Month: February 2015

Homeworld Remastered is Here

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It seems like every game is getting remade nowadays. The Curse of Monkey Island got one. Tomb Raider got one. Age of Empires 2 got one. Even Baldur’s Gate got one. So it was only a matter of time before a high profile series like Homeworld got one.

Released in 1999, and spawning a stand alone expansion and a sequel, the Homeworld series is a fully 3D real time strategy experience that features a free moving camera in an outer space environment where you can watch your space ships pew pew each other in glorious freedom. At the time, its interface was revolutionary and allowed you to zoom and twist your camera to view the gameplay in unrestricted ways.

Now that it has been remastered, you can play this game on modern rigs and relive the days when this game was an RTS king. The graphics are wonderful, and combined with its top notch story and production values, you’ll get a beautiful tour through the galaxy.

My original experience with the game was hampered by a PC that couldn’t handle the graphics. I had to choose between poor graphics or poor gameplay and eventually gave up on both. Now I can finally sink my teeth into both and still get updated features. Furthermore, Homeworld Remastered includes the sequel so you can go all the way with the story, and even the original games if nostalgia bites you.

The gameplay is just as you remember (Almost. The first game has been remastered with the sequel’s engine, which alters certain features accordingly). In fact, I actually got bored with the first couple of missions because they were just like before.

Speaking of gameplay, it is of the RTS kind, which features the same kind of rock-paper-scissors unit assortment you’d expect with various weaknesses and advantages. The focus, however, isn’t on base building and complex resource gathering, but rather showcases tactics. Most of the time you must manage your resources and units carefully from mission to mission as you don’t always get the chance to rebuild everything from scratch.

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This kind of gameplay works well in the 3D environment, which is good, because that’s about all there is to the game. Tactical engagements are the main focus here. Build your units, send them to battle, and watch them fly around space. This means that your time will feel bipolar, switching often between slow resource gathering and manic battle.

At the time of this game’s original release, this was great since it’s interface and graphics were second to none. Now, we have games like Sins of a Solar Empire which feature the same kind of gameplay, but with added features from turn based strategy games that really flesh out the whole experience. Homeworld’s gameplay isn’t bad, it’s just very focused, which can seem limited compared to today’s offerings.

I still have fun exploring the story, and the wonderful soundtrack and graphics really sell the game. Even the skirmish mode adds some intense gaming sessions. Most of the time I still find myself yearning for more complex gameplay after a while.

Add Homeworld Remastered to your list of anniversary, HD, enhanced versions of classic games. It’s a fun game to play through, especially if you missed out on it over a decade ago. Don’t expect anything groundbreaking compared to what we have now. Homeworld already did that back in the day. This ride is purely for nostalgia’s sake.

The Wheel of Time Turns on My Mind

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The recent scandal surrounding a surprising and controversial pilot episode, and the resulting lawsuit filed against author Robert Jordan’s widow, Harriet McDougal Rigney, has definitely put the entire series back into the spotlight. Not since the series’ conclusion a couple of years ago has this much attention surrounded it, and my own attentions have returned once again to the stories that filled my late teens and most of my twenties with adventure, trial, mystery, and enjoyment.

As the story itself is concluded indefinitely, there is nothing else to expect from the long running series of novels, except a companion novel to be released later this year that will feature back story and information directly from Robert Jordan’s notes. This will be called The Wheel of Time Companion. Such a novel is indicative of the end game of this series. All that is left for fans to do is either move on if they can find something to fill the void, or investigate the layers of story and the innuendos that Jordan famously constructed into his storytelling in the most tantalizing ways.

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While the books purport to give us all the answers that we need, and certainly they do, they do not expose things with clarity. Instead, things are resolved and revealed by the actions of the plot, or through the limited perspective of the characters, and the true answers lie somewhere in the mix, dispersed in pieces and parts that only can be assembled by taking together several different threads.

In short, Jordan has woven a tapestry that is just as interesting to study in its construction as it is enjoyable to experience.

Much like the effect Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and other works has on me, The Wheel of Time’s lore can draw me in for hours. As someone who aspires to write, studying how the author assembled these things is akin to students of painting studying the great masters in Paris. When you can understand the strokes and patterns that are used, you can apply those techniques to create masterful works of your own.

While time has yet to decide if Robert Jordan will be considered a true master, he definitely ranks up there as an ambitious writer. Much like Tolkien, he left behind a legacy of copious notes from which could possibly be derived several more stories if someone were allowed to rummage through them and edit them into something concrete. Jordan himself even promised that there were two more books he could have written as prequels to the main series. His widow, who was also his editor, is now the ultimate arbiter of his estate, and her ensuing legal battles regarding the series’ conversion to either television, in the manner of Game of Thrones, or into some sort of movie series will likely overshadow any chance that other books that could be released.

What is ironic is that fans waited months and years between releases of the books to find out what happened next. Such a thing became an iconic feature of being a fan of The Wheel of Time. We all got used to having to wait interminably for the end, or at least the next tidbit of story that inched us closer. When the series finally concluded, I had thought that my days of waiting for any news on what to expect would happen with Rand, Mat, and Perrin would be over for good. Their stories are done. I know how it all ends.

Now, fans are once again caught in a flux of waiting as we now strain to discern what the series’ fate will be in other mediums. Will it make it to some premium channel like HBO or Showtime? Perhaps it will be a web series, something that has proven lucrative and effective. What sacrifices should we expect in such a conversion? How will all these legal proceedings affect any plans for any of this to happen? Once again we will have months and years more to see how this all will come to pass.

To wait for answers is the ultimate destiny of anyone who enjoys this series, it seems. The wheel of time turns and ages come and pass. While reading A Memory of Light seemed like the end, it was only one ending, as there are no true beginnings or endings. Paraphrasing Robert Jordan’s common description of time in his works shows just how true to life some of his work will always be.

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Rectify: A Ponderous and Luscious Season 1

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I do part time work in a watch store. Just the other day, I was helping a customer with replacing a battery for a watch he hadn’t worn in five years. While I did my work, he answered his phone while waiting at the counter. I don’t normally eavesdrop, but the content of his conversation struck me. After answering hello, he told the person on the other line that he had “got out on Sunday,” which was just two days prior.

By get out, he meant prison, where he had been for five years which is why his watch needed a new battery. While he continued talking I gleaned that he had spent his sentence in a few different locations. He also had no intention of going back again. Shockingly, just one week before his release, he witnessed a man get stabbed to death right in front of his cell.

He left the store with his shopping bags and still continued his phone call, but he accidentally left behind one item. No, not his watch. That would be ironic. Instead he left behind a custom made cookie with “I’m sorry” emblazoned upon it with bright frosting. Whether this gesture was meant for a victim or someone else who happened to suffer during his absence I didn’t know, but my heart nearly broke that the cookie wouldn’t be received. Thankfully, he returned and retrieved his cookie.

Naturally, the experience made me curious, but not about his crime. I was more curious about what happens when a man attempts to rejoin society after being in prison.

My curiosity led me to happen upon the TV series, “Rectify” while surfing Netflix, which depicts a man, Daniel Holden, returning home after being on death row for 19 years when new DNA evidence suggests he has been wrongly imprisoned.

First of all, this show is dense. That’s a good thing. The way the characters, themes, setting, and plot all weave together inextricably is engaging and satisfying. The setting, a small town in the heart of Georgia, is the perfect setting to explore themes of justice, morality, sex, and family. In fact, I felt like the Southern Gothic tone was straight out of a William Faulkner novel. The inherent prejudices that stem from conservatism and religion provide a perfect back drop to explore the struggles of a man who is at odds with a society that is bound by those things, and further tainted by back country corruption.

The cast and characters are absolutely amazing. The main character Daniel is portrayed as philosophical, intelligent, yet socially inept due to his imprisonment. He younger sister, his greatest champion, adores him and with her boyfriend-slash-lawyer has worked hard to secure his release. Daniel’s mother is strangely distant, perhaps a bit disoriented since she has moved on since the death of Daniel’s father. Daniel’s step father welcomes his wife’s son openly while his son from another marriage is equally resistant. Daniel takes a shine to his step brother’s wife, whose devotion to Southern Baptistry (or whatever it is called) offsets her husband’s cynicism.  And the there is Daniel’s teenage half brother who seems to adore him.

That may seem convoluted, but being from a strange southern family myself, this is quite the norm. Daniel’s character also functions as an audience surrogate, as his attempt to reacquaint himself with his home matches the audience’s attempt to get their bearings as well.

The themes are strongly portrayed in many of the characters, in which moral ambiguity keeps you on your toes as far as what to expect. There are no simple characters here, which isn’t to say that there are flawed heroes and sympathetic villains, which themselves are cliche.  What we have are characters who are divided by a lack of understanding of the prison life Daniel endured, and his lack of experience with anything else.  The society around him is composed of those who fear a monster walking freely in their midst, and those other outsiders and free thinkers who share in Daniel’s plight.

While the pace seems to meander a bit slowly, I personally don’t mind the more deliberate progress. The first season is only six episodes long, but they feel longer. I enjoyed being able to really absorb the interactions and almost surreal depictions. Helping with those depictions is the wonderful cinematography that seems to act like a narrator, giving us little cues between lines and scenes to remind us that there is more going on that each of the characters knows individually. Rarely does such a technical component of film jump out at me, but here its artfulness is impeccable.

The first season provided an exceptional television experience that is seldom matched, and I’m glad to know there is more in the next season and the upcoming third one beyond that. The tone of the series is on the darker side, with very little comedy or light heartedness that tends to get bundled in with other shows like Desperate Housewives, Twin Peaks, or even Orange is the New Black. This is actually a benefit, because what we get is a serious take on some serious subject matter that doesn’t rely on cheap tricks to fluff its content. It is a genuinely good drama with some of the highest quality writing I’ve seen in a long time.

The Mystery of the Winter Dragon

A Wheel of Time television pilot.

For real.

It aired in the early morning of 2/9/2015, in a cloud of mystery. I myself have not seen it, but the reactions according to Reddit have been a chorus of disbelief, confusion, surprise, and dashed hopes.

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According to those who have seen it, the production values are cheap, but many claim that it could be worse. Airing in a late night time slot, Winter Dragon depicts the prologue from Robert Jordan’s Eye of the World in which Lews (misspelled Lewis in some TV descriptions) Therin Telemon is confronted by his nemesis Ishamael, who is surprisingly played by Billy Zane.

Yes, Billy Zane.

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What is going on?

Further thickening the mystery is the tragic death of the director just days after an alleged whirlwind production of the pilot. This strange revelation of events has left the Wheel of Time fan community in a daze as we are left with pieces of a strange puzzle.

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There are suspicions that this pilot was  made in order for the production company, Red Eagle Entertainment, to stake it’s claim on the film rights which are allegedly about to expire. An actual production that airs on TV may air them to keep the rights longer, giving them time to develop this into something more. With the Game of Thrones series proving to be wildly popular, many fans hope for the same with WoT.

On the other hand, this pilot may just be a petty effort to retain the rights. The lack of press and publicity, and it’s obscure premier lend credence to this unfortunate idea, and we may in fact not see anything come from this like we would hope.

Surely The Wheel of Time deserves a less dubious introduction. As the mystery unfolds, we may learn more so as our real world time rolls on. Until then we are left with the saying common to the series, “The wheel weaves what the wheel wills.”

Did You Hear About the Anti-Fireplace Movement?

Apparently, there is a small northern European country with a movement springing up that intends to ban fireplaces from the home. This is in reaction to a startling statistic that indicates more people have died from fireplace related deaths in this country than from gun crime. By the way, they successfully eradicated guns from this country about ten years ago.
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Many have come to the defense of the fireplace by saying that without it, more people would die from exposure due to the harsh winters of this cold land, but Anti-Fireplacers insist that early man existed for thousands of years without fireplaces and that they will use tried and true methods of bundling and herd warmth to keep their young and loved ones warm.

Yet others suggest that the increase in deaths by fireplace that have been statistically noted are influenced by the huge population boom, and that, of course, more house fires will start with more people heating their homes. Anti-Fireplacer families, however, are unswayed by this logic. They sustain that they are acting in the best interests of their families by avoiding new-fangled technology like the fireplace, because they can’t trust their children to be safe in the presence of such a liability.

Even now, Anti-Fireplacers are lobbying their representatives to allow the removal of fireplaces from their neighbors if they pose a fire threat. One notable Anti-Fireplacer, Snarfud Hudfudssonsson, has said, “If we can survive the cold without a fireplace, then what do they have to worry about if we take away theirs? Besides, the whole idea that we need heat to survive is just another way for the government to enforce its agenda upon us. We deserve to choose!”

Further reports on this matter will be posted as this situation evolves in the cold lands of Antivaxaria.

Guardians of the Galaxy: A Stellar Review

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Released in 2014, Guardians of the Galaxy is the new kid on Marvel’s block of comic book adaptations. Featuring a band of less than savory characters who become unlikely heroes, the film also is an unlikely success that managed to sidestep many pitfalls common to comic book films with slick presentation and cleverness.

First off, the cast is quite good. Going into this film, I was not one who was necessarily a fan of any of the actors, per se. It was more ambivalence than anything else, but I was surprised at how the actors won me over with their solid portrayals. Chris Pratt makes a dashing and charismatic leading man (and his famous transition from comedic fatty to svelte fox didn’t hurt). Zoe Saldana entertained me more in this film than any other role of hers, even more than as Uhura in Star Trek. Bradley Cooper stole the show as mutant raccoon Rocket, and he didn’t even have to rely on his good looks, which is a testament to his skills. Even Vin Diesel, with his minimal lines as Groot, brought to life a CGI character who added so much life and, dare I say, cuteness to the party.

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Lee Pace also gave a great performance as the film’s villain, even if you didn’t recognize him under that makeup, which is just another addition to the many roles this underrated actor has played. Even Karen Gillan, of Doctor Who fame, was fun to watch, even if I missed her Scottish accent.

I’m glad that the characters were so engaging, because the plot of the film was probably the weakest point. It wasn’t bad, but it was pretty straight forward and I got the sense that there was an implied wink and nod that suggested, “just stick with it, we’ve got big plans for this stuff”. Of course, the plot was serviceable in that it provided the means for all the characters to act and interact, but I had figured out all the twists and revelations in the first half hour.

I suppose that I could chalk up my lack of surprise to the mythic nature that comic books and their stories tends to follow, and in that sense the film did very well. In fact, I even found myself wondering if this film was the next big Star Wars type thing, but we have yet to tell on that.

Further, the wink and nod tended to address the fact that much of the plot has that been there done that feel. In particular, one fight scene was humorously abbreviated by a character’s use of a secret weapon that has been hinted at all through the movie. It still conveyed his danger, but it didn’t burden us with too much unnecessary action. In general, the film didn’t *try* to take itself to seriously, which allowed it to deliver fun times and gorgeous special effects without leaving the audience to worry about the film meeting drastic expectations.

Marvel was also a little too obvious with its attempts to plug this movie into its current franchises. While assembling The Avengers together film by film has so far been a successful undertaking, I get the feeling they are going to do more later, and hopefully they don’t tarnish what Guardians of the Galaxy seems to be doing well all by itself so far.

The biggest risk, I think, with this film was tying pop culture into a science fiction story. Film history is replete with attempts to do this that come off as tacky and exploitative, but this movie nails it. Not only is the soundtrack fun and classy, it is also part of the back story. The risks this film took on all paid off because all of the elements synergized wonderfully.

While Guardians of the Galaxy was not series I was previously familiar with, I am now eager to see what else is coming when they return.