Altergaze: Mobile Virtual Reality

Until Oculus Rift was announced, I had written off virtual reality as the flying car idea of the 1990s. Don’t get me wrong: as a preteen I was more than certain I was going to live in a Johnny Mnemonic future long before I was old enough to drink. Then I got my first hands-on experience with such a device. I can’t remember many bigger disappointments in my childhood. Thank goodness for Palmer Luckey.
Aftergaze is yet another product that knocks my socks off on ingenuity alone. It’s not as ridiculously cool (or ridiculous) as Mnemonic’s rig, but it’s a hell of a lot more practical. If I didn’t think I’d see the consumer version of Oculus before this Kickstarter got of the ground, I’d pledge in a heartbeat. 
It’s thirty pounds for the files to print your own ($50 USD). For fifty pounds (a little over $80 USD) you can have a pre-printed kit sent to your door.

First impressions of Shadowrun Returns: Dragonfall

When the base game released, I was in the unique position to play it all in a few big chunks of time. Right now, I don’t have as much time to spend with Dragonfall, but I can already tell it’s the superior game. Most of the gripes we had with the original are addressed. You get quick saves now and there are a lot more choices to be made. While it seemed out of character for my Mohawk-sporting decker to convince a Cram addict to seek help, the decision earned my chick karma (which is important for leveling up) and proved to be a satisfying side-quest.

My remaining complaints have more to do with the Shadowrun universe than the game itself. I like fantasy as much as the other guy, but as I don’t think it mixes well with cyberpunk I think I stand to enjoy Cyberpunk 2077 a bit more.

I may post more when I get the time to play some more. If you’d like to know more about the game, here’s wot Rock Paper Shotgun thinks.

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is worthy of the MG name

So even though I got into the Titanfall beta, this game is my weekend. Not sure why I hadn’t played it sooner considering I’m a Metal Gear fan, but I finally got around to it. While I prefer the storytelling in MGS4, I found the initially frustrating controls of Revengeance grow on you. I love stealth as much as anyone else, but Raiden’s sword-slicin’ is a breed of game mechanic which doesn’t come along often. And while I generally like the idea of character upgrades they usually end up annoying me in practice… not here, however. Almost every “little” thing you can purchase makes a noticeable improvement.
What’s really cool is MGR:R doesn’t become repetitive like most hack n’ slash games. Almost every encounter is different than the last and the enemy combinations feel less like recycling than clever design. The first boss battle is a bitch if you weren’t paying attention when the game taught you parrying, but once you beat it the first time you’re pretty much well equipped for everything else the game throws at you. Not that it isn’t challenging through and through.
The only fault I can find is the camera. It’s a squirrelly bastard and has singlehandedly caused me to lose my life a few times, but it’s far from bad enough to break the entire game. Nine times out of ten it works.
MGR:R has gotten me so hyped for Ground Zeroes and The Phantom Pain I can’t see straight.

Gallery of my favorite cyberpunk images on DeviantArt

I’ve added the link to this blog’s sidebar. It’s a small but growing collection—something I only occasionally build up when I get an itch for that high-tech/low-life flavor.
Cyberpunk is a hard subgenre to explain and when Hollywood inevitably fucks up the Neuromancer movie, fans like me are going to have to mitigate the damage by saying incredibly nerdy shit like: “That’s not what the book was about! This is a better example of cyberpunk!” Of course, you probably have to be steeped in this kind of stuff from an early age to truly get it, but these images serve as a pretty good introductory.

Why I haven’t reviewed Elysium yet

Short answer: I was disappointed.

The long answer is I was a huge fan of District 9 which, in a medium that seems to favor technophobic scare tactics (see: Splice and the upcoming Transcendence), stood out as something that truly deserved the label “science fiction.” What I want from science fiction is interesting aliens (if you plan on having aliens at all), social commentary, and a healthy dose of speculative politics. District 9 ticked these boxes and more. While it ticked some better than others, it was a huge breath of fresh air, especially considering Avatar had failed to connect with me on any emotional level whatsoever. The fact that D9 had a great sense of humor, special effects that actually worked, and futuristic guns which blew people up like the produce at a Gallagher show didn’t hurt, either.

So here’s what Elysium is about: it’s the future. Rich people live on a space station. Poor people live on Earth. The space between the two objects is more or less a metaphor for the American-Mexican border, but I won’t go much into that because the movie doesn’t go much into it either. Earthlings are oppressed by the rich people’s robots (courtesy of fantastic special effects, by the way) and the factory that manufactures the robots is where Matt Damon’s character, Max, works. After receiving a lethal dose of radiation on the job, Max is told he’s got a few days left to live.

On Elysium the rich people have futuristic tanning beds which can cure any ailment. All Max has to do, in theory, is sneak onto Elysium and get into one of the beds. However, Jodie Foster’s border patrol is on high alert so Max—I hope you’re following all of this—has to have a robotic exoskeleton surgically hardwired to his body. One thing I’m more than thrilled to report is, as far as movies go, this is as cyberpunk as you can typically get.

A lot of the passion is gone in Neill Blomkamp’s follow-up, though. Here’s a movie which is far from terrible, but none of it really clicks. There was a wide variety of action sequences in D9. In Elysium, it’s all about the gunfights. When you have a giant space station in the shape of a wheel with an atmosphere that’s held in by centrifugal force alone, you’re telling me the most you can come up with is standard shootouts, the majority of which take place on desolate earth?

My God. So much wasted potential here. Where’s the excitement? Where’s the stuff I’ve never seen in a movie before?

And is there a reason why Jodie Foster speaks in a phony accent? Hell, even William Fichtner is off his game here, and that guy’s almost always brilliant. Casting Sharlto Copley (he was the weenie hero of District 9) as bad guy Kruger is one of the best things about the movie, but his character just isn’t developed enough. And I like Matt Damon and he certainly feels at home in a movie like this, but again, the character himself leaves a lot to be desired.

There is a bit involving a grenade that got a huge laugh out of me. There’s more to it than that, it turns out, and they make a sort of interesting use of the previously mentioned medical beds.

At the end of the day, I wouldn’t say Elysium does much to scar Blomkamp’s reputation. Unfortunately, that says more about how good D9 was than it does about Elysium. I’m still excited to see his next movie. Hell, I still want to see what he would do in the Halo universe, which was the original plan for the director.

Elysium is a fairly solid rental, but only if you don’t have something better to do on your Friday night.

2013 Super Trailer (and what I thought about Pacific Rim)

If you needed a reminder of why it’s simply human to love the movies, here it is. Basically it’s a trailer of all the trailers of 2013. Even the movies I didn’t like give me chills when presented in this form.
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I just realized I never properly wrote about Pacific Rim. Let’s be clear: I hate disaster movies as I’ve said so many times before. I hated the American version of Godzilla, I hated Independence Day, and I hated just about every other modern film that destroys recognizable landmarks ad naseum. On the other hand, I love proper mecha, monster movies such as the real Godzilla, and all things Ray Harryhausen (speaking of Ray, the best documentary on him yet is currently on Netflix). Couple that affection with the fact that Guillermo del Toro hasn’t made a bad movie ever and you can probably already see where this is going…
I loved Pacific Rim. It would be easy to dismiss it as a typical Hollywood action movie for kids if you’ve A) never seen it or B) don’t enjoy the films it tributes because you’re a pill. For the rest of us, however, it’s the real deal. The awesome (in the true sense of the word) music, the convincing special effects, and the playful absurdity of it all had me smiling like a kid for ninety minutes straight. Sure, it’s preposterous, but it knows it’s preposterous and it’s just too fun and upbeat to poke holes in it the way we did in the boringly morose Man of Steel. It also has some near-cyberpunk visuals as demonstrated by this image:

The colors, man, the colors!
Here’s a movie that doesn’t cut every three seconds as if the director is on crack. Here’s a movie that doesn’t relegate every country other than America to the sidelines. Here’s a movie that’s so colorful it’s easily one of the ten best-looking films I’ve ever seen. Some have complained about the lack of female characters. Well, there’s at least one great one in it and let’s face it: it’s fucking sea monsters versus mechs… it’s for the twelve year old boy in all of us.
I could have written about this movie in depth, but it’s no longer fresh in my memory. Perhaps sometime in the future I will revisit it. And if del Toro directs the inevitable sequel, I’m there, dude. In the meantime, check out The Host if you haven’t seen it yet. I believe it’s on Netflix and like most of the Korean films that actually get imported, it blows the American stuff out of the water.

My Blade Runner-inspired blaster

For those of you who don’t know, I decided to go as a generic blade runner for Halloween. Since I didn’t have $500+ to drop on a decent replica, I decided to build my own. The result was… well, you be the judge.

This is what the gun should look like:

Adam Savage’s ultra-accurate buildsee it here

So here’s the gun I started with:

And here’s the gun I ended up with:

Obviously I’m no model maker, but for a first prop-building project it ain’t all bad. The first thing I did was grind off the raised-lettering and paint it. The problem with that “build” wasn’t just the fact it was lazy, it wasn’t very custom. So I decided to take it apart, remove all the innards (save the trigger and the cylinder), and start sawing and grinding away:

Here’s how I made room for the additional trigger:

And here are the two halves, which were flimsy as hell. It felt like they could snap at any minute:

Here I used a Dremel to cut in some details:

I robbed extra parts (the slide) from the Airsoft pistol on the left:
You can see how I carved it below:

Fitting it all together… still very flimsy at this point:

Time to bulk it up with some plumber’s putty. By the time I had it stuffed down into the handle, the gun not only felt solid, it felt about as heavy as a real magnum. No joke.

I needed a barrel that fit through the slide and helped hold the cylinder in place. Turns out Cover Girl offers a perfect solution:

The cylinder pin was a shelf peg, cut to length:

I had planned to use fiberglass resin to fill in the holes and such, but this Bondo putty was cheaper. I put a glob on the handle and squeezed it with my fist to make the perfect grip. I also super glued a second trigger into the assembly:

Here it is drying. After this it was sanded and painted:

So yeah, it doesn’t look quite as good as most any of the other blasters floating around out there on the web, but damn it, this one is mine. I hope someone else gets some useful ideas for a project. This is what I’ll be taking to the costume ball I’m going to, but I’m possibly in the market for a better one.