Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Bad Ending Is The Best Ending




NOTE:
 Some potential game spoilers may be discussed. As before, these paragraphs shall be preceded by the visage of the walking spoiler himself, Sean Bean.



Ain't he pretty.


Now then...






Sometimes you can get more from a sad ending than from a happy one. A happy ending makes you feel good. It might give you hope. A "bad" ending can give you something different, something equally valuable.



The best way to learn is by making mistakes, or witnessing the failure of others. Failure and defeat are painful, but you know what? That's a good thing. It's good to associate failure and defeat with pain, because that's how you learn how to avoid them, thereby exerting more effort into avoiding failure, thus improving your life. That's exactly what a sad or "Bad" ending is about.

My favorite example of this is the "In Water" ending of "Silent Hill 2", classically considered the "Bad Ending" result. In this iteration of the story's conclusion, the protagonist James Sunderland has been searching the ghost town of Silent Hill for his wife. He had received a letter in the mail written by her hand asking him to come to the town, which she calls their "special place." Before the place went to Hell (literally, some would say), it was a popular lakeside tourist spot where James and his wife, Mary, spent their honeymoon. Also, she died due to an unnamed terminal illness three years prior.


"Does that sound suspicious James?" "Yes, Other James. Yes it does."

As the story unfolds, James' state of mind becomes more and more questionable. The player can check his item inventory to look at Mary's letter throughout the game, but towards the end the letter turns into a blank piece of paper without a single mark on it. At the end of the game, it disappears from his inventory, as if it never existed...and then we learn something terrible about James and Mary, something so horrible it's impossible to ever look at James the same way again. The resulting guilt from the event in question is the kind of thing that could traumatize a person into developing retrograde amnesia, or even undergoing a fugue state. Either case is plausible for James, though neither are ever confirmed.


You have Bean warned.


When the game is over, if the player unlocks the "In Water" ending, James realizes that his wife is dead and gone, and he finally faces what he has been afraid to admit all along: he may never find the closure he needs. In a somber soliloquy he says that he now remembers why he came to Silent Hill in the first place, then drives his sedan into the lake.

We attached ourselves to James and so he dragged us through his personal Hell, and we learned things about the man in tandem with his own self-discovery. Even after hours of struggle and perseverance, James can potentially lose. The point of the "In Water" ending of "Silent Hill 2" is not necessarily nihilistic, however. The way the story came together in this ending wasn't that James had failed in Silent Hill. He came to Silent Hill with a purpose, but if "In Water" is the ending the player earns, the meaning of his struggle through the town's egocentric purgatory becomes this: since we started playing, his war had long since ended. He had already failed, but it took the full stretch of the game's events for him to realize it.

Now, in this ending, James' self-discovery didn't yield anything constructive, it must be stressed. The player learns what kind of person James is at exactly the same rate that he does, like we're living his life. The other possible endings are made possible by playing the game in subtly different ways. The "In Water" ending involves looking at Mary's letter frequently, and maintaining low health through the majority of the game. If you, the player, choose not  to play in ways that suggest James continuing to dwell on his grief or neglecting to take care of himself, James finds closure in Mary's death and leaves the town with a renewed sense of optimism and stability. It's this contrast between these two of many possible endings that give the other meaning. In one scenario, James finds it in himself to move on; in the other, he submits to grief.

In both versions, the epilogue of the game comes in a voice-over reading of Mary's letter by Mary herself. She reads the "full" version of the letter, in which she tells James that despite everything that had gone wrong, he had made her happy, and her last wish was for him to find his own happiness without her. The "good" ending implies that this is what indeed happens. The "bad" ending opts for tragic irony that makes the consequences of James' decisions weigh far more.


Spoiler: this game gets pretty dark.

The "good" ending shows us that with perseverance, there is always a chance that things can work out...but the "bad" ending shows us that giving up may be far worse than failure. Which of the two arguments is more convincing?


Feels.

I recently finished "Amnesia: The Dark Descent." The protagonist, Daniel, is in a similar situation to James: he cannot remember why he is where he is or what he was doing there, but various cryptic signs tell him that he must progress into danger in the pursuit of some higher cause. He finds a letter he apparently wrote to himself telling him to find a man called Alexander von Brennenburg in his castle's inner sanctum, and kill him.


A big Sean Bean because the next three paragraphs include explicit spoilers.

You have to feel sympathy for a character before you can learn why they do what they do, or why such behavior is a good or bad way to be. Otherwise it's far too tempting to disregard their moments of weakness and loss as merely poetic justice, or worse, superfluous. This turns an "evil" character into a concept that is not considered by the human mind to be a human being. When that happens, we cannot learn from their mistakes because we cannot relate, and so it's easy to say, "of course he/she turned out wrong. He/she is a bad guy." Rather than, "of course he/she turned out wrong. He/she made a series of non-conscientious decisions that turned out to be huge mistakes." That's something "Dark Descent" pulls off very well. At first the player knows nothing about Daniel but over time learns what kind of man he is piecemeal; he is an educated man, fairly wealthy with an adventurous spirit.

However, something happened to him in Algeria, and since then a "Shadow" has been stalking him, one which Alexander promised to help him get rid of. In doing so, however, he told Daniel that he must do things that make him far less sympathetic. What's worse, Daniel complied.

One ending has Daniel killing Alexander and leaving the castle, the shadow claiming Alexander instead of him. He walks out peacefully and everything from the bright, angelic lighting of Castle Brennenburg to the wispy, peaceful soundtrack seem to imply that he has found some sort of redemption, or at least that his own crimes have been made irrelevant. That's the "normal" ending. The "good" ending has Agrippa, a character encountered towards the end of the game, saving Daniel's soul after his body is destroyed by the Shadow, and just before the credits roll his voice tells Daniel that "everything is going to be all right." In the "bad" ending, Alexander escapes, leaving Daniel to be slowly and painfully consumed by the Shadow. As this happens, for a gruelingly slow thirty seconds of the game, Daniel's ears are filled with the cries of his victims and their pleas for mercy. Instead of Agrippa's voice, the game ends with Alexander's, thanking him for all his hard work and sacrifice.


This is the nicest guy you ever meet in the game.

Here's where the ending of "Dark Descent" falls short of "Silent Hill 2." In the latter, the "good" and "bad" endings imply that whatever the protagonist chose in the end, they either reaped the benefits of a good decision or suffered due to a poor one. In "Descent", the "normal" ending sanctimoniously implies that by killing a man who had committed worse crimes than himself, Daniel's own crimes were absolved...even though he was driven by personal vengeance as opposed to altruism. The best of the three in my opinion is the "bad" ending, because Daniel gets what is coming to him. He blames Alexander incessantly for his mistakes, never accepting personal responsibility for his actions. No matter the ending, he doesn't learn anything, and so neither does the audience. The "normal" ending implies that it doesn't matter what you've done. No matter how self-serving or cruel your actions, thwarting another cruel or self-serving person is akin to wiping your own moral slate clean.

In every form of media, my favorite characters have all taught me something, and the same goes for my favorite stories. True, you might not be like me. You might be someone who prefers their stories to be brighter, to purely entertain. You might not care if a character or a story can teach you something or not. But let me say this, in defense of sad characters and sad stories: I have always, always, always found that the most satisfying entertainment came from characters whose stories compelled me to learn something, even if what I learned was a lesson about how I don't want to live my life.







Wednesday, October 30, 2013

I'm Not Dead!



...
...
...
...
.
.
.
...more updates are coming soon.

 -Me

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Civility, Empathy, and George Zimmerman

I'm just gonna say it- Zimmerman wasn't as bad a guy as we've all heard, and Trayvon was not as much of an innocent little cherub as we've all heard. Hold on- contain your righteous indignation for a minute or two, and hear me out.

I say what I say because most of us don't know Trayvon or Zimmerman personally, and that makes a big difference. Most of us have never been in the same room as either of them, never smelled their sweat, heard their voices (in person), seen the way their eyebrows twitch, their tongues run over their lips, their hands fold and tap nervously. We've never experienced them reacting to our unique presences. Hence, there's no way we can really know what kind of people they are (or were). 

Most of us only know them by their media images. When we react to things we hear on the news or Facebook or even The Daily Show, we're not really passing judgement on people, we're passing judgement on ideas that resemble them.


Funny enough, this was one of the first things that popped up when I searched
"Neo-Nazi gun-toting a-hole" on Google Images.

I was angry when I first heard about Zimmerman's crime. Regardless of why he did it, he killed an unarmed teenager. Whatever the law says, I consider that a crime. However, after reading this article from the Daily Mail, I learned three things I was not formerly aware of:

1. Although Zimmerman was from a gated community, he was not, as I had first assumed, an old white dude. He's got a white father and a Peruvian mother, and he's not even 30. 
2. At the time of the shooting, he was taking Tamazepan for anxiety. Excessive use of drug prescription for psychiatric issues totally isn't a problem though, right? 
3. Zimmerman was raised by a veteran of the Korean war and a Peruvian woman to be a dutiful civil servant. He has anxiety issues and his application to join the police force was rejected on the grounds that he had been arrested twice for committing violent crimes.

Before I go on, it must be said: yes, I read it in the Daily Mail, but if nothing else that is what drove home the weight of my realization of how skewed this whole issue has become. Because to learn any of this, I had to read it in the f***ing Daily Mail.

I don't believe it's possible that race didn't play any part in Zimmerman's actions because I don't believe anyone is immune from making racist judgements now and again. Like a lot of human personality traits, it's a quality that exists on a spectrum. In Zimmerman's case, it's probably more severe, given his history with race-driven actions. Even I assumed initially that Zimmerman, a man from a gated community with a German surname, was probably a crazy, old, rich white guy.

While racism doubtless contributed to it, I do not think Zimmerman's thoughts before confronting Trayvon fell along the lines of "gotta kill them dern darkies what be stealin' our stuff." I think his underlying motives were the product of a strong yet invalidated desire to contribute martial civil service to his community.

Basically, Trayvon Martin was killed by an overzealous wannabe cop.




Nobody is all good or all bad. We all know that, but knowing it doesn't matter if we don't use that knowledge when passing judgement on other people. Again, I first assumed Zimmerman was a rich old white guy, and hence was as a given, crazy and racist...and I'm a white male.

Zimmerman is part Hispanic, part white. At time of writing he is 29, not old. He lived in a gated community, but he was hardly rich.

The media is having a field day with this case, and we owe it to both Trayvon and Zimmerman to remember that. Trayvon's life ended long before it truly began. Unfortunately, the point of mass media is to use that kind of information as a means to do business. Whatever kind of person he was or might have become, Trayvon deserved better than to be made into a sanctimonious idol through which political agendas are driven, through which money is made. Let us mourn Trayvon, do what we can to make sure it doesn't happen again, and move on. The fact is that making him into a martyr is the easiest way to turn this whole farce into something far worse.

Like him or not, Zimmerman is a human being who made a very big mistake. He made that mistake due to profound ignorance, something everyone is capable of, no matter how good or smart we think we are. Condemn him if you must; one day you might do wrong to a similarly egregious extent, and it'll be you who needs forgiveness. We can condemn him, and further condition ourselves as a people to punish offenders without mercy. We can cause more pain to ripple through Florida, the United States, and the world at large by destroying Zimmerman's life through condemnation and ostracization. We can give dignity to the idea of turning human beings into angels or demons, ideas rather than organisms. Or, we can seek to understand and forgive them, punish them no more or less than they deserve, and attempt to salvage a passionate, if disillusioned young man for the good of society.

For our own sakes, let us strive handle this tragedy with not only passion, but also reason, civility, and empathy.

Friday, May 31, 2013

"Dear Esther": Initial Speculation, and the Importance of Perception

Sorry for the extended silence from this, my corner of the Internet. This play I was in happened, then final exams happened, then I put on a robe and sat in the Sun for four hours before getting handed a nice piece of paper bound loosely in cardboard and leather, saying I was now something called a "Bachelor of Arts." It was all very hectic, very blurry, and I remember feeling the rush of a mixture of some very powerful emotions, then I guess I moved into an apartment. Anyway...

I recently played through a so-called "Half-Life 2" mod, "Dear Esther", which is and should rightfully be called a game in and of itself, rather than "a mod."


Creepy lighthouses are a hallmark of good storytelling.

This will be part review, part speculation about the game's notoriously ambiguous ending, so if you don't want the ending spoiled (and you don't), you'd best heed the warning sign I'll give just before I dredge into spoiler territory. By clear and obvious, I mean that which is pictured below: the face of the man who is himself a walking, talking spoiler: the former star of HBO’s “Game of Thrones”, Sean Bean. Once again, if I'm going into spoiler territory, you will see the face of Sean Bean. You have Bean warned.


The Starks of Winterfel are not known for their sense of humor,
nor their tolerance for contrived puns.

The Review
(NOTE: The above picture is an example. No spoilers exist herein.)

"Dear Esther" is an entirely first-person game, meaning that the player's perception and that of the Protagonist  exist at a 1:1 ratio. Because we see what the Protagonist sees, and only what they see, we share their experience. The story is not spoon-fed to the player through exposition, but given to the player in bits and pieces. If you rush through the game, you may miss key details to understanding the plot. 

There are two mechanics besides the "Pause" menu in the game: "Look" and "Walk." You cannot run, jump, pick up items, punch, or shoot anything. You can only walk, listen, and see the story unfold before you. It's a different kind of first-person video game, one that primarily involves the player using two of their five senses and their frontal lobe to gather and process information, rather than basing the experience around the boilerplate "run-jump-shoot" rigmarole. 

What fascinates me about this game is not just the simplicity of its design, nor the beauty of its story, but the artfulness of its presentation. "Dear Esther" is a story told only partially with words. Through necessity, it compels you to live the experience of the storyteller. 

There is a motif of parallel lines addressed a couple of times over the course of the game, which spans about 60-90 minutes on one's first playthrough. Simple depictions of parallel lines show up on walls in the form of graffiti in areas throughout the game. We are given the testimony of someone's experience on an unnamed Hebridean island (one of a cluster within an archipelago off the coast of Scotland) via letters written aloud by a character whose identity is kept ambiguous, at the same time that we are seeing the island firsthand. If one is compelled to look closely, listen closely, the player starts to see similarities and discrepancies, implicit and explicit, between the Narrator's testimony and the player’s firsthand- to "read between the lines." The challenge of the game comes in synthesizing a plot from the data we are given, all of which seems disjointed, incomplete, even superfluous at times.

The soundtrack is fantastic as well, and is available for digital download. If you have the extra cash (neither the soundtrack nor the game are expensive as games and soundtracks go) I highly recommend, nay, demand that you download and play it.


Right. Now that that's done...


----------------------SPOILERS----------------------


You have been warned.





At the end of the game, the Protagonist follows a ghostly figure up to a radio broadcast tower, or an "aerial" as the Narrator refers to it. The man's clearly British, if nothing else. Not unlike our friend Sean.

If he's the same person as the Narrator, he's a gibbering madman with a diseased, gimp leg at this point. If not, he does what he does for even more enigmatic reasons.

The Protagonist, or whoever's eyes and ears the player has been borrowing throughout the game, climbs to the top of the radio tower whose ominous red light the player has been following since the first chapter. He looks down, then jumps as some unsettlingly mellow piano music plays. The Protagonist's body passes the face of a great rock covered in cryptic graffiti slathered on with luminescent paint, which can clearly be seen at the beginning of the chapter. 

Rocks and waves get closer and closer, and it becomes apparent that your character is about to die. Only, they don’t. For much of the chapter, the Narrator has gone on about feeling that he wants to leap off of a cliff and fly to safety. Just before he hits the rocks, the Protagonist pulls up, and then soars across the beach like a bird. The player has gone the whole game walking in, around, and out of water, yet for the first time what seems to be the reflection of the player-character can be seen: a seagull.


The Protagonist soars over to a little corner of the beach, where the Narrator mentioned he'd taken all the letters he'd written to an unseen character, Esther, and folded them into little sailboats, pushing them out to the sea. The Protagonist stops right at the furthest sailboat, and the game fades to black. After a few seconds, the Narrator's voice is heard for a final time: "Come back.

Speculation

Obviously this can be taken in a few directions, but there's something important to consider when interpreting the ending: time.

Time is an utterly subjective concept. If you've ever stared at an analog clock to see how long it takes for the "seconds" hand to make a full circle, you know that a minute seems a lot longer when it's measured objectively, with something like a clock. Or a chronoscope, if you're an old-timey psychologist.

The time it would take for the Protagonist to fall from the top of the aerial to the rocks below is obviously much shorter than the amount of time it would take for him to turn into a seagull and fly across the beach. Therefore, it must be one or the either, right? He couldn't have died and flown to safety, could he?

He could, actually. If you believe that one’s perception of reality and objective reality are separate, but equal realities. I don't.

There are two ways one learns the story of "Dear Esther": through the Narrator, and the experience of the Protagonist. Neither can be trusted as totally reliable. There are discrepancies between what the Protagonist can see and what the Narrator tells us, such as a book he claims to have burnt, yet can be found unburnt in the fireplace of the hermit Jakobson's house in the second chapter, where the Narrator claims to have set up camp. 

Sometimes the two experiences intersect in unexpected ways. The Narrator mentions he's hurt his leg badly on a fall, and that it's become infected. "Pain flows through me like an underground river" he says, just as the player crosses an underground river in real time. The Narrator mentions time and again a car crash, a drunk driver. After a particularly deep fall, the Protagonist undergoes a sequence where he crosses a highway on foot, his whole world immersed in water. There is a hospital bed, and just past it, broken car parts and skid marks. The Protagonist then wakes up underwater.

The Narrator's descriptions of his journey become increasingly deranged and nonsensical as the Protagonist reaches the game's conclusion. However, in addition to many of his narrations seeming to coincide with what the player experiences in real time, even the Protagonist's perception comes into question with the aforementioned sequence, as well as other moments dotted throughout the game in which a shadowy, ghostly figure appears, constantly watching the player’s progress with an ominous stillness.

I think it's reasonable to conclude that the Narrator and Protagonist are the same person. If that's true, then his perception cannot be trusted, because A) he's clearly become unstable due to the grief stemming from, possibly, a drunk driving accident, B) he's dying of infection, and C) the only thing he's eaten or drunk for at least three days, as he says, are painkillers and saltwater. 


The difference between the scenario of hitting the ground (which seems the more logical result) and flying to safety (which suggests a more mystical resolution), can be explained thusly: the Protagonist has been breaking down physiologically and psychologically for days...both of which tend to affect one's perception, including one's perception of time. The Protagonist's body could have hit the rocks in the same amount of time that he experienced turning into a seagull and flying away, particularly if he's psychotic.


Which he absolutely was.

Conclusion

Have you ever had a friend get really upset and emotional, then try to explain why they were feeling that way, only to leave you flummoxed by their explanation? Alternatively, have you ever been upset and emotional, only to be frustrated by the inability of others to comprehend the reason for your distress? That's what "Dear Esther" is like. The player simultaneously lives the experience of a madman while listening to his own account of it.


Despite this, the world we see in "Dear Esther" is not inhabited by nightmares and demons. It's a world of mystery, solitude, and beauty. The journey through the island is one well worth making, even if it is not clear why, or how, or even when whatever it is we are experiencing is taking place. In a world that views insanity with fear and contempt, the Protagonist's journey in "Dear Esther" shines its brightest lights on the spots of the Protagonist which demonstrate that, although he is indisputably cracked up, he is also indisputably human.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Greatest Mystery of All






Just a small video project I put together for class. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Greatest Friendship that Ever Was, or Will Be

Once again, these two have graciously given me permission to post their commission online. If you'd like me to write one about you, hit me up at raebelm112@gmail.com!

Otherwise, prepare yourself....






Dan Walker and Hannah Ireland: The Legend, The Legacy



Prepare yourself for a tale of the greatest friendship that ever was, or will be—the tale of Daniel
Walker and Hannah Ireland.

They were destined for friendship from the moment of their first meeting. They met not with
words, but a…no, the bro-fist of the age.

The extraordinary connection between these two paragons of human achievement was more than
a mere schoolyard comradeship; their very minds were as one. It is said that they had matching
outfits, though few have ever actually claimed to have seen them. Neither Hannah nor Dan have
ever addressed them publicly.

To this day it is rumored that they only donned these outfits when they sensed that they were
needed somewhere in the world. Some believe that they were donned as a symbolic gesture, like
Superman putting on his cape. Others insist that the outfits were given to them by a Maori
shaman long ago, and that they granted the wearers superhuman speed, strength and agility.
Others believe that they simply got really drunk one night and stole an incongruous set of
costume parts from the Beloit College scene shop.

Together they journeyed to nations consumed by starvation, extensively stocked with non-
perishables and agricultural equipment, distributing them freely, defeating hunger worldwide in a
mere fortnight. They robbed half the banks in America and had parades that congested entire
blocks of major metropolitan areas for hours, in which they literally threw billions of dollars at
cheering pedestrians. They even sang the national anthem of the United States at a major league
championship game, and didn’t embarrass their country, or themselves.

And they did it all while earning degrees at Beloit College…and graduating on time.

I must ask, do you remember the nightmarish rise of Mecha-Hitler? Do you remember the streets
filled with corpses? Do you remember the pterodactyl sentinels, the cyborg centurions? Do you
recall the fall of man? Hannah and Daniel are the reason you don’t. They changed the world, the
two of them, so that the irreparable damage caused by the Cyber-Führer and his underling, the
eternally scorned Rasputin Gingrich, was wholly erased from time.

Because these motherfuckers could travel through time.

Yes, Hannah and Daniel were indeed extraordinary individuals. Lesser civilization may have
even called them gods.

Yet, I know that they are not gods. They have not had comparable contemporaries, but there
have been others like them, individuals whose friendships with one another allowed them to do
amazing things.

Lewis and Clarke. The Blues Brothers. Bonnie and Clyde. Those jacked dudes from “Contra.”
Now, finally, in our own time, we have Hannah and Dan.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Tyrion Lannister's Alcoholic Shenanigans

The new season of HBO's "Game of Thrones" will be kicking off soon, continuing the story of angsty teenagers with swords, corrupt kings, and everybody's favorite foul-mouthed dwarf.

Speaking of which, I've started dabbling with Twitter lately. My favorite thing to do with it is create "Novelty" Twitter accounts. Basically you use Twitter to publish poetry, musings, or even take on the persona of someone else. 

This combination of things has led me to create one for the character Tyrion Lannister, played by Emmy-winner Peter Dinklage. Specifically for when he's drunk.


Go home, Cirsei. You are drunk.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Transcription of a Linguistic Philosophy Presentation


Are there any Wittgenstein scholars here? No? Okay, this is going to be hard to explain…

Wittgenstein = natural language is a family of “language games”

(Quotation)

Whole jumble…(error: data not found)

[Someone’s Name]

(Chinese)

(French)

Academic pontification…(error: data not found)

[Someone’s Name]

Slight changes in meaning from translation can change the meaning of a piece altogether

Multi-linguistic creation

In essence, we are able to make the strange the familiar by accessing it through a different part of our mind.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Look what I did for a friend of mine! And money!

Been a long while since I uploaded something new, I know. However, I thought I'd use this Spring Break as an opportunity to catch up on non-school related things, things that are important to me. So I'm going to use this blog to advertise my side business! Yay capitalism!

Basically I'm doing this thing now where I write short stories about other people, for other people. Payscale tends to vary based on the length and complexity of the project. The idea is to create fun little mini-fables about that person, but I'm not opposed to doing non-fiction or experimental prose. I try to incorporate as much as I know about the person as I can into the plot and content of the story. For those whom I may not know as well as others, I have them fill out a quick little questionnaire that asks a few impersonal questions about themselves.

So this is the first one so far. Send me a message at raebelm112@gmail.com if you'd like to write one for you! Otherwise, enjoy this thing I wrote!






The Man from Japan



Until the Captain was murdered, the war had been uneventful for the crew of the CSS Porthos.

All my life I’ve loved books, especially loved ancient adventure stories—the ones about European knights, magical swords and powerful sorceresses. I even happened upon a few books about places even further east by way of a friend of my second eldest brother Charlie. Those were my favorites.

There were clans of assassins in Japan called ninjas. The legends about them made them sound like gods, or devils. The stories I’ve read never mentioned white men among their ranks. Then again, they never mentioned active ninja much over the past two hundred years.

The prime suspect is currently a young private by the name of Swanson. He disappeared the night Captain Sinclair was killed. I wish not to accuse the man of such a terrible crime, if for nothing else but our friendship…unfortunately the evidence is not in his favor.

He arrived on the Porthos about a year after the majority of the crew. At first he had our suspicion, the  same treatment newcomers always get. Let me tell you, I have never seen a man win people over as quickly as he. One night, first week he was on the ship, walked right into the common area where half the crew was playing cards. “Anyone fancy some bourbon?” he announced. Pried open this big box he was carrying. Inside were four bottles of good Kentucky bourbon and three pounds of tobacco.

From our conversations I learned we shared a keen interest in the culture of Asia, particularly Japan. He could even speak the language. He showed me a collection of merchandise he’d purchased in the orient, including an empty earthenware bottle of rice wine and a letter that had been written in the Japanese alphabet by a friend of his. I asked him to translate it for me, and after a second of hesitation he cheerfully obliged. I’m forced to wonder if he really spoke to me the same words written on that parchment.

One night Swanson brought in a rare shipment: a few bottles of some expensive Northern cognac. Of course, he’d been smuggling liquor onto the ship for us for months, so we thought nothing of it. Everyone on the crew had a taste, including the captain, whom Swanson had politely demanded take the first swig.

When I came to, I saw the entire crew was slumped over, inebriated to the point of incapacitation. I did not see Swanson, but I did see the captain. He was dead in his seat, a black, triangular knife protruding from his neck, his uniform soaked dark with blood. Parchment was attached to a loop at the end of the handle, written in the Japanese language. My name was printed at the top of the page, the only English words written therein.

Why Swanson killed the captain, I may never know. I’ve found a man in Mexico who speaks both English and Japanese, and can read and write in both. I’ll show it to him, and maybe then I’ll get some answers. Or maybe I’ll just be left with more questions.


Pvt. Dale Moreau
April 14th, 1864


Monday, February 11, 2013

From the U.S. Copyright Office



Section 107 contains a list of the various purposes
for which the reproduction of a work may be
considered fair, such as
criticism,
comment,
news reporting,
teaching,
scholarship,
and research.

One of the rights accorded to the owner
of an independent enterprise
is the right to authorize
others to reproduce, not “plagiarize”
the work in copies, subject to limitation
of the laws of this nation
so filled with elation
to puff its chest and declare summarization
of vague ideals as the adamant law.

The distinction between what is “fair use”
and what is infringement in a particular case
may cause those who attack or defend this right
to lose face from a system whose grace
falls short in learning to tell the difference
between green, and blue-green, and green-blue.


Thursday, January 31, 2013

The video game industry and microtransactions


Microtransactions are a fairly new business strategy as far as the video game industry is concerned. It's an innovative idea- charge less for the overall product, but include tons of extra downloadable content that may add to the overall gaming experience, and those who choose not to spend money on the downloadable content won't necessarily be unable to play or enjoy the "full" game. With this model, "Team Fortress 2", one of the most popular online first-person shooters ever, was able to drop its download charge completely and become free-to-play, because the extra downloadable content for the game was already making Valve ludicrous amounts of revenue on its own. Making it free to play opened the game's market to an even wider range of people, which led to increased sales in DLC.

Some companies are now abusing this model by releasing titles at full price ($50-60) and demanding the consumer spend extra cash on DLC by making it more difficult to play or even enjoy the full game without it.

Lots of people are excited about the imminent release of "Dead Space 3", but there's one aspect of the game that reeks of Machiavellian money-grabbing: there are three weapons in the game that cost nothing. Three. And one of them is only obtainable if you pre-ordered the game. There are almost two dozen others, but they exist only if you're willing to pay for the DLC. There are weapon benches in the game that allow you to create "modded" weapons. These are entirely DLC weapons. Sure, each pack is only around $1-4, but if you want to get every weapon, every $3 purchase adds up to an extra $26, in addition to the $60 you pay for the game itself.



If you enjoy any of the games that use this business model, do yourself a favor: don't buy into this kind of bullshit. You may have cash to burn, but business practices like these are totally disrespectful to the consumer. In fact, it's totally against the consumer; doing shit like this doesn't help gamers in any way. It doesn't improve the buying and selling process or the actual product. It doesn't improve gameplay experience. It strongarms consumers into paying more money than ever before for products that triple-A development companies like EA and Activision have been releasing for years, with no added incentive to the consumer. This kind of abhorrent fuckery isn't going to stop if the companies who engage in it don't lose money because of it- it's only going to get worse.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Myth of Originality



Lately I've been concerning myself with figuring out what my "style" is when it comes to writing fiction. I love science fiction. I love horror. I love fantasy, especially with the recent emergence of "The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim", and "Game of Thrones" on HBO. I love writing stuff like this as much as I love reading, watching, and playing it.

Yet, I can't seem to shake the feeling that I'm cheating myself by sticking to those genres. I wish I were a good enough writer to write something beautiful about something mundane. Not that this world is mundane, I just wish it took more than something fantastical to entice me to write anything. I wish I could just sit down in front of my computer and write anything, anything at all, and be satisfied with it.

The thing is, everyone I talk to about this responds as if they've done so a hundred times before to a hundred other people: write what makes you want to write. Nothing else matters.

One of my classes had me read a book tonight called Uncreative Writing, which argues that uncreativity, unoriginality, and even plagiarism is a good thing.

I like that idea. I remember a short story I wrote for a creative writing class over a year ago about a woman who gets displaced in time because of a corporately-funded scientific experiment. There's a character from the same company who follows her to her chronological destination out of a sense of personal guilt. This character was British. One of my classmates sarcastically replied, "so this is a Doctor Who fanfiction, right? No?"

As a matter of fact that connection hadn't crossed my mind while I was writing it. I admit that I now see the similarities; the character is British, and traveled through time once. In every other conceivable way my character was a different man than the Doctor from the venerated sci-fi show.

More importantly though, who cares? "Doctor Who" is a show about a time-travelling eccentric with a British accent, but the concept of time travel or being displaced in time didn't start with the show. H.G. Wells published The Time Machine in 1895, the template from which most modern time-travel stories, including "Doctor Who", form new content through new context. Even earlier instances are seen in Hindu, Japanese, and even Hebrew myths. Hell, Wells' Time Machine even had a sequel published in 1979...written by a different author. I know it seems a bit obvious, since Wells has been dead for decades, but his story, not just the concept but the story itself, was picked up and continued by the mind of another writer because he wanted the story to continue.

I think lots of writers despair about their perceived unoriginality at some point. Maybe some people never stop doing it. Either way, writing is simply stealing. Writers steal things that happen in the real world. Writers steal semantic concepts in order to build upon them or destroy them. Plus "The Simpsons" have already done pretty much everything, so originality is just about extinct anyway.

I leave you with this inspiring bit of text I got from Google images, containing words taken without permission from Jim Jarmusch, in order to convey my point in a way I wouldn't be able to do otherwise:





Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Less than half bad: A Resident Evil 6 Review

Please help me I'm addicted to Resident Evil

Also, here's my review of "Resident Evil 6." I gave it a resounding "meh" out of ten, with extra marks for decent dialogue and character development. I know, I'm as surprised as you are.

Whenever it gets uploaded to Gameguiders.com I'll send a link. Until then, here's the review, sonny Jim!



Less Than Half-Bad:
A Resident Evil 6 Review by Matt Raebel



Boot up “Resident Evil 6” for the first time and you’ll see an opening sequence that cost about as much as the national debt of Mozambique. It’s a game that practically shouts at the top of its lungs, “look at me! Love me! Please God, somebody love me!” It’s a desperate move on Capcom’s part to recapture its hardcore fans left disillusioned after the mediocre “Resident Evil 5”, as well as the credibility and relevance of the series. Unfortunately, it makes many of the same mistakes as the previous installment.


It was either use the money to end a genocide or animate this shot of some steamy car windows.


The graphics are quite impressive when you’re looking at the things the developers wanted players to look at, like character models and monsters. On the other hand, the environmental graphics in some areas look like they came out of a PS2 game. I mention the graphics first because Capcom clearly put a lot of work into making sure this game was visually thrilling. Also there’s a monster that looks like a sapient pile of disembodied breasts. Didn’t see that one coming, did ya?



Lol- for when no other word will suffice.


The multiplayer and co-op...is...it's there. What else do you want to know? It's as solid as it's ever been, and there's a new mode in which one player takes control of an enemy "J'avo" and tries to hunt down the other player, who controls an "agent", one of the main characters. The thing is, not everybody picks up "Resident Evil" games for the multiplayer aspect, so it's not for everyone. However, everyone will have a different experience depending on what they like and who they play with. I played with two different people, and both times I had a different experience. It's a very capable mode of gameplay, but the fun of it comes from who you play with, so if you're really curious about the multiplayer of "RE6", I'd recommend renting it and giving it a spin with some friends before you commit to buying, because I personally can't vouch for what it'll be like for you.

“Resident Evil 6” breaks its core gameplay experience down into three campaigns, each designed to cater to a specific gaming experience. First, there’s the supposedly spooky campaign headed by old hand Leon Kennedy and newcomer Helena Harper. Next, there’s the action-boom-‘splosion-gunzzzzz-kill campaign a la “Resident Evil 5”, with Chris Redfield reprising his role as a heavily armed man-gorilla. He is supported this time by a former comrade, Piers Nivans. The third campaign, intended to be the story-driven one, is headed by the now-badass Sherry Birkin (who hasn’t made an appearance since “Resident Evil 2”) and Jake Müller, the mercenary son of fallen antagonist Albert Wesker. I would put spoiler tags around that or something, but since Capcom used that fact as a major selling point, doing so feels futile.

As usual, the cardinal sin of modern “Resident Evil” is the presence of way too many quick-time events. No boulder-punching shenanigans this time, but there’s a required quick-time event for pushing a monster into a meat grinder, which…metal, I’ll give it that. Very, very metal. There’s also a sequence in Leon’s campaign where you have to perform quick time events so Leon can find his keys. I wish that was just me making a dry joke, but no. You have to mash buttons so f***ing Leon can find his f***ing keys.



He’d have an easier time finding things without a haircut that renders him legally blind.


Despite the sheen Capcom forced into every aspect of this game, it proves ultimately an ineffective distraction from its many faults.  Oddly enough, the gameplay seems to have taken more than a few pages out of the books of “Dead Space” and “Left 4 Dead” respectively. The best thing Capcom did in that realm was give the player the ability to, finally, move and shoot simultaneously. However, there are enemies in Leon’s campaign that feel like shameless copies of “Left 4 Dead” monsters, especially the thundering fat ones that look exactly like "L4D" Boomers. There are sequences where you’re on the ground about to be swarmed by zombies, reminiscent of the “Dead Space” sequences in which the player had to shoot the weak points of an alien tentacle as they attempted to drag poor Isaac off-camera. The difference is that when “Dead Space” did it, it executed such set pieces with expert pacing. “Resident Evil 6” doesn’t.

That, and it has the old “RE” penchant for bosses that just don’t seem to want to die. It’s kind of cool when they come back the first time after supposedly kicking the bucket, but after five or six different set pieces, it starts to feel like the boss is just trying to get attention, like that one person at the party who gets way, way too drunk but refuses to go home, or at least have the common decency to pass out in the downstairs bathroom so nobody has to put up with them until they're sober. This is especially intolerable in Leon’s campaign, where the main villain of the game is fought and killed. And killed. And then killed. And then eventually killed. Then, finally, killed.

One more thing about that campaign: Leon doesn’t walk, he struts. He struts specifically so that he can show off his ass as much as possible. I noticed this early on in the game, but for the rest of it I couldn’t ignore it. It was hypnotic, like a Newton’s Cradle. I guess props to Capcom for doing that with a male character for a change.

Speaking of, Leon once again proves to be little more than a scowly-faced generic badass with a  haircut that covers about three quarters of his field of vision. He's got even less personality now that he's not a sarcastic dick in addition to being a generic badass. Instead, he sticks to dramatic one-liners. He's a book you can now truly judge by its cover. The pages that weren't blank have all been ripped out. Disappointing, though literally every other main character more than makes up for it. Especially the female characters.

I need to break things down for a second here: well done, Capcom. Seriously, slow clap for you. You finally figured out that you don't need to hypersexualize every female character ever. You even figured out that female characters are more interesting when they act like people, instead of walking, talking vaginas!



Instead we get tit monsters.


The female characters in “RE6” are rational, assertive, and in some cases more competent than their male counterparts. Better yet, none of them are love interests for male characters. They still have the appearance of women from a Victoria’s Secret catalog, but Capcom has managed to turn them into interesting characters. Honestly, “Leon’s” campaign should be called “Helena’s” campaign, because more than half of it is Helena leading Leon around by the nose. Sherry Birkin is depicted as an intelligent government operative who's hard as a coffin nail without becoming a fetishized “Lara Croft” figure (although the unlockable adult version of her childhood sailor outfit is, admittedly, downright creepy).

“Resident Evil 6” is the first installment to the series in which meaningful dialogue and character development occurred since the underrated “Code: Veronica”, although “6” has the advantage of good voice acting, and an absence of shrill gingers with daddy issues. Much of the dialogue between partner characters remains overblown and melodramatic, especially the Leon/Helena campaign.

Chris’s campaign deals with his previously understated personal battle with posttraumatic stress disorder and alcohol dependency stemming from the death of many of his subordinates. It is his friendship with a former teammate, the player-character Piers, that allows him to finally stumble off the barstool and get himself a nice warm plate of catharsis. The Jake and Sherry campaign follows the two of them coping with being the offspring of their respective fathers, Albert Wesker and William Birkin, two former major antagonists of the series.

I want to emphasize the latter campaign in particular, because I truly believe it was the most substantial thing I experienced while playing this game: the friendship between Jake and Sherry builds gradually, as any real friendship would. The scenes with these two are authentic and compelling, and everything that Capcom, and the game industry at large, should strive for. As far as what specifically the “Resident Evil” department of Capcom should strive for, there is one segment early in Leon’s campaign in which he and Helena hold up inside of a gun shop with a few other strong-willed survivors. There was a moment when I was taken aback by how much fun I was having, how immersed I had become…how I finally felt like I was playing a decent zombie game.

Taking it solely for what it is, RE6 is not a bad game. As a Resident Evil game, it's still not as good as it could be, but based on how it was designed it's clear that Capcom is at least attempting to move in the right direction. If Capcom wanted to use this game as a “sample platter” to see what works and what doesn’t, more than anything else they should keep doing what they did in Jake and Sherry’s campaign. Capcom should be encouraged to make more games like “Resident Evil 6.” Perhaps it’s still not quite “there” yet, but even if this game took Capcom a step back, it also took them one and a half steps forward.


Chris-dono approves of RE6.



 Love,

-That guy what runs this blog

Thursday, January 3, 2013

No, don't f*** the haters.

Whenever somebody creates something new and posts it on the Internet (ooo topical!) there tends to be a couple types of comments that always show up in response, amidst the others. They sound like this:


Commenter A:  Meh. It was better when "The Simpsons" did it.
Commenter B: Omg SO KOOL!!! Screw da hatrez! u and me besties 4 lyfe!!!!! :D :D


The second type of commenter actually concerns me more than the first. I guess it's because while the first commenter succeeds only in publicly acting like a grumpy douchebag, the second commenter is contributing even less. 

Reading the comments in Youtube or Reddit, for example, can be a soul-draining waste of time for people who have the audacity to make creative works for an Internet audience, not an insignificant factor being that the practice of trolling is still alive and well. Still, saying that just because you like something the credibility of negative feedback in all forms is automatically negated...that's kind of worse than trolling, if you think about it. 

I understand what people who say "screw the haters" are trying to do- they want to uplift a writer, or actor, filmmaker or whoever by encouraging them to continue doing what they do, while assuaging potential discouragement from negative feedback. What they're actually saying is that negative feedback is "bad." There's nothing "bad" about negative feedback, unless it's done purely for the shallow thrill of trolling. Negative feedback is just as valuable to a creative entrepreneur as positive feedback. The latter helps you figure out what works, the former tells you what makes people want to hit you with things.


A lesson Nicki Minaj should have learned long ago.


You don't lose anything by encouraging an artist. Even one who sucks now may find the smallest bit of encouragement just nourishing enough to keep them going until they've improved enough to create something worthwhile. Who knows? Years down the line, they may create something that ends up being your favorite song, movie, or book...and you won't know that same struggling artist you encouraged years ago made it until you hear it on the radio, or read about it in an article that a friend emails you.

On the other hand, an artist doesn't gain anything by shutting out negative feedback...actually, nobody gains anything by discouraging negative feedback. So no, I don't think you should ever "screw the haters" if you want honest feedback on your work. Just as a hater might be biased against something you do, somebody who praises you may be biased towards what you do. Both are fully capable of praising or criticizing you for reasons completely separate from how good you are at doing something; that kind of thing is why listing your mother as a reference in lieu of former employers won't get you a job. You have to weigh both ends of the spectrum evenly if you want to truly benefit from feedback, which is one of the best ways for an artist to improve her/his work.

This isn't World War II. The things you say aren't going to get anybody killed, like in those hilarious, oft racist propaganda posters.

Somehow I doubt these were his last words.



So this is my blog

Hello, and welcome to my personal little corner of the Internet!

Until I get content to put up on this site, I am declaring this my first published contribution to cyberspace. I suppose if you're reading this you're either:

1) Someone I already know
2) Bored
3) Somebody looking back years from now, after I've become a huge A-list celebrity, digging for my very first blog post ever...in which case, congratulations! For all your hard work, prepare to be unimpressed.

Yahtzee Croshaw, who has proven to have had a consistent influence on my own writing style, once said that he only got to the point he's at today because he spent "eight years throwing shit at a wall, and finally something stuck." Consider this website my own personal shit-covered wall.

I try to write every day. Writing capabilities are like Dr. House's legs: stop exercising them, they'll lead to a Vicodin addiction.

I'm working on a few things at the moment, including what I dread to think may be yet another unfinished novel in the form of several disjointed chapters about a (literally) cold-blooded mercenary, a naive scholar and his party of sellswords and personal assistants, and an original world inspired by "Skyrim." Don't roll your eyes just yet- it's not a fanfiction, it's an original story based on original characters. It's actually coming along not so terribly, in fact. Exerpts from that project, as well as others I may tinker about with, are among the content I may feel compelled to post on this thing.

Additionally, I'm trying to get a small business venture off the ground in which I write short stories for people, about those same people (or anything they want me to write about, if they prefer). If I get permission for the commission, and if those paying me are cool with it, I may post some highlights for the amusement of you, the reader.

If you're more down for a bit of substantial, facts-based writing, I've also been a staff writer at a site called Gameguiders.com for almost two years now. I write reviews, editorials, and other stuff. I always have things planned, but keep checking this site if you want to see my latest updates, in addition to all the other consistently amazing and life-changing stuff I'll be posting up in here.

If you're here just because you enjoy my charm, there'll be content for you, too! I'll probably end up posting rants and interesting articles I find while stumbling around the Internet.

These are examples, but by no means the limit to what I may or may not post. This rudimentary Photoshop image, for instance.



Hope you enjoyed that, if for no other reason than my ridiculous sideburn-less haircut from three years ago. Check back soon for more things!