Tuesday, June 27, 2017

'Life is Strange' is a fairly solid interactive game.

A couple of weeks ago I noticed that there was an interesting story driven game available on Playstation Plus. Anyone who had an active subscription on the network, was able to download a PS4 version of 'Life is Strange' for free.

Naturally, since the game had received pretty good reviews, it wasn't a difficult decision to give the game a chance. I had to check how good it was and whether it was worth the praise that it had gotten from most of the critics.

Having now completed the game, I have to say that I was mostly positively surprised by how well it was made. In most aspects, 'Life is Strange' is really engaging and makes you care about its characters and what happens to them.

One of the best things about this interactive game is that it pays attention to the basics and things that matter. Its storylines revolve around themes and issues that most of us can relate to and can empathize with.

When it comes to its characters, its main protagonist is an art student called Max. She, as a female protagonist is a likable person, who tries to help others and tries to save them from getting into trouble in their lives.

What makes the story and the game so interesting and engaging, is that our main protagonist has an ability to go back in time. She has an ability that allows her to go back in time when something bad and unfortunate happens.

Over the course of the game, she finds herself in numerous situations where she tries to change things for the better. She not only tries to change people's lives and save them, but she also has to deal with something bigger too.

Trying to do all of things at once, of course, is much easier said than actually done. As we as players of the game eventually notice, for every action that she makes, there's a reaction and a consequence that has to be dealt with.

At least when it comes to me, I enjoyed playing 'Life is Strange' the most during its first three chapters. This is when the story and the characters are at their best and when the storylines feel really plausible and relatable.

Especially when it comes to what happens at the end of the second episode, I have to admit that scene is likely the most touching that I've experienced in a game. The ending to this chapter is genuinely that moving and touching.

However, when it comes to the last two chapters in the game, it has to be said that the story starts to drag a bit and doesn't always make sense. There are certain problems with the characters and their motivations that cannot be ignored.

This is especially true in the last chapter in the game, where it becomes obvious that the main story arc isn't strong enough. It becomes a bit too muddled and the 'choices' that you can make aren't that plausible or interesting.

Still, despite these somewhat obvious flaws in the game and despite the game having some tonal and 'choice' problems, I mostly enjoyed playing it. It manages to engage you and is also surprisingly moving in certain places.

In that sense, if you're like me and enjoy playing story and character driven games that manage to be down to earth, maybe you should give it a chance. You should give the game a chance and see how much you'll like it.

After all, 'Life is Strange' - at least in my case - managed to surprise with its sincerity and honesty. It surprised me and showed that you don't always need explosions, action and gun fights to keep you entertained and immersed in the experience.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Oliver Stone's Putin Interviews on Showtime.

I don't know about you, but when I heard that Oliver Stone was going to make a four part interview with Russia's president Vladimir Putin, I was pretty excited. I was looking forward to learning more about what was going on in Moscow under Putin's leadership.

After all, Russia and its president have been all over the news lately. It's hard to imagine anyone not having heard about Russia's alleged election 'hack' in the United States, their involvement in Syria or their recent annexation of Krimea.

Having now seen all four parts of the documentary, I have to say that as a whole, this series about Oliver Stone talking with president Putin is pretty well made. It manages to keep you interested surprisingly well and is fairly entertaining too.

When it comes to the documentary, very likely the most interesting aspect of it has to do with its access and openness. At least seemingly, president Putin gives Stone an access to see a lot of things that are currently going on inside Kremlin.

In the film, probably thanks to Stone's reputation as a curious and an honest person, Putin gives a tour inside the executive office building. This complex, that is situated in Kremlin, has been strictly off limits for most westerners for decades.

During the visit inside the offices, Putin seems like a jovial and an every day person. He even apologizes to Stone and the crew for not having cleared the place for visitors, which gives an impression of openness and spontaneity.

Later on - while Putin and Stone discuss Edward Snowden - he himself drives Stone to his summer house, 'dacha'. This beautiful and historic place is where they continue their discussion about history and Russia's current policies.

Over the course of the documentary, Putin also invites Stone to watch himself play ice-hockey with legendary russian hockey players in an annual gala game. This is where Putin gets to show his skills, even though he isn't much of a player himself.

In order to show how trustworthy Russia is as a 'partner', Putin even lets Stone and the filming crew watch a live feed of an on going air strike in Syria (picture above). This, if anything should convince that Russia is open and can be trusted.

When it comes to this film's substance and things that matter, I guess a case can be made that the documentary isn't that hard hitting. It's fairly obvious that the purpose of the series isn't to be too hostile or confrontational towards Russia.

In fact, Stone's documentary is so Putin friendly, that it has been purchased by one of the state controlled networks in Russia. This clearly indicates that people in Kremlin are fairly happy with how the the series turned out.

Still, Stone being mostly cordial towards Putin in these discussions doesn't change the fact that the documentary has merit. At least in my view, Putin manages to make a lot of good points over the course of the film that are hard to argue against.

For example, when it comes to Ukraine and the annexation of Krimea, Putin has a relatively good explanation for it. The annexation - at least in his view - was more or less a consequence of a neocon/CIA-backed coup attempt that didn't work as planned.

When it comes to Nato, it's not a secret that the defense organization has been aggressively expanding towards Russian borders over the last 10+ years. Almost all the countries that were part of the Warsaw pact have switched sides and are now against Russia.

When it comes to Russia battling Isis in Syria, it's true that Russians are doing most of the air strikes. Even though they're also responsible for most of the collateral damage, they're the only country operating there at the behest of the Syrian government.

Naturally, the most currently 'important' aspect of the documentary has to do with the U.S presidential election and how Russia supposedly 'hacked' the election. This is what might probably interest the U.S. audiences the most.

Even though it's apparent that Putin doesn't seem convincing when he talks about the Russians not spying on the U.S. government, these hacking claims still seem far fetched. They don't seem likely considering all those other things that we know.

After all, as Putin keeps pointing, the biggest reason for the hacking claim is to distract us from what happened during the democratic primary last year. Hillary's victory against Bernie was a result of cheating and unfair electioneering.

According to Putin, even if Russia was responsible for the DNC hack, everything that was leaked was factual and correct. These leaks were truthful and showed how the fix was in for neoconservative Hillary Clinton.

Putin argues that this is one of the main reasons that the neocons and the so called mainstream media in the U.S. are so firmly against Russia. These exposes of corruption are the reason why the U.S. corporate media is all about blaming them 24/7.

At least in my opinion, these arguments that Putin makes, are mostly fairly logical and make sense. Even though one might not agree with everything that he says, I think it's safe to say that he makes at least some good points.

In that sense, if nothing else, this documentary about president Putin serves as a reminder of how little in general we know about current world affairs. It serves as counter propaganda against what we see on the news and read from the mainstream press.

As a whole, even though it's true that Stone doesn't always follow up with his questions, that doesn't mean that the documentary as a whole doesn't have value. It doesn't mean that it doesn't inform its audience or challenge our view points.

On the contrary, one of the best things about the series is that it shows how incredibly knowledgeable and informed both Stone and Putin are about history. Both clearly know what they're talking about and put us in the audience to a test.

In the end, the series leaves it up to us to decide what is true and what is not. It's up to us to decide as arm chair historians how much of it we're willing to believe and what are the views that we might and might not agree with.

In that sense, if you feel like spending time with a respected film maker and the leader of the Russia, you should probably give the film a chance. You should give it a chance and check how good the series is and how much you'll like it.

As a whole, Oliver Stone's interviews with president Putin not only is an informative documentary, but in my opinion, it's also a documentary that keeps you entertained and makes you want to learn more about history and current world affairs.

Monday, June 12, 2017

There are no shortcuts in interactive storytelling.

Anyone who knows anything about storytelling and writing, knows that it's not an easy craft. It's not easy to come up with a story and characters that your audience is going to find relatable and worth following.

This is especially true when it comes to storytelling that has to do with gaming. It's not easy to come up with a story based pc or a console game that has the ability to keep you entertained throughout its 10 hour plus length. 

So knowing that creating a story driven game isn't easy, it shouldn't come as a surprise that there have been attempts at finding new solutions to the craft. There have been attempts at finding new ways to tell a story in games.

Very likely the most 'ambitious' new approach to storytelling has had to do with 'choices' and how we as gamers are supposed to be more in charge of the story. We are supposed to be able to make decisions that affect how the game turns out.

What this basically means is that when we're playing the game, at some point we'll face situations where we get to choose what happens next. We get to choose between a couple of options that have to do with what our protagonist does.

This means that during the game, perhaps our main character wants to make a decision where he saves another character's life. Or perhaps he simply decides to take another route to a destination, thinking that it would be the best way to solve the problem.
  
When it comes to this kind of approach to gaming, it needs to be said that it hasn't been met with universal praise. Lots of gamers have pointed out how this 'let the gamers choose' doesn't work nearly as well as one might hope.
 
For example, gaming companies tend to exaggerate how much players can actually affect the storylines in their games. In most cases the important parts in the story can't be changed at all, no matter how we choose over the course the game.

Yet, a much bigger problem with this concept has to do with how the writers and the producers might get too preoccupied with the concept. They might get too invested in it and forget the basics of the game and how storytelling really works.

For example, when I played 'Quantum Break' last year, it was obvious that the producers had forgotten the basics of storytelling. They didn't pay enough attention to their story and their premise so that the characters and the storylines would have worked.

Instead of making sure that the story as a whole was coherent, the writers were too obsessed with how 'precious' their idea and concept was. They kept micromanaging their story threads and 'choices' that we as gamers would be making.

Not surprisingly, Quantum Break tanked when it came to both its critical reviews and its sales. Despite a massive push by Microsoft, the game didn't manage to sell even 10% of the copies that Uncharted managed to sell on Ps4.

In that sense, when it comes to writing and producing games that have to do with interactive 'choice' storytelling, we should be cautious about how we approach the concept. It's a challenging idea that requires a lot of effort and talent in order to work.

As far as I'm concerned, letting gamers 'choose' what happens too easily leads to writers cutting corners. It too easily leads to muddled storylines that feel derivative and contrived instead of feeling organic and natural.

Even though it's true that the concept might require a lot of effort and planning from writers, that by itself doesn't mean that much. It doesn't automatically mean that the end product is going to be any good or that it's going to make sense. 

On the contrary, we shouldn't forget that quality storytelling always has to do with simplicity and making things as easy and as enjoyable as possible. It's about coming up with storylines and characters that are clear, well motivated and relatable.

In that sense, if you're not willing to take these aspects of the craft into consideration, things aren't going to work out for you. Your 'ambitious' project won't work, no matter how hard and no matter how much you're willing to work.

Instead of creating a solid product that almost everyone can enjoy, you'll create a disappointing and a lackluster game. You'll create a game that lacks quality, because you didn't pay attention to the basics and because you didn't pay attention to things that matter.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Cursing doesn't make your show 'cool' or 'edgy'.

Even though I'm someone who's a proponent of free speech, I'm not someone who likes to read stuff that contains unnecessary bad language. I don't like when people use profanities without having a good reason for it.

This standard also applies when it comes to watching television shows and movies. Even though I do enjoy watching current shows like South Park, when it comes to entertainment, in general I'm not a fan of obscenities.

In that sense, it shouldn't really surprise anyone that I don't like watching HBO's 'Veep' at all. I have huge problems watching this series that tends to derive all of its hipness from its excessive use of bad language.

By that I mean is that whenever I try to give 'Veep' a chance, watching it more or less makes me feel physically ill. It makes me sick in my stomach to watch all those characters using foul language for no reason at all.

For example, the latest episode that aired a week ago was so full of profanities and ugly language that I had to stop watching it. I had to go for a short break before I managed to continue and finished the episode.

As a whole, this season 6 episode 6, 'Qatar' was so obscene, that I managed to count no less than 50 instances where inappropriate language was used. All those things happened during this episode that lasted 27 minutes.

Over the course of it, there were so many cases where an f-bomb was dropped for no reason at all. Curse words like f*** and s**** were used by almost all of the characters more than three dozen times during the length of the episode.

Even worse than the frequent f-bombs were the sexual references that were used to describe characters and their actions. It was simply shocking to watch Julia-Louise Dreyfus spout stuff like 'Do I need to pull out my c**t and cut it in half?'.

Needless to say, not once during the episode did I feel that the use of foul language was justified or made sense. There wasn't a single case where I felt that using these obscenities made the script or the episode better.

On the contrary, in every single instance it was blatantly obvious that the writers had absolutely no clue what they were doing. They used foul language as a crutch to fool those in the audience who didn't know any better.

As far as I'm concerned, there were no storylines or characters in the episode that held your interest. There were no redeeming qualities that would have made you think that this series and its actors were creating something that was worth your time.

As a whole, it's super embarrassing to note that Veep actually has managed to win the best comedy series Emmy two times in a row. It's so incredibly embarrassing that the academy has fallen for a show like this.

I mean, do these Emmy voters seriously think that it's awesome and cool that characters behave like they do here? Does anyone actually believe that this kind of stuff makes things better when it comes to getting quality shows and getting people to watch tv?

At least when it comes to me, there's nothing cool about using obscene language like it's used here. There's nothing funny about constantly making fun of others, cursing and humiliating them using words that would make any reasonable person blush.

In that sense, the fact that the writers and the producers on 'Veep' so willingly resort to awful stuff speaks volumes about them. It's so sad that they think that using foul language and obscenities would make them look good.

Unfortunately for them, the excessive swearing and the use of obscenities doesn't work. It doesn't work and makes it even more obvious that the series is so hopelessly toothless and that it doesn't have anything meaningful to say.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

The revival of Twin Peaks doesn't work at all.


Even though I'm someone that likes to watch tv shows and movies, I've always had problems watching stuff that is a bit out there. I've never been that big of a fan of shows or films that try to be weird for the sake of being weird.

As a writer, whenever I have my television on, I tend to watch shows that are fairly simple and that have a relatively straightforward premise. I expect that the stuff that makes enough sense and that it can keep me entertained.  

Nevertheless, a couple of days ago I noticed that a somewhat 'weird' series was being revived on television. David Lynch's 'Twin Peaks' was coming back after its 25 year break, so I thought that I should give it a chance and see if it's any good.

Having now seen the first three episodes that have aired, I have to say that the relaunch for 'Twin Peaks' hasn't been worth the wait. The new series hasn't been good and the positive reviews for it seem to be based more or less on hype.

When it comes this new season, the biggest problem with it has to do with how it's written. The screenplays for the first three episodes have been incredibly lacking and haven't had almost anything interesting going on in them.

As fortunate as it is, this new Twin Peaks simply doesn't have coherent storylines that you could follow. The murder storyline and our main character (Kyle MacLachlan) being in some kind of existential limbo doesn't work at all.

As weird as it is, every episode so far has mostly consisted of scenes where almost nothing happens. There's very little dialogue, sounds, action, music or anything in any of these scenes that tend to go on forever.

For example, when it came to the latest episode that aired, the third episode had like fifty-five minutes of static nonsense and only like four minutes of actual story. This is completely ridiculous and totally unacceptable even for a weird show like this.

In comparison, the original series that aired during the early nineties wasn't this much about being weird for the sake of being weird. It wasn't this empty and so utterly lacking in content compared to the revived series.

As far as I can still remember, the original Twin Peaks was about actually having interesting characters and a solid storyline. It was about a murder mystery and about who had murdered Laura Palmer in cold blood.

When it came to the original series, those fascinating things like the haunting music, the  atmosphere, the weird settings, characters and mysteries were just the icing on the cake. They were not the only things that mattered.

In any case, when it comes to this new season, I don't see how I could go much further with it. I don't see how I could see myself watching through all the fifteen remaining episodes of Twin Peaks that are still going to air and that haven't been shown on tv.

As far as I'm concerned, this revival is pretty big failure based on the first three episodes that have aired. It's hard to imagine how the show could start to get better and how it could start to magically make sense again.

In that sense, if you haven't seen this new season of Twin Peaks yet, you have been warned. As unfortunate as it is, this new season isn't any good and is something that can't be recommended for almost anyone.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Hollywood's so called 'liberals' still don't get it.

Like many others, I wasn't happy at all about last year's presidential election in the U.S. There's almost nothing good or positive to say about what happened during the 2016 election cycle and how things eventually turned out.

I was especially disappointed when it came to the primaries and how Bernie Sanders got cheated out of the nomination for the democrats. It was absolutely pathetic how the 'elites' in the party and the so called 'liberal media' treated him.

Nevertheless, now that Donald Trump has been our new commander in chief for about four months, things have changed at least a bit. There are certain things that have given me hope and that make me feel optimistic about the future.

For example, senator Sanders who got cheated during the democratic primaries, hasn't given up and hasn't taken a step back. He hasn't given up his fight for a better and a more fair America for the poor and for the middle class.

On the contrary, Bernie, who has been touring the country, now has actually become the most popular politician in the country. He has a +24 favorability rating, which is huge compared to president Trump (-15) and Hillary Clinton (-20).

Not only has Sanders become even more popular, his ideas and his platform have become more popular too. His fight for single payer health care system has become so popular that even the majority of republicans are now for it.

Yet, it seems that there's one faction in the U.S. that hasn't learned anything about the election and its aftermath. The elites of the democratic party and the liberal media still don't have a clue about what's going on.

Instead of taking a good look in the mirror and trying to change the party's direction, all the democratic establishment now talks about is Russia. Whether we're talking about Bill Maher, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah or Rachel Maddow, it's all Russia 24/7.

According to them, Russia 'hacked' the election and made Clinton lose against Trump in swing states. It was the Russian influence that cost her the presidency and that Hillary's own scandals had absolutely nothing to do with how things turned out.

The only problem with this kind of rhetoric and propaganda is that it's simply not true. Whether we're talking about wikileaks or internet trolling, there's no evidence that Russia itself managed to have any kind of influence on the election.

I mean, when it comes to Trump's connections to Russia, it's probably true that he has some shady business dealings with them. These dealings that might have to do with money laundering, are probably why he fired FBI's director Comey last week.

Still, these 'connections' have likely nothing to do with how the presidential election turned out. These murky Russian deals don't explain why the electorate decided that it was time for an outsider and why the swing states voters rejected Hillary Clinton.

In reality, the real reason that Trump won the election against secretary Clinton was that she stood for absolutely nothing. Her campaign was simply based on protecting the establishment and not changing the status quo at all.

As unfortunate as it is, Hillary and the rest of the elites lost because they didn't pay attention to the problems of the poor and the middle class. They didn't have any kind of respect for the ordinary people who are not well off and are suffering.

For her and her establishment supporters, the election was more or less a vanity run and an attempt to show how precious and wonderful the establishment is. It was about showing how they are better than the rest of us peasants.

In that sense, everytime that I turn on shows like Real Time with Bill Maher or Rachel Maddow's program on MSNBC, I can only roll my eyes. I can only laugh and feel pity when I look at their condescension for us 'purists' that didn't support their Queen.

For them, the problems with the country don't have to do with the democractic party or how deeply corrupt and bought the politicians are. None of their problems are the kinds of things that would make people actually vote in the elections.

For them, the only 'real' problems that exist have to do with Trump, third party voters and Russia. None of the problems that they acknowledge have to do with healthcare, education, Wall Street cronies, fracking, jobs or minimum wage increases.

In that sense, when it comes changing direction in the country, most of these media elites and career politicians don't have a clue about what the problems in the country are. They don't care because they aren't connected to reality anymore.

In the end, when it comes to this whole thing, we can only hope that honest politicians like Bernie Sanders and his progressive supporters manage to bring some change in the system. We can only hope their efforts start to pay dividends at some point.

After all, the truth is that there are so many major problems with the political system and how policies are being implemented. These are the issues that need to be addressed, before things can finally start to get better.

Unfortunately for us, as long as these liberal sellouts stay in denial, the country and its citizens will continue to suffer. Things in congress won't get any better and progressive legislation has no chance of getting passed in the house and the senate.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

How good has Prison Break's 5th season been?

Like many others, I was a pretty big fan of the series 'Prison Break' when it aired ten or so years ago. I used to love watching Wentworth Miller's main protagonist doing his best to get himself and his brother out of the prison.

During the show's later seasons, it's true that the series started to run out of organic ideas and started to get implausible. Especially when it came to its 4th season, it was a bit hard to get interested in our characters anymore. 

So in that sense, I was a bit surprised when I noticed that Prison Break was being revived as a limited series. I was a bit puzzled about getting the show back, especially knowing what had originally happened in the series finale.

In any case, having now seen the first six episodes of 'Prison Break: Resurrection' that have aired, I have to say that the relaunch has been a bit of a mixed bag. The series definitely hasn't been as good it was during its first, or its first two seasons.

By that I mean that there have been quite a few moments that haven't made enough sense or that haven't been well made. Many of the moments during the first episodes have felt forced and have felt like the writers didn't think things through first.

For example, when it comes to stuff not making sense, there's no way that Dominic Purcell's character and his companions would have been able to fly to Jemen to help Michael Scofield (Miller). There's no way this would actually be possible in real life.  

Moments like Theodore Bagwell getting a new mechanical arm have felt too convenient too. It's a bit too much to ask that our favorite anti-hero would magically get rid of his handicap that he got from the initial series.

Also, like probably many others, I haven't been a big fan of the Dr. Sara stuff. The twists and turns where we have been guessing whether Dr. Tancredi's new husband is one of the villains haven't been interesting.

Still, having said all these things, it can't be denied that the best part of the series has had to do with Wentworth Miller's character. He, as a man with a plan - who always finds ways to get himself out of trouble, is why we watch the show

At least in my opinion, Miller's protagonist is the most likable character on television. He is what makes 'Prison Break' so inherently watchable and what makes millions of us root for him and for his plight every week.

His incredible likability is why the latest episode that aired this week was so watchable. It was so utterly entertaining to watch Scofield being alone in the middle of the desert trying to come up with solutions to his problems.

Situations and moments like these - at least in my case - make me forget that this new season hasn't exactly been that well written or that plausible. All those moments where his character gets to use his genius mind make me overlook the show's flaws.

In that sense, knowing that there are still three more episodes that are about to air, we can only hope that there's going to be as much stuff as possible about Miller's character and that the series is going to keep its focus on him.

As far as I'm concerned, the more the show focuses on him, the better 'Prison Break: Resurrection' works. The more we get plotlines about Scofield figuring how to get out of harm's way, the better that is for all of us in the audience.