iOS-vs-Android

If you have ever bought a thing that was popular and had any competition, you have probably encountered hardware fanboys. These are the internet asshats that will respond to your post about liking your new phone’s camera app with a lengthy battle over the merits of the company that makes it and their entire history. Recently we’ve been subject to a double dose of this as we are in the middle of both 4K Xboxes vs. Playstations, as well as bezel-less iPhones vs. Android devices. It’s almost impossible to just go to the store, pick one, go home and share it with friends, without starting a debate in your living room over whether your purchase is gold or garbage.

I have to say that objectively, only the corporations making the things are getting anything out of your fervent loyalty. In reality, this Cold War of manufacturers exists only in your mind. Apple and Samsung trade patents and technologies constantly. Both of them use dozens of parts ordered from the same third party manufacturers like LG as well. When it comes to Xbox vs. Playstation, both are almost exactly the same AMD chipset, with different feature levels based on price point. You are buying the equivalent of one laptop vs. another in the same line, by the same manufacturer. The concept that any of these devices are innately superior to each other based on hardware is downright preposterous. They are literally the same thing in different outfits.

For my wife and I, the debate is especially tired and tedious. Working for various tech companies, we are often issued our devices. We are also expected to be generally competent with all of the major operating systems. So it isn’t an option for us to just say that Windows/MacOS/Android/iOS sucks, so I’m not going to bother getting familiar with it. The thing is, once you get familiar with all of the operating systems and use them in parallel while they evolve, the differences are far less pronounced. They feel a lot more like different routes to the same goals, each with more and less difficult steps along the way at different points.

People in one camp or the other like to cite specific examples of why one thing is so different from the others. Most of these things fall into two major categories: things most people don’t care about and things that you can actually do on both, but it’s more difficult. For example iPhones are notorious for not allowing you to run custom software, but it’s actually about a 10 minute process to make your account a developer account. From there, learning to deploy custom apps with Xcode is actually fairly simple for a layman (compared to some things) and you can be using emulators and loaders like Kodi in a matter of hours on a non-jailbroken iPhone. Didn’t know that? Pull your head out of your ass and stop being mislead by fanboy nonsense. Apple makes it harder, because most people shouldn’t be doing it, but it’s still quite possible. I have loaded Kodi on numerous Apple TV 4s and had them playing all file formats and accessing Amazon and Google content in a process that takes less than an hour. It’s completely legal and allowed through Apple’s own services as well. I used not one single tool to do it that was not provided to me with my Apple developer account, or shared by others on the official forums.

When it comes to video games, brand loyalty becomes even more absurd and unrealistic. If you are a hardcore gamer with a moderate budget, you will most likely own at least one PC capable of gaming and at least one console in each 5 year or so cycle. Over the course of a gaming console generation, you may even end up buying all of them as they become affordable, just because that is the only way to play all of the amazing exclusive games. It’s one thing to say that the PC is the absolutely superior platform on specs alone and refuse to buy a console, but that will completely deprive you of some of the best gaming has to offer. You may be able to give up Mario at a certain age, but to be a gamer without ever playing games like Shadow of the Colossus, Uncharted, Halo, The Last of Us, Zelda, Smash Brothers and more is missing out. That’s not to even mention great games like Persona 5 or Red Dead Redemption, that release across multiple consoles, but never come to PC. If you really want to experience the best of what gaming has to offer, only going with one platform without variation is really shorting yourself.

I could go on and on with examples like pickup truck manufacturers and brands of carbonated soda. I think the point is pretty clear though, you as a consumer do not gain anything by blind loyalty to companies that make stuff. You just blind yourself to other alternatives, to the point of sometimes staying with something even when it is no longer the best option in any objective terms. As an early adopter of the Sega Dreamcast, believe me, I know what that feels like.

I recently went through that realization with Windows and Android vs. Apple products for work and everyday use. I had long used Windows and Android for my computers and phones respectively, while using Apple devices for entertainment and casual use. So while I enjoyed the simplicity and reliability of Apple for my comic book reading and Netflix watching, I always wanted the freedom to treat the rules as “guidelines” that Microsoft and Google allow me on the devices I rely on for anything serious. This all changed when I realized recently that my usage had changed and started researching what would fit my needs. I decided I wanted to do more projects and work with my tablet, but less techy stuff on my primary laptop and phone.

After actually purchasing and returning two more reasonably priced Windows tablets and balking at the price of a Surface Pro vs. my old Android work tablet, I eventually found that only Apple offered something square in the middle of my needs. The iPad line covered a range starting slightly above what Amazon and LG had to offer, with products at every level up to what Microsoft and Samsung were offering. With Android and Windows, I had either a lot of good options on the low end, or decent options that only started in the very high price range from Microsoft, Samsung and Lenovo. The iPad I settled on of course ran iOS, not a full desktop operating system, but the point became moot as the iPad actually remotely operates my desktop faster than the Windows tablets ran Windows locally. So if you think about that for a minute, there is truly no point in running Windows on a tablet if it’s slower than doing it through a remote connection to your home PC. To do any better than that requires something in Microsoft’s Surface Pro line or the very best Samsung and Lenovo 2-in-1s, at a price range starting around $800. It’s not like any of those tablets, even in that range are capable of any real gaming or 3D work, so the benefits vs. having a better working tablet overall are minimal. I didn’t even consider Android tablets honestly, because for professionals, the Android options are really not that great when compared to an iPad or Surface. Not a matter of brand loyalty, just better engineering and software. You can do more with a Surface or iPad than with a Wacom tablet running Android of comparable performance. Also the Wacom is much uglier and I don’t want it in my briefcase.

Once the iPad had become both work tool and primary entertainment portable, there started to be a lot in the plus column for switching my phone and PC as well. We had always had a split household, with my wife’s company issued Mac computers and my gaming-focused PCs sharing streaming, backups and networking very awkwardly. When examining my usage, I realized that all of my projects that required a little ‘ahem’ freedom, were happening on my primary gaming PC in the basement. I couldn’t honestly remember the last time I installed an emulator on my tablet or burned a Dreamcast game on my laptop. When only considering what I had actually done with these devices in the past year, I realized I didn’t need my disc drive, most of my ports, or pretty much anything that made my PC a PC and my Android an Android. Since I was replacing these devices anyway and looking in the middle price range that would allow cheaper Apple products, switching completely became the logical decision. I still have my gaming PC and PS4 downstairs and they stream just as well to my MacBook as they did to my Windows laptop.

 

So this is a rational, real-world scenario of me switching back and forth, for not one reason that is emotional or based on my opinions of those companies. I switched all my primary use devices to Apple this cycle, I may switch back 2 years from now. I’m not going to delete all of my Google services, sell my gaming PC or cancel our Amazon prime either. There is absolutely no reason for me not to stay current and reap the benefits of those services as well, even while I do my daily tasks in Apple’s walled garden. The reason for this is that all of these companies are just entities trying to create profits for their shareholders. When that aligns with what I want in a product, they serve my goals, but THEY DO NOT REPRESENT ME AS A PERSON. Apple is not me, Google is not me, Microsoft is not me. I may share an industry and a similar technical lifestyle with the people who work there, but they are not my friends and neighbors. They are strangers, doing their jobs and looking out for their own best interests. I am not for one second going to identify my personal self-image with some tool they designed for my use. I use it when it suits me and discard it when something better comes along. That is, in my opinion, the only rational way to look at technology.

 

So then why are we, as rational people (giving us all the benefit of the doubt), getting duped into something irrational? Simple: corporations hire psychologists in their marketing and they are tapping into a powerful little instinct called “us and them.” This is basically the function deep down in your brain that tells you a rampaging bear is not a friend and should be avoided. You brain takes the info your senses are giving it and makes a very deep-level, knee-jerk decision on whether something is friend or foe. Since this is a very deep-seated instinct that is necessary for survival, it’s something that your brain does without a lot of rational thought and lengthy consideration. We use things like body language, color, sounds, smells etc. to determine quickly if something is an outsider to be shunned and avoided.

Corporations that sell competitive products have become masters of exploiting this instinct. An excellent example is Apple’s “Mac and PC” ads. PC is not a traditional “enemy” in such a basic sense. He’s portrayed as that bumbling, always disheveled guy from records that always submits his reports late and wears the same stained, brown suit every day. So he’s not a monster by any means, but he’s the perfect outsider. That person at the office that isn’t ‘cool’ and is outside the group of people you think of as friends. That ad campaign was one of the most deft manipulations of “us and them” ever. Apple even felt guilty about it after a while and made PC more likable, showing that even the biggest of corporations are not beyond shame at their own exploitation. Apple has always been quite shrewd at marketing though, so it’s also quite possible they exploited the trick and then intentionally burned it down on their way out so nobody else could. Either way, terrific use of market psychology.

It’s really that simple. Companies put some attractive person up there and say “this is you.” Then they take something undesirable and say “this is you if you buy our competitor’s thing.” You want to be like that attractive person, not in that undesirable category, so you join their “us” and help them create a “them” out of competitors. Then you go out and do their job for them by evangelizing their thing and criticizing the other thing. All this time, you get nothing more for your loyalty than the thing you already paid them for in the first place. Since you have in fact parted with hard-earned money, you naturally feel the need to defend that decision, giving you even more incentive to forgive shortcomings in the one you chose, while focusing on them in competitors. You wouldn’t want to feel like you “chose the wrong side” would you?

Let’s take a step back for a second and look at how absurd that is. Chose the wrong side? How and why am I on the side of people like Jeff Bezos or Tim Cook? They live in mansions, I live in a WIP mid-century bungalow with a spider problem. They and their products do not in any way come from a place that I can identify with. In fact, if we didn’t have employers and phone companies subsidizing our purchases, average folk like my wife and I could not even afford all of these products. If you look at how these companies function, you will probably find that they actually are nothing like you and your family. Apple, Amazon and Microsoft keep building bigger apocalypse compounds and Samsung literally exists in a city that they own and exerts influence on the South Korean government not unlike a mafia. These are not average Jills and Joes, living a life not unlike your own. They are designing these products to separate you from your money, not because they go to public parks and jog with a shitty armband, just like you. Don’t let any ad campaign showing models riding real bicycles, without the aid of personal trainers fool you.

 

I am against the concept of “us and them” in general. While I recognize that it’s a little deeply rooted to just tear out of our brains, it is something we can recognize and choose, just like jealousy and territorialism. No matter how compelling it may seem to go on social media and blast people in the other camp, they will always be more like you than the guys swimming in their gold vaults like Scrooge McDuck with your money. Really, the differences between Xbox and Playstation, Mac and PC, Android and iOS are getting smaller and more picky with each generation. Really we would all benefit most of these companies released all of their software for each other’s hardware. There is no technical barrier preventing this, as they all share more and more parts under the hood. That would never happen, but never forget that if it was really about you, it would have happened decades ago.

Our economic system relies on competition and having proprietary technologies is central to this. We should expect and demand that competing products be different, but never be fooled into thinking those differences mirror that of you from other people. In my experience there are a lot of Android users who don’t even know how to change their background and iOS users with programming degrees. So stereotypes don’t mean squat when we’re talking about which device you choose and relating it to who you are. We should all choose what suits us most at that moment and not feel the least hesitation to sell it on eBay and buy the competitor’s product the second that makes more sense.

To put in bluntly, you don’t own me tech companies and I am not gullible enough to let you convince me otherwise.

 

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If you have been reading me for any length of time, you know I am one of those die-hard Sega Dreamcast hipsters. I was “there man” on day 1 to pick up my pre-ordered DC and experience the online console gaming revolution from the beginning. Every year, on 9/9, I celebrate the Dreamcast’s birthday by busting mine out and playing whatever new homebrew software or unreleased game has popped up in the past year.

This year was kind of a disappointment, not gonna lie. Don’t get me wrong, there was an unreleased, almost complete DC game dug up this past year. Millennium Racer is in fact a real game that never came out. It’s also pretty not-fun to play. I remember seeing this game in E3 videos when the DC was new and really not caring. The devs may have just decided not to release this fully playable game out of apathy.

So after giving it a solid 45 tedious minutes a few months ago, I considered and rejected the idea of putting a video up playing it. I nobody likes lame birthday parties. The Dreamcast turned 18 this year and is now an adult, so here is your list of fancy grown-up things you can do with it. I’m totally not talking about watching porn online, don’t be gross.

 

New and Improved Version!

Several games have had more optimized, user modified backups created in the past few years. If you are not aware, almost all Dreamcast systems can play games off self-booting CDs. So if you have a DC, you too can burn and play these games. If you have the original version (or honestly, even if you don’t), Sega is not likely to come after you for playing modified DC rips that allow you to go online again or speed up loading times. Search for all of these on theisozone.com

Resident Evil: Code Veronica Complete (adds the bonus features only seen on PS2 and newer versions in the U.S.)

Phantasy Star Online ver2 Enhanced etc. etc. new update (fixes a bunch of bugs that have existed for years, finally almost perfect version if you want to play on DC vs. Windows for some reason, connects to private servers automatically)

Frame Gride in English (similar to Armored Core, same devs, more swords)

Dead or Alive 2 Ultimate updated (I can’t even stand the annoying voices long enough to be creeped out by the boobs, but apparently they fixed more stuff)

 

Modified DC Bios and Consoles

I’m not going to summarize modifying your DC bios here, because I don’t want non-experts going out and wrecking their precious Dreamcasts. I’m pretty hardware savvy and I’m not doing this to my DC. I’m going to do what I recommend you to do (unless you are one of few, you know who you are) and buy a finished one on eBay. Systems with a modified bios can do simple things like play foreign games without a boot disc, or amazing things like support physical mods like an add-in hard drive or SD card slot. Depending on how many of these physical mods you want it to come with, modified DCs are going for about $100-200 right now. A fully loaded one will have built in VGA out, 3.5mm headphone jack, HDD or SD slot, a custom loader and switches on the back to go between VGA/AV and another for bios setting.

As a method of enjoying your DC games without wearing out your original hardware, these modified systems are pretty primo. The ability to load games from a hard drive completely eliminates drive wear and the risk of scratching disks. If you do have some rare game that is not backed up online, you can always play it, regardless of region. This frees you from going the other (previously most authentic) way of buying a drive capable of ripping and burning DC games and just playing full backups of your own games on very expensive gigabyte discs. Since CD backups available to most of us are often incapable of holding full-quality rips, this is now a better and cheaper route to playing your DC games authentically without wearing them out.

 

Best time ever for a Mouse and Keyboard

Since dial-up internet is mostly dead and the DC broadband adapter is nearly unobtainable, the Dreamcast mouse and keyboard peripherals are near rock-bottom value. They are nice to have as a collector, but more importantly, you can actually play many of the FPS games like Outtrigger and Quake 3 with them. I picked up a sealed DC mouse for $10 in a local shop that is normally overpriced vs. eBay or Amazon. It was the first sealed DC peripheral I have opened since a VMU about 5 years ago. Very satisfying and I now have the set to have a few nostalgic bot matches.

 

That’s really all I can think of at the moment for DC developments this year. The Dreamcast is still far from dead, with new homebrew software still being developed and unreleased games still popping up from time to time. Hopefully next year we’ll see something a little more exciting than a game that is to F-Zero like Dante’s Inferno is to God of War.

Although DC’s Vertigo brand now features quite a few TV shows and movies existing or in production, the ones I’m talking about are the series that share characters and mythology. So mostly The Sandman, Lucifer, Hellblazer and other series taking place in that shared world of magic and myth. While series like Preacher and iZombie may occasionally make references to other Vertigo series, they don’t really share much. At the moment that’s Lucifer the TV show and the movie and brief series starring John Constantine.

 

As much as I’ve found things to love about each new live-action Vertigo thing, I’m starting to get very worried that we’ll ever see a shared universe, which is pretty much required if there were to be a Sandman show or movie. It would be extremely disappointing if there were an ongoing show in the Sandman universe that was locked out of dozens of characters that had originated there, just because other studios had already re-written them. This becomes more and more of an issue as first Constantine and now Lucifer have used many of these characters in very different ways already. It’s not just cosmetic things like Constantine having different tattoos, or Mazikeen having a complete face. Lucifer the show has completely re-written the politics of heaven to be the central conflict of the show and the universe in which it takes place. This is a complete departure from the DC comics Vertigo universe, where each of the supernatural conflicts are going off and on in the background constantly. Not only are events like wizards dueling in the streets apparently commonplace, it is implied that characters like Superman and Batman exist out there somewhere too, with all of their issues.

This can start to become an issue on a huge scale when you get to the point where the Marvel cinematic universe is. The little changes to characters and stories make ripple effects, that cause other characters and storylines to be written out. The entire Planet Hulk story arc (one of the most popular Marvel has done in recent years) has now become a subplot to the third Thor movie because of this. Characters and scenes loved by fans will have to be cut left and right, to make the entire story fit into one act of a movie about Thor. I would really, really hate to see characters I loved from The Sandman, like Hob Gadling or Rose Walker, become that to some random crappy episode of Lucifer.

Hellblazer and The Sandman are kind of the original backbone of the Vertigo universe and bring with them the largest baked-in fanbase. So with the success of other shows like Supernatural and American Gods, you know DC is going to want some of that mythology show gravy train with a Sandman show and something based on Hellblazer that is actually good. They will run into problems though, if they keep retconning or killing off those characters in front of TV audiences before they get there. Since many of the characters in other Vertigo series originated in Sandman or Hellblazer, that’s going to leave them having to reboot, or do a huge re-shuffle of timelines and characters like Marvel.

if I were DC, I would be thinking very hard right now about an anthology show, similar to The Twilight Zone or Tales from the Crypt, based in the Sandman universe. Basically the “Sandman Presents” comics that Vertigo has done over the years. Those shows aren’t very common or popular at the moment, but it would be about the only way to control the budget and cast of a show like that on the week to week. An adaptation of The Sandman regular series would be almost impossible on TV, because in the Dreaming, simple scenes like walking down a hallway involve tons of CG and set design to be authentic. Also characters pop up almost at random, making it very hard to coordinate actors. You would sometimes need the actor playing Cluracan to show up for two seconds while you where filming in Ireland, then be in 20 minutes of an episode filmed in Tanzania. It would be a nightmare for lack of a better pun.

Any show like that is going to run into huge problems down the line if they keep borrowing characters. Even a not-crappy Constantine show would require him to have run-ins with various demons who now have different motivations and relations on the show Lucifer. Not to mention the random characters that have been changed or re-written in the past movie and show, that you want people to forget about.

DC has made a big push into Television recently, pulling not only from the main library, but now increasingly from the Vertigo line with shows like iZombie and Preacher. At some point, there’s going to have to be a big story meeting where they draw lines between bubbles and figure out ahead of time which shows are going to intersect. They seem to have no trouble doing this with Justice League characters, but the Vertigo TV universe is currently utter chaos.

The Dark Tower Review for fans of the books.

Posted: August 27, 2017 by ryanlecocq in Reviews

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WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS TERRIBLE SPOILERS FOR THE ENTIRE DARK TOWER SERIES. IT IS MEANT FOR PEOPLE WHO HAVE READ THE BOOKS AND ARE WONDERING ABOUT THE MOVIE. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED

It’s always really funny to me when media will try to chime in on behalf of fans of something they haven’t taken the time to read. If I read an article claiming Dune fans might be offended by a TV series that abandoned the prequels, I would die laughing. No, no we wouldn’t. Star Wars fans who haven’t read the entire Dune series, have no idea what prequel pain can mean or how long it can endure. My point is that in the case of The Dark Tower, journalists were quick to point out how the movie obviously diverges from the plot of the first novel, The Gunslinger.

If you have actually read all 7 Dark Tower books though, it becomes immediately apparent that the movie is a sequel, picking up immediately after the end of The Dark Tower. The story immediately diverges from the novels, because as we learned, Roland is less of an asshole each time. This time he almost immediately takes Jake as his apprentice and trusts the benefits of Jake’s psychic abilities. This results in Jake not dying, Roland immediately following him into Keystone Earth and a significant showdown with Walter, instead of Walter tricking Roland and making him sleep for many years.

I can’t imagine any fan being upset by this, especially because the Horn of Eld is shown sticking out of Roland’s bag in his very first scene, making it clear that this is the kinder, wiser Roland that has already made the cycle around the Tower that we read about. He makes that apparent throughout the film, by abandoning his vengeance and resuming the mantle of Gunslinger in the equivalent of the first book, instead of at the end of the third. If the TV series goes ahead, I can only imagine how much better Roland will mentor his other two disciples when he meets them.

This acceleration of the plot is extremely gratifying for the first 3/4 of the movie. Scenes like Roland drinking soda for the first time and going to the gun store happen earlier and are translated perfectly. It’s hard as a fan not to enjoy this movie just for giving us the Roland that should have been. Instead of him being a jackass for the first 5 books, he immediately becomes the father Jake needs and the hero the universe expects him to be. It’s a little rushed if you don’t understand that this is a reincarnated Roland, who fucked up really bad last time and learned from it. As a fan though, it’s really fun to watch him get with the program and start living up to his heritage as an honest-to-god descendant of King-effing-Arthur.

 

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Before I get to the flaws (and there are definitely some of those), I want to really emphasize how fantastic the cast in this movie is. Idris Elba and Mathew McConaughey clearly read up on the source material before filming and it pretty much saved this movie. The uninitiated will have a hard time noticing any of the nuances they put into these performances for the sake of us fans, but I definitely saw it. Idris Elba plays Roland pretty much the way I always imagined him. He comes off as a little boring, but that’s exactly how Steven King describes him; as somebody who is most interesting to watch when he’s killing people. Elba nails Roland’s slow, methodical behavior and his dry, unfunny jokes. McConaughey really put himself out there in his portrayal of Walter Paddick, the Man in Black. It was a performance that non-fans and critics will completely pan as awkward and misdirected, but fans will know was intended for us. He makes the MiB completely genuine as a cinematic Satan with an otherworldly feel. People who aren’t up on the King-verse won’t realize, but the same character has actually been portrayed in several other movies, like as Randall Flagg in The Stand. These are all the same villain and McConaughey actually does him more justice than his previous on-screen iterations. Bravo to both actors.

The supporting cast is also fantastic, but not as much for being right from the pages of the novel. Tom Taylor’s Jake is much braver and more adventurous than the Jake introduced in The Gunslinger, making me think that Roland’s companions also grow from their repeated journey. While he’s definitely not the same Jake we remember, making him a more assertive character moves the story along and works very well. Many of the other characters will go over the heads of the uninitiated, but were cast well for us fans. Minor novel character Pimli is portrayed by one of my favorites, Fran Kranz, who makes the character jump right off the page. Most of the minor roles are given to talented actors who you have probably seen before, even though they only briefly appear in the movie.

I have to dedicate a whole paragraph to Dennis Haysbert as Roland’s father, Stephen. Stephen Deschain is a very minor character in the novels and likewise gets very little screen time in the movie. He pretty much just recites part of the Gunslinger’s Creed with Roland and tells him to keep hoping, then dies. It’s the casting of Haysbert that is so perfect, though. If I had to name an actor on the spot to play King Arthur/Mufasa/Cowboy Dad, I would probably say Dennis Haysbert. From his stint as the most loved TV president ever on 24, to being the face of Allstate and making us all feel safe in his big, strong hands, Dennis Haysbert is like the comforting voice and face of fatherhood. He only appears on screen for about a minute, but he makes a scene that would feel too-rushed-to-be-important have all the gravity of Obi-Wan dying in Star Wars.

 

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Now I have to dig into this movie a bit, which I feel a bit bad in doing. For the budget, I feel that Lionsgate did a pretty admirable job, especially in pleasing us fans. The budget did become an issue though, especially because the film tried to draw in too many elements from the series. Baddies like the Taheen are much more human and less terrifying, most likely due to the cost of prosthetics. Jake’s psychic battle with the house demon lasts less than a minute, making his triumph seem a lot more trivial. My guess is this had a lot more to do with the cost of CG, than the concept that Jake’s powers have improved this cycle. As a fan you know that the Taheen are supposed to look like freakish hybrids, barely concealed under human skin, but at times it’s hard to imagine that on top of the bad makeup effects. Besides Fran Kranz’ excellent portrayal of a rat in human skin, it’s almost impossible to tell from the movie that the Taheen are human/animal genetic hybrids. Many of the special effects suffer similarly in the interest of getting as many series monsters and magicks in as possible.

It’s really hard to decide how I feel about the extremely short length of the movie. It really feels like it was designed as the pilot of a TV series and if that happens, I like it. If people can even digest it, I have to say it is the quickest possible way to get you into the series and does a pretty good job of explaining the who’s who and what’s what. The only flaw I can see in the length, is I feel like 10 more minutes of explanation could have done a lot. While touches like graffiti throughout the film referencing the Crimson King are cool, 2 minutes to explain who that was would have made it clearer that Walter Paddick was an arm in a larger effort to destroy the Dark Tower. That is kind of explained by the final complaint, which involves the ending and is very hard to judge, all things considered. Overall though, it does a much better job than the books at explaining quickly what is going on. For example, all of the characters seem to be aware of the portals and the existence of Keystone Earth from the very beginning. The structure of the Tower and how it holds the worlds together seems to be much better understood by the common person and this moves things ahead a lot faster. In the books you get the impression that Roland ignored everything but shooting in his education and has no clue about anything or anywhere, until he actually goes there and gets a few fingers chewed off by crab-like-things.

 

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I have to finally address the ending, which to me was the biggest point of contention for the whole movie. You see, the way I look at it there are two ways to make a movie based on a long series of books. You either do like Dune or The Golden Compass, where you make the first one self-contained under the assumption sequels will never happen. Or you go the other route and be like Narnia or Percy Jackson, where you forge ahead on the blind hope that you will be able to make 6 or 7 movies, risking leaving the story unfinished. With The Dark Tower, director Nikolaj Arcel decided to go with the former. Since The Crimson King is never explained, the Man in Black is the film’s ultimate villain and his plan to destroy the Dark Tower boils down to shooting it with a giant cannon powered by the nightmares of psychic children. While that is really freaking cool and Stephen King AF, it totally doesn’t make sense within the series lore. In the novels, the Breakers were just one part of the Crimson King’s plot and were only attacking the beams that supported the tower, not trying to destroy the tower itself.

(SPOILER ALERT AGAIN if you for some reason made it this far but have not read the books)

We learn at the end of The Dark Tower, that the Tower is actually sustained by Roland repeating his life eternally. The only way to truly destroy the tower would be to make Roland lose hope so completely that he fails to complete his quest on one of the cycles. So Walter’s mission is to fuck with him as much as possible in every cycle, with the goal of making Roland so despondent that he will not complete his journey. Walter completely fails to do this in every way during the movie. Not only does he not engineer Jake’s death at all, he tries to use him to power his stupid gun that would not work anyway. So at the end of the movie when Roland “kills” Walter and destroys his machine, it seems like the Tower is saved, at least for this week’s episode.

From a lore perspective, this leaves them in a terrible spot. No matter where they go, they lose. If they start a sequel or television series by attempting to right with the books, they have to resurrect Walter (because we fans know that he can easily assume another form) and then reveal him to not be the big bad. It would feel like the lame villain rehash of every Resident Evil movie and that is not the company you want to be in as a licensed adaptation trying to please fans. It also makes the conflict of the movie seem like a trivial weekly battle, which in the scope of the series, it really is. To book fans, this is a movie about Roland getting it right and adopting Jake as his predecessor immediately, instead of totally failing the first time. That doesn’t seem as significant if you didn’t read it the original way where Roland sacrifices Jake for revenge and gains absolutely nothing from it, then has to go and bring Jake back from the dead because he fucked up.

The other option is to remove the whole reincarnation and destiny aspect, revealing the Crimson King as a sort of Skeletor villain, hatching a new plot each week to destroy the Dark Tower. Walter could return without it being terrible, because he would be joined by other weekly baddies, like Blaine the Train, who would be sent out by Skeletor-Crimson-King to harass our heroes. It would be kind of a lame trivialization of a serious plot, but I loved that same thing in The Shannara Chronicles and the first season of BBC’s Robin Hood. A Dark Tower series dumbed down for TV, with a kinder and gentler Roland, is still a show I would totally watch. I just feel there could have been a lot more options with a tiny bit more careful exposition of series lore during the movie. A 100 minute movie would still have been short enough for our millennial attention spans.

 

Overall, I really enjoyed The Dark Tower. I understood the sacrifices Lionsgate had to make to bring a less well-known series to the silver screen. The Dark Tower was a popular series for Steven King, but with timeless classics like Narnia failing to make it through a long series, expecting any studio to shell out 500 million is a fantasy. The movie makes a clear admission to fans that it knows the lore and makes sure to show off the good casting. We see Roland do his reloading trick, we see Jake do shining stuff and we see Walter be super creepy. The ending will leave a bad taste in your mouth at first as a fan, but once you think about it you’ll see it was necessary. If this movie is all that ever releases, somebody else besides fans have to enjoy it enough to see it and buy it. A movie about reincarnation, where all victories and defeats are merely learning experiences, might be a hard sell as a middle-budget summer blockbuster. If that’s the only Dark Tower movie we can see made, I’ll take it with this cast.

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Spider-Man wearing headphones on top of a suit that has built in sound and probably has access to every song in the world, is like a snapshot of how little sense this movie makes.

 

I really wanted this movie to be amazing. I have carried my bitterness about Sony’s Spider-Man 3 for so long, I had myself thoroughly convinced that Marvel taking over would be the best thing. Now that I’ve seen Marvel’s take on the wall-crawler, I have to say if Spider-Man 3 was the series’ Batman Forever, then Homecoming is Batman and Robin. Like that infamous 90s adaptation, Homecoming is the Spider-Man movie that completely throws the more serious aspects of the character out the window and focuses on the fun and silly side. While Spider-Man has a lot more of that to work with than Batman, when I compared to how I felt after watching Spider-Man 2, it was a shallow experience. I can remember watching that film in the theater, during the scene on the train, where the kid gives Spider-Man his mask back and all the people say the won’t reveal his identity, everyone in the damn theater was crying their eyes out. That was an amazing moment of cinema. I can’t honestly name one of those in Homecoming.

Now I don’t want to seem like I’m rushing back to Sony’s arms after Marvel’s one swing at Spider-Man. Sony’s 5 Spider-Man movies had their serious ups and downs. They often went too far the other way and made Spider-Man’s juggling of power and responsibility almost a soap opera level of drama. In comparison though, Sony’s films about friends becoming enemies and every villain being a desperate soul, seemed so much more relevant. From start to finish, Homecoming just feels like a training mission for Spider-Man to prove himself. None of his friends turn into the Green Goblin, none of his family are really threatened. The only real conflict Peter Parker faces in the film is trying to satisfy his daddy complex by pleasing Tony Stark.

The other huge elephant in the room is the re-write of The Vulture. Michael Keaton brings another tremendous performance to the table, but it can’t redeem a fundamentally flawed script. If you aren’t familiar with the comics, the comic Vulture is originally afflicted with a rare form of cancer and starts his criminal career by literally stealing to live. Over the years lots of stuff happens in the comics, but his character grew from someone fighting to survive. Homecoming makes the almost incomprehensible decision to change this into something far less desperate.

Now The Vulture is a salvager, who loses the money he had saved for his daughter’s college when Tony Stark and the government (probably wisely) decide that civilians shouldn’t be cleaning up discarded alien weapons and technology. This completely glazes over the logic of why in the world he has no insurance and had to for some reason wager his own savings for a salvage job. I’m not a salvager, but I’m pretty sure that makes no sense. Anyway, he of course does the only rational thing and decides the best solution is to start robbing trucks hauling alien weapons from Avengers battle sites and selling them to literally any petty criminal he can find.

No that is not me being glib and making fun of a comic book movie. That is actually how it is explained, with exactly that much detail, in the first few minutes of the movie. So instead of The Vulture being this kind of tragic figure, he is this hedonistic madman, who responds to losing a bunch of money by doing the one thing that is probably most likely to get him turned into a crater by the Avengers. He’s actually really fortunate that Tony Stark doesn’t get more involved and Spider-Man instead captures him with much more non-lethal means. The Vulture is after all a man in his 60s with robot wings. If the Hulk or Thor punched him once, it would have been a very short movie.

It’s really painful actually, watching Keaton lead a fantastic cast, giving amazing performances to boring roles. Tom Holland is yet another good Spider-Man (overall I liked both previous ones too), but he nails the “teenager living in Queens” part way better than his predecessors. Not only does he maintain the accent for most of the movie (I don’t actually remember McGuire or Garfield even trying for a Queens accent at all), but he also portrays youth much more convincingly. Both previous Spider-Mans (and the rest of their cast) were very hard to believe as being 15-16 year old kids. Also the movie has a terrific supporting cast and probably more cameos than any previous Marvel movie (and that’s saying something). Marvel really wanted to make it clear that Spider-Man is part of the family now and they did so by filling every frame with references to other films and characters.

That’s pretty much the best thing I can say about Spider-Man Homecoming though. It really felt, start to finish, like a vehicle to shoehorn Spider-Man into a fairly mature Marvel cinematic universe. They did wisely choose not to do yet another origin, but it’s still kind of tired seeing Peter Parker as a teenager for the third time. In the comics, Peter Parker is a college professor and part-time engineer in his mid-30s by the time Civil War happens. The movies are definitely much shorter and faster, but I still would have accepted a slightly more mature Spider-Man, so we cover a little less of the same ground for the third time in 2 decades. I would have been really pleased to see a later Spider-Man like Miles Morales as well. Would have been a perfect solution to the legal stuff, in addition to giving us somebody besides teenage Peter Parker again.

 

I can see this movie has pretty good reviews overall, so I’m sure history will call this another successful Disney/Marvel venture. As a life-long fan though, I felt it was millions of dollars that could have been much better spent. Especially after years of waiting and negotiating to make it happen. Homecoming wasn’t a terrible film, but it wasn’t better than Spider-Man 2, which is what it needed to be. It was definitely a much less serious film, making it clear that the Marvel cinematic universe is still very much a Disney property and will not touch the darker side of the comics being adapted.

Final Fantasy XV: The game that keeps on giving.

Posted: August 22, 2017 by ryanlecocq in Features, Off-topic

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When I originally completed FFXV, my feelings were that I was amazed it turned out so well. With the almost 10 years of horror stories coming out of the game’s development, I expected a complete trainwreck. What I got was a very decent FF game with a few blemishes, that were completely drowned out by a great cast and a killer ending. Fast forward to almost a year later and Final Fantasy XV is on its way to becoming one of my very favorite FF games. No, it’s not nostalgia growing on me at an accelerated rate; it’s actually the fact that Square-Enix has improved and expanded the game so much, that it’s twice the game it launched as.

In the past 10 months, FFXV has received countless patches that improve gameplay, 2 side story DLCs (with one more coming late this year), a bi-annual carnival event, a multiplayer beta and the ability to turn your car into a f*cking monster truck of all things. Most of these are things that I do not even expect or ask for from a single-player JRPG. When I spent $25 on the season pass, I expected 3 short story DLCs and maybe some free weapons. I did not expect the developers to create a multiplayer mode and a VR fishing simulator out of nowhere and give them to me for that same cost. Beyond that, the game has probably received 7 or 8 patches already, that were specifically aimed at fixing any and every complaint against the game. Everything from additional dialogue and gameplay, to additional graphics settings has been added through free patches. Compared to games like Mass Effect or Fallout, this is an unheard of level of free stuff.

To explain this odd corporate behavior, let’s rewind to before the game came out. Reports have surfaced that Square-Enix was more than a little worried about how FFXV would fare out in the wild. To say the game had a long and troubled development is an almost comedic understatement. After at least two changes of the game engine and at least one near total re-write of the story (under 2 directors)6, it’s a wonder this game was good. So being no strangers to the game business, they were preparing themselves for backlash if the game didn’t meet the sky-high expectations. It’s hard to estimate the development cost of FFXV, but if you add estimates for marketing and the cost of developing those 2 game engines, it’s likely FFXV had to sell 2-3 million copies just to break even. That would make it on of the middle performing FF games, but a better seller than any JRPG recently. So Square-Enix were wise to fear that a game with an imperfect reputation might struggle in a tough market.

Surprising a lot of people, Final Fantasy XV launched to good reviews and seems to have sold almost 5 million copies by the end of last year, making it immediately profitable for Square-Enix. Apparently they were really, really thankful for this. Early in 2017, Hajime Tabata (the game’s final director) announced that players would be getting a year+ of FFXV updates and that development of the game would continue above and beyond planned content. At the time people were kind of like “huh?” This is pretty unheard of for a single player RPG of any kind. We’re used to 2-3 planned DLCs and maybe a bug fix or two, but this sounded like something different. Months later, after playing all the stuff above, I can tell you this is definitely something different.

For those of you who haven’t been convinced to play the game yet, or those waiting for the finally announced PC version, here’s what’s been (or will be) added to FFXV:

 

“Bro Episodes”

A lot of people were disappointed initially when Episode Gladiolus released, because we expected the story DLCs to carry over data to and from the main game. The Bro Eps are more like side games, with their own gameplay style and no saved data carried over. Rather than being like most DLC expansions, that let you increase your power beyond the previous max, these are intended more as a look at the supporting characters. They are pretty short, so if we weren’t getting all the other content, it would be a ripoff for the cost of the season pass. For plot though, they have been excellent. The side stories have featured more screen time for fan favorite characters like Cor and Aranea, as well as the beloved villain Ardyn. Beyond that they feature some very fun gameplay gimmicks that are a neat break from the main game.

 

The Choco-Mog Carnival

So when you were playing the single player RPGs of the past 10 years, did you always wish that there was an in-game event like FF7’s Gold Saucer that was timed like WoW’s Darkmoon Faire? Yeah, me neither, but apparently Hajime Tabata did. That’s basically what the Choco-Mog Carnival is. Twice a year (so far), the city of Altissia hosts a carnival event that allows you to play minigames and win unique prizes. A timed event like this would feel right at home in an MMO, but is downright bizarre in a single player JRPG. This whole idea that we would be rewarded to keep playing the game is a novel concept to JRPG fans. The Carnival is actually a blast. It features activities based on the best parts of the game and while the prizes are not for the most part essential, they are often fun.

 

Comrades Multiplayer

In yet another completely unexpected announcement, Square-Enix decided that FFXV should have multiplayer too. Because why not? Pretty much everyone scratched their heads as to what kind of game this could even be. We should have guessed from the constant nods to Monster Hunter throughout FFXV. Comrades is pretty much a Monster Hunter isnpired mini-game that up to four players can participate in. Like in that series, you meet up in camp, then go on an instanced mission to accomplish a set goal. Players can create their own avatar and gain experience and items separate from the main game. So far we’ve only seen the beta, but chances are the final version won’t be too different. While the beta had some hiccups and the game is pretty basic, it’s a completely unexpected multiplayer component that is actually pretty fun.

 

And here are a few even more unexpected upcoming releases:

 

Monster of the Deep: Final Fantasy XV

When Square-Enix announced that FFXV would have a VR spinoff, I think we were all a bit puzzled. What would it be like? Would it be a crappy promotional “experience”? Some of us held out hope that it would be a deep and satisfying fishing simulator and… WTF? Really!? It is in fact a deep and fully developed VR fishing simulator. According to the people who have played it, it’s actually awesome and could easily stand alone as one of the best PSVR games. Once again… bravo FFXV, bravo. Word is that this will ALSO be free for owners of the season pass of the main game.

 

Final Fantasy XV: Windows Edition

I shouldn’t really say this is unexpected in itself. PC ports of Square-Enix games (of varying quality) are inevitable at some point. A supposedly solid port, developed by the original team, a little over a year after release on consoles, is amazing. Once again FFXV is proving to be the model that future JRPGs should follow. Tabata immediately stated after launch that a PC port was a priority, but they wouldn’t half-ass it. It appears they are going to deliver, because reports say the game is already running smoothly at 4k resolution, with all the graphics settings PC users expect.

 

Final Fantasy XV Pocket Edition

In today’s edition of “what will they do with FFXV next?”, Square-Enix has decided to remake FFXV with a cute appearance for mobile. Apparently deciding that they don’t need Telltale to do it for them, they have made their own cute-ified version of their world that strongly resembles the mobile Kingdom Hearts game in art style. Little is known about this game (it was just announced today), but if it is even as good as the worst of their other mobile games, it should be a hit.

 

And finally, a huge blemish on the otherwise excellent FFXV series:

Final Fantasy XV: A New Empire

This mobile game showed up with little press earlier this summer. It is exactly what it looks like: a clone of Clash of Clans, just like the Star Wars, Marvel and every other licensed versions you see all over the mobile stores. This game appears to have been completely outsourced by Square-Enix and you have to wonder if they even know what is being done with their license. You see, FFXV: ANE has the distinction of being probably the most heavy-handed and transparent as a cash-grab, even among those infamous peers. The monetization of FFXV’s mobile strategy game was so absurd, it drew a flood of bad press immediately on release. Here’s hoping this one just goes away.

 

Who knows what else will come out of this game before they move on to FFXVI…

If you aren’t familiar with the term, The Mandela Effect refers to collective false memories, where many people remember something incorrectly. The term was coined by Fiona Broom, in reference to many people believing Nelson Mandela had died in prison in the 1980s. If you have been reading the news for the past few years, you probably heard that Mandela in fact died recently, in 2013. Despite this widely known fact and the probably thousands of pictures of him post-prison, many people insisted that Mandela had died decades earlier.

Fast forward to 2017 and this term is thrown around constantly, every time a bunch of idiots are just plain wrong. Simple spelling errors are understandable. Lots of people suck at spelling and grammar. For example people thinking the Berenstain Bears was spelled “ein” or confusing McDonalds having a “Big Mac” just comes down to ignorance about names and spelling. The Berenstains always spelled their name that way, since who knows how many generations ago. Among people of Scottish and Irish ancestry, Mc and Mac are more interchangeable than a lot of us realize now. There are a lot of Macs in Ireland and Mcs in Scotland, as well as people whose names changed when they emigrated. It didn’t seem strange at all when the “Big Mac” was first sold at McDonalds, it just seems strange to us now because we associate Mc and Mac with Ireland and Scotland respectively, never to be mixed.

Those aren’t the ones that really drive me insane. It’s the pop culture ones that have become so popular recently. Yesterday I had 3 people separately share an article about The Mandela Effect and the examples in the article caused me almost physical pain.

You see, the difference is that spelling errors or ignorance of linguistics are perfectly honest mistakes. When you insist that Sinbad was in a movie called Shazam, where he played a genie, you are just plain wrong. That movie actually does exist, so you are right in a sense. The only thing is, it’s called Kazaam and stars Shaquille O’Neal. So in reality, the people who insist on “Shazam” just can’t tell the difference between two black guys with facial hair. Furthermore, they’ve confused a comic book character (Captain Marvel, who is summoned by the word SHAZAM!) who is kind of like a genie, but not really, with a movie about an actual genie. So it’s not an honest mistake brought on by a typo, it’s pretty much a declaration of racial and cultural ignorance in itself. It pisses me off, because for some reason I LOVED THAT MOVIE as a kid. In fact, laugh all you want, but I loved all Shaq’s movies as a kid and even played Shaq-Fu for hours. Even though I can now admit that movie was awful, people still worked on it and none of those people were Sinbad.

Another popular one is people believing that Freddie Mercury said “We are the champions of the world” in the original version of the song. I am a huge Queen fan and I can forgive you for this one, but it still ticks me off. I haven’t seen anyone correct this, so as someone who knows, here’s the reality according to album jackets and YouTube. Originally, the song did not include “of the world” at the end of each chorus. Freddie Mercury added it during a 1985 live performance, adding a motif to several of the songs from that album, which was called “News from the World”. This was immediately after he had written “Princes of the Universe”, which includes the lines “got your world in my hand” and “We’ve got to be the rulers of you all.” So using that sort of rhyming scheme was kind of hot in his mind at the time. It sounded really good, so it was included in later recordings. Now although that seems very convoluted, I as just one of millions of fans had my memory jogged and was able to find the truth, with minimal research to remind myself of what actually happened. The problem here is that 99% of non Queen fans seem to only remember the version that was featured in The Mighty Ducks and cannot accept that the song had many variants.

I promise this will be the last long and ranty example, but I can’t resist talking about the Disney Halloween Treat. Many of us fondly remember the Disney Halloween special that aired for the better part of 5 decades on various television stations throughout the world. But what shorts did it contain? Did Ichabod Crane attempt to outrun the Headless Horseman? Did Satan rise up out of Bald Mountain? People have wasted hours and hours on the internet debating what this program contained, when the answer is stupidly obvious: there are many versions of the Disney Halloween Treat. In the days before The Disney Channel, Disney didn’t have absolute control over how their content ended up in television broadcasts. Disney’s Halloween special was chopped up, re-ordered and spliced together with other Disney shorts by television networks around the world for decades. There are 3 versions that survive to today, all of them available on YouTube. Two of the shorts included in various versions, “Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman” and “A Night on Bald Mountain” were considered controversial or too graphic for many networks (beheading and/or Satan are forbidden on TV in many countries). Bald Mountain was originally meant to be included in Fantasia, but was cut for the same reason. So in many versions, one of these two is replaced with “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” from Fantasia. The short where Donald and Goofy are starving seems to appear in almost all versions though, which I think is ridiculous, because it’s clearly the most disturbing one.

 

The long-winded point I’m trying to get to, is that inventing a ridiculously long-running meme about alternate realities may have been funny for the first few years, but it is really getting annoying to us nerds who are actually into these things. I mean, I love Rick and Morty too, but this is getting absurd. The facts are that Shaq deserves credit for being in Kazaam, even if it was a pile of crap. Freddie Mercury deserves credit for making his own song better in a moment of inspiration. Disney probably doesn’t want anything to do with most versions of the Halloween Treat, because most of them were totally butchered by the TV studios. While it’s a waste of time trying to be ‘right’ most of the time, there is a certain justice in at least trying to be ‘correct.’

Because if Nelson Mandela had died in prison, don’t you think that would have changed things a bit? It would definitely make him much more of a martyr. Let’s apply that same harmless error to other historical figures. Let’s change history so that Vlad the Impaler and Hitler died in prison, before their most notorious deeds. Now they don’t seem so bad, do they? Or maybe let’s turn it around and say that Galileo Galilei didn’t die under house arrest. Let’s say he spent his twilight years in brothels. Now he doesn’t really sound like a martyr for science does he? These are pretty extreme examples and I admit that they are as good as a straw man argument, but the principle is not too different. Not caring that Sinbad and Shaq are different people and actually look pretty different, is kind of racist. Really the only things they have in common are being black, having facial hair and having a name starting with S. You really can’t claim to confuse them on any other means. So I don’t think I’m stretching it too far to say that the concept in itself can be harmful and not just annoying.

I feel like a more cerebral version of “Adam Ruins Everything” sometimes, especially with this and my previous denouncement of “shipping.” What can I say, besides that the more you study psychology, the more you realize that little jokes aren’t always harmless. Little slights and changes in history can fester over time and lead to things like the massive controversy we are facing now about how we remember America’s civil war. There is only one accurate version of history and while it is very unlikely that it will be perfectly preserved, we can at least make a serious attempt. Celebrating being wrong and making jokes about it, is a different side of the same coin that is the willful ignorance tearing our entire country apart. At least that’s my opinion and I hope you at least consider it.