Review


205-stickersWhen I was a kid and deep into my new love of Star Wars, I drew people with tee shirts that said “star bores” on them. It was a mock from someone who relived the scenes from the movie every day for months.

Looking back now, I see that even as a kid I saw how merchandised creativity inflates towards drought. 1987’s Spaceballs would call this out ten years later.

Now, here we are almost forty years after the first movie and big business wants us to remain mired in the past by extending and expanding our projections into a revenue stream that will go on for decades more. People are happy to relive their past or spend their timeless youth in bonding to an expression that has become too large for its original purpose.

I watched the new movie and I thought it was a colossal bore that made little, if any sense. I can sort of remember some of the scenes and the lines, but I have yet to repeat any of it in my daily life. I laughed when the big character death came. Who cares? The movie doesn’t stand for anything.

What did strike me was how much this movie is dominated by a specific trait of dysfunctional storytelling known as incoherence. That means a failure to permit any premise or any element of exploration to be consistently enjoyed. Scenes are internally nonsensical and lacking in meaningful consequence.

Or to put it another way, you have lazy scriptwriting that leads to incompatible combinations of storytelling. The result is lifelessness in the art itself.

You get the confusing logic of a chase scene that fails to add up. The inability to parse what’s happening politically let alone mythologically. Characters are constantly interrupted by random plot without any reference points for the audience. It generates a stagnation that drifts and repeats, preventing any fun from spontaneously arising out of the situations of the movie.

The new characters never come into their own. They are quickly possessed by the franchise expectations and whatever energy they might bring to the table is swallowed up by the need to tell the same story over and over again.

The old characters are horrible set pieces going through the motions without any sense of destiny, history, passion or fun. They’re cast in the wrong roles and misused. Watching them pander and shamble through their appointed rounds made me nauseous.

If the story is always going to be the same soap opera based around the same group of lucky force winners then The Force Awakens sucks. Star wars sucks. This stuff is square, conformist, mass produced mummification of creativity now.

Poor direction and writing, average production, and good marketing. Not the stuff dreams are made of.

2 out of 5 Stars of the Magi

A delightful, exhilarating fantasy adventure game of surpassing achievement. If you are unfamiliar with the yuri genre of culture then take a sensor reading!

I’m unsure how I happened upon this wonderful, multi-faceted gem of a game creation. It must have been one of those dreamlike internet sojourns, where you pass through an experience of mystery and find yourself exploring new possibilities of your own joy.

Luxaren Allure is a computer RPG done in the style of old school console games. If you’re familiar with Final Fantasy then the interface will be easy to absorb. Total game play is about 20 hours, though I spent more than that because I got sucked into every detail.

197-battleFrom what I can make out on the game’s website, it appears to be an indie collaborative project using RPG Maker VX Ace. This toolset and the style choice mean limitations on the graphics. You can’t expect wowsers stuff here visually. Fortunately, the imagination and intelligence of the gameplay transcend this condition to create genuine brain-expanding fun.

The story of the game takes place on the island of Luxaren. An ancient evil has returned to have another try at crushing the population and becoming ruler of the island.

Rising to the challenge of defeating this evil is an all female cast of adventurers, each with different abilities, dispositions, and goals. Can your gameplay guide them to victory?!

199-advanceYour party starts with Karuna, a fighter selected by the local ruler to embody the hopes of her town that she is the heroine prophesized to save the island. She begins the core of protagonism that builds over time as others join the party and the story develops. Simple at first glance, but things soon become more complex!

The wilderness and dungeon maps are varied and show cleverness. They’re hard enough to avoid being a breeze, but if you’re patient you can decipher the navigation. I appreciated this—I want a mild challenge without grinding through pathways.

If you forget what the most important current quest is while wandering about, the mission button in the party menu is available. This has the party members go over in a dialogue scene what they are currently trying to accomplish. This is a really nice touch.

202-party-statusI mean, I can dig it; right? Group of people wandering around trying to do quest stuff. Wouldn’t they naturally take a break and talk about their goals? Especially after fighting tons of monsters and having only a vague idea of where they are right now? “Oh yeah, that’s right we were supposed to be looking for a town. Got it.”

The NPCs are varied; they can be witty, ignorant, friendly, boring or insightful. Conversations get to the point while also showing a layer of depth. You can encounter them to get what you need, but you can also see that they make an internal sense. The first time around I only chatted with the people I came across, but later I searched everyone out just to see what they said. Their responses paint a diverse picture of people’s attitudes and priorities. You know, like real people do.

198-experienceThere are a number of puzzles and problems to overcome, all of which kept me guessing but not too much. You have to pay attention to what you’re doing, but you can eventually figure things out. This creates a smooth flow from one place to the next while also supporting that the party of adventurers are living an ideal. That’s romanticism that easily glides into your aesthetic sense.

Monsters are often plain weird, disgusting or disturbing. People had a lot of fun putting these things together. There’s thought behind them though—they do require weakness analysis or you might find yourself getting worn down hard or surprised. The potion monster stands out as truly bizarre and puzzling.

Then there is the top notch music. A game like this soars or slogs through the selection of its soundtrack. Often the tracks are hypnotic, poignant, inspiring, or jarring. It opens up your heart to the thrill of what’s going on and the timing can create unexpected moments of elation.

I pulled out Audacity to convert these gems to mp3 so I could experience them outside the game arena. I could listen to this piece all day. That’s a sign that something is going on. The artists such as Monster Cyborg stand up to the best game music out there today.

201-dialogueAn interesting aspect to the strategy of the game is the Impulse characteristic. As characters take damage they gain Impulse, which can be used to fuel a whole subset of special abilities. Some of them are pretty amazing!

After a battle you lose 20% of your Impulse though, so you need to pay attention to the dynamics of a monster fight. This trait means your character does their normal routine, and then over time as the battle progresses, if they survive they start to become inspired and motivated by their ordeal to strike back and triumph. It’s a really nice way to game mechanic a struggle, overcoming adversity, and counterattacking.

So what makes this such an outstanding game? I think ultimately it’s the commitment to depth—the care in crafting a believable internal structure—with the stance of treating all the characters (not just the ones you guide) as fully realized people with agency. It’s that combined pair of ingredients that allows you to experience a fantasy adventure that is both a little bit of a struggle and a whole lot of exciting exhilaration.

200-spoilsI had to play the game again two more times to get a better handle on this quality. Details emerge organically that are linked, many of which you miss as you try to solve the quest cornerstones. There are amazing big moments, but after a third playing I really started to enjoy how much thought went into making sure things hold together.

It’s amazing how different the terrain is with such limited elements. I never felt I was repeating myself even though there were times when I had to return to a similar tileset. It encourages familiarity over time with the useful repetition but keeps surprising you with new applications.

The party characters are really fantastic to play. Their romantic development is a delight to watch unfold; humanized conversancy, passion, and intimacy. They handle inner dilemmas and personal problems with an admirable dedication that hits home with relation to the big questions of life. Game designers should be taking notes here.

The struggle against the attempt to destroy the party by digging into their childhoods and finding their weaknesses is a highpoint with this technique. You get a clever exposition that deepens your appreciation for the characters while having to guide them through their fears.

The part with Chisa actually using this shadow-challenge as a catalyst to master her true strength after hiding herself in fear for half the game—pure storytelling mastery and a thrill. This is how you do it, folks.

The villains are well-developed too. There is complexity and nuance in how they express themselves, with more than a few surprises. A large part of conquering evil in this game is about conquering it in ourselves and having the courage to continue on, while also dispelling outmoded models of the past that are lingering way past their time. Now there’s a romantic message on many levels if I ever saw one!

204-party-exploreWhen I contemplate a party made up of queer women who all share a certain outsider status (with different backgrounds on that aspect) and take it into myself as an aspect of play, I find this game reveals a really extraordinary and inspiring journey of self discovery during a time of danger, romance, and testing. This is greatness in art and in culture.

It isn’t utterly perfect. Not all the music fits, but I have to admit this is personal preference talking now and may not be a flaw since the game embodies such a large diorama of places and people here. Other than Karuna I didn’t see very many people of color, but they are there if you look (I checked). Hyperawareness of tropes and the use of ironic humor in some of the NPCs and characters might strike some people as off; I found it suits the character of the game marvelously.

However, these are weaksauce criticisms. The overall effect is beautiful. Believe in love, believe in friendship, and believe in yourself. These things are real and they can happen. This is what the highest forms of expression return us to when they are fresh, vital, and true to the open panorama of life. Cake and prizes are there and they can be had with a wholesome approach and a bit of light ordeal.

Cannot recommend this enough. This is a master crafted experience of human discovery.

5 out of 5 Stars of the Magi

194-lets-see-02pg09The other day I received a special package in the mail. My friend Erik asked me to look at the first four issues of his digital comic book and give him some sensor readings on his work. Better than that Erik, prepare for hot review action in the shape of a brutally honest analysis from a guy who thinks Mister Spock is the right way to go.

So, peering into the contents of this watercolor mixed media creation what do we have? A story about a group of mainly academic science types who gain superpowers when they drink the wrong beaker of liquid. From there on out they become a heroic band of do-gooders who work to protect their town from the evil works of various foes.

191-cheers-01pg08Over time, the group expands to include a variety of strange characters who also have superpowers. Some of them maintain the amphibian theme, some don’t. This coincides with an increase in various villainous power centers. Good thing the Amphibimen arrived to counter all the villainy that has arrived!

The creator of this fabulous journey of froggomatic fun has an enthusiasm for the comic books of yore and it shows in every panel of action and unfolding plot. The Ultimate Amphibian, a galactic scale super being moved to act by the exploits of the Amphibimen, is pure old school foreshadowing of the best sort.

192-the-princess-01pg11Comic book culture has reached a point where all the parameters are well known, and most of the stories have been told. Now comes the re-telling, and this is where the energy of most superhero comic work seems to collect its focus towards. Seeing the details in this comic book evolve, as steeped as I am in the culture, it’s a joy to see familiar ideas unfold in new ways from another old school perspective.

The thing that strikes me most is how detailed every character is, and how complex the interactions become as a result. It’s a strong stance, but it also ends up being a weakness overall—the artist hasn’t quite got the skill to pull off such multifarious material yet. He needs to boil it down a little and let the story unfold more. There’s enough material in the four issues I read for for eight issues. It takes a master to get that to work.

195-they-watched-us-03Pg22You see this most in the battle montages and split narratives of the characters. There’s so much going on that encapsulating it becomes overwhelming. There’s a ton of stuff in here, but making it accessible requires more practice.

Despite a huge ensemble group of heroes and heroines I’m not quite sure who the main protagonist is (and I believe one is needed in a dense narrative like this, to act as an anchor), although I’m pretty sure who the main villain is. When the villains are more recognizable than the heroes you need to work on the heroes.

193-hand-clasp-01pg24The artist has what can only be seen as a unique style. This hampers identification with the characters and requires more work from the audience. The characters all have weird eyes and creepy fingers. The background is jarring in its blocky abstraction. The foreground is where the action is. The square dialogue balloons and their placement make the dialogue hard to follow.

Not that I would have the artist change any of that! Weird is good. Different is good. The writing is solid and the comedy subtext is fantastic. THE PRINCESS, good lord what a character! The wordplay is right on. I actually care about the most intelligent rat on earth.

196-who-am-i-03Pg24What I would like to see is more skill and craft in the form, and that can only come with time. Then the personal bridges can emerge as a natural quality in the work and make it more welcoming without losing that special sauce that makes this comic so damn unusually cool.

I’m going to keep my eye on this guy. He has a lot of stuff to say. Frog help us all if he actually manages to complete the recombobulator module actuator and achieve full storyline satisfaction flow.

3 out of 5 Stars of the Magi

190-bridesmaid-for-hireThere’s a new romance author in town and she’s a real ace with her squirtgun. Pretty good with a pen too.

I picked up a copy of Anne Wagener’s debut novel and dove into the story. I’m pleased to have found a book that is a positive, funny, and doesn’t shy away from characters that matter.

The basic character and setting is this: young woman hires herself out as a bridesmaid. Adventures ensue and coming of age is achieved.

The protagonist, Piper Brody, is lost in a circling pattern as her life floats free of her college intermediary jump to adulthood. She’s stuck in the limbo of a boring, low paying job with a creep boss. Meanwhile, her best friend and roommate Lin is moving into a serious relationship with his chef boyfriend.

Going broke, she decides to pursue a course of becoming a bridesmaid for hire. From that moment forward her life begins to unfold and Piper discovers new friendship and hope for the future. She also finds a new romantic prospect—a gentle, fellow writer named Charlie who thrills and inspires her.

The antagonist is a toxic ex-girlfriend of Charlie’s named Holly who refuses to let go and is determined to marry Charlie despite anyone’s self interest (including her own). Backing her up is a mother who is a local politician with an eye for power and domination. Can Piper save the day as bridesmaid in Charlie and Holly’s demon wedding? Hilarity and tension ensue.

The things that stood out most to me are the author’s great turns of phrase, astute eye for detail, and smart choices in timing. These techniques really serve the story well and give the narrative ammunition a lot of punch and momentum. Best of all, the protagonist makes hard choices and resolves the story so there’s an actual ending.

Piper is a likable protagonist. She’s spontaneous, determined, and caring. She has a strong reckless streak owing to her lack of confidence in herself. Part of her development involves finding her anger and standing up for herself—then she is capable of bravery in the face of horrible behavior.

She’s also surrounded by wonderful supporting characters. The relationships between them are solid and reveal all sorts of interesting things about their inner workings. I’m a big relationship junkie, so I love watching characters interact with each other and this story delivers on that.

The book is loaded with kooky and absurd moments of humor. I laughed out loud a lot, there were so many great phrases. I plan to use “emotional panty line” and “Grover Clevelanded” for myself in the future.

Not just funny quotes though, but some fantastic moments of writing insight worth pondering in-story. The author has a rich and powerful imaginative space inside of her. I think people who enjoy underlining favorite passages will have a blast with this book.

The book is definitely a page-turner, filled with fun and nail-biting excitement. There’s a larger, more important subtext in the book though. Piper is a manifestation of the idea of the maiden as subversive.

There’s a scene in the book where Holly’s politician mother Lena attempts to explain the facts of life about bridesmaids to Piper, in an attempt to dominate our plucky heroine into submission and obedience. That a bridesmaid is a handmaiden, or servant, and therefore a non-person.

That’s getting the visible face of the role right, but it’s an incorrect conclusion. Lena only sees half the story and so doesn’t understand why the bridesmaid is a servant (and thus what it means). It’s a fatal error to make at a moment when her plan is about to come to fruition.

There is another side to the bridesmaid in the internal world. In Roman times, the bridal party all dressed alike, and the bridesmaid was intended as a decoy to fool evil spirits. The idea was that evil spirits would not be able to find the real bride and would jack the bridesmaid instead, freeing the bride to have a trouble free wedding and begin life on a positive note.

This is where the idea of the bridesmaid as friend, confidante, and trusted helper comes from. Rather than a bauble for an aristocrat, she becomes a bodyguard and protector. How bad ass is that?

When you combine the external and internal face, what emerges is a feminine version of The Fool. The Fool is free to move as she pleases, unimpeded by convention and capable of both hilarity and heroism.

I think that idea should be explored just on principle. The bridesmaid lends her body as a status symbol, but her soul is a crucial support—this is reinforced again and again in the text of the book. Piper helps those who need help, and throws a monkey wrench into the mix when bad heads are causing trouble.

This is very relevant culturally. It occurs to me that women need to see the internal face of this role as much as the external one. That there is something exciting, helpful and courageous underlying the bridesmaid.

And it occurs to me that men could also benefit from having an experience of this hidden side of the bridesmaid. Like the Fool, she works in the wings and out of direct sight—sometimes a helper and sometimes a hindrance, but also an agent towards helping men become more conscious of their own choices.

I mean, if I were a bride, I would feel so much better knowing there was a hidden secret ninja agent performing tricks and shenanigans to keep me safe from evil spirits. How cool is that?

Top notch.

5 out of 5 Stars of the Magi

Album Cover for Bone Walker.I was hanging out in the secret garden taking it easy when I got a surprise goodie in the hopper. A chance to get a sneak peak at the latest Crime and the Forces of Evil project. Hey, I think these elf supervillains are pretty keen, so why not give their latest aural pastry a whirl?

The goodie manifests in the form of Bone Walker: The Free Court of Seattle Official Soundtrack, a number of tracks available in digital or solid form as you please. It’s a collection of music to accompany a pair of urban fantasy books by author Angela Korra’ti—specifically Faerie Blood and the more recent Bone Walker.

The liner notes mention struggles with complexity drift and unexpected delays. While it’s true that struggle is good for one’s art, I think it can also distract one’s focus. You need the adversity or you stop short of your best, but the other side of that is real risk–meaning you might actually miss a crucial ingredient or choice along the way.

The splendid positives: A first rate package of materials–the tracks sound great and the artwork is gorgeous. The music is a wonderful assortment of mainly Irish tunes by professional musicians having a good time. These people know what they’re doing and it shows.

For example, the songs “John Barbur” and “Lukey” really shine. I could imagine the main characters from the books hanging out and enjoying themselves in between their problems. It sells their complexity to me.

I gotta say Leannan Sidhe can sing so sweetly she could charm a nest of devils. Dara Korra’ti’s vocals are as soft and as quick as a hare in all the right places. Sunnie Larsen’s fiddle cavorts with buoyant notes on “Lukey,” and resonates with unshakable dynamism on “Bring the Storm.” Easy to lose yourself in the moment with skill like this, it’s that marvelous.

The not so exciting: The spoken word excerpts from the novels don’t work. The complex prose needs a different kind of reading and they’re too long–a minute at most would have been best, not 2-3 minutes. The mellow, enjoyable background music doesn’t fit the action scenes being read.

For example, the Burke-Gilman Troll piece doesn’t match what I would imagine the reading was depicting. Way too laid back for a serious combat narrative.

Same with the other readings. In “Bring the Storm” the dulcimer is exquisite, but it’s the wrong kind of sound for a supernatural fight with an angry dragon. The prose calls out for a lusher, more sophisticated sound with energy. There’s grace and wonder, but not enough fire and spice to be truly glorious.

Listening to the last bonus track, “The Burke-Gilman Troll (Klopfenpop mix),” I glimpsed a direction many of the songs ought to have taken–less mild and laid back and more, well, Lord of the Dance-y. Here the music fits better with the scene selection, it has an edge. I can’t help but think it’s an opportunity that was almost realized.

A soundtrack ought to evoke the quality of the medium and type of story it accompanies. The overriding message of this collection is a laid back adventure that doesn’t match the whole picture. It’s more of a promo piece than a soundtrack, and that’s too bad. I know Crime and the Forces of Evil are capable of more.

3 out of 5 Stars of the Magi

187_collegesurpriseWhen I was younger I used to think this campus was a golden land of opportunity and adventure. Then I got wise to the unconscious riptides of the place and have changed my mind.

The college reminds me of that old Middle Earth Roleplay adventure, Bree and the Barrow Downs. A prosperous center of human activity beside ancient storehouses of past effects now infested with evil spirits.

However, unlike that adventure there are no collective figures of help and guidance such as Gandalf or Tom Bombadil. Hek, there’s not even any organized resistance to the shadow like the Rangers of the North.

In other words, no lifeguard on duty!

When you consider that PDX is Torech Ungol with the Desperately Strange characteristic, it makes the college a pretty bleak place to be psychologically. Deadly high level adventures for young newbs.

What did I know when I was 18?

Not that the cookies, gumdrops and cakes of the Gingerbread House aren’t real. There were many delights I found to be experiences worth savoring.

The college outdoors program is top notch, arguably the best in the country. I was exposed to the beauty of what remains of nature and the wild in a way many people will never know.

The overseas program is excellent. I got to go to Japan and search for Godzilla. Along the way Japanese ghosts gave me a magnificent insight.

The computer program was ahead of its time. The dorm labs, the library center—these familiarized me with the desktop interface and prepared me for the Internet that would spring into mainstream existence shortly after I graduated.

That’s where my actual career emerged eight years down the line.

But a liberal arts education? That is, the classical liberalism ideal of what amounts to critical inquiry? Not much of that. Mainly fitting classes into a generic requirement of blocks—basic, intermediate and advanced.

The classes themselves were almost always all institutionalized preparation for a position in the white-collar industrial model, assuming you didn’t come from an upper cruster background (and I met many folks who had affluent parents). In that case, I guess you just went into the left-right or center-right wings of business.

Asking questions? That leads to questioning authority. Coming to your own conclusions? That leads to independent thought. Playing with the materials and figuring out how they work? That’s a little too scientific to be safe.

I ran into that wall again and again in my studies, not that I knew what I was bumping into. I just must have been missing the door, rite?

Wait, there’s no door? What you talkin’ bout Willis!?

The college recently started an entrepreneurial program. I had to laugh at the unconscious admission behind that.

All the best sages on innovation I read seem to agree that a liberal arts stance—that is, thinking outside narrow constraints through play as exploration—leads to entrepreneurial activity. If you’re a real liberal arts college, you got this down already.

So in a left hand way the college was positing that its own program was not in any meaningful way liberal arts!

I assume though, that they meant entrepreneurial in the sense of business—coming up with services or products to sell that will presumably reinvigorate the economy that’s in decline. You know; profits, and maybe some jobs.

I guess business degrees ain’t what they used to be in these modern medieval times.

I still remember the career guidance counselor asking me if I had ever considered a job in sales.

You craphound! If I wanted to go into sales I wouldn’t need to go to into indentured servitude to afford a college degree. I was dodging a trade presumably so I could learn how to unlock the full potential of my mind, you numbskull.

The college was full of barrow wights like that, preying on the vulnerabilities of young people as they bumbled around looking for a clue. I met a lot of students there who took too many blows psychologically and shipwrecked in one form or another.

Hek, I almost joined the list of Bermuda Triangle victims myself on a number of occasions.

I mean, if you want to model your thinking towards the needs of the owners of this country then this is a good place for it. You too can aspire to be an unquestioning master butler telling the other servants what to do.

For everyone else, well the old joke was that on the back of every Lewis and Clark degree was a job application for a McMenamins restaurant.

2 out of 5 Stars of the Magi

186_portlandoregoninanutshellUnless you’re a nega-psychic*, living in The City That Works Your Wallet is a daily choice between saving throw versus poison or serving evil.

I’ve been on a sooper secret mission to figure out what happened to me when I was in this place during my college years. It seemed like such a magical place then, with beautiful treasures.

Yet I wasn’t able to find a job and support myself back then. Not even as a dishwasher! Go back to Parental Tiger Cage, do not pass Go and do not collect 200 dollars.

So here I come many years later with a full on psychic starfleet and a posse of awesome abilities. This time, if I can do it I’ll make it and find out what’s what. I got the Beagle Active Star-Probe sniffing for hidden units, you read me?

I come to this place with trust and sincerity, opening myself to the possibility that it was me that was the problem before. In a way I am baiting the trap with a juicy morsel—myself—in a situation in which I have let go of all my past advantages in order to attempt a new life.

Mistakes were made: It wasn’t me at all.

Portland Oregon is a conformist, insular, reactionary place with no room for boundless life. It’s a bloodsucking operation for rich people who have moved on from the farmer and woodsmen producers to young and hopeful dreamers.

This is performed through an unconscious public relations beacon phenomena that lures people into the city’s orbit with the promise of a progressive, liberal land of opportunity where the kids are hip.

It’s none of those things!

The entire city is overrun by a psychic colony of giant spiders waiting to snare you in their complex web of misfortune. Once you’re caught they insert a vacujac and connect you to the blood bank.

Your money, sanity and youth are drained away to feed the psychological mechanisms that maintain the city as a playground for rich people who enjoy west coast flavor in their victims.

There are a few spider predators here, and those lucky folks who happen to be nega-psychics are able to do the total dodge. But oh man, the majority of people here end up processed in one of two ways.

You either succumb to the conformity and descend into some form of depression, or you suffer a violent reaction to the spider venom and hit the eject. The people who flee the place are denigrated as losers by the bitter victims who haven’t the strength themselves to escape.

It’s sick.

One of the running gags in this place is the campaign to “Keep Portland Weird.” This is complete misdirection. Portland isn’t weird at all. It’s what I would describe as “Desperately Strange.”

That is, the symptoms of “weirdness” are really an autoerotic response to a dwindling life force. People are acting out because their blood, brains, and souls are being fed into a machine nightmare from which they cannot escape, and they have to fill the void with something.

I’m too weird for square, isolationist Portland Oregon. I’m leaving before the giant spiders and evil spirits drain my tank.

If you’re thinking this place is the land of your dreams, pinch yourself hard and rethink your plans before you become a take out meal on legs. For those of you trapped in the Portland Oregon deathtrap already, hey you’ll be in my thoughts and prayers.

Those who are nega-psychics? You and the people close to you are fortunate indeed to not see what goes on, but do know that the delights of the city are made from the remains of the victims.

1 out of 5 Stars of the Magi

*A nega-psychic is a concept from the Beyond The Supernatural RPG. It’s a person whose psychic power is an unbelief or dislike for the supernatural. Their power weakens or dispels supernatural manifestations.

183_stardrekI thought the 2009 Star Trek movie was horrible. The newest movie makes that junkyard of half-baked grandstanding look like a decent flick.

The director and his posse make their handling of the re-imagined Star Trek a modern day Phaethon and the sun chariot. This movie is the moment when the horses sense that a newb is at the reins and begin to run amok.

I can’t wait to see how incoherent the new Star Wars films will be.

I’m going to dodge all the obvious problems everyone else has pointed out and focus on one very important thing I haven’t seen anyone mention.

There’s no action in the film at all.

I mean, isn’t that what this director dude is known for? Action?

Nothing happens in the movie. Nobody does anything that matters. At the end of the film everything is the same as what it was in the beginning.

The evil admiral dies. Some people die. It doesn’t matter. Nothing changes as a result of these deaths.

The big evil starship is destroyed and it doesn’t matter. Its existence is completely irrelevant.

Khan looks badass for the audience and then is put back into deep freeze. This has no effect on the story at all.

The crew of the Enterprise are right back where they started at the beginning of the film.

There are no consequences for anything that happens in the movie. There are no stakes to the story. Nobody loses or gains anything.

A waste of material.

1 out of 5 Stars of the Magi

178_cryptworldfrontlawnYou can never tell when you’re going to find the gold. Just the other day I ran into a cool little free indie game by Cicada Marionette, with a smashing soundtrack by Ella Guro aka Liz Ryerson. There’s also a Lilith in there, among several others.

It’s an exploratory and simple puzzle solving first person funfest that reminds me of a very primitive DOOM without firepower. The action is mainly internal as you uncover the world’s secrets and accomplish your goals.

And what a world it is—a surreal, disturbing, nonsensical nightmare world of messed up people and situations. Everyone is selfish, stupid, deluded or unfriendly.

179_cryptworldpeeYou are the only person, it seems, who has any agency. Your main ability is the ability to pee—a curious choice that is both ridiculous and a secret clue to the primordial mythology of every heroic journey.

A unicorn goddess has awakened you to find her missing plot coupons before her evil rival blows up her messed up nightmare world out of self-centered grief. Meanwhile, a monstrous chaos god waits for a chance to break free and turn the nightmare world into a really boring and empty nightmare world.

Life is rough when you’re the protagonist with the deciding vote.

The graphics are blocky, pixelated old school images that recall the simple programs of the salad days of video game design. The gameplay has to rise to the occasion in such a case, and delightfully it does.

180_cryptworldcryptsofaYou gather resources, do fed-ex quests, and click around looking for clues. This isn’t as easy or as ho hum as you might think. Everything about this game is warped to some degree, often against assumptions.

For example, you come across an underground fast food cafeteria inhabited by ghoulish skeleton people. They all appear to be worshipping the counter where the fast food is dispensed, like a group of cultists.

It’s an obvious mockery of fast food, and one could easily take it as an attempt to be disdainful while hiding behind a ‘just kidding’ façade. But the detail of the conversations with the burger cultists—the attention paid to the material—suggests that a lot of serious thought went into the observations that were articulated in this scene in the game.

That’s both disturbing and a valid, relevant statement. You are witness to a scene of unconscious horror that makes you question whether this world is worth saving. Who would want to save this dispensary of banality and mindlessness?

181_cryptworldpilgrimeshopThe soundtrack really makes the game. The sound effects are calculated to throw you off and undermine your expectations. Again, it may seem like the gameplay is just being funny or difficult, but it’s consistent throughout the entire experience. This is a statement of building cognitive dissonance. I applaud this commitment.

The music is at times sad, alarming, or pensive. It matches the game world perfectly. Approaching the unicorn goddess to give her a status update, you’re surrounded in an unearthly dirge that approximates being in the presence of a divine being. It’s eerie and beautiful, a small master stroke of game genius.

Then she tells you to buzz off if you haven’t got all the plot coupons and you shamble away. Who wants to help such a difficult and ungrateful being? Yet, why not? It does make a certain irrational sense.

Later, nearby you discover a corpse in a coffin who tells you how annoyed they are that that goddess is always playing her music so loud. They can’t get any sleep!

182_cryptworldtunnelsYou have to decide what all this means.

I found the music and the graphic blob of what I presume is some kind of unicorn or pony a strange experience that stays with you in a really powerful way.

But then, when you look at it objectively through her treatment of you and the opinion of one of her own denizens, you realize it’s also mundane and grounded in imperfection.

You know, I want a game to move me. I want it to be fun. I want it to make some kind of internal sense. Crypt World hits all of these for me. Unforgettable scenes, inventive ideas with some bite to them, relaxed gameplay that draws you in, and a storyline that evokes a mostly broken world limping along.

Just when the bitter nihilism gets to be a little too much, the game shows you a small piece of beauty. Rescue the gold bugs and they build a stunning temple in your basement honoring your heroism. Eat enough fast food and you unlock a passage to a mysterious retreat within your own being. These are oddball discoveries that are deeply touching and a reward for staying with the game.

I had to keep playing just to unlock some of the more accessible mysteries.

Is Crypt World a place I’d want to be? Hek no, talk about a depressing, bizarre place. You know though, a lot of the concepts in the game are worth meditating on. That we have all lost our way, maybe for good, is an important idea to consider.

The mirror the game presents us with reveals some unsettling reflections. The best you can hope for is to be a pawn of the gods, which allows you self-determination within a very limited scope.

Then there is everyone else, trapped in their private game trap of saying and doing the same thing over and over. And maybe some positive thinking protagonist will change the world a little for the better so that what you repeat is at least decent.

Scary, isn’t it?

Mainstream games like Okami or Rune Factory Frontier are in almost every measurable sense better than a game like Crypt World. They too can bring important moments to the forefront of our consciousness even though they are many times more complex and polished.

But as in mythology, the basic experiences are the most important and powerful ones of all. Pee, poop, spit—These things are transformative and have the true magic that moves things forward.

As much as I love those two mainstream games, I was never able to finish them. Too much of a good thing. Crypt World I finished several times. Just right.

Crypt World operates in the realms of the underworld of our consciousness, much like a dream. It’s an impressive achievement that demonstrates the value of originality, vision, and determination in crafting gameplay. I had a very satisfying and enriching time with this quirky little gem.

5 out of 5 Stars of the Magi

And tips his hat.

140_gameoftoiletsI’ve been sitting on the dumper with this one for a while. Now that the TV series has effectively broken the book series out of the echo chamber and into the mainstream, I figured now is a good time to examine what’s going on with this story.

If you don’t know what Game of Thrones is, all you need to know is that it’s a story about rich people in medieval times raping, torturing and killing their servants and each other over who gets to sit on the Iron Toilet and call themselves King of the Dumpers. The twist is that none of them know they can’t win until the author gets tired of writing thousand page bestsellers.

The story has two things going for it which I think are noteworthy and worth remarking about.

First, it’s a limited information campaign. Messages, news, and rumor travel slowly if at all. Often when people hear that so-and-so attacked what’s-his-name’s castle with a mallet, so-and-so has already killed what’s-his-name and eaten all the chicken tenders in the winter stores.

But it goes further. Intelligence gathering is primitive and unreliable. People misjudge, jump to (often wrong) conclusions, and make dangerous decisions without knowing crucial information. For example, who-is-he-again assumes all assassination attempts against him are from the same some-dude-he-hates because he heard somewhere-or-other that some-dude-he-hates doesn’t like him either.

It makes for a compelling read because one can’t help but share the character-of-the-moment’s bias. Then in the next chapter you get a whole different perspective and start to wonder what the truth really is. It’s a nice trick, giving the reader an omniscient observation based on clueless people.

The second thing the story has going for it is the immersive identity politics of the rich families. They all have memorable catch phrases, distinct recognizable qualities, and totemic animals designed to appeal to various consumer self-images.

Because there are multiple points of view, readers can choose which side of the power fantasy they want to explore and root for. Go Ice Weasels! Show those nasty Toe Jammers who’s the boss.

This appeals to the very basest urges of nationalism, drawing in our desire to see ourselves in the heroes of our projections. It has an irresistible attraction for anyone who is not acquainted with their own need for spectacle. How can you not try on each noble house, imagining yourself as mindlessly loyal, lusty without consequence, or stinking rich?

Most of the world longs to live like the 1% and have the power to decide one’s own fate.

Except the characters don’t really have any agency. Whenever any of them gets too powerful, the author sneaks in and resets the board. Nobody can win the game on their own merits, no matter who they are.

I have to admit; the books sucked me in at first. A puzzle wrapped in an emotional costume? You can rush from high to low in an instant at every move in the game, letting yourself live in the moment of people who despite being rich and powerful are just pawns of a greater power—the author.

See what a cage the book’s stance is?

2 out of 5 Stars of the Magi.

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