100% at Jurassic World: Evolution

Well, I did it. Spurred on by my excitement over the announcement of Jurassic World Evolution 2, I returned to the original game and spent a couple weeks in the Challenge mode. And last week, I finally unlocked 100% of the Steam Achievements for the game. In so doing, I now have a total of 263 hours logged in the game, beating out by three hours my second-most-played game via Steam, The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (which still takes the lead in overall playtime, given the hours I’ve logged in Xbox and CD-ROM versions of that very special RPG).

The wild thing is that the 100% doesn’t even represent a true completion or unlocking of all content in the game. Technically, to do that, I’d have to at least play every Challenge map on Jurassic difficulty (the highest difficulty in the game) to unlock every last dinosaur skin. But I only had to play one map on Jurassic difficulty, and even if I’d kept under the suggested par time, it would have still been an excruciating and tedious hours-long experience. Racing to build and maintain a park as extortionate fees continue to rise and veritable epidemics rapidly hop between dinosaurs in between, and sometimes during, repeated Storms of the Century is challenging once but becomes increasingly stressful, boring, and mechanistic on repeat.

That all said, I got dozens of hours of enjoyable time with the game, especially on the time-challenge achievements requiring at least Medium or Hard difficulty. (If you’re going for the time challenges, I’d recommend using the Jurassic Park economy, which is simpler and is typically expected to reach 5 stars in less time than the comparable Jurassic World economy on the same island and same difficulty.) The Hard setting in particular felt like a fair and fun challenge, and I got sort of good at building parks in that mode by the end. I imagine the same could happen with Jurassic difficulty, as I continued to learn from mistakes and improve efficiencies, shearing off time in each play-through, but the herculean effort and enormous time commitment strongly discourage any further engagement from me.

That all said, I think it’s safe to say that I thoroughly got my money’s worth with this game.

Now bring on the sequel!

Two Apocalypses

I think I’ve demonstrated by now that I have great fondness for animation, and I tend to prefer an optimistic and positive outlook in fiction. As such, it should come as no surprise that I rather enjoyed The Mitchells vs. The Machines. Despite ostensibly being a family-friendly movie about a robot apocalypse, it’s really an action comedy that at its heart is about a somewhat dysfunctional nuclear family finding ways to practice empathy to understand each other better and repair the faults in their relationships. The animation was fantastic, the art style had a lot of quirky flair, the voice acting was top-notch (though the younger brother was very distractingly voiced as Not A Child), the writing was sparkling with humor, there were some tremendously silly-yet-epic action sequences, and yet what stuck with me was the family’s struggle to bond and eventual ability to reconnect as the oldest daughter prepares to leave the home for college.

I could perhaps force myself to write a larger review of The Mitchells vs. The Machines. And I had originally planned to do so. But I write enough reviews already for a personal blog. What I found more interesting was what this movie says about me and my values, especially in contrast to the even-more-recently-released Army of the Dead. The latter film, a Zack Snyder feature, is nihilistic and amoral, unconcerned with presenting a clear message. The characters are broad tropes, entertaining at first but just blank enough that it is unsurprising when they die off one by one. Snyder ends his film by allowing two characters to survive–one sure to die but perhaps only after setting off yet another zombie outbreak. The film delights in stylized violence and gore, in big sweeping frames of zombie hordes rallying to battle, and I suppose I should expect as much and nothing more from a Snyder flick (although I’m one of those true believers in the artistry of Snyder’s directorial vision in his DC superhero movies, despite my reservations about that dubious distinction).

It is probably not very surprising to those who know me or have otherwise read this blog for a while that I am really disturbed by depictions of gore or prolonged physical torment. I don’t have the stomach for it. So zombie movies are usually outside of what I’ll watch. There are exceptions, just as there are exceptions to my general avoidance of the horror genre as a whole. I’d made the poor decision to make an exception for Army of the Dead just because of Snyder’s association with the project, coupled with the trailers that suggested this might be a little bit of a winking farce. I was clearly very mistaken, but I stuck the movie out, despite its bloated length for something that boils down to a story about a team of mercenaries fighting their way into a zombie-infested Las Vegas for a big score of abandoned loot and then failing to fight their way out.

What I want to emphasize, though, is that it wasn’t the gore that turned me off to this movie. That would be an easy, and wrong, assumption to make. No, it’s not as simple as Eric Can’t Handle Scary Gross Things. Rather, it’s the emptiness at the heart of the film. They’re fighting and dying for money, dealing with repeated betrayals, in the final moments before a nuclear strike makes the zombie threat irrelevant–or, you know, it would have become irrelevant if not for their fucked-up heist attempt and resultant infected survivor. The characters have no larger goals to fight for. Found family tropes are used sparingly, presumably in an attempt to make you care about the doomed team’s fates, and you could argue that this is a movie about a father reconnecting with his daughter–but if so, that fails too. The father and daughter don’t reconnect. The father dies saving the daughter, who was only at risk, at the end of the day, because her father got her involved in the first place. I refuse to accept that the daughter’s grief over losing her father–and having to put his zombified form down–represents a healing of the relationship. There is no relationship. The father failed to fix that relationship, only managed to even understand how he had screwed up their relationship toward the very end, barely managed to save the daughter but saddled her with a lot more trauma, and doomed everyone else on the team.

That’s a much darker, more depressing version of the apocalypse than a movie in which the tropes of apocalypse are used to metaphorically represent the fracturing and healing of family bonds as children mature and leave the home. And that movie about family, hell, it has an actual theme, an actual message, something to think on afterward. Something more than we can all be assholes or the desire for wealth makes us make bad choices or people can die at any time as life is unfair or some other tired trope requiring no deeper examination.

I don’t need happy endings or family-friendly ratings to appease me, though. The first two Alien movies rank high among my favorite sci-fi movies, despite their thematic (and literal) darkness, violence, and gore. Yes, they’re well-crafted movies with great special effects, distinctive settings, and actors that manage to sell the sheer horror and despair of the situation. But they’re also about scrappy, normal humans fighting for something bigger than themselves. In the first film, the team of blue-collar workers tries to clear out the xenomorph to keep each other alive. Sure, only Ripley makes it out, but not for lack of trying–and she even makes a point of returning for the cat! Then, in Aliens, she’s willing to join an expedition back to the planet that doomed her crew because she wants to ensure that any remaining threat is eliminated. And even despite her trauma and loss, she fights to save who she can. The suggestion of a found family in Newt, Hicks, and Bishop gives the movie some heart even amongst all the death. On the flip side, it’s one of two reasons that I’ve never been a fan of Alien 3. First, Ripley once again loses everyone she cares about in the opening moments of the movie. Second, she dies not fighting for someone but only against the threat of the xenomorph queen in her that would have killed her anyway (not to mention that even this sacrifice is undone in yet another sequel with Alien Resurrection).

Look, I get it. There are evil people who do evil things in the world. And many more people often make selfish, self-serving, amoral choices. And good does not always triumph over evil; evil often wins. Evil still wins day to day, in oppressive and corrupt systems of governance and in small-minded bigotry and in interpersonal hostility and in petty crime. But I try to act on my principles, and I like to look to people who made a difference by acting on their principles, and while I make many mistakes I still have something I strive for. I get that the world can be a dark place, and I don’t think it’s wrong that there is art, dumb and smart, that is dark and nihilistic. But nihilism repulses me, and even in darkness I look for light, I look for principles and guiding purpose, I look for what people are fighting for and not just the odds they’re fighting against. I’m uncomfortable with settling for meaninglessness. Maybe some people, maybe many people, think that reflects a naivete on my part. Maybe that’s what it really does mean. But I will still always favor stories that have heart, that have purpose, that aren’t just showcases of loss and suffering.

To be clear, I’m not trying to snipe at the horror genre as a whole. But Army of the Dead–which really isn’t a horror film, despite the use of zombies–uniquely highlighted the unsettling hollowness I find when pop art portrays atrocities for their own sake. Most fiction has some level of escapism baked in, anyhow. Please don’t begrudge me how I choose to escape.

Feathers and Parks!

I didn’t really intend another Jurassic Park-related post so soon, but some cool stuff has been revealed in the last week and I’m excited over it!

First up, we saw via Colin Trevorrow on Twitter that feathered dinosaurs are finally appearing in a Jurassic Park film! Literally decades overdue, but I’ll take it.

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Then, we got the news I’m actually most excited about: the announcement of Jurassic World Evolution 2! New biomes, more dinosaurs, and it looks like pterosaurs and the mosasaur will be included right out the gate! And that Chaos Theory mode reminds me of some of the Operation Genesis missions and has me itching for more information.

I can’t wait until I know more about what the Evolution sequel will be like. And yeah, it’ll be cool when Dominion finally comes out next year. And I have to imagine more Camp Cretaceous is just on the horizon as well. It’s a pretty great time to be a fan of this franchise…

Ring Fit Update

At the start of March, I got sick for like a week, and a week off from Ring Fit Adventure signaled the start of a lot more sporadic use. When I got back to the game, I also hit somewhat of a plateau with an abdominal fitness gym in the New Game Plus that I was not quite prepared for. It’s weird to dial back on something when the way to overcome the obstacle is to keep practicing, but it’s what happened. I’ve diverted from Adventure mode, using the Custom mode to try to work on improving my weak areas, but I’m just not playing as much now without the steady narrative progression. I’m still typically getting in two or three sessions a week, and I’m trying to be more active in other ways in my life, but it feels weird to not have Ring Fit Adventure as an everyday thing anymore, at least for the moment.

In some ways, stepping back a little was probably healthy. It’s definitely true that the extra exercise every day was good for me, but it often came at the cost of cramming in activity, with even more screen time, at the very end of a busy day. I tried to hop into the game by 8 PM, but there were many nights where I’d be working late and end up finally carving out time for a 15- or 20-minute session at 10 or so at night. Now, if I’m running later with work, I’ve tried to prioritize getting a good night’s sleep. But it’s certainly the case that several nights, I’ve just made a series of lazy choices.

This doesn’t lessen my opinion of Ring Fit Adventure at all, by the way. I am, after all, still using it. And it prompted me to start being more active in general, often in little ways, even when I’m not playing it. Plus, it had me going back to it daily for several months, which is worth a recommendation by itself, I’d think.

I’ve also introduced another effort to have a little healthier lifestyle by subscribing to Noom. I’m not a huge fan of everything–the coaching aspect and the group component, even while elements that can be kept to a minimum, just aren’t my cup of tea. But it does provide a lot of helpful ways to think about what I’m eating and how to live a healthier life, and the in-app encouragement and reminders, coupled with a one-stop source for step-tracking, calorie-counting, and daily weight-recording, have really helped me to make better choices AND to reflect on how far I’ve come. So far, I’m actually losing weight, more or less in line with my goals, so it seems to be working well enough.

Between Ring Fit Adventure and Noom, I may have inadvertently stumbled on a combination of diet, lifestyle changes, and fitness that works for me. We’ll see how it goes long-term, but I’m happy with where things are at.

Eliminating Illithids

Just finished the Captured by Mind Flayers quest in Baldur’s Gate II. That was hell. So many tries to get through that. The room right before you get to the area that leads to the Master Brain was the worst. Just a lot of Illithids. A lot. The worst. I had to step away from the game a little bit, but I found if I’m persistent, and take a week or so off if I get too frustrated, I’m eventually able to get through anywhere in these games. After that fight, the penultimate fight against a small room of mind flayers and the final Master Brain fight were far easier in comparison.

BG II is really fun when it’s focused on plot, characters, NPC dialogue interactions, puzzles, and so on. But the combat can range from a laughable breeze to INCREDIBLY FRUSTRATING AND HARD, and it’s hard to predict what each encounter might yield.

Oh well. Old games were like that. Anyway, just wanted to share. I’m glad to put that hellhole behind me.

Pit stop on Ring Fit Adventure

I finally missed a day in Ring Fit Adventure last night. Work’s taken up a lot of my time and mental capacity lately, and I was exhausted by the time I got home. The tendency to get home after dark, which is so easy to do in the winter, doesn’t help with that. My wife and I ordered delivery from our favorite Chinese restaurant and finished off a familiar movie we’d started the night before, and I fell asleep shortly after the end, reclined in an armchair. When I awoke a bit later, I felt too exhausted to even attempt the game, so I went to bed, feeling a bit guilty about skipping.

But I hopped back into the adventure again today, and I was greeted with the same cheery welcome as ever, with an oft-repeated bit of advice reminding me that breaks are important. It was random that I happened to get that advice today, but it felt nice. The guilt dissipated quickly, I had a good workout, and I moved on with my day. No negative vibes from it at all, just a continued positivity. Just what I needed to rebuild my motivation moving forward.

Holiday Special

Happy holidays, everyone! If you’re looking for something different to watch instead of or in addition to the old holiday classics, might I suggest The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special? It’s heartwarming, cheeky, and fun. Its time-traveling shenanigans don’t make a whole lot of sense, but Star Wars, especially its Lego alternate version, doesn’t always make sense. No deeper analysis here; this was a cute little movie appropriate for the whole Star Wars-loving family, and it’s far more watchable than the non-Lego version.

Going Pew-Pew: A Revision

I decided to change the site header a bit. When I first started the blog, I’d run through some jokey names with my wife, including the one we settled on, “Overthinking Things Going Pew-Pew.” I liked the implication that everything I was writing was a little overblown and self-important. I liked what I perceived as somewhat self-aware winking at the idea that I knew I was spending way too much time thinking about pop culture interests.

The thing is that plenty of people are thinking and writing and podcasting and recording video series about many of these same topics! I’m hardly overthinking these things, I’m just part of a vast sea of people obsessing over the pop culture topics they’ve become invested in. At some point, I began to see “overthinking” as something of a humble-brag, though I’d never intended it that way, as though I was indicating I had some special level of insight or devotion. It also seemed more and more dissonant with the types of blog posts I tend to produce, which are often rather light and airy, not over-detailed analyses. There was a time in my life when I did lean toward the latter, mostly before I’d considered blogging at all. I find I don’t have the time or energy (or even the smarts) anymore for those sorts of posts ordinarily, and this blog long settled into me just writing about things I like (or happened to dislike, from time to time).

It also appeared to me that I wasn’t really limited to a narrow focus anymore–if I ever really had been, that is. I write about sci-fi and fantasy sometimes (all too often big IPs like Star Wars or Jurassic Park), but I found over time that my focus was broadening, volatile, hopefully eclectic. I wasn’t “overthinking” any one thing, just mulling over a lot of different subjects. Anything of interest to me eventually gets folded into the site in some form, whether that subject of interest is crime dramas or ufology and cryptozoology or paleontology or Filipino film or whatever else I might be spending time with in a given week. While I’d always intended this to very much so be a personal blog, I’d tried at first to keep somewhat of a narrow topical lens, but over time, I couldn’t help but have the site reflect who I am as a person: someone with a breadth of interests, rather than someone with particular depths of unique focus. As I’ve come to recognize that shift, I’ve allowed more and more of my interests to leak in, and I expect that the site will become even more varied as I continue this process of relaxation into self here. (If there’s something I want to try to incorporate more than anything else in 2021, it’d be dabbling in some of the fiction I’ve suggested on this site for a while now.)

Another thing that bugged me about the name of the blog was that it was just a bit too long. There was a reason I’d settled on goingpewpew.com as the site URL. It would be nice to have a punchier name. To say “pew pew” is common onomatopoeia. Kids might use it when playing make-believe with their toys. Adults might use the same phrase in an attempt to do the same thing, if with a bit of acknowledgement of their childishness. My wife’s always been a fan of that component of the title. When I considered changing things up, she took the opportunity to point out that the common core phrase worked just fine.

So here I am: “Going Pew-Pew.” It’s enough. It reflects what I hope is often a whimsical, childlike (or childish) engagement with the stories and ideas that I’m most interested in. That’s what I think the site’s become, and it’s how I hope it will stay.

With the change of the title, I felt the subtitle needed a refresh. “Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Video Games, and Other Miscellany” felt a bit clunky, simultaneously too much and too little. I figured I’d instead grab two of the things that draw me most: spaceships and dinosaurs. The rest could all get swept up in that miscellaneous category.

All that said, welcome to the newly renamed “Going Pew-Pew: Spaceships, Dinosaurs, and Other Miscellany.”