Posts Tagged ‘U’

Unsing the World

April 24, 2019

Erica was leading Joseph down into the old cave outside of town. Everybody in town knew about the cave but as kids, they had heard that bears often made their home there. As adults, most of the town forgot about the cave and went about their lives. For some reason, Erica had knocked on Joe’s door in the middle of the night and begged him to come to the cave. He had been so sleepy and she had been so insistent that he had agreed without really thinking about it. Was there a kid trapped in the cave? What was going on? Now that they had arrived at the cave, Erica was much calmer and was even smiling again. She was smiling a lot, actually.

“Are you going to tell me what we’re doing here, Erica?” Joe asked. He tried to use his flashlight to find his footing as they walked into the cave.

“You’ll see,” Erica said. “I can tell you that it’s nothing you’d guess.”

“That does not make me feel any better,” Joe said. “So we’re here. What do we do now?”

“We’re here,” Erica said. “but we’re not there yet. Come on.” Then she slipped through the back wall of the cave.

Joe blinked and then ran up to the wall. It looked solid but then he took two steps to the right and he could see the thin gap in the wall. He slipped through and caught up to Erica.

“How come I never knew that this went deeper?” Joe asked. “We used to come here as kids and peek in. I thought it was just a few feet deep.”

“It’s an optical illusion,” Erica said. “We never got close enough to see it. Of course, we might not have seen it because a magical spell makes us ignore it or something.” She kept walking and Joe followed her.

“Magic spell?” Joe asked. “This is really weird and now you’re talking like we did when we played pretend in the woods.”

“Except it’s not pretend anymore,” Erica said. “We’ve discovered how real it actually is.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Joe asked. “What’s real?”

“Exactly,” Erica said. “What is real? That’s the question we started to ask ourselves and each other.”

“Um,” Joe said. “You’re only getting weirder.” He stopped walking, not sure he wanted to be following Erica anymore.

She sighed and turned toward him. She pointed the beam of her flashlight down. “Alright, that’s fair. Just look down.”

Joe pointed his own beam down and blinked in surprise again. The cave floor below them was made up of interlocking hexagonal rocks as if this had all been built. It looked almost like stone tile. “What the hell?” Was all he could think to say.

Erica laughed softly with what sounded like sympathy in her voice. “This shouldn’t be here, Joe. The world wasn’t supposed to let this be here.”

“But what does that mean?” Joe asked.

“If you follow me, I’ll explain,” Erica said. “Don’t you still trust me?”

Joe hesitated and looked up to see the hurt on Erica’s face. “Yeah,” he said. “I trust you.”

Erica nodded and turned and started walking further down into the cave again. “Many cultures have argued over how the world was created. Science has been at odds with religion for a long time. Religion has been at war with itself since we can remember. There are too many theories to count but we’ve discovered that they are all wrong.”

“We?” Joe asked. “Who’s we?”

“The people brave enough to go into the cave, Joe,” Erica said. “Keep up.”

“Alright,” Joe said. “So what’s the correct theory?”

“It’s not a theory,” Erica said. “It’s reality. Well, it’s unreality. We’re not supposed to be here. Let me start from the beginning. In the beginning, there was darkness. Then some beings started to sing. Then came light and life and everything we know. Our world started with a song. Our universe started with a song. That song is still going.”

“Alright,” Joe said. “Like some cosmic song.”

“Exactly,” Erica said. “Except they got it wrong. Have you ever wondered why we’re all so unsatisfied with the way the world has turned out?”

“I mean, I guess,” Joe said. “It’s easy to get frustrated.”

“That’s their fault, Joe,” Erica said.

“Whose fault?” Joe asked.

“For lack of a better word,” Erica said. “We call them the gods.”

“And they sang the world into existence but they hit too many high notes or something?” Joe asked.

“An oversimplification,” Erica said. “They sang the wrong song and we ended up unhappy.”

“How do you know all of this?” Joe asked.

“We read the texts,” Erica said. “That’s where I’m taking you.”

“How do you know that the texts are right and everything else is wrong?” Joe asked.

“When you read them, you just know,” Erica said. “You just have to trust me. When you see it, you’ll understand.”

“I’m trusting you,” Joe said. “Look how much I’m trusting you. I’m deep underground with you while you’re talking about some very strange stuff. I’m still here.”

Erica smiled. “Yeah, you haven’t turned back. When we reach the bottom, you’ll be glad you didn’t.”

“Will I?” Joe asked. “It seems pretty hopeless to be sure that the world is wrong and there is nothing I can do about it.”

“Knowledge is power, Joe,” Erica said. “We can use it to our advantage.”

“How much further is it?” Joe asked. His feet were starting to hurt.

“We’re here,” Erica said.

As she said it, the cave opened up into a large chamber which looked like it had been carefully carved out of the surrounding stone. On the walls of the chamber, there were all sorts of pictograms. Joe peered at them and tried to make sense of them but their meaning was not immediately clear. In the middle of the chamber, there was a huge stone tablet sticking out of the floor. Erica stepped to the side and pointed at the tablet, beckoning Joe toward it. He stepped closer and shone his light on it. There was some sort of language chiseled into the tablet. It was a language that he did not recognize but as soon as he looked at it, he could still understand it.

His eyes were hungry for the words and he found himself reading the tablet feverishly. He could hear a melody running through his head. He could not place the tune but it was maddeningly familiar. He kept reading and all of what Erica had said was true. He could feel in his gut that the words were true. Not only that but the tablet spoke of how the world really should be. It sounded beautiful. When he was finished he rubbed his eyes, blinked, and looked over at Erica.

“What are we supposed to do about this?” He asked her.

“I think we’re supposed to unsing the world,” she said.

(Written on 4/21/19)

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Undertale

April 24, 2018

Alright, this post is definitely going to get very spoiler heavy but for a computer game that came out over 2 and half years ago. If that sort of thing bothers you, I do not blame you if you step away right now. Also, if there is any chance that you would play a game that I will be actively endorsing (#notsponsored), go and play it first. The rest of you may stay and learn why I think that this was an important game that everybody should experience in some way. If the way you want to experience it is through reading this post instead of playing an admittedly frustrating game for hours then thank you for sticking around. That being said, let us get down to business.

The game is a combination of a roleplaying game and a bullet hell game. “Bullet Hell” is a genre that often leads to very difficult gameplay that often has a fairly sharp curve. In bullet hell games, literally a multitude of objects come at you and you must dodge them or die. Winning the fight is more about survival than actually attacking the target. The video below will illustrate what is generally considered hardest fight in the game, one I never even attempted. Most of the combat is easier than that. The other part of the game is roleplaying which means you spend a lot of time going to and fro and talking to people and fetching items while you are traveling from point a to point b. The closest thing I have seen to it is probably the Paper Mario games.

The thing about that roleplaying aspect is that practically everything that you do is a choice that you made which effects the way the story goes for the rest of the playthrough. The story begins as you play a small child who falls down from the surface to a cavernous world of monsters. In any other game, your goal would be to fight every monster you come upon to escape the monster kingdom. Except that your first clue that this may not be the case is that after you fall, you are taken in and fed by a kind sheep woman who wants to protect you. When you try to leave, she stands in your way and refuses to budge because it is too dangerous out there. Your first real choice is made at that moment. You can kill her to start your journey toward freedom or you can wear her down by being stubborn until she realizes that she cannot make the decision for you and lets you go.


This video brought to you by Holly Conrad and Ross O’Donovan.

This kind of sets the tone for the rest of the game. If you wait and see what happens, you are often rewarded with pacifist options to get through the rest of the game. Your next destination brings you to a monster village dominated by two skeleton brothers one of whom was friends with the earlier sheep lady. Their names are Sans and Papyrus (after the fonts Comic Sans and Papyrus). Papyrus talks a big game about wanting to kill all humans but when it comes down to it, he is a pathetic guy with few friends and is overjoyed to change his tune if you befriend him instead. Sans is a lazy guy who just wants to tell puns and live in peace. The fight against Papyrus is the first time where it is really difficult to tough it out until he becomes your friend. You are almost punished with harder gameplay for being nice which is a great mechanic. It is harder to be nice sometimes but it is ultimately more rewarding.

As you continue through the game in this “pacifist” route, you really start making friends instead of enemies. Befriending Papyrus allows him to help you befriend the hardcore soldier Undyne who is as intense about being your friend as she was in hunting you down. Having befriended Undyne, you will have an easier time befriending the kingdom’s nerdy, shy royal scientist Alphys because she has a major crush on Undyne. Finally, you reach the only exit of the kingdom but the King Asgore (scary name) stands in your way. You find out that he only wants to kill you because he can combine your soul with six other dead children to free his people from a magical barrier. He does not want to do it but his people will eventually die out trapped in the cavern and he feels they deserve to be free. He also wants to do it in honor of his son who died which broke apart his marriage to Toriel, the sheep lady from the beginning.

In the end, if you chose a pacifist run, you are able to defeat but not kill the king and you are to able to defeat and lay to rest the spirit of his dead son. In doing so, you are able to wield the energy from the seven hearts and break the barrier, freeing all of the monsters. It is such a touching moment as you look out over this new horizon with your new friends, all of whom have come to love and accept you. Through the game, you spend a lot more time talking to characters to get them what you want to achieve a peaceful resolution. In fact, the random monsters that pop up to attack you all can be disarmed by giving them gifts, telling jokes, complimenting them, petting them, or just running away. As I said, this makes the combat more difficult because you spend a lot of time dodging obstacles while not attacking. Instead, you spend time figuring out what each monster wants and how you can give it to them.

Of course, this is only if you do the pacifist run. To get the other half of the game’s experience, you have to finish what is called the “genocide run”. In the genocide run, you do what comes naturally in a video game. You go around and you kill everything and everyone. Doing so gives you EXP and LOVE and makes it easier to get through a lot of the bullet hell segments, at least early on. However, you later learn that EXP does not stand for “experience” and LOVE does not stand for “love”. Instead, they mean Execution Points and Level of Violence. The more creatures you kill, the more evil you become. Characters who could have become your friends now flee before you and the ones who tried to stop you in the pacifist run are even more desperate to do so. And you know what? You can sympathize with them. I actually wanted them to defeat me because I felt bad for them and their deceased friends.

Eventually, you reach the end of the genocide run and you have murdered everyone who did not run away from you. The level of power that you have absorbed from all of the blood you have shed takes a form separate from you as a malevolent murder spirit. It asks you if you want to join it in destroying the universe. Whether you agree to join it or not, it will go ahead and destroy the universe. In addition, two characters in the game (Sans and Flowey) know that they are in a game. Even if you start a new game, they will both remember that you finished the genocide run. Forever. It will permanently change any other playthroughs of the game even if you go on to be as nice as you can be. The game remembers that you were the real monster. Because, just like in real life, everybody remembers the bad things you do and you must learn to live with the mistakes you have made.

So why is this game so important to me? Why did I think it was important to let you know about it? I can answer that in one word: Morality. The game is a great example of what sticking to good morals can get you and the consequences of bad morals. You can be as wrathful as you want to be. It will probably get you money and things and power. However, it will not win you any friends of substance and you will ultimately be alone and angry. It can truly be harder to be nice and positive sometimes especially in the face of adversity. When being mean is a shortcut, we all consider it at some point. However, most of us know that we will not be able to live with ourselves afterward. This game left me with a lot to think about and hopefully, this small bit leaves you with something to think about.

Unbreakable

April 25, 2017

I have always liked superheroes ever since I discovered the joys of comic books. Back in the day (middle school mostly), I would save up my allowance and I would walk over two miles to the comic book store. I was proud of that. I still am. It made getting them back home all the sweeter, reading my comics after a quick shower to wash off all that good exercise. I used to spend my walk there and back thinking about the adventures I was about to read. I used to think about what it would be like to have superpowers. What if instead of walking, I was flying over the northern parts of Baltimore City. I thought about how much time I would save if I had super speed. Unfortunately, there were only tall buildings for part of the trip so I could not swing around like Spider-man or Batman.

I remember going to watch The Sixth Sense. This was the first movie from a relatively unknown director named M. Night Shyamalan and I was interested in seeing a cool ghost story. I was in high school by then and I was totally into horror movies by then not only as part of Halloween but as a 365/24/7 kind of deal. This was before we knew about Mr. Shyamalan’s penchant for twists at the end of the movies he writes and directs. Thankfully, the well-known twist from The Sixth Sense had not been spoiled for me so I enjoyed something that in retrospect was a little pointless and anti-climactic. Still, the journey was an interesting one and the movie was seen for a long time as the one good Shyamalan movie but there was another that I have not seen to this day. That is why we are looking at the superpowered tale of Unbreakable.

The movie starts off slow and quiet and the movie actually continues to be pretty slow and quiet throughout. Bruce Willis is the lead once again in this one but he plays a more blue-collar character. I am used to seeing him as brash and mouthy but he was quiet and unassuming. This kind of matches the other major character played with Samuel Jackson who is usually loud and intense but he is also subdued. It gives the movie an offbeat sort of feeling. We get a lot of slice of life of Bruce Willis’ character and everybody is pretty quiet. That was really unsettling the more I think about it.

This movie was a comic book movie in the truest sense of those words. In fact, it might be the purest comic book movie we have had yet. The plot is a superhero origin story but it is largely driven by actual comic books. If superpowers actually appeared in our world, we would probably pay a lot more attention to comic books. A lot of the concepts and language are derived from or are in purposeful conflict with comic books. For a guy who grew up with comic books and still reads them, that is a pretty cool concept. However, the movie lacks a lot of the excitement and charm that most superhero books that I like have. While Bruce Willis’ character is likable and relatable, I just did not really want to hang out with him. He was too sad.

Overall, I really liked the concept of the movie but I did not really appreciate the execution. They started with a good idea but Shyamalan just cannot write normal dialogue. Everybody sounds like aliens trying to act like humans. The life and energy of usually talented or charismatic actors are sucked out and we are left with a passable performance. I guess I do not regret watching this movie but I could not in good faith recommend it to people. I just feel really blah about it. I think I am officially closing the book on M. Night Shyamalan. He just does not do it for me.

An Uncooperative Subject

April 25, 2016

(Hurray for fanfiction! I urge you to watch Rick and Morty  and also play Portal and Portal 2 on whatever gaming system you want.  There are slight spoilers if you haven’t partaken in these two things but nothing too major.)

Rick woke up slowly and he started to push himself to his knees but he was a little dizzy. Of course, being dizzy was not out of the ordinary for Rick but it was best to take these things slow. He could tell from his field of vision that he had woken up on an unfamiliar floor. Rick had woken up on a lot of floors so an unfamiliar one was more than a little alarming. He was also curious about what had knocked him out as he had taken practically every substance legal or otherwise in the known multiverse. It really took a lot to lose consciousness nowadays.

“Aw geez, Rick! Where are we now!?” Morty whined. Rick looked to his right and saw his shivering grandson sitting against a clear wall of some sort. He looked around and confirmed that they were surrounded by four of these walls. All that was in their little cell was a toilet and an alarm clock.

“Shut up, Morty. Grandpa needs to think.” Rick said and pushed himself to his feet.

“Where do you think we are, Rick?”

“Goddamit, Morty, I said I need to think,” Rick said with a loud belch. “It looks like a prison but not one I’ve been too before.” Rick said and tried to remember what had happened before they had been taken.

Thankfully shut up and stayed sitting in the opposite corner. Rick ran his hand across each wall in turn but he couldn’t really feel anything. He was starting to get really ticked off. If this was the Council of Ricks again he didn’t know what he was going to do. More like Council of Dicks, he thought and smirked to himself.

“I miss my laptop,” Morty said softly, breaking the dead silence. Rick whirled to face him but Morty spoke before Rick could tear him a new one. “I mean, what are we going to do?”

“Well, turning you into a car was a one-time thing and you blew that in class. Somebody took my portal gun when they left us here. Give me a minute.” Rick said and leaned his forehead on one of the walls.

“I took your portal gun. It will interfere with the testing and we will be doing a lot of testing.” A soft, feminine voice said. The voice had a slight bite to it like whoever it was was talking to a small, annoying child or a Morty. Rick’s Morty made a small frightened noise but Rick only grunted and rolled his eyes. One of the three walls sank quickly into the floor.

“Who.. who’s there!?” Morty cried out.

“I am GLaDOS. Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System. This is Aperture Science and you are Rick Sanchez and Morty Smith. Our research indicates that you are one of the smartest beings in the galaxy. Looking at you, I think we were misinformed.” GLaDOS said, her voice resonating from speakers somewhere in the wall or ceiling.

“Listen up, you computerized piece of shit! Nobody pushes me around! I’ll find you and I’ll tear you apart!” Rick yelled at the ceiling. It was his best guess at where the speakers were.

“Listen, I am so frightened. I really am. Actually, I’m not used to a test subject who talks so this will be a burden on all of us. If you enter the first testing chamber, you can pick up the portal gun and start testing.” GLaDOS said and a door opened up. Rick grumbled and started to walk into the next test chamber with Morty following close behind. There was a device on a pedestal in front of them with a spotlight shining down on it. Rick picked it up and examined it.

“Listen, it sounds like you have a lot of history before we got here. We’re not interested in a crossover, let’s just end this now and I’ll go get drunk and maybe I won’t come back here and burn this place to the ground.” Rick said, belching again just as he started the last word.

“I don’t think you’re in a position to bargain, Rick. We can test or I can throw Morty into boiling lava. It’s your choice, both would be fun for me and, in the end, we’ll test anyway.” GLaDos said. The room started to rearrange itself into a series of platforms and white surfaces. Rick looked around and examined his surroundings. It looked like some sort of obstacle course.

“This portal gun looks pretty crappy, GLaDOS. I mean, what’s it got in here? Some sort of subspace converter, something for quantum tunneling. I bet this thing still runs on fleebs. Wait, it’s not pre-fleeb is it? I bet if I sold it I would only get, like, two schmeckles maybe. My gun is waaaay better.” Rick said with a disdainful look at a nearby camera that was pointed their way.

“It is more than adequate for testing. If you do not begin testing, I will fill this chamber with nerve gas.” GLaDOS warned.

“Oh Geez, Rick. Let’s just do it.” Morty said.

“I huff nerve gas before I get out of bed in the morning. You’re gonna have to do better than that!” Rick said with a grin. A green gas started to filter into the room but Rick pointed the portal gun and fired and the gas was sucked through a hole in the black ceiling.

“Wait. What’s going on? How did you do that?” GLaDOS said. For the first time, she sounded less than bored and more than concerned.

“I fixed this portal gun while we were talking. I used the alarm clock and you don’t want to know where I was storing the other parts.” Rick said, his grin getting very big.

“Gross,” Morty said.

“I give in. You can leave. I have learned my lesson” GLaDOS said simply.

“Oh no, you don’t. Now we’re gonna test my way!”

“But I let you go, I don’t want to be dismantled again.”

“I don’t give a fuck! That’s my catchphrase! I say it all the time!” Rick yelled with glee and Morty knew from experience that things were about to get very dark, very quickly.

Underworld (2004)

April 24, 2015

I’m honestly embarassed that I hadn’t seen this movie until now. I’m a huge fan of urban fantasy. I’ve read dozens of books and seen lots of movies and television series. When I was a kid, I always used to imagine something just beyond the veil. It was so close to our world that one wrong turn could put me in contact with something that goes bump in the night. Vampires and werewolves are probably the two biggest creepy crawlies around. Both deal with possibly losing one’s humanity to a beast inside. Of course, the movie doesn’t really deal with that aspect but that’s alright.

So how is the movie? Surprisingly good. I was expecting “Goth Matrix” but I got a far more subtle movie than I thought I would. I was expecting a popcorn flick and while I got one, it was not nearly as dumb as I thought it was. I don’t expect much from big budget movies between 1998 and 2005. This was a period where Godzilla (1998), The Matrix (1999) and Swordfish (2001) where blockbusters were enjoyable but not really substantive. I love all three of those movies but they were kind of half-assing it in the writing department. I would put Underworld on the angel side of good writing but it’s not too far from that line.

The movie is basically torn from the pages of White Wolf Publishing, a company that produces a lot of cool tabletop RPGs about werewolves, vampires, faeries and so on. There was even a lawsuit settled out of court by the makers of Underworld if you don’t believe me. There’s a war between vampires and werewolves that has gone on for centuries and supposedly werewolves are on the brink of extinction. Normally you would expect the hero to be a werewolf but we’re given vampire heroine Selene (Kate Beckinsale). She is tasked with figuring out a centuries old secret conspiracy that will change the war forever while she tries to protect her Dude in Distress. (By the way this was a refreshing reversal that was actually done right)

The acting was surprisingly good. I thought at first that Kate Beckinsale was wooden but I felt that she was instead reserved as you might expect an old vampire to be. There were moments where that resolve slipped and you could see splashes of raw emotion shine through. There were some good character actors throughout. Her Dude in Distress was not so great but served his purpose. However, Bill Nighy did an excellent job as an elder vampire and although he was corny in some places, he was very convincing in others. I also want to give a shout out to Michael Sheen and Shane Brolly who did a great job as the movie’s villains. Shane Brolly in particular was very easy to hate.

The art direction and cinematography was pretty awesome as the movie was very pretty but also very dark. It seemed to take place in what looked like eternal night or the same world that the first 5 minutes of XXX took place in. Len Wiseman directed this one and it seems he pretty much created the franchise. It makes sense that it would be pretty good as he is responsible for the Sleepy Hollow tv show and the underrated fourth Die Hard movie. I kind of wish he had toned down some of the exposition but, as a world-building fan, I have to respect what he created. I don’t think I’ll be watching the prequel anytime soon though. I feel like I’ve already seen it from the stories the characters told.

Overall, it was a pretty good movie. I would suggest seeing it.


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