Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Baldur's Gate 3 is an amazing game to play.

I've been playing some Baldur's Gate 3. This game by Larian studios is a ton of fun. If you've always wanted to try out Dungeons & Dragons but you've never gotten a group together, I'd really recommend giving it a go. I actually (in many ways) think it mimics the tabletop experience. And I also think that in some ways it is superior. That's weird, right? But seriously, it is so much fun. I won't spoil any of the details for you in case you'd like to give it a go, but I will tell you these things:

1) It's worth the money. The game is complete as is, and the developers do not plan on charging you for other things. This game comes with a huge story arc, and it's all done and in the can. And there are no "loot boxes" that require money.

2) The interface is marvelous, and the graphics are just so sublime. I get full immersion playing this game, and I wonder where the hours have gone. There are some NSFW things to it, so you need to keep an open mind. The characters can do nearly everything in the world, and I've heard that your characters can even get into relationships and have sex (I haven't experienced this facet of the game yet). This is totally strange for a video game, but there you have it. I guess games these days are really evolving.

3) It uses the 5e D&D rules with some modifications. But they are easy to grasp because the computer does it all. You just need to sit back and enjoy playing. When combat starts, it breaks it down into turns so you don't get overwhelmed. Even people with slow reflexes can play this thing, because you can take as much time as you want to figure out what you want to do.

4) There was some controversy with the release of Baldur's Gate 3, because other, larger game developers got nervous that the game was so good. Some of their programmers took to Twitter to say things like, "Please don't compare Baldur's Gate with our game, because we aren't up to that standard due to not having enough resources." It was a really strange thing to admit, especially when Larian is a small studio that apparently created a masterpiece.

5) You should explore the setup options when first starting the game. For example, the game defaults to "metric" measurement. But a lot of us live in the U.S., and we may not understand metric as much as the "Imperial" system unfortunately. I changed mine to that so I could get readings in "feet" that make sense to me. There's also one that turns off a dice rolling thing that defaults to a setting where it fudges dice rolls for you so that you don't ever get "streaks." In other words, if you roll really good, it will force the next roll to be a failure. But vice-versa, if you roll terribly, the next roll will more than likely be good. I don't like this at all, so I turned it off.

6) Click on everything and read everything to see what's there. Even doing this, I know I'm missing things because I just can't see them. But it's so much fun to find something unique and unusual hiding in plain sight.

Anyone else already playing Baldur's Gate 3? If so, let me know about your experience with it. I'm including the opening cinematic below so that people can watch it that might not have heard of this game.

Monday, August 28, 2023

Ted Lasso shows us how you could live if all the big things were removed and you only had small things left to trouble you.

I'm almost done with season 2 of Ted Lasso. The episode I watched was called Beard After Hours. It was a big tonal shift for the series to make, and I learned that it was the second of two episodes that Apple specifically requested to be added to the series. It was one of those episodes that haunts practically every show that hits the zeitgeist hard. The Bear season two had one of these episodes that was overly long and indulged in the drama of a family in crisis that was set some six years or so in the past. I didn't enjoy that episode all that much. This one that focused on Coach Beard was one I place squarely in that same box.

However, I don't watch this show for plot momentum. I watch it for the characters, of which Ted Lasso himself is the most enviable and most interesting. And I also watch it for the happiness that being rich seems to provide to those who are in that position. Ted Lasso is filled to the brim with rich people. In the Christmas episode of season two, we see some actual poor people receiving presents from a "secret Santa" kind of thing done by the owner of the Richmond futball team. But it's just a blip in the continuing drama of what it means to be exceptionally rich, and to have nothing to do with one's time aside from work at a job that looks incredibly fun, hang out with a bunch of athletically gifted and super attractive young men, and where your daily calendar is filled with only the best nutrition and you have plenty of time to date and to seek out therapy and to just enjoy the best that life has to offer.

It's honestly quite intoxicating. I mean...sure there's drama...but there isn't the kind of drama that poor people face, like eviction, or having to stay in a toxic place because finances would kill you otherwise. No, this is the drama of a girl with halitosis who then needs to see a dentist on Christmas to begin to treat the issue, and there just happens to be a dentist in their posh neighborhood. This isn't the drama of working three jobs and letting your body get broken so that you can pay bills. It is the drama of attractive people who don't have to do their own housework who place rose petals in the bathtub for a lover who feels they need some alone time. And there's always someone else that will go and clean all those rose petals up. No one ever has to scrub a toilet, spend their weekend washing clothes, getting a vehicle repaired (as all the vehicles are in brand new condition), or going to the grocery store for ingredients to meal prep until Wednesday so that you have food to eat at work. This is the drama of people who are riding in the back of a Rolls Royce, they have no mind on traffic because they don't care (or road rage), and they have the time to contemplate how one of their loved ones is feeling. And then they can check in, because (again) they have the time.

It's absolutely wonderful and oh how fantastic. There's so much to envy in the happiness of the casually super rich. It feels like a place where you could "just do it."'ve always wanted to go to Italy? Just do it. And while your at it, go and have this amazing experience. Maybe go to the Maldives too. Yeah...just do it. You only live once. Only...a lot of people in this world can't afford to "just do it" to anything, unless it's walk down to Walgreens on the corner.

Anyway, Ted Lasso is a great show. I'm glad Liz recommended it so highly, and I'd recommend it to anyone. Just know that it's as much fantasy as The Lord of the Rings for most of us. But it's a fantasy that a lot of people can relate to, because it doesn't seem so far-fetched. It just all lies across that line of privilege that probably starts after you've accrued ten million or so in net worth. That (in my mind) is where life really starts to get good. So basically, Ted Lasso shows us how you could live if all the big things were removed so that you only had small things left to trouble you. Just think of all the possibilities you would have if you didn't have to file taxes because its done for you, you didn't have to shop because all your food just shows up in your house and is put into the fridge magically and prepared for you so all you had to do was eat it, so that you always had replacement clothes that always fit...I mean...every single one of us could be a good person. It wouldn't be hard to be a good person in a world like that. Sigh, if only.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Blue Beetle was crafted with love.

I saw Blue Beetle this last weekend, and this is a review with a few very minor spoilers. I'm not sure why I thought this movie was going to be spectacular. Maybe it's because I've enjoyed watching Kamen Rider with my roommate, and I've enjoyed that to some extent (it's hit or miss from episode to episode, and the acting is never great). If you don't know, Kamen Rider is a Japanese live action series that features flimsy plots where it's all about the guys in crazy suits fighting each other (the suits look like bugs or have many bug-like features to them). Think of Iron Man but only with a preying mantis helmet, and you've got the idea. Needless to say, the entire Kamen Rider community has been buzzing about Blue Beetle, so you know this movie is targeting a certain demographic.

After having viewed it, I can say confidently that I would watch another Jaime Reyes movie for sure. But Blue Beetle was just okay. The family interaction is great, I liked every scene George Lopez was in, but in many ways the movie just kinda made him into the Mexican version of Doc Brown from Back to the Future. And Reyes' roll as "Blue Beetle" gave off a lot of Spiderman vibes, but it wasn't Spiderman. I felt (while watching) that it would have been more effective to have him stand as his own and not borrow so much from Spiderman. However, now that I've seen the movie, I have no idea what that is going to look like, and maybe the writers didn't either, which is why we got what we got.

Additionally, the source material highlights a problem with DC heroes in general. The whole "Anything you can imagine, I can create" thing is the reason why most DC heroes are overpowered, and its difficult to portray them in movies. At the same time, a lot of people did criticize Iron Man for his magical nanotech that can solve any problem by the time Infinity War came out, but at least the few iterations had mechanics and weaknesses. The scarab creates a perfect magical suit, and because of that, I'm less invested in the "hero who gets swept up by a super powerful artifact that he doesn't know how to control" trope.

I did love that the movie went out of its way to treat Mexican culture in a way that I suspect Mexicans might agree with as opposed to "hard-working and plucky working class people fleeing drug lords" which is usually what we get. And in that respect, DC does deserve to be rewarded for at least trying to not paint-by-numbers about non-white characters.

So, to finish, it's not the most original superhero movie, but it's crafted with love. It was worth full price. I just don't know if I'd ever watch it again. It'll be interesting to see how it meshes with the new DC universe being put together by James Gunn. Anyone else see Blue Beetle over the weekend? If so, what did you think?

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Silo on Apple TV+ is a really good science fiction mystery that answers most of the big questions by the end of season one.

I finished up Silo that was on Apple TV+. It honestly is some of the best science fiction on television right now. I get excited about it in the same way that I felt looking forward to Expanse seasons when it was still going on Amazon. The production values are really high, and it's been greenlit for a season two, which makes me happy. It got me reinterested in reading the Wool series of novels. I recently learned about them, because of my interest in the show. I've no doubt that the brilliance of the series has a lot to do with Hugh Howey's obvious genius/talent in just writing good stuff. I think I might wait until after the whole series has been aired though, as I've read online that the adaptation of the television show holds pretty close to the book. In other words, if I go and read the book, then I'm going to spoil the whole plot. Silo is at its core a mystery. And I think it would take a lot of the punch out of the story if I read the books and then know how it all ends.

---------------------------SPOILER ALERT------------------------------- 

So, how did the first season go? The main character in this show is Juliette, who is played by Rebecca Ferguson. We actually don't even get to meet Juliette until the end of the first episode, when we see her at work at the bottom of the Silo trying to repair the generator that keeps electricity flowing. Without this generator, everything would basically shut down and pretty much, everyone living in the Silo would end up dead. It would be an awful circumstance were it allowed to happen.

Then over the course of the remainder of season one, events unfold. There's a huge machine that probably dug the silos located in its own chamber that few people in the Silos actually know about. And when I say, "huge" I really mean that this thing is "colossal." Like, it would be the size of a Star Destroyer in Star Wars if it were filmed in that universe. At the bottom of this pit that holds the digger there is supposedly a door that a man named George found (he's dead at about episode two, and his death spurs Juliette to do a lot of things to uncover the facts around his death). But we are never told where the door leads. There's also the problem that the bottom of it is filled with water, which is pretty intimidating if you breathe air. 

There's also an ancient hard drive making the rounds in the Silo that contains (among its many files) a view of the outside world that doesn't match anything that they see through their big screen in the cafeteria, which looks out on a pit with a dead tree and a bunch of dead bodies scattered around in a landscape that is desolate of all life. The alternate view of the outside world is one with a blue sky, green grass, flowers in bloom, a tree that is vibrant and healthy, and birds are flying in the distance. You don't really know which one is real until the very end of season one, but you suspect that the "green view" is the real view and that everyone in the Silo is being lied to because of some kind of Machiavellian need to rule over others. It plays very well into human nature, due mostly to the fact that every single one of us has interacted with people who crave power. I myself have never craved power, but I had a friend who admitted to me point blank that it was all he even cared about, and that he was frustrated that he failed to achieve the kinds of power that he desired in life. In the years that followed, I tried to understand that feeling, but I never could. It just seemed so pointless (and it still seems pointless) unless you just want to abuse people (which seems like a mental illness to me if I'm right).

In episode after episode we are slowly fed facts. Judicial has a few members that actually run everything in a secret room labeled "Janitorial" that is filled with screens that monitor all things in the Silo. You find out that it is a complete surveillance state, with cameras behind mirrors in people's homes, there are boogey men that murder people who know too much, institutionalized gaslighting, and doctors who don't remove birth control from women who are greenlit to have a child because they don't actually want that person to reproduce but don't have the guts to tell them. I's a dystopia yes...but it's just people being at their worst most of the time. It would be a horrible situation to live in, and I think knowing all that we know by the end, I'd prefer to "go out and clean."

By the season finale, Silo actually does a good job at answering most of the questions I had. Juliette does eventually get rounded up after she becomes extremely problematic for the boogey men/shadow government who decide that she needs to go out and clean. However, she has enough friends and enough acumen and skill that they are forced to broker a deal with her and reveal their hand. They show her a video of George actually choosing to commit suicide by jumping from a bridge. So he wasn't murdered. However, he chose suicide because he was just being led somewhere to be tortured until he revealed the location of the troublesome hard drive with all of the damning files and footage on it. Juliette also has a tinkerer friend named "Walk" that manages to replace the heat tape with her own homebrew heat tape that Judicial uses to seal suits with for those people forced to "go out and clean," which is a death sentence since you aren't allowed back into the Silo. The heat tape that Judicial uses to seal those suits allowed lots of toxins into the suit, which slowly killed the person wearing it. We are to assume that this is intentional. Somehow, I missed a detail that might have alluded to someone figuring that out. But they did, and it ends up saving Juliette's life when she walks out to clean.

And yes, that happens at the end of the season finale. Juliette walks out to clean with the special wool they put in a pocket, and she sees this beautiful green world. Now, this ends up being a lie, and she figures that out pretty quickly, because the footage is identical to the footage on the hard drive. In other words, she recognizes it all as a gif or some kind of video (probably helped by the fact that a dead George left a "video" for her to view that then explained what a "video" was). Juliette also refuses to clean, which is something no one has ever done. The reasoning that Judicial has for the fake green world shown on the inside of the visor/helmet of the vac suit that they wear when they go outside is that if the person sees a green and gorgeous world, then they will be compelled to clean the lens so that those inside will "see the truth."

Juliette manages to break the feed to reveal the real world through her visor. Because she has good heat tape keeping the toxins out, she doesn't die. And we see her walk up to the rim of the ridge, stand there a moment, and disappear, leaving everyone else watching inside gasping. I one has ever done this. And then the camera pans out on Juliette walking through a post apocalyptic landscape where there's circular ridges everywhere, indicating that there may be dozens if not hundreds of other "silos" where people live. It's a pretty incredible reveal, and I'm super excited to see where it leads. However, I've no idea how Juliette is going to survive when her air runs out, or when she needs food or water. This is a cliffhanger for sure, and season two can't get here soon enough. However, because of the writers strike, it may be 2025 before I see a follow-up to this series. At least, I hope so. It could be 2026. Ah well, the writer's strike is important, and I hope that it ends well for everyone involved.

Anyway, if you have Apple TV+, Silo is definitely worth your time unless of course all of the above spoilers have ruined the show for you. If that's the case, I apologize. But, I just wanted to talk about it.

Monday, August 14, 2023

Ahsoka arrives in less than ten days :).

I don't like Rosario Dawson due to her politics in 2016. However, she does an amazing job as
Ahsoka Tano. I'm really pleased with the actress's professional work, so I do that 
"separate the artist from the art" thing in my head in order to enjoy her roles.

is coming soon (ten days and counting), and I'm really looking forward to it. One of the reasons is because of what happened in the Star Wars Rebels episode, The World Between Worlds. Before this episode, Ahsoka had been in hiding and hadn't seen Anakin/Darth Vader for a decade. When they fought each other in a Sith temple, Vader survived the fight and I "presumed" along with everyone else that Ahsoka was just dead. Then in the World Between Worlds episode coming very close to Rebels final run, Ezra saved Ahsoka through time travel using the power of the Force gods. It's one of my favorite episodes of Star Wars period (of all time). And then shortly after that Ezra road off into the Galactic sunset on space whales, which we saw shadows of in one of the Mandalorian hyperspace sequences.

The latest trailer that dropped for the show has a pretty long voiceover by Hayden Christensen/Anakin. It got me more excited than I thought I would be, because my brain started to imagine all of the possibilities with Anakin showing up as a Force ghost and interacting with the one other Jedi who meant a lot to him (the first obviously being Obi-Wan Kenobi). I'm also happy that Hayden Christensen is finally being embraced by the Star Wars fandom. When he played Darth Vader, he was young, inexperienced, and he had absolutely dog shit writing and directions. For example, the scenes between Anakin and Padme are just cringe worthy.

Talking just a bit more about The World Between Worlds, introducing a temple that could control space and time in Star Wars was a leap that I didn't think at the time that Star Wars was ever going to make. I mean...Trek does this kind of thing on a seasonal basis in practically every show, but nothing ever comes of it. In Trek it's usually just playing in the past, doing this and that, respecting the timeline. The one occasion where they did something huge was in Yesterday's Enterprise, which completely retconned Tasha Yar's death (who was killed in Skin of Evil) due to (I think) some real-life things she was doing that embarrassed the studio like posing nude (or something like that). Those are the rumors I heard back in the day.

But the fact that the Force is apparently capable of something as big as "time travel" with the potential to alter the future? That was a tool that opened up so many possible storylines for writers. I guess we'll have to see what goodies get unpacked by all of those creative minds once the strike has been settled (and once big studios honor artists and writers with the goods they are due). 

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Strange New Worlds did a musical episode and I loved it.

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds keeps knocking it out of the park for me. I'm an avid "Trek" fan, but this episode (which aired last week) took me a bit by surprise. Here's your obligatory "spoiler warning," as I'm going to discuss the episode. So, if you haven't seen it, you may want to come back after viewing it.

The Enterprise finds a sub-space fold that may enable instantaneous communications across vast distances. In testing whether or not this could be true, the crew sends a song through it and unwittingly creates an expanding reality that makes people break out in song every time their emotions grow too complex for mere words. The result is that we are treated to song after song, many of which are performed by the crew (according to official sources in the know like Variety). Anyway, it turns out that the musical numbers were constructed around the actor's natural vocal range. But the thing I was most impressed with is how it appears to be so easy (for some gifted people) to turn regular dialogue that one might have in a situation into a song.

Look, I've never been musically inclined. I only barely attended my first karaoke experience. I did like it; however, I realize that the world is a better place if I don't sing and let professionals take that on. I do appreciate music a lot, and I've always been mystified at how people like Lin Manuel Miranda can seemingly churn out endless songs. Sometimes I wonder if their head is just a never-ending stream of melodies, and what that must be like.

Also, Spock is a strange character to see singing--doubly so for Klingons! I never thought I'd see that, but Strange New Worlds knows how to surprise. Somewhere in the back of my mind though, I have a question about the musical anomoly/subspace fold: was it created by the aliens from Close Encounters of the Third Kind? If so, that would make a lot of sense.

Monday, August 7, 2023

The Meg 2 and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles took me to the movies this weekend.

This weekend I went and saw The Meg 2: The Trench and the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. I'm going to discuss both shows in this post. So, here is your spoiler warning if you intend to watch.

First up is the Jason Statham fueled sequel to The Meg. I haven't read the books that these movies are based from, but I thoroughly have enjoyed both installations now. Folks, you go into these films as a person who needs to suspend a lot of their intelligence and just enjoy the ride as big, stupid fun. If you like kaiju movies, I'd think you'd be one of the first in line to see this kind of thing. But if the trailer didn't already give you an idea of what this movie is about, then just think Jurassic Park only with underwater creatures.

The sub in the movie that goes down into "The Trench" and manages to pierce the layer at the bottom that separates the world of giant creatures from the rest of humanity is the miracle exemption in this story. And in order to have a story at all, you just have to assume that there's going to be something bad that breaches that layer so that huge things can come through and terrorize the island people in the general area of that breach. But with the recent sub disaster where those tourists got killed when they paid exorbitant amounts of money to ride a tube down to the wreckage of The Titanic, I couldn't help but think that the sub in Meg 2: The Trench sure was luxurious. If only these kinds of crafts actually existed, with enormous windows, comfy seats, and all the safety you could want.  Nevermind that Jason Statham actually exits at the bottom of the trench and without any protective gear by just "emptying out his sinuses so he doesn't get crushed." None of that stuff matters, because this movie is pure action and fun.

There were three megalodons in this movie. But I think that the scariest creature was an enormous giant octopus that was a kind of mythical kraken. They came across it in the world of giant creatures, and it was surrounded by hundreds of other octopi that will probably end up getting as big as this gigantic one got. However, it didn't end up being much of a challenge for the megaladon that it attacked, so I was a bit disappointed by that. I'd think an enormous creature like that with arms covered in suckers would have at least taken out one of the sharks. But if they'd done that, then it would have made it harder to show Jason Statham killing two others single-handedly, especially since they needed one to survive for whatever reason. All in all, I give it a thumbs up. Just leave your brain at the door when you watch it.

The other movie I saw this weekend was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem. It's a movie that seemed to be brought to the big screen by Seth Rogan. If I'm wrong on this then it certainly is a passion project for Seth. Once I got used to the claymation style animation, I really enjoyed the voice acting. The plot was quite good too, as it was able to both give life to the Turtles and their Dad while showing how actually badass Splinter was (the voice actor was Jackie Chan). I actually don't know much about the Turtles and their rogues gallery. So it was really cool to get a nice intro into this with characters like Superfly. He (they?) were a typical supervillain in that they were going to use the "ooze" (the miracle exemption for this story) to bring about an evolution of every other lifeform on earth that wasn't human and then enslave/kill all the humans. And in typical "Turtles" fashion, their skills become crucial in the defeat of Superfly. It is also through this act, the saving of New York, that they achieve acceptance from humanity and are able to go to school and just be themselves. That kind of narrative...the idea that to achieve acceptance that you must first work your ass off for other people to get respect...seems like one that would appeal to Americans. I don't necessarily know if I agree with that. But, it's the story they decided to tell.

Anyway, I enjoyed the movie a lot. Anyone else see any movies this weekend? If you watched the same ones I did, what did you think?

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

It's time for the August 2023 Insecure Writer's Support Group post.

July 2023 seemed long. I'm writing this post on Tuesday, August 1st, and for some reason it feels like ages since I participated in the last Insecure Writer's Support Group. Part of it is the heat (I'm sure), and the fact that summers just seem to feel longer these days. They probably are, with heat starting to settle in earlier and leaving later, the result being that we have shortened winter, spring, and fall. In any case, it's now time to do our monthly IWSG post. So, let's go over the details together.

What is the purpose of the IWSG?: It is to share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds.

When do y'all post?: The IWSG army posts on the first Wednesday of every month. This day is officially the Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. You are to post your thoughts on your own blog. You could talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Or you could discuss your struggles and triumphs. If you have the inclination to do so, please offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. And last (but not least) please attempt to visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writers. You should aim for a dozen new people each time. And don't forget to return comments. This group is all about connecting. Be sure to link to this page and display the badge in your post. And please be sure your avatar links back to your blog. Otherwise, when you leave a comment, people can't find you to comment back.

The Twitter (do we still call it "Twitter" or is it "X" now?) handle for the Insecure Writer's Support Group is @TheIWSG and the hashtag is #IWSG.

The awesome co-hosts for the August 2nd posting of the IWSG are Kate Larkindale, Diane Burton, Janet Alcorn, and Shannon Lawrence!

Every month, the IWSG announces a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say.

Remember, the question is optional!

August 2 question: Have you ever written something that afterwards you felt conflicted about? If so, did you let it stay how it was, take it out, or rewrite it?

Yes. As I recall, this happened when I wrote a bunch of pages in first person. It just didn't feel right to me. So, I went back and rewrote them in third person omniscient. And then that didn't feel right to me, so I went back and rewrote them in third person one narrator perspective. By that time, it felt too weird, and I couldn't figure out what tense I wanted to work in. Eventually I settled on some version of third person, but I don't know if I was ever satisfied with any of it.

This is one of the things I continually struggle with when writing. That and tense. Do I use past tense? Do I use present tense? It's all in the verbs, you know? Anyway, I admire writers who can just lay something out in the tense and the person that they want to use, and then they stick with it and finish that project. That's pretty amazing. We probably don't even need to be worried about these things in the future, because ChatGPT or other a.i. programs are just going to write the books and people will just actively skip to the editing phase. I know that sounds cynical, but it's coming. And that's basically what I have to say about that.