Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Coming Sometime: Gotcha! A Brief Foray Into The History Of Masocore Games

So hey there. It's been quiet here since I finished talking about Enterprise. I've mostly been experiencing media that's neat, but not quite neat enough to devote essays to. Also actual real-world stuff. Also a few half-formed essays that didn't go anywhere but might be poked at in the future. Since I'd like to put something out there before Halloween, and this is on the mind, here it is. The reveal of one of the idea seeds growing in my head. This is, I suppose, an announcement for a project called Gotcha!. A Brief Foray Into The History Of Masocore Games. What's a masocore game? Well, the definition is broad and there's a lot of "I know it when I see it" in play, but generally it defines those games that are single screen challenges with infinite lives, where the obstacles are instant death and either laden all over the place or used as surprise traps to be memorized. Gotcha. See? Get it? This definition, of course, is nowhere near the specifics we're going to have to get into, but I want to leave the proper defining of masocore to the actual project itself when I work on it. That being said, we're going to be playing jazz with it a lot. This is nowhere near a definitive history of the genre, and it's also going to venture to territory that's not really masocore but that I feel fits the spirit of the project and the story I want to tell about the evolution of this game style.


Still, I may have overlooked something, so in announcing this I'm going to throw out my rough draft chapter list for you. That includes the things in the maybe pile. If you lovely readers out there notice some glaring omission that I'm a buffoon for not noticing, I would be thankful if you pointed it out for me here. Regardless, here's the general outline I have so far. All subject to change, of course, but these words you're reading are literally the first ones jotted down about the project. So the ball is still very much in the air. I hope you enjoy it, if and when it actually gets out there!


Gotcha! Chapter List: 

80's PC Grab Bag (Manic Miner, Jet Set Willy, C64 Hercules)
Super Mario Bros. 2 (JP)
Takeshi's Challenge
NES Grab Bag (Contra, Mega Man 2, other formative and inspiring hard NES games)
Battletoads
SNES Grab Bag (I have no idea what will go here but I need something between 1991 and 2004)
The Big Adventure Of Owata's Life
I Wanna Be The Guy
Syoban Action
Kaizo Mario World
Dark Souls
Super Meat Boy
1001 Spikes
Battle Kid
AVGN Adventures/AVGN II
Celeste

The "maybe" pile:

Dragon's Lair
Jumper
Give Up Robot
VVVVVV
Bullet Phaze
Life Of Pixel
Mega Man 9/10

Thursday, 18 April 2019

To Boldly Step Forward (Conclusion)

Conclusion: It's Been A Long Road...

So, that's it. That's Enterprise, done and dusted and experienced. It was a journey that you all got to see unfold in basically real time over two months of writing about it. I would have put this at the end of the last part, but we were already pushing something like 5000 words and I wanted to be a little more thorough. So, this is that. The thorough finality of letting go of this show, and allowing it to slip into comfy memory. I have a lot to get out, I think. Now I have to sum up not only Season 4, but Enterprise as a whole. Let's start with the season, I guess. It seems as good a place as any to begin, considering you just read how it ended. Oh, we'll be talking about more than just the season, though. There's a gnawing concern in the back of my mind over how I treated two particular episodes near the end, there, and I won't feel satisfied putting things to bed until I get my own internal landscape all sorted out. So, this is that.


I somehow had an idea in my head, before I watched this show. I don't know where I got it, be it from cultural osmosis or whatever, but it was that the earlier seasons of Enterprise were shaky and not that great, and the show "got good" later on, especially here in Season 4. I don't know how true that is. Season 4 is a dream come true for the many people involved with actually creating it. Manny Coto and friends, who have grown with 60's Trek and found things to love about it, finally being given the keys to the car. Not only getting to officially play around with this Star Trek thing they like so much, and set up so much of the backstory of the show they fell in love with. It sounds nice. For them. In practice for me, the dumb weirdo watching this thing whose biggest Captain Kirk insight for the longest time was "I liked the movie with the whales in it the best when I was 10", it damn near drove me away from the show. There were bright spots, and I've pointed them out as we've gone along... but boy howdy did this test my patience. It tested it in a different way from the bad episodes of Enterprise past, but a way that still exasperated me. We go from setting up the backstory of old 60's Trek to outright just writing fanfiction about it. Yes, I know that basically since Star Trek is such a long-running property that all of it since 1991 has technically been fanfiction, but don't split hairs at me. My guide admitted to me that they broke at "Storm Front" back when this show aired, and stopped watching, and I'll be honest. If I both didn't have only four episodes to go after it and the obligation of finishing this writing project, I'd have stopped after "In A Mirror, Darkly". That first 45 minutes completely drained my good will towards Enterprise in one fannish swoop... and this is the one people really loved. "In A Mirror, Darkly" is, from what I understand, a beloved episode of this show by its fans, and it wounded me in a way I never thought possible and still don't quite understand. Meanwhile, I found some positive love for the finale while every other take I've read that isn't my guide's thinks it was utterly dire. I have mulled over my weird internal opinions for a good two days now on these two episodes. Why did I check out at "Mirror, Darkly", but adore "These Are The Voyages..."? The latter is doing the same goddamned thing, when you think about it; literally shoving us into the secret margins of an older Star Trek episode. This is why I needed this drawn-out conclusion. I need to square this up, because it's going to drive me batty if I don't. It's also my hope that explaining my justifications will help to put my thoughts on this season in perspective. So, let's do that.



Here's to ya, lads.
For me, it all comes down to the emotion and tone of the piece and what I feel it's trying to convey. I guess we'll start with "In A Mirror, Darkly" again to hash this out. What is this story trying to tell me, other than its plot beats? It's an indulgence, I feel, for everyone involved. More money than I'll ever make in my lifetime was spent perfectly recreating that 60's Star Trek spaceship bridge and its corridors, as well as the uniforms and sound design and everything else. A perfect recreation that even has the cute little beep boop noises. We got there via a clever little loophole in 60's Trek canon, getting to show a full-on Tholian while we were at it. And a Gorn! 'Cause we gotta have a Gorn in there! It's taking the keys to the car and just going for a fun joyride, and not just for the hardcore fans invested enough to be wowed when they see the old bridge. The actors are relishing playing baddies and getting to play against type, showing their range as performers. It's a great deal of fun for everyone involved, and for everyone who cares enough to be impressed at the kisses to the past... but, take all that away and what do you have? A Machiavellian tale about space fascists from another universe that never connects to the universe of the show in any way over 90 minutes. It did nothing for me, and spoke to nothing greater than what it was. It rode on the back of its continuity, and if that did something for you, I'm more than happy for you. It did absolutely nothing for me, and its indulgence set off an active pet peeve in me that made me miserable about it. Now, going back to my other reference Star Trek point of TNG... Yeah, it's had indulgences like this. Its second episode ever was a shitty remake/sequel thing of a 60's Star Trek episode, it flits around a bit with established Vulcan characters a little later... and then there's "Relics". "Relics" is an episode which basically contrives up transporter magic to bring James Doohan's Scotty into the future of Star Trek. There's obviously an indulgence at hand there for those who are invested in that character, and we even have a bit in the middle with a holodeck recreation of the old 60's Trek bridge! The same shit that "In A Mirror, Darkly" pulls as a sweet kiss to the fans! "Relics", though, has this wistful nostalgia to the whole affair, with Scotty almost mournful as he drinks green liquor and laments that things aren't the way they used to be. It's pining for the good old days, and it's the most memorable part of the episode and made me feel a little something, even if the episode itself isn't exactly one of my top favorites of TNG or anything. That point, that emotional beat that accentuates the indulgent nostalgia rush... that's the rush I look for in media. That's the point of "These Are The Voyages..." (and to be honest, I don't see any evidence that says it has to be set in the middle of any specific episode, so it's got indulgence at play as well) using its power of nostalgia to further an emotional point. To grab another example, not from Star Trek this time, is the Doctor Who episode "Hell Bent". Which I quite loved, but also has the appearance of an old-school 60's TARDIS set in it. This did work on me, and I have the proof in fucking writing... but it wasn't the super highlight of the episode, and when I remember it now I think of the emotion behind it. It's about the emotion. Not the nostalgic indulgence.


Season 4 of Enterprise misses that, I feel. Oh, there are little spurts of something here and there, as I've said... but it's an indulgent final go at a show that already has a death sentence. Looking at Enterprise as a whole, it actually breaks itself into three separate shows. You have Seasons 1 and 2, which are the promise of a time before the original series but amount to a bit of standard Star Trek that, though good in a lot of places, failed to really stand out. Amidst all of that as well is the brewing Temporal Cold War, Enterprise's attempt to make its mark and follow up with the theme of the future seeking enlightenment from the past. The next show is the radical shakeup of the Xindi arc, which I've described as something like a battle for the very heart and soul of Star Trek positioned at the very start of the series. I had my problems with it, of course, but I think it was consistently the best that Enterprise got? Season 4 is the rebrand, the attempt to well and truly make this The Prequel To Star Trek. In doing so it almost immediately snips the Temporal Cold War dead in its tracks, and in hindsight that really pisses me off because I'd rather have had that than stories about Klingon forehead bumps or sidesteps into Fascist Land. It does, however, get the man behind the Temporal Cold War, Brannon Braga, back in the hotseat to see his baby out... and what does he do? A story about Star Trek's future seeking enlightenment from the past. See? I can pick at a theme when I want to. That being said... this was all a bit of a rocky ride, huh? And I don't just mean because of the bad episodes. No, I can't say it was as good or life-changing as something like TNG. Unfortunate, but I don't say that to hold it against it. So it's a piece of media that didn't totally re-orient my internal landscape and change my life. A shitload of media I take in is like that for me. Sometimes a show can just be okay, and Enterprise was a step above that. It was pretty good! I much prefer the Brannon Braga stuff to the Manny Coto stuff, but you know that's just me. Before we go... we forgot the five good ones and five bad ones for Season 4! Eh. Let's instead, since this is the last go-round, do the five REALLY good and five REALLY bad for the whole show! With little blurbs! That'll be fun! So, here we go.


FIVE REALLY GOOD ONES:


1) "Detained"

It's well-acted and its whole allegory for the internment camps of WW2 is, because we live in a nightmare hellscape, actually politically relevant and resonant today. As such, seeing Archer decry the sins of the past and try to make things right here, not judging the Suliban by their Cabal, really spoke to me. Dean Stockwell was fantastic as a man in power pretending to act out of practicality but really acting out of malice. I have to wonder how this would tie into the Temporal Cold War if given the chance, but this is still one of Season 1's standouts for me.


2) "Carbon Creek"

No grand space adventure, no sheer indulgence in a parallel world for fanservice. Just a valued friend of the NX-01 family, sharing a story over dinner with the Earth people she's come to call her friends over a year of space travel. It has echoes of what will touch me in "Kir'Shara": the logical Vulcans finding an enlightenment thanks to the efforts of emotional humanity. They help the lives of ordinary people and make them just a little bit better, and it's something we know T'Pol kept with her all her life. What a beautiful episode.


3) "The Shipment"

The first declaration made in Season 3 that proudly proclaimed "this is not going to go the way you think.". A more than welcome breath of fresh air that showed that the Xindi weren't totally irredeemable. Watched in sequence, this was the "oh thank god" moment of Season 3 for me. A sigh of relief that things could be different. The resulting tug-of-war makes Season 3... not the greatest in the world, but this is a fine episode for it.


4) "Azati Prime"

All the tension of a season finale and there was still an entire short series left to go after it. We have the Sphere Builders in play by now, who really were just a fantastic set of villains. Master manipulators en masse, and temporal agents in their own way, engineering a massive war that wasn't supposed to happen in order to ensure their victory. This one is on here as straightforward. "Zero Hour", the actual finale of Season 3, was pretty great and all... but I actually think this one had me nail-biting more. For that, on the list.


5) "These Are The Voyages..."

I just spent hundreds of words defending why I like this one, of course it's going to end up on the list. It's not quite an Enterprise episode, though. I don't mean that as gatekeeping, I mean that as being nice to it. The actors and everyone else behind it don't like it as an Enterprise episode, and I can understand that sentiment. The fans don't like it as an Enterprise episode because it's basically Will Riker playing back the series finale on his space VCR and pausing it every five seconds. It's not quite an Enterprise episode. It's the finale of televised Star Trek. It's the show that inspired me, gaining inspiration from its own prequel. It pulls a few questionable moves, but the heart and soul behind it earn its place here.


FIVE REALLY BAD ONES:


1) "Fusion"

Boy howdy I read this episode in the worst possible light, huh? I had no idea that reading would slam into me so hard with the follow-up of "Stigma" but by god it did. Still, even without that reading it's not that great. Mr. Forceful Mind Meld is a creepy stiff shit, and the B-plot of "aww come on you gotta forgive your shitty homophobic dad 'cause he's siiick]:( " is just gross when you read it like this. If you didn't see the metaphor like I did, I'm glad 'cause it makes 90 minutes of TV like, better for you. Not so with me!


2) "The Communicator"

The Prime Directive is so vital that Archer is willing to die for it. Oh, there isn't even a Prime Directive yet. Well there's still non-interference nonsense. This is just a cavalcade of continuing to fuck up until they say "fuck it" and have the crew interfere anyway in a cloaked Suliban spaceship and shooting everyone with space lasers. Which... actually in hindsight makes it a lot like other PD stories. It's bad. It's very bad.


3) "Hatchery"

I got one sentence into putting "Extinction" in here and then I deleted it and put this on instead. "Extinction" is just like, a Season 1 or 2 holdover slotted into the Xindi arc to fill time. It's the "Threshold" of Enterprise (Brannon I'm so sorry to pick on you again for that, you did good work I know) and it shows. This, on the other hand, is an ethical bankruptcy of the entire theme of Season 3. Archer doesn't want to let a bunch of baby Xindi bugs die, and the crew treats this as an absolutely horrific shift of priorities. It's utterly dire and utterly forgotten by episode's end. Let's forget it too, but not before blowing a raspberry at it.


4) "Borderland"

It has Orions in it and doesn't even have the at least halfway neat idea of "Bound". Also, plenty of Star Trek 2 lore shoved right into your face! Brent Spiner is the best part of it, of course, because Brent Spiner is a treasure, but this manages to be a continuity mess and have the gross and grimy Orion slaver plot to it. Utterly disgusting, but nowhere near as excessive as Season 4 would get. For that, we have...


5) "In A Mirror, Darkly, Part I"

You knew it had to be here. There are worse episodes but it had to be here. It's not even that badly made. It's very well-acted and well-produced television. It just so happens to be the (I can't resist) dark mirror of something like "Carbon Creek". Instead of an elsewhere story meant to inspire us, it's fascist AU fanfiction juggling 60's Star Trek canon like a circus act. The moment when the 60's bridge lights up must have brought joy to many a Trekkie's heart, but it was the moment that broke me. It couldn't not end up on this list because of that.



And that's it. That's Enterprise. It was a neat little prequel show that ran on the standard Star Trek house style for the first two seasons. Then it was a grand war arc about the tug of war between utopian idealist working with your enemies, and committing grimdark atrocities in the name of Saving The World. Then it was a show which basically took its prequel status as gospel, ran to the other side of it, and built a ramshackle bridge built out of 40 year-old continuity. It assumed that the utopian idealism of future Trek and the forming of the Federation were one and the same, and that's a trap I fell into too. Don't forget that this is the same utopian idealist Federation that literally has a rule of "if the pre-warp planet is about to explode, you are legally required to sit in orbit and do nothing", among other things I won't get into. That's it, then! I'm free of Enterprise! It can sit on my shelf, maybe garnering the occasional revisit to one of the great episodes. I never have to watch the bad ones again! Those discs can collect dust! Of course, I'm still going to journey with Star Trek, but I will always remember when my Star Trek journey was this. It wasn't my Star Trek, but it was my journey, and I hope you've had a fun one with me. I feel like I've completed my role as a Temporal Agent, in a way. I too came here from Star Trek's future, seeking enlightenment in the past. Did I find it? Yes and no. I found some uplifting tales of keeping what makes you human in the face of war. I also found the fucked-up dark enlightenment of nostalgia, tethering utopia to one place and time for eternity. Let's see if we can't free it, and understand things a little better. I've already been going there once a week, so I'll keep doing that and see if I can't find my own enlightenment, free of nostalgic indulgence.


Computer, begin program designation "NCC-1701".




February 12th - April 18th, 2019

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

To Boldly Step Forward (Enterprise Season 4) [4.2]

(Continued from 4.1) 


Babel One: Can't say I was the biggest fan of this one. It felt like it dragged on a bit, and its plot feels a little derivative. It's another "a mysterious third party is working to keep two opposing factions from hashing out an alliance" story, like Star Trek 6 or, even in part, the whole Vulcan three-parter we just had a while ago. This time it's the Andorians and the Tellarites, the Tellarites being these pig-looking guys. Them showing up and the titular Babel make this some sort of callback to a TOS episode called "Journey To Babel" which was also about peace conferences and third parties working to throw a wrench in things. That one had... a bit more going on under the hood in places, but I'm not writing a Boldly Go about TOS so let's leave things there. Well, what do we have? Romulans are behind it all. In fact I think it's that same guy who showed up at the end of "Kir'Shara" and was behind all of that. They've got this ship that can disguise itself as other ships to make it look like Andorians and Tellarites are being fucked up by the opposing faction, and said ship blew the shit out of our old pal Shran's ship. He and others made it out, though, but they're not too happy about being on the same ship with Tellarites. You know how this frenemy shit works by now, Shran's not exactly on our side and he does do a bad of nearly killing the Tellarites, but Archer talks him down all rational like. Unfortunately Trip and Reed are stuck on the Romulan ship, which the twist ending shows isn't even manned. The Romulans are controlling it with future VR or some shit. Cute twist, but this is very much a flavor I've already had on this show. We'll see what the rest of it does before I condemn it, but I can't say it has my full attention.

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

To Boldly Step Forward (Enterprise Season 4) [4.1]

PREVIOUSLY ON TO BOLDLY STEP FORWARD...

 We're also... not quite done, though. No, now we're seeding for next season. Enterprise gets home, but there's no answer from anybody and airplanes in San Francisco. Also Archer is... a badly injured patient in a Nazi medical camp in World War 2? And there's AN EVIL ALIEN NAZI??? I do not know what in the fuck is going on, and unravelling it is something for Season 4. For now, let's call this a good finale, call it quits on Season 3, and give those final thoughts on the Xindi arc...

... It's wild to think I only have one more season of this show left. One more go-around. Of course, we have a hell of a thing to resolve; the last-ever season cliffhanger for this show. We'll find out what the hell is up, in due time. Come and join me for one more adventure, won't you? Maybe we can actually get back to exploring... after we beat up some Nazis first, of course.

AND NOW, THE CONCLUSION...


Part 4: Faith Of The Heart


Well then. One more go around. I'm writing this bit after watching just the first episode, so this isn't going to be a summation of what the final season of this show was like or anything. I'm just setting my expectations. Thanks to chats with pals, I... don't actually know what my expectations are. On the one hand there are pals who tell me it's quite good. On the other, Season 4 has Manny Coto as a co-executive producer. He did some episodes I liked last year, debuting with "Similitude"... but he also wrote some television which I found to be insufferable pieces of shit, like "Chosen Realm". My opinion on his work so far is a click away, just above... but from what I understand he's also a Star Trek superfan. The kind who now has the keys to the car. Yeah, let's just say it. Season 4, from what I understand, is a reference porn nightmare that ties a bunch of shit into the original 60's Star Trek because this is a prequel series and also because we live in a goddamned hellscape where nostalgia for the 60's series has been driving Star Trek from here, apparently, to... OH THAT'S RIGHT IT'S STILL HAPPENING. I've actually been watching old 60's Trek reruns on Space channel in Canada every Monday night for a bit now. Cherry picking episodes, of course, but most of the ones I've seen have been quite good. Well, the 1960s aside. The upside to this is I finally get to see what nostalgic nerds have been losing their shit over for the last 50 years. The downside is, now none of this reference porn shit that's supposedly in Season 4 is going to fly over my head. If I had remained oblivious then I might be able to judge shit on its own merits... but, as we've seen in the past, if you're a piece of media that loudly yells "HEY REMEMBER THIS THING? WELL WE REMEMBER IT TOO AND ARE REMINDING YOU IT EXISTED, BE IMPRESSED BY ME LOOK LOOK LOOK!!!" then I am going to check the fuck out and be negatively impressed by your lack of originality. I do want to like this show and I'm not trying to prejudge it. I'm just laying out my own internal criteria for quality. We're in part 4 of this nonsense, so I hope you all know by now what I like and don't like about this show. With all that in mind, here we go.

Tuesday, 26 March 2019

To Boldly Step Forward (Enterprise: Season 3) [3.2]

(Continued from 3.1)


This was a really cute shot so I just had to include it.
Proving Ground: Thank goodness, a really good one. And the Andorians and Commander Shran are back! As a "frenemy" alien race/supporting character to interact with Archer, I really am growing to like the Andorians and Shran. They bail Enterprise out of a massive anomaly, helping to repair the damages it caused while also assisting them in tracking down where Degra, the Xindi in charge of making their planet killer, is testing his prototype. There's a lot to love here, and though there's a little friction, that utopian idealism shines through as humans and Andorians work together to accomplish more than they could on their own. Of course, things sour a little bit when it turns out Shran's orders are to swipe the Xindi prototype for Andoria so they have a WMD deterrent to keep Vulcan from going after them. It's particularly disappointing because the episode makes a big deal about the human crew not exactly trusting the Andorians with access to their sensitive systems... only for them to be rather cynically proven right when it turns out fucking with them was part of their plan all along. That is a bummer, but Archer plays chicken with the Xindi weapon in the Andorian's cargo hold, and it's Shran who blinks. He even sends over their scans anyway at the end, taking their defeat in stride. It's a complex relationship between humanity and the Andorians, but they still remain favorites of mine. Cynicism aside? This is really good, and it delivered a blow against the Xindi plot. Well done!

Monday, 25 March 2019

To Boldly Step Forward (Enterprise: Season 3) [3.1]

PREVIOUSLY ON "TO BOLDLY STEP FORWARD": 

I mean what I said just above with The Expanse, though; I'm absolutely terrified for what may come. There's a Star Trek arc I haven't visited, the latter years of Deep Space Nine. They had a big extended arc called the Dominion War, and from what I understand it's peak grimdark "there are no heroes" nonsense. Far be it from me to critique your own personal taste if you liked this, but the thought of this doesn't sit right with me. Throwing a redux of it into Enterprise would... lessen my love for the show, I feel. I just have this anxious sense that the second I put this live, one of you who knows what's coming is going to rub their hands in glee and tell me to buckle up. I'm pre-emptively buckling right now, so there's that. I love you, Enterprise. Don't betray me for the grimdark like Sailor Moon did.


AND NOW, THE CONCLUSION...


Part Three: Strength Of The Soul


In case you forgot where we left off, a little primer: A mysterious probe has blasted the shit out of Florida and killed seven million people. Upon investigation, an alien race known as the Xindi are responsible. One problem in stopping them; they live in the Delphi Expanse, a region of space that is full of strange anomalies that the Vulcans insist will fuck us up in all of two seconds flat if Enterprise goes in. Regardless, we're going in. Archer, the Enterprise crew, and some soldiers are going on a long-term journey into the vast Expanse in order to find the Xindi and stop them from launching a bigger weapon to blow up Earth. The tension isn't just from whether or not we'll succeed, but whether or not this show will succumb to grimdark war arc horseshit. Can we keep our proto-utopian ideals, even in this hell world of space? Let's find out. Together.

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

To Boldly Step Forward (Enterprise: Season 2) [2.2]

(Continued from 2.1)


Cease Fire: Oh good. MORE Vulcan stuff. Well, they're part of it. This is another step in the Andorian story arc, and we have the same Andorian dude, Commander Shran, who was at P'Jem and showed up in "Shadows Of P'Jem" because he owed Archer a solid. The Andorians and Vulcans are fighting over occupation of a moon in close proximity to their space borders, and Shran has specifically called for Archer to come in and help be a mediator between his people and the Andorians. The Vulcans are here again, of course, back to their default mode of trusting Archer as far as they can throw him as opposed to being portrayed as homophobes again [INTERNAL SCREAMING]. Archer makes an interesting neutral position for Vulcan/Andorian peace talks. He's allied with the Vulcans as a human, of course, but he also understands frustration and animosity with them like the Andorians have. This, of course, leads Shran's second-in-command to betray the peace talks and try to kill Archer and the Vulcan ambassador. She doesn't succeed, and it shows that Andoria has a way to go... but hell, that's what we say about humanity. Shran, in his own way, has been touched by the utopian idealism of humanity, and that leads the peace talks to have some sort of success. This one's okay, I guess. I kind of like the Andorians, they have a good nuance. A hell of a lot more nuance than the goddamned Klingons, I'll give them that.