The New Year – 2016

 

Blog Segment - Peeking Through The Window copyYou know, typically, I’m not big on the whole New Year’s Resolutions thing. It has always felt a little bit weird to me to have a specific time of the year to say “Things are going to be different, now!” when that’s generally the sort of thing that I would assume we should be ready to do, and be serious about, on any given day. If anything, having a national holiday (kinda) for it makes me realize all the more how bad I am at keeping “resolutions.” Despite this, I find myself here about to write down a little bit of a wrap up for last year, and a look ahead to this one, with a little of resolve for solutions thrown in the mix. So let’s get started.

Continue reading

NA LCS Playoffs and Predictions

Blog Segment - Entertain Me..

Here’s my first experiment in smaller, more focused blog posts. I hope it works out well.

So this one is for those of you who follow the North American League Championship Series(LCS). Doing predictions when I am doing them is perhaps a bit… silly…. We’re already in the semifinals, and Cloud 9 and Liquid are fighting it out, so it comes a liiiiiitle bit late (I’m experimenting with scheduled posts). Despite that I want to throw out some last minute predictions that will make me look even sillier since they will be coming out after at least one series is over.

But first, a few small thoughts on the previous match-ups! Continue reading

Mass Effect 3 – The Review, The Endings, The Controversy


Hello, everybody! I know there are some of you out there who are really looking forward to the next post of the “New Canon” series, but there are some minor hurdles that need to be dealt with before we can post it. Not to worry, though! It’s day will come.

Until then, however, I can’t just let the blog lie fallow, and I have a topic of some interest to me I want to discuss. So let’s get to it, shall we?

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Just the other day I finished up Mass Effect 3. If you want to know my full and detailed feelings about the game, just click on over to my Review. It will come as little surprise that I loved the game immensely. However, on top of all the amazing experiences and emotions that game gave me, there is some sour as well. That sourness, the ending, is what I wish to discuss today. As much as anything else, this post is partially to sort out my feelings about the ending, as well as parse my thoughts on the surrounding controversy, the petitions, the “indoctrination theory,” all of it.

For those of you who think I’m going to be all rage and nonsense, I assure you that there are things I feel the ending did well. For those of you who think the ending is blameless…. Actually I really want to hear from you because I only hear from the ragers (this IS the internet), and I want your perspective too.

Oh, and it should be obvious by now, but there are going to be major spoilers incoming, so don’t read on if you don’t want to know ahead of time. Play it and come back. The discussion might help more people deal with it besides just me. At least that is my hope. So…

**********************SPOILER WARNING**********************


(Before we start, here are some details about my playthrough that my help contextualize the following material, though I will talk about all possible “Best” Endings – I played a Female Shepherd Paragon who only did Renegade Actions to save the lives of friends and innocents. My Shepherd romanced Liara and chose the “Synthesis” ending.)

I think it’s important to start out by talking about what the ending did well. Partially to remind myself that I do, in fact, love this game despite what I’m going to get into later.

The sacrificial element was well done. Beautiful even. The entire game talks about the costs of war, the price of peace, and the sacrifices and lives it takes to get through it all. Shepherd’s sacrifice to either control the reapers, or synthesize all organic and synthetic life was moving to me. I was literally in tears over it. If there was anyone who deserved that retirement, that joy in victory and life at the end of the game, it was my Shepherd. And she would never get it. The thought of all of Shepherds friends living on without her was heartbreaking, especially in Liara’s case (Shepherd will never get to see all the little blue children!).

Shepherd’s sacrifice was also built up to well, if a tad obviously. The growing sense of dread, desperation, and despair combined with the talks with all of her past crew-mates that felt very much like last good-byes, all pointed to a conclusion that wouldn’t see Shepherd alive on the other side. In this respect, at least, it seems like the developers were trying to bring closure to Shepherd’s story. You say your last good-byes and then go save he universe by sacrificing yourself. These little moments with her friends were touching to me.

Of all the endings, I feel that the best ending was the “Synthesis” ending. I’ll get into some of the specifics later, but part of the reason for me was that it touched on three things that I always like to see. First of all, I’m a sucker for stories about the plight of true AI. The idea of this new creation finding life and love, and yet being feared and despised because it isn’t a “real person” is always a touching story for me (I don’t know why, it just is). I also love things that tickle my imagination with the possibilities of a new and different future. And the last is the successful union of love over boundaries that might seem insurmountable. All of these things were addressed in the Synthesis ending.

Specifically, EDI and Joker are able to actually share a future together. In the simple “Control” ending, EDI and Joker, despite their relationship and survival, are still distant and separated by the boundaries of artificial life and the difficulty, no, impossibility of emotion. In the “Destroy” Ending, EDI isn’t even alive anymore. But in “Synthesis” there’s that magical moment when you see Joker’s glowing green irises and realize that Joker’s DNA has been rewritten into a new form of life. The synthesis of synthetic and organic. And then EDI emerges from the Normandy and immediately you can read the emotion on her face. Joker extends his hand to her with a smile and helps her out of the ship. They both shimmer with the newness of their beings, and they embrace lovingly on this garden planet.

Seeing EDI overcome the limitations of her synthetic design, to carry emotion, was a beautiful sight. Seeing Joker up and moving around (I think he may already be healing from his disease) and embracing EDI… well, If there was any one thing I enjoyed more about the ending, I don’t know what it is. And of course I want to know what the combination of these two forms of life mean for the Universe. How does this change things? I could speculate, but that isn’t what this post is for, and the possibilities are endless.
"Yeah, a synthetic/organic relationship. Whatcha gonna do bout it?"
Those are the things I like and love about the ending. Other things, not so much. Before I get into them, I think I should point you over to my Post on the Rough Writer’s Blog where I analyze the ending from the perspective of a writer and what I think went wrong from a technical point of view. I think that discussion really influences all of this, but I understand if some don’t want to go into the writer’s element specifically.

The most obvious problem from the endings, and I do want to emphasize that this affects all of them, is the lack of closure. The “good-bye” chats with the various crew members were good. No question. But they are a sad excuse for closure. I don’t know what happened to any of those people after the fight with the Reapers. None of them. I don’t even have hints to go off of. I don’t know what happened to the galaxy fleet. I don’t know what happened to all those people, or Admiral Hacket – Hell, I don’t even know what happened to Earth! I mean, I assume they survived and rebuilt, but I have little to base that off of. There are exactly three people I KNOW survived. Joker, EDI and Liara. But I’m left with questions there too.

It seems like they crash landed on some sort of alien garden world, so… How do they get off? I don’t think the Normandy is fast enough to get to another planet ahead of that green wave of energy, so that means they did a Mass Effect Relay jump trying to escape. In that case, doesn’t that mean they are stranded? All of the relays were destroyed by the energy. So are they stuck? Forever? Nobody is likely to get to them any time soon. And if you want closure, at the very least, on your Romance choice (assuming they didn’t die earlier in the game) well, you’re screwed. The only reason I know Liara survived was because she climbed out of the Normandy after EDI. Assuming they do get off the planet they are apparently stranded on, what happens to her? Does she ever have any little blue children from that one beautiful night with Shepherd before the last mission?

There are so many questions. What happens to the rest of the galaxy? What happens now that everyone is cut off from everybody else due to the loss of Mass Effect Relays? Where are the Reapers going now, anyway?

The idea that the Normandy crew is stranded, and what happened to Liara, are my biggest issues with the lack of clarity. A lot of the other things don’t have to be explained. It is important as a writer to hold some things back to keep the audience invested in the world long after the end. But these are gaping black holes of depression that need to be filled. If we don’t assume that they are somehow magically saved, the Normandy crew are doomed to a life of isolation and starvation in at least a portion of the crew.

But those are just the obvious issues. Then you get into the plot holes.

How exactly was Liara able to get back on the Normandy when she was down on Earth with me during the final push? Why didn’t the destroyed Mass Effect Relays destroy all life in the galaxy (It’s been established that blowing one up destroys all life in a system)? Why did the pistol have unlimited ammo just before Shepherd went up in the beam to the Citadel? Why was the citadel so different from how they remembered it? How did the Illusive Man get there too? How was Shepherd able to breathe when he was with the Catalyst? Why did the Catalyst look like the little boy who died on Earth at the start of the game?

Let me make something clear before I continue. I have no real issue with “Space Magic” or “handwavium,” or whatever you want to call it. Hard Science Fiction is cool and all, but I prefer good drama to good science. So I don’t consider the “Synthesis” option’s impossible science (as far as we know) to be a plot hole. Same with the “Control” option’s ability to maker the Reapers just sort of fly away. The “Destroy” option, however, is problematic.

In the “Destroy” option, why does the Crucible destroy all synthetic life? How would it not also destroy all technology if it was that far reaching? If so, doesn’t this option reduce everyone to the bronze age again? Furthermore, it implies that Shepherd is still alive somehow. Since we witness the destruction of the Citadel, and it looks like Shepherd is on Earth, how does she survive the fall through the Earth’s atmosphere? She’s not Master Chief, and even if she rode some piece of the citadel through the atmosphere, the crash at the ground would surely have killed her. If some part of the citadel survived and was floating in space, assuming she somehow has atmosphere, doesn’t she now die a slow death there? Remember that the “Destroy” option has eliminated technology, so how is anyone supposed to get to her?

So, now that I’ve finished the game, and there are all of these unresolved issues, I find myself aghast that I have to ask the question: “Did I win?”

I mean, I saw the credits. There was even a bland after-the-credits sequence that rubs the fact that what happened was fiction in my face (another issue), but I still don’t know if I actually won anything. As far as I know, everyone died. Most died fighting the Reapers, some died stranded on a planet, For all I know, Earth is stuck in the bronze age with the remains of a galaxy fleet falling from the sky, and Shepherd died, for what?

Did. I. Win. I’m shocked that I don’t know the answer at the end of the game. Everything I love about the ending is possibly invalidated by this singular problem. Did I win? Was there any way to win? Was the whole point from the developers to say that no matter what, Shepherd loses? I don’t know. And looking over everything, this is why I still feel so upset. Why so many people are upset.

This of course is the source of the “Indoctrination Theory” that has sprung up in response. What this theory states, is that the end of Mass Effect 3 was an indoctrination dream. The scene in the “Destroy” ending when Shepherd appears to wake up, actually happened right after getting shot by the Reaper (Harbringer, by the way) before going up the beam to the Citadel. Everything between getting shot and waking up in that ending was a dream sequence.

What shocks me most is how much this makes sense. A lot of the plot holes of the ending are explained by this. The dream-like walk to the beam. The way Anderson is always miraculously slightly ahead of you in the Citadel. The whispers. The appearance of the Catalyst as the boy from the beginning of the game. The sudden switch of priorities from killing the Reapers to letting them live. A lot of the “space magic” plays into this too. If you want to read or watch good analysis of why this might be real, a quick google search will reveal the best laid conspiracy theories about it.

I find it sad that this ending is the most compelling to me. It’s probably more sad that I hope it’s true. The mere prospect of DLC that actually does a better job of ending the series has me salivating. Here, Bioware, take my money! But if this were true, it would be a lousy move on the part of the Developer. Ending the game with a “fake” cluster of endings is like pulling a prank on your customers. And DLC won’t save people without internet access, immediately solidifying a large portion of the player base away from any sort of closure. If this is true, and was planned, then it was a really crappy move.

But that’s why I think there’s no way the theory is correct. I simply think the writers at Boware made some dumb choices and mistakes. It happens. Writers screw up. Believing the Indoctrination theory is reading too much into it.

So we’re stuck with the endings we have, flaws in all. Or are we? Right now there are petitions going on, and organized movements to plead with Bioware to change the endings by providing DLC revisions. Initially I thought these efforts were stupid and misguided. Trying to get a company to change its product through a petition? Silly. What right do these people have to ask for something like this?

But I looked into it further and I’ve changed rather drastically on the issue. First of all, after examining the endings closely, there is no doubt that the fans are right to feel betrayed by them. This Article from GameFront examines why, and talks about many of the same things I’ve mentioned here. Furthermore, the petition isn’t just a bunch of ragers and entitled kids. The petition they’ve begun is also a drive for charity. You can read up on them in this Forum Post and see their progress (over 23k raised as of this writing) Here. I’m so impressed at the level of respect and dedication of the group that I donated a bit myself. Even if nothing is ever done, at least the children get helped out.

Do I think it’ll work? No. Not really. But I think there is one way I might get something out of it. There might be some way for one of the future DLC packs to at least have some kind of “Afterwards.” Something that shows that Shepherd’s choices throughout the game mattered. That people were actually saved. That the Normandy crew was rescued. That Shepherd won.

I cannot express how badly I want this.

Now as for whether Bioware “has to change it” or not – No. Of course they don’t “have to.” Even with its heavy flaws, it is their game, and they don’t have to do anything. But should they? I think so. Their audience has put substantial investment in this series. Not just emotional, though certainly that, but financial as well. These are the people who have gone out and bought it day one. These are the people who buy the merchandise. These are the people who tell their friends, their family, heck probably even their enemies and complete strangers to go and buy this game.

Does Bioware “Owe” this player base something? This is a question whose answer relies on your view of the relationship between the customer and the producer, or the recipient and the artist, or, as I talk about at the Rough Writer’s Blog, the audience and the writer.

The fact is, the process is a two-way street. The customer gives up money in exchange of a product that will keep its promises as advertised. This is easy to discern in a physical product. A toaster that doesn’t toast is a breech of that contract between buyer and maker. A disc that doesn’t play music is a breech between a production company and the listener. The path forward is clear. The producer, the maker, must make amends.
Let's all dream together. ... Of what might be...
When it comes to the more abstract promises, however, in terms of story or quality, things become dicier. There is no question that Bioware broke the promises of its story, but these are abstract promises. So should they “Owe” their audience for it? Should they make amends?

I say “yes.” And the reason why I say so is because that the demand of the maker, the publisher, the producer is in itself becoming more abstract. They demand more than money. They demand mindshare. They demand control over the products they sell. They demand strict DRM and invade the social space of our lives. If companies are allowed to make abstract demands on their audience, then the same may be demanded the other way.

Of course, the demands both ways, being abstract, also mean that there are no legal demands that may be made. Bioware doesn’t have to do anything. They probably should do something, but “have to” goes too far.

For one additional look at the problems of the ending in video commentary format, here’s a guy who puts the heart of the matter in a very concise and clear way:

Now, since the reader is asked to fill in so many of the blanks. I figured I might as well give you my personal rosy and cheery ending, in which I filled in a number of holes according to my own preferences.

It may not be right, but it helps me sleep at night.
Ahem…

When Shepherd Sacrificed herself to synthesize synthetic and organic life, the process evolved life to a higher plane of existence. The basic necessities of life are minimal for these new heavenly beings. While they can enjoy food and water and such, they no longer require it. The Normandy crew, now being immortals are eventually rescued. And go on to live happy lives. Liara has a daughter whom she raises on the stories of her other mother, Nova Shepherd (my Shepherd). The combined galaxy fleet begin the long FTL flight home, but are able to make it within the next few decades with little issues due to their new immortal state. Living as elevated beings, they continue to get along in peace and harmony FOREVER.

SO THERE!

The fact that I have to say this to myself to make the ending bearable says something, I think (and not just about me, to all you smart alecks.)

Here’s hoping Bioware listens.

Edward L. Cheever II

P.S. To those of you who think I may be too down on Mass Effect 3, keep in mind that I love the game until the final 10 minutes. It’s one of the best series of all time, in any medium. I love Mass Effect. Please go read My Review to find out.

A Wedding and some Gaming, a Returning and a Parting

I’m making no bones about it. It has been AGES since I last posted. And I have excuses! Boy do I have excuses, let me list them: Wedding, Honeymoon, Moving in/out,Student Teaching, The Holidays, etc. It’s not like they took up all of my time, but they jammed it packed. And posting about the wedding was a little daunting to me because I wanted to give it justice, but time kept slipping away and…. *sigh*

The fact is, these excuses are not really good enough. It’s time to get my lazy butt back to work, so here is my first new post. I’ve got a lot of ground to cover, of course, but I won’t be going into depth about everything. No need to recount the holidays. No need to look back on the year that was. I’m going to keep it breif-ish, though who knows how long it’ll get once I get to the personal stuff, so let’s get started, eh?

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So when I say I haven’t blogged in a while, it was actually sort of a lie. I’ve actually kept up blogging through my reviews, which I know doesn’t really count for readersof these posts as much, but hey! I’ll take my bonus points where I can get them. All of my recent reviews have been on video games, which is something of a shame, seeing as how I saw some movies I would have liked to review as well (Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and Sherlock Holmes 2 being the most notable of these.) But for those of you who live life on the gaming sie, you migth be interested in my reviews of ICO (from the HD PS3 collection), To the Moon, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, and Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception. It has definitely been a good year for games.

Of course, that’s not all I’ve been playing. League of Legends is something of a habit. Of course that’s largely because it’s one of the main ways I hang out with my friends. But lately there have been some lousy bits that has discouraged me in my time with the game. First off is the fact that two of my friends are more or less tired of it and want to play other things. Now this isn’t so bad, but finding those other things that we all enjoy on a regular basis is difficult. I’m not really an MMO guy, for instance, and the only one I want to try out (Star Wars: The Old Republic) is a monthly payment, which is blah for everyone. I’m kinda hoping the recently announced new additions to the Co-op versus AI mode in League of Legends will draw those friends back. Even if for a little while.

The other major drawback though is that Riot has more or less nerfed Jax a whole lot in the recent rework.

Poor little Jax

It’s not that his new kit an’t do a lot of damage. Goodness yes it can. Pop that steroid ulti and Surge, leap in and clean some clocks. … For six seconds. And if you didn’t already die in those six seconds, you’re pretty much screwed once the buff is gone. The main issue is Jax’s survivability. He has no health bonus, no magic resist and no armor without seriously adjusting his build to practically remove his damage output. I’ve been experimenting with some builds, and I’m getting better results than I’ve feared, but there’s no escaping that Jax just isn’t as viable as he used to be. He’s so item dependent now it isn’t even funny.


And that’s not even taking into account the terrible construction of his Counter Strike ability. The stun is almost worthless for the cooldown time, especially since using the ability telegraphs the oncoming stun 1.5 second before you can actually use it. Any self-respecting player can dodge the stun 75% of the time, and that 25% is because Jax used it before leap-strike, which negates the whole dodge mechanic’s use entirely. – Dyrus said it before, and it’s true. Jax’s kit is hypocritical. Is he an assassin? Is he a brawler? Both and neither. He simply isn’t good enough at either one, and two crappy halves don’t make a complete whole. He’s still playable at least, and I keep trying out new builds. Hopefully they fix some of these problems in the future.

Meanwhile I discovered a new mini passion for minecraft. Building on my single-player fortress was fun, and all, but it’s also lonely and boring at times. So when Scott invited me onto the PandemicCraft server as a villager in Westphalia, I thought it would be a neat way to give the game new life. And let me tell you, it’s working. Now that I have a community to live in, my scope has shrunk (no giant fortresses at the moment) but my artistry has grown. The house I’m building across two plots is going to be really cool when it’s completed. I feel like I own a part of a larger world, now. It’s sort of addicting. This tiny little outpost in the winter biome is steadily growing. There’s a town square. Houses, and an Inn. And somewhere out there is an Empire that is pressuring other settlements to join with them. Thankfully our Baron is tough in the face of such pressures. We Westphalians live free out in the wilderness. ^_^

Part of what makes it all worthwhile is the economy system, where people actually do own pieces of the town, and these towns can expand. And people have jobs and specialties. The Innkeeper and his assistant actually grow food, buy meat off of hunters, and sell it to the villagers and travelers at low cost. It’s fascinating and fun. I think the system needs some expansion, though. It’s far too easy to become rich, with little to show for it. I don’t know if the server’s mod can be modded further or not, but it seems like cool things could be done with it.

Well, I’ve been yammering on about what I’ve been enjoying lately, so let’s take a detour into some less pleasant waters…

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Of course, less pleasant waters doesn’t mean it can’t be funny at the same time. How about those Republican Primaries, eh?

I tell you, watching this circus has been at least as fun as it is depressing, which makes it ok in my book. I mean seriously, these are the nominees? THESE are the nominees? The idea of any of them as president is stomach churning. Even Ron Paul, who at least is the most honest and least-politically corrupt of them all, would be a terrible president. Romney would be predictable, boring, and dangerous in his own right, but could you imagine Newt Gingrich as president?

Oh my sweet lord. The question would be whether we bomb Iran right after the inauguration, or if we wait a day. Don’t get me started on Santorum.

Of course Obama hasn’t been a particularly good president either, but at least he’s a little more inclined to do what’s right than these jokers. And that’s really all I have to say for now. Until the end of this, I think I’ll just buckle up for the roller coaster ride and hope there’s a smooth stop at the end, and not an abyss.

Abysses aren’t fun.

Which is why, thankfully, the internet was able to keep us from jumping into another kind of Abyss entirely. The SOPA and PIPA legislation are currently falling apart (woo-hoo!) Of course that doesn’t mean they won’t come back in some sort of new and deadlier form. (Why is it that legislation acts so suspiciously like Final Fantasy boss fights?) It was pretty cool to see so many internet powerhouses throw their weight against the bill, though. I guess sometimes the people can win. Fancy that.

But that’s enough of the entertainment an the political, let’s move on to the personal…

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I’m married guys! 😀

Of course I have been for 3 or so months now, and should have said something on here sooner, but let’s not dwell on that…
While this topic deserves a full on recounting with details, descriptions, emotions, chronology, etc. I think I’d rather keep it simple and say it was a beautiful wedding. And I had a top-hat!
I plan on putting up a picture gallery eventually, but that will take more time, unfortunately. Until then I will leave you with two things. The first is our vows to each other. Me and Katie wrote them out (though I must admit I wrote most of it with her input >.> ) and we alternated speaking the different lines to each other. It worked out wonderfully. The second thing is a picture of the little wedding-decoration place we mad in our Duplex. It’s not finished yet (we’ve got to get a picture to put in the frame) but I think it’s already very nice.

Our Vows –

From all the times together, thick and thin,
We found a bond in our joys and rest.
The grand adventures shared through paper, pen
And dice, or pages turned, or buttons pressed
Were just the start. Beneath the fun and play
was deeper love. A love that waits beside
Your sick bed; Love for which we pine and pray.
A love that age and death cannot divide.
This love’s worth more than worldly wealth, or woe
Its lack may bring. May God look on this love
And smile, as when he sparked all life to grow,
Or when he woke the galaxies above.
My hand’s outstretched to you and my heart’s doors
Are wide. All I have, all I hold, are yours.

I, Edward Lee Cheever II, and I, Katie Michelle Guth, in front of family and friends, before God and man, do pledge myself to you.

This is how we read them:

Me: From all the times together, thick and thin, we found a bond in our joys and rest.
Katie: The grand adventures shared through paper, pen and dice, or pages turned, or buttons pressed were just the start.
Me: Beneath the fun and play was deeper love.
Katie: A love that waits beside your sick bed;
Me: Love for which we pine and pray.
Katie: A love that age and death cannot divide.
Me: This love’s worth more than worldly wealth, or woe its lack may bring.
Katie: May God look on this love and smile,
Me: as when he sparked all life to grow,
Katie: Or when he woke the galaxies above.
Me: My hand’s outstretched to you and my heart’s doors are wide.
Katie: All I have, all I hold, are yours.
Me: I, Edward Lee Cheever II,
Katie: and I, Katie Michelle Guth,
Me: in front of family and friends,
Katie: before God and man,
Both: do pledge myself to you.

Married life has pretty much been great, as well. Of course there are the little things, like chores and such that things can get tense over, but otherwise, living with the person I love the most, whom I can both have fun with and be serious with, has been wonderful.

Settling into the duplex has been a process of course. As has mashing two lives together. Finances are particularly… fun… But we’ve got some of it sorted out now. Still lots to do, of course, but when isn’t there? Job-wise I haven’t been doing the serious job-hunt that I probably need to do. Part of my hang-ups are all around the certification test I’m supposed to take at some nebulous time in the future. At least I FINALLY got some information abut it out of the education department and I can start preparing for it (by the way, could this material be any more dull and lifeless? Or useless for that matter? I think the people behind this live in a fantasy world somewhere between Mathland and MotivationalSpeakervania.

In any case, I still have my job as a writing tutor, which I am very thankful for, and I’ve been doing a rather lot of substitute teaching over at CTA. So finances are better than they otherwise would be if I didn’t have a job. I think the bills would really start eating away at us if not for that promise of my soon-coming paychecks and Katie’s recent raises and long hours.

I’ve been trying to think of a way to segue into this final topic, but I really can’t think of one. It’s much like asking the question, “When is the best time to hear the news of a death?” There isn’t one. No time is ripe, and no segue can ease the issue.

My friend, Jarret Wade, is dead. He died of cancer some time ago, now. I’m honestly not entirely sure because time seems to flow so swiftly. Has it really been a week and a half?

To say I knew a lot about him would actually be a lie. I didn’t know his family, I didn’t delve into his personal life much, and we only really interacted at school. And yet I have little hesitation to say he was a great friend. Part of that, I believe, is because there was nothing about him that wasn’t genuine, and completely open and honest. He was completely himself at all times. A few conversations would be all it would take before you felt like you knew him for life. Like he was a friend from your earliest days.

So unlike other acquaintances I’ve known who have died, I felt a real shock at the news. I learned about it early in the day during a time I was substitute teaching at CTA, and it was difficult not to break down when I would mention him during prayer requests at the start of every class period. My voice would falter, and I can only imagine how red my eyes grew over time, holding back tears that blurred my vision.

I knew it was coming of course. We’ve all known for some time of the cancer that was eating away at him. I last spoke with him over the phone while on my honeymoon. We were in Seattle, and though he said he would call, and show off his beloved home city to us, we never heard from him. I called him up to see how he was doing, and he had just gone through another serious treatment. He didn’t sound good, then. He apologized for not being able to show us around. Of course I said it was nothing, and that his health was more important. He said he’d make a trip down to visit Keene soon. That he looked forward to seeing us all again, and to meeting my wife.

It was a trip he would never make. And while I know that there was no real way I would have been able to, I constantly think that I should have made time to go see him again while I was there…

I’m not the poet I once was. I have a tendency to write them far less than before, and I usually make them boring and emotionless for trying to make them structured or fancy. But occasionally, something happens that gets that emotion stirring again. It’s not the greatest poem I’ve ever written, but I feel like It has my heart in it. Here’s to you, my brother, Jarret Wade.

Jarret

I see the rain on the western shoreline
Pouring into a hole that never fills.
I know the shadows of those blackened clouds.
I know the brim of that endless cold cup.

Like the echo of a distant tempest,
The strong vibrations of thunder long since
The blinding light of the lightning strike,
Your going shook me, and my earth stilled.

Till the trumpets ring from the mountain tops,
Till the silvered bells toll at sea.
Till the bright cloud comes from the east.
Till then, rest ‘neath the trees.

You found the deepest roots of all our hearts.
You could see their dark gnarls, their twists, their cramps.
You always knew how to water them,
With smiles, and hugs, and conversation.

The world was not a stranger to you.
It was a lonely friend in desperate need.
Not an unknown mist of vague statistics,
But a painting of minds, faces and eyes.

Till the trumpets ring from the mountain tops,
Till the silvered bells toll at sea.
Till the bright cloud comes from the east.
Till then, God holds Grave’s Key.

His hand hovers over the sepulcher
Holding out that golden metal Work,
Trembling with desperate impatience to swing
Wide those black and silent gates that stand closed.

And past that unknown date, what triumph waits?
A son of heaven comes home! You will ride
His chariot, And wear a crown of gold,
bejeweled for lives you’ve touched. A friend of God.

Then the trumpets ring from the mountain tops,
The silvered bells toll at sea.
The bright cloud comes from the east.
And then, at last, be free.

For now, there are dark clouds out to the west.
No rain, no tears, no grief, can fill torn hearts.
You lit so many candles on your way,
You left your light in all of us.

Edward L. Cheever II

Sorry to leave it on such a low note, everyone. But sometimes, the world gets serious. And laughter is a little far away. Good-bye, friends. I hope to have you here again soon.

Bioshock Teaches Libertarianism to Coyote Who Doesn’t Learn Anything.


Oh don’t you worry, we’ll talk about those Libertarian kitties shortly. I didn’t choose that image for nothing. But today I’ve also got some musings on a book series I’ve been reading recently, and a few observations regarding my recent transition of jobs. Oh, and there’s some news in here somewhere about another expansion of the family, but we’ll get to that too. Let’s begin, shall we?

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As you no doubt have noticed by a review I posted over a week ago, I’ve started a new science fiction series lately by Allen Steele by the name of “The Coyote Trilogy” recently. We’ll I’ve got the second book’s review up and ready to read right here – “Coyote Rising”, and I’ve already finished the third book, “Coyote Frontier” and I’ll be plowing through “Coyote Horizon” shortly, I hope. I know this seems like a sudden burst of reading activity, and it sort of is, but really, I read through book series’ at a decent clip, I just have a hard time starting. Once I’d read “Coyote” it was a done deal, so long as it was good, which it was.

This segment is mostly a plug for my review of “Coyote Rising”, but as I’ve finished “Coyote Frontier” already (keep an eye out for that review sometime this next week), I thought I’d share a few of my opinions of the series as a whole. This will be lightly spoilerish for the series, and I’ll be assuming your familiarity with the material. Some of this will be reiterated in the “Frontier” review, no doubt, but I might as well explore those waters now.

Speaking of exploration, if I have one great disappointment with the series, it is the lack of the exploratory sensations of the first book being carried into the rest of the series. There were brand new horizons, uncharted waters, strange new life forms, etc. in “Coyote.” You get glimpses of new places and terrain in the following books, but never anything particularly exciting. There is a notable exception if you count the native inhabitants, but it is a small serving that doesn’t satisfy my hunger. Perhaps I shouldn’t have come into the second book with expectations, but then that upsetting of expectations is consistent across the whole series so far.

And that is at the heart of what I wanted to say here. These books, for all that they build off of the of one another, and for all that some mysteries or threads get tied up, never feel like a “Trilogy” so to speak. What I mean by that, is that each one wraps itself up very nice and tidy, except for some particular strings that never get satisfactorily followed up on in the next installment. The overarching plot of the three books, the theme so to speak – if perhaps more appropriately called tone, is different from one book to the next. I’ve not been really disappointed with the sequels, as you will discover in my reviews, but neither have I been truly satisfied. Steele has create a great new world here, and in some ways I wanted to step through the pages and turn aside from where he was taking me, to explore this world myself.

I just noticed that I essentially complained this series wasn’t a video game. That actually sounds like a really interesting idea.

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Speaking of Video Games, have I got a story for you. See, apparently, the founder of Pay Pal, and one of the early investors of Face Book (aka a super rich guy) by the name of Peter Thiel has taken up the cause of creating A Wholly Independent City-State in the Middle of the Ocean Based Entirely On Libertarian Theory of Government. The idea is essentially to build an oil-platform type of construction in international waters where like-minded individuals can come and escape “the laws, regulations, and moral codes of existing countries.”

And really, aren’t these people entitled to the sweat of their own brow? No, says the man in Washington, it belongs to the poor. No, says the man in the Vatican, it belongs to God. No, says the man in Moscow, it belongs to every…
Wait…

Sound Familiar?


Really the only significant difference between this and good ol’ Bioshock as of this point in the story is that it isn’t the 1950s, and they aren’t wanting to build this thing underwater – just on top of it. I really recommend going to the article link, and their sources, to read this entire thing. It’s truly creepily familiar.

These people have either played too much Bioshock, or not enough. As I’ve said elsewhere, the game clearly depicts the idea that this sort of scenario simply doesn’t work. It breaks down somewhere. Part of the problem is that you’re asking a bunch of people to come and live out in the middle of the ocean on a political whim, which basically restricts it to rich people, and then you’re inevitably going to need people to keep this place running from a mechanical standpoint.

There's Also The Basketball Team to Think About


So you’re either going to have to force some of these rich fops get to work, or you’re going to begin importing workers from elsewhere. Either way, you’re creating a working class that serves the rich, without any hope of upward movement, thus creating the perfect environment for a dystopic, dysfunctional society.

Oh, and one of the values they are trumpeting is looser building codes. Looser building codes? On a floating platform in the middle of the ocean? These people WANT to die in a terrible accident.

Paradise!


This thing is, in my opinion, destined to fail. They’re either extremely lucky, or extremely unlucky, that plasmids won’t be involved (man, this makes me want to play that game again.) But I want to know your opinion on these shenanigans. Vote below! After all, this is the Voters Booth. 🙂

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Finally, I want to talk briefly about my recent change of occupation, in a sense. I’ve gone from working on the Burleson Star to working (I use the term loosely, as I’m not paid) at Chisholm Trail Academy as a student teacher. Now, I miss the paper. The work was rewarding, and not too tough if you’re a reporter, and a number of the people I worked with there were great (though I think I’d have had some serious arguments with most of them if I ever brought up politics), but the job was creatively taxing in a way I didn’t expect. Writing articles may not be my favorite kind of creativity, but it uses the same brain muscles, and so I was always too worn out to write anything, despite the fact that it wasn’t too hard of a job. Also, I had issues with some of the management decisions, and the way certain employees were treated, but what are you gonna do, right?

I can’t speak to it through a lens of experience, but student teaching already feels different. I don’t feel exhausted by the idea of work. In a way it’s energizing. If working as a reporter was going outside and getting your hands dirty, then this is like staying home. I’m a school kind of guy. I always have been. The learning process is refreshing. Dwelling in ideas and subjects that I love is thrilling, as is working with old friends. It won’t be easy, necessarily, but I think I’m going to like it.

Of course I say that now, while I;m in the observing/planning stage. Put me in front of a class of students more or less by myself three times a day and we’ll see how that changes.
I’m counting on you, my boundless charisma!

My Inevitable Results


Oh, and being on the other side of the door, say when the faculty meets in the mornings, is a very alien experience to me.

Anyways, I’ve got one last piece of news. A bit of excitement. You see, my sister, Kimberly, recently got engaged to Chris. *Cheers* I called it, I have to say. I’m able to gloat when I want. If he’s taking her home to meet the family…. in CANADA – land of the lush and beautiful landscapes – then it was, I said, almost certain that he was going to propose. Well, they did, and his parents were hiding in the bush to give us photographic proof.

I’ve got to say, though I haven’t met him much, out of all the guys she’s dated or been chased by, Chris is the nicest – the best overall choice – of all of them. Here’s hoping it works out! *crosses fingers*

Oh, and really guys? Trying to steal me and Katie’s thunder? Classy. /Sarcasm. The only real loser here is my parents who have to plan a whole new wedding only six months after mine. Those poor, poor people.
Anyways, that’s all for today, folks!

Thank you, come again,

– Edward L. Cheever II

My Wii U Impressions


Okay, so I never got to talk about the Wii U back when the news was fresh from E3, so I think I’ll give it a whirl now. Looking back, I think it’s actually a good thing I waited so long to give my thoughts, as they have evolved and gone in whirls several times now, and I think I’ve finally settled my feelings on the matter until the next big unleashing of information from Nintendo.

Instead of making a giant list of pros and cons at the start, I’m going to talk about chunks of it at a time. We may get to a pro and con list, but it’ll be later. First chuck I’m going to talk about was Nintendo’s presentation of the system at E3.

Simply put, Nintendo really dropped the ball in presenting the Wii U. Not because there weren’t neat things to show off, but rather because they didn’t have a clear and cohesive message:

Is Nintendo after the hardcore? I don’t know. On the one hand they’ve promised some games, but on the other, they’re calling this thing “Wii U” which is an incredibly dumb name, and it calls up almost nothing but bad images to the mind of every hardcore gamer. The games they’ve promised may include things like Darksiders II and Batman: Arkham City, but what took up the majority of the time on stage? Mii games, minigames, casual titles. There was no talk of online functionality either. The sheer amount of confusion and misinformation swirling around that conference and it’s aftermath was amazing. Is this a new system or is it a Wii peripheral? Will there be more than one controller for the system? Pricepoint? Launch titles? Etc?

The entire conference was a load of promises that there is no guarantee of them actually fulfilling, and their handling of the Wii and 3DS doesn’t make me particularly confident. And that’s not even talking about the disappointment the community has felt over the failure of things like Operation Rainfall. Nintendo simply doesn’t seem to care about it’s fan base. Even if this is a misconception, it’s a killer misconception that they have to do something about, but aren’t.

But that was the presentation, and really it’s the least important element of this whole thing from my gamer perspective. Let’s talk about the special sauce that makes the Wii U something other than a pearly white Xbox 360 mutant; the controller.

For those of you who don’t know by now (and if you don’t then you need to read more video game commentary than my little blog) That image you see above is not the whole system, it is not a Wii peripheral. It is a controller with a large touchscreen in the middle of it. Special features include gyroscopes, a camera, two “circle-pad” things, and all the buttons otherwise associated with a modern gaming controller. I think this is fantastic conceptually. I mean, I love this this if it were just a level map that I could draw on (just imagine a -good- Harry Potter game where you have the Marauder’s Map in your hands!) or just an inventory system (Batman’s toolbelt, ftw), but the possibilities go far past that. The Alternate Reality capabilities are very intriguing. My two favorite ideas I’ve heard since the AR abilities have been talked about are similar. That is Eagle vision for the Assassin’s Creed series, and Batman’s cowl mode for The Arkham games. It’s an extremely novel idea that balances out the use for both systems. To me, it was always annoying to turn on Eagle Vision mode, but for whatever reason, I think holding up the screen to use it makes it more appealing to me. The Batman cowl mode, meanwhile, was too useful, and leaving the mode was the exception, rather than the rule, and having to use the controller screen may make it more likely that I will be able to see the art of the game world. There are lots of potential uses, I just want to see them happen.

It’s not the gimmick that concerns me, it’s just about everything else. The circle pads are something of a breakthrough for handheld controls, but that’s for handhelds; not consoles. If I’m going to be playing a console game of some sort, I want to have the best controls I can have, and when it comes to character movement that would be analogue sticks. First person shooters, especially, aren’t that great with the circle pads. We need analogue sticks. And then there are the trigger buttons on the back of the controller. They need to be analogue triggers. Not just extra buttons. Triggers are simply better for input, not just in FPS games, but also in racing games, third person shooter, third person action, pretty much any game I can think of would be better served by analogue triggers rather than simple buttons. Otherwise, I actually like the form factor.

My other concerns with the controller are about price, and number available to each system. Nintendo execs have come out and flat said that the controller is expensive. I have no idea how expensive, but it is a worrisome thought. Of course that won’t be an issue if only one controller is useable with the system, which is a persistent rumor that Nintendo STILL hasn’t clarified. The thing is, one controller may solve the cost issue, but it raises whole new ones for me, because I’m the kind of gamer who likes to sit down on the same couch with my friends and play some games. Local multiplayer has always been a Nintendo strength, and it has been a necessary strength in the absence of a good online strategy. Now Nintendo may be ditching local multiplayer, but they have no real online strategy at all to compensate, and that’s if I preferred online over local, which I don’t. And sure, you can use Wii remotes with the system too, but that is not how I want to play multiplayer games. The Wii remote has very definite limits, which was handily discovered during the Wii’s lifetime.

Simply put, the controller has awesome potential, but a lot of looming doubts and drawbacks.

As for tech specs, well we don’t have specifics, and the graphics demo they showed during the conference wasn’t particularly impressive, but it seems like there is potential there. This is especially true after seeing the glorious Zelda HD demo. Man, I can’t wait for them to make a game like that! (assuming they don’t pull another Wind Waker switch.)

PleasePleasePlease!


There are many many things they haven’t talked about yet, and in my mind the biggest of these things are the games. Oh, sure they showed some stuff, mostly demos and so forth, but though a Zelda HD demo is nice, and the smaller stuff looks fun, the only thing from Nintendo first party titles we really know anything about is Super Smash Bros., and while it’s exciting, it hasn’t even begun production yet, not to mention my controller concerns from above are especially dangerous for this game. It’s simply not good if I can’t play this game with my friends in the same room with something better than a Wii remote turned sideways (it’s a horrible configuration, and don’t kid yourselves otherwise.) 3rd parties seem promising, but are they enough to carry the system, especially if some of my other concerns aren’t addressed?

At first I thought the Wii U was all promise and no actual delivery yet. Now I realize that much of that promise is tinged with unease and skepticism. Nintendo has a lot to prove to me, even if I know I’m going to be a big sucker and pick it up at the first sign of Zelda and Mario.

Rango and John Marston Save the West while SWAU takes Illegal Pictures of Floridian Farms

It’s been a while since I’ve done a simple catch-all blog post. My more recent posts have been narrowed down to a topic or two. That’s great and all, but it also means I haven’t been able to talk about other things I enjoy, so today is going to be a classic run through the gauntlet. Tally-ho!

Onward!


First things first… SWAU… there is something of a situation on campus, as the student body is splitting over (and mostly against) the Administration. Now, I’m not as plugged into Facebook or campus life as a lot of other people, so my exposure to the issues has been mostly tangential. But, since it’s come to my attention, I’ve been trying to grab reliable information, and this is the scenario I’ve pieced together thus far: Over the past few months or more, really going as far back as the crass and disgusting treatment of Dr. Anavitarte, the Administration has been taking certain actions that have been poorly received by the student body at large (including myself).

This is primarily based around the firing of a number of personnel. A secretary was fired allegedly because the Administration blames her for lowering enrollment (how that’s supposed to work, have no idea), and a proffesor was fired because he attended a non-denominational church on a Saturday (also a base and foolish reason to get rid of a likeable and skilled professional). There have been other firings that I am less familiar with as well. All of this comes to a head as Dean Knight was not hired on after the end of this semester. From what I gather, he fomented some hard feelings among others over this decision, which lead the Administration to fire him.

The student body has now come to a boil over what they see as an elimination of one of the last staff members they see as truly fighting for them, and being “on their side” as it were. However false or true this sentiment may be, the point is that a large number of students have been protesting these actions and demanding answers from the administration. An assembly took place earlier which I was unable to attend, that was supposedly going to answer some of these questions. I do not know how this has turned out just yet. I find it unlikely that Dr. Anderson will find anything to say that will satiate the student body.

I don’t know where this is all headed, but I do know that, if the reasons for the firings are as I have heard, something is rotten in SWAU. I don’t know if it is Dr. Anderson, or the Board, or some other force behind the scenes, but ever since Dr. Anavitarte, SWAU has been dealing shadily and backhandedly with important, honest and sincere members of its body. It hasn’t been living up to the values it supposedly upholds as an institution of Christ, and has instead fallen into the trap of so many religious institutions. Yes, this has long been a problem. Yes, I have had serious issues with the way things are done at SWAU for some time. But this seems to be a drastic step further in the wrong direction.

I’m waiting to see what new information comes to light in these matters. I have only really heard one side of the story, and so this entire scenario might have dimensions I am not aware of. Perhaps the reasons given for the firings were ways of letting these people off the hook gently for some greater and unseen reason. Perhaps Dean Knight was undercutting Dr. Anderson’s authority in some way (I don’t like the way Dean Knight acted in Dr. Anavitarte’s case). Perhaps. But unlikely.

One thing is unquestionably clear: Even if the Administration has good reasons for what they’ve done, they’ve done a piss-poor job of selling it to the community. Enrollment doesn’t suffer over a single secretary. It suffers over the perception that SWAU is a place where spirituality is corrupted, where politics is more important than friendliness and where people aren’t treated with the dignity and respect Christ’s message calls us to.

In other silly news, apparently a Florida Senator, Jim Norman, wants to introduce a bill to make it a felony to take pictures of Floridian farms.

'Don't sue me! Pleeeeeeeaaaase!'

I won’t spend long on the topic, because I think it’s ridiculous, but what exactly does this guy think he’s going to accomplish? Have all those people who’ve been taking photos of farms been just robbing those poor farmers of what’s rightfully theirs? If the very sight of a farm is just that important to protect, why don’t we just build walls around each farm and charge a couple bucks per minutes of viewing time through little peep windows, eh? Foolishness. This would give legal grounds for enterprising farmers to start suing people over almost anything (not to disparage the intent of most honest Floridian farmers, mind you). We’re talking about adding a substantial burden in litigation upon the people involved and the taxpayers who pay for the bureaucracy of it all. It’s un-needed, unwarranted, and adds to the so-called “big government” that senators like this are supposedly so against.

Moving on to greener pastures, and less ranting and so forth, here is a fascinating article by Men’s Journal about a blind man who taught himself to see via echolocation. Yeah, he’s essentially a real-world Matt Murdock.

That, my friends, is a blind man riding a bike.

I sincerely hope that his techniques can be used to revolutionize the treatment of the Blind. Most interesting to me is the project he’s been trying to put into motion to build artificial echolocation devices to make it even easier and more accurate for Blind people. It sounds really promising (though I wonder if two Blind people can operate in the same space with their devices?) but the project is looking to cost at least 15 million dollars. That’s a lot of money to just throw together for the research and development. Maybe somebody should tell him about the Kickstarter program.

In the entertainment side of life, I recently wrote a review of Rango (spoilers: I loved it), which I highly recommend you all go and read. Rango was a surprise and a real treat. That is something that is becoming all too rare in the film industry, where brand names are the new hottness instead of innovation and creativity. To that end, here’s a wonderfully thought out article on the state of the film industry, and while it isn’t a heartwarming piece, it’s very clear and rings of truth. The road out of this mess is unclear.

Of course this has left a gaping hole for a new medium to fill. That medium is Video Games. While it is true that Video Games have their own brands and cash-in sequel and prequel showers, there is also a ton of innovation and new concepts. It’s where the money is. It is where societal entertainment in headed, and hopefully that won’t be a bad thing. If the film industry can pick itself back up, the mediums can complement each other by their differences, much as books and television also fill certain niches. But for now, Video Games seem on a solitary rise to stardom.

Video Games are also where old genres find new life. Now, westerns are doing some new business again in Hollywood with True Grit and Rango, but for recent portrayals of the Old West, I’d put my money on Red Dead Redemption as being more important to the survival of the genre. I don’t have a load of time to spend playing video games, what between work, school and other media and responsibilities, but I do occasionally get a chance to sit down with Red Dead as I work my way slowly through the campaign and side missions. It truly is a marvel, and I feel like I’m really out in the old west riding around, gun-slinging and so forth. For an open-world game, it can be pretty darn gorgeous at times, which is a testament to the artistry of Rockstar Games. I look forward to my next trek in John Marston’s boots.

Oh, and briefly while I’m still thinking about video games… Katie kicks the snot out of me at Marvel vs. Capcom 3. It I both a pain and a joy to have so enthusiastic a gamer fiance. At least I could still pwn her in a strategy game… you know… if she played them much… and stuff…

…. onward!

Speaking of Katie, she and I recently made a deal to where she would read the first three books of The Chronicles of Narnia if I would read A Clockwork Orange. She beat me to the punch. I was only 2 pages in, being busy with other stuff and somewhat put off by the need, at first, to use a vocabulary list to understand what everybody was saying, while she had already finished all three books and was into the fourth. Well, I finally got around to it again and polished it up in essentially two more sit-downs with the book. It helped to more or less ignore the vocabulary list, and just try to absorb the slang terms over time. It was a real horrorshow story, though Alex and his droogs really rubbed me the wrong way (as they should pretty much anyone, what with the ultra-violence and rapes and all). The brainwashing was pretty disturbing, though I didn’t have much sympathy for the victim. All in all, I enjoyed the book quite a lot. The ending has me for a loop, however, as I’m not sure if the author meant to say that sociopathy and an ultra-violent life-style is something that people just grow out of, or if he was making another statement about how people are programmed. In any case, it’s something to think on. I’m looking forward to watching the Kubrick film with Katie when it arrives in the mail.

Now that I’m done with A Clockwork Orange, I’m moving on to The Wise Man’s Fear, which is the eagerly anticipated follow up to Patrick Rothfuss’s first novel, The Name of the Wind. I loved the first book, and so I’m glad to be starting the second. Assuming I have enough time to just sit down and read, I don’t expect it to take me too long to finish, though it is a good deal longer than A Clockwork Orange. After that I’ll be moving over to The Light of Other Days, a sci-fi novel by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter that I’m borrowing from Dr. Robinson.

Well, I think I’m just about ready to wrap this blog post up and put a bow on it. But before I bid adieu to you and you and you, here’s a hilarious website called DamnYouAutoCorrect.com It’s a terrific little site that has a massive collection of images of conversations where the iPhone auto correct has changed harmless words into inappropriate ones. I think all us iPhone users know how that is, yes?

Well, until later, Adios!

– Edward L. Cheever II