15 March 2014

Stars, They’re Just Like Us

Some weeks just align themselves into themes don’t they? On Sunday I watched Rust Cohle stare into a space abyss and then a few days later I stayed up all night zipping from star to star myself, feeling just as empty. Out There is a new iOS game that casts you as a lonely engineer lost in the universe, freshly woken from cryogenic sleep and desperate to return home. The only way to get back to Earth is to visit nearby galaxies and then pillage the stars and planets for fuel, oxygen, and iron for your ship’s delicate hull. The challenge is that you’re always short on everything because your ship can only carry so many supplies. Also, Out There is a roguelike, meaning once you die, it’s over and you have to start from the beginning. “Roguelike” is basically the geek term for “infinitely frustrating."

I haven’t felt like crying in awhile but when my ship randomly teleported into a double black hole system with no way out, my insides collapsed as I faced an inescapable fate. Even with my wormhole generator equipped, there was no escape. This craptastic moment happened just a few minutes after I discovered the Faberge egg of spaceships, one that housed an Avatar-like tree inside constantly pumping out sweet breathable air. I was so so so happy when I found that abandoned ship too. (I even Memorexed the moment.) Needless to say, I hit restart and dove right back in there for another incredible journey.

Out There is getting rave reviews, it’s got beautiful art, and while a bit of the magic has worn off after multiple dead ends and some challenging/unfair turns of luck, I don’t hesitate to recommend it. Also, the cycle of dead ends and constant losing -- I haven't made it to any of the story endings yet [Update: Finally, got one!] -- put me into a contemplative mood and I starting seeing Out There as analagous to real life, and thought that maybe the point was to teach players some lessons about true grit. But maybe that's getting caught up a little too deeply into it.
I was fully onboard for the run of True Detective, and in typically annoying fashion, pushed it on everyone around me. The ending was disappointing but the experience was totally worth it. (Hey, just like life!) I needed more Matthew McConaughey in my life after the finale and queued up Killer Joe, one of the first movies in the McConaissance. That film is definitely not for everybody but McConaughey is very good as a charming cop turned assassin. It occurred to me that I’d never seen Dazed and Confused, so I should rectify that soon, if only to be a Linklater completist. Plus, it’s a classic or whatever.

Also, Cary Fukunaga! I don’t know how any human doesn’t have a crush on this guy. Aside from being an extremely talented director, he looks like half-Asian Clark Kent / Johnny Depp, plus he used to be a pro snowboarder. Hearts, hearts, everywhere. Forget Googling True Detective theories and wrap ups, go watch his Jane Eyre starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender.
And then there’s the new Cosmos television thing, exec produced by the detestable Seth MacFarlane. I’ve only seen a few episodes of the original but I don’t think anyone can top Carl Sagan, even Neil deGrasse Tyson. My plug is to go straight to the 1980 Cosmos book, which apparently spent fifty weeks on the best sellers list when it came out. During my first foray living in New York, Cosmos was my go-to subway read. Dense enough to be worth carrying around, captivatingly written, perfect for stopping and starting. All that stuff about white dwarves and quasars just makes travel time fly by.

And if Cosmos has too many words for you, try out Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ space opera graphic novel, Saga Vol.1. I’d been reading fawning reviews of Saga forever before finally picked it up recently. It's described as Romeo and Juliet plus Star Wars with Game of Thrones and that's just about right. Note: For story writers out there, Saga is like a master class in cliffhangers. Vaughan does some incredible things with his last pages. Volume three of Saga drops in a few weeks and I've already got it in pre-order even as I mourn how fast I'll blow through it.

Also, playing Out There made me remember how much time I used to spend on Spaceward Ho! It’s a similarly themed game from the early Nineties, and apparently out now for iPad. Is it too late for me to become an astronaut?