A while back, we got another one of those social bloggy award things. And you know what, it’s time to run those down.
So our blog award today comes courtesy of noted friend-of-Aether Red Metal, and I think this one, the Mystery Blogger Award, is in fact one that I haven’t gotten before. Given how award winning this blog is, that’s becoming more and more of a rarity. So, Red Metal, thank you for the easy content and the opportunity to express myself. And hey, you like video games, or movies, and hate traditional media critics, you should give his site a looksee. You’ll probably like what you see there.
Jumping in, we’ve got 11 questions to run down.
- What’s the most unusual work you’ve ever experienced?
I had to think long and hard about this one. There’s a lot of values for unusual that we could go with here. Maybe the works that make a point of being unusual? Or how about the ones that have a whole bunch of elements that only seem connected by PCP? Or maybe we should take a look at the things that have never been replicated, or the ones that came out of strange circumstances, or the ones that speak to me in a way I don’t think they’re going to to another human being alive?
In the end, I just kind of settled on the Sword of Truth series. This is not the most unusual work by many of the metrics I listed above, but it is very notable for being the absolute best example I can think of for when editors look at something, figure ‘eh, it’s still making money’, and let the creator just have whatever they want out of it. For a long time. It’s a huge novel series, I think twenty one novels as of this current writing, and I kind of checked out of it at around book 10 so it could be going even stranger places than I remember. It starts out as something of a more typical fantasy novel, albeit with a side villain that rapes little boys serving a biggest villain that will make little boys come to a familial love with him so he can murder them in magic rituals and also the lead character spends a lot of time being captured by murder BDSM practitioners and the titular Sword of Truth is a magic sword that makes people really really angry and apparently that helps them find the truth, so you know, your value of typical may vary. Then, it got successful. Then, author Terry Goodkind got to do whatever he wanted with it. And author Terry Goodkind loves two things; 1: writing incredibly detailed, lavish descriptions of settings and actions that end up stretching the plot so long that he runs out of space and time at the end of the book and has to rush to wrap everything up in as few pages as possible, and 2: creating incredibly strange situations so he can force his sometimes stupid political views down your throat. Over the course of the series, the hero has murdered the local equivalent of the senate because he grew tired of their politics working against him, slaughtered a bunch of pacifists, decided that it’s foolish to believe in the afterlife in spite of the fact that he has been to the afterlife and has regularly spoken with the spirits of the dead and the devil equivalent, has a personal army of torturers, marries someone that comes from a clan of women that reproduce solely by raping men they’ve turned into mind-slaves and forcing them to kill any male children that result, and he’s the hero. Anyone that has a problem with any of that is wrong and evil. You’re expected to take it all as completely, unambiguously capital-r Right. Also, he’s a magician, but his magic works by emotion and need which is basically a means for the author to write in whatever the plot needs to move forward without bothering to justify it. Like, it’s in his magic that he just instinctively knows whatever to do without needing to learn it or actually figure things out…3
It’s actually kind of interesting to see, this is how far someone can take stuff like this. The thing that makes this unique, is that it’s sometimes actually rather well written. Like, the author is not like most that’ll devolve into just going on screeds all the time, where it largely seems to be that they don’t have skill beyond the central idea. Terry Goodkind has real fantasy writing skills when he feels like using them. He just doesn’t, most of the time.
- What is the best work you have experienced that no one else seems to know about?
Here’s another one that’s taking some thought, and I can go a couple of ways with it. Orwell is the one that rises to the top of my mind, though. It’s a 5 episode game, kind of visual novel-esque, where you’re working for the government of a rather oppressive country, basically spying on people’s digital communications and passing information you find there on to a handler in order to try and track down a gang of terrorists. It’s very well written and plays with its medium very well. The story branches in a few select moments based on what information you choose to pass on, if anything, and the choices actually do seem meaningful and nuanced in a way that constantly had me questioning the choices I was making and the outcomes I was pushing for. It had a central mystery that I kind of got wrong in rather glorious fashion and enjoyed every step of my process getting there. And it brings a surprising amount of tension for a game in which you’re staring at fake e-mails and chatlogs all the time. I had a rather great time with it, but it’s not one I’ve heard of from anywhere else.
- If you could go back in time and go to the premiere of a classic film, which one would you choose?
The 2013 Lone Ranger. Which is an odd one, given that the film is really not great, but it’s a personal one. I worked on the film. It was a rather small capacity, but there’s one scene that would have been very different if I wasn’t involved. However, I’m not in the credits, nor was any acknowledgment ever forthcoming. The production company originally working on the film was happily working with my organization, then a dispute caused Disney to can them and get another production company on it, who were just coincidentally wanting to do the exact same scene in the exact same area with the exact same resources that the original production company was planning, but if they publicly acknowledged my organization or anyone else who was involved in that, they’d basically be admitting they were stealing work. So yeah. It’s not something I’m bitter about, but it’d be nice to have my part in it recognized, so that’s why I’d want to head to the premier.
- If you decided to write fiction, which genre would you choose?
This is an easy one. I have written fiction. And I go for speculative fiction stuff. Sci-fi, fantasy, or magical realism that’s kind of heavy on the magic. I enjoy constructed worlds, or having places that aren’t where I’m currently living.
- What is the most disappointingly predictable plot twist you’ve ever experienced?
The Passion of the Christ. Jesus coming back from the dead at the end. C’mon, totally saw that coming.
- What do you consider to be the strangest title for a work?
Let’s talk Touhou. I’m not sure what their naming conventions for their games are, but I’m pretty sure it involves an English dictionary and a dart board. Let’s see, some examples:
- Antimony of Common Flowers
- Faith in the Goddess of Suwa
- Immaterial and Missing Power
- Shoot the Bullet
- Undefined Fantastic Object
- Double Dealing Character
Granted, I’ve never played any of the games, so maybe there’s a way to parse the titles and have them make sense, or interpret what the content of the games are, or something. I’m betting not, though.
- Where in a theater do you prefer to sit?
In the middle, and high enough up that I’m either looking straight at or down at the screen. Looking up doesn’t bother me as much as it seems to others, but it’s not my preference. I hate spending the whole film looking slightly to the left or right, however.
- Do you have any graphic novel/manga series you’re currently following?
Yeah, a couple. Now that they’ve been releasing omnibusses for it, I’ve been catching up on the Grant Morrison run on Batman, which I think is one of the best runs Batman’s had. It does some really interesting things, treating everything that’s ever happened to Batman as canon, but largely shuffling aside the stories and characters everyone knows in favor of the weird, the obscure, and the cringeworthy stuff, so much so that the Batman fans are just as lost as the newcomers, and then interpreting those into the current bits. It also brings up some consequences for that weird not-supposed-to-be-canon time Batman got raped in the 80s, had the original Robin take a role as a rather different but frankly excellent in his own right Batman, and introduced some really interesting villains on top of Batman’s usual rogue’s gallery. Unfortunately, some of the greater DC universe stuff at the time lended some things that didn’t really mesh well with the traditional street level Batman, and I’m not as much a fan of the Return of Bruce Wayne and Batman Inc. lines as many others are, but overall, it’s a frankly excellent run.
I’ve also been reading through the X-men, started with the originals some time ago and am just now getting caught up to the modern era. They were never as great as they were when Chris Claremont was writing them, although there are some quality stories in there over the years as well. And I picked up basically all the published works of Hiro Mashima a while back through Humble Bundle, and I’ve been working my way through Fairy Tail. It’s kind of a typical shonen thing, and it suffers a bit from the author obviously going by the seat of his pants, but it starts to get pick up a bit and try a lot of new things around the middle of its run that have me interested, so far.
- When it comes to reviewing films, which do you feel are more effective – traditional, written reviews or video essays?
Written. In general, I prefer written reviews. More content in less time, they don’t require presentation or editing skills to get ideas across effectively, and it feels a bit easier to explore the ideas being presented. I’m well aware my take on things and what’s important to me doesn’t exactly match up with most other people’s, so I prefer to be able to get my own take on the review and filter it through my own preferences, and that’s a lot easier to do when its written.
Although I kind of wonder, given that this question is posed to a bunch of bloggers, if there might be more of a tilt that direction.
- What aspects of old-school game design do you wish would make a comeback?
I’d like to see more turn-based RPGs gone through a modern lens. To some extent, turn-based battle systems have largely gone a way, and in a lot of cases I’d say rightfully so because a lot of developers would just end up leaving them rather mindless in design, just hammer the A/X button until you beat the game. But I do think there’s definite potential in the structure. Zeboyd Games has shown that by bringing some more activity and strategy into the turn based structure, Shin Megami Tensei manages it by putting enough pressure on you that you have to strategize within it, and the Mario RPG’s action commands inject energy. It’s never gone away completely, there’s always our Pokemons and what not out there, but I’d like to see it more, albeit with modern sensibilities and creativity in mind.
- What aspects of old-school game design are you glad went away?
Lives and continues. Frankly, I think doing away with those really opened up the medium as a whole. Repetition is not good for entertainment, being sent back to the start upon enough failure would ruin storytelling, and severe consequences for failure means that the challenges need to be simpler and easier to maintain interest. Doing away with those let developers up the complexity, give more long-term storytelling, and expand their games a lot more. We’re better with saves and checkpoints, overall.
Sorry to hear about the Lone Ranger thing. I didn’t see it, but it sounds like the situation surrounding it was a mess.
You’re right about those Touhou titles as well. I’ve been out of the loop with that series for the last several years, but I used to be more into it. From what I can tell, the games have always had those weird English titles that are paired with different Japanese titles. I assume the Japanese ones make more sense. Maybe ZUN just ran them through Google Translate to get to English.
Yes, from what I understand, every part of making that movie was an absolute mess. They were throwing crazy large amounts of money around though, so it worked out well for the people around it. Not so much for the final product, though.
You know, that might make sense, as far as how Touhou ends up with those English titles. Google translate or some amateur translation. Honestly given how strange they are, I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re exactly right.
Oh dear, another series that involves the author shoving their political views down your throat? That approach never works out well in the long term, but so many high-profile creators are doing that now and then act absolutely shocked when their work underperforms (Terminator: Dark Fate being the prime, recent example of that).
The premise of Orwell reminds me of Papers, Please in how you work for an oppressive government. I may have to look into it at some point.
Oh, so you worked on Lone Ranger? That’s pretty cool, though by the sound of it, I’m guessing that Disney’s weird maneuvering was part of the reason it ended up bombing horribly.
And I really dig the magic realism genre; that’s part of what made Persona 4 so interesting.
From what I heard, The Passion of the Christ was predictable in most aspects, so it’s not surprising that its ending would be as well.
I can imagine trying to play the Touhou games in order would be quite daunting if those are the titles we’re dealing with.
I myself like to sit in the back row and in the center (assuming I don’t have to look down to see the screen), though I’m not really bothered looking at the screen from an angle.
I did read the Grant Morrison All-Star Superman collection and enjoyed it a lot. I may have to read his take on Batman as well because the Batman stories I have read have been interesting.
While I do enjoy certain video essays, I do think it has inadvertently led to creators promoting style over substance (Patrick (H) Willems being a particularly egregious offender). Plus, it’s just not a terribly efficient way of conveying one’s points when you can write about it and get the same point across, saving oneself a lot of extraneous effort.
I think that Divinity: Original Sin managed to do a turn-based combat engine well. I like putting thought into combat as opposed to mindlessly hammering the attack button, which is what many Western RPGs were for the longest time.
I think it says something that even Mario finally ended up getting rid of lives in Odyssey. The medium greatly improved once it moved away from that because it encouraged developers to step up their game in terms of level design. There wasn’t much point in consistently designing good stages if the average player wouldn’t make it to the end, but there was once completing the game became the standard expectation.
I kind of felt some hints of Papers, Please in Orwell, when I was playing it. The games are very, very different, and the themes and plot progression of Orwell are really incomparable to Papers, Please, but there are still a few notes that they hit, namely the tension and dissonance of being part of an oppressive government and being forced to act out morals that are not your own, as well as the few instances where you have the agency to act against them and the uncertainty of how those would work out.
To be fair, it was kind of a mess with the original production company behind the Lone Ranger, even before Disney started playing hardball with them, but that certainly didn’t help things. On set, there was a really weird environment where some people were incredibly stressed about getting the film done, while others were just chill and relaxed about it. Don’t have enough experience with the Big 6 productions to know if that’s typical, but it probably wasn’t the best creative environment.
I’m actually kind of interested in at least trying out Touhou, but I’ve got no idea where to start with it. The main problem is just how incredibly prolific the series is, but the weird names don’t really help.
I do enjoy some video essays, like some of the ones by Folding Ideas. When I’m interested in learning something, or getting some deep dives, it can be more effective to have both auditory and visual learning activated. But yeah, style over substance is big with a lot of them. Honestly, Folding Ideas will use some clever thinking in points, but is otherwise pretty low key, and I think it’s better because of it. Unfortunately, low key doesn’t tend to gather a huge amount of views in the modern internet.
Yeah, it was a really big moment when Odyssey got rid of lives. In effect, though, lives haven’t mattered in Mario for a while. Galaxy threw so many lives at you that even doing a challenge run they’d never be a concern, and the 3d World/Land games did almost the same thing. Either way, though, it was well past time when they should have left it behind.
Congratulation on your award nomination. Have a great evening.