Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Books: Blood, Sweat, and Pixels

Once upon a time, I wanted to be a video game developer. In middle school, I dutifully coded elaborate adventure games in QBASIC, and in high school, I studied up on Doom WADs and level design. Reality sunk in somewhere around freshman year, when I realized the terrible trials and tribulations game devs go through: zero job security, ever-shifting directives from management, and, most of all, the dreaded "crunch" (stretches of unpaid, wall-to-wall overtime that can last for months on end).

Now, it's arguably all worth it to create a classic video game that will live in the minds of millions of people, but it is still a steep price to pay. "Blood, Sweat, and Pixels," by Jason Schreier, is a peek inside that world. Each chapter is a compelling behind-the-scenes narrative about the making of a famous game, with plenty of interviews from the developers and publishers themselves. The selected games are a good cross-section of the industry - everything from Kickstarted indies (Pillars of Eternity, Shovel Knight) to AAA titles from major studios (Destiny, Diablo III).

If you're not a gamer, the book might be a little bland, and if you read game blogs regularly, some of this material will be old hat. If you enjoy video games, though, and you ever wondered what it takes to make one, you'll probably like this book.

Politics: Justice

I try to keep Shangrila Towers apolitical, except for gun rights. However, since D.C. v. Heller, where the Second Amendment was literally one vote away from being gutted like a fish, the politics of the Supreme Court are very much relevant to gun owners. This is because the Constitutional protection of the right to keep and bear arms is far from settled - the Heller dissenters are on record about wanting to "reconsider" the decision at the first opportunity.

So, when Justice Scalia unexpectedly passed away, I didn't mind the Republican-controlled Senate blocking Judge Merrick Garland, based on his terrible record on guns. And I breathed a sigh of relief when Brett Kavanaugh was sworn in despite the sexual assault charges that had been leveled against him, because Kavanaugh would likely be a fifth vote to reaffirm Heller:

I'm not particularly proud of viewing the Court in such a nakedly political manner, but it will take a couple of decades for Heller to become settled law like Roe v. Wade has (the Court will never overturn it - there'd be riots in the streets).

Saturday, October 06, 2018

[Shangrila] Towers of Terror: The Twilight Zone

Halloween is upon us again, and as usual, I'll be putting up horror-themed posts throughout the month. Today, let's look at some of the scariest episodes from Rod Serling's classic TV series, "The Twilight Zone."

The After Hours

Rod Serling wrote the vast majority of the first season's episodes, and "The After Hours" is one of his scariest. The story starts with, as Serling puts it, "a most prosaic, ordinary, run-of-the-mill errand" - Marsha White (Anne Francis) tries to buy a gift for her mother in a department store. Things rapidly go south when Marsha is accidentally locked inside the store after it closes. She's all alone - or is she? The script gets maximum mileage out of an otherwise ordinary setting, and it even manages to work in Anne Francis's signature mole...

Twenty Two

This is one of six Twilight Zone episodes that was taped instead of filmed, in a vain attempt to save production costs. It's a shame, because the story (an adaptation of E.F. Benson's short story "The Bus-Conductor") is quite suspenseful. The episode follows a woman being hospitalized for nervous fatigue. She has a recurring nightmare of a creepy nurse beckoning her into a morgue. But where does the dream end, and reality begin?

The piece is anchored by a great performance from Barbara Nichols, who basically spends the entire runtime in abject terror.

The New Exhibit

In most Twilight Zone episodes, there isn't any gore or body count to speak of - this was '60s network television, after all - but a gleeful exception to this rule is "The New Exhibit," starring Martin Balsam.

The episode follows the curator of a wax museum, who is forced to shelter the wax figures of famous murderers (e.g., Jack the Ripper) in his basement when the museum closes down. The figures are astonishingly lifelike - almost too lifelike...

It's not particularly lurid by modern standards, but it still makes for a fun time, especially since this is one of those hour-long episodes from Season 4.

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