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Can't Stop the Movies

Patreon Preview: 13 Reasons Why the Netflix series “Tape 1, Side A”

The second episode of Can't Stop the Podcast is up on Patreon!  Click on the image above or here to be taken straight to the episode.  I'll be reviewing the first part of the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, "Tape 1, Side A."  In this episode, I'll be talking about how the pedigree behind the show achieves a level of critique not possible in the book, the excellent performances bringing the material from the book to new heights, and why my favorite character's presentation is so important.

This is the last episode of Can't Stop the Podcast on 13 Reasons Why which will be available publicly.  I'll be releasing future episodes to the public when starting new topics but, for now, the only way to continue listening to episodes on 13 Reasons Why is to become a backer of the Can't Stop the Movies Patreon.

Thank you all for your support and time listening to these episodes, and look out for more to come!

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Underworld: Blood Wars (2017)

The age of vampires is nearing its end.  Their oldest and deadliest enemies, the lycans, have all but eliminated the remains of vampire society.  New factions in both the vampire and lycan worlds begin a hunt for Selene, whose blood may be the key to ending the war.  Anna Foerster directs Underworld: Blood Wars, with the screenplay written by Cory Goodman, and stars Kate Beckinsale, Theo James, and Lara Pulver.

The Underworld franchise always made for an easy joke about the laziness of franchises due to its over-reliance on blue photography and lore-heavy dialogue.  When I watched Underworld: Evolution back in my theater days I was supremely grateful for a night vision goggle shot to fill the screen with green instead of the overwhelming blue.  Now, in 2017, the Underworld franchise has chugged along with different directors that hasn't made as complicated a web as the Mummy franchise, but still has its own prequel sequels followed by sequels to prequels to sequels.  Given my dislike of previous entries, and a near 15-year trail of films, I wasn't expecting much from Underworld: Blood Wars.

I wanted more.  Dammit, at the end of Blood Wars, I wanted more movie - which is the opposite of what I expected reading the most basic descriptions of Blood Wars.  The photography is as dark as ever, to the point where I needed to rewind a couple of times to figure out just what the hell was going on in some scenes.  The dialogue is similarly leaden, with grave tones imparting words of covens, different factions both overt and secretive vying for power, and Kate Beckinsale tasked with saving the day once more.


Persona 5 (2017): The Complicated Praxis of Giving A Damn

If this is your first time reading Pixels in Praxis or are averse to spoilers, check out our FAQ before proceeding.

Fighting evil by moonlight, winning love by daylight? Never running from a real fight? I know this brings a certain pleat-skirted senshi to mind, but here, we're trading the tiara in for a mask and a glock! Pixels in Praxis returns to the concept of "millennials in the wreckage" with Atlus' latest venture in Persona 5 (P5 from this point on)!

Persona has always been a series of bildungsromans, taking Jungian psychology and anything from the return of Hitler as effected by a Lovecraftian force of terror in P2 to the personification of the human death drive in P3. While generally successful at creating a cast of teenagers struggling with society and their place in it, none of them have been as overtly political as P5.

As I understand it, Japanese youth are feeling relatively disenfranchised and powerless with regards to politics. And in the West, a rise in activism seems to be coinciding with an increase in often well-placed cynicism. In that kind of setting, I really found the growth of the party's motivation from destroying their personal abusers to rescuing not just the country but the world to be inspiring. It's been a long time since a game felt so earnest to me. A lot of that might have been the brilliant braiding of dungeon themes to thematic thief heists and building to a climactic trickster mythology style of story.

In opposition to the last console Shin Megami Tensei release, the spin-off Tokyo Mirage Sessions, P5 embraced the idea of the rabble-rouser - the sort of Romantic figure that jolts public consciousness. There were times that I felt the game was vague about it, and I think it constrained itself towards the end, but I thought it really made an effort to show us that there is a way out of the societal wreckage millennials inherited and I appreciated that. What say you, Drew?

My lack of anime knowledge became glaringly apparent reading your first paragraph and asking myself, "Pleat-skirted...what?" At this point I wonder if I lack some of the necessary background research to adequately comment on P5. So it's time to "fake it 'til I make it" and push against my anime apathy in the name of the common good.

My broadest opinion on P5 can most likely be communicated by my save game file. I'm on my second play-through at about 200 hours, making it easily the most played game in my PS4 library, and one of the games I've spent the most time with since I was old enough to move from left to right in Super Mario Bros. But a raw hour total only communicates quantity not quality of play. I started a second game because I wanted to deepen all the relationships I left dangling at the end of my first, I wanted more of the staccato rhythm of your pointed actions in combat, and I wanted to spend more time with Morgana because we are bros for life.

You touched briefly on what makes P5 so addicting and may also be a hurdle of potential annoyance for some players. The bulk of the action in the turn-based combat is given a glorified shine that was absent in the masochistic attacks of P3. Instead, your avatar (Prichard Lei for mine - but I'll refer to him as Joker here on out) and combat partners revel in the obvious correctness of their youth. Doubt and delay are two things removed from the turn-based combat, giving each button a specific action instead of having to wade through multiple menus, and it flows so quickly that P5 feels more like conducting a dance-off than fighting off the eternal indifference of apathetic humans.

I loved the idea that these kids felt so confident and free in combat with their personas. It fits in both with that notion of Romantic heroes as you mentioned, but also adolescents on the verge of adulthood trying on a guise that makes them feel comfortable for the first time in their lives. Even before we get into some of the political and societal overtones of P5's plot, the transformation roots itself in painful adolescent sexual awakening. The moaning and writhing of feeling "almost there" before popping in relief echoes some painfully satisfied voice acting. P3 and P4 had transformations that felt a bit too mature for the age of their participants with P5 arriving at a borderline erotic truth of teenage discovery that avoids going "too far."


The Boy Who Stole The Sun – Devlog #2

Whew... holidays are crazy. Had a week of slow progress after the 4th. However, when it was time to dive back in, a tools task that had lingered there too long got my attention. There's a dialog in the map editor for hooking up the map terrain textures, and setting some flags for in-game use.

The old, busted terrain dialog. Functional for basic interaction, but buggy. Possibly in part because any changes to this data participate in the editor's Undo/Redo system.

The existing dialog is potentially buggy, and I want to be able to save its data to a separate file for use in other maps. Rather than update this feature in-place, I realized that it would be cleaner and easier to rip it out and make another tool for this purpose.

Originally, I had written this dialog into the map editor because I thought the terrain layers would be something that I would play with a lot and I wanted it to flexible. But that didn't turn out to be a use case at all. Once I setup the terrain layers on a map, I never touch them again. And if I want to make a new map with the same settings, I have to manually enter them all again.

So I managed to get the terrain tool written last week. It currently appears to be free of bugs (fingers crossed) and it adds a visual preview window that the original tool didn't have. So I'm feeling pretty good about that choice. It generates human-readable files, so I could type one of these manually in a pinch. Quick texture changes could also be done manually, if needed, without ripping apart the data embedded in the map file format.

I haven't ripped out the old version from the map editor yet, or done the other integration tasks that will make these files part of the game. But, it'll improve my iteration time and be more flexible in the long run if there are any changes to the terrain format.

The new terrain tool with texture preview!

The other significant bit of progress made was on the game design itself. I watched a ton of GDC 2017 videos in the last two weeks. A couple of my favorites were the Deus Ex postmortem with Warren Specter, as well as the videos on OwlBoy and Slime Rancher, which are all now on my Steam wishlist, just to see some of the cool features discussed in these presentation (or to replay the classic FPS/RPG mashup in the case of Deus Ex, cause I played and beat that back during its original release).

But anyway... the game design. I didn't cover much of the story for The Boy Who Stole The Sun in the first devlog, but I'll give a basic rundown here. It's about a boy who catches a fever. And when he falls asleep, finds himself suddenly arrived (Narnia-style) in snowy world where he has no knowledge of the land or its people. It presents an NES-styled top-down view of an explorable world, looking quite Zelda-like. There are a few constraints on this game's direction, though. No prophecies (thus no chosen one), no swords, and an attempt to provide a language of interaction that doesn't use violence as its base unit. No limits on danger or violence against the player, just that this would not be a journey about wielding or gaining power. There'll be some action and some puzzle solving, but I'm attempting to create an adventure that explores dialog and relationships as gameplay rather than as consumable narrative interlude.

Survival came up as the first basis for environmental player motivation. The protagonist will have to stay warm in a cold world. On the technical side, I wanted to experiment with dynamic light in a true 8bit color software rendering path, so I've designated a lot of room for underground environments that will depend on light sources for navigation. For a narrative motivation, I want to aim the player as a reasonably clear goal from the beginning, and then complicate the means by which the player achieves that goal. The main complication there will be issues of trust in NPCs who attempt to help or enlist your services.

The working narrative premise is as follows:
A talking crow will approach the boy, offer to be his guide, and then ask him to retrieve a powerful object from atop a mountain in order to save the world. A bodiless shadow will lure the boy to a celestial temple and dissuade him from listening to the crow, and that instead the power must be kept away from meddlers. The boy must navigate this merciless, snowy world in his pajamas, finding ways to survive, and determining who to trust for himself.

Another goal was to present a harsh environment where the player cares about the consequences of failure, and yet... to be accessible enough that the bar to entry isn't as high as games with permanent death scenarios. The working solution is to establish a waking/sleeping cycle for our fever-dreaming protagonist. Freezing to death (or other such demise) in snow world will wake the boy up in his room, perhaps shivering, the covers having fallen to the floor. Perhaps having fallen on the floor himself. And he must fall back asleep in order to continue his quest.

I hadn't figured out yet how to make that cycle valuable as gameplay, except that some bit of interaction would be required in order to fall asleep. But last week, my wife did me a favor and played sounding board, listening to my ideas and asking several brilliant questions that helped me sort out what to do with the waking/sleeping cycle, and how to integrate issues of trust through the game mechanics.

Full of Dialog and Mental Clutter. These notes are already out of date. But this was the first shot at describing possible content/effect of mental clutter. More on this next time.

The resulting solution turned out to be an abbreviated model of anxiety, which wasn't what I set out to create, but in hindsight seems a natural thing to have emerged. Dialog and other key events will be setup as emotional triggers for the boy. Triggers will carry an emotional charge and be added to a collection of mental clutter (including references to the triggering line of dialog or event). This collection will build up during play, and when the boy "dies" in the magical world and wakes up in his bed again, he'll have all this mental clutter with him. And before he can fall asleep again, there'll be a mini-game where the player gets to see a stream of these leftover thoughts, and must make value judgements on as many of them as possible before he can sleep. This mini-game will contribute both to the boy's stress level, and will affect dialog and critter behaviors in the other world when he returns.

After I wrap up integrations for the terrain stuff mentioned above, I'll test out the mini-game idea to see if it feels right for the metaphor being presented. Progress on this game has been slow and gradual, but it's heading toward a polished vertical slice- where basic features of the game experience are all present. It already has the basics of exploration supported for running around the snowy-world, and this mini-game will be a significant step in establishing the rhythm of the game. Stopping to fix things like the terrain tool sometimes feel like a distraction since that work doesn't immediately contribute to the vertical slice, but good tools will pay their dividends on every future iteration of content.

Not sure what I'll have done for next time, but I'm starting to think about character concepts and visual design for the critters I haven't sketched out yet. And I think I'll do an in-depth look at the mini-game, explaining the bits and pieces of that as well. Drop a comment if you have questions or feedback- Otherwise, see you next time!


For the week of 7/18/2017 on Can’t Stop the Movies

Readers, thank you for your patience while I tended to my family because of my grandma's death a couple of weeks ago.  I feel revitalized about my life's work and am ready to abandon 2016 to barrel on through 2017.  Starting off with a pair of potentially entertaining action films, I'll be looking at the latest Underworld movie Blood Wars, and touching base with a favorite cheesy franchise of mine with xXx: Return of Xander Cage.  I'm also dipping into the lesser known well of dramas with Between Us and Trespass Against Us.

Thank you for your support and, remember, no one can stop the movies.

I'll also be reviewing the latest in Link's adventures for the Nintendo Switch in Breath of the Wild with a few thoughts on how silence is an underrated storytelling technique when the landscapes provide rich detail.

Can't Stop the Podcast continues on with my review of the first episode of the Tom McCarthy-helmed adaptation of 13 Reasons Why.  The first episode, where I reviewed the book (click here or the above image for the podcast), is available for free on Patreon and my look at the first Netflix chapter of 13 Reasons Why will also be for free.  After that, only Patreon contributors will be able to access the rest of the series.