Check out Walter’s previous articles in this ongoing series Thursday mornings exploring video games, cultural villains, and American values at PJ Lifestyle. From May 2: “Beating Back the Nazi “Sickness” and last week: What Zombies Teach Us About Human Nature. And also see Walter’s A Reason For Faith series, reprinted last week here. In these four articles Walter begins to formalize his task of synthesizing the Judeo-Christian tradition with Ayn Rand’s Objectivism and Tea Party activism. - DMS
In one of the most vivid dreams I can recall, I witnessed the landing of a plainly alien spaceship. It came lucidly, dancing on the edge of wakefulness, informed by enough of my rousing consciousness that it felt particularly real. I remember the feeling that my feet were glued to the ground, that I couldn’t move if I wanted to, not on account of some external force, but due to an overwhelming sense of awe and anticipation. The one thought dominating my mind: everything is about to change.
Though it was only a dream, I retain the memory as vividly as though it were of an actual experience and believe I will respond similarly if ever confronted by a true interplanetary delegation. Something about that kind of moment, when the veil lifts upon an existential mystery, produces an irresistible thrill. Perhaps that tops the list of reasons why our popular culture remains ever fascinated by the prospect of extraterrestrial life.
Aliens have become such a prolific device in our entertainment that we sometimes take them for granted. Like a modern deus ex machina, aliens can be relied upon to suspend disbelief in an otherwise inconceivable scenario. (How does Superman fly? Simple, he’s an alien!) Extraterrestrials rank alongside Nazis, zombies, and generic terrorists as the most common villains found in video games. Unlike those others, however, aliens may also be allies. Nothing inherent to extraterrestrial life demands it be villainous. Beings from other worlds often act as mirrors for examining the human condition, when not merely lurking among shadow and neon strobe.
It’s probably no coincidence that the advent of ufology, which is an actual word in the dictionary meaning the study of unidentified flying objects, coincides with the initial proliferation of aviation and the early years of the space age. We began to look up into the sky right about the time we realized there was nothing left to find over the horizon. In times past, when the known world was still defined by the flickering edge of torchlight, we imagined unspeakable monsters much closer to home. Spirits, ghosts, goblins, ghouls, fairies, vampires, all were the alien invaders and abductors of their time. As we have come to dismiss them as infeasible and childish, our imagination turns to the stars, where the realm of possibility remains seemingly infinite.
Certainly, we can see how aliens have stepped in to fill the role of menacing ghoul. Ridley Scott’s original Alien was essentially a horror film, a science fiction creature feature. While the execution was masterful, the formula proved well-established and has been revisited ever since.
Spoiler Warning: Bioshock Infinite cannot be properly analyzed without revealing the details of its plot. If you plan to play it, or haven’t finished it, consider whether you wish to read further.
This may seem an odd way to start an analysis of a video game. But bear with me.
I was not always a Christian. There was a period of my life during which I searched for truth, trying to discern medicine from snake oil. One of the most compelling observations which led to the development of my Christian faith was the unique economy of sin presented in the Bible.
While many people believe that human beings are inherently good, an honest assessment of one’s own thoughts, along with cursory observation of even the youngest child, reveals that human beings are actually quite wicked. Not only are we bad, we like ourselves that way. Indeed, the notion that we are inherently good lowers the moral bar to the status quo, as if this life lived this way with all its horrors and violations were some kind of ideal.
Christianity stands unique among worldviews in not only acknowledging our congenital moral defect, but also in explaining how we contracted it while offering a cure. Other faiths tend to regard sin as some form of moral debit which can be offset by good deeds. Becoming a Christian requires acknowledging that the debt accrued through sin can never be paid by the sinner. Instead, the believer trusts in the atoning death of Christ, pointing to Him as the settler of accounts. Such faith proves difficult, both because we tend to deny our own wickedness and because we prefer to think we can overcome deficiencies on our own.
Surprisingly, this economy of sin proves quite relevant to an analysis of Irrational Games’ hot new shooter set in the skies above 1912 America, Bioshock Infinite. Redemption runs as a prominent theme throughout the experience, presented in various forms which tend to prove false. Protagonist Booker DeWitt, a former Pinkerton man and player avatar, seeks the seemingly simple redemption of a financial debt to a dangerous creditor. Antagonist Zachary Comstock, head prophet of a xenophobic cult, offers his followers redemption from “the Sodom below” within the floating city of Columbia. Daisy Fitzroy, leader of the leftist Vox Populi, offers her followers redemption from the tyranny of Comstock through militant revolution. Player companion and surprisingly able damsel Elizabeth begins as an innocent who comes to realize her own peculiar need for a second chance.
New boss, same as the old boss. So gamers may come to regard Disney since its acquisition of the Lucasfilm family of companies, including video game developer LucasArts. Sitting on a rich catalog of intellectual properties including Star Wars and Indiana Jones, LucasArts should be at the forefront of the gaming community. At times, they have been. But recent years have left much to be desired.
The pairing of Disney’s acquisition with the looming transition to a new generation of gaming consoles presents an ideal opportunity to reinvigorate the brand. In a way, the lull in development from LucasArts in the past several years sets the stage for an all-the-more-impressive breakout. Here are 5 Star Wars games which need to get made already:
5) Remastered X-Wing Series
Steam led the way as a project pioneered by game developer Valve toward abandoning discs in favor of digital distribution. Now an established marketplace for titles from a variety of developers, Steam welcomes players with the latest new releases and a catalog of retro titles, many of which can no longer be played through conventional means.
As one example, Steam offers a large collection from LucasArts, including the Jedi Knight series, some classic Indiana Jones adventures, and the first and second Knights of the Old Republic role-playing epics. However, one franchise is conspicuously missing from the developer’s catalog, the X-Wing series of space combat simulators.
X-Wing, Tie Fighter, X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter, and X-Wing Alliance were once sold as a collection on CD-ROM. Each entry offered a compelling combat experience more akin to a flight simulator than an arcade game. Players had full control over the minutia of their spacecraft, able to direct energy between shields, weapons, and engines, all while targeting enemy subsystems and approaching missions creatively. The series was enormously popular, inspiring a major expansion to the Star Wars Galaxies online experience which offered similar gameplay.
For each passing day that the X-Wing series remains unavailable on Steam, a LucasArts executive should be fired. Releasing these games as digital downloads is an absolute no-brainer. Practically effortless aside from some paper pushing among lawyers, the move would provide LucasArts (and parent company Disney) with profit-bearing revenue on day one. That said, the opportunity exists to remaster these classic titles with updated graphics and modern network capabilities. There’s an entire generation of gamers who have never had the pleasure of experiencing X-Wing. Updated versions of these bar-setting titles would fly off the virtual shelf.
Writing A Novel In Thirteen Weeks:
If you’re going to write a novel, you have, of course, to start with an idea. Just like if you’re going to make a shepherd’s pie, first you have to catch your shepherd.
One of the questions I always get — in every panel, in every interview, at every con — is: “How do you get your ideas?”
The normal answer is: “I get them from [insert random, remote/small town].” I use: “Hays, Kansas. But it will cost you a dime, and you have to send a SASE.”
The sad thing is that I could possibly sell ideas and never reach a point where I have none to sell. Like with everything else, ideas are something you train yourself to have, and once you start having them, you have them all the time. You’ll be Standing On the Corner, Minding your Own Business (the infamous SOCMOB that guarantees you’ll be jumped by “two bad dudes”) when an idea will jump out of a nearby dumpster, and there you have it.
For instance, the other day in my blog comments, commenter CACS mistyped “High School Cemetery” instead of “High School Chemistry,” and there was immediately a boarding school for vampires (children with special needs) in my head.
So, was that idea enough to write a novel?
Probably not, because it doesn’t interest me enough – but what you also have to understand is that the boarding school for vampires is not an idea for a story. It is an idea for a setting. I still don’t have an idea – and it is the idea that determines whether it’s a novel, a short story, or just a passing, throw-away detail in another story.
Let me explain: What you have there has no characters, no conflict, no… story. It’s at best a spark of a story, even if for a fantasy reader (or writer) it comes freighted with all sorts of implied problems like “do they have classes at night?” “What do they do for the cafeteria — a blood bank?” etc.
The Dallas Sci-Fi Expo wrapped up on Sunday, February 10. We snapped photos of some of the best, most creative and most disturbing costumes of the show. Click on a thumbnail below to view photo galleries. They’re divided into Girls, Groups, and Guys.
You can see more costumes from the Dallas Sci-Fi Expo here.
We interviewed Battlestar Galactica’s Tricia Helfer, here.
And ran into MickeyDeadMau5Trooper here.
This could be interesting and fantastic. It could also be horrible.
Yesterday, The Walt Disney Co. unveiled plans to make a number of spin-off movies set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away — in addition to the post-Return of the Jedi trilogy that had already been announced.
Entertainment Weekly has learned details on two of the spin-off projects: A young Han Solo saga, focusing on the wisecracking smuggler’s origin story, and a bounty hunter adventure with Boba Fett at the center of a rogue’s gallery of galactic scum.
The Han Solo story would take place in the time period between Revenge of the Sith and the first Star Wars (now known as A New Hope), so although it’s possible Harrison Ford could appear as a framing device, the movie would require a new actor for the lead — one presumably much younger than even the 35-year-old Ford when he appeared in the 1977 original.
The Boba Fett film would take place either between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, or between Empire and Jedi, where the bounty hunter was last seen plunging unceremoniously into a sarlacc pit. Exactly who would play him isn’t much of a complication – in the original trilogy, he never took off his helmet. And in the prequels, we learned he was the son of the original stormtrooper clone, played by Temuera Morrison, who’s still the right age for the part if his services were required.
On the plus side, Han Solo and Boba Fett are two of the most interesting characters in the SW universe. Movies featuring their backstories have massive potential. On the double-plus side, George Lucas won’t be directing, so the actors may come off as living, breathing human beings. That’s something we haven’t seen in a Star Wars film in a long, long time.
The Star Wars empire is running on fumes. If Disney doesn’t get this right, the galaxy far, far away could collapse.
Disney could do this right, or they could Disney-fy it. Will we get the gritty Republic Commando treatment that both of these characters deserve, or will we get a more candy-coated take aimed at reviving the Star Wars video game and toy empire? A gritty treatment, especially of Boba Fett, could be amazing. I hope for that but dread and fear the Disneyification of the whole thing. Another way they could screw this up, in typical Star Wars fashion, would be to have some extremely unlikely connection between the two characters revealed in the movies. There’s no need for that. Darth Vader didn’t need to build C-3PO for the Star Wars saga to work. Han and Boba Fett don’t need to be schoolyard buddies or enemies, or fellow recruits at the imperial academy.
I’m trying not to write that I have a bad feeling about this, but honestly, I do.
Updated February 9: See Bryan’s photos from today at the Dallas Sci Fi Expo
So here it is: week 13 of the 13 Weeks, which officially ends tomorrow. This is also Day One of the next 13 Weeks, which I started today to make everything match with the publishing schedule.
I pretty well explained what I’m doing for the next 13 weeks in my post last week, so I won’t linger on that: same eating plan or similar, but adding a Seinfeld calendar with six days a week of a Tabata protocol workout, plus weightlifting and yoga or Pilates. I have a new spreadsheet which tracks body fat as well as weight and glucose. As of today, this is a new experiment, so I’m starting from an empty spreadsheet. As of today, weight is 272.1, body fat by Withings impedance scale is 33.1 percent, and morning fasting glucose is 109. “After pictures” and a comparison in next week’s column.
So, below the fold, a little change of pace.
See you next week.
(Heinlein fans may remember this from “The Roads Must Roll”.)
Related at PJ Lifestyle:
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World stands as one of the most creative scripts produced in 2012. Steve Carell and Keira Knightley play an odd couple united on a quest to reconnect with their respective pasts before a meteor destroys all life on Earth. Dramatically deviating from the clichés of the disaster genre, Seeking a Friend presents a doomed humanity that takes the apocalypse fairly well. While including requisite scenes of panic and riot, the film’s characters strive toward some sense of relationship in their final days.
We too seem to be taking the apocalypse pretty well. Our world hurls toward its scheduled end on December 21st according to predictions based on the ancient Mayan calendar. It’s something folks like Art Bell, George Noory, and their overnight talk radio guests have been warning us about for years. It serves as the subject of several books, a keyword of countless websites, the inspiration for a variety of B movies, and the premise behind Roland Emmerich’s consummate disaster film titled simply 2012. After years of hype, the date approaches. Yet there is a conspicuous lack of panic.
The smart money bets on the continued survival of both humanity and our planet. As my friend and PJ Media colleague Sunny Lohmann recently quipped on Twin Cities News Talk, the only thing sure to come beyond the winter solstice is more daylight. Predictions of Armageddon have an impressive failure rate.
Be that as it may, we should not completely dismiss the potential for a kind of apocalypse. No, I don’t mean the fiscal cliff, Obama’s second term, or an imminent economic meltdown. I’m talking about an apocalypse of the kind which has come many times before, a moment in history when a culture unravels under a development so overwhelming that established institutions pass into ruin. Think of the Aztecs and their encounter with Spanish conquistadors. They scurried about, minding their own business, when the white man arrived to unmake their world.
At a moment like that, two things happen. Newly introduced technology bowls over indigenous methods, and a new way of thinking transmits through that technical superiority. That kind of apocalypse, one which reforms our world and thus destroys our way of life, looms not only possible, but anticipated.
Hat tip: Movies with Butter.
More Movies and Sci-Fi at PJ Lifestyle:
Geek favorites Bryan Fuller and Bryan Singer have been forthcoming about their hopes for bringing Star Trek back to the small screen, after the release of J.J. Abrams’ elusive sequel to his Trek movie reboot next summer. However, it turns out those two aren’t the only ones with big dreams about a new TV series set in that sci-fi universe – Michael Dorn is also taking steps to reprise his signature Trek role on a spinoff, tentatively titled Star Trek: Captain Worf.
Worf, Son of Mogh, of course, is the first Klingon main character on a Star Trek TV series. He appeared on The Next Generation throughout its seven-season run, then became a Deep Space Nine regular for its last four seasons. Dorn portrayed Worf in all four Next Generation films; in addition, he played Worf’s grandfather, Colonel Worf, in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
Rumors and reports about a prospective Worf spinoff began circulating earlier this year – which, perhaps not-so-coincidentally, marks the 25th anniversary of The Next Generation. Trek News caught up with recently with Dorn, who gave them the following exclusive “scoop” on the project:
“I had come up with the idea because I love [Worf] and I think he’s a character that hasn’t been fully developed and hasn’t been fully realized. Once I started thinking about it, it became obvious to me that I wanted to at least put it out there, which I have, and the response has been pretty amazing. We’ve been contacted by different individuals–I can’t say who and all that–about wanting to come on board and be part of this. ”
More science fiction at PJ Lifestyle:
Note: The following is my daydream of a New York Times editorial a few weeks hence, after the craziness regarding the hurricane and the Republican convention. It is intended to be over-the-top satire that might make you laugh. The point is, though, that things have become so totally bizarre that I wouldn’t rule out something like this happening. [By the way, doesn't it seem as if Obama is running for national student body president, as if all the voters are on campuses? In a sense, I think that reflects a very real belief of him and his cohort.]
Under any circumstances, the appearance of an alien attack fleet would seem to be a cause for alarm. Of course, we are not referring to good “aliens,” the people sneaking across our borders in the hope of getting citizenship and the ability to vote in elections—not necessarily in that order. No, we are referring to the aliens from the star system of Alpha Orionis whose space ships are even now circling our planet.
As everyone knows by now, the aliens have broadcast a threat that unless their demands are met within 24 hours they will start destroying one American state a day, killing all forms of life within its borders. There are those who have wrongly concluded, however, that the president should immediately cease his fundraising activities and that the schedule of the Democratic Convention be altered.
We view this as short sighted, mainly pushed by the far-right faction that has taken over the Republican Party. There is a big difference between an alien attack that bodes ill for the survival of all Americans and a hurricane hitting the Gulf Coast. No one would suggest that the president prefers to be partying while Americans were dying horribly. It’s just that doing so is his personal duty, made perhaps less onerous by the fact that some of the specific states that might be wiped out, say Arizona or Utah for example.