Wednesday, March 16, 2022

*sigh* All right. I guess it's time to talk about The Wheel of Time...

Okay.  It's been a few months.  I'm pretty confident that this post isn't going to turn into a wall of obscenities now that I've had some time to distance myself from the unholy abomination that Amazon dared to place the name "Wheel of Time" on.

I hated it.  I hated every single minute of it.  Right from the very first line of dialog I hated it.  Even then, from the very first line, I could tell that it was going to be egregiously unfaithful to the source material.

 I understand that things do have to change in an adaptation.  You can't just make a one to one conversion from book to film.  It just doesn't work like that.  But take Game of Thrones for example.  The first four or five seasons of that are pretty faithful to the books.  They change lots of things, add in a few things here and there, merge some characters together, skip scenes and entire events from the books.  But, at the end of the day, I can sit down and watch it, and I can say, this is A Song of Ice and Fire.  It's still the same story, about the same characters, adapted to a visual medium.  I can't do that with The Wheel of Time.  It is utterly unrecognizable as being the same thing as the source material.  The characters are all changed, some of them with completely and wildly different backstories.  The events have changed, and bear little resemblance to anything that happened in the books.  The story itself give a bit of lip service to the books, but is so wildly different and warped out of shape that they might as well have just dispensed with even bothering to call it Wheel of Time, and made their own, original series in the vein of Game of Thrones, which is obviously what they were going for here.  The problem is that A Song of Ice and Fire, and The Wheel of Time are two very fundamentally different stories, and changing one to fit into the mold of the other just doesn't work.  It needs to be its own thing, rather than being forced to be something its not.

Before I get into what they did to the plot, world, and characters, I'm going to talk a bit about just the show in general as a show and not as a supposed adaptation of The Wheel of Time.  

The show looks very cheap.  The CGI is serviceable, but cheap looking.  The cinematography is awful.  Whoever worked on it does not know what he is doing at all.  Pretty much every single scene in the show is blocked badly.  Okay, here's a thing that every first year film student learns about blocking a scene.  THE ACTION IS ALWAYS DEAD CENTER IN THE SCREEN!!!!!!!!!!!!  You have two people talking, they're in the center of the screen, unless you're doing something artistic like trying to show how emotionally far apart they are from each other (No, this series does not have that kind of depth to it, that would require someone who knows the first thing about filmmaking)  You don't have them kind of off to one side while random background noise fills up most of the screen.  You don't have them on opposite sides of the screen when there is no deeper reason for it within the narrative.  When people are fighting, they are centered in the screen.  When they're riding a horse, that horse is in the center of the screen.  When they're running for their lives, they do it through the center of the screen.  Whoever blocked the shots in this series is absolutely incompetent, and even an amateur like me, who changed majors from film to a real degree after the first year of college, could do better.

The costume design is terrible.  I've seen better costumes at the local Scottish and Renaissance festivals.  And holy crap do the Great Serpent Rings look bad.  In the books they're just a simple gold band.  In the series they're these massive, gaudy monstrosities that are just fugly. 

The music is very bland and forgettable.  Individual characters do not have their own themes.  There doesn't really seem to be any overarching theme to the series.  It all just sounds like canned generic fantasy music.

The editing is absolutely atrocious.  You have loads of just weird and unnecessary cuts that lead to confusion as to where characters are in relation to each other, and in relation to their surroundings pretty much all throughout the series.

The writing is completely horrible.  Even if this wasn't supposed to be The Wheel of Time, the writing is awful.  There are things that are just lat out not explained.  There are mountainous piles of contradictions.  Characters never really seem to settle down into their own personalities.  I can't tell of any of them are acting out of character, because none of them really seem to be characters at all.  The dialog is painful to listen to.  It's just all around bad.

Now, the one thing I see people praising about this show is the cast.  I assume that the only reason they are praising the cast is because they don't want to be called racist.  I, on the other hand, do not and will not ever care what your opinion of me is, and therefore am not constrained from telling the truth about these actors.  They are, each and every one of them, terrible actors.  Every.  Single.  One.  Of. Them.  They couldn't act their way out of a paper bag.  They are all completely wooden, and the only two that ever even bother to emote are written so badly that they come off as abrasive assholes more than anything else.  Every line of dialog in the entire series is delivered in complete monotone.  People are praising these actors?  The whole lot of them should never have been cast in the first place, and they certainly don't deserve to return for another season.  Every one of them needs to go back to acting school.  Like, whose bright idea was it to cast a man who absolutely cannot sing at all as Thom Merrilin?  You know, THE BARD!!!  WHO SPENDS MUCH OF THE SERIES SINGING!!!!  It sends a very, very unfortunate message.  That these actors were not hired because of their acting talent, but because the showrunner wanted to check off diversity boxes on his virtue signaling flag.  Which is a terrible thing.  When I'm thinking, holy shit these actors are awful, they must have been hired for inclusivity purposes only, that's bad.  That's very, very bad.  I have no problem with all of the characters being race swapped.  That's not the problem here.  It's that the actors are terrible actors, and it very strongly says to me that these people were not hired because they were the best actors that auditioned, but because of the color of their skin.  I've seen Rosamund Pike and Daniel Henney in other things, and they can actually act, but they have terrible material to work with here, and god-awful direction.  Which brings me to my next point.

Was this series directed by a film school dropout?  Because with all of the wooden acting, even from people I know CAN actually act, there's really no excuse other than a director that has absolutely no idea what he's doing.

Okay, I think I've worked through all of that, now on to the plot and characters.

There is a whole lot of character assassination going on here.  Generally good people are now thieves, drunks, and cheating on their spouses.  Character backstories have changed to the point that they should not have certain abilities that they do in the books, but yet, still have those abilities, even though the backstory that gave it to them has been replaced with a completely different one.  Do I really need to point out how terribly handled fridging Perrin's non-existent wife was?  Because that was pretty freaking terrible.  Dude accidentally murders his wife (who does not exist in the books) and immediately, IMMEDIATELY just leaves town because some stern woman says he should.  Doesn't say a word about it.  Doesn't mourn.  Just leaves town with a random stranger.  Then he can't even be bothered to even remember that she existed for most of the rest of the series.

Nyneave.  Oh, Nyneave.  What have they done to you.  She's my favorite character in the books.  She's angry, rude, and abrasive, and kind of a hypocrite, but the books actually take the time to show us WHY she is that way.  What she's had to deal with in her life that made her that way, and why she thinks she has to be that way to get any respect out of people.  In the TV series she's just bitchy for the sake of being bitchy.  No reason. She's just a bitch.  Pretty much every character has been changed in some way, and all of them for the worse.  Rand, the main character of the books.  The hero of the story, has about 12 lines in the entire season.  They cut out CRUCIAL character building moments from his storyline that are VITAL to his motivation as a character.  He's basically a background character in his own story.

The show is very bad at explaining why men shouldn't use the Power.  That there are, in fact, TWO powers, one for men and one for women, and the male side of it was tainted by the Dark One so it makes the men who use it go insane and rot to death if they happen to live long enough for that to happen.  In fact, the show is just very bad at explaining.  Period.  Full stop.  The people who made this series just do not have any idea how the One Power is even supposed to work, and they keep spewing out a TON of contradictory BS about it that just doesn't make any sense.  The writing here is just plain terrible.

If I were to go through and point out every story change and why it doesn't make sense this post would be about as long as the book this season was "based" on, so I won't.  But there's one more thing I'd like to say.  One of the big themes of The Wheel of Time is that men and women are different.  They have different goals, ideas, and ways of seeing the world.  They are different, but equal in different ways.  They work together, playing to their separate strengths, to overcome things that neither could do alone.  This TV series doesn't seem to really care much for that.  None of the men are allowed to do anything heroic.  There isn't a single positive portrayal of a male character in the entire series.  They're all pushed aside to make room for the women being awesome.  I think the most ridiculous example of this would be Rand's mother.  There she is, actually giving birth to Rand, and all of a sudden she's flipping around like freaking Xena Warrior Princess splattering enemy soldiers by the dozen. The problem with this is that instead of allowing the women to be strong in realistic ways in relation to the men around them, the men are basically ground down into the ground so the women can just be awesome without earning it.  This diminishes not only the male characters, but the female characters as well.  It completely throws out the theme, of different, but the same, working with and against one another to drive the events of the story, each playing to their respective strengths.

Anyway, I watched the first three episodes and was thoroughly pissed off at them.  I didn't even bother watching any more of them until the whole season had come out.  I just didn't have any interest in watching more of it.  But I figured I should watch to the end just in case things got better.  They did not.  They made a lot of weird and unnecessary changes that are going to cause some pretty huge problems later on in the series if it doesn't get cancelled (which it probably will).  I started to think to myself, "if I think of this as just a generic fantasy series, and not The Wheel of Time, it's not great, but watchable, I guess" until it got to that last episode.  That last episode is so egregiously spiteful, hateful, and lorebreaking that it makes the entire series leading up to it worse just by association.  Tell me you've never read The Wheel of Time without telling me you've never read The Wheel of Time.  They made the exact worst decision they could possibly make with where to take the characters and story at every single point.  I was angry with the beginning.  I was mostly just bored and disinterested through the middle, watching only out of a feeling of obligation, but that ending.  That last episode.  That last episode made me FURIOUS.  It was like they took everything good about The Wheel of Time and systematically took a runny shit over every single one of them.

Who is this show even for?  It's not for book fans.  It's too disrespectful to the source material.  It's not for rando fantasy peeps looking for the next big thing after Game of Thrones.  It doesn't explain itself well enough to draw them in.  The only thing I can think of is that they took The Wheel of Time, and they twisted it to fit into a mold it was never meant to be fit into in order to satisfy a certain subsection of the Twitter population, who, by the way, probably never even bothered to watch the show.  I feel insulted by the show's creators.  I certainly won't be back for season 2, which is reportedly filming right now.  And I'm definitely not showing up for Amazon's Lord of the Rings series, after seeing for egregiously they've defiled the Wheel of Time.

I'm not really seeing many people talking about this series.  It's like the second season one ended, nobody cared anymore.  There's a few outraged fans making videos for youtube, but there's not a whole lot of those.  There's even fewer reviews speaking positively for the show.  There was a bit of hype before it came out, but it's like people saw what it was, and just stopped caring.  I think Amazon is going to be learning a very hard lesson when Season two drops and literally no one cares or even bothers to watch it.

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

What you probably don't realize about the Brandon Sanderson kickstarter.

 So, as of this writing, the Brandon Sanderson kickstarter is currently at 29 million with over 2 weeks left to go.  He's been breaking all kinds of records, and he's been utterly shocked at the huge showing of support from his fans for these little projects he did on the side to help blow off the stress of the pandemic.  The left side of twitter is rather up in arms about a white man being successful from atop the platform he's spent decades growing.  Normal people don't really care all that much, and we Sanderson fans are just happy we're getting four new books next year on top of the one that was already scheduled.  I, personally bought into the $60 option for e-books/audiobooks.  $60 for 4 audiobooks from an author I like is a pretty good price, especially when you consider that the e-books are included in that.

Anyway, you may be thinking to yourself, wow, he just made 29 million dollars.


Except he didn't.  Not really.

 

What you're probably not thinking about is how much of that money is going toward costs.  First of all, printing tens of thousands of books is not cheap.  Especially with pandemic paper shortages.  This is why that pay option is so much higher, because it just costs a hell of a lot of money to print a set of 4 books.

Next, the swag bags.  All the T-shirts, plushies, jewelry, bookmarks, and whatever else they toss into those has to be manufactured and shipped to him.  He doesn't just have that all lying around.  Manufacturing costs are pretty high right now because of material and labor shortages, also caused by the pandemic.

He will also have to lease a warehouse to keep it in, which, again, is not cheap, especially in the current world.

On top of that, he's going to have to hire an army of full time employees to assemble these swag bags, box them up for shipping, and actually ship them.  Same with the hardcovers.  Something you may not realize if you've never run a business before is that running a business is not cheap.  Not only do you have to pay your employees, you are also required to pay liability insurance in case any injuries arise, and that is also not cheap, especially when you consider how many employees it is going to take to undertake such a huge task as what is ahead of them.  You're also required to pay into social security for each employee you have.  That's right, it's not just the workers who pay a social security tax, businesses do too. 

Packaging materials also cost money, especially in the quantities that will be needed.  So does actual shipping, even if you're shipping by bulk rates and media mail.

And then, of course, the government will always take its share of the profits when all is said and done.

 

In the end, Sanderson is not going to pocket 29 million dollars.  He's probably going to take home 2-3 million tops after all of his expenses and taxes.  Which, for an author, is a very good paycheck, especially on top of all his other royalties and any advances he's getting for future books from his traditional publishers, which for an author of his popularity, will not be insubstantial.  But, I mean, the guy worked his ass off to build the following and platform that he has over decades, and he also worked his ass off to squeeze four unplanned books into his schedule.  He deserves to be rewarded for all of the hard work that he has put in to get where he is now.  All the twitter crazies whining about it can go to hell.

Friday, November 5, 2021

Mass Effect 3: Dat ending.

So, just a year or so after I played through the Mass Effect Trilogy for the first time, EA and the animated corpse of Bioware released the Legendary Edition of the trilogy with updated graphics for the first game, and HD textures for the other two, as well as some gameplay tweaks and such here and there throughout all three games.  And with all of the DLC included as well.  So, I was sitting there, looking through what was on sale in the Xbox store a few weeks ago, and there it was, the Mass Effect Legendary Edition 50% off.  I thought, well hey, I only played through one of the DLC packs in the whole trilogy because I didn't want to spend 10-15 bucks a pop (7 years after the final game released might I add.  Those prices are freaking ridiculous!) for a few 1-3 hour story missions, $30 to pick up like $100 worth of DLC, plus the updated versions of all three games?  That sounds like a great deal.

So, I replayed all three games, this time going through all of the DLC along the way.  So, here's what I thought about them.


Bring down the sky from Mass Effect 1 - Was kind of meh.  It was pretty generic without much in the way of story.  It did have a pretty good moral choice at the end though, and it was good for a few extra xp, I guess.


The Shadow Broker from Mass Effect 2 - This is the one DLC pack I actually bought my first run through the trilogy, because I liked Liara.  It's fun.  It's very cinematic and has a lot of cool buddy moments with Liara.  It also expands upon the lore around the Shadow Broker quite a bit as well as giving a better look at Asari culture and the city of Nos Astra on Illium. 

 

Firewalker/Overlord/Kasumi/Zaeed - Firewalker was basically just a collectothon.  Kasumi/Zaeed were just added characters with short story missions that weren't terrible, but not great either.   I did really like Overlord though.  It's a great story about an insane AI taking over a research station on a remote planet which has some pretty horrifying revelations and moral implications later on in the story.


The Arrival from Mass Effect 2 - I didn't really like this one.  Mass Effect without your favorite squadmates quipping and commenting on things, or adding dialog to conversations is actually pretty boring, not to mention that combat without any of them to support you can be rather challenging.  Also, I didn't like the fact that whether you choose Paragon or Renegade, Shepard is still a mass murderer at the end of the day.  Yes, it was a necessary sacrifice.  A few hundred thousand to save billions.  But it basically gives the finger to the Paragon/Renegade system that the entire rest of the trilogy is built around.  I think that they probably shouldn't have gone with this story for a DLC pack, or reworked it to fit more in line with the morality system that the entire game revolves around.  It kind of feels like my choice is being taken away in a game that is literally all about your choices mattering and having an impact on the outcome of the story.


From Ashes from Mass Effect 3 - This is the absolute worst kind of DLC, vital story content that was cut so that EA could make a few more bucks.  An important character and a lot of important lore is locked behind this DLC paywall and that is freaking unforgivable.  Overall the mission is kind of generic, but what Javik, the DLC character you get from this pack, adds to the rest of the story is priceless and something that enhances the game experience greatly.


Leviathan from Mass Effect 3 - AGAIN!!!  They did it AGAIN!!!  Vital story elements cut from the game and hidden behind a DLC paywall.  This DLC is great.  It goes into where the Reapers come from, what their goals are, and why.  It basically gives a hell of a lot of context to the ending, and motivation to the Reapers.  It's unthinkable to me that this vital piece of the story was sold separately.  What the actual hell!


Omega from Mass Effect 3 - Meh.  I don't really care about what happens to Omega all that much, and though Aria is voiced by Carrie Ann Moss, she's never really struck me as all that interesting a character.  Mostly it's just kind of really long, and really boring, and just not all that fun to play through.


Citadel from Mass Effect 3 - I think this is my favorite DLC of the whole bunch.  Yes, it's silly.  And I can see why the humor doesn't land for a lot of people.  And it's this big comedy bit right in the middle of a very dark and very serious story.  But man, I loved it.  There are so many great moments of all of you past and present squadmates quipping off of each other and it's probably the most fun I've had with the entire series.

 

The DLC in Mass Effect 3 alone more than doubled the length of the game for me.


Anyway, I didn't really talk about the ending when I first posted about Mass Effect 3.  Now, keep in mind that I came to this series in 2019, long after it had finished.  I didn't have any of the hype going into Mass Effect 3.  I didn't have any of the waiting, or the expectation.  And I'd just come off of Mass Effect 2 which I thoroughly disliked.  I was aware that a lot of people hated the ending when the game came out, but it wasn't really my thing at the time, so I didn't really care.  I have never seen the original ending to the game.  I've only see the extended cut.

So, when people talk about the ending to this game, they're pretty much just referring to the last 10 mins of the game, and the pretty generic what's your favorite color choice.  But, all told, depending on the choices you've made in all three games leading up to it, there are about 12 different endings.  True, most of the differences are very minor, but your choices throughout the trilogy ARE reflected in the ending, if only minimally.  

But I tend to think of the entire game as the ending.  And when you look at it that way, it's a pretty great ending.  People like to complain that their choices didn't matter in the end.  And maybe that's not entirely wrong.  But when you look at the big events of the game leading up to the end, the Genophage cure, the Geth/Quarian conflict, the Cerberus attack on the Citadel, heck, even Miranda's side story.  All of these things can have wildly different outcomes depending on your choices, and many of those choices don't even take place in THIS game.  What the hell do you mean that your choices don't matter?  For me, it's not the last 10 minutes that's important, it's the 45 hours that lead up to them.  Huge things happen in this game, and their outcomes depend on everything you've done up to that point in all 3 games.  Your choices throughout the entire trilogy shape what happens in this game in a big way.  This second playthrough had very, very different outcomes to all 4 of those story moments for me.  It was practically a completely different story with how wildly different their outcomes were for me this time through.  Your choices matter in this game.  They always have.  People are just too busy focusing on the last 10 minutes to see it.

The biggest problem that I can see is that Mass Effect 2 did NOTHING to build toward an ending.  It was all character based.  There was very little plot to that game.  It didn't set anything up.  It didn't move toward a conclusion.  It basically left Mass Effect 3 with the job of being both act 2 and act 3 of the story.  Any problem that you might have with the ending of Mass Effect 3 can be directly laid at the feet of Mass Effect 2.  THAT is why I DO NOT like Mass Effect 2.  Even this second playthrough of it when I had my expectations lowered, it was just too light on story for my tastes.  And Mass Effect 3 suffered directly because of it.

Was this the best ending ever?  Hell no.  Could it have been better?  Yes, it could have.  I understand why people are still angry about it to this day.  Everything built up to what's your favorite color.  I get it.  There aren't 17 million different endings that all play out differently because of everything you did in all 3 games.  I understand the frustration.  But, you know what?  With all of the hype that this game had, no ending, no matter how good or bad, was going to satisfy everyone.  It's a decent ending.  I actually kind of like it.  I also like how your choices throughout the entire trilogy can impact all of the major events of the game leading up to it in such huge ways.  The ending doesn't really need to be fixed, as people are still saying to this day.  It's fine just the way it is.

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

NaNo 2021

 Off to a good start on NaNo this year.  11,368/50,000 words so far.  On day 2.  I'm kind of killing it, if I do say so myself. =) Not starting anything new this year.  Just working on Carrying the Weight of the World.

Monday, October 11, 2021

No, Time to Die.

 So, one of the things that my parents shared when they were dating way back in the beforetimes of 1974 was a love for James Bond movies.  It was one of the things they had in common, though for different reasons. My dad liked the action, the cars and the gadgets.  My mom had the hots for Sean Connery and Rodger Moore.  The second of which is a head scratcher for me, as Moore isn't much of a looker in my opinion, but to each their own, eh?

So, as I was growing up, James Bond movies were a pretty big part of my life.  One of the first movies I can remember seeing in a theater is Never Say Never Again.  They bought VHS tapes of them.  We'd watch James Bond movies as family activities.  They'd take me and my siblings to new Bond movies in the theater as they came out, even after I moved out on my own.  I own most of them on Bluray now-a-days, and have since read the books by Ian Fleming (which have not aged well, unfortunately).  Are all of them masterpieces?  Nope.  Are some of them pretty cringe in this day and age.  Yep.  Has Bond changed with the times to be a bit more PC?  Definitely.  Do I have a problem with that?  Not really.

In recent years the Bond franchise has taken a bit of flak for being nothing more than "male power fantasy".  And my rebuttal to that is, "yes, and?"  Is there something wrong with that?  Are men not allowed to have our fantasies?  Are women the only ones who have that right?  There's plenty of media out there that is purely female power fantasy.  And yes, people criticize the hell out of that too, but we all really shouldn't.  People should be allowed to enjoy their power fantasies no matter which bits they were born with.  Who cares if something is dudebro power or gurl power?  Let it exist for the people it exists for and move on with your lives.  Here's the thing about media.  You will never, ever, ever make something that is for everyone.  When people try, garbage is usually the best they can shoot for.  The best you can do is make something that some people will really, really like.  And, for the most part, James Bond is for men.  I'm not saying women can't enjoy it.  My mom sure does.  But, as stated before, definitely not for the same reasons I do.  The movies are made with a certain audience in mind, and they play to that audience.  They've made concessions over the years to make them more acceptable and less cringe for the times in which they were made, but, overall, they've played to that one audience.

Fast forward to present day.  Or, rather, whenever the first trailer for No Time To Die came out.  My mom called me and was really pissed off about it.  "Did you see that trailer?  They're cutting James Bond's balls off, and giving them to some really annoying woman!"  Keep in mind that my MOM, a WOMAN, said this to me.  I watched the trailer, and yeah, that appeared to be what was happening.  I watched Lashana Lynch's character thoroughly emasculate Bond throughout the trailer, and was like, "WTF is this garbage?"  And then rumors started coming out.  There had been rumors over who would take on the mantle of Bond after Daniel Craig left, and once that trailer hit, the rumors were all "They're replacing  James Bond with a woman"  "the new Bond movie, Bond will take a back seat to a woman, and then hand the mantle over to her at the end" and things like that.

I don't know about you, but I don't want to see that.  I really don't.  I want James Bond to be the hero in his own movie, beat the bad guys through a combination of smarts and physical kick-assery, and walk away afterward, quipping and straightening his tie like it was no big deal.  Rumors of Bond being replaced with a woman persisted, and seemed to be confirmed by Lynch herself on more than one occasion.  Test audiences for the movie were reportedly extremely unhappy with the movie, prompting extensive rewrites and reshoots, and I'm pretty sure I know exactly what was rewritten and reshot.  Plus there was a lot of public backlash over the idea, and Lynch decided not to heed the cardinal rule of the internet, which is to ignore the trolls, and fully engaged with them making kind of an ass out of herself in the doing.  It was shaping up to be a big mess.

And then the pandemic reared its ugly head and the movie was pushed back for more than a year.  All while more and more rumors about the woke trainwreck the movie had been turned into ran wild.  After what, like 2 years of being pushed back, I'm kind of sick of the movie.  I'm sick of hearing about it.  I'm sick of seeing trailers for it.  I'm sick of people talking about it.  I'm sick of the actors making asses of themselves on social media over the movie.  I'm just sick of it.  I don't care anymore.  When did James Bond turn into this political landmine of a movie?  Remember when James Bond was about a government sanctioned serial killer who saved the world from over the top villains with silly plans for world domination, all while making the world's worst dad jokes, and dressing like a boss?  Yeah.  Those were good times.  I liked those movies.

So, the movie came out.  And though it seems Lynch's character has been toned down considerably after test audiences hated her, and some very vocal parts of the internet completely rejected the idea of her being the next Bond, the movie has one final middle finger for longtime fans.  

 

Spoilers

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James Bond dies at the end.

 WHAT!?  Are you freaking kidding me?  So.  Let me get this straight.  James Bond finds plenty of time to die... in a movie called No Time To Die...?  REALLY?  Really?  James Bond never dies.  He always comes out the other side quipping, and halfway into some ridiculously named woman's panties.  It's part of the fantasy. So they decided to take away James Bond and replace him with a woman, were completely shocked that no one wanted to see that, changed the movie to be more Bond focused, but as a final FU they kill him.  Great.

So, obviously I'm not going to see this movie.  I don't need to watch another one of my heroes die on the altar of woke.  I've seen quite enough of them sacrificed there already in recent years.  Luke Skywalker, anyone?  I don't need to see Bond old and struggling to do things he effortlessly would have accomplished and looked great doing even just ten years ago.  I don't need to watch Bond being emasculated by abrasive women.  And I certainly don't need to watch him die.  That's not what Bond is about.  And anyone who thinks it should be, needs to be shown the door.  They obviously don't get it, and they are a hindrance to the franchise.  You don't take something, completely change it, kill off the hero, and attempt to hand it off to another hero, and then expect everyone to praise you for it.  I mean, come on.  This series has almost seventy years of history behind it, and seventy years worth of fans.  You're going to take a huge dump on all of that, because you feel it's problematic in this day and age, and are seeing all of the new fans you're going to make with your new Frankenstein's monster of a film.  Well, news flash, you're alienating all of the existing fans, and no one else is going to care.  You're not going to be bringing in new audiences, and the audience you had isn't going to stick around for your BS.  So who, exactly, are you making the movie for?  Just to stroke your own ego?  300 million seems like a pretty huge pricetag just to stroke your own ego.

I am absolutely not saying that I hate women, that I don't think women can be action heroes, that I don't think women can lead movies/franchises.  I am not saying that at all.  One of my FAVORITE movie heroes is Ripley from Aliens.  Who, last time I checked, is a woman.  Sigourney Weaver sells the hell out of it too.  When I see her on screen, I completely believe that she is a badass capable of fighting the queen alien in a robotic suit, or of heading into the alien hive alone and armed to the teeth to rescue her surrogate daughter from a horrific death.  Sarah Conner is another of my favorites.  She's a woman too.  And Linda Hamilton sells it just as well as Sigourney Weaver does.  I even have a bit of a soft spot for the Resident Evil movies, terrible as they are.  I'm not saying that women shouldn't have roles LIKE James Bond.  I'm saying that they shouldn't BE James Bond.  If you want to make a movie about a woman who is a highly skilled spy like James Bond, I will wholeheartedly support you.  In fact, that movie already exists.  It's called Atomic Blonde and it was awesome.  Go watch it.  You won't be disappointed.  You can rent it off amazon video for like $4.  Make more of that, please.  I'll happily go see them.  I think that Daniel Craig said it best.  "I don't think James Bond should be a woman.  There should be better roles available for women and people of color."  I absolutely agree.  Women and people of color should not get hand me downs from existing properties.  There should be new and exciting properties for them to be a part of.   

So, that's pretty much it.  I'm not seeing the movie.  I'm frankly sick to death of hearing about it.  It's the first Bond movie since 1983 that I will not be watching in a theater.  Because they tried to woke the hell out of it, and then killed one of my heroes out of spite when nobody was on board for it.  I'm wholly on board with Bond being updated for a modern audience and modern sensibilities.  But taking his series away from him and giving it to a woman.  That's too far.  Killing him when people were rightly outraged over the idea?  That's petty and it breaks the illusion of the fantasy.  I don't want to see that.  And I'm not going to.  And, apparently, neither is anyone else.  The movie performed far lower than expected its opening weekend at the box office.  It's one of the most expensive movies ever made, due to all of the pandemic delays, stretching the marketing out longer and longer.  And it probably isn't even going to break even.  It has nothing to do with the pandemic, either.  Look at Venom.  That movie sold like crazy.  People are sick of hearing about the movie.  No one wants to see James Bond die.  And people are annoyed by the efforts to wokeify the franchise.  What did they think was going to happen?

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Yikes.

 So.  Last year I wrote four novellas that totaled about 130k words to tell the backstory of several characters and of the world of a project I'd been putting together for a few years before that, which I've tentatively named Carrying the Weight of the World.  As outlined, Carrying the Weight of the World soon became prohibitively huge.  It was going to be a massive, massive story, and would likely have to be split into multiple volumes.  So I thought, hey, why don't I cut these flashbacks I've been writing in the first half of the story, and write them out into more fleshed out stories of their own.  I had a lot of fun doing it.  I think they turned out pretty well, and they let me slim down my outline by a fair margin.  Of course, I had to completely throw out everything I'd written up to that point and start over to remove the flashbacks and incorporate more than a few story elements I'd added in fleshing these stories out, but that was fine.  All part of the process.  

So, anyway, I've been working on Carrying the Weight of the World, on and off, since then, and even with cutting a lot of content and shifting it to the novellas this story is getting pretty damn huge.  I'm on track to hit about 400k words before I'm done, which is absolutely enormous.  This is a story that just refuses to be told in a short 130k words like I want it to.  It's too complex, with too many plotlines and characters, and I may have to cut it up into multiple volumes anyway, even after I cut 130k words of content from it last year.

On the bright side, despite its enormous length, I am really liking how it's turning out.

So, anyway, that's what I've been doing this last year in writing.  I haven't spent the ENTIRE time sitting on my butt and playing videogames.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

The Xenosaga Trilogy: twenty years later.

Uh, before we start, I did not intend for this essay to be almost 4000 words long.  Buuuuuut, here we are.  So, yeah.  Oops.  I can really get going when I’m talking about things that I love.  My bad.

 

What is Xenosaga?  It’s a trilogy of games for the PS2, which takes place within the same universe as Xenogears on the PS1, and the Xenoblade Chronicles games on the Wii/Wii-U/Switch.  It’s an epic space opera that’s deeply rooted in philosophy, and the hidden meanings behind the myths that make up religion.  It manages to have religious undertones without being overtly religious.  It merely explores ideas put forth by Christianity from a standpoint of looking at the roots of Christian mythology and examining what sort of sci-fi metaphysical weirdness can be made up to explain them.  

 

You can watch a pretty good fan made trailer for the trilogy to get an idea of what the series is all about here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5icsrI84aws

 

So, one of the side effects of having zero social obligations outside of work for almost two years now is that I’ve had a lot of free time to myself to work through my videogame backlog.  All those games I picked up, thinking hey, this one looks good, maybe I’ll play it sometime.  Yeah, now I’ve played through most of those.  I was sitting there, looking at what was left, and kind of not really feeling like starting any of them.  I mean, I am down to the dregs here.  And, the thought of actually finding something productive to do with my time frightened me, so I thought, what’s a game I really enjoyed that I wouldn’t mind playing again.  And Xenosaga popped into my head.  How long has it been since I played through Xenosaga? 

 

Holy crap, that first game came out in February 2002. 

 

That’s almost twenty freaking years.

 

D’oh.  I’m old.

 

So, I went to my shelf, and grabbed the trilogy, then headed to my closet to dig out my PS2.  As Bandai Namco, who hold the distribution rights to this series, view the trilogy as a financial failure, they have never invested in porting it to any other systems.  It is available on PS2 and PS2 only.  I dusted off my trusty old PS2, and then went to Amazon to buy a PS2 to HDMI converter, because apparently my shiny new TV doesn’t have RCA ports on it.  So, a couple days later when that arrived, I plugged it all in, popped in Xenosaga Episode 1 and… crap.  My PS2 is so old that it no longer reads discs.  So, back to Amazon, how much does a PS2 go for these days.  TWO HUNDRED FREAKING DOLLARS!?!?!  That’s almost as much as they cost when they released over 20 years ago.  What the hell!  Over to Ebay, then.  Not much better.

 

But I was set on replaying these games.  What?  No!  Of course I didn’t spend $200 on a PS2.  I downloaded a freaking emulator, hooked my laptop up to my TV via HDMI, and played with a wireless Xbone controller.

 

So.  A bit of history for this series.  It first began with Xenogears for the PS1.  That was, despite its second disc, my favorite PS1 game.  It did a lot of things I’d never seen, story and character-wise, in a videogame before.  It was kind of more of an adult sort of story, with questions about the meaning of existence, uncovering the truths behind the myths that make up religion, and defining oneself.  It was a game that wasn’t afraid to treat me like an adult instead of a kid.  At one time it was in the running to be Final Fantasy 7, but it was deemed to be to philosophical and religious, and was released as its own thing.  Unfortunately, the team working on the game ran through their entire budget before reaching the end of the game, and when they asked Squaresoft for more, they were given just enough money to slap together a quick visual novel style ending for the game that many people found to be very unsatisfying.  I was annoyed by it, but I loved the story, the characters, and the world so much that I replayed that game several times, looking for all the hidden meanings in everything.  And off course there is that infamous line of text at the end of the credits.  “End of Xenogears Episode 5.”  Whaaaaaaaaat?  There was going to be more of these?  Did I miss four others?  To the fledgling internet, I must know!!!  Yeah, no, they were just pulling a George Lucas and telling a later part of the story first.

 

Fast forward a few years, and it was announced that Tetsuya Takahashi, the creator of Xenogears, had left Squaresoft to form his own company Monolith Soft, and struck a deal with Bandai Namco to produce a six game series taking place within the same universe as Xenogears called Xenosaga.  I was so incredibly hyped for these games.  A continuation of the game that I’d loved so much?  Maybe those 4 missing Xenogears episodes that were teased at the end of the credits?  Hell yeah!  Sign me up!  So, I watched and waited eagerly for the games to release, Watching and rewatching trailers for the game over, and over, and over again, which brings us to 2002 when the first game finally came out.

 

So.  Xenosaga Episode 1.  It was all I had hoped it would be and more.  It’s a completely new story with a lot of the same themes, philosophical ideas, and religious undertones as Xenogears, but with new characters and in a new setting.  An alien race called the Gnosis are slowly but steadily wiping humanity from the galaxy in the distant future, while Shion Uzuki, a software engineer, and our main protagonist, is developing weapons to fight against them.  There are half a dozen different factions, all with different goals, vying for dominance while the end of humanity is visible not too far off on the horizon.  It is truly epic in scope, but doesn’t forget that an epic story is nothing without well developed and sympathetic characters.  There are certain things that tie Saga to Gears, but they’re pretty subtle, and you don’t need to play one to enjoy the other.  There are things like the Zohar, Anima Relics, and the Wave Existence that exist within both stories, etc.

 

So, was the game as good as I remembered it being?  Well, yes and no.  The story and characters are still amazing.  But the English translation is terrible, and the voice acting isn’t much better.  The gameplay and graphics are very dated.  Your character moves at a snail’s pace.  The battle animations are ridiculously long and cannot be skipped or sped up in any way, and it has a lot of sections where there’s just a ton of pointless backtracking toward no real end but making the game longer.  There are also some pretty hefty difficulty spikes early on in the game.  It is not balanced very well AT ALL.  The game was also heavily censored for the English release, removing several scenes deemed to be too intense, and removing a fair quantity of blood.  But oh man, that story and those characters.  I loved it.  Even with the clunky gameplay, bad acting, and terrible translation.  It’s still a great, great game even now, twenty years later.  While playing through it, I was constantly saying to myself, this game is so good.  This game is better than I remembered it being.  Man, I love this game.

 

The game sold pretty well, but not amazingly so.  It made money, but only just.  It also had a lot of criticism.  People didn’t like the way that the story is told through long sections of prerendered CG cutscenes.  There are some very long sections where you’re more watching the game than playing it.  It was also pretty short.  You can do a full completion of the game in under 30 hours.  These two things are pretty typical by today’s standards, but back then, people got pretty annoyed at the number of cutscenes, and the fact that the game wasn’t 60+ hours in length.

 

So.  That brings us to Xenosaga Episode two, which released 2 years later.  I don’t think I have ever been more hyped for anything in my life than I was for this game.  And it did not disappoint me.  It was better than I hoped it would be.  The game also ends with one of the most epic cliffhangers I’ve ever seen in a videogame.  Now, this game is the “controversial” one in the trilogy.  People really seem to HATE this game.  The focus shifts from Shion, the main protagonist in the first game to Jr., who was more of a side character that didn’t really enter into the first game until about halfway through.  And Shion is basically sidelined for a pretty large portion of this game while we delve into Jr.’s backstory.  But, as Jr. was a pretty intriguing character in his own rights, I wasn’t mad at the shift of focus from Shion over to him.  I still really like Shion, she’s my favorite character in the series, but I understood that Jr. really needed to be the focus of this story.  People were angry that instead of cutting down on cutscenes like they wanted, Monolith Soft doubled down and added in far more cutscenes than in the first game.  They also created an entirely new battle and skill system, and whoo-boy, that battle and skill system.

 

To call the battle system complicated would be an understatement.  It is ridiculously complex, and it requires a fair bit of strategy to get through even fights against trash mobs.  Enemies have weak and strong zones in a paper rock scissors sort of thing, and every enemy is different with its weaknesses.  And then there is a break mechanic, and a knockdown mechanic, and a boost to skip enemy turns mechanic that all have to be mastered and utilized or else the game will just completely steamroll you, because it uses all of those things against you at every opportunity.  The game also breaks its own rules on how the battle system functions on several of the boss fights to artificially make the fights more difficult.  It also does an EXTREMELY poor job of explaining how it all works to the player.  I had to look up a guide to explain it to me in detail the first time I played this game, because I was getting slaughtered on just normal trash mobs, much less boss fights.  Luckily you don’t have to remember what each enemy’s weak zones are, because there’s a skill you can unlock that will remember them for each enemy type you encounter after you figure out what its weakness is.  That is, of course, if you can figure out how the skill system works.  The first time I played this game I didn’t even realize that there was a skill system until I was almost halfway through the game.  That is how poorly the game explains things to you.  The skill system is also overly complicated and pretty clunky to use.  The battle system is so unwieldly that it even the simplest of fights can take forever to get through, and boss battles can last upwards of 30-45 mins.  This is not helped by the fact that the battle animations, like in the first game, are extremely slow, with no way to speed them up.  Back in the day, when 3d character models were kind of a new thing, gamers were awed by intricate battle animations.  They were a brand new thing that added to the experience.  Now-a-days, we’ve all seen it and ain’t nobody got time for that no more, but back in the early 2000s, that was just the way that games were made, and nobody complained because we didn’t know better, and we were still being dazzled by the graphics.

 

And so, all of these things kind of pissed a lot of people off, and turned them away from the series.  And even so, I still love the game.  It’s a perfect continuation of the story, delving deeper into the mysteries, while also advancing the plot and the characters.  But, Xenosaga 2 still outsold Xenosaga 1, despite the backlash.  Again, the sales were respectable, but not amazing.  So, as Monolith Soft was gearing up to head into production for the third game in the series, Bandai Namco came to them and told them that the series was underperforming, and they had one game to finish their story. 

 

So, they took the story that would have been Xenosaga 5 and 6 and they crammed them into what would become the Xenosaga Episode 3 that we have today.  It’s pretty blatant that this is the story of two games in one, as there is a very distinct climax and cliffhanger cutting off point that was clearly meant to be the end of game 5.  But what about the story for Xenosaga 3 and 4?  Why, thank you for asking, random imaginary person I made up to ask that question.  The story for what would have been Xenosaga 3 and 4 was stripped down to it’s very, very, very bare bones and released in a six episode visual novel, which was, of course, never officially released outside of Japan. 

 

All together, the visual novel parts add up to being about 90 mins long, and it’s basically just a couple of the voice actors telling you a brief summary of what the games would have been.  It’s pretty unsatisfying, and extremely low budget, if I’m being honest.  The problem is that some elements of the third game do not make any sense at all without having seen this visual novel first.  Shion does a bit of recapping the events that happen between the games, but she doesn’t go into enough detail to make it all gel and make sense.  A lot of it is left to your imagination, which can be pretty annoying.  It wasn’t until years later that I was able to find an English fan translation on youtube, and finally fill myself in on the missing elements of the story.

 

You can find the fan translations I watched here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLhkdGQOixb1cbR4UDX1iFT1M_ErV5dWxA

 

Bandai Namco had so little faith in the international sales of this game that they only produced a limited quantity of the English discs.  Basically, if you didn’t preorder this game, you probably never saw it in a store.  And it was never even released officially in Europe.  There are even stories floating around on the internet that people who did preorder it never got their copies, because Bandai Namco didn’t send out enough copies to cover the preorders that some stores had taken for the game.  It was this mess that prompted Nintendo of America to pass on translating and releasing Xenoblade Chronicles, the next game in the Xeno series, until the fan outrage reached epic levels.  And even then, they botched it with a craptastic Gamestop exclusivity deal that managed to piss pretty much everyone off, including Gamestop.

 

Anyway, when this game came out, I was pretty disappointed with it.  I can’t even remember why.  Fifteen years ago me was a freaking idiot.  This game is amazing, and it is now my favorite one of the trilogy.  Now that I know what happens in the year between Xenosaga 2 and 3, the story makes a lot more sense.  The battle and skill systems were simplified, streamlined, and BLESSEDLY sped up.  The graphics were improved upon.  The focus shifts back to Shion as the main protagonist, and man does this game put her through the wringer.

 

There are a few things you’re probably going to notice right off in this game.  The first is the sound design.  For some unfathomable reason, someone thought jacking the volume on your character’s footsteps up to 11 was a great idea.  It’s kind of annoying.  There are also several sections where someone is repeating something endlessly over an intercom in the background and it can get pretty annoying.  The next thing you’ll probably notice is that there are nowhere near as many prerendered CG cutscenes in this game as in the previous two.  This was done to save time and money, and help facilitate cramming two games worth of story into one game.  The first game had something like 7 hours of prerendered cutscenes.  The second had 12.  This one has 3.  Instead, we have rudimentary in engine graphics giving simple motions corresponding with what’s happening, while the story is told through dialog text boxes that are voiced over it.  Oddly enough, for me at least, this made me feel more like I was playing the game rather than watching it.  Strange that such a lowering in quality in the visuals of story scenes would be more immersive than the prerendered cutscenes, eh?

 

This game has far more censoring than either of the two previous games in the trilogy.  And there are some pretty egregious edits here.  The complete removal of blood from the game leads to some hilariously bad scenes where the blood is a big part of what is happening.  A young version of Shion trying to pour her dead mother’s blood back into her because she doesn’t understand what death is and thinks she can fix her by doing so comes to mind.  Imagine a scene where she’s doing that, but her hands are completely empty because the censors removed all the blood.

 

The ending is a little rushed, and it’s pretty open ended.  Things are resolved, and it is a clear ending in the story, but there’s room for more stories if ever they decide to continue it.  But I loved it.  Like I said, after replaying the whole trilogy, this game is now my favorite of the three.   Shion is a great protagonist that goes through so much horrible crap through all three games before she finally comes out the other end stronger and better for it.  She’s not perfect.  She makes mistakes.  Hell, she even joins the villains at one point in the game because she’s so desperate for someone who will show her even a little bit of love and kindness, and accept her for who she is.  It makes her overcoming everything and realizing that what she was really looking for is the ability to forgive, love and accept herself that more impactful. 

 

A character like this would just never exist in modern media.  No female character is allowed to be anything short of perfect these days, which makes them very boring and hard to relate to.  Any big character moments are completely undercut by the fact that they’re never wrong, completely incapable of failure of any sort, and have nothing to really overcome and earn that story moment.  But a character who is suffering from things I’ve suffered from, who is looking for the meaning in her own existence, and who keeps getting beaten down repeatedly over the course of the story, but still finds the strength to stand back up again.  That’s a character who is meaningful to you long after the ending of the story.  That’s going to stick with you.  That’s a character you’re going to remember.  Who is going to teach you things about yourself.  A character that you can stand up and root for when the odds are long, and cheer for when she finally overcomes. 

 

It just really illustrates how completely awful modern media is at the portrayal of strong female characters to me.  Strength comes from more places than just a character's muscles.  A character can be strong without being an ultimate badass in a fight.  The ability to endure, and stand back up again when the world slams you to the ground is another, and frankly more meaningful, way of showing one's strength.  A character that doesn’t earn her eventual triumph in the end isn’t a character worth remembering.  For example, if she didn’t have the Star Wars brand attached to her, would you even remember who Rey “Skywalker” even was at this point?  Can you remember ANYTHING that she did?  Can you name one single defining personality trait that she has, or quote a single line of memorable dialog that she gives? Neither can I. Did the Captain Marvel movie earn her Carol's moment of triumph at the end of her movie through overcoming any sort of adversity?  What's that, she just remembers dealing with shit literally every human being on this earth deals with on a daily basis and pretends that overcoming it is some epic triumph?  Yeah, fuck you Captain Marvel writers, you have failed to write a character that is even the slightest bit compelling or unique.  She's not even uniquely bad, because characters exactly like her bland, unrelatable ass are popping up in all forms of American media.  Shion earns it by having a dark and tragic past that is deeply explored throughout the trilogy, being shown to fail time and time again, being visibly beaten down by the horrors of her life, and, when faced with her own death, decides to deny the villain what he wants, something that SHE also wants very much, for the greater good.  Choosing to sacrifice her life, if need be, to do the right thing, instead of the thing that she feels she deserves after all that she’s been through.

 

Do you see the difference?

 

So.  The question is: Is the Xenosaga Trilogy worth playing in 2021? 

 

Yes.  It absolutely is.  With some minor caveats.  It is a great story, about great characters.  It explores some really deep questions about the meaning of existence, and why we go on with our lives.  It delves into interesting questions about religion without pushing an overt religious message down your throat.  The gameplay and graphics are a bit dated.  Gameplay in the third game is more in line with modern JRPGs, while the first two games are pretty clunky, slow, and needlessly complicated to play.  These games have long been near the top of my list for favorite videogames of all time, and replaying them has only reaffirmed to me why they deserve to be there.  They are epic in scope, and emotionally meaningful.  That is, if you can get past the clunky gameplay, bad translation, silly censoring, and questionable acting in the first two games.

 

Now for the bad news.

 

These games were never released on any system but the PS2.  They never sold terribly well, which means there are limited copies existing in the world, especially for the third game.  A full set of all three can run you upwards of $400 these days.  And that is assuming that you have access to a working PS2, which, as I found out, I no longer do.  For most people, the only financially feasible way of playing these games would be to… ahem… sail the high seas, if you know what I mean.  If you can get your hands on copies of the games, or have no compunctions against piracy, I highly recommend them.  They are among my favorite games of all time.

 

(Note that I do not condone piracy, I’m only pointing out that the option exists for those with fewer scruples than me.  Yes, I did emulate the games to play through them this year, but I still own them.  I have the discs sitting on the shelf right over there.  I paid money for them, and I ripped the .ISOs from the discs myself to plug into the emulator.)

 

Also to note, there was a 12 episode anime series made of the first game.  It is extremely low budget, and the story is changed significantly.  It’s just not very good, and it kind of misses the point of the story entirely, so I wouldn’t recommend it.  But those games man.  They are amazing and beautiful.  Go play them, however you’re able to.