Are We Living in the Golden Age of Television?

Are we in the midst of an era when television is in its prime? Can it soar higher than it is now, or is it as good as it’s ever going to be? These are two questions that circulated through my mind after finishing the critically acclaimed first season of HBO’s Westworld (2016), a television show based on the 1973 movie of the same name. Westworld is about a fictional, western-themed amusement park where attendees (or “guests”) pay large sums of money to fulfill their darkest desires. In essence, the guests are permitted to murder or have sexual intercourse with the park’s “hosts,” human-like androids that occupy the park, while the “programmers” write the scripts for the hosts and control all of their behaviors.

Westworld is renowned for its thought-provoking examination of the relationship that mankind has with its own technology, and of key themes that include fate, free will, life, death, God, reincarnation, and the nature of human consciousness. I could spend hours—literally days—talking about these things, but keeping within the scope of this article, I will save that for another time.

I didn’t think Westworld could live up to the standards I’ve set for other shows that I hold such a high opinion of, but Season 1, Episode 10 (“The Bicameral Mind”) proved me wrong. In this 95 minute finale, the writers managed to deliver an unbelievably satisfying payoff to the preceding 9 hours I spent with the show, addressing almost every single inquiry into the world, characters, and narrative direction. Even better, almost every scene had its own “Shyamalanism,” a term I coined that describes how the revelation of a plot twist incentivizes an audience to re-watch a television show or movie to spot out the Easter eggs they didn’t notice the first time around. I won’t spoil anything here, but let’s just say that much like M. Night Shyamalan’s best movies, there are certain story bits in Westworld that you would easily overlook upon first watch, but would blow your mind upon a second or third watch. That is the mark of brilliant storytelling, because to truly deliver a satisfying payoff to any great piece of media, you have to display things in plain sight and subvert attention from them until they become relevant to the twists that you want to reveal.

I bring up Westworld because it’s one television show out of the dozens of high-grade shows that have come out in the past two decades. Between 1999 and today, we’ve gotten amazing shows such as The Sopranos, The Wire, Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Dexter, Prison Break, The Walking Dead, Black Mirror, Orange is the New Black, Narcos, Sherlock, Stranger Things, and my personal all-time favorite, Breaking Bad, which I consider to be the Mona Lisa of Television for its complex layered writing and exemplary character development. Let’s not forget the spin-off to Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, another show commonly considered to be golden entertainment.

So are we living in a golden age of television? As a matter of fact, we are. Don’t believe me? There is already a Wikipedia article aptly titled “Golden Age of Television (2000s–present).” Apparently, there was a golden age of T.V. in the 1950s as well, but the 2000s golden age is being dubbed the “New,” “Second,” or “Third Golden Age of Television” because of transformations in the way that we consume media. In addition, the critically acclaimed aforementioned shows have (each in their own right) changed the language of episodic filmography, effectively revolutionizing how stories are told on the small screen. After all, television is a language, and every good show has helped us see it as one.

But if film is a language and every language evolves with time, then what has modern television done to evolve the way in which it is being communicated? There is a long list of examples, but here is a condensed version: Breaking Bad was the first show to take a seemingly innocent and virtuous character, and transform him into a cold, calculating, and ruthless one. Dexter was the first show to make its audience root for, and empathize with, a serial killer. The Walking Dead was the first show to combine realistic human dramas with a zombie apocalypse. Game of Thrones was the first show to depict adult themes in a fantasy setting and regularly kill its lead characters. Stranger Things was the first show to successfully emulate ‘80s media. And finally, Orange is the New Black was the first show to make its side characters more interesting than the main character.

It might seem overly reductive to say that these shows were the “first of their kind,” and while that is true to a certain extent, they were unarguably the first of their kind in the modern era of television. That’s why we’re living in the New Golden Age of Television.

However, golden ages by definition don’t last forever, so when will we see television start to drop in overall quality? It’s hard to say, as it could be in another 10, 20, 40, or even 100 years. Nobody knows for certain, but what is certain is that if our beloved T.V. shows can continue raising the bar, they’ll never get boring.

Destiny 2 – Beta (First Impressions)

The Destiny 2 Beta has concluded as of July 25th. I’ve invested about 15 hours into testing all three character classes, The Crucible, the story mode, and the strike. Here, I am going to discuss what worked for me, what didn’t work, and what needs to change for launch day. I believe that this longer article will sum up all of the criticisms that have thus far accumulated.

Initially, I was not impressed with Destiny 2. The guns felt weak, abilities took too long to recharge, and the 30 FPS was a massive step down from the 60 FPS that I’ve become accustomed to. What’s worse is that The Crucible felt like a blanketed downgrade from everything that made the first Destiny’s Crucible experience so much fun. For the purposes of this article, however, I am going to attempt to keep my complaints as levelheaded as possible.

DISCLAIMER: I understand that this was a Beta and therefore not representative of the complete experience. All of my criticisms are liable to be, or have been, addressed.

The Story Mode

The story mode was decent. It was grandiose and a return-to-form for Bungie’s exceptional approach to storytelling in First Person Shooters. I’m happy that NPCs are actually DOING THINGS now and not simply spouting exposition at us through a radio. One complaint I have (the same complaint I have with The Taken King’s story mode) is that the game thrusts you into this large-scale conflict without any meaningful setup. It would be nice to see a calm-before-the-storm cinematic that precedes Gaul’s assault on The Last City, similar to the award ceremony in the beginning of Halo 2. Another complaint I have is that, yet again, our characters have zero personality and do not utter a single word.

At any rate, if Bungie can maintain the level of quality that they delivered in the first mission throughout the rest of the campaign, then I will be very pleased.

The Strike

The Inverted Spire strike is pretty much what you would expect from any strike in Destiny: plow through hordes of enemies until you reach a bullet sponge of a boss. Interestingly, my team and I died 5 times on the boss fight, and thus I commend Bungie for actually challenging the player and not making the mission so exploitable. I can’t imagine what this would be like on Nightfall difficulty.

Overall, I was not very impressed with the strike, but it is good time-killer in the event that you want to sit back, relax, and shoot mindless aliens for 20 or so minutes.

The Gameplay

Now I can talk about the nitty gritty—the REAL meat of my criticism: the gameplay and The Crucible. First off, I know I’m beating a dead horse when I say this, but abilities charge way too slowly. This includes the Super ability, grenades, and supplementary character abilities. As my disclaimer noted, this has probably already been fixed, but I’d like to talk about it nonetheless.

To put things into perspective, in a typical strike, you will only get to use your Super twice, and no more than three times. And The Crucible? Forget it. If you’re lucky enough, you’ll only get your Super in the last 2 minutes of the match (when EVERYONE ELSE uses it). That is ABSOLUTELY pathetic for a game whose majority of fun derives from utilizing unique abilities that alter the dynamic and flow of its combat. Destiny 1 was special because I got to live out my childlike power fantasy by wielding the Light of the Traveler and vaporizing my opponents into thin air. I still get to do that, but those moments of empowerment are few and far between, and ultimately take a lot of enjoyment out of the equation.

Also, who in their right mind at Bungie Studios thought it would be a good idea to nerf melee damage THIS drastically? In The Crucible, it takes up to THREE punches to defeat your opponent. That desperately needs to be changed, because dumping several rounds into somebody but then having to stab them two times severely disrupts the fluidity of closer-ranged encounters and leaves you more vulnerable to team shots.

Gunplay is as always, smooth and solid. Say what you want about Bungie as a developer, but they understand shooting mechanics. In fact, much of what keeps people coming back to this game after all these years is just how good it feels to shoot things. But remember when I said that the guns felt weak? I meant it. Unfortunately, the primaries that we were given in the Beta often felt like peashooters, while the sniper rifle felt like a slightly stronger scout rifle. Again, this is subject to change, but right now, guns are underpowered.

Finally, the transition from a PRIMARY/SECONDARY/HEAVY loadout to a PRIMARY/PRIMARY/SECONDARY loadout really hurts the PvE experience. While I can understand this design choice for PvP to a certain extent, in PvE, it’s insipid having to switch between two mediocrely powered auto rifles and rarely getting to use a sniper, rocket launcher, or shotgun because power ammo is so scarce. I sure will miss my Fatebringer/Blackhammer/Gjallerhorn combination. Can we please go back to the way things were in this regard? Of course, it is more balanced as it is now, but sometimes, balance is boring.

The Crucible

So how is The Crucible? In short, watered down.

I thought I was going to despise the 4v4 format, but it’s not as bad as I expected. The maps are specifically scaled down to accommodate 8 players instead of 12, and so you’ll encounter your opponents about as frequently as you would on a map that’s been built for 6v6. Despite this, I prefer the classic 6v6 format because in 4v4, there are fewer opponents to engage with and thus fewer opportunities for extremely satisfying multi-kills. Why is it that Bungie can’t just do what they did with their Halo games and design some maps and modes for 6v6, and others for 4v4? Blanketing 4v4 across ALL maps and modes is a colossal step backwards because not everyone is going to prefer these smaller-scale, less chaotic matches. Personally, I want to see Combined Arms and Rumble make a return.

I love and hate the new scoring system in Control. I love it because it’s been simplified in such a way that I understand how points are distributed between both teams (in Destiny 1, it was convoluted and made no sense). I hate it because it needlessly rewards assists. If I kill somebody, I want it to MATTER. In other words, I want to feel like I deserved it. However, in Destiny 2, if you so much as scrape an opponent and one of your teammates deals let’s say 90 percent of the damage, you’ll be allotted a full point (i.e.: +1 point). Alternatively, if you deal 100 percent of the damage, you’ll be allotted two points (i.e.: +2 points). With that said, it appears that the only indicator of individual performance is Efficiency, which is a special number on the scoreboard that aggregates your kill/death/assist ratio, level of accuracy, and other factors. However, I want the scoreboard to display the number of times you acquired FULL kills relative to the number of times you died. Currently, the game has either eliminated or minimized these statistics in favor of giving everyone on the team a participation medal.

By the way, I hope to God that we are not solely relegated to Quickplay and Competitive in the final game. THIS IS NOT OVERWATCH. Destiny 2 is expected to promote diversity and versatility by featuring multiple playlists that cater to different preferences and different play styles. It should NOT be this restrictive and barebones.

A couple more suggestions that I would like to offer are to increase the score limit in Control from 75 to 100, and to increase the rate at which players’ health bars regenerate to both deter and prevent incidences of team shooting. It is very frustrating when, upon legitimately outplaying your opponent, someone else comes from around the corner to “clean you up” because you couldn’t recover in time. As for Control, the score limit is a little too condensed for my liking. Bumping it up to 100 should make matches last for just the right amount of time.

Skill Based Match Making is ever so prominent in Destiny 2, and just like in Destiny 1, I am routinely punished for performing well. Whenever I have one great match or a string of great matches, I am pitted against full teams of 4 and get utterly decimated. Why should I be forced to play my heart out every single match against players who are just as good if not better than me? I said it before and I’ll say it again: Bungie needs to either abolish or restrict SBMM to COMPETITIVE-ONLY playlists so that The Crucible can remain a lighthearted, laidback experience. Not every game on the market needs to be an eSport.

Fellow Destiny player Tibbaryllis2 puts it perfectly, “The game is infinitely better when you go through a cycle of games where you have some close matches, you stomp some people, and you get stomped by some people. You need all three; one helps you get better, one helps you have fun, and one keeps you humble.”

Final Word

Believe it or not, I criticize Destiny this harshly because I love it and want it to succeed. It’s the only game that keeps me coming back to it on a consistent basis, and I’ll be damned if it sacrifices its identity to become another generic, bland, dull, and dry shooter game.

So far, Destiny 2 is not a game plagued by poor design, but rather by poor design decisions. It seems that Bungie’s best answer to the complaints players directed toward Destiny 1’s PvP experience is to literally nerf everything that made it fun in the first place, and achieve a more leveled playing field in a panicked attempt to please its entire player base. In doing so, they punished the PvE-centric audience.

I hope that come September, my opinion on the game improves and does not worsen. In either case, I’ll be here to call it out.

Thanks for reading.

Video: Why We Are Already Living in the Apocalypse: A Walking Dead Video Essay – Part 3 (Philosophy)

Here is Part 3 of my 5 part Walking Dead video essay. Stick around for Part 4!

Video: Why We Are Already Living in the Apocalypse: A Walking Dead Video Essay – Part 2 (Sanity)

Here is Part 2 of my 5 part Walking Dead video essay. Stick around for Part 3!

Why a Halo 3: Anniversary Just Couldn’t Happen

This year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo has come and gone and, with it, a slew of unfulfilled expectations and disappointments. One of these disappointments (besides Bethesda’s press conference) is the lack of a Halo 3: Anniversary. But hey, at least the Flood are canonical again.

What strikes me as perplexing is that Halo: Combat Evolved (2001) and Halo 2 (2004) both received the anniversary treatment after 10 years, but that Halo 3 (2007), the hottest selling and generally most beloved game in the entire series, is left untouched for its 10th anniversary. It’s awkward to say the least—the first two Halo games received graphical upgrades on the 10 year mark, but Halo 3 conspicuously discontinues this trend.

Pushing aside my frustration with Halo Wars 2, a game that I believe alienates more than half of the Halo community, I’m going to view the lack of a Halo 3: Anniversary in 2017 as a plus and not a minus. We know that Halo games are released every 3 years. However, because 343 Industries did not showcase a teaser trailer for Halo 6 at E3 this year, we can surmise that the next major Halo title will be delayed until 2019. That, combined with 343 Industries investing most of its manpower into Halo 6 because they do not have to worry about developing a Halo 3: Anniversary, and there is an increased chance that the follow-up to Halo 5 will be the game that we all want and need it to be. A longer, more coherent campaign. A streamlined multiplayer. A state-of-the-art Forge mode. Split-screen. And dare I say… a veto system? These are features that we can expect in Halo 6 by virtue that 343 Industries does not, for instance, have to deal with another Master Chief Collection debacle.

I understand 343i’s decision to not remaster Halo 3 this year because from a logistical and technical standpoint, it’s just not feasible. Halo 2: Anniversary’s graphics look like what vanilla Halo 3 looks like currently. I’d rather wait until the 20 or 25 year anniversary for a remastered Halo 3 to match the more high-powered tech. Also, playing through Halo 3’s campaign again to celebrate its 10 year anniversary anyway (because I know my life will be consumed by Destiny 2 in September), the game still plays so smoothly. It’s not a clunky mess like Halo 5.

And so, if I have to delay gratification and wait a few extra years for Halo 3: Anniversary because 343 Industries wants to invest its resources into Halo 6 to make it the best Halo game that it can possibly be, then I am totally fine with that. On the other hand, if 343 Industries never gives Halo 3 some type of special treatment, then I will be thoroughly disappointed. They really need to win back some of the fans that they already lost.

Are Read Receipts Complicating Relationships?

“I love you.”

*seen 7:47 P.M.*

Communication has always been a tricky puzzle, and the read receipt hasn’t made it any easier to solve.

A read receipt is a special indicator in IM conversations of both the time and date that the receiver opened the sender’s message, such as “seen 7:47 P.M.” or “read at 5:45 P.M.” Now, people can tell exactly when they’re being acknowledged or ignored. To my understanding, you can find read receipts in Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, and iMessage, although these and other applications may give you the option to disable them.

Read receipts almost always inconvenience at least one participating party because if you open the message, then you’re forced to respond to it immediately, and you become locked into a conversation that has no end in sight. Alternatively, if you wait to open the message, then the other person will think that you’re just ignoring them. And while you can opt to use the infamous, “Sorry, I didn’t have my phone on me” excuse, chances are it’s not going to work because honestly, who isn’t carrying their phone 24/7?

Call me “behind the times,” a bitter old man, or whatever, but I’m not a strong believer in text messaging being the primary conversational medium. If anything, it intrudes on the fluid and sloppy yet imperfectly beautiful nature of authentic human communication, and fosters an unhealthy dependence on our comfort zones. Its primary purpose should be to convey vital information, not spend hours exchanging meaningless, lazy, 3 word sentences that do little to progress relationships in the real world and ultimately reduce social competence.

I also don’t have the stamina or retention span (not ATTENTION span) to be effective at text messaging. Read receipts only expose just how ineffective that I can be at it. While texting, I might run into what are perceived breaks in the conversation with you, and thus I might forget to respond, fall asleep, or stop responding altogether. Yet how am I supposed to know what constitutes a break in the conversation when I am unable to evaluate your body language or tone of voice? If the read receipt shows that I’ve opened your latest message at “6:50 P.M.” and I haven’t responded to it ever since, then it might appear as though I’ve lost interest in talking to you, when in actuality I thought we both had nothing more to say. But it doesn’t always come across that way. For that reason, I’m starting to worry that the mere knowledge our most recent messages were opened is enough to further complicate our relationships by creating the false impression that, by virtue of one or two unacknowledged texts, we do not care about our friends and companions anymore.

Texting sure is nice and convenient, but it often creates stress when there should be none. Think, how many times have you agonized over that one unacknowledged message that was opened over three hours ago? How many times have you convinced yourself that your boyfriend or girlfriend has lost interest simply because they haven’t responded to you since last night?

It used to be that the best way to tell you were being ignored was when you called and left a voicemail for a friend, companion, or potential employer, and they never called you back. However, you had no way of knowing that the other person ever received your voicemail—you just had to take it at face value and assume they weren’t interested. Today, it’s more so that you know the other person isn’t interested (because the read receipt tells you exactly when your last message was opened), they just couldn’t make it any less painfully obvious.

The read receipt is another classic example of how technology, when abused, doesn’t enhance communication, but rather obscures it. I hope that someday, we can get into the habit of turning the phones off and opening up to each other the old fashion way.

Alien: Covenant (Review)

DISCLAIMER: This review will contain SPOILERS. If you have not seen Alien: Covenant yet, do not read this.

Alien: Covenant (2017) is the third Alien film to be directed by Ridley Scott, and is the sequel to Prometheus (2012) and the prequel to Alien (1979). It follows the story of a crew of colonists who, after their ship is damaged by a phenomenological shockwave, land on a nearby, uncharted planet to investigate a rogue transmission.

I’ll preface this review by saying that I am a huge Alien fan. I was 6 years old when I watched the original chestburster scene, and even to this day, I am perturbed by this gory introduction of the notorious Xenomorph creature. Additionally, Aliens (1986) is one of my favorite action movies, with Bill Paxton’s Private William Hudson earning the #2 spot on my list of Top 10 All-Time Favorite Movie Characters. He truly is The Ultimate Badass.

You can imagine that based upon by love for the Alien franchise (as well as my love for the Xenomorph itself), I was a little bit biased going into Covenant. The trailers had marketed this film to be yet another horror trope-fest littered with clichés, logical inconsistencies, and weak, disposable characters. Moreover, I was worried that Covenant would ignore that story arc set up between Elizabeth Shaw and David at the end of Prometheus. But as it turns out, when you set your expectations low enough for a movie that you know you will be disappointed by, you will not be disappointed by it at all. At least I wasn’t.

With all of that said, I was pleasantly surprised by Alien: Covenant. I enjoyed it so much that I would rank it just barely below Aliens and Prometheus. Therefore, my final rankings are as follows: (1) Aliens, (2) Prometheus, (3) Alien: Covenant, and (4) Alien, not accounting for Alien 3, Resurrection or either of the two AVP movies.

A lot of people seem to hate this movie, and I cannot fathom why. It might be, like I said, a horror trope-fest littered with clichés, logical inconsistencies, and weak, disposable characters, but why should that matter? If the movie entertained me, then it did its job. Also, if people wanted the Xenomorph to make a return so badly yet still hate on Covenant for retreading old ground, then they should have let Ridley Scott tell the story that he set up in Prometheus. Rather than further explore the mythology of the Engineers, fan backlash pressured him into reworking the script into oblivion. This is what we ended up with, so take it or leave it.

In my opinion, Alien: Covenant’s biggest strengths are its soundtrack, approaches to blood and gore, and Michael Fassbender’s performance as David.

The leitmotif (a special word describing any musical piece that is associated with people, places, or things) for the Xenomorph needs to be commended. It added a dark, eerie atmosphere to the scenes, tensely keeping the audience on the edge of their seats and characterizing the Alien as something abominable. In addition, the gore effects were viscerally graphic and disturbing, with Scott recreating the horror of the original chestburster scene by depicting a Neomorph bursting through the spine of a Covenant crewmember. Lastly, Michael Fassbender’s villainous portrayal of David was gripping and undoubtedly the best part of the movie. As a matter of fact, my favorite scene was when, in a flashback sequence, he dropped the Black Goo on the Engineers’ civilization and watched them all die. It will be interesting to learn in the prequel film Alien: Awakening what his motivations for doing so were and how far his God complex could possibly stretch.

Despite these strengths, a minor complaint that I have with Covenant is that it is tonally ambiguous. Halfway through the film, it cannot decide if it wants to be a sequel to Prometheus or its own movie. Nonetheless, I’m excited to see where Scott takes the story from here and whether or not the next installment will be seen as an improvement in the eyes of the objectors to his vision. I for one am optimistic.

Alien: Covenant gets an 8/10. How do you feel about the movie? Do you love it, hate it, or just think that it’s “okay”?