Monday, April 10, 2017

Will Minecraft learn from Steam’s Skyrim failure with the Minecraft Marketplace?

This week Microsoft announced that they are launching a mod-store called the Minecraft Marketplace (https://minecraft.net/en-us/article/its-time-discover-marketplace). It’s exactly what it sounds like, a re-tread of the failed Skyrim Mod Marketplace that Steam attempted in April of 2015. Mod author upload their file to the storefront where other players pay an amount set by the author. Microsoft takes a cut (30%) and the mod author gets the rest. This is all to be handled by a premium currency system known as Minecraft Coins, purchasable through the in-app storefront.


The reasons that Skyrim went so horribly is that it’s proposed value did not out-weigh its corporate greediness. Steam decided that it needs over one-third of the profit cut and Bethesda deserved even more, leaving the Mod author with 25% of the profit. On top of that, the notably insecure Steam marketplace could not protect itself from mod pirates and shoddy content. Admittedly, some of the issues it experienced that weekend were on the part of community protest. The people wanted some sort of beneficial business for mod authors, but Steam’s way did not cut it.

Microsoft assures that mod creators will be getting “most of the payment.” This is a good way to appear innocent of Steam’s central sin, but it doesn’t directly address the premium currency. Because even if 30% seems small next to Steam’s monstrous slicing and dicing, it fails to mention that the money Microsoft is cutting the profit out of is being bought with currency which Microsoft automatically pockets 100%. It’s an ideal world where a mod author could maybe get 100% of the profit on a curated premium-currency storefront, but Microsoft appears to be ravenously keeping its claws in its pockets and reassuring sideways from its gaping maw.

A Reddit AMA is taking place on the 20th, but I just am not sure that these kinds of marketplaces belong in the gaming spectrum. Some might point out how Counter Strike and DOTA 2 do a good job with their marketplaces, but it’s worth mentioning that those also sell in-game assets not created by modders. And Diablo 3 was a grand example of how that turned out.

We’ve seen these marketplaces attempted before. However, it’s clear that a 3rd party mod marketplace will never be accepted by big AAA game companies, and clearly it’s going to be difficult for them to respect their authors.


70%, IF it is indeed 70% profit is a step in the right direction, but hiding it behind a premium currency appears to be the gateway of ensuring that the profits are entirely owned by the company and not the community.

Hopefully, the Reddit AMA will address some of these concerns and show that Microsoft is a loving company that can understand how to truly support a community of modders. Until then, I can’t help but feel that they’re just kicking the proverbial line to the left a little and waiting to see how little they can get away with giving to the mod community.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Teaser Breakdown: Netflix's Death Note

Today, Netflix released a Teaser Trailer for their version of Death Note (internal screaming commence).

I'm a bit of a Death Note junkie, so let's break this trailer down shot-for-shot.

First here's the trailer:



So let's get into the analysis.

0:00-0:04: Here we see the Death Note falling in that lovely shot, taken directly from the Anime adaptation. The Anime, by the way, is going to be my main source of response to this trailer, so if you aren't familiar, you'll want to be. And soon.

0:04-0:11: Light "Turner" our brand new anglicized protagonist picks up the Death Note, re-establishing just how the Death Note enters the world of the living.

0:12-0:15: Three important shots. First, barely visible to the naked eye is a shot of Ryuk standing outside the window of some place. Based on the neon sign on the wall that reads "afe" one can only assume this is going to be the cafe where Light and "Mia" meet for the first time. The second shot is one of an empty school hallway, presumably around the time that Light finds the Death Note. And third, we hear Ryuk's laugh while an apple seems to "fall" off a desk.

0:17-0:20: Here we establish that this version of Death Note has been moved from Kanto region Japan to Seattle, Washington. That certainly explains the gray cloudy skies in nearly every shot of the trailer, and the rain falling on the Death Note from earlier.

0:21-0:22: This is confirmed to be L, here wearing garb that covers his face (but not his eyes, does that mean we are going to see a potential rule change in either the way the Note or the Shinigami Eyes work? Are we going to even have Shinigami Eyes?) and he's walking down another neon hallway (are we taking cues from Neon Demon or Only God Forgives?) in what must be some sort of nightclub.

(I will be addressing my thoughts on the white/black washing of Asian characters in a separate post)

0:25 - 0:32: This reads like the First Kill of Light and his brand new Notebook of Death. It leaves the old Anime trailer hook of explaining the first rule, watching him write something and then...

0:33: ...Three men in suits jump off the top of a business building in (presumably) Seattle, what an incredible shot! This is also the first of several implications that young Mr. Turner is going to be far more creative with his kills in this adaptation than he was in the show.

0:34: L appears to have arrived at his location in the Nightclub. Scrawled on the wall is the message "Justice of Kira" the message is scrawled in blood, which reflects back to Light's "experimenting" with the rules of the Death Note.

0:35: Here we see Mia again. This time she is clearly in the "afe" cafe from the previous flash shot of Ryuk. So this is probably the Half Moon Cafe where Misa first sees Light in the anime. Here, though, she seems to be looking up at Light as if he is looking back at her, so does that mean they go there with the intention of meeting in person? Also, we cut to them kissing in a hallway, so this is likely when they hook-up in the show (but there's no clear indication that Light is manipulating Mia, then again it's a teaser so...)

0:36 - 0:42: Okay... there's a LOT to unpack here, so let me do so. We first see Light running from police cars through a warehouse. This has a lot of SPOILER-ific connotations, being in a (yellow box?) warehouse. (Of course, we don't know how far this film is going in the story, or how long it's going to be to fit that story in a reasonable space of time)

Then we get a shot of a Ferris wheel, with one car with a searchlight shining on one car, and then the Ferris wheel falling over as what appears to be Light holding onto Mia dangling over the edge!!

So what the heck? Is the American Death Note going to blockbuster it up with action scenes? Let's save this answer for post analysis.

0:42-0:44: The Title Splash, a lovely ink drip black and white.

0:44 - 0:50: The scene stealer is Willem DeFoe's first (technically second) line in the trailer as Ryuk. "Shall we Begin?" Mmm.

I FUCKING LOVE THIS CASTING CHOICE

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So, what's up with that Ferris Wheel scene? Or that Nightclub scene? Well, I think the answer is actually already there for us.

The Anime of Death Note is highly stylized. It earns it's "Anime" quality by delivering what amounts to exposition in a highly stylized and engaging way. See, Death Note isn't an action series, it's a detective show, a detective show where you follow the bad guy and are waiting to see if the good guys can catch up to him and how he thrawts their efforts at every turn. It's a reverse-Sherlock. The satisfaction doesn't come from the mystery (although viewers are typically left in the dark about Light's plans at any given time) but the action comes from the characters knowing, thinking, or believing that they have the upper hand at any given time, while not being able to display anything other than good character on the outside.

So as the series goes along this takes place in a bit of an "architecture world" where buildings and skyscrapers set the stage for mental combatants of Light and L to explain and dissect how and why the other person thought something would go down one way when it actually will go down some other way. In this way, the show gets to be incredibly smart without leaving the viewer behind. It's brilliant. It's one of the backbones of how the show works, allowing them to show sequences, evidence, and metaphoric battles of wit.

So when I see L walking into a Nightclub and physically seeing a sign of Kira's killing, I think that's going to be the film's version of these sequences. Same goes for the Ferris Wheel. Optimistically, this is not them abandoning the primary draw of the show as being a psychological detective battle, but the realization of that with sequences that befit a film as opposed to an anime.

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It should be mentioned that there's already criticism of this teaser and this film, but I'm going to address those separately in THIS post. If THIS isn't a link already, then expect it soon.

Until then, let me know what you guys think? Does this look promising to you? Are those action-y shots concerning? Would you like to see Death Note: The American Action Blockbuster with gun-toting wise-cracking Ryuk voiced by Willem Defoe? Shoot off in the comments.

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Death Note was an Anime series when I first fell in love with it. I prefer the animation to the Manga, though both have their individual merits. Now has never been a better time to catch up with the series in anticipation for the Netflix release, so click the image below to the get whole series on Blu-Ray or DVD.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The People v. O.J. Simpson: What is a Tragedy?

Tragedy is one of the oldest genres in literature. It’s fitting that The People v. O.J. Simpson opens on onr of the most well documented tragedies in American History. The show opens with the LA Riots, underlining how and why a police force like the LAPD could not only be such a force of violence and oppression, but also how the justice system within the city could get such an obvious and easy case wrong. It also underlines why one of the most popular black men in the country could get away with murder in the eyes of his peers.

If The People had stopped at attempting to provide a black outlook on a popular event from the nineties, that would’ve been enough to make it a great TV show. But what The People v. O.J. Simpson does is much more elemental. It asks one of the hardest questions a piece of art has ever asked, “What is a Tragedy?”

An incredibly bad trap card.


The People opens with the central tragedy: the brutal bloody murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and her lover Ron Goldman. The People isn’t interested in telling us the truth of this tragedy, but rather, other more human truths.

This is how the show makes the question of Tragedy. Most representative of this question comes at the conclusion of the most unique arc in the show: Johnnie Cochran’s. To get there, we must also discuss Christopher Darden.

There are many actors in the series that provide their best performances in a long time. But the two that stand out above the rest are Sterling K. Brown who plays District Attorney Christopher Darden, and Courtney B. Vance who plays Johnnie Cochran. The show is largely painting the viewpoint of the trial from the various narratives of self-interest. Christopher Darden is on the prosecution side and Johnnie Cochran, of course, on the defense. They are both black men.

The tempest of these characters and their relationships with the white people on their respective sides is of huge important. Johnnie is a vital voice, but not the lead of the defense team. Darden is a vital voice, but not the lead of the prosecution team. Johnnie is brought on to make a show of the racial component involved. Christopher is ostensibly brought on to refute that narrative, either with his words or with just his presence.

Darden starts the series by looking at Johnnie as a father figure, a man of the law, fighting for the rights of the black community. Quickly he realizes the mistake he’s made. At the end, he gets to deliver the final condemnation of Johnnie’s character. He leaves Johnnie with words that in any other show, series, or work of narrative would be the final word.

After Christopher gets his last say, Johnnie goes back to the law offices and turns on the TV. President Bill Clinton is discussing what the result of the trial means for the conversation of race in America. It’s then that Johnnie says, “We did it. We made our story heard.”

This is what I mean when the show asks, “What is a tragedy?” Is it a tragedy that O.J. Simpson was corrupted by a patriarchal society that surrounded him with L.A. yes men and brand deals? Yes. Is it a tragedy that a woman was ignored multiple times until she was nearly beheaded by her husband? Yes. Is it a tragedy that Marcia Clark lost one of the easiest and most blatant cases of murder because a social issue got in the way? Yes. Is it a tragedy that miser Johnnie Cochran let a known murderer free by making black issues into national issues? Yes.

These are tragedies of separate and competing strains. But the bigger problem is that our society enabled the discussion to be as razor edged for these characters as it was. That instead of being able to unite, they were separate by work, violence, and justice from achieving what should have been a palpable happy ending for all involved.

It’s fitting that we follow O.J. once the verdict is given. That he throws a party. That he gets to be told that his friends are not coming to party. That he reads a statement to the people at his house, people he doesn’t recognize, and doesn’t know. He tells Robert that the bible he gave him kept him company in prison, got him through the hard times. As he realizes that everything he ever gained and ever enjoyed in his life is falling around him, Robert holds that Bible up and leaves it on his table. He did not escape going to prison for his crimes, the prison is to be carried with him for good. All that O.J. is left with is the false image of his past accomplishments, an incredibly empty and vain appreciation for which he would later go to prison over. Just one of many tragedies wrought by his own arrogance.



If a man falls, and ends up nothing of what he once was, if an entire community gets to voice its pain and its concern in a way that does not destroy property, if a troubled if legitimate viewpoint of the law and justice is under minded so that an oppressed populace can be heard, then what is a tragedy, if not something to build on top of, if not a moment to take advantage of the eye of a nation which can only ever focus on violence and celebrity?

The People v O.J. Simpson is a masterpiece that redefines the very questions we ask with narrative art. Its laser focus on what is and isn’t worth fighting for while it builds heroes and villains that both achieve dual purposes demonstrates the complexity of our own world. As a show that gets to stamp down a truth about history. What that truth is? It finally displays how much tragedy must be endured to make progress, and just when you think you’ve answered every question it has it asks, “Ah, but what is progress?” as O.J. stares at that statue of empty glories in his backyard. So must we.

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Click the image below to buy the product reviewed in this post (it kicks a couple of bucks back to me if you do!)



Friday, January 27, 2017

A Series of Unfortunate Events: Laughing at Count Olaf

When I was thirteen I had only read the first two books in A Series of Unfortunate Events. I liked them, but they were a bit small and I was just about to really get out of the age range that those early books are intended for. The movie coming out felt like a way to make me more interested in the series as a whole.

But that didn’t happen. And frankly, I think it was Jim Carrey.

He looks entirely pleased with himself.


Count Olaf, in my mind, never came off as funny in those books. He was a sinister presence, a direct confrontation with the grim and dirty world that plagued the Baudelaire’s. Sure the adults failing them in sometimes idiotic ways was always humorous to a degree of silliness, but Count Olaf always refused to play into that. So getting a comedic actor to play Olaf, always felt wrong to me.

I recently reread the first two books of the series (apparently this is an inevitable curse for me) and dropped them again. This was in part because I wasn’t reading very much and because of the repetitiveness, but the point is that Count Olaf still felt like a very foreboding and awfully real to life dark figure.

So Jim Carrey didn’t work for me. Count Olaf was, frankly, ridiculous in that movie and they made unnecessary plot changes that destroyed some of the wit and pace of the books (I mean it was three books in one).

But luckily now we have the TV series, with its completely serious casting of Neil Patrick Harris.

Barney?


Well…

Okay, so I’m going to say this first: I really like the TV Series. I thought it was great and that they perfectly captured the tone of the books. But they still did not capture my mental imagination of Count Olaf. And at this point, I can’t really keep arguing for it, because Daniel Handler is basically in charge of the show.

And to be fair, what I’m wanting for Count Olaf would be no fun. No fun at all.

Count Olaf the way I read him is a nasty horrible man. And he still is, but if he quipped like Carrey or Harris I would probably like him more. Instead, when I read scenes such as him talking about post-marriage rape (essentially) in the first book, and holding a knife literally against a child’s leg in the second book, I’m not laughing.


The TV Series has done a lot else great with adaptation. But that’s for another post. Until then, just know, that if the ridiculousness of Olaf in the film adaptations so far leaves you wanting, there’s always a much more unfortunate path in the books.

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The series discussed above is available on Netflix. But, you might also be interested in seeing how such a series could be executed through the written word as well. By clicking on the image below you can purchase the first book in the series, and see if you like it.


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Totally Uncontroversial: The Best Thing from The OA

The OA, the latest (way to date yourself) series on Netflix is riddled with problems. I know, I know, people like it. I like it. The sometimes spotty plotting and sparse characterization don't detract from one thing though: it's honest exploration of nearly every realm of spiritualism.

Now, to be fair, that's a bit of a misnomer. The concept of taking every single religious philosophy and merging them into a monogamous marriage of humankind's best and brightest ideas is something that's been done multiple times. And honestly, most of the time writer's use a short cut. It's a fictional God, or it's about humans versus a Devil figure. Instead, The OA takes the hard route. It crafts together symbolism stitched from a variety of viewpoints into a whole. Christian, Islamic, Norse, Roman, and Judaism all serve as sources of lessons, morals, philosophies, and explorations in The OA and without spoiling a late-game twist, paints a picture of the centre of all of them by means of a medium.

That is to say, the one best thing from the OA is the dance.

The dance.

Laugh, but understand that laughing is the first in a long line of human reactions to this... okay, is that a Kamehameha?


I'm kind of amazed how split people are on this. If nothing else, I would think the thematic blindness of the popular perspective of shows and writing and films exposes itself in those that don't realize the dance absolutely epitomizes the entire crux of the show. One could even argue the show writes in a reason for it to seem made up on the spot and advance only in broken pieces the way it does. We're supposed to look at the unexplained gaps as the elements of a spiritual story, where gaps and holes exist, reason to question exist, and reason to doubt are pertinent.

But the dance is the doing away of all that. Whether you believe OA's backstory or whether you buy into the show telling you that it was all made up, the idea of prisoners doing a nonsensical dance, filled with the metaphor of swallowing a dove, spreading yourself out, reaching out to those on either side, these are the messages of the entire show.

Even the climax ends it on the crux of the dance. Spiritualism is a weapon against the biggest craziest tragedies of the world. Without talking about the problem of plotting in light of the climax, it can be safely said that them dancing is one of the strangest most satisfying climaxes I've seen in a show this year (that is, 2016). It's the rule that storytelling works on, but dance... how cinematic is dance? How can you accomplish this story by a means other than television? You can't. Not really.

Basically, when something hugely thematic or important to a story and can only be accomplished in that medium, that's when you've found out exactly how something has transcended its artform.

And that is the best thing from The OA.

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Mass Surveillance Part 2: Snowden (2016)

Film Review for Snowden (2016)
Directed by: Oliver Stone
Written by: Oliver Stone, Kieran Fitzgerald
Based on the book by: Anatoly Kucherena, Luke Harding
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Zachary Quinto, Melissa Leo, Rhys Ifans, and others

Review

You know the story of Edward Snowden, and Oliver Stone's film, much like his previous political films, sets to tell the human story of someone at the center of conspiracy. In this case, Edward Snowden a young man who injures himself in the armed service grows to serve his country in other ways. He is a computer science genius, shown to us in the typical "smartest guy in the room" type of incredulous test-study thing, before becoming a major worker in the CIA. It's during his time that he comes into contact with the NSAs surveillance network and his paranoia grows until he decides to whistleblow.

Considering that Edward Snowden's whistleblowing and what he divulged happened in the real world we are mostly familiar with this story. Citizenfour, the documentary whose real filming is dramatized in this film, was released about a year after Snowden's leak, the reputation of which had garnered a serious reputation as a blow against America. Declared an act of treason, the most important weight to drag to this film is the idea that Snowden somehow wronged us.

The film itself is surprisingly "meh."

Let's be clear, the character of Edward Snowden is not interesting, not in real life, not in the film. He was a worker, he got scared of his work, and he smuggled and whistleblew. That's literally the story, to the point that when he first came out many media outlets and the government did their best to try and redact his claims, to say he was just a disgruntled office worker who was mad about a relocation. There's an untouched arc that could've worked, where Snowden transitions from being a soldier to being a treasounous whistleblower, but for some reason the film refuses to ever tap into this. The Snowden from the very first conversation with his love interest is the exact same person at the end of the film.

Shailene Woodley has piss-all to do in this film besides look and act like Shailene Woodley. Has anyone even interviewed Snowden's wife/girlfriend person? You can't tell in this film, as she literally falls out of the sky as cool girl to have sex with, even when she's mad there's still some sexy things you can do with and for her. I've never seen so much screentime so grossly misused as with the romantic partnership between these two.

Let me be clear: I do not find the fear and paranoia of Mass Surveillance in and of itself interesting. It has to be made interesting for me. What I'm not interested in is Joseph-Gordon Levitt staring at his webcam. That's not interesting, especially when the only shot in the film dedicated to making that scary is a single shot of a woman who only goes to her undies. Invasive? Yes! Frightening? Paranoid? Thrilling? No. The opening shot of Carrie physically represents a far more uncomfortable reality of the relationship with nude vulnerability and viewership.

At least Orwell understood that rummaging through self-reported facts can create an entirely fictional criminal. That was sort of scary. But Snowden fails to think beyond some strange moral line. It seems to insist, "The government shouldn't be able to do this," and that in and of itself is only scary to a particular type of jingoistic gun toting paranoid that I'm not.

Snowden for some reason fails to comprehend what subject its even talking about. Nearly everything in the film, down to the basic paranoia that we established must be there in this genre, is missing. Instead we get a very boring slow portrait of a very boring man. And it did not have to be this way.

I think of Fruitvale Station, certainly a much more emotional powerhouse film, but a biographical film about a man unjustifiably shot at a train station while handcuffed. It's important to realize that the action of being killed is not what is focused on in that film. Instead, it takes a tour of what a young black man's life might look like, where he might have gone wrong, where he might have gone right. Then they kill him. And that's it. That's the point.

There is nothing interesting in the continued discussion this film has about Edward Snowden. Yes, what he did was great. No, nothing anyone has done before will be as important for the transperancy of the country. But there's a character there, a story, and a biography, not just of one man but of everybody, and when it's painted with this bland a brush for the characters, it serves absolutely no justice to the real people in America who may begin to feel threatened by this type of thing.

Art is an argument, a political stance, and the one in Snowden is so laughably weak that the concept of being "scared" only exists in the next project Stone decides to direct.

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I didn't like Snowden, and when I don't like something, I'm not going to recommend it to you either. Instead, if you like conspiracies and/or Oliver Stone, make sure you've seen his career making masterpiece, JFK. It's longer than Snowden, but definitely better.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Mass Surveillance Part 1: Orwell (2016)

Review of Orwell
Developed by Osmotic Studios
Published by Surprise Attack Games
Review Copy Purchased

Review

Orwell (2016) places you in the role of a surveillance operator of the latest technology developed by The Nation, Orwell. Part Person of Interest machine and part database, Orwell processes datachunks being collected about specific people based on what you, the operator, upload. Orwell presents you with articles, social media feeds, phone calls, instant messages, and laptops or phones of the people you are surveilling. For the player, this manifests as a series of click and drag operations between windows on the screen.

The story of Orwell revolves around an explosion at Freedom Plaza in the incredibly non-specific fictional city of Bonton. You are guided by an adviser who comments on the datachunks and guides you towards the information you need to find so that they can contact authorities with the information. The bombings appear to be tied to a group known as Thought. Thought as it turns out is a rebellious group of students led by their history teacher, who slowly become more and more radicalized as the game's story unfolds.

Orwell as a Mass Surveillance game does a great job of having you scare yourself. Within the first chapter of the game, you go from a simple news article to listening to someone's private calls. Orwell as a system of infiltration and surveillance is based on real world spying technology and this is the most powerful portrait it paints. Especially due to the nature of the system, Orwell seems to pinpoint only the aspects of a person that it needs in order to incriminate them. You get to see other aspects of their lives, even aspects you can point out and upload, from simple information such as favorite colors to people they've slept with or their sexual orientation.

Sometimes you have to make a choice between information that is contradictory to other information. These essentially act as the game's decision-making points. Are you going to report that this character is married, or gay? This has small changes on how the story unfolds and in some missions can seem to change the outcome.

You breach the privacy of lives more than a hundred times before the game ends, and it's that simplicity that is frightening.

Or at least its meant to be.

At this point, we have to go ahead and get into spoilers, and we'll switch from review mode to analysis mode. If what I've said intrigues you, and you have fifteen bucks and five hours to spare, check out Orwell it's a pretty good little game.

All right, just to make sure.

*SPOILERS AHEAD*

Everyone gone? Okay.

So Orwell begins with a great enough premise. As you research Thought more and more as an activist group, you begin to build a nice web of people all linked to each other. And as I played Orwell I anticipated this to be the first in a nice long web, the size of which I was expecting to be massive by the end of the game.

Instead, hours later, I was somewhat disappointed. While the cast had grown from the one person of the first episode, the last episode really only plays between about seven or eight characters total. They're all linked by being in Thought, but that's it. And only one of them has really been orchestrating terrorist attacks, and when you understand the reason the game leaves you, the operator, with the choice of what to expose to the public.

I understand why they went in this direction. The concept of creating stories and facts and details around one hundred characters and making the gameplay and story interesting is an incredibly difficult challenge. But that's exactly what I wanted. Instead, it felt like Orwell's world was incredibly small. All over there were background details about corporate sponsors, foreign wars, peace talks, and the potential for big large movement activism or terrorist organizations and almost none of that is delivered on.

Even the final mission, a ticking clock wherein you can only report so much information to Orwell before the final decision comes to light, operates almost as a red herring mission. You will still learn who the big bad guy is, and I imagine that you still get the choice as to what ending you will get. This was disappointing in a game that had seemed full of branches before hand.

There are some serious problems with the specific details of this choice you make to. The idea is that you can choose to whistleblow, report Thought as terrorists, or expose that they've been spying on you, an out of country citizen. This somehow blows up in the end as either a good, bad, or neutral ending, all of which end with you sliding one last datachunk over to Orwell to end the game.

The worst part of all these problems is that the information you upload, and the people you're spying on, are absolutely suspicious and all potentially capable of being the major bad guy you're looking for the entire game. All of it is information that would be difficult to capture otherwise, and so, even with all the "breaches" of privacy (some of which include people handing out the equivalent of their IP addresses in chatboxes) are hand given to you as a means of looking through. Who on earth is uploading their plan to blow a place up on social media? (Okay a lot of people, isn't it good that they can be caught?)

This small scope, and actions that seem to be there only for the sake of easily moving through the story, really cuts into the message of Orwell. I would've been aghast at a huge scope of a hundred people very quickly reported on. I would've been shocked by personal violations such as publicly exposing someone as a depressive and making them lose their job, or by calling a married person gay with "evidence" pulled from alternative social profiles. I would have been mortified by the concept of inventing evidence based on nothing, but none of these things happen in Orwell.

You stalk eight people who openly brag and speak against the government that has recently cracked down on people speaking against the government, who are all directly connected, related, or involved with an actual terrorist mastermind for the entire game. There's nothing shocking about that! It sounds like an argument for the very system you're arguing against!

But that doesn't mean its all bad.

As I said before, the act of reporting information to Orwell allows you to grasp how databases work, and the choices point out how databases can be abused.

The art style of Orwell is stunning. Fractal geometric shapes are used for everything. The background, people's faces, real world settings. It impresses on you the idea of a world that is cut and dry, where the shapes and plans and the actions all fit together perfectly. There is no need to second guess. You can see the shadows on their smug faces.

And at the very least the story functions as a very good mystery story, the likes of which will keep you interested and guessing in your play time. It's just that, for this genre, which we established really needs to strike the fear into the heart of a normal citizen, it just didn't do it for me. I didn't came out scared of a system like Orwell as much as I felt the game had justified the very existence of a system like it.

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This was the first part of a two part series. Previously an introduction discussing real world Surveillance and George Orwell was posted as an introduction. The next part will concern Oliver Stone's latest thriller, Snowden. Let's just say, this genre doesn't seem to be getting very far off the ground with me. Until then,

Did you like this post? If so, consider signing up for the e-mail list so you never miss out on the latest film, tv, music, or video game post from Expository Conundrum! (Hint: It's in the upper right-hand corner of the page!!)

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And finally, you can hang around the Facebook page or Twitter to keep up on Social Media. This doubles as the easiest way to harass me, but you wouldn’t do that would you?

Friday, December 30, 2016

Mass Surveillance Part 0: My Thoughts

Mass Surveillance has been a fear of the public conscience ever since George Orwell's novel 1984 (1949). Big Brother is the name of the entity that constantly watches the public and populace through what was essentially a computer screen in every citizen's home and in the stores and on the streets. There was virtually nowhere the characters could go to achieve any sense of privacy, and even worse, they'd grown used to it.



Prior to Edward Snowden's whistleblowing of the NSAs global surveillance programs, there were many people who had a finger pointed the Patriot Act, an anti-terrorism incentive that allowed law enforcement agencies to acquire, act, and prevent planned attacks, as the primary force of Orwellian politics in modern America. Even being a younger teenager at the time, I remember every time something along the lines of mass surveillance came up, "Orwellian" was always the functional adjective of the sentence.

While some might look at 1984 and see the nightmare of totalitarian government, it does feel like people take the most visible level of what was happening in that novel and use it to paint certain real world things as much worse than they seem. It's important to remember that the citizens in Orwell's novel weren't protected from government criticism, whereas in a country like America freedom of speech is protected. I've said a lot about the most recent election outcome in this country - as have a lot of others - and nothing is happening to us, and there's very little reason to think anything will happen to us. That's because of the protections American Democracy affords to its citizens and is one of the biggest benefits of that system.

In short, the horror of Orwell's world is not the horror of this country.

Let's get American, y'all.


Even in a post-Snowden world, I'm not all that scared or surprised that the government uses technology to spy on its citizens. I'm not surprised it uses it to keep an eye on potential dangers. What I don't see is any violation of the Bill of Rights in the country being done. If you are skeevy about web cameras, cover them. If you are worried about being spied on, don't use Facebook. There's a lot of things you can opt out of to keep your privacy, but there's no privacy on the internet and based on the huge amount of racist, threatening things that happen there, that's kind of a good thing.

I'm glad Snowden did what he did, but he really only allowed us to stop guessing at something that's been possible since nine years prior to his whistleblowing. And until something more substantial happens ...


... that's basically all she wrote about the situation. It's fear and paranoia and a huge self-importance that people place on themselves to think they'll be stolen away unknowingly into the night.

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So what are we looking for when it comes to the Mass Surveillance genre? Well, let's get what Orwell did when he wrote 1984. There is a genuine fear that people had of that world. There's a reason the word "Orwellian" stuck and get's brought up. Hell, one of the things that will be reviewed in the next post is a game literally named after the man himself.

So in short, the Mass Surveillance genre is conspiracy thriller mixed with government horror. There's something unthrilling about the very real possibility of existing without privacy. There's something very horrifying about not being safe inside your own home or your own country.



Part of the reason I wrote the first part of this post was so we could lay this out. The goal of a genre is to allow a range of emotion or a feeling painted with specific aspects. Mass Surveillance as a topic should absolutely be involved in the political conversation surrounding that topic, and ideally, if the goal is to say Mass Surveillance is a bad thing, then I should be horrified.

So with that in mind, part two of Mass Surveillance will be a review of the point-drag-and click adventure thriller, Orwell (2016).

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Did you like this post? If so, consider signing up for the e-mail list so you never miss out on the latest film, tv, music, or video game post from Expository Conundrum! (Hint: It's in the upper right-hand corner of the page!!)

Also, consider donating to the blog! Your eyes are enough, but generosity and support can go a long way to making us both feel a lot better. Support your local artist (by local I mean Internet local.)


And finally, you can hang around the Facebook page or Twitter to keep up on Social Media. This doubles as the easiest way to harass me, but you wouldn’t do that would you?

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Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Crown Season 1: A Masterpiece, quite simply

I belatedly watched Netflix's newest show, The Crown. Each time I sat down the show excited me with just how amazing its execution is. Each shot as it lingered, each framing of the scene, the way it zooms in and out. The show made it very clear that it was a portrait of a country at a time of significant change, and at the center a mindful and passionate - if a bit hapless - young woman suddenly thrust into the most looked upon in her country.

But the show does more than that. Much more.

More #1: The Show is not just about England

I'm American. For that reason, the British Royal Family and its place in the political spectrum of modern day England does not concern me. My biggest concern when I began to watch the Crown was that I would not be intelligent enough about the history of England to recognize the stories taking place in the show.

And I was thoroughly wrong.

The Crown concerns itself with characters, first and foremost, and their relationships to each other. England, the Monarchy, and the Politics that run the nation are treated very realistically as the very things they are: monolithic ideas that are more brushed and understood as abstract philosophy than boiled down to easy choices or motivations.

Elizabeth is not simply the Queen, she is a young woman out of her depth in a world of politics and ruling that she never got the proper time to understand. She just very recently was married and then her Father has died out from under her. Her introduction to the role is as much her storyline as everyone else's. If the characters ask Elizabeth, "What will you do?" her very frequent response is, "I don't know, what do you think I should do?"

*ahem* I'm waiting...

This brings us to our second point,

More #2: Characters

If the Crown merely concerned itself with Elizabeth, it would lose its tracking. Instead, we also have her Uncle, Edward VIII who abdicated the throne so he could marry the love of his life. Princess Margaret is the impish sister who captures the nation's heart with a relationship scandal echoing her Uncle's. Elizabeth's Father plays a very important role in defining his children and their relationship with each other and their respective roles. Winston Churchill (played excellently by Jon Lithgow in a "best of his entire career" type of performance) plays advisor and introducer to Elizabeth in the show, making him the most respectable and most ugly of the characters. Churchill is a figure who stands in Elizabeth's way and shows her the ropes. By far these two are the central focus of season 1 and its overall theme of transition. We also have the Duke of Edinburgh, Elizabeth's husband, played almost archvillanously by Matt Smith. The Duke is a man who wishes to be recognized and powerful like his wife, but who has very clear problems submitting to a female authority. If everyone else is testy, the Duke is outright vicious about it. It's almost inhumane or far too caricaturish to buy into and believe, but even by the end of the show, I felt he had somehow grown into his role and emerged a human character.

This picture well represents the societal pressures young women must go through.

To be clear, nearly every episode represents a type of loss. Typically this is the loss of the old and the established to the young and the new. Not every episode, however, and it is in this sense that the show crafts itself. Each character represents nuanced bits of humanity, the lovers who just want to marry, the old abdicator who just wants to be part of the family, the father who just wants to see his daughters a little older before they take power or the mother who finds her place rapidly disappearing as her friends and allies die. It's by backing away from historical fact and significance that the magic of the Crown works, and why I think this first season will stand as a testament.

More #3: Cinematography

Film is an art dedicated to change over time. It shares this in common with music and is that which Literature is entirely out of touch with. Nothing changes a book. If you could read it in a single second it would not count or rely on the transition of said second very much. But Film is about being in a fixed place, a moment.

So when I say the cinematography of The Crown is hands down some of the best work I've ever seen, understand I am talking about the way it focuses on just the right aspects at just the right time. There are moments where the camera holds still while an actor on an elaborately designed set takes their time processing and thinking, about what? Sometimes we know sometimes we don't.

Longer shots are the lifeblood of characteristic, tone driven cinema, and The Crown god damn knows it. The Crown is about contemplation. It is about time. It is about change. And it accomplishes those things in nearly every shot. If nothing else, this element will allow the shows "planned" six season run to be executed with an artistic perfection.

What you don't know is that they've been shaking hands for five minutes.

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The Crown is beautiful. It is hands down the most beautiful tv show I've ever seen. Its stories are far more humanistic than the Queen of England has any right to be. It's characters so fully flesh out the world we live in, full of people who want and take and suffer and it paints so much life and blood into these things that I just want to throw it into a time capsule already. This show features so much of the life people suffer through on a day to day basis. If this is truly what the Queen represents to the people of England, then I fully understand. Even if it isn't, this is what everything in life represents to everyone.

To put it short, if you cannot relate to this show you cannot relate to humanity. If you think that's a tall order, then I urge you, watch this show. It is a modern masterpiece.

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In the next few days, I will write on my indifference towards mass surveillance, but also the differing art forms of Games and Film on the topic of such. I'll be discussing Orwell, a recently released game, and how its small focus perhaps sells the horror more than Snowden, the most recent Oliver Stone film, on why surveillance should be scary.


Did you like this post? If so, consider signing up for the e-mail list so you never miss out on the latest film, tv, music, or video game post from Expository Conundrum! (Hint: It's in the upper right-hand corner of the page!!)

Also, consider donating to the blog! Your eyes are enough, but generosity and support can go a long way to making us both feel a lot better. Support your local artist (by local I mean Internet local.)


And finally, you can hang around the Facebook page or Twitter to keep up on Social Media. This doubles as the easiest way to harass me, but you wouldn’t do that would you?

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If you enjoyed the modern day struggles of Elizabeth becoming Queen, you may be interested in a more historical period piece as well. Queen Victoria was one of the youngest monarchs at the time, and did not see herself as a placeholder for more experienced men. Follow her journey, by purchasing the first season by clicking on the image below.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Rogue One: A few misgivings about a galaxy far, far away...


*MASSIVE SPOILERS FOR ROGUE ONE*





Misgiving 1: Characters

There’s a scene in Rogue One where Jyn Erso, our protagonist, cries while her dad gives her a message regarding the Death Star. The message was not sent to Erso, but most of it is addressed to her. He goes into extensive detail about the Death Star, its capabilities, and the weakness that he put there. Jyn is crying emotionally, the first time she’s seen or heard from her father in years, but his message is ultimately exposition. It’s telling us the set-up for the rest of the film.

This happens nearly an hour into the film. This is also the moment where Jyn finally receives motivation to assist the Rebel Alliance, which she’s been testy with so far.

If you can’t quite see the narrative issue on display, let me explain. This is the first time we ever understand how Jyn feels about her father since we’ve seen her as a grown up. It’s also the only moment that really justifies her being our protagonist being the protagonist.

I wish this was the only example of a character being rather empty in the film but it isn’t. The entire Rogue’s (one) gallery is introduced by means of a punctuated action sequence. Typically, you would expect them to be introduced with witty battle wrought dialogue, but instead, they’re usually introduced without even a lick of dialogue. Or what little dialogue they have is like Jyn’s dad droning away about the Death Star without betraying the idea of a personality.



The film recovers from this, but it's this first hour that set off my alarm bells. And I do believe it’s the root cause of a lot of other problems.


Misgiving 2: War Sucks (in a galaxy far, far away)

Much of Rogue One’s cinematography and scenes are obsessed with one image: people dying. Stormtroopers, extremist insurgents, the Rebels. War in the Star Wars universe is shown to be what it’s never been: dirty, bloody, violent, ridden with meaningless and meaningful sacrifices. The ending shot of the film is composed on this idea, with the action and drama continuing even once our heroes have taken their hands off the main element of the plot.

There’s something transcendental about this focus, and something about it that pays homage to what I once believed fantasy was best at; delivering realism by means of escapism. When you are confronted with the ills of racism in a fantasy novel, you can learn about real world racism without having to—for lack of a better word—“deal” with real world racism.

They start them young nowadays.

Rogue One deals with the little heroes. Jyn Erso, her father, and other players who are small in the world of Star Wars, but big in the possibilities it gives to the heroes.

However, I’m not entirely sure what this “does” for Star Wars.

In the original trilogy, I don’t remember the warfare ever being super privileged. Sure, the Jedi can’t get hit by blaster bolts, but just about everyone else could. Obi-Wan was the first sacrificial mentor I can remember seeing in a story. Dack in Empire Strikes Back was brutally killed in the Battle of Hoth in a way that I still remember being deeply surprised by as a kid. Star Wars has never featured overwhelmingly clean warfare.

Pictured: Not traumatizing
Furthermore, I really feel like the message they ultimately deliver at the end is very nearly lost as they scramble to make the characters work. Jyn Erso ultimately becomes what the film wants her to be, a tragic casualty, another number in the big picture of the Star Wars plot, and yeah, that feeling really works by the end, but it was not working for the first half. That’s an entire hour of character—potentially thematic character—that is missing from the film.

If you think I’m sitting pretty, and ignoring what works for what doesn’t, then I suggest you look back at the first films.

Imagine for a second if the first hour of New Hope was C3PO and R2D2 walking around Tatooine. Not saying anything to each other. Just walking. Along the way they sort of run into a few of the character’s we’ll see later, Obi-wan, Han, just background for now. Then imagine they get captured, we get one shot of them being decommissioned, and then they’re at Luke’s farm. They are quickly bought by Uncle Owen and sent to the garage for cleaning where we meet Luke, who doesn’t say anything and just starts cleaning them, then they find the message and the rest of the film continues but condensed into the remaining hour of run time.

That’s what Rogue One feels like, a film where the characters spend a very long time not talking to each other.


Misgiving 3: Maybe I’m being unfair...

Last year we got The Force Awakens and despite the complaints about that, it lived up to the original trilogy. It was a tightly plotted celebration of its primary influences and offered character driven and characteristic dialogue and plot. Okay, sure, they just HAPPEN to end up in the same bit of space where Han Solo’s ship is, but didn’t they just HAPPEN to wind up in the same bit of space that the Death Star was in the original film?

My point is that we just came off of what ended up being my favorite Star Wars film to date, so was I ready to sit down and see a less than stellar film on the big screen. Absolutely not.

But I do feel the concerns I have addressed are worth noting. Rogue One is not a perfect film, and its setting the stage for future flicks. I just can’t imagine Young Han Solo being anything other than a typical fun Star Wars flick, however, and it makes the choice of this dark and dour flick beforehand a very strange shade.


Still, go see it and see what you think. It’s looking to be a divisive flick.

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Did you like this post? If so, consider signing up for the e-mail list so you never miss out on the latest film, tv, music, or video game post from Expository Conundrum! (Hint: It's in the upper right-hand corner of the page!!)

Also, consider donating to the blog! Your eyes are enough, but generosity and support can go a long way to making us both feel a lot better. Support your local artist (by local I mean Internet local.)


And finally, you can hang around the Facebook page or Twitter to keep up on Social Media. This doubles as the easiest way to harass me, but you wouldn’t do that would you?

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