Friday, September 26, 2014

Nitpickery: Donkey Kong Country

Hey y'all.  So I was thinking a lot at work about different video games.  It's always interesting to see how a franchise changes over time, and the Donkey Kong franchise has had its ups and downs over time, making it sort of difficult to talk about.  It started out as a game where Donkey throws barrels at a hero plumber, then went to a platformer trilogy with inconsistent character controls, then became a collect-o-thon on the Nintendo 64, then it was a rhythm drum game, and now it's a platformer and collect-o-thon!

Yeah, I know I'm missing some games in there, but you get the idea.  Donkey Kong has been pretty inconsistent.  It's hard for me personally to deal with, as I grew up with the platformer trilogy on the Super Nintendo.  These three are probably the best games in the franchise, give or take the third. What made these games for me was environment and simplicity, two things of which the later games don't quite have.  Granted, few modern games are effective at simplicity, because we're at a point in time where technology has gotten so good, game producers often risk doing too much.

But enough of that.  I'm here to talk about the first Donkey Kong Country game.  This game has good environments and simplicity in spades.  Despite the fact it's about a couple of apes trying to get their bananas back, each level is designed in an emotionally responsive way -- the jungle levels are open and fun, the factory levels are creepy, the temple levels are haunting, etc.  And what could be more simplistic than platforming in these nicely designed levels with perfect controls?  This is a game you can pick up, play, and have fun with, all without tedious storylines or scrolling through lists of gameplay instructions.

Monday, September 22, 2014

University of Orwell

Hey y'all.  Welcome to my experiment.

I read a lot of books, mostly nonfiction.  Even when I do read fiction, I prefer the books that in some way help me learn about real life, such as Farmer in the Sky by Robert Heinlein, or One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.  Lately I've noticed that most of my books run on anti-tyrannical themes, even when I don't directly choose a book on that basis.  For example, I just read a C.S. Lewis biography, and it turns out that his wife Joy was an ex-communist.

The more I read, the more I've realized that I'm on to something.  I'm not sure what right at this moment, but everything I'm studying makes me feel as though I'm on the verge of some great truth, one that will be revolutionary once I figure out what it is.  Revolutionary to myself, in any case.  This came to a head as I wrote my Brave New World review on the subject of pleasure vs. abstinence, and now I've finally decided to turn an inside joke into something with potential.

That truth I'm searching for in some way relates to the nature of control, both of others and of self.  It relates to individualism, and how people are so easily led astray by strange ideas and philosophies, some that seem like nonsense to anyone not taken in, and some as addictive as drugs.  Basically, I want all to be able to assess reality, without losing childlike humility and curiosity.  It's not about being smarter or better than anyone else, but about turning oneself into someone who can only be ruled by God and oneself, not by manipulators, clever liars, and those who appeal to our own egos to get us to think as they do.

Thus, the University of Orwell is born.  It's my imaginary university about the philosophy and politics of control.  In execution, it's a collection of books I feel will teach people the history and psychology of control, all arranged into departments as though they were textbooks.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

University of Orwell: Brave New World

Hey y'all.  So I've just read Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, and it's.....well, interesting.  A lot of the time people will call something a classic and keep it on an elevated platform, but for this book I feel like it's a normal work -- something that can't be blindly praised, nor something so nonsensical that you start wondering what kind of person would call it classic (i.e. Great Gatsby).  It's a bit nonsensical, to be fair.  Of course, that's the whole point of Brave New World.  It's a representation of the human mind when it's subjected to a setting of convenient pleasure at all times, artificially generated by a techno-tyranny -- that is, a tyranny that controls by using technology.

Now, as I talk about this book, I'm going to be comparing it to George Orwell's 1984 and C.S. Lewis' That Hideous Strength.  These three books are all based on techno-tyrannies, and talk about it from three different angles, each valid in its literary purpose.

But wait, you ask, what's with that title?  University of Orwell?  Well, I'll explain that in the next blog post.  For now, it's about Brave New World.

Spoilers are everywhere.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Good and Bad of Deep Space Nine: Last Part

Hey y'all.  In the interest of talking about something different, here's the final part of my DS9 rant. Don't worry, I've got some buffer coming up, and it'll be here soon so there isn't only DS9 for this month.

Damar and Garak:
I don't have a lot to say about Damar.  He's a Cardassian, a soldier who worked for Gul Dukat from the time the Cardassians occupied Bajor.  He's had little to do over the course of the show, but he slowly goes from the background to the forefront of the story, and is eventually in charge of the Cardassian effort to liberate themselves from their foolish alliance with the Dominion.  His arc is a nice one, and it's great to see a glorified extra become a main character toward the end.

Damar goes from being the blind follower of Dukat, to a too-sincere soldier, to a complete drunk, to the hero of the Cardassians.  Probably one of the single most disappointing things about the ending was his death in the last episode.  It just didn't work.  For one thing, the audience never gets too strong of a connection to him until the end.  His emotional connection to the viewer wasn't well developed to the point where his death was a tragedy.  Instead, it felt gratuitous, like the writers were "cleaning up" some of the lesser characters just to have them out of the way.

Garak, on the other hand, was someone the viewers loved.  His every performance was good, even when he had to share the screen with Ezri.  And you know what?  He should have died.  And why not?  Garak's only outing was an episode, Afterimage, that he shared with Ezri so that her counselor status could be established (and never used again).  Garak doesn't get much of anything to do until the end of the season where he appears at Kira's side to go help the Cardassians rebel against the Dominion.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Good and the Bad of Deep Space Nine: Part 3, Starting the Ending

Alright, let's finish this up, shall we? Spoilers!

4. The Ending.

The first and last seasons of DS9 were sort of odd.  The first season was strange because the show didn't know quite where it wanted to go at that point, and none of the Gamma Quadrant aliens were as deep as ones created in TOS and DS9, until they revealed the changeling Founders, the Vorta, and the Jem'Hadar. Still, the first season was okay, definitely better than TNG's first season.  Not that it takes much to be better than TNG's.

The final season, however, had an unfortunate blight.  Her name was Ezri Dax.  While she's certainly no Neelix, the idea in itself of adding a new character during a final season is iffy on its own.  Sure, this would make sense if the new character were incidental to new circumstances in the other character's lives, but to bring in a new main character who has to not only become an interesting person on her own, but also correctly take on the legacy associated with all the memories of around ten past lives?  That's a heavy plot burden right there.

It doesn't help that as a young girl who hasn't at all been prepared to become joined to a symbiote and must deal with the consequences of Jadzia's death, there's a lot of plot potential for Ezri.  She has to be introduced and develop friendships when everyone else is well established and finishing up their stories.

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Good and Bad of Deep Space Nine, Part 2

Hey y'all.  I've still got some stuff to say about Deep Space Nine, as I've been binging on it lately. Actually, as I'm writing this, I've started re-watching some Voyager.  It's not great, but it's at least passable.  Nowhere near as much to talk about as Deep Space Nine, though.

Now where was I?  Spoilers!

2.  Over-arcing Plotlines.

- The Emissary of the Prophets/Spirituality: Thumbs up!
So in the first episode, Sisko is revealed to be the Emissary of the Prophets.  This role is never clarified, but apparently it means he hears from the Prophets more directly than other people do.  He does things like find artifacts, bless couples, and help the Bajorans not become victims of the Dominion.  It's cool.

What makes this better is that Kira is a firm believer in the Prophets, and Worf is respectful of it.  So many Trekkies feel that God has no place on the show, but that's wrong.  First of all, Trek writers have always wanted to touch on sensitive matters, so that alone makes spirituality important. Secondly, the Prophets themselves can go either way.  You might call them gods, or you might call them aliens in a more "advanced" state than most of the other creatures in the universe.

Best of all, the characters all had various levels of belief and doubt, from the firm believers to the moderate believers, from the disillusioned to the dense materialist.  This is the exact sort of thing that allows for realistic reactions to all the things that are going on.  It gives the show a very three dimensional scope, making it feel more like different viewpoints are accepted (infinite diversity in infinite combinations), rather than the frankly self-superior feel that TNG showed far too often.