A while back, I published a post entitled (unfortunately) “Ghost in the WTF”, which was a quick overview of leaked photos of the major cast from the upcoming Ghost in the Shell live action movie. I was not entirely kind and in many ways, it’s a regretful post that I might consider sweeping under the rug if it weren’t for the fact that I’m sure someone read it and might call me out on its conspicuous absence in light of this post.
I’m never one to proactively shit on entertainment; it’s entertainment. It’s supposed to be consumed for enjoyment, but the Internet’s crass feedback loops often times run on self-satisfaction of being thought of as a “critical thinker”, which is why we have shot by shot breakdowns of advertising materials and why people mistake “complaints” and cynicism for “critical analysis”. I prefer to enjoy my entertainment in the spirit in which it was offered, and not enter into negotiations with such things as if I’m owed everything in the catalog of my wildest dreams. Naturally, that’s going to be really difficult when we start talking about something like Ghost in the Shell, which is without a doubt my Star Wars, my Firefly, and my favorite fiction possibly of all time. When the cast pictures were leaked — stills, and not very good ones — I had no context except the catalog of the series with which I was familiar and found the materials lacking. Lacking what? Lacking the exactitude of established art; drawn art, sure, but the drawn art was GitS, right? I jumped the gun and assumed what I saw was everything I would see, and made some knee-jerk decisions.
As of this writing, I have watched the above trailer three times. I will watch it several more times, because while I might prefer not to throw entertainment under the bus, I won’t sit still when I see something that excites me. This trailer has moved me well beyond excitement, and here’s why:
Like I said, the stills of the cast, in poor lighting, on grainy film scanned or photographed and published online, didn’t “do it” for me because there was nothing that lent itself to reality. There was no motion or conversation. They were just people standing awkwardly for some kind of photoshoot in the real world, dressed up as characters.
The trailer gives us context. We see Scarlett Johansson move and fight as speak in character. We see Pilou Asbæk as Batou with his cybernetics (and briefly without). We get an out-of-context glimpse of Takeshi Kitano as Aramaki. These are now the characters inhabiting the world of Ghost in the Shell, which is really the only way we can fully judge the final result.
Above all else, the tone of the trailer is what nailed it for me. It’s also the most difficult thing to describe. If you’re not familiar with GitS, then talk about the “feel” of the trailer isn’t going to mean anything to you; it’ll just be a bunch of weird scenes of some Blade Runner like ripoff, Johansson in an almost-naked bodysuit, and people shooting other people behind a slow-mo revision of a Depeche Mode song from the 80’s.
The GitS movie (the original) is about a future in which cybernetics have become commonplace and almost necessary in order to keep up with society. It’s about a government police force applied to special situations like terrorism and kidnapping. It was about a high-tech future that was just a little beyond our current and relatively low-tech present, such that the two can exist side by side without someone bringing up the dichotomy in a “gee whiz” fashion every ten minutes. There was a lot of shooting, a lot of explosions, and a lot of action.
But it wasn’t an action movie. It was a philosophical movie. It seems trite in text, but it dealt with the concepts of humanity in a world dependent on technology, especially when the dependence revolves around the idea of consciousness — the “ghost” — inhabiting a technological construct — the “shell” — and without the traditionally human biology, is a consciousness actually a living thing. The anime movie favored the philosophy when it came to the presentation, the cinematography, and the soundtrack. It plays more like an arthouse film than a traditionally Western action movie with all of its explosions, soaring orchestra, and witty one-liners. The movie is designed to haunt viewers visually, audibly, and mentally.
Although the trailer isn’t a full-length movie, the trailer gave me the same impressions. A scene doesn’t have to make sense at the time. It doesn’t need to beat us over the head with symbolism. Symbolism can be made clear in context, but directors often overdo it on the context because a lot of audiences can’t be assumed to “get” subtlety. GitS has always presented the plot almost entirely from the point of view of the character’s reality without dropping hints here and there about what X means or how Y is relevant to the plot. These characters inhabit a world unlike our own, and they don’t have time to wink and nod and explain how it’s different. They’ll leave that to you to suss out as you go, and if you don’t get it all the first time, watch it again. And again. And again. When you finally put the pieces together, the only thing you can do is sit back and think, “damn”.
The trailer did leave a few questions, though. For example, the sum of the scenes in the movie suggest that this is not a re-telling of the original animated movie. There’re several scenes in the trailer which are obviously from the animated movie — the Major’s swan-dive from the building, her brutal thermoplastic camouflaged uppercut to the thug in the slums, her and Batou on a boat — but there are also scenes which appear to be very similar to scenes from the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (GitS: SAC) and the GitS: SAC Second Gig series, such as the tea-room of dignitaries and robotic geisha assassins.
The one thing that the trailer implies, but which neither the movie nor the series ever really focused on, was the actual origin story of Major Kusinagi. I think this is one of the IP’s strengths, and I’d be saddened a little if the movie turned out to be mostly an origin story for a single character, mainly because we’re neck-deep in origin stories (thanks, Marvel!), and GitS has always been about more cerebral topics than one person’s inner monologue about where they came from. Plus, the Major’s origins have always been one of the best ongoing mysteries of the franchise. I wouldn’t want to see it answered in 90 minutes when several dozen hours over the course of almost 20 years haven’t bothered to bring that story to the fore. If they were to wipe away that mystery, then any subsequent films (assuming there are any being considered) would be poorer for it.
After posting, I did a little walkabout and collected some additional information from around the web (actually from the fact that GitS is trending on Facebook) and have a few other things I want to add to this post.
First, there’s this:
This is a press recorded screengrab of a video presentation made during a concert featuring the title music from the original anime. The video itself is a live-action/CGI rendition of the intro to the anime. If you compare this to the official trailer, you see the same shot where the synthetic shell flies apart from the Major’s newly formed cybernetic body, leading us to believe that this sequence will actually be in the movie.
Yahoo was kind enough to enumerate “What is Ghost in the Shell? 47 things we learned from set“. I won’t rehash all 47, except to say that the article confirms that this is not a remake of the anime movie, but combines scenes from the movie and the Stand Alone Complex series…specifically 2nd Gig. The main antagonist of the new movie is ID’d as Kuze, who was the antagonist from that season of the series. 2nd Gig focused on a refugee crisis and the terrorist organization the Individual Eleven, so it looks like the movie might be following that storyline very closely.
In addition, 2nd Gig was the series that came closest to providing the Major with a backstory in the episode Kusingai’s Labyrinth.
The party opted to spend the night in the forest. They had just witnessed someone — suspected to be Galin the village warden — awaiting a rendezvous with what could possibly be a dragon, only to leave disappointed when no one showed up. Hedging their bets that a meeting might still happen, the party split into two groups and camped in the dark recesses of the massive trees of the Misty Forest.
Daybreak. No unusual activity that night, except for the incessant hooting of an owl somewhere in the boughs of the trees. Making their way back into the village, the party took Galin aside and violently confronted him about his nocturnal activities. Despite trying to keep a low profile away from the preparing throng of villagers, Galin’s bird Kalthan became agitated and drew the attention of those nearby. Galin refused to admit to any wrongdoing until the ranger made mention of his wife, whom the warden had seen killed right before him during the cult raid. He then told of how he begged the dragon-rider for his life in that moment of weakness, promising anything to be spared. The rider tasked Galin with providing information on other villages, and then the cult departed as quickly and mysteriously as it had arrived. The warlock of the party seemed intent on ensuring that Galin suffered for his betrayal, but Galin gave them one more bit of information: Kalthan had been enchanted by the rider to carry a message between them whenever Galin wanted to meet. He didn’t know where the raven went when he flew, but he always flew towards the southeast.
As the villagers departed their ruined home, the party set out to the southeast, accompanied by the raven. Galin gave them the code word that would send him off, in case they needed the assurance that they were headed in the right direction.
After a few hours in the woods, the party heard a sudden crack and a call for help. They found an elven elder who had become pinned beneath a massive tree-trunk, and was calling for the party to assisst her. As the group got into position to heft the trunk, the tree moved on its own, freeing the elf who stood up and brushed herself off. She thanked the party and congratualted them on being kind souls, and offered them each a garland of flowers. Everyone took one, except for the warlock, but the woman didn’t push the issue before she transformed into an owl and flew off into the woods. The ranger cast Detect Magic on the wreaths and found that they contained a blessing of bravery.
At dusk, the warlock stumbled through the woods and suddenly felt something on his face. Upon investigation, he could find nothing there to remove. Then the same thing happened to the ranger, and then to other members of the party. Calling for an immediate halt, the ranger lit a torch and raised it high. As he did so, small tendrils of fire curled away from the flame as if something was set alight. Spiderwebs.
The warlock pulled no punches, and launched a fireball into the forest canopy. The flaming missile seared through a thick net of webbing, and the sounds of canopy inhabitants could be heard from all around. The party quickly found themselves surrounded by several giant spiders and their ettercap keepers, although the forest creatures weren’t much of a match for the group in the end.
+ + +
This was an interesting session. The party seemed to have a whole lot of options in front of them. Originally they wanted to stay in the woods to see if the dragon would show up, then they wanted to use the raven to summon the dragon to the meeting spot where it could be ambushed, but in the end, they opted to track the dragon to its lair — hopefully — using the raven as a compass.
I think it’s fairly obvious how the module plays out, since the party ran into the druid, and that the encounter with the spiders was on deck and waiting for the players as they march through the forest. Of course, (META-ALERT!) using the raven to lure the dragon and its rider to the forest clearing would have worked…it would have possibly shortened the chapter significantly, but where’s the fun in that.
The Family was down at Lowes this weekend because we’re finally getting around to using the spare room upstairs, and by “using the spare room” I mean “remembering it exists and we really should clean it out and paint it and use it for something other than a random item graveyard.” The use in question: crafting room. My daughter is slowly (oh so slowly) getting her feet wet with cosplay and is looking for a permanent place for the sewing machine. My wife has a bunch of random craft things — jewelry making, Cricut paper cutting, et al. — which is ensconced in the basement, but I’m in the basement trying to realize my vision of turning it into a home theater, and last time I looked there was no “crafting nook” at the local cineplex. So the crafting stuff is going upstairs, once the spare room has been cleaned and painted. Hence the trip to Lowes; for paint.
While there, I snuck over to the lightbulb section because its time to come clean: I’m newly obsessed with LED bulbs. Now that they’ve come down in price I can seriously start looking at them. We have two outside the front door, and they burn like the noonday sun. I like it, but I think the neighbors object. Anyway, while ogling the bulbs, I noticed something called the OSRAM Lightify Smart Home RGBW Lighting Strips.
We’ve had a problem since we moved into this house: we’re the second owners, and the first owners who had it built cheaped out on pretty much everything. The owner fancied himself a handyman, and he finished the basement himself, added a three season porch on top of the raised porch (without drywalling, adding electrical, or staining the porch first), and started a fourth basement in the basement before they had to beat cheeks and find another home for some reason. Much to our chagrin, the kitchen has some really crappy lighting, especially around the counter area. The best case scenario would be to get some cannister lights installed in the ceiling, but I value my life and wouldn’t dare try such a feat myself, and we’re not financially flush enough to hire someone to do it. Seeing this lighting strip, however, ticked two boxes for me. One, they would work great under the cabinets and over the counter, and two…home automation!
See, back in our previous house, I wired the place up with X10 gear. And I mean wired: I replaced the light switches and power sockets with addressable X10 switches and power sockets, and I ran a server in the basement that I could access remotely (this was before smartphones, so be more impressed). This was great because I could turn the outside lights on if we’d forgotten to do so and weren’t home at night, and could turn the Christmas tree on and off before getting out of or after getting into bed. I felt like a god with the power over electricity in my house, although this was the era of X10 which, if you were alive and Internet-enabled back then, you remember as being some of the first and most prevalent ads ever to rock a popover browser window. The remote control was a square box with a lot of ungainly buttons, but it worked, and after many years without it in this house, I missed it.
The RGBW lights worked like a champ. They’re nice and bright, and a single strip is long enough to cover one stretch of the counter where we do the most work. There was a problem, though: the set we bought wasn’t enough to use the “home automation” aspect of the
toy tool. For that, we needed another piece of gear, the Hub.
This afternoon I snagged the hub-and-bulb kit because it was only $10 more than the hub alone, and a single bulb was actually $14. I raced home and plugged the hub into a wall socket — any wall socket — and downloaded the smartphone app to get the party started.
This would actually turn out to be a party thrown by someone who’d never seen a party. First, the app wanted me to scan the QR code on the back of the hub because that registered the serial number of the device. Then I had to make an account. I got an error, but the account went through. I had to switch my phone’s network to the private network of the hub, and then use my phone as a handshake between the hub and my home network (“hub, this is network, network, this is hub”). This took a few tries because I have a wifi extender that I have apparently forgotten the password for, and then the hub and the network wouldn’t talk once I got the right wifi SSID set up. I called the app some bad names, and it decided to cooperate, so chalk one up for foul language.
Next, before I could start lighting things up (literally), I had to upgrade the firmware on both the hub and the light strip. The strip itself has a small wifi receiver, but it’s invisible to everything except the official Lightify hub, and the hub said everyone needed some new clothes. Another nightmare involving a phone reboot, more harsh language, and some time spent on the Xbox later, I managed to get everything registered and ready to go.
Where did this go, exactly, you might ask. Well, the light strip doesn’t have a switch. That’s OK because the point of this system is that it’s entirely modular. They sell switches that you can stick anywhere, so I could get a dedicated switch and put it next to the stove, for example, and control these lights. Right now, though, I can only turn the lights on and off from the smartphone. Not ideal, but not a deal breaker either. Although it’s not really useful for the kitchen, this lighting strip can modulate it’s color through the app. There’re several different built-in lighting schemes I can apply automatically, which got me thinking…but I’ll cover that later. The strip is dimmable, and when I turn it off it doesn’t just snap off; it dims itself to darkness. Pretty sexy! I can also set schedules, so I set the counter light to turn on at 5PM and turn off at 10PM, just in case we need it. It’s a small-watt user, so I don’t anticipate it being a massive energy hog.
The bulb ended up in a lamp in the basement, because why not? This also needed a firmware update, but is only dimmable and does not change color, although there are bulbs in this series that do.
Overall, I give the idea an A+. The construction of the equipment also gets an A+. The software on the smartphone gets a resounding D because it’s a piece of crap. The fact that I got it working at all saved it from an F-. The good news is that these satellite items aren’t proprietary, and there are other “hubs” that I could get that would work just as well, and even better if the apps to control them are better.
So, thinking about it at work today, I realized that now that I have this hammer of home automation lighting, everything in the house looks like a nail. I have Big Plans to work in the home theater area in the basement, and these strip lights are the perfect low-light, walkway style runner lights you see in more professional theaters. That they dim is a massive plus, as we can “dim the house lights” before the movies start. If I were into overkill, I could get the RGBW bulbs and put them around the house and when we have, say, a Christmas party, I could change things up to red and green and probably destroy retinas as a result. Maybe not such a good idea. But I could!
I had originally planned to stream from 8am until 8pm on November 5th, but switched it up at nearly the last minute to end at 6pm. The reason was because I had decided to feature a raffle, where a minimum of a $5 donation would put a person in the running for a $20 Steam Gift Card. I wanted to be regular with this, so every two hours seemed fine by me, meaning that with $100 to give away, every two hours would see me ending the stream at 6PM. Maths!
I started out with Guild Wars 2, because why not? I hadn’t played in quite a while, it’s a beautiful game, and I had Stuff to Do. I ended up getting all the way through the latest Living Story (well, the new story introduced by Heart of Thorns) up until I had to fight Mordremoth the Flower Dragon. I managed to plow through the epic battle but was irrevocably killed about 90% of the way through. In its infinite wisdom, the system sent me back to the start of the fight, which I didn’t have the stomach to restart. I’d been at GW2 for almost the full two hours before the first raffle and needed to move on to something else.
Originally I’d planned on sticking with Master of Orion, but I also had plans to jump into The Division with friends, so my MOO time didn’t last too long. With the help of others, I was finally able to complete my HQ in The Division. We did some of the daily Underground missions, and then it was off to something else.
I decided to mix things up by firing up the old Xbox Streaming Service and drove around in Forza Horizon 3 for a while. I like this game for some reason. I didn’t really take to FH2, Drive Club or The Crew, but I like FH3 for some reason. I bought a car. I won and lost some races. I expanded my festival. But then it was off to something else else.
I believe that something else was The Secret World. I’d been preparing for this one because I had the infamous “The Black House” mission on deck. For some reason, the spoken audio wasn’t working, so I wasn’t able to get all the preamble that would have fleshed out the story. Sadly, the mission wasn’t as horrifying as I’d remembered, with the thought of the terror being more terrifying than the actual terror. I then went off into the forest to tackle the infamous League of Monster Slayers mission but got overwhelmed by the Ak’ab that inhabit those woods.
I gave away four of the five Steam Cards that I had because, well, I only got four people who donated (four people who would put a Steam Card to use, really). My participation rate was really, really low. I’m thankful for those who tuned in, and those who donated; I raised $395 this year, and might continue to ping family members for the remainder of 2016 to help reach my goal of $500.
I had hoped that the raffle would be enticing enough to get people to at least peek in and see what’s going on, but I apparently misjudged my personal reach among gamers. I guess I don’t have the kind of support other folks do for this kind of thing, but it’s of no consequence in this case. $395 is nothing to sneeze at, and I’m thankful for those who participated this year.
Despite not being a multiplayer shooter aficionado, I really enjoyed Titanfall. It has the mix of infantry and mechs, and even if you’re not good at shooting at other players, you can contribute to the overall score by taking out the NPC enemies.
Titanfall didn’t seem to really last, though. I know it had a steep incline shortly after launch, and then seemed to nose-dive at least in terms of how much people were talking about it (in my circle, which admittedly isn’t a good bellwether for how multiplayer shooters are doing). I heard there was a lot of cheating and hacking which drove a lot of folks from the game, and when your game is nothing but multiplayer, getting a reputation for being the refuge of pathetic children who need to cheat to feel good about themselves is certainly not going to do your franchise any favors.
I knew I’d pick up Titanfall 2 (Xbox One) mainly because it now has a single player campaign. You get to play a pilot who has a Titan gifted to him when your mentor dies in combat, turning the game into a kind of weird buddy movie that plays out more like Short Circuit than Lethal Weapon. Your first task is to escape an area infested with…I’m not exactly sure what the relationship is. I think you might be the spacefaring faction, and the enemies might be the local rebels you’re sent to deal with? Your side seems to have it’s act together in terms of rank and appearance, and your enemies tend to be more loose cannons and eclectic in appearance, which is usually video game industry shorthand allowing you to tell friend from foe. But for the intro, you are separated from your Titan and have to rendezvous with it on the other side of the facility you’re stuck in.
If you’ve played TF1, then you’ll know the drill for the most part. You have two weapons and some grenades. You get a jump-pack that allows you to perform a double-jump. And there’s the wall-running. Wall-running gets my vote for the most overused but stupid mechanic in a video game (long form). Naturally, when a developer believes they have a Good Thing in a mechanic — aka the hammer — they have to use it all the damn time — aka the nail. Sometimes it makes sense, but other times it’s a mechanic that dictates the map layout, and it shows when there’s only one way through an area, and that’s to bounce between several walls like a spastic rubber ball.
Of course, I generally despise platformers, which is what this wall-running crap makes Titanfall in the end, but that’s all forgiven once you get back to the Titan, because there’s really nothing like being all squishy and getting shot at only to round the corner and see your mech waiting to scoop you into its innards. When the doors close and the HUD activates, now it’s time to bring the hammer down on those peons. Hyperbole aside, the squishy game plays out more or less like any FPS (albeit with wall-running), but the addition of the mech combat changes things up here and there. You have shields that collect bullets and fire them back or missiles that lock onto multiple targets like some kind of Iron Man ass-kickery. Fighting another Titan is usually the frosting on the cupcake because it’s more of a duel than just a series of pre-corpses like what you have to deal with in the FPS portion.
I’ve not ventured into the multiplayer aspect of TF2, and I’m not sure I will. I know other people just jumped into multiplayer after install and are leaving the campaign until later, and that’s probably the way to go because by the time I get around to being ready for multiplayer, either everyone will have left, or everyone will be so good that I won’t even be able to get out the door of the dropship. That’s OK, though, because I’ve got the single player campaign to tide me over, and I’m enjoying it, even if it does stress me out.