Monday, September 5, 2016

Vacation Consumption Phase: Video Games

Out There
At the recommendation of Knarf Black, I finally downloaded this grim game of space exploration and ran it through its paces. You start as an astronaut awakening from cryosleep, adrift many millions of miles (perhaps millions of years as well) and the location of Earth quite uncertain.

Luckily, you have enough hydrogen, oxygen and iron to continue moving, continue breathing, and maintain hull integrity in the face of uncertain random events. At least, enough to get you to the next system before reaching a terminal loss of one of these resources.

The star map is quasi-random generated, full of randomly built planetary systems you need to investigate and mine. Much like a typical roguelike, a large portion of your success depends on lucking your way into some decent starting resources. In the run in which I finally reached one of the game ending screens, I had managed to stumble across an awesome abandoned ship much better than the starting vessel. Huge cargo hold for carrying extra supplies, and the alien engines accepted hydrogen as fuel (the typical source) but also carbon, one of the more easily acquired elements in the game.

Probably the ultimate frustration in any roguelike scenario is one that happens a lot in Out There: not finding one particular resource because it doesn’t come up, and then starving through no fault of your own. Once you’re dead, you start at the beginning with all your progress erased, with the bare minimum supplies in the bare minimum ship.

That said, I had a lot of fun during those few runs where I was able to really get a good system set up. The universe of Out There is jam-packed with exciting technologies you can upgrade your ship with.

The various random encounters can be quite surprising. At one point I stumbled across an entire ship full of cryogenically suspended humans. I couldn’t thaw them out, and eventually I abandoned them back to space. But later I came across technology to create a “garden” world from a typical barren rocky one, and thought back about the rocky orb the cryo ship had been orbiting.

The Ending
When you reach the conclusion of Out There, the ending is basically some text and a couple of static pictures. Afterwards you are unceremoniously restarted, without any of your stuff, right back at the beginning of the game.

I started looking for upgrades and technologies again, but quickly ran out of fuel and died. I’ve tried a few times since then, but have not managed to reach any of the other endings. Since Out There is a cell phone game, I can see a future where I find myself trapped for an extended period in a government queue or doctor’s waiting room, at which point there could potentially be some more space adventuring in store.

My son’s 2 favorite games are Minecraft and Ark: Survival. A third popular option is Terraria. When he found out Starbound existed, it shot right to the top of his hot list for birthday presents. Strangely, once he secured the game it didn’t seem to get played with the unholy fervor of Ark: Survival, on which he has logged over a thousand hours.

Since I was on vacation, and it was technically my Steam account too, I decided to take the reins and see what this game was all about.

I dug in. LITERALLY. Ha ha ha HA ha ha ha. Sigh.

Okay, one thing I failed to realize about this game was this: of the playable races, one is a race of robotic knights trapped in a medieval aesthetic. If I had known this earlier, it would have been my game, not my son’s game. They even have glowy red eyes and weird emotionless dialog.

Exploring Caves and Visiting Planets
One of the strange things about my experience with Starbound is that my son had plenty of free rein beforehand to help craft my experience. Like most of today’s games, there’s an active modding community and my son and seen fit to download what was probably an insane about of additional content.

Since I never played the game beforehand, it can sometimes be tough to discern which was original and which is a mod.

Obviously the ancient forge that you can only use to craft lightsabers was an add-on. That one I saw through right away. But in the deep darkness of mining and cave exploration, I come across sections of weirdness.

Caverns made of copper piping and gears. Planetary substrate made of gooey pink flesh and acid pits. Patches of “alien soil” filled with glowing roots and eyeball clouds. When I asked him if any of these stuff was content from mods, he couldn’t remember himself. Obviously his video game experience is completely different from my own expectations.

So I go in digging through the goo. I mine gold and copper, tungsten and elusive “core fragments” hanging over steaming lava pits. I found you can even craft a breathing apparatus to explore airless moons and asteroid fields. The moons were particularly interesting: unexpected denizens were watching over the crystals you must eventually mine for spaceship fuel.

You can spend weeks exploring just one star system, and then you branch out and find untold other systems all with the same level of complexity, perhaps more.

There are rare periods my son’s not on the family computer. Or when my wife’s not on the family computer.

During those times, I am now on the family computer. And I’m playing Starbound.

Vacation Consumption Phase: Films

The Dark Knight
Up at the family cabin, there wasn’t a lot of DVD selection. The collection of hunters and fishermen who I call my relatives had amassed a bizarre menagerie including American Wedding, Wedding Crashers and Miracle. Why so many wedding-themed movies, guys? But they did have The Dark Knight.

Recently, the wife and I had gone to see Suicide Squad. The best part of that movie was Deadshot. By a mile. With a distant second being the pizza I ate while I watched the movie.

I can’t get over how much better the Joker of The Dark Knight is compared to the urban gangster/Hannibal Lecter mishmash presented in Suicide Squad.

Since last seeing it, I had forgotten some of the details of the bank heist at the beginning.

The Joker puts a grenade in the mouth of one the bank employees, and I assume its going to explode, and was pleasantly surprised that it turned out to be a simple smoke grenade. Because that’s something the Joker would actually do, occasionally let someone live in an unexpected way to keep you guessing.

And who could forget the nurse scene. Another of my favorite parts.

Overall though, I am sick of the relentless gritty, dirty, atmosphere Christopher Nolan’s Batman series helped contribute to the ongoing DC movie debacle. And speaking of which:

Batman Vs. Superman
Was this ever a hard slog.

After getting home, we picked this one up at Redbox. Everybody and everything sucked in this movie. I don’t know what I expected, since going in I had a few qualms with the entire scenario.

I have yet to see or read any Superman story that really manages to make Superman work well in a world full of other superheroes. The guy is pretty overpowered. I have a hard time believing either Wonder Woman or Batman were really helping much in the fight with Doomsday.

Yet, fighting Doomsday was probably the best part of the film.

Why were there so many crazy Batman dream sequences? Why did the movie spend so much time setting up various other Justice League characters? I’m really hoping this will payoff as less setup in the actual Justice League movie, and more actual story. But I’m not getting my hopes up.

Let’s forget about the superhero movies for a second and wormhole tunnel our way into a theme that honestly never fails to entertain: Crazy, sleep-deprived, methed-up scientists creating portals to alternate dimensions.

If you want a low budget sci-fi production, that is all you need to do. And Synchronicity delivers.

The reviews surprisingly for this movie are pretty horrible.

But you are getting plenty of wonderful: flashing lights, dimly-lit tube-filled labs, actors playing duplicates of themselves, and plenty of twists and turns you think you have figured out, but then even more bodies start showing up and your brain breaks down trying to figure out where they came from.

I watched this on Netlfix as a random laundry day movie while I folded clothes. Would do again in a second.

The Addams Family
This movie, by all rights, should have been horrible.

But it’s a classic and when it came up as a recommended watch film on Netflix I accepted the challenge. Here is a movie that managed to feel incredibly authentic to the intellectual property it was using. Every five seconds another funny thing happens.

The only thing I was left wanting was the original Addams Family television series from the 60’s. Netlix used to have this long ago, but evidently the world did not want to watch enough to keep paying for the rights. Shame on you world!

I remember a time when a crazy old man with a shaved head and a fur coat could jump out of the hallway screaming “Shoot ‘em in the back! Shoot ‘em in the back!” while madly clutching his antique blunderbuss. And we would call that comedy.

Now look at what we get. Urban gangster Joker. And they call it edgy! There are people on Reddit who still want more of that guy.

Vacation Consumption Phase

I'm slowly coming back from a week-long family vacation Up North.

Since I live in Minnesota, "Up North" in this case means further north in Minnesota. Driving the long distances between various state parks, lakes and roadside attractions. Riding for hours drinking coffee, listening to the top hits on the radio. It was a lot of fun.

While the vacation itself is probably not suitable for this blog, I did consume quite a lot of various media. So I'm quickly dumping my hot takes this week while I try to get back on track.

I will leave you with a couple of must-dos if you are ever in upper Minnesota.

1) The Iron Range is awesome. Iron World, the Sudan Mine. Faded industrial glory, deep haunted dark spaces, vast epic monuments crafted from stone and metal. Love it.

2) My kids walked across the Mississippi River at the headwaters located at Itasca State Park. Its a beautiful location full of rocky, pristine water and sandy wading pools.

3) Split Rock Lighthouse, Gooseberry Falls, and Duluth itself are locations you never get tired of seeing. The weird rocky shores of Lake Superior remind me of an alien planet which pretty much seals the deal.

Anyway, reports from my vacation media consumption phase begin now!