In Memory, In Ink

I have a friend named Quinn.  Ever since she was ten years old, she lost the ability to speak.  She got incredibly sick.  It was a disease that caused massive inflammation all over her body.  She nearly died.  A fever of 104, death nearly came for her but she came back from it.  Now she no longer has the ability to speak.  It’s been a very hard life for her.  You don’t really think about the value that the ability to speak has until you lose it.  So much of her life was hurt, and she has been trying to come back from it for as long as she could.

Through all of that, there was her incredibly supportive mother.  Even when she found out that her daughter was gay, and her father kicked her out of the house, her mother did everything she could to help her.  To the point that they ended up getting a nasty divorce because the mother hated the father for how he treated their daughter, which in turn translated into how well he treated her sister because she was the child he had always wanted.  Meanwhile, Quinn had her mother.  When she was really little, as I understand it, Quinn was a very talkative little kid.  Her mother called her “Chatty Monkey.”  It was with this in mind that when she died, Quinn had an idea for a tat.  But since she has no artistic talent, it just stayed as an idea, until now.  With the help of my dear friend Kathryn, it has finally come to fruition.  As it will when it is immortalized on Quinn’s skin forever.  One of three tats, all of which have great significance for her.

16901932_10155070158909111_1716337255_nThe monkey is to stand for the nickname that her mother had for her all her life.  The gun is because her mother was a crack-shot, most specifically with a revolver.  The smoke is because, the unfortunate truth is that her mother was a chimney.  You can extrapolate how she died based on that.  Woman went through a pack a day.  I try not to judge how people live, but as her coughing got worse, even Quinn felt terrible.  The woman left our state to go be in a warmer climate, and it did help.  But it only went so far.

A wonderful woman has passed away.  She left a legacy of a connection between mother and daughter that is unmatched, from a girl who life has been horribly unkind to.  How people keep their memories close.  Quinn is putting this memory on her hip.  So when you see this image, keep in mind the connection it symbolizes.  Let me know the connections that you have with people who have left your life and how you keep that alive in the Comments.

Until next time, a quote,

“Death is not the greatest loss in life.  The greatest loss in life is what dies inside us while we live.” – Norman Cousins

Peace out,

Maverick

Lucien’s Worst Game of 2016

As I said in a previous post, it has been a slow year for gaming.  This means that there have been some mediocre games that have come out.  And while some of those mediocre games bug me, like Rise of the Tomb Raider, it isn’t nearly bad enough to make this list.  I had been going to do a review of this game, but I never did.  I just couldn’t deal with it anymore.  It was so annoying.  I wasted my money on it.  I want a fucking refund.  But nope!  Because PSN doesn’t do refunds, because Sony are a bunch of greedy mizers.  This game was bad, in every way that a game can be, aside from being visually interesting.  I’ve waited to talk about it long enough.  Let’s get down into my worst game of this year…

Bound

When I think of all the complaints that people have about Gone Home, the one that always sticks out to me the most is when people call it “pretentious.”  The reason is that I don’t think that it is.  Is it the amazing game that everyone believes it to be?  Absolutely not.  It’s a misleading game about a girl being home alone, with all the marketing making the game out to have some kind of nefarious edge.  Instead, it was just a game packed full of 90’s cheese about a lesbian dodging her duties as a soldier to be with her girlfriend.  Yeah, that’s it.  There’s really nothing more to it.

Speaking of, here we have a game that is about a pregnant woman on a beach, ripping pages out of her notebook while going into a fantasy world as a ballerina character to act out metaphors for her broken life.  That’s it.  There genuinely is nothing more to it than that.  You get to go through some admittedly-cool landscapes to solve a narrative that is WAY too far up its own ass.  Plus, the gameplay is boring, repetitive, and after a while you start to realize that all the worlds look alike.  At least with Alice: Madness Returns, while the gameplay got repetitive, you had these unique environments to explore.  That made it all worth it.  Every level in this game looks exactly the same.  It got to the point that I couldn’t tell if I was moving forward or backwards in places.

Oh, and then there is the repetitive control scheme for the repetitive hazards that you come across.  I felt like my time was being wasted so many times in that fucking game.  But, you know, I could actually have dealt with that if it weren’t for the fact that the narrative is such pretentious bullshit.  It’s trying to be all vague and metaphorical, but it doesn’t read that way.  It reads as that episode of Nostalgia Critic examining “The Cell,” where he has the director dancing in the background shouting “ask me what it means!  Ask me what it means!”  Groj, I hate this fucking game.  Wasted $20 on that.  No joke, for a game that is 3 hours long, they charged $20.  Unbelievable.

And then, the game just ends.  No build-up.  No final boss.  Hell, no fucking pay-off!  Like, it gives you some bullshit choice, that I guess you are supposed to leave open to interpretation, but it doesn’t read like, that.  Again, “ask me what it means!  Ask me what it means!”  This game is every pretentious SJW circlejerk where they get to go on and on about how deep and poetic a game is.  And this is coming from someone who LIKES art games.  My second-favorite game of this year is ABZU, a game which is literally a giant underwater level with VERY smooth controls.  I am going to eventually be doing a huge Critical Examination post about that game, because there is a very interesting lore there.  But this is just artistic bullshit.  It’s some poncy art student wanting to pretend to be all deep, while in reality just making crap that looks nice, for a bit.

Fuck this game.  Fuck this game so hard.  Since I didn’t do a review of it, I’m going to give it a Final Verdict to close us out.

Final Verdict
2 out of 10

Peace out,

Maverick

My Comic Book Idea Coming to Life

To anyone who doesn’t remember, I had an idea for a comic book that I made a post about (linked here).  It tells the story of a man who is murdered and subsequently approached by Death.  It makes an offer to him that he can stay in the world of the living and live a normal life, so long as he acts as the Reaper, going after the souls of the undead who have transgressed in a way that Death finds unacceptable.  He takes the contract and thus is given back his life.  Now he is a being who can travel between the land of the living and that of the dead.  He becomes embroiled in the politics of the undead and the nature of the Unlife currency that all undead want in order to not have to stay in the City of the Dead.

My problem when thinking of this really cool idea is that I can’t draw.  At all.  I can write with all the flair and flourish that I could ask for, but that form of artistic expression is forever beyond me.  However, I recently got a beacon of hope from an unlikely source that has quickly gone from a workplace acquaintance to someone who is very important to me.  She said she wants to do some panels of this comic.  I was emphatically behind that, but didn’t feel the need to crush her creative energy by making what I had in mind very outlined and rigid.  I recognize that sometimes genius happens at moments you do not expect.  She has completed her first initial sketch for the project, and I think it’s awesome.  So let me show all of you.

14937016_10154719305514111_1630433156_nThere are no words for how awesome I think this is.  I cannot wait to see what she comes up with next.  And because I want to see where this goes, along with giving her work more exposure, I will be posting what she comes up with on my site.  Let me know what you all think down in the comments.  This is the initial sketch of the Reaper in my comic.  So badass.

Until next time, a quote,

“I dream my painting, and then I paint my dream.” – Vincent Van Gogh

Peace out,

Maverick

My Comic Book Idea

I’ve talked about if I were to make a movie, what I would do.  I also talked about a video game idea.  There is another thing that I wanted to tell all of you about.  I can’t draw, so I will never be able to realize this idea either.  I have thought about this extensively, and the only thing I could do with this idea is turn it into a comic book.  This wouldn’t work in any other medium.  The visual style would be dark as fuck.  At least for all the stuff with the protagonist when he’s on the job.  Let me tell you about my comic idea.  Really wish I could draw.

The name of the comic is “Reaper.”  It tells the story of a man who dies.  When he is killed, he ends up in a kind of limbo space.  There, the physical manifestation of Death comes before him.  It tells him that he lived a typical life, so he would be going to the Necropolis.  It’s a gothic, vibrant city of the dead.  The only way to the Beyond is to accept that your life is over before you die.  To not have any remaining attachment to the mortal realm when you leave.  For the bulk of people, there is the endless city of the dead.  The bulk of those there never leave.  However, there are forms of Unlife that wander the living world.  Most of the time, Death lets them be.  So long as they aren’t hurting anyone.  But there are times when those who are part of or channel Unlife have to be brought to heel.  For this purpose, there is a being that is employed.  It is chosen by Death, based on categories unknown.  Only Death knows why it picks people.

The young man, Steven Bordeaux, was chosen after he is the victim of murder.  Death takes his soul and makes him an offer.  It wants him to become the next Reaper.  He is free to live life as he sees fit up on Earth, while also fetching the creatures of Unlife that go too far.  Simple as that.  The trade-off is that if he becomes a Reaper, he will not be able to go to the Beyond.  When his time is up, and his soul finally passes the mortal realm, he will be in the Necropolis.  Given the fact that he wants revenge against the person who killed him, and that he isn’t ready to die, he makes the deal.  Little does he know that this deal is something that is from a person’s nightmares, and the strings attached are more than anyone can bear.

Powers

If you have a comic book hero, you need some powers for him, right?  Well, the Reaper comes with an interesting assortment of abilities.  This can vary from Reaper to Reaper, so it isn’t set in stone.  The first thing is the fact that this entity can change from its true undead form to a living facade.  But it is undead.  Make no mistake.  The mortal form can eat, sleep, fuck, and do all that stuff, but it still is something that is living dead.  Its native form is shrouded in a black cloak.  The body become skeletal.  It makes how the clothing stays up a matter of contention.  Chalk it up to undead powers.

In mortal form, this being can also be injured like a person.  But there is a catch – all mortal injury can be fixed by going into undead form.  However, this uses up the pool of Unlife that the Reaper has.  Like fixing injury when it is in its natural state.  But as previously stated, all the mortal functions work.  All of them.  Even though it’s a facade of magic, it has to be convincing to the people in the living world.  A neat trick that Steven discovers is that he is able to look at a crime scene or old photos and see memories.  The Whispers of the Dead, is the name of that trick.  A room where a person dies has whispers there.  He can see them, and it all becomes clear to him.  Steven first finds this out when looking at old photos, which he then puts to use at the office, to help solve old crimes.  He works as a records keeper, so he has plenty of time to go through stuff.

The primary weapon of a Reaper is the iconic Scythe.  It is a weapon that cannot be touched by any mortal.  If a mortal lays hands on it, it will suck the life out of them.  This also happens with gloves.  If their actual hand wraps around it, the Scythe will react and suck their life out.  A Reaper’s Scythe is a malleable weapon.  It can change shape, depending on the Reaper’s preference.  This has limits, of course.  It can’t become a gun.  However, any bladed weapon that could theoretically exist, it can become.  The shape changes based on the will of the Reaper.  However, at the end of the Scythe is something very important.

See, a Reaper can be injured.  To repair injury in either mortal or Reaper form takes Unlife energy.  With typical undead, Unlife is a resource that can be traded.  They keep it in banks in the Necropolis.  So long as they have enough Unlife, they can exist in the mortal realm.  Reapers are different.  Their Unlife regenerates over time.  If their standing pool runs out, they can be killed.  But there is another thing.  Their Unlife comes from a lantern that is at the end of the Scythe.  If the lantern is destroyed, a Reaper will instantly die.  But this is MUCH easier said than done.  Only certain kinds of devices can destroy a Reaper’s lantern.  Or it would take unimaginable brute strength.  The lantern is also where a Reaper stores the souls of the undead that he claims for Death.

When a Reaper travels, it can do so on foot, though they often don’t walk like normal people.  A Reaper’s body can swiftly travel as a kind of mist.  This trick can only be done in bursts, because if it is used too much it will drain their Unlife.  But using it too much would have to be something constant.  Like a sustained mist form.

Another weakness worth mentioning is the fact that a Reaper is just as susceptible to necromancy as any other undead.  However, this has a trick.  See, if they are in mortal form, they are immune.  So long as a part of them is in their mortal form, they cannot be totally controlled.  But any part of them that is in their natural state is able to be manipulated by necromancy.

However, a Reaper’s biggest weakness is weapons that are blessed with the Beyond’s light.  Such weapons can make injuries that are not able to be fixed until the affected area is given a spell that removes the light’s power.  Or, if the Reaper is desperate, they can use their Unlife to heal it.  But healing injuries from Beyond weapons takes extreme amounts of Unlife.  They are also susceptible to control by Necromancers, if they are in their native form.  If their body is completely destroyed, it can be repaired, but doing so will deplete their Unlife to a level where any injury past that will destroy them.  So they typically run from fights that get that bad.  Also, repeated sustained injury can deplete their Unlife fairly quickly.  Like hitting them with an unrelenting hail of bullets.  However, keeping a Reaper in one place for such an attack is nigh-impossible.

Setting

The major settings of this are the mortal realm (particularly the city of Anchor Haven), and the Necropolis.  While the guardians of Beyond do make an appearance, what is Beyond is never seen.  Anchor Haven is a coastal city.  The recession hit it hard, and now there is growing poverty.  His apartment is in a part of the town right next to the college.  It’s not a great place, but it could be worse.  He shares it with one roommate.  The office he works at is used by law enforcement.  He does clerical work for them, along with sending unknown “gifts” to help them solve cases when he uses his talents to see the past of the dead.  One of the places that Steven frequents is a dark building in a run-down part of town, that is used by the Bone King as a conduit for the living and dead.  It’s the entrance to the Necropolis.  He also frequents an apartment complex that houses all kinds of types who do magic, along with a brothel which caters to the undead.  It is here that he goes for information, along with a casual sexual relationship with a vampire there.

The Necropolis is something unlike anything you have ever seen.  As a Reaper, Steven is able to go between worlds.  In the city of the dead, you look as you desire to be.  Souls that were corrupted by Unlife look as they were.  It’s part of the punishment from Death for transgressing.  The architecture of the city is gothic in the extreme.  It’s a very damp place, with mist and water almost always covering the place.  There is no daylight there.  It is a city that goes on without end.  It cannot get crowded.  There is no end to the place.  Outside of the city is the Forest of the Dead and other such things.  However, the city is always alive.  Everything is congregated around a central hub.  It’s the link between worlds.  Those of the dead who get enough Unlife to return.  Or can make a deal with the Bone King.  New arrivals also show up there.  The people of the Necropolis are a pretty outgoing bunch.  Death really does level the playing field.  Neon signs and twisted architecture are everywhere.  The place that Steven visits the most is Handsome Duke’s bar inside of the Moonlight Casino.  Here, he can get all kinds of information.

Characters

The Reaper himself, Steven, is a man who lived a pretty ordinary life, up to the day he was murdered.  Unlike some characters, his murder wasn’t the result of a seedy corruption.  The reason he was killed was because of an angry suitor of his ex-girlfriend.  The girl was dating him, and the man got enraged after an argument.  He sought Steven out and shot him in the chest.  He got a Bachelor’s in Business Communication and was living a pretty ordinary life before becoming a Reaper.  He deals with hardcore depression, following a head injury.  Becoming a Reaper changed his outlook on life.  He is sarcastic by nature, and not eager to get involved in the politics that his job entails.

The next person is Steven’s roommate, Chloe.  She’s more than a bit of a punk, but she uses this as a cover.  All the assurance and confidence she gives off is a smoke-screen for the fact that she suffers from near-crippling self-doubt.  This is tied in to the fact that she is a closeted lesbian, who can’t come out due to the fact that her family would disown her.  As such, she has all kinds of tats and other rebellious things, but she cannot openly show who she is due to not wanting to be alone in the world.  She eventually starts a relationship with Steven’s younger sister, which he is openly critical of, due to the fact that she indulges in a lot of unhealthy habits, smokes habitually, and has been known to do drugs.

At the office space of the police, there are Detective Laura Holland and Marcus Cortez.  They in the homicide department, and often get tasked with looking into murders.  Every so often, they are given envelopes from an unknown source (Steven) detailing things about a case, and what they missed.  This, along with a series of murders committed by an unknown assailant in black robes, leads them to start investigating the Reaper.  Laura is brash and cocky, eager to prove that she’s the best.  There are some deep-seated feelings that she is being looked down upon by the other cops, even though she has almost never been mistreated by her fellow officers.  Her partner, on the other hand, is an old dog.  He’s settled in to the fact that he is not going to be doing the big cases anymore.  Before the envelopes started arriving, he was content clearing boring cases, or filing away the ones that he could tell they would never find a culprit for.  When they start investigating the envelopes and the mysterious figure in black, he regains some of the old spark in him that made him a great cop.

At The Witches Brew, there are a couple people that Steven has contact with.  The first is a young witch named Elma.  She was abandoned there by her mother, who was a prostitute in another part of town (that catered to the living.  She had no knowledge of the undead).  The girl has extreme talent, and the witches there took to educating her.  She’s a quirky girl, often with her long black hair in her face.  Steven often comes to her for spells and advice on how to take on certain opponents.  The room she lives in is almost full from top to bottom with books and spell stuff.  It’s a mess, in every sense of the word.  The next person is a vampire prostitute whose working name is Karamel.  Steven goes to her for sexual release, finding himself incapable of romantically bonding with living people anymore.  His issues with his Unlife grow as the series goes on.  There is solace with this vampire, who was turned against her will.  The girl was from Ukraine, originally.  She was brought to America with promises that she would find work.  Instead, her ferryman sold her and the girls she came over with to a brothel controlled by the Russian mob.  One of her johns was a vampire, and he wanted her so much that he turned her and kidnapped her.  It was a choice he would regret, after she tore his testicles off.  The former Reaper then killed the vampire, and set the slaves he had free.  With nowhere else to go, and the unending hunger, she went to The Witches Brew and asked for a job.  She hooks for them, in exchange for free blood.  The girl is miserable, but has stated that she has no better options.

There is also a person named Matt.  When Steven first met him, he was entranced by how different the young man was.  Given that he is bi himself, he saw no reason not to pursue the boy.  But when they got romantic, it is then that he discovered something – Matt is not a boy at all.  He’s a girl.  A girl with a very confused gender identity.  She doesn’t want to be a girl, but doesn’t have the will to go all the way with a sex change.  So she keeps her hair short, and wears entirely masculine clothing.  She’s gotten so good at her facade that she has convinced almost everyone.  But the masculine and feminine side of this person have been clashing, and it has led to some very strange hangups.  Both emotional and sexual.  He does start sleeping with Steven, and the two form a kind of weird bond.  One that leads most people to suspect that Steven is gay.  The two’s relationship is very violent, as Matt likes it very rough.  It feeds into Steven’s growing disconnect from the human condition, with him growing to love this person who is hurting and wants to be hurt at the same time.

Not far down the road from where The Witches Brew is, there is another building where a voodoo master called Kingston Laveau lives.  He’s an odd duck.  Originally from Africa, he moved to the US and changed his name.  The man is cryptic in the extreme, and the advice he gives even moreso.  Unlike Elma, the magic he does is almost always dark.  Anyone who has extensive dealings with him knows that trusting him is a terrible idea.  But his advice isn’t totally worthless.

The last person to mention in the land of the living is the Bone King.  This is a creature that is ancient.  It has existed as the steward of one of several gates to the Necropolis.  This one happens to be in Anchor Haven.  He is a very grim character, with a sense of humor to match.  Given the state of some of the undead who come through his part of the world, perhaps it comes with the territory.  This entity doesn’t have a mortal form, so it can’t wander the streets.  But its home can only be entered by the undead.  If a mortal comes upon it, the place looks like a broken down old building.  The Bone King has no issue doing business with a Reaper, but it makes clear that it takes no sides in any conflict.  As such, the creature is not the best to go to for information.  It is more of a cryptic mystic that occasionally gives Steven information.  Over the course of the series, the creature does grow to have a kind of begrudging appreciation for Steven, as he is not the most grim Reaper he has ever met (pun intended).  Eventually he becomes more of an ally than less.

In the Necropolis, the biggest character that Steven does business with is Handsome Duke.  The Moonlight Casino is a place where the dead can gamble with Unlife.  There is a bar inside where all kinds of lost souls congregate to drink.  All kinds of stories go through there as well.  Duke is willing to trade information for favors.  This forms the basis of his somewhat-favorable relationship between him and Steven.  A very amicable sort, Duke is known as someone that no one outright trusts, but who is fun enough to talk to.

We also have a young reporter named Naomi Cross.  At least, she appears young.  She is part of a multi-national corporation that is a front by Beyond for their own exploits into the land of the living.  The Knights are a group who is dedicated to keeping the balance.  However, there are rules.  The undead solve their own problems.  If a problem gets too large, the Knights come in and take charge.  This usually ends with a ton of bloodshed.  As such, there is a huge superiority complex with the members of this group.  Naomi is a member of this organization.  Her family all harbored a deep hatred for the Reapers, and the world they represent.  She is trying to overcome her own prejudice, while being part of an organization that is in charge of huge news outlets and some very lucrative charity work.  All of which is a front.  Naomi wants to be free of all of this, but she isn’t human in the strictest sense either.  When the new Reaper steps on to the scene, she is working to track him down.  It begins a very antagonistic relationship between her and Steven.  While not an outright villain, they do occasionally have confrontations of ideals, along with fights over who is supposed to deal with a situation when her organization gets involved.

Finally, we come to Death.  Death is a being as old as time itself.  It has been the guardian of the other side.  It can take whatever physical form it desires.  When it interacts with Steven in the world of the living, it takes the form of a tattooed blind woman.  Well, blind to everyone but those who know better.  It can go anywhere and do anything it likes.  But Death does keep to its realm.  Partly because it isn’t a fan of mortals, and partly because there are rules that were put in place by the original Compact between the Necropolis and Beyond, back at the end of the Great War.  The thing about Death is that it first appears like it has rather pure motives.  But as the series carries on, Steven begins to realize that it has a darker purpose behind what it’s doing.

Of course, that is just a small list of the most major characters.  I got a list going on of tons of smaller ones.  Like a ghoul who owns a music shop, or a beat cop who gets tied up with the undead due to her being one.  The thing about this comic is that there wouldn’t be too many recurring villains.  Must like Punisher, most villains are slain when they are confronted by the Reaper..  The true villain of the series would be the continuing disconnect between Steven and the human condition as he slowly descends further and further into his role, and his constant fight to maintain his humanity.

So yeah, there’s my idea.  Let me know what you think down in the Comments.  Wish I had the ability to draw.  This could look fucking sick!  Oh well.  Things are what they are.

Until next time, a quote,

“The tragedy of life is not death, but what we let die inside of us while we live.”  – Norman Cousins

Peace out,

Maverick

Should Games Allow You To Skip Combat?

This is a response to an article by Patrick Klepek, who believes that video games should allow you to totally skip over the part that makes it something other than a movie, and make it into a movie.  He believes that there is no reason why developers shouldn’t have that option in games.  According to what I saw on a post on Tumblr (linked here), plenty of people agreed with this. They argued that there is no reason that someone shouldn’t be able to just skip out on everything, so long as they can get what they want.  My refutation of this is going to be pretty simple, so let’s get to it.

It all boils down to this – why on Earth should developers make games that have features that you want?  What incentive is there for them to do that?  I can already hear the argument – because they will make more money!  Yeah, that doesn’t jive because we already know that they are making plenty of money.  Not to mention – how many of these slacker-gamers actually exist?  We’ve already proven that the SJW crowd, overall, doesn’t game.  So why should anyone make a game like this?

The simple truth is, if you want a game where you never have to do anything difficult or fight anyone or anything like that, then make it.  Sure, there are plenty of art games that already exist.  You have games like Dear Esther or Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture.  Or even the dreaded Gone Home.  Or there are some more involved art games, like Flower or Journey.  But they don’t want to play those games.  They want the games that everyone else is playing to be made for them.  Well, too bad.  There is no obligation on developers part to go out of their way to make a Toddler difficulty level.  Or to excise combat altogether.  Again, that’s just making a movie.  If you want to watch a movie, go watch a movie.  But it comes back to an argument that I’ve been making to SJWs now for some time – if you want a certain kind of game made, then make it yourselves.  There’s simply no excuse for people who want games to be made a certain way not to do it themselves.  There are plenty of tools for making games available.  Get on the Unity engine and start showing us what you’re made of.  Then the free market will decide if a game where you can totally skip all the parts that take effort is one that the public at large wants.

Outside of that, stop complaining.  If a game, at the easiest setting, is too hard for you, then maybe you should look to get better at the game.  Not demand that other people make things easier for you.  Entitled fuckers…

Until next time, a quote,

“It is not fair to ask of others what you are not willing to do yourself.”  – Eleanor Roosevelt

Peace out,

Maverick

Critical Examination: Facial Expression in Video Games

Perhaps I haven’t talked enough about how much I like Life is Strange.  Now that I’ve gotten past my rage point about the ending to the series, I can’t honestly hate it.  It’s like my favorite book – The Amber Spyglass.  That book has one of the most miserably-depressing endings that I’ve ever read.  Sad endings don’t bother me.  At least, not on their own.  Where the Red Fern Grows is the saddest book I’ve ever read.  But I don’t hate the ending.  Okay, that bit right at the end is cheesy as fuck.  I mean, the tie in to the title is the ferns growing on the dogs’ graves?  Weak!  But everything leading up to that felt right.  It was sad.  So sad, that when my teacher was reading this to the class during lunch in 5th Grade, she couldn’t finish.  No joke, that was the first time I ever got to do public speaking.  It was when I went up and finished that story.  It was so hard not to cry in front of the class.  Felt very cool, too.  I was the one she picked.  That was special.

Sad endings, however, have to still make sense within the context of their universe.  Which was my problem with The Amber Spyglass.  That ending comes out of nowhere, is unfathomably depressing, and there’s no reason for it!  In fact, it is so bad that I actually listed it in a post of the top 10 plotholes in things I like.  That bad.  The ending to Life is Strange is much the same.  It is pointlessly depressing, for no reason.  Not to mention all the unanswered questions.  For a game that went so far out of its way to build up the quest for the truth, there were too many things that felt unanswered.  Which leaves me suspecting that there is a sequel coming out.  That bothers me, because I honestly can’t see it improving.

But enough of all that.  The reason that I am bringing up this game, for hopefully the last time, is because I want to talk about a really big flaw in this game, that unfortunately there is no way to fix.  If they wanted to,  they could redo the ending.  But they won’t.  However, the flaw that I am going to talk about now can’t be fixed, due to the limitations of the game’s engine.  That flaw is the facial expressions.

When I was a little kid, facial expression in gaming didn’t mean much, to me.  After all, gaming was too young for stuff like that.  Character thoughts and feelings had to be expressed with exposition.  I didn’t blame the games for that.  It was the tools they had to work with.  Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is a great game, but the fact is that it is simply the story of the hero’s journey.  It makes some point about how hard it is to grow up and how leaving childhood behind is never easy (something that observing Tumblr has taught me oh so well, as it is filled with people kicking and screaming to stay in their childhoods), but the fact is that this wasn’t an especially complicated narrative.  Wonder if I’ll get any Nintendo fanboys (or girls) who will come and try and make a dissertation to me that I’m wrong.  Anyway, the fact is that due to the limitations of what they had, old games couldn’t tell stories about characters that involved too much emotion, because everything had to be conveyed through text or dialogue.  And early games were known for how atrocious their dialogue was.  I mean, have you heard some of the stuff from games like the first Silent Hill?

Yeah, that’s pretty bad.  But that’s just how things were, early on.  Gaming was a young medium, so it could only get so deep.  Let’s have another brief digression to talk about something else – facial expression in other visual mediums.  For those who know, one of the hallmarks of the series Cowboy Bebop was the fact that characters could say one thing, but through both dialogue and facial expression, say two or more things and once.  Anime has had some truly amazing pieces of facial expression.  Since it is a medium that is overly-expressive, emotions tend to be shown big.  Really, really big.  It’s like a neat amount of melodrama, that can be combined with subtlety as well.  Like in the original Fullmetal Alchemist series.  Unlike its successor, the original series was a very subtle story about two brothers and their journey to reclaim their bodies.  Over the course of the series, the two learn the true meaning of sacrifice, and were it not for the STUPID ending that is a complete deus ex machina (for real, memories as equivalent exchange for someone’s life?  Give me a break…), it would have been one of the greatest tragic tales ever told.  With Alphonse having given everything, and Edward realizing that while he could never get back when he lost, all he could do is move forward.  Cathartic?  In a way.  The series was about sacrifice and loss.  Alphonse would make that final sacrifice, to give everything about to the brother he loved so much.

Film, however, uses facial expression in a much bigger way.  Watch the film The Bad Sleep Well, and you will see what I mean.  Akira Kurosawa was a master of using subtle acting to tell great stories.  It helps that he was working with Toshiro Mifune, one of the greatest actors to ever live.  There is a great scene in the film where it is just three people in a room.  You have Mifune’s character, who is undercover.  A man that he is framing, to keep himself out of the line of fire.  And the person in charge, who could destroy him if he is caught.  Just through the use of expression, you can see the story get told.  It is a scene where you have a man go from being nearly in trouble, to being alone again, planning his next move.  There is almost no dialogue.  It’s all done through expression.  That’s amazing!  Film is the medium to capture this the best.

The first time that I genuinely saw what facial expression could be like in video games was in a little game called Final Fantasy X.  In that game, we have the story of a man who is thrown out of his world and forced to fight to defend another.  It’s a very emotional story, focusing on the young man’s inner hatred of his father, his feeling of helplessness at being trapped where he is, and the fact that he wants to go home, but can’t.  It’s a very hardcore game.  It also has some incredible use of just voice acting and facial expression to sell moments.  Like the following scene…

This scene runs the emotional gamut!  You have Yuna facing down the fact that she has lost her faith and feels lost and alone.  You have Tidus offering her a way out, appealing to the fact that he wants to go home, and giving her a way to leave all of her pain behind.  You have Yuna hating the fact that she can’t take him up on it.  Then, you have both of them sharing a romantic moment together, letting their love shine through.  Out of context, that is not the easiest thing to really see, but it’s there all the same.  Not only is that scene emotionally intense, but you can feel their emotions through the use of facial expression.  It was the first time that I saw that video games can tell emotional stories without a ton of exposition.  Or at least exposition alone.

In recent years more than any other, video games are capitalizing on it.  Without the incredible facial animation, would the scene at the end of The Last of Us be anywhere near as good?  Would you be able to sell the emotional gamut that that scene has?  Where Ellie is confronting Joel about his obvious lie, then choosing to accept the lie?  Without that amazing facial animation, how else could it be done?  Modern gaming has done incredible things with facial animation, partly through the use of motion capture cameras.  This technology was first pioneered in games like Heavy Rain, but didn’t really become the amazing force that it was until a game called L.A. Noire.  That game used facial expression to help you solve crimes.  If the game hadn’t felt the need to embrace the Grand Theft Auto side of Rockstar’s repertoire, then maybe it could have gone further with it.  But you take the good with the bad.

Video games have come a LONG way from where they started.  Games that would otherwise be rather unremarkable are made remarkable because of the fact that they focus on narrative-driven stories.  Games like Bioshock Infinite.  I think that’s a great game, but the reality is that without the truly wonderful characters and really insane plot, that game’s mechanics aren’t especially remarkable.  This is the thing that makes modern gaming truly special.  Which leads me back, finally, to Life is Strange.

The biggest thing hold this game back, in my opinion, was the facial animation.  The world of that game has some amazing depth and detail.  And the voice acting was at the top of its class.  While the dialogue could be utterly-ridiculous at times, it is the sheer emotional dedication from every character that sells it.  You feel for these people.  But I think you would feel for them more if the facial animation was better.  Let me give you an example.

This is my absolute favorite scene in the entire series.  Hands-down, this is where the peak of the emotion in this game comes in.  I had been wanting there to be a scene where Max tells Chloe the truth about what happened in the alternate timeline, along with how she feels about what she has done to Chloe in so many timelines, and nowhere was it more on display than right here.

But there is one major problem – you can HEAR the pain in Max’s voice.  You can hear her getting torn up and on the verge of breaking down.  But you can’t see it.  This scene could have been SO much better with better facial animation.  For one, why isn’t Max crying?  It sounds like she is.  Everything in that delivery says that Max is crying when she tells Chloe the truth about William and what she did to her in the alternate timeline.  Hearing the hurt is great, but this isn’t an audio medium.  It’s a visual one.  I wanted to see Max’s pain.  I wanted to see Chloe’s uncertainty and sudden diffusion of her anger as she is watching a girl that she may or may not be falling for sobbing in front of her.  Not only would it have made that scene a real tear-jerker, but it would have made so many other scenes that much better.  At times, the facial animation works.  But there are too many places where it works against the game, like these people are marionettes on strings.

Great facial animation means something, in gaming.  Now more than ever, games can have great narratives that make you feel for the characters in them.  It’s why I went from hate to love when getting to know the characters in Until Dawn.  It’s why Joel and Ellie are two of my favorite characters in anything!  Great voice acting is a great thing, but it can only go so far.  We need gaming to deliver something more.  Without characters to deliver on that, it is impossible to really take in how much great narratives can do in this medium.

But let me know what you all think.  Am I totally off-base on this issue?  Are you able to get all the emotional depth you need out of just voice acting?  Or does all of this seem pretentiously stupid?  I wouldn’t blame you if you thought that way.  I do overanalyze everything, from what I hate to what I love.  Let me know in the Comments.

Until next time, a quote,

“No!  Not this way!  Chloe, I can’t keep fixing everything if all I’m going to do is just break it, over and over again!”  -Max Caulfield, Life is Strange

Peace out,

Maverick

Why Does Art Matter?

Aren’t you glad that you clicked on this?  It is a question that was posed to me today by a lady-friend of mine.  She was telling me about someone she knows, who has an art project that sounds SO pretentious, yet it has gotten him a lot of respect, from the university art crowd.  She doesn’t get it, and neither do I.  Though, that is a lot of modern art, isn’t it?  Like a piece of art outside of my alma mater’s art building.  It’s just a bunch of steel welded together into a weird shape.  Oh yeah, tell me how fucking “deep” that is.  Please, enlighten little ol’ Lucien.  I’m all ears.  However, as I came to see that, it did signify something to me.  It told me something about modern culture – it’s dull, uninspired, pretentious, and thinks so highly of itself, when in reality, the true works of genius are treated like they’re blaise.  Except Game of Thrones.  Against all odds, a series of books that was modeled after real medieval history became a national phenomenon.  I know, right?  It’s weird.

That said, however, it also got me to realize the answer to my lady-friend’s question – why does art matter?  This is going to get a little pretentious in and of itself, I suppose, so you can take what I’m about to say as you will.  Art is a way to express culture.  Here’s the thing about art – it imitates life.  If you believe the rhetoric of certain, social justice-inclined individuals, then you might believe the opposite.  That is so patently false.  Probably the best refutation of such is a quote by Frank Zappa –

There are more love songs than anything else.  If music could make you do something, we’d all love one-another.

He’s absolutely right.  This argument that video games cause violence or sexism or what-have-you is ridiculous, and now there is real data to show that it’s a lie.  As if we didn’t already know.  Still, getting off-track.

Early Morning at Cold Spring, Asher Brown DurandArt imitates the world we live in.  Look at the art that came after World War I.  The expressionist movement.  Some of the saddest poetry every written was done after what was called The Great War.  People believed that that would be the last major war, after how much death and destruction it caused.  Or, at least, they hoped it would be.  Shell-shocked veterans told stories and wrote poems about horror.  People who saw friends get maimed and mutilated by mustard gas.  Soldiers who watched sinkholes in the trenches eat their friends alive in an instant.  These things came home with them, and it affected the art that came after.  The 1920’s was one of the most interesting periods of artistic expression ever done. Watch Ken Burns’ film “Jazz” and you’ll see.  This time period did amazing things.

When a person talks about the role art serves, then it is impossible to miss the fact that, throughout history, art has shown where a culture is.  More important – the challenging of art can say even more about a culture.  When Igor Stravinsky wrote the ballet “The Rite of Spring,” he challenged conventions so bad that he caused a riot and had to flee Paris.  Art not only acts as an indicator of society, but can challenge it as well.  Another famous piece of artwork that challenged the world was Salmon Rushdie’s novel “The Satanic Verses.”  This book challenged a religion and got the world talking about the problematic elements of Islam.  Something that has still been a talking point, to this day.

I am currently engrossed in an episode game called Life is Strange.  From Dontnod Entertainment, it tells the story of a teen girl named Max, who finds one day that she can alter the flow of time, and is using this talent to help solve a mystery surrounding her school, with it being connected to all of her friends.  Why do I love this game so much?  What about it has captivated me?  After all, I’m a grown man.  Though, technically, so is Max.  She’s 18.  But, to me, that still feels like teenage years.  Especially since she’s still in high school.  You get to call yourself a grown-up when you leave that.  What is it about this game that has me so eager to see the next chapter?  Well, part of it is the great characters.  These feel like real people.  They have problems that make sense.  They aren’t some contrived Mary Sues (or Johnny Sues, as the case may be).  Each of them has flaws.

When I first heard about this game, it was told to me that it is “SJW: The Video Game.”  With this most recent episode, I know that that is wrong.  It was all done in one line.  While you are in the pool area, you can explore the locker rooms and sleuth.  There is a piece of graffiti on the wall, implying that Rachel Amber was gay.  Max says one thing, “bros will be bros.”  NEVER, in all my history of SJW culture, have I heard one say that.  Never.  So yeah, that argument is out.

Thinking about all of this, it finally made me realize why art matters.  It’s because art is the way for us to talk about who we really art. A way to express our humanity.  The growth of our species is represented in our greatest works of art.  From the tapestry-style portraiture of Medieval Europe, to the gorgeous perspective paintings of Renaissance Italy. Art shows how our culture exists.  This is amazing. No other medium can do this.  Part of why I am a gamer is because video games have the ability to capture art in a way that makes me Life is Strange Episode 3want to interact with it.  Which is the major reason why I love Life is Strange so much.  I can shape this story.  This narrative is held together by me.  I sculpt it, shape it, change it to what I think is the right way.  I could be wrong!  The fact that this latest episode counts who has David’s gun as an important element has me worried.  Still, the mystery is too good to stop.  I am too engrossed!

So, why does art matter?  Art is the way that we show who we are, as a species.  It shows that humans are not mindless drones, like ants.  Well, not all of them.  I can’t help but watch just about anything on TLC and think that these people are drones.  Or their audience is, at least.  Oh well.  But even that says something about our culture.  Depressing as it is, that is an art medium that says something about humanity.  It says that our society is bored, decaying, stricken with cultural ennui. But there are signs that hope is here.  Shows like Game of Thrones and many others give me a belief that we might be able to save things yet.  With all this in mind, I realize that art is the greatest thing that humanity has going for it.  Without it, we have buildings and spaces.  Without art, there is no color in the world.  Culturally, anyway.  I watched the remake of Cosmos.  I get the science of color.

Now I put it to you – why do you think that art matters?  Or do you?  Do you think that art is just some pointless part of the world, that serves no purpose?  Let me know down in the comments.

Until next time, a quote,

“Cultural, artistic expression reflects philosophical evolution, interest in growth, perspective, observation, interpretation.  Suspect you won’t see any art in Collector base. Culturally dead.  Tools for the Reapers.  Worse than the Geth.”  – Mordin Solus, Mass Effect 2

Peace out,

Maverick