Put a Zork in It

I remember seeing magazine ads for Zork and other text-based adventure games when I was a kid, and thought they seemed pretty fascinating. I never actually got to play any of them at the time, though. I don’t think they could even run on the kind of computer we had then. In college, I did play through the Infocom version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which, as you might suspect, is even weirder than the other games in terms of how to solve things. Someone else helped me out with that. Considerably more recently, I purchased the Zork Anthology on Steam. So far, I’ve only played the first two, and I haven’t finished either of them. Of course, nowadays I can look up a map and/or walkthrough when I get stuck. I think some really hardcore fans made their own maps back in the day, although eventually there were official ones available.

The direct inspiration for Zork was a game called Colossal Cave Adventure, originally just Adventure. The guy who designed it, Will Crowther, based it on his actual experiences in Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, while Don Woods added fantasy elements. Zork was made so that the language would feel a little more natural, allowing for more than just two words in a command. Obviously it’s still pretty limited overall, but it does allow for a lot of different possibilities. The first three games were originally all made as one, but due to limitations, they were released as three separate ones.

All three games takes place mostly underground, in a series of caverns. It’s interesting to me how the concept of dungeons has become so standard in fantasy games. Traditionally, a dungeon is just a prison, but, probably largely due to the influence of Dungeons & Dragons, it came to signify a sprawling labyrinth of rooms and passages, whether in a natural cave or a man-made structure. For some reason, they pretty much always contain a bunch of monsters and treasures, and sometimes are even a society or ecosystem unto themselves. You can get such oddities as a picture gallery, a dam with a maintenance room, a coal mine, and a portal to Hell all pretty close to each other. The explanation in Zork, as hinted in the subtitle, is that you’re exploring the Great Underground Empire, essentially a fallen subterranean civilization now inhabited by a few monsters and one other human. The goal is to gather the various treasures and put them in a case in a house. Whose house is it? The game never says. Since you’re storing stuff there, it seems like it might be your own house, but then you presumably wouldn’t have to crawl in through the window and be constantly inconvenienced by somebody closing the trapdoor to the underground, unless you have a rude roommate or something. Looking it up online, I found that a later game in the series explained that the house was all that was left of the capital city of the Flatheads after it was cursed, and that a guy named Ellron was its current inhabitant. But I don’t think anyone had thought that through back in the early days.

There’s some quite funny narration, and I know I’ve seen references before to such quotes as “you are likely to be eaten by a grue” and “a maze of twisty passages, all alike.” As with a lot of these early games, the puzzles can be pretty hard, and even when you know basically what to do, figuring out exactly how can be confusing. From what I’ve read, this was partially due to fewer amateurs playing computer games at the time. When playing an old game like this, I’m not particularly bothered by the old-fashioned presentation (it’s not that much different from reading a book), but I often am by the difficulty. Things are also complicated by the fact that you can only hold a certain amount of stuff at a time, and even less when you have to squeeze into tight spaces. There’s also a random element in the thief who wanders around the place, later given the name Lucien Kaine. He’ll steal items from you and take ones that are lying around, and I’m pretty sure this can make the game unwinnable depending on what he takes. I thought I was doing pretty well killing the thief early on in one playthrough, only to find out that you need him to remove one treasure from another in order to win. On my latest attempt, I had lost both the sword and the knife, and was unable to kill the guy. He’ll sometimes take your light sources as well, and when you’re left in the dark, that’s when the grues show up. Apparently the original idea was that you’d fall into a pit when in total darkness, but since this didn’t make a whole lot of sense, the grues were introduced. I’ve written before about how Jack Vance influenced the magic system in D&D, and it’s also where the grue comes from, although it was originally a kind of man-bat hybrid.

References to other media are pretty common in the game, including an elven sword that glows blue when monsters are near, a bat who acts like the ones in Hunt the Wumpus, the inscription from Dante’s Inferno on the gates of Hades, the thief looking “lean and hungry” like Cassius in Julius Caesar, and a cyclops who’s the son of Polyphemus and terrified by the mere mention of Odysseus. I don’t think the Flatheads are related to the ones in Oz, although I suspect both are referencing the Native American nation in Montana.

Zork II is a direct continuation of the first, but it introduces a new antagonist and random factor in the demented Wizard of Frobozz, who appears from time to time and casts spells that impede your progress.

I don’t know whether he can take your stuff, but I do know that I can no longer find the newspaper. It also has a dragon, a unicorn (which hangs out in an underground garden), a robot, and a puzzle with magic cakes based on Alice in Wonderland. I’m sure I’ll try out the other games in the anthology at some point.

Posted in Animals, Authors, Douglas Adams, Games, Greek Mythology, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Humor, J.R.R. Tolkien, L. Frank Baum, Lewis Carroll, Magic, Maps, Monsters, Mythology, Oz, Oz Authors, Video Games, William Shakespeare | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Quidnunc Pro Quo

A Thousand Ships, by Natalie Haynes – This book dives into the thoughts and actions of numerous women involved with the Trojan War, giving their perspective on the whole thing. It utilizes a lot of sources, and gives each one a voice. There’s even a chapter from the point of view of Gaia, who wants war as a form of population control, as she’s overburdened with so many people. Penelope comments on her husband’s various adventures, versions of which she’s heard from bards over the years. It skips around quite a bit instead of being a straightforward narrative.

Osmo Unknown and the Eightpenny Woods, by Catherynne M. Valente – This children’s book is similar in style to the Fairyland books, the first things I read by Valente, with its heavy whimsy and somewhat old-fashioned tone. Osmo is a bit of a know-it-all who’s discontent with his life in the town of Littlebridge. When his mother accidentally kills a Quidnunc, an intelligent creature sort of like a living hill, the animals of the forest bring up an old agreement between the town and the woods that the killer’s oldest son has to atone for it through a ritual marriage to a ghost. The forest is a place where all the animals talk, and they’re all of two natures, sort of like Wuzzles. Osmo is accompanied on his journey through the forest and into the land of the dead by a cantankerous skadgebat (part wombat, part skunk, and part badger) and a lonely pangirlin (part pangolin and part girl), who initially distrust him but come to be his friends. Pangolins are known to be very solitary animals, who only interact to reproduce and abandon their offspring once they’ve been weaned, and Valente uses this in the story. Nevermore is accustomed to being alone, but secretly desires companionship. The woods are full of mushrooms, which the inhabitants not only live in but can use for many other purposes. I can’t even remember the plot all that well; it meandered quite a bit. But the journey and setting are quite entertaining. I have to admit that I can’t see the title without thinking of Cosmic Osmo, a video game from 1990 that I never played, but I remember it being mentioned in Nintendo Power. It was for Macintosh computers, not Nintendo, but I think it was being used as an example of what a CD-ROM drive could do for games.

Kirby Manga Mania Volume 1, by Hirokazu Hikawa – Speaking of Nintendo, here’s a comic based on one of their properties. Like the Super Mario-kun comics of which a collection was recently released, these are pretty zany, but I’d say that style probably works better with Kirby than with Mario. This version of Kirby isn’t particularly heroic, at least not in any of these stories, instead generally causing trouble for King Dedede and others. He’s childish and generally well-meaning, but also chaotic and ravenous.

Unlike in the anime, Kirby talks here, but he also makes frequent use of the sound “Pepoh!” And he does inhale things and use his copy abilities.

As far as plots go, I noticed a common theme in that one has Dedede turned into a toy, another has Kirby pretend to be a toy, and a third takes place within a board game. There’s also one where the characters are exposed to future technology, and one with Kirby being banished from Dream Land and starting his own country.

They’re weird, but interesting enough for me to want to read some others in the series.

Posted in Animals, Art, Authors, Book Reviews, Cartoons, Catherynne M. Valente, Comics, Greek Mythology, Humor, Kirby, Mythology, Technology, Television, Toys, Video Games | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Let’s Go Back to Your Childhood

There are some pretty major SPOILERS for all three of these movies, especially the first two.

Skinamarink – It’s weird, because I wouldn’t necessarily say this was a good movie, but it was pretty effective in what it was trying to do. It’s an experimental film that plays out like a child’s nightmare. It starts with two kids, a six-year-old girl and a four-year-old boy, at home with their father while their mother is away. Not only does their dad disappear, but windows, doors, and other objects start vanishing, and sometimes reappearing in physically impossible places. I can’t recall specifically having any dreams like that, but it seems like the sort of thing that would have frightened me when I was around that age. It was specifically set in 1995, although the appearance of the house and its contents reminded me of my own childhood some years before that. The picture tends to be fuzzy and faded like an old video recording, and a lot of it is in the dark, and you can’t hear everything people say. There are some colorful toys in it, but the movie as a whole has a dull look. As you can probably guess, it’s a very slow burn, with lingering shots of nothing happening eventually leading to a creepy line or image, including a lot of jump scares. The being who’s causing all the chaos is shown at the end as a ghoulish figure, but there’s no indication as to why he’s messing with these kids. Public domain cartoons play on the TV set throughout; I recognized some bits from Small Fry and Bimbo’s Initiation. The song that provided the title, famously performed by Canadian trio Sharon, Lois & Bram, never appeared in the movie itself. At the end, the boy asks the monster’s name, and it doesn’t answer. I thought for a moment that its name would turn out to BE Skinamarink, as malevolent entities with silly names is kind of a tradition, but no. By the way, we saw this at the Nitehawk at Prospect Park, and they’ll often make a collection of old footage that’s somehow related to the film to show before it. In this case, it included Lionel Richie’s “Dancing on the Ceiling” video, because one of the things the evil being does is to move people and objects onto the ceiling.

The Neverending Story – We also saw this one at the Nitehawk. I’ve seen it many times; it was a favorite of mine as a kid. I’d never seen it on the big screen, though. I guess most people didn’t, as it didn’t do that well at the box office, but became more of a hit on video. I believe my first exposure to it was watching a few minutes of the scene with Morla, the giant turtle, when I was about eight.
It’s interesting, in that it’s an ultimately hopeful film, but with a lot of sad or disturbing stuff happening along the way. The horse Artax sinks in a swamp, a random knight in armor gets zapped to death by some sphinxes, the Rockbiter has a very emotional moment where he gives into despair after he’s unable to help his friends, and the whole of Fantasia is reduced to some floating rocks and then a single grain of sand.
Beth always cries quite a bit while watching this. I don’t really cry at movies, and I really couldn’t say why. It makes me wonder if there’s something wrong with me. I did eventually read the book it was based on, but I don’t think I wrote anything about it at the time, or at least nothing I can find now. The movie is a pretty faithful adaptation of the first part of the book, but there’s a lot more to it. Some of it is covered in the not-very-good sequel, but even that leaves a lot out. It seems to be pretty obscure compared to the movie, which is how things often go, but in this case it’s a movie ABOUT a book and how cool reading is. From what I’ve read, some of the differences between the two were due to technical limitations or time constraints. They had considered coloring Atreyu’s skin green, but it looked too weird; and I don’t think they knew of a way to make the venomous insects with transportation powers work. It does explain why the gnome Urgl gives Atreyu and Falkor medicine. The conversation between Atreyu and the Rockbiter wasn’t in the book at all, though, and that was a great scene. By the way, the Rockbiter’s name is the book is Pyornkrachzark. And I don’t know whether they ever tried to make Artax talk, but I suspect the swamp scene might not have been as effective if he had. I noticed that the Gmork went down pretty easily after Atreyu attacked him, but apparently they couldn’t do multiple takes because the actor was injured by the monster, so that could have something to do with it. Even as a kid, I wondered why the Nothing was portrayed as a storm, but I’m not really sure how they COULD have shown something that wasn’t even supposed to be totally comprehensible. I remember not being able to make out the name that Bastian shouted out, but now that I know it’s “Moon Child” like in the book, it’s not that hard to hear. What’s weird is that the movie has Bastian say it was his late mother’s name, and I don’t think that’s a name a person would normally have, even in German. In the book, he just made it up. I guess that, looking at it from a modern perspective, it’s fairly subtle for something with such a big theme. There aren’t that many characters, the crowd scene at the Ivory Tower is surprisingly small in retrospect, and none of the landscape looks especially exotic.

But I think it does a good job at making the whole thing feel big. Maybe it would have been different if I hadn’t first seen it as a kid. I don’t know. I kind of think that, if they’d made it in the modern age, it might well have been too loud and flashy, even if they could have included stuff they couldn’t back then. Return to Oz is another childhood favorite I rewatched recently, and I’ve always wondered if its depictions of the Nome King and Ozma were inspired by the Rockbiter and the Childlike Empress, respectively.

They also both have parental figures who mean well but don’t really understand the child protagonists. Maybe it was just something in the zeitgeist of the time. It does seem, though, like Return to Oz tried to bring psychological elements into an adaptation of more straightforward books, while The Neverending Story somewhat downplayed the philosophical stuff from the book.

Swallow – This is another one Beth wanted to see, and I thought the premise sounded pretty gross. It’s partially about pica, an actual condition where people feel compelled to swallow inedible objects. That does happen in the movie, and it is disturbing, but there’s more to it than that. The lead character, Hunter, is married to a rich guy and expecting her first child. It’s a seemingly idyllic life, but her husband is often rude to her, and his parents, who are around all the time, are always belittling her. She also has some unresolved trauma involving her own mother, which she never talks about. Hunter starts swallowing objects, some of them very dangerous, because she finds it comforting. When her husband finds out, he yells at her and gives her no privacy, which, not surprisingly, only makes things worse. She’s eventually able to break away and find resolution for some of her trauma, but it’s left ambiguous what happens to her after that. It was certainly better than I thought it would be, more about realizing when a relationship is toxic than about eating weird stuff. The title makes me think of the Emilie Autumn song, but they’re not at all related as far as I know.

Posted in Animals, Cartoons, Characters, Dreams, Families, Health, L. Frank Baum, Magic, Monsters, Music, Names, Oz, Oz Authors, Philosophy, Relationships, Television, Toys, VoVat Goes to the Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Roland in the Deep

I think I first heard of Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso in a blurb about C.S. Lewis comparing J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings to it. Well, they do both have a magic ring that makes people invisible, and a monster called an Orc. The thing is, while I read it, I found it difficult to follow. I don’t know if it was the translation or something on my part. I kind of feel like an impostor if I don’t actually read the thing I’m talking about, but I’ve looked at summaries and found some significant stuff that didn’t register with me when I was reading it. But there’s quite a bit of the fantastic and absurd about it. It’s part of a tradition of fanciful, larger than life tales of Charlemagne and his court.

Roland, an officer in the Emperor’s service, is attested to in a historical source as serving on the border with Brittany and dying to the Basques in the Battle of Roncevaux Pass. Starting with the eleventh century Chanson de Roland, epic poetry made him into a major hero, not only a warrior of renown but also somewhat of a knight errant. And he’s sometimes said to be Charlemagne’s nephew. In these stories, he and his compatriots are fighting not Bretons or Basques but Muslim invaders, presumably a reflection on European views of the time they were writing. In the fifteenth century, Matteo Maria Boiardo wrote Orlando Innamorato, using the Italian form of Roland’s name. The Furioso was a direct follow-up by a different author. Anyway, in the legends that grew up around this guy, he’s said to have wielded the sword Durendal, which was indestructible and could cut through boulders. There are a few different stories as to how he obtained it, but various sources claim that it originally belonged to Hector of Troy, and the Amazon Penthesileia used it for a while. Some time later, the hilt came to contain St. Peter’s tooth, blood of Basil of Caesarea, hair of Denis of Paris, and a piece of Jesus’ mother Mary’s clothes. The mixture of ancient Greek with Christian mythology is interesting, and not at all unusual. One of Roland’s earliest feats was killing the giant Ferragut, who was only vulnerable in his navel, sort of like King Hippo.

I don’t know. I would have expected bigger.
The Innamorato has him falling in love with Angelica, a Chinese princess who came to France initially to try to undermine Charlemagne’s knights. Pretty much all of the knights fall for her, actually, although it’s the worst for Roland and his cousin Rinaldo. The story has both Rinaldo and Angelica drinking from fountains that made people love or hate each other, created by Merlin for Tristan and Isolde, so I guess that’s another sort of mythology mixed in. There’s also water that makes people forget things, along the lines of Lethe and the Water of Oblivion from Oz. The fairy Falerina uses it to trap people in her enchanted garden, and Angelica saves Roland with her magic ring, which can break any enchantment and turn a person invisible. I’d mentioned before how Ruth Plumly Thompson’s evil fairy Faleero might be a reference to the painter Luis Ricardo Falero, but I guess Falerina could be another possible source. It apparently derives from the French for “legend.” Morgan le Fay also plays a role in the story. Furioso is apparently the first appearance of a hippogriff, a cross between a griffin and a horse.

That griffins and horses were natural enemies was a long-standing tradition, supposedly deriving from tales of the Arimaspoi fighting griffins on horseback, making a cross between the two exceedingly unlikely.

The hippogriff in the poem belongs to the sorcerer Atlante, who uses the animal to take his foster son Ruggiero (the Italian version of the name Roger, but it makes me think of another Oz character) to an island ruled by the sorceress Alcina, who takes him for a lover.

His goal is to keep Ruggiero from converting to Christianity, as a prophecy has indicated that he would die shortly after doing so. He’s saved by Melissa, a former student of Merlin’s who tends to his tomb. Ruggiero then rides the animal to rescue Angelica, who is being sacrificed to a sea monster in the same manner as Andromeda. The monster is called an orc, likely after the animal described by Pliny the Elder as a sea monster with long teeth, the origin of our word “orca” for killer whales. Ludovico describes it as a writhing mass with pig-like eyes and jaws, and very thick scales.

Tolkien’s use of the word “Orc” comes from Beowulf, and I don’t know for sure that there’s any etymological connection, but it seems to have generally just meant “monster.” Ruggiero stuns the monster with a glare from his shield, leaving Roland to kill it by throwing an anchor in its mouth and letting it bleed to death.

Astolfo, another paladin who’s the son of the King of England, later rides the hippogriff to Ethiopia in an attempt to help Roland, who went crazy when Angelica married another man. He saves Prester John from some Harpies, and rides to the Terrestrial Paradise. That and a gate to Hell are apparently not that far from Ethiopia. With help from John the Apostle, he rides in Elijah‘s flaming chariot to the Moon, which is described as having a shiny metallic surface and being where all the things lost on Earth go, including figurative as well as physical ones.

He finds a bottle containing Roland’s wits, and returns them to the ailing knight.

There’s also likely a connection to the Robert Browning poem “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came,” about a young knight who seeks the titular tower in a bleak wasteland, with the poem ending as soon as he gets there. It’s not clear WHY he wants to go there, but maybe it’s some sort of initiation or something. The direct inspiration is from a bit of nonsense verse in King Lear, but the poem ends with Roland blowing his horn, as does his namesake at the end of the Chanson de Roland. In the earlier work, it’s described as an oliphant, a hunting horn made from an elephant’s tusk. Stop buying from poachers, Roland! I haven’t read any of Stephen King’s Dark Tower books, but I understand their hero, the Gunslinger, is also named Roland, in reference to the Browning poem. And speaking of Roland and guns, is that also where the name comes from in the Warren Zevon song “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner,” about a Norwegian mercenary in Africa who remains active after a former comrade shoots off his head?

Or, since Zevon played the piano, maybe that character was named after the keyboard. I will say that it’s 1700 miles from Mombasa to Johannesburg, so that’s some powerful shooting.

Another character linked to the Roland stories is Ogier the Dane, who first appears in the Chanson Roland. According to later lore, he ended up in France as a servant to Charlemagne when his father, the Danish King Geoffroy, is unable to pay his debts to the Emperor. He becomes known as a great warrior, and wields a magical short sword called Cortana, which had belonged to Tristan, and later became used in English coronations. From what I understand, which isn’t that much, that name was used in Halo because the creator had named a similar character Durandal in an earlier game. Ogier had a rivalry with Charlemagne’s son Charlot, who killed his son in a fit of rage over losing a game. This led Ogier to rebel against the Emperor, although they later reconciled, and Champot was killed by Huon of Bordeaux. He ruled a kingdom in the Middle East, and was eventually taken to Avalon by a fire-breathing horse called Papillon. Morgan le Fay, who had marked him at birth, took her as his lover for 200 years.

He briefly returned to France to help King Hugh Capet to fight off more Muslims, then came back to Avalon. In another tradition, he’s in an enchanted sleep until he’s needed again. The character’s title might not have even originally indicated he was from Denmark, but he later became a folk hero in that country.

Posted in Animals, Arthurian Legend, Authors, Book Reviews, British, C.S. Lewis, Characters, Christianity, French, Greek Mythology, Islam, J.R.R. Tolkien, L. Frank Baum, Magic, Magic Items, Monsters, Music, Mythology, Names, Oz, Oz Authors, Poetry, Relationships, Religion, Ruth Plumly Thompson, Video Games, William Shakespeare | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Beyond Burgers

The Bob’s Burgers Movie – I had wanted to see this at the theater, but I never got around to it, so I saw it streaming this weekend. It seems like the typical way to make a family sitcom into a full-length movie is to add an adventure element and make the family heroes, which they did here. There’s a murder mystery and a few action sequences. Also, there’s a lot of singing, which is true of the show as well, but here the songs are much longer. I will say, however, that in other ways it felt kind of small. There are quite a few recurring characters who either make very minor appearances or don’t show up at all (although most of them do make cameos in the closing credits), and while each family member has a story arc, there isn’t a lot of time spent on all of them. A lot of the humor came from the absurdity of the Fischoeder family and their weird dynamics. When Calvin is accused of murdering a carny, he and Felix plan to escape to Cuba in a submarine that’s actually just an old amusement park ride. David Wain voices a new family member, Calvin and Felix’s cousin and lawyer Grover, who ends up playing a major role. Wain is the voice of Courtney on the show, but she doesn’t have a speaking role in the movie. It wasn’t groundbreaking (okay, the ground breaking is actually a significant part of the plot, but I meant figuratively), but it was a pretty fun time, which I guess is usually true of the show as well. There’s kind of a theme of encouraging people to do what they enjoy, even if they aren’t that successful at it, to both the show and the movie.

Lightyear – This whole thing is kind of a weird concept. The premise, as explained at the beginning, is that Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story was a character from a movie before he was a toy, and this is that movie, presumably from the early nineties. And probably because of that, it’s played pretty straight. There’s humor in it, but it’s not over-the-top or anything. It starts with Buzz and his commanding officer Alisha scouting an unknown planet, where they end up marooned. Buzz tests a hyperspace crystal made from materials from this world, but due to time dilation, he ends up skipping a bunch of years while Alisha grows old and dies, and many other things change as well. He eventually finds the planet under attack by someone named Zurg who commands a bunch of robots. There’s a twist with Zurg, and it’s not that he’s Buzz’s father like in Toy Story 2, although that is sort of referenced. To defeat the invaders, Buzz teams up with Alisha’s granddaughter Izzy and two other Space Ranger trainees, the insecure Mo and the paroled old lady Darby, as well as a robotic cat called Sox (this was, after all, supposed to have been from the Clinton administration). I’m pretty sure all of the characters except for Buzz and Zurg are original. Considering that the in-universe version of this film resulted in a highly successful toy line, you’d think at least one toy Sox would have shown up in the Toy Story films. And the Zurg of the movie isn’t much like how he’s depicted elsewhere, but that could be intentional considering how these things often change over different media, and I think Buzz had his own cartoon in the Toy Story world. A sympathetic but misguided villain becoming a scheme-of-the-day evil guy for an animated series wouldn’t have been at all atypical. As for how it is as a movie, it’s…decent. It’s a good story with some emotion and no major flaws that I noticed, but I never really got invested in it, nor do I feel like I got that much out of it.

Posted in Cartoons, Humor, Revisiting Disney, Technology, Television, Toys, VoVat Goes to the Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Curse You, Programming!

I have completed Cosmic Star Heroine, which is a fairly short game, but I’d only been playing it on and off. I think I played it on the second easiest level, although I can’t remember for sure. It was challenging in spots, but never all that frustrating. I made it through the multiple final boss fights without much trouble. Like the original Phantasy Star, you explore three different planets in the same solar system. Araenu is where the capital city is located, and has a cyberpunk sort of aesthetic. Rhomu is largely jungle on the surface, inhabited by the insectoid Scimerex, while the humans live underground in Old Western style towns. And Nuluup is inhabited by people who die and become ghosts as part of their normal life cycle. The game has quite a few playable characters, most of whom aren’t developed all that much, but they do have unique abilities in battle, and each one specializes in a particular element. I wrote about the first few before. Others are Arete, the leader of a rebel faction who uses robots in battle; Finian, or Finn for short, a police officer and relative of Alyssa’s; the Scimerex Psybe; and Orson Bolibar, a private investigator on Nuluup you hire when you’re falsely accused of poisoning the mayor. When given the choice, I liked to use Chahn and Sue, the former for her flamethrower and the latter for the ability to counterattack. After you beat him, it turns out that the mind-controlling Lumina device has also driven Arete crazy, so she leaves the party and you have to fight her. Strangely, you still get items for her after she leaves the party. X’zorv does join permanently, however. The final boss, Eternity, is fought in several stages. There are also support characters you can recruit, but I’ll admit I didn’t experiment all that much with them.

Several sidequests that personally involve specific characters, like Finn fighting zombies in a police station, the gunmancy test at the temple for Chahn, and Sue rescuing a friend from the abandoned Zanzaran Mines.

I had to look up how to access these quests, but once I started them, they were pretty straightforward. I never did try to beat Cthulhu, though. I understand he saved the world in another game by the same developer.

I wrote earlier about how I’d started Final Fantasy VIII, but I feel like I’m essentially stuck. I’m in the part where I’m trying to liberate Balamb from the Galbadian invaders, and Fujin and Raijin are able to kill me pretty quickly. And since I’ve saved, I can’t leave the town and do something else. Maybe there’s some way to use the Junction system to my advantage, but it’s too complicated for me. I guess it’s another game I’ll set aside until some unspecified future time that might never arrive. At least I have some idea what the game is about. There are both books and games I feel I should read or play because they’re relevant to my interests and can improve my fandom literacy, but they sometimes turn out to be tedious. I started Live a Live (although I’m not sure how to pronounce it), and I downloaded a Zork collection, so we’ll see how far I get with those.

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Been a Long Time Since I Rinkitinked

I’ve previously reviewed the 2016 Oziana, which consists of fifteen different alternate endings for Rinktink in Oz. I thought I should say a little more about each one, however, so here we go.

  • Susan Johnson starts out by going in a different direction from L. Frank Baum’s ending, physically as well as metaphorically, with Inga, Rinkitink, and Bilbil leaving the Nome Kingdom and encountering a nasty merchant named Rasta with a magic rope that he uses to take prisoners. He turns out to be the King’s brother Bobara, who is angry because the monarch married a non-royal. The enchantment on Bilbil was worked by Zog at Bobara’s behest, and King Anko breaks it.
  • Aaron Solomon Adelman wrote a short piece that doesn’t really provide an ending so much as questioning the official one. A reporter for the Ozmapolitan interviews Inga, and comes up with the idea that Zella kept the Pink and Blue Pearls, after which she saved the day and became a monster hunter. Yeah, it’s a bit on the silly side.
  • Dennis Anfuso has the Nome King unsuccessfully try to trick Inga into killing his own parents in enchanted form. Bilbil, with help from the White Pearl, then convinces Roquat that he’d been fooled by King Gos and Queen Cor, as they bribed him with jewels when he claims ownership over all the jewels in the world anyway. That was something I wondered about as well, honestly.
  • Jared Davis uses the idea from Ozma of Roquat having transformed Inga’s parents into ornaments and making the party guess which ones they are. Inga succeeds in this with assistance from the White Pearl. The pearl theme is continued with the Nome King using a lavender one instead of the Magic Belt to work his transformations.
  • Baruch Adelman uses the same concept as his brother Aaron in having a reporter try to determine the true story by interviewing those involved. It’s longer, however, with Rinkitink, Roquat, Dorothy, and Bilbil. The King of Gilgad comes up with a ridiculous story inspired by James Bond and J.R.R. Tolkien, and tries to flirt with the interviewer. The Nome makes Bilbil out to be a criminal mastermind. Dorothy tells basically the same story as in the original book, but elaborates a bit on how terrified the Nomes are of eggs, which the reporter has reason to doubt. And Bilbil claims that everyone eventually just made peace, and it was covered up to make the tale more exciting.
  • Andrew Heller’s entry won the contest, and it has Rinkitink getting the Nomes hooked up his How to Be Good scroll to the extent that it disrupts order in the kingdom, and Roquat gives up. It’s then revealed that practically everyone involved is a king or prince in disguise, and Bilbil is the ruler of a country of goats even more surly than he is.
  • George Van Buren does a twist on Bobo’s disenchantment by having the goat, again with help from the White Pearl, trick Roquat into working the same transformations Glinda does in the book. He also happens to have some eggs, which were originally transformed with him and caused his rotten disposition.
  • Nicholas M. Campbell has Inga and the White Pearl fool Roquat with a technically accurate promise of bottomless riches, and Bilbil turns out to be a prince of goats, much like in Heller’s ending. Rinkitink finds out that his own kingdom was taken over by the very proper Tooshoos, author of How to Be Good. The King survives falling into the sea thanks to the Pink Pearl, enlists Queen Aquareine’s help in defeating Gos and Cor (here mistakenly called King Cos and Queen Gos), and is crowned King of Regos and Coregos in their place.
  • Christopher M. Diket also uses the ornament room, but with the twist of the Nome King not being able to work the Belt correctly, but that turning out to be part of a larger plot on his part. Rinkitink also turns out to be surprisingly prepared, and has a magical pop-up book that can tell the future. They’re also saved from some water monsters by a swarm of bees who are friends of the charcoal burner Nikobob’s. This one is kind of confusing, but includes some fun concepts.
  • Robin Hess’s story has Inga find his parents pretty quickly with the Pearls’ assistance, then the protagonists visiting Ev and learning about Lionel the Loneliest Wizard, who’s a pretty amusing character. He disenchants Prince Bobo, who was transformed by a rival of his, the wizard Glamput. Robin’s own Toto and the Cats of Oz gives a different name for the enchanter.
  • Karen Diket begins with another new wizard, Zenoro, who comes to the Nome Kingdom looking for a magical jewel and escaping the Three Trick Caverns in the process. He leaves some magic behind, which helps Inga to find his parents and bring some pearls from Gilgad to trade to the Roquat for their release.
  • John W. and Eleanor M. Kennedy have the Nome King mistake the White Pearl for an egg, and Bilbil uses his sense of smell to solve a puzzle involving doors. The goat is disenchanted in a way involving some wordplay, which is essentially what led to the wizard enchanting him in the first place.
  • In Sarah Hadley’s ending, Roquat gets Rinkitink drunk and finds out about the Pearls. Things turn around somewhat when Bilbil befriends Kaliko, and receives his assistance in, once again, the ornament rooms. This time, however, the goat breaks the enchantments by breaking the knick-knacks. Kaliko takes over the Nome Kingdom, but Inga gives Roquat the White Pearl as a bit of consolation. There’s also quite a bit on Nome food. There’s also a connection to the previous entry, in that Bilbil eats the How to Be Good scroll.
  • Mariah B’Forre also incorporates eggs, in this case ones from a jackdaw nest near the Nome Kingdom, as weapons for Inga and company to use. They then escape a maze with help from the White Pearl.
  • Finally, Maggie Lockett has a short ending where Inga saves Gos and Cor from the Wheelers, and strike a bargain with them to let them live on Pingaree from then on.

I also reread Invisible Inzi of Oz, by Virginia and Robert Wauchope. This is one of the earliest fan-written Oz books, most likely to first to be published, and the story behind it is that it was narrated to the young authors by a Ouija Board. I’m not entirely sure how likely that is, but there’s an afterword that explains it as subconscious on their part. It was serialized in a magazine called A Child’s Garden from 1925 through 1926, with Maud Baum’s blessing. It doesn’t particularly read like Baum, but it does show a definite familiarity with his books, including Ozma’s army officers acting as they did in Ozma, a plot inspired by Lost Princess, and the Wizard of Oz using the magic word from Magic.

Dorothy, the Wizard, the Scarecrow, and Scraps go off to find some books stolen from Glinda, briefly passing through some of the usual pun-filled themed communities on the way. The basic ideas of Musicton, Flattown, and Walkingbury are used in other books as well, with Tune Town in Ruth Plumly Thompson’s Gnome King, High Faluting City in John R. Neill’s Runaway, and Fix City with its walking furniture in Royal Book. The thief, Kuik Blackbab, whose methods are pretty similar to Ugu the Shoemaker‘s, lives in a lion-shaped castle that used to belong to a sorceress named Inzi.

Kuik transformed her, and while she can take different shapes, she cannot regain her human form. She usually remains invisible, or takes the form of a floating flame called a roodnite. It seems like there isn’t a whole lot of resolution. The heroes get back Glinda’s books and escape the castle, but leave Kuik alone aside from leaving a sign threatening him with the Water of Oblivion if he continues to practice magic, and Inzi goes to live in the Emerald City without being disenchanted. Maybe that’s to keep it as close as possible to what came from the kids’ subconscious in the first place. It’s a slight story, but a decent one. Chris Dulabone published the edition I have, and Eric Shanower illustrated it.

Posted in Book Reviews, Characters, Chris Dulabone, Dennis Anfuso, Eric Shanower, Food, Humor, J.R.R. Tolkien, Jared Davis, John R. Neill, L. Frank Baum, Magic, Magic Items, Oz, Oz Authors, Places, Ruth Plumly Thompson | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Little Robot Girl

WARNING! SPOILERS for all three movies reviewed herein!

Speak No Evil – Beth tends to like bleak, hopeless movies, while I tend more towards the whimsical and fantastic. Obviously there are exceptions for both of us, but one sort of movie she likes is the sort where people with no motive whatsoever show up to torture and kill someone who hadn’t done anything, and end up getting away with it. I guess I feel powerless and like there’s no real justice much of the time anyway, so I don’t need a movie to reinforce that. I’ve enjoyed films that were disturbing and where the villains won, but I kind of think the sort of villain in these isn’t particularly interesting, just jerky. In this particular film, two couples with one young child, one Dutch and one Danish, meet up and befriend each other on vacation in Italy. After they’ve returned home, the Dutch family invites the Danish one to their house for the weekend. They at first just seem vaguely weird and rude, the sort of thing that can be written off as personal or cultural differences. Once they start acting openly psychotic, it’s too late for the Danish family to do anything about it. The title comes from how the Dutch couple cut out their son’s tongue, and later do the same to the other couple’s daughter. Some pictures in their house indicate that they’ve done this over and over again with different kids, kidnapping them, cutting out their tongues, abusing them, and eventually killing them. There are a few different languages in the movie, with Danish and Dutch being used by the families when talking amongst themselves, but speaking English to each other. The vacation thing seems a little too elaborate just to torture people; there are probably plenty of people in Holland they can do that to. But maybe that makes it harder for the authorities to track. But yeah, it didn’t seem at all satisfying to me. And there wasn’t a single monkey in it!

Strange Magic – I added this to my Netfilx queue years ago, and I don’t entirely remember why, as I didn’t know a whole lot about it other than that it was animated. And I had the DVD sitting around for months before I got around to watching it. It’s based on a story by George Lucas and was distributed by Disney, but it was a box office flop. I came into it wanting to like it, as I like stuff with fairies in it, and it looks good. The fairies have pretty butterfly wings and anime-type hair. The Bog King, the ruler of the Dark Forest who’s set up as a villain but has a change of heart, looks kind of like a Rankin/Bass character, and has dragonfly wings.

And there are plenty of other fantastic creatures as well. What doesn’t work is that it’s a jukebox musical, and there are so many familiar songs packed in and in no way advancing the fairly thin plot. What’s there is sort of a twist on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with a lot of mismatched couples due to magic but everything working out in the end. I guess there’s also some influence from the Nutcracker, as the Sugar Plum Fairy is a character. Maybe it would have worked better as a short without the songs, but then it might not have gotten funding.

M3GAN – I’m not sure whether to consider this a killer doll or a killer robot movie, since the titular character is both. And her name is just pronounced “Megan,” not the more exotic “Mthreegan.” Anyway, it’s about a little girl named Cady who survives a car accident that kills her parents, and she goes to live with her aunt Gemma, who’s employed at a company that makes robotic toys. Trying to come up with something that will help Cady and help her employer get an edge in the market, she builds the robotic doll M3GAN, who is able to learn about her companions through some advanced artificial intelligence. I suppose it’s no surprise to anyone that she eventually starts killing people, initially just those who threaten Cady, but later others as well. And she’s a pretty brutal killer. Once again, the moral is that making machines smart will doom humanity. Actually, I think it’s more about the futility of quick fixes for complex problems. Besides, if people these days are impressed by computers being able to make composite pictures based on keywords, we’re probably quite far off from the sort of technology in the film. Anyway, I liked it pretty well. Although it’s not the main theme, there’s a fair amount of satire on consumer culture throughout. It actually starts with a commercial for a robotic toy pet, with a cheerful jingle announcing that it won’t die like a real pet. One weird note that probably won’t interest anyone but me is that, before the movie, I was reading this article about how a gaming magazine mistakenly referred to Mega Man’s brother as Bruce, and the movie had a robot named Bruce, who played a Chekhov’s Gun kind of role.

Posted in Advertising, Art, Authors, Cartoons, Fairy Tales, Families, Humor, Language, Magic, Mega Man, Monsters, Music, Relationships, Technology, Toys, Video Games, VoVat Goes to the Movies, William Shakespeare | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What Is a Neighbor?

The Ogress and the Orphans, by Kelly Barnhill – This is a children’s fantasy that seems very relevant to recent events, and it looks like that was done on purpose. The villain is a very Trumpish sort in many respects. Of course, there are a lot of real-life people with the same basic traits, but this one combines the lust for power and accolades with the strange simple-mindedness. It takes place in a town where the residents have become unfriendly and suspicious since the library was burned down by a dragon. This monster was defeated by a man who became a beloved local hero and was elected mayor. One resident who’s still friendly is an Ogress, but she prefers to do her good deeds out of sight, delivering gifts to people with the help of some crows. And there are some orphan children who are more aware of the changed atmosphere of the town than the adults are. Told in a way that jumps around a bit by a narrator that’s omniscient but doesn’t tell everything at once, it addresses some of people’s worst traits, but is ultimately hopeful, thanks to the titular characters. Barnhill introduces a lot of her own lore about dragons and ogres, and the twist with the dragon and the mayor was obvious to me from pretty early on, although maybe it wouldn’t be so much for kids. Not that this is in any way the main point of the story, but it is set up as kind of a mystery.

Super Mario Bros. Encyclopedia: The Official Guide to the First 30 Years: 1985-2015 – That’s a pretty lengthy title, isn’t it? I really wouldn’t say it’s an encyclopedia in the traditional sense, but more of an extensive guidebook. Not that that’s a bad thing for someone who spent a lot of time reading instruction booklets and Nintendo Power guides. It covers the games in the main Super Mario series, meaning platformers with Mario as the main protagonist. Spinoffs (and whatever the Mario games predating Super Mario Bros. are–spinons, maybe?) are briefly referenced, and there’s a list of every game in which Mario makes an appearance. The English edition was first published in 2018, but it doesn’t list any games from after 2016. There’s no mention of Odyssey, and there’s an ad near the beginning for the first Super Mario Maker. For each game, there’s an introduction, list of characters, power-ups, enemies, courses, and items, plus some extra trivia. Some of the information is taken directly from the original instructions, but there’s no reference to Birdo‘s gender confusion. There are a lot of screenshots, mostly small, but I guess that goes without saying. You’re not going to get a list of every obscure Shy Guy cameo like in the Super Mario Wiki, but it’s still pretty cool.

The two-page spread of the main characters has some fun depictions; I particularly like Bowser’s pose. It is presumably a mistake to identify Larry as the leader of the Koopalings; that’s usually Ludwig when it comes up at all.

Iphigenia in Aulis: The Age of Bronze Edition, by Euripides, adapted by Edward Einhorn, illustrated by Eric Shanower – I believe I first saw a mention of this not long after I listened to the Let’s Talk About Myths, Baby episodes about this play. And I know Edward and Eric from Oz fandom. The play is about Agamemnon sacrificing his daughter Iphigenia to Artemis so the Achaeans can get a good wind for sailing to Troy, at the behest of the prophet Kalchas. It hardly seems worthwhile even if if you don’t consider human sacrifice inherently immoral (and other Greek myths suggest that Zeus, at least, wasn’t a fan of it), but, as Einhorn discusses in the appendices, Euripides presents it as Agamemnon and Iphigenia being forced into it by a mob of people who don’t appear onstage. The pictures are taken from Eric’s Age of Bronze comic series, and are used to create a sort of play in book form.

Paola Santiago and the Sanctuary of Shadows, by Tehlor Kay Mejia – The third and presumably final book in this series has Paola and her friends facing off against El Cucuy, a boogeyman from Mexican folklore, and his army of doppelgangers. There’s also quite a bit about Pao’s relationships with various people, and a revelation about her friend Dante’s grandmother that’s pretty similar to a twist in the Thursday Next books. It’s an enjoyable read with a lot of emotion along the way. It’s a coming of age sort of thing, you know?

Posted in Animals, Art, Authors, Book Reviews, Comics, Current Events, Edward Einhorn, Eric Shanower, Greek Mythology, Jasper Fforde, Magic, Mario, Monsters, Mythology, Oz, Oz Authors, Plays, Politics, Prejudice, Relationships, Rick Riordan, Thursday Next, Video Games | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Attack of the Puberty Panda

Turning Red – This is the first Pixar film to be directed solely by a woman, and it explores the familiar themes of the awkwardness of adolescence and trying to fit in with an overbearing family. That it uses menstruation as a metaphor is pretty obvious, and it’s nice to see that they’re pretty frank about that, while still acknowledging how embarrassing it can be. (I’ve never really understood why men are supposed to be grossed out by periods, rather than just relieved we don’t have to have them.) Meilin Lee is a thirteen-year-old Chinese-Canadian girl whose family runs a temple in Toronto to their ancestors, especially Sun Yee, who had an affinity for red pandas. She tries hard to please her strict mother Ming, who doesn’t approve of her friends, her fondness for a boy band called 4*Town, or the fact that she’s interested in boys (despite never doing anything about that). I don’t know a whole lot about Chinese culture; I’m obviously aware that really strict parents are stereotypical, but Mei’s mom’s level of conservatism seems more suited to the fifties than to 2002, when the movie takes place. I’m not entirely sure why they set it twenty years ago, and can only figure it has something to do with the style of the boy band songs. Obviously boy bands are still a thing, but they’ve changed somewhat musically. Of course, to me, a forty-five-year-old, 2002 still sounds pretty recent. Apparently Billie Eilish, who wasn’t even one year old at the time the film occurs, co-wrote the 4*Town songs. Mei’s dad is much quieter and more accepting, but lets his wife run the show. One day, Mei turns into a giant red panda, and while she tries to hide it at first, her parents admit that this is a condition that affects every female descendant of Sun Yee, who prayed for the ability in order to protect her village during war. I appreciated the old Chinese art style for the flashback sequence.

It works sort of like the Hulk, the transformation occurring when the person is angry or excited, and ending when they calm down. There’s also a ritual that can bind the panda spirit, but it can’t be performed until the next red moon. In the meantime, Mei gets the idea to monetize the panda form, which the other kids turn out to love because it’s really cute, in order to buy tickets for her three best friends and herself to see 4*Town in concert. Unfortunately, the concert turns out to be on the same day as the ritual, with her friend initially getting the date wrong. During the ritual, Mei decides she likes the panda ability after all, despite the fact that it sometimes gets out of her control. When she decides she’s going to the concert (her panda form letting her get in without paying), her mom gets really angry and inadvertently releases her own panda form, which had been trapped inside a medallion, and turns into a kaiju-sized red panda who ends up destroying SkyDome.

It’s only when Mei finally explains her feelings and frustrations to her mom that things get sorted out, and Ming realizes that a lot of her own obsession with control comes from her trying to please her own mom, who still intimidates her.

There’s a gag at the end about the family using donations to the temple to fund the rebuilding of SkyDome. Shouldn’t there be some kind of government grant for things like that? I liked the movie pretty well, and found Mei easy to identify with, despite her very different life circumstances. I also found that red pandas aren’t that closely related to panda bears, despite their similar features, and zoologists aren’t quite sure how to classify them.

Posted in Animals, Art, Cartoons, Families, Health, Magic, Monsters, Music, Relationships, Religion, Revisiting Disney, Sexuality, VoVat Goes to the Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment