Saturday, July 11, 2015

Minions

There are so many possible jokes for this opening...
Can you imagine 90 minutes of Willy E Coyote?
Can you imagine 90 minutes of Mater from Cars?
Can you imagine if Jarjar from Star Wars was given his own movie?

     Minions was a tough idea form the start. Or at least, if you're going for quality it is tough. If you're just looking to fill 90 minutes and sell the film to sugar-induced hype bunnies, then you do in fact get the current product known as Minions.

      Just for the record, when I say that the comedy in the film doesn't work very well, it isn't just from my dislike of it; it also comes from the reaction of an audience filled with children, who are supposed to be the primary audience. There were chuckles, but the strongest laughs came from the preview for The Secret Life of Pets. Not once did the audience laugh as heartily as in that preview.


      Before discussing how to improve it, I'll have to go through the plot... None of this is spoilers though, as pretty much everything was spoiled by the trailers already. No surprises to be seen.
      First, the story begins with the opening level of Spore; the minions as cells, finding the biggest monster to follow. This goes until they reach the second level of spore, and the apex of their evolution as they walk onto land. Their journey and troubles are then explained by a narrator, who sounds a lot like the narrator from The Stanley Parable (especially when he names the very simply named Stuart, Kevin, and Bob (in order from left to right in the image above)).
      For roughly the first half an hour, the minions are traveling, looking for and following their latest boss. Other reviewers have said this was the best part of the film, and they are correct.
      After the three aforementioned minions hear about Villain Con, they hitchhike to Florida.

      Now, here's the thing about the minions... a lot of what they say and do are small in-jokes. By in-joke I mean you have to be fairly film and history literate to catch some of them. In the hitchhiking scene, they reference the same scene in It Happened One Night. The scene isn't funny, whether you get that reference or not. Later on, Bob is crowned king (more on that later...) and starts to give a big impassioned speech... That is referencing Winston Churchill. I only recognized it because I realized it was the same joke that was in Robin Hood: Men in Tights. Again, it wasn't funny. These in-jokes extend to previous films as well, as the minions were singing "Another Irish Drinking Song" in the last film. A lot of these jokes are really only humorous if you know the reference; otherwise it's just them being silly.

    But, back to the hitchhike... They get picked up by a family of villains, and the most surprising thing occurs: an actual glock appears on screen. No high tech, no bright flashing lights... a regular gun. Clicks and everything. I cannot actually name an animated film where someone is holding an actual handgun (outside of japan that is.)

In the US, we only get invisible guns.
   So they arrive in Florida, and any chance the movie had just stops, with the introduction of the antagonist,  Scarlet Overkill.
    Now, this is nothing against Sandra Bullock, or her acting; she played the part quite well. It's just that she didn't have good lines or material; Scarlet Overkill was more of a buzzkill (assuming there was a buzz to begin with).

      Scarlet ends up with the minions as henchmen, and orders them to steal the Queen of England's crown. This, among other points in the film brings up many questions, but with one simple answer.
Why does she need henchmen to steal the crown for her? Why can't she steal it herself? Why doesn't she work with the minions to steal it?
       The answer to all of them is one phrase: The plot needed them to. Narrative convenience. I can think of NO reasons why she couldn't do it herself, as later in the film she proves she could barge right in whenever she wants, and has an arsenal capable of destroying London if she wanted to.
      But fine, she sends them off to collect the crown... they get to the crown, but fail in securing it before ti is brought to the queen. So they give chase, and end up in a park somewhere, where Bob pulls out the sword from the stone.
      Why was the sword in the stone in the square? Because the jokes needed it to. This is similar to the plot needed them to, but it is obvious the writers REALLY wanted to do jokes about being rich and doing things like corgi polo and messing with butlers. The plot also needed them to be at odds with Scarlet, who was furious that Bob became king, as apparently she hoped from a young age to become the queen, and acted like Bob being king was shutting the door rather than opening it. Of course, Bob immediately proclaims that she will be king and he will step down, and she is allowed her coronation. 
      But, Scarlet still hates them, and orders their torture/execution. Why? The plot needed her to.
      The minions escape, and end up ruining her coronation when they try to get in to apologize. Scarlet again orders their execution, and manages to capture Stuart and Bob. Kevin runs off to rescue them, but gets cornered in Scarlet's lair, where he jumps into a machine to escape, presses all the buttons, and suddenly becomes a giant. Because of deus ex machina.


You know Teletubies? The show is random and colorful, with very little meaning behind the actions of the characters, with its sole intent to be entertaining to its really young audience. Your film should not resemble Teletubies. I believe that is a maxim everyone can get behind.

     Anyway... explosions happen, Kevin saves the day by sacrificing himself... except not because no film will ever let characters freaking die in POINT BLANK EXPLOSIONS. Seriously the bomb WAS IN HIS MOUTH. There should've been minion chunks flying all across England... But nope, Kevin survives, and is knighted by the queen... for fixing the problem he and his brothers caused.

     But, just before the film ends, Scarlet Overkill appears and steals the queen's crown (SERIOUSLY, WHY DID SHE NEED MINIONS IF SHE COULD JUST DO THAT?!), but is stopped by a familiar freeze ray. Yup, Gru gets a cameo appearance where he steals the queen's crown, then flies off back to America, the minions in pursuit of their new boss.



    Just... I can forgive low balling a film. It's made for kids, and kids will be entertain for a bit by it. But like so many other reviews said, this film doesn't have the heart of the previous installments. Scarlet is a terrible antagonist, she has no redeeming qualities at all, and just isn't funny... And the minions... If you didn't like them in the previous installments, they get worse here. There are actually two groups of minions; the main characters, and the tribe of minions trying to get to the leads and their new boss. So occasionally we'll cut from the comedy of the main three... to the comedy of the tribe, with very little to differentiate between the lot of them.
     The film was relentless... it never took a break, never let the audience catch its breath (so to speak; again, not a lot of laughter), it was just constantly trying to be funny, and never tried for any kind of actual drama.
     This is what they mean when the critics say the film has lost its heart; there is nothing calm or dramatic in it. In the previous films, Gru was that stability, his interactions with the girls gave a good counter balance to the comedy.


     And therein lies the solution to how Minions could've been a decent film... Making Gru a main character again. Yes, it can still be a minion focused origin, but here's the thing: Gru is an awesome boss. He knows each of the minions by name and treats them really well. And he has somehow survived their service, despite all previous bosses being killed by the minions. The film could've been about why he knows and treats them well, and why he has survived. It could've been about Gru's days as an apex villain, and how the minions helped him get there. There can be good drama to occur in that situation as well, when the antagonist of the film proves to be a more powerful villain, and the minions reluctantly go to work for him under horrible conditions. Gru then steps up and saves them, and the minions bring down their current boss to resume working for Gru.
     The film did not need Scarlet Overkill, the minions becoming king, or any of the other stuff... They could've done an actual origin story, and gotten just as many, if not more, laughs out of it.
As it stands, I'd actually say that Minions was... Boring, and all their references made me want to go do the more fun things they were referencing.


This has been Fixer Sue, and can we please in the future NOT dedicate films to the comedy relief? The reason for their existence is to relieve the audience from the real part of the story, the drama; not be a headlining act themselves.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Minecraft: The complete Handbook Collection by Scholastic

     Minecraft is the biggest indie game success story. It recently announced it had 20 million users, all of them digging, building, and fighting in the world's most well known indie. Minecraft has spawned a toyline of action figures and play weapons; they got a Lego set in the works (as if the game wasn't already Lego); there are sections of the game guides section of the book store devoted to how to play, build, and survive in Minecraft.
      My first thought in the latter case is: why? How can these books turn a profit? What do they contain that would be so valuable to a minecraft player?
       I got a collection of the handbooks by Scholastic, which were approved by the creator company, Mojang. I intend to see what they could explain about Minecraft that is apparently hard to find on the internet.




Book one: Essentials


      What are the essentials of minecraft? Punch stuff to get materials for crafting. Punch a tree to get wood, and marvel as the tree then defies gravity! Punch dirt, and it does the same! Punch sand, and die of suffocation when it falls on your head!
     Though seriously, the essentials book is pretty much the tutorial a first time user of minecraft needs. The game doesn't explain anything, from how to get materials to what you do with them when you get them. The book itself isn't bad.

...However, they made a very strange decision with the book, which makes me wonder why they bothered to make it in the first place.
     You see, in addition to the developer interviews, there is an interview and tips from youtube Minecraft let's player, Captainsparklez. Now, on the surface that makes sense; he plays a lot of Minecraft, and is well known for doing so, so it'd make sense to put info from him in the book.
     However, it is for the same reason that I find it bizarre. If the audience reading it doesn't know about Captainsparklez, they aren't going to care what he says, or just wonder why he's so special as to be interviewed. But, if they know Captainsparklez, they don't need this book. If they want to know how to play, they'll watch his videos, of which he has a lot of. So you see the conundrum:

The internet is free (kinda; at the very least there are ways to access it without paying for it personally), and houses all the info on minecraft in a myriad of places, be it in video, wiki, or forum. Why would you buy a book to explain what the internet can already?
There are some possible answers, but none of them are really all that good...

This book holds nothing for veteran players; which is to be expected, it is a beginner's guide. But everything in it, in my view, should've been rolled in with the book on combat in my opinion, which is book #3, and I'll get to after the next one.

Overall, I see no reason to get this book. If you want to learn minecraft, there are a lot of free ways to do it. At best this is a reference guide for some of the crafting recipes, but you'd be hunting for them.

The next book however, is a lot more useful.


Book two: Redstone


     Redstone is one of the most complex game mechanics I've ever seen, though it is simple in theory.
     Redstone is basically a wire. It can carry a current a certain distance instantaneously. A redstone torch can provide a signal that is constantly on unless it is shorted out by another torch. A button provides a second long signal; a switch has a toggleable on/off position; and a pressure plate has a signal that is on as long as the plate is depressed, same with the trip wire. Finally, there is the redstone repeater, which can increase the distance redstone can travel, and can have the signal be delayed a few seconds.
     Simple concepts; so how is it complex?




It is complex because people are able to build computers with it. I am entirely serious.

Redstone is programming and engineering. People go to college for years to learn how to create such complex systems, and they can be replicated in Minecraft.
     The redstone book contains examples like this, of the power of redstone, but sticks to teaching some of the more basic concepts that are still very complex.


     I ranked the previous book as for being for pure beginners only, and this redstone book is strictly for advanced users. Mid level users can do some interesting things with redstone, and the book shows you how, but advanced users are the ones who can truly unlock the infinite potential of redstone.
     Redstone, and book number 4, were the books I expected to be the most worthwhile, considering there are some really difficult things to grasp with redstone. The book is a great beginners introduction, and midlevel's reference guide for becoming advanced.


     Now, there is the argument again that all the info in the book can be found on the internet... But admittedly the book is very handy and informative, with a lot of clear visual guides, which can be lacking in net guides.
     Overall, this book is my favorite of the four, and probably the one most worth your money; provided you can remain interested in minecraft long enough to reach the advanced stage of redstone.



Book three: Combat


     This book is on how to fight in minecraft, everything that will help you do that, and what your end goal likely will be.
     There are many monsters in minecraft, and this book gives a rundown of each of them, in addition to tactics on how to fight them. It also tells you about the two bosses of the game and how to find and fight them.
      The book also explains potions, another quite complex system in the game, as there are many different variables you control when brewing potions. The potions section I found to be the most useful thing in the book, though the ways of fighting the bosses would prove useful to someone who's never fought them before.
     But like I said, the rest of the book is basics, and is quite frankly info that'd be more useful in the essentials book. As such, the combat and essentials books should've been made into one book. It's not like it'd be overly long, the books are 80 pages at most.

Though that thought brings me to the last book in the collection...


Book four: Construction


     Construction consists entirely of instructions on how to make specific buildings, and ideas based on community creations. Which is pretty much what you'd expect from the book. It gives tips on how to vary the ideas
     The idea of the book isn't bad. Minecraft is like a big tub of Legos; the possibilities are overwhelming to the point where you can be stifled into creating just what is simple. This is the same problem with other construction games; if you don't have a heading and a strong plan, you aren't going to get everything you could out of building in the game.
    The contents of the book are fairly solid; enough instructions to help you complete the creations therein, and tips on how to create your own stuff. The only problem is the length.



They planned this


     Length is a problem for all fours books. They are all 80 pages long. At standard cost, they are 8 dollars each; that's roughly a dollar for every ten pages.
     Just for sake of the argument and lack of knowledge on the true cost of production, lets say they make double the cost of production on a sale, meaning the book costs 4 dollars to make. Lets say the pages cost 2 dollars, the covers costs 1, and 1 goes towards the initial cost of production. Now, let's double the pages to 160 by combining essentials and combat, or redstone and construction. Pages now cost 4, and maybe the cover costs say 50 cents more for a bigger spine. the cost of production would then be 6.50, which would bring the purchase cost to 13 dollars if it is doubled. That price is still reasonable. However, the reason why they aren't combined and sold at that price is because they wanted four books.
     In the back of essentials, they mention the three following books were coming soon. They had four books planned form the start. So, instead of getting 26 dollars for getting two books of 160 pages each, they get 32 dollars for four books of 80 pages each. The collection of the books isn't a bundle sale either, it normally retails for 32 dollars, I got it on sale for 24. (I beat the odds!)
    They made the books piecemeal and short, in order to make more money.

     Now, return ot the fact I mentioned before all minecraft info can be found for free on the internet. The people who least need these books are adults, thus why they are marketed towards kids. That is why I am going to call them a rip off. These books prey on fanatical children and parents that don't know any better.
    For reference, the unofficial guides sold near these were substantially thicker, upwards of 400 pages in a large format. They were specialized as well, but they had more meat behind them, at roughly the same price.That is the problem with these books; they were made with the intent of getting money from children first, and explaining the game second.

     This problem isn't limited to Minecraft; there are many other game guide and books whose intention is to get money before the content, insert joke about textbooks here.


     Let this review be a warning to those considering getting the Minecraft handbooks: they are not all worth it.
This is my ranking of the books in terms of how useful they are:
1. Redstone
2. Construction
3. Combat
4. Essentials


The collection in not worth your money. If you want a handbook on any one of the topics, get it, as it does a decent job of covering the topic. 




As a guide to Minecraft, the books are decent at least, great at most. But as a product they are not worth their cost. Get them when they are discounted on a clearance rack like I did if you're interested. And in the future, when your kids are begging you to get a guide book on the next big game, I suggest looking through it before buying. If it seems really short, and there are others in a series about the game... don't bother with it. If the game is somehow popular enough to where they think they can sell guides piecemeal, there are likely unofficial guides around as well that'll prove to be more worth your while.



This has been Fixer Sue, discussing media that very rarely gets reviewed (for good reason mostly).

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Pokemon Rumble World

So, recently Nintendo announced that it was going to start developing games for mobile devices. This is a very good thing, since most mobile games as of late like to follow the candy crush formula; being a hard game that is meant to eat at your wallet with micro-transactions to make the game easier- or in some cases, to make the game playable. Hell, Pokemon copied the Candy Crush formula to a T with their match 3 game Pokemon Shuffle (which uses the same engine as Pokemon Trozei, another match three game that is instead a pay to play).
So, Pokemon Rumble World is a new addition to their 3DS line-up, and it is a free version of Pokemon Rumble. Basically the idea is that you play as toy pokemon in a hack and slash, and capture other pokemon, with your goal being to collect all 700 pokemon.
The game mechanics are simple: you move around, and attack with the A and B buttons. The elemental attack dynamics are the same as in pokemon; fire does more damage to grass, steel and bugs, grass does more damage to water and rocks, et cetera. Each attack has a different effect as well; some with an increased area of effect not tied to its damage.

Keep in mind, all further mechanics discussed are based on a first impressions look of the game. Some mechanics aren't entirely explained, so these are from my understanding of them.

     When you defeat a pokemon, they will be lying on the ground. Walk over to them to capture them. You'll be told their attack value, which is likely randomized. The chance for whether or not they are capturable appears to be entirely random. You could end up capturing all the pokemon you meet in a zone, or none at all.
     Once you finish with the tutorial, you'll be given the choice of three balloons: water, fire, and grass. These balloons will take you to different zones attatched to the types of pokemon mentioned. Though it is not exclusively grass or fire types in these zones; there are some assorted ones in there too. Even the ones specifically marked Hoenn can contain pokemon from Kanto. When they say you can capture pokemon from a specific region in the zone, they mean from the specific game.
     But anyway, after completing a zone, the balloon that was used goes on a timer. As soon as you reach rank 5, the timer increases. The Hoenn balloon appears to take an hour to recharge, while the element balloons take half an hour. This may not be set in stone, it is possible the times are longer as you continue on; after all, they want you to spend your gems on everything.
     Gems are the premium currency, the ones you don't get through normal play in the zones. You can get gems through streetpasses, and daily challenges. You can get more from completing special conditions in the challenges as well (such as break 10 objects, which is a relatively easy feat as you'll tend to do that anyway). But otherwise, you'll have to buy them to get more. And you will need more, as there are a number of items in the game to use gems on. Such as extra lives and more balloons (which means more playtime before putting it down). However, given the nature of the game, playing the game totally free is not that bad an option, beyond requiring a bit of patience. The game isn't hard by any stretch, you can easily cheese the stages and never die. The only hard thing seems to be capturing rare pokemon, or a specific pokemon. I'm hunting for a Ralts and its evolution line, and am looking forward to finding it, but not so much trying to capture its line.
     Here's one downside to capturing the pokemon: everywhere you go (at least in the beginning) each new pokemon is likely higher level than your current highest. Meaning, once I finally get that Ralts, it will more than likely be outstripped with power incredibly fast. Of course, I can go back to the zone where the Ralts are, and get a new one that is more powerful. but then I'd just be doing that over and over and over again. If the Pokemon max out in power, then there isn't a lot to worry about. But, if they don't, then that means you'll likely replace your favorite with someone who is not your favorite, simply because they are way more powerful, which isn't very fun. You have no connection to something so easily replaceable. But again, this point may be moot if the powers plateau instead of continue to climb linearly.
     Also, you can pick up multiple copies of a pokemon in a zone. However, once you leave the zone, they are all automatically added to your bank of pokemon. I have to micromanage it after every trip to get rid of the weaker copies to keep the number semi-reasonable. It'd be better if they gave you a list afterward and asked "Which of these would you like to keep?" and save some trouble.


So, what do I think of it? I think it is fun; but then again I love pokemon, So I am biased to give it a good shot. Someone who is not a pokemon fan may feel lost in the large number of pokemon availible, the various attacks and effects as well as the element wheel... The game doesn't explain all of this, just the very basic fire beats grass deal. Unless you're a pokemon fan, you wouldn't likely guess that steel beats fairy, or that dragon beats dragon... or that Charizard is not a dragon.
It's a fun game for pokemon fans, and free to try and play. There is no harm in giving it a shot.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Five Nights at Freddy's

     The Hollywood Reporter had an article on April 7th, 2015, declaring that Warner Brothers has plans to create a movie called "Five Nights at Freddy's." The high-concept of the story is that it is a haunted and dark version of Chuck-e-Cheese. Now, that may sound like any other Warner Brothers horror film like Ouija (Stiles White, 2014), but this news is kind of a big deal. But some context for those who are not into horror, or watch Lets Players on Youtube:



     Five Nights at Freddy's is an indie horror game, created by one man, Scott Cawthon. Before Five Nights, Scott had made mostly Christian or Family Friendly games, mostly sidescrollers with pre-rendered 3D models. His last game before Five Nights was criticized for having characters that look like creepy animatronics, and Scott had a small epiphany: he thought he could make something a lot scarier.
     Thus he created Five Nights at Freddy's, a horror game where you play a night guard at Freddy Fazbear's Pizza, trapped in the building with 4 deadly animatronics (5 if you count a kind of unexplained mystical one). You play through 5 nights at Freddy's like the title suggests, each one getting harder than the last.
     Your entire goal is keeping the animatronics out of your security room. To do this, you have cameras to check on where the animatronics are, and buttons to close two blast doors. But, using the cameras or closing the doors costs power, which you have a limited supply of. If you run out of power, you can no longer close the doors, and it is game over. If one of the animatronics manages to get in, it is game over. Each game over is accompanied with a jump scare of the animatronic in question getting right in your face and screaming.

     It doesn't sound like much, and it really isn't. It is an incredibly low budget indie game. Yet, the game was successful enough to warrant two sequels: Five Nights at Freddy's 2, which is technically a prequel, and Five Nights at Freddy's 3, set thirty years after the first game. Five Nights has had an entire trilogy, in the span of a year and a half, and the creator has raked in a TON of money for it.
      You might wonder why this game became so popular as to warrant two sequels within months of each other. The answer is simple: people on youtube playing the game. There wasn't much marketing for Freddy's beyond putting the game up on Steam (think of it as a version of amazon focused on delivering games digitally), but some Lets Players (people who, as the name suggests, play games for an audience) played the game enough for it to reach memetic status, and it spiraled into a devoted fandom.

     That's pretty much the brief history of Freddy's, minus the backstory about a serial child murderer who keeps returning to Freddy's, and the stuffing of the children into the animatronics, and someone's frontal lobe being bitten off by one of the animatronics (surprisingly that guy is still alive). Yeah the series is pretty messed up, but pretty tame compared to some of the other horror films and TV shows out there (Criminal Minds comes to mind for people worse than the Purple Man, the serial murderer so named because he appears in game as a pixelated purple man). It sounds like something bog standard for a horror film right?
     That is exactly why this is so interesting and important. Five Nights at Freddy's was created by one man for very little, and now it is a franchise. Even if they also make the movie for very little money, it is a guaranteed success for two reasons:
1. Horror films always make money. Ouija some how made several times its budget.
2. There is a large, devoted fanbase for the series, that will almost certainly go see the film, regardless of its actual quality.
     Five Nights is what is known as a "presold idea," a film property already in the public's consciousness that does marketing by generating hype rather than selling the idea to the audience.

     As for the budget of the film... The budget would be quite minimal from my (fairly knowledgeable) calculations. There is one primary set, Freddy Fazbear's Pizza. There are only 3-4 necessary characters (the security guard, the purple man, and both phone guys (they give the game's tutorial and some backstory)). The animatronics could be done with costumes and not CGI. Altogether, if they were aiming to spend as little as possible, the film could be done with less than a million dollars.
     And of course because the film is quite likely to be successful for so little, there is bound to be a sequel the year after. They very well could make the game franchise into a film franchise.


    To recap: Five Nights at Freddy's is guaranteed to make money, they don't need to spend a lot to make it, AND it is a franchise. All this was made possible by one guy making extremely simple PC games. This is what is interesting: this is the power of the internet, horror, and presold ideas.



     The funny thing is, I predicted this like a month ago, right down to saying Warner Brothers would do it. It's not future sight, it is just knowing the market. It wasn't a question of if, but when.


And that's the story all about how an indie game maker earned a metric ton of money. It simultaneously gives one hope that they too could one day do that as well, and saddens that it takes horror to do it that easily.
(Note, I'm not discounting Scott Cawthon's difficulties in making the game, I'm sure the programming and animation were difficult in some fashion. But it really doesn't seem that hard when his release schedule was August 2014, November 2014, and March 2015. Film makers would squeal for that kind of release schedule)



To sign off, I'll say this: Five Nights may be the only horror film I'm actually interested in seeing. and I have not played the games, nor do I like horror films. At all. Let that speak for how powerful a marketing force this indie game has become.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Life is Strange: episode 1

     A new occurrence in video games is the episodic puzzle/story games. Popularized by Sierra with their take on the Walking Dead series, and expanded to Borderlands, Game of Thrones, and their original series Wolf Among Us, these games are characterized by allowing the player to make choices that alter the narrative in different ways, and by a third person view of a character that walks very slowly while completing puzzles of varying intensity.
     Today's subject matter, Life is Strange, follows this episodic puzzle game nature, with an interesting twist... Also, it is made by DONTNOD and produced by Square Enix.




    Life is Strange follows Max, an 18 year old photography student at an elite high school, who wakes up one day to discover she can rewind time. Now she has all the time in the world to make her decisions, and can try different paths when talking with someone... However, there are some unintended consequences.
     The limit of Max's power is this: she can only rewind to very recent actions (within a minute or two). So, while she could make thing better in the short term, the long term carries effects unknown.
      She discovers this power when she goes into the bathroom after class, and is witness to a boy, Nathan, fatally shooting a girl, Max's old friend Chloe (they recognize each other closer to the third act of the episode). She sticks out her right hand, and suddenly time flies backwards until she is back in class. From then on, she can always choose the right path...

      Then again, maybe there is no right path.
      After every significant choice, or meet a significant event, you are told "this action will have consequences." this ranges from telling the principle the local monopoly's son brought a gun to school, to watering your house plant. Yes, seriously. And the game makes it where you, like the character, instantly feel guilty for EVERYTHING bad that happens because you can prevent it. You can prevent a girl from being hit on the back of the head with a football, you can save a bird from dying... But if you do help them, you get the message "this action will have consequences."
      Depending on how your time travel logic works, this could range from "the consequence is someone has to repair the broken window" to "mass hysteria." and given the ending of the episode, we are headed for the "mass hysteria" section of time logic.
      There is a butterfly motif running through the game, a reference to the butterfly effect and The Sound of Thunder. saving the bird's life might seem nice in the short term, but in the long term, it may cause a hurricane in Egypt...
       ...but then we get to my one problem with the story thus far: are any of our choices worthwhile?

     I'm going into speculation mode, so bare with me, but the ending to this could potentially be infuriating.
     You see, like saving the bird or stomping on a butterfly, actions can have massive consequences when it comes to time. And the entire story may have been screwed before we've even left the tutorial. You see, Chloe died in the original timeline... And Max when back in time to save her. Time is likely going to try and correct this error, if the previews and ending sequence are to be believed.
     Thus, I shall call the worst case, and most likely case scenario: you have to go back in time and stop yourself from saving Chloe. Now, this is most likely, as that was the event that triggered the storm (most likely right now at any rate). This is the worst case because it will mean that everything in between didn't happen. All the actions logged, that we are told will have consequences... all of them undone to undo the butterfly effect. If this is indeed the case, then by hell the only way to play is to do all the good actions, make yourself feel good. Screw the long term, you won't ever get there because you have to undo everything!
     Best case scenario however, is that you don't go back in time to defeat the butterfly effect. Your actions have actual long term consequences, and they have an effect on how the 5 episodes end.

I actually really enjoyed this game quite a bit. I want to do multiple runs to see the effects... but I also don't want to if the worst case scenario up there is true. Part of the reason I just stopped playing the Walking Dead game by Sierra is that no matter what, the end is the same; all the different entangled paths converge onto one point that is made no different by your choices other than small details. I hope that isn't what happens in this game. If a player is given choices in a game, those choices need to mean something in the end... otherwise it is all just metagaming for the theoretical "best run." If anyone cares enough anymore to run it.


Though to sum up, I really like the game and I am looking forward to the next episode (got the season pass, the next episode is in March), but I will be very sad if this takes the path I think it is... Life is Strange is a very melancholic game, and I can only hope that it ends happy. Even just an ending that is, "everyone runs away from the snowstorm in Egypt" is better than "basically the ending to The Butterfly Effect (movie)"
Plox no equivalent to aborting oneself...

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Sonic Boom- Episode reviews 1 & 2

     Sonic Boom, the latest television series based around video game icon, Sonic the Hedgehog, premiered on Cartoon Network Saturday, November eighth 2014.
     Sonic Boom is one of several different attempts to bring Sonic to the cable box.


     Two of the more popular iterations, Sonic SatAm and Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, both released in September of 1993.
     Sonic SatAm is the fan nickname for the show, since it was just called "Sonic the Hedgehog" and such a title was too nondescript for discussion, so they called it SatAm because it was shown Saturday mornings. It featured Sonic and a large cast of characters fighting against Doctor Robotnik, an evil genius that has taken over the world, and turned the majority of living things into robots. This series introduced a lot of the characters and the story of the Sonic Archie series (which is a long running series of comic books created by Archie Comics. Sonic fans are not known for extravagant names to refer to the different media outlets Sonic appears in).
     The second series, Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, (Or AoStH in the fandom. Again, call it like it is) was actually more Saturday morning cartoon based than the one that ran on Saturday mornings. It had the same premise of Sonic the Hedgehog fighting Robotnik, but through wacky hijinks, and Robotnik is trying to take over the world, as opposed to his darker counterpart that succeeded. AoStH lasted longer than SatAm, being run through 1996 as opposed to SatAm's cancellation in 1994.

     Following the end of both series, Sonic got another attempt at a TV series through Sonic Underground. It was very, very ninties, featuring Sonic playing guitar and two new team members who had punk styling. Sonic Underground is the least known series. It's plot was like SatAm's, except Sonic and his two siblings who never appeared again outside the Archie comics had medallions that turned into weapons and instruments. Or just flat out weapons, depending on your musical tastes.

     Following that attempt that lasted all of 2 months, Sonic got another series, this time made in Japan and dubbed by ear cancer. I mean 4Kids Entertainment. Easily confused with ear cancer.
     Sonic X premiered in 2003, and featured the full cast of the games, and the most controversial addition, humans. Specifically, a young boy named Chris, who added nothing of real value to the stories.
     Sonic X basically retold the stories of the Sonic Adventure series of games, then went off in its own direction when it exhausted those.

     In short, Sonic hasn't had a large amount of success on TV, despite trying several times with different methodologies.
     Sonic Boom is the latest series attempt. It takes place in an alternate universe to the primary Sonic, with pretty much the same premise... except with a lot more sports tape, longer legs, and more steroids for Knuckles.

Just all the steroids for Knuckles.

    Despite some initial distaste for the series by the current Sonic fans, the new designs for the Sonic crew had grown on many. Sonic and Knuckles will never be accepted in this state in the fandom at large, but no one complains about Amy and or Tails.
    Speaking of Amy however, the series had an interesting idea to present: Amy is in love with Sonic, and Sonic doesn't know that. Everywhere else she plays the stalker with a crush that he finds annoying. Just the fact that her love for Sonic isn't at the forefront, meaning she has a chance ot showcase more of her personality, gives me high hopes for the series...

But, then again, the series is being written in the style of AoStH, being very cartoonish, 15 minute episodes. So, no real hope for a grand, epic plot...
Infact, the plots are actually incredibly shallow.

The first episode synopsis is this:
Tails gets injured in a fight with Eggman (used to be Robotnik, was later changed to Eggman), and Sonic holds auditions for a new sidekick.


... I have problems with that premise for quite a few reasons:
1. It is a weak premise.
2. It makes Sonic seem incredibly shallow, selfish, and self-centered.
3. Point 2 goes against EVERY SINGLE ITERATION OF SONIC.
So, that is about all the original fans alienated, and the episode hasn't even started...


Once the episode starts proper, the reason is clearer. Sonic is looking for a new sidekick so Tails doesn't go into the line of fire again. Which is better. But the synopsis problem still stands: if someone reads that before heading in, they might not be inclined to give it a chance. Not the right foot forward.

The episode itself... It is... Ehh...
The jokes aren't that great right now. They still need to establish characters before they can get rolling. It's just throwing random stuff right now.
Though by the antlers of the deer god, they managed to do the impossible: they made Amy Rose EVEN MORE ANNOYING. And this is coming from a guy who LIKES her character!
She comes in for the audition to be Sonic's side kick, and quite honestly she could've gotten the job if they didn't decide to have her be freaking stupid, and start juggling, singing, and doing a horrible Italian impression that makes Mario look authentic.
The first episode really felt like a pilot episode. Which isn't too bad, but there is a problem in TV: producers don't want set-up episodes. They don't want everything explained in the first couple episodes. They want to start right in the middle. Problem is, only Sonic fans know who these people are, and Sonic fans aren't fans of a lot of the changes. So, jumping in, newcomers have no idea who anyone is, and longtime fans are alienated. Great show pitch!


The second episode is also ehh, and is forming an unfortunate pattern. The second episode is about Eggman becoming Sonic's roommate while his home is being rebuilt.
Another fairly dumb idea, but for reasons not completely apparent. The idea is fairly shallow, but the other problem it creates is far worse:
Eggman is not a credible threat.
In the main Sonic universe (Sonic Boom is an American spin-off), Eggman regularly pulled eldritch abominations out of the earth and tried to bend them to his will. He plans to conquer the earth and actually succeeded once. He managed to grab a hold of several planets, and turned them into an intergalactic amusement park. MU Eggman is a credible threat.
But Sonic Boom Eggman? When he reveals that his entire plan was to just tire Sonic and Tails out (There are a lot better ways to do that... Just have a bunch of small attacks at all times all around... wherever they are), and unveils his obliterater bot, the bot immediately goes to destroy Eggman's base, and Eggman has to ask Sonic to help him stop the robot.
Just... just why. If Eggman isn't a credible threat, then he is just the crazy guy with some robots that malices Sonic and co. with a shoehorn every now and then.

As a side note, Sticks, a Sonic Boom original character, is so far a lot more interesting than the rest. She's paranoid to the point of yelling at her own shadow. That works. It also helps that she was actually right about Eggman's plan, making her far more competent than pretty much everyone else.


There are a couple synopsis available for the upcoming episodes:
Episode 3: Sticks is invited to a gala but doesn't know how to act lady-like. It's called "My fair Sticksy"
Putting aside that they are already using ideas completely unrelated to Sonic, I am glad to see it isn't just Sonic and Tails in the spotlight. Hell, Sticks came out the best, so maybe it could be good.
Or there will be about 3 jokes based on heels. One of them will be that a heel is used like a boomerang (Sticks' primary weapons are boomerangs).

Episode 4: A traveling circus captures Sonic and his friends.
... Really, we are going there already? Is this like an arrested development thing where we are watching the entire season backwards or something? We are dropping all possible stories to tell with Sonic fighting Eggman, because the story about a traveling circus capturing the heroes must be told first.
This is an idea that comes late into a second or third season, when they start being strapped for ideas. Are they desperate already?
The perfect solution to that problem is simple: have an over arching story. Then you got something to build off of, and interesting situations can come off that. But when you just bounce things off the wall, you get this.


This isn't even fun stupidity like AoStH, it's just... dumb right now.

Maybe time will improve the show, but if this current pattern holds, I don't expect Sonic Boom to get another season...

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Freedom Planet

     What happens when you give a bunch of Sonic the Hedgehog fans the money, talent, and skill necessary to make a game? Well they live up to their kickstarter and make a fast-paced 2D platformer of course!
     This is Freedom Planet.


      I should mention ahead of time, this review is first impressions based. I am not a big time reviewer capable of asking for review copies before their release date so I can play them to completion. In order to get this review out in a timely manner, I must base my initial assessment on the first 30 minutes of gameplay. I may in the future return to do a complete review of the property, but if the rest of the game is like the first two parts, I have a fairly good idea of how it is.

     The controls are quite tight; that is to say, they are well responsive with very little input lag.
     Initially I had some trouble configuring the controls, as I was trying to get my controller to work (The game has controller support by the way, for you Sonic fans who cannot play any game remotely similar without a controller!) but the game wasn't accepting inputs from it, only my keyboard. I got it to work, but basically I had to program it through my keyboard instead of my controller directly. This could be just a bug, and may be patched out later on, so this does not factor in at all with my feelings on the game.

    For Sonic fans, I can break down the game in a very simple manner: It has the art style of the early sonic games, with the gameplay of Sonic Advance.
    For non-sonic fans, here is a complete breakdown:
    You move fast. very, very fast. However, while part of the objective to complete the level as fast as possible, you will actually want to explore the levels; a lot. There are collectibles hidden in each level, requiring some neat tricks in-order to get to them. This is quite counter productive to the whole "beat the level fast" thing, and the very fast movement speed lends itself more to that objective than to exploration, but I suppose the collection sidequest is more just added longevity, and unlocking of various goodies should all the collectibles in a level be found. I don't know the full answer (first impressions) but it's a decent guess.
    You also have three methods of attack. One: You have a double jump, and at least with Lilac, it is a move that adds height to the jump, and damages enemies. Two: a basic attack move, which seems to, under certain circumstances, home in on enemies. Three: A special ability. For Lilac, it is a wall bouncing ability, capable of either speeding her up, or allowing her to ascend to places normally unreachable.
    Of note, there is no tutorial for the game, at all. Not even a pop-up saying "these are your moves!" Old school gamers won't find this to be a problem, but even then not stating things outright in this fashion cna lead to some confusion. I got stuck on one part of a level because I didn't actually understand how Lilac's special worked, or that I was supposed to use it to advance. I did eventually figure it out, (and also found a card at the top of where I was supposed to go) but lost like 3 minutes of time on it. Though an argument could be made that the spot I was stuck in was designed to teach that; that I could get up there with my ability (and that there were cards hidden everywhere). And while that works, I just have the unfortunate feeling that some may get stuck there as well, and think the level was just poorly designed and give up. Giving a direct explanation of the ability might alleviate that. But, this game has only three buttons; it isn't really all that hard to figure out.
     The notable deviation from the Sonic series the game is an homage to, there is a health bar, similar to that of the Zelda series. Basically it is a bunch of leaves that represent how many times you can be hit before you die. There is also a mana bar, which is used by double jumping or using the special. The special can only be used at a full bar, meaning it can't be used after a double jump, but can be used after a single jump.

    Next, the story... I can't tell exactly what is going down, as there is a lot of backstory we haven't been told yet, but from what was shown: an evil lizard decapitates a king (onscreen!), and instills the king's son as a puppet king. Now he has lackies going after these special gems that supply power. The main characters are heroes, possibly mercenaries or something... I'm not sure of the details, but so far the plot is decent, if a bit textbook. It may get more intricate as time goes on.


    Now for the negatives...
    The bosses are kinda difficult. They are fast, and are kinda hard to avoid at times. Certainly there is a strategy to beating them, and they become easier after it is found; but they are still quite long. It becomes a battle of attrition more than anything else.
    But other than the bosses, there isn't much else negative to say. Well, I can point out that the game may be a bit too "furry" for its own good. The moment I heard Lilac was a dragon, I immediately thought: "Wow, is she also a kittyfox?" The game is already gonna turn people away because it looks like something out of a Sonic fanart gallery, calling her a dragon won't do the game many favors. I have no problem with her being a dragon or her design, just the fact she was called a dragon is what gave me pause. If they left her species ambiguous, I probably would not have even mentioned this. Then again, I am a furry, so I already notice trends like dragon original characters popping up everywhere; a normal person probably won't think anything of her being a dragon.




     And those are my initial impressions. It is certainly a fun game, and I look forward to playing more, and probably going for 100% in it. I may update with a complete review of the game, but if not, here's my score for the game:

9.7/10

+ Excellent gameplay, decent apparent longevity, and good writing and intriguing story. 

- Attrition bosses, possibly too "furry" for main stream audiences (does not factor into rating). 


Rating may be lowered in the future if future levels turn out to be a pain. Otherwise the rating will likely stand.