Monthly Media: August

Every few months, I will be sharing some of the media that has been inspiring me and fueling my own creative energy.

Out Of The Silent Planet

It’s rare enough to find early 20th century science fiction which manages to hold up in the present day as anything but a nostalgic time capsule – but it’s rarer still to find a novel that not only holds up, but is also both entertaining and timely.

Perhaps it’s a testament to the folly of our species, but the moral scopes of C.S. Lewis’ “Out of the Silent Planet,” published in 1938, feel eerily relevant today. Its characters grapple with concepts colonialism, imperialism, racism (well, species-ism – but Lewis’ intentions are clear) and even concepts like “the white man’s burden.” C.S. Lewis proves himself to be alarmingly woke for his time, and his prosaic style is, as well all know, understatedly quite funny and also mechanically beautiful.

Having been written in 1938, Lewis’ depiction of space travel is both way off and strikingly accurate all at once. When reading early 20th century science fiction, it’s important to put away all expectations of “realism” and just enjoy the ride and appreciate the vision of the era.

It tastes good, too.

What’s more interesting still than Lewis’ vision of space travel is his vision of what Mars might look like. Lewis’ vision of Mars – a complex ecosystem consisting of an artificial, habitable Valles Marinares and a once-hospitable, now uninhabitable surface – is not an original vision, but rather an impression of Mars which was quite mainstream during his time, before we were able to draw more information about the planet or plant a rover on its surface.

The book is a refreshing and timely piece from a bygone era – and I highly recommend it. If you enjoy it, it’s the first in a trilogy, which I will be taking up following this post!

Carrion

Few games can make me feel awful about winning, but Carrion was one of them. Carrion is a reverse-horror game in which you are in control of the monster – and what an absolutely horrifying, disgusting monster it is.

Right out of the Main Menu, you might infer that this game is going to be disgusting.

Carrion is what at first appears to be an action-horror game, in which the roles are reversed and you are the monster. And while this is all true, the game turns out to be more of an atmospheric puzzle-platformer, in which the atmosphere is one of dragging screaming, sobbing scientists by their ankles to be engulfed by your shapeless hulk of quivering, dripping flesh.

The game borrows liberally from John Carpenter’s The Thing, and without shame – and I was absolutely fine with this. In fact, the developers came up with so many new and novel mutations for the monster (which you collect along your way by rupturing test-tubes), that I eventually found myself hoping for a Carrion movie.

F to pay respects

The game gracefully straddles the fine line of being both challenging and also letting you feel like an unstoppable monster, and it is lovingly rendered in beautiful pixel graphics with incredible scenery.

It’s short, it’s disgusting, it’s fun and it’s challenging – and if you’re like me, who appreciates a short-winded game that you can finish without sinking hundreds of hours into – then this is for you.

Sputnik

I went into Sputnik having been told that it was an Alien ripoff – and nothing could have been further from the truth.

While Sputnik definitely borrows quite a bit from Alien, it is a fundamentally different movie, exploring much more deeply the visceral relationship between a host and its parasite.

Sputnik also offers a much more emotional, close-to-home context than Alien, delving into its main characters’ backstories, their families, their childhoods, and their motives much more than a film like Alien – which leaves all of these elements unaddressed. Don’t get me wrong – I love this aspect of Alien – but Sputnik manages to round out its two main characters in an unforced and interesting way.

Sputnik takes place almost entirely on Earth, in 1983 during the Cold War. It has quite a bit to say about medical ethics, military ethics, the Soviet Union, parenthood and sacrifice – all without being explicit about it. The movie doesn’t foist any messages on its audience – it simply puts a number of interesting characters in a difficult situation and lets the results pan out. Nobody is really good or bad – and even the movie’s antagonist is understandable.

It’s also interesting to see a movie about the Soviet Union by a Russian director – so often, our cinematic interaction with the Soviets is in movies or video games produced here, in the West, with the Soviets existing as an ambient, ever-present adversary that we are nostalgically fond of. In Sputnik, the Soviet Union and the military are certainly not good guys, but they are not being made villains by Western directors.

Aesthetically, the film excels. The coloration, the sets, the atmosphere and the actors are all top-tier, and apparently the movie was pretty low-budget, so this is a great achievement.

My only complaints with Sputnik are that the segments covering the scientific analysis and study of the creature take place quite quickly, almost in montage – I believe with another 30 minutes of reel time, the movie could have really benefited from making the jumps in understanding of the creature more genuine and believable.

Deep Rock Galactic

I am a slow gamer. I love long, gradual, interpretive, games: cinematic, story-based, single player experiences with deep world building, lots of reading, and procedural pacing.

Deep Rock Galactic is absolutely none of these things. It is a breakneck, tactical FPS in which you are one of four Dwarves, inserted kilometers beneath the crust of an alien planet, to do exactly what Dwarves do: dig and fight. You must meet your objectives and extract – while enduring hoards of screaming, acid spitting six-legged creatures known as Glyphids.

For Rock and Stone.

DRG is fully co-operative and has four distinct roles: Scout, Gunner, Driller and Engineer. The game shines in that it demands that its team members play their roles – the scout grapples over subterranean chasms and ravines in search of valuable minerals and dangerous threats while the gunner tows the line, blowing hundreds of Glyphids to quivering chunks with their gatling gun. The Driller excavates pathways to difficult locations, clears away obstacles and sets up escape routes while the Engineer deploys point-defenses, plugs up tactically compromising caves and builds platforms to increase mobility.

In order to succeed in DRG’s more challenging environments, players must make full use of their unique abilities, and this is one of the reasons the game shines. Playing in a VOIP with people you know is a must – to survive in hazard levels 4 and 5, tight communications are mandatory – and when your team is separated and dropping off your scanners off one by one as they are ripped limb from limb by the Glyphids, the frantic screaming and cursing over VOIP is truly irreplaceable.

Moreover, this game’s procedural generation is absolutely incredible. The cave systems that this game pumps out are fantastically deep, complicated, believable, and quite scary. Half of this game is navigation, and making sure that when it’s time to extract, you know where you’re going.

The game’s whole atmosphere is spectacular. Before departing for a mission, you can pound beers (in game) for buffs, but too many beers will render your dwarf drunk while on the mission, and you’ll be trying to shoot down glyphids while you have double-vision. Throughout the mission, the dwarves scream profanities, curses, and insults at each other, the Glyphids, and the Glyphids’ hypothetical mothers. The soundtrack is an awesome combination of metal, synthwave, weird gregorian chanting music, and a direct rip-off of the theme from The Thing, which again, I’m not mad about.

Most importantly, this game is hard. It is a true roguelike: even the most well equipped, well trained and well coordinated team can do absolutely everything right and suddenly find themselves absolutely screwed because of a series of unfortunate RNGs, and it’s great.

The game checks a lot of boxes:

  • Killer procedural generation
  • Dwarves in space
  • Hoard based combat
  • Brutal roguelike RNG
  • Role-based cooperation
  • Irrationally satisfying resource collection

Quite frankly, in my 23 years of gaming, I’ve never played anything like it.

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