Jurassic World - the park is open

Jurassic Park is one of my earliest and strongest movie memories. I think I saw it at least four times in theaters when I was a kid. Even at that age, I rarely ever saw a movie more than once in a theater. Probably because I couldn't convince my parents to take me more than once, so if I wanted to go again, I'd have to go with a friend or a cousin. But that movie was good enough that I think even my mom and dad went multiple times.

I had a bunch of the Jurassic Park toys, including the character action figures, the large dinosaurs, the jeep, and even the compound playset with the fence and the gate. It was a very monumental movie in my youth that also shaped my perception of movies going forward, as well as helping to spark my interest in science. The awe and wonder of it captured my imagination and held very tightly for a very long time. Its scenes, images, dialogue, and music have all stuck with me to this day.

Perhaps because of this, my favorite parts of the newly-released Jurassic World were the brief scenes of the kids exploring the theme park. I enjoyed the brief clips of the petting zoo where kids fed the baby dinosaurs and rode on the backs of baby triceratops. I especially liked the little playground set where the kids would pretend to dig up dinosaur fossils. Seeing the kids on screen enjoying the awe and wonder of the animals sent me on a nostalgia trip to 20 years ago. The idea of people interacting with these animals is still just as captivating as it was then. There was a very addictive, light-hearted sense of joy and energy throughout these short-lived segments.

Jurassic Park toys
I had many Jurassic Park toys when I was a kid.

Even a more depressing mid-movie scene in which Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas-Howard try to comfort a dying dinosaur was a touching moment that I really liked. It reminded me of the triceratops scene from the first movie, and the dinosaur was surprisingly expressive.

I did think it was weird that the director chose to play John Williams' trademark Jurassic Park theme as fanfare for what was effectively just a scenic helicopter landing. I get that it was an homage to the first movie, but I feel that the first movie built up to the arrival in the park, and paid off the fanfare with the classic money shot of the brachiosaur grazing in the open field. In Jurassic World, it just kind of felt like going through the motions. Imitation for imitation's sake.

In any case, these fun scenes with the dinosaurs is definitely not the point of the movie, and these sorts of scenes and moments get shoved to the side in order to make room for the film's main plot.

Jurassic World - dino safari
My favorite scenes were the ones of people enjoying the park.

I was skeptical about Jurassic World from the very first trailers. I worried that it would surely miss the point.

Michael Crichton's novels and the first movie weren't about "science gone amok"; it wasn't a Frankenstein story about mad scientists creating monsters. It was about well-intentioned scientists who underestimated the complexities of nature...

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The Evil Within - game title

I had some really high hopes for The Evil Within. It looked like Shinji Mikami was trying to bridge a gap between the survival horror trappings of the original Resident Evil and the more action-oriented shooter gameplay style of Resident Evil 4. The former was a slower-paced game that emphasized open-ended exploration, puzzle-solving, and resource management in a horror setting. The latter game dropped most of its horror ambitions in favor of totally campy action shooter schlock. Early trailers for Evil Within looked it would hit a good balance between the two styles.

I didn't jump right on this game at release because I saw some mediocre reviews and heard that it failed to deliver on its promises. After booting up the game, waiting for an hour-and-a-half for the 4.7 GB update file to install (what did this update do? Tack on a whole new game?!), navigating the slick title menu, and then proceeding through the first few chapters, I verified that the game does indeed fail considerably as a horror game.

But it is worth noting that The Evil Within (unlike Resident Evil 4 and Shadows of the Damned) does seem to be making a legitimate attempt at being a horror game, rather than just an action shooter with zombies. It just doesn't really succeed at this goal.

Early levels in particular are full of exceptional lighting and ambient effects that really help to build an ominous atmosphere. The addition of stealth mechanics does put a greater emphasis on avoiding direct conflict and encouraging a more cautious approach (compared to RE4's guns-a-blazing attitude).

I've heard a lot of complaints that this game's story doesn't make sense and is stupid. I think most of these people didn't finish the game (or at least get to the point around chapter 10 where the story is explained). The story makes sense. The problem is that the game is very disjoint and never really builds on these foundations.

The game's narrative causes the character to jump (seemingly at random) from place to place - even within a single chapter. Each new place quickly starts to feel like a narrow-scope set-piece for an action scene rather than any kind of terrifying world. The game and individual chapters lack narrative cohesion and unifying design. There's very little opportunity for the game to allow open exploration or atmosphere-building, since the whole game feels like a collection of randomly-thrown-together set pieces and battle puzzles. So even though the overall story makes sense (in retrospect), the individual scene and level-progression doesn't.

The Evil Within - reality warping
Reality is being warped, resulting in some trippy effects, but a very disjoint sense of progression.

The designers seem to be trying to mimic the Otherworld of Silent Hill, but the transition is so jarring, and the places feel so completely unrelated to one another, that it just doesn't work. You get through a pain in the ass, trap-infested maze while dodging monsters, only to be teleported to another maze area when you reach the exit! "OK, we're done with this area, let's just go to some other random challenge room." There's no sense of ever achieving anything because you're rarely ever allowed to actually go to the places that you are trying so hard to get to. And once that sense of futility sets in, any fear starts to dissipate. You're no longer concerned with getting out or saving yourself or even progressing the story because you realize that you can't achieve anything without the game giving it to you.

It's a real shame too, because some of these reality-warping mind tricks might be very effective if they were organically integrated into the flow of the game. I especially liked one bit in which a character falls down a bottomless pit, only to have the whole world re-orient itself so that the walls become the floor. So instead of falling to his death, he harmlessly rolls to a stop. Unfortunately, these effects lack subtly and feel random...

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Cities: Skylines - game title

I've been on quite a city-builder bender this past eight months or so, and I've gone through quite a variety of games! From Tropico 5, to Cities XXL, Banished, and even a foray into the mobile game SimCity Buildit. Since the SimCity reboot in 2013 turned out to be a bust, I've been desperately searching for a modern game to fill the hole that was left after I moved on from SimCity 4. Cities XL held me over for a while, but my interest in it waned, and I was back to searching.

Well now that search can finally end, because I think I found my new, definitive city-builder: Cities: Skylines!

Almost immediately after starting a game, Skylines stands out as a very pretty game. The graphics have a very slight, cartoonish quality with very bright, vibrant colors. The animations are very smooth and fluid, which makes the map look very organic and alive. There's also some film grain and depth of field filters that can provide an immersive sense of being in the city when you zoom in. The depth of field effect only focuses on the center of the screen, which can look weird when you zoom very far in to look at certain objects. But if these effects become too bothersome, then you can always turn them off, and the game still looks great without them.

The various overlays are also very vibrant and have their own animations that show the flow of traffic along roads or water through pipes, and these overlays are also very pretty. The color contrasts also make them very easy to read and understand at a glance.

Cities Skylines - growing city
This game has very vibrant and attractive graphics and art styles that make the city look alive.

The game also has a very simple interface that looks good and is easy to read. Navigating through the menus is comfortable and intuitive, and it doesn't take up very much screen space.

Much like Cities XL, Skylines also gradually unlocks new buildings, infrastructure, and services as the city grows. Again, as somebody who routinely ran my SimCity 2000 cities into bankruptcy by overbuilding services and utility infrastructures early, I appreciate how this feature creates a gentler learning curve and helps to tutorialize new players in how the new features work.

Skylines differentiates itself from Cities XL and SimCity by providing a much more comfortable compromise of pacing and scale...

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Game of Thrones - title

I recently wrote an analysis of Game Of Thrones' fifth season. I had originally planned to include some speculation about the sixth season, but it wasn't really relevant to the point of the article, which was to describe the themes present in the season. So for the sake of brevity, I moved that speculation to a new post.

What season five does very effectively is to blur the lines between heroes and villains and establish a series of new external threats to entrenched powers and factions. And the self-implosion of the Lannisters, Stannis, Boltons, and the crossing of the Wildlings leaves the Seven Kingdoms vulnerable to the internal strife that made the first few seasons so compelling. In addition, we may finally see a genuine power stuggle across the Narrow Sea.

The stage has been set for power stuggles to take place - not just in King's Landing - but throughout the entire world.

Game of Thrones (season 5) - Tommen confronts cultists
The Lannisters' authority in King's Landing is now being threatened by multiple sources,
including the High Sparrow's cult witch hunts [PICTURED] and the Tyrells and Littlefinger.

CAUTION: THIS POST CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE FIFTH SEASON

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Game of Thrones - season 5

I've been seeing a lot of mixed reaction to the most recent season of HBO's Game Of Thrones (season five). Many sources on the internet have referred to it as the slowest and most boring season of the series so far. And episode six (Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken) has been reviled as one of the worst episodes of the series due to the sexual assault of poor Sansa. Anecdotally, the people who I know who watch it (including my girlfriend, who got me into the show to begin with) have been disappointed by the apparent uneventfullness of this season. Another friend even said he was likely going to give up on the show completely because he's sick of the show dragging on and then suddenly doing things apparently only for shock value. I think his reaction is a bit extreme.

On the other hand, this season's eighth episode, Hardhome has been received as the best episode of the series so far.

But now that the season is over, and the shocks have been given, it puts the entirety of the season into perspective - at least for me.

The whole of Game of Thrones' fifth season has an over-arching theme of fatalism and futility. And the final episode shifted both of those themes to full-blown self-implosion. Every major character in every theater of operations made very self-destructive choices. And they all suffered for it, and those that survived will continue to suffer into season six. This season also may have shifted long-standing opinions on who are the favored characters and factions, which could be a deliberate attempt to ramp up the tension for a more conflict-filled sixth season.

Season five started with numerous characters and factions at the height of their power. Daenerys, Stannis, Ramsey, and John Snow all had enormous successes at the end of season four and start of season five. The Lannisters may have suffered a severe blow at the end of last season, but their grip on King's Landing was still firm at the start of season five. They all manage to blunder these successes into utter failures by the end of season five.

Probably the most immediately obvious case of self-destruction is Stannis. While most of the season looked as though he was putting himself in a position of strength and was primed to recapture Winterfell, he was also falling victim to the classic Napoleon / Hitler mistake: he tried to invade a tundra empire at the onset of winter. As successful as his actions were in the first half of the season, there was always a feeling of impending dread and desperation hanging over him and his army.

Even those of us who were won over by Stannis' actions at the wall, and his hearftful defense and expression of love for his deformed daughter, must've recognized that he seemed fated to fail.

Game of Thrones (season 5) - Stannis sacrifices his daughter
How could anyone follow a man who would do what Stannis has chosen to done?

Stannis cements his doom with quite possibly the worst, and most heartless decision that any character has made in the show to date...

CAUTION: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD

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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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