The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games, academia and life dare to converge

Alien Isolation: Final Review and Reflection

“I’d like to say I got this part figured out, but I know the moment I say that, I’m going to get killed. Fucking Facehuggers, man.” —TheRadBrad on Alien Isolation

After two months and eighteen days, over the course of around nineteen hours, I’ve finally crossed the finish line for Alien: Isolation. When I left off last time back in late June, I’d just acquired the flamethrower and was getting ready to lure the Xenomorph into a trap such that it could be ejected from the station. That part of the game was quite tense, and I succeeded without too much difficulty. With the Xenomorph gone for a bit, there’s a respite in Alien: Isolation; the Working Joes and other human hostiles are not particularly scary, so I was able to enjoy the relative peace and quiet on Sevastopol station as I made my way to the Apollo core to try and reset the androids so they’d cease their hostilities. However, this is unsuccessful, leading to the single most tense mission in all of Alien: Isolation: Ripley learns that there is a vast Xenomorph hive in the bowels of the reactor and must overload it, all the while contending with Facehuggers and multiple Xenomorphs. Despite succeeding, several Xenomporhs escape, and Ripley must board the Anesidora to rescue Taylor. She learns her mother’s fate but only narrowly escapes the Anesidora’s destruction. With Sevastopol critically damaged, Ripley makes her way off the station after detaching it and back on board the Torrens, she finds herself confronted by yet another Xenomorph. She escapes through an airlock and drifts in space before being awakened by some searchlights.

While Alien: Isolation may be named after the Xenomorphs, having completed the game now, I conclude that the Xenomorph is, surprisingly, not the most frightening aspect of Alien: Isolation. Instead, the title for this covetted spot goes to the Facehuggers. These chelicerate arthropod-like sorganisms are the second stage of a Xenomorph’s life cycle: resembling spiders with bony appendages and a tail, they propel themselves at high speeds towards their victims’ faces. After they wrap their appendeges around the victim, they implant the Xenomorph embryo that matures into a Xenomporh. Small in size, capable of moving quickly and announcing their presence with a shriek, the Facehuggers are downright terrifying and can result deaths out of the blue. They are easily dispatched with any ordinance that Ripley carries (a single revolver bullet or a well-placed hit from the maintenance jack will kill them), but the unexpectedness that they can appear and hop onto the screen makes them the ideal means of inducing jump scares even in someone as stoic as myself. Nowhere in the game do I startle or even cry out in response to a death at the Xenomorph’s hands; that the Facehuggers can do this is a sure sign of how well-designed they are as enemies. Unlike the Poison Headcrabs of Half-Life 2, who similarly announced their presence audibly, the Facehuggers can send players back a long way, further increasing their ability to frighten players even compared to the Poison Headcrabs. So effective were the Facehuggers that it took me a week to muster the courage to continue playing the reactor basement mission, and ultimately, were it not for this opponent, Alien: Isolation might have lost its magic. Instead, the inclusion of Facehuggers capable of causing such effective jump scares adds to the enjoyment factor of Alien: Isolation substantially.

Stepping away from the Facehuggers and the fact that they gave me nightmares, the main theme in Alien: Isolation appears to revolve around Ripley’s resourcefulness, determination and adaptability as a character. Although the odds are stacked against Ripley the moment she sets foot on Sevastopol Station, she capitalises on her engineering knowledge and patience to make her way through areas, both to survive and to do what she’d set out to do. It was remarkably fun to be playing a character who is forced to use cunning, rather than firepower, to overwhelm an enemy, and similarly, it was a refreshing experience to capitalise on an unkillable enemy to further one’s goals and survival. Despite being highly linear in nature, almost to that of a kinetic novel, Alien: Isolation is a fantastic experience. This is because the atmosphere in Alien: Isolation is superbly designed, allowing players to vividly experience what Ripley herself is experiencing. Players have some sway over how Ripley’s adventure proceeds, offering a set of tools that can dramatically alter the outcome of an encounter with Working Joes, other humans or the Xenomorph itself. For instance, when encountered with a group of humans in a room, Ripley can sneak past them by triggering a smoke grenade, find a vent and use a different path, or even toss a noisemaker into the mix and have the Xenomorph do the dirty work. These highly immersive approach allows Alien: Isolation to succeed by giving players enough options to allow them a means of matching wits with their environment and enemies. In conjunction with a more linear story, Alien: Isolation provides a fine balance between openness and clearly telling its story about Ripley’s journey to figure out what happened to her mother.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • The flamethrower is possibly the single most useful weapon in Alien: Isolation, and although it is not capable of causing any serious harm to the Xenomorph, a short burst causes it to retreat. Fuel can be quite scarce, and overuse of the flamethrower can cause the Xenomorph to ignore the flames, resulting in death. Besides its utility in creating an opening in which to hide or escape, the flamethrower is highly effective against Facehuggers and can even be used to light the interiors of vents. The page quote is taken from TheRadBrad and his experiences with Facehuggers.

  • If it were not for the fact that Working Joes and a Xenomorph were chasing Ripley through Sevastopol Station, there might actually be some time to take in just how intricately designed the levels’ interiors are. The computers are pleasantly quaint, featuring large CRT displays and buttons from the 70s. Ripley must occasionally interact with these systems through mini-games, and these can be quite fun to complete.

  • Ripley can occasionally encounter other survivors on the Sevastopol Station. Most of them are hostile, but may occasionally give Ripley a chance to retreat into the shadows. Others are benign and so, should be left alone: during one mission, I assumed a group of people were hostile, planted a pipe bomb and lured them towards the device. When it detonated, the game ended and informed me that I’d just whacked civilians. From there on out, I decided to be more careful and assessed people based on their conversational tone.

  • Sneaking through one area of the station, the Xenomorph appeared and was impeding my progress, so I proceeded to unload the flamethrower on it. Lacking the range of a military flamethrower, the flamethrower Ripley has access to is limited by its short range. Firing it too early may result in the Xenomorph charging in, ignoring the fire and possibly result in the player’s death. Despite its efficacy, its still better to hide, since the Xenomorph will adapt to the player’s use of the flamethrower over time.

  • Because the Xenomorph is said to have sophisticated AI, eventually adapting to the players’ patterns, I decided I would respond to this knowledge ahead of time. To ensure that any particular method of escaping the Xenomporh remained viable, I chose to hide in lockers, cabinets, under desks, toss noisemakers or utilise my flamethrower. The Xenomporh’s learner would therefore register that since the player had a relatively even distribution of actions, the Xenomorph would therefore have a similar probability of executing any one particular countermeasure.

  • As such, I never was pulled out of a locker or was caught hiding underneath a desk, and the flamethrower remained effective well into the game. Here, I make my way out of an area after successfully luring the Xenomorph into the lab module and escaped. With the Xenomorph gone for the present, Alien: Isolation became uncharacteristically relaxed, allowing me to move through areas more quickly and with reduced caution. Some individuals consider the Working Joes and humans to be scarier opponents than the Xenomorph, but I digress.

  • One section of Alien: Isolation involves fending off six Working Joes. The most effective way of taking the conventional type out is to make use of the stun baton to temporarily disable it, and then strike it repeatedly with the maintenance jack until it goes down. Against a group, the EMP devices become more useful, disabling several and allowing for each to be dispatched in turn. Here, I’ve got the Henjin-Garcia Model 37-12 Gauge Pump Action shotgun, which is quite effective against humans and basic Working Joes. Ammunition is scarce, so I reserve the weapons only for the most dire of situations.

  • After missing the Molotov cocktail blueprints in the San Cristobal Medical Bay, I would find another set of blueprints for an updated Molotov, which burns for longer. The Molotov makes use of the ethanol bottles found scattered around Sevastopol Station and appears to be composed of a rye whiskey. Some of my friends are fond of rye and coke, but for better or worse, it seems that my liquor of choice now has become rum.

  • I found that distracting the Xenomorph was always somewhat of a gamble, as an improperly utilised flare or noisemaker could easily result in my death. One of my more amusing stories with Alien: Isolation is that until more than halfway through the game, I never did figure out how to replace the flashlight batteries and so, went through most of the game with two-thirds of my flashlight still available. Fortunately, there are only a few places in Alien: Isolation where the flashlight is really necessary, and it turns out that holding down the flashlight button will reload the batteries.

  • Despite the presence of Working Joes, the trek through Seegson Synthetics was surprisingly relaxing and easygoing compared to the rest of Alien: Isolation, and I spent a nontrivial amount of time getting lost en route to Apollo’s core. It turns out that Apollo is under directives to secure a Xenomorph specimen for Weyland-Yutani, hence the Working Joes being instructed to deal with all humans. Ripley is forced to relinquish all of her weapons here, leaving only the stun baton behind. After reaching Apollo’s core and learning about the Xenomorph hive in the reactor basement, she’ll thankfully recover all of her munitions just in time for the most nerve-wracking experience in the whole of Alien: Isolation.

  • The bolt gun becomes an essential tool for dispatching the hazardous environment Working Joes, who can resist EMP devices and the stun baton. Conversely, the bolt gun is capable of taking out the hazardous environment Joes in a single shot (they do require charging in order to be effective). These pneumatically-powered devices are improvised weapons and under normal circumstances, resemble nail guns, being used to drive anchor bolts into a surface.

  • The reactor basement is a dark, moist and downright terrifying environment. With walls covered in organic matter and a clear half-foot of water covering the floor, this area is silent save for the sounds of dripping water and distant echoes. The organic matter obfuscates the motion tracker, and the difficult environment is where the Facehuggers are first encountered. For the first time in my experiences, I became too frightened to continue and took a week of playing Alien: Isolation, even suffering from a nightmare where I found myself in the reactor core. However, I returned, and summoned the courage to overload the alpha and beta cores, finally completing the most challenging mission I’ve seen in a game.

  • It was a relief to take the elevator back to the reactor deck, where the only enemies are the hazardous environment Working Joes. A combination of steady aim and plentiful bolt gun ammunition meant it was reasonably straightforwards to dispatch the Joes, and then follow the procedure required to initiate the reactor purge. While the reactor basement was remarkably unsettling, the reactor itself is a neat location, being held in a room so large the walls surrounding it aren’t visible.

  • Once all of the steps have been taken to trigger the purge, it is shown that there are multiple Xenomorphs hanging about on Sevastopol Station. Several escape into the station, and now, Ripley must contend with multiple Xenomorphs. Fortunately, the strategies that have applied earlier remain effectual now, and so, Ripley must now revisit the San Cristobal Medical Bay in order to reach the Anesidora.

  • There are no enemies on board the Anesidora, save for one Facehugger, and on my first attempt here, I died instantly to one, listening to the gurgling sounds resulting from such a death. Regardless of whether or not I was expecting to die to a Facehugger, seeing the bony appendages and gaping maw. On my second attempt, I failed to equip my flamethrower, and instead, whipped out my revolver. My aim was true enough, and a single shot later, the Facehugger exploded into a puddle of acidic sludge.

  • Upon reaching the Anesidora’s reactor, Ripley finds a computer carrying the flight recorder log she’d been seeking. She gains closure with her mother’s fate, although Alien: Isolation does not end here: Marlowe has set the Anesidora’s reactor to explode with the aim of taking out Sevastopol Station and the other Xenomorphs. Even with Ripley walking Taylor through the shutdown procedure, the reactor explodes, forcing Ripley to beat a hasty retreat. While Alien: Isolation is generally a fantastic game, the voice acting is a little weaker, and Ripley’s scream here in response to Taylor’s death might perhaps be one instance of weaker voice acting.

  • Back on board Sevastopol Station, I use a flamethrower to roast two hostile guards. The flamethrower and Molotov cocktails are highly effective against human opponents, but ignited hostiles will scream, possibly attracting the Xenomorphs’ attention. Note the apostrophe placement: by this point in Alien: Isolation, Xenomorphs are referred to in plural now because there is definitely more than one.

  • The Anesidora’s destruction also damages stabilising structures onboard Sevastopol Station, causing its orbit to decay and spiral slowly into KG-348’s atmosphere. Ripley must escape, but finds that there’s no way to contact the Torrens. This necessitates an EVA out to the transmission dishes, and for the moment, this becomes one of the more easy-going sections of Alien: Isolation. Although the station might be falling apart and there’s a communications dish to get set up, there are no Xenomorphs or Facehuggers out here, so it’s possible to take in the scenery in peace.

  • Once the Torrens is hailed, Ripley must make her way to the Torrens. Ricardo, one of the deputies to Chief Marshall Waits, was the only survivor after the Working Joes killed the other humans, and assists Ripley in her journeys through the bowels of Sevastopol Station. She plans to at least bring him on board the Torrens, but upon returning from her EVA, she finds him taken down by a Facehugger.

  • Expanding this screenshot to 1080p reveals a Xenomorph in the centre of the screen. On several occasions, I’ve escaped the Xenomorph’s attention simply by losing line of sight with it, hiding behind a sign or chair. As soon as the Xenomorph grows bored and leaves, it’s time to push forwards. This late in the game, most of Ripley’s inventory becomes of limited use. Recalling my use of items, I found the flamethrower, stun baton and bolt gun to be the most useful of the weapons. Similarly, for tools, the medical kit, noise maker and Molotov see frequent use.

  • The penultimate chapter returns Ripley to a familiar hallway, and now armed with the ion torch, she’s able to cut through the door and conclude this mission. While Ripley boards Sevastopol Station poorly equipped to make her way through the numerous locked doors and the like, she’ll find the tools necessary (upgrades to the security access tuner and the cutting torches) as they become necessary. There’s no way to miss the essentials, although players who do not explore might miss crafting blueprints.

  • The final mission in Alien: Isolation is to manually detach the Torrens, which has become stuck to Sevastopol Station. The flamethrower becomes an indispensable tool here, marking the first time where Ripley will certainly encounter multiple Xenomorphs at once. Short, controlled bursts will send the Xenomorphs on their way. Once they’re dealt with, Ripley will need to reach the airlock and head back into the void of space, but she’s ambushed by a Xenomorph on the way.

  • When Ripley comes to, she finds herself stuck to the walls of a Xenomorph hive. Facehuggers are common here, and with few upcoming direct confrontations with Xenomorphs in Alien: Isolation‘s final sections, the flamethrower becomes a powerful tool for destroying the Facehuggers (and their eggs). This region appears to be in the process of being transformed into a new hive, and the spread of organic Xenomorph biomass into the area is perfectly disgusting. I failed to mention this earlier, but the eggs can be burned before the Facehuggers come out of them: the resulting effect is quite satisfying to watch.

  • Readers might have noticed that the frequency of screenshots with flames in them increases as the bottom of the post is reached, corresponding with the increasing damage that Sevastopol Station has suffered. After crawling through the damaged areas, I reached some train tracks and carefully made my way across. By the time I got here, I knew I was quite close to the end of Alien: Isolation. With the end so near, I resolved that I would finish the game before the weekend had ended.

  • Last Sunday, I had taken the morning to work on a journal publication, and I spent the afternoon enjoying the sunshine, riding the C-trains around town, reaching the southern edge of the city and returning to the downtown core to enjoy a double-cheese bacon poutine. The weather was fantastic for a summer characterised by an excess of rain and thunderstorms, and thankfully, this year, there were no major floods. After an adventure-filled day, I took the evening and went through the last parts of Alien: Isolation.

  • This narrow crawl-space stands between Ripley and the airlock: there are no fewer than three Facehuggers in here, and I died no fewer than three times here alone trying to clear the area out. At this point in Alien: Isolation, the game automatically saves, so one does not lose substantial progress, and at long last, after dispatching all of the Facehuggers in hear, I finally reached the airlock.

  • I have a little more than fifty deaths in Alien: Isolation in total; this is not quite enough to unlock the achievement for accumulating a hundred deaths in the game. The final objective here is to blow the bolts keeping the Torrens docked to Sevastopol Station, and once that’s done, a long cutscene is triggered, where multiple Xenomorphs are visible. Fortunately, a blast pushes Ripley back into the Torrens, while the station succumbs to gravity and is destroyed in KG-348’s atmosphere. The remains of the station explodes spectacularly, bringing to mind the Shoemaker-Levy 9 impacts; the largest impact hit with the force of six million MT of energy.

  • Being a survival-horror game, Ripley is most certainly not safe even though she’s back on the Torrens. There is no opportunity to rest in the quiet of the Torrens and actually make one’s way to the bridge, since a Xenomorph will have boarded. The quick-time event to end the game is a mercifully straightforwards one, and I finished it on my first try, sending the Xenomorph flying out of the airlock into the voids of space. I’m generally not fond of quick-time events, recalling those of Battlefield 3 where I missed one button and proceeded to die, forcing me to restart a scene.

  • While Alien: Isolation appears to leave Ripley’s fate ambiguous, she’s picked up by another vessel and rescued. She later becomes married, taking on the name of McClaren, and dies at the age of sixty-six. Playing through Alien: Isolation, I’m now interested to watch Alien (the original, as well as Aliens), so if the game also had the aim of piquing interest in the Alien franchise, it succeeded somewhat. With this post over, I’m looking to write about Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and DOOM in the near future. As well, I neglected to mention that I definitely will be watching and reviewing Kimi no na wa (Your Name), a Makoto Shinkai film that will release in two days. I’ve been waiting for this movie since February of last year, and the post will probably be a larger one, featuring some sixty images.

Altogether, Alien: Isolation is a remarkable game that now joins the ranks of Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Valkyria Chronicles as the best games I’ve experienced. With solid atmosphere conferred by the amount of attention put into level design, artwork and soundtrack, Alien: Isolation masterfully creates a truly frightening environment that surprises at every turn. A suspenseful and tense journey, Alien: Isolation‘s joys come in leaving the players guessing what comes next. With that being said, while I did enjoy Alien: Isolation tremendously, I do not imagine that I will be replaying the game in the near future: the single experience is sufficient for me to grasp the game’s strong points, and for the near future, I do not intend on putting myself through such a harrowing simulated experience again. My intererst in the Alien franchise has also been piqued, so I might check out the original Alien movie at some point in the future. For now, with what might be one of my most storied gaming adventures complete, I can turn my attention to DOOM and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided; apparently, the latter is so graphically demanding that it requires a pair of GTX 1080 cards in SLI to run at ultra settings on 4K. I’ll be playing at 1080p, so I imagine that my new GPU should be more than up for the job at high settings.

Planetarian: Review and Reflection

“I think of space not as the final frontier, but as the next frontier. Not as something to be conquered, but to be explored.” — Neil deGrasse Tyson

After a devastating global war eliminates civilised society, survivors eke out living in a grim world fraught with danger. Originally a kinetic novel, Planetarian is told from the perspective of a Junker who takes refuge in an derelict shopping centre while hunting for supplies. He encounters the planetarium’s guardian, Yumemi Hoshino, who offers him a special performance on account of his being (nearly) the planetarium’s 2.5 millionth customer. Despite finding himself annoyed at Yumemi’s talkative nature, he agrees to sit through one of the projections and assists in repairing the projector. Yumemi insists on escorting him out to his destination following the show, but the pair encounter a heavily-armed combat robot. The Junker’s efforts to engage it ends with Yumemi attempting to protect him, and she is torn in half by the robot’s auto-cannons. She recalls her pre-war memories before powering down, and the Junker is left to make his way back outside the city walls with Yumemi’s memory card. A relatively short and poignant OVA about the seemingly paradoxical dichotomy between human excellence and human limitations, Planetarian is one of the summer season’s shorter offerings.

That human constructs, such as Yumemi and the planetarium dome, continue to persist well after the fall of human civilisation suggests that, in the event that our so-called intelligence causes us to wipe ourselves out in a global conflict, aspects of our world will nonetheless continue to persist. These aspects can speak both beneficially and detrimentally about our species; in particular, humanity is capable of great good and great evil. In Planetarian, Yumemi represents the side of civilisation where creativity and ingenuity has resulted in the forging of a construct that serves to further an observer’s knowledge of humanity’s history with the stars and their desire to visit them: ever-cheerful and totally devoted to her assignment, Yumemi’s persistence is able to sway the Junker who comes across her old planetarium. At the opposite end of the spectrum are the large battle droids that continue to carry out their initial assignments. Programmed with (presumably) sophisticated machine learning algorithms, these droids are purpose-built to fight wars, mirroring the side of humanity that is war-like and barbaric in nature. Although we might be capable of great good, humans are also more than capable of committing atrocities towards one another. These dynamics appear to be mirrored in the robots: towards the end of Planetarian, Yumemi is destroyed by a war robot, but the Junker retrieves her memory card. Thus, although destruction may seem to be the more powerful force, this only holds true in the short term; the Junker’s recovery of Yumemi’s memory card and aim of resurrecting her suggests that the human spirit and desire for constructive acts outweigh our tendencies for destruction.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • The protagonist in Planetarian is only known as a Junker and remains unnamed, so for this post, I’ve opted to refer to him as such. Here, he’s evading some anti-personnel combat robots while venturing into the derelict city to scavenge for supplies and high-value goods, using the FN P90 to fend them off in the process. The P90 depicted here seems a little shorter than the versions I’m used to seeing.

  • Technically, the Junker is not the 2.5 millionth customer to visit the planetarium, but according to Yumemi’s algorithms, he’s “close enough”, and so, she offers him a makeshift bouquet before stating that his prize is to be a special viewing of the planetarium’s main feature, which includes a bonus segment. Kindhearted and quite fond of speaking, the Junker does not take too kindly to her friendly personality when they first meet.

  • This is Miss Jena, the planetarium’s main projector. Generally, planetariums make use of dome projectors to simulate sophisticated views of the heavens. These projectors can be set up to work with sophisticated systems that can project the night sky for any given time point, with systems that enable for laser and fog effects optionally present to further the planetarium’s experience. Owing to their size and cost, large setups are typically restricted to museums and science centers.

  • I’ve not seen a full planetarium presentation since I was in primary school, but I do recall that I enjoyed the two that I had the opportunity to see. There’s a magic about dome screens that can’t quite be captured even with VR headsets; in recent years, I’ve not seen any planetarium shows at the new Telus Spark Science Centre. My last visit to their dome theatre was for the Giant Walkthrough Brain, and I was quite nervous about the prospect of implementing a camera to project the show onto a dome screen. Fortunately, this feature was not needed, allowing me to focus my attention on ironing out remaining bugs in the show, and our Beakerhead presentation’s two performances to a sold-out crowd proceeded very smoothly.

  • I’m still getting used to the whole idea of using Flickr as an image host, and while they’re a little clunkier than Picasa, Flickr allows for bulk image editing, offers a reasonably powerful set of tools for organising albums and above all, allows for images to be copied directly to this page (whereas Picasa limited users to copying from a link, which is slower). For now, the time taken to set up a post is roughly the same, but Flickr offers 1000 GB of storage against Picasa’s 15 GB, so it’ll be a suitable replacement I’ll quickly acclimatise to.

  • While quite resistant to the idea of watching the planetarium’s show, the Junker eventually comes around and consents to repair the broken projector to see what sort of presentation awaits him. He catches rainwater for consumption during a break, remarking that a special filter renders the water potable: the war that devastated their world arose with the deployment of a biological weapon that precipitated a nuclear war. Society collapsed, and similar to Metro: 2033, survivors were forced to eke out survival amongst the ruins of a once-great civilisation.

  • Yumemi assists the Junker in repairing the planetarium’s projectors, using her onboard power stores to test various pieces of equipment before installing them into the projector. On the topic of installation, the reason why this post did not come out sooner was because I’ve been remarkably busy over the past week; my 6 GB EVGA GTX 1060 SC arrived. It was Tuesday afternoon when I received a phone call saying the the video card I reserved was available for pickup. I dropped by the retailer after work and picked it up, installing it on Thursday evening and got around to testing it yesterday evening.

  • The 1060 is so far, proving to be a beast of a card: some of the games I initially tested ran quite poorly and saw frequent frame rate drops, it turned out that it was because I was running several downloads and other processes at once. Once the downloads completed, most of my games seem to run very smoothly, maintaining a steady 60 FPS at 1080p on ultra settings. In particular, Battlefield 4 and DOOM run buttery smooth now, as does Alien: Isolation. I’m very excited to try out Deus Ex: Mankind Divided now, having spent today preloading it.

  • Back in Planetarian, the Junker and Yumemi succeed in repairing the projector, so the show can finally get started. While skeptical, the Junker finds himself amazed, in spite of himself, at the wonders of the night sky seen on screen. Technology has come a very long way since I was a wide-eyed primary school student with a newfound curiosity in all things science, and although we may have 4k screens, consumer-accessible VR and even augmented reality devices now, very few display methods can compare to the immersion provided by a dome screen.

  • Despite introducing herself as a basic android model, Yumemi is remarkably sophisticated by contemporary standards. She is programmed to be effective in looking after her customers, and there are several points where viewers see the world from her perspective. Advanced image processing algorithms allow her to quickly ascertain her environment, and her AI is capable of allowing her to make her own decisions in the event that her access to a centralised database is removed.

  • Yumemi’s internal storage would presumably not be spent largely on the planetarium’s programmes, and instead, be used to hold her memories: the uncompressed text of Wikipedia occupies around 51 GB of storage, which fits comfortably on a 64 GB memory card. Here, Yumemi presents a story about the mythological stories behind each of the constellations seen in the sky. The show proceeds nominally until the emergency power stores are depleted.

  • Despite the lack of imagery, the Junker is now interested to see Yumemi’s take on the special presentation. This special presentation follows the history of humanity’s interest in the heavens above, and how humanity strove to, through its technological innovation and determination, eventually allowed them to begin exploring other worlds. Aware of the strife and warfare in the world, Yumemi remains optimistic that humanity will eventually be able to reach other stars.

  • I was on campus last Saturday to clean up my office space. The Korean BBQ house on campus remains one of my favourite places to eat on campus: I enjoyed their Korean BBQ spicy chicken on rice with a side of noodles and sweet potatoes while watching the final three episodes of Planetarian during noon hour. The Junker is visibly moved by the presentation, and reluctantly agrees to allow Yumemi accompany him to the city walls. While Yumemi is well-suited for her role as a guardian of sorts for the planetarium (which I’ve read is set on the rooftop of the Matsubishi Department Store), her algorithms for movement are not so advanced as to allow for learning to move efficiently on uneven surfaces, and so, she trips on several occasions.

  • After making a short detour into an abandoned liquor store and finding a bottle of Scotch Whiskey inside, the Junker contemplates taking Yumemi with him, finding a power supply to keep her running and allow her to continue on with her wish of serving people, telling them wondrous stories about the heavens above. However, their path is blocked by a massive combat robot.

  • The Junker fields a M79 break action 40mm grenade launcher, a standalone grenade launcher that was adopted by the American military in 1960. Despite its versatility in being able to fire a wide range of projectiles, from HE to smoke rounds, it was limited in being able to fire only a single round, and moreover, restricted the user to carrying a sidearm as his backup weapon. The US Army would address this with the M203 under-barrel grenade launcher, which could be mounted to the underslung rails of the M16 rifle.

  • High-explosive rounds for the M79 arm themselves after travelling 30 meters and have a muzzle velocity of 75 m/s. However, the Junker’s plan to use such a round on the combat robot is unsuccessful: it fails to detonate, and the robot trains its railgun on him, forcing him to retreat. While he is able to deal some damage to the robot, he becomes injured in the process.

  • Having never seen a combat robot before, Yumemi walks out into the open and attempts to initiate a shutdown protocol. The robot does not respond and opens fire on her with its secondary cannons, blowing her apart. In the chaos, the Junker lands a round that finally disables the robot, but Yumemi is now critically damaged. In her final moments, she shares her memories with the Junker, revealing that she’s served many happy customers and desires nothing more than to continue doing so.

  • Instead of a system of mighty organs lying strewn across the pavement, Yumemi’s power cables, hydraulics and other components are exposed. Being a robot herself, Yumemi remarks that she can continue to exist even with the destruction of her body, as she can be transferred to a new body. Moved by her plight, the Junker takes her memory card, a 128 Exabyte (1018 bytes, or a million terabytes) device that holds her personality and memories, resolving to restore her.

  • As a final gesture, the Junker leaves Yumemi with his necklace, depicting the cross-shaped constellation Cygnus. It can be seen in the northern hemisphere during the summer and early autumn, and its brightest star is Deneb, which has an apparent magnitude of 1.25. These final few images bring my Planetarian to a close, and all told, I found a rather enjoyable, straightforward story in Planetarian.

  • My posting patterns have become (unsurprisingly) sporadic as of late owing to my schedule, but once I finish this last journal paper, I imagine that I’ll be able to find some time in the evenings to continue blogging. I intend to write about Brave Witches (Strike Witches‘ long-awaited third season) during the fall season in an episodic manner, as well as Hibike! Euphonium‘s second season in the two-post format. Before we reach October, I have several other posts upcoming, including my final impressions of Alien: Isolation (as of today, I’m one mission from finishing), and first impressions of both DOOM and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. From an anime perspective, I’ll be dropping by in September to write about Amanchu! and New Game!.

Simply written and surprisingly moving, Planetarians’ five episodes were remarkably enjoyable to watch. From a technical perspective, the post-apopcalyptic environment was rendered quite well. Similarly, Yumemi’s voice is masterfully delivered by Keiko Suzuki: slow and precise, yet joyful, Yumemi sounds as an android should, adding much depth to the anime and giving the Junker’s interactions with it a much more plausible feeling. Similarly, the soundtrack was a joy to listen to, While I enjoyed Planetarian, there is a single caveat I found with the presentation. Given that Planetarian was originally a kinetic novel, I felt that the entire story would been better presented in a movie format: in the absence of break points, the extended runtime of a movie would permit for the story to be presented in a fluid manner. Curiously enough, there is in fact going to be a movie format for Planetarian: titled Planetarian: Hoshi no Hito. Set for release in early September, this movie is presumably going to be a sequel of sorts. I’m quite excited to see what themes lie in this continuation; this series of OVAs is relatively short and quite worth watching. For individuals interested in seeing what’s happening next, but have yet to see Planetarian for themselves, there is a small time frame to catch up on this anime.

New Game!- Review and Reflections After Three

“What is it about animation, graphics, illustrations, that create meaning? And this is an important question to ask and answer because the more we understand how the brain creates meaning, the better we can communicate, and, I also think, the better we can think and collaborate together.” —Tom Wujec

Aoba Suzukaze is a new graduate who begins working as a 3D modeller at Eagle Jump, a video game developer company she has long admired for having created her favourite game. As she spends time at the company and learns the basics behind 3D modelling, she also becomes acquainted with her fellow co-workers in the character design department, as well as those from other sections of the company. An adaptation of the Manga Time Kirara Carat four-panel manga of the same name, New Game! focuses on Aoba’s life as a new 3D modeller, illustrating fictionalised aspects of game production and the work culture surrounding Eagle Jump. Intended to portray the life of a newly-minted graphics artist in a laid-back, humourous manner, New Game! does capitalise on its surroundings to present situations and jokes that are surprisingly consistent with what working for a 3D visualisation company is like.

Despite being an adaptation of a Manga Time Kirara manga, New Game! has perlexingly been the subject of no small discussion, with some viewers drawing some rather unusual conclusions about New Game!. The largest misconception at present seems to be that New Game! glorifies overwork, arguing that the anime is “disturbing” or “very painful” for its portrayal of Aoba and her coworker’s habits. For instance, Aoba’s senior, Kō Yagami, is the lead character designer and spends enough time at the office to sleep there overnight, an action that purportedly destroys any social life she might otherwise have. This is making a very subjective leap in one’s assessment: in fact, Kō is simply a highly capable artist who very much loves her work, and as such, makes a conscious choice to stay at the office. This is not something that is enforced by the company and as such, there is no evidence to show that Eagle Jump is demanding its employees to push themselves for the company’s benefit at their own expense. Similarly, Aoba’s drive to improve her skill as a 3D modeller speaks nothing of what the company’s policy is: she’s clearly motivated by her own love for games and a desire to contribute to the development of a new game. In short, New Game! presents nothing that suggests that overwork at an unreasonable personal expense is a beautiful thing, nor does it promote unhealthy work conditions. This is because as a work of fiction, New Game! is intended to portray a fictional outlook on what life as a 3D modeller is like, by showing how Aoba striving to fulfil her lifelong dream of contributing to the development of a game at a company whose staff each have their own unique attributes.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • As of August 5, Google automatically migrated all of my Picasa albums to an archive as they finalise the roll-out of a new service called Google Photos. What this means is that I won’t be able to use Picasa as an image host anymore, since there are no more options to embed images at all, although thankfully, the archived photos will still remain accessible (otherwise, almost all of my posts would lose their images). I’ve transitioned to Flickr as my image host now, and so far, it seems to be a reasonably smooth experience.

  • Aoba Suzukaze is New Game!‘s protagonist. Voiced by Yūki Takada, she’s a 3D modeller who has long aspired to work with Eagle Jump, and despite being a high school graduate, her small size leads her to be mistaken for a middle-school student. Her appearance brings to mind attributes from K-On!‘s Azusa Nakano, Non Non Biyori‘s Renge Miyauchi and traces of GochiUsa‘s Chino Kafuu.

  • Kō Yagami is the first of the staff that Aoba runs into; while a fairly strict character designer with high standards, her habits leave something to be desired. Aoba is somewhat embarrassed to learn that Kō sleeps sans any sort of pants or shorts, but overcomes this quite quickly when learning that Kō designed the characters to the games that she loves.

  • Coffee is said to be the lifeblood of game developers. I’ve also heard that there is a very specific amount of beer or alcohol that supposedly bolsters performance, but I’m not particularly big on either, since both drinks detrimentally affect my performance: the former makes me jumpy and the latter gives me a headache.

  • Anime tend to depict workplaces as being full of colourful individuals, each with distinct character and mannerisms: here, Hajime Shinoda is swinging a prop lightsaber around. A motion designer, she captures the motions best by experimenting to see what’s natural, and I remark that last year, I won a toy lightsaber at the Stampede. The lightsaber is actually still at my old office space on campus, and I’ll need to clear that out on short order.

  • Aoba is introduced to Autodesk Maya (“Saya” in New Game! to avoid any copyright infringements), and initially, she’s overwhelmed by how complex Maya is. One of the best-known 3D modelling tools around, Maya has a very steep learning curve and is quite difficult to learn. With that in mind, I’ve heard some discussions where some folks claim that Maya causes random file corruptions or do not save properly. I’ve worked with 3D modellers who know Maya very well, and they’ve never had any issues with saving. Conversely, strange normal behaviours and some exports creating meshes that are not water-tight are quite common.

  • I myself have a minimal amount of experience in Maya, enough to extrude surfaces, apply textures and construct simple structures, a consequence of there being a lack of 3D modellers to help me build assets for my thesis work: every asset in my thesis, I built using Maya after learning it out of necessity. Here, Kō speaks with Rin Tōyama, an art director heading the department creating background assets, about getting Aoba an ID card so that she can enter and exit the office.

  • I’ll introduce the remaining characters: to the far left is Hifumi Takimoto, a skilled but shy artist who prefers using IM for communications, and to the far right is Yun Iijima, a character designer responsible for designing monsters. Kō and Hajime have been introduced, so I’m going to do my best to remember everyone’s names in time for the finale review.

  • I’ve never engaged any of my coworkers or fellow researchers in sword fights before, but I do recall reading a job posting where nerf gun skills were an asset for a developer position. Smaller companies seem to be more relaxed and informal, and some major tech companies encourage a light-hearted environment in order to maximise the employee’s productivity. Besides notions of glorifying overwork and undue stress floating about New Game! (which have been addressed in the paragraphs above), I’ve also seen two other misconceptions in New Game! that I’ll clarify.

  • The first of these deals with the computers that are used in New Game!. Aoba’s development rig can be seen here, and at least one individual has been under the impression that these are Dell Inspirons, an entry to mid-level family of computers intended for light to moderate computing. Said individual claims it’s a bug, wondering why graphics artists would use these machines, but they are forgetting that the computer case and the hardware inside are independent of one another.

  • At a company such as Eagle Jump, computers would be equipped with reasonably powerful quad-core processors and a good GPU (at least a GTX 970 or better) so that the 3D modellers can work reasonably well. As such, it’s quite inappropriate to presume that Aoba and the others are using computers ill-suited for their work. The other aspect that is a misconception is that 3D modellers can dress however they please, despite Aoba’s preference for wearing a business suit to work.

  • That 3D modellers observe a more casual dress code is not true: company policy varies from company to company. So, some organisations ask their employees to observe a business casual or business formal dress code, while others may be more lenient and allow their employees to wear smart casual. It has nothing to do with the department one works in, but everything to do with the company’s dress code.

  • My conference in Cancún led me to understand that while I have a low tolerance for beer, I can manage cocktails better. Consumed slowly, I only become mildly drowsy with drinks such as the daiquiri, whereas with beer, I immediately pick up a raging headache. Aoba is below the legal drinking age, being “only” eighteen, and in reality, with some exceptions, would not be hired straight from high school. A 3D modeller would have at least a Bachelor’s degree or diploma in a related field, accompanied by some familiarity with Autodesk Maya or an equivalent set of 3D modelling applications.

  • With that being said, New Game!, being a Manga Time Kirara work, is allowed some creative liberties (I accept and expect their works to favour humour over realism). However, it is quite surprising how seriously some folks have taken New Game!, imagining that it to be a proper portrayal of the real world and wondering why the details in New Game! do not line up with reality as per expectations.

  • Where I currently work, hours are reasonably flexible. On most days, I arrive at around 08:30 (09:30 if I’m coming from the gym), and leave at around 17:00-18:00 depending on how much there is to do. Conversely, Aoba is terrified at the prospect of being late, and her expression here is comedy gold. In general, I also take mass transit to work, and for the most part, it’s quite convenient. I’m sure my opinions will change once the Real Canadian Winter™ sets in.

  • En route to work, Aoba trips on the pavement, resulting in a stance similar to one seen in GochiUsa‘s second season. Only marginally late, Kō lets Aoba know that such occurrences are usually discouraged, but she’d be let off the hook this time. To avoid being late for work, I try to sleep early such that I’m somewhat well-rested in the mornings at the minimum. Conversely, because I tend to sleep before 23:00 on most days and wake up between 06:00 and 07:00, I’ve fallen quite far behind on my shows.

  • Here, Aoba jots down pointers from Kō on 3D modelling after being given her first assignment, to build an NPC for one of the villages. Despite getting her sphere pasted (for the longest time, I saw numerous pasted_sphere nodes in my Maya projects), Aoba resolves to do her best and learn to build more natural, fluid-looking characters. Kō’s remarks that Aoba will need to improve her asset turnover, though humourous, is reality: once one becomes familiar with the basics, it is expected that they can build more high quality assets in a shorter period of time.

  • For instance, it took me a month to figure out the logic for a molecular pathway in my thesis, but once this was done, I was turning out pathways every other week, enough to build a small library of interactions that highlight the versatility of my system. Back in New Game!, Aoba hears from Rin that her original submission was satisfactory, but Kō’s standards means that there’s always room to surpass satisfactory; folks can feel if something is poor, acceptable or excellent quite readily, hence the drive for excellence.

  • All told, I think that New Game! is harmless entertainment meant to combine the lightheartedness of an anime with some elements from the game developer’s workplace. It’s quite difficult to imagine (or demonstrate) that the authors intend New Game! to serve as a commentary on the game development industry, so I’ll definitely be continuing with this anime, keeping an eye open for the fun things that the show chooses to illustrate. As for future posts, I’m actually not too sure what I’ll be writing about, but I’m considering another Alien: Isolation post in light of how often I’ve gotten my face kicked in by the legendary Face-huggers.

Insofar, I’m enjoying New Game! for its depiction of the graphics development aspects of game development. The anime simplifies a great deal of the realities of games development and primarily aims to act as a very gentle satire of the industry in general. New Game! comes out at a very curious time: I’ve now been working full-time for a month now, and there is a surprising amount of content that I immediately relate to. I’m rather curious to see how New Game! steps through the developer cycle. In my experience, the art assets always are the keystone for development, since games make extensive use of them, so I definitely appreciate the value that 3D artists bring to a development team. New Game! has not presented itself as a social commentary, nor is it propaganda, and as such, what I look forwards to most is watching how Aoba becomes more at home with using Autodesk Maya and grows accustomed to the somewhat unorthodox life at Eagle Jump.

Returning to Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare- Another Review and Introspective

“It’s quite simple. Either we retake the launch facility or we won’t recognize the world tomorrow.” —Captain Price

When I last played through Call of Duty 4, it was the summer of 2012. I was staring down the MCAT at the time; the preparation courses had just started, and one of my friends had lent me his Steam account such that I could help him idle for items in Team Fortress 2 while he was on vacation (this was back during the era where idling was a functional means of accumulating enough metal to craft hats, and while it lasted, we got some pretty cool stuff out of it). I noticed that Call of Duty 4 was in his Steam library and decided to give that a go while idling. At that point, Halo 2 Vista was the shooter I played the most frequently, and so, Call of Duty 4 was a complete breath of fresh air. Coming from a game where I handled missions on my own and where armour was inconsequential, Call of Duty 4‘s campaign played in a completely different manner. The game presents a tale about the theft of nuclear weapons by Ultranationalists, and the player takes on the role of a variety of infantry units working in a squad to advance further and ultimately, thwart the Ultranationalists’ plans. Although this approach is now formulaic and oft-maligned, it was a completely new direction back during 2007, when the game first released, and for me, Call of Duty 4 marked a completely different experience than something like Halo 2 or 007 Nightfire. Whereas I had been previously used to fighting through locales on my own, Call of Duty 4 placed me in a squad where I could count on support from other allied soldiers to carry out a mission (in fact, Call of Duty 4 is where the notion of player-unopenable doors began). Similarly, whereas I previously disregarded armour as being a credible threat, Call of Duty 4 changed that perspective, since I was no longer a super-soldier capable of independently engaging tanks on my own.

My interests in Call of Duty 4 had been piqued by the Pripyat mission, All Ghillied Up: one of the most iconic missions in first person shooters, All Ghillied Up marked a profound change of pace from preceeding missions. The player assume the role of Captain Price (then a lieutenant), sneaking through Pripya to reach a vantage point and assassinate a terrorist. However, while the name of that mission was stealth, the game also provided some allowances for players who failed to be completely stealthy: unlike modern shooters that give players an immediate game over, being spotted in All Ghillied Up led to firefights with enemy forces, and should players succeed, they would get an admonishing from Captain MacMillian. The mission would still continue, mirroring how real life provides individuals with some tolerance for not adhering entirely to a plan. Thus, I yearned to try this mission out for myself and made my way through Call of Duty 4 for the purposes of experiencing the entire title. When I finished, I found Call of Duty 4 to possess a unique atmosphere: it felt like playing through a political thriller/action film, and the game would forever remind me of the long days I spent studying for the MCAT.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Playing through the original Modern Warfare again was a real treat, and even though the game is now nearing its tenth anniversary, it remains as one of the most iconic military shooters that influenced a large number of games. The biggest thrill, however, is the opportunity to fight through the Azerbaijan countryside near the Caucaus Mountains of Russia: this is what I missed the most while playing through Modern Warfare 3.

  • Call of Duty 4 made widespread elements that continue enduring in present-day shooters, such as aiming down sights to reduce bullet spread. Besides Captain Price and Soap’s side of the story, Call of Duty 4 also depicted the narrative from the perspective of American soldiers fighting in an unspecified Middle East country. One of the most surprising moments in Call of Duty 4 was when an American soldier witnesses the detonation of a nuclear weapon in the Middle East, precipitating the events of Modern Warfare 2.

  • Throughout this post, I will refer to Call of Duty 4 interchangeably with Modern Warfare and note that the screenshots are unevenly distributed towards Soap’s missions. The moody and wistful lighting of the Azerbaijan levels were remarkably fun to play through, while the missions set in the sandy Middle Eastern levels felt a little more pedestrian. It comes as no surprise that playing through these levels remind me of the MCAT without fail.

  • The weapons loadouts in Call of Duty 4 set the stage for how other modern military shooters, such as Battlefield: Bad Company 2, handled things: the starting weapons for Soap are usually an M4A1 SOPMOD (configured with a suppressor, M203 under-barrel GL, reflex sight and infrared illuminator alongside the M21 rifle. These weapons handle exceptionally well and usually do not need to be swapped out: the M4A1 handles quite well at medium ranges, while the M21 is well-suited for longer range combat.

  • Switching out weapons then becomes a matter of personal preference, to experience the game differently: in general, I tend to stick to the starting weapons because they have optics. Most of the weapons enemy forces carry are only found with their default iron sights, and I’ve never been particularly good with iron sights in games owing to how they’re rendered. While RDS and other optics offset accuracy very slightly in reality, in games, they confer a superior shooting experience, and as such, I usually run with either the Coyote sight or holographic sights in Battlefield 4.

  • I was quite excited to hear that Modern Warfare would be getting a remastered edition in November, but that excitement turned to disappointment when I learned that the remastered edition would only be sold in conjunction with the 110 dollar (Canadian) Legacy Edition of Infinite Warfare. I would have easily shelled out 40 CAD or so for a renewed take on Modern Warfare, and Infinite Warfare looks interesting, but I don’t think it’s an economically sound decision to spend 110 dollars on a game until I’m a little more certain as to whether or not I’ll enjoy it.

  • I’m certain that I’ll enjoy the updated Modern Warfare and in fact, look forwards to most seeing what the rejuvenated Pripyat looks like. However, I’m not certain how Infinite Warfare will go, and since I don’t play the multiplayer component of Call of Duty games, it’s better to wait and see. With that being said, I am quite confident that the upcoming Deus Ex: Mankind Divided will be something I will love playing through: I pre-ordered the Day One Edition today, and it’ll unlock on August 23. Speaking of August, observant viewers note that I write posts on the fourth of August every year. This is no coincidence, and tonight, I settled down to a nice homemade dinner with pork chop and freshly-steamed garlic prawns, making the pre-order for  Deus Ex: Mankind Divided while waiting for the prawns to finish cooking.

  • Hopefully, I’ll be able to pick up and purchase the GTX 1060 before then, so I can enjoy both Mankind Divided and DOOM the way they’re meant to be played, at 1080p and 60 FPS with ultra settings. Back in Modern Warfare, my collection of screenshots have finally reached the part where I make my way through Pripyat and the field surrounding Chernobyl. Despite the four years that have passed since I first played this, the sense of immersion in this mission remains unmatched.

  • I wrote two special topics posts about the Pripyat missions to assassinate Zakhaev back during 2012, one for “All Ghillied Up” and one for “One Shot, One Kill”. Both were written in early June, when my MCAT course and physics courses overlapped, resulting in a modestly busy schedule. I learned that taking summer courses was a surprisingly melancholy experience, as I would need to study while my peers were enjoying the summer weather. From there on out, I resolved to work harder from there on out so I could spend my summers engaged in research or working.

  • Armed with my then freshly-reawakened knowledge of projectile motion, I quickly ran the computations to determine that the trajectory of the bullet in “One Shot, One Kill” made sense and subsequently managed to snipe Zakhaev in one shot. In the four years that have passed since then, I’ve become a poorer shot and it took me multiple attempts to successfully blow his arm off, leading to the next phase of the mission. Involving keeping the Ultranationalist soldiers at bay, this part is rather more straightforwards.

  • While the placement of iconic features in Pripyat’s cityscape are not correct, nor is the chronological state of different facilities in Pripyat (the city’s pool, for instance, was still operational as late as 1996), that the developers went to great lengths to craft a compelling, detailed virtual Pripyat is impressive. It is for this reason that the Pripyat missions in Call of Duty 4 continue stand out clearly even in light of the numerous shooters I’ve played through since 2012.

  • There’s a certain melancholy in the mission set after “One Shot, One Kill”: titled “Heat”, the goal is to repel an ultranationalist counterattack and last long enough to reach extraction. On this playthrough, I’ve deliberately chosen to leave all of the intel (collectible laptop computers) where they were even as I found them; I plan on going back at some unspecified point in the future to collect everything.

  • According to the in-game dates, much of the events of Modern Warfare are set in 2011: while the year started a little more unevenly than I would have liked with respect to my coursework, I had a particularly memorable summer once courses ended and research began. During that summer, I developed an agent-based model of fluid flow in a nephron, obtained my basic operator’s license, watched Sora no Woto and spent several evenings at LAN parties on a lazy summer’s night.

  • Back in Call of Duty 4, the final mission of the second act is to chase down Zakhaev’s son in an attempt to learn where Zakhaev himself is. Soap begins armed with the R700 bolt action sniper rifle, the only bolt action weapon in the campaign. It makes up for its low capacity by having high stopping power, although the low carrying capacity means it will soon be discarded in favour of another weapon.

  • Equipped with a reflex sight and sporting a high hip-fire accuracy, the G36C is a common sight in the campaign and is a fine secondary weapon. One aspect of Call of Duty that I found to be enjoyable was the large pool of flash bang grenades and fragmentation grenades: the former are particularly useful for stunning enemies in a room long enough to neutralise everyone, making them a powerful asset on higher difficulties.

  • Here, I’m wielding the W1200 shotgun, having made use of it to clear the building en route to capturing Zakhaev’s son. A pump action shotgun, the W1200 is lethal at close ranges, and I usually chose to equip shotguns where there is a great deal of combat inside a building. During the daytime missions, the age of the graphics in Call of Duty 4 can be seen; at 1080p, the mountain skyboxes look a little blurry, but surprisingly, the textures and assets of the game objects themselves remain quite sharp.

  • The last act in Modern Warfare is to infiltrate a Russian launch facility under Ultranationalist control and thwart a rogue launch. According to the animations, the projected causalities for failure would exceed 40 million, lending itself to the page quote. With this in mind, there’s actually no real time limit to how long one has to enter the facility, so it is possible to play through at a slower, more methodical pace.

  • Here, I reach the power lines that supply the launch facility and making use of C4 to destroy some pylons to take out the power, buying some time for an infil. It suddenly strikes me that on this play-through of Modern Warfare, I completed the game (including all deaths) in around six hours. I can see why the campaign of Modern Warfare and other modern military shooters are considered short, especially considering how Alien: Isolation has occupied around 14 hours of my time, and how DOOM can reasonably be expected to yield a 12-13 hour campaign.

  • However, for the price of admissions, I gauge the value of a game compared against the value of a movie. Since the average movie costs 13-20 dollars to watch (for anywhere from 1.5-3 hours of content), I believe that a game that can deliver six hours of content for eleven dollars is not doing too bad. I remark that while the graphics throughout most of Call of Duty 4 have aged somewhat gracefully, the last two missions, set inside the bunker and on a frenzied pursuit, have not: it was quite tricky for me to get good screenshots for those moments, so I’ve ended the review here on the “All In” mission.

  • The penultimate mission, “No Fighting In The War Room”, feels distinctly like a James Bond shooter — the tight corridors of the facility makes shotguns and PDWs viable here. With Call of Duty beaten a second time and discussed, this post comes to an end. Coming up next will be a talk on New Game after three episodes: having seen enough episodes of New Game, I conclude that it is an anime I will be following this season. However, there’s no trace of the anime glorifying overwork, and some details folks at Tango-Victor-Tango claim are significant are in fact, quite minor. Beyond New Game, I’m actually not too sure what I’ll be writing about this month, but I’ll write about things as they happen.

I wrote the MCAT exam four years ago, and since then, I’ve had the opportunity to go through numerous other shooters, each offering something different and unique with respect to narrative and mechanics. However, despite the time that has passed and experiences that the passage of time confers, Call of Duty 4 remains an intriguing game. Thus, during this year’s Steam Summer Sale, I jumped on the chance to pick up the game on discount and experience it once more. For me, the most enjoyable aspect of Call of Duty 4 remains the fact that half of the game is set in the Caucasus Mountains and the more remote regions of Russia, which have always exerted a strong pull over my curiosity. From the news that’s been present, it appears that Call of Duty 4 will be getting a remastered version, and although I am interested to see how the remastered edition will bring new life to a classic, it appears that it will be only bundled with Call of Duty‘s latest incarnation, Infinite Warfare. Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare itself actually looks quite interesting, but I’ll probably wait around and see how the campaign itself is before I decide on sinking any coin into picking the game up: I’ve got two eyes on Battlefield 1 right now, which feels like Strike Witches in the Frostbite Engine and could very well have an interesting campaign to go with the WWI multiplayer.

Yūki Yūna is a Hero: Full Series Review and Recommendation

“Few things in the world are more powerful than a positive push. A smile. A world of optimism and hope. A ‘you can do it’ when things are tough.” —Richard M. DeVos

Yūki is a member of her middle school’s Hero Club, devoted towards lending a helping hand to all who require it. When mysterious entities known as the Vertex appear, Yūki and her friends wield the power of a Hero in order to defeat these enemies and protect the Divine Tree at their behest of the Taisha, their benefactors. However, the Hero system has a lethal trade-off, and as the Hero Club continues engaging the Vertex, they begin losing body functions as a result of awakening their powers. Faced with the prospect of fighting for the Greater Good at their own expense, Yūki and her friends’s predicament drives the narrative behind Yūki Yūna is a Hero (Japanese title: Yūki Yūna wa Yūsha de Aru): this is a magical girl series released back during 2014’s fall season and shares numerous similarities with Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Among these similarities include a terrible truth about the system the heroes are fighting to protect, the characters’ temperaments and their portrayal as being alone in their struggles, the concept of fighting enemies in an extra-dimensional space and even elements in the soundtrack. Yūki Yūna is a Hero exists in the shadow of Madoka Magica, and although the series’ merits are contentious owing to the numerous elements shared, Yūki Yūna is a Hero manages to differentiate itself from Madoka Magica with respect to its central thematic element.

In comparison with Madoka Magica‘s magical girls, Yūki Yūna is a Hero‘s heroes are chosen by the entity known only as the Taisha based on their amplitude. Yūki, Mimori, Fū, Itsuki and Karin are heroes as a consequence of a decision that they have no part in, and this difference sets Yūki Yūna is a Hero apart from Madoka Magica, where the girls take on the role and responsibilities of a magical girl because there was something they desired enough to give up their life for it. The singular problem of choice is thus stripped away from the girls in Yūki Yūna is a Hero: the anime explores how individuals might react to an undesirable truth in the knowledge that they never had a choice to begin with, and consequently, as Yūki Yūna is a Hero progresses, the actions that Fū and ultimately, Mimori undertake imply that in situations where individuals are drafted into a role without knowing the full picture will almost certainly experience considerable difficulty in accepting the reality when it becomes available. Similar points are brought up in Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows: Harry constantly is haunted by how much Dumbledore had kept from him, and while Dumbledore held his secrets ostensibly in the name of keeping Harry safe, this also becomes a liability when Harry sets out to destroy Voldemort’s Horcruxes. In both cases, the appropriate course of action is a compromise, to let individuals know enough of the picture to carry out their task, but not disclose all details as to impede their progress. The Taisha very nearly become undone when Mimori is overwhelmed by the truth, and given their circumstances, Mimori and Fū’s responses are plausible reactions.

By removing the option of choice presented in Madoka Magica, Yūki Yūna is a Hero illustrates what happens in a system built on information hiding, but further suggests that people are strong: it’s ultimately Yūki’s belief in what she feels is right, and her ability to protect her friends, that allow her to annihilate the Vertexes and all threats to their world. In contrast with Madoka Magica, which insists that efforts and hope must give way to despair, Yūki Yūna is a Hero aims to present the opposite, showing that despair and failure is overcome when individuals with strong enough bonds and conviction strive to make a difference. There are no elements of Nihilism in Yūki Yūna is a Hero, and self-sacrifice is not painted as a preferable option. Paired with the fact that Yūki and her friends manage to make the most of things despite fighting a war they never chose to participate in, Yūki Yūna is a Hero winds up being more optimistic in nature than Madoka Magica. Some individuals regard this as a failure in Yūki Yūna is a Hero, suggesting that self-sacrifice is a heroic attribute in and of itself (by this logic, to shy away from self-sacrifice is to renege on what being a hero means, and this is completely false). However, this assumption is incomplete, failing to account for intent in a hero’s actions. It is this intent, the will to make a difference for the betterment of others, and the acceptance that some sacrifice will be required, that defines a hero. Like Harry Potter in The Deathly Hallows, who intended to die to Voldemort and spare his friends, Yūki is prepared to do what is necessary with the aim of saving her friends. This determination and resolve makes Yūki a genuine hero worthy of considering herself thus. When everything is said and done, the experience that Yūki Yūna is a Hero confers on audiences is a decidedly different one than that of Madoka Magica: it is not to say that one is intrinsically better than the other, but rather, that each magical girl anime present a different take on what life as a magical girl is like.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • The last time I did a recommendation about a mahou shoujo anime was three years ago, shortly after I had finished Puella Magi Madoka Magica. I find Yūki Yūna is a Hero to be a fine anime for applying a slightly different spin on Madoka Magica to present the alternate idea that optimism and hope is viable even in worlds where the protagonists are dealt a particularly poor hand.

  • So, to continue in the tradition of recommendation posts about magical girls, this one is also formatted similarly, featuring a slightly larger collection of screenshots (thirty) and their usual complement of figure captions. One aspect of Yūki Yūna is a Hero that is distinct from Madoka Magica are the designs of the opponents and alternate dimensions where the protagonists fight. Whereas Madoka Magica relies heavily on imagery that has seen numerous fans analyse for the Witches’ backgrounds and philosophical value, the dimensions and enemies of Yūki Yūna is a Hero are more abstract in nature.

  • Fū is the de facto leader of the Hero Club, offering support and guidance to the other members as they go about their everyday activities. She fights with a broadsword in combat, and similar to Mami Tomoe, she’s reasonably well-versed with the fundamentals of the Hero System and combat, fulfilling the role of a senior the others can rally around. The Hero System that powers the girls’ equipment, along with any communications from the Taisha, are run on smart phones as apps, and while it’s a clever sign of the times, their use also means that Yūki Yūna is a Hero could become quite dated if communications technology ever moves away from smart phones.

  • If and when I’m asked, Mimori Tōgō is my favourite character: she’s most similar to Homura Akemi of Madoka Magica in appearance and manner, choosing to make her own decisions after researching any given topic to the best of her ability. This forms the basis for her nationalistic tendencies and motivation for fighting the vertices. There is one additional aspect about Mimori that leads her to claim the position of being my favourite character, and there are several screenshots in this post that should provide the justification for why this is.

  • Karin joins the Hero Club, ostensibly to keep an eye on the other Heroes and monitor their combat proficiency. With the most experience of anyone in the Hero Club, her primary weapons are a pair of katana swords; Karin fulfills a similar role to that of Kyōko Sakura and even share a similar character development path, opening up to the other characters at Yūki’s persistent attempts to befriend her and bring her close to the group.

  • Madoka Magica and Yūki Yūna is a Hero differ slightly in how they handle the depiction of their respective worlds: in the former, the world at large becomes increasingly cold and detached relative to the central cast as the girls become more entangled on the implications of being a magical girl, but in Yūki Yūna is a Hero, the girls continue to be a part of their world even as they continue fighting the vertices that are encountered. This particular aspect is probably meant to hint at the idea that becoming removed or withdrawn in the face of adversity is probably one of the reasons why the magical girls in Madoka Magica fell prior to Madoka’s sacrifice.

  • While Karin takes some time to warm up to Yūki and her friends, there are subtle signs even early on, that she’s begun to accept Yūki and the others. Here, they celebrate Karin’s birthday; visible on the table are cakes and sweets that are common to birthdays. I suddenly realise that I’ve never celebrated my birthday before with friends; all of my birthdays have been celebrated with family, and this year, I returned to Big T’s BBQ and Smokehouse to take on the ribs-and-half-chicken dinner. I enjoyed every bite of the St. Louis maple bourbon ribs, smoked half-chicken, cornbread, steamed vegetables and fries, but this is about as much food as I can realistically finish in one sitting.

  • In the downtime between taking on the Vertices (the enemy leviathans are singly known as “Vertex”), the Hero Club enjoys an outing where they partake in Karaoke. The fourth episode deals with Itsuki and her shyness preventing her from performing well on a music exam. She’s shown to have a great singing voice, and with encouragement from Fū and the others, she practises to ensure that she performs her best on exam day.

  • This practise pays off, and it turns out Itsuki’s aced her exam. With all the other characters having a counterpart from Madoka Magica, Itsuki is unique in that she does not resemble Sayaka to any capacity, being a soft-spoken girl who greatly admires her sister, enjoys reading fortunes with her Tarot cards and fights with magical vines in combat. After this exam, Itsuki sets her sights on performing for others and participates in an audition of sorts.

  • Prone position is one of the better stances for sniping, since one can absorb the recoil more easily , although Mimori’s assets may make it difficult for her to lie flat on the ground. Fielding ranged weapons in combat, Mimori wields a long range rifle, two pistols and has access to remote funnels, as well. Her transformation sequence is surprisingly fun to watch: a challenge I issue to readers is to see the minimum number of iterations that pass before one takes their eyes off the GIF.

  • The mankai form (“full bloom”) that heroes take allows them to wield an extraordinary amount of firepower in combat for short periods of time after they’ve taken sufficient damage or expended a certain amount of energy (similar to the Revenge or Super gauges in Street Fighter IV). The tradeoff for this power is that the Hero loses a bodily function permanently, since the power comes directly from the gods.

  • I wondered how well Hiroyuki Sawano’s themes from Gundam Unicorn would work with the Heroes activating their Mankai systems for the first time, and found the answer was “remarkably well”. Despite the initial similarities to the NT-D of Gundam Unicorn, the Mankai system is much more difficult to control or master, coming at an extreme cost to the user.

  • One of the more notable aspects of Yūki Yūna is a Hero is the solid presence of optimism and humour even in light of the aftermath of the girls’ battle with the last of the Vertices. As a result of using their Mankai, Yūki loses her taste, Mimori suffers from hearing loss in her left ear, Fū loses sight in her left eye, and Itsuki becomes mute. In spite of this, everyone is in high spirits for having beaten the last of their enemy and looks forward to a speedy recovery.

  • I remarked that the school rooftop in Madoka Magica represented the distance and uncertainty associated with being a magical girl in that universe, but in Yūki Yūna is a Hero, the girls hang out up here during their breaks, where they share various conversations in a much more cordial manner. Here, everyone is looking forwards to some well-earned R & R following the successful completion of their assignment.

  • Following their latest mission, the Taisha finance an all-expenses paid vacation for the Heroes. Fū and Itsuki enjoy some shaved ice on the beaches as their vacation begins in earnest, with traditional beach-going activities, such as swimming, watermelon-smashing and sand castle-building, coming out in full force. This episode marks the halfway point for the narrative in Yūki Yūna is a Hero, resembling the halfway point shift in Alien: Isolation where, after the Xenomorph is ejected into the void of space, players need only deal with hostile androids.

  • In Cancún, the turquoise waters averages 26°C – 29°C; it is warm enough to feel like bathwater and is incredibly pleasant to wade through and swim in. Beaches in the southern regions of Japan attain similar temperatures and would yield an equally comfortable experience, giving Mimori and the others no problems in relaxing. This stands in stark contrast with the 11°C or so for beaches in Vancouver; at these temperatures, swimming for long periods without a wetsuit could grow uncomfortable for the uninitiated.

  • Besides their accommodations, the Taisha have also arranged for exquisite cuisine to be prepared for Yūki and the others: crab, lobster and Kobe beef appear to be on their evening menu here. Seafood in the Prairie provinces is unsurprisingly expensive owing to the cost of transportation, and ever since experiencing fresh lobster in Boston a few years ago while travelling the Eastern Seaboard, I’ve longed to visit the Maritime Provinces to experience lobster and other seafoods.

  • For the readers, here is the fourth “reason” why Mimori occupies the throne as my favourite character. I assure readers that this will be the last of such images: Yūki Yūna is a Hero switches to a more serious side after the eighth episode, which deals with the girls’ reactions to the revelation that their gods are acting for the Greater Good at their expense.  This particular aspect of Yūki Yūna is a Hero became a polarising element, with at least one individual feeling “insulted” that Mimiori’s actions appear inconsistent with her establishment as someone who meticulously researches things.

  • The individual in question is demanding that the authors hand them Yūki Yūna is a Hero‘s main theme on a silver plate, claiming that elements, such as why Mimori chooses to fight against the others and why a system where recovery of lost body functions is purportedly impossible is reverted, are “unattended”. In response to this, I remark that Mimori is fourteen, an age where the frontal lobes have not fully matured yet to make the same decisions as adults. She reaches a particular conclusion through reasoning based on her experiences and while her decision may not completely be rational to viewers, applying an empathetic outlook will find that through Mimori’s eyes, her decision makes some sense.

  • Karin and Yūki engage a Vertex together once it’s shown that new enemies have arisen, more than the initial twelve the Heroes had assumed to exist. Concerning the second point about how the Gods can turn the system around, this can be boiled down to the fact that the Heroes are dealing with Gods who can perform miracles, such as healing mortals. As it stands, it is quite unreasonable to expect that a story be consistently forwards all the time,

  • Following their latest showdown against the Vertex, Mimori and Yūki meet Sonoko, a Hero whose frequent use of the Mankai deprives her of mobility. She explains that the Taisha work under the Shinju, deities that aim to preserve humanity for reasons unknown, and Mimori later learns that the “defeated” Vertices are constantly being regenerated in an endless cycle that will eventually see the Heroes reach a similar state as Sonoko.

  • After Fū learns that their disabilities are permanent, she is pushed over the edge by the knowledge that Itsuki will never be able to fulfill her dream of becoming a singer and seeks to annihilate the Taisha on her own, wrought with guilt at having brought everyone into this mess. She engages Karin here, and it takes a bit of effort from Yūki and the others to convince her that they have no regrets for joining the Hero Club.

  • Curiously enough, the tenth episode of Yūki Yūna is a Hero is functionally identical to the tenth episode of Madoka Magica in objective, telling Mimori’s story in flashback and explaining where she’s coming from in order to explain why she’s about to carry out the actions that she does. Some viewers believe that the sudden inclusion of all of these elements “forces” drama in a bid to engage the viewer’s pathos, being “cheap” and “manipulative”. However, this is not a point that can be held against Yūki Yūna is a Hero: the anime as a whole aims to show the opposite message of Madoka Magica in that being together is how individuals can overcome seemingly overwhelming adversity.

  • This is why Mimori is depicted as attempting to make the decision of ending the world on her own, and why it is Yūki and the others who convince her otherwise. Here, Karin engages no fewer than five Verticies on her own, engaging the NT-D Mankai in order to defeat them more quickly at great personal cost. By this point in time, Karin’s completely embraced the Hero Club’s five core tenants and is fighting for something precious to her. While I would have included a pantsu screenshot here, so chaotic were the angles, the more serious tenour of Yūki Yūna is a Hero‘s second half means that would be quite unnecessary.

  • Repeated use of her Mankai costs Karin her sight, hearing and right limbs, prompting Yūki to enter the fray and bring an end to the madness. Concerning the sort of madness that I’ve heard surrounding discussions of Yūki Yūna is a Hero, it appears that it’s limited to only a handful of individuals who, to use an idiom, missed the forest for the trees. Thus, while the ending comes across as unclear and ambiguous for them, I find that it’s actually reasonably clear what Yūki Yūna is a Hero is about. For that, Yūki Yūna is a Hero is hardly a “full-fledged failure”.

  • Blue-on-blue combat occurs as Fū tries to stop Mimori from realising her plans, but Mimori is willing to resort to any means of ending everyone’s suffering by bringing about the end of their world, eventually removing Fū from the combat. This leaves Yūki the only Hero left to stop her, and taking a leaf from Junko’s advice to Madoka about doing something out of the ordinary to stop a friend from making a mistake, Yūki closes the distance and decks Mimori in the face, before sorting things out through talk rather than force.

  • While I found the themes and message in Yūki Yūna is a Hero to be acceptably presented, I acknowledge that it can be a little difficult to ascertain what they are. However, there is one review out there that demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of what it means to be a hero and misses the entire point of Yūki Yūna is a Hero. The claims are as follows:

The problem here is that Yuki Yuna is a Hero wants to have its cake and eat it too; it advocates heroism, repeatedly pronouncing the tenets of the Hero Club as if they were the Buddha’s Five Precepts, but it denounces self-sacrifice. Puella Magi Madoka Magica flagrantly thumbs its nose at the law of physics that says energy cannot be created or destroyed, but it understands the deeper truth that this law of physics embodies, that nothing comes from nothing, that an effect cannot be greater than its cause, that everything in the real world has costs and benefits:  Madoka is able to save the world by self-sacrifice, and her self-sacrifice is only possible because of what Homura has already done for her. Outlandish as the story is, this reflects reality—a hero can change the world, but he cannot bring benefits into being with no cost, because nothing comes from nothing. Out of what can a hero possibly make a better world, except his sacrifices?  This principle is so fundamental that story structure demands it: we expect the conclusion of a story to arise out of what has gone before, and when it does not, we balk at it. Thus the ending of Yuki Yuna falls flat because its underlying message is wrong.  In the end, Yuki Yuna is not so much a Hero as she is a Deus ex machina, and of a particularly blatant variety. The show intends to praise heroism, but instead inadvertently makes light of it because it shies from what heroism demands.

  • By this logic, if a hero does not sacrifice themselves totally for their cause, they are not a hero. This contradicts the underlying definition of a hero and does not reflect reality: a hero is an individual who sacrifices at least some of their personal concerns or values for a cause. Yūki, aware of what her continued fighting entails, decides to accept them in exchange for her friends’ safety. This is consistent with the definition of a hero. Similarly, the claim that Madoka Magica succeeds where Yūki Yūna is a Hero fails is completely false; Madoka’s total sacrifice, though creating a better world in the short term, ultimately leaves her unable to prevent and precipitates Homura from rebuilding the universe again for her own visions of protecting Madoka in Rebellion Story, undermining Madoka’s sacrifice completely (and with it, the entire comparison).

  • Even supposing that the misconceptions that a hero necessarily must experience the consequences self-sacrifice to be of any worth holds true, the statement fails to account for intent. Yūki decides to place her own health on the line with the intent of saving Mimori, Fū, Itsuki, Karin and their world. This choice is what makes Yūki a hero, and that she later recovers from her coma is merely a bonus, suggesting that not all sacrifices need to have permanent consequences. Far from the misconception that “the underlying message is wrong”,  Yūki Yūna is a Hero comes through successfully with its message and paints a more optimistic, neither better nor worse, alternate message to that of Madoka Magica.

  • Ultimately, Yūki’s sacrifice results in a coma that she recovers from, and similarly, the other heroes recover from their injuries, as well. The rationalisations of the Taisha and Shinju are not expressed to viewers presumably because they would be beyond our comprehension. Considering their status as Gods, this is not unreasonable. There is one limitation in Yūki Yūna is a Hero that is not so easily explained, and that lies with the aftermath of Yūki’s actions; the girls now know that their world is a sham, being similar to what would happen if Neo had taken the Blue pill that Morpheus offered, with the exception that the Blue pill did not wipe one’s memories.

  • With this caveat in mind, I find that the idea of the girls’ returning to their routine and living every day to their fullest, even in light of this knowledge that the world sucks, to be an appropriate one. People find the most meaning in their lives when they learn to make the most of their situation. Yūki Yūna is a Hero imparts the message that life can be lived with an optimistic outlook, and this brings this review to a close. I note that my perspectives on Yūki Yūna is a Hero mirrors my own outlooks on life. Not everyone will share this belief, and it’s quite acceptable to explain the merits of other viewpoints in the comments provided the discussion focusses on the ideas themselves.

Yūki Yūna is a Hero will likely continue to remain in the shadows of Madoka Magica, but the anime itself represents a solid anti-thesis and complement to Madoka Magica, making it worth watching. Thus, my final verdict is that this anime earns a recommendation for fans of the magical girl genre or those who greatly enjoyed Madoka Magica. While not all of the charm from Madoka Magica carries over to Yūki Yūna is a Hero, the different take on things is sufficient to merit watching. For fans whose interest lie outside of the genre, Yūki Yūna is a Hero can be worth watching, as well: enough of the details of this world are presented so that the narrative is self-contained (leaving only a few minute holes), leaving the decision of watching down to personal preference. From a technical perspective, Yūki Yūna is a Hero remains of a generally high quality with respect to both its animation and aural aspects. I certainly enjoyed watching Yūki Yūna is a Hero and seeing where the theme would end up: I’ve never been particularly fond of the belief that “grimdark” confers additional weight or value to a story per se, and it is refreshing to see Yūki Yūna is a Hero remind audiences that making the most of one’s circumstances with an optimistic outlook results in a worthwhile existence.

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