Deadpool 2 Review – 6.7/10

It’s truly a great achievement that Deadpool 2 was made. Let us not forget that the first film only exists because of the combined efforts of a very dedicated starring actor, Ryan Reynolds, a passionate director, Tim Miller, and an almost animalistic public that went above and beyond the call to get the film made. By all rights such a film shouldn’t exist. It was the first modern comic book film to get an R rating, featured a fairly obscure character for the general public, and is placed within a universe that already had several films with tons of continuity problems. It was a monumental achievement not because it was a great film but because it came with so much risk. And yet it did extremely well and lived up to the expectations of comic book fans young and old. Because of this, we were lucky enough to get a sequel.

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Deadpool 2 is not as good of a film as its predecessor. The main reason for this comes from the arrogance that clearly affected the writing process. While the first film was unsure of itself and had to be at least somewhat cautious and subtle with its jokes and digs at various things, this film has no inhibitions. They didn’t show any restraint or caution with how they wrote this film and that actually hurts the dialog a lot. Too many of the jokes were current pop culture references and overly obvious. The best example being that Deadpool actually calls Cable (Josh Brolin) Thanos in one scene. This is lazy writing. It’s an obvious joke that required no effort. It’s not particularly funny and it’s not a timeless joke anyone will appreciate years down the road. Many of the jokes in this movie are like that. They didn’t feel the need to be subtle or try particularly hard. They just went for the easy laughs. And I will admit that I laughed quite a bit, but I don’t believe I would laugh at many of the jokes during a second viewing. I have watched the first film multiple times and I still laugh every time. In my opinion, this is the biggest problem with the film and it comes from the fact that they knew they could get away with pretty much anything this time around. That being said, the credit scenes were some of the funniest jokes in the whole movie, but were also very on the nose.

Deadpool 2 Xmen

The general narrative of the film isn’t as strong as the first movie either. The characters are more plentiful and better in multiple cases, but the story isn’t as cohesive or powerful. While the first film is a focused narrative about Wade Wilson and his transition into Deadpool, this movie lacks a well-defined character focus and arc. The first half of the movie is about Deadpool and his dealing with a tragedy. It’s a strong plot that follows the first film well. But about halfway through the movie it shifts into being a story about other characters that just happens to have Deadpool in it. Making a film not focused on Deadpool isn’t a problem if it had been sold that way and wasn’t called Deadpool 2. But that wasn’t what happened here.

Though it did unfocus the narrative, the addition of several new characters with a decent amount of screen time was not a bad thing. Some of them were extremely well done. Domino, as the best example, was an absolute joy to watch. I genuinely didn’t think that character would work on screen with her powers being done in a sensible, believable, and entertaining way, but they did an excellent job with her. So much so that I left the theater hoping for a Domino solo film. There were other good additions as well, plus a few great cameo appearances.

DEADPOOL 2

Visually speaking, I would actually say this was better than the first film. The violence is upped considerably from the very start. Even just the number of severed limbs is increased exponentially and they did not hide or censor the actions leading up to them at all. The CGI was also very good with great mutant battles, some very well-choreographed fight scenes, and multiple brutal Deadpool injuries. This is a gruesome movie and that’s exactly how it should be. I was also happy with the music. I think they handled it similarly to the first one where they did a mixture of serious seemingly out of place romance tracks with hilarious joke songs that were written specifically for the movie.

Cable

Ultimately I very much enjoyed Deadpool 2 but must state that the first one was a better overall movie, comic book or otherwise. This installment in the Wade Wilson franchise took too many liberties in a way that was lazy and lacking in authenticity. I think it works best when they write a serious film with over the top comedy elements rather than an over the top comedy with serious elements, which is what happened here. I will need to watch it again once it’s out of theaters, but I wouldn’t pay to see it a second time on the big screen. Definitely hope to see more Domino in future films though.

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Ode to a Backpack

More than 20 years ago, when I was just a boy, my parents bought me a backpack. I was going to attend a church camp in the summer and they required all students to bring a backpack. My mother didn’t want me to use my school back pack so she decided that I needed one specifically for activities. It was a simple all black Everest brand backpack. It had two pockets in the front, one smaller pouch behind those, two netted side pockets, and then the main pouch. Even by today’s standards, it was a pretty nice simple back pack. Today you can’t even find a four compartment backpack from them on their site or Amazon that still falls within the normal backpack category. What I did not know then was that this backpack would be my closest companion for two straight decades.

Old Faithful

If backpacks could talk, the story mine would tell would be more interesting than the lives of most people. It has been to multiple states including CA, IL, WI, PA, TX, MI, NC, AZ, CO, NV, FL, AL, and NY. It has been to and lived in multiple countries including the USA, France, Hong Kong, Thailand, and Taiwan. It’s transported thousands of dollars in products like laptops, gaming systems, mp3 players, and countless articles of clothing. It’s aided in crimes like transporting illegally obtained alcohol (past cops), smuggling alcohol into college dorms for underage drinking, and pirating digital content. It’s been used regularly in multiple jobs, been to countless theme parks and tourist attractions, and has traveled more than 100 miles by bike and on foot. It’s truly lived an amazing life for a backpack and I’m surprised it’s lasted this long.

zippers

Sadly, my backpack is ready to retire. I honestly thought this day would come sooner and I’ve been worried about it for several years. The inner lining is pretty much gone, the main zipper has bunches of threads caught in it, and it only has two of its six original zipper pulls. But it stuck it out for a very long time. And honestly it could last even longer if not for the weather here in Taiwan. After so much wear and tear, the main seam finally popped and the hole is slowly growing as more and more of it opens. I could try to patch it but the threads are already pulled so much that it would be cheaper and less time consuming to just buy another back pack. And with the amount of rain we get here having holes, even when patched, is no bueno. But this back pack has been so good to me for so long that I felt it needed a proper memorial in the form of this blog post.

Holes

I’ve had this back pack longer than most of my friends. My relationship with this backpack is four times longer than the one I have with the woman I will most likely end up marrying. It’s been with me through thick and then. I’ve been homeless with it. I’ve traveled around the world with it. It’s been with me through multiple relationships, jobs, and adventures. I can honestly say that if I had to choose between saving my backpack and a complete stranger I’d have to think about it.

Substitue

It’s been a great run, but all good things must come to an end. The hard part now is replacing such a backpack effectively. I own other backpacks I’ve acquired in one way or another over the years but none of them can replace this one. They’re either too big and bulky or too small and fragile. I need something at the same normal size with the same quality, which is much harder to find in today’s cheap mass produced production system. And it needs to have just as many pockets. I’ve been using a temporary backpack I already owned of similar size and style, but it doesn’t compare. The pockets are all in the wrong places, it’s of a cheaper overall quality, and it’s a pull string and buckle main pocket instead of a zipper, which I hate. And already the buckle is giving me problems after just three days of use because of low quality workmanship. I’ll have to explore the markets of Taipei and find a replacement backpack worthy of the mantle. I don’t know how long it will take, but I won’t rush the decision and I’ll spare no expense. Well maybe that’s not entirely true, but I am willing to spend a decent amount of money for a solid backpack to replace this one. I don’t want to have to replace it for at least another 20 years. To that end I say farewell backpack. Thank you for your service, loyalty, and strength. Good night sweet prince. I bid you adieu.

New Hotness

*After writing, but before publishing this piece I was able to find a new backpack that met all my conditions. All black, has the two front pockets, a smaller pouch, and main pouch, zippers with pulls, and two netted sides. It also has some amenities old faithful didn’t like a laptop pocket inside the main pouch. I’ll probably use for my Switch though. Plus I was able to find it for a very fair $13.41 including taxes. Hopefully this is the last post like this I make for another 20 years.

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Avengers: Infinity War Spoiler Free Review – Unscoreable/10

Writing a review for Avengers: Infinity War is probably the most difficult film review I’ve ever set out to do. First and foremost, what’s the point? The purpose of a review is to let people know if they should watch a move or not. But in this case that’s a pointless endeavor. If you’ve already taken the time to watch every MCU film going all the way back to Iron Man (2008), then there’s absolutely no way you aren’t already going to see this movie. Writing a review for this is essentially preaching to the choir. Conversely, if you haven’t taken the time to watch literally every single Marvel film going all the way back to the first Iron Man, with the possible exception of Ant-Man, then I would actually recommend you not seeing this film. And even though he doesn’t appear in Avengers: Infinity War, even Ant-Man is mentioned. So pretty much I have to write a review for an audience that is already going to see the movie no matter what I write while still saying something useful to that audience so as not to completely waste their/your time. That’s the first challenge of writing this review.

The second, and even more difficult, challenge of writing this review is saying anything worth saying without spoiling the movie. Avengers: Infinity War is perfectly crafted to reward you for watching every single MCU film to date. There’s a payoff for literally every movie in one way or another. I need to watch it again at home so I can pause and rewind things just to make sure I caught every reference. Pro-tip: You won’t catch them all on a first viewing. It’s genuinely not possible. There are payoffs all over the place. My favorite one goes all the way back to Captain America: The First Avenger (2011). So it’s very difficult to not ruin the movie in one way or another while actually talking about it. The cameos, call backs, payoffs, and general plot are all intentional down to the smallest detail. I can’t even use screenshots outside of what was shown in the trailer, which lies about certain events in the film by the way, for fear of spoiling the movie, and I won’t. So here’s my attempt to review this movie adequately, usefully, and spoiler free. If I failed at any of these stated goals then I apologize in advance, but I did the absolute best I could.

MCU Map

The first thing that needs to be said about Avengers: Infinity War is that it goes hard. I don’t just mean at the end you get a very dramatic conclusion, which you do. I mean from the start of the film this movie goes where Marvel films have never really gone before. They said in the marketing and press releases up to the film’s release that key characters would end up dying. That starts in literally the first scene. You’ve barely opened your Junior Mints and started eating your popcorn and already characters you’ve grown fond of since phase one are dying. Not just B characters either. A class characters start getting their asses handed to them in the opening minutes of the film. And not in some powerful, ultra-dramatic Erik Killmonger death sequence full of catharsis and grandeur. Like run of the mill stabbed through the chest and moving on deaths happen to main characters in this movie. The number of main characters that ultimately die in this is almost unconscionable. When the movie ended, my girlfriend was genuinely angry about it because she felt her heart had been ripped out and stomped on by Marvel.

ThanosAs was stated by multiple sources before the movie released, Thanos is the main character in this. It is his story and it is done well, but I wanted more. This is one of if not the best villain in the MCU because he is the most pragmatic. He isn’t motivated by greed, vengeance, arrogance, prejudice, or any of the other motivations we’ve seen from the likes of villains like Loki, Red Skull, Whiplash, Ronin, and even Killmonger. He is a truly dispassionate villain who doesn’t see himself as doing anything wrong. Quite the opposite actually. From start to finish, Thanos is acting with what he believes is the best interests of the universe and has true conviction. It’s beautiful to see some of the emotional moments he goes through because of how his actions affect others but must be carried out. And they took the time to develop his motivations, which was very important. I just wish they would have taken more time to develop him as a person. We are told all about what he’s doing and why. We even get what experiences led to his decision. But the movie doesn’t take time to tell you about Thanos the citizen of Titan or the fact that he’s actually a mutant of sorts for his race. We don’t learn about his biological family or his upbringing. Most disappointing of all, the plot in no way references his love for Death, the physical embodiment of the concept of dying. This made me the most unhappy because Death is mentioned in the after credits scene in Avengers I so I expected it to finally get that payoff here. But I will say that Thanos’ motivations in this movie are actually stronger narratively than how the courting Death plot would have played out in a limited time live action film. So while I wasn’t happy about it, kudos to Marvel for making the right decision here.

 

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This is one of the biggest ensemble casts I’ve ever seen. They bring back just about everyone. The only heroes missing, other than of course Quicksilver, are Ant-Man and Hawkeye. That’s a ton of characters to address in one movie. And remember, this is a standalone movie. There’s no Avengers: Infinity War Part II. You get a full plot here. There are questions left unanswered of course, but you won’t leave the theater wondering what happens with the Infinity Stones and Thanos’ plot. But somehow in a less than three hour movie they adequately addressed pretty much every important hero in the MCU. Some are more important than others, but they all get a fair amount of time. The pacing is a bit off because the characters aren’t all together at the same time at any point in the movie so there’s a lot of jumping around. But everyone gets their screen time. Even a lot of B characters make appearances. I do wish they would have explained why Black Widow is blonde now, but it’s not a plot relevant issue so meh.

Visually, the movie is of course stunning. You get new Iron Man tech, plenty of time spent in outer space and on other worlds, graphic battles, new facial hair for multiple characters, of course Infinity Stone powers. Marvel never disappoints in this area and they didn’t here so there’s really no need to draw that topic out. Same goes for sound effects.

Blonde Black WidowMusic on the other hand, I wasn’t impressed by. It’s not that the music was bad, but that it wasn’t new. The only songs listed in the credits were already used theme songs for past MCU films and a single Star-Lord classic track to introduce the Guardians of the Galaxy, because of course there was. You didn’t get some epic Thanos theme or some new Avengers fight song. They pretty much just rehashed pieces of the MCU soundtrack, which isn’t that impressive to begin with, to play on your nostalgia. Which works fine for a movie that’s built on interconnected references and plotlines. But it’s not impressive as far as scoring films goes.

Overall, I have to say that this is in many ways the most fulfilling MCU film ever made. It has something for everyone; features all your favorite characters, has real consequences, completely changes the perceived future of the MCU, teases at least one new hero, is emotionally devastating, and stands alone plot wise. It’s the most impressive culmination of an interconnected film universe ever done. You leave the movie feeling like the last 10 years of devotion was worth it. This movie earned you taking the time to watch 18 (17 if you don’t count Ant-Man) other related films. At the same time though, it’s a terrible standalone movie. What I mean by that is this was made exclusively for MCU fans. You can’t be new to the franchise and go watch this movie expecting to understand anything important that takes place. You can get the gist of what happens. But you won’t be able to follow why specific characters do what they do. Why certain characters dying and others not is important. Who these characters are and why they interact with each other in the ways that they do. The movie is lost on new viewers. Which is why again I will say make sure you take the time to watch every MCU film before seeing this movie. And if you don’t remember watching them all, take a refresher.

 

avengers-infinity-war-coverThere’s really no way to prepare you for what goes down in this movie without spoiling it. I’ve done my best here, but I can’t even say for sure that I’ve done a good enough job. Just strap in and have no expectations because you won’t know what hit you. This is like no other MCU film in any way, shape, or form. It makes Avengers I and II look like Justice League. Just go see it, which you were going to do anyway. All I can really say, for the third time because it’s that important, is if you haven’t taken the time to watch any of the films in the MCU, definitely take the time before going to see Avengers: Infinity War and watch all the after credits scenes.

 

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Gaming Photography – The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

It’s been a while since I did a Gaming Photography post, but I finally “finished” Breath of the Wild so I thought this was more than worthy of such a post. I’m actually going to do a longer “review” of this game but for now I just wanted to take the time to appreciate the stunning visuals of this game.

I took more than 1,600 pictures in this game because there are just so many great moments in it. Though I could never hope to capture this game with enough screenshots in a post like this, I’d like to present my top 30 photos from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I also post game photos on my Twitter and Instagram often.

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*If you’d like to see the full resolution image please right click and press “view image”.

Please let me know what you think of my shots. Any feedback is appreciated because I would like to improve my gaming photography skills.

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Of Meats and Men: Environmentalism in Breath of the Wild

This is gonna be one of those blog posts that are way too serious about an issue that’s at most not that important and at worst absolutely stupid. But it seemed kind of interesting and a bit funny to write about so here we are.

I’ve been playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for the past several weeks. I’m currently at more than 115 hours of play. Around hour 90 I realized that I had made a drastic change in a certain aspect of how I was playing the game; specifically how I was interacting with the natural environment of the game world.

The Legend of Zelda - Breath of the Wild Screenshot 2018-04-17 20-16-32

Depending on the game and how it works, I try to apply my own real world ethical views to how I play most games. This affects how I answer in conversations and make decisions in games like Mass Effect. It informs how I progress through TellTale Games titles. It even affects how I deal with the game’s environment where applicable. Obviously there are exceptions, but in general this is how I approach games. In real life, I’m an environmentalist. No I’m not a vegan or some other such annoying person on a moral high horse. But I do believe that the environment and its preservation are crucial to the continued survival of humanity. This too affects the way I play video games and I don’t think my views on this issue have ever affected me as much as they have while playing Breath of the Wild.

The Legend of Zelda - Breath of the Wild Screenshot 2018-04-17 20-15-19

Breath of the Wild is an amazing game because of how much freedom it gives you to interact with the world. If you want to ride a horse, you can literally run out to a field and jump on a horse’s back. It takes patience and effort but you can do it. And doing it is a great feeling. Then, if you choose to, you can keep that horse. You can befriend it. You can stable it. You can release it. The game encourages you to build relationships with your horses and only allows you to own a limited number of them at any given time. It asks you to name them and build relationships with them. Then if you get a horse you like better, usually   one with better strength and speed, you have to decide which horse to release to make room for it. It’s an overall beautiful and personal experience. But horses are just a small part of how you can interact with the environment in this game.

One of the biggest ways you interact with the environment in Breath of the Wild is by farming natural resources. There are many types of resources such as insects, minerals, meat and other wild life products, and plants. For me, the most personally impactful resources in the game are meat from animals and wood from trees. Unlike the other Zelda games, this is an RPG. That means you need lots of resources to accomplish various things such as leveling up your armor, completing quests, and often most importantly, making money. Money is very scarce in Breath of the Wild. It’s not like in the other games in the series where you can just cut grass and get rich in a matter of minutes. As I said, I’m more than 115 hours in and I still don’t have that many rupees. The game asks you to spend quite a lot and offers you very little money for free. Instead you have to actively earn the money you need to accomplish things like buying armors, refilling your supply of arrows, and purchasing a house. Yes that is a thing you can do in this game. In my opinion, the quickest way to make money is by selling meat skewers. These are obtained by collecting meat from animals, cooking them, and then selling them to any vendor. Another way you constantly interact with the environment is by collecting wood, which is used for starting fires, crafting certain items, and is even required to complete certain quests.

The Legend of Zelda - Breath of the Wild Screenshot 2018-04-17 20-14-10

When I first started playing Breath of the Wild, I was extremely conservative with how many trees I felled and how many animals I killed. I was pretty much only taking what I needed at the moment. I often accidentally knocked over trees and I felt bad about it every time. I always felt like I was hurting the environment and I felt actual guilt about this as I played the game, even though trees grow back rather quickly. When it came to animals, I killed them when I could to harvest meat, but it was never for selling. I saved all the meat I collected and used it to make healing items. The interesting part is that on Twitter I discovered that I wasn’t the only one who felt like this while playing the game. But eventually my environmentalism became too big a hindrance to my gameplay. With trees, this started when I was doing the “From the Ground Up” side quest line. This required you to give an NPC tons of wood. More wood than I had even collected up to that point. Suddenly I found myself indiscriminately destroying trees one after the other in the pursuit of large quantities of wood. I distinctly remember a moment where I had wiped out all the trees in a specific area and I felt genuinely bad about it. Caring about respecting the environment within the game had forced me to have to spend like an hour harvesting wood. And by the end of this ordeal I was done with respecting the trees. If I was going to be asked to provide NPCs with such large quantities of wood then I wasn’t going to stop farming it until I needed it again. Suddenly I was downing trees all the time while working on other stuff just to grow my wood stores in case I needed a bunch of it again.

The Legend of Zelda - Breath of the Wild Screenshot 2018-04-17 20-12-51

Killing animals had a similar trajectory for me. At first I wasn’t killing them too often and I was using all the meat for myself. Then Reddit told me that selling meat skewers was the most effective way to make money. After many hours of not being able to afford the items I wanted and having to struggle just to buy additional arrows, this information was a godsend. I could hunt animals for pretty much free with my bombs and melee weapons and could never kill enough of them because I needed so much money. And really there is now end to the amount of money you can have because there’s no wallet limit, at least none that I’ve managed to reach yet, and you will never not have things that would be useful to buy. Especially when it comes to ancient weapons, which have a finite lifespan. I was killing animals a lot more and specifically for profit. I was even targeting specific animals because of higher quality meat yields which sell for more money. I had become the equivalent of a fur trapper in the colonial United States, mindlessly killing whatever animals I could find for profits. But this wasn’t even enough to satisfy my greed. Then I unlocked the Master Cycle and eventually made my way to Tabantha Tundra. This is straight up the North American wilderness at the beginning of The Revenant (2015). Except I have a motorcycle and the ability to wield a spear while riding it. I blaze across that frozen plain killing every animal I can find (wolves, moose, and rhinos) for a hefty return of meat. I can quickly farm several thousand rupees this way in under an hour. If I could somehow collect the meat without having to leave my motorcycle it would be a perfect system.

Zelda Prey

After farming large quantities of meat in the tundra several times I realized that the amount of animals I had killed had grown exponentially. Meanwhile, the amount of meat I was actually eating had shrunk to almost nothing because of the advanced healing power I had attained coupled with much improved armor. No longer did I even need the meat for sustenance. I was just killing animals for profit. It got to the point where I had so much meat that I started using base quality raw meat for motorcycle fuel because it wasn’t valuable enough to take the time to cook and sell like the higher quality meats. I had/have become one of those greedy venture capitalists of the colonial era, destroying and taking everything nature has to offer for my own personal gain.

What really got to me wasn’t so much what I ended up doing to the environment of the game as much as the transition to that point or more accurately the lack thereof. There was no moment where I actively decided that I was no longer going to care about my in game environmentalism. I just became irritated with being poor gradually and slowly found more efficient ways to deal with my resource problems. I hopped on that motorcycle and started hunting from it without a second thought. It was just faster and after so many hours of play I really wanted to speed things up. It wasn’t till far into this behavior that I had even realized it had happened.

The Legend of Zelda - Breath of the Wild Screenshot 2018-04-07 00-39-32

Now I don’t have some profound point I’m trying to make here. I’m not going to change the way I play the game this close to the end because I’m actively trying to complete all my goals as quickly as possible so I can be done with the game and be ready for God of War. But I do wonder what the game would look like in the end if things didn’t instantly grow back when you teleport to a different area. It would be very interesting and probably depressing for me to see what the world would look like after I ravaged it for personal gain.

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Finally Caught ‘Em All

I started playing Pokémon GO on July 7th, 2016. That was the very first day that the app was available for download here in Taiwan. I started with the declared goal of catching ‘em all. Let me clarify that for me that only includes the original 151 Pokémon from the base set in the Kanto region. For me, that’s Pokémon. I started with Red and Blue (and Yellow), played through Gold and Silver, and then stopped playing. I’ve never really had an interest in the Pokémon past the original set, with a few special exceptions. So for me Pokémon GO was always about catching Bulbasaur to Mew. I finally accomplished this feat last week after 1 year and 9 months of continuous play. By continuous play I mean playing every day without fail, often for hours at a time. I’ve walked 2,411.3 km, caught 21,123 Pokémon, and spun 24,745 PokéStops. Finally I’m done. And let’s be very honest. There are players who have walked, caught, and spun way more than me and still don’t have all 151. That’s not a good thing.

Badges

I am a serious gamer. By serious I don’t mean I spend a ton of hours gaming, even though I do. I don’t mean I own and buy a lot of games, even though I do. And I certainly don’t mean that I play PVP at competitive level, which anyone who reads this blog or follows me on Twitter knows I absolutely don’t, because I hate PVP. What I mean when I refer to myself as a serious gamer is that I take my gaming seriously. As in I think about and play with a consciously serious mindset. I’m not the type of person to say things like “as long as it’s fun that makes it a good game”. I’m not the kind of person who buys a game, plays it for 30 minutes, gets bored, and then moves on to another game. I play games with intent and I think about them critically at pretty much all times. I set target goals for the games I play to specifically define when I’ll consider myself finished with them and what I need to accomplish before I stop playing them. This is true regardless of genre, platform, or hours spent. Some games I play with an achievement based goal like how I platinum every single Ratchet & Clank game that gets released. Sometimes I play just to get to the end of the single player story campaign like with most of the Final Fantasy games. Even with multiplayer PVP games I tend to set a target goal like achieve prestige level 1 in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. And as I’ve already stated, with Pokémon GO my goal was to catch all 151 base set Pokémon.

At the end of most games I complete, regardless of what my goal is/was, I’m usually happy to finally be done with them. With such a long backlog, I really like to clear games as quickly as possible. And some games are so long that by the time I get to the end of them I’m just completely burned out. But every so often when I reach the end of a game I want to play more but there’s nothing left for me to do. With most games I play, this occurs only when the game is very good, such as with Super Mario Odyssey. But for the first time in my life, it’s the opposite situation. I have finished a game, Pokémon GO, and would like to play it more but won’t because it’s not a good game.

151 Horizontal

Pokémon GO is not a good game. I have played hundreds, maybe even a couple thousand, hours. I’ve played in four different countries. Though I’ve never spent money in the game itself, I’ve spent more than my fair share to play it with travel fees, phone data fees abroad, and of course time spent. With all this experience under my belt, and of course the many years of gaming and reviewing games I have and had long before ever playing Pokémon GO, I can say without hesitation that it’s not a good game. If not for my serious commitment to gaming with a purpose and completing my declared goals, I would have stopped playing months ago. I have grown to love catching Pokémon just like I did as a kid and genuinely would like to keep playing the game because there are still more Pokémon for me to catch and new ones being added in the future, even if I don’t have any sort of personal connection to the later gens. But there are just too many problems for me to keep wasting my time with this game considering how many other games there are to play.

Mew

The saddest thing of all about Pokémon GO is that it doesn’t have to be a bad game. Niantic willfully makes it so. At its core level, it’s actually a pretty solid game. Certainly one of the best mobile games I’ve ever played. But the higher level mechanics are just wrong on so many levels. Almost all of which come down to a combination of greed and gameplay padding in order to arbitrarily increase play time. With just a few simple fixes this game could be something good that wouldn’t be constantly hemorrhaging players as it has since at least gen two. It could very easily be fun and playable for more than just us committed hard core players, and again the fixes necessary aren’t rocket science. The most important being adding PvE coins and rare candies, wild Legendary spawns, rotating spawns in any given area, removing all regionally specific Pokémon (as in distributing all Pokémon to all regions), making incubators acquirable at all levels by spinning PokéStops in unlimited quantities, prioritizing hatches to Pokémon players actually need, and adding trading, which in all honesty would become unnecessary if all the other changes mentioned were implemented.

Pokemon-GO-Money

What it really comes down to is that Pokémon GO plays like a game that only considers paid players. Like with most things by EA today . . . cough Star Wars Battlefront II cough . . ., it demands you to spend money not just to make the game better but to even make it manageable. I’ve been playing since day 1, yet I only have 500 spots in my PokéBank. I believe the current maximum is 1500 spots. Really these spots should be free, but instead they cost coins. Coins can only be acquired through sitting on gyms. Depending on where you are, this can be extremely easy or extremely difficult. For me, a person living in literally one of the most competitive GO cities in the world, Taipei, with no gyms that can be reached without leaving my block, it’s very difficult to get on and more importantly stay on a gym. And when I can there’s of course the 50 coin limit so I can’t even get my maximum potential coins in those extremely rare moments where I can actually keep a gym for several hours. For my friend, who literally lives on top of a gym, he has never gone a day since the latest gym update where he didn’t get his 50 coins. He of course has the maximum number of PokéBank spots available, even though he too is a free player. Of my 631 eggs hatched, I would say maybe 20% of them were Pokémon I could actually use. That’s Pokémon I needed to add to my Pokédex. This low number is due at least in part to the fact that I have such a limited number of incubators as a free player and the fact that I tend to get 5k eggs, which are the absolute least useful eggs in the game. Of the four Pokémon, not counting regionals, that I still need to hatch in order to finish the current available Pokédex, only one is available from a 5k egg and I have never hatched a single one. And to be honest, I’ve only seen one in the wild, which I caught. For the record, that Pokémon is Lileep. For the most part, these are all super easy fixes that would drastically improve the gameplay experience for pretty much all players, other than those who are willing to spend tons of money and can travel the world to catch a single Pokémon. But sadly those are the only players that Niantic considers when developing the game.

*After writing this but before I published it, I did see a second Lileep in the wild, which I caught, so I have actually now seen 2 Lileeps in the game.

GO Gen 3
Still missing Cradily, Flygon, Salamence, and Metagross.

Free players and casual players matter in Pokémon GO, as well as every other game with multiplayer elements. The fact is that GO makes a ton of money, but the percentage of paid players is relatively low. Yet if all the free players stopped playing the game would literally cease to work. You couldn’t have working gyms without players to fill them. You couldn’t complete raids without players to help. The game cannot work without your free player base because that makes up the majority of players that give all the paid players a reason to spend money in order to be competitive. So really it’s in the best interests of Niantic to do everything they can to keep free players happy enough to keep playing the game. The truth is that GO only still exists because of the popularity of Pokémon. If this was just a random game about catching monsters no one knew about it would have already collapsed due to the terrible management of the app. These flaws are why I cannot happily play this game anymore even though I would very much like to.

jurassic-world-live

Let me be very clear about something. I don’t expect Niantic to fix their game. In fact I’m confident they won’t. But what I do hope for is that this post and others like it by gamers as serious as I am are seen by other developers looking to make similar games and hopefully they will take my feedback to heart when designing their own games. It’s not just about hour 1. It’s about hour 100. Mobile games like this only work with long term, dedicated players and many of them. As I said before, GO, in its current form, wouldn’t still be a thing if it didn’t have the advantage of Pokémon. We will soon be getting Jurassic World Live and I will be playing it. I haven’t decided what my goal for it is yet because I don’t know enough about it, but I do hope that the developers do a better job than Niantic at making a game that’s actually fun after the honeymoon period ends for all players, whether paid or free.

For the record, I have causally continued playing Pokémon GO at a drastically lower level of play since catching all 151 while I wait for Jurassic World Live to drop. Can’t say for how much longer that will be the case.

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Ready Player One Review – 7.3/10

Let me start off this review by clarifying that I never read the book Ready Player One and I have no contextual understanding of how the movie compares to the book. So I’m going to write this review as if the book doesn’t exist or is not relevant to the discussion.

I went into Ready Player One very reluctantly. As I said, I haven’t read the book so I didn’t know what to expect. There was also a ton of hype, which for me is usually a turn off for IPs that I’m not already familiar with. I then read a review of the film from either Kotaku or IGN. I can’t remember but whichever site it was painted the film in a bad light. Or at least that’s how I read it. So I wasn’t very interested or that excited but I agreed to go see it at the behest of a friend. Before we get into the meat and potatoes, let me state very clearly that it was an enjoyable film that I’m glad I watched, but that’s only because of who I am or more specifically the things I’m interested in.

lead_960_540If I was to describe Ready Player One in a soft pitch, I would say it’s the 80’s pastiche of films like Back to the Future and the cultural outlook that spawned them, the modern cynicism of the current gaming community induced by greedy corporate interests in the gaming industry, and our hopes and dreams for futuristic technology a la Tron, or more appropriately Tron: Legacy, all mixed together into one dystopian landscape. Yes that’s a lot to unpack, so let’s get to it.

Ready Player One is a simple film. Plot wise it’s just any other good vs evil kid’s story with a dash of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The basic idea is that there’s a kid who comes from humble/poor beginnings and he wants to not be poor anymore. And by kid I mean young person who doesn’t have a real job or any actual responsibilities. The age of the main character, Wade Watts (Parzival) is actually 18, or soon to be, and since he doesn’t seem to be in school, legally speaking that makes him an adult. There’s a contest that can only have one winner, who will be made rich and put in charge of everything the kid cares about. There’s an evil entity (corporation in this case) trying to win the contest and take the prize for themselves. The kid teams up with other kids and they stop the evil corporation and win the contest. It’s Stranger Things. It’s It. It’s Star Wars. You’ve seen it all before. The plot isn’t really why you’re here. Yes this is a Spielberg film, but no it’s not a SPIELBERG film. Outside of effects and costume design, this movie will not be winning any Oscars. And that’s fine. But to be clear, this is no high minded plot about the future of technology. It’s just a kid’s fantasy story set to the backdrop of VR gaming in a world that actually looks like it’s on the horizon with the way things are going politically in the United States currently.

 

READY PLAYER ONE

The film was clearly written by a team of nerds who play video games today, but also played them yesterday. This is apparent because the film makes tons of references to games and pop culture going all the way back to the Atari 2600 and all the way to today with references like Overwatch. What I liked a lot about the movie was that it discusses and criticizes the direction the gaming industry has taken/is taking today. There are covert digs at companies like EA, Activision, and Microsoft for their predatory pricing and distribution practices. The movie mentions and complains about practices like in game ads, microtransactions, predatory pricing practices that turn people into gaming addicts and plunge them into debt, pay to play subscription schemes with cost based player rankings, paywalls, and other such modern industry bullshit. In many ways the movie is about an old schooler who created a video game that he thought was perfect, complaining about all the modern practices that turned his video game and gaming culture as a whole into the trashy money pit that it is today. This is very apparent in the fact that the villains aren’t actually evil in the traditional sense. They’re just a corporation trying to maximize profits at the expense of the public’s wellbeing and enjoyment. And while yes they are doing things that are extremely unethical, in most cases, just about everything they do is entirely legal by the standards of the world of the universe they’re located in. And sadly legal by our real life standards as well, for the most part. It’s not until way late into the movie when the stakes get super high that the “bad” CEO finally approves something blatantly evil and illegal. But even that was very believable by today’s standards.

As previously stated, there are tons of references to gaming culture of all types, but there are also tons of references to 80’s culture. This for me was kind of problematic. Now as a person who was born in 89, I enjoyed and appreciated literally every reference. I can say confidently that I probably got at least 90% of all references in the movie. And not just the gaming ones. There’s all kinds of stuff mentioned or shown in this film. Batman, Mortal Kombat, The Shining, Back to the Future, King Kong, Gundam, Godzilla, and the list goes on and on and on. But here’s the weird part. The gaming references span basically all of gaming history from the Atari 2600 all the way to today. You see tons of gaming stuff and you will know at least some of it. They even mention Twitch. But all the pop culture references outside of gaming seem to only span from about 1979 – 1999, with the latest overt reference being The Iron Giant (1999).

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Understand that this is a world set in 2045 where there’s a fully functioning VR world where you can literally create anything you want and be anything you want. As you can imagine, most people would not be original. They would just be copying things they know from their favorite IPs. The movie actually goes out of its way to pretend that this wouldn’t be the case. There are lots of avatars that are pulled right out of other stuff like people walking around looking like Arkham Harley Quinn, Tracer, Master Chief, and even the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, admittedly the newer versions. But for the most part people are pretty original. The bulk of the Avatars you see aren’t from other stuff. We all know that’s not how things would actually be because most people lack originality. I assume part of this was licensing issues and part of it was just that it would be boring if everything was something you’d already seen even if that’s how it would actually end up being. But my point is the scope of history referenced outside of gaming is extremely limited. It’s 2018. The main character was born in 2027. The movie starts in 2045. Why doesn’t the film reference anything past 1999? It’s odd. It’s made even more odd by the fact that the kid was born in 2027 because he knows way too much about the 80’s while also being an active member of his current society at only 18 years old.

Now the movie tries to justify this by saying that in his research to win the contest he had to study the 80’s intimately because the creator of the contest loved 80’s stuff. But the creator of the contest lived into the 2020’s or later. So the idea that he didn’t like or care about anything after 1999 is odd. It’s as if pop culture history stopped existing outside of video games for 30 straight years. Since we’re in 2018 now, we know this not to be true. Where are the Marvel references? Where are the 30 years of film history references? Where are all the anime references past the original Mobile Suit Gundam (1979)? Where’s Harry Potter? It’s weird that these kids seem to only like 80’s stuff as if literally nothing past the year 2000 outside of video games was interesting to a group of kids born after the year 2020. Even most kids today don’t know what an Atari 2600 is. Yet this kid somehow had time to learn intimate knowledge of all 470 (including homebrews) Atari 2600 games while keeping up with his own contemporary pop culture, but literally nothing else? That seems unrealistic.

The Race

Now of course part of this comes from the fact that the book was written in 2011 by an author who was born in 1972. But we’re talking about a movie released in 2018. I would expect producers to have taken the time to fill in some history for the purposes of film making and reaching a larger audience. You know, to make money. For me, this closed bubble of history was fun because again, I was born in 89 and I like 80’s stuff. So I got and appreciated all the references. But a kid born in say 2002, who today would be about 16, won’t get most of it. Sadly they might not even recognize the car, which is the DeLorean. But that’s not their fault. They were born 12 years after the last time the DeLorean mattered (Back to the Future III) and 19 years after the original DeLorean went out of production. Of course they wouldn’t know what a DeLorean is. My point, which I’ve gone on for too long to make, is that the writing in this movie overall is just ok, that is to say at the caliber of 80’s mainstream film making. Things are done lazily when it comes to plot. There are inconsistencies in how history works. The main character falls in love way too fast, which I was glad the film took the time to address in the dialog. It’s just not a movie you should go see for plot. Unless of course you enjoy campy 80’s style plots. Then by all means.

Visually speaking, Ready Player One was phenomenal. That is the only word that can be used to describe The Oasis, the VR world that the bulk of the film takes place in. The idea is that the real world is so shitty that everyone, and I mean everyone, spends the bulk of their time in The Oasis. Again, very realistic based on the current trajectory of the United States. The whole of the movie takes place in a dystopian Columbus, Ohio. Even by today’s standards most people wouldn’t want to watch a move that takes place in Columbus, Ohio. People from Columbus, Ohio don’t even want to watch a movie that takes place in Columbus, Ohio. So it made all the sense in the world to set the movie there because then you wouldn’t think to yourself “Why don’t they spend more time showing me the real world?” Not once do you think that while watching this movie. In fact, the 20 or so real world minutes of this 2 hour and 19 minute film was probably too much time spent in real world Columbus, Ohio. But The Oasis was the most amazing thing ever, visually speaking.

RP1-ColumbusI almost went to see this movie in IMAX and I’m glad I didn’t because I think my head would have exploded. The race scene, which was probably my favorite scene in the whole movie, was insane. It was the way racing games will hopefully work one day. I would say the same thing for the FPS world scene. I hate online PVP games. I would absolutely play them if they looked and played like they do in this movie. When you watch this movie as a gamer, it almost brings tears to your eyes because you realize what we don’t have yet and that you might not live long enough to see it happen but know full well that one day it will. I was so overcome with disappointment when I got home from the theater and turned on my PS4. Because it just doesn’t compare. Our VR today is crap. I’ve said that so many times before I ever even heard about Ready Player One. And they actually do make an HTC VIVE reference in the movie, which I thought was cute. But once you watch the movie you start to really think about just how crappy current VR is . . . and make no mistake, it is crappy. It is a gorgeous movie. There’s tons of stuff happening on screen at the same time and it’s hard to keep track of it all, but it’s beautiful. And the war scene towards the end will break a gamer’s heart. Not because it looks cool, even though it does. But because as a gamer, you know that the community today is too greedy, toxic, and narcissistic to actually pull off something like what happens in that scene. The movie basically shows you the fantasy of every true gamer, but you know it would never happen that way in real life. I’m speaking vaguely here because I don’t want to spoil it.

The sound was also really good. I actually could see this movie winning an Oscar for sound editing. My girlfriend said the movie was too loud for her because of all the explosions and crazy stuff happening on screen at the same time. I thought it was awesome.

 

War

Overall I really enjoyed the movie. I didn’t think I would going in, but it was just a really fun time. My girlfriend said she didn’t get more than a third of the references but she really enjoyed it too. It’s not a movie to go watch for expert film making and award winning acting. It’s just a playful homage to gaming culture and history written for actual gamers who grew up playing proper games and are now having to deal with the fact that things have gotten rather disappointing and expensive in exchange for considerably better graphics, but actually not that great by comparison to future VR prospects. If you’re a gamer and you started before the XBOX, you’ll love the movie. If you’re not a gamer and you didn’t grow up in the 80’s or 90’s, you probably won’t like it or even totally understand why anything happening is important.

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As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.