Allow me to introduce you to Ramiro Vazquez. Reader, this is Ramiro. Ramiro, reader. Ramiro is a member of a small nameless organization hidden deep underneath the machinery of government, yet profoundly involved in the affairs of state. A “deep state”, if you will. Our secret brotherhood pulls the strings that run the world. Yes, it’s a brotherhood. We don’t allow girls into the club. This is the 1600s. Think of it as a pre-Kassandra Ubisoft game.
You can tell a diver whose mask doesn’t fit by the ring pressed into his face after a dive. The angry red crease along the shallow skin of the forehead, then down around the outer edges of his eyes, into a furrow through the soft flesh of the cheek, and finally cupping the nose to bisect the philtrum. If it’s a guy, and he shaved that morning, and you’re all on a salt water dive, he’s really feeling it. He’s feeling the burn on his upper lip even when the mask is off, and especially when it’s back on. That maddening chafe, and more maddening still that the water kept getting in, up his nose, into his eyes, no matter how tightly he pulled the band at the back of his head.
The “bebop” in the title isn’t random. In addition to the jazzy opening — after two episodes I can tell the opening theme is going to be running roughshod through my head for years to come — the ship is named the Bebop. It’s a pretty nifty ship. It’s like a speedboat with twin shark-like tail fins. It seems to have a conning tower overlooking a deck equally suited for launching small craft or throwing yacht parties. I think there are air scoops or something on the sides? I presume I’ll be seeing more of it, since it’s in the name of the actual series. In this second episode, we find out it can land in water and float like an actual ship. But then we just watch a bunch of running around.
Founders Breakfast Stout won a drawing for my Patreon review requests. Since I wouldn’t have any idea how to write about beer or what to even write — it’s bubbly, it tastes like beer, there’s words and hopefully a picture on the bottle, three stars! — I cheated and enlisted the help of actual beer connoisseur and Qt3 Movie Podcast co-host Christien Murawski. Together we review the beer in video form while we drink it! It’s a Let’s Drink, complete with a rating at the end.
Machi Koro sure is cute. The quaint fields, orchards, bakeries, and cafes. The sushi bar and flower stand and pizza joint. Even when it gets serious with tax offices, furniture factories, and airports, it’s still cute. It refuses to be anything other than a lightweight opportunity for a few folks to roll dice and pass around cardboard coins. Someone eventually gathers enough cardboard coins to finish his city. Presumably fun was had.
What I appreciate most about Machi Koro is how every turn is everyone’s turn. In other games, the act of rolling dice is something you do for yourself. It’s my turn, it’s my roll, the number is my result. You’ll get your own result from your own roll on your own turn. The simple twist in Machi Koro is that although we take turns rolling, the result is for all of us. If you roll the right number, you’ll activate my buildings. This means there’s technically no down time, that it’s always everyone’s turn. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you do pacing right.
Hyperion is not what you would expect if the only Dan Simmons you’ve read is The Terror, a slab of historical fiction with an uneven supernatural glaze. It’s overlong, tedious, confused, and ultimately flat. You’d never guess it was written by the same person who wrote Hyperion, a sparkling collection of multi-faceted science fiction, with carefully built characters, a lovingly detailed world, and a glaring problem that threatens to undermine it all.
But we’ll get to that later. The first thing that’s clear in Hyperion, which I don’t remember being a takeaway from The Terror, is that Simmons is an adroit writer. Maybe it helps if you’ve been reading someone who isn’t.
My first thought upon flipping through a volume of Jean-Michel Basquiat works from a 2005 exhibit in Brooklyn was, “This is Basquiat?” He has such an exotic and dignified name. I assumed someone with that name would paint idylls and classical portraits. I expected he would be famous because his creations were moving works of beauty. Someone named Basquiat might even be a French master.
My second thought was, “This looks like garbage.” Angry childish scrawls. Gerald Scarfe when he was in boarding school. The cover of a Butthole Surfers album. An unabashedly amateurish webcomic. The scene when the protagonist flips through another character’s journal and discovers that character is totally insane. I don’t like this stuff. This is not the sort of thing I even understand.
You don’t read Deadhouse Gates to read Deadhouse Gates. You read it because you just read Gardens of the Moon and you’re about to read, uh…hold on, let me go look up the next book. Memories of Ice. You read it because you’re reading Steven Erikson’s bloated drawn-out Malazan series and this is the second book of, good lord, ten? There are ten of these?
If you play enough boardgames, you’ll pick up the shorthand to communicate the basics of any particular game. This one is worker placement with territory control, that one is a deck-builder with drafting, and the stuff in the back of the closet is a bunch of dudes-on-a-board Ameritrash nonsense. Of course, you need to mention the theme. Set collection in a medieval village, push-your-luck with elfs and dragons, screw-your-neighbor with spaceships, or points salad in ancient Rome.
You can’t do this with a Phil Eklund game. You just say “it’s a Phil Eklund game”. Continue reading →
Most of Fup feels like a comedic short story. Like more profane Charles Portis or less absurd George Saunders. Maybe the sort of thing John Kennedy O’Toole might have written if he’d been alive to keep writing. But Fup stands apart for where Jim Dodge goes with his humor. He’s writing to amuse, to be sure. But he’s also writing to bring you someplace philosophical, perhaps even spiritual, but without any of the weight of philosophy or spirituality. It’s ultimately a tangle of homespun wisdom that lapses into folklore. The punchline isn’t really a punchline. It just might be a parable.
The Charterstone box is a nearly perfect expression of the experience of playing. It’s mostly blank. An empty sky. There’s nothing there. It’s unpainted. A canvas. Or rather, it doesn’t even exist yet. Not a void that has swallowed stuff, but an immaculate space waiting for your contribution. Oh, look, there’s a little patch of artwork on one side. A tiny zeppelin hovers over some crates. There are two quaint and assuming buildings behind it. This is how your game of Charterstone will begin. Twelve games later… Well, I’ll get to that in a sec.
There have been some terrible years in the modern age. 1939 can’t have been much fun. 1973 must have been a real bummer. 2001 was a sobering experience. But 2017 stands alone. It might be the worst year the world has yet seen.
In real life, my experience with fishing began and pretty much ended when I was a kid young enough to be scared by a fish. Which is a perfectly healthy thing to be scared of. When you impale fish on a hook and drag them out of the water, where they frantically thrash and flop their slimy wet bodies and prickly fins, eyes and mouths agape, it’s a horror show. As a kid, I wasn’t sure whether the fish was dying or attacking, but whichever the case, I wanted no part of it. Fish belong in water. “Fish out of water” is an idiom for a reason.
(This review was written for one of my Patreon review requests. If you’d like to compel me to watch and write about movies like this, please check out my Patreon campaign.)
I have no business telling the guys who invented the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles what they did wrong, but I’m going to do it anyway. Hey, comic book guys from the 80s, when you invent a team of superheroes, the superheroes should be different from each other. For instance, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, the Avengers, the Incredibles, or the Justice League. A team of superheroes shouldn’t be four copies of the same thing. Even Charlie’s Angels always have at least one non-blonde. But the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are four of the same hero. That’s not how heroes work. That’s how bad guys work. Bad guys are all indistinct copies of each other. Heros should be the opposite as sure as white hats are the opposite of black hats. Heroes should represent individuality while bad guys represent conformist masses.
But these four turtles have to wear colored bandanas so you can tell them apart. There’s the orange one, the red one, the blue one, and the purple one. Even the color scheme is a big fail for leaving out a primary color in favor of two secondary colors. I eventually noticed that each turtle uses a different weapon. The red guy uses two sais, the blue guy uses katanas, the orange guy uses nunchucks, and the purple guy uses a staff. For me, watching the 1990 movie for the first time, a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle is just a color and a weapon.
(This review was written for one of my Patreon review requests. Since Prey has been out for a while, I wrote specifically for people who have finished the game. It contains spoilers. Lots of spoilers.)
When F. Scott Fitzgerald said there are no second acts in American lives, he wasn’t talking about second chances. A guy who writes Great Gatsby obviously believes in second chances. He was instead talking about the traditional structure of a three-act story. The first act sets up the conflict, the second act develops how the characters will deal with the conflict, and the third act is the climax in which everything is resolved. Fitzgerald was deriding Americans for skipping past the important second act in which the characters develop. Americans, he implied, go straight for the payoff.
Prey, a solid entry in the tradition of Bioshock, is the opposite of American lives. It is almost all second act. Continue reading →