Largest launch in Xbox history declared

Welcome back fellow Xbox fans, geeks and gamers! The new generation of console gaming has begun with the twin-launch of the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S done around the world. Even though there were not too many images of gamers and long-time Xbox fans lining up at retailers or at special launch-related events to buy the new consoles (due to the pandemic which changed life and business the way we know it), the launch has been declared the largest in Xbox history.

On Twitter, Xbox chief Phil Spencer posted: Thank you for supporting the largest launch in Xbox history. In 24 hrs more new consoles sold, in more countries, than ever before. We’re working with retail to resupply as quickly as possible. You continue to show us the connective power of play is more important than ever.

As you can see above, Spencer declared the launch as being the largest just as he thanked those who supported it. While no sales figures were provided, he stressed that more new consoles were launched in more countries this time which means that they already exceeded the respective launch of Xbox One in 2013. In retrospect, Microsoft sold over a million units of Xbox One at launch.

The new generation of console gaming has officially started with Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S now making their way through retailers worldwide.

With regards to supply, Spencer stated that they will resupply their retailers so that those who failed to secure a unit at launch won’t be left behind. It should be stated that retail giant Amazon told a certain number of their customers that Xbox Series X units ordered through them won’t be available until the end of the year. It should be noted that Amazon itself is a rival a Microsoft’s when it comes to cloud-related business and making gaming available to billions of people around the world. Delays regarding the two Xbox Series consoles also hit Canada and the United Kingdom. When it comes to launching games overseas, Yakuza: Like a Dragon reportedly (note: local publication Game Watch the source) has been delayed. Team Xbox needs to work on these issues.

In relation to the launch, EA Play has been made available to Xbox Game Pass (XGP) ultimate subscribers. This means that the said subscribers who own Xbox consoles – including the brand new Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S – will be provided EA Play membership for free and this will enable them to are able to play many games. Think about the many sports games, first-person shooters, role-playing games (RPGs), racing games and many other games from EA being offered apart from the many games already listed under Xbox Game Pass own lineup. Definitely there is no shortage of games to play at launch and backward compatibility is also a factor. With regards to the Xbox ecosystem, XGP Ultimate subscribers will be able download and play games from EA Play’s library on their Windows 10 personal computers starting this December.

By the way, do you own a copy of the acclaimed Xbox One-exclusive Gears 5? The said game has been relaunched along with the Xbox Series consoles with technical optimization for the said machines. The main campaign of the game has been updated and includes Dave Bautista (presented as WWE’s Batista) as Xbox icon Marcus Fenix. This is the closest thing Xbox and Gears of War fans will have to a live-action movie adaptation. For the newcomers reading this, Bautista appeared in two Guardians of the Galaxy movies, Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame and the James Bond movie Spectre.

More on Gears 5, the game takes advantage of the new technology of the Xbox Series consoles and this means heavily reduced load times, utilization of Quick Resume (now one of the most notable new features only on the new consoles), reduced input latency (meaning improved responsiveness), variable rate shading (a key feature of AMD’s RDNA 2) and the super smooth 120 frames-per-second frame rate in Versus mode. With regards to Xbox Series X, the game is presented in 4K resolution thanks to the Ultra-HD pack and Ultra-Spec graphics that were previously only made available to PC gamer. As if that was not enough, developer The Coalition prepared new features for the Gears 5 campaign, new achievements (worth almost 100 Gamerscore points), etc.

Gamers of Gears 5 transitioning from Xbox One consoles into Xbox Series consoles will be delighted to know that it will take only a push of a button to download the update and download the next-generation version of the game via Smart Delivery for free!

In relation to the availability of Xbox Series consoles, over forty new games (including 30 games optimized for the new generation) have been made available and Team Xbox made the effort to ensure that Xbox Series consoles owners will play the best versions of the games they owned (for consoles) across the generations. While a lot has been showcased about the acclaimed Forza Horizon 4 optimized for the new consoles, it should be noted that Halo: The Master Chief Collection has also been optimized and ALL Halo games have been improved to run at higher resolutions and higher frame rates as well. Being a long-time Halo gamer myself, being able to replay past Halo games way above the 30FPS limits alone is very enticing.

When it comes to the near future, be aware that starting November 18, 2020, cloud gaming will debut in Australia, Brazil, Japan and Mexico via the Project xCloud Preview program.

Project xCloud General Manager and Head of Product Catherine Gluckstein wrote: In each of these four markets we’ll begin with this Preview to test, iterate, and gather your feedback. And next year, we’ll move to the next step and bring cloud gaming to these markets as part of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate; this is an important step in our journey as we look to reach more gamers around the world. 

2020 has brought challenges to all of us, but we hope that cloud gaming simply opens up new ways for you to play when and how you choose. Enjoy Master Chief anywhere and everywhere when you play on your phone, get some laps in on Forza while someone else occupies the TV, or to try out a new-to-you Xbox game. Cloud gaming makes it possible to play those top titles on your Android phone or tablet. 

Come join us in Preview as we test and learn in Australia, Brazil, Japan and Mexico. During this Preview you’ll have access to a curated library of great games for free, including favorites from Xbox Game Studios such as “Minecraft Dungeons,” “Halo: The Master Chief Collection” and “Forza Horizon 4” in addition to some fantastic content from our partners such as “Black Desert,” “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds,” and “Yakuza 0.” 

Our Project xCloud Preview is currently supported on Android phones and tablets through the Xbox Game Streaming (Preview) app in the Google Play Store, available in English, Spanish, Portuguese and Japanese.

Anyone who wants to join can register online.  

Finally, GameSpot published a feature article highlighting their recent talk with Phil Spencer about Xbox and several related topics.

I find notable how the head of Xbox reacted towards GameSpot’s mentioning of a Bloomberg report which said that several developers in Japan have been approached by Microsoft about acquisition.

Let’s see how receptive gamers in Japan are towards the new Xbox consoles.

When asked if there was any truth to the report, Spencer responded: I don’t think so. I say, I don’t think so… I mean, I’m not in every meeting that every team has, but I’ll say not from me. Most of the opportunities that we’ve had to date have been a long-lasting relationship, and so, I don’t think we’re out there with our business card, throwing them out on the corner, trying to find people. I’ve talked about my affinity for Japanese studios and thinking back in the day when we had more games that were created in Japan as part of our first party, I’m excited when the deal closes to get to spend more time with Tango [Gameworks] and the work that they’re doing. So it’s an area that I’m interested in, but no, I don’t think it’s… I think that’s not accurate.

Spencer also expressed his view about the Asian market from a gaming standpoint and noted how different the Japanese market is compared to those in Korea, China and Southeast Asia. He also stated that he has an affinity for all the amazing creators based in Japan and he spent a lot of time there and wants to make sure those creators see Xbox as a great place for their games. It should be stated, in relation to what was said, that a free downloadable demo of Dragon Quest XI S is now available via the Xbox Store. The blockbuster Japanese RPG will be released in full on December 4, 2020 for Xbox One, Windows 10 PC and – via backward compatibility and XGP – on Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S.

Back to the interview, Spencer mentioned Mistwalker and their notable Xbox 360 JRPGs Lost Odyssey and Blue Dragon. Eventually, the interview focused on the upcoming RPG Elden Ring and when asked about it, the head of Xbox stated: I’ve seen actually quite a bit. I’ve played quite a bit.

In closing this article, here are some gaming-related videos for your enjoyment.

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Thank you for reading. If you find this article engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco and follow me at HavenorFantasy@twitter.com

For more Xbox-related stuff, check out the Xbox Series Philippines Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/XboxOnePH

Looking good on the way to Xbox Series consoles launch, Part 3

I should say it out loud. I am a long-time Xbox gamer (and I was once a PlayStation fanboy until I started playing Halo: Combat Evolved, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Forza Motorsport on the original Xbox console) and it is great that the next-generation Xbox Series S and Xbox Series X consoles will have backward compatibility right from the start.

Specifically, I started my Xbox journey (with an official Xbox LIVE account) in 2006 with the Xbox 360 console. I played lots of great games on that console such as Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Halo 3, Forza Motorsport 4, Lost Odyssey, Assassin’s Creed III, Grand Theft Auto V, Red Dead Redemption, Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and the Mass Effect trilogy just to name a few.

Even though the current 8th console generation was not too rosy for Xbox due to the weak 1st party game support on the part of Microsoft, I still enjoyed gaming on my Xbox One. The Outer Worlds was one of the best sci-fi RPGs I have ever played. Fallout 4 was just as engaging and as immersive Skyrim in my experience. Also I had great fun playing Red Dead Redemption 2.

That being said, I certainly do not want my past Xbox generation game collection – both physical media and digital copies – to just go to waste. This is why I really appreciate Team Xbox for implementing backward compatibility on the two Xbox Series consoles which will launch less than a month from now. I myself enjoyed replaying my favorite Xbox 360 games on my Xbox One  (a few among them were Red Dead Redemption, Lost Odyssey and the entire Mass Effect trilogy) and having the same feature for the next-generation is a very good thing!

On Xbox.com, Director of Program Management for Xbox Series X Jason Ronald explained the efforts their team made since the big breakthrough of 2015 plus other details about the tremendous addition of value backward compatibility brings to the Xbox Series S and Xbox Series X. Excerpt below:

Our compatibility journey began with the announcement of Xbox 360 Backwards Compatibility coming to Xbox One at E3 2015. I clearly remember that first magical experience of jumping into one of my favorite Xbox 360 games, Final Fantasy XIII, and instantly resuming where I had left off years before as if no time had passed at all. I was instantly transported back to that special time and all the great memories and personal connections I have made through gaming. The energy and passion from the community continues to motivate us to this day.

Through a tremendous amount of hard work, technical innovation, and partnership with the industry’s leading creators we were not only able to bring more than 500 Xbox 360 games to Xbox One, we were able to go back even further into the archives and resurrect some of your favorite franchises from the original Xbox. The very same team who created new innovative ways to preserve and enhance your existing catalog of games on Xbox One is the same team pushing the envelope again with Xbox Series X.

Maintaining compatibility presents a massive technical challenge as fundamental system and chip architectures advance across generations. Developers highly optimize their games to the unique capabilities and performance of a console to provide the best experience for their players. To make the Xbox Series X our most compatible console ever required both significant innovation in the design of the custom processor as well as the unique design of the Xbox operating system and hypervisor at the heart of our next generation platform.

With more than 100,000 hours of play testing already completed, thousands of games are already playable on Xbox Series X today, from the biggest blockbusters to cult classics and fan favorites. Many of us in Team Xbox play on the Xbox Series X daily as our primary console and switching between generations is seamless. By the time we launch this holiday, the team will have spent well over 200,000 hours ensuring your game library is ready for you to jump in immediately.

As seen in the paragraph right above, the 100,000 hours figure is very significant and it shows that no shortcuts were taken with regards to play testing and quality assurance. That figure is only rising and that is great dedication for not only Xbox fans with huge game collections but also consumers in general.

It should be noted that the more affordable Xbox Series S console will run backward compatibility a bit differently since it cannot render visuals in native 4K (it can however upscale in 4K). A September 14, 2020 update to Ronald’s article states:

the Xbox Series S runs the Xbox One S version of backward compatible games while applying improved texture filtering, higher and more consistent frame rates, faster load times and Auto HDR. As for next generation titles, Xbox Series S was designed to be the most affordable next generation console and play them at 1440P at 60fps.

The premium Xbox Series X console, unsurprisingly, has huge advantages for anyone who loves playing past games via backward compatibility. Enhanced visuals? Check! Improved frame rates? Check! Heavily reduced load times? Check! Much better performance? Check! Check out the excerpt below:

Not only should gamers be able to play all of these games from the past, but they should play better than ever before. Backwards compatible games run natively on the Xbox Series X hardware, running with the full power of the CPU, GPU and the SSD. No boost mode, no downclocking, the full power of the Xbox Series X for each and every backward compatible game. This means that all titles run at the peak performance that they were originally designed for, many times even higher performance than the games saw on their original launch platform, resulting in higher and more steady framerates and rendering at their maximum resolution and visual quality. Backwards compatible titles also see significant reductions in in-game load times from the massive leap in performance from our custom NVME SSD which powers the Xbox Velocity Architecture. As I play through my personal backlog as part of our internal testing, all of the incredible games from Xbox One and earlier play best on Xbox Series X.

The team was not content to just rely on the increased hardware performance to improve your playing experience. The team developed new platform level capabilities to ensure all of your games continue to get even better. In partnership with the Xbox Advanced Technology Group, Xbox Series X delivers a new, innovative HDR reconstruction technique which enables the platform to automatically add HDR support to games. As this technique is handled by the platform itself, it allows us to enable HDR with zero impact to the game’s performance and we can also apply it to Xbox 360 and original Xbox titles developed almost 20 years ago, well before the existence of HDR.

In addition, the new Quick Resume feature was designed to not only work with new games, but it can also be enabled for backward-compatible titles. Quick Resume enables players to resume exactly where they left off, across multiple titles, ensuring gamers can get right back to the fun in an instant.

Website Gaming Bolt recently published their own video explaining the so-called secrets of backward compatibility on Xbox Series X.

Going back to Jason Ronald’s article, it should be noted how dedicated their team is towards fans. The excerpt below:

Beginning with Xbox One X, the compatibility team developed brand new innovations that could be applied to a hand curated list of titles to enhance them even further than what was possible when they were first created. Techniques such as the Heutchy method, which enables titles to render with increased resolutions up to 4K, or applying anisotropic filtering to improve the final image quality bring these classic games up to modern standards, better than ever before.

With all of the additional power and advancements of the Xbox Series X, the compatibility team now has a veritable playground of new capabilities to innovate and push the limits of game preservation and enhancement. The compatibility team has invented brand new techniques that enable even more titles to run at higher resolutions and image quality while still respecting the artistic intent and vision of the original creators. We are also creating whole new classes of innovations including the ability to double the frame rate of a select set of titles from 30 fps to 60 fps or 60 fps to 120 fps.

The team also continues to listen to feedback from the community on additional titles you would like to see added to the compatibility program.

With the enhancements confirmed, check out Window Central Gaming’s comparative YouTube video of Monster Hunter World running on Xbox One X (currently the most powerful gaming console available) and Xbox Series X.

As of this writing, the backward compatibility feature on the Xbox Series consoles covers lots of titles of Xbox One, Xbox 360 and the original Xbox. What is expected not to be included are Kinect motion sensor games released on Xbox 360. On the side of PlayStation, PS5 is backward compatible with PS4 games only. Until now, Jim Ryan and Mark Cerny still have not figured out ways to make PS5 a compatible with the many, many games of PS1-PS2-PS3. Perhaps they never tried to do it at all, letting down their fans and consumers in general. It is weird because Sony used to be the shining example of video game backward compatibility starting with PlayStation 2 (PS2). Backward compatibility continued in the next generation with PS3 but only for the initial units. Subsequent PS3 consoles were made without the compatibility.

In ending this article, here are some more videos about Xbox Series X backward compatibility for your learning and enjoyment.

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Thank you for reading. If you find this article engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco and follow me at HavenorFantasy@twitter.com

For more Xbox-related stuff, check out the Xbox Series Philippines Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/XboxOnePH

Looking good on the way to Xbox Series consoles launch

Things are looking really good for Microsoft’s Team Xbox as far as launching their next-generation machines Xbox Series S and Xbox Series X is concerned. The two upcoming consoles will launch officially on November 10, 2020 in America and some other parts of the world. Xbox Series S in America is priced at $299 and while the premium Xbox Series X (which has a 4K Blu-ray disc drive) is priced at $499.

At this stage, the last thing any company wants to go through is a pre-launch blunder or controversy that would discourage consumers from buying the new products. While the final lineup of launch games for Xbox Series S and Xbox Series X has yet to be declared, there are notable developments that are already delighting Xbox fans and casual gamers. No, it’s not about the megaton Xbox – Bethesda deal that gamers are still talking about. Something else, really.

Xbox Series S and Xbox Series X.

Firstly, there is really good news that the promised backward compatibility feature on Xbox Series X is not only working but also enhanced the games tested. Screen Rant wrote: Games that are locked at 30 frames per second on Xbox One are able to easily hold a locked 60 frames per second on the Xbox Series X, even with upgrades in resolution. They also added: The ability of the Xbox Series X to play older games may end up being a bigger deal now than Microsoft expected. The game industry has been hit with lots of delays this year, mostly as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning both next-gen consoles will have lighter than expected launch lineups.

Den of Geek meanwhile reported that Rise of the Tomb Raider, Sekiro, Hitman 2 and even the 12-year-old Grand Theft Auto IV all ran better on Xbox Series X than they ever did in their respective original consoles of release. More on GTA4 (first released on Xbox 360), Den of Geek wrote: Even some older titles are “rescued” by the power of the Xbox Series X. The report highlights Grand Theft Auto 4 as a game that not only infamously struggled on the Xbox 360 (where it was borderline unplayable at times) but even burdened the mighty Xbox One X. On Xbox Series X, though, Rockstar’s sometimes controversial classic hits that fabled 60 FPS benchmark and even does so while offering enhanced visuals and improved load times.

Take note that Den of Geek and Screen Rant took references from Digital Foundry’s video that highlighted their testing of backward compatibility on Xbox Series X which you can watch right below…

Secondly, the load times related to the backward compatibility all showed clear improvements on Xbox Series X. Remember how long it took your Xbox One console to load up Red Dead Redemption 2? Remember what you did during all the times your Xbox 360 or Xbox One console struggled to load up the game? Those times are history!

According to The Verge, massive changes to the load times were the most significant improvements. They wrote: Games like Sea of Thieves, Warframe, and Destiny 2 have their load times cut by up to a minute or more on the Series X. In Destiny 2, for example, I can now load into a planet in the game in around 30 seconds, compared to over a minute later on an Xbox One X and nearly two minutes in total on a standard Xbox One. These improved load times are identical to my custom-built PC that includes a fast NVMe SSD, and they genuinely transform how you play the game — you can get more quests and tasks done instead of sitting and looking at a planet loading.

Warframe and Sea of Thieves are equally impressive with their load times now. I can now open Warframe and the game is ready to play just 25 seconds later. That same load takes literally a minute longer on my Xbox One X. Sea of Thieves now loads to menu screens in around 20 seconds, with another 28 seconds to load into a session. On my Xbox One X, it takes a minute and 21 seconds to even load the game initially, and then another minute and 12 seconds to get into a game session.

None of these games have been fully optimized for the Xbox Series X either. This is simply Microsoft’s backward compatibility support in action.

Thirdly, there is also the issue of game performance. To be specific, it’s about frame rates and consistency related to Destiny 2, Warframe and Sea of Thieves. The Verge wrote: Destiny 2 is a great example of a game that was held back by the weaker CPU and slow HDD in the Xbox One X. It’s a title that hit native 4K previously, but the 6 teraflops of GPU performance in the One X was bottlenecked by a laptop-like CPU and an old spinning hard disk. This meant the game was stuck on 30fps.

While Bungie has committed to enhancing Destiny 2 for the Xbox Series X and PS5 with 60fps support, it already feels faster without the patch. I would regularly notice frame rate drops in Destiny 2 on the Xbox One X when things got a little hectic on screen during a public event or in a raid with mobs of enemies coming at you. I haven’t seen a single stutter running Destiny 2 on the Xbox Series X.

This console has also improved other parts of Destiny 2 that were slow on the Xbox One. Loading into the character menu sometimes takes a few seconds on the Xbox One X, but on the Series X it feels like I’m playing on my PC as it’s near instant.

On the other two games, they wrote: I’ve noticed similar improvements across Warframe and Sea of Thieves, where games just seem to automatically benefit from the CPU, SSD, and GPU improvements to run more smoothly.

When it comes to multiplayer performance and compatibility, The Verge wrote: The other benefit to the Xbox Series X and this next generation is that games aren’t separated out like they were in the shift from Xbox 360 to Xbox One. Back then, you could only match Xbox One players in a lot of games, leaving out friends who still played on the Xbox 360. In every multiplayer game I’ve tested on Series X, I was able to join friends who were using an Xbox One and match against other Xbox One players.

See? Things are really looking good in the run up to November 10 launch of Xbox Series S and Xbox Series X. Backward compatibility ensures that your huge collection of games played (as recorded in your Xbox LIVE account) in previous generations’ Xbox consoles will NOT go to waste and, at the same time, the said feature is a great way of preserving video games from the past. I personally am happy about this not simply because I am nostalgic but because there are some great games from the past that need playing such as Lost Odyssey (Xbox 360), Halo 3 (Xbox 360), Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (Xbox 360), Fallout New Vegas (Xbox 360) and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (original Xbox).

In addition, the tests showed that previous generation games are not only playable on the next-generation Xbox but they also perform better, load much faster and will have varying visual enhancements. And then there is also cross-play for multiplayer. Just imagine how that would impact online multiplayer as we know it.

In ending this, posted below are Xbox-related videos for your learning and excitement for the next-generation! Be confident, fellow Xbox fans! This coming new generation of console gaming will be much more fun than the current one! Team Xbox truly cares about us gamers, much more so than Sony’s PlayStation team!

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Thank you for reading. If you find this article engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco and follow me at HavenorFantasy@twitter.com

For more Xbox-related stuff, check out the Xbox Series Philippines Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/XboxOnePH

A Look Back at V #1 (1985)

Disclaimer: This is my original work with details sourced from reading the comic book, watching the V mini-series (Original Miniseries and The Final Battle) and the 1984 TV series, and doing personal research. Anyone who wants to use this article, in part or in whole, needs to secure first my permission and agree to cite me as the source and author. Let it be known that any unauthorized use of this article will constrain the author to pursue the remedies under R.A. No. 8293, the Revised Penal Code, and/or all applicable legal actions under the laws of the Philippines.

Back in the 1980s – a time when Netflix, Blu-ray, social and other forms of digital entertainment were not yet realized – watching a special show on television was really something. During that particular decade, science fiction in cinema was already popular (thanks to George Lucas and Star Wars plus the resurgence of Star Trek) but there was still room for growth on the TV market.

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The cover of V: The Original Miniseries. (source – IMDB.com)

Then came the very memorable sci-fi TV mini-series titled V (also referred to as V: The Original Miniseries) in 1983 which not only became a big hit with viewers but also brought the sci-fi concept of reptiloids (reptilian humanoids) to the mainstream. The mini-series also had parallels to the Nazis and the Holocaust. The original mini-series was such a big hit, it spawned a sequel mini-series titled V: The Final Battle (1984) and even a TV series (1984-1985).

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Jane Badler as Diana, Faye Grant as Julie Parrish and Marc Singer as Mike Donovan. (source – IMDB.com)

Created by Kenneth Johnson, V became a popular franchise and made stars out of Marc Singer (The Beastmaster), Faye Grant, Michael Ironside (Total Recall) and Jane Badler. Even though there never was a movie made, V was popular enough to have a line of novels, a video game and even a comic book series!

With the history lesson done, it’s high time to start taking a look back at V #1, published in 1985 by DC Comics with a story written by Cary Bates and illustrated by Carmine Infantino.

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The cover.

Early story

The story begins in the city of Los Angeles, California, with millions of locals try to co-exist with the visitors (reptilian beings disguised as humans) who are armed and still have power over Earth’s people. Los Angeles stands as a so-called neutral zone but some things are not what they seem.

Inside a restaurant, Mike Donovan, Julie Parrish, Ham Tyler and Chris Farber talk about their situation. For Ham and Chris, the neutral zone stinks but for Mike, the current situation spares the city from turning into an open battlefield. Suddenly, three men wearing trench coats standing by the bar pull their guns out and fire at Mike and his companions who take cover…

Quality

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The struggle between the resistance and the visitors goes on.

Before discussing the quality of this comic book, I should state that having sufficient knowledge about the two TV mini-series and the TV series is required in order to understand what has been going on in the literary tale and who the characters are.

On quality, let’s start with the storytelling done by Cary Bates. It is clear Bates carefully researched the TV materials to make a comic book script that pretty much captures not only the essence of V but also the notable differences of each character (examples: Tyler is sarcastic, Mike is determined, Willie occasionally speaks with a misplaced word, and Diana is sadistic). This comic book’s plot was written to be aligned with the events of the TV series as it is clear that its tale took place some time after the climax of V: The Final Battle.

When it comes to translating V’s essence from TV to comic book format, Bates script worked surprisingly well and more importantly there was a careful balance between exposition, plotting, spectacle and suspense. When it comes to character development, what you get from the TV series (in terms of doing characterization) is also present here.

When it comes to visuals, Carmine Infantino’s work is serviceable. The artist did what was possible with the script provided although there were key moments in which the panels and drawings were structured to be a little disorienting. Was this Infantino’s way of trying to be dynamic with the visuals? Lastly, don’t expect to see the major characters resemble their TV counterparts. Ham does not look like Michael Ironside, Mike does not look like Marc Singer and Julie does not look like Faye Grant.

Conclusion

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Recognize Mike, Julie and Ham here?

I can say it straight that V #1 is a solid science fiction comic book that specifically will strongly resonate with fans of the V franchise’s entertainment of the 1980s. This comic book strongly captures the essence of the V franchise, specifically the TV series itself, and the good news is that the major characters are nicely dramatized which should delight fans. That being said, it’s tricky to recommend this to people who did not grow up with nor knew the V mini-series and TV series. When it comes to trading and making money out of this comic book, you could be in luck.

If you are seriously planning to buy an existing hard copy of V #1 (1985), be aware that as of this writing, MileHighComics.com shows that the near-mint copy of the regular edition costs $28 while the near-mint copy of the newsstand edition costs $33.

Overall, V #1 (1985) is highly recommended specifically for the fans and the collectors. Those who are not oriented with the franchise need to see the mini-series and TV series first in order to realize this comic book’s value.


Thank you for reading. If you find this article engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco and follow me at HavenorFantasy@twitter.com

Carlo Carrasco’s Movie Review: Birds of Prey

As I mentioned before, I never read a single comic book about Birds of Prey. Apart from previously knowing Harley Quinn, Black Canary (from the 1980s specifically) and Huntress (from the 1990s), I had minimal knowledge of the DC Comics’ title as well as modest expectations entering the cinema yesterday to watch Birds of Prey: and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn which is the latest superhero production from Warner Bros.

Right now, I’m happy to share to you that the R-rated movie proved to be a fun-filled watch and is proof that the DC Comics Cinematic Universe is still moving forward (in terms of engagement, enjoyment and creativity) towards greatness.

Here is my movie review of Birds of Prey.

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Early Story

The story begins with a look into the past of Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) moving forward until her breakup with the supervillain Joker (don’t expect to see Jared Leto’s image). Through narration and clever visuals, Harley is now living a new life. Along the way, there is a club within Gotham City bustling with life which Harley haves fun at and eventually she encounters the club owner Roman/Black Mask (Ewan McGregor) who is not what he seems. After getting drunk and becoming vulnerable to men with sinister intentions, Dinah/Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), who sings at the club, comes to her rescue. After recovering, Harley moves on to destroy a huge facility of Ace Chemicals which further sets events off…

Quality

While the screenplay by Christina Hodson (Bumblebee) lacked storytelling depth and character development, director Cathy Yan and her team still managed to craft a superhero film that was fun, action-packed and, surprisingly, not too reliant on computer-generated visual effects.

To make up for the lack of story depth, the movie relied mainly on the performances of the actors to bring their characters to life. Margot Robbie really excelled in playing Harley Quinn inside and out. While this latest cinematic portrayal does not have Harley insane, she’s still crazier than in Suicide Squad. Robbie’s act this time is more creative, more adulterated (which is the way the go), more daring with action and also more comedic. From this point on, I should say that Warner Bros. should rehire Robbie to play Harley Quinn in even more DC Comics movies.

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Here come the ladies: Renee Montoya, Huntress, Harley Quinn, Cassandra Cain and Black Canary.

Rosie Perez as Gotham City police officer Renee Montoya delivered a strong presence as the law enforcement element in the film and through her, we get to see the culture of the local police. Don’t expect her to have any links with police commissioner Gordon or Batman, though. Jurnee Smollet-Bell as the cinematic Black Canary is one of the stronger performers even though her version of the character is radically different from the one I read in the comic books long ago. Ella Jay Basco, an actress of Filipino and Korean heritage, as the orphan Cassandra Cain is clearly the movie’s representative (and attraction to) of the youth. Performance-wise, Basco delivered a nice performance even though her character (who in the comics is one of many who became Batgirl) lacks depth. Fortunately for us moviegoers, she is not the whiny teenager who annoy viewers and, more importantly, she delivered nicely in her part of the film’s plot. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is good as the cinematic Huntress. It’s too bad her on-screen presence is not long enough to be enjoyed, nor were moviegoers given better opportunities to know the Huntress better.

The most outstanding performance in the movie was delivered by Ewan McGregor as Black Mask. McGregor, who is a naturally artistic actor, is very colorful with his portrayal of a supervillain who, unlike many other such antagonists in other superhero movies, is charismatic, suave and yet cruel to the core. This cinematic Black Mask is not your generic action movie villain and, as such, hiring McGregor was one of the best moves made by Warner Bros. I honestly find McGregor a worthy adversary versus Margot Robbie when it comes to cinematic artistry.

When it comes to spectacle, Birds of Prey is heavily loaded with hard-hitting action plus some bloody shots that make it standout among the many superhero movies released in this current century. For one thing, the actresses themselves took an active part in doing action and the stunts they could pull of on their own (the harder stuff were understandably done by stunt doubles). Watching Harley Quinn beat up the bad guys with that large hammer, the baseball bat and other stuff were not only hard-hitting but also creative without ever looking choreographed. Black Canary’s high kicks were notable. Renee Montoya’s reliance on guns and hard action were symbolic throwbacks to the police movies of the past. Huntress meanwhile showed how deadly her small but powerful crossbow can be on-screen.

Late in the film is a certain long-take action sequence filled with the characters struggling with the bad guys simultaneously (without using computer-generated imagery) which was cleverly filmed with nice timing as the camera moved on very steadily. That sequence, even though short, is worth watching again and again. Oh yes, there are no shaky camera sequences shot!

The action scenes, in my opinion, came into play at the right time whenever I felt enough dialogue and exposition were made. This shows that the filmmakers pulled off the right moves with the pacing to ensure that people are kept entertained while still maintaining some storytelling sense which is quite an achievement since the film’s plot lacked depth. The stunts, meanwhile, are really nice to watch.

As for the brewing arguments and anticipation that Birds of Prey is a leftist and feminist piece of propaganda, I should say that such influences are more on the visual side than on the dialogue. Even though Ewan McGregor publicly said the movie is feminist, it’s not too strong. The feminism is more visible in images of the ladies fighting the bad guys who are varied with their looks – muscular, tall, big, beards, etc. The feminism is obvious with the ladies teaming up together and that is not surprising at all. Even though it has feminism elements, Birds of Prey is still pretty much a superhero movie on its own. You want a movie with stronger and more blatant feminism? Watch Star Wars: The Last Jedi instead. Maybe you want to try Elizabeth Banks’ failure Charlie’s Angels.

Conclusion

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With strong and creative performances plus loads of fun stuff that more than made up for the lack of story depth and character development, Birds of Prey is an enjoyable superhero movie that is worthy of being part of the current DC Comics Cinematic Universe. Without relying on fan service, this movie expands the current cinematic universe’ presentation of Gotham City and shows the other parts of it away from Batman.

Even if you have not read any Birds of Prey comics, this movie will still prove to be entertaining. Just don’t expect to see the more iconic DC Comics characters and don’t expect to see heavy amounts of computer-generated images on-screen. Birds of Prey is more grounded and for a production of roughly $100 million, the production values still look high.

Overall, Birds of Prey is highly recommended and I encourage you to watch it in the cinemas as soon as possible. And if you have the extra money, watch it on an IMAX screen as the film was optimized for the format.


Thank you for reading. If you find this article engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. Also my fantasy book The World of Havenor is still available in paperback and e-book format. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco and follow me at HavenorFantasy@twitter.com

 

 

 

A Look Back at Super Star Wars: Return of the Jedi

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Luke Skywalker going up against the game’s final boss – Emperor Palpatine. 

By the middle of 1994, gamers and Star Wars fans who owned a Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES or Super NES) were treated with more 2D side-scrolling fun with Super Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. Developed by Sculptured Software and LucasArts and published by JVC, the game was the conclusion of the so-called Super Star Wars trilogy of the 16-bit era of console gaming.

Like its predecessor Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, this game is a 2-dimensional side-scrolling adventure game released just months before Sega and Sony respectively released the Saturn and PlayStation consoles (which eventually made 3D polygonal gaming popular). The game itself is based on the 1983 movie Return of the Jedi: Luke and his friends go out to save Han Solo from Jabba the Hutt and the Rebels prepare its strategy to defeat the Imperial Forces now armed with a new Death Star with the personal presence of Emperor Palpatine.

Here’s my review of Super Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.

Early story (and some notable differences from the movie)

The game begins with a quick look at Darth Vader’s arrival at the new Death Star setting up the stage for the Emperor’s arrival. On Tattooine, Luke and his companions travel to the temple of Jabba the Hutt to somehow save their friend Han Solo (who got frozen in carbonite at Cloud City in The Empire Strikes Back).

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A still cut-scene at the beginning of the game.

In order to get to the palace, Luke/Leia/Chewbacca (you get to pick which character to use) have to travel through a lengthy stretch of land filled with several forms of wild life, monsters and even Jawas blocking their way. Once inside, your character has to fight until the end of the next few levels (note: there was a boss or powerful enemy to beat) to make the story progress.

Once you have defeated Jabba and rescued Han Solo, your team regroups with the Rebels in space to start your next series of missions with the moon of Endor (with the 2nd Death Star in orbit).

Notable differences from the movie include fighting a large monster (which used a large ball as a weapon) did not appear in the film. Also notable was Leia (in her sexy slave outfit) having to move from end of the stage to reach Jabba the Hutt who serves as the level’s boss. Jabba’s sail barge in the game looks and feels longer than in the movie.

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Leia, Jabba is right behind you!

Gameplay

Super Star Wars: Return of the Jedi plays a lot like its predecessor. As typical with most games of the era that used 2D sprites for visuals, the game is an action-packed side-scroller wherein you have to control your character from left to right, go up and down and complete the level by either defeating the end-level boss or by simply reaching the end (some levels have no boss). As you move on, you all get to collect power-ups and icons.

Along the way, you get to fight a whole bunch of enemies that appear to fight and stop you.  This include not only the Imperial forces that appeared in the movie but also now additions like machines and even flying robots. You never saw Luke fight any flying robot in the movie? In this game, he gets to fight them at the Imperial facility on the moon of Endor.

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Han Solo blasts the Stormtroopers!

Given the story structure of the movie, the game developers were able to let players pick a Star Wars character to play as before starting a level. This particular feature was prominent in 1992’s Super Star Wars but was heavily toned down (due to story structure) in Super Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back. Back to the selectable characters, there are key differences between them such as Luke using his lightsaber and some Force powers, Han Solo with his blaster and grenades, Chewbacca with his crossbow and his spin attack (he does NOT do this in the movies so it’s funny), and Leia who uses different weapons as she appears (based on the story structure) as a disguised hunter and as a sexy slave to Jabba. Quite odd here is the addition of Wicket the Ewok as a playable character whom you must guide fighting the bad guys in two levels that emphasized the village of the Ewoks up those tall trees.

Like the previous two games, the game designers implemented levels that play differently from the standard side-scrolling adventuring. I’m referring to the Mode 7 level in which you fly the Millenium Falcon on a makeshift 3D environment on the surface of the 2nd Death Star needing to destroy a number of TIE Fighters in order to progress. I should that this particular level lacked depth although it was cool to use the Falcon and just imagine Lando and his team inside operating it.

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The Millenium Falcon in the Mode 7 3D environment set on the surface of the Death Star.

In what is a clear attempt by the game makers to push the hardware of the Super NES, they created a standalone level in which you use the top turret of the Millenium Falcon to shoot a required number of TIE Fighters while flying in space heading towards the 2nd Death Star (complete with a 3D background showing the Imperial Star Destroyers in the distance on the opposite side). This was a very short yet cool sequence to play even though the darkness of space makes spotting the TIE Fighters a bit challenging. I liked the fact that the console’s processor was pushed hard to allow the TIE Fighters look 3D and detailed using several frames of animation as they fly around and right close to the Falcon (which itself looked detailed).

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This 3D shooting segment in the game was fun and too short.

And then there is the speeder bike chase sequence that took place through the forest of Endor. This one is pretty shallow and has not aged well.

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Nice visual detail on the speeder bikes but everything else felt shallow.

Finally, the game’s last stage is another hardware-intensive level that offers gamers the opportunity to experience the challenge and speed (as far as the hardware could push) of piloting the Millenium Falcon into the tunnels of the 2nd Death Star to reach the core, blast it and then escape on the way out (being chased by intense flame caused by the explosion). This level shows lots of repeating visual elements that are supposed to be the mechanical interiors of the tunnels and you can movie the Falcon in 1st-person view, speed up or down, rotate the view and tilt the direction as you move forward. Along the way, there are TIE Fighters who appear in front of you for you to shoot at. While the intention of the developers to replicate the memorable sequence of the movie is clear, the hardware limitations (and design limitations) could only go so far to make the gameplay experience solid.

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This sequence must be seen in motion.

Conclusion

While it is indeed a more polished game than the memorable Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, Super Star Wars: Return of the Jedi was indeed a fun and engaging game but still falls short of its immediate predecessor. For one thing, this game noticeably was less challenging and the return of the password system makes it even easier to finish. The boss battle with Darth Vader showed the iconic villain being much easier to beat with even on the standard difficulty level. I still remember how surprising it was during my first time playing the game.

The non-side-scrolling levels of the game created good variety for playing. I just wished that the 3D space shooting sequence of the Falcon (with its top turret) lasted longer and the visuals of the final level looked more detailed and had less lag. As for the Mode 7 level with the Falcon, that one pales in comparison with lengthy and memorable Battle of Hoth (which has the grand experience of taking down the AT-AT walkers with the tow cable).

Overall, Super Star Wars: Return of the Jedi is recommended.  By today’s standards, this game is a classic and was one of the best ever Star Wars video games of not only of its console generation but among all Star Wars games that were made with 2D sprites and pixel art. If you have a Super NES console or Nintendo’s Virtual Console, play the game once you have it.


Thank you for reading. If you find this article engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. Also my fantasy book The World of Havenor is still available in paperback and e-book format. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco and follow me at HavenorFantasy@twitter.com

A Look Back at Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

In this age of photo-realistic 3D graphics in video gaming, I sure miss the days when 2D gaming and highly detailed pixel art were the standard. I’m referring to the so-called 16-bit era of the Super NES/SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System) back in the 1990s.

In 1991, Super Star Wars was released on the Super NES and it became a big hit with the gamers, the critics and fans. That game was heralded as one of the best video game adaptations of movies.

Naturally, a follow-up to that game was released in 1993 – Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.

That being said, here is my retro gaming review of Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.

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The experience of using a Rebel speeder to bring down an AT-AT walker with the cable remains awesome.

Developed by Sculptured Software and LucasArts and published in America by JVC, this game is based on The Empire Strikes Back which today has been considered to be the greatest Star Wars movie ever. Of course, in order to make a cohesive video game adaptation out of the classic movie, a lot of liberties were taken when it comes to following the story. This was inevitable as the game developers needed a lot of creative freedom to make a cohesive video game.

Early story (and some notable differences from the movie)

Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back begins with Luke Skywalker riding a Tauntaun. Unlike the movie, Luke (controlled by players) visits some places of the wasteland of Hoth, notably caverns and hills fighting several forms of wild life (including wampa beasts), and even some probe droids.

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Luke jumping on to a wampa beast.

Unlike the movie, Luke does not get rescued by Han Solo in the wilderness. Instead he defeats a giant-sized probe droid and a giant-sized wampa beast (as in-game bosses) and make his way back to Echo Base to rejoin the rebels. Upon returning at the base, he finds it filled with Imperial troopers and their machines (where are Luke’s fellow rebels?) and fights his way through to fly a rebel speeder (note: without the movie co-pilot Dak) and proceed in the Battle of Hoth.

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This never happened in the movie.

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Luke jumping into a snow speeder without a co-pilot.

Back at Echo Base, Han Solo (player-controlled) has to make his way through a wave of Imperial enemies and machines to meet Princess Leia, secure her and ride away on the Millenium Falcon. The Falcon (player-controlled) enters the asteroid field being attacked gradually by over twenty TIE Fighters. Once all of them have been eliminated, the Falcon jumps into light speed (which contradicts the movie).

Gameplay

Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back is composed mostly of 2D, side-scrolling action sequences in which players control their characters moving from left to right in order to make the game progress. The sequences are filled with lots of action-packed moments mainly due to the MANY enemies challenging the players plus sequences of shooting, jumping and using special weapons (note: the thermal detonator was awesome to use). When it comes to filling up the health meter of your character, defeating enemies result random releases of hearts (symbolizing health) which you need to pick up. Key side-scrolling segments of the game will have players facing off with in-game bosses or enemies that are large, intimidating and have their own health meters for players to reduce to zero.

As typical with most 2D side-scrolling games of the era, this game is really tough and will take gamers some patience and perseverance to complete.

What really stood out in this game are the makeshift 3D segments (made possible by Mode 7) which were pretty extensive and really interactive. The Battle of Hoth in Mode 7 was pretty engaging as players get to fly a rebel speeder over a snowy field complete with lots of Imperial enemies (including the AT-ST walkers and the AT-AT walkers) and each of them is composed of multiple 2D sprites making them look 3D as the speeder moves around. Apart from simply shooting, the interactive sequence of tagging an AT-AT walker with a cable, flying around it and wrapping it with the cable, and then watching it fall to the ground really is an awesome gaming experience which really showed how hard the game developers pushed 2D visuals and pixel art.

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A Mode 7 sequence late in the game had players using an X-Wing fighter.

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The Battle of Hoth was a great and lengthy use of Mode 7.

Apart from the Battle of Hoth, there was also another Mode 7 sequence involving the X-Wing Fighter approaching Cloud City. That particular sequence was noticeably shorter and did not have a standout action sequence as it was limited to the X-Wing Fighter simply shooting Bespin fighters. Another non-2D segment was the Millenium Falcon’s flight through the asteroid field which was done with the cockpit view (first-person view exactly) in which you move a cursor for targeting and moving the ship to. This segment was pretty tough because players were not only required to eliminate more than 20 TIE Fighters but also avoid incoming asteroids and maintaining the Falcon’s energy shields (which serves as a health meter)

Going back to the 2D side-scrolling segments, the use of the lightsaber by Luke remains a lot of fun to do. Not only could he slash bad guys, he could use the lightsaber defensively protecting himself from incoming energy blasts (which get deflected by the lightsaber). On the offense, Luke can jump into the air and spin with the lightsaber turned on making him an aerial slasher over the bad guys.

In keeping with the theme of the movie showing Luke Skywalker learning to be a Jedi, the Dagobah segment in the game has Luke gaining varied Force powers and he also has a separate Force energy meter. The Force powers can be used in subsequent segments of the game and they are quite useful when Luke encounters Darth Vader as the final boss in Cloud City.

The fights with Darth Vader were nicely designed. With creative freedom, the game developers expanded on Darth Vader’s use of the Force to move several pieces of debris and machines towards Luke who has to defend himself from all sides. Fighting Darth Vader with the lightsaber was tricky and for the most part, I had Luke slashing on villain with just enough space between them and many times I had Luke use the lightsaber on him while jumping and spinning in the air. Defeating Vader was a requirement to complete the game.

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Very nice artwork made for the storytelling cut scenes.

Finally, like in Super Star Wars, players can also play as Han Solo (special attack: grenade throw) and Chewbacca (special attack: offensive spin) but only in specific segments of the game supposedly to keep in line with its story.

Conclusion

Even by today’s standards, Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back is still a high-quality video game that is a lot of fun to play with even though it is tough (a password system is used for in-game progress so that gamers can come back to continue) all throughout. Gameplay aside, the presentation of visuals and audio is also very solid. The sprites for the in-game characters, enemies, machines and animal were detailed to look at while the background art were immersive (like in the movies, Cloud City, Hoth and Dagobah had their distinctive visuals). The Super NES audio chip was greatly used on recreating 16-bit sound from the movies, especially John Williams’ movie scores and lightsaber sound effects.

Take note that this game was released in 1993 which is significant in the sense that people had moved on since the release of the movie Return of the Jedi (1983) and the Star Wars prequel trilogy did not begin until 1999 with Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. This game was released at a time when 2D gaming was still in strong demand and most gamers did not expect that 3D polygonal graphics would reshape video gaming eventually. In retrospect, the polygon-focused gaming consoles Sega Saturn and the original Sony PlayStation launched in late 1994 or more than a year after Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.

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The inevitable battle between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader.

I myself had lots of fond memories playing this game back in the mid-1990s. I simply endured the many challenges of it and ultimately had a lot of enjoyment completing it. I even replayed the game from the start even though I knew how the game presented the ending and key story elements of the movie. I also got to replay The Empire Strikes Back on home video around the time I played this game.

Believe it or not, Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back was the first of the Super Star Wars trilogy on the Super NES that I actually played. After completing it, I borrowed the Super Star Wars cartridge from a friend and later bought a copy of Super Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. I completed those two other games and I can clearly say that Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back remains the best in game design, the best in terms of fun factor and the most memorable of them all.

If you love Star Wars and you want the best 16-bit era video game (note: you’ll need a working Super NES console or Nintendo’s Virtual Console for any Super Star Wars game) experience of it, Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back is highly recommended.


Thank you for reading. If you find this article engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. Also my fantasy book The World of Havenor is still available in paperback and e-book format. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco and follow me at HavenorFantasy@twitter.com

Carlo Carrasco’s Movie Review: Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker

After enduring two whole years being depressed and uncertain about Star Wars movies due to Rian Johnson’s arrogant deformation of the franchise with his abomination The Last Jedi, I am happy to say that I’m happy again after watching Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker.

This is my review of The Rise of Skywalker directed by J.J. Abrams and co-written by Abrams, Chris Terrio, Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly.

Early story

The movie begins with the First Order’s supreme leader Kylo Ren on an unrelenting quest that leads him deep into the galaxy where he finds the uncharted destination of Exegol. There he meets a living Palpatine who turns out to be the creator of the late Snoke, the previous supreme leader of the First Order.

Palpatine knows that Rey is still training as a Jedi and he tells Kylo to eliminate her. Palpatine also has a brand new fleet composed of advanced star destroyers armed with powerful weapons capable of destroying planets.

Meanwhile, Finn, Poe and Chewbacca travel in the Millennium Falcon to obtain crucial information from a spy about the location of Palpatine.

Quality

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Chewbacca, Poe, C3PO (hidden), Rey and Finn.

Let me start with the fact that The Rise of Skywalker is, unsurprisingly, a flawed movie that happens to have more good stuff than bad ones. To put things into perspective, J.J. Abrams and their creative team had to make a new movie following the abomination The Last Jedi which, literally, dug a large hole and let the Star Wars film franchise fall deep into it. Not only did Abrams and team work to lift the franchise up and move it forward by having a story that not only made sense but resonated with Star Wars fans while delivering long bouts of cinematic fun. If you want to focus on the fun factor, The Rise of Skywalker is a joy ride while Rian John’s The Last Jedi was sluggish and frustrating to watch.

Storytelling? This movie has been bashed for having a video game-inspired approach of narrative: the band of protagonists go to a new location where they meet people as they move to fulfill a goal only to be hounded by opposition from the antagonists, then they go to a new location where they meet people and similar events repeat.

In some ways, The Rise of Skywalker reminded me about the video game Grandia, Final Fantasy IX and other role-playing games (RPGs) I personally played. While the use of video game-inspired narrative is not the perfect tool to use for a movie, this approach actually works in The Rise of Skywalker! For one thing, the sense of excitement and adventuring I enjoyed from the original Star Wars trilogy returned and I enjoyed every moment of it. This translates into fun while remaining focus on the story objectives and characters. I do confirm that there were lots of spectacles (lots of lightsaber action, shooting, running and spaceship battles) throughout the movie that kept me entertained most of the time. There was no boring moment, not even in the slowest scenes.

The use of video game-inspired narrative also worked in building up the tension leading into the series of events that lead into the final conflict. The result? It paid off nicely! The final conflict and the way the story ended were all worth the wait and build-up! Considering how terrible events happened and ended in The Last Jedi, what was achieved in The Rise of Skywalker was a tremendous achievement!

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Spaceship battles in this movie were plenty and fun to watch!

On the aspect of emphasizing the Force and the Jedi themselves, this movie, in my honest opinion, took inspiration from the non-canon Star Wars Legends (previously referred to as Star Wars Expanded Universe), specifically with elements from the Dark Empire comic book mini-series of 1991-1992. When a key visual in the film was shown to explain Palpatine’s survival, I was not surprised at all.

When it comes to performances, Daisy Ridley really defined herself as an actor and she really defined Rey as a Jedi (with assistance from Abrams and the screenwriters) who carries a huge burden related to her heritage (you’ll find out in the film). After watching Rey in the first two films struggling to learn and move on, she is a more developed character in this movie. That’s not all. Poe and Finn have been more refined and it is through adventuring that they really became lively and believable characters. Adam Driver’s take on Kylo Ren consistently delivered the symbolism of the dark side of the Force (specifically consuming the younger generation) with the exception of a key twist that took place much later (you just have to watch the movie). Ian McDiarmind’s return as Palpatine is undeniably great and a welcome return to form. The actor really showed he is great in portraying cinematic evil.

When it comes to classic Star Wars characters, the filmmakers cleverly used existing footage of the late Carrie Fisher as General Leia and by means of editing and scene set-ups, they succeeded in inserting the character into the narrative complete with recorded dialogue that relate to the events that happened. Billy Dee Williams, meanwhile, made a great return as Lando Calrissian. While I wish his screen time was longer and his character was more involved with the remaining Resistance, it was still nice to see Williams literally disappear letting Lando come to life on-screen once again.

Conclusion

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The Millennium Falcon is better used in this movie than in The Last Jedi.

As mentioned earlier, The Rise of Skywalker is a flawed film. For one thing, there are several plot holes here and there (responded to via visual dictionary). There were also new Force powers that were not fully explained in detail. Those weaknesses, however, did not really drag the film that much. The bad stuff here is NOTHING compared to all the creative garbage Rian Johnson (plus the trash from the Political Left in Hollywood) filled in The Last Jedi since that director was too obsessed with subverting people’s expectations all throughout.

What I admire in it is the effort done by Abrams to connect it with 1983’s Return of the Jedi. The shots of the remains of the 2nd Death Star in the previews only literally show the tip of the iceberg.

As a follow-up to The Last Jedi, this movie moved in two ways: correcting what was set in Rian Johnson’s abomination while also somewhat building up on what was also established in that same abomination. Ultimately, the course-correction done by Abrams and team made The Rise of Skywalker not only fun and engaging, but also recaptured the elements that defined Star Wars as a cinematic experience. There were also key scenes that, in my view, allowed this movie to punch back at the deformation done in The Last Jedi. I smiled a lot when those creative moments took place.

When compared to The Force Awakens, this movie is actually more fun and more engaging. In fact, it is indeed the best of the current Star Wars trilogy (2015-2019).

With this current Star Wars trilogy concluded, I do regret that the classic characters of Han, Luke and Leia ended up as supporting players and the trio of Rey-Finn-Poe (who are welcome additions to the Star Wars family of characters) as protagonists still pale in comparison to them. To simplify things, Luke-Han-Leia are iconic while Rey-Finn-Poe are serviceable protagonists at best.

Ultimately, The Rise of Skywalker is a solidly good Star Wars film and is itself a major recovery from the debacle of The Last Jedi. As the ninth chapter of the entire Star Wars main movies franchise (which first started in 1977), it is a flawed yet worthy addition (and also worthy as the new conclusion) into the saga that involved the Force and the Skywalkers. It is nowhere as great as The Empire Strikes Back (the best Star Wars movie ever) but it is, in my opinion, better and more engaging than The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith respectively.

Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker is recommended.


Thank you for reading. If you find this article engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. Also my fantasy book The World of Havenor is still available in paperback and e-book format. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco and follow me at HavenorFantasy@twitter.com

A Look Back at Superman #100 (1995)

While this old comic book may not be the best-selling Superman story of the 1990s, it is for me the most significant one as well as creator Dan Jurgens’ best work ever on the Man of Steel. I’m talking about Superman #100.

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The cover.

Released in 1995 by DC Comics, Superman #100 came out with a special cover that highlighted the title “The Death of Clark Kent”. It was released with a hefty cover price of $3.95 for the United States and was pretty thick. It was written and illustrated by Dan Jurgens, the same man who worked on the best-selling Superman #75 (The Death of Superman climax).

Early story

The story begins with Clark Kent carrying a deformed Superman object (with makeshift glasses and a knife “stabbing” the letter S) and just feet behind him was his officemate Jimmy Olsen. Hidden mostly from Olsen’s view, the object signifies that someone knows that Clark Kent and Superman are one and the same person. Carefully, Clark hides it away and starts chatting with Jimmy who is very concerned of him.

Clark recently has been struggling over the fact that someone knows his secret identity. After carefully dismissing Jimmy, he moves out as Superman to take of business before the madman (who knows his identity) makes his next move.

Superman visits his parents Jonathan and Martha Kent at their home in Smallville. He expresses to Jonathan that he believes that the madman is someone he knew from his past: Kenny Braverman (Conduit).

Quality

If there is anything that defines this comic book, it is the in-depth storytelling done by Dan Jurgens complete with intense character development as well as exploration of people from his past (all connected to Smallville).

The plot structure is quite simple. Conduit knows Superman/Clark Kent personally and is always at least a step ahead of the superhero complete with strategies mess with him personally. Superman, who came back from the dead and has been struggling to fit in with the times, finds himself at his most vulnerable state not as a super-powered guy but as a human being. To analyze things here, Superman is about to get suffer and lose a lot again but not with the temporary death he got from fighting Doomsday, but rather the demise of his personality as Clark Kent.

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Truly one of the best Superman dialogue and characterizations ever thanks to Dan Jurgens.

Think about it. As Clark, Superman has a career, a social life, grew up the American way, intends to spend his life with Lois Lane and has ambitions of simple living that mean more to him than being with the Justice League America (note: writing the next great American novel).

The great thing here is that writer-artist Dan Jurgens humanized Superman a whole lot in this comic book and his work is excellent. Superman #100 opens up the discussion about what life would be like for the Man of Steel once his identity as Clark Kent gets ruined. The story also connects with Superman’s past (within the post-Crisis universe of DC Comics) and sheds light on his relationships with not only his parents but also with Pete Ross and Lana Lang (Clark’s ex-GF). When it comes to putting Superman in danger, Conduit’s approach is more convincing than Doomsday’s unstoppable power of destruction.

By the time I got immersed with Dan Jurgen’s storytelling and character development, the action scenes involving Superman felt justified. More importantly, this comic book shows the famous superhero being pushed to the limits in terms of personality tolerance and determination.

Conclusion

We live in an age in which established entertainment franchises get ruined by sequels or spin-offs or reboots which were mishandled by creators who tried to reinvent stuff only to fail and disappoint the fans.

Look at Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. Director Rian Johnson had complete creative control on telling an engaging and fun Star Wars tale but ended up deforming it (disregarding Star Wars’ most defining elements), focused mainly on subverting people’s expectations and left many long-time fans disappointed and angry.

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Superman going after Conduit.

Going back to Superman #100, Dan Jurgens succeeded in redefining the American icon while maintaining respect of the established past of the character and kept the elements that defined Superman. His story about the demise of Superman’s secret identity was a very fresh concept and, for a time, it paved the way for opportunities to take the Man of Steel into new creative directions without disappointing fans.

Personally, I would love to see Warner Bros. produce a new standalone Superman movie with Henry Cavill as the superhero and adapt the core elements of Jurgens’ work in Superman #100 into the screenplay. Cavill already proved he could portray Superman/Clark very humanly in Man of Steel.

Overall, Superman #100 is highly recommended.


Thank you for reading. If you find this article engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. Also my fantasy book The World of Havenor is still available in paperback and e-book format. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco and follow me at HavenorFantasy@twitter.com

Carlo Carrasco’s Movie Review: Terminator: Dark Fate

I will just say it straight and clearly – the Terminator film franchise is truly unnecessary today and, having seen its debut in the year 1984 (written and directed by a very young James Cameron), I should say that the saga really ended with 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day (Cameron’s masterpiece).

Out of curiosity, instead of anticipation, I got to watch Terminator: Dark Fate at the local cinema. Having been disappointed with Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Terminator: Salvation (a bad movie notorious for Christian Bale’s loss of self-control) and Terminator: Genisys (the most insulting and most screwed up film of the franchise), I had low expectations for Dark Fate.

Ultimately, I left the cinema disappointed yet again although the experience was not as bad as that of 2015 (with Genisys).

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Clearly, the filmmakers took inspiration from Star Wars: The Force Awakens and mix the more established film franchise stars (in supporting roles) with the younger actors.

To put it short, Terminator: Dark Fate took creative inspiration from 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This means it was made with recycled concepts, told the story through its new characters (played by actors who are much younger and who are supposed to appeal to younger viewers) and back them up with the old, more iconic actors (Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton) limited to supporting roles. When it comes to presentation, this new movie felt more like a roller coaster ride than an actual story laced with spectacle stage-by-stage.

That is pretty much how Terminator: Dark Fate turned out. It does not matter that this was directed by Tim Miller, the guy behind 2016’s Deadpool. It does not matter that the great James Cameron got involved with producing and story credit (he shared with a few other names). It does not matter that this movie was made with a large budget of $185 million and relied heavily on computers to generate the visuals (which look fake most of the time). Whatever the preparations made, they did not matter at all because Terminator: Dark Fate is a rushed and creative disappointment that does not deserve your time nor your money.

The movie opened with archived footage of Sarah Connor expressing the darkness of the future coming. This was immediately followed by a scene set in 1998 showing Sarah and her son John living in an age in which Judgment Day did NOT occur on August 29, 1997. Suddenly another Terminator T-800 Model 101 (another Schwarzenegger-type Terminator) appears and actually kills John Connor leaving Sarah in turmoil.

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This is the protector sent through time by the human resistance.

John Connor, who has been a central story element in the 1984 and 1991 (memorably played by Edward Furlong) movies as he was destined to be the human resistance leader in the war with Skynet, was eliminated so quickly in the opening of this new movie very similar to how the character of Dwayne Hicks (played by Michael Biehn in the James Cameron-directed Aliens) got killed in a very dismissive way in the beginning of Alien 3. This move was nothing less than cynical, ill-conceived and even a daring disservice to Terminator fans.

From this point on, Terminator: Dark Fate turns into a “what if John Connor was dead and a new future war followed?” type of story.

Even though Judgment Day got prevented in relation to what Sarah and John achieved in Terminator 2, a new war between man and machines in the far future still occurs only this time Skynet is no more and the new enemy artificial intelligence (AI) this time is called Legion. This new story concept, by the way, is pretty insulting to any fan who loved the first two films directed by James Cameron as those flicks told a complete saga.

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This is the new, future leader of the human resistance.

And then the plot of The Terminator got recycled. A human fighter is sent back through time to protect a person who is destined to become the leader of the human resistance. Also sent back through time is a Terminator designed to look human and infiltrate society with a mission to kill the future human resistance leader. This is essentially what Terminator: Dark Fate truly is and even though Sarah Connor returned (plus another Terminator T-800 played by Schwarzenegger), there really is nothing new, nothing fresh and nothing worth enjoying.

When it comes to quality, this movie does not have much standing for it. The new characters are not engaging at all and their respective performers really had nowhere to go to engage moviegoers. Mackenzie Davis playing the new combat-ready protector only served to beef the film with action and there is nothing compelling about her act, nor did the script provide anything to make her androgynous character memorable. The new human resistance leader played by Natalia Reyes is forgettable and unbelievable even though she tried hard being dramatic. Compared with Sarah Connor in 1984’s The Terminator, the chosen one Dani Ramos in the film was transformed from a struggling, working-class person into a brave fighter in a very rushed and unconvincing manner. Also, if you take a close look at Natalia Reyes, she is too short to be a figure of authority, too small to use weapons and her act is clearly sub-par in terms of quality making her big misfire in terms of casting. The performance, script and directing really had no depth when it comes to developing the characters.

The new Terminator (Rev-9) played by Gabriel Luna was nothing more than an uninspired attempt to outdo the T-1000 of Terminator 2. Luna was decent with playing cold and emotionless but when he acts human to infiltrate human society, he’s just generic at best.

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This is the new cinematic villain that won’t stop to kill the future leader of the human resistance. Oh, the computer-generated visuals are often fake to look at.

As for Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton returning, it is sad for me to say that these two iconic performers of the film franchise got wasted. Sarah Connor in this movie was poorly written and this modern version ruins the legacy the character had since 1991. Schwarzenegger meanwhile played another T-800 Terminator whose adjustment into human society turned out to be unconvincing, even outlandish. A Terminator adjusting into domestic human life? Totally unbelievable!

If there is anything to admire in this ill-conceived movie, it is Schwarzenegger’s delivery of his lines as the Terminator. He was over 70-years-old at the time of filming and he no longer has the super fit, muscular build he was famous for but he still proved to be excellent in being robotic with the dialogue. Sadly, this good stuff from the ex-governor of California was not enough to save this movie from its dark fate.

The film has a lot of action and there is a notable variety of it here. Even though action-packed and the action quality is an improvement over Terminator 3, Salvation and Genisys, Terminator: Dark Fate is ultimately a ride that can only provide temporary relief from the pain of the weak script. Oh, the use of fake-looking CGI hurts the action and stunts

Conclusion

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Let this be the LAST Terminator movie and let it fade away. How? By NOT spending your precious time and money on it.

Although it is better than Terminator 3, Salvation and Genisys respectively, Terminator: Dark Fate still failed to be a solid film and definitely it is NOT worthy of being the official follow-up (the “real Terminator 3” to the first two films written and directed by James Cameron. Cameron’s involvement with this movie did not really improve the situation of the deteriorating Terminator film franchise and even worse, this big disappointment taints his record of excellence as a producer. Director Tim Miller, in my opinion, should go back to superhero movie making or try directing a brand new project of science fiction that does not involve an established intellectual property. How he will recover from Terminator: Dark Fate remains to be seen.

Bottom line – Terminator: Dark Fate is not recommended. You are better off skipping this movie but if you intend to watch it at all, do it out of curiosity. Don’t spend your money on this movie (the cinema, future release on streaming services, Blu-ray, DVD, etc.).

If you want to experience the cinematic greatness of the Terminator film franchise, go back to watching The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day instead.


Thank you for reading. If you find this article engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. Also my fantasy book The World of Havenor is still available in paperback and e-book format. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco and follow me at HavenorFantasy@twitter.com