The Infinite Zenith

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Hello World: An Anime Movie Review and Reflection

“Reality is often disappointing. That is, it was. Now…reality can be whatever I want.” –Thanos, The Avengers: Infinity War

Naomi Katagaki is a high school student with a fondness for books and an indecisive disposition. While returning home from school one day, a crow snatches a book clean from his hands, and he gives chase. The crow brings him to Fushimi Inari-taisha, where he encounters a mysterious man who claims to be from the future. It turns out this man is none other than Naomi from ten years later; the Japanese government had been working on a massive archival project to preserve the past by means of drones and store them into the Alltale, a special machine with unlimited storage capacity. The older Naomi explains that his objective is to alter the recorded past and save one Ruri Ichigyō, Naomi’s classmate. As it turns out, Naomi had fallen in love with her, but before they began their relationship, she was struck by lightning during a thunderstorm. Because his current avatar has no physical presence, the older Naomi also gives his younger self a special glove with the power to alter reality and create simple materials at will, tasking Naomi with altering the course of his future. Guided by the older Naomi, Naomi sets in motion the events that lead him to fall in love with Ruri. On the night Ruri was to be hit by lightning, Naomi manages to save her, but his older self whisks Ruri away. His actions cause Alltale’s internal system to react: thousands of guards begin appearing to remove the disturbance and restore stability. Back in the real world, Naomi attempts to revive Ruri, but when the guards show up, he realises that he’s in a nested simulation. Naomi’s younger self appears and saves them; they must return Ruri to her original world. The guards begin aggregating as a massive being intent on destroying Naomi as the Alltale enters an error state, and while Ruri manages to enter a portal that sends her back, Naomi’s older self is grievously injured in the process. He reveals a desire to have seen Ruri smile one last time before dying, and the technicians operating Alltale finally manage to reboot the system. Naomi and Ruri return to a restored version of their world, and in the real world, Naomi awakens: as it turns out, his actions allowed him to save Ruri but also left him in a coma. Ruri end up using the same method to save him, and the two tearfully embrace. This is Hello World, a film with a runtime of a hundred minutes that released in September of last year.

For software developers and programmers alike, “Hello, world!” is the first program that every student writes when picking up a new language. Usage of this program as the most basic example was first recorded in a textbook on the C programming language in 1978, although some textbooks suggest that the first instance of “Hello, world!” being written in a program dates back to BCPL in 1967. The phrase, an integral part of software engineer, computer science and programming, is immediately familiar to those involved with technology, and despite its simplicity, is a gateway into worlds of infinite possibility and complexity. This is what gives Hello World its name, and it is therefore unsurprising that the film places such an emphasis on the possibility, but also limitations, of technology and software. In Hello World, the Alltale is presented as a fantastical piece of technology with an unlimited storage capacity achieved through unknown means, and given this power, the government has decided to embark on an ambitious project to archive Kyoto in its entirety, right down to the memories that people have. Such a tool would be immeasurably valuable for historians and anthropologists, but protagonist Naomi has a much more personal and sentimental use of the Alltale’s capabilities: to retrieve the data representing the memories that his love had and transfer it back into her body, intending on picking up where they’d left off. While a romantic gesture, Naomi also introduces instability into the Alltale system, rendering his mission a fool’s errand. It isn’t so simple to enter even a simulated world to alter it, and the world rejects his actions. Through his experiences, the older Naomi realises that a smile was enough, and ultimately “sacrifices” himself to ensure his younger self’s path to the future. Through Hello World, it is therefore suggested that even with technology as evolved as the Alltale, the past is indelible and immutable: some things just cannot be fixed regardless of how powerful the technology is for it. However, Hello World does not end on such a pessimistic note: in its ending, the film also seems to suggest that while advancing technologies do not offer an immediate solution at a given time, there is also merit in patience. Problems that cannot be addressed with current technology might be trivially solved as said technology evolves and improves.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Hello World‘s been on my list of things to watch since September last year, and if memory serves, the BDs came out back in April, when things were a little hectic for me. I’ve finally had the chance to watch it now, and right out of the gates, I was blown away by the visuals: the movie is produced by Graphinica, whom I know best for their 2014 film, Expelled from Paradise. Set in Kyoto, Hello World gives Kyoto Animation a run for their money when it comes to the quality of their artwork and their portrayal of Kyoto: stills of the city in Hello World look life-like.

  • Ever fond of books, Naomi is rarely seen without one in hand. This is a rarity, especially in 2027: Hello World suggests that seven years from now, the world is still largely as we know it, although subtle improvements in technology will have inevitably occurred. Even in the present, there are far fewer people reading books, and I especially lament the fact that my local branch library has a weak selection of books. All of the books worth getting are found at the central branch library, and it’s a bit out of the way for me.

  • The first sign that Naomi’s world is not what it seems is when red aurora appear in the skies, and a crow suddenly appears, stealing a book right out of Naomi’s hands and leading him to Fushimi Inari-taisha. The original description for Hello World was a vague “a man travels back in time to relive his time as a high school decision and rectify a past mistake”, but having now seen the whole of the movie, I feel this description to be an inaccurate description of the movie.

  • For one, Naomi is not “time travelling” in a traditional sense, but rather, he’s entered a simulated environment at a very specific time with the goal of guiding his simulated self towards a particular outcome with the intent of altering it. Here at Fushimi Inari-taisha, Naomi finally recovers his book, and comes face-to-face with a mysterious figure. Fushimi Inari-taisha is a famous shrine located in Kyoto, and while I never had the chance to visit during 2017, it is regarded as one of the most famous destinations in Japan to visit.

  • As it turns out, Naomi’s older self cannot interact with the simulated world, and so, he has the younger Naomi acting as his agent of sorts. Initially, the younger Naomi is reluctant to place trust in his older self, counting him a nuisance for interrupting his free time. At this point in Hello World, Naomi is very much an introvert who prefers books to company, and even when his classmates invite him out to an event, he declines. Naomi’s seen reading a book on how to be more decisive; by comparison, his older self is more confident and self-assured.

  • Both Naomi swing by the Kamo River’s Turtle Stepping stones, a local attraction in Kyoto that became quite famous when K-On! portrays Yui, Mio, Ritsu and Mugi here during the first season’s opening sequence. To demonstrate that he really possesses knowledge of the future, Naomi forecasts that his younger self will be struck by a drone here, but this leads to the question of whether or not Naomi’s younger self is struck because the older Naomi brought him here. In the closed loop model of time travel, it is suggested that what happens in the present occurs because of an action in the past that resulted in the outcomes of the future.

  • In this regard, Hello World can offer the same kind of conversation about time travel that works as varied as Iroduku: The World in Colours and The Avengers: Endgame lend themselves to, although Hello World also has one other key component in its story: the older Naomi reveals that his reason for returning is to ostensibly help his younger self get a girlfriend. In exploring a more familiar topic, the movie also is able to present some humourous moments to lighten things up and also present yet another angle on what impact a first love can have.

  • Initially, Naomi finds it difficult to believe that Ruri could be his girlfriend: cold, unsociable and decisive, he feels that getting closer to Ruri could result in him getting hurt physically and believes that another classmate, Misuzu Kadenokōji, would be more along the lines of he’s interested in. Of course, relationships progress in unforeseeable ways, and one of the more enjoyable aspects of Hello World is watching how Naomi does, in time, come to appreciate Ruri.

  • The composition of this moment brings to mind the aesthetic seen in Angel Beats!, where sunsets were often used to frame more introspective or melancholy moments. Naomi’s older self explains that he’d fallen for Ruri and had intended to pursue a relationship with her, but an unfortunate incident meant that Naomi and Ruri would never get around to properly dating. When the older Naomi sees Ruri in the library for the first time, it probably marks the first time he’s seen her in any reality, and his eyes fill with tears at being able to see a sight he’d figured was otherwise not possible.

  • After the younger Naomi understands the terms of what’s being asked of him, he consents to help out: to assist him in being able to interact with the simulated reality, the older Naomi gives the younger Naomi a glove called “God’s Hand”. It manifests as a shape-shifting crow, and the older Naomi sees it as a powerful tool for manipulating the world. Owing to its functions, I prefer calling it the Infinity Gauntlet with only the Reality Stone attached to it.

  • This is what lends itself to the page quote, although unlike Thanos, who primarily uses the Reality Stone to create and dispel illusions, the God Hand can be used to alter data in the world to create new materials from nothing. However, even this has limited applicability initially: Naomi’s first step is to get closer to Ruri, and armed with the older Naomi’s knowledge of what happens with a great precision, all he needs to do is follow the instructions given out in a diary that meticulously chronicles Naomi’s experiences.

  • The diary supposes that Naomi must first drop the book he’s holding, and then retrieve it. In classic anime style, he finds his face in Ruri’s rear, causing her to slap him the moment they disembark. This occurrence is a cliché in anime and has been done to death in virtually every series: the outcomes are inevitable; in Hello World, it occurs to create the first opportunity for conversation, and after Naomi apologises more formally the day after, Ruri reciprocates, feeling her own reaction to be excessive. Thus, with the ice between Ruri and Naomi broken, things begin accelerating.

  • Hello World has a similar feeling to Makoto Shinkai’s movies in that once things pick up, a male pop band begins performing. This is handled by Official Hige Dandism, whose vocals and style bring to mind the likes of Radwimps, who did the music for both Your Name and Weathering with You. The music in Hello World is varied, featuring a range of incidental pieces that range from relaxing to mysterious, capturing emotions surrounding the more tender moments, as well as creating a sense of intrigue surrounding the Alltale system.

  • The reason why the older Naomi pushes Naomi to learn how to wield the power of the Infinity Gauntlet and its Reality Stone is so that when the moment calls for it, he can summon something that will save Ruri. Initially, Naomi is unable to conjure anything simpler than a sphere, but with practise, he is able to begin creating iron and gold. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Reality Stone could be used to create illusions on a universal scale. Malekith had intended to shroud the galaxy in darkness in Thor: Dark World, but when Thanos takes the stone, he is able to wield the stone in a way as to create illusions so realistic, people could interact with them.

  • It turns out that Ruri’s got a bit of vertigo: she feels faint after realising how high up she is while placing books back on the shelves. Naomi ends up breaking her fall, and the two become even closer in the process. Despite being a consequence of meddling from his future self, Naomi and Ruri’s relationship progresses about as naturally as can be expected, and it was interesting to see how chemistry between the two proceed – while it might be the older Naomi guiding things, the execution is up to the younger Naomi.

  • The library interior really shows the level of detail portrayed in Hello World: the shelves are filled with a variety of books, but everything is well-organised. Hello World has an incredible artwork for both interiors and exteriors, although I do not find that the style is similar to Makoto Shinkai’s – Shinkai’s interiors are filled with clutter, and in fact, clean, well-kept interiors are a style more similar with the aesthetics that P.A. Works is known for.

  • Admittedly, I’ve not been following P.A. Works’ latest projects: after Iroduku: The World in Colours, their more recent works have not had the same magic, and I’ve long felt that P.A. Works’ best series are either set in the workplace or have a coming-of-age component to them. Back in Hello World, Naomi and the library team begin preparing an exhibit for their school event. Naomi’s become more confident and decisive, contributing more actively in activities than he had previously.

  • I think Hello World is probably one of the fastest instances where I watched a movie and then proceeded to write about it: I’d finished the movie on Canada Day, a time of year that I traditionally spend out in the nearby National Parks. Last year, I was in the province over, taking a stroll along a lavender field by one of the most well-known lakes of the area. However, with the global health crisis, it felt more prudent to take the day and rest at home. I started the movie in the morning and finished after lunch (crispy noodles with seafood, yin yang fried rice, beef chow fun and Chinese-style fried chicken wings).

  • While the weather had been unexpectedly pleasant, in a move reminiscent of the Canada Day of seven years ago, I ended up spending most of the day gaming. This time around, rather than Vindictus, I began taking on The Division 2‘s Warlords of New York expansion. I will be explaining what led to my decision on that in a future post, when I go through the Episode Three content to The Division 2, and for now, I’ll return the focus to Hello World, where Ruri reveals that her family has a large collection of books.

  • Ruri’s got so many books that the pair end up using a large cart to transport them all, and along the way, they break along the riverside. Here, Ruri reveals that she’s a fan of adventure books, where people overcome seemingly-insurmountable odds to achieve their goals, and Naomi admits he’s a fan of science fiction because it gives him hope, that an everyman can achieve great things in fantastical worlds. I believe it is here where Naomi realises he’s in love with Ruri owing to the timing of the wind and use of lighting.

  • Like Naomi, I read most everything, from science fiction and high fantasy, to techno-thrillers and mysteries. I have a particular interest in techno-thrillers because of how those books utilise technology to build up a story, going into great details about how things work. In these stories, characters are portrayed as being tightly integrated with the techniques and equipment they use, and as such, are bound to whatever constraints that exist. It creates for situations where the characters must be flexible and creative to overcome their adversity, such as how in The Hunt for Red October, Petty Officer Jones devises a new way to track the Red October using software.

  • Besides techno-thrillers, I’m rather fond of science fiction novels. Science fiction is, strictly speaking, a form of speculative fiction that deals specifically with the implications of technology and science on a society and individuals. Seeing authors devise radical new technology to show its impact on people is the main appeal of science fiction, and it’s been interesting to see how science and technology of the real world parallel those of fiction. While some things have proven to be impractical or superceded, others are much more plausible. The use of ubiquitous drones to survey a landscape for preservation and archiving as seen in Hello World is within the realm of possibility, being a scaled-up version of Google Maps and its ability to show a location at different points in time.

  • Thanks to the books, Ruri and Naomi’s classmates are pleased with their day’s work, confident that their event will be a success. However, a stray banner placed too closely to the lamp catches fire and reduces the books to ashes. While no one is hurt, the unexpected turn of events jeopordises the probability of Naomi and Ruri getting closer together. Against the older Naomi’s suggestion, Naomi decides to use the power of the Infinity Gauntlet to reconstruct the books: the contained past knowledge allows him to recreate the books that were lost without having read them.

  • Owing to the powers of the Alltale system, it becomes clear that information about the state of the entire system can be retained. If I had to guess, the Alltale system might have infinite storage capacity, but to be constantly backing up the world would represent a flow of information that the Alltale cannot keep up with. As a result, my speculation would be that Alltale works similarly to version control, in which the state of an object is stored in chunks, and modifications are made to these chunks over time. Since the books existed at some point with a certain state, it then becomes possible for Naomi to reconstruct lost entities in the simulated world by bringing different revisions together. Thanos does something similar with the Mind Stone using the Time Stone in Infinity War, and I’m betting that the Infinity Stones operate on a similar basis.

  • Thanks to Naomi’s efforts, the book fair is a success, and Misuzu pulls Ruri in to help out, as well. While the older Naomi clearly states that Ruri is the love of his life, there are subtle signs that Misuzu herself had also been interested in Naomi: she’s seen spying on Naomi and Ruri in the library with a jealous look on her face at a few points. However, as Ruri and Naomi grow closer, Misuzu appears quite okay with this: she and Ruri have become friends in the time since the movie began, and the fact that Misuzu is able to convince Ruri to don a færietale-like costume speaks volumes to this.

  • Naomi had exerted himself to restore the books end ended up missing most of the day’s events. Ruri explains that the event was successful thanks to him, and under the warm light at day’s end, Naomi makes his kokohaku to Ruri. She returns his feelings and agrees to date him. It’s a touching moment, set under the pink light of an evening. While most evenings are portrayed with red, orange and gold accents, the addition of pinks and violets creates a more nostalgic, wistful sense. The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan utilised similar lighting to convey a gentle environment and emphasise that Yuki’s journey to get closer to Kyon was going to be a nostalgic, peaceful experience.

  • When the date that Ruri was supposed to be struck by lightning comes, both the older and younger Naomi make the necessary preparations: originally, Naomi had invited her out to the summer festival, so the first stage is to hold off on the invitation and not give the weather a chance to do its thing. However, the mysterious looking kitsune guards begin appearing in large numbers, intent on ensuring the events of this reality proceed as written in history to ensure the Alltale’s stability.

  • As such, when Naomi intervenes, the system forcibly transports Ruri from her bedroom to the bridge where the lightning strike happens, moments before charges in the air reach a critical point. The impact of large electrical currents on the body are highly detrimental – since the body uses potential differences to control muscle contraction, large currents can cause cardiac and respiratory failure. Victims of lightning strikes also lose consciousness after a strike: this is the fate that Ruri suffered, and Naomi’s older self had sought to change this.

  • In the end, Naomi summons a black hole to absorb the lightning and kitsune guards, changing the archived data in the Alltale. It takes him great effort to do so, standing in contrast with Thanos, who created a black hole without much effort in Infinity War during a fight against Doctor Strange, who ended up dispelling the black hole with a spell and transforms it into butterflies. While the contexts are dramatically different, the stakes are similar, and it was as gripping to watch Naomi use every fibre of his concentration to save Ruri, much as it was thrilling to watch the Avengers and Guardians square off against Thanos on Titan.

  • In the aftermath, Naomi and Ruri prepare to share a kiss. Before they do, the older Naomi extracts Ruri: it turns out his objective had been to use the inference engine in the Alltale to capture Ruri’s feelings at their apex, and then use this data to restore the real Ruri’s memories. Naomi and Ruri are thus separated, and the younger Naomi is left without the Infinity Gauntlet. Because the Alltale had been forcibly altered, the system begins unravelling as instability builds up, and the internal fail-safes go into overdrive attempting to restore everything.

  • As Hello World enters its final act, the distinction between world is lost, and it’s easy to get lost. It is revealed that after losing Ruri to the storm, Naomi joined the Alltale programme as a researcher and began working his way from an undergraduate summer research student to a full member of the team. During this time, Naomi investigated all possible means of entering the Alltale system to accomplish his aims. During this time, Naomi’s experiments placed an increasingly high burden on his body: he is scarred and left with a limp as a result of attempting to link his mind to Alltale.

  • I believe first heard about Hello World late in 2018: the film had caught my eye both for its title and premise. The title is, after all, the first program any learner of a new programming language, and the premise itself had been curious. However, the film itself is quite unrelated to any programming language and the title was probably chosen because of the phrase’s relation to technology. Similarly, while the premise had supposed that Naomi would time travel to rectify a past regret, the film takes a different approach in executing this premise. This is why reading even previews of a film can yield unexpected results.

  • Despite technically not being able to leave his space on account of being a mere record, Naomi’s younger self manages to do so anyways, suggesting that the older Naomi is himself still in a simulation. This brings to mind the Rick and Morty episode M. Night Shaym-Aliens, where aliens have captured Rick and placed him in a simulated reality to learn of his formula for concentrated dark matter. Rick and Morty employed the idea of a nested simulation for comedic purposes, but in Hello World, it creates doubt in the viewer as to what’s real and what isn’t.

  • This forces the viewer to ground themselves to the one constant in Hello World: Naomi’s feelings for Ruri never waver, and this is what gives both Naomi and the viewer focus. As the system loses control, it spawns increasingly deadly mechanisms to combat Naomi: the kitsune guards representing the system eventually mutate into a massive monstrosity hellbent on destroying Ruri and Naomi. A thrilling chase results, and both Naomis realise the importance of getting Ruri back to her original world.

  • The last anime movie that left me with a handful of questions after I finished was probably 2018’s Fireworks, which similarly created ambiguity in what had occurred. Such anime films can be frustrating to watch at first glance, but they also provide enjoyment for those who prefer their films to be driven by spectacle. In the case of Hello World, once the older Naomi sacrifices himself to save the younger Naomi, the irregularity in the system is removed, and a subsequent restart of the Alltale system creates a new world, free of defects, that the simulated Naomi and Ruri can return to.

  • Naomi and Ruri’s high school incarnations are given a new chance to explore their relationship further: as a new day dawns on their world, it’s all optimism and rainbows for the two’s future. However, this is muted by the fact that viewers now know that this Naomi and Ruri are in a simulated reality, and while the younger Naomi’s definitely earned his ending, this seemingly comes at a cost to the older Naomi and Ruri in the real world, leaving audiences feeling as though something’s missing. Fortunately for viewers, the film’s not quite done yet.

  • Viewers are treated to another spectacular view of Kyoto as Hello World draws to a close. A rainbow can be seen in the distance: this hallmark of a storm reaching its end brings to mind the storm that swept through my area during the afternoon earlier today. It’s a quiet, calm evening now, and after sitting down to a dinner of herb-and-spice fried chicken, I spent the remainder of the day in World of Warcraft. Besides Warlords of New York, I’ve also picked up World of Warcraft about a week ago, playing the Starter Edition to relive some old adventures I had on a friend’s private server years back. I’ll be writing about these experiences in the future, and for now, all I’ll say is that playing through World of Warcraft‘s opening missions is surprisingly cathartic: even with the Starter Edition capping me at level 20, there’s actually quite a bit one can do with respect to exploration.

  • While the high school incarnations of Naomi and Ruri have their happy ending, Hello World concludes with Naomi waking up in “the real world” after Ruri transfers a copy of his old memories into his body successfully, to the joy of observing scientists. The Ruri of the present day sports a different hair style and glasses: compared to her high school self, she looks a lot less like Hibike! Euphonium‘s Reina, and projects a much friendlier aura. Doing from this alone, meeting Naomi probably wrought changes in her life, and her smile here is beautiful, speaking volumes about her joy and relief at having Naomi back with her.

  • It turns out that Naomi was successful in restoring Ruri’s memories, and in turn, Ruri was somehow able to bring him back from the brink: presumably, after Naomi sacrifices himself to save his simulated incarnation, he very nearly dies in the real world, but with the Alltale providing a backup of his memories and experiences, Ruri is able to utilise this to save him. The two embrace tearfully, bringing to mind Futurama‘s The Sting. I hope that with this post, I’ve offered some helpful thoughts in Hello World: discussions of the film elsewhere have been very limited; most viewers enjoyed the film but also found the ending a little confusing.

  • Overall, Hello World earns an A- (3.7 of 4.0, or 8.5 of 10) for me: the movie had an interesting premise and relevant themes to the limitations of technology, as well as an endearing love story and some of the most eye-catching art and animation I’ve seen in a non-Makoto Shinkai work. While the explanation of the different realms and how the Alltale works is lacking in some places, and the ending can come across as being confusing for viewers, the positives outweigh the negatives in Hello World. This is a film I can recommend to most viewers, especially those with a fondness for interesting animation and art. With Hello World in the books, I will be turning my attention towards A Whisker Away as the next film I write about. As we’ve now entered July, the summer season has kicked off, as well; once more of the episodes begin airing, I’ll have a clearer picture as to what I’ll be writing about, but I can say to readers that my next post is going to be an interesting one, being a collaboration.

Admittedly, while an engaging and touching film, Hello World also can be somewhat tricky to follow at times once the idea of a nested reality is presented: resulting from the fact that the Alltale has infinite storage, this means that something like the infinite regress problem is possible, and that there would be an infinite number of Naomis and Ruris, all of whom can exist concurrently in their own respective instances of the simulation. Notions of infinity create an ontological quandary, since infinity is, by definition, undefined. The implications of the Alltale in Hello World would doubtlessly create for interesting conversations surrounding the nature and limitations of simulated environments, determinism and free will in said environments and other topics, similarly to how the Matrix drove curious discussions about the nature of existence. Like the Matrix, the complexity of topics is such that there is not just one single theme within Hello World, and consequently, I am rather surprised that discussions of the movie are not more extensive. Beyond its thematic elements, Hello World is also a technical marvel of a movie, featuring very strong artwork and animation. With incredibly detailed renderings of landscapes and interiors alike, fluid character animation and the inclusion of different art styles to hint at the nature of the different environments Naomi goes through, Hello World pushes the envelope for what can be done within an animated medium. Hello World is, in short, a thrill to watch; the film may not be as straightforward as the average anime series, but Hello World has plenty of merit that makes it a worthwhile experience.

Feedback and Reflections on Insider Flighting with The Master Chief Collection: Halo 3

“I would prefer even to fail with honour than to win by cheating.” –Sophocles

I had previously received an invitation to test Halo: Combat Evolved earlier in February, but an account issue prevented me from logging in and participating. This time around, 343 Industries has begun testing Halo 3 ahead of its release into The Master Chief Collection, releasing just over half of the single-player campaign missions and rotating multiplayer game types during its run. I was provided with an invitation to participate in the flighting programme and hastened to experience both the single-player and multiplayer aspects of the game before the test period ended. The Halo 3 flight offered five of the nine campaign missions: out of the gates, I was impressed with the visuals and handling. I will be returning once the game is finished to deal with the story and my impressions of gameplay – this time around, I will be focused more on the technical aspects of the game as a result of the flighting. Out of the gates, there are no major performance issues that are immediately apparent: the game handles smoothly, with no frame drops or any stuttering even in busier areas. The only major issue affecting the campaign is the weapon audio: the report of a weapon is barely audible over the music and ambient sounds during a firefight. However, while Halo 3 appears ready from the campaign perspective, the multiplayer component is stymied by a major problem with the mouse sensitivity to the point of being unplayable: in close quarters engagements, I favour having higher sensitivities to ensure I can continue tracking my targets, and I typically position myself in such a way so that I can favour closer-range engagements in Halo. At present, the maximum available sensitivity in Halo 3 is far too low to be effective in the multiplayer, and this is something that needs to be improved prior to the full release of Halo 3.

The reason why the sensitivity settings are too low in Halo 3 for the gameplay is related to the presence of both mouse-and-keyboard and controller players: in The Master Chief Collection, players who use a controller are given an aim assist utility that is intended to help them keep up with mouse-and-keyboard players by automatically shifting the camera to be centred on an enemy. In practise, this has allowed players using controllers to have an immense advantage over those who use mouse-and-keyboard in close quarters scenarios: since the time-to-kill in Halo is high, being effective means consistently landing shots on an enemy. Players must track their targets and time each pull of the trigger: on a mouse-and-keyboard setup, how well players can pull this off boils down to a matter of skill, and an experienced player can be quite effective with the mouse-and-keyboard in all scenarios. However, controller players have aim assist which handles this tracking; the player only needs to pull the trigger, and aim assist ensures their shots will land. This leaves mouse-and-keyboard players at a massive disadvantage in close-quarters firefights – the inevitable result is that during the Halo 3 flighting, I’ve been unable to see any sort of success in a given multiplayer match against players using controllers. Because of low sensitivities, I’ve experienced a reduced ability in being able to reliably track targets: players move faster than I can keep my crosshairs on them, and if they have a controller, they are assured that their shots will find their mark. Beyond sensitivity issues, the other gripe I have with the flight is that dual-wielding is similarly unintuitive: whereas Halo 2 was designed so that the left mouse button would fire the left-hand weapon and the right mouse button would fire the right-hand weapon, Halo 3 has this reversed, and there is no easy way to change this. Similarly, having separate reload buttons means that it is hardly practical to dual-wield, and for most of the campaign, I simply eschewed dual-wielding in favour of running the battle rifle.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • My performance in Halo 3‘s flight was worse than what it was during the old days of LAN parties when my friends switched us over to Halo 3 from Halo 2: back in those days, I was lucky to get 5-10 kills a match, but most games during the flighting, I found myself unable to even hit five. Halo 3‘s gameplay is slower than that of Halo 2‘s, and almost all of the weapons are weaker than their predecessors. As a result, it was quite difficult to get used to the new way things handled.

  • Owing to the weaker weapons and the fact that I simply wasn’t able to aim and track as quickly as I’d like, triple kills did not happen during my time with the flight. I do, however, have a pile of double kill medals for my trouble, and admittedly, while the experience in the flight was decidedly negative, I did have a few moments here and there in the multiplayer. My friends have long felt that Halo 2 was the superior game when it comes to multiplayer, featuring superior weapon balance and mechanics that were more skilled based.

  • While the multiplayer portion of the flight was not quite as smooth as I would have liked, I had absolutely no trouble at all with the campaign: the Halo 3 flight made five of the nine campaign missions available, giving a good spread of what was available. Overall, I have no complaints about the campaign at all. I was originally considering splitting this post to cover both the campaign and multiplayer, but it’d be tricky to do that without the full story on the table. As such, I will be doing a full discussion of the campaign once Halo 3 is launched.

  • Heretic is Halo 3‘s remake of Midship, one of the best close quarters maps in the game for MLG slayer. I’m generally not fond of FFA-style games, since there’s too much opportunity to be vultured after a firefight, but the flipside is that a skillful player has more opportunity to chain impressive multi-kills together in FFA than they would in MLG Team BRs. In the days of old, I struggled to get kills with the battle rifle and instead, most of my kills came from melee or grenade sticks.

  • One aspect I did enjoy in Halo 3 was the addition of the gravity hammer: this Brute weapon is a weaker incarnation of the gravity hammer that Tataurus yields in Halo 2, and with a powerful shockwave projector, can flatten enemies or even deflect projectiles. Having confiscated a gravity hammer from another player on Guardian, I ended up going on a short killing spree with it and earned myself a double kill for my troubles. Guardian is the Halo 3 equivalent of Lockout in terms of design, but no Halo map is as enjoyable as Lockout: an update would later add Blackout, a map that has the same layout, to Halo 3.

  • The other fun aspect of Halo 3 is the inclusion of the Spartan Laser: while I’ve now fired one properly on PC in both the Halo: Reach and Halo 3 flight campaigns, the flight represents the first time I’ve been able to pick up the weapon in multiplayer and get kills with it. It is with the power weapons where players can witness the more sophisticated physics engine of Halo 3 at work. Explosions can result in unusual things materialising, lending itself to comedy in some moments, such as when one accidentally kills themselves with a traffic cone thrown by an explosion.

  • The larger maps in Halo 3, coupled with the fact that the battle rifle is no longer as effective as it was in Halo 2, means that firefights are protracted and drawn-out. At medium ranges, the battle rifle stops being effective. As it turns out, Halo has a mechanic called “bullet magnetism”, which refers to the tolerance a bullet can be from a target and still count as a hit. Halo indicates that a player’s shots will register when the reticule is red, bullet magnetism is in play, and one’s shots are guaranteed to curve towards an opponent.

  • Outpost is probably my favourite of the Halo 3 maps from an aesthetics perspective: the combination of bases on the edges of the map, open areas in the map centre, and massive radio dishes in the background, set under the light of a day coming to an end, creates a very unique and interesting atmosphere. It is on larger maps where the battle rifle feels inadequate in Halo 3, and firefights that would’ve been very manageable in Halo 2 turned into a situation where I would dump an entire magazine at a foe, only for them to kill me instantly.

  • The aim assist aspect of The Master Chief Collection is the subject of no small debate since the launch of Halo: Reach, with some players feeling that aim assist outright ruins the game for mouse-and-keyboard players, and others believing it to be a necessary part of the game for players who run with controllers. I lean more in favour of the former: in excess, aim assist takes the skill out of Halo, and a degraded experience for mouse-and-keyboard players is bad for a game that was ostensibly supposed to bring the Halo universe into the realm of mice and keyboards.

  • As it stands, I consider defenders of strong controller aim assist to be players who want to do well at all costs. Such players fear their advantage might be taken away by any changes to aim assist, and vehemently defend aim assist under the impression that a good enough player should be able to overcome them, irrespective of input scheme. Here on Last Resort, Halo 3‘s interpretation of Zanzibar, I managed to go on a short streak with the sniper rifle. Unlike the Halo 2 sniper rifle, which yields sniper medals for every successful kill, Halo 3‘s sniper rifle only awards medals on a headshot kill.

  • The sniper rifle is even more valuable in Halo 3 owing to the fact that it can reach targets that the battle rifle cannot touch: while my team focused on closing the distance to secure the flag, I hung back with the sniper rifle and picked off stragglers to stop them from firing on teammates. The sniper rifle remains fun to use, but the old firing sound is a little weaker compared to the Halo 2 Anniversary incarnations of the rifle. The UNSC sniper rifles of Halo fire 14.5 mm rounds, which are larger in bore than 50-cal rounds, but as the rifles fire APFSDS rounds, their recoil is far lighter than that of a rifle firing BMG rounds, allowing even the marines in Halo to fire the weapon from the shoulder.

  • Infection is one of the more unusual game modes, officially introduced into Halo 3 after the Halo 2 custom game mode became popular. The inclusion of these novel modes mixes things up a little, although having spent the better part of the past seven years in Battlefield, where games are objective-oriented and set on large maps, upon returning to Halo, I find myself gravitating back towards the smaller-scale eight player matches more frequently, since these represent drop-in, drop-out sessions that fits my schedule particularly well.

  • During one match, I saw for myself the impact of a controller: one of the players on my team, “LilMissLehCar”, began racking up kills at a rate that seemed impossible: we had ended up on a larger map, and I would guess that this player was evidently using a controller and fully enjoying the benefits of aim assist. Players who’ve used both mouse-and-keyboard and controller setups state the latter gives an unfair advantage: LilMissLehCar’s performance is a result of exploiting controller aim assist rather than legitimate skill. This is what lends itself to my page quote: I don’t have fun when I lose unfairly, but I have even less fun when my team wins through the action of players who play dishonourably.

  • Whereas gaming from an older age emphasised improving by having fun (i.e. “the more fun you have, the more you are encouraged to improve, so you can have more fun”), these days, gamers seem fixated on creating meme-worthy moments even if it comes at the expense of integrity, For these people, they believe that if they can make my meme and get upvotes for it, underhanded tactics are acceptable to use.

  • In the old days of Halo 2 Vista, I remember the thrill of improving enough in multiplayer to earn multi-kills and go on kill-streaks on virtue of skill alone: using a controller to gain an advantage over mouse-and-keyboard users, however slight the edge is, is still to be playing dishonestly, and consequently, while I do have an Xbox controller floating around, I am not going to resort to using it just to have fun in a game. As it stands, the Halo 3 flight is still quite buggy, and one of the known issues in the game was poor hit detection, which could further have exacerbated the situation.

  • 343 have acknowledged that hit detection is an issue owing how game steps on PC handles differently than on the Xbox because of to frame rate differences: in conjunction with the poor sensitivity, this is likely why my experience in the Halo 3 flight was particularly poor. The hit detection is a known issue in Halo 3‘s flight, and 343 is likely going to work on getting this one ironed out. However, the mouse sensitivity doesn’t appear to be something on their radar.

  • Another issue I’ve experienced since Halo 2 was the fact my text chat no longer seems to be working. This isn’t an issue in multiplayer, but in co-op, I use it to coordinate with friends who don’t use voice chat. I’ve had several occasions where I needed to pause and step aside for something, but because text chat wasn’t working, they proceeded ahead and entered a firefight short-handed. I’m not sure if 343 will address this issue, but in the flight for Halo 3, I tested the chat out and my messages did not seem to be getting through in the multiplayer, suggesting that it may be similarly broken if I create a lobby and co-op with friends.

  • One thing that was extremely frustrating in Halo 3 was the fact that vehicular handling is worse than it was in any Halo game I played thus far: vehicles bounce and flip on the slightest provocation, and there were a handful of matches where, had I not flipped over or slowed down as a result of the game’s implementation of vehicle physics, I might have actually ended up with a triple kill or overkill.

  • My performance in the Halo 3 flight was so poor that I wondered if I had lost my touch with FPS in general, and so, a day before the flight was set to end, I returned to Battlefield V to see if my skills had been lost. In back-to-back matches of conquest, I went 21-14 and 21-13, respectively. When I spun up a match in Halo 2, I performed as I normally would. This tells me that, rather than my skills being an issue, the poor showing I had was a result of issues in the game and a lack of familiarity with the inconsistent mechanics.

  • With a rough flighting experience, I am glad that things at least ended on a decent note: I won my last match and here, scored a kill on the enemy team’s MVP, ending a spree of theirs in the process. The flight ended two days ago, and I’ve already submitted my feedback for the team’s consideration. I hope that 343 will address the issues and make Halo 3‘s entry a success: I am fully confident that the campaign will be amazing, and I may play a match or two of the multiplayer to see if it is in a state that I am able to have fun in. With this post, we now enter July, and today is Canada Day. Traditionally, it’s a day to go out into the mountains, but owing to the global health crisis, and the fact that Canada Day is in the middle of the week, I will instead spend the day relaxing in a different way, before celebrating Canada Day properly by watching a virtual fireworks presentation.

Consequently, mouse sensitivity is the most critical fix that needs to be applied to Halo 3 at present: increasing the maximum sensitivity by around 50-80 percent will ensure that mouse-and-keyboard players have a fighting chance in close-quarters battles. If a player are given the means track their opponents at least as quickly as they move, then in a firefight, the outcome becomes dependent on skill, rather than the input method. The presence of aim assist is a contentious one in the community, and I’ve felt that a simple implementation of a much higher mouse sensitivity ceiling would level things out considerably. Overall, Halo 3‘s flight shows that once a few critical fixes are made, the game is ready to roll out into the release phase, which currently is anticipated to be mid to late July. I am particularly enthusiastic to go through the campaign: the missions were built with co-op play in mind, and with no critical performance issues whatsoever, the campaign looks like it is ready to be launched, allowing me to finish the fight and wrap up the original trilogy in Halo. Similarly, the core aspects of multiplayer are working in a satisfactory manner, and I’ve not encountered any serious issues like being disconnected from a match, or clipping through geometries in the maps at all during my run of things. If the issue of sensitivity can be adequately addressed, the multiplayer could be an engaging component of Halo 3, as well: as it was during the flight, the multiplayer was unenjoyable and frustrating to play, not for any reason beyond the fact that I’m not able to track my opponents at a speed that I am comfortable with. Beyond this, the other issues I’ve found are more of a matter of acclimatisation, and even if unaltered, I could learn to adjust to the new schemes over time.

The Otafest Answer: Discovering Fun and Camaraderie in Exploration Through The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

“If there’s really that many people in the world, then there had to be someone who wasn’t ordinary. There had to be someone who was living an interesting life. There just had to be. Why wasn’t I that person?” –Haruhi Suzumiya

Upon entering high school, Kyon’s dreams of living out a normal life are dashed when he meets the eccentric and seemingly-cold Haruhi Suzumiya, a girl known for her escapades during middle school and a bold introduction on the first day of class. Against his better judgement, he speaks with Haruhi and learns that she’s intent on finding aliens, time travellers and espers to have fun with. Haruhi takes Kyon’s suggestion to start her own club seriously and ends up building the SOS Brigade, hauling in fellow students Yuki Nagato, Mikuru Asahina and Itsuki Koizumi. Haruhi turns out to be far more energetic than Kyon anticipated, and he finds himself being hauled off on various odds and ends at her whim. Each of Yuki, Mikuru and Itsuki separately approach Kyon and reveal that Haruhi is of note to the factions they represent, and that it is in everyone’s interest to keep Haruhi entertained. Thus, the SOS Brigade set off in search of mystery, from investigating the disappearance of a fellow student to solving a locked room mystery on a summer island, and also making the most of their youth, whether it be playing baseball, living life to the limits during the summer or putting a home-made film together for the cultural festival. While Kyon begrudgingly accompanies Haruhi, who seems constantly gripes about his lack of spirit, the two are actually perfect complements to one another: she is brimming with energy and life, with grand visions about what she wants from the world, and he is a pragmatist, trying to do what it takes to bring peace and quiet back into his world. Together, Kyon and Haruhi come to represent how polar opposites can fit one another so well; Haruhi brings colour and adventure into Kyon’s life, and Kyon finds ways of scaling back Haruhi’s dreams such that they can be realised to capture her fancy. The interplay between Kyon and Haruhi forms the heart of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, a light novel by Nagaru Tanigawa that was adapted into an anime by Kyoto Animation in 2006 and rebroadcast in 2009 with additional episodes as a part of the second season. During its run, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya proved wildly successful, and is counted as one of the most influential anime of the 2000s.

At the series’ beginning, Kyon resembles Bilbo Baggins, an average hobbit from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, who is content to live a quiet life of routine and comfort. This world is a monochrome one, unremarkable and familiar. Haruhi changes this completely, throwing Kyon’s world into one of adventure and exploration, driven by the unstoppable, manic Haruhi. Haruhi thus acts as The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya‘s catalyst for disruption: much as how Gandalf “persuades” Bilbo to accompany Thorin and his company to reconquer the Erebor from the clutches of the fire-drake Smaug. Reluctant to play his role as a burglar, Bilbo considers adventures as being “nasty things [that]…make you late for dinner”, but nonetheless finds himself rising to the occasion. Kyon feels similarly about Haruhi, with her zany schemes and desires disrupting the peace, but in spite of this, finds himself entangled in her yearnings for excitement: as it turns out, Kyon had been the one to set Haruhi down her path, first by convincing her to become a North High student and then in the present day, inspiring her to form the SOS Brigade. In this way, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya supposes that even in the most peace-loving of folk, there lies a drive for adventure, and that the right person in the right place, at the right time, can set in motion many unforeseeable events. For his troubles, Bilbo manages to help Thorin take Erebor back, visiting places as varied as Rivendell, Laketown and the mountains before coming face-to-face with Smaug himself. Similarly, Kyon is exposed to the very entities that Haruhi had been seeking out, being very nearly knifed by a rogue Ryouko Asakura before Yuki saves him, witnessing Itsuki battle the Celestials and travelling in time with Mikuru to set in motion the very events that lead to his adventures. Through the majestic and the perilous, both Kyon and Bilbo gain a considerable amount of life experience from their adventures that helps them to both appreciate the wider world beyond themselves, and further appreciate what they have as being irreplaceable, invaluable. The positives brought on by adventure are shown as vividly in Nagaru Tanigawa’s The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya as J.R.R. Tolkein had portrayed through The Hobbit, suggesting that extraordinary experiences drives people to be more open-minded and concurrently, grateful for their blessings. Among anime fans, this adventure would manifest as a desire to really share their enjoyment of their hobby with the wider world, in turn shaping anime conventions like Otafest in the years to come.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Admittedly, it feels a little strange to write about The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya after finishing The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, but for completeness’ sake, I’ve decided to return and write about what was, in 2006, the biggest icon of the year. The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya became a cultural phenomenon for anime fans both in and outside of Japan: the series’ success is largely owing to the fact that The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya has something for everyone: my best friend likens it to a buffet at one of the local places in town, which features a wide selection of everything from prime rib and snow crab to various Chinese-style stir-fry dishes, fried meats, seafood, noodles, rice and salads: at such buffets, one could pick anything of their choice and have an excellent time.

  • With the current circumstances, going to a buffet is not the wisest idea, but with some places opened, it is possible to enjoy cuisine from the local Cantonese restaurant – this past weekend, I enjoyed sweet-and-sour pork, golden crispy salted egg-yolk prawns, Chinese broccoli with satay beef and deep fried oysters as the summer solstice brought with it brilliant blue skies and warm weather suited for 10-kilometre walks. Right out of the gates, Kyon is the architect of his own fortune: despite his grumblings, he is directly responsible for inspiring Haruhi to create the SOS Brigade (full name “Spreading Excitement All Over the World with Haruhi Suzumiya Brigade”) and bringing about the curious characters that come to his life. This becomes a recurring theme in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, where Kyon sets in motion events that he appears to be dissatisfied with, but ends up going with it.

  • Haurhi’s brazen efforts to make the SOS Bridage a reality become most apparent when she extorts a new-model computer from the Computing Research Club. This particular moment was my first exposure to The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya: one of my friends had brought it in to the anime club and declared it to be one of the funniest moments he’d ever seen in an anime. My best friend immediately hopped on the series and found it immensely enjoyable, but I myself had been weary to watch The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, given that all I’d heard about it were the memes and comedy: at the time, I was just getting started on anime. It wasn’t until a few years later, when I’d entered university, that I decided to check the series out – I would do so shortly after wrapping up my second year and ended up finishing the series just before a vacation to the Eastern Seaboard in July.

  • Yuki is the first to reveal her station to Kyon: her explanations are prima facie far-fetched, and like Kyon, viewers cannot help but wonder if what Yuki’s saying has any merit. Yuki is voiced by Minori Chihara (Kaori Nakaseko of Hibike! Euphonium and Erica Brown from Violet Evergarden), while Tomokazu Sugita voices Kyon (Kanon‘s Yuuichi Aizawa). Stoic and reserved, Yuki fulfils the alien archetype that Haruhi seeks: she’s a member of an organisation known as Data Integration Thought Entity, who is interested in Haruhi for having created a “data explosion” that is supposed to accelerate humanity’s evolution. The precise nature of this data is never specified, although I will admit that its composition weighed on me even as I completed my courses on databases and data mining.

  • On the SOS Brigade’s first outing, Haruhi decides to draw lots to see how the groups are dispersed. On the first draw, Kyon ends up with Mikuru, a time traveller voiced by Yūko Gotō (Junko Kaname from Puella Magi Madoka Magica and Azur Lane‘s HMS Edinburgh). She explains that most of her duties are classified, and warns Kyon not to get too close to her. By the afternoon, Kyon ends up with Yuki and takes her to the local library. While Yuki only remarks she’s “moderately” into books, she practically drifts away to the nearest shelf in happiness. The library is modelled after Nishinomiya City Central Library, which, curiously enough, resembles the library in my area. I’ve not been to a library in quite some time: with the trends towards electronic media, libraries have become less well stocked, and I’ve taken to buying the books I enjoyed borrowing a decade ago.

  • At this point in time, Itsuki also joined the SOS Brigade and introduces himself as an esper. Kyon similarly has trouble believing the three, and still prefers to spend his days in peace, playing shogi and chess against Itsuki while enjoying the tea that Mikuru brews for them.  Kyon’s wish of the peaceful are satisfied by these ordinary days where nothing happens to the SOS Brigade, and while Haruhi occasionally livens things up by forcing Mikuru into various costumes, nothing out of the ordinary happens.

  • However, when classmate Asakura decides to murder Kyon to see Haruhi’s reaction, Yuki intervenes, and Kyon realises that Yuki wasn’t joking. Kyon is therefore thrust into an unbelievable situation, and is forced to accept that, given Yuki was telling the truth, Mikuru and Itsuki must also be telling the truth about their station. Kyon will go on an adventure with them that proves beyond any doubt that the aliens, time-travellers and espers Haruhi so wishes to meet, in fact, exist, and moreover, have all converged on Kyon.

  • The universal appeal of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya comes from the fact that the series presented a world where the extraordinary co-existed with the mundane. For most of its viewers, students at the time of airing, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya showed the possibility of adventure, and having a fulfilling high school experience, was a matter of perspective: Haruhi believes that if the fun things won’t come to her, then she’ll find a way to make things fun on her own. Anime fans were similarly inspired and began looking to make their world more entertaining: as Haruhi livened up Kyon’s world, Haruhi would also liven up the world of the anime’s viewers.

  • The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya would shape the anime convention experience as Lucky☆Star did after it: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya‘s universal appeal meant that fans of all genres were brought together by the series. Regardless of whether or not one preferred slice-of-life, science fiction, philosophy or comedy, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya had something for everyone, and this was universally expressed by the Hare Hare Yukai dance. The anime would perceptibly impact anime conventions for years to come, as hosts and attendees alike began expressing their enjoyment of their series in increasingly intricate and exciting ways.

  • It turns out that Haruhi’s desire to stand out and be unique stemmed from attending a baseball game, where she was but one in a crowd of fifty thousand and saw for herself how large the world was. From there on out, Haruhi realised the mundane nature of her world and sought to make it unique: that she shared these thoughts with Kyon this early on suggests that she sees him differently than everyone else. Haruhi and Kyon never become a couple in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, but even early on, it becomes apparent that the two complement the other very well.

  • Mikuru somewhat resembles CLANNAD‘s Nagisa Furukawa in appearance; coming a full year before CLANNAD, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya would come to influence many of the design choices in CLANNAD, from the use of lighting and colour, to camera placement and framing to convey specific moods. Throughout the series, Kyon expresses his fondness for Mikuru, and after an incident where Haruhi obtained a pile of photographs of Mikuru, Kyon decides to quietly archive the folder instead. Mikuru notices the folder and becomes curious, but before anything else goes down, Haruhi arrives.

  • When Itsuki shows Kyon his esper powers, he remarks that his duty, along with others like him, is to contain “closed space” and “celestials”, monstrous beings that mirror Haruhi’s frustrations with the real world. It turns out that Yuki, Mikuru and Itsuki had foreseen a time where Haruhi would attempt to rebuild the world: one evening, Kyon awakens to find himself with Haruhi, on the deserted school grounds in closed space. Haruhi is enthralled to see a sight so unusual, but Kyon, recalling advice from Yuki and Mikuru, decides to kiss Haruhi. The next morning, he and Haruhi both turns out to have had the same nightmare. The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya excels at suggesting some of the more outrageous events in the series can be explained away, leaving it ambiguous as to whether or not something really happened.

  • For The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya‘s fans, the Japanese festival, Tanabata, is of special significance: the real festival is a celebration of the meeting of deities Orihime and Hikoboshi, and Haruhi sees it as a time to make her wishes known to the respective corresponding stars, Vega and Altair. Despite the community’s decision to celebrate Tanabata alongside Haruhi, I’ve noticed that no one’s ever offered an explanation of why Tanabata is so important to the storyline of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya: most discussions only can agree the significance of Tanabata as the time when Haruhi and Kyon meet for the first time.

  • The anime community of 2006 didn’t have me around, though: the reason why Tanigawa chose Tanabata as the time for Haruhi’s meeting with Kyon is deliberately to mirror the legend that drives Tanabata: there is a certain romance in two deities that cannot meet except under specific conditions, and the custom of wish-writing indicates that Kyon and Haruhi are meant to be parallels of Hikoboshi and Orihime. Tanigawa’s focus on Tanabata three years ago, then, is to show that, for better or worse, people can be connected by circumstances that appear beyond comprehension.

  • Because of Kyon’s frequent references to historical figures and the series’ enjoyment of technical jargon, a small subset of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya‘s fans felt the series to be a philosophical masterpiece. Kyon only mentions these in the passing to compare his situation to an equivalent, and most of the philosophical or historical elements have no impact on The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya‘s theme, so it is not strictly necessary to have an extensive background on these disciplines to enjoy the show. The inclusion of such elements into The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and the attendant impact it had on the more academically-minded fans (or perhaps, those who want to flex their smarts) meant that these viewers were right at home with the show, alongside mystery, comedy, science-fiction and slice-of-life fans.

  • While the SOS Brigade is more often seen going on fabulous adventures rather than finding and solving mysteries, there are several cases where Haruhi is met with a mystery to solve; one Emiri Kimidori arrives one day, seeking the SOS Brigade’s help in locating her boyfriend, the Computing Research club’s president, who has been missing for a while. Emiri only makes this appearance in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, but in the original novels, she is in the same faction as Yuki.

  • As it turns out, the president’s disappearance is attributed to the irregularities accumulating in the SOS Brigade’s website; Haruhi’s subconsciously imparted unusual properties on it, causing those who visit to be whisked away into a parallel dimension. After Haruhi leaves, the remainder of the SOS Brigade get to work and save the president, after which Yuki modifies Haruhi’s logo to prevent future trouble and explains that Haruhi’s abilities can create troublesome events.

  • Itsuki and his Agency view Haruhi as a god of sorts, being able to freely create and destroy the known universe at will. In order to keep Haruhi entertained during the summer, he and his colleagues prepare a special event for Haruhi, which entails travelling to a remote island and staging a murder mystery here. When The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya had been airing, Itsuki’s revelation that Haruhi might’ve been a god given human form resulted in the creation of a pseudo-religion known as “Haruhiism”, of which the core tenant is to have fun and accept things as they are, since they are the “will” of Haruhi.

  • Haruhiism is not a religion that is officially recognised, to the disappointment of the series’ most ardent of fans, although that did not stop them from celebrating the series. The most prominent example of the community’s devotion lay in what would become known as “The Haruhiism Time Capsule Project”, which aimed to submit images to Yahoo’s 2006 Time Capsule Project. This was ultimately a failure, as the time capsule was never reopened per Yahoo’s original terms. While Haruhiism captured the fancy of many, Itsuki believes that this is simply the views that the Agency shares, and that others see Haruhi differently. It exemplifies The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya‘s appeal in that it was able to accommodate so many viewpoints even in-universe, and as such, Haruhi fans were free to interpret the show however they saw fit. Because there are so many ways to enjoy the series, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya‘s appeal would ultimately lie with the exceptional execution that Kyoto Animation had poured into bringing the series to life.

  • From my perspective, it was ultimately Kyoto Animation’s excellence that made The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya such a success: Tanigawa’s light novels remain unfinished to this day the same way Half-Life 3 is unfinished, a consequence of the fact that once Kyon and Haruhi established the thematic elements, the series only needed to continue explore the universe further; themes and character growth stagnated, which could have made it difficult to create a satisfying conclusion. Indeed, following The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, there’s been no continuation of the series in an animated format: Kyoto Animation believes the series has done its job in promoting the light novels and closing off on a satisfying note, as Kyon’s shown to have accepted a world with Haruhi in it.

  • While The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya’s first season was a universally-praised smash hit, the second season made decisions that saw a cooler reception. The infamous Endless Eight arc, consisting of eight episodes portraying a two-week span of summer vacation, marked the first time Kyoto Animation had ever been at the centre of a controversy; many fans of the series and studio expressed their disgust and disappointment with such a decision. More vehement fans boycotted the studio and destroyed their merchandise in protest during Endless Eight’s run; the second season of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya was further compounded by complaints that Haruhi resembled K-On!‘s Yui Hirasawa, diminishing some viewers’ enjoyment of the series.

  • While The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya showed how a series could bring the anime community together, Endless Eight highlighted the worst excesses of the same community. Detractors of the arc called Kyoto Animation “lazy” and “unoriginal”, amongst other things that are not quite as presentable. The reality is that Kyoto Animation has always been at the cutting edge of conveying emotions through animation, and each episode in the Endless Eight series actually features subtle differences, being animated completely from scratch. The point of pushing viewers through two months of the same story was to really drive home to viewers the sense of hopelessness that Yuki experiences in this time: the weariness she develops as a result of recalling each and every second of the two weeks through the 15532 iterations, would set in motion the events of The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya.

  • In the end, Kyon ends up breaking the loop by convincing Haruhi that his summer can’t finish until he’s done the homework he’s put off. This turns out to be what breaks the loop, and a similar concept would later be applied to Aobuta when Sakuta briefly dates Tomoe and she ends up falling in love with him, wishing their time together would never end. Aobuta, having a shorter runtime and lacking Kyoto Animation’s experimental mindset, would execute its loop differently to avoid the same negativity that befell Kyoto Animation. While Endless Eight remains contentious to this day, I find the reactions surrounding Kyoto Animation’s decision to be disproportionate and callow.

  • Once Endless Eight is done, the next arc deals with the SOS Brigade making an independent film for their school’s culture festival after Haruhi and Kyon’s class do a measly survey. By this point in time, the SOS Brigade’s Club Room has become populated with clutter from their various activities: various costumes Haruhi forces Mikuru to year, appliances for preparing tea, and various board games. The SOS Brigade’s film would put Kyon’s patience with Haruhi to the ultimate test.

  • The sort of energy that Haruhi projects when she’s happy brings to mind the atmosphere surrounding an anime convention like Otafest, and for most anime fans, anime conventions represent a chance to be immersed in an environment where their interests are celebrated. On a typical day, the average anime fan partakes in their hobby on their own, so events like Otafest, in bringing fans together, have a very uplifting feeling. The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya reveals that Haruhi is perhaps a bit of an otaku herself, being quite versed in the moé aesthetic. To most anime fans, Haruhi’s appeal lies in the fact that she’s always on the hunt for something fun to do, bringing excitement into wherever she goes.

  • By portraying how a familiar world could nonetheless be exciting, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya would raise the bar for series set in the real world and have an impact on numerous series in years upcoming. At the time, series like Death NoteCode GeassErgo ProxyNegima! and Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple were counted as some of the most enjoyable series of the day. The anime club of my old secondary school certainly seemed to think so, as well; we used to watch these shows during lunch hour. In these early days, I was mildly interested in these series, and it was mainly my best friend’s interest in Gundam 00 that sent me down the path of being an anime fan. In subsequent years, my preferences would diverge wildly from what most of my friends enjoyed: as my second year of university ended, I became very fond of slice-of-life series for their cathartic effects.

  • Haruhi’s movie lacks a script and theme, being a mish-mash of random moments held together by Mikuru. Without any clear direction of where she’s going, Haruhi’s film offers insight into her world, where things simply happen as they happen. Kyon ends up being the “everything” for the movie, handling everything from filming to editing. Things quickly take a turn for the dangerous when Haruhi subconsciously allows for Mikuru to fire a coherent, amplified stream of photons from here contact during filming. Yuki steps in to save Kyon from being lobotomised.

  • Unaware of what’s going on, Haruhi shrugs off the improvised scenes and decides to change the combat sequences out for romance. This arc is when the nature of Haruhi’s power manifests the most strongly, and although she only makes minor changes to the world, fans have conjectured that Haruhi could square off against other beings like Devil Homura or Thanos. A great many of these “versus” battles, however, depend on what are colloquially referred to as “feats” (i.e. quantifiable displays of a character’s abilities) in order to work. Haruhi’s powers are, in this case, more similar to Gandalf’s in that most of them are abstract and not shown at their fullest.

  • I’ve found that there are a surprising number of parallels between The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and J.R.R. Tolkien’s writings: both series deal with an every-man who is thrust into adventure and finds that they wear their duties well, powerful beings whose abilities are abstract, and a world that is familiar, yet not quite our own. This is what motivates my comparison between Kyon and Bilbo Baggins. Here, Tsuruya laughs at the thought of needing to chuck Mikuru into putrid pond water for filming.  Tsuruya is Mikuru’s best friend, and makes an appearance: energetic and easygoing, Tsuruya finds most everything funny. Her family is said to have ties with Itsuki’s agency and despite being quite air-headed, is aware of Haruhi’s nature, actively choosing not to disclose this to Kyon and the others.

  • The filming of The Adventures of Mikuru Asahina was not without its tensions, and things reach a boiling point after Haruhi spikes Mikuru’s drink and asks her to kiss Itsuki. Pushed beyond endurance, Kyon prepares to strike Haruhi, feeling that if he doesn’t discipline her now, she’ll continue to be unaware of the consequences of her actions and cause trouble for herself, as well as those around her. This moment marks a turning point in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya; up until now, Kyon had always kept Haruhi in check by speaking with her. Haruhi herself is surprised by this, having believed that Kyon would always be there for her, and in the aftermath, filming for that day comes to a halt. Itsuki pulls Kyon aside and reminds him of his responsibility to Haruhi.

  • When Kyon hears Taniguchi bad-mouthing Haruhi’s independent film, he expresses annoyance. In actuality, Kyon here has heard someone voicing his own doubts, and realises just how immature the complaints sound. He comes around and feels that Haruhi should be commended for at least having taken the initiative to do something for the culture festival; just to spite the naysayers, Kyon aims to see the film through. However, since their disagreement from earlier, Kyon must first reconcile with Haruhi. It’s a tense few moments, but when Kyon does apologise and resolves to make the film a success, Haruhi’s spirits immediately are rekindled.

  • With the strange events continuing, such as cherry trees coming into full bloom during the summer, Kyon struggles to determine how to nudge Haruhi into restoring the world to normal. After a conversation with Itsuki, Kyon appears to have found the answer: he asks Haruhi to put a disclaimer at the end of the movie. Filming finishes without too much difficulty, and Kyon spends the night editing the clips together with Haruhi. Despite falling asleep during editing, Kyon wakes up to find the movie finished. It was quite rewarding to see the SOS Brigade’s project reach completion; Kyon’s role in things is a constant reminder that his sarcasm and griping manner notwithstanding, he genuinely does care about Haruhi and enjoys the adventures she brings into his life.

  • While The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya itself shows that the filming process was evidently a difficult one, especially for Mikuru and Kyon, the end result is unexpectedly good. Subtle details shown in the movie itself, which aired as a part of the first season, are present, and despite how turbulent the filming was, the resultant was of a strong quality. The movie itself shows Kyoto Animation’s excellent craft even at this point on: for me, they began to develop their current style as a result of learnings from both Kanon and The Melancholy of Haruhi SuzumiyaThrilled at how the movie turned out, Haruhi declares the project well done: while Kyon is exasperated, from a third party perspective, I consider the film to be every bit as good as Haruhi feels it to be.

  • North High’s Culture Festival finally comes to, and Kyon spends the day exploring: after visiting Mikuru and Tsuruya’s yakisoba stand, he checks out various displays, including Yuki and Itsuki, before crashing at the gym, where various bands are performing. Kyon is shocked to see Haruhi on stage performing: Aya Hirano ends up emceeing for the concert and sings “God Knows”, as well as “Lost my Music”. Of the two songs, I’m particularly fond of “Lost my Music” – its lyrics mirror Haruhi’s feelings for Kyon. The culture festival represented a chance to see a different side of Haruhi, and it is here that I found my answer for the questions I had surrounding Otafest.

  • The reason why Otafest retains its distinct atmosphere, even a decade after Michelle Ruff and Todd Haberkorn’s attendance as special guests, lies largely in the impact The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya had on the anime community. In particular, Haruhi’s energy and enthusiasm has come to symbolise the very positivity that fans go towards expressing love for their hobby. Further to this, I imagine that a handful of people also fancy finding the SOS Brigade in their life amidst this positivity: whether it is something brimming with life, dependably present or adorable to a fault, this would be someone special who really brings colour to their world, complementing their existence and giving it a higher purpose.

  • When the band members come to thank Haruhi for having helped out, Haruhi is uncharacteristically quiet and greets their appreciation with a hesitant smile. Her mood, however, grows reserved, and Kyon is quick to deduce that Haruhi was so used to doing things for herself that she’d become quite unaccustomed to meeting a situation where someone was grateful for her help. In the aftermath, Haruhi explains that after hearing their story, she felt duty-bound to help out, hating the thought of seeing the band’s efforts go to waste. This growth shows another side to Haruhi and shows that during the course of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (especially following the filming of their movie), she’s also matured.

  • After Kyon finds Haruhi resting outside, she wonders what’s his deal and throws grass at him, only for the wind to carry it back into her face resulting in an adorable moment. The culture festival gives viewers a chance to see a side of Haruhi that is rarely presented; and it was here that it becomes apparent that Haruhi and Kyon could be a couple. One element in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya that I’ve not mentioned until now is the soundtrack: the incidental music to the TV series was never released as standalone albums, but instead, were packaged with special CDs. With pieces for conveying atmospheres ranging from everyday to extraordinary, from mysterious to wistful, the soundtrack to The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya complements the series nicely. The music in the series is best captured in The Symphony of Haruhi Suzumiya, in whcih the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra really brings to life series’ grandeur and scale through music.

  • Towards the endgame, the SOS Brigade accept a challenge from the Computing Research club with new hardware as the bet: having been humiliated by Haruhi earlier, their president decides to take back their machine. The wager: if SOS Brigade can beat them in a game they’d created, the Computing Research Club will give them new laptops, otherwise, they will get to retrieve the machine Haruhi had relieved them of. Initially, the match goes poorly, but once Yuki discovers the Computing Research club is cheating, she injects code into the server that levels out the playing field, allowing the SOS Bridage to mount a comeback. Seeing how happy Yuki was prompts Kyon to allow Yuki to spend time with the Computing Research club. At Tango-Victor-Tango, the site’s users once asserted that Yuki is using syntactically correct C code and her incantations in the anime are complex SQL commands. Some time ago, I did a post demonstrating that the former is not entirely true, and in the anime, Yuki’s speech is not of any known language: the light novels use only primitive SQL queries (no table joining is done, for instance) rather than the complex ones as Tango-Victor-Tango asserts.

  • The final episode of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is a breather episode original to the anime. It bridges the gap between the series and The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, and is a relaxing depiction of what the typical day in the SOS Brigade is like when there are no major adventures going on. Kyon picks up a new space heater, plays games with Itsuki and eventually falls asleep. He awakens to find a pair of cardigans draped over his shoulders: Haruhi and Yuki are implied to have left them, hinting at the feelings that both have for him. While with Haruhi, it’s evident, it would be a bit of a surprise. The developing emotions Yuki has sets in motion the events of The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya and also motivates the spin-off series, The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan. I stand amongst the minority of people who enjoyed the latter.

  • As winter begins setting in, Haruhi and Kyon share an umbrella while walking home together: Haruhi is feeling particularly playful and in good spirits. Overall, having revisited The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, it becomes clear that while the series may no longer be as well-remembered as it was a decade ago, Kyoto Animation’s superb adaptation of it has left a considerable impact on anime in general; The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya‘s standing point was being able to appeal to all manners of audience, and even now, there are few anime that have such a broad impact on the anime community, in such a positive manner. This brings my post on The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya to a close: I deliberately chose to time the post for today because it is of a special significance for one of my friends. However, today also marks the beginning of Apple’s WWDC 2020: the most exciting updates for me lie with MacOS Big Sur, which is set to feature a substantial update to the UI, as well as iOS 14, which introduces a Windows Phone-style live tiles UI to the home screen.

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya‘s success and appeal came from a unique combination of having a fantasy world accommodating exciting adventures melded with a more familiar world that allow for calmer moments of self-discovery, a cast of unique and memorable characters whose interactions with one another simultaneously brought about humour and a compelling narrative, combined with Kyoto Animation’s excellence in animation, artwork and aural elements. From life lessons to philosophical quandaries, from visually impressive sequences to catchy music, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya had something for everyone in the anime community: the series was universally acclaimed, being praised on almost all fronts, and this stems from the fact that the anime hit enough of the right notes with enough of the readers, all of whom were brought together by Haruhi’s boldness, Kyon’s sardonic wit, and an equally interesting cast that served to build the universe out, drive comedic moments forward and explain just enough of what Kyon was experiencing to keep viewers guessing without frustrating them. Combined with the rather audacious claim that Haruhi was a god, and the infamous Hare Hare Yukai dance, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya immediately took off, capturing the interest of anime fans broad backgrounds and unifying them in a shared love for the series, rather similarly to how Haruhi brought together Yuki, Mikuru and Itsuki along with Kyon to brighten things up considerably. This sense of commonality is nowhere more apparent than amongst the fans of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya: shortly after the series aired, the internet became flooded with unending memes from the anime, and the Hare Hare Yukai dance became a staple at anime conventions, summarising the entire energy and atmosphere of a gathering of people united by a shared interest in a few minutes of music and choreography. Few series have done so much to bring anime fans together so effectively, and it is in the synergy between all of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya‘s elements that created such a positive outcome for fans. Far more than the novels themselves, Kyoto Animation’s masterful execution of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya left a massive impact on the anime community and would come to play a non-trivial role in cementing Kyoto Animation’s reputation as a top-tier anime studio with a commendable dedication to quality.

Portal 2: A Reflection and Recollections of the Perpetual Testing Initiative

“All right, I’ve been thinking. When life gives you lemons, don’t make lemonade. Make life take the lemons back! Get mad! I don’t want your damn lemons! What am I supposed to do with these?! Demand to see life’s manager! Make life rue the day it thought it could give Cave Johnson lemons! Do you know who I am?! I’m the man who’s gonna burn your house down! With the lemons!” –Cave Johnson

Chell finds herself pulled out of stasis by the AI Wheatley, who informs her that the Aperture Science facility has fallen into a critical state and that they need to escape. Leading Chell through old test chambers, Wheatley attempts to work out a plan while Chell locates a portal gun. However, they inadvertently reactivate GLaDOS, who separates the two and sends Chell into a series of test chambers to continue on with where they’d previously left off. When Wheatley figures he’s got a solution, he creates a distraction, allowing Chell to escape into the maintenance passages beyond the test chambers. Chell sabotages the turret production line and disables the neurotoxin generator before heading off to face GLaDOS, successfully inititing a core transfer. Wheatley takes over Aperture Science’s main system and places GLaDOS in a potato battery powered CPU. However, he reneges on his promise to send Chell to the surface, and when GLaDOS reveals Wheatley was designed to inhibit her, he throws the pair into a shaft leading into the bowels of Aperture Science. Making her way through the old Enrichment Spheres, Chell learns that Aperture Science was once a shower curtain manufacturer for the military and received an incredible amount of funding to test their products. Helmed by Cave Johnson, Aperture Science began exploring the realm of science with a reckless abandon, and over time, the company began failing even as Johnson started developing an illness from testing products on himself. His final act was to transfer control of the company to his assistant, Caroline. When Chell reunites with GLaDOS, the two set their differences aside to return to the upper levels and stop Wheatley from destroying the facility. GLaDOS reveals that she has Caroline’s memories and begins opening up to Chell. Upon their return, Chell makes her way through Wheatley’s test chambers to stall for time and manages to elude his crude traps, eventually returning to GLaDOS’ main body. She manages to change out the personality cores and places a portal on the moon, sending Wheatley into the depths of space. Back in control, GLaDOS stabilises the facility and decides to let Chell go, figuring that killing her is too much effort. Wheatley laments his decision to betray Chell and wishes things were different. This is the adventure that Chell goes through in Portal 2, the 2011 sequel to 2007’s acclaimed Portal, a highly innovative and remarkable puzzle game built in the Source Engine with Half-Life 2 assets.

In contrast to its predecessor, Portal 2 is much livelier, and although Chell is exploring an abandoned, derelict Aperture Sciences, Portal 2 never had the same sterile, cold feeling that Portal did. Portal 2 explores a greater range of Aperture’s constructions, and in doing so, also explores a greater range of emotions. Wheatley provides an endless supply of comic relief, driving players forward with an improvisational tone even when he does take over Aperture and develops GLaDOS’ old tendency to want to kill Chell. When she falls into the depths of Aperture Science, Cave Johnson’s old recordings give insight into a once-brilliant mind and his fall from grace. The ruins of the old facility are the only remainders of his legacy, giving the entire area an air of melancholy. GLaDOS is a more multi-dimensional character, carrying out her directive per her programming but also recalling that she was once human and coming to understand why Chell chose to act the way she did. The characterisation creates a much richer experience that ultimately tells a story of regret and longing, as well as coming to peace with what has come to pass, set in the cavernous interior of Aperture Sciences. Besides an enriched story, Portal 2 features all-new mechanics to properly differentiate itself from its predecessor and Half-Life 2. Aerial faith plates propel players to new heights from fixed points, thermal discouragement beams require careful placement to activate exits, hard light bridges to reach distant points, special gels encourage lateral thinking to help players pass otherwise impassible areas, and excursion funnels provide a thrilling way of transporting player and materials across chasms. Like its predecessor, players must use a combination of their knowledge of previous mechanics to devise solutions for clearing different areas, and as Chell edges closer to escaping Aperture Science, she learns more about its storied past. In this way, Portal 2 and Portal share the same relationship that Halo 2 and Halo: Combat Evolved shared; both sequels participate in extensive world-building that enriches the player’s experience of the world, at the expense of the suspense created through the minimalist story-telling of their predecessor. In addition, the sequel’s introduction of new mechanics also changes the strategy players take in completing the game – in the case of Portal 2, the new mechanics cement the notion that the game has evolved into a separate entity from Half-Life 2 with its own distinct elements, but it also creates the caveat that some areas must be cleared a certain way, which restricts players’ freedom to solve puzzles in their own way.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • An indeterminate amount of time has passed since Chell last ventured through Aperture’s test chambers, and in that time, the facility has become dilapidated, overgrown with vegetation and mould. It is through these test chambers that Chell makes her way through, and initially, she’ll find the single-portal gun and advance a short ways before locating the full portal gun. Like its predecessor, Portal 2 gradually introduces players to game elements, although players familiar with Portal will doubtlessly have itched to advance further more quickly.

  • It’s been eight years since I last wrote about Portal 2 – eight years earlier, I had been staring down the MCAT, and at this point during the summer, I had just begun my MCAT course; my physics course had finally ended, and I could turn my full attention towards what would certainly be a challenge. However, in between studying, I was able to unwind by going through a friend’s Steam library: in between study sessions, I was able try a few of his games out, among them Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and Portal 2. I blazed my way through the former before beginning the latter.

  • Chell’s gear has changed somewhat since the original Portal: long fall boots take place of her original her knee replacements, and she dispenses with the top of her jumpsuit. I’ve seen a few Chell cosplayers at Otafest in past years: when I first attended, Portal 2 would’ve been two years old. The game’s requirements aren’t steep at all, and even in those days, my old desktop had no trouble running the game smoothly, although there was the minor annoyance that the light on top of the portal gun never lit up owing to a limitation in my old GPU. This particular matter is no longer an issue, and in my current screenshots, the light on the portal gun lights up as expected.

  • Death lasers (formally, “thermal discouragement beams”) replace the high-energy pellets of Portal, and require redirection towards a receptacle in order to activate doors and lifts. Like the high-energy pellets, lasers can kill Chell, but only after prolonged exposure, and they typically must be redirected using a combination of portals and redirection cubes. Portal 2 also introduces hard light bridges, which function similarly to those of Halo. The new mechanics of Portal 2 are fun additions to the game, adding further nuance to various puzzles. Not everyone shared this sentiment, and many regarded Portal‘s simplicity as being more conducive towards creative solutions for solving a particular test chamber, whereas the new mechanics made it clearer how one could solve the test chamber and restrict novel solutions.

  • The lift taking players to the next level have changed in appearance: originally, they were solid, and Portal loaded different segments similarly to Half-Life 2, but by Portal 2, they look sleeker, and the game loads new levels quite separately. The lifts are surrounded by screens that give a visual representation of how a new mechanic works, and one of my favourite animations was the one depicting the turrets in action, showing the automatic chambering and firing of rounds. In Portal, turrets could be disabled by knocking them over, and while this is still viable in Portal 2, there is a rather more entertaining way of dealing with turrets.

  • Using a redirection cube allows one to focus a laser on a turret, which heats up its inner structure and eventually causes it to explode: back in Portal, the high-energy pellets could only knock turrets over, which, while functionally equivalent, was nowhere nearly as satisfying. Because Chell is completing these test chambers to occupy GLaDOS while Wheatley works out an escape plan, there’s the sense that something big is in the making.

  • The new test chambers of Portal 2 have a different aesthetic than the test chambers of Portal, being composed of sliding panels rather than the metal cubes. The amount of portal-conducting surfaces are also reduced in many places. While this initially felt restricting, it’s also a bit of a clever way to subtly hint at where portals should be placed. Here, I grab ahold of a weighted cube and make my way across a hard-light bridge: it suddenly strikes me that, since the Perpetual Testing Initiative days, I’ve not actually gone back through Portal 2 until now.

  • Test Chamber 20 is the only test chamber that’s completed and ready to roll: it most resembles the test chambers of Portal and every surface is capable of conducting portals. While seemingly simple, it involves redirecting the lasers into the right receptacles using a combination of redirection cubes and portals. I’ve heard that it’s possible to finish this test chamber without placing any portals, but this requires precise use of the redirection cubes. Once this test chamber is cleared, Wheatley returns and prompts Chell to go into the maintenance access surrounding the test chamber.

  • Portal‘s maintenance areas had a more Half-Life feel to them, and Portal 2 modifies them to have a different aesthetic. I can’t help but wonder if the design was inspired by areas of Facebook headquarters. Once Chell’s escaped, Wheatley will have her help in sabotaging the turret manufacturing line and disabling the neurotoxin supply before taking her to face GLaDOS. Chell manages to perform the core transfer, placing Wheatley in charge of Aperture Sciences, but the additional processing power drives him insane, and he reneges on his promise to Chell. When GLaDOS insults Wheatley, he loses his cool and smashes the lift Chell is in, sending her and GLaDOS tumbling into the depths of Aperture Sciences.

  • After falling into the depths of Aperture Science, some four-and-a-half kilometres beneath the surface, Chell is briefly knocked out and comes to just as a bird carries GLaDOS away. This is the loneliest it gets in Portal 2, and Chell can only count on her wits to figure out how to return to the surface: there is no Wheatley to lighten the moment up, and no GLaDOS to make snide remarks. The sense of scale at Aperture Science becomes apparent here, giving an idea of just how extensive the facilities are. When I first came here in Portal 2 some eight years ago, I was thoroughly impressed with how the older facility was presented, and it was here that the melancholy in the game became visibly felt.

  • Wandering through the unused sections of Aperture Science, I would come upon the vault door that leads into the next section. Portal 2‘s designers stated they wanted to play with some visual humour, in which they would use an immensely large vault door to conceal an ordinary door. At this point during my first play-through, I was wrapping up a physics course and making more headway into the MCAT preparation course. The timing of this was excellent: I had been a little worried about a potential scheduling conflict, but with physic concluding, I was free to focus purely on the MCAT.

  • By the time I’d set foot in the catwalks leading into the first of the Enrichment Spheres, Portal 2 had been out for just over a year. One of my friends had already completed the game and began using the music to test to in accompanying his videos of his Otafest experiences. Portal 2‘s soundtrack was carefully composed to fit the atmosphere of different areas of the game. The music of the Enrichment Spheres, in particular, create a light-hearted sense of science fiction that suggests a combination of whimsy and cleverness that is needed to complete this section of the game.

  • I’m guessing, then, that for my friend, Otafest represents a similar challenge for visitors in that it requires an open mind and awareness of one’s surroundings to ensure one doesn’t miss anything. This turned out to be true: when I attended Otafest a year later, I planned to attend for one day and played things by ear. While it was a fun experience, I would subsequently learn that I’d missed a bunch of events and a chance to collect special pins. For future conventions, I planned ahead and would go on to have a more comprehensive experience. Here, I pass through one of the older offices, and a trophy case of Aperture’s best achievements of the day are visible.

  • Besides Otafest vlogs, my friend had also made extensive cross-overs of Portal and Team Fortress 2 with The Melancholy of Suzumiya HaruhiLucky☆Star and Puella Magi Madoka Magica. I’ll admit that I don’t fully understand half of the intended themes in crossovers, and upon asking my best friend to take a look, and they were similarly uncertain as to what was going on. If I had to guess, they probably represent how he may felt about certain character interactions and themes in a show, brought into a context he was familiar with. Portal 2 captures the feeling of loneliness and the hubris of ambition in this section, so for me, these sections of the game were the most memorable.

  • Chell eventually makes her way into the control rooms that activate the different mobility gels: these modify the properties of a surface, allowing for movement in areas that would otherwise be impassible. While it’s a lonely journey through the bowels of Aperture Science, Chell is accompanied by Cave Johnson’s hilarious, but also increasingly erratic dialogue, which gives a rather detailed history of Aperture Science, which began as a highly successful company that Johnson ran into the ground with uncertain, experimental projects. While a man of science, Johnson evidently had a stubborn pride about him, as well.

  • After reaching a series of abandoned offices, Chell will find the potato that GLaDOS is stuck to; a bird had carried her away earlier, and GLaDOS becomes deathly afraid of birds for a period after she reunites with Chell. Having GLaDOS attached to Chell’s portal gun, Portal 2 suddenly feels a lot less lonely, and the two work out an alliance with the aim of getting back to the main facility so that GLaDOS can stop Wheatley from destroying everything in his incompetence.

  • Once GLaDOS is back, she’ll occasionally react to Cave Johnson’s recordings: it turns out that GLaDOS was built from Caroline, Johnson’s pretty-as-a-postcard assistant with a bright personality who was also evidently competent. Upon hearing one of Johnson’s recordings, GLaDOS responds with a heartfelt and genuine “Goodbye, Sir“, hinting at her origins. It turns out that Johnson had intended to have his mind transferred, but in the event that he died before the process could be carried out, Caroline would take his place. These exchanges match the melancholy, wistful feeling one gets when traversing these test chambers. The inquisitive player can locate a picture of Caroline and unlock an achievement for doing so in this test chamber.

  • I still have vivid memories of being stuck in this enrichment sphere after arriving for the first time: I had started playing Portal 2 as a bit of a study break, having hit a wall of sorts in revising the new MCAT materials, but wound up without a means of completing this test chamber. I ended up putting the breaks on Portal 2, returned to hit the books and ended up understanding the concept I was looking at. The early summer of 2012 was characterised by me being entirely focused on the physics and MCAT courses; most days entailed me going to campus to take the courses and then returning home in the afternoon to study.

  • By June, my physics course had nearly wrapped up, and all that was left was the MCAT course, which ran until the end of July. I spent many a beautiful day indoors doing review problems with friends who were also facing down the MCAT or had previously done so. I constantly swung between an impatience to take the exam and a gripping panic during this time, but with support from my friends, I weathered on. Most of my days were punctuated by a great deal of gaming, which helped me to unwind and focus in between studying sessions.

  • Finally, August came, and I sat the exam. When I had finished, it was as though a great weight was lifted off my shoulders. With the remaining twenty days of the summer, I spearheaded an effort that some of my colleagues had taken to submit a paper to an undergraduate journal earlier that year: we had become swamped with coursework and the paper was shelved. However, two of the remaining colleagues had expressed an interest in continuing, and since I was not officially doing summer research then, I had unlimited time on my hands.

  • After receiving everyone’s drafts, I ended up writing out the entire paper and then asked that my colleagues review it as they were able. As August drew to an end, and my final undergraduate year started, we had a fully finished draft. My supervisor was happy to review it, and we ended up submitting it to the journal. It was accepted some time later, and I was invited to participate in the undergraduate research symposium with my older project from a summer earlier. Seeing the extensibility of this project led me to build my undergraduate research project off it, and for my troubles, I ended up doing very well.

  • As I return further up the facility, I recall that because I had been in the midst of MCAT season and had wanted to finish Portal 2 as quickly as possible. I therefore skipped over the sections of Portal 2 where Chell and GLaDOS return to the more modern Aperture Science facilities, returning to the point after the pair reach the stairwell leading back into a more modern-looking test chamber, shaving about 15-30 minutes off my run. In retrospect, I needn’t have skipped this part, but what’s done is done.

  • According to the screenshots, I finished my first run of Portal 2 precisely eight years earlier and ended up writing about the new mechanics here. At that time, this blog was really more of a side resource where I could go to write shorter articles, supporting the content at my main page. However, as the limitations of became increasingly apparent, I transitioned all of my writing to this blog. Here, I make use of a portal conducting gel to coat the interior of this shaft, allowing me to freely place portals in critical areas to reach further up.

  • While I had finished Portal 2 and wrote about it eight years ago to this day, that same summer saw Valve introduce the addition of Perpetual Testing Initiative, adding co-op chambers for players to complete. Any owner of Portal 2 was automatically granted a special discount coupon for Portal 2 to gift to friends so that they could claim a copy of the game for 5 USD. My friend, having heard about my enjoyment of the game, sent me his coupon, and a few hours later, I was the proud owner of Portal 2. I started my journey late in August, and finished the campaign a second time just before term started.

  • On my second play-through, I went through every area of the game, including the shafts leading back to the more modern facility and the crawlspace just beneath the modern test chambers. As I passed through familiar test chambers and the bowels of the facility alike, I recalled with vivid clarity the old thrill of studying for the MCAT. Three days later, my MCAT results came back, and it was to my immense relief that I’d done rather well. I wouldn’t actually use the results in later years, having developed a keen interest in software development following my undergraduate thesis, but the lessons and experiences from taking the MCAT persisted: besides being a better tester, I also relaxed considerably regarding challenges.

  • I don’t believe I have any screenshots of Portal 2 left over from those days: all of the screenshots for this post were taken relatively recently. Upon returning back to the modern facilities, it’s evident that Wheatley has made a mess of things, creating illogical tests. Fortunately, there are solutions to Wheatley’s tests, and the introduction of the excursion funnels, which act similarly to the hard light bridges but also offer laminar flow, allowing players and objects to be pushed across an area.

  • Despite displaying fluid-like properties, the excursion funnels are not liquid in nature. Special switches allow their direction to be switched, and they become an invaluable mechanic for crossing over large chasms opening into the deepest reaches of the Aperture Science facility. Wheatley’s tests leave massive gaps in the floor, which expose infrastructure and also give an idea as to how vast Aperture Science really is. Chell can exit the funnel at any time by means of normal movement, but careless movement at the wrong time will lead to death.

  • Besides Chell herself and objects like weighted cubes, the excursion funnels can also be used to transport mobility gels great distances. Solving puzzles with a combination of the mobility gels and excursion funnels turned out quite fun: by this point in time, familiarity with all of the mechanics means that players will have no trouble figuring out what needs to be done. Of note was the part where one needed to use the repulsion gel on turrets to safely deactivate them: once coated, they begin bouncing around erratically and plummet to the depths of the Aperture Science facility.

  • A distant light can be seen as Chell heads towards Wheatley with every intention of stopping him and restoring GLaDOS’ access to control Aperture Science. Traveling through this excursion funnel, with a distant light illuminating the way, players cannot help but feel that they are almost at the light at the end of the tunnel. This screenshot here perfectly captures how it felt to watch the days between myself and the MCAT count down to the doom of my time.

  • The fight with Wheatley is hilarious: while he takes measures to prevent himself from being defeated the same way GLaDOS was defeated, conditions transpire against him, and Chell is given all of the tools needed to stop Wheatley, by corrupting his main core with alternate cores and prompting a core transfer. Once successful, Wheatley is sucked into space, and regrets betraying Chell, while GLaDOS stabilises the facility and allows Chell to walk free, since killing her was too much work. This brings my third play-though of Portal 2 to an end, and having gone through both Lucky☆Star and both Portal games, I turn my attention towards The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya next, which holds the answers to lingering questions I had surrounding Otafest.

Being more extensive than Portal in every way, Portal 2 ultimately is an immensely enjoyable and immersive experience overall. In particular, I was most fond of the game’s midsections, which sees Chell explore the abandoned ruins of the old Aperture Science. The sheer scope and scale of the old Enrichment Spheres are a monument to Aperture Science’s hubris: Portal 2 demonstrated that level design and voice acting alone can tell an incredibly compelling story: Cave Johnson himself never appears, having long died from being poisoned by the moon dust used in creating portal-conducting surfaces, but old heirlooms and artifacts do much in filling in the gaps. Together with the derelict state of the old facilities, one really gains a sense of the hopelessness and desperation Johnson had to bring back the glory days even as Aperture Science fell further into ruin. These missions are reminiscent of exploring haikyo: although the walls of abandoned buildings might not speak, an entire story lies beyond their silence, told in stone and mementos alike. Altogether, Portal 2 places a much greater emphasis on the human elements of the series compared to its predecessor, which, while succeeding on the merits of its simplicity, left many questions unanswered. Portal 2 answers some of these questions and suggests that behind the events of Portal, there was a human element to things, which help players to really understand the dangers of an unchecked desire for progress. Together with areas that capture the scope and scale of Aperture Science, moments that help characters grow, and a generally livelier atmosphere, Portal 2 represents a novel direction for Portal that adds nuance to the series, and while its story leaves players no closer to understanding the role Aperture Science and the Borealis plays in Half-Life 2, does offer closure for those who had lingering questions after completing Portal.

The Division 2: Reflections on The Last Castle, Incursions into the Pentagon

“What might sound like science fiction elsewhere in the world at DARPA was future science.” –Annie Jacobsen, The Pentagon’s Brain: An Uncensored History of DARPA, America’s Top-Secret Military Research Agency

When a SHD operator discovers that the Black Tusk have located a perfusion bioreactor in the depths of the Pentagon, the agent is sent to investigate. The Black Tusk have locked down the area, but the agent manages to reach the visitor’s centre and open the main gate to the Pentagon. Subsequently, the agent must enter the Pentagon’s offices and find any intel that might give some insight into where the bioreactor is located. The agent discovers that the Black Tusk are intending to drill their way into the Pentagon’s basement to extract the device and destroys the drilling apparatus, before moving on to locate a project list that contains the bioreactor’s location. After securing the server room, the agent must engage and destroy a massive XB-31 Marauder Drone. Once the data is secured, the Division finally determines the location of the bioreactor, located in the DARPA Research Labs, located deep underneath the Pentagon. With their drill destroyed, the agent navigates their way into Cold War era tunnels to retrieve the bioreactor. The bioreactor is recovered, and the Division notes that in conjunction with the broad spectrum anti-virals they’d secured earlier, the possibility of being able to mass-produce a vaccine and save lives becomes a reality; this is a major win for the Division. The Pentagon missions are a part of The Division 2‘s second major content update, which released in October 2019 and further added a new specialisation, exotics and PvP game modes. While not quite as large of an update as the first content update with respect to new missions, The Last Castle nonetheless made some considerable quality of life changes on top of providing a pair of new missions that allow players to explore The Pentagon, one of the most iconic locations in Washington D.C., located south-west of the National Mall.

The two new main missions set within The Pentagon offer a chance for players to visit the world’s largest office building. The first of the two main missions sends the agent through the more mundane side of the Pentagon: a offices, corridors and a cafeteria comprises the bulk of the mission area, indicating to players that most of the Pentagon is really just an office, albeit with a colourful history and whose unique design has come to represent the United States’ military. Fighting through the different areas of the Pentagon, things as mundane as photocopying machines and stacks of binders on a shelf are common. However, the Pentagon’s typical functions soon give way to more speculative designs as the agent reaches the server room and DARPA labs. The second of the missions takes players into the realm of fiction, supposing that deep underground, there exists an intricate network of subterranean tunnels and research facilities for America’s most secret projects. The side-by-side juxtaposition of the ordinary and extraordinary has always been one of The Division 2‘s greatest strengths, simultaneously weaving in the real-world settings with fictionalised inclusions to show a blurring of the two boundaries. The result is a highly compelling and thought-provoking game that underlines the possibility that underneath familiar systems, there may lie elements that are beyond comprehension. This is one of those themes that The Division 2 excels in conveying through its game-play and story experience, and in the second content expansion, players are left with mixed feelings; on one hand, those involved in the Green Poison and the effects of its aftermath are still at large and may potentially deal damage, but on the other, the Division has secured the perfusion bioreactor, which gives them a massive advantage in being able to synthesise the anti-viral drugs that may finally bring the Green Poison’s outbreak under control.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Construction on the Pentagon began in September 1941 to replace the Main Navy and Munitions Buildings, which had been constructed as a temporary site for the US Military headquarters in 1918. The Main Navy and Munitions Buildings had occupied the National Mall, and raised criticisms that the unsightly structures, which were well-constructed, would continue to occupy the open space of the National Mall.

  • In the end, once the Pentagon had finished construction, the Main Navy and Munitions Buildings would be turned over to the Navy, and continued to be used until the 1960s, during which it was found that the buildings begun developing structural issues. They were subsequently demolished, and the space was converted into the Constitution Gardens. The Division 2 has players start by exploring a side mission at the Pentagon, which becomes available at World Tier 5, but this side mission turns out to set the stage for two full-fledged missions.

  • The Pentagon’s primary enemies are the Black Tusk; with its close quarters environments, such as one of the cafeterias, my preferred loadout this mission was a LMG paired with the MP-X. The rationale for my choice is simple: a submachine gun excels in short range combat against small groups, dealing consistent damage without strong recoil, while the light machine gun and its high ammunition capacity makes it well-suited for handling the heavy soldiers and various automaton that the Black Tusk deploy.

  • The interior of the Pentagon is quite dark, and I found myself wishing that I’d equipped a flashlight on my sidearm for some of the darker areas. The Division 2‘s lighting means that the contrast between light and dark is more pronounced, and in conjunction with the fact that I no longer equip the pulse skill to locate hidden enemies, firefights tend to be a bit more thrilling as I strive to keep alive and work out where enemies are coming from. I do prefer The Division‘s lighting for providing a more consistent experience (and also because it makes for clearer screenshots), but from a gameplay perspective, the different lighting in The Division 2 makes for more gripping combat.

  • In the Pentagon’s courtyard, the Black Tusk have set up a massive drilling apparatus, which the agent must destroy. For the wide-open spaces, I’ll switch over to a semi-automatic or marksman rifle depending on what my requirements are. Running with the sharpshooter specialisation affords me access to a powerful long-range option at all times, but .50-calibre ammunition remains scarce even with the right perks, so it’s sometimes prudent to switch over to a long-range rifle with a larger ammunition pool to work with. Once this area is cleared out, and the drilling rig is dealt with, players return back into the depths of the Pentagon.

  • The next stage of the mission is to locate a project list, which should contain the location of the perfusion bioreactor that the Black Tusk and Division alike seek. The pursuit to reach it first creates a sense of urgency in the mission, although this is purely from a narrative perspective; players can and should take all the time they need to ensure every area is properly cleared out, especially for solo players lacking teammates to provide cover and if needed, revives.

  • The race to reach a high-value asset first is not a foreign concept to me, and the most recent example I’ve got would be Weathering with You: with the release of the BDs, I was finally able to write a review for it, and I’d made the audacious claim to have the first proper review with screenshots out. As it turned out, Random Curiosity, had a review out for Weathering with You predating mine by three weeks. I was shocked, and wondered how it was possible to obtain screenshots for Weathering with You without the BD release: did they have access to resources that were unavailable to those outside of Japan?

  • As it turns out, nothing quite so dramatic had occurred: upon a bit of investigation, Random Curiosity had simply used a modified version of Weathering with You, itself an OBS screen recording of a hard-subbed stream from the Dutch service Pathé Thuis dating back to late April. Some folks had edited out the Dutch subtitles with a filter in video editing software and overlaid English subtitles on top of it to create a watchable experience for those who weren’t willing to wait for the BD. Random Curiosity’s screenshots of Weathering with You were clearly obtained from this video, and the subtitles were subsequently cropped out of the image for their screenshots. While their review is fine, the screenshots are of a poor quality that do not indicate the visual fidelity of Makoto Shinkai’s latest film: they do not have the same colour balance as screenshots from the BD and possess noticeable artifacts.

  • The motivation behind why Random Curiosity pushed a review out with low-quality, modified screenshots is their own; my interest in the topic was primarily motivated by how they’d accomplished this, and I am reasonably happy at having worked out the answer. I’d known about the Dutch Weathering with You stream and the efforts to remove the forced-in subtitles since April, but elected not to write about the film until the BDs were available so I could ensure that I was using the highest possible quality of screenshots for readers. The price of ensuring a good reader experience can mean giving up first to write something, but as it stands, I feel I can still lay claim to having the first and only collection of screenshots on Weathering with You on the internet.

  • Back in The Division 2, I rather enjoyed fighting through the sun-lit offices en route to the server rooms, and close inspection of the office space will find the presence of many details like knick-knacks belonging to the individual who worked at a given desk. Exploring abandoned buildings always evokes a sense of melancholy in me, since seeing all of the items left behind in a haikyo raises the question of who once worked or lived somewhere, what factors prompted them to leave, and whether or not they’d intended to come back. During Christmas, I gifted to myself Jordy Meow’s Abandoned Japan, and most melancholy of all are the abandoned homes.

  • Access into the more interesting areas of the Pentagon is gained by passing through these massive blast doors. The Pentagon, being home of the Department of Defense, has undergone renovations to as a part of the Pentagon Renovation Program, which aimed to replace structural elements of the building that were not reparable. In addition, the renovations also aimed to remove asbestos. In addition, construction reinforced the Pentagon’s interior with a steel frame and incorporation new two-inch thick blast resistant windows. The project began in the 1990s and finished in 2011.

  • Typically, where data needs to be pulled from a server or data stream, all players will need to do is interact with a terminal somewhere, and then ISAC will take care of the rest. This leaves the player to focus on threats: as a gameplay element, every time the agent begins downloading data from a secure server or by intercepting signals, bad guys will always be made aware of this and attempt to neutralise the player. For these sorts of fights, having the assault turret is vital, as it allows me to lock down choke-points and control the firefight.

  • If the bulk of the first mission in the Last Castle update had been a little dull, I can say with confidence that things are about to become considerably more entertaining: once the server room is secure, the agent is sent to the Pentagon’s rooftops to stay within range of a transmitter. Up here, agents must deal with a horde of Black Tusk units, along with the XB-31 Marauder, a gargantuan drone equipped with rockets and a powerful chain gun that can shred the player’s armour in seconds.

  • The XB-31 Marauder can be encountered randomly in the open world, but the Last Castle iteration has been modified to be tougher. My strategy when engaging this leviathan was to stay in cover and pick off all of the Black Tusk on the rooftops first, before focusing my fire on the drone’s propeller housing and other weak points. The drone’s health pool is enormous, but it’s not invincible, and in conjunction with help from the assault turret to keep Black Tusk off my back, I ended up destroying the drone without much difficulty.

  • Here, the importance of having a good LMG cannot be understated: a large ammunition capacity and decently accurate fire, plus good damage makes these weapons indispensable for dealing with the heaviest of all threats. It was later that I found out that the drone proved to be difficult for a fair number of players, and what was interesting was that in discussions, people offered unique ways of beating the drone, from using a flame turret and stinger hive to keep the Black Tusk away, to simply using the health chemical launcher and revive hive to increase one’s healing factor as they take on the drone.

  • The second of the Pentagon missions is set deep underground, in the DARPA facilities. DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) is responsible for research and development of the technologies that the US Military use, and was originally founded as the Advanced Research Projects Agency in 1958 by Dwight Eisenhower to drive American advancement following the USSR’s successful launch of Sputnik. Since then, DARPA has been involved with projects that have had a considerable impact on all of society, especially the microprocessor, which fundamentally changed the way communications work.

  • Their actual headquarters is located in Arlington about four kilometres away from the Pentagon, but The Division 2 supposes that DARPA has a secret subterranean installation deep beneath the lowest floor of the Pentagon. It is here that the agent must fight through en route to the perfusion bioreactor: it’s a labyrinth of cutting-edge bio-research labs and testing grounds for machinery. The agent’s presence down here is a cause of concern for the Black Tusk, who mobilise their forces in an attempt to stop the agent.

  • In the labyrinthine tunnels of DARPA, a veritable army of Black Tusk stand between the agent and the bioreactor. This complex-sounding device sounds like a piece of science fiction, but breaking the term down into its components yields some insight into what the functionality is. A bioreactor is a device that contains a biologically active environment (i.e. the conditions needed for biological reactions to occur), and perfusion is a process where the cells are retained in an environment while media is cycled through to remove waste and introduce fresh media.

  • A perfusion bioreactor, then, is a device that constantly refreshes the media while it synthesises a biological compound. Such a device would be suited for manufacturing a vaccine to the Green Poison: vaccines are really just isolated samples of a viral agent, either an antigen, receptor or even a killed version of virus itself embedded in a media. By providing a patient with an agent that the body recognises as a foreign entity and will mount an immune response to it, such that if a live version of that agent (i.e. a virus or bacteria) is encountered, the body can immediately mount a secondary immune response, bypassing the primary inflammatory response (which accounts for symptoms like sore throats and fever and swiftly dealing with the invading pathogens before they can deal serious damage.

  • Ultimately, vaccinations are a critical component in modern medicine, and the WHO counts vaccine hesitation as one of the greatest threats to global health, creating outbreaks and even fatalities from otherwise manageable diseases. Taken together, the goal of the Pentagon missions are to locate a perfusion bioreactor and using it to mass-produce a vaccine against the Green Poison: the samples of the broad-spectrum anti-virals had been secured, so the challenge the Division now face is making enough for distribution, hence their interest in the perfusion bioreactor.

  • One of the most curious places to fight in the DARPA lab is a testing ground for the automaton that the Black Tusk employ. By this point in time, the Warhounds and Mini-tanks are trivially straightforwards to engage, and after a firefight to clear the room, a named elite will appear. I ended up using the TAC-50 to blast the named elite in two shots. I’ve yet to unlock any of the new specialisations at the time of writing, so one of the things that I can do once all of the content episodes are completed is to work towards unlocking them. The Last Castle gave players access to the Technician, whose signature weapon is the P-017 Missile Launcher, a lock-on weapon that can target up to six entities at once.

  • There are currently a total of three new specialisations on top of the ones that accompanied the base game: the Gunner specialisation gives players a portable M134 Minigun and defensive perks, while the Firewall specialisation gives players a flamethrower that is devastating up close. At the time of writing, I’ve finished the first of five assignment tiers for the Firewall: of the new specialisations, it looks the most fun to use, being the most suitable for close quarters engagements. Players who purchased the Year One Pass would have had immediate access to these new specialisations right away and could still complete the assignments for in-game rewards.

  • As I draw nearer to the end of the Year One content for The Division 2, in the knowledge that farming for gear as I did with The Division isn’t exactly the best of ideas. Instead, I’m likely to concentrate most of my effort towards unlocking the different specialisations and hunting down exotic blueprints: there are still some activities that are worth taking a look at without the Warlords of New York expansion, and eventually, I would like to attempt the Ronald Reagan National Airport mission on my own just to see how far I get. I did something similar with the incursions in The Division, where I thought I could get through them solo, and found myself outgunned at all turns, but it was fun to at least try.

  • In The Division, while I had been rather proud of being able to acquire every exotic weapon and gear piece in the game, along with the full classified Striker’s Battle Gear and Fire Crest gear sets on my own, the truth is that this process was greatly accelerated by joining random parties and fighting legendary missions in groups: completing these missions guaranteed an exotic cache, and my journey towards finding an MDR meant that I would accumulate almost everything else en route. By comparison, The Division 2‘s legendary missions only offer apparel pieces and 2:25 odds of getting an exotic.

  • In conjunction with the limitations of being at level 30, I’m not sure it would be worth my while to attempt any legendary missions just yet. On the other hand, while I’ve not yet got a full gear set or any of the more exciting exotics, I am now sufficiently well-equipped as to solo the most areas of the game without much concern on standard difficulty: shortly before beginning the second Pentagon mission, I picked up an armour piece that conferred bonus armour for every kill I got. This effect stacked up to a certain point so as long as I was in combat. As such, by chaining multiple kills together, I can effectively double my armour for short periods of time and absorb insane amounts of damage in a firefight.

  • Such talents means I could actually stop running with the repair drone, which I’ve been using since I started my journey in The Division 2. I’ve still yet to actually test some of the game’s more powerful talents: the Holster talent “Fill ‘er up” allows all weapons to be refilled from empty when one weapon is reloaded. It’s been reduced from its original incarnation: originally, players had unlimited ammunition thanks to the fact that it reloaded a weapon without dipping into the player’s reserves, but it still remains quite viable for ensuring one is never caught empty in a fire fight.

  • After clearing out most of the room, my effective armour had doubled: the bonus armour is seen in blue, and I can see how with the right build and specialisation, I could take on traits from Bofuri‘s Maple to absorb obscene amounts of damage. The gunner specialisation and riot shield skill would helped to increase armour further: such a setup would be valuable in team play, since one would act as a damage sponge while teammates could engage enemies. As a solo player, this build is less viable.

  • After clearing out the tunnels, the agent finally arrives at the perfusion bioreactor. It’s a large apparatus that requires extraction, and after taking an elevator back to the surface, the agent calls in for an extraction. The remaining Black Tusk are desperate to stop the Division at this point, and it’s a titanic fight here up on the surface: the sheer amount of firepower the Black Tusk send is astounding and indicates just how determined they are to have the reactor. In my case, it’d be doubly embarrassing for the Black Tusk, since my lonesome just squared off against and wasted their entire force.

  • The final named elite to deal with is Petrus Brenner, who is a ruthless and dedicated soldier utterly beholden to the Black Tusk. He’s able to regenerate his armour during the fight, so it’s imperative to deal as much damage in the shortest amount of time possible to beat him. In this situation, the TAC-50 is actually less useful, since Brenner will duck for cover and regenerate after being hit. Instead, a close-quarters approach is viable: getting close enough and then deploying an assault turret or drone, plus use of an LMG and SMG will do the trick nicely.

  • Once the extraction zone is secure, the Division will bring a helicopter close and lift the bioreactor to safety. It’s a major win for the good guys, and with this content in the books, I only have one final set of missions to wrap up before finishing off the story component to The Division 2. This brings my talk to an end, and I will be returning at some point to wrap up Coney Island, after which I will make a call as to what route I take with respect to Warlords of New York.

With The Last Castle now in the books, I only really have the third episode to wrap up, which sends players to Coney Island in New York and sets the stage for the Warlords of New York expansion. When my journey through The Division ended, I recall spending a considerable amount of time revisiting old missions and completing various events, which would help me to find every exotic weapon and gear piece, as well as complete my Classified Striker’s Battlegear set. While the occasional return to The Division 2 to hunt down gear set pieces and exotics would be the next logical move once I finish off the third content update, The Division 2‘s major expansion, Warlords of New York, rendered virtually everything at level thirty useless. Everything I find or craft would be trivially displaced by level 31 items as I progress, so there’s no real incentive to start hunting for exotics and gear set pieces. As it stands, to have the most complete experience, I would need upgrade. At present, I am leaning towards joining this fight once the time is appropriate; there’s a decent amount of story content, and New York itself looks to be an intriguing mission, but I do wish to get the most bang for my buck, so I’m likely to be waiting for a discount on the DLC before I pull the trigger. In the meantime, I would need to actually go through and finish Coney Island: my current loadout and equipment in The Division 2 is satisfactory for getting the job done, so I don’t have any concerns about being able to wrap up these last remaining missions solo. I will likely be more focused about gear sets after I make the plunge into Warlords of New York, and for the present, my focus in The Division 2 will be to unlock the remaining specialisations. Further to this, I can attempt to hunt down the blueprints for some of the earlier exotics, which I can craft and re-craft later to ensure they scale with my level.