The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

A new Polish studio, The Astronauts, was formed by some of the People Can Fly team (of Bulletstorm fame). Their new game is anything but a mega-blockbuster. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is more like an interactive story, which is fitting because it is an homage to early twentieth-century weird fiction (with shout outs to such authors as HP Lovecraft and HG Wells).

First of note is the game’s beauty. Red Creek Valley is a large open world space but remains intimate – it is essentially a family estate next to a dam and train station. The lush forests, mountain peaks, and lake views are stunning. The game’s music is atmospheric and it is an experience to simply wander around.

The Vanishing is a short game, only a few hours or so, and there are 10 independent quests. 5 are murder mysteries and 5 are individual story puzzles. This is poignant, because Ethan is a young storyteller with a troubled family. It becomes clear that he uses his imagination to escape his dreary life. What’s interesting is these 5 mysteries and 5 tales of weird fiction are each based on one of his 5 family members. The interplay of these relationships and the symbolism therein is the crux of The Vanishing. Countless fan theories range from the obvious to the ridiculous.

On the design front, the world is built well. It interconnects with itself and folds back into familiar territory (for example, a vista showing a house at the foot of a dam is later revisited at ground level). Gameplay design, however, is a bit less intuitive. The intro warns that The Vanishing does NOT hold the player’s hands, and it doesn’t. At the start, I didn’t know what to do or even know much about the story. I simply emerged from a tunnel and knew that I was on a quest to find a missing boy. This game is mostly discover-as-you-go.

Which is fine, but… I have a small bone to pick with the open nature of the story. Many of the sections can be completed in any order. This is fine in some cases but the lack of direction in the beginning damaged my experience. I stumbled through the world not knowing what to do and bored because nothing was happening. Out of 10 puzzles, I didn’t even notice that I was supposed to be solving a self-contained challenge until the 4th one. I needed to consult a walkthrough to realize that some areas had their own activities that could be solved while remaining within that area. Once I understood this dynamic, I played through the game on my own, but a little "hand holding" at the very beginning would have trained the gameplay mechanics better. I’m all for non-linear experiences, but having a set beginning or initial challenge would not be a bad thing.

The Ending

After a beautiful experience like The Vanishing, what’s the easiest way to divide the fans? The ending, of course. Needless to say, do not read on unless you want spoilers.

Some people refer to the ending as a "twist" (even the developer does). I don’t consider it a twist. The entire story plays with the idea of imagination and the supernatural – what’s reality and fantasy – so to me, the ending isn’t a twist so much as a reveal. The player knows something is up, they just don’t necessarily know what.

However, the aspect of the ending that is most divisive is its ambiguity. Numerous interpretations exist, and this Russian blog does a great job breaking things down, but the fact is that the simplest interpretation waves off most of the plot. The most logical explanation has no supernatural element to it at all, and plays out like tragic stories in the vein of Pan’s Labyrinth. However, there is a very similar but supernatural explanation, and that is centered on who you believe the protagonist is: either Ethan’s imagination or his ghost.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, for whatever it is, is a very different game, and one that gives you as much as you put into it. If you dismiss it quickly, it only offers a straightforward mystery, but if you peel away the story layers like an onion, you find more and more.

For twenty bucks, you can’t go wrong with that.

Do To The Beast – The Afghan Whigs

This reunion album was only a dream for the last 15 years, but it’s here now, and it’s great.

Let’s get this out of the way first: This is not just another Twilight Singers album. Somehow, the epic Afghan Whigs sound is revived like it had never gone away. The album is hard, the guitars screech, and Dulli gives an impressive vocal performance. You’ll find the familiar piano and violin parts as well. That’s not to say that Do To The Beast is a same old nostalgic rehash. The Whigs are good at many things, and one of them is giving each of their albums a unique feel.

On top of everything, I just had the pleasure to see them live at the Fonda Theatre. They played an almost 2-hour show filled with tracks from the new album and an eclectic collection of their classics.

Oblivion

Is this the best space sci-fi movie of the last few years?

Imagine a film with the visual design of Prometheus, a soundtrack reminiscent of Inception (and scored by M-83), a premise comparable to the Matrix, the wonder of Total Recall, and the isolation of Moon. I don’t know that Oblivion does any one thing better than the cream of the recent sci-fi crop, but it certainly brings everything together into a cohesive and enjoyable whole.

In my mind, whether flawed or not, this is what a sci-fi film should be.

Wonderful/Horrible

I often see attempts to control the nature of man.

Nothing overt. Nothing that is even that self-aware. Just ideas. Behavioral limiting. This often leads to grand statements like:

"Society would be better off without God, or porn, or <insert personal vendetta here>."

But the flaw is in the belief that the bad doesn’t come with the good.

Think of all the wonderful/horrible things that mankind has done in the name of God.

Think of all the wonderful/horrible things that mankind has done in the name of Science.

Think of all the wonderful/horrible things that mankind has done in the name of Discovery.

Think of all the wonderful/horrible things that mankind has done in the name of Profit.

Is it sensible for us to say that these greater ideas are detrimental?

I used to hate FOX News. I used to wince at the shameless arrogance of its reporting. But you know what? It’s just serving a need. My problem isn’t with FOX News, it’s with the people who watch FOX News.

It isn’t the thing; it’s the people.

Many who want to dictate which factors are acceptable in society do so in the name of bettering man. "Imagine if the concept of God never existed," they postulate. This line of thinking usually assumes that man is inherently good, but that there are some bad influences that inevitably skew this nature.

The problem is, people aren’t inherently good. People aren’t inherently evil. People are just people. Many of them aren’t too bright. Many of them are extraordinarily kind. Many of them are condescending, and polite, and rash, and patient.

Many of them are wonderful/horrible.

Shade City

What happens when the dead refuse to leave behind the world they know?

Shade City: The Dead Side Blues views ghosts through an old-fashioned lens. Spirits aren’t formless apparitions that go bump in the night. Rather, they are souls of past lives that force themselves into human hosts.

Dante Butcher is our unlikely protagonist. A partier who goes to clubs in Los Angeles, he has a strange gift. He can feel the second shadows within possessed people when he touches them. He hunts them, tracking them down and singling them out for exorcism back to the Dead Side.

Shade City is hip and edgy. It offers an outsider’s inside-perspective of Los Angeles. And best of all, for a limited time the full novel is only 99 cents.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Google Play | GoodReads

The Purge

Imagine if, in the very near future, it becomes legal to commit any crime you want for a 12-hour-period every year. By allowing society to get its murderous rage out of its system, crime drops dramatically the rest of the year to the point that it is nearly nonexistent. Yes, the concept is ludicrous, as allowing people to riot does much more than a single day’s damage. But at least, for a movie premise, it is a compelling enough basis to build on.

The Purge, however, fails miserably. The film never manages to become less ridiculous than its hook, and despite the sci-fi dystopic concept, it plays out much more like a B horror movie with cheap scares.

Believability

First off, The Purge tries to make a statement about what society has become by presenting this preposterous concept as old hat to the family of main characters. They talk about watching the Purge coverage on the news later. They have a little family spat about nothing. Then they get so distracted with dinner that they forget to lock down their house until 5 minutes before the massacre begins. I understand they want to display a casual acceptance of something we find morbid, but it doesn’t work at all.

"Oh my God, guys! I almost forgot it was time for the annual 12-hour massacre! Silly me. You see, everybody’s, like, totally casual about it. It’s not really a big deal. Except the entire neighborhood including us has installed state-of-the-art security systems just for this one period every year, but of course, we almost forgot to USE IT. But whatevs, I was cooking pasta."

Cheap Horror

Picture a night without police where thousands of people roam the street with guns to satisfy their base desires. Our main characters have their house surrounded as a pack of hoodlums intends to break in. While half of them have guns, the other half look like ghost movie rejects. They have spooky dresses with monster masks and walk around like zombies, dragging machetes or baseball bats on the floor. Now, I don’t know about you, but this is the worst planning ever. I’d imagine someone dressed as a crazy person wielding an ax would only manage twenty paces outside their house before they got shot on a night like this. But it doesn’t matter. The movie doesn’t care to make the mindless enemies believable, as long as they can jump in front of the camera and make the audience scream, they’ve served their purpose.

A Noble Lesson

The ridiculousness continues when it comes time for our family to learn from their trials. During the course of the entire viewing, it is shoved down the audience’s throats how normal this event is. In fact, we are told the Purge is good for society. It is a release valve that prevents the country from imploding. Anyway, despite the film’s attempts to convince us that killing is okay, at the end of it all, the good guys decide to stop the violence.

Get it? Killing is wrong! You see?

The entire premise of the film is ridiculous, which is why they tried to hard to convince us otherwise. As a moral lesson, it’s an obtuse one, since it’s likely the whole audience already agrees that murdering people is a bad thing to begin with.

Admittedly, a lot of sci-fi movies do this. Think about Logan’s Run, Minority Report, etc., where dystopic ideals are supposed to be scary. The main character always comes to realize that the opinions of the audience are the ‘right’ way. But at least those movies do a lot more world-building to convince us that what we’re seeing is plausible.

Not so much with The Purge. Between Judge Dredd and this, Cersei hasn’t had a whole lot of luck with movies. But at least Ethan Hawke dies, so there’s that.

Ghost Stories – Coldplay

This is it: the Coldplay album that I’m embarrassed to have bought.

Musically, perhaps their last effort was worse. Viva La Vida was a disaster of an album, an overreaction to success, I think. But Ghost Stories is such a cliché, the classic soft-rock tripe that Coldplay gets a bad name for. Finally, their detractors are on the money. This sounds like a solo project after the band breaks up, and maybe that’s what should have happened.

The album is cheesy. One song proclaims over and over, "I love you so much it hurts." By the fifth time, it hurt all right. Then the very next song warbles poetic about true love for 5 minutes. I guess it should be a relief that the album is short. Only 9 songs. (Yes, this is the album that gives you 3 extra songs if you buy the Target version. Imagine how much worse those "bonus" tracks must be.)

Bottom line: Ghost Stories is soft, unimaginative, overdone, and eye-rolling. Nothing worth saving here.

Settling the Toilet Seat Debate

Should the toilet seat be left up or down? Men want it up to act as a urinal. Women use it down and would prefer to leave it that way. Who’s right?

The old adage is that the woman wants the seat down so she doesn’t accidentally ‘fall in,’ whatever that means. First of all, if anybody, ever, ‘falls in’ the toilet bowl, they are an idiot. I would like to hear a well articulated argument where this isn’t true. There is simply no defense for a grown-ass-human to accidentally sit in a dirty bowl of crap-water.

Secondly, some women and men have looked to statistics. I can’t tell you how many arguments I’ve seen about the toilet seat that were based on optimizing time. But let’s stop analyzing the percentages that men and women need to sit versus stand. Sure, statistical analysis is interesting, but keep in mind that all of this work is to decide who should save half a second. (That’s another way of saying that this isn’t the kind of problem that needs statistical analysis.) All of these studies are failing to grasp the big picture. The only factor they are considering is the time is takes to do the deed. Now, laziness might be a good enough reason to do something if it were the only reason, but it’s not.

There are, it turns out, several good reasons why the common wisdom of both men and women is wrong. Not only should the seat be down, but so should the cover. Always. Here are 4 reasons why:

1) The Toilet Bowl is Unsightly

U.S. law dictates that everyone have a low flush toilet. Scientifically, this means it "uses less water to force crap down the drain." This set-up often causes all types of unsightly skid-marks to line the porcelain path on the way down. Why expose guests and others to that view, especially if they’re not even using the toilet?

2) The Toilet Bowl is Dirty

This goes hand in hand with #1, but I’m listing it separately because it’s a health concern. Thousands of microscopic feces organisms fly into the air and all around the bathroom when you flush with the cover open. Scientists regularly find objects like toothbrushes coated with this. Now, as disgusting as this is to think about, the fact of the matter is that these germs aren’t so bad. We can handle a bit of it. But see if you’d rather flush with the cover open after pondering this.

3) The Cover Protects Those that Don’t Know Better

Hey, I know what a toilet is. I don’t stick my hand in the water under any circumstances, even if it’s on fire. But I had a dog growing up that would regularly drink out of the bowl. This is horrible. Pets are one thing, little kids are another. Why not prevent access to something that we think is disgusting when it’s not in use?

4) The Cover Protects Us from Ourselves

You might thank me the next time you put your cell phone down and it bounces off the counter and off the toilet cover instead of into the bowl. A $400 phone will always be a toilet phone once that happens, even if it’s waterproof.

ADHD Does Not Exist

Is it a surprise to me that a new TIME magazine article features a doctor who doesn’t believe that ADHD exists?

http://time.com/25370/doctor-adhd-does-not-exist/

Hell no. Call me careful. Call me paranoid. Whatever you say, I don’t think people should be popping pills regularly. This is, of course, acceptable for treatments of serious conditions and mental disorders, but even popping a tylenol for every little headache gets a bit excessive for me.

As a nation, do we really want to raise an entire generation of people who are hooked on stimulants? Who need them to function normally? The real answers- exercise, diet, sleep- are never the sexy answers. Why bother trying to live healthier when you can swallow a pill? Unfortunately, one of the most important lessons people can learn in life is that that quick solutions are usually just stopgaps.

Today, we may think it’s crazy that Coca-Cola used to contain cocaine, or that opium was given to children, or even that alcohol was commonly used in medicine. 50 years from now, people will look back today and marvel at a generation who believed they could only concentrate properly if they took drugs. It’s a lie that Big Pharma propagates. It’s a fad that people buy into. But it’s not the truth.

Twitter Followers

So I’ve been paying more attention to Twitter lately. I know, I know. I’m on the cutting edge of the times. Still, I admit that it has its uses, but spam never fails to amaze me.

Here is a perfectly legit gentleman, who happens to be more dope than all others, who is offering a service to get more followers. Now, we can debate the usefulness of having a bunch of spam bots following you- they certainly aren’t reading your clever jokes- but we can at least admit that in an image-conscious world, the appearance of followers leads to the appearance of influence.

But, and this might just be me, if you’re going to advertise a service whereas you are able to get "Thousands Twitter Followers with Cheap Price," then… I don’t know… you might want to actually have thousands of Twitter followers.

Really, if this guy is as dope as he says he is and he only has 135 followers then I can only presume that he knows absolutely nothing about how to get a respectable amount. Unfortunately, @Larkinlkj isn’t alone in his delusions.

No, Judith. You need keep secret to yourself.