleeing their war torn homes? I didn’t until about a year ago. A lot of her music has similar messages but their all drowned out by how catchy the beats are.

But, hell, she’s trying.

And while a part of me laments our current lack of villainous artists (and the fact that the two people getting the most media outrage these days are Mylie Cyrus and Justin Bieber… yeah, they’re a real threat to our youth… Lita Ford and Sid Vicious, step aside… right…), I think it’s for the best. Because in the last ten years I feel that more and more people are focusing on the true villains in our society. The corrupt politicians and executives and media personalities whose job it is to help each other gather more wealth and power while keeping us distracted on bullshit that truly doesn’t matter.

You see, the reason entertainers garner such heavy media attention when they do something even a little bit shocking is because people want to distract us from the actual atrocities going on in the world.

But then again, that stuff gets so much attention because they’re told that it’s what people want to hear about. We want to hear about Mylie Cyrus’ twerking and Justin Bieber’s misdemeanors and Bob Costas’ fucking pink eye. Most of us say we don’t but we really do because real news would be too much of a fucking bummer. We might actually have to stop and think about how good we have it in this country instead of bitching about the shitty Bluetooth we bought yesterday.

Granted, I’m a firm believer that you shouldn’t base your problems on the problems of others. Your problems are yours and who is anyone else to say they’re not legitimate?But still, we go too far with it. We insulate ourselves from the worst of humanity, for what? So we don’t have to think about it? So we won’t be bothered every once in while when we remember that horrible things happen sometimes?

In America our beggars and homeless have more earning potential than a lot of the rest of the world’s population. They have more ready access to education and health care than most of sub-Saharan Africa.

In the last 8 years over 100,000 people have died in the Mexican Drug War.

Civilians.

That’s not including Police, military or cartel members. The Mexican government has lost entire municipal areas to the cartels. And no, I’m not talking about how the Crips and Bloods “owned” Compton and Inglewood in the late 80’s-early 90’s. I’m talking they actually have active control over the police, newspapers and local governments of these cities and the populations are being inundated with propaganda saying that the cartels are the good guys. The propaganda is so thorough that they have even started scholarships to send cartel members to college for computer science degrees so they can track down and silence bloggers and other political activists on the internet. A lot of this violence occurs within a few dozen miles of our border. Do we hear about it? Nope. But we hear plenty of bitching about Mexicans jumping over the border to “ruin our country”. Are you fucking kidding me? If we had to deal with the kind of shit they do, we wouldn’t be waiting months to years for a fucking visa either. We’d be swarming into Canada and working whatever menial job we could just so we didn’t have to go back to a place where our choices are a boot on our neck or getting our head hacked off with a machete in a video that gets posted to the internet.

And the real fucked up thing is that these cartels are as powerful as they are because of us. Not us individually, but collectively. Our so-called war on drugs and the people who partake in these illegal drugs have been fueling these organizations for decades. And do you know why these drugs (marijuana and cocaine especially) are campaigned against so vehemently? It’s not because they destroy lives. That’s just the bullshit we’re fed so we’re sympathetic to their cause. It’s because certain people stand to make way more money than if drugs were legal.

Prisons are privatized and those private companies only exist to make money and prisons only make money if they’re populated and over half of federal prisoners are being held on drug related charges.

And the most fucked up part of that sentence? Prisons make money. Are you fucking kidding me? Prisons shouldn’t make money. That’s a fucking “Save the Date” for corruption. Prisons should be a drain on Federal and state funds. We should HAVE to pay taxes to keep dangerous people away from us. A fee to maintain a peaceful society. We pay taxes to keep potholes out of our streets but we don’t pay taxes to keep murderers and rapists out of those same streets?

What the fuck?

If we paid taxes to fund prisons maybe we’d give two shits about what crimes fill those prisons and what kind of actions are truly detrimental to our lives. The only life a little baggy of blow or pot ever ruined was the unlucky son of a bitch holding it when the cops showed up. Oh, and of course the countless Mexicans that were murdered along the way for us to achieve such “justice”. But fuck them, right Republicans? (I know, I know, “Not all Republicans believe blah, blah, blah…” It’s hyperbole for the sake of making a point. If you don’t like being lumped in with those assholes, clean up your fucking party. It’s like walking around after you shit your pants and being indignant when someone mentions the stench. It’s embarrassing…)

And so the media tries to distract us with the jangle of keys. And most of us welcome that distraction. Which is understandable, really. Who wants to worry about things they can’t do anything about? You can’t stop politicians and corporations from being powerful. It’s a capitalist republic. We gave them that power. You can’t stop atrocities from being committed on foreign soil. There’s literally not a god damned thing you can do to affect something like that.

But I feel that, if I’m not in a position to heal the rotten parts of our world, the least I can do is open myself up and expose my eyes and mind to the most heinous parts of that infection. That way I can see it when it happens and maybe see the roots of why it happened in the first place. That way I can empathize. That way maybe, just maybe, I’ll be in a better position in the future to affect change or nip something in the bud before it becomes a problem.

And that’s why, though I’m saddened to see shock and rebel artists disappear, I think it’ll be better in the long run. Every day more of us are turning our attention toward the real criminals and being able to see through their illusions and mind games toward the real problems in our society. And even though we’re not there yet, we’re moving in the direction where the spread of information is boundless. There are many good people out there focusing our attention through the fog of misinformation and propaganda and towards the truth.

Like I said, we’re not there yet but we’re moving in that direction and that is a monumental beacon of hope for me. As long as we continue to progress toward what’s right, no amount of doom-saying or false social plagues will ever truly matter.

Like they say, “All that glitters is not gold.” Well, even gold is almost completely useless. That’s why they made money and jewelry out of it and not tools. Because it was shiny but worthless. The real stuff, the stuff that has actual, intrinsic value, is almost always grey. It’s not fancy. It’s not pretty. Things of actual substance are nearly always ugly. But if that ugliness is forged and tempered it can be turned into something useful. Something that can help people. Something that can affect change.

As far as I’m concerned, the potential of humanity is the most glittery, shiny, pretty, distraction I can see. 

Tomb Raider: An UberPunctual Review

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Yeah, I know I’m a tad late on the draw with this one, but here we go. I don’t have a ton of time or money, but it was on sale this summer through Steam and I had to get it because I heard good things.

First and foremost I’d like to say that this game is tippy-top. Or wicked awesome for my Bostonian friends. Bostonite? You know who you are, you persons from Boston. And I ain’t talking about those biotches from Quincy either. I’m talking Boston proper… I’m spending too much time on Boston and making too many enemies from Boston’s outlying burbs. I’ve never even been to Boston, so I don’t even know what I’m talking about. Whatever, moving on!

Like I said, Tomb Raider is one of the best action/adventure games I’ve played in a very long time and probably the best platformer since the first Prince of Persia reboot. Yeah, The Sands of Time. Great frikin game. And, yes, I’m including the Assassin’s creed games in my thought process here. I love those games (though less and less with each release…) but taking into account pure, technical platforming gameplay they are not as good PoP or this beauty of a game called: Tomb Raider.

So, I’m not going to get into the multiplayer because I think a game should be viewed in terms of the developers primary focus or foci. While some games have an obvious focus on multiplayer and just kind of drizzle out a single player campaign (here’s lookin’ at you Brink.), other games should only be considered for their single player campaign because their multiplayer was either half-assed and thrown into the game, seemingly, as an after thought (Bioshock 2) or forced on the developer by a misguided publisher, thus staining an otherwise impeccable effort (I love you Spec Ops: The Line!!!). Though, to be fair, Bioshock 2 was published by the same company (2K Games) as Spec Ops, so it might have been the same issue for that game as well. I don’t know, but whatever, back to Tomb Raider…

Now, I was never a fan of the originals. I know a lot of people were, but I never got into them. I played one demo and the controls were clumsy and there was way too much backtracking through giant, empty rooms that a pair of anatomically horrifying polygonal breasts couldn’t make up for. It just wasn’t my bag back then.

But this game… this game fits nicely in my bag.

Time for another digression: I love video games because they interact with and challenge my mind in ways that nothing else can. Books don’t have shit on the mental stimulus provided by a good FPS on the hardest difficulty and the most touching drama movies are as emotionally engaging as a Geico advert compared to the rush of finally bitch-slapping a level that’s spent the last 4 hours murdering you over and over and over again only to finally and painfully succumb to your dry-mouthed, haven’t-blinked-in-43-minutes, “EAT A SLOPPY ONE ‘CAUSE YOU’RE NOT BETTER THAN ME, YOU STUPID PILE OF PIXELS!!!!!” determination… Just sayin’… Video games are awesome… But I rarely, rarely, RARELY ever feel powerful when I play a video game.

Video games are supposedly power trips and most games only prove the character’s might through having them murder tons of people. You’re one guy and you’ve got a kill count larger than most minor wars? You’re a badass, right? I guess, but I hardly ever feel that way. Most of the time I don’t notice it because it’s not my character that’s powerful, it’s the bad guys that are terrible. Gameplay breaks it too.

Here are some examples of things that break the illusion of power unless counteracted by some other feature:

1.) Any modern shooter: When I play as Soap or Master Chief or Marcus Fenix I don’t feel like an elite soldier that’s better than everyone else. I feel like a normal soldier facing an enemy so stupid that they can’t make proper use of basic military tactics or even their iron sights (though Veteran on most CoD games helps with that). If I went up against an AI that utilized flanking, sniper cover and suppressive fire and, on top of that, I wasn’t able to take every bullet ever made straight into my face, so as long as I was able to duck behind cover for 5 seconds every few face bullets, I might feel like more of a badass. I love all those games, but I never feel like a badass while playing them.

2.) Hack and slash games: Does anyone ever feel like a badass playing these games? No doubt, they’re fun, but if someone has the speed, strength and stamina of the entire JLA put together, big flippin whoop. It’s the reason why Superman is so damn boring. If someone’s quite literally unkillable, what are the stakes? Why do I give a crap? I don’t. But I’ll get back to this genre in a second.

3.) RPGs (and also any strategy game): Probably the biggest injustice and also worst offender of them all. In damn near every RPG you play as “the one,” but I always feel like “someone.” Basically what I mean is I never feel like I’m better or more powerful than any one else in the story. I just feel like I’m playing the only guy who’s bothered stepping up to the big bad, whether through some unintelligible choice or (far more commonly) because my character is mystically obligated to for one reason or another. And if there’s one way to surefire neuter a character’s badassness, it’s to have them fight because of either destiny or they just have nothing better to do.

Now there have been a few games where I felt like the main character was truly a force to be slightly peeved:

1.) The aforementioned Prince Of Persia: SoT – The maneuvers he accomplished in that game were astonishing.

2.) God of War – Shaking the camera on heavy hits, strategic slo-mo to emphasize power, feats of godly might impossible for any normal human… this is how to do Hack n Slash correctly. Kratos rotates a frikin temple with his hands. He climbed out of Hades! Just climbed the hell out of Hell! He was like, “I’m dead? Nah, not today… BRB, Hades! TTFN! ROFL.” He’s a beast, pure and simple.

3.) Assassin’s Creed – And I’m talking about the first one. Sure, Ezio and Connor can take on more bad guys in hand to hand combat, but that just makes them more unrealistic, not more badass. Altair was a badass because he was human and could still accomplish these amazing feats of agility. But what made me feel like a badass the most in these games was the fact that Altair was a mental giant (yes, that’s a Tecca Nina reference) as well as a physical one. He could sneak into a heavily fortified place, murder a high ranking official, have a small conversation with his victim, and then sneak the hell out without anyone ever knowing what happened. Ezio and Connor are forced into so many conflicts during their missions that the only assumption is that they’re just not as good as Altair.

4.) Mass Effect 3 – Despite the ending poisoning the experience, this is still one of the best games I’ve ever played. This game is a phenom. I’ve loved this series since the first and I have to say that it wasn’t until the third game that I truly appreciated how powerful the crew of the Normandy really was. And do you know what made me realize it? Playing the multiplayer. In the multiplayer you’re supposed to be a hyper-elite soldier and compared to Commander Shepard you suck. You’re supposed to be one of the best in the universe and any member of the Normandy crew could wipe the floor with you without ever breaking a sweat. Of course, all of this is most apparent when playing a biotic-focused character because of the way they programmed the biotic abilities, but I think it works no matter what.

5.) Hotline Miami – Now, you might be thinking, “What? Really, dude?” And that would be because you’ve never played this game. If you’re thinking, “You took your sweet time getting to this one…” then you’ve certainly played this game. I’ve never played a game that detached me from the character I’m playing so much in a way that’s probably good for my mental health. If I could relate and sympathize with the effortless and utterly merciless way this guy dispatches his prey when I’m in the zone I would probably need some alone time to seriously contemplate my life. This guy is a brutal and horrifying individual and it feels great when you manage to get an “A+” grade on a level. It just occured to me how jacked up it is that you get graded in that unflinchingly violent game on a grade school scale (F through A+). Oh, and did I mention he does all these terrible things wearing rubber animal masks…

6.) Demon/Dark Souls – Nothing else need be said about these two. You either get it or you don’t.

I’m sure there are others but those ones really made an impression. And now I get to add Tomb Raider to the list, but for a whole different reason than the others.

Lara Croft has been the symbol of what’s wrong with gaming culture’s concepts of women since she appeared. Her games have always been well loved, but the character herself was everything wrong with depictions of females in the medium. An inhuman, Barbie-esque physique and some of the most idiotic clothing to go rummaging through caverns and crypts in, especially when she knows there’s going to be gunfights and tigers and statues coming to life to murder you. And she most certainly knows those things are coming because there are ALWAYS gunfights and tigers and statues coming to life to murder you. Even if she didn’t know, you don’t go wandering into the bowels of the earth in nothing but short shorts, a tank top and two pistols! “At least she’s wearing boots…” She’s wearing frikin combat boots! Any first day hiker would know that combat boots don’t give even close to the same ankle support as hiking boots do. It’s frikin baby town frolics.

I think I may be too passionate about proper hiking attire and deviating from the more important and sexist point. Lara Croft was never a role model or anything even slightly resembling a symbol of female empowerment. Until this game.

Lara Croft in this rebooted version is the ultimate symbol of feminine force of will if only in the simple fact that her determination in the face of immense challenges goes WAY the hell beyond the fact that she’s a woman. This isn’t a story about what a woman can accomplish. It goes further than that. It transcends the precepts of biological sex and is simply a story of what a member of the human race can accomplish when put to the test. And that’s the true goal of feminism. The transcendance of the societal mindset beyond any and all assumptions based on sex and looking at both sexes as an equal and cohesive human race.

Throughout Lara Croft’s origin story, through her many, many trials, both physical and mental, she consistently overcomes and pushes on in a manner that is at once both completely believable and thoroughly admirable. Throughout the game all I could do was wonder if I would have the strength of will to do the same and honestly… Listen, I’m not strong and I’m not fast, but I pride myself on my ability to endure pain and hardships and brush it off like so much Jay-Z shoulder dirt but the stuff she goes through in this game would have me crying like a wee little baby.

She’s get messed the hell up in this game. Granted, yes, if you fail, she meets with some of the most grisly demises I’ve ever seen a player character experience which only serves as a deterrent from failing because every time I messed up and she experienced a death, I felt like I was to blame. It’s the same great feeling I got when I died in Dark Souls and Demon Souls. And if you’re confused why I described the feeling as, “great,” it’s because knowing that you failed because you actually failed is certainly a great feeling compared to knowing you failed because the computer has a clear advantage (a la homing grenades) or you simply got screwed by poor programming.

But I’m not even talking about the gruesome deaths. I mean, just throughout the course of the game. She gets knocked out 4-5 times, near a massive explosion at least twice, and tossed down mountains. Yeah, “mountains.” Plural. She even gets impaled through the side with a bit of quarter-inch rebar and then cauterizes the wound with the lighter-heated tip of an arrow… like two days after she was impaled! Running and jumping and fighting with a hole through her side. She’s in gunfights and physical, tooth-and-nail life or death struggles throughout the game and you know what the best part is? They never once go for the cheap and easy target that all fictional women seem to have on their back when men are writing their struggle. They never have anyone rape her.

Yes, they touch on the subject as subtly and classy as a writer possibly could by hinting at one bad guy’s intentions and then she promptly bust a cap in the bastard’s ass. And the cherry on the delicious sundae that is this beautifully crafted bit of character drama: She doesn’t kill the guy and then say something stupid and snarky like, “Now who’s screwed?”

No, no, no… These writers are far more respectful of Lara’s humanity than that.

She’s forced to shoot the guy in the head after a frantic, frenzied struggle for the gun and afterward he lays there, still alive and struggling to breathe past his own blood, he immediately becomes human and nearly worthy of pity were it not for knowledge of his previous ruthless actions and intentions. Lara is visibly shaken by the experience and later mentions how it disturbed her how easy killing was for her. You see, if the writers had let the bad guy have his way, it would have been a crude and inelegant way of harming and signifying the character’s loss of innocence. But by not letting him have his way, they were able to do the same thing.

The bad guy’s intention was to take Lara’s innocence away from her and, in failing, he succeeded by forcing her to take a person’s life for the first time.

This scene is masterful in it’s execution. It’s like a handcrafted pocket watch. If you look at the thing as a whole, it’s seems simple and with limited purpose, but if you take it apart and look at each piece separately, you can start to truly appreciate it as a finely crafted work of art. And that’s really what this game is at it’s heart. An in depth character study of what a human being is capable when their back is against the wall.

But on top of that, it’s also a video game, so let’s get to the nuts and bolts of it.

This game is gorgeous both inside and out. The textures and meshes are great. The attention to detail when it comes to Lara’s character design is astonishing. She’s constantly getting dirty, jumping and falling all over the island, and then she’s forced into some water and comes out cleaner (though never as clean as she is in the beginning of the game). Her injuries and torn up clothes serve as roadmaps for what she’s been through in the course of the game (which is probably the most obvious concept they pulled from Die Hard; a major influence on the development team). I can only imagine the amount of separate textures just for Lara alone. I mean, they probably used layers of textures on top of each other , but if they didn’t then there would have to be… at least 15-20… at least. Maybe half a dozen separate meshes? Pure guess, but I’m probably low-balling the numbers. Either way, it’s impressive. I haven’t seen that level of attention given to the player character’s design since Arkham Asylum the detail of those changes simply pale in comparison.

And then there’s the world. Fantastically designed world. Despite it’s use of the typical gritty realism inherent in action games these days, I would put money on the fact that in five, ten, even twenty years, you could probably show me screenshots of just the game world and I’d be able to pick out which game it is. For a game that utilizes such boring locales as forests, caves and industrial complexes they still, mind-bogglingly, make it all seem new and different like I’ve never seen a forest before.

And by gorgeous on the inside, I mean the programming and optimization. Now, I don’t have a particularly speedy computer. It’s pushing on 6 years now, with the only upgrade being a mid-level video card that was out of date when I bought it in 2010 and two extra Gigs of RAM to bump it up to the 32-bit max of 4GB. This rig is pretty much on life support in computer years. And on top of that, I recently played Sleeping Dogs on it (which is a great game, BTW) and that game would drag like hell on my PC. It would sometimes get down to <10 FPS during fast driving sequences and when it was going smoothly the audio would skip like crazy. Now, granted, Sleeping Dogs, while being an excellent game, was probably one of the laziest ports from console to PC I’ve ever seen. It’s completely acceptable, given it’s production history, and I don’t fault it whatsoever because of that, but it was essentially a processor anchor, dragging down my system until I was forced to run the game right after a fresh restart of my PC just to let the old bastard reallocate as much RAM and processing speed as possible to the game. Oh, and might I add… This was all on the lowest possible graphical settings.

And then there’s Tomb Raider. Tomb raider should be far more graphically intensive than sleeping dogs. Despite the high speeds you move through Hong Kong in Sleeping Dogs, Tomb Raider simply has more going on graphically. Well, at least when you put it on the highest settings, which I’m able to do, while still maintaining an average of 30FPS. If I drop it down to lowest settings I can get over 60FPS, but then the game looks like doodoo, so no thanks. I’ve experienced graphical slowdowns literally twice and both times were due to me forgetting to turn off a couple of processes that take up a lot of room and once I turned those off it was back to business without even the hint of a reboot. Like I said, this game is gorgeous inside and out.

Programming-wise I’ve only come across a couple of anomalies, such as two characters walking off in one direction, I follow them to listen to their conversation, they stop talking only to completely disappear. I shrug and go back to find them reset back where I first found them and then they start their pathing and conversation over like the script just looped.

The physics are realistic and predictable (predictable being a good thing). When you shoot someone with an arrow, they just sort of slump over as one might, since there’s not a whole lot of force behind an arrow. I’m not quite sure, but I think I noticed the wind direction change randomly each time I entered an area. If that actually happened, whoever decided on the brilliant, but simple little nuance needs a tidy little bonus for the holidays just for being ballsy enough to work on something that most gamers would never even notice. Whoever you are, I love you.

The camera placement is excellent. There are few things in video games worse than a terribly programmed game camera.

The cover system is elegant. Hands down, the best I’ve ever seen. When you need cover it gives it to you. No pressing of any buttons. No lining up the character just right so you know where (or ever if) she’ll pop out to shoot. Everything is fluid and responsive and just oh so cherry.

My biggest problem with the programming in the game would be the weapons. They’re good, but not great. They just don’t have the heft that I would hope for. The shotgun especially, but it’s all of them, really. If you want a great example of a game where you can really feel the weight and power of your firearms, you should play Mafia 2 because they nailed it with that one. Also, if you haven’t played Mafia 2, you should play Mafia 2 because it’s a great frikin game. There one beautiful bit of call back that you won’t get if you’ve never played the first one, but it won’t ruin your experience.

I’ll finish this enormous post with a bit about a problem I have with the story and the gameplay and really my whole reason for writing this review in the first place because it bothered me so much. Now, this didn’t bother me because I hated it, it just really irritated me because they designed the game in a way that both hindered and greatly benefitted itself in a ways that’s been really frustrating to me.

I’ll explain.

Now, this is an adventure/platformer game. You need collectables in a game like this or you’re defeating the purpose and really shortchanging yourself on all the hours spent programming the platforming parts of the game in the first place. Exploring the world and discovering things through solving little mini puzzles is one of the best parts about these games.

On the other hand, the story is one about desperation and necessity. In almost every part of the game you have to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible or someone will die. And when you finally get there and the person does actually die… Sure, there’s no way to actually save them, but you can’t help thinking, at least a bit, that if you hadn’t spent 20 minutes figuring out puzzles and looking for treasure and hunting deer… well maybe he might not have died 3 seconds after you arrived.

And here’s the catch and the real “screw you” inherent in Tomb Raider’s game design. If you just play through the game with the urgency that Lara would actually display in the situations she’s in, then you’re missing out on almost half of the experience and weapon upgrade in the game. You will go into scripted battle after scripted battle without the weapons or skills that you should have. Sure, you can run around the island and collect everything you missed after the game is complete, but who gives a crap? You can’t use those awesome weapons and skills in any conflict that actually matters… You know, because you’ve already completed the game?

It’s a frustrating catch 22 between proper story pacing and proper game design. The only way around this that I could think of is if they had giving you, essentially, two separate games. One where you play through the campaign with all the urgency and determination required to not completely undermine the narrative and then, after that, Lara comes back to the island a month or two later in an attempt to explore and discover all of the island’s secrets using all of the skills and items she gained last time she was there only to find the remnants of the bad guy army still running around to give you a bit of combat fun. It would be the best of both worlds. First, people who just want to play the game can play through and not be punished by lulls in the narrative or insufficient weapons and skills during later levels and then those of us who are completionists are allowed to explore and solve puzzles at our story-appropriate leisure. There doesn’t need to be an in-game reward for finding everything either. The rewards are the achievements and the fun of exploring and discovering hidden nooks and grannies. Grannies? Crannies? Crannies. Nooks and crannies.

But yeah, I get why they did it the way they did, it’s just incredibly frustrating from a writer’s standpoint. The leisurely exploration inherent to the gameplay just doesn’t mesh with the stressful and constantly life threatening urgency they’ve set up with the story and situations they put the characters in.

But despite all that, this is still an amazing game. Great gameplay. Great visuals. Great story. And a great way to turn one of the least feminist characters into, arguably, the greatest feminist hero in video games ever. Of all time.

Buy it. Play it. Love it.

P.S. I heard the multiplayer was actually pretty damn good. I just haven’t tried it yet.

Been A While… And By “While” I Mean 5 Months.

So I noticed earlier today that I’ve been neglecting my beautiful, rarely-read blog and felt it was time to update the three people that will read this as to what I’ve been up to.

Well this is what:

First off, I’m taking a temporary hiatus on my Fantasy Western novel that my brother and I are writing in order to focus on a couple of things that I really needed to get out of my system.

And these are those:

I’ve started developing and writing the first draft of the pilot episode to a sitcom based on my time in the military. After all the hub-bub about Snowden and the NSA’s Prism scandal it made me realize that America’s perception of the intelligence community is like if you asked someone who only watched ER, Grey’s Anatomy and House to describe the medical community, or if you asked someone who only watched CSI, Numbers or Bones how proper police procedure worked. There’s just a lack of knowledge out there. Of course, that part and parcel of dealing in secrets. People don’t trust people that keep secrets. But in the deviation between people’s perception and the truth of the matter I found the potential for comedy. So I’m developing a sitcom that would show a more realistic and, in some ways, more depressing version of life “behind the fence.” Kind of like what “Scrubs” did for medical shows and what “The Office” did for corporate life. Once the script for the first episode is complete I’m going to send it out to literary agencies that focus on television.

Secondly I’ve started working on issue one of a comic book with my brother, Andrew Armstrong, and an artist from Poland named Mac Radwanski. On its surface it’s a sci-fi superhero comic but deeper down it’s mine and my brother’s take on the literary potential inherent in the comic book format and a light critique on the current state of popular comic book titles. We’re working on the first 8 pages of the comic and when it’s complete we’ll be sending it out to publishers. If it doesn’t get picked up we’ll explore the options of either a Kickstarter campaign and/or releasing the comic as a webcomic.

The last thing I’ve done in the last five months was start mulling over the possibilities of a videogame based musical. I haven’t given it much thought yet, because it’ll be years and years and even more annos (Latin FTW!!) until it would be feasible to even begin thinking about producing it. But it’s part of what I’ve been doing these many months.

And that’s the scoop.

The fantasy western is still a priority for both of us, I just needed to explore some other thoughts and concepts that were hindering my focus on the novel.

As a not-great-but-okay man once said, “Catch you on the flip side.”

I’m An Anti-Hipster Hipster -or- I’m A Hypocrite

So, I was going to do another one of Chucky Wendig’s Flash Fiction challenges, but after my rolls for this particular challenge would have had me writing a Monster Erotica story set in the Center of the Earth with elements of Abduction, Bad Dreams and the Loss of Innocence, I decided to skip that horribly-doomed-to-be-creepy-as-fuck story and do something else.

What else, you ask? I had no idea…

So I bummed around the net for awhile until my digital wanderlust found me at one of my favorite music blogs, MusicSnobbery.com. I like this place because it keeps me up to date on what little good music there is in the world, without the effort of constant concert attendance on my part. But while there, it sparked something that’s bothered me for a long time…

I’m not overly fond of hipsters.

And I’m not talking about the bullshit “hipster” culture of girl pants, chucks and non-prescription, thick-rimmed glasses that’s usurped the hipster title. You can wear as much mousse and guyliner as you want, buddy. I care not.

I’m talking about the classic hipsters. The snobs. The I’m-better-than-you-because-I-have-more-free-time-to-obsess-over-shit-that-ultimately-doesn’t-matter assholes. And they exist everywhere, not just in music.

Movies have them. Video games have them. Hell, you go on the tech forums and you’ll find people griping over what text editor a “real” programmer is supposed to use.

And don’t get me wrong. As this post proves, I’m a huge snob myself. And not only am I a hipster, I’m the worst kind.

I don’t like the way other hipsters work. I don’t like the way they think. I don’t like the way they be hipsters.

There’s too little thought put into their obsession over what’s “cool” and what’s “mainstream commercial shit.” And that’s one of the reasons why they suck at being hipsters. Because they immediately forsake anything that gets the slightest bit of fame. Or they focus too much on shit that doesn’t matter, like the artist’s personal lives.

Who gives a fuck if Lana Del Rey’s papa was a millionaire and she presents herself like a purposeless floozy. No one makes music like her and it’s a damn breath of fresh air that she does. Now if you don’t like her music, that’s a 100% okie-fuckin-dokie point of view. But if you don’t like her music because you don’t like her then you lack conviction. I mean, most musical greats are equally or greater pieces of shit than the pieces of shit you despise.

Now back to my point… which is there are three elements that have to be introduced and cemented into the fundamental philosophies for the practices of criticism and hipsterism in order to make these very fun but ultimately unimportant past times more respectable than they should be (ignoring the fact that they currently are for all the wrong reasons[I’ll talk about that later if anyone cares to ask]).

Take note that these are ideals to strive for and not necessarily an A-B-C checklist of actions that can be met uniformly. That said, here we are:

1. Objectivity. Who the artist is or what they’ve produced in the past should, in no way, effect your critique and if it does then you’re either not trying hard enough or you have no business critiquing the work in the first place. How people can tear down and belittle Micheal Jackson’s early career due to his creepy ass actions in later life when people are still willing throw Oscars at Roman Polanski’s pedophillic ass is beyond me. That’s not to say he didn’t deserve those Oscars, either. I mean, The Pianist was a fucking amazing flick. My problem is with people’s lack of consistency. SEGUE!!!

2. Consistency. If you like something because Piece A fucking rules despite the fact that Piece B sucks ass, well then fine+dandy=that. But if you dislike something else because Piece B sucks ass even though Piece A fucking rules, then you don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about. And if that example confused you, good, because it should. It doesn’t make a god-damned bit of sense, but it happens all the time and each and every one of us is guilty.

Here’s an illustrating example: Roger Ebert (the only movie critic I respect enough to actually read reviews by) gave the movie Push 1 and 1/2 stars because he couldn’t understand why anyone was doing what they were doing, which I believe is due to the premise being given once and never being referenced to again. Fair enough. But in his 4 star review of James Cameron’s Avatar (a movie that suffers the exact, same pitfall) he basically says, “Fuck plot, this movie’s beautiful!” In fact (and this is worse) he praises the plot without giving it the same level of scrutiny he does with other less sensational movies.

Now, with all of this said, can those two rules be followed perfectly? No. Not by us mere mortals. Well, that is to say, not completely. Not without a tool to assist the process and that would be our third element.

3. Honesty. Pure unadulterated honesty. And I don’t mean with other people. You have to be honest to yourself and that means separating the things you like or dislike from the things that you think are good or not good. You have to be willing to give props to the things you loathe and tear down the things you love. I’m going to use myself for the examples this time. I love the TV series Buffy: The Vampire Slayer but some episodes are fucking garbage. I hated the movie In Time, but it had some of the most amazing cinematography I’ve seen in a long time. Some examples that are more to the point would be: I love the Fast and the Furious series of movies. All of them. And they are fucking terrible. Also, American Beauty is an excellently crafted film in every aspect from the script to the acting to the self-aware melodrama it contains. And I can’t fucking stand that movie. I love 80 pop. Hell, I love some N*Sync and J-Pop songs even though they’re devoid of musical skill. And on the flip side of that, I hate Dream Theater despite the fact that they’re some of the most talented and skillful musicians alive.

Basically, you can’t separate yourself from your gut feelings but, with effort, you can separate your gut feelings from your critiques and therefore acquire a more respectable and well-thought opinion.

Like I said, this isn’t a do or do not situation. This is a very permanent and affixed try.

But trying means caring.

If you don’t try to be objective, consistent and honest with your opinions then your opinions are ultimately arbitrary and therefore don’t matter in the slightest.

And for the three friends and family member’s that will read this, I understand that this is a whole lot of editorializing for a blog that no one’s gonna read, but I needed to get these thoughts down. So I did.

Even though they very obviously need restructuring.

El-Oh-El! Less than three! Semicolon, closed parentheses!

I’m An Arteeeest -or- Can’t You See The Beret?!

Photo by Jeanne Claire Maarbes via freedigitalphotos.net

Photo by Jeanne Claire Maarbes via freedigitalphotos.net

A question that most creators deal with is, in regards to our creations, do we actually own them or is it owned by the person experiencing the creation? And, as with anything worth discussing, I feel that it’s a complicated question deserving of a complicated answer.

Personally, I’m a dreamer, so I believe in that whole beauty-in-a-beholder-eye thing. I believe that art is owned by anyone currently experiencing it.

But that’s not what I really want to talk about in this particular post. I want to discuss the word, “artist.”

Now, this is going to be an argument about syntax, so nothing is concrete here. Just my take on things. But to me, syntax is very important and I don’t like how vague and useless so many words are. I like rules. I like structure. I like my language to be very math-ish.

“But art is about feelings and emotions, not structure and limitations!”

Bullshit + eat one. Tell that to Escher and Bach. It can be both or either. There is room.

But, whatever, syntax is a discussion for another time. I want to talk about whether or not we own the right to call ourselves, “artists.”

I know a lot of people, from painters and writers to actors and musicians, that call themselves, “artists.” It could be argued that, since we create art we are then artists. But who says if what we create is art? Personally, I don’t think it’s our place to decide that. And that’s where the beholder eyes come into play.

It’s the responsibility of anyone experiencing your creation to determine whether or not it’s art and, in every case, it can only be considered art or not to that person. Whether something is or is not art is an opinion, not a fact. It’s subjective. Some people read Hemingway and see mastery of the English language demonstrated by a an extraordinary storyteller while others just see the drivel of a drunken prick. But neither person is wrong.

The problem stems from when we, as creators, call ourselves, “artists,” and what we create, “art.” It’s like a college student calling themselves a genius or a child strumming on a guitar calling themselves a prodigy. Whether or not they are doesn’t matter, it’s just a super-damned (that’s when someone or something is sent to super-hell) pretentious thing to say. Not to mention douchey.

The terms, “artist,” and, “art,” should be considered honorifics given to someone by other people not something that someone calls themselves when they slap a synth loop onto a 4/4 beat or when they sepia tone a picture of a leaf. Doing something that resembles art is fine, I have no problem with that, and I encourage people to do it because you never know when someone will see it and deem it, “art.” But until someone else calls it art, it ain’t. It’s just that, something that resembles art. A creation by a creative person. But that’s ok. It’s not an insult.

So that’s the gist of my opinion. I’ll never call myself an, “artist,” or anything that I write, “art.” If you use those words to describe yourself or what you create, whatever. That’s your prerogative, Bobby Brown.

But I won’t be caught dead placing those labels on myself. It’s not my place.