The Haunting of Hill House

Oh boy, this is going to be a tough one to talk about. I have very mixed, and somewhat polarized views of how this turns out, and as such, I'm struggling with whether or not I can offer a recommendation. The first five or six episodes are fantastic! After that, however, I really feel like the show peters out, begins to meander and run in place, and then kind of unravels in the end. Those first five or six episodes are so good, however, that I think I can recommend the series as a whole based on the strengths of its first half.

I can't discuss this show without getting into spoilers, so be warned that the further down you read, the more spoiler-y this will become.

A masterfully suspenseful start

Each of the first five or six episodes is told from the point of view of a different sibling in a family that is tormented by a summer spent in a haunted house. This structure creates a deeply textured and nuanced tapestry, in which each episodes recasts the events of the previous episodes in a new light. Giving each character his or her own episode provides us with a rich character study that helps us to understand each character's attitude when they all get together and the family drama gets rolling. All the while, the subtle supernatural elements create a building sense of intrigue as the mysteries surrounding Hill House, and the family's last night there, continue to mount and the plot continues to thicken.

Each of the first six episodes is told from the perspective of a different character.

I really love the camera work! Slow pans and zooms are used with excellent effect to draw out scenes and add tension and keep the scene mysterious. Sometimes, there's a creepy detail in the background. Other times, there's an ominous lack of anything creepy to see as the camera slowly pans from character to character across a room or down a hallway. In any genre other than horror, these labored camera movements would seem wasteful and pointless, but they really add to the atmosphere here.

The set design is also really great. The gothic Hill House provides an excellent and ominous set piece, but the other sets are also uncanny and unnerving in their own right, especially Shirley's funeral home. Around episode 6 or 7, I was really starting to struggle with reconciling the geometry of Hill House, and this is something that is paid off really well at the end of the series.

The geometry of Hill House becomes a source of unease as the series develops.

A meandering, incoherent ending

Unfortunately, the series faltered a bit for me after the sixth episode. At this point, all the characters are together in one place, and so no one character receives the focus of the narrative. The story starts to meander a bit here, while also running in place, as the intrigue that was so carefully crafted in the preceding episodes is squandered, new plot points and concepts are thrown at the audience, and old plot points and concepts just disappear.

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Cities: Skylines: Industries - title

Wow, Colossal Order is really popping out these Cities: Skylines expansions in rapid succession! I feel like this is the third or fourth expansion in the last year alone! ... Hold on, let me check ...

Expansion titleOriginal release
After Dark coverAfter Dark24 September 2015
Snowfall coverSnowfall18 February 2016
Match DayMatch Day*9 June 2016
Natural Disasters coverNatural Disasters29 November 2016
Mass Transit coverMass Transit18 May 2017
ConcertsConcerts*17 August 2017
Green CitiesGreen Cities19 October 2017
ParklifeParklife24 May 2018
IndustriesIndustries23 October 2018
* denotes a mini content pack, rather than full expansion.

... So, yeah; third full expansion in the last 12 months (give or take a few days). Fourth expansion in the last 14 months if you want to count the Concerts content pack. Colossal Order seems to have been following a pattern of two full expansions and a mini content pack each year since the game released. I guess that's one way to keep your game relevant. It has certainly kept me coming back every few months.

Never as robust as I would like

The problem is that the limited development time means that the content that is provided in these expansions rarely ever feels as robust or comprehensive as it should -- at least, not to me. As such, I feel like I'm getting diminishing returns from each new expansion. The amount of content that is already in the game means that each new expansion feels like relatively smaller drop of content into an already-large bucket. Each expansion feels like it gives us less to do, and has that much of a smaller impact on the overall gameplay experience.

Adding to the problem of diminishing returns: every single expansion has had some glaring omission or weakness that bothered me, and none of the later expansions have bothered to go back in and address the weaknesses and limitations of the previous expansion(s). After Dark failed to include zoneable public beaches and didn't really make the day/night cycle feel as meaningful as it should. Snowfall failed to include season cycles to go along with After Dark's day/night cycle, and completely dropped the ball with regard to mechanics like ski resorts. Natural Disasters probably felt like the most "complete" and well-rounded expansion (not to mention the most novel one), but still suffers from its content being random, and it neglected to introduce any winter-specific disasters to go along with Snowfall.

Industries follows a long-standing trend with Skylines expansions neglecting seemingly-obvious features.

Mass Transit brought the long-overdue ferry transit option, but neglected to revise cargo harbors to make cargo ship routes more practical, and didn't have any water-based city services (like a coast guard, for example) that would allow a true island economy to function without a network of bridges for freight and emergency services. Green Cities was maybe the laziest expansion, and it focused on pollution-management, but didn't bother to actually make pollution any more relevant or challenging to begin with. Lastly, Parklife granted a lot of player expression, but failed to incorporate the legacy parks into the new modular park feature and doesn't allow the camera to zoom in close enough to get a good look at your pretty decorations.

This isn't to say that all these expansions are "bad". I've liked them all (except maybe for Snowfall and Green Cities), but none of them have really wow-ed me with their content (except maybe for Natural Disasters). And the modular nature of each expansion means that it has limited-to-no impact on the core game systems, and limited-to-no interaction with the previous expansions.

The latest expansion, Industries follows suit. It promises to re-invent the way that your cities' industry functions, but kind of does it in an almost half-assed way. Much like the expansion before it, Parklife, Industries doesn't really incorporate the old legacy industry zones into the new industry mechanics. The new "Industry Area" paintbrush is virtually the same mechanic as the Park Area paintbrush from the last expansion. It isn't a replacement for the original industrial district specialization, so if feels like it's pretty much duplicating that content rather than re-inventing it.

You paint an area as an "Industrial Park", just like the parks in Parklife.

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Oh boy, there's been a lot of Star Trek news and rumors over the past half year or so. They've been coming in so rapid-fire that it's been hard to take any of them seriously. But now we actually do have confirmation from CBS that new Star Trek projects (aside from Discovery) are in the works.

While it might sound nice to have new Star Trek in the works, the news isn't necessarily good. If you're like me, and did not like the direction of Star Trek: Discovery, then the news of new Trek projects from CBS is probably not very promising. In fact, it may all sound like a train wreck waiting to happen.

Discovery still can't get its shit together!

Let's start with the show that already exists: Star Trek: Discovery. The production of season two has so far been just as rough as the production of season one. CBS fired the showrunners mid-way through filming the second season. The studio claims that the showrunners were causing the show to go overbudget, and that they were mistreating staff. However, it's also the case that there were extensive reshoots (which apparently involves giving the Klingons their hair back), which may imply that the studio was meddling in the production, and that there were creative differences between the showrunners and the studio execs. Sounds a lot like season one all over again.

Discovery is going through a major pivot, and it's production is not going well.

The series is apparently trying to course-correct and is pivoting hard by bringing in the original Enterprise as a last-ditch effort to try to win back the support of long-time fans. But, as a long-time fan, I don't want to see the Enterprise again. I especially don't want to see any extensive, canon-breaking retcons to the characters or history. However, it looks like that's what we're going to get.

I'd rather see Star Trek go to new places and try new things, as long as they are consistent with the established canon, and are consistent with the cerebral, hard science fiction theme of the series. Basing the entire series on magic trans-dimensional fungus that allows instantaneous teleportation to anywhere in any universe is consistent with neither.

I want to see Discovery explore new ideas; not retcon Original Series characters and history.

It isn't just Star Trek that's in trouble, the CBS corporation has also gone through its share of troubles this year. Its chairman and CEO, Les Moonves, was forced to resign after accusations of sexual improprieties. Moonves was one of the core champions of Star Trek: Discovery, who saw the series as the flagship program for CBS' All-Access streaming service. Moonves also notoriously doesn't like or understand science fiction -- let alone Star Trek -- and it was creative disputes between Moonves and original showrunner Bryan Fuller that resulted in Fuller being fired, and in the direction of Discovery pivoting to what it was.

With Moonves out, Discovery might not have the protection of the CEO of the company anymore, which might result in budget cuts and other limitations in the show's production that will almost certainly reduce the quality of the product. The high production qualities were pretty much the only thing that Discovery had going for it (as far as I was concerned). Things are not looking pretty for the future of Star Trek: Discovery.

Patrick Stewart is back as Jean-Luc Picard

The big news, however, is the announcement of two new Star Trek series. The first and foremost is a new series featuring Patrick Stewart in the role of Jean-Luc Picard.

Had the writers even started planning Picard's
show prior to announcing it?

It's unclear, however, what this show will be about. In fact, it looks like the writers didn't even start thinking about that until after the series was announced. That isn't promising. It means we have a studio grasping at straws, without a clear vision for what they want to create.

Apparently, Stewart (or Alex Kurtzman) suggested that Picard may not necessarily be the captain of a starship in this new series. This lead to an early rumor that Picard may instead be an instructor at Starfleet Academy. I can't find any links to this rumor, so maybe it was my own idea that I'm mistaking for a rumor...? In any case, I would much rather see Picard be more of a cameo character in a show that isn't squarely about him. Making him a professor at the Academy, teaching cadets who are the main characters actually sounds like a half-way decent idea with a lot of promise. Rumors of CBS being pitched ideas for a Starfleet Academy series have been circulating for a couple years now, so maybe this gives them an opportunity to finally pursue that idea.

Another interesting idea that I had would be to make Picard to have retired from Starfleet and taken up a new career as an archaeologist. The character had a profound interest in archaeology throughout the series, and even gave lectures about the subject in at least one or two instances.

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Madden NFL - title

I think I've finally decided to take a stab at some long-form video analysis and critique on Youtube. My first go at this came in the form of a nearly-hour-long breakdown of my frustrations with the Madden NFL video game series (broken up into 2 parts). For the benefit of my readers, I'm also transcribing the video onto this blog post. Though reading this post will certainly convey all the same points that I make in the video, I still highly recommend watching the video, as the video footage included will do a better job than screenshots of demonstrating the problems I report. The entire video is embedded below.

Watch the full video on Youtube.

EA's ethos of releasing a new Madden entry every single year has become a tremendous detriment to the game as a whole. Modern games have become very large, very complicated, and very expensive to create, and every game series that has relied on an annual release cycle has, in my opinion, suffered for it. Even companies like Ubisoft have recognized this, which is why the company has decided to end the cycle of annual Assassin's Creed releases, opting instead for a major release every two or three years, with some large-scale DLC and expansions to fill out the intervening period. Despite re-using the same game engines, the huge cost of creating a new game every year stretches the company's resources further than they can go. Though I still didn't think that Assassin's Creed: Origins was particularly great, the game still clearly benefited from the extra design and development time that the year's hiatus provided, and the general internet consensus is that the game is very good.

Assassin's Creed: Odyssey was released only a year after Origins, and it looks like a terrible, derivative, waste of time fueled by a grindy micro-transaction economy pulled straight out of a mobile free-to-play game, except with a $60 upfront price tag. We'll have to wait and see if Ubisoft follows through on its promise to "spend more time making fewer, better games", or if it goes back to milking its franchises with slapped-together annual releases.

EA's Madden game is in an even worse boat than Assassin's Creed was in. Not only is Madden an annual release, but it's internal resources are being stretched out between multiple, completely divergent game modes! EA has to chose how much resources to devote to each of these modes, and that commitment comes at the expense of the other modes. In addition to having to make general gameplay improvements every year, the team is also tasked with coming up with new features and improvements for Franchise mode, Ultimate Team, and now Longshot. They're basically developing three different games, and trying to squeeze them all into a single annual release cycle.


Madden's resources are divided between three divergent game modes every year!

Worse yet, one of these game modes clearly makes a lot more money than the others...

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Red Dead Redemption II

It appears that 2k is pulling a thoroughly dickish move with regard to the release of the highly-anticipated Red Dead Redemption II. They are not distributing it to small, independent game stores until a week after release. The game is scheduled to release on October 26 (4 days from now, as of the time of this writing), but mom & pop game shops likely won't receive it until at least November 7! The game will be available for digital download on the scheduled release date of October 26, and it will even be available at large corporate retailers like Target, Wal-Mart, Best Buy, and Game Stop. But if you have a favorite little indie game shop, you'll have to wait more than a week to play this game-of-the-year candidate.

What is 2K's reason for this move? Well, from what I've read, the reason is not entirely clear. 2K is citing production delays and supply issues for the discs. Even people who pre-ordered the game from the affected shops will not be receiving their copies on time, which completely negates the purpose of a pre-order, and highlights just how absurd the process is. In an age of digital distribution, pre-orders are practically moot. But even when a game is sold physically (and sells a crap ton of pre-orders), it still might not be available to you! So why bother pre-ordering?

To be honest though, I don't care what 2K's reasons are. If this genuinely is an issue with production of the discs, then 2K should have either:

  1. Reduced the number of units delivered to all retailers, regardless of size, or
  2. delay the release of the game (including online sales) a week.

A minor delay into early November would not be that much of a hit on the game's sales. It not like they'd be missing the revered holiday launch window.

At the very least, they should have provided any and all pre-order copies to the stores that sold pre-orders.

The cynic in me can't help but suspect that this is some deliberate move by 2K to harm independent game retailers. Perhaps they want even more control over the release process of their games, and independent retailers are much harder to control than massive corporate entities. Or maybe they calculated that any losses from those independent stores would be offset (either partially or in full) by online sales in which the publisher does not have to split money with the retailer.

In any case, we're living in an age when independent shops are struggling to survive against the monopolies of corporate retailers like Wal-Mart and Best Buy, and against the online retail juggernauts like Amazon (and the online storefronts of companies like Wal-Mart and Best Buy). Withholding highly-anticipated product from such shops (while still delivering it to their corporate competitors) is outright cruel and unforgivable. That is true whether the withholding is being done maliciously or not.

All those stores that sold pre-orders, promoted the game with posters and cardboard cut-outs, and merch sales -- probably all at the expense of the store owner! -- are completely screwed. Loyal customers will hopefully wait and buy the game a week later, but most customers will probably cancel their pre-orders and take their money elsewhere. I implore you to wait till November 7 and buy the game from a small, local, independent game store! Show 2K that this behavior is unacceptable business practice! Or just don't buy the game at all...

As for me: unless 2K back-tracks and does, in fact, deliver the game to independent retailers, I will not be buying a new, retail copy of Red Dead Redemption II! Instead, I will wait a week or two and see if I can get it used off of eBay (or a local independent retailer). I will stand in solidarity with independent retailers and their customers. As such, any review that I write for it will necessarily be late -- even by my standards... And even if it turns out to be the best game that I've ever played, I will not be trading it in for a new copy of the game, or recommending it to any friends, as is my usual practice.

2K, you just lost a sale.

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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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