5 reasons why Star Trek > Star Wars

It’s time to put this aging debate to a complete halt. Yes, there will be people who will raise their fists at me, wearing ‘Han shot first’ shirts with pride, in itself an insight into their obsessive state of mind, but I digress.

Star Wars:

1) The force binds you and you must give in to it. Free will? Forget about it. The force knows what’s good for you and expects you to sit and listen to it. Fatalism, anyone?

2) Your seniors always know better and you are wrong to state your mind

3) Everything is dealt with in battle.

4) Jedis are considered good, but it’s ok for them to manipulate others to get what they want

5) George Lucas attempted to add science to his fiction and failed miserably

Star Trek

1) You are what you make of yourself, and your will and intellect are your guiding forces

2) Ideas are open for suggestions and an ensign can inspire a captain

3) Battle is a last resort. Answers should be attained via communication and diplomacy

4) The first operative is not interfering with a culture and its progress. There is probably a good reason why mind-melding was removed from the show

5) I’ll take a replicator over a lightsaber any time of the year.

Five days in Los Angeles

Five days in Los Angeles
Image source: huffingtonpost.com

I was recently approached by a friend to offer her insight about the stand-out things one might do in LA. I am not an expert, nor do I entitle myself an “Angeleno,” but I have spent the better part of one year in this expansive city exploring it through the eyes of a visitor.

Here, for your viewing pleasure, was what I sent her. Let me know what you think and if you would like me to add anything to the list!

1) Hollywood

Image source: Wikipedia
Image source: Wikipedia

I wanted to start off with the most touristic spot that many visitors ask about. Yes, it’s the Hollywood you see on TV, no it is not the Hollywood you see in the movies. In fact, the novelty of being there will fade out within mere minutes. Factor in the charm of seeing the Walk of Fame and the likes of the Chinese Theater, and you have yourself 20 minutes. You will more than likely bump into shady characters and definitely be bombarded with photo requests by costume-wearers who seem to celebrate Halloween year-long. But while you’re on Hollywood….

2) Have lunch at Hooters

Five Days in LA_Hooters
Image source: Wikipedia

As juvenile as it may sound — especially that we’ve all grown up beyond waitresses serving you chicken wings and beer while wearing the tightest possible shorts and shirts — you can not come to LA, nay, to the United States, and not eat at Hooters. Is it awesome food? Nothing special, but the place has to be on everyone’s bucket list to experience a slice of Americana that will most likely disappear in the coming years.

3) Visit Universal Studios / Disneyland

Five Days in Los Angeles_Universal Studios
Image source: worldoftravelusa.com

I’m not sure if you’ve been to either of them, but you have to experience them in your adulthood, especially if you’re lifted, which brings me to…

4) Weed is abundantly available

Image source: rollingout.com
Image source: rollingout.com

Nuff said. Whether you’re a casual smoker or an all-out stoner, you will be sampling top-shelf produce from one of the hundreds of dispensaries peppered around the city. No shady dealings, no dodgy contacts; straight-up business. Over the past few years, marijuana has been legalized in California, and all you need do is keep an eye out for green crosses every couple of blocks.Where should you go to indulge in your habit? I suggest you start at…

5) Venice Beach

Image source: venicebeach.com
Image source: venicebeach.com

If you want to know why palm trees, murals, and awesome coastlines are synonymous with California, this is the place to prove it. An absolute haven for hedonists, artists, and beachgoers, it is a magnificent piece of land that should be visited on a timely manner. After enjoying a gorgeous day out, especially over a weekend when massive drum circles take form on the beach around sunset, your next logical stop would be…

6) Santa Monica Pier

Image source: choicewallpapers.net
Image source: choicewallpapers.net

Located an easy 30-minute walk along the Venice Beach coastline, this decadent and vintage spot is another one of those areas you must visit while you are here. It’s nothing special, comprising of a Ferris wheel, some random rides for kids, and a few artists displaying their works, but the vibe and feel of the place is another must-see.

7) Food. Lots of it.

LA is known for its love for food, and you will find any cuisine your heart desires. Honorable mentions are In ‘N’ Out Burger, complete with their “secret menu” that was only shared via word of mouth until the internet took over; SugarFish, with its sublime approach to sushi that you have to taste to believe; and that dingy Mexican joint that sells the best tacos. Also, you will have to try Churros and Funnel Cakes. I’m not sure about the origin of the latter, but the former is Mexican and is the “bomb-diggy” when it comes to sweet, cinnamon treats. As a general rule, avoid anything that looks like this burger, and you should be fine!

Image source: thecowfish.com
Image source: thecowfish.com

While I’m on the subject of food…

8) Food trucks

Image source: nowimhungry.com
Image source: nowimhungry.com

Scattered around the city is a ridiculous amount of food trucks that serve up everything from the saltiest to the sweetest of foods. Hamburgers, cakes, fried Oreos, waffles, chicken wings, pancake sandwiches doused in banana mustard and basted with vegemite.

I’m not really sure about that last one, but you may as well find it! If you’re not accustomed to eating from a truck, let me comfort you from now: Every one of them is graded as a stand-alone restaurant would and are required to display their score for all to see. Regardless, be your own judge and don’t go around eating deep-fried fava beans mixed with pig fat just because a truck brandishes an “A” score.

9) Comedy Clubs

Image source: timeout.com
Image source: timeout.com

These places are a dime a dozen, but there are a couple of places like the Laugh Factory that you will probably want to visit. It’s where most all comedians you grew up watching had their start.

10) The Viper Room / House of Blues

Image source: visitwesthollywood.com
Image source: visitwesthollywood.com

Two iconic spots that have hosted every rock, blues, and jazz musician you can think of. If you are looking for live music, this is probably where you would want to go. They also host a plethora of musical events that cover genres beyond rock. Just check out their schedules prior to your arrival.

11) Clubs

Image source: discoverlosangeles.com
Image source: discoverlosangeles.com

If you entertain the club scene, there are a multitude of clubs to consider, including Playhouse. It’s smack in the middle of Hollywood, and if you’re lucky, you’ll get to see the dodgiest Mario/ Luigi cosplay on this side of the planet.

The stream of consciousness of theatrical game design (or how I set out to write one thing and just threw a dollop of something else on it)

Last week I decided to flip through LA Weekly in search of events that may interest my wife and I. Over the past two months, we have been heavily engrossed watching every season of Frasier,” which happens to be one of my favorite shows, and you’d struggle to oversee the underlying importance of culture that emanates in almost every episode. If it’s not the opera, it’s an art gallery, a wine tasting event, or a luxurious meal at a seemingly esteemed restaurant operating under chuckle-inducing names like “Le Couer De Singe” (Heart of the Monkey).

Being a theater buff, not out of robust knowledge of the craft or current active involvement in it, but rather due to my heavily invested passion in its offerings, I started skimming through the arts section, hoping to find something that would stand out in the apparent plethora of productions that take place simultaneously around LA. Funnies, dramas, dance performances, vaudevilles, puppetry; it’s intimidating at first glance, but once you’ve been ushered into a few theater houses, your filtration task should become easier — so I would hope.

As I turned one page after another, fingers getting stained from the cheap ink and paper, I came across a play entitled “The End of It” with an uninspired poster of two marriage rings lying one atop the other to form a pseudo-link. My first instinct was to turn the page and keep looking, but I didn’t. As if possessed, I calmly turned toward my PC and tapped away in my search bar for an inkling of what to expect from the performance.

Upon taking a closer look at its cast and crew, none of which I had had the pleasure of experiencing before, I quickly booked two tickets and closed the browser to prevent my eyes from mistakenly landing upon a spoiler that some writer or reviewer may have unknowingly deemed safe for reading.

Now, comfortably sandwiched between my browser and desktop was the Steam store that I had made a habit of keeping active. If I’m not looking to play something, I’m happily darting my eyes from one featured game to another. The game that happened to be occupying the central slide show at that moment was one I had not heard off and that had suddenly found itself on my page. Promising to be a 2.5D survival horror game with an art style reminiscent of the excellent Shadow Complex and an ambient sci-fi atmosphere that instantly grasped my attention, the decision to purchase it was a no-brainer. I took a risk with an unknown theatrical production, I figured the least a gamer like me can do is take a chance on an unknown game.

Two days ago, I added “Dark Matter” to my library.

Yesterday, moments before my wife and I stepped out to attend “The End of It,” I noticed a story published by Kotaku claiming that “Dark Matter” was incomplete and that gamers were furious. I thought maybe the developers missed out on some ideas, perhaps some levels were badly designed, or maybe some sound files were missing as I refused to believe that a developer would sell an unfinished product (revisiting this post to edit it in 2020, it’s fascinating how much the younger me was obliviously naive and how the industry has gotten worse). To sell people an incomplete game for $15 and run around attempting to explain to gamers that the Kickstarter campaign failed and that it was better for them to release something instead of cancelling the project altogether is unjustifiable.

It is important to note that I am just as frustrated with Steam that persists to maintain Dark Matter’s featured game spot, wrongfully setting up the game for further blackmail.

In the midst of my research (I was still going to the play, honest!) I came across a report that stated that the devs blamed the lack of funds to fully develop the game and that it was meant to be episodic in nature with only the first chapter currently available for play:

“We would like to stress that the game is exactly as described on Steam (including that it contains 14 levels),” InterWave said. “[I]t is simply not true that the game is unfinished, or unplayable. Some people have misquoted the developer as having admitted that the game is incomplete; we should reiterate that what was meant was that this is not the $30 full-priced game, but the episodic budget version (currently selling at $13,49 at 10% off).”

A quick look at Dark Matter’s profile on Steam, however, will provide you with adequate evidence to the contrary. Nowhere is it mentioned that the game is meant to be episodic or that the game is incomplete.

What this studio did, I believe, is lay off all their staff after the immense failure of their Kickstarter campaign, admit to themselves that they won’t be able to develop a game moving forward, and figured they’d scrounge for as much money as they can as an exit strategy.

I understand that some games don’t work, but were the developers, InterWaves Studios, that short-sighted in their resignation? If they were planning to scam gamers, why not pull off a better scam? Why didn’t they just say the game is in its alpha build and that we can expect content in the coming months? It would be sad to hear of the cancellation of a project, but gamers would not have harbored as much ill will for the studio. I, of course, do not condone the beguiling of fans and followers and abolish the need to deceive gamers, but the developers could backed out quietly while still holding on to some fabric of their dignity.

Written and directed by Paul Coates, ‘The End of It’ is a deceivingly brilliant performance that needs to be experienced for its heart-wrenching content and to pay homage to excellent acting, especially in regard to Kelly Coffield Park and David Youse, both of whom delivered unforgettable performances seeping with emotion and truth.

Mass Effect 3 blurbing

I recently went through Mass Effect 3. As a devout fan of the original — currently playing it for the fourth time — I had to bring the story arc to a close. The reason for my delay? Mass Effect 2 took away much more than it gave me. Yes, it’s a much better action game with refined shooting and superior cover mechanics, but overcoming the geth and Cerberus agents is not why I invested over 200 hours into the first game. It’s arguable that Project Director cum Executive Producer Casey Hudson had always envisioned the series to be this way, complete with HD bullets whizzing past your head and explosive biotic powers knocking your senses off. If that was the case, the team could have simply picked up Gears of War, added some depth with occasional conversation threads and packaged the game. Mass Effect already runs on the Unreal engine, so a byproduct like that is relatively easy. No need to wait for the third and final inclusion of the series to satisfy that. The hard truth is that Bioware started off designing RPG’s, but when the market is investing 90% on action games and 10% on all others — their acquisition by EA further increasing that rift — demands are expected and money is what keeps such companies afloat. Bioware started off creating a niche and attracting gamers to their bold creations, but just like they did with The Truth DLC, they listened to the mass and caved in. For shame. Not a single interview or press release can ever convince me that their intentions were genuine.

The 5 games that made me who I am

It’s my birthday today, and what better way to celebrate it than to list the games that made me who I am today?

1. Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss (1992, PC)

A friend dropped by me one day and asked if I had played Ultima Underworld. I scratched my Sega-infested, 16-year-old head in bewilderment. “Ultima Underworld? Is that a Nintendo game? I don’t think I’ve seen it in any Sega lineups or upcoming releases.” My friend patted my shoulder, kissed my forehead, and left me a copy of the original game. At least that’s how I choose to remember it. The reality was slightly different. He scoffed at my ignorance, dug through his backpack, pulled out a pirated version of the game, and threw the discs in my face. Nevertheless, Ultima Underworld thwarted my understanding of the medium. This game single-handedly blew wide open the doors of conventional gaming and forced me to reconsider the time I invested on Sonic attempting to collect all possible rings and jewels. Those of you who have played it, I salute you and share your inevitable pride of having done so. Those of you who haven’t may probably never do as modern games have taken the genre to a whole new level of accessibility that renders legendary offerings as Ultima Underworld archaic and akin to a Pantheon: grand, deserving of reverence, but overshadowed by modern history.

2. Final Fantasy 7 (1997, PS)

You’d struggle to find a list of influential games that does not include FF7 in its ranks. It’s an androgenous, boy-meets-girl soap opera that may have ruined RPGs as a genre but ended up standing out more than Cloud’s Bastard Sword at a daycare center; at least that’s what the 17-year-old in me remembers. If I were to base this listing on memory alone, I’d call FF7 one of the best games ever but it really probably isn’t. I just fell in love with Aerith and played the game for her. She was the party healer. She was an altruist. She was also brutally murdered halfway through the game. It was the first time I had ever cried because of an in-game event.

3. Deus Ex (2000, PC)

It was 2000, the Y2K fiasco was finally over, I was just starting university, and like most freshmen I can recall, I was seeking a higher understanding of what life is. I dug myself in volumes and rested in the comforting sanctity of education and the attempted insight into my existence, oblivious to how little I actually knew. When I first saw the box art of this game, I picked it up, turned it over, and took note of the accolades and game-of-the-year awards. I turned it over again and stared at the then-unknown-to-me JC Denton, walked over to the cashier, and committed one of my best video game investments ever. There is no proper way for me to describe the impact this game had on me; I was absolutely awestruck with its masterful writing and storytelling. It had me doubting the world and its denizens and open to all sorts of conspiracies. When I first discovered how my choices affected the narrative of the game, I froze in place as my mind attempted to wrap itself around it. I mattered as a gamer. I was no longer a puppet that just follows cues. I was JC Denton. That Deus Ex title? That was me, the gamer, the god outside of the machine. The soundtrack is still one that you would hear blaring through my speakers, with “Unatco” being a defining one for me. I silently swore to never play anything of a less caliber for as long as I live. Ah, the folly and naivety of youth.

4. Heroes of Might and Magic 4 (2002, PC)

When your father pulls off an overnight and skips work to play a game, you know you have yourself a marvel. Though this was not the first Heroes game I had played, it was the best out of the preceding three, culminating everything that made them great and stripping away the negatives. As addictive in gameplay as it was, it offered little to my gaming experience asides from introducing me to the term “hot seat.” Why, then, would a simple, albeit deep, turn-based strategy be on this list? Local multiplayer. In all honesty, “Micro Machines 2: Tournament Edition” for the Mega Drive was the first one to offer me that feature with the inclusion of two additional joypad slots on the actual cartridge — an innovation still hard to surpass given the limitations of the platfoms back then — turning the experience into a four-player frenzy. But, I am a strategy buff and opted to give a mention to an unsung hero in multiplayer gaming that turned the nerd to a herd. I still, until today, prefer local multiplayer, no matter the situation.

5. Mass Effect (2007, XBOX 360)

I don’t know where to start with this one. The universe? The lore? The story? The music? This game checked all my boxes. I’ve read up on Mass Effect history more than I have on the actual world’s. I’ve studied characters as peers and thought of them as such. If you’re of the dying breed of gamers who have not played this, you have given up on an enriching and soul-lifting experience; not since “Deus Ex” did I feel that I belonged in a game. It is for games like this that I preach the power and magic of video games and hope that one day I will be able to transmit this love to my children.