Eyes on Transistor

Hey, Supergiant Games has been getting a lot of attention with their latest release.  Apparently, Hades is a good game.  So I thought today, we’d take a look at… something completely different.  

A while back, we took a look at Supergiant Games’ first published effort, Bastion.  I like the game, a lot. And I wrote a lot about it, once! Today, we’re going to follow up on that, by taking a look at their follow up, Transistor.  

Transistor is a pretty obvious spiritual successor to Bastion, working off of the same DNA while really doing its own thing.  In Transistor, you play as a woman without a voice using a sword that is also her lover in a world that’s cyberpunk as all hell and maybe is inside a computer or is a virtual reality thing or something to fight beasties that are probably computer programs gone wrong.  Uhh… it gets a little weird when you phrase it all out like that.  Let’s start over.

In Transistor, you find yourself in the city of Cloudbank, a city where absolutely everything, down to the weather is democratically determined, and as a result, has a bit of a problem with constant meaningless change and mediocrity.  Whatever’s the lowest common denominator catches on the most, and never sticks around to make an impact.  Nearly everyone is registered and set towards two determined goals, and individuals rise and fall all the time with barely anyone caring.  You play as Red, a popular singer and maybe something of an activist who’s become ‘the voice of the people’.  The local illuminati, the Camerata, who want to break Cloudbank out of that democratic quagmire it’s in, attack you, trying to stab you with the titular Transistor.  Your romantic partner, a mysterious man who’s somehow entered Cloudbank without anything about him being registered, takes the hit for you, and his soul is absorbed into the Transistor.  And then the Camerata take your voice somehow.  You escape, get your hands on the Transistor, through which your boyfriend is still able to speak with you, and then you get attacked by computerized beasties as a result of something called the Process running amok.  So, there’s the background of the game.  In much more accurate and describing wordy-things this time around.  

It’s never especially clear what exactly Cloudbank’s nature is, what’s outside of the city, etc.  The game’s short on details in general.  We’ll get into that later.  Anyways, programming themes abound, which does lead to the impression that it’s all software.  Most of the potential interaction points are highlighted using what looks like code, all your moves are code terms, your enemies and so much about the setting are computer terminology, Red, at least, seems rather adept with programming language, etc.  It overall gives the piece a somewhat surreal tone.  Visually and auditorily, the world hear is very somber.  Colors are high contrast, but very muted, and the music, although nearly as good as we heard in Bastion last, are much less solely listenable, serving more to set the mood in combination with the story and the game, rather than standing on their own as great listens.  Between that, the game feels a lot more lonely and oppressive than even Bastion’s post-apocalyptic romp with less characters than this game did.  The music, they do some really interesting play with that I have to commend them for.  Red, your character, is a singer, and you can unlock some of her songs.  Moreover, even though she lost her voice, she can still hum, and will do so along with the background track at the press of a button.  So you get your lead pretty heavily involved in the game’s soundtrack, hearing her voice where you can’t hear her otherwise.  It makes for a really interesting tour through the game’s soundtrack.

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Project G-Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975)

More Memorable Title: The last one of the original series OR The one that’s not Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II

Here, we come to it, the final, ultimate movie of Godzilla’s Showa era. And for that matter, the one that brought back Godzilla’s original and best regarded director and composer. In fact, this was director Ishiro Honda’s end to an extended break in production, and reportedly the guy was so into being able to work again that he was taking on way more tasks on set than usual for someone in his position, leaving some of the staff with nothing to do. Its script was picked through a contest, and was scriptwriter Yukiko Takayama’s first produced effort. Positioned as a direct sequel to the previous Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, it also takes a markedly more introspective tone, using its sci-fi elements to explore thoughts of what it means to be human outside of just the form one’s body takes. Ishiro Honda seemed to regard this film highly, feeling it was very refreshing and injected new life into the Godzilla model.

It was also an absolute bomb, in its day. One of only two Godzilla films to sell less than a million tickets, and, depending on whose reports you’re using, is the least profitable Godzilla film in history. On the contrary, it’s also one of the favorites in the series for a lot of people now. But it didn’t really come out of a good environment. The Japanese film industry in general was experiencing a downturn in 1975, giant monster movies in particular were dropping fans all over the place, and it’s coming off a time where the Godzilla franchise wasn’t exactly clear on what type of film they were wanting to make. First the series was psychological horror, then it was fun monster movies with heavy, thoughtful themes and undertones, then it just threw ideas at you for a while, then it was simple kid-friendly movies, then it was adult oriented ultra-violent for its day stuff, then it was… this. So it was a little hard to follow the throughline unless you were a big giant sexy nerd like myself Except they didn’t really have those in the 70s. So rough sales time in there.

But hey, lots of people like it. Does Aether as well? Let’s find out.

The film opens up with a montage of the Godzilla against MechaGodzilla fights from last time. No mention of King Caesar, however. Brother has just been memory holed. Cut to a year later, and there’s a submarine searching the sea floor where Godzilla dropped MechaGodzilla to try and find his remains. Because apparently nobody thought that they should go check out the big giant alien monster up until now. So the submarine gets there, and then there’s this lady on the shore who’s watching them with her magic eye. And then some giant fishy monster starts beating his tail, which causes a whirlpool that forces the submarine up to the surface. And then said fish monster pounces on them, and drags them back down. Where they get destroyed.

Looks like that was an Interpol sub, and now Interpol is investigating what just went down. With a whole bunch of people who aren’t particularly creepy. After last movie, I would have guessed they had those. They call in Dr. Loverboy, a marine biologist, to help them figure out what they’re dealing with. When he heads in for the meeting, he’s greeted by Inspector Average. The two of them are old college buddies, thus elegantly avoiding the need to spend time building a relationship between them. Anyways, the Interpol captain then plays the sub’s final transmission, where the captain’s screaming something like “Oh my God! We’re getting attacked by a dinosaur!” Then Dr. Loverboy deduces “You know, perhaps they were attacked by a dinosaur.” This is why he gets paid the big scientist bucks.

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Vaccine Adventures

We’re going to interrupt your regularly scheduled broadcast this week for more talk about dumb life stuff. You know, real life. That place where you keep all your video games when you’re not playing them. And we talk about it, because as I’ve mentioned many times before, this is not a video games blog. This is an Aether blog. And Aether’s life has been too busy to talk about video games lately. So we’ll talk about life. If you don’t like it, go complain about it in the comments of the last YouTube video you watched.

Your main man got the COVID vaccination over the weekend. And lets talk about that for a bit. Most medical professionals in charge of saying things say that you should get whatever COVID vaccine is offered to you, as soon as it’s offered to you. And the rollout for who’s getting the vaccine is kind of messed up. So! I didn’t take that advice at first. This isn’t the first time I’ve been offered the vaccine. As I’ve mentioned in previous life posts, I work for our local government, the same local government in charge of getting that vaccine out in our community in the first place. In fact, that department basically shares my workspace. So I get so see, somewhat second hand, some of the weird things that ends up going on in getting that vaccine out. And there’s some really odd complications there. But that’s besides the point.

So I had an earlier opportunity to get the vaccine. After they finished the phase where they were getting all the top priority people vaccinated, but before they started the second phase, I got notice that I should go in for a vaccine. And I didn’t. I was struggling with the morals of that at the time. I’m young. I’m strong. I don’t have any major risk factors. And I didn’t want to take a spot from someone who was more at risk than myself. It would be great to be safe from COVID, liberated from some of the overhanging worries we’re all facing in this situation, more able to operate in public and I didn’t want to add to how messed up the distribution of it was. And it was messed up. In talking with people about my conflicts there, I learned that there were plenty of folks in the medical system who never had any contact with patients yet still leveraged a technicality to get them in, or even that there were people who took that opportunity at my own organization, yet still announced they would refuse to come into the office or have any public contact no matter how many safety measures were in place. So yeah, essentially, I wasn’t wanting to be another of those delaying the virus from getting to the people who, at least in my view, needed it more than me. I reached out to a number of people I know and trust, and people informed on the whole vaccine distribution timeline and goals, and what not, and every single person, down to a one, told me that they understood my ethical complications with it, and it was really for the best that I just went ahead and got it. And again, this is not from people who are selfishly minded. If it’s offered, you need to take it. Apparently, that holds through.

So the next time, when the Public Health department told me that a newly eligible category for the vaccine applied to me even though I wouldn’t have applied it to myself, I trusted the judgement of those I talked to earlier and went and got it. I got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which I imagine is going to be the most available vaccine as the rollout continues. Mildly less effective than the Pfizer and Moderna ones, which is putting some people off, which is somewhat ridiculous. Take what the vaccine that’s offered to you. It’s herd immunity that’s going to get us out of the danger we’re in now, not one person having a 10% higher chance of protection. Anyways, J&J is a one shot vaccine. Everyone makes a lot about the side effects, which were significant. Had a fever and chills the same night I got the vaccine. And lightheaded. That’s a side effect that’s apparently common but nobody talks about it. That stuck with me for a couple of days.

And now, so far, not much is different. People congratulate me for being vaccinated. As if it’s something I earned by merit and not by luck of being in a job that fell into the right category. I know a lot of people look at it as a sort of status thing, when it’s really not there. Although, I supposed with recent CDC guidances, it is making us something of a separate class of people as far as social distance requirements ago. Either way, the most important part is that I’m one more step to us kicking this COVID’s ass down to the annals of history alongside the Black Plague, Spanish Flu, and all these other massive outbreaks that are barely a thing now. So yeah. Everyone, get your vaccines, when you get the chance. Let’s fight this back together.

You’re the Only One, One World, One Love! The Persona 3 Retrospective, Part 6(d); Characters-Fuuka and Aigis

Fuuka Yamagishi

The Priestess

Starting here, every Persona game is going to have a member of the party that doesn’t become a playable character themselves, but rather frees up your mission control member to focus on combat.  In this game, that’s Fuuka.  When you get Fuuka, you really get Mitsuru.  Fuuka just takes Mitsuru’s place as the voice in your ear.

Anyways, Fuuka is demure, shy, and physically very small.  She apparently spends a fair amount of time in the hospital, and that’s where Akihiko and Mitsuru first come to realize her potential to use a persona.  However, she doesn’t seem to be especially sickly.  She’s also revealed as missing a lot of school, although not due to illness.  Her parents are relatively average folk among a family of high achievers, and out of jealousy of their more successful siblings, put a lot of pressure on her to succeed and raise their social standing.  At school, she’s rather horribly bullied by the local ganguro girls, culminating in them locking her inside the school gym and leaving her there.  Anyways, the game doesn’t make it clear, but I imagine that all her time out sick is really time trying to escape from the stress she’s facing at both school and home.  If that’s the only place she has that’s safe for her, I can see why she’d be finding herself there with frequency.

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#LoveYourBacklog 2021

Normally I don’t take part in these blogging community things unless someone delivers them to my doorstep, because I am a stone cold lone wolf that only plays by my own rules, or something like that.  But, well, Solarayo at Ace Asunder and Kim at Later Levels are running a #LoveYourBacklog challenge yet again this year.  And, well, you may have noticed posts have been a bit thinner, because I’ve been a bit busy with life stuff.  And I’m still busy with life stuff.  And I’m working on the next post in the Persona 3 retrospective, and those take some time, and I don’t want to do another two weeks between posts.  So I need some quick content here.  And I also really need to learn to get more comfortable with my backlog.  To have affection for it.  So maybe this would be a good exercise for it.  In any case, I’ve got reasons.  The sort of reasons a big sexy behemoth of the mind like me would have.  So let’s get down to it.  Let’s go through this exercise, wherein I learn to love the big, giant game base that’s taking up so much space in my virtual library and my soul.  

Let’s go!

Ok, so first, gotta lay the groundwork.  Expose just how large my backlog is, and… ugh.

Image courtesy of Later Levels

Ok, don’t like looking at that.  But that’s what this is for!  Learn to love it!  Anyways, I’m at 533, to be exact.  Although what I consider my backlog is a bit different than most people.  I’ve mentioned it some times around here, but years and years ago, I decided to try and playthrough all my games, beating every single one I could, by console generation, starting with the earliest.  I used to do it all the time as a kid, so I figured I’d give it another try as an adult.  Give some time to all my games, play stuff that I wouldn’t otherwise, build up my experiences and appreciation, and all that.  Thing is, as a kid, it didn’t take all that long.  As an adult, I have more money, and therefore, a lot more games.  And much less free time.  And I’m better at games, so I can actually stick through the whole thing rather than getting stuck and giving up partway through.  So it’s taking me years.

Anyways, what I consider my backlog are games that I haven’t completed as part of that quest to beat all my games organized by console generation.  So, a lot of them are games that are completely untouched, but there’s also plenty that I’ve already played and possibly beat, some more than once, that I still consider as being on my backlog because I did it outside of the console generation I was working on at the time.  I’ve gone through every game I owned at the time I started this quest, so that 533 number is just a shocking sign of just how many games I’ve bought or otherwise acquired in the past years.  I’ve slowed down on that quite a bit, starting February 2020, but man, I really need to pump the brakes even more.  Also notable is the composition of that backlog.  Of those 533 games, 142 are on consoles.  Almost 400 of those are in my Steam, GOG, or UPlay lists on PC, where the PC gaming ecosystem, between deep sales and bundles and giveaways and whatnot, makes amassing an absolutely massive collection of games very, very easy.  And that’s not even counting the games I have in my Amazon Games and Epic Games lists, where they constantly, unceasingly throw free games at me.  The console games, I’m trying to beat them all, while I’m only expecting myself to give a try to all the Steam, GOG, and Uplay games.  I put money towards most of the games on there, somehow, so that feels like I’ve made a commitment to try them, but if I’m not into it, I’m not expecting myself to beat all of those.  Amazon and Epic, it’s whatever I feel like.  I would never be able to keep up with the rate they give me more games if I expected myself to touch them all.  

Anyways, from that, it’s question time.  Or, more specific topic time.  Yeah.  That.

1: The effect that the 2020 apocalypse has had on your backlog.

Not a whole heck of a lot, really.  Here’s the thing, the coronapocalypse hasn’t exactly given me more time to spare.  I still work, my commute was never that big a deal, and a lot of the outside the home stuff I used to do, I replaced it with some other non-video game stuff.  I’m pretty much on the same schedule as far as gaming goes.  2020 has been the best year I’ve had in getting on top of my backlog in years, but I think that has more to do with some decisions I’ve made pre-pandemic to, you know, stop buying so many freaking games until I’ve played the ones I’ve got.  

2: The oldest game in terms of release date.

On my backlog, at least what I consider as such, the oldest game I’ve got that I haven’t worked off yet would be Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar.  I didn’t have a computer as a kid, and didn’t get a solid gaming battlestation until well after I started my ‘Play all the Games’ quest.  So I used to be really interested in classic PC gaming, this whole sphere of my favored entertainment medium that I really missed out on.  And I’ve tried a bunch of them, and it turns out, I really don’t like most classic PC games.  I don’t know that I’d be able to eloquently explain why, I think I’m spoiled by modern games and the old school PC ones don’t have the nostalgia factor with me that makes one willing to look past the chinks and flaws and whatnot that old school console games do.  Although I’m able to pick up a lot of old NES games that I never had history with, and thus shouldn’t have nostalgia for, and have a grand time with them, but not old PC games.  For whatever reason.  Anyways, I’ll give it a try at some point.  Can’t say I’m holding out a lot of hope for it, particularly given what I’ve heard about how complicated this game gets, but hey, maybe it’ll surprise me.  

3: A game you bought on day one, only to not play it.

Nothing!  Hahahahahaha!  This is one area in which I’ve defeated you, backlog!  I rarely ever buy games day one.  If I do, that means it’s one I’ve taken a particularly strong interest in, and I play it as soon as I get the chance.  So, no, I can’t think of a single game, in all my glorious life, that I’ve bought on day one and then hadn’t started up soon after.  

4: The game which has spent the most time on your backlog

There’s been some long ones.  Looks like the absolute longest would be… Hitman Absolution.  Purchased in 2013.  7-8 years ago.  That’s… rough.  I’ve got to get on that.  I remember playing the tutorial level of that, but then didn’t dig the changes to some of the mechanics, so I didn’t go any farther.  Whelp.  Let’s knock that one up the list, a bit.  See how it tastes now that it’s had some time to age.

5: The most recent addition to your library.

The Batman Telltale Series!  I dig Batman.  Telltale’s writing style wears a bit thin on me, but I heard it wasn’t that bad in Batman, and given that it’s a more optimistic subject matter than most of the licenses they scraped up, I was hopeful it’d avoid the “Everything’s horrible now because we say so” problem a lot of their games often ran into.  I’m kind of looking forward to this.  But I don’t have space for it in the schedule, so onto the backlog it goes.  That’s kind of a problem.  Part of the reason I’ve been better in 2020 is that I started teaching a class on personal finance as part of my case management offerings, and teaching stuff is a really great way to polish it yourself, and one of the major lessons in there is to not do that sort of thing where you’re buying stuff just because it’s accessible only to let it sit on a shelf for a while instead of actually enjoying it.  So I’ll need to make sure I’m getting into that in the near future, to justify that purchase.  

6: The person responsible for adding the most entries to your backlog, due to their good recommendations.

That would be, back when they were active, the Super Best Friends let’s play group were the biggest one.  They put out a lot of content, and did a really great job of covering relatively unknown obscurities, up and coming indie games, and whatever hotness they were most passionate about rather than constantly hitting up the most popular new games that would get them the most views, and they opened my eyes to a lot of great things.  Otherwise, I’ve gotten a fair few added to my library by my fellow bloggers, like Red Metal and AK.

And……….. that’s that.  Do I love my backlog yet?  No.  Not so much.  But it made for an interesting conversation piece here.  That’s got to be worth something, right?

Snap Judgements: Year On Edition

At this point, it’s been almost a year since we entered quarantine.  And it’s had its ups, times when I’ve been able to live up to my magnificent self, and its had its downs, times when I’ve been reminded that we’re still living in a dystopian future.  There’s light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s a long tunnel, and we’re still a ways from the end.  So you know what?  Let’s take that time to play some games.  Here’s what I’ve been working through lately.  

Chroma Squad

So, here’s one of those games I never really knew existed, but when one of the various give-you-games services landed it into my library, it really stood out.  Chroma Squad is a Tactics-style strategy RPG in which you’re playing out battles for a Power Rangers-esque Super Sentai show.  It lets you customize a lot about your show, from team and character names to the colors of your rangers and everything in between, which gives me incredible freedom to amuse myself with the powers of my own mind in ways absolutely nobody else will find funny, probably.  From Kickass Blaster Studios, in the prime after school viewing block, hang on to your hats, boys and girls, it’s time for the totally child-appropriate show, Tooty Fruity Kill Squad!  When evil is afoot, these five heroes, with a shout of “It’s Murder Time!”, will activate their Moon Prism Magic and transform into Killer Red (because every sentai group has a red leader), Killer Black, Killer Gray, Killer White (because it amused me to have a chunk of the usually colorful sentai squads be completely monochrome), and Killer Purple (because nobody ever has a purple ranger)!  They’ll fight their way through hordes of goons, and then, when things get too hot to handle, unleash their team-based special move, the Eat Shit!  And when their might alone isn’t enough, they’ll pilot their giant robot, the Killborg 10,000, to victory!

It rather helps that there’s a pretty simple but mechanically solid gameplay system behind it too.  It’s a really basic tactics system in all, it’s grid-based and you’ve got your basic movements and attacks, a few weapons and abilities that depend on your characters classes and equipment, and an option to assist that’s really one of the things that adds a surprisingly large amount of depth to the gameplay.  By assisting, your heroes will set themselves up for others to leap off of, adding a lot of range to their movement, and will also attack in unison with other rangers targeting enemies in mutual melee range, more than doubling their attack damage.  If you pull off having all five members attack one enemy at once, they’ll do the team special move, the Eat Shit! in my case but you can call it something lamer if you’d like to in your game.  But that’s supposed to be a finishing move, and if you use it as anything but a coup de grace, the anticlimax will make for a worse episode and you’ll lose fan power for that.  Which is a thing.  You need to have built up a certain amount of fan power to be able to transform from your lame everyday forms to your Killer selves, or whatever your team is named, in the first place, and beyond that, it plays a part in your overall studio management.  That component feels a lot like a management sim, where you’re laying out and dealing with the resources for your own studio, but everything you do has a direct, in-combat effect, so it’s not really that in practice, more like just a really elaborate means of equipping your team in an RPG.

I can’t say I’m a huge fan of the character of the game, it does a lot of wink-wink nudge-nudge humor that seems likes it’s just trying too hard, and a lot of the enemy design is a little lackluster.  You’ll be tired of fighting the same jobbers over and over again, but the bosses are frequent and varied, which works really well to keep things fresh.  And the visuals, in spite of me deliberately toning down over half of my team, are very vibrant and coloful, and the music is pretty nice.  Captures the old 90’s vibe really well in a primitive almost-chiptune set.  Overall, I enjoyed my time with the game quite a bit.  It moves quickly, and although it can be a little cringy or basic in parts, it’s a simple, fun time in all.

Aztez

From a very vibrant game to one that’s carefully not.  Aztez uses the old Madworld color palette of black, white, red, and nothing else.  It’s a hard game to describe.  Particularly given that I don’t especially understand it myself.  It’s half board game, half smackdown?  Something like that.  So, in a given game, you’re playing in ancient Mexico, trying to do… something.  I thought you were trying to take over cities and force out rival tribes, but then I won the game without doing that.  Anyways, you start with board game parts, managing your towns and resources and what not.  One of your resources are your warriors, and you get to do one major thing per warrior per turn.  So more warriors equals more turns.  The bulk of the things in this are combat challenges, where you get to the smackdown gameplay.  I don’t know why, but that part of the game reminds me a lot of Viewtiful Joe’s post-game challenge levels.  It has a similar feel to combat, and a lot of it is based on keeping track of enemies and making appropriate reactions to their telegraphed attack, much like Viewtiful Joe.  Except you can absorb your opponent’s blood and use that to summon your god to smack them around.  As you do.

Anyways, in my game, I spent most of my time campaigning against my rival tribes, pushing them back and stealing their territory, aiming to eradicate them as is usually the win condition in those types of strategy games.   I almost got to that point, but then the Spanish arrived, with their armor and their guns and their better equipment than me, and they started completely crushing my guys.  With clever use of items, I managed to push them back to the borders of the map, then devoted all my remaining warriors to taking them down so I could smash my rivals in peace.  They killed all but the last of my warriors, but that last one brought down the guy with the biggest feather in his helmet, and that apparently meant that I won the game, even though my rivals now were in a perfect position to retake my land after I spent all I had in fighting the Spanish.  So, I guess there’s a moral to the story.  And that moral is that the true path to victory runs through beating up the Spanish.

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Project G-Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla (1974)

Alternative Title: The one that used all the fireworks in Japan.

Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla!  Where do we start with this one?  For some reason, trivia on the development of this movie seems to be much less available on the internet than for the other films, so… well, we’ll have to resort to conjecture for some of this, probably.

What we do know is that the Godzilla franchise had been making largely kid-oriented fare since Destroy All Monsters saw the original creative team leave the series for various reasons.  It’d also been waning in popularity for a while, never reaching the lofty peaks of commercial success established by King Kong vs. Godzilla.  Meanwhile, other kaiju productions were soundly beating the film in the very genre Big G had established.  Some of them were kid-friendly, sure.  Others proved there were a sizable audience of adults out there for kaiju films.  So, dudes here saw that, and figured, ‘You know, the whole kid thing isn’t exactly working out for us.  Maybe we should go after that market.  Those who can enjoy the big dumb giant monster battles on a whole other level.

And so, this film was made with that in mind.  Adult oriented.  Actioned way the heck up.  No more stock footage, because they’re not just playing to dumb children for whom they can get away with that.  More violent and gory than the series has been before, and possibly has been since.  Explosions and pyrotechnics up the giant monster-sized wazoo.  Life and death stakes, and people getting straight up killed on screen.  And not a single childly shortpant to be seen.  

This… ends up being a really weeeeeeeeiiiiiiird movie to watch.  Inconsistency is rampant throughout.  Do you love explosions?  I hope you do, because they are HERE with a statement.  The pyrotechnic work here is gratuitous and glorious.  The overlays; the beams, atomic breaths, aliens transforming, etc., look cartoonish and absolutely horrible.  Mechagodzilla looks amazing!  King Caesar is kind of ok, and the aliens are absolutely awful.  The action between the monsters is strong and exciting and visceral.  Everything going on with the people makes no sense and has way too many moving parts.  And a lot of the things that happen just don’t make any darn sense.  It’s amazing in parts, and laughably bad in others, and almost never anywhere in between.

Also, I’ll say it again.  Explosions.  If you love things blowing up in your movies, man, the work here is obscene.  There’s one part in particular that had me in awe at just how spectacular it was.  There’s corners cut in this movie, yes.  But they did not spare the pyrotechnics in any way.

Let’s dig into this bombfest, shall we?

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Gushing about Bastion

Alright, boys, girls, ladies, and gentlemen, I think we need to set some ground rules here.  Normally, I wouldn’t say I entirely adhere to the traditional review format, but with my “Eyes on” pieces, I like to take things as objectively as I can when looking at an inherently subjective medium.  But try as I might, I can’t really do that today.  Not with this piece.  I absolutely love Bastion.  And I love it for reasons that are a bit hard to articulate, and definitely aren’t universal.  It connects with me in a particular way.  A way others share, absolutely, so it’s not perfectly unique to me, but it’s a way that not everyone is going to connect with.  But maybe some of you reading this would!  So, in order to bring some light to it, I’m going to talk about Bastion today.  But keep in mind, this is going to be less a review, and more me just gushing about one of my favorite games.  

The game begins with your hero, the Kid, waking up after the Calamity, an apocalyptic event that blew his home city to pieces and turned most of the people therein into statues of ash.  In third-person isometric action gameplay style, the Kid then makes his way to the titular Bastion, which was supposed to be the safe haven gathering spot for the city in the event of disaster, accompanied only by the ongoing narration of Rucks.  Upon reaching the Bastion, the Kid learns that it has a function that can maybe do something about all of this, but it’s incomplete, so he needs to venture off to the various parts of the territory that had been sent sky high to regain the pieces it needs to work.

One of the most striking things about Bastion is how much it leverages its unique character.  This most notably presents itself in the aforementioned ongoing narration.  Rucks is, for the most part, the only character in the game to get any lines and personality, but he’s showing it to you constantly.  As long as you’re continually moving forward and you’re outside of fights, he’s usually commenting on whatever’s going on.  Your actions, the surrounding area, the backstory of the city and the calamity, the motivations of the enemies you’re facing, everything.  All of your interactions with the world and people around you that go beyond hitting them with a hammer are relayed to you by the narrator rather than you seeing them directly, which in most instances would be absolutely frustrating to get through, but Rucks has such flavor to him that the game makes it work.  The voice-acting, direction, and writing of the narrator is so beautifully on point, and it adds so much life to the game.

It helps that Rucks has a lot of good material to work with.  The setting is a very interesting and unique one.  It strikes me as being the type of place you’d see more often if the standard fantasy tropes were influenced by early American culture more so than Western European.  The city of Caelondia was founded by pioneers from outside the area, and grew into a major economic and technological center in the world.  They originally bought land from the natives to it, then ended up having a lot of friction with them.  The city grew large, but it still had a lot of wild, untamed areas, of which many people were set to explore and master.  Judging by Rucks, the people of Caelondia have a southwestern twang to their voice, and you see railways, revolvers and muskets, and other standard from the Wild Western genres.  The major god of the parts is stylized as a ranch-style bull.  One of the locations is called a Melting Pot, another is a straight up bayou, you take barges down big rivers, etc. If you mixed the classic western with fantasy, you might get what you see here.  That, and the interesting applications and hints of a guild structure, the variety of items and descriptions you find, and the way Rucks adds so much character to even the simplest of things ends up making the game world so interesting.  

The story’s really solid as well.  It’s a lesson in minimalist storytelling, you only have four real characters, and everything is filtered through the viewpoint of a single one of them, but it ends up having a real impact in its execution.  You get hope, guilt, betrayal, redemption, sacrifice, salvation, all flowing into each other really well.  In optional challenges, you can explore everyone’s backstory as well, which proves itself to be really well thought-out and rounds them out as characters while also tying them into their role in the current plot really well.  It makes them all, and their actions, seem very relatable, whatever they end up doing.  Without spoilers, the endgame in particular makes me want to chef kiss at how it plays out.  It really uses the imagination well, leaving just enough gaps for you to fill things in and bring things more to life in your head, without underexplaining anything or avoiding conclusions.  It also has some capital letter THEMES, and it hits those beautifully.  It really doesn’t feel like the freshman effort it is by Supergiant Games; the game moves its pieces around that central theme so adeptly I’d swear the team was all old hands at this. It really works best because it’s a somewhat short game, and has so few moving parts, as I feel like if they made it more complex than it was it’d all start to fall apart.  As is, the basic elements of the plot may be things you’d see in many other places, but the way it’s handled here really sets this game apart in terms of storytelling.  

Beyond that, the music of this game is absolutely stellar.  This game has one of my absolute favorite soundtracks, and it’s probably the one I’ve returned to most often over the last decade.  The southwestern instrumentation lends a lot of the songs a classic western feel overtop the modern and industrial foundation while all maintaining a pulse-pounding energetic feel.  They evoke emotions and a sense of action very well, and truly add a lot to the piece.  The songs with vocal tracks also provide a bit of a glimpse into the characters behind them, and really gain a lot of emotional grounding in context as well.  So yes.  Music.  Marvellous.  Dig it.

And I’ve been talking about the presentation a lot.  You’re probably wondering about the gameplay.  And you know, it’s good.  Not quite as overwhelmingly stellar as the narration and music, but it’s still very solid.  Walking around and bashing things feels very good, and you’ve got a great degree of control over your character.  The Kid is pretty slow in ground speed, but that seems deliberate, and puts a greater emphasis on using your other tools for defense than just walking around attacks.  There’s a really big variety of enemies for how long of a game this is, so you’re constantly changing up and adjusting your combat operations.  You get a huge amount of options in setting up your character’s loadout, making the Kid incredibly versatile.  It seems like every other level you get a new weapon, all of which play completely differently from each other, and you can mix and match upgrades to significantly alter their functionality.  You’ve also got a number of buffs you can apply between levels that, again, significantly change the way you play, and, if you’re so inclined, a number of debuffs you can apply to yourself as well.  If you’re interested in a combat systems that gives you a lot of control and is constantly introducing new things, Bastion scratches that itch well.  Navigation is a bit of another story, however.  Between the Kid’s slow movement and the fact that the world is remaking itself around you, it’s not too much fun to be walking around the parts in between when you’re crushing baddies, and it can be pretty confusing to get to where you’re going.  Unless you’re willing to spend a lot of time slowly hugging the walls, expect to leave a lot of goodies behind.  You can buy them later, but that takes resources you can probably put to better uses.  It’s a lot better experience when you have the opportunity to just flow from one fight to the next.  

The visuals of the piece are kind of ok.  They’re colorful, and characters, creatures, and sprites are very distinct, making things really pleasant to look at and really easy to navigate in the midst of really complicated sequences.  I do kind of get tired of nearly everything being made of tiles, but that’s kind of a necessity with the way they set things up here.  Artistic design is a little mixed, most of the characters and some of the monsters do look really nice, others are kind of bland or visually confusing.  It hits right when it matters most, at the very least.

But yeah.  Less of a review.  More of me raving about a thing I really like.  But I REALLY like it.  And now you know.  So there.

Looking For Group

I’ve mentioned in a couple of posts that I’ve got a D&D game going. Recently, one of our players had to drop out due to an out of game conflict, and we’ve elected to put out an open call to add a player to our group. Our big concern is finding someone who gets along with all of us and the way we play and adds some fun to our game. I figured, those of you reading this here probably already have a sense of my style, at least, so if anyone here would be interested in playing D&D with the big man, well, this connection may lead to us being more likely to find people that mesh with what we’ve got going on.

Anyways, if anyone’s up for joining a D&D game, what I’m running is a sort of post-apocalyptic dark fantasy based on the likes of Kingdom Death: Monster and Berserk, although if you’re familiar with Kingdom Death: Monster, my habit of ripping off that game when I run out of ideas is probably going to be irritating to you. I try to have a good focus on the story and really try to make the world seem very full and alive, although as a post-apocalyptic thing it’s not all that full or alive at all. But yeah. I try to be big on the details. Long form storytelling, good mix of combat and challenge encounters, and consistent and vibrant details are things I try to prioritize, at least. The players do a really good job of getting in character and acting things out as appropriate, and really prioritize that over gamesmanship or tactical soundness. It used to be I had a hard time getting all of them in the same place for the big battles, as they all had their own separate priorities and ways of reacting to new stimulus that would often lead to them splitting and hunting things down differently. It made the fights more difficult, but it’s been beautiful from a storytelling perspective. Party also has a habit of completing their objectives, but not exactly doing the stuff they need to get them done well, so you’d probably have to be both flexible with character interactions and combat situations and very patient with suboptimal or outright bad outcomes to get the most out of this. But hey, maybe you’ll be a good influence on them. They could probably really use that.

We have games in English on Roll20 with voice chat over Discord. We’re open to new players, and this is the group I learned to play with in the first place, so I know they’re good at that. That said, this is midway through a long-form campaign, and you’d be starting at level 8, so you’d essentially be getting thrown into the deep end of the D&D pool. Games take place Sundays, currently around 3:30 MST. You can use your favorite time zone converter to figure out what time that is for you. However, given that some of our players are in countries that have Daylight Savings and some aren’t, we do occassionally have to fudge the time by an hour or so, so if you’ve got the schedule flexibility to do that, that’d be optimal. Games usually last for about three hours.

If you’d be interested in giving it a shot, you can find more information in this LFG post, and can submit yourself as a potential addition to our group in the topic there. We’re all getting input into who we end up bringing on so although I love you all, I’m not going to be able to promise anything myself. However, if you do know me from here and end up putting something in, let me know directly so I can give things in context for them when we’re talking things out. Either way, I’ll see you all in the new year.

Project G: Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973)

Alternative Title: The One with the Big Dumb Godzilla Dropkick

Godzilla vs. Megalon.  Here’s a particularly notable one.  And I imagine a rather love it or hate it affair.

So the backstory of Godzilla vs. Megalon is that once upon a time, some kid won a design-us-a-monster! contest with Toho, drawing a giant robot suit with a lot of similarities to Ultraman and Mazinger Z for use in a future monster movie.  Toho then made this design even more like Ultraman, to the point it didn’t really resemble the original contest design at all anymore.  And then they tried to put a movie together around it.  Hey, you know what’s really cool?  Ultraman.  That’s really cool.  Maybe we should make a movie like Ultraman.  

So you know what the problem is with making something that’s just like something else that’s really cool except your thing isn’t actually that cool?  You end up making something that’s just not as good as the original.  So this movie kind of kicked around for a while, with nobody really believing that the not-Ultraman was a strong enough character to carry the film, until producer Tomoyuki Tanaka came upon it and had the same thought I often think in the middle of bad movies, church services, and particularly average sessions of coitus: “This would be better with Godzilla in it.”

This wound up being the genius stroke that saved the project.  And at least two of my relationships.  But at this point, the producers just looked at each other, and decided that the film with all its troubled history had spent long enough in pre-production that it was time to move it right to shooting.  So what if they don’t even have a script yet!  They’ll figure something out.  And Tanaka had already raided his couch cushions for the spare change used for All Monsters Attacks’ budget, then the back seat of his car for the change for Godzilla vs. Hedorah, and they probably weren’t going to be able to get away with making a film so cheap to make its production actually created stacks of yen from thin air again like they did with Godzilla vs. Gigan.  So this time, they gave it a big massive budget, but it’s all in Imagibucks, the currency of Pretend Land.  And the exchange rate for that with the real world is really low.  

Once again, Jun Fukuda’s at the helm, who’s had kind of a spotty track record with Godzilla.  We’ve got a film where all they had to go on were storyboards and Fukuda literally had to create the script while they were filming and two of the four monsters in it were stapled onto the plot after the fact.  They’ve probably got more of a budget than they did for Godzilla vs. Gigan, but not by much.  And they’re needing to get through production incredibly quickly.  So, what do they do?  

You know how when big actors get roped into projects they know are going to be bad, they start hamming it up all over the place?  They figure if they have to make something that will be ill-remembered, they’re at least going to have a lot of goofy fun with it?  That’s what we get here.  A lot of Godzilla’s movie output has at least a bit of the dumb factor to it.  That’s one of the things I love about it.  And Godzilla vs. Megalon is the film that embraces that factor most whole-heartedly.  You shall see.  Oh, you shall see.  

The film opens with some nation performing some underground nuclear tests, which creates earthquakes that can be felt on Monster Island.  Supposedly far away from its epicenter.  Some time later, we get a nice little family playing at a lake in Japan.  Baby Rider, played by the same actor who was Ok Kid in Godzilla vs. Hedorah but is explicitly not the same character for that little bit of confusion, is playing on a little pedal boat thing in the lake while his older brother and older brother’s, uh, ‘friend’ enjoy a nice picnic.  So, these guys.  I don’t think it’s done deliberately, because this movie came out in the 1970s, which was not a time period where people were very open to these types of relationships, and is from Japan, which was not a place where people were very open to these types of relationships.  So, even though these are two men that seem incredibly close to each other, seem to be out for a rather intimate personal experience at the start of the film, and both seem to take a father-like relationship to the young boy in their charge, I’m not going to call the relationship what it obviously seems to be, because it was probably not intended on the part of the creators.  Let’s just say they’re very Happy.

So, they’re all doing their thing when an earthquake hits.  The Happy Pair call Baby Rider back to shore, so earthquake lake stuff doesn’t end up doing whatever to him.  But then a whirlpool appears in the lake!  And it starts draining!  And Baby Rider starts getting sucked in!  But luckily, the Happy Pair brought their grappling hook to the picnic.  You know, as is traditional.  So they grapple hook Baby Rider in, and watch as the lake drains completely into a new crack underneath.  Then they’re like ‘huh, that was weird.’ and then they go home, to the Happy Scientist’s lab.  

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