troytlepower

troytle's home on the interwebs

Looking back at The Animorphs — December 2, 2017

Looking back at The Animorphs

A few weeks ago, I somehow stumbled on to Morph Club: An Animorphs Podcast, somewhere in the great twitterverse, and started rereading The Animorphs series by K. A. Applegate so I could listen along. The Animorphs, a young adult series by K. A. Applegate about a group of teens who fight an alien invasion by transforming in to animals, was probably absolutely my favorite book series as a kid, and going back through them again has been magical. Being a series intended for Young Adults, it’s easy to qualify any commentary about them with “for kids books”, but they are enormously consumable books with engaging characters and surprisingly dark themes, regardless of the age of the reader.

So far, I’m up to book eight nine ten eleven (you guys, these books are seriously fast reads) in the series, and while it’s taken a few weeks to get this far (between work, life, other reading, video games, and the like), each book only takes a few hours to read through. I’m not sure if I processed this fully when the series ran, but these books came out more or less monthly between 1996 and 2001, and each one is only about 150 pages. However, it’s not just the short length that makes these so consumable, they also have (for the most part) excellent pacing. Short chapters are constantly punctuated with cliffhanger reveals that keep you moving from one to the next, and the basic layout of each story (unrelated intro, mission briefing, find a new morph, adjust to the horror and/or awesomeness of the animal’s instincts, complete the mission with a big action scene) is familiar and formulaic in the best kind of way. Each book actually feels more or less like a tabletop RPG session (makes note to google “Animorphs + Table top”). This quick format kept me totally hooked through each book and in to the next as a kid, and is doing the same as an adult!

On top of the pacing, the books also benefit from a super engaging cast of characters that I’m falling for all over again. Jake, Marco, Rachel, Cassie, Tobias and (spoilers) Ax each fall more or less into archetypal roles that feel pretty two-dimensional at first, but the shifting narrative helps to develop each character into so much more. Not only do you get to see how the characters think about themselves, but you get to see how they are seen by each of their companions. On the surface, Marco is just a sarcastic goof, and that’s more or less what Tobias and Ax seem his as, but Jake knows how damaged he and his father are from the loss of his mother, while Rachel recognizes that his sense of humor keeps the group from all out panicking, and Cassie recognizes that his caution is crucial to balance out Rachel’s all-in attitude. Each individual story really only develops the main character and one or two others, but the constant narrative flux results in a group of characters that is so fully realized that there is emotional resonance in every trial they face.

What’s really the most bonkers thing to me in coming back to this series, though, is the darkness throughout them. Sure, I remembered that Tobias got trapped in bird morph in the first book, but there are other terrifying ideas, both major and minor, that I completely forgot. Some of that comes from the horrific idea of the characters wondering if (and sometimes find out that) their loved ones have been taken over by mind controlling slugs, but it also comes in disturbing details of both the morphing process itself and of the carnage both suffered and caused by the Animorphs. Remember how this book is for and about middle schoolers? Wikipedia says, “horror, war, dehumanization, sanity, morality, innocence, leadership, freedom, and growing up are the core themes of the series.” That’s messed up, yo.

I know that my view of these books is influenced by nostalgia, but I’m really loving revisiting this series. If you never read them before, give ’em a shot, and if you have read them, try picking one up again. They honestly feel too dark for their target audience, but as an adult, you could get through the first five in a week, and that’s plenty of time to fall for the characters and come across a few really disturbing moments. Also, be sure to check out the excellent Morph Club podcast, along with Fanimorphs: The Dork Bajir Chronicles and The Hindishgt: The Power of Heart.

Yeah… I’m listening to three different Animorphs podcasts now.

New designs! — November 26, 2017

New designs!

It’s been a busy couple… weeks? months? I fell away from using this site pretty quick after making it, but I’m determined to be back and to stick with it. To celebrate, I put up a bunch of new designs!

 

The Tick copy
Available for purchase at Teepublic!

First off, “Neat!”, inspired by the new Tick series. Well, more it’s inspired by the series I watched as a kid, and then the fact that I watched one episode of the new series. It was pretty good, but mostly just made me want to watch the original again! The pixel art on this was inspired by the old Sonic title screen, because I picked up Sonic Mania right around when I watched the new Tick series.

 

Defenders in Times Teepublic Template
Available for purchase at Teepublic!

Next, “Defenders in Time”, inspired by Netflix’s Marvel’s The Defenders: A Prestige TV Show Featuring Characters from Four Other Netflix/Marvel Shows (I’m pretty sure that’s the full title), and Turtles in Time. I haven’t finished The Defenders yet, but it’s pretty good so far. I feel like it does a good job of pulling up the less interesting characters, but it also drags the more interesting ones down a bit, too, which is a shame.

 

Minimalist Empire
Available for purchase at Teepublic!

“Minimalist Empire” came from an Inktober drawing I did. I love that we are now in a world where there is a constant flow of news and hype for new Star Wars properties. The Last Jedi is sounding great (although I’m avoiding watching any previews), I’m hopeful for Solo, and apparently there’s going to be some live action TV shows happening, too? So good!

 

Divided
Available for purchase at Teepublic!

This one, “Alpha Quadrant Divided”, also came from an Inktober drawing, and from my excitement for Star Trek: Discovery, which has been outstanding so far! Seriously, if you haven’t watched it yet, go check out at least the first 3 episodes… 1 and 2 are more of a prologue for the actual show, so getting to 3 is important!

And that’s it for now!

Digging in to Steamworld — March 3, 2017

Digging in to Steamworld

I picked up Steamworld Dig for the 3DS a few years ago, but only every put about 20 minutes in to it, not nearly long enough to give it a real shot. I thought the aesthetic was nice, but the gameplay didn’t suck me in right away. Steamworld Heist seemed really interesting, but I didn’t give it a shot until I found a collection of both games for the PS4 a few weeks ago. Heist pulled me in right away, but I decided to give Dig another shot before I got too far in, and totally fell in love.

oogi5x2

The gameplay of Steamworld Dig is pretty basic… You play as a robot who’s inherited a mine, and start digging. A pick axe lets you break through basic blocks, and as you go deeper you find gems you can sell to buy upgrades, as well as new abilities for moving through your tunnels and digging through tougher blocks of dirt. The gameplay has been compared to the Metroid and Castelvania games, but what makes it unique is that the paths you end up retreading are your own tunnels, so each person who plays through will end up with a little bit of a different world.

kcd9hce

The exploration is really what makes the game… I ended up zenning out on just digging down further and further in to the world. The basic loop of this game is enter the mine, dig until you run out of light, then go back to the surface to sell what you collected. The ability to set up teleporters to let you jump back and forth between the surface easily makes this really enjoyable, and means you don’t ever feel forced to retread, but I had so much fun building up my fortune that I ended up staying on one level for quite a while anyway. This game does a great job of scratching that collector itch a lot of gamers have, but also motivates you to push further… I don’t want to spoil things, but let’s just say that there are surprises buried in the dirt that make digging worthwhile!

The only real disappointment I had was when I realized I was at the end of the game at about 5 hours in… and then as soon as I finished I found out that Steamworld Dig 2 just got announced, so I’m super pumped. If you’ve never tried any of these games, I really think they are worthwhile. I’m excited to go play Heist now, and am looking forward to Dig 2!

jolly-rusty
My tribute to the Steamworld games, available on Teepublic as shirts, phone cases, and more!

Punch All of the Demons in the Face: Thoughts on the first hour of Doom — February 20, 2017

Punch All of the Demons in the Face: Thoughts on the first hour of Doom

Doom is one of the founding franchises in video game history, but never one I’ve spent much time with. The first entry in this bloody, first person-shooter series came out in 1993, when I was way too young for game like that, and while I picked up the 2004 release, Doom 3, it was mostly because a used copy of the steel book case came in at the GameStop I worked at… I don’t think I ever actually played it. I think I must have played one of the games at some point, because I recognize some of the iconic imagery from the series (mainly the look of the demons and the uniform of the unnamed Space Marine protagonist), but I might just have just absorbed that from gaming magazines and forums. In any case, the hour or so I spent with the 2016 release, simply called Doom, is the only chunk of time I can remember spending with the series, and it was fantastic!

It seems like a lot of games I’ve played recently invest heavily in two things that slow things down from the moment you press start: tutorials and the story so far. Doom manages to hit both of these points in about a minute flat, and in an active way. The game opens with your character chained to an operating table of some sort as demons creep towards you. In a first person cinematic you bust through the chains, and then the game hands control to you to start with the slaughtering immediately! After a few moments, I stood standing in a small pile of demonic corpses, looking through a window at the armored Space Marine suit from the previous games. As I moved towards it, a hologram kicked in showing that, apparently, the operating table I started on used to be some sort of coffin, with a bunch of scientists kneeling in prayer around it. I’m not sure if this connects to the prior games at all, but near as I can tell this series puts you in the role of Space Jesus and tasks you with slaughtering demons. On Mars, for some reason.

There’s a few more tunnels in this space lab to clear out before you get to the sun-drenched, red surface, but both the interior and exterior environments are beautiful. It might be because I’ve been playing a lot of games designed for the last generation of consoles lately, but everything in Doom looks amazing. The environments are super detailed, the enemy’s move fluidly (and quickly), and the lighting adds to the ambience. Inside, it’s just dark and gloomy enough to let enemies surprise you, while outside the sun let’s you look spot the demons you are about to rush through from way off.

jbxrbov

I’m not sure if it’s an industry standard, or just a phrase I’m stealing from Polygon, but the “loop” is the most basic repeating element of gameplay in a game, and in Doom the loop is fantastic. It essentially goes like this: Open door, shoot demon, punch demon in the face, shoot demon, punch demon in the face, shoot demon, punch demon in the face… until eventually you come across another door, and then you start at the top. I’ll be honest, I have no idea what is happening narratively in this game, because every time a voiceover started to explain what was happening and where I should go next, I tuned them out to start looking for that next door. The game gave me three guns in the first 2 missions I played, but the shotgun (complete with exploding shells power up) was by far the most satisfying. Punching is really where this game excelled, though, with a mechanic where a demon who has been “stunned” (i.e., non-lethally riddled with bullets) gets highlighted, and becomes susceptible to a melee “Glory Kill”. Glory Kills are like punching-plus, with animations showing skulls being crushed, legs being broken, arms being ripped off, etc., and the game ensures you hit these as often as possible by showing you with health every time you execute one.

From what I’ve heard this game is a bit of a departure from the recent entries in the series, and I think the simple, reboot title of the name tells you everything you need to know. This is a game made to recreate early first person shooters, where we didn’t care about stealth or story, favoring instead big guns, fast pace, and blood. Doom won’t win awards for it’s story, but it’s graphic and game play are both beautiful, and the hour I spent with it was planed and simply fun.

doooom
I was shouting “Doooom!” pretty much the whole time I played this game. Shirts and more available over at Teepublic
Thoughts on “The Wind Rises”: No magic, but nonetheless magical — February 18, 2017

Thoughts on “The Wind Rises”: No magic, but nonetheless magical

A few weeks back I introduced my wife to her first Hayao Miyazaki movie, Spirited Away, after I realized I had never seen his latest and last film, The Wind Rises. I snagged that 2013 flick from the local library, and last night we sat down to watch it and I was… surprised.

I went in to this movie knowing nothing but the cover art, and the movie started exactly how I expected… beautiful music plays over scenic imagery, a small child climbs on to a roof, gets in aircraft that might be a living create, and cruises across the countryside. He waves to everyone below him before dark shadows come out of the clouds, and belching bombs start falling around him from a massive flying fortress… You know, all the typical Miyazaki stuff.

And then the boy wakes up, and it turns out that this is actually a historical drama and biopic about Jiro Horikoshi a Japanese aircraft designer, who worked for Mitsubishi between WWI and WWII. I spent about the first half of the movie waiting for a wizard to show up, or to find out that Jiro’s friend Hiro was using cursed rivets, or for anything magical, mystical, or strange to happen; but aside from some dream sequences where Jiro speaks with Count Caproni, an Italian aeronautical engineer, the movie is grounded firmly in the real world.

The movie jumps from Jiro’s childhood

16788486_1230046137073863_1564655653924896768_n
“A5M Rises”, inspired by the movie, is up now in my Teepublic shop

to a train ride that gets interrupted by the Great Kantō Earthquake (where he meets his future wife, Naoko), then continues to jump forward years at a time, up to the designing of the Mitsubishi A5M and, simultaneously, his realization that his wife has passed away. The transitions from one period to the next were jarring at first, with little to no explanation of how much time has passed, but the calm music made those transitions ultimately feel dream-like and peaceful, instead of obnoxious.

 

It wasn’t about magic, but thanks to the beautiful imagery, captivating music, and the sleepy, almost dream like way the story moves from one part of Jiro’s life to the next, The Wind Rises is just as magical as any other of Miyazaki’s works.