October 30, 2011 § 2 Comments
My costume fell through. But dancer-friend Irvin did not. He brought with him a piece of modern art that was used in a gallery show he performed in on Saturday. I like to think that we contributed to the flourishing of the arts in this city.
See, these were not pedestrian costumes. We were living art that breathed, danced, and walked into stuff. We were an experience. Here’s Irvin, expressing himself as a reverse ghost, made conspicuous by the fact that hidden in his umbrellas, he was completely inconspicuous.
Whereas I re-enacted the eternal struggle of man, machine, and building, made poignant by the visible suffering of the artist.
The best part was that we had no good answer for when people asked us what we were. We settled for “we’re nuit blanche, and you’re not supposed to understand!”
In the end, two men came up and talked to us about the costu…installations, and they gave us $5. We’re not sure why, but it does mean that I have now been paid more for my “art” than for my writing.
October 30, 2011 § 1 Comment
I felt like writing something comedic, and so I dredged deep into my memory and a story idea I had from high school. Don’t worry, this was all written today. As much as I loved my high school days, I certainly don’t love my writing from back then.
I don’t know how long I’ll run this, or whether I’ll even run this beyond today, but it was fun and I hope you get a few laughs/chuckles/strained smiles out of it.
It’s called “Life, Death, and all the Fiddly Bits In-Between”. Enjoy!
Henry McAllister was a perfectly normal man. He was sort of tall, his hair was sort of brown, and he was sort of manly. He had an apartment that he shared with a roommate, a potted plant that he did his best to try and kill through inattention, and a perfectly respectable job as lead researcher at MoroDyne Biotechnical Conglomerate. He liked to refer to himself as a “scientist”, although what with the state of the biomedical field these days, he spent most of his time writing grant proposals and answering emails.
He liked to think that writing grants was a worthwhile exercise, despite the fact that history had repeatedly proven him wrong. See, that was the problem with science as it is today, and especially science as it is at MoroDyne Biotechnical Conglomerate. The costs associated with creating the sorts of products that made MoroDyne a leader in the field of Anaerobic Cow-pasture Management and Isotechnicromin-7b production (that lovely smelly compound in most air fresheners that is one free radical away from being banned by the Geneva Convention) meant that significant grants and investment were required in order to even contemplate beginning new research projects, which in turn meant that significant grant proposals and investor coddling were required.
Henry, as a lead researcher without any projects that were actually being researched, much less needing to be lead, was often charged with writing and overseeing those grant proposals. MoroDyne believed strongly in efficiency in all aspects of their business. For example, seeing as grants and investments were pulling in far more money than all their actual laboratory work combined, the marketing, advertising, and grant-writing departments were expanded at the cost of research, development, and manufacturing. Currently, all products manufactured under the “MoroDyne” label were actually made by other biotechnical companies, for the lowest bid, and amusingly, many of which also produced compounds that were banned under the Geneva Convention. The only person still employed by the Manufacturing division of MoroDyne was Miguel Hernandez, the janitor responsible for keeping the vast and empty factories clean. In keeping with MoroDyne’s principles of efficiency, much of the responsibilities involved in Manufacturing devolved to him, meaning he was President, Vice-President, Vice-Chancellor, Factotum, and Grand Vizier of Manufacturing, in addition to his responsibilities as Sanitation Engineer.
Miguel loved his job.
Henry, however, did not. In keeping with his perfectly normal veneer, he had to have the mid-life crisis that was inevitable amongst all Ph. D recipients in Biomedical Pharmatoxicology; namely, that they hate their jobs. Professors have the excuse that they have to deal with the lowest form of life day in and day out, namely, Ph. D students, while professionals in the business side of Pharmatoxicology often have the excuse that they simply aren’t making enough money. Life can be hard when you could only afford three BM’s, while all the folks from Marketing had a different car for every day. And how they gossiped!
Henry could not afford even one sports car. Instead, due to budget cutbacks, he could only afford a mostly-shiny car that was certainly not as old as he was (thirty-eight and counting). It was, however, damn close. He had spent a weekend with his friend and lab-mate, David Linwood, putting seat-belts inside the Car, as he referred to it. It ran well enough, despite the fact that instead of airbags it contained an emergency coal boiler and smelled suspiciously of cabbage.
He sat in said car, in his parking spot, at the beginning of yet another drab Monday morning. It was always drab at 6:30 AM in Toronto, but it was the kind of drab that Monday reserves for the start of a particularly bad week. “Oh ho,” it says, “and I’m preempting Wild House Hunters tonight for a Parliamentary debate that no-one’s going to watch!” Sometimes, Monday felt bad about itself. But then it remembered who and what it was, and it decided to rain on Henry’s car.
“God damn it.” Henry said. It was his Monday morning prayer. “God damn it all, Henry McAllister. You’re nearing the half-way point of your life and you’ve got nothing to show for it but a crappy car and a dead-end job pretending to be a scientist.” The Car grumbled in sympathy. And then the bumper fell off.
Henry rolled his eyes and stepped out of the car, duct-tape in hand. “Just my damn luck,” he moaned, as he tried to figure out how the corroded iron melded together, “and when I’m already late!”
Miguel honked his horn as he rolled by in his new, lemon-yellow Ferrari Roadster. Henry waved and tried to re-attach Car’s bumper. Miguel came to a halt and offered to help.
“Mr. McAllister, can I help you with that?” Miguel’s beard was perfectly trimmed and his Prada sunglasses cost more than Henry’s rent, but he was never anything but earnest.
“Sure, Miguel. The damn thing keeps falling off whenever, well, anything happens to it.”
Miguel was wearing his best crocodile-skin shoes, his fancy Tissot Bridgeport watch, and his stained and worn janitorial overalls. He hefted the bumper and took the duct tape from Henry.
“You go on, Mr. McAllister. I’ve got a meeting with the President, but he can wait five minutes. The Grand Vizier is a bit of a vaca but he will wait if I tell him so.”
Henry was wearing his best Shoe Warehouse shoes, his fancy Timex watch with a Velcro strap, and his least-rumpled grey suit, checked his watch.
“Oh, that would be grand, Miguel. I’m late as it is. But you don’t have to do that!”
“Is no problem, Mr. McAllister,” Miguel said in his smooth baritone as he lit a cubano, “my uncle taught me how to work with cars when I was a boy. Call it a favour from me.”
Henry ran off, his briefcase flapping about behind him. “Thanks a million, Miguel! I owe you!”
As Henry disappeared into the shiny glass building that was MoroDyne Biotechnical’s home office, Miguel stared at the bumper in his hands and the back of the car. There was a perfectly good bumper-shaped hole in the back of Car, and the bumper he held in his hands was 99% duct tape. He shook it and a small rain of iron dust fell out, thus purifying the duct tape. Shrugging, Miguel ordered the Vice-President to sing Somos Novios while he got the Factotum to re-attach the bumper. The rain, of course, had stopped once Miguel stepped out of his car.
He always had been a lucky boy.
Henry dashed into Laboratory B-2, barely clearing the door while he got his lab coat on.
“Did I miss it? Am I late?” He asked, breathlessly.
David was hunched over the mice cages, his attention absorbed by the scurrying of little rodent feet.
“You just missed Plinko.”
“Damn it!” Henry swore. The Price is Right played on a small TV, and it was just Henry’s luck to miss Plinko, which aside from Cliff Hangers, was the best that show offered. Henry collapsed at his desk to sulk. And mentally bid on the lovely travel set they were offering to the next contestant.
“How was your weekend, Dave?” Henry asked.
“It was good.” David responded, and looked over to Henry. If Henry was a normal man, David was so close to normal that most people just gave him a pass. On the great Test of Life, he got a 49 and the kindly Prof in the Sky just decided to bell-curve it a little for him. He was too tall and kind of gangly, but too fat to be properly gangly. When he ran, he looked like an Orangutan that forgot they were supposed to waddle. His eyes were big and watery, but neither big enough to be cute nor small enough to be completely nonthreatening. Genetics had given him stellar cheekbones and a startling intelligence, but also every sort of depression under the sun. He was prescribed Xanax, Vicodin, Ritalin, Chlorophyll, Viagra, Clorox, Anthrax, and Chili Pepper, which he dutifully filled every weekend at the pharmacy. However, knowing that his depression was so deep as to be untreatable, he dutifully chucked the medicine in the nearest bin on the way out. The local birds might be born with a second set of wings instead of legs, and every second pigeon might have had a third eye, but they were the most mentally well-adjusted avian population in the world. David would have been proud, if he could feel pride.
October 30, 2011 § 6 Comments
Goodness Halloween wasn’t that bad. My original costume idea failed, but thanks to some quick-thinking and lucky placement of modern art, it wasn’t a complete bust! I’ll let you know more in a bit. I have something I want to work on for today before I come back.
I’m splitting my posts because I’m super-excited and can’t wait the several hours to finish what I want to work on before I say it. Ages ago I submitted a story to Machine of Death 2, and no, I haven’t heard back from it yet, but it should be tomorrow or next week. I may or may not be checking my email several times each day. I feel that my email program is acquiring sentience, and every time it reports “no emails for this address”, it shakes it’s head at me.
In any case, I’m excited because I just found this pdf, which is a giant cloud of the titles for the submitted stories. I found mine in there, and I wonder if you can’t guess which mine is? It’s fun! It’s exciting! Here’s a hint: it’s not old age. Here’s an actual hint: it’s in black and you can almost make it out without zooming in. Almost.
See you in a bit!
October 29, 2011 § 2 Comments
This has gotten me more excited than Halloween (no, my costume being accidentally destroyed a few hours before the planned outing isn’t annoying at all), and I sat down to figure out why. It got me thinking, which is always a dangerous thing. For those of you who don’t want to follow links, have the video.
This was originally linked to me from Kotaku and in the comments there, someone said that this didn’t really “feel” like Zelda, and that this was, although well done, just another attempt to make something cool by making it gritty and real. I wondered about that for a bit. Did I only like the mod because it was making something that I loved as a kid, and still do, somewhat more palatable to my older, more refined (hah! I don’t know what Chardonnay is!) tastes?
This phenomenon appeared before, in what we (and by that, I mean me and the Comic Book Guy) called the Dark Age of Comic Books. I’ll summarize the Wiki link by saying that in the 80s, comics tended to become darker and more “serious”. This is the age of the Dark Knight Returns, the Watchmen, and nowadays, The Boys and…urgh…Crossed. Here’s a visual example of what I mean:
Pre-Dark Age Batman:
And Dark Age Batman:
Now, I suspect this was done for many of the same reasons that Hollywood evolved the way it did. Steven Spielberg, after all, was raised on schlocky crap movies that influenced him, and once combined with his actual training, allowed him to make glorious movies like Jurassic Park, something no-one would say is childish no matter the dinosaurs present.
I got this from Moviebob, a man I greatly admire, and his excellent series on the history of Hollywood. This is the first in the series, and I highly recommend watching it. It’s only about 20 minutes total, and well worth it even if you’re not a movie buff.
But is that all, I wonder? Is this simply a chance to re-live something I loved in a way that’s more acceptable as an adult? I would say no, if only because that suggests things have to be violent and based on war in order to be appreciated as an adult. Which, sadly, might be true, but isn’t necessarily so.
And, of course, this assumes that the past was entirely childish. Look at this picture, which was published in Nintendo Power when The Legend of Zelda came out, way back in 1986. Yes, that was before I was alive or even conceived.
Link actually looks human, and not just like a little sprite on the screen. The angle of his stance suggests he’s tired, anyone who’s played it will realize his shield is gone, likely wrecked, and his bearing just screams that he’s down to his last heart. Ganon, on the other hand, seems completely unaffected. It’s hard to tell, but there are skulls on his belt and pauldron, and he looks about a second away from crushing Link. What I love about this picture is that it actually shows what it would be like to go against a monster like Ganon. It shows the difference between imagination and, well, “reality”. It reminds me of the first time I saw the Battle of Helm’s Deep on-screen. I thought about what it would be like to be a Rohirrim on that wall, and it actually frightened me. It was real in a way that even the words on a page couldn’t really express.
So when I saw the trailer for Hyrule: Total War, I wasn’t excited because it was violent and “mature”. I was excited because the creators took the Zelda world and made it real. Check out the link and if you have the time, take a look at the units for each faction. The characters from the Zelda universe and put within the context of a place that has a history and a future. It took things that had relatively little background (a good example is the Lizalfos faction), and made them flesh-and-blood.
Simply, they took world-building to another step. Zelda already has a rich mythos and history. It even has super-nerds who will argue about the suggested timeline.
This is also why I adore fantasy and science-fiction, because they like to build worlds that are interesting to go to. It’s far easier to go there as kids, but as adults it’s still worthwhile. But only if you learn something about this one while you’re over there. For an example, let’s take the intro to A Link To The Past. If you’ve not played it (shaaaame), then here’s the breakdown of the first few minutes.
It’s a dark and stormy night, and you, as Link, have a dream where a girl you don’t know asks you to help save her. She says how a dark wizard has been capturing other girls for a nefarious plot, and has captured the castle and possessed the guards. Your father, sword and shield in hand, nonchalantly says he’s going out for a bit. Hot on his heels, you rush out into the storm and sneak into the castle through the sewers. In the sewer, you find your father grievously wounded and on death’s door, likely thrown there after trying unsuccessfully to fight the castle guards and free Zelda. He gives you his sword and shield, leaving you alone in the dark and the last hope to save the innocent women captured by the evil wizard.
You do not see your father again.
Do you know what this plot reminds me of? If we replace a few of the elements (namely the evil wizard), we basically have the plot to Man on Fire, Ransom, Kiss the Girls, and Along Came a Spider. And this basic plot tells us so much about the world.
We learn something about the personal cost of the war against evil. We learn something about how damn lonely it is to fight against something. And we learn how much it sucks to actually be a hero. At the very least, Link gets out of bed in the dark and the rain to help someone he doesn’t even know.
If any of that is childish, then let me be a child again.
Finally, for a wonderful example of how you can make something serious and interesting to a more mature audience without resorting to violence, check out Pokemon. Namely, the mythos surrounding the creation of the world and the legendary pokemon. Yes, there is a coherent and consistent story that runs throughout all the pokemon games that details the history, both real and mythic, of the world of pokemon. Did you know that there was a war fought before the events of the Red/Blue game, and that that’s likely where the father of the main character died?
And you probably thought it was just about slavery.
I admit, as someone who works and has worked in children’s stores for the past 4 years, I’m biased towards legitimizing the stories that are told to children. I think it’s not just a zero-sum game, where you are either a) for adults or b) for children. Especially since it’s adults who are making the stories that are being told.
In other news, I would like to announce that I am clean-shaven for the first time in six years. It is so weird to have a face again. I’m not sold on it, but for now it will do.
Finally, here’s something from your childhood that is totally relevant even today.
October 26, 2011 § 2 Comments
Here’s the second part, which was not done on the train. I did it yesterday, because I’m smart.
I smile. I like kids. He just looks at me.
I eat my lunch slowly, because my stomach isn’t very strong. I eat a lot and Mom says it will make me fat, but I like to eat too much to stop. I carefully dip each fry, measuring enough ketchup per bite. I’m very careful. Mom made sure I learned good manners when I was younger. She was always telling me to eat properly and to sit up straight and to not lean forward when I ate soup.
But of all the manners she taught me I can only remember one clearly. I was smaller and I remember it because this was when I could still hear out of both ears and before Dad went away and before Dr. Pokahanni and before the operation. I was sick and I tried to tell Mom that I didn’t want to eat but she couldn’t understand. I didn’t know why because I kept saying I was sick. But she kept asking me to eat more soup so I did. I like it when Mom is happy, and I cry when Mom cries.
I ate too much and was too sick and threw up on the table. It was on the kitchen table, the little white table that we ate breakfast and dinner at. The big table was always empty. I didn’t throw up very much, and I felt better once I barfed so I tried to keep eating. I had another spoonful of soup that tasted bad before Mom yelled at me. She was angry. Her eyes were wide and her mouth was red and open.
“What are you doing? Stop! Don’t eat that! John, stop!”
I stopped and felt sick again. I was very sad and cried. My fists balled up and I put them in front of my eyes. I don’t like looking at people when I’m crying and they don’t like to see me cry either. They get a weird look on their face and I don’t want to make them sad just because I’m sad. I coughed again, and Mom hugged me.
“It’s ok, it’s ok. Do you feel better? It’s ok.”
She was warm and she hugged me to her chest. I only cried a little bit, because I was sick and sad that I made Mom angry, but she rubbed my head. I liked it when she did that. It made me feel like our cat, Bart, who liked to be rubbed on his head, and I stopped crying.
Mom wiped up my mouth and helped me change into my pajamas. I felt better.
“Let’s watch Jeopardy.” I said. We watched it together. I never guessed the answers, but I liked watching the contestants get the right answers. I helped them by thinking really hard about the answer, and they would get it right. Sometimes I didn’t think hard enough or it was about American geography and they wouldn’t get it, but when they got it right it was like we were sharing a secret. I clapped every time they got a right answer because I knew I helped.
Mom sat me down on the couch but didn’t turn on the TV. She must not have heard me, so I said it again.
“Let’s watch Jeopardy.” I remembered she was teaching me manners, so I added, “Please.”
She smiled and brushed her hair out of her eyes. Mom always brushed the hair out of her face before she said something important, so I went all quiet. I love her hair. It’s grey like the subway, and I like riding the subway.
“In a minute, John. I need to talk to you about why you’re learning your manners.”
I nodded. When she brushed her hair out of her eyes, it was important to Be A Very Good Boy and Listen. I was a Very Good Boy, so I listened.
“You know you’re a very special boy, right John?” She asked, her fingers playing with the black blanket. I didn’t like the blanket because it had holes in it. Mom called it an Afghan, but I called it the toe-blanket because my toes poked out. I nodded again.
“Father Fulton says we’re all special because we’re all God’s children, but you know you’re very special, right? Part of what makes you so special is that you have something called Down’s syndrome. Do you know what that is?”
I shook my head, but just a little. My ears hurt if I moved them too quickly. She put her hand on my chest and tapped my heart.
“It’s inside you, John, but so tiny little you couldn’t see it without a microscope. And it’s what makes you special. Well, one of the things. You’re also my only little boy!” And she kissed my forehead, her lips warm but dry.
“Is that why I’m in the special class at school? B-because I’m special?” I asked. Because that would mean Meghan and Donald and James and Ichiro and Sophie were special too. Were we all special?
“Yes. And it’s wonderful and great, but it means you need a little more care and attention. That’s why Mrs. Chang and Mr. David take such good care of you at school everyday. You’re very special, but you need more attention to be that special.”
Mom took my hand and squeezed it. I looked at the clock on the VCR. It was 7:05. I wondered if they had gotten the first Daily Double. I wondered if Alex Trebek had shaved his moustache again.
“Listen, John. Some people don’t…understand how special you are. They think you’re broken, or strange because of your Down’s syndrome.”
“Am I b-b-broken?” I asked. The word was hard to get out. B’s are hard sometimes.
“No.” Mom put both her hands on my face. She looked like Mrs. Chang looked when class wasn’t behaving. We always had to behave, or Mrs. Chang would make her face all tight and we’d know we weren’t behaving. “No. You aren’t broken or sick. Never let anyone say that. You aren’t.” She squeezed, but not very tight.
“They just don’t understand how all you need is a little more time than everyone else. Or for them to speak louder, or slower. And that’s bad, because they don’t understand, but you can help them understand. If you’re polite, and clean, and always behave like a good boy, then they’ll understand better.”
I smiled and nodded. I did understand. I was always a good boy anyway, so I would just keep being a good boy. It made Mom happy, so I did it.
“Can we watch Jeopardy…p-p-please Mom?” I asked, being a good boy.
She smiled and all the lines in her face pulled back. “Yes, John. We can.” We sat together and she rubbed my back. “Always be a good boy and they won’t be able to get you.” Mom whispered, but I heard it. I didn’t know what she meant, but she was rubbing my back and I liked that, so I didn’t ask.
October 25, 2011 § 8 Comments
Don’t watch Transformers 3.
This is not a strike against the many good people who, I’m sure, worked on it. I don’t imagine they are all baby-eating monsters, and we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that they tried to make a good movie.
Actually, scrap that. They doomed themselves, knowingly, by not falling on their swords the moment this movie was completed. And if you’ve already seen it, then may your torment be eased knowing that another has suffered as you have.
It’s not that it’s a surprise, really. I mean, considering the horrible abomination that was Transformers 2, why wouldn’t we expect the worst?
Here’s my twenty second primer on why Tf2 was bad, which also explains much of why Tf3 sucked.
First, the humans were the stars of the movie. That was wrong and stupid. I did not pay good money to go to a Transformers movie to see humans talk about human problems. I went to see Autobots, preferably in disguise, wage their war against the evil forces of the Decepticons. Period. The human drama is irrelevant. And if you think such a thing is impossible, read IDW’s transformer comics about the war in Cybertron. Not only is Megatron a sympathetic character in it, you get an enjoyable story that features no humans. It’s not that I have anything against us filthy humans, but I’m going to watch a robot movie to see the robots. At least Real Steel avoided it by having the robots exhibit near-zero personality, but the Transformers are living, breathing (?) entities that have complex relationships with each other. I know more about Laboeuf ‘s(hereafter “That Douche”) trouble with his girlfriend than I do about the nuanced relationship of Optimus Prime and the rest of his team. Why oh why, in a a Transformers movie, are the Transformers secondary characters?
Second, in tf2 they screwed up Devastator. Badly. This a crime that affects the whole movie, and as grievous as well, this.
And this…thing was in Tf2:
It looks kind of cool. Sort of. But in fairness I would ignore my displeasure because they made a conscious decision to have the Decepticons appear more animal-like, so having a hulking monster is somewhat appropriate. Alright. Fine. I’ll grudgingly give a point to Bay and team that they thought about Devastator before they made him.
Oh wait, no I won’t. Because yes, those are balls. Balls, as in the vernacular for testicles.
On a robot.
See, that’s why I don’t trust Michael Bay with anything, because he has a habit of doing enough right to really piss me off when he wrecks the rest of it.
Case in point: Transformers 3 actually has a lot more about the robots than the prior movies. Although whenever the humans are on-screen they suck away all my capacity to care, when the robots are on-screen it’s actually pretty cool. Not amazing (let’s be honest here, it’s still the Transformers by Michael “not enough explosions” Bay), but good enough that I can just enjoy it.
And then this happens:
At first glance, you might go “whoah, that’s a leviathan-robot eating a building! Cool!” And you’d be right. Except that that scene takes about fifteen minutes, which ends with that gigantic machine dying like a wimp to a single attack from Optimus. And what’s more, inside that building are, yep, you guessed it, the humans. Who then go on to kill Starscream. And who probably go on to save the day. I don’t know, I didn’t watch the last 15 minutes. Stuff probably blows up and the Decepticons lose. Whatever.
But this happened during the climax of the film. Of the limited time that we have to see the actual Transformers mess stuff up, a great chunk of it is spent on watching the humans instead. Yes, if you do watch it, you will wonder why we’re supposed to care about these guys with the M16A4s and the ‘can-do’ attitude when there are Autobots not half a mile away blowing up Decepticons.
The reason, I think, is that they felt like they needed to apologize for having robots in the first place. Here’s an exampl, and more of my rage explained. They actually got the Decepticons, vicious warriors with a “do-anything-to-win” attitude, correct. Laserbeak, who originally was a cassette that could turn into a vulture-like bird, actually stone-cold kills humans in front of their families because he’s a stone-cold killer.
He doesn’t faff about or fail hilariously at the last second. Ken Jeong (WHY IS KEN JEONG IN THIS MOVIE IN THE FIRST PLACE), a double-agent (oh screw spoilers. It’s not like the movie deserves it anyways) working for the Decepticons outlives his usefulness and is visited by Laserbeak. Sam Witwicky tries to gallantly save him…only to watch him be thrown out of a window dozens of floors off the ground.
Why did I like that scene? Because it took itself seriously. Michael Bay’s problem is not that he can’t take things seriously, although when he doesn’t the humour is at best atrocious, it’s that it looks like he didn’t believe the franchise was worth taking seriously on its own merits. So far as I can tell, they put in humans because they couldn’t imagine it would appeal to audiences without the human element tying us to the giant robots, hence the crummy humour and reliance on human drama.
When it takes itself seriously, however, and not in the sense of including violence or mature themes but when the filmmakers and writers didn’t try to excuse or have us laugh away the idea of giant robots, the movie works. Sadly, those scenes are short, irrelevant to the longer plot, and in the end, not enough to carry this old fan’s expectations.
So in the end, I wouldn’t recommend you watch this unless you’re a transformers fan. Or a Shia Laboeuf/That Douche fan, if those exist. I guess? While it was nostalgia that made me like/tolerate Transformers, that was completely spent in the abomination that was Transformers 2. 3 just isn’t good enough to enjoy on it’s own merits, and the Transformers licence just doesn’t carry it when Bay inevitably fails.
Oh, and they kill Soundwave. That shit is not cool.
October 23, 2011 § 5 Comments
I was thinking about what makes good villains a few days ago when I saw a discussion of Squaresoft (pre-Squenix days) bad guys on the internet. It was lots of fun and in the thread I saw Lavos, the Big Bad Evil Guy (BBEG) from the wonderful game Chrono Trigger described as a “force of nature”, and it got me thinking, not just about what made a good villain, but also about Chrono Trigger (CT) in particular.
Bear with me, because this sort of thinking is what happens when you earn your Masters and need to spend your thinking capital somewhere else.
To briefly describe CT, it’s a game where you play a group of warriors, wizards, robots, and friends from across time who gather together to defeat Lavos, an ancient being that was brought to the world in the prehistoric past and which causes a calamity in 1999 A.D.
There are two important things to know about the game before I go on, and the first is that the game hinges around the time travel mechanic. From the very beginning, the characters travel through time into certain periods (35,000,000 BC, 12,000 BC, 600 AD, 1000 AD, the nominal “present” according to the protagonist, 1999AD, the Apocalypse, 2300 AD, and the End of Time). At first it’s an accident, but in time they learn that something is lurking behind the scenes. This something is Lavos, an alien parasite that intends to devour the energy of the world.
The second thing to know is that one of the central themes of the game is the conflict between inevitability and choice. The characters can and do go back in time in order to prevent certain actions from happening. Perhaps the most important, and meaningful, is where you actually save the life of one of the characters by going back to several seconds before he is obliterated and quickly saving him then. Another example is that you can fight the final boss of the game, if you choose to, within the first hour of play without cheating at all. The game itself acknowledges that there are certain things which are inevitable, and yet the player, much like the characters, always has choice. There are many side quests that depend on time-travel, such as replanting a forest, that are unnecessary in order to finish the main quest line, but reflect the fact that the characters have, literally, all the time in the world.
However, hand-in-hand with that choice is inevitability. The game, likely due to limitations of the system, still follows a progression of the story. You can’t, say, drop in on Magus’ castle before the game will let you, nor can you go back and catch earlier versions of the party to give them sweet swag. Your characters follow a timeline that they are powerless to leave. This inevitability, in fact, reveals itself most strongly when you figure out who the BBEG actually is.
The party is accidentally sent to 2300 AD, and see the post-apocalyptic landscape that was the result of Lavos’ emergence from the earth. So shocked are they at the destroyed world, they set out to stop Lavos from emerging. Basically, they plan to go back in time and punch Lavos’ mom in the stomach.
They go to 600 AD, when the wizard Magus was said to have summoned Lavos. The party interrupts the summoning, or tries to, but learns that Magus only awakened the beast. Lavos was already there, asleep and waiting. Frantically, the party travels back to 35,000,000 BC to try and find out how to stop the monster…only to learn that Lavos was the “asteroid” that impacted the world and killed the dinosaurs. The party can visit and revisit the point of impact as much as they want, powerless to stop the inevitable impact.
The inevitability continues. Not only (in the English version at least) do they learn that Lavos has been influencing the development of modern man for an end of his own devising, they also learn that in the past, 12,000 BC, a civilization tapped into Lavos’ power and used it to achieve incredible things, such as floating cities and technology that seems magical. Learning that this civilization also interacted with Lavos, they try to intervene and kill it while it is still weakened and not fully awake.
Here is where the inevitability hits hardest: they cannot* stop the apocalypse, the Day of Lavos. No amount of jumping through time will help that (*there is one way through the Black Fortress quest line, but that quest line only appears because of the impact the party has on prior timelines. The Black Fortress is the utopian civilization’s time-travelling super-fortress that is only built because you go back into the past because Lavos’ coming is inevitable in all other timelines. Did I mention I loathe time travel loopholes?). All your other choices almost seem like window dressing to the coming firestorm. As Arnold said, Judgement Day is inevitable.
Lavos cannot be prevented, he must be contained. Now, here’s where it gets significant. Of the party, only one of them is in any way actually affected by the Apocalypse. All the others could, conceivably, live in their own timeline and not have to deal with the future repercussions of Lavos’ emergence. This is like if in the Lord of the Rings, they could have jumped on the boats before the events of the books.
And chose not to.
You see, the point of CT is that the combined efforts of the past, present, and future come together to ensure that the future, which by definition they are not participating in, can be free of it’s inevitable destruction. With the power of the Epoch, their time machine, they would never have to even deal with Lavos. They could go back to 36,000,200 BC and live their lives in peace.
But they don’t. In CT, they actually grapple with the mistakes of the past and do so for an unlived-in future. The protagonists are doing it, not only for people they don’t know, but people they will never know or meet (time travel notwithstanding).
Now that sounds all fine and dandy, but how does that fit in with our world, where there aren’t spunky cavewomen running around fighting alien parasites? Well, why don’t we replace “Lavos” with “oil”?
Oil came from 35,000,000 BC or thereabouts. It’s presence and it’s effects can’t be removed or else there wouldn’t be an industrial society (“subtly influencing modern man’s evolution”, see above). Further, unless it is directly faced and its power over us eliminated, there will be an Apocalypse, whether that be environmental collapse, a loss of oil as an energy source before society is ready, or some combination of the two. We can be loosely understood as the society that has reached a utopia from tapping into the power of this ancient beast. Lack of flying cities notwithstanding, when you consider that even a poor person in the 1st world is living better than anyone else in history it’s not that big of a stretch.
And that’s the amazing message of CT which still resonates today. It’s not about fighting the monster that can and will destroy you now. Neither Lavos, nor the environmental impacts of reckless oil use will affect us. Future generations, yes, but we’re not in the crosshairs.
But that means it’s our responsibility to deal with the monster that we awoke. We will never see the lives we save by switching from oil or making it cleaner, but that in no way mitigates our responsibility to those invisible people. Just because we cannot see them, it does not mean that we should not help them.
So in the end, I don’t know how good a villain that actually makes Lavos. He is, after all, just an animal that is searching for suitable prey. But that does make the protagonists some of the best from any story I’ve read. How many other characters, once they see what they’re up against, are given an out and then willingly do not take it on behalf of those they will never meet?
Hell, we should all be so brave.
N.B. – I don’t know how many of you will be able to read that article I linked to, but please try, as it’s well worth a read even if you’re not a historian. It’s only 11 pages, so I know you can do it! Also, this essay was eaten by the internet half-way through and therefore took an hour longer than it should have. I am displeased.
To let off some steam, have Robo’s song and relive the 90s as they were meant to be heard: