Alien Covenant poster

I really did not like Prometheus. The characters kept doing stupid things in order to create conflict and tension. The android antagonist seemed to act belligerently with no real reason to do so, and with the audience having no real idea what he was even trying to do. The tie-in to Alien also felt completely unnecessary and [more importantly] unwelcome. Apparently, the writers of Alien: Covenant saw those complaints and decided to double-down on all of them.

Covenant completely lost me as soon as the crew steps off the lander without any sort of environmental suits or helmets.

I could overlook the fact that the crew decides to land on the planet immediately instead of waiting for the storms to pass. Maybe they thought this was a rescue mission and time would be of the essence. Whatever.

I could excuse them for somehow completely missing the ruins of an alien city being within walking distance of the source of the transmission.

I could maybe even excuse the rapid pacing with which the alien gestates after being implanted by the facehugger, and how fast the alien grows. In the original movie, the facehugger was on the guy's face for like a whole day, then the chestburster doesn't pop out till the next day, and then it takes about another whole day for the xenomorph to grow to maturity. In Covenant, the whole process takes a matter of minutes or hours.

I could overlook all that stuff in a cleverer movie. But setting foot on an unknown alien world without even bothering to protect yourself from potential contaminants, and then setting the entire movie's conflict on infectious agents, is just unforgivable. Even Prometheus at least got that right ... until the crew decided to all take off their helmets because scans indicated that the "air is breathable".

Alien Covenant - no space suits
Why aren't you wearing environmental suits?!

You know what else is unforgivably stupid? Following a duplicitous android into his bio-weapon research lab and then sticking your face in an alien egg sac because he kindly asked you to. As soon as the captain found out that David had killed and/or experimented on Shaw, why didn't he just shot and killed him?

The movie is also a structural and pacing nightmare. The first 20 minutes of movie feels like pointless filler; while the last 30 minutes is a lazy, rushed rehash of the first Alien movie without any of the tension, suspense, or mystery. I could buy into the first thirty minutes being a "world-building" exercise, but not when you then go on to fail so miserably at world-building by not having your protagonists follow the most rudimentary of sci-fi safety procedures.

Aside from establishing the terraforming module, that first act really does absolutely nothing to set up anything later in the movie...

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War for the Planet of the Apes

Once again, I am amazed by just how good this new Planet of the Apes franchise is. Both of the previous movies (Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) were my favorite movies of their respective years. War for the Planet of the Apes would probably also be this year's hands-down favorite if it didn't have to compete with Logan.

The most amazing and surprising thing is just how unlike a "summer Hollywood blockbuster" this summer Hollywood blockbuster looks and feels. These movies have, as their premise, an apocalyptic world-changing event, but yet the writers and directors manage to avoid the traps of making an apocalyptic movie. The stories and conflicts are always very personal and feel small-scale and low-key compared to the events going on around them. The focus of the movies also increasingly shifts away from the human characters and towards the ape characters.

The previous movie went a good 20 or 30 minutes without any dialogue at all, as its first act focused on the ape characters who use sign language as the dominant form of communication. War goes even further, as the majority of the dialogue throughout the entire movie comes in the form of subtitled sign language between otherwise speechless ape characters. It's a surprisingly quiet movie with a very minimalist sound design. As such, anyone speaking anywhere in the theater is a huge distraction, so hopefully you don't get stuck sitting next to anybody who feels they have to narrate everything they're seeing to the companion next to them. You know who you are! Asshole...

War for the Planet of the Apes - soldiers captured
Most of the dialogue is in the form of sign language and gestures between ape characters.

... Same goes for the scum-bag who sat in the front row and then spent the entire third act checking his phone -- without even bothering to dim the brightness. You're in the front row! Everyone in the theater can see your phone glowing under the screen!

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Last November, my girlfriend and I took a trip to Denmark and visited the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde. That was a great trip, and the ship museum was pretty great, but there were a couple things that we wanted to do, but which we couldn't because the ship museum doesn't operate them in the winter. For one thing, the museum has a collection of reconstructed Viking ships, including a full-size longship. These ships are usually docked in the harbor, along with some living exhibits of the construction and maintenance of these ships and the ropes and sails used to sail them. During winter, the exhibits are closed and the ships themselves are brought onto land and covered in order to prevent ice from forming and damaging the ships.

More importantly, the museum offers tourists the opportunity to go out sailing the reconstructed ships with a couple of museum guides. This service is also only offered in the summer due to weather restrictions, and we decided that we wanted to go back to Denmark so that we could sail a Viking ship!

Big Ben
Big Ben was the first of several Civilization
world wonders that I'd get to see.

She found affordable tickets to London, and we allocated two weeks to spend in Europe this summer. My dad also expressed an interest, and we offered to take him with us and pay for part of his airfare and lodging expenses as a combined Father's Day and birthday gift (his birthday is in May). We ended up deciding to take him to London, England, to Coppenhagen, Denmark, and to Munich, Germany.

London, Stonehenge, and Shakespeare

Our first stop was London, England on June 26th. We did some of the usual tourist things, like visit the Tower of London and walk by Parliament and Big Ben (one of several Civilization wonders that I would be visiting during this trip!) and Westminster Abbey. We also had fish, chips, and beer in a pub and started two week's worth of gluttonous eating! Despite walking 15 to 20 miles per day, I still gained 3 1/2 pounds during the trip.

The British Parlaiment building was covered with scaffolding, apparently being repaired or remodeled. This would actually become a recurring theme during this trip, as many of the places that we visited would be covered with scaffolding.

We visited the Imperial War Museum, including the Churchill Warroom.
I tried on some World War I-era clothing, which was very uncomfortable and itchy.

The second day (Tuesday), we visited the Churchill Warroom and the Imperial War Museum. I had previously visited the Imperial War Museum in Manchester during my trip to the U.K., so this time we got to see the larger museum in London. I was a little bit disappointed that the museum didn't cover British Imperial history prior to World War I. There were no exhibits about colonial British sailing ships. The museum starts with World War I, and then goes through World War II, the Cold War, and the War on Terrorism. It also included an exhibit on the Holocaust, which was interesting because the exhibit started on the top floor, and then descended to the lower floor as the exhibits shifted from persecution of the Jews in Germany to the full-blown "final solution" period. It was a clever bit of symbolism to descend into the fullest horrors of the Holocaust.

On Wednesday, we did a day-trip with a tour company to Windsor Castle, the Roman bathhouse in Bath, and to Stonehenge (another Civ wonder!)...

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Let us cleanse these foul streets. Fear the blood.

I'm not a big cosplayer (yet), but I'm also no stranger to cosplay. Many years ago, a friend of mine helped me put together a Pyramid Head cosplay for an anime convention. I was pretty pleased with the result. I tried to be as accurate to the Silent Hill 2 video game as possible, but at the time, it was difficult to find decent reference images at the fidelity necessary to get a good idea of what materials to use and so forth. Nowadays, however, Konami has granted licenses to toy companies that have gone on to make numerous statues and figures. So any would-be Pyramid Head cosplayer now has plenty of reference material. Lucky them...

Years ago, I made a Pyramid Head costume [LEFT] without all the figures and references [RIGHT] that I have now.

For the most part, however, I didn't do much cosplay (and wasn't much into costumes in general). Over the past few years, however, I've been getting more into costumes. Part of this is because I started buying swords from ren faire, and wanted excuses to wield them. Another reason is that my girlfriend has a friend who hosts a pirate-themed Memorial Day party every year at his lake house in California, and we make the drive out there to attend -- costume required!

We attend an annual Memorial Day pirate party -- costumes required!

Another factor is that we have a six year old girl running around the house who just completed kindergarten, and she's getting into arts and crafts. Which means that my girlfriend and I have to get into arts and crafts as well, and we need projects for her (and us) to do.

Currently, we lack the time, energy, and skill to make full cosplay from scratch, so we're still stuck making small modifications to costumes that we buy. Though I'm looking forward to getting my hands on some warbla and seeing what I can do with it! We've also moved on to crafting accessories for the costumes.

This year, we bought tickets to a local comic book convention, and my proxy daughter wanted to attend in costume. So my girlfriend created a homemade Harley Quinn costume for her. As for us adults, we decided to go with Bloodborne costumes.

Hunter and Doll costumes

I started out by buying a (rather expensive) Bloodborne hunter costume off of eBay. I had just received a large bonus check from my former job and had some extra discretionary money to treat myself. I had been laid off in November (along with everybody else I worked with in the local office), and had forgotten about the annual bonus payments. So the money came as a pleasant surprise, and I decided to splurge by purchasing this costume. This costume can also be purchased from other sources, such as Amazon, but I chose eBay because sellers were selling it for much cheaper...

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Final Fantasy XV - title

I really don't know what to make of Final Fantasy XV. On the one hand, the game is trying to do something new and kind of interesting with the long-stale open world formula. I desperately want to be able to celebrate the game for these new ideas. That being said, the game just completely blunders so much of its fundamental design, and it tramples on many of these promising new ideas by falling back on too many of the very same tropes that have killed so many other open world games.

The obvious common criticism of the game is that it's got too much of the player just sitting in the car waiting. You don't even have to drive the damned thing, as you can set one of the NPCs in your entourage to do all the driving for you. And even if you do decide to take the wheel, the car drives itself. You just press the gas, and the car automatically steers itself to stay on the road. You can't even turn off of the road even if you want to.

You know what? I'm actually OK with that.

Final Fantasy XV - reading in the car
I actually don't mind the long drives, as I can catch up on some reading along with Gladiolus

A nostalgic road trip adventure

You see, having such restrictive travel mechanics actually forces the player to think more about how you're going to navigate the world. While in the car, you are confined to the game's roads and highways. You can't just point the car directly at your objective marker and drive off-road in a straight line to get there. You're also limited to traveling during the daylight hours, and you have to make sure that you budget the time and money to stop for gas and lodgings. There's a genuine amount of logistical planning required for accomplishing virtually any task in this game. You have to think about traversing this world in the same manner that the characters would have to think about it! This is a role-playing game, after all, isn't it? So these travel mechanics are actually pretty clever ways of putting the player in a role-playing mindset and giving you a game to play when you're outside of combat.

I get the feeling that Square-Enix wanted Final Fantasy XV to emulate being on a road trip. You spend large chunks of time sitting in the car driving across the countryside, passing rest stops, scenic overlooks, and roadside diners. You stop every so often to admire the view, take a walk through nature, or chat with the locals. When the sun sets, you are pressured to find a motel to bunk in, or to set up a camp site if you happen to be on foot.

For brief periods of time, this game hits a very serene high in which you start to feel like you're really in this world and with these people, as they sit bored in the car, or eat dinner over a campfire while going over the photos that they took of the day's adventure. It's the same sort of feeling that No Man's Sky hits in its early hours, when you're still awestruck by the sheer size and scope of the new planets you set foot on. Having been someone who used to take annual road trips with my family to visit national parks around the country, seeing a video game try to simulate and systemize that activity (and the human bonding that it engenders) is genuinely endearing and makes me more than a little bit nostalgic.

Final Fantasy XV - camping
This game makes me nostalgic for the summer camping trips of my youth.

Mundane video game adventure

But then, much like No Man's Sky, Final Fantasy XV shatters that experience by forcing you back into "video game land". It isn't the long stretches of non-interactive driving through a video game vacation that bothers me. Instead, I'm bothered by the sheer tediousness of the mundane fetch quests and busy-work that the game throws at you. You see, a road trip -- and an adventure in general -- only really works if you're always traveling towards a destination. This is a feeling that Final Fantasy X completely nailed!...

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A gamer's life...

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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I called "expansion" on PolyCast, before 2K announced "Civilization V: Gods and Kings"I called "expansion" on PolyCast, before 2K announced "Civilization V: Gods and Kings"03/01/2012 Back in the middle of February, I participated in the Civilization podcast PolyCast episode 140 along with hosts DanQ, Makahlua, TheMeInTeam, and qnl. We discussed several topics relating primarily to Civilization V, including: An interview between GameInformer and series-creator Sid Meier about the future of the franchise....