Star Trek + Facebook = Redshirt, the computer game

Remember that episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation that shifted focus from the high-ranking officers on the bridge to the entry-level schlubs doing the grunt work? Remember how those saps never knew what was going on half the time? Now imagine if those ensigns had Facebook.

This is the premise of Redshirt, the computer game. You create and roleplay one of the nameless crew members that die all the time on Star Trek (the so-called redshirts).

Spacebook page of Dirk Amazeballs, Maintenance Tube Wrangler

However, the game is not about meeting aliens and exploring space. It’s not even about cleaning toilets and fixing light bulbs, which are the only duties your fearless crew member is qualified for. It’s about playing the Facebook game.

There’s a disaster coming for your space station, you see, and your goal is to get promoted high enough to be evacuated along with the top brass (though the highest rank you can aspire to is the Commander’s Assistant). In the meantime, you have to schmooze with supervisors and keep your spirits up by hanging out with people on your friend list. Essentially the game is an RPG played through a Facebook simulator.

Thus are combined two obsessive activities: checking status updates on Facebook and grinding for incremental level gains on RPGs. I was up until 3 am playing this game and had to call in sick the next day due to sleep deprivation. It’s fun if you’re into Trek jokes and roleplaying, which yes, I am.

In conclusion, if you’re trying this game out for the first time, I recommend doing it on a weekend.

Plato, Buddha, and Jesus walk into a bar . . .

I’m reading 10 Billion Days and 100 Billion Nights, a classic of Japanese science fiction by Ryu Mitsuse. It’s excellent. It’s one of those books that have so many big ideas, and happily it’s also one of those books that manages to do justice by those ideas.

Briefly, it’s about the universe, from the formation of the solar system to the heat death at the end of existence. In between, humans search for the cause of suffering and the solution to it. Humans like Plato, like the Buddha, like Jesus. They journey together and fight each other to find the righteous path and the better world of our dreams.

When reading this book, I sometimes find myself agog at its breadth, its erudition, its cleverness, and its confidence. For example, when he is introduced, it’s revealed that Plato’s obsession with Atlantis is not some metaphor for the ideal state, but a literal quest for antediluvian demigods. On the way, he ends up debating philosophy with either a time traveller or an alien. This sounds very hokey in a postmodern reflexively ironic "pirates versus ninjas" mishmash, but somehow it’s earnestly un-ridiculous in context.

The book does presuppose a familiarity with the original texts it’s riffing on. You don’t need a degree in comparative theology, but knowing what Buddhist cosmological writings sound like helps in appreciating how deliciously inventive Buddha’s conversation with Brahma is, for instance. And having an ear for techno-babble does help, as well as some basic astronomy, though I understand the science in the book is out of date by now – not unexpected, for science has marched on since the book’s publication in the 60s.

Anyway, read it. I’m seriously enjoying this book. In a word, it’s mind-blowing.

Catchy titles for crappy anime

Servant Girl Annihilator: somehow not the title of a really shitty anime about a waif fighting grown men while wielding a giant cannon and flashing her panties every now and then.

On violence, on anime, and on violent anime

Most giant robot anime, and most anime in general, seem to be anti-war or anti-violence (barring the relentlessly capitalist shows like Mazinger-Z and Voltron which say nothing beyond “explosions are cool” and “buy our toys”). The shows that luxuriate in violence, like Black Lagoon, make clear that the characters are psychologically damaged in some way. The shounen fight series are either about making friends (like One Piece), are comedic (like Ranma 1/2), or have a stick up their ass and continually remind the viewer that the hero is only fighting reluctantly (like Bleach). I suppose the atomic bombings and the enforced postwar pacifism are ever present in the Japanese consciousness.

Though two series that glory in war and violence are the right wing wankathons Total Eclipse and High School of the Dead. One of the characters from the latter show even remarks, as he’s using a baseball bat to bust open a cash register, "You know, this is pretty awesome". And he’s right, it would be goddamn sweet to be running wild in a zombie apocalypse with a Humvee full of guns and big-tittied girls in high school uniforms. Or being encased in a mechanical womb and using swords, cannons, and other phallic objects to unleash death and figurative semen on hordes of invading aliens.

Of course, there’s no such thing as zombies or alien invaders, which is to say that there are no faceless Others one can morally slaughter; thus, in anime, the depiction of violence simultaneously demands an apology for its use. But it seems that it takes a right-wing dickwad
to not give a shit about such distinctions.

How odd

If you google "Hayek" you get pictures of both the Austro-Hungarian economist and the Mexican-American actress. Only one of them is in a bikini.

Also, if you google "Salma Hayek" the auto-complete appends "breast size" to your search term.

The Summer of Adventure

I just completed the adventure game Memoria, which I’d bought during GOG’s summer sale. It’s rather old school in its point-and-click control scheme. Were it not for the graphics and for the far lower number of game-crashing bugs (damn you, Quest for Glory IV) I might have thought I was playing something Sierra Entertainment made in the 90s.

But one glimpse of the visuals will let you know this game is from the 21st century. I mean, just look at this game:

A waterfall, a princess, a thief, and two Amazons

That’s too detailed to be anything but hand-painted. And this is a screenshot from the game itself. Something from the classic era of adventure gaming would be full of visible pixels. Even a lot of modern adventure games like Gemini Rue still use that older style of giant pixels. I suppose it’s both out of nostalgia and out of consideration for the development budget.

Memoria is about a princess trying to stop a demonic invasion and about a birdcatcher five hundred years later learning about her story in his own quest to solve a magic curse on his beloved. The latter protagonist is somewhat run-of-the-mill, but the princess is more savage and ruthless than the typical bland do-gooder you might get in this sort of game. It’s rather refreshing.

Daedelic Entertainment definitely went all in on this game. Even the voice actors are uniformly good. And as an adventure game it’s satisfying enough. The puzzles tend not to delve too much into that odd adventure game inventory puzzle logic, such as that infamously convoluted Gabriel Knight solution (number four on that list) which involves using cat hair to make a mustache to match the picture on a passport stolen from a man with no facial hair. No, I think experienced adventure gamers should be able to finish this without having to resort to a walkthrough.

However, while the game is fun, it isn’t very long. I only got it last week and have already finished it, after all. I remember taking a lot longer to finish an old Sierra game. This game is actually fairly linear, so you’re not wandering around a lot of different locations wondering which doohickey should be used at which place and in which combination. It’s pleasant to look at some pretty pictures with no real sense of urgency, but it’s hard to justify paying full price for something this ephemeral. It’s not like this game has a lot of replayability in it.

Overall? I say buy it if you’re into adventure games, but wait until there’s a sale on.

Breaking news

There is a karaoke music video of the song Take My Breath Away from the movie Top Gun.

Next on Youtube’s recommendation is the song Danger Zone, also from the same movie. Then Another Day in Paradise by Phil Collins. If anyone wants me, I’ll be time travelling to the 80s for the next few hours.

The Angel of Future History

Alita, the cyborg angel rising from the scrapheap of history

Another new recommendation. This one isn’t very obscure but it’s rather old, so it might have fallen off the radar by now. The manga I’m talking about is called Battle Angel Alita. It’s about an amnesiac cyborg making her way in a post-post-apocalyptic world, which is to say a world where the end has ended and a grimier, crappier version of civilization has been cobbled together.

There’s a formula to this type of thing: mysterious hints at the origin of the protagonist, savage battles of survival rendered in loving detail, betrayals, reversals, friendships, death. Alita follows that formula to the letter.

Still, I only started reading Alita on the recommendation of the fellow who makes the webcomic Gunnerkrigg Court – read that posthaste, by the way – so I knew there was something to the manga. And it delivered on that front as well.

Picture a murderous rollerball tournament played by cyborgs (and don’t overthink the premise). Picture our heroine fighting with gritted teeth and desperate urgency. Then picture genuine character growth in the midst of this frenetic shounen action sequence. Whilst reading I had to stop and take a moment to admire what the comic was doing.

There’s a reason James Cameron is making noises about doing a live action adaptation. I think the story is best early on, when its setting and its conflicts are smaller and more immediate. The latter portion of the series isn’t bad but by the end too many battles have passed by to give the climax its proper narrative weight. Apparently the author was dissatisfied with the original ending (something about being ill at the time) and has rebooted the series as Battle Angel Alita: Last Order. I’m only talking about the first series and have no idea if the semi-continuation is any good.

The English translation is from that older era when translators would put more of a stamp on the finished product. For example, in Japanese the protagonist’s name is Gally and the series is called GUNM. I prefer the alliteration of the alternate title, and honestly, what the hell is a GUNM?

Overall, I would suggest reading at the very least through the first four volumes. That’s what made this series one of the early seinen sensations in English. Give the manga a skim, let its images assault you, allow its battles to excite you, and imagine what it would have been like to see this kind of thing for the first time in translation. This series is remembered for a reason.

Here we go again

Yep, that there is the trailer for season 3 of The Legend of Korra. I’m honestly too caught up in the fan mindset to be capable of assessing this trailer. Based on previous seasons, I’ll probably be bitching and moaning about how the pacing of the story either compresses or elides too much of the narrative, but also based on previous seasons I will be watching every episode and feverishly arguing about it on the Internet the next day. On that note, it appears we finally, finally see Old Man Zuko.

Back to cat videos

More thoughts on His Girl Friday. The dialogue zipped and zinged, fast and furious. It was obviously adapted from a play. I forgot how paranoid the middle and upper classes were about a Bolshevik/working class uprising in the early part of the 20th century. I do recall Hitler was trying to get the Brits to join him for a crusade against the reds before things fell out the way they did. Also, who were those speakers in the park mentioned as driving Williams insane? It sounds like they were union organizers or some kind of socialist agitators but would like to know more.

And the guy on death row killed a coloured policeman but no one seems to feel bad about it. It’s all about poor pathetic Williams who wouldn’t hurt a fly (but apparently he would kill a black guy).

Anyway, I just had my Internet finally hooked up last night. During my hiatus, when not checking email on my phone like some starving Eritrean I’d been watching highfalutin’ movies and TV shows I’d been planning to get to like His Girl Friday, Another Earth,and The Borgias. I have weeks of brain rotting to catch up on so I may need to take a sick day to watch all those Youtube videos I missed.