So last week I was reading like a fend. I think I plowed through something like eight books, and the only thing that stopped that run was Hades, which is a video game I downloaded on a lark.

It’s captured my imagination. The premise is you’re Hades’ son who’s trying to break out of the Underworld. Each time you die, you have have start over but not before you go back home to be chided by your dad.

I’m a big fan of the gameplay loop of Roguelites – you play the same randomly generated map over and over while unlocking things for your character that makes them more powerful on subsequent runs. This allow you to feel a sense of progression even though you are going through roughly the same areas over and over again.

It’s been done before but the it’s the presentation that makes this game great. Instead of looking like art the greeks would have made, which is almost the default aesthetic whenever the Greek Gods are involved, Hades opts for more whimsical, hard rock album look. (I didn’t say Heavy Metal album as that has a more dower tone then the art in here ever gets to, but the imagery would be at home on a Led Zeppelin album.)

Speaking of music, it’s really good. Just hard enough to get feeling of high concept prog rock without going full bore into pastiche.

That edge is in everything including the writing. It never gives into the inherent darkness but it never lets you forget that’s just around the corner for these characters.

In the interest of full discloser, I should point out that I love Greek Mythology. I was the kid in highschool who had a copy of Graves Mythology in his book bag where other kids had Lord Of The Rings. Hell, I just finished a four year Dungeons and Dragons campaign, where I used the Greek pantheon instead of anything in the D&D source books.

So I’m always a little trepidatious when someone is using that pantheon as I’m always afraid they will portray them as being austere, which was never the point of them. They represent human interactions with cosmic forces and should readily show our human foibles. Luckily, Hades does this with style. The characters have wit and charm and the player is never allowed to forget that most of these people are family with some serious dysfunctions that they are trying to rise above.

And there’s a Gorgon that total has the crush on the player character and she’s too precious for this world and if her heart gets broken I’m going to rage quit.

TL;DR: The game’s well made and a lot of fun, and I’m here for it.

The Suicide Squad

Well… that was actually unexpected. Just got done watching watching The Suicide Squad on HBO Max, and I was shocked at the quality jump between that and the first one. I knew it was going to be better because they hired James Gunn to write and direct. Considering WB hired a trailer house to chop up the last one to make it more like Gunn’s Guardians Of The Galaxy, this was good – if surprising – call.

What can I say? The movie is well made and smart but that’s not why I like it. I like it because it is the weirdest thing to come of the Hollywood system in years and it shoves three hours of movie at you in two hours and never feels rushed.

It’s real strange and is the kind of stuff I used to make up when I was 14. Makes me happy to know there’s still a place in this world for weird and wonderful. I’d go see it if I were you.

Disco Elysium first impressions

I’m about three hours into the RPG Disco Elysium, and it’s pretty good so far. The game feels so complex that I don’t know if three hours is even enough for an accurate first impress, but here we are.

The game is thankfully as weird as I hoped it would be. (The fear with games that sell themselves on their strangeness is that they just come off as quirky. In that freshman roommate kind of way.) The system of your skills being voices in your head with their own agency is actually smoother than I would have expected. It just sort of feels like you’re playing a table top RPG and the GM is feeding you information as they do.

But I knew I was going to like the game when it opened with me having to talk my lizard brain in to letting me out of an alcohol induced coma.

I’ll keep you posted as I play more with the game, but it’s memorable so far.

Star Trek Picard

So I finished this on Thursday and have been sitting on my feelings about it for a few days. First there a few things that I want to get out of way: One, I’m not going to spoil the ending, but I am going to spoil some things that happen in the first two episodes. Two, here’s my background with Star Trek: I don’t have a lot of clear memories of when I wasn’t a fan. I can’t speak any Klingon, but I can explain in detail how a Warp Drive actually functions.

In a nutshell, Star Trek Picard is like seeing your adult son after a long absence and now he has a face tattoo. You still love him, but boy that face tattoo sure is big!

Spoilers below here.

Face tattoos in this instance are the Federation of Planets being xenophobic, quick to anger, and willing to own slaves. These things can certainly be fodder for good story telling and conflict – I don’t think there were in this instance – but it mars the hopeful view of the future Star Trek was famous for.

That’s my biggest problem with this series. Now people might argue that getting rid of the hopefulness allows the show to be a better mirror of our “darker” times. Which it does and makes Star Trek a little more generic sci fi and hurting its ability to differentiate its self in a crowded market place. Also, while Star Trek has always commented on current or historical politics, it never did so directly in its series premises. Those were always in contrast to our current political leanings. Specifically, the 1960’s uncertainly with race relations and the cold war, and the 1980’s cynicism and callous money grabbing.

There also seems to be a lot of thought given to the fact that this move needed to be made because modern audiences don’t want to see that kind of hopefulness anymore. Seeing as this show was, on some level, cashing in on nostalgia, I’m going to call bullshit on that. Also, there’s an emerging genera called HopePunk, so there’s clearly a market for this kind of contrast.

Instead of leading that charge, it’s become a lot like every other sci fi property on the market, and I’m not sure who exactly this show is for, and I’m not sure what it does that everyone else isn’t doing better.

Altered Carbon

Just finished season two of Altered Carbon and my thoughts on it are still fresh and unfinished. It was really good, and a bit of a throw back to “hard R” sci-fi of the 80’s and early 90’s. (Think Robocop and Total Recall.)

In fact, if I was 14, I think think this would be my favorite show and I wouldn’t be able to shut up about it. As it stands, it’s very interesting to me how it approaches its place in sci-fi. I’ve read the first two books – the second of which this show totally ignores – and I would say they play very loose with their cyberpunk trappings.

Not so with the show. It has cranked up the Cyberpunk themes about as high as they will go. It is much more interested with social unrest, dehumanization, and how its technology actually works. These things were absolutely in the original novel but first and foremost that was a detective story. So seeing the show as a true interpretation and not a pale recreation is the main draw for me.

Also, given the state of things, there was some catharsis in seeing these themes played up more.