Blizzard released Starcraft: Remastered on Monday, with improved HD graphics, improved audio, a few new menu options, and most importantly, lots of pretty faces. Just look at the featured image up top if you don’t believe me.
One of my earliest memories of gaming was looking over my brother’s shoulder while he played Warcraft 2. He was fighting off some horde of enemies, the lone human player against six or seven orc factions. I’m sure it was going great, but I was more fascinated by the colors. The impossible odds he was facing meant every color faction was present in the game. I wanted him to click on this unit or that unit, to bring up the unit’s portrait and see what they look like in the different color palettes. As his virtual town burned around him, he said, “I don’t really have time to look at the pretty faces.”
Now of course Starcraft is primarily about the strategy. But let’s not forget the pretty faces. When Starcraft came out, it was radically different from Warcraft 2, and not just because of the story. The differences between the fantasy world of Warcraft and the technological world of Starcraft were immediately apparent. The story was told through the graphics. You could skip the story, but you couldn’t skip the environment.
The mission briefing would tell you that you have to command some ramshackle units and construct a base, but then you’d actually get to see it happen. Every bit of the game reminded you of the gritty, technological space drama you were playing through.
When you played Terran, you saw drilling, tanks, marines, and good old human ingenuity. When you played Zerg, you saw freaky metamorphoses, organic behemoths, and alien mutations unfold before your eyes. When you played Protoss, you saw high-tech robotics, mystical warriors, and sometimes inexplicable phenomena unfold at your command. The graphics expressed all of this, the underlying themes of the game, and showed you how it was all your world to play in. Starcraft: Remastered is only a graphics update, but those graphics are very important.
I hear graphics capabilities have advanced since the release of Starcraft in 1998. The graphics were great then, but still restricted by the technology of the day. With their blocky nature or hazy portraits, it left a certain amount open to your own interpretation. I was reminded of that when I finally got started in Starcraft: Remastered, because a lot of my time playing it has been just clicking on units and realizing what they were meant to look like.
Anyone getting Starcraft: Remastered will see the updated unit portraits and newer, more accurate art of these space warriors. That means more moments of disgust as you look at the Zerg with fresh eyes, new moments of immersive gameplay as you command terran units, new moments of wondering if the Protoss are wearing anything under that armor…
Remastered has left gameplay entirely untouched. The menus are updated, with a few new options, such as game subtitles, custom keybindings and other display options are included. The campaigns have a few updated introductions before they drop you into the mission briefings—same script, new graphics and audio. The HD graphics can actually be turned on and off right there with a single click in-game, so that’s nice for when a nostalgic gamer can’t make up their mind. It’s all we could hope for from a graphics update.
It certainly felt eerie playing a few matches of this updated game, like an artificial, conscious sense of deja-vu. I knew all the units and they all behaved the same as they always had, but everything had a new coat of paint over it. Recognizable, familiar, but new. A particular favorite of mine is the Dragoon.
Dragoons were always supposed to be recovered protoss warriors, kept alive in some freaky life-support pod/tank. In the old portrait, you could see it…. if you’re ok with a hazy interpretation of those pixels. The updated one makes it very clear that there’s the head of a ruined Protoss warrior floating in there.
A lot of these updated graphics enhance the feel of the Starcraft universe in that way, and I think a lot of players will feel very immersed in these new graphics. An equal amount of people may lose their feelings of immersion, as the graphics fail to jive with how dark or how bright they wanted Starcraft.
Maybe you were perfectly happy thinking that Raynor had hair and the Protoss didn’t have giant ponytails. Some players might find the updated graphics to be too similar to Starcraft 2, or not similar enough. It will be a mixed bag for everyone; as much as I liked the dragoons, I disliked the photon cannons for looking unpowered in-game. Mixed reactions are unavoidable anytime a game updates, and especially a popular one such as Starcraft.
Experienced players may be thrown off their game a little bit, too. I never stopped playing Starcraft. The aforementioned brothers of mine may not all be under the same roof anymore, but we still find time for multiplayer matches, and we ran a few this week. There were some complaints of being distracted by the graphics, and our depth perception being disrupted. This includes instances of gauging unit ranges incorrectly or misjudging a building’s size. Minor issues, but it’s sort of like coming home to find someone has moved half your furniture a half-inch to the left. It produces a moment of hesitation. The updated graphics can make a returning player feel a little unbalanced and uncompetitive, despite the game only looking different.
A major selling point of Remastered was that while the graphics would be updated, Blizzard wouldn’t touch the gameplay. This is both smart and lazy, which is the best kind of smart. Like I said, the graphics will prompt a variety of reactions from each individual player—but that’s nothing compared to tweaking the statistics of a game system that has gone so long without an update. Whatever possible balanced changes Blizzard could have come up with would have been put under a microscope of scrutiny and examined from every angle by every fan of the game.
This was very important to me as well, because I don’t think the newer iterations of real-time strategy games have ever approached Starcraft’s level of balance. So rather than slog through with balanced changes, and any fan backlash, Blizzard just said, “The strategy gameplay that StarCraft perfected years ago [will] remain unchanged.”
Instead, Blizzard focused on overlaying the newer, updated graphics, and ensuring players could use Starcraft with the same game client that runs their more modern games, such as Overwatch and World of Warcraft. Surprisingly, their changes to the interface were so few that I actually find myself wishing for more. The chat function, for example, has a sharper font and appearance in-game, but is still very limited in recording what players say to each other. Maybe it’s hidden in a menu somewhere, or will come with a future patch. Who knows.
Also, while Blizzard has made sure Starcraft will play nice with our newer computers, they haven’t much changed the multiplayer system. It’s all interface changes—the underlying system of browsing and joining games is fundamentally the same, and the games themselves offer nothing new to anyone uninterested in PvP. Changes are only skin-deep; game modes are untouched and the AI is the same, so don’t look for any new tricks out of your single-player games.
So overall, I’m very excited to keep playing Starcraft with these newer graphics. I actually find myself wishing they had changed more, and made the interface more accessible.
I would consider the game to be worth the price (currently $15) but that depends on what you’re looking for Starcraft: Remastered to be. Anyone worried about how the game might run on their computer, or continue to run in the coming years of updates, will be satisfied with the latest patch, and probably not need to buy the HD graphics update. If you’re a casual player, uninterested in measuring your APM or climbing the ladder, this update probably isn’t for you either.
On the other hand, if you can’t get enough of space combat, or you want to stretch the legs of your gaming computer, or you just need to revisit the RTS game the started it all, then Starcraft: Remastered is the game for you.
Images courtesy of Blizzard.
Frank and Fiona unite in the new Shameless
The Gallaghers can never really catch a break in this series, we’ve seen way more than once a good thing turn sour right before them just as they began to appreciate the benefits. There are so many examples in earlier seasons that is almost become like a running gag. The only difference this time is that Fiona saw it coming this time, which is not only a sign of growth, but almost like a mantle being passed away, separating her from her family.
In a fortunate turn of events for the series as a whole, the episode moves from the mess of too many plots as a whole, to a very thematic cause-and-effect story line that addresses the many poor choices made by some of the Gallagher clan. While not all outcomes are bad per se, they definitely have some serious implications for not only the rest of the season, but the rest of the series as a whole.
From Debbie getting what is coming to her from her negligence, to Fiona finally getting the last “I told you so” out of her system, we begin to see some serious self-realization from certain characters. Unlike Frank, they finally discover guilt and move a step far beyond to see that sometimes they are their own worst enemies. Yet at times, their own disastrous ways show them the path away from those terrible memories and sometimes even contain the experience to help another.
The episode picks up directly from where Ian and Carl left off, as they got chased down by a crazy meth head who was living in Monica’s storage unit, accusing them of stealing it. Of course Lip passed the blamed on to Monica, putting them in a $70,000 debt to some drug dealers. Frank’s new leaf is breath of fresh air, until he refuses to take any responsibility in stealing the meth in the first place, blaming his older self, the old Frank, as the culprit. They try to hide it but Fiona is totally on to them.
V is finally starting to realize how good their finances were when Svetlana was around, raising her child now while Kev seems to just worry about passing faulty genetics to his kids. He is equally obsessed with cancer awareness, going as far as feeling up Fiona’s chest to give her a proper breast exam. It’s weird, but not weird because it’s Kevin and…for science!
Lip is having his time put to good use working at the motorcycle garage and complaining about Sierra and the meth drama. While his fellow addict is tired of hearing about it, he gives him a welcome distraction to focus on other than self obsession. Speaking of addicts, Professor Youens gets so drunk that he drives into someones house.
On Ian’s end, he’s slowly getting back into good rapport with Trevor, though sometimes it seems like he is not only trying way too hard but going to extreme lengths to get some pity. Fiona starts to clean up the mess that the multi child mother left behind in the wake of her eviction which consists of baby shit all over the walls and the very flattering, “thundercunt” drawn on the walls. It’s safe to say she has gotten her hands full trying to lease that apartment. Nessa to the rescue with some latte as Fiona tells her about the time consuming nature of credit checks. Nessa’s partner schemes to get her own friends in the apartment.
Lip goes to pick up his Professor to help him out from this rut and many injuries done both to his person and life as a whole. Even more sad to his story is that the only reason he called Lip was because no one else in his family would receive his call. Youens is pretty sure he’s going to end up in prison. Meanwhile, Frank, now thinking he’s a saint, thinks he’s found some spirituality and likes to be referred to Francis. To be fair, he sounds more like a stoner than he ever did….being sober now and all. Kevin is still obsessing over his genetics that it leads to a discovery of where he came from, considering he is an orphan. Turns out he’s from something called the “Huntsville sub group,” which is a group of people from Kentucky who were cut off from the rest of the world. They are known for being one of he most inbred populations in the United States.
Fiona interviews her first leaser and it’s basically a dream come true, until Nessa’s wife ruins it by telling him the place is riddled with bedbugs.
People finally to give Debbie a reality check that with another woman giving Neil his sponge baths, she better watch to that he doesn’t leave her, especially given her treatment of him. At least she has the decency to admit herself that she doesn’t want him, but at the same time she heartlessly mentions she’s only with him for his insurance and steady disability income. We can see some of the old Frank in her more than we can in Lip just because of this moment.
Lip tries to help Youens find a lawyer but then realizes why no one will take his case. He has already had five DUI’s. At this point not even getting sober may help. Though Lip really never reached this point it is incredibly heartbreaking to see him try to help his Professor through this bad phase. It’s really a sad scene as Youens tells Lip to go. He doesn’t need a lawyer and doesn’t plan on going to jail…he’s contemplating suicide. Nessa’s friends try to to talk down Fiona to four hundred dollars less than what she’s asking, showing her as the culprit.
Effect finally comes to fruition as Carl is basically being drowned in his hot tub when the meth dealers come to collect, giving them twenty for hours to come up with the seventy grand. Veronica pushes Kevin to meet his family as they bear an uncanny resemblance to him, he struggles with this decision remembering the way he was abandoned. The rest of the Gallagher boys learn more about the man after them as Debbie finally gets kicked to the curb by Neil. Hate to say this to you Debbs but you kind of deserved this. Lip deals with the fact that Youens saved his life with rehab and now feels so guilty that he can’t help him. Helping another through the same situation is the best way to heal yourself.
If V and Kev’s problems aren’t getting worse, they get the bill for his biopsy and a Russian Realtor pricing the bar out for Svetlana, who is in prison yet still retains ownership of the bar. V goes to see her in prison and makes a deal to get her out of prison to help manage the bar and the children. Frank is still not taking responsibility for the meth problem and discovers guilty which actually makes him want to help. It’s a hilarious struggle by the way. Fiona savors the fact that she was right about the meth in the first episode. She goes a little too far in the “I told you so,” and they’re now going to her for help in finding the last two pounds of meth buried in Monica’s grave. It’s is nice to see however, the family finally united for once. Even Frank is finally taking responsibility and using his employee discount for shovels.
The episode ends with Frank taking charge of the meth dealers, paying them only half but dosing out some good threats and reasoning as to why it’s enough. It’s a nice scene as Fiona actually shows some daughterly appreciation. Lip brings rehab to Youens with all his recovering buddies around to support the old Professor in his time of need. Fiona at long last lets the ghetto out on Nessa’s partner; she tells her to come clean about the bed bugs story and to stop playing her game or Fiona will play back much harder.
A lot less was going on this episode compared to the previous one but as the old adage goes, quality over quantity. The story was more concise and served to bring the family together as one again which is something that has been sorely missed for at least two seasons now. Though what it took to get there was more than questionable, I guess in the end the means were justified, sort of.
In terms of Lip’s current plot, it’s actually one of the more better written scenes. He sees a mirror of himself in Youens. Not that he was ever as bad as him, I mean the man’s age alone and number of DUIs is testament to how far his alcoholism has stretched on, even when compared to someone like Frank. Nevertheless, it isn’t the alcoholic we see mirrored into Lip, but the desire to help someone struggling with it. He and Youens bond over caring for one another thanks to Youens paying for Lips rehab; in this way it was something he never saw in Frank, thus he could not feel sorry for in terms of Frank. He wants to help his tormented Professor because it was what was done for him. A beautiful reciprocation to be built upon.
Other than Lip the episode was mostly focused on Fiona and learning to stand up for herself in front of those thought to be intimidating. She has taken Nessa’s partners bullshit for three episodes, and the conflict finally came to a head when she tried to swindle her friends into the vacant apartment with promises of cheaper rent. This obviously did not stand, and only served to fuel Fiona when she found out about the bed bug lie.
As for her relationship with Frank, only time well tell how long that will last for. Rather, how long Frank will last in his current state of mind. That comes with my only issue with the season so far. Frank’s new lease on life is the only real overarching plot encompassing the entire season so far. There’s no overall struggle that the family is dealing with as was the case in the older seasons. The meth issue did have its merits but ended with this episode, as far as we know. I want to see something big happen, not just a “what are the Gallagher’s up to this week?”.
All images courtesy of Showtime
Wolfenstein: The New Colossus Excels Because It Knows Its History
Wolfenstein: The New Colossus is a phenomenal game. It has an inordinate amount to say about racism, anti semitism, the cycle of abuse, ableism, eugenics, homophobia, fat shaming, PTSD, war, violence, and just about everything else under the sun. And developer MachineGames does all of that with this wonderfully strange combination of hyper-meticulous tact, high production values, and auteur confidence. Of course, none of that would have been possible if the setting surrounding the narrative didn’t work, and holy shit does it ever.
The newest iterations of the Wolfenstein franchise take place in an alternate 1960—leading into ‘61 for the second game—where the Nazis won the war. 2014’s Wolfenstein: The New Order was a game framed around the “how” of the world. How did the Nazis win? How do they keep their conquered states in check? How have things changed in this reality? How do we stop them from gaining more power? How do we fight back against a near global, yet also interplanetary, regime?
Throughout the game, you come across newspaper clippings and records (The Beatles sort of still exist) that fill the gaps between 1946 and 1960. The result is a fully realized world that isn’t just a horrifying coat of paint over reality; it’s how things would have happened…with a few super-science-y liberties thrown in because why wouldn’t the Nazis a moon base or fire breathing robot dogs? And, of course, the greatest twist of all: the Nazis’ inexplicable sci-fi advancement, the whole reason they won the war, was built on the backs of stolen technology from a secret society of Jewish science wizards. There’s even a sequence where the protagonist, William Joseph “B.J.” Blazkowicz, breaks into a high security compound and finds ancient schematics written in Hebrew, which he knows how to read.
We also knew, in broad strokes, what had happened to the other parts of the world. America had surrendered completely after Manhattan was obliterated by an atomic bomb, mirroring the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Nazis had yet to conquer the vast majority of Africa, as organized resistance was proving far more effective than they were willing to recognize. London was kept in line by a skyscraper-sized robot called the London Monitor, which you get to blow up.
Wolfenstein: The New Order took place almost entirely in western Europe (with a brief sojourn to the moon, of course) and exploring how the one region of the world that was, at one time, actually conquered by the Nazis, ended up being just familiar enough to what it was back then to what it became in their alternate history. It’s this foundation, this deep uprooting and deconstruction of history, that allows its sequel, The New Colossus, to head straight into the United States. We were shown what was comfortably familiar to us, so it was time to show what was uncomfortably familiar.
An America subjugated and ruled by the Nazis.
Enemy Of The State Of Affairs
Wolfenstein: The New Colossus is a game about “why”. Why do we fight against oppression when society around us punishes those who do? Why do we push back against systemic hatred, even when it has no bearing on us? Why does a man like William Joseph “B.J.” Blazkowicz, the perfect aesthetic poster boy for Aryan supremacy, reject those who would treat him like a king?
Why has America submitted to Nazi rule? The short answer is: giant airship. The long answer? Well, that one’s not so complicated.
Relatively early in the game, you meet up with a New York City resistance cell lead by a black woman named Grace, a survivor of the Manhattan bombing. In fact, all but one of her members are black with the exception of her partner Super Spesh. Their character designs explicitly invoke imagery of the Black Panthers and the overall Black Power movement.
The first game had you run around helping the Kreisau Circle, the Berlin-based Nazi resistance group that eventually cut the head off the Nazi war machine and stopping them from developing new weapons. This cell was lead by Caroline Decker, a paraplegic veteran. But, in the opening of this game, Caroline is executed by the main antagonist, Frau Engel, leaving a gaping hole in leadership that Grace fits perfectly. Who better to represent a 1960s violent uprising of the oppressed than a black woman in America?
She even goes so far as to move into Caroline’s old cabin in their captured Super U-Boat. From the start of the narrative, Wolfenstein is showing us that America is very different from a conquered Europe. For one, the English language is being banned, hearkening back to that old adage of “If the Nazis won, we’d all be speaking German”.
The largest among the differences though is that, just as Grace says above, America never stopped fighting the Nazis. The military did, yes, and the vast majority of the white population, including a South-governed KKK, but the fact that there is a dedicated anti-gravity airship, the Ausmerzer, whose sole role is to travel the country and crush resistance factions for the past decade tells us in no uncertain terms that the hold the Nazis have over America isn’t as ironclad as they believe it to be.
Even if they are able to put on one hell of a show.
We find newspaper clippings within the game describing resistance cells crushed by the Ausmerzer, and there’s even a moment during a trip to Roswell where you’re recognized (you’re the Reich’s most wanted, after all) by a local resident who, in a terrified act of defiance, whispers that he believes in what you’re doing when just seconds prior he was selling newspaper propaganda with glee.
The cap to this, however, is the final scene of the final mission of the game where you ambush Frau Engel’s live appearance on a talk show. You sneak through the bleachers and into the rafters, noting that every single person in the audience is a cardboard cutout. The show may be being broadcasted to every living room in the world, but it stands to reason that if people aren’t going to the live show…they’re not buying into the lies.
America is being crushed under the heel of the Nazis, yes, but it has yet to be crushed. Good people are still out there in the world, but they’ve forgotten how to resist. Those who were already filled with hate jumped on board, the minority, while everyone else is either putting their head in the sand or just trying to survive.
On the other side of the table, though, is how white America perceives the Nazis. I’ve already mentioned that the KKK controls the south, but it goes a whole lot deeper than that. Slavery has been legalized once more, and auctions are the talk of the town. We find out that, in true Nazi form, they rounded up the country’s degenerates—Jews, queer folk and people of color—and either purged them or sent them off to die in New Orleans…which is now a massive ghetto, Escape from New York style.
And if you “named names”, you were rewarded with what those same people left behind. Land rights, mansions, savings; everything they owned was either seized by the state or given as a gift to those who betrayed their friends and neighbors. This is not something we discover on a broad scale; it’s personal to B.J.
He visits his childhood home after nuking Area 52 (it wasn’t aliens, just ancient Jewish Techno Wizard secrets) and finds his abusive father, Rip, waiting for him, having heard he was in the area and assumed he’d come around. Rip, as we learned from flashbacks, was physically and emotionally abusive to both his son and his wife Zofia, a Jewish Polish immigrant. That, and he was a hardcore White Supremacist, having only married Zofia because he believed her father would be a business asset. He bemoans that no one knows what it is like to suffer as he does, thinking that everyone is trying to steal everything from the White Man.
In short, he represents everything that B.J. has spent his entire adult life fighting against.
When asked what happened to his mother, Rip admits that he sold her out to the Nazis and they took her away. The confrontation ends with B.J. killing his father after he presses a shotgun to his son’s forehead, but through their entire conversation he’d been on the phone with the Nazis. He’d sold out his son, too.
That’s the state of the world in Wolfenstein, and in The New Colossus you blow it the fuck up.
Terror-Billy Goes America All Over Everybody’s Ass
While the game’s marketing may have been pointing towards a parallel with the American Revolution as for how the country ousts the Nazis, I posit that the historical context is far more evocative of our 1960s.
Grace’s existence and design are already evidence of this, but it’s the rest of the resistance that makes this all the more clear. The second big group you recruit, aptly enough from the New Orleans ghetto itself, is lead by a man named Horton. He organizes a group of communists, socialists and anarchists who you’d think wouldn’t fit in with Grace and her people. These are the people that dodged the draft, even if they did push the concept of equal rights earlier than most. Horton even flat out cites their attempted push for a civil rights movement in an argument with B.J.
Of course, there’s a key difference between refusing to fight on foreign soil in a war that benefits the military industrial complex and what’s happening to them now. Horton’s group draws upon sentiment from both the end of the Great War and the counterculture movements of the 1960s.
Again, many of them were draft dodging pacifists, but that goes right out the window when it comes to Nazis. It’s one thing to refuse to fight a foreign enemy on foreign lands when victory would have only spread what you’re rebelling against. It’s quite another to sit by and accept fascism in the very country that allowed, though not always encouraged, you to believe what you saw in your heart as just.
It’s at the end of the game, however, in the ending cinematic, that this entire idea solidifies. That this historical context isn’t an accident, and the frankly unbelievable amount of homework MachineGames must have done paid off in spades. Mere moments after B.J. kills Frau Engel on live television, Grace and Horton speak directly into the cameras and ignite a violent revolution. The Kreisau Circle may be organized like a guerilla military operation, but the American people aren’t. They don’t need to be.
It’s an angry, raw, improvised and imperfect call to arms, but that’s what makes it perfect. Violent uprisings don’t start with eloquence or deep debating over the justification to fight against those who oppress you. They start with whatever you’ve got on hand. The Civil Rights movement, the Stonewall Riots and the general counterculture protests that dominated the 60s are clear influences on Wolfenstein’s depiction of “retaking America”. Seriously, if it didn’t sink in already, they blast a heavy metal cover of Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” over the end credits coupled with imagery of violent rioting and uprisings across the nation.
Wolfenstein does not attempt to hold a mirror to our world today, even if it does so inadvertently. It tries to make us look back, so that we remember how to keep moving forward. It’s message is clear because it knows what it’s talking about, no matter how over-the-top the presentation:
Equality is not a debate; it’s a right. Those without it won’t stop until they have it, because for them it’s literally “Fight, or Die”. So the best thing you can do, if you’ve already got it, is to pick them up with you. And if you don’t? If you keep trying to push others down? It’s gonna get bloody, just like it always does, and chances are it won’t be them who’s dying.
Images courtesy of MachineGames
The Mario Bros. are Returning to the Big Screen
That’s right, the Nintendo icons will hit your theaters yet again with the potential signing of a new deal between Nintendo and Universal Pictures to bring the Mario Bros. back to the site of one of the most infamous crimes in movie history. At least this time they won’t be live action?
The deal will task Illumination Entertainment, animated filmmaker for Universal, with developing an animated adaptation of the beloved Nintendo juggernaut. The studio, responsible for films such as Despicable Me, Minions, and The Secret Life of Pets, has reportedly negotiated the deal for over a year now. If finalized, it would be the first deal Nintendo has made for TV or film since the original 1993 disaster starring Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo.
Anyone who has seen the film could tell you why Nintendo would wait nearly 25 years to make another deal bringing the Mario Bros. to the big screen. For those who have not seen it, run. Run far, run fast, do not let anyone tempt you into watching. Not even if you like bad movies. For all the bad movies based on video games, you don’t get worse than Mario without delving into the crap-filled swamps that are Uwe Boll movies.
Of course, this is all speculation and it is a common feature of video game movies to end up in development hell keeping them from ever releasing. The deal has yet to be finalized, with the involvement of Nintendo themselves in development of the movie reportedly holding it up. If made official, the deal could lead to multiple Mario Bros. movies. If the first ever comes out.
I want to be optimistic. Making an animated movie sounds better than live-action, but after the failure of the Ratchet and Clank animated movie, I can’t be too optimistic. I’ve yet to see even one genuinely good video game movie. I don’t think there’s ever been one that was passable besides comparison to the wasteland of the genre. It would fit the ever-innovative and successful history of Mario to break the mold. I hope somehow they manage.