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Friday, November 2, 2018

Time, Time, Time, See What's Become of Me

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Why is that some people look at their life in terms of being so many years removed from something?  And at what point do you stop counting?

This year is/was my 25th high school reunion.  It’s been 25 years since I graduated high school.  Now, I don’t typically count the number of years since I graduated college.  It’s been 20 by the way.  Maybe that’s because we don’t typically commemorate the year we graduated college whether because we have opportunities to go beyond just a basic four year college tenure, or because we just don’t typically have a college reunion.  Hell, I didn’t even go to my college graduation.  There were over 36,000 undergrads at my school.  I don’t think anyone noticed me missing, nor was my name probably called.  Yet, there I was some 3, 5, 7, 10, 12, 15 years out of high school saying, “I can’t believe it’s been 3, 5, 7, 10, 12, 15 years since I’ve been out of high school.”

And in these, now, 25 years since graduating I have been to a total of…. One reunion.  I’m one for five.  I went to only one reunion despite being very aware and vocal about how many years it was since I was in high school.  20%. I enjoyed high school.  It was fun for me.  I had good friends and had a great time there.  I went to the last one.  Yes, it was the 20th because I felt it was somewhat of a milestone.  Now, I did attend a breakfast for the 10th which was basically across the street from where I was living at the time, otherwise I was not really interested in going.  But for the 20th, I felt there was some need to do so.  Perhaps it was the being almost 40.  Perhaps it was a new chapter in my life.  I was going through a divorce.  Perhaps I just felt like I had some unfinished business to figure out and went to see about some closure.  What I found out what was that any questions I had about my life and the last 20 years weren’t being answered by hanging out with people I rarely saw in 20 years, though communicated with via social media.  I didn’t unlock any secrets of the universe in that evening.  I didn’t look back and think, yeah, I should have really gone to the other three and this upcoming one. 

I knew that it was a small moment in this life.  We all came together and began talking and planning and getting back into each other’s lives but I said that probably, after the 20th, we’d also drift back apart.  I figured we would probably go back to our little corners of the world and keep each other at a distance over social media.  And even that has changed in the last five years.  The people I remember from high school were not the same people I saw that night… and they are not the same people I see today. A lot has changed in the last 25 years… mostly in the last three.

A lot of people can’t wait to get away from that orbit of counting years from high school graduation.  Their time in the halls of their local public school could have been difficult.  They could have been sad or even cruel.  We lived in a different world.  The advances we made in social equality we’re small, but very impactful, when our parents were teenagers but then a huge gap of 40 years before we even began to rethink the most basic tenets of acceptance and tolerance.  We’re still fighting that to this day.  Meanwhile, kids in high schools have worse things to worry about.  Drugs and violence are more rampant than they were 25 years ago.  It will have been 20 years since Columbine next Spring.  Knowing the odds, I simultaneously scoff and worry that my own child will be in high school by the time my 30th reunion rolls around.  The odds are so small, but I’m sure every parent, including those at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas and Sandy Hook, never truly believed they’d have to worry either. 

Their unfortunate truth is that they will begin marking time in years since someone has passed. As we get older, those we love will ultimately be taken from us and we will begin remembering that it’s been “X years since Y passed.”  I look back at how it’s been four years since my first cat died, a year and a half, and six months since two others died, respectively.  I still  have one left and she’s so stubborn that she will probably outlive me and one day be marking the years since I’ve passed.  It’s sad, for sure, and I’m not sure how healthy it is to remind ourselves how it’s been that someone has left us.  Perhaps it’s better to remember how many memories they gave us, focusing on their positive impact on our lives instead of focusing on their absence. 

But, in all fairness here is a list of important “it’s been this many years since…” that I felt were impactful and poignant in our history.

It’s been one week since you looked at me
It’s been 7 years since the end of the Iraq War
It’s been 9 years since the first version of Minecraft was released to the public
It’s been 11 years since the introduction of the iPhone
It’s been 15 years since the beginning of the War in Iraq
It’s been 16 years since the attacks on 9/11 and the war on terror began, and the release of the first Xbox
It’s been 21 years since the movie Titanic was released
It’s been 22 years since the first Toy Story came out and the verdict in the OJ trial was passed
It’s been 23 years since the Sony Playstation came out
It’s been 24 years since Forrest Gump was released and Kurt Cobain died
It’s been 25 years since the first text message was sent, the .mp3 became a thing, and the first Jurassic Park was released
It’s been 27 years since the first web page was launched and the beginning and end of the Gulf War
It’s been 29 years since the first Simpsons episode aired
It’s been 32 years since the Challenger Shuttle disaster
It’s been 33 years since Rocky IV was released and the US release of the Nintendo Entertainment System.  It’s also been 33 years since the first fully CGI character was used on film.
It’s been 34 years since the first Ghostbusters movie was released and the first PG-13 movie was released (Red Dawn)
It’s been 36 years since the first Compact Disc was released
It’s been 38 years since Pac-Man was released in arcades
It’s been 41 years since the first Star Wars movie and the Atari 2600 was released and also Elvis died
It’s been 43 years since I was born and the end of the American military involvement in Vietnam
It’s been 46 years since the first email was sent
It’s been 49 years since Neil Armstrong walked on the moon
It’s been 50 years since Martin Luther King was assassinated
It’s been 54 years since the Civil Rights Act was passed and the Beatles first live American television performance  
It’s been 55 years since JFK was assassinated
It’s been 56 the first commercial modem was released
It’s been 63 years since the first polio vaccine came into use
It’s been 65 years since the armistice was signed signaling the end of fighting in the Korean War
It’s been 73 years since the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and the end of World War II
It’s been 77 years since the bombing of Pearl Harbor
It’s been 100 years since the end of World War I
It’s been 115 years since the first Ford car, The Model A was produced

Friday, October 26, 2018

Going The Long Way

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In the early days of No Man’s Sky, back when no one cared about the game, it often became boring and tedious to world hop.  We would spend hours trying to nail down every flora and fauna discovery in order to complete the collection for the most possible units.  Sometimes you had to travel great distances, at the expense of resources, just to find those last couple crawlers or flying creatures in order to be done.  And while exploration is a big part of what makes No Man’s Sky work, the time it takes to complete a system’s possible discoveries and race other players to the core in order to “be first” to get there, naming everything, became somewhat of a conflict.  In fact, the entire game is a conflict between what you should do to conform to the games story and what you want to do as an open world player, traveler.  After all, grinding in the game was somewhat in direct conflict of what you were supposed to achieve.  As you spend countless hours detailing every inch of every planet before moving on, the game constantly pops up a reminder to “Travel”, “Explore”, and follow Atlas. 

We were given the options to build a base, but the amount of time that you had to dedicate to building and completing all the quests surrounding the base update took away from that whole Atlas path idea because once you left a system, you either had to back track or keep a teleport node to the space station or the base you had unless you wanted to do it all over again.  How many times had I revisited the game, only to have to redo all the worker missions and building of vehicles until the NEXT update game, erasing all of that and rendering 90% of inventory as useless or outdated technology.  It’s almost as if it’s better to complete the game first and then do all the update stuff, or so the developers thought most gamers would have done so when dolling out these new updates.  Some of us, still haven’t reached the core, instead we soak in the landscapes, build wild imaginative structures, and of course, spend a lot of time getting rich.

Yes, back in the early days of the game, you could exploit the mechanics of the game to max out your ship and backpack inventory.  You could invest a lot of time, finding crashed ship after crashed ship in order to exchange it for another one with one more slot.  And if you found a world with some Gravatino Balls or Vortex Cubes you could haul a ton back to the space station and find that one traveler who had some ridiculous need for your valuable items, overpaying for something so useless.  In fact, if you were savvy, you could make millions constructing bypass chips or components of the warp cell recipe and selling them the same way.  I think when I last played the original version, I had amassed something like 26 to 30 million units without travelling more than four systems and never paying for a new ship. 

But, in a way, it ruins your experience.  These days, with the NEXT update, you can exploit a mechanic, making millions by selling cryo-pumps or just farming nanintes from sentinels at an outpost, using the interior as a way to stave off the wave upon wave of attacking bipedal and quadruped level defenses.  While it isn’t cheating, this exploit is basically a way for you to earn fast money and then spend it all on new freighters, tools, ships, or expansions.  Then, what?  What happens NEXT?  Do you build a huge base and just live?  Do you explore the game and finish it which basically restarts everything? 

Part of the overall experience with a game such as this is to immerse yourself in the world or universe.  We are given countless worlds to discover, and even though they tend to be a repetitive exercise, taking things slow and exploring is part of the fun.  Granted, it doesn’t have an overall pro-content spin.  After all, when you, as a content producer want to put forth a game such as No Man’s Sky  in order to satisfy a niche on your channel, you’re given very few options as how to approach it successfully.  You can do hits and bits on general tips to showcase how to discover and build certain things, a basic tutorial style.. or you do an overall long play strategy, where you invite viewers along with you for the experience.

I tend to play that way, because in essence, I want to play the game, not just give tips.  I want to experience what the game is and in the fast paced real world, where gaming time is at a premium, for someone with little time, I don’t want to work twice.  I want to immerse myself into the game and if you want to watch, it’s all the better.  But, in a way, that tends to destroy the experience for others… maybe.  I say maybe, because there are games, like point and click adventures or puzzle based titles, where the long play format tends to ruin the game for someone else.  Now, take a game like Mysterious Cities of Gold, The Bridge, Gone Home, or Back to the Future.  If you bought any of those games and need a tip, Mysterious Cities of Gold, and the Bridge may be a case for doing simple tutorials.   Usually, there is a path to the a goal.  But with games like Back to the Future or Gone Home, it is more of a journey.  It’s not about move here, move here, click this, but what happens when you do those actions.  It’s telling a story, and if you watch someone play the whole way through, it can ruin the experience for you if you were to choose to go back and play it after watching.  

Now, if you have no intention of playing those games or are unable and want to experience it through someone else, then by all means go for it.  It’s just that so many content creators are more focused on what is going to get them metrics vs. which is more enjoyable to do.  In essence, being demonetized frees me from having to worry about getting “ratings” as it were.  Though, one would think it would be my focus to rebuild my channel to become monetized, in order to get those ratings.  But, I simply don’t care enough about the process.  I’m here to play the game and if that doesn’t fly for you… so be it.

Though, I can see the potential of various types of videos with this game.  It’s art, really.  It can be simple as following someone on their journey or just watching the landscape go by.  The possibilities are endless.  You just have to find them.  I suggest going the long way.

Friday, October 19, 2018

No Man's Filters

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I am old enough to remember a time when we had to wait days, if not weeks to see what we took pictures of.  I had a 35mm Instamatic camera that required sticking a flash cube into the top.  The film came in a cartridge that looked like the modern day equivalent of the voice mail symbol on your phone.  You pointed, shot the picture, then had to manually advance the film by a dial on the top that clicked when in place.  You got maybe 24 pictures and had to mail the film away to be processed unless you went to a Fotomat in the mall parking lot, which would still take days.  There was no cloud. We didn’t have filters. We didn’t have ears and noses to stick on our faces. We didn’t even know if we blinked. It was all a mystery to be figured out weeks later.  And we didn’t seem to mind. Nowadays, we have selfie sticks and Snapchats and Instagrams and weird shit that makes our faces look like fun house mirrors.  And now we also take pictures in games.

Now, to be fair, taking a picture of your gameplay in a video game isn’t a new concept. Long before sharing or screenshotting became a thing, some games required you to send in proof that you accomplished some feat or achievement.  Somewhere in a shoe box, is a blurry photo of my high score from Atari 2600 Decathlon, taken prior to 1984.  Again, the ability for us to snap a perfectly framed, in focus, picture with 70s/80s photographic technology was very low and the game would have been turned off or the television would have been burned out before the developed photo ever came back.  But if you were lucky to achieve something so grand as getting over 10,000 points in Decathlon or 20,000 points in Pitfall.  Activision had this thing called Activison Patches which they would send to you in exchange for photographic proof that you finished or attained a particular score in one of their games.  They were these sew on patches you could put on your jean jacket or backpack.  The 80s equivalent to Xbox achievements or PS4 Trophies.  But those were photos of you playing the game.  Then, something happened.  We added taking photos in the game.

Games like the Sims or Second Life took taking photos of your monitor or television and put the power of the photo op into the game.  Minecraft gave players a screenshot feature so that they could share their epic builds or biggest fails with other players.  And other games offered the feature as part of the basic settings, some tongue in cheek like GTA V, complete with selfie mode, filters and sharing capabilities.  Others were more about sharing the environment like Uncharted 4.  But, when you are immersed into a game like Uncharted or even GTA, having to stop and take time to set up a photo op to capture a moment seems counter intuitive to the game itself.  When Uncharted 4 came out, it brought new gameplay features to the decade old franchise.  The first and last title on the 8th generation console wanted to tout the advanced graphics of the PS4 with the opportunity for players to take a moment to stop and look around at their environment, snapping a picture and adding filters and other added effects.  It’s a nice little thing to do but again, it takes away from the rough and tumble, puzzle solving action of the game.  Cinematically, it was on par with the 2nd game which seamlessly blended cutscenes and in game action, but touting the newest bell and whistle brought to the table as being able to Instagram your treasure hunt buried my interest in the game.

But, that’s not to say that in game photography isn’t without merit.  I mean, part of the initial gameplay of No Man’s Sky is to scan and observe your surroundings, discovering new species of flora and fauna.  It only makes sense to enhance that initial offering by adding in the ability to put in documenting of your journey into the great wide open by taking some pics.  After all, even though we’re unknown travelers, caught in some weird metaphysical, philosophical mind screw about will and destiny, we’re still tourists, exploring the universe.

The overall aesthetic of No Man’s Sky is based in that kitschy retro-futuristic science fiction art along the vein of Christopher Foss and Ralph McQuarrie.  Those angles and flared pieces of architecture and the animals that look like they were placed in the Cantina scene, straight out of central casting from the Jim Henson’s creature workshop.  Odd shaped necks and horns and flying fish dragons beg to be captured on film. Caves that resemble overgrown maws and throats, ready to devour you.  The skyscape, streaked with jet comtrails from other travelers dividing the space from atmosphere.  It all looks so pretty.  And now, with multiplayer added, Hello Games has given players the ability to gesture in order to help you communicate… or perhaps pose for a selfie.  Saying Thank you or Help or just sitting among the flowing stalks of grass as you contemplate your place in the whole story of Nada and Polo or Atlas.  You thoughts flash towards the meaning of all this… hashtag pensive hashtag Thoughts before falling asleep.

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