Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Mass Effect Andromeda

So, I have never played any of the Mass Effect games before.  I hear they're great.  But I just don't really care for shooters.  Never have.  Probably never will.  They're just not fun to me.  My brother, a Mass Effect fanatic has been trying to get me to play the games for years now.  So this year, for Christmas, he got me all 4.  So I guess that means I now have to play them, whether I want to or not.

So, my brother suggested that I start with Andromeda as it isn't really connected story-wise to the trilogy, and it's also the worst one, so best to get it out of the way first.  So, I follow video game news every now and then.  I don't really have a huge amount of time for games these days, so I like to see what's coming, and what kind of reviews it's getting when it comes out, so I can pick and choose which games I'll spend my limited time and money on.  I also find epic failures by AAA game studios to be somewhat amusing.  So when Mass Effect Andromeda came out and had all kinds of graphical glitches, and hilariously bad facial animations, I watched videos of how bad things were, chuckled to myself, and moved on with my life.  This game seems to be just universally hated by everyone, not just for not living up to the Mass Effect name, but also for being a broken, unfinished mess.

Now, I played this game 2 years after release, and when I popped the disc into my PS4 I had to download a 6 GB patch before I could play.  This suggests to me that a lot of the graphical errors and nightmare fuel facial animations have been patched, as I didn't notice many as I played through the game.  There were still a few bugs.  I had some freezing errors, and the game crashed on me once while I was fighting the last boss.  Every now and then a character will be looking off in a weird direction during a conversation.  And one time while talking to a character all dialog options that did not lead to a sex scene were grayed out so I was forced by the game to have sex with my least favorite character.  Hurray.  But I saw none of the horrifically bad crap that people made videos about in the beginning.  For the most part, the game ran pretty smoothly, and the facial animations we pretty on par with other AAA games I've played this console generation.

So, that being said, and a reminder that this is the ONLY Mass Effect game I have played.  I LOVED IT!!! I seriously do not know why this game gets so much hatred.  It's one of the better open world games I've ever played.  As good as The Witcher 3 might be, I've never finished it.  I'll play a bit, get bored and do something else, come back, play a bit, get bored and go do something else.  Mass Effect Andromeda I played straight through without feeling bored at all.  I took the week between Christmas and New Years off to recover from working through Christmas, and I've done very little this week but play through this game.

I was expecting an unfinished, broken mess of a game that was devoid of content.  But what I got was a pretty fun to play open world game that just bombards you with things to do.  My biggest complaint about most open world games is that it's a huge open world with nothing to do in it.  That was NOT the case here.  I was just playing through the story and talking to the people in my crew at first, then I looked at my quest long, and just doing that I had literally dozens of side quests flagged that I could do.  The exploration actually plays a part in the story.  There are a lot of fun puzzles to solve.  A lot of the side quests that I completed had interesting and fun stories.  I enjoyed the snarkiness of the main character, and had fun with a few of the crew members that you collect.  One I found unbearably annoying, and a couple sort of just faded into the background, but I generally liked the ones I played with most.  While I don't really care for shooters, the combat was pretty straightforward and fun enough, I guess.  Again, not really my thing, but it played well enough that I didn't mind so much.  Also, the game has an easy mode, which I played on to make up for my natural lack of aptitude with shooters.  The visuals are pretty great, even if the character animations are a bit wonky sometimes, and your character runs like he/she has something stuffed up his/her butt.  The worlds, the transitions of your ship flying around, all of the cutscenes, the graphics were pretty darn good.

I did not even touch the online multiplayer aspect of the game.  That is really just not my thing.  I don't enjoy shooters, and I definitely do not enjoy shooters where I'm forced to play with other people who are lightyears better at it than I am.  I never really got the appeal of that sort of thing.  Imagine my sheer annoyance with EA that 2 out of the only 3 Star Wars games to come out in the last 10 years have been online only shooters.  Anyway, I can't speak to the quality or lack thereof of that aspect of the game, since I avoid that type of gameplay like the plague.

I really liked the story, and about half of the characters, and I had a lot of fun playing it.  I honestly do not know why this game is so hated, because I really, really liked it.  If this is the worst game in the series, I can't wait to play the rest of them.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Why I never thought the Star Wars Prequels were all that bad, and other Star Wars-y thoughts

I'm going to say something that many people might find somewhat unbelievable.  I don't hate the Star Wars prequels.  I actually kind of like them.  Are the the best Star Wars movies?  Nope.  Do I care?  Not really.  And I never really did.   There are two aspects that go into this.  The first is quickly and easily explained:  I just love Star Wars.  It doesn't really matter if it's boringly shot, with terrible direction, actors that look lost and bewildered, and dialog so bad it could peel paint, overuse of CGI that has NOT aged well.  It's still Star Wars, and I still love Star Wars.

My second reason is this:  By the time that the prequels began coming out, I had read a good decade's worth of Star Wars Expanded Universe novels.  There are some real gems amongst the SWEU, Like Timothy Zahn's Thrawn trilogy, and Kevin J. Anderson's Jedi Academy trilogy.  (although the latter is kind of terrible, it was just terrible in a very entertaining way)  And then there were books like The New Rebellion.  The Truce at Bakura.  The Courtship of Princess Leia.  Anything with Babara Hambly's name on it.  The Black Fleet Crisis.  The Corellian Trilogy, where 35 pages of the first book were taken up with a masturbatorily long landing scene involving a character we'd never seen before and didn't give two shits over whether or not she landed safely, and it only got worse from there.  Anything with James Luceno's name on it.  Anything Karen Traviss has ever even glanced at, much less written. Anything with Christie Golden's name on it.  Anything with Troy Denning's name on it.  Anything with Aaron Allston's name on it, especially the second half of the X-wing series.  And R.A. Salvatore.  Really?  They got freaking R.A. Salvatore to write a Star Wars book(which was utter garbage).  The Young Jedi Knights series.  The vast and overwhelming majority of the New Jedi Order that had been released at the time.  Oh, and that beautiful gem of absolute wtf-ery, the Crystal Star. 

My point is that by the time the Star Wars prequels began coming out, I'd read an entire decade of Star Wars stories that were much, MUCH worse.  Worse written.  Far less consistent.  Lobotomized characters from the Original Trilogy.  Things that just plain do not make sense however you try to wrap your brain around it.  I'm looking at YOU Crystal Star!  So when the Prequels came out, I thought, well, I mean, it's not great, but I've read worse.  When you compare the prequel trilogy to any number of Star Wars novels that I mentioned above, they are actually far superior stories, despite their flaws.  Even Attack of the Clones, which is my least favorite Star Wars movie, has things that I like in it.  It's easy to say you hate something, but hatred isn't really what I feel for that movie.  Sure, Luke and Leia were, apparently, born because someone forced two people who clearly do not like one another to bump uglies at gunpoint, and like, every single bad thing that happens in the Star Wars universe after that point would probably have been averted had Obi-Wan taken two seconds to apply even a cursory amount of logic to the situation, but there are still things I enjoy about the movie.  Anakin riding a speeder bike to find his mother as the suns set behind him.  It's beautiful imagery, fake as shit, beautiful imagery.  The arena fight, and subsequent battle.  John freaking Williams!  (who btw has a cameo in The Rise of Skywalker).  The speeder chase at the beginning of the movie.  Jarjar barely being in the movie.  There are things to like, even if they're not very well put together.  It's still a Star Wars movie, and I still love Star Wars.  And though it may be the least of the 11 current movies, it's still lightyears better than the Crystal freaking Star.

So yeah, that's why I've never really hated, and actually kind of liked the Star Wars prequels.

Now some thoughts on the Rise of Skywalker, which will be spoiler free.  I liked it.  In fact, I actually kind of loved it.  But at the same time, it does have issues.  This movie feels like exactly what it is.  Lucasfilm in full on damage control mode after The Last Jedi.  While I enjoyed The Last Jedi when it first came out, I've had two years to think on it, and the more I think about it, the more I find in it that I don't like.  It was a beautifully made film, but it had some insanely bad pacing issues, some very large leaps of logic, and it didn't really respect characters that had been my heroes for as long as I can remember.  I don't hate it, but there's a bit less to like about it than I thought upon first seeing it.  HOWEVER, there is a very vocal part of the fanbase who absolutely flipped their shit about the movie, and this part of the fanbase organized a boycott of the next Star Wars movie, Solo, which caused the movie to bomb pretty hard.  Lucasfilm and Disney highly underestimated just how much backlash they were going to get from the film, and, I mean, I just don't see how they could have thought giving the movie to a director notorious for saying "no I don't wanna do that, I think I'll do my own thing" giving him complete creative control, and next to no oversight was going to turn out well, but I just a humble man who doesn't know the workings of billion dollar companies.  When JJ Abrams made The Force Awakens, he did next to 0 planning for the next two movies.  There was a vague sort of outline, but nothing solid.  This, by the way, is NOT how you write a three act story.  If you don't know the ending when you make the beginning it is going to play SERIOUS havoc with the overall tone of the story as a whole across all three films... which it did, to an spectacular degree.  When Rian Johnson stepped up for The Last Jedi, he looked at the bare bones of plot they'd put together for the second film, said I don't like it, and did his own thing.  Which basically threw the ending off balance. 

And then Carrie Fisher, bless her, passed away.  According to her daughter (who plays a small role in The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker) The Rise of Skywalker was supposed to be her turn to have the spotlight, and she was very excited for it.  The title "The Last Jedi" actually refers to HER.  She went on to say that when her mother passed away, the script had already been finalized and they were ramping up to begin filming the final film.  Her death meant that even as they were about to start filming, the entire script had to be rewritten.  So, not only did the director of the previous film toss out the plan, and kill off the villain that they were obviously planning on using to the end, the actress meant to play a pivotal role in the film was no longer with us.  And then the fan reaction to The Last Jedi hit.  And then Solo bombed, in part, because of it.  And they really, really had to scramble to put together a film from all the tattered shreds of the movie they were planning to make to both appease fans who were angry about The Last Jedi, and work around Carrie Fisher's absence, and the absence of the villain they'd meant to be the big bad at the end. 

And you can see a lot of the scrambling to put together a movie under these circumstances in the film.  I REALLY do not envy Abrams the task he had in making this movie.

Anyway, the things I felt were not so great about this movie:  The pacing is a bit off.  It's not as egregious as it was in The Last Jedi, but there are some issues.  Also the movie feels very rushed.  I would not be surprised to hear that a good 30 mins had been cut from it.  The final battle against the fleet of Star Destroyers feels very epic UNTIL the moment that it's supposed to BE epic.  I promised no spoilers, so I'm not going to say what that moment is, but anyone who has seen the movie will know.  Before it happens you have this desperate, we have to fight on no matter the odds, feeling to it, and then it just sort of falls asleep.   Wedge not piloting an X-Wing is a waste of Wedge.  Basically every single scene involving the Emperor is very silly, and really kind of stupid (but at the same time Ian McDiarmid is clearly having so much fun playing the character that even though the scenes were kind of stupid, they were an absolute joy to watch.  To quote Red Letter Media, "He's evil and he fucking loves it.")  There's a lot of running around to places that don't really seem necessary to the plot at the beginning of the movie.  The movie tries to have it both ways with Finn and Poe's relationship.  Look, either they're a gay couple, or they aren't.  Quit playing it like they are, then giving them both female love interests in the movie.  The movie goes all in on new force powers, and, well, I have to agree with Brandon Sanderson on that.  It's always better to see characters using things we already know in new and interesting ways than to have them suddenly develop a new ability.  That's called Deus ex Machina, and it's usually frowned upon.  Who Rey actually turns out to be is kind of a little silly.  The Emperor's ultimate goal isn't really fleshed out all that much.  I would be willing to bet there are deleted scenes that explain it better than it was in the theatrical cut of the movie.  He wants Rey to do spoilers.    ..........     Profit?  The ending also feels a little anti-climactic due to the villain that was clearly meant to be there at the end having to be replaced by the Emperor.

So, what did I like about the movie?  I completely loved the scene involving Kylo Ren and a surprising character who shall remain spoilerless.  And I like Kylo Ren's storyline in the movie overall.  The lightsaber fight in/on the Death Star wreckage is really awesome.  Lando was back!  Wedge was back!  The Emperor is something of a joy to watch, because the actor playing him is having the time of his life hamming it up.  C-3PO got ALL of the best jokes.  Finn and Poe's relationship is really entertaining to watch.  They argue like a married couple throughout the movie, and it's really kind of great.  Rey feels more like an actual character in this movie.  It seems as though Abrams listened to a lot of criticism on the character, and went, I feel, a long way towards addressing that criticism.  Rey is seen to be training, and not doing very well at it.  She makes mistakes.  She loses a lightsaber fight.  She is seen to have problems and internal turmoil and shit she has to work through.  You know, like an actual human being, instead of someone who is always perfect at everything.  She loses her temper.  She snaps at people.  She has an actual personality.  She struggles with the Dark Side about as much as we ever saw Luke struggle with it.  All of these were positive, and much needed, changes to her character.  The visuals and music are pretty amazing.  At no point in the movie was I bored.  The movie takes a good step toward fixing some of the damage done to Luke's character done by the previous film.  The movie is nostalgia baiting ALL over the place, and while I've seen some fans call it cynical, I loved it.  The three main characters, Rey, Finn and Poe spend a large portion of the movie together, something that was really missing in The Last Jedi.  Finn feels more like an actual character again, rather than his annoying downgrade to token black guy in the previous movie to make way for Rose, who, thankfully, had very little screen time in this movie.  Nothing against Kelly Marie Tran, but I really did not like her character in The Last Jedi. That's entirely on the writing, not on her.  I am abhorred how fans treated her, but I still do not like the character, and was glad to see less of her.

So, anyway, I really enjoyed the movie.  It's not the best Star Wars movie ever, but it's definitely not the worst.  It was a good ending.  If I could name the biggest problem with the movie, it would be this.  It's act three of a three act story with two act ones and no act two, and because of that, and due to Carrie Fisher's passing, it really had to scramble to pick up the pieces and pull them together into a movie.  But, again, despite it's problems, I felt it was a fun and entertaining movie, and I do not understand why so many people are so angry about it.  Maybe in 2 years time after I've had some time to think about it, I'll understand the other side better, like I did for The Last Jedi.

Anyway, now that we've got some new Star Wars movies, and I've had time to think on some of them more, here's my updated Star Wars Movie Rankings.  Best to worst.  Since I already gave my explanations for my rankings last time I posted my rankings I'll just give the list this time.

1.) The Empire Strikes Back
2.)  Rogue One
3.) Star Wars (A New Hope)
4.) Return of the Jedi
5.) The Force Awakens
6.) The Rise of Skywalker
7.) Revenge of the Sith
8.) Solo
9.) The Last Jedi
10.) The Clone Wars
11.) The Phantom Menace
12.) Attack of the Clones.

And here's my rankings on Star Wars TV series.  Best to worst.

1.) Clone Wars.  Though it has it's fair share of terrible episodes, it makes up for them by the rest of them being really, really good.  This series basically took the Star Wars prequels and said we can fix this.  And they did.  They made the characters (except for Jarjar) more human and likeable.  And made the Clone Wars the huge, destructive conflict that old Obi-Wan speaks of with such reverence in the original movie. The first season is kind of lame, but George Lucas gave them the thumbs up to do more, and dig deeper in following seasons, and they really went for it.

2.) The Mandalorian.  Like a spaghetti western in space.  I enjoy the short episode runtimes, they tell the story and get out.  I like the metric crapton of Baby Yoda memes.  It's just a really fun show to watch, even if the special effects and the acting on side characters are not always that great.

3.) Rebels.  This show is not great.  It's like they took the Clone Wars, stripped it of everything that made it good, and vomited it back out in a boring, annoying mess.  It has it's moments.  Anytime Darth Vader is on screen is awesome to watch, and I liked seeing Grand Admiral Thrawn in a visual medium, (other than the opening cutscene from Tie Fighter) even if he wasn't written very well.  But the main protagonist is unbearable, and it's just not a very fun series to watch most of the time.

4.) Resistance. I watched one episode of this series and said this is not for me.  It's too kiddie for me.  I just found it to be boring and stupid.  And the animation is kind of garbage too.

So there's my obligatory Star Wars rambling following the release of a new Star Wars movie.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

I did a thing.

So, for NaNoWriMo this year I thought to myself, I COULD do final edits on Memories of What Never Was... or I could take a month off from that to keep from going insane and ending up on the news running through downtown in my skivvies with my pants on my head serenading parking meters like I was in some sort of musical, but in real life.  So I looked at what I wrote last year for NaNo, the, as yet, still incomplete first draft of the second book to Memories, and decided that I still needed to hash out a few things in my head on that one before I pick it up again.  I didn't really have anything on the back burner that was ready to go, so I toyed with the idea of just, you know, not participating in NaNo this year.  It can be stressful, and god knows I don't need any more stress in my life.  I mean, do you know what it's like to be 40, unmarried, and have a mother who physically NEEDS grandchildren, while also trying not to keel over during one of the most intensive times of the year at work?  It's like I'm sitting in a flippin' pressure cooker 24/7.  But I couldn't do that.  It would break my 7 year streak of finishing NaNo every year.  So I looked at what I have being stirred by three cryptic witches in a cauldron in the back of my head and pulled up two stories I've been kicking around for the last few years while working on Spires of Infinity and Memories of What Never Was.

One, about a Damsel in Distress that gets kidnapped by the Dark Lord, and then takes over his evil empire because she's more evil than he is, and better at his job, then starts a war with the Great Hero that's trying to rescue and marry her, which I decided not to do, because it still needs some plot points filled in before I start work on it.  And another called Carrying the Weight of the World, which is a very complex epic fantasy standalone that is very hard to describe briefly.  Allow me to try, and fail, to do so.  *ahem* Some dude tore a hole in reality to the realms of the gods and the demons, and all three worlds began to unravel.  At first there was a three way war of extermination going on, before they realized that all of reality would unravel if they didn't come together and do something about it quick.  So they created this thing called the Balance.  An artificial pocket of reality that small parts of their three worlds could escape to, and continue on, while the rest of reality comes apart and ceases to be.  The Balance functions by placing rules on the artificial reality,  balancing all things.  No one can gain power without someone losing it, for someone to be born, someone has to die, for someone to be healthy, someone has to be ill, etc etc etc.  Now, 2400 years later, elements in all three of the worlds have decided that the Balance is BS, and they want to cause it to fail and see what happens.  Will reality continue on without the Balance keeping it in check, or will everything unravel and cease to be?  The Balance must be maintained by an immortal priestess from each of the three worlds in a ceremony every year and a day, but if the ceremony is not performed there is a grace period of a year and a day before the Balance fails, and someone kidnaps the human priestess, while causing a civil war in the human world to distract from what's happening.  So we follow a slave girl who inherited a beast god's soul, power, and knowledge who uses her newfound power to build a crime empire for the purpose of destroying the Balance.  The kidnapped priestess who is desperate to return to her shrine to save the Balance.  The queen's bastard daughter whose birth caused a very costly and bloody rebellion 20 years ago, and a mercenary that she hired to get her the heck away from her crazy mother.  And an assassin from an order that upholds the Balance by assassinating those who become too powerful or wealthy so that those who suffer a lowering in status because of it can rise within the Balance.  And so beast god slave girl starts a civil war, kidnaps the priestess, and a world that was already butthurt from the rebellion 20 years ago decides that now is a good time to go insane, while the other characters hook up and attempt to get the priestess back to her shrine to save the world.  *takes deep breath*

So, yeah, that's the one I chose to start work on for NaNo this year.  It's the most complex story I've ever attempted to write with about a dozen different viewpoint characters, a lot of politics, and also incorporates a lot of philosophical and metaphysical ideas about what reality is, and what it means to be human.  It's probably the most ambitious story I've ever started, but I've been kicking around ideas that eventually evolved into it for about 15 years now, and I feel that I've gained enough writing experience in the last few years here that I can actually pull it off decently now.  Part of the reason I've put it off so long is that I didn't feel I was a good enough writer to properly tell the story, but I think I can handle it now.  *crosses fingers*

Anyway, I just barely managed to hit the 50k words for NaNo last night at about 11:55 PM so I made it, but just barely.  I still have about a month's worth of work to do on Memories of What Never Was before the final draft is finished, and it's December and I'm a mailman, so that month is not going to be this month.  But once I'm done with that, I think I'm pretty well set to continue with Carrying the Weight of the World's first draft.