C’est la Divertissement Vie. (That’s the Entertainment Life.)

Games:

I may seriously never purchase another game from Konami again.

mgsvYes, I’m late to the party. But their last great game, Metal Gear Solid V, was never given the chance to be completed. The game was delivered in an episodic fashion that spanned 50 missions. 51 was supposed to effectively be the game’s final boss battle. Cut material from the collector’s edition showed a half complete last episode, which would have been an excellent note to satisfy one last dangling plot thread and go out with a bang.

It was never released. And according to Konami’s spokesmen, never will be.

This information was never quite clear to me given the layouts of story-focused wikis, or the strategy guides and commentary boards that avoided discussing the plot for fear of spoilers: I only just learned of the mission conclusion after completing 89% of the game. But imagine, if you will, the Harry Potter series sans the final battle with Voldemort and the epilogue. Or Star Wars: Return of the Jedi without the Battle of Endor.

Others have covered the likely cause of this sad state of affairs better than I have, but the likely culprit was the Konami/Kojima split. I’ve played several Kojima games in my life and I know that he would never willingly leave a story incomplete. Of those titles were Zone of the Enders and its sequel, as well as Metal Gear Solid, Sons of Liberty and Snake Eater. While he always had more stories to tell, leaving the current arc incomplete was simply never his style.

Of the game itself, I could see how it was almost a masterpiece. Almost. The game play constantly brings me back again and again for its completeness, it’s total immersive elements. The depth of strategies is profound in and of itself, where no item or weapon ever seems to have just one purpose. Every game play session, I learn something new about how to combat my foes; some trick, a tactic or vantage point I never considered before. Even without the cut ending the story was somewhat weak, but this was countered with dozens of great moments that constantly made me forget vulnerabilities in the overall tale. Mission 51 would probably make me condone this, but I will never know for certain.

That being said, I refuse to give up after coming this far. I’ll see this through to the end but that is all, despite my disappointments and reservations.

Movies:

The Professional: Golgo 13golgo13 feels like something that could and should have been better.

Golgo 13, sometimes known as Duke Togo, is Japan’s answer to James Bond: an ageless, ongoing assassin whose stories often have to entertain without ever developing the man himself. Instead, the creators rely heavily on crafting sensational plot twists, over-the-top sex scenes, backstories for his victims, visually insane villains or researching mind-boggling but physically possible acts of sniping such as ricocheting a bullet off an ocean wave. Anything to avoid piercing the titular character’s stoic demeanor and mysterious allure.

In this film, Mr. Togo is contracted to end the life of Robert Dawson. However, it happens at a sensitive time during a company coronation, when Robert is dubbed the new CEO of a massive, massive enterprise. Although Togo succeeds, the contract’s legacy turns sour as the would-be CEO’s father (the current CEO Dawson) seeks revenge for the death of his son.

The beginning feels almost distracted by another contract that Golgo accepts, which concludes with him being chased by the FBI, CIA and Pentagon. All these agencies under the employ of Dawson himself, who wields his company’s power in a way that the Sherman Antitrust Act was exactly designed to prevent. Despite the threat, Togo seems oblivious to the danger and completes another contract. Only then does he realize how unrelenting the government’s hitmen are, as Golgo’s informants are either killed or turn on him.

The visual style of The Professional was somewhat distracting. While the action scenes were straight forward, coherent and well handled, Director Osamu Dezaki seemed determined to punch up even basic dialogue with flair unnecessarily. The movie also used some CGI animations to handle some helicopter assault scenes, but the technology was simply too immature at the time to effectively tell a story. Likewise, the story concocted several Bond-level villains for Golgo to fight as well, the story actually suffers from the introduction of too many antagonists to effectively develop in its 90 minute running time. However, the final plot twist at the end was somewhat satisfying (highlight to see spoiler): It turns out that Robert Dawson ordered the hit on himself, an act of suicide because of his fear of being unable to live up to his father’s expectations.

Television:

I gave up on Orphan BlackAmazon’s sci-fi series about clones.

“Where’s this madness going?” I asked myself after the ninth episode of season two. The plot consisted of most of the characters milling about in circles. Once again, the protagonist’s daughter had been kidnapped, after a long season of hiding about the countryside to no real effect. Meanwhile, antagonist Helena was stolen by some strange religion-meets-genetics commune who took her eggs. After she escaped and then willfully came back, she threatened a harsh nanny for mistreating the children under her care, not long before Helena sets the compound on flame regardless of the lives of the kids inside.

Characters portrayed by anyone besides Tatiana Maslany became less interesting, and except for concerns regarding a genetic disease amongst the show’s many clones, the entire season felt like little more than “filler.” ggrThe show felt like it willfully resisted growth despite a strong first season. Only Maslany’s skillful acting kept me going this far, as she slips in and out of versions of herself in a believable manner.

On the plus side however was Good Girls Revolt, an amusing and unexpected show actually made me realize how bloody boring Mad Men sometimes was.

I can see how Good Girls Revolt was probably stiff-armed by Amazon for years until the latter show came to an end. Mad Men was/is the Oscar of television, but sometimes didn’t feel like it wore enough of the sixties (at least the pieces we wanted to remember) on its sleeve. GGR certainly does, but the other huge difference is that the series focuses around one major climax that the main characters built towards through behind-the-scenes politicking and subterfuge.

The girls seemed to truly wrestle with their guilt; a sharp contrast to the occasional acts of Mad Men’s cruel, tragic and unapologetic attitude.

The bad news however is that the show isn’t going to get a second season, at least not on Amazon. One aspect downplayed is that GGR is built on real events, namely Newsweek’s EEOC lawsuit in 1969. Although the name was changed to the fictional “News of the Week,” the historic aspects are still very highlighted. It’s safe to doubt that Newsweek enjoyed someone dredging up a nearly 50 year-old legal filing that put them in a bad light. And I could see why Amazon might not want to start a mudslinging contest with the news outlet in all in the name of entertainment.

Entertainment in July

Stranger ThingsRejoice. This entry is spoiler free.

On Sunday I screamed at my friends, “You have to watch Stranger ThingsRight now!”

And they did. Alec added it to the to-watch list. Andrew binged it to completion on Friday while Manuel and his wife became so absorbed, he put down working a new cover for us to stream the entire first season.

If you haven’t heard of it yet, shame on yo— I mean, the show takes place in sleepy Hawkins, Indiana in November, 1983. A stormy night preludes the disappearance of young Will Byers (Noah Schnapp), setting the entire town on edge. Mike, Lucas and Dustin (Finn Wolfhand, Caleb McLaughlin and Gaten Matarazzo respectively) break the town’s emergency curfew to search for their abducted friend, and happen across a strange girl (Millie Bobby Brown).

Meanwhile the missing boy’s mother Joyce (Winona Ryder) struggles to accept her boy’s loss while Mike’s sister Nancy (Natalia Dyer) slowly becomes a part of the mystery herself. Toss in a police sheriff (David Harbour) with a tragic past and a mix-match of elements from The X Files and you have a phenomenal homage to all the great things from the 80’s; E.T., The Goonies, Close Encounters of the Third KindStarman and a whole slew of Stephen King’s best.

Speaking of the 80’s, I’ve finally figured out what is bugging me about Halt and Catch Fire. While the second season was generally good, the problem was that it spent too much time trying to wow us with “predictions of the future.” The first season focused on a single, great idea with the invention of the laptop, with hints of query-based operating systems. But the second season just went crazy with the fortunetelling; T1 cable lines, how chat rooms were the secret to America On-Line’s success, computer security, online gaming, time-sharing data processing, made-to-order custom built PCs and first-person shooters (aka Doom).

By the end of it, the audience is left with the impression that basically all the major growth in the computer industry was foreseen by just four people who all just happened to be in Texas. Halt and Catch Fire was green lit for a third season, but I’m not certain my inability to believe what I’m seeing is going to keep me glued to the screen. 

Admittedly, my reading has somewhat slowed because of a newfound love of podcasts. Or rather, that of Jason Weiser’s Myths and Legends. Podcasts solve my problem of not getting enough fresh, non or semi-fictional material, allowing me to work out or just walk to my job while absorb new tales. Unfortunately, sometimes the episodes run over the time it takes me to get to the metro. Since I’d rather wrap up the episode, this then cuts into my reading.

Watership DownBut I am closing in on the final chapters of Watership Down by Richard Adams. It’s strange how folks gape in awe when tell them I haven’t partaken in reading it before. Like there’s no respect for there being hundreds of classic books to read, and to expect even a prolific reader to have covered them all is ridiculous.

A brief synopsis goes that two rabbits, Hazel and his brother Fiver, tire of life in their warren where they are not exactly high ranking. Upon a prophetic vision from Fiver, Hazel gathers a crew to try and split off from their home without the approval of their elders. Escaping with a dozen bucks, they travel into a hostile world, facing unusual dangers and troubles until settling at a place christened Watership Down. Acknowledging that they have no does to perpetuate their warren, Hazel and company attempt to rectify the situation. This runs afoul another, more militant warren whose glory-seeking leader brokers no dissension.

Watership Down isn’t exactly something you can spoil; if you try not to explain the plot, you’re not left with much to describe it with. But it’s not about the suspense of “what happens next” but rather the journey itself, complete with cunning and tricks and the lore of El-ahrairah, a mythological trickster hero and the closest thing to lapine-religion.

Finally in games this week, I downloaded Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. Firmly understanding that it’s basically the tech-demo/prequel to The Phantom Pain, I’ve nevertheless invested time and effort mastering it, trying to earn the 100% completion rate before purchasing the main game. So far, I’m over 40%, so definitely doing alright.

Ground ZeroesMy record of playing the Metal Gear series is spotty. Peacewalker and MGS4 remain to be played. But I own Metal Gear Solid and Metal Gear Solid 2: The Sons of Liberty, the latter of which feels underrated as many fans did not like the main character being someone other than Snake himself.

And then my favorite, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater.

The game was strange as the third of any series is rarely the best and, as if not bizarre enough, it was also a prequel. And I’m not alone in this, as many polls suggest that the third installment was other gamers’ favorite as well. It was just… so unexpected. Initially I almost snubbed the game, but instead found my expectations totally reversed. I became less interested in getting MGS4, believing the emotional power of the third game simply couldn’t… and perhaps shouldn’t, be topped.

I’ve made few secrets before how Metal Gear has been quite the inspiration for some of my writing in the past. While the gameplay remains action and stealth based, the plots have frequently proven to have very few genre limits. The term “super hero” is never used, but several characters have abilities and skills that seem nigh-super powered. The rules of politics, military and science fiction are often bent and occasionally broken.

And while the thought of nuclear deterrence is a unsettling subject matter, some of the antagonists’ schemes have proven even more nefarious, such as the Patriot’s attempts to control culture itself by “info-cleansing” the internet. Given that all modern politics revolves around controlling the narrative, this actually scares me more than nuclear weaponry.

 

Heat is On

Heat is On

Some news has come down the pipe… and as such I am preparing for the next few weeks with a new and aggressive writing schedule. The past few weeks, I’ve been lazy with writing, putting a few days aside to play Titanfall or hang with friends, then writing a little.

But I have a number of very large writing projects going on now. I’ve mentioned before about a few super hero novellas that my friends and I are working on. I got the thumbs up on what I consider a “starter” novel. And there are a few short story deadlines between now and the end of the summer that I have to attend to.

As such, I want to make an effort to write a little every day. Just an hour, even if it’s as little as plotting out the synopsis or doing some research or editing an existing piece. There are things that have external deadlines and others that don’t. My plan is to focus on grinding forward at all times. If I hit writer’s block against one subject (unlikely since just about everything has a complete or near complete synopsis) then I’ll fall back and try something else.

This means I currently have four writing projects on around the same time. Risky, I know. But there are red-and-green light moments between them. But here’s my usual break down:

Short Stories: Usually take 4 to 5 hours to write, plus up to 2 hours of research time, plus 1 hour to rewrite due to beta reader reactions and suggestions. Additional hour for the synopsis. So 8 to 9 hours, maybe 10 if the research is extensive (historical fiction.)

Novellas: Sketchy, but approximately 3 hours for the synopsis, 3 to 4 hours research time if needed, 8 to 12 hours writing time plus unknown re-write time. So no less than 17 real hours of work.

I don’t even know how long a novel really takes me. I’ve started two novels before. The first got fifty pages in with no synopsis before dying. The second got a filled synopsis and three chapters finished, but no green light to continue. My latest has a complete synopsis and the vast majority of my research finished, with about two and a half chapters in first draft stage.

Super Powers

Super powers have been a major focus as of late in my work. And I’ve realized… When I introduce an element, it’s less about the intrigue of the subject itself and more about the rest of the world’s reaction to it. As I pointed out to my friends earlier today, it’s less Marvel comics and more like Metal Gear Solid for me.

What’s the difference you ask? Well Marvel comics has always had that sense of amazement surrounding the character. The Incredible, Hulk. The Amazing, Spider-Man. The Uncanny, X-Men. For some reason, comic book super heroes have tended to evolve towards these tiring black and white morals. They rarely make any attempt to accept a more down to earth grey, just trying to get by and perhaps discovering that the world, for whatever reason, won’t let them.

MGS2However, the genius of Hideo Kojima’s signature series (Metal Gear Solid) has been more around how such abilities would be applied to the real world. In Kojima’s view, the only place for such morbid and unusual talents tends to be the military. MGS is filled with characters bearing unexplained powers… a man who can summon hornets from his body or another who can heal from sunlight, a telepathic or one who is seemingly a vampire (only partially explained through nano-machines.)

These unbelievable foes are always part of special operations units, rare and unseen to the rest of the world. When the player encounters them, there isn’t much awe factor… just an X-Files like acceptance that there will always be strange things, and there won’t always be a scientific theory to explain them away.

This comparison and branch of thought came from an earlier source. Rather it was our buddy Alec who was the genesis of the idea, when he sent us a compelling thematic concept last week. His contribution to the project added something potent and memorable, setting us up differently than almost all other super hero stories I’ve read.

We’ve been borrowing each others’ ideas. Andrew, for example, came up with a number of characters that we each borrowed from. I’ve concocted an agency and have had no trouble letting other authors play with, creating a myriad of perspectives regarding it. From Jonathan, I’ve borrowed a faction and have carefully been modeling an intriguing philosophy with the involved villain. Alec has presented us with a universal theme that we’ll all find ways to use. Finally, Robbie has provided us with a brand of weapons and tools that will impact stories to come.

As it stands, we have enough material for the first wave of novellas. There’s plenty of world building elements in place to get started. I think the final product is going to catch some eyes for certain. But tonight, it’s all about the work.

The Scoreboard

My first draft for our anthology is complete, but I have to craft a new draft and make several improvements. It will be an ardorous process, but will be more a matter of extending than rewriting. Only one scene (to my knowledge) requires tremendous effort. I also have a few drafts to review.

Aside from this, I have two more stories to work on, both for Cruentus Libri. One is for the surgical anthology, while the other is an extensive rewrite for the ‘War is Hell’ anth.

In truth, I cannot wait to be free of the Bolthole anthology. Although rewarding and I’m learning a lot, I’m also spending time chasing other writers down, bogged with edits and taking on a horde of other responsibilities that I’ve taken for granted. I have increased respect for the role of editor and publisher.

I’ve been thinking about a certain detail when it comes to awesome action and adventure movies. A little detail I call NITMA, or “Necessity is the mother of awesome.”

See, what I love and can’t get enough of in games and books and movies are these one-of-a-kind situations. I’m not talking about something as grand as, “Save the world” but wild moments you don’t do again.

For example, in the original Metal Gear Solid, there was the torture scene and the rappling game. Gears of War had an interesting segment where you looked for light sources in order to ward off the bat like creatures that ate your flesh. In Dead Space 2 when Isaac launches himself towards the Sprawl and you have to guide him through space. Or in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past where you had to try and figure your way around the other world, despite being changed into a rabbit and cannot defend yourself.

When you think about that formula, is it any wonder how the Avengers did so well? You have several fleshed out heroses, each of which had their own movie. And the sheer impact of what was happening forced them to work together. So unorthodox, so out of the ordinary from the usual super hero stuff, it’s no wonder it took third place on the highest grossing movie list.

What makes these moments so amazing and huge is the fact that they cannot be easily reproduced. That your character was so desperate that they were forced to do something unexpected and dangerous and you get to control them through it. I don’t want to watch a cut scene where my characters stradles a bomb on its way down! I want to actively guide the bomb! Just like in Dr. Strangelove.

I suddenly realize that this was kind of what made games like Final Fantasy XI so popular years after. Events. Events with friends. We stuck together through rough Burning Circle Notorious Monsters and garrison events. We hung together during the invasion of Aht Urghan. There was so much end game stuff, it’s no wonder people clung to the game years after its release.

Unforgettable events are where it’s at. That’s the wild ride we should be looking to build in our movies, games and books.

Level Up, Snake Plissken!

It was so rewarding yesterday, and again this morning, to use the 40 pound weights. I have never performed a bicep curl with one and to do so now is an indication of how much my body has grown since I was a pale skeleton back in high school. What can I say? Ding!

Also, found a nice compilation of music for body building.

Alright, so onto the thought of the day: Escape from New York meets Fallout. Hilarity and a great game ensue. Yeah, some say it was kind of done with The Pitt expansion. But that’s not enough for me, and I’ll explain some of my different ideas in a moment.

Defining 'bad ass' in the 80s.

Defining 'bad ass' since the 80s.

If you’ve never seen Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken, then I just don’t have anything to say. But the fact is that Snake Plissken not only defined what was awesome in the 80s, he became an inspiration for another character who goes by the name of Snake.

What kind of story would it have? Let’s say that the countries of Europe have managed to contact the Enclave or N.C.R. and are trying to set up a meeting. But the current president has been kidnapped and has access to technology that they were expecting to help them rebuild. Taking a line from Van Buren, they turn to the Prisoner to assist them. They throw in the bomb collar, but the prisoner can find a way to get rid of it on island to prolong his stay. And life.

So what exactly would I do to set it apart? Well, aside from the amazing hardcore mode in Fallout: New Vegas, I would add:

  1. You can be attacked while sleeping.
    Surprise! You find a sleeping bag or a spot for sleeping and crash for a few hours only to wake up attacked by a cannibal raiding party. These attacks can also be deterred with explosive mines and traps (which wake you up) or the ‘Light Sleeper’ perk which gets you up and in the action.
  2. Fast travel requires a vehicle.
    You can get a cabby or the ‘Driver’ perk if the cabby has had an unfortunate accident of which you had nothing to do with. You murderer.
  3. Escape from New York style weapons, perks and armor.
    Silenced uzi with a scope. Stylish shin guards. Molotov cocktails and crossbows. ‘Bad Ass Rep’ perk, which automatically gets you ‘in’ with a lot of people, instead of  ‘Lady Killer.’ I could day dream about this all day, but no one is paying me to do it. Yet.
  4. Escape from New York inspired gangs.
    Not just the Duke, a-number one. Cannibals, drug users, crazies. Again, I could go on.
  5. Vast ending options.
    Save the president? Maybe. Take him prisoner of your own if you get rid of your bomb collar? I like that idea. Escape the island on your own? Also viable.
  6. Urban environment.
    No more waste crawling. Tons of apartments and stores. Sewer and metro system. A single, but entire, city.

I could dig it. Problem is it needs to be bigger and badder than anything before. I mean huge. I might throw in additional ideas. Or maybe I’ll try to come up with a mod of my own so people can play my vision. I might even do away with the idea of ‘safe houses’ to get people to focus on survival instead of hoarding. Hoarding is fun but the survival aspect was one of the reasons I like the frustrating Dead Money add on. You take what you need and move on.

I’ll think about it some.

Another 10 Music Pieces

So immediately after my last post giving 10 pieces of music for writing, I started another post with more music. It takes a little research to find good music with little or no lyrics, while trying to avoid re-using artists I have already mentioned before.

  1. Nothing Else Matters, by Apocalypta.
    “What, no Apocalypta?” MisterEd asked on the Shoutbox immediately after my last music listing. Self-induced cranial knockings commenced afterwards.
  2. Blade Runner Ending Theme, by Vangelis.
    You may find this hard to believe, but Ridley Scott is actually looking to do another movie set in the Blade Runner universe. I honestly don’t know how to take the news given that the sci-fi/noir flick is one of my all time favorites, and that Scott doesn’t seem to have ever done a sequel in his life. We will see what comes of this. Until then, enjoy the original sound track.
  3. Escape, by Craig Armstrong.
    Just when you think it’s over, they’re still coming after you! Run, you fools!
  4. Canabalt Theme, by Danny Baranowsky.
    Canabalt is a simple flash game that came out sometime back. All you do is jump, timing yourself to avoid obstacles and land safely on buildings. Click the link to play, but watch the clock: Your day could disappear playing this.
  5. Factory, Vagrant Story OST.
    Vagrant Story was a one of a kind game. A dungeon crawler influenced by Shakespearean plot writing with supernatural elements.  I have heard talk and discussion of sequels to Ashley Riot’s story, but looking at the direction the Final Fantasy series went after the tenth or eleventh title, I’m not interested.
  6. Escape from the Tavern, by James Horner.
    Willow. Now there’s a movie time forgot. Let’s face it, Hollywood has only started to be kinder to the fantasy genre in the last decade or so with stuff like the Harry Potter series. Still, there maybe some treasures in the soundtrack, if one is willing to look for them.
  7. Give them a shot. You may find your new favorite band.

    Give them a shot. You may find your new favorite band.

    Babylon of the Orient (instrumental version), by The Shanghai Restoration Project.
    The Shanghai Restoration Project is a great band whose discography continues to grow. Most of their music has some lyrics to it and always has an Asian flair. You may also want to check out the lyrical version of this piece.

  8. Just For Today, by Hybrid.
    Oh man, I actually almost don’t want to share Hybrid simply because of how amazing their work is and how much it inspires me. Still, if I like a band I should support them by passing the word along. This song makes me imagine flying and fighting, but if you want something trance and dark, try Dreaming Your Dreams.
  9. Metal Gear Solid 2 Theme, by Harry Gregson-Williams.
    The Metal Gear Solid series continues, but will be doing so without Solid Snake. I can’t blame Hideo Kojima. He was probably scared to death of some other producer butchering his favorite character. Still, damn good music though.
  10. Promise, by Akira Yamaoka.
    My favorite of the Silent Hill series of games was Silent Hill 2. But the music overall has never disappointed. Spooky and eerie, like a ghost tale told properly.