The hilarity and beauty of Battle Block Theatre

One of my best friends gifted me a cooperative game before he went home for the year so we could at least bond over something while threatening to kill each other over Discord. As you can probably tell by the title of this post, the game is Battle Block Theatre, and it’s a gem. The Behemoth has created a game that is not only f*cking adorable, but also incredibly fun yet stress inducing.

The characters are aboard the S.S. Friendship, and there are hundreds of  them, including Hatty. Hatty was regarded as a best friend to everyone aboard, and everybody adored him. They would sing songs, and the crew were genuinely happy. While aboard the boat, a huge storm rocks them all onto an island, and you (the protagonist) take shelter in a crummy theatre. You realise that the whole crew has been taken hostage by an army of cats, and Hatty has been possessed by a top hat for some reason.

Battle Block Theatre is just like your ordinary comedic co-op game: great game mechanics, art, and characters. However, the game also has a plot, albeit minimal. While the plot and the world building isn’t as fleshy as, say, Borderlands or Diablo, Battle Block Theatre has its own charm even though it mainly centres around a prison island.

I love the originality of the art and art style in this game. Almost all the cut scenes are done entirely in stick puppet style. The graphics are simple and colourful, but all the obstacles and layouts of the different levels don’t crowd the screen. The game has the perfect balance of beauty and chaos, which I find quite fascinating.

The voice acting and music for this game are phenomenal. The narrator never fails to entertain me. I can listen to him tell the story in Battle Block Theatre over and over again. His voice is upbeat and quirky, and he keeps you hooked by adding a slightly posh English accent to his storytelling. As for the OST, I want to purchase a copy of it and import the music onto my phone so I can listen to it over and over again.

This may seem absurd, but I absolutely don’t mind seeing my character die constantly in this game. It is a game where dying isn’t a big deal. It is also a game that you can’t really become really great at, and that’s okay. The most important part of the game is that you have fun interacting with your partner solving levels that become absurdly harder as you two progress.

What does bother me is how complicated the PC controls can be. My friend plays the game with a Xbox 360 controller, while I stick to my laptop keyboard. My fingers can get really cramped and it’s really hard to react well in-game with stiff fingers in awkward positions. If I haven’t played the game in a while, I feel like I have to learn the controls all over again. For a simple co-op game, its controls can drive me up the wall sometimes.

I highly recommend this game, and if you do decide to buy it remember to find a good and hilarious friend to play with as well. I think this game was best designed to be a co-op game. However, if you can’t find someone to play with, there is no shame in playing solo. With that in mind, I will give this game a solid 5/5.

My love-hate relationship with Memoirs of a Geisha

I admit: I was very sceptical about this book before I actually dived in. I have heard many mixed reviews about Arthur Golden’s novel, and I really think it is an you-either-love-it-or-hate-it piece of literature. I decided to pick it up at the thrift store anyway, and to read it with a critical yet open mind.

I liked the book a lot better than I expected. The writing was beautiful and poignant yet really easy to understand. Golden touches on some more adult themes, like sex, in accurate and interesting perspectives. Sayuri, the protagonist, is an interesting girl, and I eventually learned to like her. I grew with Sayuri through her years of training and her career as a professional geisha. Yet, even with its beautiful writing, I can’t dismiss the many problems I had with this book.

Keep in mind that this is a work of fiction, and in no ways is an actual memoir. Arthur Golden is, after all, a white man writing from a perspective of a Japanese woman (granted he has lived in Japan for a while). The book is at best a romanticized piece of literature that is inaccurate as a whole. According to many news articles, the book is an insult to geisha and traditional Japanese culture. Golden only shadowed one geisha throughout his research, and even the geisha in question said that the book was hugely inaccurate.

Even after a week, I still have mixed feelings about the book. I feel guilty liking a book that is highly controversial yet highly praised. I will, however, give the book a solid 4.5/5 based on the writing and plot alone.

 

I don’t give a f*ck: how I view Mark Manson’s map to happier lives

Just kidding, I do give a f*ck. In fact, I probably give too many f*cks about too many things in my life. Some of these are big f*cks. I give a f*ck about my relationships, whether platonic or romantic. I give a f*ck about my academics. I give a f*ck about my job and career path. I give a f*ck about my family. Most of the time these are small f*cks that are probably insignificant, but I worry about anyway: my appearance, my laugh, my voice, etc.

Mark Manson’s “generation-defining” (according to a summary on Goodreads) self-help book is pretty self-explanatory: don’t give a f*ck. Okay, maybe don’t take that too literally. Basically, you have to give a f*ck about your life or else you’re a psychopath, but you also have to learn what to give a f*ck about and to not try. Sounds counter-intuitive, right? Not really; read the book to understand why because it’s way too complicated for me to explain to you.

Self-help books are often a hit or miss for me. I’ve read a few, but not many of them have successfully changed my life. Only Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends & Influence People has that place in my mind and heart. I find most self-help books redundant, overly positive, and too formulaic for my tastes. It’s like the self-help publishing industry thinks we are all the same.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck is by no means a life-changing book, but nonetheless a very interesting one. Mark Manson’s writing is raw and isn’t afraid to leave out what he calls hurtful truths. He doesn’t shy away from obscenities if they get his point across. He doesn’t shy away from criticising the current everyone-is-special culture in schools and workplaces. He doesn’t shy away from criticising specific people, either. I don’t think he shies away from anything, really. This kind of language excites me, because it seems personal but also sets it apart from all the other self-help books out there.

I also agree with a lot of Manson’s ideas and points. Some of them actually made me reflect on my life this past year. Some of them were things my friends have said to me as part of pep talks but I didn’t really understand until now.

Again, my biggest quirk for this book is that it isn’t life-changing. I agreed with a lot of his points and his criticisms about modern society, but there are a lot of things that I won’t start incorporating into my life. These are points that I don’t think will be relevant in the near future. He seems to have ignored the point that people change in more complicated ways than he highlights in his book, which I find a lot of self-help books kind of miss out on.

The stories that Manson chose to go with his points are also kind of weird sometimes. I found them weird because I couldn’t link them with his ideas and advice, even though he points out the link a few minutes later. Maybe I’m just not a good listener to audiobooks, or maybe I’m just stupid. Who knows?

Regardless, this was an interesting read. I didn’t find this piece extraordinary, nor did I find it terrible. I will recommend it for the sake that the writing is good, but be mindful of what advice you choose to take in or not.

Final Verdict: 3.5/5

Bookish Lenses: A look at the Dresden Files book series

What is not to love about a modern wizard who loves to throw fireballs and snarky comments around? Oh, and a talking skull that loves erotic romance novels? The Dresden Files series encompasses all of that and so much more. Think giant cats, an oddly decorated car, and Harry complaining about his bachelor life.

I was first introduced to the series by a friend of mine, and I am in love with Jim Butcher’s writing ever since. While I am only on the 9th book in the series, I am very invested in Harry’s future antics and adventures.

Jim Butcher has a knack for writing interesting and gripping plots. Each book has its own unique villain, internal conflicts, and mystery. Additionally, each book in the series contains its own twist, whether it be a larger conflict or a smaller one in Harry’s mind. A lot of chapters even end with cliff hangers. I can never leave off in the middle of a chapter or a middle of a battle; I have to see what happens in the end.

The Dresden Files series also features a lot of amazing characters. Every character is well-rounded, well-developed, and well-loved by me. Everyone is flawed. Even Harry, the main character and narrator, isn’t exempt from character arcs. He morphs and shapes himself as the series unravels itself, and I like how you also grow with him. You start to like him, his friends, and even his enemies.

One of the major gripes of the series is that every book has the same story structure, and becomes redundant after a while. Yes, the twists are interesting, but I think Butcher should experiment with the story line a little bit. Tell the story from a different perspective, or make Harry succumb to his urges and desires. The books are a bit predictable.

Another thing I don’t like about the series is how it objectifies a lot of characters, male or female. I know that the books were written with references to film noir style visuals, but it gets too much sometimes.

Overall, the series is fantastic. If you’re looking for a series that is light-hearted and super easy to get through, then the Dresden Files is for you. Bonus brownie points if you love sarcastic humour.

Book Review: History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

Overall rating: 4.2/5

I rarely read YA books, but I made an exception for this book because I found it in the LGBT section and I’ve heard rave reviews about it. And holy crap, it did not disappoint.

Griffin, the narrator and one of the protagonists in History is All You Left Me, is grieving the loss of  Theo and tries to figure out what life will look out without his best friend/ex-boyfriend. Theo has made a profound impact on Griffin’s life, so much that Griffin is psychologically and physically hurting from Theo’s death. The story switches between past and present to illustrate their friendship, and Griffin’s emotions about it.

What I Liked

Adam Silvera has a knack for emotional writing. The book painstakingly switches between present and past so seamlessly, and I had no trouble following Griffin’s narrative at all. The story had all kinds of twists that I was crying by the end of my reading session. Seriously, I had tears in my eyes when I reached the end.

The characters were also really great: Griffin, especially. He showed the most development out of almost everyone else in the book. Some characters I hated at first, but then I learned to love them near the end. Some I just gradually found were assholes.

I love how the book touched on more mature themes, like sex, with the awkwardness of a teenage boy. It makes the narrative much more realistic and much more likeable.

What I didn’t like

The grieving process was an important part of the book, but was extremely unrealistic. Everyone grieves in different ways, but Griffin made it seem like everyone was as psychologically damaged as he was. Sure, Theo must have been a great guy, but that doesn’t mean everybody liked him.

Griffin’s parents were incredibly chill for parents, which made the setting seem off. Maybe I am just going off by my experiences, but I don’t think any parent would be really laid back seeing what Griffin was doing.

Final verdict

Overall, if you like LGBT novels and want some light reading, this book is for you. If you like good character development, this will also be up your alley. If setting and accuracy is important, then I suggest to look elsewhere.

Game Review: Undertale

Overall rating: 4.5/5

Undertale. Oh, Undertale. A wonderful game with adorable pixel graphics and an incredible story line. Good job, Toby Fox. This was an amazing experience and a half.

In Undertale, you play as a human girl who has fallen into the Underground, a large secluded area underneath Earth’s surface, protected by a magical barrier. You have to battle monsters through a unique battle system, but also make friends along the way. Be careful, though; you can also choose to spare your opponents, and your choices will affect the rest of the game.

What I liked

Undertale is an amazing storytelling experience. The characters are likeable and display a relative good amount of character growth. The plot is riveting, but also filled with emotion and action. It’s can be a roller coaster ride, and that’s my favourite part of the game. There are no flat characters, and the story makes you feel something. I really liked seeing the game evolve and revolve all the different characters of the game.

The combat system is original, and actually quite difficult and complex. While you have the chance to murder someone, you also have the chance to spare someone from death, which I thought was pretty neat. Dodging attacks is a lot harder than you think, especially as you go deeper into the game.

What I didn’t like

I wasn’t a big fan of the pixel art. It does give the game its flair, but I found it distracting and a bit annoying to look at. I know a lot of friends who really like the art, though, so it really boils down to your personal preference.

Final verdict

If you have this game sitting in your Steam account, or debating whether or not to get it when it comes out for the Switch, please don’t make it into a complicated debate. Play it. I’d love to see how the story goes for you.

What is #NetNeutrality and why should I care?

I apologise for the politics in this post, but this is an issue that is important to me, and I really want to speak my mind about it.

Today I urge you all to pay attention to Net Neutrality, even if you don’t game or create content like I do. Net Neutrality is the basis for our democracy, and gives us access to so much information and content that we all take for granted whenever we use the internet. You probably wouldn’t be able to read this blog post if it wasn’t for Net Neutrality, nor could you watch Netflix or Youtube without paying a hefty fee. If you haven’t already, join the battle for Net Neutrality here.

What is Net Neutrality? 

Net Neutrality basically means that all websites and web services should be equal and anyone can start their own website/service and make it available for everyone using the internet. Without Net Neutrality, internet service providers (ISPs) can pick and choose which sites they can give you access to, and will force you to pay extra to access certain sites and services. They do this by purposely degrading loading speeds of the sites they want you to pay extra for.

This also means that media services can make deals with ISPs for better service. For example, Youtube makes a deal with Verizon. Verizon accepts the deal and makes all non-Youtube content unbearably slow. Because Youtube has little competition this way, no new features will be rolled out.

Why should I care about Net Neutrality?

Chances are, you use the internet on a regular basis if you are reading this post or visiting this site. Imagine paying extra to access social media sites like Facebook, or browse websites such as Reddit. Imagine paying extra to play your favourite video game with friends. Without Net Neutrality, you can easily pay $500 or even more on your internet bills per month just because your ISP wants to charge more for certain sites.

If you are a business owner, or want to start your own company, forget about reaching a large audience for your website. ISPs will make you pay to get your website out to the general public, and even then it might be a select few people that you can share your website to.

If you are a content creator, an artist, a Youtuber, a Twitch streamer, etc., ISPs can charge you more just because you want to upload a video or post your artwork on DeviantArt. Imagine paying more than half of your paycheque to your ISP from content creation just because you want to show off your work.

Think of it as a package deal, like how TV channels are bundled up these days. What’s stopping the ISPs for doing that to the internet?

If you still have trouble imagining what a life without Net Neutrality is like, this little infographic should help you.

net-neutrality-what-you-need-know-now-infographic

What can I do?

Oh hey, you’re still here. There are many ways to help. Post on social media. Tell your friends. Or, if you want to take a more behind the scenes stance, sign your name on www.battleforthenet.com.

 

Game review: Bastion

Overall rating: 4/5

Bastion is one of Supergiant’s popular indie games, and it’s not hard to see why. With its wonderful graphics, colourful art, and sassy narrator, the game has garnered much attention in the gaming world. The game has received amazing feedback from sites such as IGN and PC Gamer, and a lot of gamers have recommended this game on Steam.

What I liked

Bastion’s graphics is one of the most aesthetically pleasing things to look at. While not mind blowing, the art is stunning. The colours compliment each other well, and everything doesn’t seem too cluttered at any point during the gameplay. This is amazing for games of this genre, and I commend the artists who made the scenes come to life.

The music and narration were near perfect. The scores aren’t too distracting. In fact, they bring out the atmosphere really well, and gives each stage a distinct feel to them. The narrator has a soothing voice. I can listen to him talk all day. Seriously, it’s that good.

Bastion’s story is well written. There is a clear conflict, climax, and resolution, but don’t expect everything to go your way. There are a lot of hidden surprises, and there will be unexpected turns when you play. The story is interesting and will keep you on the edge of your seat. I love how interactive it is: the narrator will become sassy sometimes if you do something wrong.

The gameplay was smooth and so fun. The stages were challenging, and there are some stages that almost made me want to throw my mouse across the room.

What I didn’t like

Honestly, there really isn’t too many problems in the game. The only major thing I can really talk about is the gameplay. The controls can get a little while to get used to. It can get confusing at times when things get too hectic in the game, but nothing too major. That’s part of the whole point of the game.

Final verdict

Please, please, PLEASE buy this game and play it entirely. It’s amazing, wonderful, and I’m sure you’ll love it as much as I do.

Game Review: Kentucky Route Zero

Overall rating: 3.5/5

I got this game as part of this year’s Indie Bundle 2017. For those of you who don’t know Humble Bundle, I highly recommend that you get your games from this site. A lot of the games are DRM-free, and a portion of your purchase will go to a charity of your choice. Their bundles are great and they offer good games for a fair price.

Kentucky Route Zero, according to the Steam store page, is a magical realist adventure game about the underground caves of Kentucky. Developed by Cardboard Computer, the game is split into five acts, each contributing to an overarching story. The song features original scores by Ben Babbitt and blues music by The Bedquilt Ramblers.

What I like 

The game has a unique art style, and certainly has a one-of-a-kind design. Kentucky Route Zero is heavily focused on storytelling and atmosphere, and their unique art style certainly brings that out. A lot of their scenes were based on theatrical set design according to the Steam store page, and it shows: a lot of the background and scenes pan around like I’m participating in an interactive play. That being said, the game in its entirety is absolutely stunning.

I also really like the music. Babbitt’s score and The Bedquilt Ramblers’ music helps bring out the southern Kentucky atmosphere, and also helps me to immerse myself into the game. The scores are original and quite enjoyable to listen to.

What I didn’t like

The main reason why this got 3.5 stars instead of 4 is because of the story. I really wanted to love the story, but it was just too slow paced for me to enjoy. The first two acts were okay and fresh, but the rest started to become the same. It seemed like the same storyline, plot, and people over and over again. Plus, there doesn’t seem to be a climax, and the overarching conflict is bland at best.

Kentucky Route Zero is also pretty confusing to play at first. I didn’t know I could choose which direction a conversation was going through prompts at first, and it wasn’t until halfway through Act I did I finally understand the game mechanics.

There is just too much text. It was fun to read at first, but I found myself skipping through a lot of the dialogue later in the game.

Final verdict

If you have a problem with walking simulators, don’t buy this. If you want a laid-back game, this is the one to go. I’m more for action-packed games, so this isn’t the one for me.

New website for my writing!

I finally found a portfolio website to showcase my writing that looks professional, sleek, and really simple. Instead of The Space Between Two Poles, which is also a WordPress site, I will be using JournoPortfolio for all my writing. You can come read my latest and past work there:

paulatran.journoportfolio.com