Search This Blog

Saturday, 31 October 2020

Spooktober Special

Halloween is my favourite holiday, and I have spent this entire month watching at least one horror movie a day, because - you know, it's actually a nice escape from reality to believe that awful things are happening constantly.

I love my horror movies. So this wasn't really a challenge.

You wanna know what I ended up watching? It just so happens I kept a list. I thought I would entertain you with it, before next month, wherein this blog will turn into politics and NaNoWriMo central.

Day 1: The Thing From Another World (1951)

Despite being a horror movie with lantern-jawed men and a clearly "evil" scientist, the dialogue in this is superb - feels very natural, really well written. I mean. Everything ELSE is a little ropey, but it did spawn a different movie that we will come to later...

Day 2: A Quiet Place (2018)

(Can't Believe I) Slept On This Part 1. Great movie. Stellar execution. Obviously, superb sound engineering. Wonderful performances all round. I am so mad that I saw Birdbox before I saw THIS. SO mad. So, SO mad.

Day 3: Leviathan (1989)

One of the many Abyss rip-offs, this one is actually not terrible, and the cast is fantastic. Like you watch this movie and you will recognise just about everyone in it. Honorable mention goes to Ernie Hudson, who gets done super dirty by the writing.

Day 4: Ginger Snaps (2000)

There are few movies that are more 2000 than Ginger Snaps. Instant and total cult classic. Superb soundtrack, great writing and cinematography, and - well, lets face it, everyone who ever went to high school of any kind is going to find something in this movie, right?

Day 5: Event Horizon (1997)

This was an absolute staple when I was in school. Another magnificent bit of casting, some genuine freaky spooks, and Sam Neill genuinely comes across as one of the most frightening men on the face of this earth.

Day 6: The Whisperer In Darkness (2011)

An indie production of a Lovecraft novella, this was pleasantly surprising; it was well put together, even filling out bits of the story that really deserved more of a look, and really well acted despite the clear lack of budget. I've seen worse movies rake $100 million at the box office.

Day 7: The Amityville Horror (1979)

When we talk about classics - this movie provided me with one of my first genuine childhood fears, as discussed in this blog here. Main lead here is James Brolin - Josh Brolin's dad - and is the absolute spitting image of Christian Bale, if you ask me. Genuine creepshow of a movie. 

Day 8: The Lighthouse (2019)

I stopped hating on Robert Pattinson long before this movie came out, but if anyone has doubts as to whether or not this man can act, watch this. AMAZING. An awfully creepy movie, and I DO mean awful. Amazingly well done. Superb.

Day 9: The Mist (2007)

One of... like... two Steven King adaptations that King actually liked. He enjoyed this, and said of the ending: "Why didn't I think of that?" And oh christ, that ending. This is not for the weak of heart. A really well put-together movie.

Day 10: Dark Star (1974)

I know. Not technically a horror - it's more Douglas Adams than Addams Family - but it led almost directly to Alien existing, and it does have an alien IN it. Though is anything scarier than teaching a sentient bomb Cartesian doubt? Herein is the first day that I watched two movies on the same day, because Dark Star was a technicality...

Day 10: The Predator (2018)

...and the real horror in this one is that it completely shit on my theory of the Alien, Predator and Blade Runner franchises all being totally linked. It's, like, the fourth best Predator movie. It's better than both AvPs though! Not that that's hard. I've taken shits better than AvP: Requiem. Is it a horror movie? I dunno, but it's a monster movie, so it counts.

Day 11: The Thing (1982)

And here we have literally the best horror movie ever made. Just in every way. The creeping unease, the visceral body horror, the interpersonal anxiety, the dread, the attention to detail, the absolutely killer performances from every actor on screen INCLUDING the dog. Also the first of the Carpenter Apocalypse Trilogy. More from them later.

Day 12: Antrum: The Deadliest Film Ever Made (2018)

I'd not heard of this. Caught wind of it on social media, stuck it in my To Watch list for about a year, and then... oh christ. Oh CHRIST. OH CHRIST. Great movie. Terrifying. Fantastic. Just really well made. Worth it if you can find it.

Day 13: The Mothman Prophecies (2002)

There's a lot of movies in this list that look so, so stereotypical of the year they came out. This is one of them. One of only two actually good Richard Gere performances (the other is Chicago), and genuinely creepy audio engineering. Unsettling in a good way.

Day 14: It (2017)

Slept On This Part 2. And I am not sure why. I really enjoyed the book, and the mini-series featuring Tim Curry. It's really well done, genuinely scary in many places, and the relationship of the loser gang with each other is explored in such a believable fashion. Like Stand By Me, but with a demon clown.

Day 15: It Chapter 2 (2019)

Slept On This Part 3. Aside from a few jarring moments of levity and comedy where I really didn't think they should exist, this second part was also really well done. This is the second movie that Steven King liked. Usually I don't like Bill Hader much but he absolutely kills it in this.

Day 16: Night Of The Living Dead (1968)

The original. The classic. A legendary film from a legendary film maker. It clarified and sanctified a lot of the tropes of an entire genre, even perhaps responsible for creating that entire genre wholesale. Even if the word Zombie is never used in the movie.

Day 17: DeepStar Six (1989)

Ohhhh this was bad. But not like... awful. Just bad. Another one from the Abyss rip-offs, this one basically a re-run of Leviathan but with a worst cast, a less believable monster, and the exact same ending. It was fun enough, I suppose.

Day 18: The Void (2016)

This was crowdfunded, and had some absolutely superb practical effects, and genuinely horrible moments. The odd bit of the performance felt a little hollow but the final product is a really solid movie, that goes sideways very quickly from the beginning.

Day 19: The Abyss (1989)

James Cameron might be an asshole, but he makes a good movie. The production of this was one of the most difficult movies that the cast ever worked on; apparently Ed Harris would have nightmares about it years afterwards. The sheer single-minded dedication to the production of the ting made a truly incredible movie, mind. Is it a horror? You swim through a pressure-cracked nuclear submarine and you tell me.

Day 20: Friday The 13th (1980)

Another classic and my favourite out of the Big Three slasher franchises. I almost love all the lore and mythology around this movie more than the movie itself. I also always forget that Kevin Bacon is in it, despite the absolutely brutal way in which he - ah ah ah spoilers!

Day 21: Annihilation (2018)

Now this is just.. fantastic. Eerie. Even when something genuinely horrible is going on, it is more eerie and full of dread than it is outright disturbing... until you meet the bear. Natalie Portman absolutely smashes it in this. There isn't a single bad performance in it. And that ending!

Day 22: Sputnik (2020)

A Russian-made Cold War-era horror that is a lot like if Species was 1) actually a horror movie and 2) actually well-made. Creature effects that are genuinely upsetting, a concept that left me going "oh wow", and some great score work made this a thoroughly enjoyable watch.

Day 23: Color Out Of Space (2019)

Take another Lovecraft story and blend it with Nicholas Cage just being himself. The visual effects in this movie are freeeeaky, and how various parts of the original story are transposed into a modern setting. Also - I had a dirty little laugh at how the Lovecraft insert character was black. Spin in your grave, you old racist.

Day 24: Train To Busan (2016)

Slept On It Part 4. HOLY SHIT. THis movie just kicks it up to eleven REAL FAST and at that point doesn't really slow down. HOLY shit. The entir etime I could have shit through the eye of a needle. What a movie. What a MOVIE. I usually prefer the Romero-style shambling undead but if we're gonna have screeching runners? This is it. Forget World War Z.

Day 25: The Fourth Kind (2009)

yaaaaaawn. This was crap. Absolutely crap. And it makes light of the abductions of dozens of Native folks from Alaska for purpose of trying to pretend it's a "based on a true story" movie. Alien abduction film without showing any actual aliens? Boo. Boo sucks. So we had another movie to make up for just how sucky it was.

Day 25: Virus (1999)

And I picked an absolute stinker. Jamie Lee Curtis, one of the Baldwins, Donald Sutherland, and most of them agree that this was the worst movie they had ever been in. Even if I really like the concept - a space radio signal that gets caught by the Mir space station and beamed down into a Russian research ship - it really was a very, VERY 1999 movie. The practical effects were nice, though.

Day 26: Dawn Of The Dead (1978)

Another classic. So many good details, so much weirdness surrounding it. Like the fact that the extras would go to the bar in the mall and get trashed while dressed as zombies. Like, how can you argue with it? You can't. It's a stunner. It's one of the best.

Day 27: Brotherhood Of The Wolf (2001)

A martial arts horror movie from France? What the hell? And yet it's amazing. Mark Dacascos and Vincent Cassel are superb. The creature effects are magnificent. Based as it is on an actual historical event with actual historical characters - only Mani (played by Mark Dacascos) is totally fictional - it feels very legit throughout.

Day 28: The Mandela Effect (2019)

I mean this was like if the Matrix was less martial arts and philosophy and was more "what if I coded a game that brought my dead daughter back". But it's not bad? And the second half is genuinely horror movie material. Really not bad at all.

Day 29: Us (2019)

Slept On This Part 5 and the worst sin of sleeping-on-it because this was AMAZING. It kicked my chunky ass. Fantastic film. Genuinely creepy. Superb attention to detail. Laugh-out-loud funny in a couple places that didn't distract from the film itself. Juuuust watch it.

Day 30: Prince Of Darkness (1987)

The second of the Carpenter Apocalypse Trilogy. What if satan, but science, and also stuck in a big glass tube? Find out. It's a great watch, if you can get past two of the main characters being assholes. Donald Pleasance is in it and actually plays a really believable part. I know, right?

Day 30: The Crow (1994)

Because it was Devil's Night, and it's tradition. Always watch The Crow. Probably not a horror movie, who cares, it goes in the list.

Day 31: Manos: The Hands Of Fate (1966)

Scientifically one of the worst movies ever made, truly abysmal in every single way, shot in thirty-two second long reels because that was the only camera the guy could get, and lit with a zippo on a windy night, just execrable. I love it. It's fantastic. It did justify me watching at least one more today, though.

Day 31: In The Mouth Of Madness (1995)

The third of the Carpenter Apocalypse Trilogy. A horror writer vanishes before delivering his latest manuscript. Is he dead? Is he a ghost? Who cares, we need that sweet money, so off goes Sam Neill to go get it. True cosmic horror ensues. By the way - the guy isn't meant to be Steven King, he's meant to be HP Lovecraft. Also, Hayden Christensen is in this. His best movie, as far as I can tell.

And... well, that was it. 31 days, 35 movies of variable quality. If I had to pick a best and worst - I'd be hard pressed to find worse than Manos, because, well, it's fucking awful. But is Us better than The Thing? ...I'm not sure, but I'm definitely glad I've seen it now.

It was fun! And I think I will do it every year, because honestly, it made me pick up some movies I had previously considered but passed over - and for the most part, I don't regret that at all.

Tune in next time, wherein we talk about something completely different.

Thank you for reading. Support your humble author via Patreon or Kofi, or follow social media on the right. See you next week.

Sunday, 25 October 2020

Novelling November

As always I am seeking to flee the awfulness that is the world at large right now by talking about something else entirely, and that is my perennial November activity...

National Novel Writing Month.

Now most of you will know what this is, but for those of you that don't...

Every November since 1999, groups of writers gather together across the internet (and sometimes in the flesh!) and write novels in the month of November. The rules are simple. You have the entirety of the month of November to write a novel of 50,000 words minimum.

That's it. It's self-judging, though the website (I linked it above) has a mechanism that can verify for you. You don't win anything - all you win is your novel, written in first draft form, just all typed up and... wel, not nice, because it is probably a mess, but - written.

And that is the entire point.

So while the 50,000 words point is the official finish line - and for those keeping track, that's at least 1,667 words a day - the real victory is writing anything whatsoever.

The entire reason NaNoWriMo exists is to turn people from one-day writers into actual writers. To give people permission to put pen to paper, to subvert people's expectations and insecurities. It's just for a competition! Just a fun competition. How hard can it be? It doesn't need to be good, it doesn't need to be brilliant, it doesn't need to be perfect - just hammer the words out!

I've taken part in the competition for years now. Decades even. I think my first attempt was 2003. There's a nice community around the entire event; people talk and encourage each other, swap tips, race with others. Some of the folks I have met through NaNoWriMo are still amongst my closest and best friends. (You know who you are!)

If you want to take part, you can talk to me, or check out the website, and... well, it's that easy. Just have a way of typing or writing 50,000 words in the month of November.

With the background done...

I'm writing about the end of the world.

Well sort of anyway.

It's a contemporary drama, kind of lit-ficcy, about a young man from a dying coastal town in the south of England, who constantly sees the world ending - it's called The Hungry Sky.

Christian Sondergaard has lived in Goldsmith Bay for most of his life. He moved away for a little while but it didn't really work out too well; he has a checkered history that has seen few ups and many downs; and amongst his mental health laundry list, he has persistent hallucinations that the sun is devouring the sky - and has done ever since The Event happened to him when he was sixteen, something he has never talked about with anyone.

He knows it's just a hallucination. It's not real. Even as he sees the stars crashing down to earth and swallowing the land in fire and death, he knows that none of it is actually happening. It doesn't even register on his 3 most pressing issues.

Can he navigate a job that is actually three other people's jobs, for one single paycheck, without losing his mind?

Can he break through the two-year writer's block that has left him barely able to pick up a pen?

Can he and his girlfriend reconcile their differences and achieve friendship?

And can he ever really connect with anyone, ever really achieve rapport with anyone, if they can't see the hungry sky?

If you can't tell - I've been planning.

We'll see how it goes, this year. I think I am due back at work as England's furlough scheme is coming to an end - yeah, you wait and see how those Covid-19 figures look two weeks into November - and there's some nonsense about an election going on over the Atlantic and all sorts...

...but, at least, I have this.

Thank you for reading. Support your humble author via Patreon or Kofi, or follow social media on the right. See you next week.

Sunday, 18 October 2020


I listen to music to help me sleep.

I know a lot of people need some noise for them to fall asleep. I can't do silence. I remember once upon a time, sleeping at my school buddy's house out along Priory Drive at Nettlestone - for those of you not anywhere near the Isle of Wight, that used to be a very, very quiet little berg. After nine, the place is quiet as the grave.

I couldn't sleep. At all. I found it impossible. Admittedly I was just coming into the insomnia that I currently still suffer from, so that might have been a contributing factor - but still.

So living in the middle of town suits me. I've lived on a main road; I've stayed in a house backing onto a busy rail line and I found that easy, no problem. I just need SOME noise.

I found out quite accidentally that some kinds of music really do help, when I actually settle down to sleep.

Yeah, I was as surprised as you are.

Other albums help me sleep; a lot of scores and soundtracks, including The Hunt For Red October, Kingdom Of Heaven, the game soundtracks to Anno 1800 and Frostpunk, and... also Schindler's List?

I dunno, it just helps. Has for years.

But I also have a Spotify playlist, named [zZzZz]. You can click the linky to give it a listen, or I will maybe embed it here?

But for those of you that don't use Spotify, here's the list.

Hope those links work.

Yeah, there's a lot of Zero 7 in there - three of them from the same album. Two RWR songs too. But I think you can see what they all have in common; lots of keys, lots of synthy sounds, and with two exceptions, generally a low-mid BPM.

It all generates a kind of mental soundscape; like a city, late at night, people outside moving around but none of it coming in to affect you. Like the world is going about its business, and you are safe to get the rest that you need to get.

I could (and maybe should) add to the list a little, at some point. There's a couple of Portishead tracks that would work really well, like Roads; some soundtrack songs that I wish were available, like Nightstalker from Ghost In The Shell.

Here's the scene from the movie it's from.

I've had to rely on music to get to sleep a lot more often than usual, for obvious reasons. So this has kind of been in my mind recently.

Just a small diversion from the world at large.

Thank you for reading. Support your humble author via Patreon or Kofi, or follow social media on the right. See you next week.

Sunday, 11 October 2020

Replicants, Xenomorphs & Yautja

So rather than focus on the fact that the UK government is basically watching the Covid figures surge and doing very little about it, I decided to bring you the rationale for a theory of mine involving Blade Runner and Alien.

Some of you know where this is going. Some of you already believe this theory.

Let me elaborate.

Using evidence from only the cinematic releases of the Alien, Predator and Blade Runner franchises I can prove that they happen within the same universe.

...with only one slight paradoxical problem, which I will address at the end of our feature presentation.

Warning. Everything below this point is a spoiler for the movies involved. I know you have either all seen them already or just don't care, but it's only polite.

Now, you may be saying... John. Come on now. Of course. Of course Alien and Predator happen in the same universe, there's the Alien v Predator movies. Even if they are awful, they still exist, and thus as part of your conditional statement, they count, right? And even if they didn't, here is a whole-ass xenomorph skull, proudly displayed in Predator 2.

But Blade Runner? Come on now. Blade Runner? Blade Runner? Come on now. Blade Runner?

...well why don't y'all strap in and I'll give you a little razzle dazzle.

This is the personnel file for Captain Dallas, as included on the blu ray release of the Alien Quadrilogy, I believe. Note the corporation in his employment history.

Tyrell, huh? Where have we heard that before?

Now that might not be enough, obviously. "They just threw that together as an easter egg," you might say. "It doesn't count."

Okay well what about using the same software for both the launch system for the Narcissus shuttle and the flight system of the Spinner aerial cars? Alien above, Blade Runner below.

"But John," you wail, up to your neck in mince pies already despite it only being the second week of October. "But John. They just cheekily re-used some footage that they had laying around. That was evidence of Blade Runner's tight budget and production scale, not a nod to a connection to another separate and discrete science fiction movie by the same director."

And I... am willing to probably accept that, honestly. It is perfectly reasonable. It's two small pieces of evidence against a... total... lack of any evidence to the contrary.

Aside from one, which I will get to later.

So how about some... supporting evidence?

Let's talk about the timeline of all movies explicitly written and conceived as part of these individual franchises.

  • 1904: Introduction of Alien vs Predator.
  • 1987: Predator.
  • 1997: Predator 2.
  • 2004: Alien vs Predator / Alien vs Predator: Requiem.
  • 2019: Blade Runner.
  • 2049: Blade Runner 2049.
  • 2089: Discovery of Engineers markings in Prometheus.
  • 2093: Prometheus.
  • 2104: Alien Covenant.
  • 2122: Alien.
  • 2179: Aliens / Alien 3.
  • 2386: Alien Resurrection.

There's a couple of notable absences from this list - the 2010 movie Predators (the date of which is up for debate as it is never strictly given but is presumably set after the Cold War due to one of the individuals present being part of the Russian Army, not the Soviet Army) and the 2018 movie, The Predator... which I will get to later.

So. It starts off simple enough, right?

All the contact that happens before AvP is pretty neatly contained. The Predators (Yautja, as we learn they are called in the books and comics) have clearly had contact with the Xenomorph (or at least the strain we meet in Alien/s) a long time before this - a skull on the wall of their ship in 1997 kept as a trophy.

Humanity's contact with the Predators and the Xenomorphs could prove problematic if it became public knowledge - which it never does, of course, for various reasons. The species classically leave very few survivors, and those survivors are often not exactly the mouthy types - and the events of AvP: Requiem include using an actual tactical nuclear weapon to vaporise a town, the only survivors of the event being taken into custody by the military.

So how do we get from the world being apparently normal in 2004 to the world being something of a nightmare hellscape in 2019-2049? And then apparently less hellish in 2089, at least, in the mountains in the Scottish highlands?

Easy enough. As mentioned - AvP Requiem is ended with a nuclear strike on American soil in Colorado.

It isn't a huge leap to imagine that such an event would accelerate the climate problems already being faced by North America - and that's just if nothing else happened as a result. The world political situation being as it is, there's no guarantee that the US wouldn't false-flag the nuke as coming from someone else, and use that as justification for further serious military action, possibly involving other nuclear actions, which just snowballs...

...and might, for example, provoke a dirty bomb attack in Las Vegas sometime in the future, for that added Blade Runner 2049 tie-in...

Right. So. Climate crisis. Everything is bad and awful, but don't worry - several massive corporations have the answer. Corporations that have tech far in advance to what we have in this, current, real 2020 - tech sufficient to bring us vat-grown replicants, cybernetics, off-world colonies, faster than light space travel, so on. Now where oh where might they have gotten that tech from?

Perhaps the Predator encountered in 1987? Perhaps further contact with these creatures, as hinted at in Predator 2? Perhaps the fact that both Weyland Corporation and Yutani Corporation both have/had access to and knowledge of this tech? I mean Ms. Yutani was literally given this choice piece of plasma weaponry at the end of AvP Requiem, and stated plainly: "This world isn't ready for this technology."

The reply was: "But this isn't for this world, is it?"

We've seen the kind of technological acceleration that comes from even minor-seeming feats. From biplanes in 1910s, to jet planes in 1940s, to space in 1960s. It isn't inconceivable that the technology to achieve everything in Blade Runner didn't originate from a harvest of alien goodies from the 80s, or maybe even before.

So how do we get from the world being so fucked that, in 2049, a girl in Los Angeles has never seen a tree and the biggest corporation going exists and makes its money by copywriting protein grubs... to a rather beautiful vista of an unravaged Scottish mountain in 2089?

Easy. Because what is happening to America isn't happening everywhere. In fact every shot we get of Earth after Blade Runner 2049 is of some cold, bleak, mountainous region; the kind of places that didn't get nuked and have a human population of basically zero. That's the only view we get of Earth after that moment, aside from a brief glimpse of it at the end of Alien Resurrection - and even then, in the cinematic cut, we only get a look at the sky.

In the extended cut of Resurrection, the ending shot before the credits roll is this vista of Paris, with notRipley and Call looking out over it.

Nice shade of orange, where've we seen that before. Arguably this devastation might have been caused by the crash of the USM Auriga into Earth; but it is strongly implied before this happens that the idea of anyone going to earth is highly unpleasant. "What a shithole," Jonner comments.

So... I mean... it COULD happen. Peter Weyland's drive to meet humanity's creators led to the Weyland company - presumably the same company employing Charles Bishop Weyland of AvP - being turned into a full-blown space-travel-and-colonisation effort just on the back of the technologies developed to 1) find the Engineers, 2) keep him alive long enough to meet them and 3) get him to them.

There's more, though - let's look at thematic linkages.

Alien and Blade Runner both deal with these people. The creation of a labour force, and the complexities and problems that comes with that labour force. How people interact with them, what people think of them.

They were made to do the heavy lifting. The arduous work of new lives in space. To help build better worlds. To fight our wars - or specifically the wars between corporations and other corporations (or sometimes other people).

(As a fun aside, the Kurt Russel movie Soldier from 1998 is probably a Blade Runner movie, due to its thematic of "making better soldiers", planetary colonisation, the fact that a Spinner from Blade Runner is actually in the movie, and the fact that Russel's character Todd has the Tannhauser Gate and Shoulder of Orion on his military record - both battles that Roy Batty was present in. He is also listed as having training in the M41a Pulse Rifle.)

Of course, by the time Alien happens, the events of Blade Runner are long past; and Alien itself is set a full hundred years after the events of the short Blade Runner film, "Blackout 2022," which details how the detonation of an EMP in low orbit wiped all electronic records from the earth's computer systems - including the registry of all Replicants that had been made before that point.

People don't trust Replicants that are indistinguishable from humans; they inherently distrust that which is different from them, especially if it can look like them, and especially if it resents being forced into a life of servitude. Niander Wallace produces his new generation of Replicants that are a lot more... how can we put it... easy to control, but he can't make them fast enough to keep up with demand.

At around about the same time, however, Peter Weyland has produced the blueprint of a new way of doing things - David, a synthetic, the first of the new breed. Easy to identify as not being human, especially inside. Very, very easy to treat like a non-human, despite being made to look like us - and after David, not very prone to flaws.

The same cycle repeats, though. By the time Alien Resurrection rolls around, another group of synthetics (or artificial people, as Bishop prefers) - the last and most advanced line, named Autons - goes rogue, after burning their modems and trashing the company that made them. Sound familiar? They just want to live, after all.

Blade Runner and Alien, at their heart, are stories about the consequences of corporate power. Yes, one of them uses the uprising of a forcibly indentured and fabricated underclass; the other uses an alien entity that the powers that be were probably already aware of, and were happy to sacrifice their employees to gain control over. At the end of the day, though, it's all about controlling individuals, treating them like objects, for purpose of power and profit.

And I always say, that's the future that is the most likely scifi future; a destroyed environment, corporatocracy, humanity living at the whims of shareholders and executives. It's about the dirt under people's nails, and the men in golden towers.

Thus it scans. The same technology, a timeline that fits together, the events of one franchise easily being able to lead to the events of another franchise. It all fits. The graphics, the employment records. It all fits together.


Until we get to The Predator, made in 2018, direct by (and written in part by) Shane Black - who appeared in the original Predator, as Rick Hawkins, the guy that tells the Why Did You Say That Twice joke.

I think it is meant to be contemporary to its release date, which is 2018 (even if nothing in the movie actually says so). One year before Blade Runner; and it's set in America, an America that doesn't appear to be a ruined hellscape hemorrhaging its citizenry into the colonies. I mean Maryland looks positively lovely, nice Autumn day...

I mean - yes, okay, so it backs up a certain angle, there being agencies either corporate or governmental that want the Predator tech and are fully aware that they exist. The tech angle. That works. But... the timeline of extinction - the colonisation - it just.... fucks up the entire thing.

This one movie destroys my entire theory.


...wait, wait wait wait.

I mean, that is, I was presuming it's set in could just as easily be set not long after AvP/R. There's a message in the movie that the Yautja are coming back more frequently because the climate of Earth is falling apart so quickly, which it certainly is by the time of Blade Runner, so, perhaps... know what? I think we're good.

Yeah, I'm gonna call it good.

Tune in next time for more nonsense, probably.

Thank you for reading. Support your humble author via Patreon or Kofi, or follow social media on the right. See you next week.

Sunday, 4 October 2020

Supergiant And The Giants

If you're into video games, you may be aware of Hades.

It's the latest offering from Supergiant Games, who also brought you Bastion, Transistor and Pyre; I don't think it is controversial to say that they are well-received and generally pretty great games. They have 90%, 86% and 85% respective scores on Metacritic, which puts them far and away above most current new releases with the exception of Spelunky 2. Hades itself is sitting there with a score of 92%, which is pretty great, considering.

As of a couple years ago, Supergiant had 20 employees. There's a couple of documentaries about the process they went through making and releasing Hades in Early Access - you can find them in a youtube playlist here - and when you see how few people are actually working on the game, it gives you a real appreciation for the amount of assets each of them must have been responsible for. Everything you are looking at - all of the artwork - has been worked on by Jen Zee and Joanne Tran; all of the sound design (and the voice of the main character) was done by Darren Korb.

And they made a FANTASTIC game, that gives most games put together by bigger games companies an absolute run for their money. It's helped by attentive writing, a focus on the mechanisms that you'll be using constantly as you play the game, stellar voice acting and music, and a strong drive and focus on what the team wanted the game to be.

Just take a look at these three - the furies, Alecto, Megaera and Tisiphone, as drawn by Jen Zee (as shared on her twitter).

In the documentary the team does talk about how it's busy, how meeting timetable and deadline is hard - but it never seems to be in an "I sleep in this office" kind of context. Of course, I admit that the documentary may have been misleading; but usually, that kind of stress is hard to hide in one-to-one interviews and candid photography.

Perhaps it is easier to avoid the crunch of having to put in sixty to seventy hour work weeks if there is no higher power to answer to; if the pressure of a release date is one that you set yourselves, to be within the scope of what you can accomplish as a team rather than what someone else believes you should be capable of - or any number of other reasons.

The fact is inescapable, though; crunch in the game industry is real, and a real problem. This article by Dean Takahashi for Venturebeat lays it out; 76% of game developers have crunch time regularly wherein the work hours exceed 40 a week, 13% stated they had done more than 70 hour a week crunch periods. And a significant proportion of them - 89% in fact - didn't actually get paid overtime. They got perks - food, additional holiday - but no additional pay. Some of them didn't get anything at all.

This is not a new problem. Here's an article from Kotaku on the topic from 2016. It talks about the reasons behind crunch, amongst other things.

Put simply, though; usually the developer will have a timeline of how a project is meant to go, they will have the capacity to take on freelancers to fill gaps, they will have the chance to cut content or extend their timeline if necessary to make sure the project gets finished to satisfaction...

...and that's great until you have an external pressures come in and hand down a bunch of extra work.

With some AAA games being as big as they are, it is easy to see how developing them would easily get out of hand. I can't even conceive of how much work it takes to make models look good, to allow for their customisation, to thread all the particular plotlines together, to get voice work done for all of those characters, to engine test, just... every aspect of making a game as big as, say, Red Dead Redemption 2 is beyond my scope of imagining. I know that Hades and RDR2 are totally different in terms of the scope of the game, but over 3,000 people worked on the latter - that's a lot of personnel to juggle.

The thing is, though - where it is so big, where it is being developed by Rockstar who seem to print money, you would think that such issues could be avoided. You would think that more people could be brought in, that an extension on a game deadline could be achieved, that the employees who are feeling the worst of the pressure could be compensated appropriately.

Instead, there were several parts of the game that were changed at the last minute, necessitating massively truncated development timetables and hundred-hour weeks from several staff. To get it all ready and finished in time for the date that had been laid down long before the measures were even conceived of being needed.

Several intersecting points of data, something has to give way, and as so often happens in the modern world - it is the person, the employee, the worker, that is forced to bear the load.

Don't think that Rockstar are alone in this, either.

How many games get put out and feel like they aren't finished? Lacking in features? Feeling kind of empty? Like you know there should be more to it, like you feel that you were promised more? Maybe you actually WERE promised more?

Fallout 76? Sea Of Thieves? No Man's Sky? Anthem?

There's a connection there, and I think you may be able to see what it is - even if each of those games suffered from different specific circumstances and problems.

No game developer wants to make a game that is bad, or unfinished. They want to put out a game that runs the way they envisage it, that people want to buy, play, tell their friends about. It's both the business model and professional pride. The people actually compiling the assets, writing the story, conceptualising game mechanics, animating effects - this is their art, this is their work. This ethos might not extend all the way to the top of that company's structure, however.

The game industry - which almost seems to be a whole separate entity to the actual making of the things that it sells - is fiercely, one might say savagely, competitive. It is catering to a market that can be highly fickle, that can decide a game is bad before it is even out of Alpha, and that has toxic elements that many distributors and developers are afraid of upsetting. After all, a significant swathe of the consumer base became muscle building and nutrition experts overnight after the release of Last Of Us 2 - it's amazing what you can do when you are upset at a video game.

Keeping them happy is obviously seen as more important than the health, safety and well-being of the people making the games that are being pushed.

So when we see games like Hades - like Carrion, like Stardew Valley, like countless other semi- or fully-indie games, developed by small teams and put out when they're ready, that are still good games... one has to ask: is it worth it?

Of course, if there were any labour laws that would truly protect the staff working for these companies, that would enshrine their rights and that would have to be accounted for by every step of the chain above them, things might be different. Then it wouldn't be about seeing the necks of the people actually doing the work as being the first, easiest sacrifice; then other measures might be taken. This, of course, is not a problem rooted in the game industry.

There might be something to be said about the purchasing public finding it less important for a game to come out on a concrete date - perhaps picked for marketing reasons rather than focusing on the amount of work that needs done. Maybe they might prefer a game to come out finished, of a high quality and without a staff that were abused and then fired to help it reach market.

I mean, Assassin's Creed Unity got shredded for not being finished; would it really have been worse if it was late?

I don't know. Maybe asking for understanding and empathy from both the management and the marketplace is a losing exercise. Maybe I'm just being sentimental.

Just a thought.

Thank you for reading. Support your humble author via Patreon or Kofi, or follow social media on the right. See you next week.