Crush or Squish?

We all have little crushes every now and then. Occasionally there are those big ones that seem to consume us with desperate longing and poetically appropriate heartache. Growing up and struggling with being gay, I had more than my fair share of these episodes ranging from brief flavor of the week types to years long infatuations.

I kept these feelings to myself and the process became a deeply personal way of reconciling my sexuality. Eventually, when I started my arduous process of coming out, I began to share these feelings with close friends which allowed me to open up to act more confidently on them rather than shy away. 

Flashforward to now, and I am in a relationship that is mature, long term, and absolutely real. No fantasies.  No unrequited love. No pining away for someone distant.

Having been with my significant other for almost three years now, that other part of my mind has been dormant. It’s not really a necessary component anymore, is it?  My boyfriend and I still share pictures with each other of celebrities we think are hot (Hello, Dan Osbourne!). We even mention coworkers and acquaintances whom we find attractive or otherwise endearing, but in a completely honest and non-competitive way that stands as an example of the trust and respect we have for each other.

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We are both men who like men, and finding beauty or quality in men is something we have in common, but our committed relationship is the foremost thing we have in common.

Having said all of that, very recently I have found that old mechanism in my mind waking up and operating in a way I have never experienced before.

It started at a Halloween party for work. This particular party was hosted and organized by my department, but had company wide attendance.  I happened to chat up a younger guy who had the cleverest costume. It was simple, but geeky and humorous.  Honestly, I had written off that experience as something to share with the boyfriend and that was that. 

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Cute guy. Cute costume. Introductions and chatting with not even a whisper of flirtation. That was enough for me.

A few months later this guy joined my department. He learned quickly, advanced appropriately, and even now is ready to take a leadership role. In my time working with him during our meetings throughout the week, I found him to be friendly, professional, and courteous. He was confident, but still humble, and he proved to be a popular and pivotal member of the team.

Were I ten years younger, I thought, he would totally be the type I would crush on. Then I realized, almost horrifyingly, I had actually developed a crush on him.

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Having not had a crush in so long, I was out of touch with how this worked.  I had a few panicked moments when I wondered if this signified a problem with my own relationship. It didn’t. I thought that maybe my feelings would go away as I got more familiar with him. They didn’t. Maybe I would learn something about him that I didn’t like. I didn’t.

What did happen, however, was a change of my feelings over time. I never truly had any deeply romantic feelings, such as  us running off into the sunset together. Nor was there anything sexual sparking, even if I noticed occasionally that his hair was coiffed in a particularly handsome way, or that certain pairs of pants fit quite well in certain areas.

Furthermore, I’ve never been into younger guys, and it was obvious that the world was his oyster. With everything in his exciting future ripe for him to pick, surely there were better things available to him besides some (slightly) older guy pawing after him. Besides, I had that happen to me when I was younger, and it was exhausting despite being a bit flattering. I am no chickenhawk (look it up), after all.

Then again, maybe it’s because I’m older that I feel I could be able to provide him insight or any other kind of assistance as he navigates his early twenties in a way I wish I could have had.

I did feel something, however, I just didn’t know how to classify it. Thanks to Urban Dictionary, an increasingly useful resource for a late twenty-something like me who spends time with some younger people, I was able to find this term:

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I instantly identified with this. The desire to get to know him, perhaps become friends, is something that racks my mind. While building a friendship is not something that may be prudent or professional at this time, at least I have deciphered my feelings enough on the matter not to feel so alarmed.

Perhaps our paths will run parallel to each other for some time yet, but when they diverge, I hope that it’s for the best for both of us. We may not be the next Xena and Gabrielle with something romantic implicitly growing between us, but whatever is between us will have to suffice at a platonic level.

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The lack of a romantic component doesn’t make having a squish any easier, but I can’t help but wonder if knowing about the difference between a squish and a crush while I was growing up would have saved me from much drama and torment.

Who am I kidding? The torment is still there.

Interstellar: A Review

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Released in 2014, Interstellar, a film by Christopher Nolan, is an epic sci-fi adventure in the vein of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Featuring award-winning special effects and a boundary pushing plot, Interstellar is sure to baffle the uninformed and enthrall the willing. But is it the kind of epic sci-fi film I would go for?

Let’s see.

• Special Effects

While I wouldn’t consider myself a slave to my vision, presentation is still important. Furthermore, if one is going to utilize computer graphics and other enhancements in film, they must look good. Nothing ruins the experience worse than poorly blended textures and rushed models. Interstellar earned its Oscar. The effects were beautiful, and the depiction of that black hole, at least the outside of it, was gorgeous. The real world settings used for the different planets still managed to look foreign, so nice work there as well. This was a feast for my eyes, which I didn’t realize were hungry.

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•Characters and Acting

The film was decently cast and well directed for the most part, but this movie wasn’t just about selling character drama. The astronauts all seemed scientifically professional if a bit too stoic when faced with new and frightening space phenomena. Anne Hathaway was a standout, but that’s no surprise. I wasn’t put off by any bad acting, but a few roles could have been enlivened so I wasnt immediately guessing who the background characters or the eventual casualties were from the get go.

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•Plot

This is where the movie suffered under my scrutiny. First of all, the pacing was off. While I admired that the very beginning showed us a deteriorating Earth rather than straight up telling us, I wish that same caution has been exercised in other places.

Having said that, some exposition was needed in places considering the highly conceptual science incorporated into the plot. That science was fun to see explored in a story like this. However, I felt the attempt to explain relativity and it’s effect on time was over-explained and lessened drama associated with its effects.

Furthermore, it was obvious to me that the that there were two main plots competing for screen time. One was the exploration of space, work holes, relativity, time dilation, ecological disaster, etc.

The other was Huey Lewis’ favorite: the power of love.

Yes, love.

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Love can cross time, space, worm holes, black holes, and plot holes.

Love can make future men seem like ghosts or monsters.

Okay, I get it.

I appreciate the attempt to fuse the themes of human nature with high science, but it just didn’t work for me here. Just when I thought the movie was over (and a decent ending that would have been), the love story took off and my disbelief was stretched more than spacetime at an event horizon.

Still, the actual ending want terrible, I just want expecting the movie to tear my focus from its attempt at pure logic, to a non sequitur shift to pure emotionalism. Interstellar isn’t the next 2001: A Space Odyssey, but it is a fun ride with a dazzling, if sometimes brutally blunt dash of science thrown in.

Sticks: An Attempt at Poetry

My feelings are like sticks

I used to carry few

Now there are many

Some are marked as special

I can’t see them among the rest

My arms are crowded

Novel thoughts

New feelings

Old burdens remembered

Responsibilities assumed

Where is that feeling?

The one that made me glad?

Or that serene one?

Somewhere within

It’s there

But it’s lost

Sometimes I catch a glimpse

Sometimes I can almost feel it

Sometimes

The rest are sticks I have to carry

From Out of Nowhere: Seven Kingdoms 2 HD

sk2hd I had just mentioned in a previous post how every game from the last twenty years was getting a remake of some kind. I just happened upon this one when I noticed that GOG.com was giving me a free update to a game. Little did I know that one of my favorite strategy games of all time was getting an HD remake with some new features, new support (a new patch has just been released), and the music finally works (the previous version offered by GOG.com had some problems there).

But what is this Seven Kingdoms 2, and why are their more than seven kingdoms you can play?

The first Seven Kingdoms was released in 1997, when RTS games were entering their heyday. Command & Conquer, Warcraft, Starcraft, and Age of Empires ruled the scene and featured fast-paced base building, direct control over villager/peon/constructor units to gather multiple resources, and, aside from a smattering of diplomacy and “trade” in some cases, you sent your assortment of units into the fray and hoped they came out of battle victoriously.

Seven Kingdoms was one of the first RTS games to feature elements more common to turn-based strategy games, like a more robust diplomacy system, enhanced and functional trade for resources, and even espionage. Combat was straight forward with just a few types of units and you made critical decisions in real time.

Seven Kingdoms 2: The Fryhtan Wars is the sequel and features a 3D terrain engine, several more human cultures, and the ability to play the evil Fryhtans, which appeared in the first game as monsters who hoarded treasure. In the sequel, they boast one of the most notable new features. The Fryhtan cultures each have their own distinct feel and abilities, but otherwise they are more combat oriented, so they provide a nice change of pace from the more involved gameplay of the human cultures.

Human gameplay revolves around trade, combat, research, and espionage, most which have received upgrades from the previous game. Trade for resources is essentially the same. Build a mine to gather raw materials. Build a factory to make refined products. Sell them at a market to your own people or to other kingdoms via trade caravans. This trade opens up more diplomacy where you can make friends, allies, or enemies, and even make some money selling excess food, or pay tribute to keep an aggressive neighbor at bay. sk2gameplay Combat has been revamped significantly. You train soldiers at forts, which also can serve as defenses with their missile towers, and as you keep soldiers in forts they gain more skill in combat to become better fighters, or even in leadership to become good generals or even kings if your current one dies. Each kingdom also has a unique unit that represents its cultural heritage such as Egyptian chariots or Celtic druids, and a unique deity to summon occasionally whose temple also provides a unique bonus. Combat is relatively simple, with no rock-paper-scissor mechanics worry about. However, a mix of ranged attacks and melee allows for some tactical variations and other machines of war like catapults, cannons, and more can be researched and built to augment your forces. Hero units and carry-able artifact that provide bonuses and abilities also provide a unique way to specialize your units.

Research also leads to other things besides new war machines, unlike its predecessor, like improved unit tactics and better espionage skills. Espionage is one of this series’ most notable features, and few other games, if any, have developed anything similar that can even compare. In this game you train spies that can infiltrate other kingdoms and towns where they can create unrest, steal technology, sabotage buildings, or even become soldiers and generals. From there they can bribe other units into your web of spies, or attempt to assassinate enemy generals or even kings. The most prestigious achievement in this game’s espionage is to have your spy become promoted to an enemy general. With that general/spy or any other you can assassinate the enemy king, and have your own spy become the new king. With that you can turn over control of an entire kingdom to your own, all without having to fight a single battle.

There are a couple of drawbacks. First of all, there are no oceans and seas like in the previous game which means no new continents to discover full of untapped resources or undiscovered kingdoms to befriend or fight. I will say that once you get fully involved in the gameplay, you won’t even notice a lack of water since things keep moving pretty briskly. New towns emerge, as well as new kingdoms, and you’ll be zig zagging across the map in pursuit of new acquisitions and resources. There are also impassible mountain ranges that can alter the composition of the random maps, but there is still nothing like sending a fleet of ships across an ocean to engage in battle or carry villagers to new lands.

Secondly, the included campaign mode is mostly just random maps with some occasional objectives and the story it follows is not memorable. Still, it offers something like Rise of Nation’s world domination campaign, so it’s worth one or two play throughs.

Overall, this game is a jack of all trades and truly a master of none (except espionage, where it excels!!!). It is, though, a master of being a jack of all trades. Very few games have succeeded in providing this much gameplay. Rise of Nations and Sins of a Solar Empire come to mind as the only other games that have had success with this type of gameplay. Still, Seven Kingdoms 2 carves out its own niche that neither one of those games can claim. It’s great to see one of my favorite strategy games from the past get a glorious HD makeover (well… makeover is a little strong, but it still looks good). Maybe there is more in store for the future of this series, but even if not, there is a lot here that I have been missing. You can find this gem either at GOG.com, or on Steam. sk2title

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.