Homeworld

It’s no surprise that I consider Homeworld one of the best games of all time, as I’ve posted about it multiple  times  already over the past few years. But what makes it so goddamn amazing? Everything. Everything is the answer to that question.

For what it’s worth, this post is based on the original version of Homeworld, not the remastered edition. However, the graphics are from Homeworld:Remastered. Why? Because they look better, that’s why.

I also consider this somewhat of a spiritual successor to my original post about homeworld made a few years ago. I’d give that a read if you haven’t yet. That’s right, I like Homeworld so much I write about it every few years to remind people of how amazing it is. But the Remastered version came out, so it felt apropos to write a new version.

Gameplay

Let’s get technical for a moment: Homeworld is a 3D RTS set in space, with persistent units and resourcing between missions.

Got it? Good. Because there’s a lot more to it than just the bland categorization. Homeworld allows you to build a persistent fleet over a span of over a dozen missions, which becomes a core gameplay element when resources are scarce and every ship counts. When you have to balance building a frigate or a few fighters, suddenly the game becomes much more than just slamming disposable units against each other. That frigate you captured in mission 2? It’ll stick with you until the end, or until you are forced to send it on a desperate run to save your resourcing units.2015-02-26_00006

The missions aren’t just some bland “oh gee there are some bad dudes over here. Kill them. KILL THEM” instead you get pitted against very different factions. The Imperials are all about overwhelming force. The pirates have tough corvettes and battle-hardened carriers. And the garden dwellers? Well, they’ll overwhelm you with fighters. Most missions have a catch that requires you to plan around, but they don’t become forced and trite as the Starcraft II catches often do. They flow naturally from your foes, and that’s a big distinction.

Your units, well, they’re wonderful. The balance is perfect: your fighters will distract and harass larger units, while your corvettes will maneuver in for the kill. Frigates provide the backbone of your fleet while your larger destroyers give you the big guns necessary to take down the very largest of opponents. Each ship (and class of ships!) have weaknesses and strengths, and Homeworld is masterful at letting you balance your fleet exactly to your gameplay style.

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Battle gameplay is purposeful. There are few chances for one-shot kills. Damage is meted out over minutes, and it evolves into a situation that you can control at a pace that allows strategic decisions rather than encouraging frantic clicking.

RTS with a Purpose

Homeworld is a game with purpose. As your ships slowly lumber towards their next encounter, you’ll have time to reflect on your storyline. Perhaps what makes Homeworld unique is not that the gameplay is amazingly good, but that you become invested in the story of the exiles fighting their way across the galaxy to reclaim their Home. Each step along the way seems inevitable, yet you never feel like it’s a chore.

The ships are the story. But they represent the hopes and dreams of your people.

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Soundtrack

I wrote a lot of papers in college listening to the Homeworld soundtrack. It’s award winning, and for a good reason. From the heart wrenching chorale rendition of Adagio for Strings, to the vaguely middle-eastern strains of the Imperial Battle motif, the music provides the right tension at the right time. When navigating through a irradiated solar system from a nearby star, the music provides a brooding backdrop as a constant reminder of the danger that lurks just beyond the protective dust fields.

Story and Manual

The Homeworld manual is one of my most cherished objects. A lot of love and care went into crafting the backstory and ship designs, and the manual is a detailed story of the protagonists, their background, and their history. The manual turns an otherwise good game into an excellent one through the smart use of backstory that so many games ignore. The Mothership is the core of your existence, but through the manual you learn that it has taken all of the resources of your planet to construct it on a journey home. For over 80 years, it was the only satellite the planet had ever known, and were the literal embodiment of the purpose of a civilization.

Remastering, Cataclysm, and Homeworld 2

There’s a remastered version of Homeworld out. It looks very pretty, but the gameplay is fairly atrocious. Delicately-crafted balances honed in the original game were hammered into an improved Homeworld 2 engine to create a game that is optically amazing yet with hollow mechanics. I’d encourage you to purchase the remastered version, only because it includes the original version of Homeworld designed to work on modern Windows.

Homeworld: Cataclysm is a very worthy followup to Homeworld, and plays as a 3D Horror RTS set in space. It has some interesting ship ideas, cleans up pain points in the original Homeworld, and has lots of fun mechanics. Although it hasn’t been remastered and sometimes dislikes Windows 7, Cataclysm is a fine choice if you can get your hands on it.

There’s also Homeworld 2, which is pretty okay. It ain’t bad, but ain’t great either.

Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72

Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72

Hunter S. Thompson

Gonzo Journalism With a Political Twist

I like Thompson’s work. He’s insightful, intelligent, and overall just a really entertaining guy to read. Fear and Loathing is really no different in that respect. He follows George McGovern throughout the presidential campaign in 1972, and is writing a series for, who else, Rolling Stone. Starting in the primaries, he traces the campaign through interviews and friendships with those who are involved in it. Thompson makes no bones about his support for McGovern and his intense dislike of Nixon: neutral observer he isn’t, to the surprise of absolutely nobody. It reveals the campaign trail at its most raw, and all the emotions, work, and dedication that goes into a presidential campaign.

Specific Appeal

As much as I liked this book, it only appeals to a certain audience: the historically minded folks among us who also appreciate good political journalism.

Grain of Salt

Sometimes he likes to accuse various candidates of taking various forms of speed, which is a very subtle joke. It’s easy to miss this and others he places in the text, so I wouldn’t call this a book of record for the election.

Passage of the Day

I just really liked this specific passage in the book, and I’d like to share it with you all. While covering the Republican convention and protests surrounding it, he observes a group of Vietnam vets against war silently marching towards the convention hall:

But as I drove toward Key Biscayne with the top down, squinting into the sun, I saw the Vets… They were moving up Collins Avenue in dead silence; twelve hundred of them dressed in battle fatigues, helmets, combat boots… a few carried full-sizes plastic M-16s, many peace symbols, girlfriends walking beside vets being pushed along the street in slow-moving wheelchairs, others walking jerkily on crutches… But nobody spoke: all the “stop, start,” “fast, slow,” “left, right” commands came from the “platoon leaders” walking slightly off to the side of the main column and using hand signals.

One look at that eerie procession killed my plan to go swimming that afternoon. I left my car at a parking meter in front of the Cadillac Hotel and joined the march… No, “joined” is the wrong word; that was not the kind of procession you just walked up and “joined.” Not without paying some very heavy dues; an arm gone here, a leg there, paralysis, a face full of lumpy scar tissue… all staring straight ahead as the long silent column moved between rows of hotel porches full of tight-lipped Senior Citizens through the heart of Miami Beach.

The silence of the march was contagious, almost threatening. There were hundreds of spectators, but nobody said a word. I walked beside the column for ten blocks, and the only sounds I remember hearing were the soft thump of boot leather on hot asphalt and the occasional rattling of an open canteen top.

 

Naked Lunch: Abject Insanity

Naked Lunch

William S. Burroughs

My uncle always has found really interesting books for me to read. No genre could be excluded from the books he lends me: obscure sci-fi, dense fiction, or subversive texts are all expected and subsequently consumed by my “innocent” mind. I had received “Naked Lunch” for my birthday last year, but finally came to it in my reading queue. It’s something that’s hard to describe, so I won’t spend too much time talking about it, because I simply can’t put it into words that would do it justice.

This Book is Insane

Essentially, the plot is “a dude in the 60s takes far too much heroin and has all sorts of wacky and oftentimes disturbing stories to share.” But I’m not even sure of that. Some of it focuses on the depravity and desperation that “junk” addicts experience in their quest for more drugs, but “Naked Lunch” also takes frequent sidetrips into “the interzone,” which is where odd and thoroughly demonic creatures exist.

This Book is Disturbing

I don’t mean disturbing as in “OMG WE NEED TO CALL CONGRESS,” but in a “I’ve never been exposed to this kind of content” before kind of way.

Plot? What Plot.

There’s some semblance of a plot, but not really. Don’t focus too much on the overarching plot and instead narrow down to each individual story contained within. Otherwise your brain will explode.

This Book is Great

Burroughs created a masterpiece. Read it. Learn from it. Enjoy this oddly amusing and dark set of half-truths and prose known as “Naked Lunch.” You won’t regret it. Or maybe you will. But really, it’s only 200 pages. And if you hate it, you can just write a book like this and make me an evil character in it.

Book Review: The Shadow of the Wind

The Shadow of the Wind

Carlos Ruiz Zafón

A friend and I regularly swap books with each other. Although sometimes aiming to give them a book they’ll really enjoy, often we decide to share something that may be a little out of the normal topic or genre that they’re used to reading. It’s a great way to break out of our literary molds and be forced to read something that we may otherwise pass by in favor of something else. “In The Shadow of the Wind” is one of those books. Set in a slowly decaying Barcelona that has been overcome by fascism and an uncertain political climate, this book dips heavily into Gothic imagery and relies on a complex storyline to wave a complicated story about a teenage boy who finds a mysterious book from a secret book repository which his father introduced him to. Discovering this book is not what it seems, and quickly the protagonist is thrown into a quest to discover what really happened to the author of the book he found, and to discover why all copies of this text are being destroyed.

BUT OKAY LET’S NOT MAKE THIS A BORING REVIEW NOBODY READS. Here’s all you need to know about “In the Shadow of the Wind:”

It’s Gritty, and that’s a good thing.

This is a dark book. Characters are beat up. They die in terrible ways. After exploring abandoned mansions, they end up in even creepier environments. You can’t help but fall into this world Zafon creates.

The Main Character Is Unbelievable

Even WITH the reader thinking “well, this is a gothic novel, so I’m pretty sure it will be over the top and not altogether believable,” the author still had to assume we’d be paying attention to what the characters do and why they do it. I never really did figure out why he was doing anything, other than “it’s something to do, I suppose.” Even when his life was being threatened over this book, he was like “screw it. I’m going to solve this mystery! For the books!” Or something.

Story Arcs Begin, Stall, and Never Reappear Again

In this style of story, the reader should be looking out for all sorts of story arcs and be trying to figure out how they all fit together. This only happened about 50% of the time in “The Shadow of the Wind.” The first hundred pages or so of the book involve a 10-year-old character going after a much older girl, and is represented in all sorts of pre-teenage sexual angst. Then all of a sudden his heart is broken, he moves on, and we never really hear from her again. What the hell? Other characters just kind of appear, pledge their help, and then leave again. I can’t tell if this is a setup for a followup book, or just a case where the author got bored with these storylines.

Underwhelming Ending

It just kind of ends, but we probably already predicted what will happen with 20% left in the book. The only reason the reader keeps going is in hopes of clearing up why these story arcs are never mentioned again. Spoiler: they aren’t mentioned again. Reader is left unsatisfied and ultimately ends up eating a box of twinkies to fill this hole in their soul.

Read It Anyway

I’m not saying it’s a bad book or anything. When Zafon actually does address a story arc, it’s done in an over-the-top fashion and imagery that we’d come to expect from a post-WWII gothic novel. It’s gritty. It’s fun. Despite the generally angsty main character, the other figures who show up in the book are entertaining and much more fun to read about. If anything, the book is a collection of loosely assembled novellas that happen to make a larger plot. Reading each loosely defined section is great, but just don’t expect literary bliss after the author stitches these all together.

 

Reading Recap: Dinosaurs, Valve Software, and General Oddishness

Oddishness?

Google claims there are only 15,800 instances of the word “Oddishness” on the internet. I’ll leave it up for debate if this is a) an expected number, or b) grossly exaggerated. As previously noted, I’ve started spooling up my reading quota from the earlier production of roughly one book completed per month. I’ll start jabbering about them soon enough. For the first post, I’ll briefly go over the books I completed in the waning months of the recently departed year of 2011. After that, each book should get its own post. Unless I get lazy and start summing them up.

The Books

Dinosaur Comics: Dudes Already Know About Chickens

Ryan North

Dinosaur Comics aren’t the kind of thing that one can read for hours on end: after about ten consecutive strips, your brain will simply be too caught up in the sheer awesomeness of the previous comics it just read and completely shut down to any further thinking until it can clear the thought queue.

In all seriousness, when I need an intellectual stimulant with a heavy dose of humor, Dinosaur Comics is usually the answer. Read it; enjoy it. And my version has a hand-drawn T-Rex wearing a Starfleet Uniform (TNG-era, of course) from Ryan himself. It’s that awesome.

The World Without Us

Alan Weisman

Weisman is a journalist, and it shows. This book showed a lot of promise, but it often fell short of truly being great: it’s better described as a collection of short stories which focus on a different aspect of humanity’s influence on the environment. Just when each story starts to become interesting, he suddenly cuts it off and shifts to something completely different. It wasn’t a bad read and is an interesting thought experiment, but just don’t expect anything mind-blowing here.

The Sacrifice and Other Steam-Powered Stories

Valve Software

Valve is one of the few game companies that still cares about creating back story, exploratory texts, and creating a universe besides that presented during the course of the game. This book is the printed form of the work by their very talented graphic novel team.  Tracing the story of the four main “characters” from Left 4 Dead, The Sacrifice is a great zombie comic. Following it up is a series of short comics based off the Team Fortress 2 classes. I have nothing but unbridled rage for TF2, but these comics were entertaining, original, and ultimately kept me amused for far longer than the Hat Store Simulator TF2. Wrapping it up is Lab Rat, which was everything Portal 2 should have been, but wasn’t.

Literary Journals

I also pick up literary journals, collections, and magazines. Occasionally I’ll talk about exceptional stories or poems. Most aren’t available online, and I’m more than willing to let you borrow my copy to read! Please! I promise they’re awesome stories!

The Seattle Review

Read this simply for the wonderful story Elegy on Kinderklavier by Arna Bontemps Hemenway. Seriously. It’s unflinchingly human. Do it. Do it now.

McSweeney’s 38

The JPEG by Rachel B. Glaser is the standout here. It’s not very long, but explores friendships, cellphone contacts, and what it means to be a social being in a technological society.

 

Gettin’ My Books On

Movies are Totally Last Year

Since graduation from college a couple of years ago, I’ve focused on getting up to speed with the popular culture centered around these things known as “moving pictures.” I watched a bunch, wrote about them, and generally had fun feasting my eyeballs upon all that the motion picture industry had to offer.

Then I totally got bored with movies, and haven’t seen a new one in months. It’s been that bad. But don’t worry: I’ve filled that void with Star Trek. Lots of Star Trek. Specifically, Deep Space 9. But I’ve also started shifting my time resources elsewhere: towards my reading and finally making real progress on my reading list rather than just treading water while bookstore sales continued to stymie any real progress.

Reviews Inbound

This means, my dear readers, that I shall be offering my opinion on whatever text happens to fly past my eyeballs. You have been forewarned. However, there’s a significant difference between my book reviews and movie reviews:

Books won’t be rated on a scale

I find it difficult to give a book a numerical rating, as it’s also difficult for me to find a book that I absolutely detest. Rather than using an arbitrary scale that I’d just abuse, there won’t be any scale.

 

September Film Comeback

Between getting ready for Scandinavia, the actual trip, and the fact that I lack a TV, movie going was slow.

* = Terrible

** = Had some redeem­ing qual­i­ties, but prob­a­bly would not watch again.

*** = Rec­om­mended movie with some flaws.

**** = Perfection

American Psycho **

It was a fun movie to watch, but it didn’t seem really complete to me. Bale’s performance seemed to mirror a bad Jim Carrey movie, and that ruined a lot of it for me down the line as he was just too unbelievable. Feel free to mock me for this opinion.

Sin City ***

This movie was a perfect replica of the Sin City comics. Almost too perfect, I think. What works well on the comic doesn’t translate to film, and I feel like they could have done a lot better by straying from the comics just a bit in order to make it more film friendly. That being said, the atmosphere, casting, and cinematography were all amazing.

Adam **

A quirky movie that’s good enough when you’re at 35,000 feet. A lot of plot points were never really explored despite the fact that they kept reappearing throughout the film, and the ending seemed a little too rushed: it was almost like in editing they suddenly decided “WHELP TIME TO END THE MOVIE NOW” and just cut everything else out between their current progress and the end credits.

Blade Runner ****

I’ve seen this before, but since I watched it in Blu-Ray goodness last month, I figured I’d review it. This is one of my favorite movies. The techno-noir mood is perfect, and this is an action movie that doesn’t feel like an action movie. There are few better things than curling up to a dark room with Blade Runner playing on the screen.