Happy 2018!

Hello everybody and happy New Year! Welcome to 2018!

I hope the holiday and winter season have been treating you all well.

I started off the New Year sick with a sinus infection, but I’m getting over it now and I was trying to decide what sort of post to make for this month. I couldn’t decide whether or not to post a literary criticism (it’ll likely go up in February—look out for it!) or something more personal.

A long time ago, I was trying to figure out how to improve my writing, what more I could put into it, and I knew that at some point I was going to have to give myself up and get even more personal that I already was.

So here I go.

Writing

Resolution 1: Finish manuscript

I’m writing a novel, of the kind of mystery/horror/supernatural sort. I’m on draft like 1.25 right now, but I’d like to get it to a place where I can start thinking about querying agents with the manuscript. I at least wanna know where I wanna go by the end of this year, if I’m not already where I wanna be.

Resolution 2: Write new short story

It’s been a while and I get bored working on the same thing all the time. I have several short story ideas. The first one I want to work on is sci-fi.

Self

Resolution 1: Read more

The baseline goal is to read at least one book every month. I know I don’t read enough and I want to try to fix that. I want to amp it up to the max, but I don’t think I can so we’ll start with this ha ha.

Resolution 2: Consume more media

This was originally “watch more movies” ‘cause I like them, but I’m gonna just go ahead and expand it to include movies, shows, and video games, etc. things like that. I need more multimedia content for this blog thing.

Resolution 3: Stretch and floss

I gotta take care of my body too

Other???

Goal 1: Clean up Blog

I just want to try to clean this blog up a bit. It isn’t really aesthetically where I want it to be. And I want to post more things with media in them… it was kind of the reason I made the blog in the first place.

Goal 2: Social

I need to reply to my friends’ faster lmao


To be honest…. the list changed a bit from other versions I have of it ha ha. Oh well. These ones are the more measurable ones, and the ones that are more relevant to the blog here.

Anyway, good luck in 2018!

Advertisements

Until Dawn (2015 game) and why medium choice is important

When I first started playing the game Until Dawn (2015), I told my brother (a much bigger gamer than I am) that I didn’t really understand why it was a game and not just a movie or something when it easily could have been. He told me it was for “the experience,” and I still didn’t understand.

It’s been a good number of months and I think I understand this concept a lot better now. It seems obvious that the chosen media affects the story that’s being presented, doesn’t it? Obviously they had a reason for their choice, and I couldn’t understand it until very recently. As a writer, I really wanted a canonical story in Until Dawn, which I think is one of the reasons I wanted it to be a movie, and as a gamer, I wanted a more active playstyle than I was given, so I was leaning more towards “movie,” which is more passive than gaming. However, there are nuances that would be lost in the transition from game to movie, which is what I didn’t realize the first time I’d made the comment that it would do well as a movie.

Most obviously, I would have lost much of my attachment to the characters. Playing as them and interacting with them made the characters characters instead of characters-played-by-actors. For instance, Josh was Josh, not Rami Malek, and Sam was Sam, not Hayden Panettiere’s character, despite the fact that I knew both of these actors as people and actors prior to playing this game. Honestly, I rarely remember character names from movies unless I’ve either watched the movie a million times OR the name is a super integral part of the film. Thanks to them being well-written, autonomous characters (despite big names behind them), I really grew attached to them as I played, giving every choice I made more of an impact as went through the game.

Being given a choice about what happens also gave me as a player more stakes in the story—I became more emotionally invested from the get-go, and even more so once I grew to love the characters so much. But, it also gives us the chance to explore the different outcomes that the linear story of a movie wouldn’t have.

This was, like I said earlier, kind of hard for me to get used to. I tend to prefer a more linear story with a set ending than something that can change so easily, but honestly? The Butterfly Effect was kind of the whole point of the game, and it isn’t fair of me to ignore that because of my own preference.

A game is probably the best format for exploring the butterfly effect. You can replay it infinitely, making different choices each time without a canonical story. There is a sequence of events to keep the story going, of course, but the ending is ultimately up to you. I realize there’s other formats for this, like a choose your own adventure novel, but those don’t have the same popularity that video games do, and it lacks the visuals we get in the game.

Also, the video game allows for an easier break of the fourth wall that we get in the therapy sessions in the game, as opposed to a novel. We get to stare Dr. Hill in the face and tell him our fears, which affects the way the game plays later.

I ended up playing through the game several times to see how some choices end up, and it was enjoyable every time. Even though I complained about it at the beginning, I think they absolutely made the right call. Playing through Until Dawn made me love the characters and let me replay it so many times with different outcomes, seeing different sides of the characters I wouldn’t have gotten to see otherwise.

As a counter example, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read a short story that was so painfully trying to be an anime or a movie—just because they clearly had no idea how to make the medium do what they wanted it to. The imagers were crystal clear, but it left no (positive) effect on me as a reader.

Now, these are all thoughts that are effecting me personally because a few of my friends and I have been talking about making visual novels. I usually write prose or poetry, so I need to learn the best ways to utilize the visuals my friend would give me with whatever I can write to create the desired effect and the most impact. It will be an interesting project, to say the least ha ha. Wish me luck.

The Hannibal franchise — The Good, the Bad, and the Neutral

Did you have a good Halloween?

Today I’m gonna talk about a mildly spooky topic—Hannibal the Cannibal from Thomas Harris’ Hannibal series and the detectives who tried to capture him. Focusing on the first three of the series (Red Dragon, Silence of the Lambs, and Hannibal—I’m going with the novels and the film versions; I haven’t had a chance to watch the tv series yet), each of the characters shows the world through a different lens of morality.

Let’s start with the good.

Clarice Starling is basically Jesus. The comparison is made obvious from the beginning, and it’s purposeful. In the book version of Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal puts her head on Jesus’ body in a watch face. They replace this in the movie by having him instead draw her as a shepherd, saving lambs. In Hannibal, Clarice mentions all the things that have gone wrong on her field missions with rookies, and yet she continually throws herself into the battlefield, despite the dangers.

Clarice is the moral compass of the series and the ultimate symbol of righteousness and justice, but not without cost. Though Clarice does in fact save the day in Silence of the Lambs, she is literally marked in the novel by a speck of gunpowder, and symbolically marked by Krendler, who then becomes determined to take her down.

Throughout Hannibal, we see Clarice fighting with Krendler and struggling to keep her job against a corrupt system. Though the ending of the movie version of Hannibal is more satisfying in my opinion, the novel ending does have its reasoning. The movie keeps her as an uncorrupted FBI agent, risking her job and her hand to try to capture Hannibal. The book, on the other hand, gives a much more twisted ending that shows her sacrifice in a different way. In the book, Hannibal hypnotizes Clarice so she rejects the corrupted world she’s surrounded by to go with him, who she’s fallen deeply in love with.  Even though she understands that Hannibal may kill her at any time, she stays with him, willing to sacrifice everything, even her friendship with Ardelia Mapp to be with him.

The Bad

Though in Silence of the Lambs, Clarice says that Hannibal is “destructive” but “not evil,” Hannibal gives readers a more human side of the character. He’s consistently described as a monster, even compared to real life serial killer Il Mostro (The Monster of Florence). But this more human side does make him seem more and more like a person making bad, complex choices, as opposed to a monster that’s driven by something else completely. Compared to the other villains of the series, Hannibal might even seem more palatable (ha ha, get it?) because of his personal code of conduct and his manners—but he does, you know, kill, eat, and antagonize people for his own pleasure.

As the series progresses, readers encounter more and more sickening villains, particularly in Hannibal. Mason Verger is possibly the worst of the worst—a child molester who raped his sister and enjoys torturing people (particularly children), with a family fortune and political connections. Then there’s Krendler, a typical sleazebag. I oddly enough didn’t hate Pazzi, even though he was a corrupt policeman, but he has his fair share of dislikeable qualities. All of these other antagonists (Hannibal is just full of them) makes Hannibal tolerable—at least he’s polite and smart, right?

This wasn’t always the case. Hannibal Lecter is possibly at his most antagonistic in the first novel of the series, Red Dragon. He’s considerably nicer to Will Graham in the movie version (we’re talking Red Dragon here, not Manhunter) than he is in the book, where he attacks him at almost any chance he gets. The plot to have Francis Dolarhyde have kill Will makes a lot more sense in the book, where Hannibal is so much angrier and vengeful. Of course Hannibal has a soft spot for Clarice, but it was kind of surprising to me just how much Hannibal hates Will, considering that Clarice seems to have a much more rigid sense of justice than Will does.

The Neutral

While Clarice is motivated by ambition and integrity, Will is repeated said to be motivated by fear. Although he does seem to want to do the right thing, he’s terrified of where the right thing is going to take him. Also unlike Clarice, rather than working the field, Will was a professor at the FBI academy, only working the field when absolutely needed. While Clarice is very much the straight and narrow FBI detective, Will Graham is much more neutral.

Crawford has to push and prod Will to do the right thing, and Will falls for it, even if he knows what Crawford is doing. We see this in the diner scene before Will agrees to take on the Toothfairy case completely, and he’s driven by seeing another family that could (potentially) be the next set of victims.

On the other hand, Hannibal says that he and Will are “just alike.” This could be true, if Will were to be swayed by fear the opposite way. He’s already seen to be using an atypical gun, a gun he’s sure would kill somebody in one shot. And of course, he’s shown to be able to understand serial killers better than most people, which is why he’s pulled into the field to begin with.

However, his neutrality is reinforced at the end of the novel when he talks about Bloody Pond. In his drug induced sleep, he dreams of a building that witnessed a bloody civil war battle and states that it was “indifferent” and that “Shiloh doesn’t care.” This is the final image of the novel, and it’s meant to show his state of mind. He’s in between Clarice and Hannibal—completely neutral and he could go either way.

Though Will is probably my favorite character in the series, his neutrality is probably one of the reasons he couldn’t continue as protagonist of the series. (In addition to, you know, getting stabbed in the face.) Seeing Clarice’s moral dilemma is a lot more interesting, and Will’s personality would present too many complications when it came to doing the right thing vs the wrong thing. If anything, Will kind of serves as a warning against neutrality from the ending. It’s fine for buildings to be neutral, but if a person does it, people could get hurt and die.

On Writing: The Importance of Rhetoric

So like a year ago, a friend of mine had started an art program at school. She’s already a talented artist on her own (you can check out her Tumblr @Beedrops!), but when I asked her how art school was, she told me that more than anything, she’d learned how to talk about art. Now, for her as an artist, knowing how to talk about art is an important part of understanding it.

It’s the same case with writing. I imagine that this theory applies to most disciplines as the base of the idea that to truly understand something, you have to be able to teach it.

It’s probably obvious by now that I just like analyzing books and literature for fun. Writing about it is a bonus for me when I can share what I think, and it’s the reason I started this blog to begin with, but it does serve a purpose for me as well. Some of the most common writing advice I’ve seen given is “read a lot.”

Solid advice, really, but there’s a bit more to it than that.

Aside from helping to expand vocabulary in the best way possible and add to your repertoire of writing techniques, you learn your own tastes—what you like and what you hate in writing (or media, in a more general case.) I mean, it’s also fun and enjoyable if you have the right books.

This basically expands on the “expanding your writing technique repertoire” idea, but it goes further than seeing a new metaphor or a new format or syntactical technique. This goes into your understanding of how this technique effects the story’s appearance, themes, or reception from the readers point of view. We’re talking stuff like using repetition to reinforce an idea to create a theme or using metaphors or run on sentences to create tone. In poetry, this can go even farther with sound and visuals using rhyme and space to create rhythm that speaks to tone, mood, or theme.

By analyzing literature to understand how the syntactical choices affect the prose, it deepens a writers understanding of how to utilize these tools they’re adding to their own pieces. They can better understand how their own works will affect the reader and can better control their intended affect.

Let’s look at Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried,” for example. The whole story takes time to describe what the soldiers are carrying and exactly how much these things weigh. The story also describes the emotional weight they carry—guilt, love, fear, etc.—and creates something tangible in the effect it has on the soldiers by describing it in such detail and juxtaposing it with the numbered weights of their military gear. After Ted Lavender dies, this weight increases as they carry his body, things, and the weight of his death. Towards the end of the story, O’Brien describes them finally being carried, becoming the weight of somebody else. Here, O’Brien uses long, almost run-on sentences to express the carelessness of the men. He grounds their wants in reality and simplicity with “the farms and great sleeping cities and cemeteries and highways and the golden arches of McDonald’s.” These simplistic, sometimes morbid, wants show how far away they’ve been and what they’ve been deprived of in while abroad in wartimes.

We find out then that Lt. Jimmy Cross takes the weight of his men entirely on his own shoulders by giving up the emotional weight of his unrequited love in America—made tangible by photos, letters, and a pebble she’d sent to him. As readers, we spent the whole story up until then reading about Cross’ relationship with Martha only to have him throw it away for his men. If the death of a young soldier in Vietnam didn’t hit the readers, Lt. Cross throwing everything away for his men would show the tragedy of the Vietnam war.

Understanding how O’Brien uses these tools and what effect they have on us as readers gives us as writers a better idea of how to do it ourselves. Of course, this still takes practice, which is why above all, the best advice I’ve ever seen given is to “practice.”

Read a lot is a close second, though.

Mass Effect Andromeda Review/Analysis

So I recently beat Mass Effect Andromeda on the Playstation4!

I wanted to wait a while before I actually wrote a review about it because I was so emotionally invested in this game by the end lol. But now I’ve cooled off a little bit (in addition to these entries being backlogged by a month or two) and I can still say I really enjoyed playing through this game.

While I did like the original trilogy more, I actually really enjoyed Andromeda and I don’t think it deserved all the flack it got upon its initial release.

Review (spoiler-free):

After the intro, the story does start up really slowly. Honestly, getting through the beginning of the game was the hardest part for me because the pacing of everything is just so strange and there’s always a lot to take in at the beginning of a new game, anyway. The funky pacing seems to carry throughout the whole game, but there seems to be a reason for this. Not a well explained one though, but I’ll try.

So the plot itself is pretty short, right? But after that end game, you can still play the game and explore (as is open-world game play—there’s always something to do!) and complete the million fucking side quests and tasks you get on each planet. I did not know this, so the game moved on horribly slow as I sloughed through the side quests planet by planet. But like, there’s still goals after the game plot ends unless you did all the side quests before the endgame (like I did.)

I have seen some complaints that the story is too similar to the original trilogy’s, but given that Andromeda seems as though it was supposed to be a part one of something, I’d say it’s too early to tell. (I’ll go into more detail about this later.) Parts of it were predictable maybe, but in predictability vs storytelling, I’d say storytelling beat out the effects of predictability, especially through character because it’s Mass Effect and of course they did.

At first, I didn’t really love any of the characters like I did in the first trilogy (with the exception of Reyes Vidal). It took a while for the characters to grow on me, most likely due to the weird pacing of the game, but by the end, I really did like most of them. Some of their characters were a bit scattered, though, and I couldn’t quite figure them out—Jaal, in particular. His character seemed a little all over the place an inconsistent, and it doesn’t seem like you learn as much about him as an individual as you should. In fact, it seems as though he’s mainly used as a vessel to learn about his people—which they acknowledge and try to diffuse a few times in game, but doesn’t change the fact that it’s a bad thing to do to him as a character. He does have some growth and development, but he was one of the characters that I was left wanting the most from by the end of the game.

One of the biggest complaints I’ve seen and heard was the wonky animation problems. Yeah, there was a couple of them BUT I think the patch (and continual patches) have fixed (and are fixing) a good number of them. I think Bioware did a pretty good job of hearing what people were complaining about and attempting to fix it. My complaint is that all the Asari look the same, mostly because the biggest animation glitch I had was Scott’s head being twisted backwards at some point on the Nexus and their inability to animate monolids, so I didn’t have much trouble at all. Also, I know that visuals are an essential part of gaming as the mode through which you game BUT I don’t think that visuals are the most important part of a game. Plus, the environments were fucking beautiful.

The music was good, too. I liked the music from the first trilogy, but to me, the music in Andromeda stood out a lot more during the gameplay itself. I’m not sure if this is due to the open spaces you get in Andromeda vs the epic battles in the Milky Way, but I thought it was a nice addition to the atmosphere of the game.

The gameplay was fun, especially the combat. Some of the tasks got annoying quick, but I think it served the theme of the game, if not function (more on this later) and once you figure out the trick to it, they got to be tedious more than frustrating. With recent patches, it became less easy to miss the things you had to scan for the randomly spawned hide and seek missions and for other side quests and tasks.

Just overall fun game. I really enjoyed it. Was it the best game ever? No, but it was good. It was probably up there for me.

Analysis (super not spoiler-free):

Read More »

Nevermind (2016 game) Review

http://nevermindgame.com/

Started as an MFA thesis project led by Erin Reynolds, the game Nevermind (released in 2016) was released for PC and XBOX. You play as a neuroprober, a doctor who helps patients live fulfilling lives by going into their mind and finding the root of their traumas in their subconscious minds. There’s a tutorial level, and then four levels after that.

The really cool thing about this game is that it has a biofeedback feature, which basically tracks your physiological reaction to the game through things like heartrate and facial expression, to mimic your emotional state in the game environment. So, if you’re stressed, the game will get harder.

Review (spoiler free):

First of all, this game was rad as hell. The artistic direction and the visuals in the game were totally unique and tied really well into the level you’re playing. It really immersed you in the mind of the patient as you went through the level.

The story, of course, was really cool as well. There’s a specificity in each patients trauma that creates an interesting experience in each level. In addition to each story, there seems to be extended versions in each level (called “advanced neuropathy”) which seems to be only accessible after you beat each level a first time. I haven’t completely explored or beat these parts so I can’t say too much about them, but it’s interesting to see how the different traumas will expand in each story.

If I had a criticism of this game, it would have to be that the intro level and first two levels seem exceptional, while the last two, although still very good, don’t seem quite as cohesive as the first three levels.

Unfortunately, I played the XBOX version, so the biofeedback feature, one of the main features of the game, isn’t enabled yet. The game was still sufficiently unsettling even without it and I had trouble with some of the puzzles regardless, but I feel like it would have been a lot more exciting and a lot more fulfilling had I played with a biofeedback. And in general, even though I had trouble with some of the puzzles, I’d still say they were kind of lacking at this point. That might change if I’d had the biofeedback, though.

But regardless of that, this game was really cool and it completely sucked me in with the intensity of the situations and the stories. I really enjoyed it.

I’d really like to do an in-depth analysis on the visuals of the game, but I’ll hold off on writing if/when I beat the advanced neuropathy parts.

Midnight in Paris (2011 film) Review/Analysis

This seemed like a fitting place to start, considering my love for movies and my literary background!

Released in 2011, Midnight in Paris (directed by Woody Allen) follows a Hollywood screenwriter named Gil Pender (played by Owen Wilson) as he visits Paris and travels back in time to the 1920s every midnight, meeting famous artists such as F. Scott Fitzgerald (and his wife Zelda), Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, etc.

Review (spoiler-free):

Overall, the movie was pretty cute. I wouldn’t say the story was particularly outstanding—it has a predictable romance and very little seems to have actually changed by the end—but I thought the acting was natural and well-done for the most part, and it was an easy-to-watch lighthearted comedy.

Owen Wilson seemed an odd choice for the lead given his… cowboyish image, but it turned out alright. (Cowboys can write novels and romanticize Paris too, I guess.)

Tom Hiddleston was, like Wilson, acting in a way that conveyed the character well enough. And though Hiddleston was natural as Fitzgerald, and Kathy Bates did an amazing job (as always) as Gertrude Stein, watching Corey Stoll’s portrayal of Hemingway was just a bit off to me. I don’t fault Stoll at all. I think it was the writing that did it. It might just be because I’ve studied Hemingway the most out of everyone portrayed in the film, but the performance just really did not cut it for me. It didn’t ruin the movie, but he was a bit of a scene stealer. (I’m not sure in a good way.)

The connection to the literary expats is what interested me the most, though I have my beef with aspects of it. The characters themselves seemed poorly written, most likely relying on the very natural acting and the viewers preconceived ideas of these historical people being projected onto the characters.

So yeah, it was okay. It was a simple feel-good movie if you don’t think about it too much and if you don’t know too much about literary expats like I do. It’s a good casual watch.

Analysis (not necessarily spoiler-free):Read More »