Archive for August, 2009

h1

Circulatory Systems!

August 27, 2009

So, Circulatory Systems, part of the Elephant 6 Collective of musicians, has released a new album and it’s great.  It’s like if Goldfrapp’s beats snuck off for a quickie with Muse and My Bloody Valentine. Members of Neutral Milk Hotel and Olivia Tremor Control played on this album as well.

If you want to listen to the full album, it’s streaming on NPR for a couple more days.

-amanda seamus

h1

Adventure Games: So You Want to Be a Hero?

August 27, 2009

I was a kid in the 90s which in my family meant M*A*S*H* reruns, Night Court, Nickelodeon and Sierra adventure games.  I remember sitting on my Dad’s lap while he played old DOS games like Eye of the Beholder and Hexen and being alternately frightened and fascinated by these games about dungeons and adventures.  My Dad grew up playing Dungeons & Dragons and listening to Pink Floyd so he thought nothing of exposing me to video games at the age of 4, but  my mom would decry the violence in the games my Dad played, worrying that I would be scarred or turn out to be a sociopath (which I didn’t, but I’m still terrified of the green dragons that shoot fire in Hexen by id Software)

Those Green Dragons were dicks.

The point of all this is, I grew up loving old school adventure games, and my favorite was and is Quest for Glory: So You Want to Be a Hero.

The Quest for Glory games were made by Sierra Entertainment, and Quest for Glory 1 was a VGA remake of Hero’s Quest (they had to rename it be cause of copywrite issues).  The thing about games in this series and Sierra games of that time is that they all had a clear, crisp, colorful aesthetic with off-color jokes and easy-to-learn gameplay, though some puzzles were quite challenging and obtuse.  You can choose to play as a fighter, mage or thief and depending on your class, you have access to different aspects of the game.  The story is misleading in its simplicity, and while I will not give anything away, it’s fun and tricky like any good fairy tale.  Also, the music is beautiful, they do some great things with MIDI in this game.

Gameplay wise, it’s a point and click interface, with a series of buttons above that you click on to change your cursor so you can interact with the world in different ways, which can lead to hilarious results when you say, click on yourself with the lockpick from your inventory.  The thing about these games is when you die, they make fun of you.  That doesn’t happen anymore, there are no more mocking text boxes saying things like:

“Unfortunately you push it in too far, causing a cerebral hemmorhage.  Guess you should have been practicing on less difficult locks” -When you click the lockpick on yourself.

Adventurer with an Antwerp

And people wonder why I tend to have lots of save files… you never know what could happen… you could die from doing something really stupid because the Sierra folks thought it would be funny, and they were right!

If you are interested in checking it out, it’s hosted for free on Abandonia (make sure you get the VGA remake version).  Download DOSBBox, which is compatible with both PCs and Macs and allows one to play all of the old Dos games, being essentially an IBM PC.

Oh Silliness

Sierra made lots of great adventure games like the Kings Quest (Roberta Williams’s magnum opus), Police Quest, and Space Quest series (full of Hitchhiker’s guide jokes).  For what it’s worth, Ms Dos and the game it housed, from Jill of the Jungle to Xargon, was and is my NES.   I view games like Jazz Jackrabbit in the same way that other kids look at old nintendo games.

This might seem to come out of left field, all this talk of old PC games, but I enjoy going questing, and a game that lets me name my adventuring gent Balsak the Brave is A-Ok by me.

Battling in QFG 1

Battling in QFG 1

-amanda seamus

h1

Battlestar Galactica and Current Events (SPOILER ALERT!)

August 10, 2009

SPOILER ALERT!  Just so you know, you should not read this essay until you have finished watching the new BSG series! 

.

.

YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

Battlestar Galactica: Socially Conscious Sci-Fi

              “All this has happened before, and it will happen again.”

              In 1978, a TV series about a war between humans and robots slowly gained cult following. It was a little melodramatic and a little campy, but we liked it. It was Battlestar Galactica, the original series, and it was canceled after only one season. Frak.

              Flash forward twenty-five years and most American television is avoiding the elephant in the room: the country has just survived a terrorist attack and is currently at war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Things look a bit grim. This is when producers Ronald Moore and David Eick decided to create a reimagining of that campy old sci-fi show, Battlestar Galactica. They were faithful to the original premise: Most of humanity has been destroyed in a massive attack by an enemy that has lain dormant for years. Left floating in space, the refugees are an endangered species, with the last Battlestar (an aircraft carrier for space) the only thing between them and the robot Cylons bent on their annihilation. They live in fear of the enemy, many of whom look human, while they search for a new home, a legendary planet called “Earth.”

              Sound familiar? Not the part about murderous robots and aircraft carriers in space. The massive terrorist attack, the fear of a foe living next door, feeling lost and paranoid in the wake of the destruction of a world we thought was safe—all this should feel eerily like the past nine years. The writers of Battlestar Galactica intentionally wrote the show to reflect current events. Ron Moore was inspired by September 11th, the Iraq War, and prejudice while reimagining the sci-fi classic. He wanted to use the show as a metaphor for current events, not to draw direct parallels (Cylons= terrorists= BAD), but to raise questions about what was happening in our own very complex world. The result was what Time magazine named “the best show on television.” The Guardian claimed, it’s the only award-winning drama that dares tackle the war on terror.”

              But how exactly does a race of evil robots intent on humankind’s destruction equal the War on Terror? Keep your frakkin’ shirt on. I’m about to tell you.

September 11th

              The re-imagined Battlestar Galactica began with a miniseries, where we were introduced to the Twelve Colonies: planets populated by humans and united under a common government. Forty years previous, there was a war between humans and Cylons—the very robots humans had created. The humans won, and the Cylons left for the far end of the known galaxy, where they were ignored as the humans got lazy and drunk on their own success. Compare this societal tranquility to the attitude of Americans before 9/11. Sure, we had gone through minor terrorist attacks before, but at the end of the day, we were invincible and our enemy was out of sight and out of mind.

              One fine day, all twelve planets were attacked, swiftly, suddenly, efficiently, in a coordinated nuclear holocaust. It was an act of genocide—most of the human race was killed, and the survivors (50,000 souls) banded together in whatever spaceships were already launched at the time of the attack. Our not-so-merry fleet of refugees is led by the President of the Colonies (former Secretary of Education Laura Roslin), and Bill Adama, Commander of the Galactica, the only Battlestar to survive the attack. At first the survivors feel listless, depressed, frightened of another attack and unsure of what to do next, until Commander Adama gives them a purpose: to find Earth, the long-lost planet of their ancestors. Inspired and hopeful, the fleet sets off, determined to survive. So say we all!

              These events are September 11th and the days following it, on a galactic scale: the massive terrorist attack, the panic and fear, followed by the patriotic rallying at the courageous words of our leader. For both the Galactica and America, things are looking up. Then war breaks out.  

The War in Iraq

              At the end of season two, the stakes have changed for our fleet of scrappy humans. They’ve settled on a planet, dubbed it “New Caprica” after their old capital, and they’re living in a tent city, trying to scratch a living out of the dirt. The Galactica remains in orbit, manned by a skeleton crew. Just when everyone is content to ignore the Cylons and pretend they’re gone for good, guess who comes to dinner…

              As we enter season three, the humans are living on Cylon-occupied New Caprica. The Cylons make the rules, and the humans submit or get conveniently disappeared. But the Cylons claim it’s all in their best interest; they’re trying to help the humans and move toward a relationship of peace. As long as the humans do as they’re told and don’t make any show of resistance, everyone will be happy. So say we all?

              No say we all! Out of the Cylon occupation a resistance force rises. An underground group of human freedom fighters—or are they “insurgents”?—led by former Galactica crew members, is doing their best to run the Cylons out of town. Hoarding weapons, assassinating Cylons, blowing up buildings, suicide bombings… the resistance fighters will do anything they can to keep the Cylons from being in total control. Even when their leader, Colonel Tigh, is imprisoned and tortured for information, they don’t give up.

              This is where the plot of our campy little sci-fi show gets uncomfortably controversial. The parallels to the war in Iraq are hard to ignore. On a cursory viewing, it might seem like the Cylons are painted as the US military, while the humans are the Iraqi insurgency. But this can’t be right. The bad guys can’t represent the good guys, the US of A, the most powerful and free country in the world, can they? And the humans can’t stoop to terrorist tactics. They would never form an insurgency to fight for their freedom by whatever means necessary… would they?

              These are the questions Moore and Eick encouraged viewers to ask themselves. They were not taking a definite stand on the war in Iraq, merely presenting the situation in a way that would not only entertain fans of the show, but get us to think. Whether BSG’s resistance fighters changed your mind about the War on Terror, or reinforced your beliefs, at least the story got you out of your comfort zone and into a place where conflict is gray, not black and white. 

Racial and Religious Prejudice

              Part of what made the Cylons of the new BSG so dangerous was that they looked like humans. They could be anyone, and probably were. Compared with the chrome Cylons of the original series (“Toasters”), the Skin-jobs were much more dangerous, and full of potential for drama, hand-to-hand combat scenes, and… romance?

              Here we hit on a major theme of the show: prejudice, or more specifically, racism. For the humans and Cylons are different races of people, similar in many ways yet separated by religious beliefs, political motivations, and basic biology. These differences cause many of the same side-effects of prejudice we’ve seen in our own world. Racial profiling runs rampant in a fleet where Cylons masquerade as humans, gathering information and setting traps. In the Galactica’s fleet, anyone could be a Cylon, and paranoia, blame, and suspicion run rampant. A similar situation existed after 9/11, with airports sending Middle Eastern passengers through extra security, and hate crimes committed against Muslim Americans.

              The prejudice between humans and Cylons is never more apparent than in the relationship between Athena—a Cylon model #8—and Helo, a human Raptor pilot. Their romance, marriage, and child Hera are all reminiscent of a time when “mixed-race marriage” was illegal in some states. Make no mistake, this couple is mixedrace: human and Cylon, they are hunted, abused, imprisoned, kept apart, and ridiculed throughout their relationship. Actress Grace Park, a Southeast Asian, has commented that her on-screen marriage with Tahmoh Penikett (who is half white, half Dene Nation) has had a positive reaction from fans, who say that the relationship is encouraging to mixed-race couples, and not simply because the actors are different ethnicities. Helo and Athena’s daughter Hera, a human/Cylon “half-breed” is feared and revered by human and Cylon alike. Not surprisingly, this child of two peoples plays a pivotal role in the series finale.

              The most obvious parallel between the prejudice on BSG and in our world today is religious prejudice. While the humans worship many gods (like the Greek pantheon), the Cylons believe in one true god. It is this difference in religious beliefs which drives the two groups deeper into conflict, which each side claiming to have “God” or “Gods” on their side. Sadly, I don’t think I need to spell this one out in terms of current events.

 

 

              Election fraud, freedom of the press, a woman’s right to choose, alcoholism, cancer treatment, the right to a trial by jury—Battlestar Galactica doesn’t just deal with the big issues. The show discusses all of these hot topics in one manner or another, whether it be a storyline used as a metaphor for current events, a larger theme of the plot, or a character dealing with a difficult concern. Needless to say, it would take a whole book and plenty of academic research to fully uncover all the socially-aware plotlines in Battlestar Galactica. 

              But it’s not all doom and gloom. As with any good show, the strength of BSG lies in the characters and their relationships. And what characters they are! They laugh, they cry, they drink themselves silly, sacrifice themselves nobly, and selfishly save their own hides. If you’re tired of generic sci-fi and looking for something to really make you think, watch Battlestar Galactica.

 

~Jess d’Arbonne

Note from Editors: We’ve all been moving lately and thus updates have been extremely spotty.  Also, Amanda Seamus’s laptop died a while ago but she is getting a new one this week sometime so definitely expect more consistent updates when that happens.

h1

The Best Indie Pop Album I have Heard this Year:

August 6, 2009

…is The Ruminant Band by the band Fruit Bats.  I know that Noble Beast by Andrew Bird is a great album and that other albums have come out this year that are equally worthy of note, but I would be a liar if I said I had enjoyed listening to any of them as much as I love The Ruminant Band. This album is consistently great from beginning to end which these days I find rarely in pop albums.  It’s like CSNY and Robert Plant in Tangerine had sex and then produced a baby, but it was sickly (oh drugs!) so they left it on a mountain where it was found and raised by the Shins.   Listen to the album streaming on spinner.com here.

Or, if you’re lazy and need a taste:

Note: Eric Johnson has been recording under the name Fruit Bats for a number of years and he is a member of the Shins 🙂  This album is what Wincing the Night Away could have been but better.

-Amanda Seamus