nowListening: California by blink-182

All lyrics and music by blink-182, not me. Clearly.

Growing up, my mom was a big fan of heavy metal and grunge rock, while my dad mostly listened to country. I think there’s a degree to which we inherit tastes from our parents—like most things—so for a long time I listened to what they listened to. I didn’t strike out on my own into the musical world until I was 11 or 12. I could write countless pages about the countless hours I spent with a Walkman or a radio, mostly listening for something I recognized, until I started to recognize new songs, things I hadn’t inherited from anyone else. This was somewhere around 15 years ago now, but one thing I remember vividly is that my first actual favorite band ended up being blink-182.

I don’t remember the first time I heard them, or probably any of the earliest times. I know I heard of them long before I heard them; one day in 6th grade a lot of my classmates were giggling and making a general hullabaloo about the whole nudity thing. What ended up sticking with me was their music. I remember how catchy “What’s My Age Again?” was, and how I always listened to it on low volume or with headphones, because I knew my parents wouldn’t like the lyrics. I remember falling in love with their more serious-ish songs like “Dammit” and “Adam’s Song,” more catchy tunes with “The Rock Show” and “All the Small Things,” and mostly I remember how “Stay Together for the Kids” immediately became one of my favorite songs of all time.

Despite all this, I didn’t own any of their albums until I was in high school, when a friend burned me a copy of their untitled album. I knew “Feeling This” and “I Miss You” from the radio, and eventually I’d fall in love with the album as a whole. If I had to pick an album that was the most important to me in the formative years of my musical tastes, this would be it.

It didn’t take long before the infamous hiatus, and while I enjoyed both Angels & Airwaves and +44, none of their work meant as much to me as untitled did. Needless to say I was thrilled when the band reunited, and I love Neighborhoods for what it is. The second split didn’t hurt as badly, especially since it didn’t take long at all for the band to start playing shows with Matt Skiba in place of Tom DeLonge. I was never a huge fan of Alkaline Trio, though I did enjoy quite a few of their songs, but I’ve always loved Skiba’s voice, so this was exciting. It all paid off for me when the band released “Bored to Death.”

I pre-ordered California as soon as I was able to, and I’ve played little else since putting it on my iPod.

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“Cynical” works as a fun opener, with Mark Hoppus dropping the band’s classic angst-ridden lyrics before being interrupted by Travis Barker’s famous drumming; the man is easily one of the best drummers of all time. Following is about a minute of (literally) unapologetic pop-punk, as Matt Skiba furiously belts out “What’s the point of saying sorry now? Not sorry, not sorry, not sorry, I’m not sorry.”

“Bored to Death” was a fantastic way to introduce the band’s new sound, with Skiba and Hoppus trading off verses and choruses.

Save your breath, I’m nearly
Bored to death and fading fast.
Life is too short to last long.
Back on Earth, I’m broken
Lost and cold and fading fast.
Life is too short to last long.

—blink-182, “Bored to Death”

Hoppus takes over for a cleverly worded bridge, and then Travis Barker drives the song home. By now it’s clear that Matt Skiba is a good fit for the band. His voice doesn’t contrast with Hoppus’s as much as Tom DeLonge’s does, but his guitarwork is right at home for blink-182.

Track three, “She’s Out of Her Mind” is another piece of classic pop-punk, with a catchy pre-chorus declaring “She’s a-a-a-antisocial, a-a-a-she’s an angel.” In the second verse, Matt Skiba proves he can provide a more classic blink-sounding flat vocal style as well as his louder, more melodious singing. After this is “Los Angeles,” easily the darkest song on the album. Barker brings his hip-hop drum style while Mark Hoppus and Matt Skiba set each other up for vocals, tossing the song’s lines back and forth until Skiba takes over, leaving Hoppus to tunefully shout out some “ohs” that hit a spot most instruments wouldn’t do justice.

“Sober” provides an interesting contrast to “Los Angeles,” being far more light-hearted and playful. It’s catchy as hell, with a thick chorus of vocals shouting out some of the words to the pre-chorus sections. “I can do bad, and you can do better” is a good example of the kind of fun, simple, yet clever lines found throughout the record.

All 15 seconds of “Built This Pool” were released well before the album. It’s a joke song, and if I had to pick one track to cut, it would be this one. It’s cute and classic blink humor, but it’s the kind of thing that probably made a lot more sense in the studio than out, and for some reason just sticks out like a sore thumb. Maybe it’s that it’s the only track that doesn’t feature vocals from both singers, or just that the tone is off; it’s more of a joke than “Sober” and far too casual for the next track, “No Future.”

Speaking of: This one is fun. Barker’s drumming is on point, and while some of the lyrics are sort of mashed into their rhythm, this song has the perfect balance of playful and serious. The random bass note before the first chorus always catches my ear, and Skiba’s verse is insanely good; it’s not the best writing ever, but he pours his soul into singing these lines.

She said that it’s too late to try,
Someday I’ll smile and say goodbye.
Every night that you fight every demon in sight,
Sleeping on the floor.
Wide awake from the dream with a shake and a scream,
Hope for so much more.

—blink-182, “No Future”

The song leads well into California‘s major ballad, “Home is Such a Lonely Place.” I’m a sucker for ballads, and this is a good one. Its surprisingly simple lyrics get the job done without trying too hard, with lines like “I hold on tight, but not enough to hold you back” and “Wish I could slow down time, but not enough to slow you down” reflecting the desire to keep someone close forever, but realizing they need their own space to grow and move.

“Kings of the Weekend” is probably my least favorite song on the album. I just don’t care for the lyrics, though musically it’s solid, in particular the riffs following each chorus. “Teenage Satellites” is one of the bigger-sounding songs, with the now-classic blink space theme going on. Hoppus smoothly cruises through the first verse and provides sturdy backing vocals throughout, while Skiba dominates the choruses and owns the second verse. I absolutely adore his voice, especially when he’s crooning lines like “Then you kissed me like a storm at sea / Like I’m the only one you’ll ever need.”

After this is “Left Alone,” which starts with more spacey-sounding keys before being taken over by a flowing, melodic guitar section and Barker’s intense drumming. This quickly became one of my favorite songs in blink history, let alone on this record. Hoppus and Skiba split the song 50-50 vocally, trading off lines of each verse. The pre-chorus finds Mark Hoppus frantically asking “Can you remember the last time” followed by a hardly-there Matt Skiba contributing a memory, and the whole thing comes off as a bittersweet mixture of fondness and frustration, boiling down to a simple question: “Are we halfway gone, or halfway there?”

Then the chorus explodes, with Matt Skiba belting out some of the heaviest, loudest, most intense singing I’ve ever heard from him. It sounds like nothing the band has done, yet an entirely natural progression from their untitled and Neighborhoods eras. Lines like “Break me down, I’m not afraid of you” become album highlights.

“Rabbit Hole” was the second full song released, and is much faster  than “Bored to Death.” It’s a fun tune, with Skiba’s verse lyrically playing with Hoppus’s, a simple and catchy chorus of “I won’t fall down the fucking rabbit hole,” and a great vocal chorus for the outro.

“San Diego” tones things down, beginning slowly with Mark Hoppus reminiscing, clearly about the band’s past. Oddly enough, Matt Skiba sings a majority of the song, but his voice fits the tone perfectly, keeping the song from sounding bitter or too serious. The bridge is one of the best moments on the record, and I’d be interested to know who wrote it, as it’s one of two moments on the whole album that sound more at home with Alkaline Trio than blink-182 (and I don’t mean this in a bad way).

I never needed to hear
All of the pain and the fear
Your secrets filled up my ears like the ocean blue.
I never wanted to know
How deep these cuts on you go
And like a river they flow to the ocean blue.

—blink-182, “San Diego”

“The Only Thing That Matters” is one of the fastest songs on the album, and among the most playful. It’s classic blink through and through, except the second verse, which is the second moment that, to me, smacks of Alkaline Trio, but with the casualness of blink-182.

“California” closes the album as the last full song. Matt Skiba is mostly in the background for this one, which is a softer, ballad-y tune covering the ups and downs of modern day California. It’s one that hits close to home for me, because I was born there, lived there for years, and visited several times. Barker’s drumming is clever as ever, but quiet, along with Skiba’s guitars, letting Mark Hoppus’s vocals take control of the tune.

Two little kids out on the lawn,
Once we had love, now it’s gone
Good things haven’t happened yet
I’m empty as a movie set,
It’s what I’ve always wanted.

—blink-182, “California”

The song slowly escalates toward the final chorus, where the trio play and sing their hearts out, bringing the album to a fitting close, if you don’t count the next joke song, “Brohemian Rhapsody,” which would’ve been better off as a hidden track. After the first listen, there isn’t much worth going back for, except maybe Skiba’s epic lead guitarwork.

California is a good record for introducing the band’s new sound. It’s not going to oust the untitled album as my favorite, but there are some unforgettable tracks here. Good luck getting me to ever shut up about how much I love “Left Alone.” It’ll be interesting to see where the band goes from here—these three re-inventing themselves with a more serious sound à la the untitled record would be a welcome direction, and it might be fun to see the band move on as a four-piece with Tom DeLonge back in the mix, if even just for a song or two. Whatever the case, this band has a lot of history, for me and in general, and I’m excited to hear what happens next.

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A New Year

When that clock counts down, I’ll probably say “Happy New Year” to whomever I’m in a room with. Maybe we’ll share a few drinks and laughs. When I get home, I’ll switch out my toothbrush for a new one. That’s about the extent of my New Year’s plans.

No resolutions. I don’t believe in picking one day to decide “Sometime this year I’ll be better.”

That’s not to say I discourage anyone who does, but one thing I’ve learned in my time on this earth is that you can better yourself anytime. Any month, any day, any hour. I’ve been sitting before a recently finished draft and thought “That was epic. I’m going to improve in X way” and I’ve been at the bottom of a trailer loading packages on a random overnight shift and thought “You know what? I’m going to start doing Y because it’ll make me a better person.”

Maybe you could say my New Year’s resolution is to never stop learning, but that’s not accurate. That’s not something I’m going to resolve to do, it’s just something that happens as part of everyday life.

Recently I came up with a new motto. It’s actually the title of my next-next book. (Not my next book, which isn’t quite a book, but the one after that.) You’ll hear more about it later, but for now:

“Build yourself better.”

It’s a simple little saying that I wrote into a poem, and since then I’ve been trying to incorporate it into my everyday life. Wishing at the right time or making plans for a future date won’t make you a better person or improve your life. Taking it into your own hands, finding your problems and working them out, that might.

No promises. But you won’t know until you try it, right?

Happy new year!

WIBUT 6/8/2015

It’s been a while since I last posted, but I haven’t been twiddling my thumbs. I recently gave this site and all of my books a makeover, and now that things are getting settled in, I figure it’s time for a general status update.

Writing

I definitely didn’t meet my Camp NaNoWriMo goal. That’s okay. I’m still working on the novel version of Let the Moonlight Give You Wings, my RPG and novel tie-in project. I have most of the plot hammered out, and writing it as a novel is presenting scenarios not possible in the game (and vice-versa). No idea when it’ll be finished, but it’s coming along smoothly.

I set that down to work on another project the past few weeks. I finished the first draft of it, but I can’t say anything else about it yet. Soon, though, I’ll be ready to talk about it.

The next session of Camp NaNoWriMo is coming up. I’ll probably focus on finishing some older projects, specifically a novella or two.

Playing

Aside from writing news and reviews and features for Cubed3, I’ve been playing a lot of Destiny, Splatoon, and finally getting around to the Fallout: New Vegas DLCs. I’m pretty upset about the whole Silent Hills cancellation fiasco, but I’m super excited for Fallout 4.

I’m also working on my own games. Lately I’ve been putting together some music and sound effects for Let the Moonlight Give You Wings, and I’m working on a much smaller game that will probably be finished and released first, but more on that later.

Reading

I’m working my way through The Telling by Ursula K. Le Guin. So far it’s very different from the rest of her Ekumen books (which makes sense, being written over 20 years after the previous one) but I like it so far. I’m actually a little sad that I’m almost finished with her novel series, but the books aren’t going anywhere, they can always be re-read.

 Watching

Game of Thrones, mostly. Exciting things happening on that show. I’ve also gotten into House of Cards, which is a lot of fun. I’ve been watching Wayward Pines with my mom; it’s interesting, and I like that what some shows would’ve left as the bigger, dragged-out mysteries get figured out as early as the first episode. I’m cautiously optimistic about True Detective; word is it’ll be a lot less weird this time around, which is one of the things I loved most about season 1.

So that’s what I’ve been up to. I’m still hoping I can share some pretty big news on a few of my projects pretty soon here. I’m always at work behind the scenes.

Until next time.

What’s in a Name?

Big changes incoming!

Perhaps you’ve noticed this very site (as well as Twitter) list me as “David J. Lovato” while the name on all my covers and storefronts simply reads “David Lovato”. That’s going to change.

Big changes this far along can get messy, and I spent the better part of two days updating all of my book covers and websites to add one little “J”, but the end result will be worth it. Why the change? Well, “davidlovato” wasn’t available for use as a WordPress site, so I added the J way back when, and it’s always good to keep things streamlined. Another reason is that I’m not the only David Lovato in town, and I think it’s best to keep any potential confusion to a minimum. So, starting in the coming weeks, you should see “David J. Lovato” on all of my books and store fronts. Also, it turns out I really like the way it looks. It’s like a little hook cementing my name in place. At the risk of sounding full of myself, I think I’ve realized you can tell a great font by its J.

Anyway, It’s a lengthy process to change all of my links and descriptions and profiles, but I’m almost done, and hopefully I did it without breaking anything too badly.

So, while I’m busy writing a post about my writing, I guess I should give a general update.

I’m way behind on Camp NaNoWriMo, thanks in part to burnout and in part to a household emergency. I may or may not get caught up, but I do plan to finish this project someday, and hopefully not too far away.

I have another project, a big one, that I’m hoping to release by Halloween. More details on that when it’s a little more ready for the spotlight.

I’m kicking around ideas for another poetry book. Possibly two of them. I enjoyed writing and publishing Permanent Ink on Temporary Pages, but for these two, I’m thinking bigger. Maybe louder.

I’m sitting on some novellas! One is finished and polished and I’m working to get it published traditionally. Another one is finished but not edited, and the last is unfinished, but I hope to put the final touches on those two this summer. Not sure whether I’ll self-publish or try the traditional route with them; that will depend on how I feel about the finished products. I also have an almost-finished short story collection that will most likely be self-published; the stories are all set in the same world and follow a specific theme.

And, as always, I have plenty of projects always moving, some slower than others, but they’ll be revealed when the time is right.

In short, I promise I’m working on things, and I’m pretty sure at least one of them will see a release this year.

Speaking of Halloween (I know that was a few paragraphs ago but it’s my blog and I’ll do what I want), last year I started a second RPG Maker project in the spirit of Halloween. With any luck I’ll finish it and release it before Halloween this year. It’s just a short little adventure where I challenged myself to see how odd I could make things go in that game engine, but I don’t see the harm in getting it out there, supposing I finish it. My main project is still Let the Moonlight Give You Wings, but that one is a lot larger and less predictable, so I can’t give an ETA on it. If I do pick up my Halloween-ish game again, expect to see some previews around these parts.

That about does it as far as talking about what I’m working on. One last thing though:

My favorite band is back! I can hardly express how excited I am to see Brand New recording and putting out new material. My history with this band is a long one. I’ll probably write a whole post on it pretty soon. But for now let’s just say they have a new song called “Mene” and you should buy it because it’s awesome.

And that’s it for now. Until next time!

nowListening: Strangers to Ourselves by Modest Mouse

All lyrics by and property of Modest Mouse.

Modest Mouse is another of those bands that I hated at first. I remember when “Float On” invaded the airwaves, and played approximately every five seconds on every single radio station, and it just plain grated on my nerves.

Then a DJ at my local alternative station decided to break the mold and play “Bukowski”, which I found interesting. After that, “Ocean Breathes Salty” and “Bury Me With It” replaced “Float On” and cemented Modest Mouse as one of my favorite bands. In time I would even come to like “Float On”.

I like bands that don’t sound the same with every album they put out. I like Good News for People Who Love Bad News, I like We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank, I like The Moon and Antarctica, and I like various other songs from their past discography that I’ve heard over the years. I love the ironic, clever lyrics and titles, the anger present in Isaac Brock’s voice even when the accompanying music ventures into zany, even goofy territory, and I love Jeremiah Greene’s complicated, addictive drum beats.

There has always been, however, a strange duality to Modest Mouse’s releases. I tend to absolutely love about half of each record and not really care for the rest. In an even weirder turn of events, I do like those songs I don’t care for—while I’m listening to them. It just usually takes some out-of-the-ordinary turn of events to get me listening to them.

Eight long years went by without a new release from Modest Mouse, so I hoped they were working on something special. Finally they announced Strangers to Ourselves, which I promptly pre-ordered; Modest Mouse is one of a very few bands whose music I can easily pre-order without hearing a note of, because I know I’m going to get something good out of it.

What I got was probably the first Modest Mouse album where I love almost every song.

Strangers to Ourselves

The album starts off slow, with “Strangers to Ourselves”. Honestly, it’s a little boring for an opener; I’d like it a lot more as a minute, minute-and-a-half tune, but it lingers for three and a half. It stands in stark contrast to other openers; “The World at Large” is a slow and lethargic song, but I love it for its clever lyrics and playful melodies strewn throughout the track. “March Into the Sea” is a fun opener for how loud and angry it is, and “3rd Planet” is the song that turned me on to the band’s earlier discography in the first place. “Strangers to Ourselves” just doesn’t pack the same punch as any of them.

The album takes a sharp turn for the better with “Lampshades on Fire”, a faster, upbeat tune that sets the environmentalist tone found through most of the album. It’s a good example of that irony I mentioned earlier; the song sounds happy and upbeat while Isaac Brock belts out frustrating, angry lyrics like “Pack up our things and head to the next place / Where we’ll make the same mistakes.” After this is “Shit in Your Cut”, an odd song that reminds me of something off of Brand New’s Daisy. It’s darker and slower but just as much fun.

If “Shit in Your Cut” is like a Brand New song, “Pistol (A. Cunanan, Miami, FL. 1996)” sounds like the band’s attempt at a Nine Inch Nails tribute. A quick Google of the title suggests this song is probably about the formative years of a certain serial killer. “Ansel” continues the theme of upbeat-sounding songs with dark, disturbing meanings, this one about how Brock never patched things up with his step brother before he died in an avalanche.

“The Ground Walks, With Time in a Box” is another fun one. Lyrically, it reminds me of the “beauty in nature/science” themes found on The Moon and Antarctica, at least partially, as it seems a little bit more sinister toward the end. I love the lead guitar and the multiple male/female vocal chorus, something present in a few songs on the album. The addition of feminine vocals in general to Modest Mouse’s sound is a refreshing and welcome one, and it works well.

If I had written this post a week ago, I would probably mention how much I dislike “Coyotes” right about now, but it ended up growing on me. I’m not fond of the lyrics for the verses basically being the same thing but in reverse order, but I do love the brief bits of acoustic guitar that pop up before the chorus. “Pups to Dust” is my current favorite. The first time I heard the main vocals arguing with the backing vocals I laughed out loud and it has that flowing, airy lead guitar I’ve always loved in Modest Mouse. “Sugar Boats” is another favorite of mine; if steampunk has a sound to it, it’s this song. “Wicked Campaign” slows things down again, while “Br Brave” is one of the few songs I don’t particularly care for. It’s all right while I’m listening, but it’s not one I’ll go out of my way to listen to.

Well I’m not a doctor, but I’ll sell you an itch
I could apologize, but then a bit more nothing’d exist
So the world’s got plenty of good and bad liars,
But our lies should come with chariots and choirs!

—Modest Mouse, “Wicked Campaign”

“God is an Indian and You’re an Asshole” is a funny little interlude set before “The Tortoise and the Tourist” which is probably the most important song on the record. Every Modest Mouse record has at least one song I’d argue has an almost literary quality to it, and this is it on Strangers to Ourselves. It’s heavy and dark, very cynical, it’s a good thing it’s sandwiched between “God is an Indian and You’re an Asshole” and “The Best Room”.

There was this tortoise, its shell was covered with jewels
And had been since time began
It knew the world through all its histories
And the universe and its mysteries
One day it came across a man

The two were talking,
The tortoise offered to tell him about the future and how the universe ran
Oh, the man killed the tortoise, took its shell, and with a song on his lips, walked off again.

—Modest Mouse, “The Tortoise and the Tourist”

Speaking of, “The Best Room” is another fun one, a heavy criticism of western culture. The last minute or so escalates into a crazy, fast summary of the entire song preceding it, accompanied by a wild lead guitar part and a sudden dropoff ending the song.

“Of Course We Know” closes the album, and it’s another one I don’t really go out of my way to listen to. I love the theme of it, the lullaby-like tone accompanying a criticism of complacency, but the song is very long and repetitive. It’s one I have to be in a certain mood to listen to.

On the whole, Strangers to Ourselves is critical without being preachy, it’s dark but fun, it has a strong theme that it carries through to the end. It’s easily my favorite Modest Mouse album. It was worth the wait, but I still hope the next one doesn’t take quite so long to come around.

Go reckless, unharmed
The shut-ins they’re well-armed
Well we all led the charge,
‘Til we ran aground in our party barge
Every little gift was just one more part of their grift
Oh yeah, we know it.
The best news that we got
Was some dumb hokum we all bought
Let’s go reckless, feeling great
We’re the sexiest of all primates
Let’s let loose with our charms,
Shake our ass and wave our arms,
All going apeshit.

—Modest Mouse, “The Best Room”

nowReading: The Dispossessed

The Dispossessed
The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s hard to assign a star rating to this one. On one hand, “it was amazing” is an understatement. On the other, “I liked it” is accurate.

The Dispossessed features sprawling moments of brilliance, pure genius word after word, big ideas delivered one after another. The book doesn’t preach; the characters and even some of the ideas are wrong or don’t pan out at times, it’s as critical of itself as everything it else it criticizes, which is quite a lot. It’s easy to say some of my favorite quotes going forward will have been discovered here. My mind was blown again and again.

It’s not a philosophy book but a work of fiction, and Le Guin has, as always, done a good job keeping the story in front of its moral. As far as her Hain books go, however, this one isn’t all that physically exciting. The page-turning comes from a yearning to take in all of the ideas happening, while the actions of the characters are sometimes downright boring. There are (in my copy at least) an unfortunate amount of typos, and certain areas where the writing itself feels like a rough draft. Some things read more as a summary of events than actual events, there are a lot of lists given, and the chapters are too long for their own good. The decision to split each chapter between past and present is smart, but the chapters are so long it can be difficult to remember where the last time frame left off. Shorter chapters would’ve been easily accomplished without breaking the pattern. Too often things are explained as soon as or even right after they’re relevant to a conversation or action; Chekhov’s gun kept firing before it was hung on the wall or, sometimes, even assembled. More things are placed exactly as they should be than not, but the ones that weren’t are noticeable.

It’s a long read, and sometimes a hard one. There’s a lot to take in. Lots of philosophy, lots of symbolism (the last line blew me away). Less physical action yet more lore than any other Ekumen book, it’s possibly the most important in the series, as well as being an important work of American literature.

It’s amazing. I love the book, even if I only like the story.

View all my reviews

nowPlaying: The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D

Full disclosure: I’m a staff writer/reviewer at cubed3.com. The reviews I post here on my blog are original and don’t necessarily reflect the views of that site.

Screenshots were taken by me, using the 3DS software and Nintendo’s Miiverse connectivity. All content in them is obviously Nintendo’s, not mine.

Allow me to play the Song of Time and take you a little way back along my timeline.

When I was a little kid, sometimes I would sit and watch my uncle play an old game on his NES, The Legend of Zelda. Try as he might, he just couldn’t find the entrance to the 7th dungeon. I tried to help in whatever way I could, which, looking back, probably wasn’t much. This was before the internet, before walkthroughs and GameFAQs and what have you. I don’t think we ever found that dungeon. Not back then, anyway.

Flash forward a few years. I have an NES (and even a Super Nintendo!) of my own. Nintendo has recently released their brand-new system, the Nintendo 64. While at the grocery store with my parents, I found a Nintendo kiosk with a playable game called The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. I remember thinking “Hey, they made a third Zelda!” (Much later I would come to learn this was actually the latest in a whole series of them.) I tried to play it, but I didn’t know how to work the controller, and I couldn’t get Link to jump. I thought it was strange, and I gave up and left to catch up with my family.

More time went by. I Got a Nintendo 64 for Christmas, and eventually I had my own copy of Ocarina of Time.  As far as fiction goes, there isn’t a lot in this world that I can easily say “changed my life” but this is one of them. Everything I thought I knew about video games, everything I thought I knew about fiction was turned upside down. New fields sprawled out before me, all thanks to an elf-looking kid in a green tunic.

Then came the next console game in the series, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. This time I was ready and waiting.

It was a long wait.

All the Time

I got the game, but it required a new accessory, the Expansion Pak. We couldn’t quite afford it, but the local video store did have them available for rent. So I played the game a little bit at a time, each a few weeks or months apart, until I finally got an Expansion Pak.

This game changed things as much as Ocarina did. Ocarina of Time invited me to a world I could play in. Majora’s Mask brought me to one that desperately needed saving; every NPC wandering the streets of Termina had their own fate that I could track over the course of three in-game days, a time loop that required attention and timing to get right.

The game became my favorite in the series, and still is. The series is dear to me, but no game after this one made me care so much. Sure, Midna is one of my favorite characters ever, and Wind Waker and Skyward Sword re-defined the titular Princess Zelda, but on the whole, NPCs and side quests are entirely skippable. The sense of urgency is gone, the trippy, otherworldly location of Termina remains unmatched.

While I eagerly await the next game in the series (which will hopefully arrive this year), the long-speculated Majora’s Mask 3D remake came out recently, and of course I showed up at midnight to pick up a copy.

Overall, the game has stood up to time well. Seeing these characters brought back to life is wonderful, and once again I find myself lost in that three-day time loop, struggling to help characters I know aren’t real, but boy oh boy does it feel like seeing an old friend from my childhood again.

A Band

Certain parts have been dumbed down or made easier, but they aren’t forced on you, and enough of the game has changed to keep things interesting. After all these years, the Kafei and Anju sidequest remains probably my favorite sidequest in video game history, and a certain moment toward the end, before the final boss, is as beautiful and breathtaking as it was the first time I experienced it.

Still, a certain sense of regret came from how much I already knew how to do. part of the game’s legend is in the mystery, in living each three-day cycle over and over, taking note of what happens, where, and when, until you can finally put things right. That doesn’t happen so much on subsequent playthroughs. There’s nothing to be done for it; a poster on reddit once said something to the effect of “If I could, I’d erase my memory of Breaking Bad so I could enjoy it for the first time again.” I would, too! But while I was at it, I’d throw a round of Majora’s Mask in there.

I don’t know where this series is going. I’m not even sure I know where I want it to go. But if, in the future, Nintendo decided to give Majora’s Mask a spiritual successor (the way they made A Link Between Worlds a spiritual successor to A Link to the Past), I’d welcome it. You know what they say: Whenever there is a meeting, a parting is sure to follow. However, that parting need not last forever.

nowReading: The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There

The time has finally come. A journey of a few years, which began with me picking up a magazine lying around in the bathroom, has come to a close. Well, a rest stop, at least. I’ve finished reading The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There.

(Those wondering what in the world I’m babbling about will find the answer here and here, but the short version is this book’s title caught me by surprise, roped me in, and forced me to sit down and read.)

As I do with most of my reviews, I want to get the bad out of the way before I focus on the good. What can I say? I like to end on a high note. To make a long story short, which is to do absolutely no justice to the complexity that comes from reading a novel, the book didn’t quite live up to the hype I created upon seeing its title. It reads almost like a first draft; lots of lists, lots of descriptions, things are a little sloppy. Characters will drop everything they’re doing and give their entire species’ life story, often times for no apparent reason. Other times, important things happening directly to our main character, September, are glossed over in a sentence or two. Everything is more or less there, but some things feel like they’re in the wrong order, or given the wrong priority. There were also a few typos, and things appearing out of nowhere that probably should’ve been mentioned sooner than they happen.

Another issue I had was in how convenient certain things were. It was like September was never in any sort of danger or peril—a magical person or item would always bail her out at the last second. The real danger of the story, and one that threatens all of Fairyland, isn’t made present until over halfway through the book. In the end it becomes clear why this was intentional, but I’m not convinced it was always justified.

This leads to the main issue I had with it: The first half to two-thirds of the story are a little boring. It reads like a history of Fairyland and Fairyland-Below, but not so much like a story about a girl who has just been spirited away to the underworld of a fantasy dreamscape.

When it does finally pick up, it’s relentless! I couldn’t put it down, I read the last third or so of the book in two sittings, stopping only to sleep. That last bit is as wonderful and magical and heartwrenching as the majority of the first book was.

This leads me to my last comment: It’s worth it, and not just for the third act. Even when giving off random lists or colorful descriptions of things that don’t really matter, there’s so much heart and spirit in the writing. Characters’ histories are interesting and wonderful, even if they’re not immediately important to the story. I wonder if this would have been better as a novella, and if it were accompanied by an actual history book regarding Fairyland, I would pick that up in a heartbeat. But again, to make a long story short: Even when it’s bad, it’s good.

I also found a lot of joy in reading the book’s two afterwords, and, if I might be so bold (and I might; this is my blog and I’ll do what I want!) I would say they are as important to aspiring writers as Stephen King’s On Writing and Strunk and White’s Elements of Style. They’re not as much about the how of writing but do a fantastic job detailing the why, and as far as I’m concerned, they’re required reading for anyone who takes writing seriously.

On the whole, it’s a good book, even if it could’ve used a little more polish.

On to the next one!

nowPlaying: Alien: Isolation

Full disclosure: I’m a staff writer at Cubed3. The reviews I post here on my blog don’t reflect the opinions of Cubed3 and are written on my own time.

All pictures taken by me using the PS4’s share features.

The horror genre is very close to me, and nothing has ever scared me as deeply or profoundly as the titular creatures from the Alien franchise.

I couldn’t tell you when the first time I saw Alien was, but I know it was a long time ago. I’m sure I watched it with my parents, and most likely, my dad had me cover my eyes every time the alien appeared. (Looking back, I wonder if I imagined things far worse than what appears in the movie. More likely, this is the one series that I couldn’t.)

H. R. Giger’s iconic aliens have a beauty and an aesthetic that remains unmatched. No reboot or redesign has ever been needed (or, as far as I know, so much as wanted); the aliens are as ethereal and frightening today as they were when they were first brought to life by designer H. R. Giger, writers Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett, director Ridley Scott, and actor Bolaji Badejo. Nothing has ever starred in more of my nightmares, and those are always the worst; I’ve had dreams where the creatures are only mentioned and they’ve caused me to wake up sweating and afraid.

As connected as I was to the films growing up, I never really played any of the games. As a big fan of Borderlands, I was excited to hear that Gearbox Software would be making a video game set in the Alien world: Aliens: Colonial Marines. Then the game actually came out, along with a firestorm of controversy, finger-pointing, and disappointed gamers.

I eventually rented the game after a few patches and updates had dropped, and it was more or less playable. While a few parts were fun in their own right, it wasn’t exactly the Alien experience I was hoping for.

Along came Alien: Isolation. Sega took a big risk in even planning another Alien game so soon after the disaster of Colonial Marines, but it’s one that paid off. Just by looking at the game, you can tell it’s something special.

Alien: Isolation

The game looks like something right out of the movie. Just about everything aboard Sevastopol is faithfully recreated, from the clunky, 70’s-inspired vision of future technology to the oddly invasive manual input, like huge levers and parts of the ship that have to be physically cut away to gain access to certain areas.

The concept of the game is an immediate winner for me: Set on a space station called Sevastopol, Alien: Isolation ditches the more action-oriented concepts behind the previous game in favor of the more subtle horror the first film had.

I was so excited to get into this game, but playing in a dark room with headphones was almost too much. Here was the creature from my nightmares, presented to me in an interactive format like never before. At times I found myself hiding just to catch my breath, afraid to move like when I first played Outlast. In some ways, Alien: Isolation almost feels like an Alien mod for that game.

And, as much as I loved the game at first, things quickly went south. By the fifth mission, I was getting tired of rushing from locker to locker, wasting most of the game just hiding. It seemed like as soon as I lost the alien, it was right on my tail again, and I could spend an hour just traversing a hallway.

Alien: Isolation
Not to mention dying again and again. And again.

The game’s fifth mission almost sank the ship. Taking place in Sevastopol’s medical bay, which is a huge, multi-room area, it seemed absurd that the alien would follow me from chamber to chamber, hallway to hallway, supposedly unsure I was there but somehow miraculously always within a few yards of me. The motion tracker seemed like it was toying with me—at one point I watched the alien enter a room across from me, and I pulled it out only to see the thing tell me the alien was somewhere behind me. It was clear the game’s mechanics weren’t quite up to the task with its presentation. This culminated in nearly two hours of winding my way along this hall, only to have the alien come down from the vents overhead right as I was about to reach the door that led to the end of the mission. I quickly ducked under a table to wait for it to leave, and watched as the alien rounded a corner only to somehow spot me, despite absolutely no input on my part, and return from around the corner and kill me. And this was on easy mode!

At that point I swore I was done with the game, but I couldn’t keep myself away from it. It felt like I had come too far to just give up. It was personal now: That alien had to die. No way was it getting the best of me.

I went in with a new mindset. I decided the game was most likely not as logic-based as I was assuming, and it appears I was right. For example, the ambient noises aren’t always the alien, and even when they are, they aren’t often indicative of its position. A noise to the left doesn’t mean the alien is over there. The same was true for distant footsteps; as soon as the alien rounds a corner, there’s a good chance he’s not even there anymore. Assuming he’s prowling that same hallway is an exercise in futility, and a great invitation to spend the rest of Amanda Ripley’s life in a locker.

Alien: Isolation
Get used to this view.

 

I still died a time or two in the medical bay, but this new philosophy proved fruitful, and I made decent progress through the game. The cat-and-mouse bits still caused me anxiety, and sometimes were more annoying than they were frightening, but I was having fun again, and a lot of it.

The game changes pace once the player gets the flamethrower. No longer entirely defenseless, the alien still can’t be killed, but it can be scared off, so long as you see it before it sees you.

On the whole, this might be the most frightening video game I’ve ever played. I found myself dreading it, hoping each thing I had to do would be the last. There are very few ways for the alien to “get” you, only a few death animations, and while they’re very well done (and expertly touch on the franchise’s body horror elements) they also become repetitive. Still, I was constantly afraid of the alien, especially at times when my flamethrower ammunition was dwindling.

I had an odd determination to finish the game, akin to facing my fears. Alien: Isolation is well-crafted and gave me the perfect opportunity to do that. Xenomorphs have always been indestructible to me, especially in my nightmares, and I respect how much effort was put into this game to recreate that aspect of them.

Alien: Isolation
Oh dear.

Alien: Isolation has its flaws. Sometimes it seems like the writers had no idea where to take the story next, so they just borrowed scenarios straight from the films. I appreciate longer games, but this one has a very select few enemies and ways of dealing with them, so more diversity in mission objectives, enemies, or avoidance techniques would’ve done it justice. On the whole it was fun, terrifying, and gorgeous. Unfortunately, the ending seems like it looked great on paper, but passes by as a ten-second long cinema, and just looked weird and unfulfilling.

I don’t know if I’ll ever play this game again. I think once was enough. That weird ending did leave things wide open for a sequel, and I’m conflicted about that. I’d love to see this team expand on their ideas, but I’d prefer to see them do it with a new story instead of painfully dragging out the one they have. If nothing else, Alien: Isolation proves that there is a treasure trove of storytelling and scares to be had in this franchise, something that hasn’t been successfully tapped into in a very long time. In a lot of ways, this game is a true successor to the films, and is better than most of them. The last thing I want is for it to careen down the same path that brought us the likes of Aliens Vs. Predator: Requiem and Colonial Marines.

nowReading: Still Life With Woodpecker by Tom Robbins

Following is my review of Still Life With Woodpecker by Tom Robbins. You can read more of my book reviews on my Goodreads page.

Line after line is clever, funny, tragic, or some insane mixture of the three. I had no idea where the story would lead me next, but I’ve seldom been so excited to find out. It’s interesting how relevant the book is over thirty years after it was first published, yet so ahead of its time in other ways.

Still Life With Woodpecker transcends the boundaries of its pages in a fashion similar to House of Leaves, where the physical appearance of the book is itself a reflection of the themes found within. This, however, is more of a comedy (though both books boast a good deal of philosophy).

I was reminded of Wes Anderson’s movies and of Arrested Development; things seem ridiculous at first glance but are actually carefully-placed, often sparks lit to ignite later fires. The ones in Still Life With Woodpecker just happen to have dynamite at their ends.