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Completion

I finally finished Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey a couple weeks ago. Like, finished, finished. Completed.

Well, not entirely. I ended up leaving one or two locations incomplete, and I didn’t bother getting all the Ostraka in the DLCs. But all the story-related quests (and really basically all the quests too) are completed. The game is done, the platinum trophy attained.

Naturally, the culmination of this seven-odd month endeavor has left me with a few odd questions. Not necessarily about the game, but more about me and my definition of ‘finishing’ the game and how Odyssey both feeds into and sucks that out.

First off, I’m easily distracted, and Odyssey is a game of side quests, more than a few of which are of the “go here, then there” variety. This is fairly typical of an open-world game, but unlike some other games (say, Mass Effect: Andromeda), these fetch-quests are legion. They’ve also got a bit of a Skinner Box effect on me, where I see a thing that needs to be done and decide that it has to be done. This is how I spent a lot of time running around Ancient Greece without advancing any of the game’s main plots. This was fun enough at the time, but the repetitiveness wore on me over time and it did kinda detract from the main plot, since by the time I got there I was pretty damn tired of running around and getting stuff for people. Again.

But for some reason that running around is tied into my way of ‘finishing’ a game. Like, have I really finished the game if there are side quests still left undone?

I feel like one of Assassin Creed: Odyssey’s flaws is that it’s an absolutely sprawling, enormous game filled with things to do, but ultimately it’s hard to tell if the quest you’re doing is ultimately going to be of any import. And even if you know it’s a pointless side quest, it’s it worthwhile to do it for the EXP and loot rewarded? I wanted my ship to be fully upgraded, and those quests were easy ways to get those resources, so I figure there was a point at the time.

Like I said: Skinner Box.

I did really enjoy the game for the most part — I mean, I finished it, didn’t I? Exploring was such a delight and getting to hobnob with the luminaries of history is always a highlight of these games (even if they excised my history lesson). Plus they gave me a ship and I could ravage the Aegean as I wanted. Honestly, there’s a lot to love.

It’s after putting in way over a hundred hours into the game that the cracks begin to show. There’s a lot of canned dialogue and many main quests feel inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. It’s understandable because even looking at main/special/important quests, there are a lot of those too, and they do tend to fill like filler, if only because they feel structurally so similar to the other ones. It seems as if a lot of Kassandra’s actions have little impact going forwards, beyond some canned dialogue and maybe a fancy weapon. Mass Effect and Borderlands have their side quests, and if they didn’t advance the story or characters, there’s usually an attempt for them to be entertaining in their own right (there are some in Borderlands 2 that I insist on doing in every playthrough because of how zany they are). Odyssey has those moments, but they’re too few and far between.

I’ll give this to the game though: Holy crap I got my money’s worth. And I had fun doing it; even if some of the best fun was playing in its sandbox. Like running into an Athenian camp, killing a soldier, getting the others to chase me, then leading them into a Spartan camp and watching the ensuing carnage (or jumping in the middle of it for that sweet sweet EXP). Honestly, those hijinks and the joy of exploration are probably gonna be what stick with me more so than the multitude of quests I went on and the story that played out. If only there was a trophy for that.

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2019 in Review

Holy smokes it’s 2020, a brand new year of fun and games ready to happen. In light of that, let’s look at 2019 and all the stuff I ranted wrote about.

Five Most Popular/Viewed Posts

#5: What I’ve Been Reading

I read a lot. Turns out, people are curious about what I’m reading. So here it is! Books! By people! Many of whom aren’t white guys!

#4: Let’s Rank Star Wars Movies!

Everyone’s doing it, so I joined in! I stand by this ranking more or less. Where does Rise of Skywalker fall? Oh, that’s a surprise.

#3: Arthur Fleck and Emmet Brickowski

I really didn’t like Joker, not that it wasn’t well made but more that I thought it did a really lousy job of handling some really loaded subject matter. What better way to discuss this then by putting him in discussions with Emmet from The Lego Movie?

#2: Guns.

Hoo boy. This is a big one, talking about guns and video games, and how I can loath gun violence while enjoying shooting virtual bad guys. This long rambly post is how I think about stuff like that, looking at my own relationship with media and the real world and how it all plays together. There’s no tidy ending, just a lot of Thoughts.

#1: Shoeless Superheroes

There’s a new Marvel comic that focuses on a team of Asian superheroes. In one panel in one issue we see them inside, and all their shoes sitting by the door (like any civilized person would). Seeing something immediately familiar that I recognize on a deep cultural level is so wonderful, so terrific, that of course I had to write about it.

Josh’s Pick of Three

#3: The Wickiness

I love a good action movie. The John Wick movies are better than a good action movie. This post talks about why. And reminds me to rewatch them.

#2: Stable Boy

I really love The Last Jedi and make no apologies such. I also love how it ends, with a quiet shot on a lone kid offers a really wonderful capstone on the movie. This post is me geeking out intelligently about it and why it’s so wonderful.

#1: Captain Marvel

My favorite superhero got her own movie!!! I loved it, and this post is very much me in the immediate aftermath processing through it. Naturally, I wanna see where the movies go next with her, but it seems we’ve gotta wait for that.

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It’s 2020. Stuff is gonna happen this year. See you around to ramble on about that too.

Cheers,

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Nine Movies From A Decade

It’s the end of a decade, which is by all accounts a pretty big deal. As we hurtle into the 20s, a lot of folks on the internet have been making lists of stuff they like from the past decade, particularly, movies. In light of that I figured, hey, might as well do the same, yeah? ‘cuz it’s my blog and I can do whatever I want.

As usual, this will be a list of nine, saving a spot for a dark horse that is yet to appear on my radar. I’m also loathe to term these any sort of ‘best’ or ‘top’ or ‘most important’ movies of the decade. These are just nine movies that I Really Liked; there are some omissions, and I reserve the right to disavow this list within the next week. There’s no particular order, outside of the year the movie came out.

With all this preamble down, let’s jump into it.

 

SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD

This is one of those wonderful movies that you understand more the more you watch it. Scott’s kinda a terrible human being, and part of the plot is him learning that and coming to terms with it (via the power of self-respect!). Plus it’s a visual treat of an action movie, cribbing tropes from video games and animated media to make for a terrific gestalt of a movie. Is it my favorite Edgar Wright film? Probably!

 

SUPER 8

It’s a movie about making a movie with your friends. I love how gentle the movie is, what with its dealing with trauma and making new friends and all. It’s such a sweet flick that I can’t help but to really like. Plus there’s a whole plot about an alien monster and all too.

 

PACIFIC RIM

GIANT ROBOTS! GIANT MONSTERS! A BADASS MULTINATIONAL TEAM COMING TOGETHER TO CANCEL THE APOCALYPSE VIA A TECHNOLOGY THAT BRINGS PEOPLE CLOSER THEREBY ALLOWING THEM TO OVERCOME SHARED TRAUMA AND UNDERSTAND EACH OTHER BETTER AND DO AWESOME THINGS LIKE PREVENTING THE END OF THE WORLD BECAUSE THE WORLD IS NOT A LOST CAUSE!

 

BIG HERO SIX

A metric I sometimes judge movies by is how much I would have loved it as a kid. This movie gets points across the board, in no small part because the main character is definitely half-Asian. Like me. Which is important. Plus, diverse group of heroes kicking ass? I am here for this!

 

CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR

I figured I had to have one Marvel movie on this list. While The Avengers is arguably the most important one (as it proved that this wild experiment was doable) and Infinity War is plain well done, Civil War edges them out as my favorite of the lot. Love the characterizations given to Steve and Tony, two flawed people who find themselves at odds. It’s just so well done.

 

CREED

I still haven’t seen a Rocky movie, which I consider to be a personal failing. But I have seen Creed and I love it so. It’s a rabble rouser of a movie that that expertly plays its audience to make those big emotional moments land. The boxing is terrifically shot and the soundtrack has been in semi-permanent rotation in my Writing Music playlist. Also Ryan Coogler is one of my favorite directors, that is the slight edge that pushes this one on to the list over Fury Road (which is also an astoundingly amazing movie).

 

STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI

Yes.

 

SET IT UP

Look, I really like romcoms! And maybe About Time and The Big Sick should be on this list too, but I want to give some major props to Set It Up which tries to be nothing more than a silly little romantic comedy and it does it so well and it gives me the warm and fuzzies and I love it so! This is my list, I don’t need to defend my choices!

 

BOOKSMART

I’ve a soft spot in my heart for coming-of-age stories, particularly those that hearken back to John Hughes and his 80s contemporaries where there’s no Big Terrible Thing and the stories feel a lot gentler. Booksmart is one such movie (see also: Easy A). It’s just so fun and so warm that, with 2019 not yet over and many movies I’ve yet to see, I feel confident putting it on this list.

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Background Diversity

I really liked The Last Jedi, more that I did The Rise of Skywalker, and there are many reasons for that, and really it’s a lot of personal preference. One of my very favorite things in Last Jedi — and, admittedly, this is a very small thing — is the diversity of the Resistance members. Pay attention to the background of the movie, and you’ll notice that many of the Resistance offers and fighters are played by women and people of color.

Like I said, it’s a small detail. But there’s something profoundly affecting at seeing so much of the Resistance being ran by woman, there’s something super cool to me to see a random officer on the bridge walking around being portrayed by an Asian actor. It’s a detail in the movie that’s not only prevalent, it’s consistent: they’re everywhere. The random pilot we cutaway to is as likely to be a woman as it is a white guy, the person giving an update on the fleet too. It’s a thing that once you notice it, it’s delightfully consistent, and, really, quite wonderful.

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Why, then, you ask?

Because in no small way this Resistance feels like one that I could be a part of — without feeling like a token character. Not unlike the Rebellion in Rogue One, this is a group of people composed of all stripes. The Resistance of The Last Jedi demonstrably has space for everyone in their ranks, anyone can be a part of it.

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There’s another aspect to this too. By nature of it being a movie, the camera and the plot follows important people (Rose, for example, a no-name engineer, is deemed important by virtue of being a main character). It’s the principle of showing and not just telling, we’re not being told that there are brave men and women from all over the galaxy fighting the good fight; we get to see them Doing Things. Sure, the books and comics have retroactively added a lot more diversity and representation to the ranks of the Rebellion and Jedi Order in recent years, getting to actually see such on a big screen is profoundly affecting. These people are the heroes of the story, and a few of them look like me.

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Not only that, but many of them are in positions of power or responsibility. They’re members of the bridge crew, cooks; they’re pilots, not ground crew. They do stuff and so are implied to be important members of the team. By the end of the film, with the Resistance reduced to a small core, they aren’t all white guys. And these are the Important Survivors — again, film is a visual medium, what we see is as important, perhaps more so, than what we’re told; so seeing these people alive and as the proverbial spark that will bring about the First Order’s defeat.

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This is something the Prequels did really well too, throwing roles at women and people-of-color because, why not? The Phantom Menace had Captain Panaka and Mace Windu, Attack of The Clones had Queen Jamillia, and Revenge of The Sith revealed that Senator Bail Organa looked a lot like Jimmy Smits. It’s a small thing, but it’s something that tells viewers that, hey, there’s space at this table for people who don’t look like Luke and Han, that Leia isn’t the only woman in the Rebellion.

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The Rise of Skywalker makes a gallant effort at capturing a similar ethos. There is still diversity in the ranks of the Resistance, but it just feels far less prominent than how it was presented in Last Jedi. Don’t get me wrong, I love a cameo from an actor from LOST, but I can’t help but to mourn the loss of something The Last Jedi did so well. Embracing casual, background diversity is a small thing, especially in conjunction with bigger, more prominent representation, (which is super important and done decently in these movies), but it’s still something that I like to see and means a lot to me. It’s a bummer to see it go.

Note: Also, while scrubbing through The Last Jedi for these screencaps, I’m reminded of how damn beautiful of a movie it is.

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A Celebration

In less than a week, I will have seen The Rise of Skywalker, the culmination of the newest Star Wars trilogy. It’s thrilling because the idea of a new Star Wars movie never stops being exciting to my tired, late-twenties brain. ‘cuz, dude, it’s a new Star Wars movie!

The newest trailer (which, admittedly, is no longer quite as new as it once was) feels to be very much of the same sentiment. It’s triumphant, the music is brash and eschews tension in favor of sweeping excitement. Ultimately, it doubles down on a feeling of celebratory joy.

And why shouldn’t it? It’s movie number nine of a trilogy, it oughta have with it the cathartic joy of culmination. If this trailer is indicative of Skywalker’s tone, then I’m so ready for the ride.

Star Wars has always been a romantic series; innate to the main movies is this idea of hopeful adventure. When Lando and Wedge make their run on the Death Star II in Return of The Jedi the music is rousing and lively, not dour and dramatic. It eschews tension for thrills; there’s no doubt that the good guys will win — the question instead is how.

This is something the Sequel Trilogy has done real well in capturing. The battle over Starkiller Base in The Force Awakens is full of derring-do as Poe pilots his X-Wing. Rey grabbing the lightsaber is a beat that screams cool, underscored by the music and the camera. We knew this was going to happen, ever since Maz held it out to her, but watching it is so exciting, and you’d be forgiven for cheering wildly in the theater (I did).

If Rise of Skywalker is, in fact, a joyous celebration, then what The Last Jedi did is all the more key. Consider the relationship between deconstruction and reconstruction.

Deconstruction, in a literary sense, is where a story or trope is taken apart. The LEGO Movie merrily takes the piss out of Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, making the Chosen Everyman into an utter nobody. Shrek exposes fairytales for the lie they are by positioning the ogre as the main character who saves the princess. Batman is offered a dosage of reality in The Dark Knight; Bruce Wayne is a bruised shell of a man who has little existence outside of his role as the caped crusader.

On the flip side is reconstruction, which is one of my favorite things. This is where the flaws and cracks highlighted by a deconstruction are acknowledged and built upon. Emmet may be the most boring minifig in the world, but that doesn’t mean he can’t go on a Hero’s Journey. Sure, the prince saving the princess is a tired trope, so Shrek builds its narrative on a genuine relationship between people — and so creates a new fairytale ending. The Dark Knight knows that the idea of someone fighting crime outside the law is ridiculous and so uses Joker as the ultimate deconstructor, forcing Batman and Harvey Dent to the edge. Ultimately, the movie decides that it is Batman’s extralegal nature that allows him to take the fall for Dent’s rampage, because Gotham needs a symbol, and an uncorrupt DA is much more potent than a masked vigilante.

The Last Jedi deconstructs Star Wars hard; what with one of its themes being about letting the past die. So much of the movie is about taking apart myths and our own obsessions with them. Rey and Luke are both consumed by the myth of Luke Skywalker with different takeaways: Rey wants that legend to save the galaxy, Luke is haunted by his failure to live up to it. The synthesis of these viewpoints is a systematic deconstruction of Star Wars. During one of Luke’s lessons, for example, he refutes the idea that the Jedi Knights kept the galaxy safe for generations by pointing out that their hubris allowed Darth Sidious to rise right under their noses. Maybe Luke has a point, maybe it is time for the Jedi to end.

Of course, deconstruction by itself makes for a grim outlook, and there are enough sad stories already. The Last Jedi accepts the power of a myth, while also acknowledging that we can’t always live up to it. Luke does face down the First Order, but he does so to save everyone and inspire the Resistance. Rey finds out that the Force does sometimes mean lifting rocks, but, again, it’s an act done to save her friends. By the end of The Last Jedi, the myth is being put back together in a new way, creating a new legend for a new rebellion.

So now comes The Rise of Skywalker, which has the opportunity to build on the foundation of The Last Jedi. The movie has explored a nadir, and now comes the chance for the heroes to chart their own course through the narrative and to, uh, rise. So the tone of the trailers for Skywalker is plenty apt, with their sweeping music and feelings of heroic fantasy. This is the grand finale! It’s not just about bringing a story to a close, it’s also about celebrating the world that so captured our imaginations.

My hope for the movie is that it draws me into its flight of fantasy; that it, like the trailer, makes my heart sing. I can’t wait for The Rise of Skywalker; I’m ready for the adventure. 

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Catching ’em All

I recently picked up Pokémon: Shield because I have a Switch and several friends of mine have it and I was starting to feel left out. Also because I haven’t played a proper Pokémon game in ages, and here was one that I had the system for so here I am.

And it’s adorable and fun, and a neat step forwards in where Pokémon has gotten in the past fifteen-odd years since I’ve played a mainline game. I’m having a ball exploring the Galar region and catching new creatures and fielding a team (while fighting the temptation to have it composed solely of Stuffuls and Bewears).

Naturally, this has me thinking about older Pokémon games. And I really mean older. Let’s talk about Red, Blue, and Yellow, and what the original games did so freaking well. Especially in the first few hours.

The world seems so big, right out of the gate. There’s a sea to the south, which you can’t cross, and after getting your started and going on your way, you venture through the tall grass of Route 1. On either side, though, there’s more grass that you can’t reach, there’s something beyond there that could hold more adventure. Though it is, in fact, inaccessible, just its being there hints at there being more, and early on in the game, that more-ness is exciting.

You then reach the first town of Viridian City. There’s more set up done here, and I don’t just mean the first PokéCenter and PokéMart (and learning to catch Pokémon from a grumpy old man!).

Let’s say you head west from Viridian. There lies Victory League and the Indigo Plateau… which you can’t go to. Because you need gym badges. Which you don’t have. You want to get them, though, because your rival is talking about it and, hey, those people said you couldn’t go unless you had gym badges, so you need gym badges!

Hang on, there’s a gym in Viridian City! But there’s no one home. Which is curious, but hey, you don’t know any better yet, ya noob. It’s when you come back after having the other seven badges that you realize, holy crap, Team Rocket’s leader Giovanni is also the gym leader of Viridian! But the seed of a mystery of the gym is planted there, right at the beginning of the game.

By the time you go on to the Viridian Forest you’ve already been introduced to the need for gym badges and had a little inkling of a Bigger Plot planted.

It’s in the forest that we meet another of Pokémon’s big mechanics: evolution. There’s been mention of Pokémon being able to evolve in dialogue, but it’s in the forest that can witness it first hand. Chances are, you’re gonna catch a Caterpie or a Weedle, given that they’re everywhere in the forest. Both of these Pokémon evolve at level 7, which your Pokémon will be hitting very soon. They evolve into Metapod and Kakuna, which are cocoons, before evolving again at level 10. Right away, we’re given the imagery of a butterfly’s life cycle: crawley thing into a poddy thing into a flying thing. Using that familiarity from the real world, Pokémon introduces the concept of evolution early on in a way you understand it. The game shows you Caterpie -> Metapod -> Butterfree so that, later on, something like Magikarp -> Garydos or Machop -> Machoke make sense.

It’s after the forest that we have our next lesson: Type Effectiveness. Pokémon follows a rock, paper, scissors mentality when it comes to battling; water beats fire, fire beats grass, grass beats water. The first gym leader you fight is Brock of Pewter City. He fields rock-types, which no matter your starter, there will be some relation. Bulbasaur and Squirtle’s grass and water attacks are super effective, while Charmander’s fire attack isn’t very effective. Since you have to beat Brock to proceed, you’re essentially being forced to learn how that mechanic works. Thus by the time you leave Pewter City and head to Mt. Moon (and your first encounter with Team Rocket!) you’re not just curious about the rest of the world, you’re pretty well versed in the basics of the game.

This is excellent game design, pure and simple. It sticks in my head so much in part because I played it when I was a kid, and in part that owing to having a pirated cartridge that wouldn’t let me save, I played these opening moments many, many, many times. There’s such wonder when you’re eight years old and exploring this fantastical world, and those games, with all their graphical limitations, made it all the more magical.

I think that’s part of the reason why I’m enjoying Pokémon Shield so, it’s like a time capsule to twenty years ago, where even though everything in the game looks so much prettier, fundamentally it’s a very comfortable return to magic.

Also, somewhere along the way, Stufful was introduced and I am so happy. 

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DID IT

Hey.

Today, being the last day of November, is when NaNoWriMo comes to an end.

And I friggin’ did it.

50,000 words (and change) written in a month. Somehow.

I’ve no real idea where this story’s going and I’m pretty sure about 50% of those words are trash, but I did it. That’s 50,000 words done.

Finishing the novel is for another day, now it’s time for video games and whiskey.

Expect some regular scheduled geekery next Saturday.

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