written by David Steffen

Flower is a 2009 exploration game developed by ThatGameCompany and published by Sony, for the Playstation family of game systems. In the game you control the wind blowing through a blackened and nearly lifeless landscape, trying to revive the vivid and beautiful life within it.

The controls are extremely simple–you have one button to move forward, and all of the rest is achieved by moving the controller to steer your movement in any direction in the space. If the wind touches a flower, it carries its petals along with it, so as you progress in each level you become more and more of a swirling vortex of color in the landscape around you, and as you do this more of the landscape revives as well, restoring color to the landscape, waking up more flowers and unlocking new areas.

There is no text or dialog in the main gameplay of the game, just the wind and the flowers and the landscape. Cues for what is good or bad are gathered through context and color, things with saturated color generally being the good things, while the bad things are most often black, like the electrical pylons that not only litter the landscape, but that spontaneously sprout from nowhere like a magically accelerated industrial weed.

And that gives the game much of its feel, a love for nature and a fear of industry destroying it–the game doesn’t treat all kinds of human development that way though, as some of your actions can unlock things like wind turbines, so even without any words it seems to be encouraging thoughtful development with renewable resources.

The game is enjoyable and easy to learn, at least once you realize that moving the controller is how the wind is steered, which was not obvious to me since I was playing this game at the Game Changers exhibit at the Science Museum of Minnesota and hadn’t bothered to read the instructions first. It is not a fast-paced or action-packed game, more of a leisurely exploration of a landscape seeking out those signs of life–there doesn’t seem to be any time limit so however long it takes to find those signs is however long it takes.

Striking use of color, as you progress through each level and wake it up from a black bleakness to a vivid life-filled wilderness.

Great audio to go with it.

Not particularly challenging, there are some parts that are harder than others–i.e. gather flower petals near the base of a dangerous electrical pylon, but you can compensate for that by taking it more slowly. The game is more about mood and color than about what might be arguably called a challenge.

Light on story and what’s there is mostly implied–the reviving of nature after an industrial onslaught.

Session Time
I’m not sure, I played it uninterrupted.

Very easy once you realize that tipping the controller is how you steer.

Wouldn’t expect much replayability.

Certainly felt very unique, both in its visual styling and the atypical focus and gameplay.

I’m honestly not sure, I didn’t play all the way through.

This is a worthwhile game to visit if you are interested in the use of visual design and styling, or if you’re more interested in mood and visuals than challenge (or at least can be interested by it even if you usually like a challenge). The game was released for several systems, including PS3, PS4, PS Vita, and Windows. You can buy it now from GOG for Windows systems for $7, or you might be able to find it used for the PS systems.

MOVIE REVIEW: The Secret Life of Pets 2

written by David Steffen

The Secret Life of Pets 2 is a 2019 computer-animated children’s comedy by Universal Pictures and Illumination, the sequel to the first movie from 2016 (which was reviewed here). As with the prior film, the cast of the film are pets living in a New York City apartment building, who venture out into the city to have adventures, unbeknownst to their owners.

This one is about… well, honestly that’s hard to pin down in a quick synopsis, because the cast of characters are plit from each other and having separate adventures for most of the movie. Max (Patton Oswalt, rather than the original actor Louis CK) and his newer dog family member Duke (Eric Stonestreet) are now used to each other, but their life is thrown into turmoil when their owner Katy (Ellie Kemper) gets married and has a baby, Liam (Henry Lynch). Max and Duke are apprehensive about the new member of the family at first, but as the child grows Max in particular grows a very close bond with him . When they take a family trip to relatives in the country, Max has his hands full trying to keep the kid safe in a new environment. Meanwhile, Gidget (Jenny Slate) back at home has been tasked with protecting Max’s favorite toy, and soon has to face a cat lady’s mob of semi-feral cats. And a new cast member, a Shih Tzu named Daisy (Tiffany Haddish) enlists the help of the rabbit Snowball (Kevin Hart), in helping rescue a captive tiger from a traveling circus.

As the synopsis might suggest, this movie is very scattered, which makes it hard to have a coherent read on the thing as a whole, and as a whole it was hard to really care about the stakes. And, the writing is not as good as the first one–the first one’s plot was not particularly good either, but there was better lines that were probably from standup comic. Overall it was pretty forgettable, there are much better kids movies

DP FICTION #54B: “Colonized Bodies, Desiccated Souls” by Nin Harris

The PPMS had cordoned off Jalan Mandailing. They had guards posted along the banks of Sungai Chua. But it was not enough. The battles ranged from midnight till the cock’s crow and the call for prayers every dawn while the sun painted delicate fingers of rose across a yellow ombre sky. In the daytime, the blistering heat of the day kept the undead under protective cover. Even in their present state the British could barely handle the heat of the tropics. Penghulu Udin discovered he was exceptionally good at killing the undead. He could spear them, decapitate them, blow them up or use the bamboo blowgun the way his Dayak ancestors had before they had travelled to Selangor to build a new life by marrying into the Javanese community. He learned how to construct bombs from the materials they’d scavenged from the army barracks. He’d trained a small army that grew larger, and larger. They’d called it the “Persatuan Pertahanan Manusia Sejagat” or the PPMS for short. Udin sometimes thought that they were being rather grandiose by calling themselves an alliance for the defense of all of humankind. But on other days, he felt that this was precisely what they were. It felt like they were defending more than their piece of the earth. It felt like they were defending all of humanity. He marvelled when no one challenged his command. Instead, they called him their Penghulu, as though the Alliance was a village. They were a community against the damned who had come from across the vast sea to colonise them. Their colonisers had been desiccated from the inside, transformed into the undead who cannibalised them in an entirely more literal way. The undead had been created from the contagion that infected every omputih in sight. All of the British running administrative duties, all of the navy, the army, the merchants and their wives, even their mixed-race offspring. Not a one was spared.

Humidity swathed the night as did the low-hanging mist that had been a persistent torment since the contagion started. Udin’s cotton shirt clung to his back, clumping against deep gouges that were slow in healing. The contagion had not spread to him. None of the Asian denizens of Kajang were infected by what had turned the colonial soldiers, officials and merchants into shambling beings with eyes that rotated biliously within desiccated sockets. Not even when they had been scratched, gouged, and even half-consumed. There were members of the PPMS who had missing limbs, eyes, and various maimed body parts. And yet, none of them had transformed into the undead. 

The hunger had transformed Sir Roger Lawford into a mindless, drooling automaton of preternatural gluttony. Udin had himself shot the nobleman with a rifle he had taken from the corpse of an undead lieutenant. Lawford had been a stiffly starched man with a stiffly starched wife. He had two children who liked to beat and pinch their amahs, their cooks, and the children of the servants who lived in their mansion. That mansion was now gutted; the ravenous members of the Lawford family had glutted themselves on the brains, meats and marrow of their servants before they were killed by Udin and his men. Udin had ordered the construction of a bamboo fence around it, and around all the homes of the omputih who colonised them. That fence had been studded with metal spikes and small sachets with holy verses pinned inside them. It held the undead back, but unholy hunger caused them to persevere against the orisons and vigilant guard of the PPMS comprising the Mandailings, the Bugis, the Tamil and the Hakka population of Klang. 

Udin wiped the sweat off his brow as he removed his cotton shirt. The muscles of his aching pectorals and upper arms strained as he reached to clean and dress the wounds that gouged his back. He used the iodine and bandages from one of the many first aid kits they had scavenged from the hospital and the army barracks. Wincing, he washed and then applied iodine to the lacerations. It hurt, but at least the wounds would not be infected. Udin was careful about that. He could not afford to die. He needed to protect the people he loved. Salmah, Nyonya Salleh and his many Dayak-Javanese cousins. He then bandaged himself as best he could.

“Din,” came a soft whisper in the night. “Udin. Are you there?”

“Yes sayang, I am here. I was just dressing my wounds,” his voice was mellow and warm as he replied. 

“You were wounded again?” an odd edge of panic inflected Salmah’s voice as her footsteps shambled on the plank boardwalk outside their hut.

Udin said, “Like every other night, sayang. It’s nothing new to us, kan?”

They had fought in different sectors today for the twenty-first day in a row. He missed her badly. As Salmah grew more skilled in fighting, so was her leadership needed to keep the undead at bay – delegation involved also one’s beloved in these exigent times. No one could shoot a rifle like Salmah, and she was nonpareil in the reloading of weapons with bullets during tight situations. When she took charge, no one argued with her. He never could win any argument with her, he thought, melting with both fondness and longing. Udin hoped they would have time for more than just food and banter tonight. His back hurt, and his soul was weary. He was in need of physical comfort. 

Udin moved to slide the door open. Salmah crawled in bearing with her a tiffin carrier fragrant with the Peranakan cuisine he so enjoyed. “I visited Nyonya Salleh earlier and despatched some zombie corporals who were trying to break into her house. She packed this for us. Her Ayam Pongteh and Jiu Hu Char is inside. She also made otak-otak,” Salmah said with a strained, yet impish smile. 

Udin couldn’t help but laugh at the irony. “Otak-otak! Nyonya Salleh is a funny one. I hope there’s no otak in the otak-otak!”

“Eesh, tak adalah, Udin. She managed to get some fish and she remembered how much you liked this. You know, from the days before the disease changed everything.” 

Salmah trailed off, her voice uncertain in the silence. 

Udin was reminded of the days when he was just a boy working in the printing press owned by Pak Salleh, Nyonya Salleh’s husband. The days before the Undead Wars began, barely a quarter of a century after the Selangor Civil War that had helped shaped the town of Kajang and the destiny of its inhabitants. No one knew when the first infection spread. Only that the disembowelled human bodies started to stack up, attracting flies. Only that grey-skinned walking corpses started to crowd Jalan Reko, Jalan Mandailing and teemed along the banks of Sungai Chua until they were beaten back. There were no guides. They learned how to kill the undead through trial and error. Through fire, through decapitation, through nightly recitations of Quranic verses and the help of the pak bomohs and the pawangs. Bamboo seemed to frighten the undead and so bamboo walls poisoned with holy water kept the British at bay. But it was not enough. It created safe spaces but the undead British kept coming at them.


At least a dozen of his men patrolled the perimeters of the watch-house, but they left Udin within for his moments of privacy. He took what moments he could have. Alone, and with Salmah. Everything he did, he did to make Kajang safe again for Salmah.

He told himself this, and believed it with all of his heart. 

Quietly, he helped Salmah unpack the food. He enjoyed the quiet moments of domesticity that they were still able to share.

“You eat first, Udin, I’ll take over the watch.” She wiped her face where it was scratched. Udin stilled. He had not noticed that she had been wounded.

“Salmah, are you fine, sayang?” he asked.

“Sure, I just had to kill five of the undead on the way here. It’s nothing to be concerned about. I’ve killed more than that before,” said Salmah with some nonchalance as she stretched to undo the frizzy topknot on her head. She smoothed her long fingers through her ikal mayang tresses before she redid them into a sanggul at the nape of her elegant neck.

She was so beautiful, his Minangkabau love. 

They were supposed to have been wed in the Minangkabau way. The Minangs were a matrilineal people but Udin loved that about Salmah. Loved that she took charge in their relationship. Loved the life they had made together out of cooperation and mutual trust. They were going to be married. But then their family and friends had been consumed by the undead. They had been left in disemboweled piles outside their home before the PPMS had been formed out of grief and anger. They had to be burned because they had no time for Muslim burials. Even the pak imam who would have married them was dead and the mosques had become infested with the undead. Udin and Salmah decided to live together in sin anyway. After all, who knew how long they had to live?

Nobody in the PPMS seemed to mind, mostly because theirs was not the only such arrangement. Lovers huddled together to take what comforts as could be had against the encroaching horrors of the night.

“If you’re sure, sayang. Iodine’s in the first aid box. Do you want me to…,” he began, half getting up to help clean her scratches.

“No, no. Just eat your dinner, I’ll grab the first aid box.” said Salmah. Her voice sounded oddly distracted and almost distorted as she rummaged through the supplies in the watch-house they had built together along the banks of Sungai Chua, the river that was the lifeblood of Kajang.

Reassured by Salmah’s confident movements as she removed her kebaya to fully clean her wounds, Udin started his dinner. He dished out rice, ayam pongteh and the jiu hu char onto the enameled plate they kept in the watch-house. Carefully, he opened the last tiffin container where steamed otak-otak lay, fragrant and redolent of fish lightly spiced and seasoned with fresh herbs from Nyonya Salleh’s courtyard garden.

He ate carefully, delicately even. His table manners often amused Salmah.

“Will our children be as delicate as you, bang?” Salmah had asked him more than once during his courtship of her when he’d been an assistant printer in a printing press. When he’d been saving his money for their wedding.

“Delicate? Me? Excuse me, I am manly and strong,” he would say and show off his forearms just so she knew.

She would laugh fondly at him but always bring him more food from her mother’s Nasi Padang stall that had been popular with the Sumatran workers along Jalan Reko. Salmah’s mother had been a Minangkabau widow who had never remarried. She had been one of the casualties of this long war. He had held Salmah as she wept in abject sorrow at her orphanhood, that first horrific night when this new war had begun between the living and the undead.

“Udin,” began Salmah, snuffling a little as she spoke. Her voice sounded almost distorted.

“Yes, sayang?” he said absentmindedly as he picked at the otak-otak, which tasted creamy and succulent, flavoured delicately with turmeric leaves. It was possibly why this piscine delicacy had been named after brains, Udin mused.

“There’s something I never told you about my father, `din.”

“What is it? I thought he was a fisherman who died at sea?” he said as he licked his fingers. 

Done with his dinner, Udin grabbed a canister filled with water from Sungai Chua. He washed his hands quietly in the glow of the hurricane lamp that sat on an emptied wooden arms crate. Behind him, a rustling sound as Salmah tidied up the hut.

“Actually, he was a naval officer, `din. My mother…and he — they never married. He left her here in Kajang to make her fate. She and my grandmother raised me. She told everyone she was a widow.”

“Oh Salmah, who are we of all people to judge, after all we’ve been through together? You know I will stick with you through it all.”

He laughed gently at what he supposed was a confession that she thought would shock him as he pulled out a pilfered cheroot, snipping off the edges before he lit it for a post-dinner smoke. This was part of the stash he looted from Sir Roger Lawford’s mansion, along with many gold ingots and jewelry. One day, when this was all over, he would build a fine home for Salmah and their many children from the proceeds of his many lootings. In this new world created by horror, who really cared about bloodlines, ancestry and legitimacy anymore, kan?

The snuffling grew louder as she said, “No, Udin, it’s worse than that. I’m so afraid to tell you. So afraid…”

Salmah’s voice sounded even more distorted as she wheezed. Outside, only the sound of the waters of Sungai Chua lapping against the pier could be heard. Where were his men? Usually the sound of their chatter would be loud enough that it inhibited Udin a little when he wanted some comfort from Salmah.

The edge of his hunger blunted, Udin suddenly realized something was seriously wrong. It was too quiet outside. There was a strange tension inside. The air felt unbearable. But he could not turn to look at her. Udin could not explain why. Foreboding pebbled his bare skin. 

Udin started breathing in shallow gasps. He removed the cheroot from his lips before a strange anxiety caused him to return to smoking, almost desperately.

In the silence, Salmah’s snuffling sounded almost animalistic. The confines of the watch-house felt unbearably small. The urge to scream clotted his airways.

Finally, he forced himself to ask, “Salmah, are you feeling alright? You haven’t been resting. If you have the flu you should take the vitamins that are in that other first aid kit we grabbed from the barracks when we killed those soldiers. It’s beside the gunnysack of rice I grabbed from that warehouse last night.”

He knew his words were a lie even as he said them. Perhaps he was trying to delay the inevitable. Perhaps he was just feverish from the wounds. Perhaps they were infected. Perhaps…

Udin’s voice trailed off as he listened to her laboured breathing. A familiar stench filled the confines of room. He inhaled the tobacco smoke, not wanting to accept what was happening. He dragged on the cheroot as though it would save his life.

Salmah began to speak. He did not want to hear the rest of what she was going to say, but there was no avoiding it, was there? It was an inevitability. 

“Udin, my father, he was an Anglo-Indian. He grew up in India with the other Anglo-Indian children. Udin. I’ve been lying to you because I was afraid…afraaaid of losing you. And I was hoping foolishly enough that I would be skillful enough to avoid being infected. But now, Udin…”

Salmah’s voice trailed off into a night that now manifested into Udin’s cold horror. The truth he did not want to acknowledge from the moment she entered the watch-house, with that strange, glassy look in her eyes.

Udin was still stubbornly reluctant to look up. “Look at me, Udin.”

“I can’t, Salmah. I can’t,” he said. If his men saw him as he was now, they would shoot him as a traitor, he thought. As a coward. So be it, then. Salmah had always been the strong one. She had always been the real Penghulu here. Perhaps the PPMS was now lost.

Fortunately, he would be dead before the PPMS got to him, he thought.

“Please, look at me, Udin. I need you to see me as I am now,” she begged.

“Salmah. I will always love you. If you’re going to kill me, please be quick and gentle about it, but I want to remember you the way I loved you.”

“Udin, please look at me. Udin,” she begged.

“I can’t, Salmah. If I do, I don’t know what I’ll do. I’d rather you kill me than I kill you.”

She sobbed as Udin sat as still as stone, as cold as death. His gut churned with the food she said came from Nyonya Salleh. He did not dare question too deeply what he had consumed, what had winged its way into his body. He controlled his gag reflex.

He was meat, and he was to be killed. But he would not kill her.

An exhalation like a tender sigh caressed the contours of his face as Salmah’s desiccated fingers ran through his hair. 

“Selamat tinggal, Udin. I really wish you’d look at me, just once.”

Silence descended like a death sentence.

Udin clenched, waiting for a mortal blow that never arrived. He did not know how long he lay still, until the cool breeze of the night air was all that he could feel. Until the stench abated because of the winds that blew in through the open door. He opened his eyes. His men were still silent. Too silent. Oh Salmah, he thought with sorrow. One night, he’d have to face off with her. One night, if the PPMS had not now been obliterated by the growing army of the colonial undead.

Alone in a house they had built together amidst a fortress of bamboo, Udin made his preparations. The undead feared the bamboo. The bomohs and the pawangs who worked for Udin’s army believed this. Another lie, Udin acknowledged with a bitter smile. Another lie they told themselves as they tried to fortify against the encroaching night with its attendant contagions. Outside, the sound of thousands of shambling feet. Udin got up, and pulled out his rifle. As the first pair of misshapen hands pulled apart the wooden planks of the watch- house, he took aim and fired.


But in the jungle that surrounded Kajang a lone woman strode with her rifle. A woman of two cultures, made monstrous by one and rejected by the other. A woman rejected by her lover. With the easily shambling steps of a zombie and the military skills that she had cultivated, she unconsciously mimicked the desperate gestures of her former lover. She too, slowly took aim and fired. And fired some more. She fired at both the human, and the zombie host alike until there were no more left for any war.

Salmah kept walking without feeding on the hosts she had decimated, bolstered by anger, fed by grief. Salmah walked until she reached the pier, until she reached the port. Salmah walked until she found a boat she could navigate on her own into the Straits of Malacca, into the arms of a remote island in the Malay Archipelago where she could exist and feed, undisturbed. There, Salmah built her home at the base of a dead volcano that broke away into the sea, and laid out her traps for errant fishermen. If they looked like Udin, she plucked out their eyeballs and swallowed them whole.

© 2019 by Nin Harris

Author’s Note: This story was inspired by a postulate I gave in my creative writing lecture about writing impossible things within an ordinary setting. For us, the ordinary setting would be the town of Kajang which is next door to our university. I then threw in zombies to my example, and while I was telling them the story about Udin the zombie-killer, the story took a life of its own and I knew I had to write it down. Along the way issues of hybridity and of passing crept in (I am mixed-race) and then I wrote an ending that surprised even me!

Nin Harris is an author, poet, and tenured postcolonial Gothic scholar who exists in a perpetual state of unheimlich. Nin writes Gothic fiction, cyberpunk, nerdcore post-apocalyptic fiction, planetary romances and various other forms of hyphenated weird fiction. Nin’s publishing credits include Clarkesworld, Uncanny Magazine, Strange Horizons, The Dark, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Lightspeed.

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written by David Steffen

Shazam! is a superhero action/comedy movie released in April 2019, distributed by Warner Bros Pictures, based on the DC Comics character first seen in 1939.

In 1974, a boy named Thaddeus Sivana (Ethan Pugiotto) is inexplicably transported to the home of a wizard (Djimon Hounsou) who says he is looking for someone pure of heart to take over his duty to protect the world from the embodiment of the seven deadly sins who are imprisoned in statues in that place. The old man finds Thaddeus wanting and sends him back with nothing. For the next several decades, the wizard continues his search, finding no one who meets his criteria and an adult Thaddeus (Mark Strong) completes his lifelong quest to find the wizard again and free the seven deadly sins.

Meanwhile, in the modern day, 13 year old Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is a runaway foster kid on a quest to find his mother from whom he was separated when he was small. He has been bouncing from foster home to foster home for quite some time and has no intention of settling anywhere until he finds his mom.

He is assigned to a foster home run by Victor (Cooper Andrews) and Rosa Vasquez (Marta Milans) with five other foster siblings, including Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer) who is a superhero fanatic in a world that actually has superheroes (he has a bullet that hit Superman). Determined to stay aloof from his new foster family as he prepares to make his next break for it, Billy is magically transported (as Thaddeus was decades before) to the home of the wizard, who finds Billy worthy and grants him immense magical powers by saying the wizard’s name: “Shazam!”. He finds himself back in normalcy, except that the magical powers have changed him into a muscular grown-up body (Zachary Levi) in a permanent superhero costume with magical powers that he doesn’t know how to control yet. Driven to desperation by this turn of events, he returns to the foster home to recruit Freddy’s help, and Freddy is happy to contribute to this new superhero’s origin story.

I have generally preferred Marvel movies to DC movies and the biggest reason for that is that it seems like most recent DC movies (certainly with some exceptions) have focused entirely on the brooding and the dark, while Marvel movies seem to have figured out how to strike a balance between darkness and light. This movie, to me, shows me that DC can do that mix really well when they get the right talent behind the movies. There were quite a few darker moments, while the movie in general is pretty light some of the scenes with the villain and his crew of sins are likely to give some kids nightmares if they see it, much of the movie is about the growing friendship between Billy/Shazam and Freddy as they document and explore Shazam’s superpowers, and about the rest of the foster family. The movie does a good job with action, but what really makes it is the friendships and the family and the fun and love that comes from that.

Great movie, really enjoyed it, solid acting all around, great writing, there are a few parts that might be too scary for young kids. I highly recommend it.

MOVIE REVIEW: Descendants

written by David Steffen

Descendants is a 2015 Disney Channel original live-action musical movie based in the United States of Auradon where each kingdom is based on an iconic Disney movie, but 20 years later.  Twenty years before marked the end of ALL of the Disney movie stories, when the now-united kingdoms all apparently vanquished their biggest villains simultaneously, and locked them away on a magicless prison island to leave Auradon safe.

Prince Ben’s (Mitchell Hope) coronation is near.  He is the son of Belle and Beast, the rulers of the Aurodon, and Ben has decided that his first official proclomation will be that he will start giving the second generation of the island a first chance at a decent life–the villains have had children on the island and those children are likewise confined.  As part of a pilot program, he chooses Mal (Dove Cameron, of Disney Channel’s Liv and Maddie)–the daughter of Maleficent, Evie (Sofia Carson)–the daughter of Evil Queen of Snow White, Carlo (Cameron Boyce, of Disney Channel’s Jesse)–son of Cruella DeVille, and Jay (Booboo Stewart)–son of Jafar.  The reluctant teenagers are invited to become students at Auradon and try to rehabilitate there, and they’re pressured by their parents (especially Maleficent) to accept the invitation in order to find a way while they’re in Auradon to unlock the barrier securing the prison island.  But soon they find that there are things that appeal to each of them about living in Auradon.

This movie is reasonably fun, and has plenty of eye candy for teenagers, whether you like boys or girls.  The songs are decidedly pop, but some of them are quite catchy, especially “Did I Mention”.  The main quartet of actors are very likable–we initially watched it because we like Dove Cameron on Liv and Maddie–while being just rebellious enough to chafe at the standards of Auradon which is sort of a utopian fairy tale world especially with all the villains locked away (and apparently no new villains presenting themselves in that vacuum).  I particularly like Evie and her playful smartass attitude.

It’s… not a premise that holds up under close examination, or… even casual examination.  It doesn’t make any sense whatsoever for all of those Disney movies to be coincidental in time while also being geographically located close enough that uniting them makes any kind of sense.  Jafar being present implies one geographical area and time period, while Mulan implies a completely different one, while Cruella DeVille implies much more modern and a different location again.  Maybe you could explain this all away with some kind of unprecedented collision of parallel worlds, but otherwise the premise makes no sense whatsoever.  And the fact that all of these heroes and all of these villains all have kids at the same age, despite the villains and heroes themselves very often not having been the same age–i.e. Maleficent is a fairy, and I always got the impression she was a pretty old one, so why does she have exactly one daughter who happens to be the same age as everyone else’s kids?

Along the same lines, the backstory is pretty muddled.  It makes offhand references to the origin movies of the characters, such as mentioning poison apples or Maleficent not having been invited to Aurora’s christening.  But there are also a lot of details that don’t fit in with the original continuity–particularly the survival of villains who died in the original films.  So it’s not really clear to me how I’m supposed to accept the original movies as their backstory when there is clear evidence that that’s not the case.  I’m sure I’m overthinking it, but that’s what I do.

Bit of a spoiler: This one also depended pretty heavily on one of the main character’s using a love potion, which is an element that’s creepy as hell–maybe it’s understandable since she has been pushed her whole life to be evil, but it did bother me how little a consequence for slipping the soon-to-be-king a magical drug that robbed him of choice had. (note that the song I mentioned as being particularly catchy was an immediate reaction in the plot of the movie to the love potion)

But, anyway, if you like catchy pop musicals that are heavy with Disney camp, but you don’t care too much about backstory and continuity making sense, then you might like this movie!

There is also a sequel released in 2017, and another in production after that.


written by David Steffen

herstoryHer Story is a keyword searching mystery game developed by Sam Barlow and released in 2015.

The game begins with you looking at a console program on what appears to be a Windows 95 machine.  The program has a search box with the word “murder” in it, and 4 video clips are shown as search results–it is a police video archival program.  Each of the videos are samples from interviews of a woman after the disappearance and apparent murder of her husband Simon.  The videos only show her answers to questions, but not the questions themselves, and the videos are all transcribed and searchable for keywords, but for each search you can only view up to five video results.
20161230132335_1What actually happened?  If you can find enough of the videos in the database, taken from 7 different interviews, you’ll be able to piece together the story and figure out everything.  As you learn more you will gather more ideas about what to search for–people’s names, location names, or key objects that might be referenced as evidence are all of especial importance, since those are likely to be the topic of interview questions.  The game is finished when you have watched enough of the videos to piece together what happened–you can keep playing to find all of the videos if you like.

The lone actor in the game is Viva Seifert, who I thought did a good job of portraying the character–you feel like you know her by the end, and her little conversational and behavioral quirks.

20161230131356_1The game is a really interest take on storytelling, watching a story out of order and told by a possibly unreliable narrator.  You hear the story in associative order rather than chronological and that makes it quite interesting. It makes you think about the problems with hearing just part of a story out of context. Trying to think of new keywords to search feels sort of like you’re participating in the interviews, trying to figure out what questions to ask.

Video footage on top of a Windows 95 style interface, appropriate for the story.

Just the voice that goes with the recordings.

Not challenging in the way that most games are, but it makes you think in a different way–trying to figure out keywords is kindof like trying to figure out what questions to ask in an interrogation.  Trying to uncover the whole story takes some work, but mostly is about perseverence and wanting to find out the whole story.

The game is pretty much ALL story, with the element of a possible unreliable narrator (police interview regarding a murder investigation gives an air of unreliable narrator).  So story is everything for this, and uncovering it piece by piece.

Session Time
The game keeps track of what videos you’ve watched, and it keeps the result of your most recent query loaded if you quit and bring it up again, so it’s easy to shut down and pick up where you left off.  Most of the videos are pretty short, sometimes as much as a few minutes, but often only a few seconds, so it’s pretty easy to take  a break within a couple of minutes.

Simple controls–just a text searching window, then click on video to play, can add keywords to help searching control.  If you can use any kind of graphical user interface, you should be able to use this pretty easily.

Once you have watched a certain portion of the videos, then the game offers you the chance to reach the ending.  Beyond that there is still some extra playing in terms of trying to find all of the videos, so there’s a bit of replaying (if not much).  This extra play is facilitated in that when you reach the ending, you get some codes to be able to view up to 15 results instead of 5, or to view a random video.  Note that if you want to see all of the videos, I believe it’s necessary to use the random video command to reach a few of them.

Never seen another game based around keyword searching in video archives, so definitely felt very original to me.

The game took about 3 hours for me to find all of the videos.  This felt like a good length because I was finding interesting new footage to the end.

Neat original idea.  The possibly unreliable narrator coupled with hearing the story in basically associative order rather than chronological made it interesting to try to find more pieces of the story to get the whole picture.  This had me engrossed from beginning to end.  $6 on Steam.



MOVIE REVIEW: The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

written by David Steffen

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part is a computer-animated children’s comedy action movie produced by Warner Animation Group, the sequel to 2014’s The Lego Movie (reviewed here).

Five Years have passed since the dark events of Taco Tuesday when President Business (Will Ferrell) tried to use the CRAGL to fix all of the Lego people and Lego worlds into permanent positions, and since the first visitors from Planet Duplo arrived and started attacking the citizens of Bricksburg. Now Bricksburg has become a wasteland known as Apocalypseburg, with all of the Mad Max style post-apocalyptic treatments, warriors with custom-modified vehicles in dusty windblown ruins of the city. As a matter of safety they avoid building anything pretty, because that attracts the others from beyond the Stairgate to come and destroy again.

Everyone has adjusted to this new gritty post-apoc future. Except Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt), who still thinks everything is awesome, and acts like nothing has changed. Something new comes to visit them, Sweet Mayhem (Stephanie Beatriz), an envoy from Queen Watevra W’nabi (Tiffany Haddish), and kidnaps Batman (will Arnett), Lucy (Elizabeth Banks), Benny (Charlie Day), MetalBeard (Nick Offerman), and Unikitty (Alison Brie), and takes them through the Stairgate to the Systar system. Only Emmet can bring them back.

As with the first movie, there is a parallel real-life human story that provides a structure around which the movie is built, and justifying some of the plot points which otherwise wouldn’t make sense. It’s this set of parallels that are one of the best parts about these movies. While this one doesn’t have the inherent novelty of the first in the series, they did a great job building on that, in particular in how the children who are now five years older, interact and how that produces the plot of this movie.

The one thing I wish they’d done a little more of is to give some more development to the returning secondary characters (like Unikitty and MetalBeard), I felt like those were kind of glossed over, probably just for time constraints. But otherwise I thought it was a solid entry in the series and well worth seeing.

I would definitely recommend seeing the first movie first, because both the Lego plotline and the human family side of it would benefit from knowing where they came from.


written by David Steffen


You are the Chili Pepper Knight, and you have already vanquished your foe and rescued the princess. But, now, time is rolling backwards and you have to replay the game in reverse, in this comedy platformer from Megafuzz in 2013.

This is harder than you might think, because if you take any actions that contradict original events, then there’s a time paradox that resets the level and you have to redo it.  If you see a dead enemy, you have to make sure you unkill the enemy to revive it.  If you see a live enemy, you have to AVOID unkilling it, since it never died in the first place.  If you see a collected coin you have to uncollect.  If you see an uncollected coin, you have to avoid touching it.  And so on.  The Chili Pepper Knight is constantly running so you’ve got to figure out when to jump to match all of these rules, and different rules apply when the Chili Pepper Knight has a power up like the dragon suit where you have to catch your own fireballs as they come flying back at you.
The concept is simple, the gameplay is simple, and the game’s not particularly long, but it’s an interesting puzzle to wrap your hand around and to get the hang of.

Simple, cartoony, but fun.

Simple, but fun.

Not too terribly challenging once you get the hang of it, but it’s a fun distraction while it lasts.

The story is pretty slight, and even more so when it’s told in reverse–the conversations with the boss characters are more than a bit silly (nothing wrong with that, mind you).  And there’s not really any explanation for why it’s all rewinding, not that it has to.

Session Time
Each level takes at most a minute or two, and it saves which levels you’ve completed and how well, so it’s pretty easy to shut it off when you need to, making it easy to digest in short spurts.

Easy.  The character is always running (backward) at a constant rate, so most of the time your only choice is to jump.  When you have special powerup suits you will also have extra powers that will be one extra button, but still quite simple.

There is some replayability in terms of trying to go back and beat each level on your first try, as well as other achievements, and a time trial which strings all the levels back to back nonstop so that to get a perfect score you would have to make it all the way through the game without making any mistakes.  So if you’re into that kind of challenge it’s there for you.  There is also a level editor where you can set up your own challenges.

I have certainly never played another game based around trying to avoid time paradoxes in a reverse chronological gameplay, so certainly original!

I played through the whole game in about 50 minutes, without any particular effort at playing back through to beat each level on the first try or to beat the time trial.  I would’ve liked if the game had been longer.

Amusing game concept with came with some weird and fun game dynamics.  The game is not very long and didn’t wear out its concept in that time–I would’ve liked for it to be a bit longer, but it was pretty fun while it lasted, if not particularly challenging.  $3 on Steam.

BOOK REVIEW: End of Watch by Stephen King

written by David Steffen

End of Watch is a speculative mystery book by Stephen King, the third in a series of mystery books about retired detective Bill “Kermit” Hodges.  The first book in the series is Mr. Mercedes, the second book is Finders Keepers.  The nature of the series means that I can’t really describe the contents of this book without major spoilers for the other books, especially Mr. Mercedes.  So, if you don’t want those spoiled, stop right here.

In Mr. Mercedes a dozen people were killed lining up early in the morning for a local job fair by a stolen car plowing through the line, and police are baffled.  But when the killer tries to goad depressed retired detective Bill Hodges into committing suicide, Hodges finds a new reason to live as he sets out to catching him.  With the help of his neighbor Jerome Robinson and newly-made friend Holly Hodges, they catch the killer–Brady Hartsfield just before he sets off a suicide bomb in the middle of a pop concert filled with teenage girls.  Holly clocks him over the head with a sock full of ball bearings and puts Hartsfield in a coma.

In End of Watch, Brady is waking, and there’s something different about him.  The nurses complain that things move around his room when no one is touching them.

Meanwhile, Hodges’s old police partner Pete brings him and Holly (who run detective agency Finders Keepers) to the scene of an apparent suicide.  There’s something fishy about the suicide doesn’t seem right to Pete.

As you might guess, suicide is a prevalent and recurring element of this book, so if that’s a topic you have trouble reading about, you should just skip this book entirely.

It’s hard to talk too much more about it, because a lot of the book is discovering all the details about it.  It’s a solid character story and the sections following the villain are straight-up horrific.

This is a solid finish to the story started in Mr. Mercedes (after a not-bad but extremely tangential second book), the book as a whole is a decent Stephen King books.  The ending I found a little bit weak but the rest of the book more than makes up for it.