OP-ED: Opinion and Reality

Fair warning from the start: This post is going to address that beast, politics, and talk about it a little. Probably not in the way most of you expect, but it is going to address it. So fair warning, this might be messy. But I’m pulling no punches and diving right in.

The last few months have reminded me of an experience I once had a little over a decade ago. I collect cool background images for my PC, and from a variety of sources. Photographs of national parks, neat images from video-games I’ve played, whatever. That mix and combination, however, lead to a very interesting exchange.

I had a visitor over who, through one means or another had noticed my rotating backgrounds, and commented on them and how nice they looked. At the moment, the background in question had been showing a very artistic photograph of Hamburg, Germany. I nodded, agreeing, and then noted that it almost made me want to visit and see the city someday.

At which point, this individual did something very unexpected and unusual. They shook their head sadly and said “Oh sure, that’d be nice, but it’s not a real place.”

Stunned and slightly perplexed, I replied that it was indeed very real. Hamburg, Germany was a city on a map.

At this point things took a swift turn sideways. This individual, who up until this point I had assumed was a rational, thinking human being, shook their head and with a sad, patronizing tone said ‘Oh no, it’s not hun. You just think it is because of all those video games you play. You’ve lost touch with reality. You think these imaginary places are real.’

After a moment’s pure shocked disbelief, I replied that I knew very well the difference between fantasy and reality, and replied that Hamburg, Germany was a very real place.

Their response? They shook their head, told me how sad it was that playing video games had messed with my head so much, and hoped that one day I would realize the difference between fantasy and reality.

To this day I wonder if that individual ever realized exactly how crazy they sounded.

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OP-ED: Xbox Live is Now a Legitimate Reason Not to Purchase an Xbox

I don’t talk about my gaming hobby on here too much (recommendations for titles like Subnautica notwithstanding) but from time to time it comes up. And from time to time, I do have something to say about it. Today, what I have to say is … weird. A pointed observation, but one that I want to put out there.

Xbox Live is now a legitimate reason not to own an Xbox.

This might seem strange (or if you’re unfamiliar with the names here, confusing). So let me offer a bit of background.

The Xbox is Microsoft’s gaming console. The first one launched in 2001, made a name for itself with titles like Halo, and has since become one of the three mainstream consoles most people think of when they think of games. A console, by the way, being a set-top box, like a Blu-Ray player, that plays games. Think of a small, specialized computer that’s built to do one thing: game.

Now, Xbox made a name for itself in several ways. But one of the areas where Miscrosoft lead the pack was in bringing online play to consoles as a mainstream feature rather than a peculiar oddity.

Online play is the ability for players to connect with others over the internet, engaging in cooperative or competitive play. To most of you, this isn’t new knowledge. Xbox was the first to bring this ability to a console by default with “Xbox Live,” a service that you had to pay for but let you play Halo with your friends across the country.

For a while, this was understandable: Consoles weren’t PCs. The games were only there. Pay a little extra to play online? Weird from the perspective of a PC player (where this ability has been around for forever) but for a console. Okay, sure.

Except in the last two years … this “pay to play” mentality has become a bit of a sticking point against the platform, rather than for it.

Why? Well, Microsoft has made major pushes to “unify” their gaming platform. All their first-party titles now come to PC, with the company putting an emphasis on making it as easy as possible for game-makers to release their titles on both platforms. They’ve even worked to make cross-play possible, so players on one can play with people on the other ecosystem.

Oh, and then they took it one step further and started making purchases cross over. Buy a game like Forza Horizon 4 from a participating digital store, for example, and play it on both your Xbox or your PC, wherever you want.

Buy once, play where you want. Sounds pretty good, right? Except this is where the problem arises.

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News, Updates, and Musings

Hey readers! Been sort of a quiet week from me, hasn’t it?

Well, I’ll have you know that’s because I’ve been hard at work on both Axtara – Banking and Finance and Starforge. Even better, work on both is coming along nicely.

Now, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t any other news worth reporting, or that you’re about to have Axtara in your claws (or hands, whichever). Right now Alpha 1 is about 76% complete, and I think after it’s finished up, I’m going to do a second Alpha, just to make sure some of the changes and alterations fly true under new eyes. This will delay any release a little bit, but shouldn’t by too much. You’ll still get the book fairly soon.

Plus, I still need to sit down and spend some time finding a cover artist since the one I’d really hoped for wasn’t interested. Which is tricky, as finding artists that can do spectacular portraits of dragons while still giving them very recognizable expression is … tricky.

Still, there’s good news coming out of the Alpha: Axtara is awesome. The readers have enjoyed it quite a bit, and I think it’s going to make quite a splash when it arrives.

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The Publishing Treetops Shake

So the last few weeks have been full of interesting news for the book industry. In fact, I was planning on posting on this last week, since it was more topical then (and I would have found easy access to the relevant links, now I’m just going to talk about it) but had that run-in with a falling teen from the sky and ended up a little out of it.

So we’ll discuss it right now instead, between bits of pre-work on Starforge. So then, what’s to talk about?

Well, when I say “book industry” I really mean one area: Traditional publishing. To be more specific, the big five. The last few weeks have seen a number of shakeups across the big five, from Simon & Schuster switching CEOs (even as they’re up for sale) to other publishers replacing high-up corporate positions, funneling their long-held higher officials out and bringing in new ones with the hope that they’ll bring change.

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A Brief Post Concerning the State of Things in the US

Those of you who are in the US most likely know what I’m talking about today. Those of you outside the US have most likely picked up tidbits, given the amount of non-US news crews covering everything (and finding themselves assaulted for it), so I don’t need to rehash the events surrounding the death of George Floyd or the subsequent protests and then riots sweeping across the US here. If you somehow haven’t gathered much on what happened (another cop killing someone on camera in cold blood with no repercussions) … well that parenthetical is likely all you need to decipher, along with a decent imagination of “Well, how would people react to that?”

Now, I’m not going to go into a lot of depth on this today. Be aware that that depth does exist. If you wish to find records of police brutality, videos of Australian news crews being clubbed with batons, or old men beat up by police until they’re lying bleeding on the pavement for the “crime” of trying to get to their home or waiting for a bus.

So what am I going to say on this? A few things.

First, the murder of George Floyd was wrong. As is any of the racial profiling that still sticks with a lot of people in the US. I think I’ve made it pretty clear over the course of seven books that I think judging someone based on the color of their skin is an utterly asinine practice that no one should engage in. Positive or negative (yes, it’s just as bad to assume someone is “good” because of a skin color as it is to assume something bad about them).

People. Are. People. We’re all human beings on this little rock we call Earth. Blue, green, purple, whatever. Judging someone based on the color of their skin is wrong.

You want to make a judgement on someone, do it by something that matters, like the content of their character.

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Op-Ed: How Covid-19’s Impact Might Be Good for the United States

Hello readers! I’m going to start this post with a bit of a disclaimer. Two, actually.

First, I know Covid-19 has been bad for a lot of people. It’s caused a lot of deaths, and a lot of disruption. There are people who have lost family members and friends because of this, or jobs and livelihoods. At the time of this writing, the global death toll was about 140,000. The goal of this post isn’t to say that Covid-19 (AKA Coronavirus) is good, it’s unmistakably a situation which we should take very seriously. But the impact it’s left on the other claw, could be good. Much in the way an early architectural disaster arising due to unknown elements can lead to a greater understanding of building stresses and safer buildings overall (this has indeed happened).

Second, this post is really only concerned with the United States of America. Because it’s where I happen to live, and where therefore I’m both most familiar with the structure of things as well as the effects Covid-19 has had on that structure. If you’re one of my many readers from outside the US (shoutout to Europe, including Sweden, Norway, Spain, and Finland, New Zealand, Brazil, and even Africa!) then this post may not be quite as relevant except maybe as a curious thought exercise or puzzlement or another opinion piece on how the US functions (or in this case, doesn’t function, as we’re about to discuss).

So, with both those things said, then, let’s move on to today’s post, and how Covid-19’s impact could be good for the US … if we’re aware enough to make it happen.

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OP-ED: Hollywood Clearly Doesn’t Want Video Game Films to Succeed

Okay, remember how I said I’d post tomorrow? Well, I’m posting today. You’ll get a post tomorrow. This news I just received … Well, it set me off, and a post had to be made.

I saw Sonic the Hedgehog over the weekend. And you know what? It was actually pretty dang good! But you know why? Only because Paramount reacted to the massive and rightly earned horror the public recoiled with upon seeing their “improved” version of the iconic character.

Sonic Redesign

Seriously. Remember this abomination of terror? The redesign of a classic character that Paramount did only because they apparently wanted to “prove” they could do it better?

Here’s what Sonic actually looks like in the games, by the way, so you can see how badly they screwed it up:

tsr_sonic

Only after being absolutely flattened by angry and horrified responses from the general public did Paramount push the film back and decide to change the final film into something actually resembling the the character whose name they were using, giving us this:

Sonic Redesign 2

Which, you’ll agree is a lot closer to the actual design of the character whose film again, they claimed they were making. You know, they just wanted to improve it.

So why am I talking about this (and exposing you to the horrors of Paramount’s “improvement”)? I mean, I didn’t even get into the absolutely awful choice of music for the first trailer, but I digress.

So why talk about this? Because I firmly believe at this point that Hollywood is doing its best to damage every video game property they can get their hands on. Why?

To damage the competition.

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OP-ED: The Foolish Hypocrisy of “What We Had is Good Enough”

Hey readers! Taking a moment from Fireteam Freelance to make a quick post. One that, well … Let’s just see how this goes. But first, a heads up that Colony and Jungle have picked up something like six new Five-Star reviews/ratings in the last week! Welcome new readers, and thank you for leaving your thoughts! I’m glad you’re loving Colony and Jungle!

Okay, news over! This post, like some here on Unusual Things, is one of those posts inspired by an actual conversation. In this case said conversation was between myself and an individual who shall remain nameless, but who is an outspoken critic of the “younger generations.”

Note: If you thought “Oh, a boomer!” or “OK boomer” then you’re on the right track here. Anyway, this individual holds that the social difficulties of today aren’t difficulties at all, that they’re simply a byproduct of the younger generations being lazy and incompetent, and that no one has had it harder than their generation (red flag much?).

But … that’s not where I’m going with this. No, I want to use this interaction to show the hypocrisy of a mindset that is, unfortunately, bought into by many. The idea that “Well, we had it good enough, so anything past that we perceive means you’re coddled/weak/less than us.”

Let me give you an example. The individual I was in the conversation with gave their “example” of “you have it so much better than the generation before you who had it so bad, how dare you complain about anything” by bringing up cell phones. Cell phones and smart phones, they argued, were just a sign of a coddled, weakened generation. ‘The younger generation doesn’t have money,’ they argued, ‘because they spend it on cell phones, which they don’t need. If they were really poor, they’d get rid of their cell phones.’

Okay, now despite the holes of logic that one could pilot a star cruiser through (such as even basic, minimum-wage jobs—so you know, banks, retail, medical, etc—requiring their employees have cell phones for scheduling, 24-7 access, etc), this person didn’t stop there. They just had to “drive the point home.”

‘When I was the age of the younger generation, the apartment block I lived in had one phone, at the end of the hall. Most used it only once a week to call someone important like their family.’ And here’s the moment where they messed up. They then finished if ‘If it was good enough for me and my generation, then it’s good enough for you.’

I responded in a way that caught them off-guard. I asked why they felt they needed to use the phone, if a letter worked just as well. They replied that why shouldn’t they use the phone? After all, it was there to be used.

‘Yes,’ I replied, ‘But did your parents have access to a phone like that when they were your age?’

‘Of course not,’ they quickly retorted. ‘They sent letters. There was no phone.’

‘Then why didn’t you send letters?’ I asked. ‘After all, if it was good enough for them, shouldn’t it have been good enough for you? You didn’t need to use a phone.’

Instant. Anger. And cue the rant.

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OP-ED: The Gears of War “Movie”: Games and Hollywood

Hollywood has … problems.

Okay, that’s kind of a lame lead. We all know that. Everywhere has problems. Is Hollywood unique?

Well … yes. Most of their problems are pretty specific. And a lot of them are of their own, self-inflicted making. If you want a fascinating hour, go look up a podcast on how things like Academy Awards are determined and you’ll be exposed to an almost insane feedback loop wherein people make movies to please the academy so that they can win awards to make movies to please the academy.

Yeah, Hollywood is weird. But one of their more puzzling “problems,” the one that I want to talk about today, is their obsession with “fixing what isn’t broke.”

That’s right. I want to talk about video game movies.

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How Marvel’s Movies (and Others’ Products) Have Changed Storytelling

Pop quiz for you. Don’t worry, it’ll be easy to answer. Have you ever read any licensed literature? Like Star Wars books, or Star Trek, or Warhammer, or … Sands, really any licensed property? Or maybe seen a tie-in TV show to a movie? Played a game of a movie or a book?

Basically, anything that could be considered “secondary canon?”

Right. I can already tell I’ve lost some of you. So let’s back up. Let’s say you are a movie producer. Better yet, you’re one of those producers like James Cameron who often writes, produces, and directs your own movies. And you’ve just made a hit.

Now, with this hit on your hands, someone has come to you and asked for a chance to expand on the universe! They want to write a trilogy of books that tie into the movie and extrapolate a bit after it! Awesome!

But … you don’t want to write a trilogy of books. You want to keep making movies.

“No problem!” says the publisher with the contract. “We’ve got an author lined up! They’ll write all three. We just need some notes on the movie, for you to answer some questions, and that’ll be all we need!”

So you sign the paper, and the trilogy comes out. You collect a small licensing fee, and a bunch of fans of your movie go on to read the book and form excited theories and ideas.

Except … a year or two later, when you sit down to write the sequel, you’ve got a bunch of ideas that don’t quite mesh with the world and liberties the author of the book trilogy took to flesh out their story. Not that you know this: You probably haven’t read them. Or, if you did read them, you’d know the score as being thus—

The movie came first, therefore the movie is the final word.

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