• Playlist for Songs from The Dark Tower

    I’m a sucker for authors who include “soundtracks” to their writing. The last issue of Casanova’s original run in Image Comics listed a song for each scene, and I just thought it was the coolest thing. Each issue of Casanova’s third volume, “Avaritia,” did it, too, which I compiled here. Kieron Gillen annotates his musical references in Phonogram. James Roberts publishes a playlist for each issue of More Than Meets the Eye/Lost Light.

    I reread The Gunslinger recently because I was excited about the movie, and thought I’d put together a playlist of the few songs Stephen King mentions in it. Well, it turns out that Patrick Scalisi made a complete playlist of every song mentioned in the Dark Tower novels, so I went ahead and made it into an Apple Music playlist. Where possible I’ve used the versions of the songs from their original albums instead of greatest hits links.

    The Dark Tower playlist on Apple Music

    It doesn’t include any songs from The Wind Through the Keyhole. I’d have to reread it to see if there just aren’t any songs mentioned in the book (seems unlikely) or if he just hadn’t put them in.

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  • Switch Accessories You Should Actually Buy

    I’ve seen a bunch of “ten must-buy Switch accessories” articles floating around. “Must buy” being a pet peeve of mine, I wanted to put together a list of products you should actually consider.

    To start off, I’ll say that Nintendo actually packs everything you really need in the box. Buy the Switch and a game and you’re set. You’ve got a set of controllers, the dock, and cables. That said…

    SD Card

    I don’t recommend buying physical media these days. I bought Zelda on a GameCard because it’s a large download, but I don’t plan to ever buy another physical game for the system. Zelda’s card will just stay in the system and never come out. If you are going to buy your games on GameCards, you don’t need to buy an SD card right away. If you intend to download them, you’ll want an SD card because the Switch doesn’t have much onboard storage.

    Here is The Wirecutter’s review of microSD cards. It likes a Samsung card but as a rule I don’t buy that company’s products. I bought a 200 GB version of the SanDisk card mentioned in the review.

    How big a card should you get? I think at least 128 GB, and shoot for 256 if you can swing it. The Switch will take up to 2 TB. Over the few years I had a Wii U I wound up with something like 50 GB of downloads games and files. Expect Switch games to be bigger and for it to last longer. One note: you can delete games and download them later. Your save data is stored on the console’s onboard memory. Hopefully Nintendo will add online backups as well.

    Carrying Case

    I have Nintendo’s own carrying case and I like it, but it’s not perfect for every purpose. (Also supply seems scarce.) It’s perfect if I want to carry just the console and its attached Joy-Cons with me, which is what I want most of the time. It has a flip-up stand that’s great for playing in tabletop mode, as the built-in kickstand is only suitable for very stable, level tables.

    As I said, most of the time I’m taking with me only the Switch and its Joy-Cons, so this case does fine. It has a small mesh pocket, but putting even just the Joy-Con straps in the pocket makes the case bulge out. Forget about including a cable and USB plug or a second set of Joy-Cons. My general feeling is that I want the Switch to be in a case to keep it a bit protected from dings as I move it around, but in general if I’m going anywhere it’ll be inside my backpack, and I can put headphones, cables, extra controllers, etc. in that.

    I haven’t tried out other cases, but I’m interested in Waterfield Designs’s offerings. I’d check them out if the Nintendo case doesn’t seem like what you need. I have their iPad sleeve and like it a lot.

    I don’t use the screen protector included with the case. I’m fairly good about not scratching up my stuff but also not that precious about scratches if they happen. I could get a huge gash across the screen of course but I don’t like how screen protectors feel to the touch.

    Extra Controllers

    You might not need to get any extra controllers. I find the Joy-Cons to be very nice to use. That said, the Pro Controller is very, very nice, and has incredible battery life. I think I’ve charged it twice, maybe three times, in the months I’ve owned it.

    You might consider getting a second set of Joy-Cons instead of a Pro Controller. A pair is only $10 more than a Pro Controller, and for games that support single Joy-Con play, like Mario Kart 8, you’ll be able to have four people playing.

    I see no reason to get the Charging Grip even if you do get a second set of Joy-Cons. They rarely need charging because they get power whenever they’re plugged into the Switch.

    Charger and Cables

    The larger 12 W USB plugs that come with iPads will charge the Switch. The small 5 W ones that come with iPhones will not. If you don’t want to have to swap cords constantly on vacation, the four-port Anker chargers that The Wirecutter recommends it work well.

    I also have one of Anker’s USB-C-to-A cords. The Switch does come with a cable but you don’t really want to be yanking that every time you travel, do you?

  • Switch Wishlist

    I am very happy with the Nintendo Switch. I think the company nailed a lot about the user experience. I love the simplicity of the hardware design. The games are great. Where the Wii and Wii U’s performance hardware compromises left the games at times hobbled, I think the Switch is powerful enough to run AAA-level games. The hybrid nature matches modern, on-the-go lifestyles we’ve come to expect in the pocket computer era. But since I like it so much I want it to be perfect, here are a few wishlist items, in order of their importance to me.

    1. Online backup. As it stands, if you lose your Switch, or it gets stolen, or you break it, all of your data goes with it. Nintendo needs to implement some sort of cloud saving. It’s hard to excuse this not being present, especially on a portable machine.
    2. Bluetooth headphone support. The console already uses Bluetooth to communicate with its controllers. I don’t know if there’s a technical limitation that would disalllow a patch to allow wireless headphones to work of if a future hardware revision would be required. It’s funny that while Nintendo was exactly on time implementing USB-C for charging it’s behind on wireless headphones just as they’re becoming mainstream.
    3. Virtual Console. Now that Nintendo has a unified account system I’d really like it to go ahead and promise that titles you buy will carry forward to other systems. No more buying a new copy of Super Mario Bros. on every new machine. Suck up the revenue loss and do what Apple does and make purchases universal. Then relentlessly port everything so that I can play every Nintendo game I want to anywhere it’ll run. Its back catalogue is a tremendous strength for Nintendo. Sony and Microsoft, because they don’t produce nearly as many of their own games, don’t have the ability to keep up here.
    4. Production speed. I’d love to play Splatoon 2 with other people I know, but you simply can’t buy the Switch anywhere. Likewise with amiibo. Lots of people speculate about what percentage of Nintendo’s supply problems are malice and what are incompetence, but it doesn’t matter much. By Christmas surely there will be enough out there but it’s still super frustrating.
    5. The eShop doesn’t let you preorder games, a feature the 3DS has had for years. You should be able to preorder games and have them loaded and ready to go upon release. One would think this would also help Nintedo’s servers spread out the load a little.
    6. An officially-supported dongle for hooking the Switch up to TVs while traveling, similar to Apple’s lightning + HDMI adapter. Just a tiny thing that can charge the Switch and plug into a TV.
    7. Voice chat is not a priority for me whatsoever but it’s still a major feature gap. Nintendo’s “use a separate smart phone app” solution is… sweet.
    8. Netflix, Twitch, and so forth would be a nice plus but I’m fairly happy continuing to use my phone or iPad for that purpose.
    9. Right now you can post screenshots to Twitter but you can’t crop them first.
    10. It would be nice to be able to record and post short video clips.
  • The Unreadable Thor

    You may recall that several thousand years ago humans invented the concept of sequential numbering. It’s a truly useful concept, especially when you’re organizing, say, issues of a periodical. Here’s how it works: you start with issue one. Then, when you finish issue one, you read issue two. And so on.

    I’ve been rereading Jason Aaron’s run of Thor comic books recently. Aaron started on Thor in ’12. Marvel recently announced, as part of its ill-defined “Legacy” promotion, that Thor’s comic would be reverting to its original numbering this fall with issue 700. This is good, if it sticks. (Update, in narrator’s voice: it didn’t. Marvel announced in February ’18 that that Thor will be rebooted in June.) Allow me to run down what you have to read if you want to take in Jason Aaron’s five-year work on Thor (updated Feb ’18):

    1. Aaron started on Thor: God of Thunder, which ran for 25 issues.
    2. After issue 24, the series took a break for a five-issue mini-series, co-written by Aaron, called “Thor and Loki: The Tenth Realm.” Confusingly, this wasn’t a stand-alone miniseries; it spun out of Original Sin, so it’s numbered as Original Sin 5.1-5.5.
    3. A major plot point happens in Original Sin 7. Thor, absent from the events of the entire book, shows up for one fight against Nick Fury, who whispers something to Thor (exactly what is left as a mystery for a while) that causes Thor to feel himself unworthy of his power and his hammer drops to the ground. Again, Thor has no role in Original Sin except to show up for two pages and lose his hammer. This scene is not adequately repeated or explained in his own book.
    4. Thor vol. 4, 1-8 plus an annual that goes after issue 5. With Thor now unworthy, a new character picks up his hammer and becomes the new Thor. Her identity is kept a mystery for eight issues.
    5. Thors 1-4, a Secret Wars tie-in that takes place on an alternate world where multiple versions of Thor act as police. It’s a cool murder mystery.
    6. The Mighty Thor vol. 2 continues the story of the new, female Thor and occasionally checks in on the old one.
    7. The Unworthy Thor 1-5 follows Thor Odinson and takes place more or less after issue 12 of TMT.
    8. After TMT 22, a one-shot called “Generations: The Unworthy Thor and the Mighty Thor” and parts of “Marvel Legacy”
    9. And, starting after TMT v2 23, Thor 700-704.
    10. A one-shot called “Mighty Thor at the Gates of Valhalla”
    11. A new Thor vol. 5, number 1 and on.

    That’ll be 80 issues once volume five starts (not counting Original Sin, which isn’t part of the series despite featuring its most important plot twist. Arg.) across five discrete periodical volumes and three miniseries. I’ll give a pass to “The Tenth Realm” and Thors since the first is a proper Thor-Loki side story and the other is an alternate worlds yarn, though both feature threads that connect to the main plot. Unworthy Thor probably should have been woven into the main book as a subplot, but it’s, I guess, fine for it to be a mini-series.

    Here’s Marvel’s graphic showing how all the various volumes of Thor comics add up to 700:

    I type this all out to try to express how frustrating it all is. I like this series. I want to read it and reread it, and it’s just like physically difficult to do so. (And forget about doing it digitally. At least with single comics you can make a pile.) Does Thor come before or after The Mighty Thor? There’s literally no way to know without opening the comic and inferring from the plot or trying to find the tiny publication date in the indicia.

    So here (again, because I’m sure I’ve ranted about this before) is my take on The Way Comics Should Be Numbered.

    There are two options:

    One Long Volume

    Just order the series in a sequence and never reboot it. This has tremendous ease of use. If you want to point someone to an issue, you just tell them to go get issue 504 and everyone understands what that is.

    The downside is that publishers claim new readers find it intimidating to jump into issue 700 of a comic, assuming they won’t understand what’s going in if they haven’t read the previous 699 installments. I think this is solvable by one, writing a story that’s easy to follow and two, applying some trade dress to the cover that advertises this is part of a new story. You can keep the proper issue number on the cover while giving it a storyline label (“The Accursed, Part Three” or whatever). Having a consistent cover artist helps.

    New Volumes With New Creative Teams

    I am totally okay with a book being relaunched as a new volume at appropriate times, but never in the middle of a creative team’s run, like how it’s been done with Thor. Mark Waid took over Daredevil in ’11 and sent the book on a new direction. That was a fine time to start a new volume. But then 36 issues in Marvel restarted the book, with Mark Waid and Chris Samnee still on it, just because Matt Murdock moved. The book was still very clearly the same run, featured the same creative team, the same characters, and continued telling the same story it had been. No reason to renumber it. Spider-Gwen started in ’15, got five issues, and then was restarted as Spider-Gwen vol. 2 also in ’15!

    With this approach, it’s important for the publisher to not be afraid to show the volume number on the cover, and on the spines of the trade paperbacks. A reader looking on a shelf or through boxes of back issues for a particular volume needs to be able to find and differentiate Punisher vol. 8 no. 7 from Punisher vol. 9. no. 7. (Store clerks would love this, too.) The volume number doesn’t need to be giant but it should be there.

    This approach falls down a little when you have a writer and artist come on for only a few issues. You might not want to start a new volume for a four-issue run, but it’s fine to just tack those onto the end of the current volume and hold the new number for a genuinely new direction.

    My key point here is: this stuff isn’t that hard. Just publish the next issue with the next number. This constant rebooting sucks, everyone agrees that it does, and whatever short-term sales bumps you get just aren’t worth it.

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  • Breath of the Wild

    I beat The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild last weekend with my 7-year-old alternating between cheering me on and hiding behind the couch from Ganon. The entire game, start to finish, was an amazing experience. I still want to go back in and farm up materials to upgrade some of my armor and finish a few quests and, of course, do the expansions when they come out. With minimal cheating I found 113/120 shrines on my own before turning to a walk through for the last. Somehow I only managed to find 215 or so Korok seeds out of 900.

    Here are a bunch of assorted thoughts about the experience, mostly unsorted but with more spoilers-filled bits at the end.

    I have not been able to find a brown horse with a black mane that has a four for its speed. :(

    I really like the experience of grabbing a horse and riding from one area of the kingdom to another. Unfortunately, as I moved further in the game, I found I was using my horse less and less because I often simply had to travel too far. I tried to use the fast travel sparingly but it winds up being impractical in the late game. Zora’s Domain and Mount Doom aren’t accessible to horses at all and there are large areas of the map in the east with no stables nearby.

    I bought the physical game card for this one. The installation size is 13 GB and I figured I’d get this card and save the space on my SD card. I intend to download every other game and just leave the card in the console permanently.

    The sooner you perfect parry timing, the better. Backwards leaps, too. If you get a perfect parry when a guardian shoots its beam at you it’ll reflect back at it. A perfect backwards leap vs. a Lynel (or anything) lets you get in a bunch of hits with a cool slow-mo effect.

    Oh, you should watch Nintendo’s making-of shorts:

    1. The Beginning
    2. Open-Air Concept
    3. Story and Characters
    4. Bonus Session

    After you buy a few heart upgrades, work on getting an extra wheel of stamina. Being able to run and climb more places is super handy and I found I didn’t die a lot to regular mobs.

    One of Apple’s greatest innovations was its insistence on a common user interaction model for all applications on the Mac. Every app has a menu bar. File was always first, then Edit. Cut, copy, paste are always ⌘X, ⌘C, ⌘V, and so on. The effect of this was that you could sit down with a brand new application and already knew the basics. You never had to relearn how to use a menu.

    Video games never got this sort of thing. Every game has its own user interface. The analogy isn’t perfect of course — we’ve come to expect that the game’s menu system matches the game’s look and feel. I think that’s mostly fine, but the downside is that I think a lot of tested user experience lessons don’t pass from game-to-game. Certainly, for example, some games have found better and worse ways for players to manage their inventory. Whatever gets learned is wasted if the next game to come along just makes up something new.

    Which is to say, the inventory system in Breath of the Wild could use some work. I’d like to be able to equip a full armor set instead of having to click on each item every time. There should be a button that lets you flip between item types (weapon, bow, shield, etc.), instead moving one page at a time. There should be a better way to search the Hyrule Compendium. There should be a recipe book that lets you easily remake meals you’ve already discovered. You should be able to add recipes you see in cookbooks and posters to that book.

    All of these are nitpicks; they don’t diminish the greatness of the game overall. And yet they introduce tiny, frequent annoyances into the gameplay experience. It grates on me because, as I said, these are solved problems. Other games have figured this out.

    I love the character of Zelda in the game. She’s like Gandalf fighting the Balrog but 17 years old and doing it for 100 years by herself, and she’s entirely self-trained! In flashbacks we see her traveling all over the kingdom, devoted equally to prayer, historical research, and scientific study. Also, she wears trousers! And steel-toed boots!

    I never tired of the game’s beauty. You’ll just come across these amazing vistas or sunsets or rainbows and just have to stop and marvel sometimes.

    Most games in the series open with a prologue that provides some backstory and then cut to a scene of Link sleeping. The art book Hyrule Historia asks, “Is this a way of conveying the notion of a normal person waking up to the unknown and embarking on a hero’s journey?” Here, the prologue isn’t shown for several hours until you run across a bard named Kass who sings it to you. It’s a neat touch. Link doesn’t have his memories so you don’t get the backstory he also can’t remember.

    I realize the “main character has amnesia” thing is a tremendous trope at this point, but it really does work well here. You’re constantly coming across ruins and sites of battles and slowly finding out what happened there (or, often, not). There’s clearly so much that happened and there’s no one alive to remember. Even setting aside the events of Calamity Ganon’s rise 100 years ago, it’s a society that has lost amazing technology and was in decline long before Ganon’s return.

    The plot of the game is given such a light touch in a very cool way. There’s almost nothing to it. Obviously there are some revelations here and there but, basically, you get what you see from the start. Ganon has taken over. Link prepares, fights him. Most of the game, instead of dwelling on complicated storyline stuff, is small moments. You help a guy build a town. You find a kid’s lost mother. You explore and explore and explore.

    It’s not even explained why the Sheikah technology was lost. It’s just a fact that even before Ganon returned 100 years ago, the people in this world know that an ancient civilization could do all this stuff but that’s all lost.

    In the early game it’s neat that you spend a lot of time running for your life away from enemies you can’t kill. I spent a long time sneaking around mounted Bokoblins, terrified. I love that coming across a Guardian doesn’t really stop being a huge threat until very late in the game. Then, when you’re outfitted in Guardian Armor with Ancient Arrows you feel like a total badass. Still, not long ago I got cocky and tried to ride through the castle field and my horse got killed by four guardians at the same time and my kids were watching and it traumatized all of us.

    Most of the major games establish that the world was created by the goddesses Din, who created the land, Nayru, who created its rules of science and magic, and Farore, who created life. Respectively they are the Goddesses of Power, Wisdom, and Courage. The Triforce, whose three parts each represent one of the goddesses (and also Ganon, Zelda, and Link), were created at the point where they left the world and entered the sacred realm.

    None of this is mentioned at all in Breath of the Wild (unless I missed it). Instead, we see three dragons, Dinraal, Nayrda, and Farosh, whose names have presumably shifted slightly over the millennia from those of the goddesses. They each display elemental properties of fire, ice, and lightning, which are commonly associated with each goddess. We’re never given any explanation for why the dragons exist or what their purpose is, aside from a few words at the Shrine of Wisdom when you free Naydra from Ganon’s Malice.

    The result is that you just sort of… come across these… beings from time-to-time. The music shifts and you (the player) are able to experience, very briefly, some semblance of what the ancient Greeks would have felt when randomly running into Anthena in the woods or whatever. It’s just this quick, unexplained brush with the divine. Magical.

    Eventually to upgrade some of your armor you do have to start tracking down the dragons purposely. I found a good method for farming them on reddit but can’t find the link.

    First, get a good long range bow. There’s a Golden Bow that respawns every blood moon in a cave directly northwest of Gerudo Tower. Then:

    1. Sleep until night somewhere. When you wake up at 9:00, put on some cold resist gear and then teleport to Jitan Sa’mi Shrine on Mount Lanayru.
    2. Jump off the mountain and fly west to East Lanayru Gate. Land on the mountains north of the valley, above where you found a memory. There’s a Lynel in the field below but you won’t aggro it if you’re on the rocks. (Or, kill it because it drops good gear and sometimes Star Fragments, which you also need for high-level upgrades, though this will mess up our timetable so maybe do this during the day.)
    3. Naydra will spawn on the mountain and then fly down the valley directly at you.
    4. Now teleport to Shae Loya Shrine by the Tabantha Bridge.
    5. Run north along the eastern edge of the canyon until you see Dinraal. (Wear flame-resistant gear.)
    6. Teleport to Shai Utoh Shrine in Faron and run north and then east across the bridge.
    7. Farosh should be coming down the waterfall toward you. Wear rubber armor. Farosh flies pretty close to the water here and you can’t shoot an arrow while swimming so watch your altitude.

    If you get all the timing right you can get a part from each dragon in one night, then sleep and repeat.

    Incidentally, I like that while all of Hyrule is waiting for me to defeat Ganon and Zelda is fighting him alone in the castle for 100 years, I’m sleeping all day.

    Speaking of gear, I highly recommend fully upgrading your Guardian Armor. With the set bonus you can just smash guardians.

    Definitely upgrade the climbing set to level two but going higher isn’t worth much. You won’t be fighting in it but having the jump distance increase is great.

    Put at least some effort into the Barbarian Set, too. With the set bonus you can sneak up on a sleeping Hinox, equip and charge up a spear attack (by holding Y), and kill it before it hits you once.

    Of the elemental resistance gear, I’ve only fully upgraded the snow set. There aren’t that many difficult or lengthy encounters that require flame or shock resistance but there’s a lot to do in the snow, including two Lynel in the Hebra Snowfield.

    When I want to look cool while hanging around towns or stables I wear the Switch logo shirt you get buying the DLC (it’s in a chest on a wall near Ja Bajj Shrine on the Great Plateau).

    If you want to dress like the promo art and the archer amiibo, wear the Champion’s Tunic, Hylian Trousers, and Amber Earrings.

    The jewelry, it turns out, is as good or better than any other headgear once upgraded. Amber Earrings have 28 armor, tied with the Soldier’s Helm and Cap of the Wild for the highest headgear in the game. The other jewelry items are also good but you don’t get a set bonus if you wear them. You can often get away with wearing just the ruby or sapphire one if you need just a bit of cold or heat resistance rather than putting on your full set of resistance gear.

    The Champion’s Tunic, fully upgraded, has 32 armor, which is the single highest piece of armor in the game. After it, the cheapest way to max out your armor is to upgrade the basic Soldier Set you can buy in Hateno Village. It doesn’t confer a set bonus but that’s fine. The Armor of the Wild gives you the same armor class but requires Star Fragments and two of each dragons’ parts, and its set bonus just upgrades the Master Sword’s beam which is only useful when you’re at full health.

    I have the Twilght armor that you get from the Link Smash Bros. amiibo. I started working on upgrading it but I think it maxes out at 20 armor/pc, which is low. I get that maybe you shouldn’t be able to use real money to buy armor that’s as good as the Wild set that you can’t get without finding every shrine, but in the case it should not require Star Fragments to upgrade. If it’s only as good as the basic Hylian Set, it should have a similarly mid-tier shopping list.

    I don’t like that the unique weapons that you get after completing each Divine Beast are somewhat underpowered. I got the Lightscale Trident first and it was already somewhat weak compared to the other weapons I was using. It’s neat that they can be rebuilt but I wound up just hanging them in my house in Hateno because weapons are so easy to come by.

    If you ever see Satori Mountain illuminated at night, go there. Like coming across a dragon, it’s a cool experience and an homage to the late Satoru Iwata, Nintendo’s president.

    Gameplay-wise, the puzzles tended to be well thought-out and rewarding. There were only a few moments when I needed to cheat. A frustration I feel frequently with some games are when they’re something I know I’m supposed to do but the game isn’t effectively communicating what that is, like making an object I’m supposed to interact with look too much like background art. That didn’t happen much and most of the trickier puzzles were things I was eventually able to figure out.

    I like the idea of cooking. For a while I really liked making different recipes and playing with the bonuses. Then I started getting resistance gear and most of them weren’t that helpful. Early-to-midgame the bonus heart food is really good. Later on, though, especially once you max out your hearts, you can just cook one Hearty Durian or Truffle or Radish and a Prime Meat to get a full-heal meal and all the creativity you could have put into making crêpes or stews just sort of fades away. Again, I’d love for the game to have a recipe book so I could sort by the bonus I want, filter by recipes I have the ingredients for, and make some cool stuff.

    Eventide Island was one of the coolest events I came across. Lots of fun. Great test of what you’ve learned to do so far.

    [Spoilers will start getting heavier below.]

    The music in the game is intentionally sparse. You get little light touches of piano here and there but it’s all pruned way back to allow the feeling that you’re out in nature really come through, and it succeeds wonderfully. I tend to associate modern Zelda games with sweeping orchestral scores so the contrast with this game is a [heh] breath of fresh air.

    Then you get to Hyrule Castle and it’s gorgeously, fully scored and you wonder if they were just playing a 100+-hour tease to add drama to that zone.

    If you do all of Kass’s puzzles he plays you his full song and it’s a delightful reveal. I somehow hadn’t picked up on what melody Kass was working on and when I heard the full thing and it hit me it was a super neat moment.

    I like the way that freeing a Divine Beast from Ganon is one of the first things you do in a new zone rather than its climax. You go in, help the Zora or Goron or whoever with their rampaging ancient mecha problem, and then start doing quests to help the little people.

    I’d liked to have seen, however, a greater emphasis on the new champions of each zone. This is a fallen land, and Link has walked in and helped them all, but I’d like to see their new champions picking up the reigns. I guess if I had to I could argue there’s a little bit of white man’s burden going on, but since the game is Japanese I can’t quite force that level of western imperialism onto Hyrule being that I don’t know Japanese racial culture well enough.

    What I’m trying to get to is that in the final battle with Ganon you see the spirits of the fallen champions piloting the Divine Beasts. It’s a cool moment to seee Mipha, Daruk, Revali, and Urbosa get their vengeance, to be sure, but it denies the current peoples of Hyrule of heroes they might need in the new era. After Ganon is defeated we see Zelda and Link setting off on new adventures, specifically to go repair a malfunctioning Divine Beast, but I’d sort of liked to see that Link’s progress during the game had enabled the Zora, Goron, etc. more.

    The Triforce barely figures into the game, appearing only as Zelda uses her power in the last phase of the ending battle with Calamity Ganon. At no point do you travel around the map searching for it or reassembling it, or even interact with it as an object.

    Zelda’s line that Ganon has given up on resurrection implies that this will be the last time we’ll see him. The ending scene seems to place the characters on a fresh start, allowing them to freely adventure and start to put their world back together. It leaves me wondering where the next installment of the series will come from. A prequel set in the Sheikah days? A direct sequel showing them rebuilding their kingdom? Or is the whole game an argument for closing off this chapter of the series and moving on to another direction? And how incredibly heavy will the burden to top this one feel!

    Okay, let’s talk about the timeline.

    Some of the Zelda games have direct sequels. Others seem to take place in the same general world, reusing place names, monsters, and so forth, but all tell their own story, which is always about a boy (named “Link” by default but the player is usually allowed to rename him) and often features a princess, Zelda, and a villain, Ganon. These fixtures aside, not a whole lot ties the early games together. This changed with the release of Ocarina of Time. Because Ocarina of Time has multiple endings, fans came up with a theory that later installments of the series occur in various “what-if” scenarios branching out from the consequences of that game. Since Nintendo has officially recognized the split timeline theory, it opens up the question of where Breath of the Wild fits. Let’s dive in.

    In the beginning there was The Legend of Zelda for the Nintendo Entertainment System and its direct sequel, The Adventure of Link, in 1987 and 1988 (using the US release dates). The story of the first game is very simple. From its poorly-translated prologue:

    Many years ago Prince Darkness Gannon stole one of the Triforce with Power. Princess Zelda had one of the Triforce with Wisdom. She divided it into “8” units to hide it from Gannon before she was captured. Go find the “8” units “Link” to save her.

    The game’s manual provides a little more backstory, but that’s more or less it. Link braves dungeons, fights monsters, reassembles the Triforce, fights Ganon, and saves Princess Zelda.

    The Adventure of Link follows Link as he prevents Ganon from rising again. It also establishes that there have been previous princesses named Zelda and that it’s royal tradition to give princesses that name.

    In 1992 we got A Link to the Past for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Its packaging notes that it features “the predecessors of Link and Zelda,” though there aren’t any major plot connections aside from using similar locations and bestiary. Zelda here is not the same person as the slumbering Princess Zelda the First from The Adventure of Link. A Link to the Past’s prologue speaks of “an omnipotent and omniscient Golden Power that resided in a hidden land,” referring to the Triforce in the Sacred Realm, which is where the goddesses who made the world were from (or something like that). “One day evil power began to flow from the Golden Land… So the King commanded seven wise men to seal the gate to the Land of the Golden Power.” In the game Link finds that the Sacred Realm has been taken over by Ganon and turned in a Dark World. Link defeats Ganon and restores the Sacred Realm. Yay.

    (Oh, most of the games have Gameboy or DS sequels. I haven’t played any despite them being very well-regarded. They all contribute to the larger story in their own ways but I’m going to remain focused on the home console releases. Also I’m just going to call the bad guy “Ganon” all the time instead of differentiating between “Ganon” and “Ganondorf.”)

    1998 saw Nintendo 64’s Ocarina of Time. It’s a super important part of the Zelda series, creating the format for all 3D games of the series to follow until Breath of the Wild brought back the original’s open world. It’s also important because its ending created what you can either call a fascinating inflection point for the series or an annoying piece of minutia for fans to obsess over: the split timeline.

    Time travel features heavily in the story of Ocarina of Time. At its conclusion, Link, as an adult (well, a teenager, but we’ll call him “Adult Link” for clarity) defeats Ganon and then travels back in time where, as a kid, he warns Zelda of Ganon’s rise, who then has Ganon arrested before he comes to power. Hold onto that for a second.

    In ’00 Ocarina of Time’s sequel, Majora’s Mask was released and it’s super good but its plot is mostly self-contained and it doesn’t take place in Hyrule so we’ll move on. It’s an amazing game, though, it just doesn’t inform the overall plot a ton.

    In ’03 Nintendo released The Wind Waker for the GameCube. The Wind Waker featured a cool cartoon look and was set in a Hyrule that had been flooded. Hylians now live on what had once been the tallest elevations in Old Hyrule. At one point we even travel underwater to see some familiar settings. The game’s prologue spelt out some of the backstory, which I’ll annotate:

    Long ago, there existed a kingdom where a golden power lay hidden. It was a prosperous land blessed with green forests, tall mountains, and peace.

    But one day, a man of great evil found the golden power and took it for himself. With its strength at his command, he spread darkness across the kingdom. But then, when all hope had died, and the hour of doom seemed at hand…

    Most of the Zelda games thus far have featured a similar prologue describing Ganon’s rise. Here, though, we actually have a Zelda game specifically referencing a previous game. The Wind Waker prologue is describing the events of Ocarina of Time:

    …a young boy clothed in green appeared as if from nowhere. Wielding the blade of evil’s bane, he sealed the dark one away and gave the land light.

    This boy, who traveled through time to save the land, was known as the Hero of Time. The boy’s tale was passed down through generations until it became legend…

    Importantly, what’s being described here are the exploits of Adult Link from Ocarina of Time, the one who killed Ganon and then traveled back in time to warn Zelda.

    But then, a day came when a fell wind began to blow across the kingdom. The great evil that all thought had been forever sealed away by the hero once again crept forth from the depths of the earth, eager to resume its dark designs.

    Ganon returns.

    The people believed that the Hero of Time would again come to save them… But the hero did not appear. Faced by an onslaught of evil, the people could do nothing but appeal to the Gods.

    “But the hero did not appear” is our key phrase. Why, fans wondered, was there not a Link to stop Ganon? Over time a theory would form that Ocarina of Time’s multiple endings would have big ramifications.

    When Link went back in time to warn Zelda of Ganon’s coming, he left the timeline of his present and never returned. Why would he? He was in the past, young again, saving Terminus in Majora’s Mask, and he’d prevented Ganon from ever rising. Link went back in time and prevented the events of the game but in doing so his original timeline was left without him. When Ganon inevitably returned, there was no hero to stop him. In desperation the people prayed to the gods, who responded by flooding the entire land to stop Ganon, hence The Wind Waker’s watery setting.

    So The Wind Waker progresses and a new Link fights Ganon in a magical bubble at the bottom of the sea where Old Hyrule was preserved, eventually driving the Master Sword into his head, killing him and sealing his power. The king then breaks the magic bubble and the seas flood and destroy Hyrule. The game has a few sequels that follow Link and Zelda finding new land and establishing New Hyrule.

    In ’02 the Wii (and GameCube) got Twilight Princess, and here’s where things get weird. It’s set in regular old Hyrule, not the flooded world of the previous game. Partway through we see a flashback to what was supposed to be Ganon’s execution, but he escapes. This is explicitly supposed to be a scene set after his arrest due to Link warning Zelda based on his knowledge of the future in Ocarina of Time. Twilight Princess is a sequel to the Child Link ending of Ocarina of Time, taking place in a timeline parallel to that of The Wind Waker. Important to this story is that Link is not remembered as a hero in this timeline. He’s just a kid who warned Zelda about Ganon and then wandered off to star in a sequel that has nothing to do with her. During the course of Twilight Princess, the player is assisted by “The Hero’s Shade,” who, we learn, is the ghostly form of child Link who grew up and died regretting that he was never remembered as a hero.

    Kinda cool, right? Ocarina of Time featured time travel, and two of the later games each take up one of its alternate endings.

    In ’11 we got Skyward Sword for the Wii which told the oldest story yet, set long before any other game and showing, among other things, the beginnings of Hyrule and of a reincarnation cycle that is played out between Ganon, Link, and Zelda.

    Around that time, fans got a little overexcited and tried to place the rest of the games into the timeline, and for some reason Nintendo decided to play along. Surely if Skyward Sword is the first story in the series, Ocarina of Time is in the middle somewhere, and Wind Waker and Twilight Princess branch off from it, there must be a way to connect the rest of the stories!

    In ’11 Nintendo published Hyrule Historia, an art book featuring information about the whole series to date. That book included an official recognition by Nintendo of the multiple timelines theory, and went a little crazy. It placed Skyward Sword at the beginning of the story, followed by Ocarina of Time, then the split showing Child Link’s storyline continuing in Majora’s Mask and Twilight Princes and Adult Link’s storyline begetting The Wind Waker, but it introduced a third timeline: the Darkest Timeline (as I call it, hat tip to Community).

    The Darkest Timeline posits a third possibility: either Link defeats Ganon as an adult, or he travels back in time and warns Zelda and they arrest him, or Link dies and accomplishes none of this. Literally, this is the timeline that springs from the player character dying in the game. Link dies, Ganon takes over but eventually is defeated and sealed away in the Sacred Realm, which he perverts into the Dark World, precipitating A Link to the Past. If you get Link killed while playing Ocarina of Time, you create a timeline where Ganon rises and then the events of A Link to the Past occur. And since that game was intended to be a prequel to the first two NES games, they belong in this timeline, too, so goes the thinking.

    Here’s a chart of the whole thing.

    Except it’s all reaching. There’s no actual connection between Ganon’s victory at Link’s death in Ocarina of Time and the era described in A Link to the Past prologue. It would work if the “game over” screen in Ocarina of Time showed a montage of Ganon’s rise bearing similarities to A Link to the Past, but it doesn’t.

    I’ll note that the fans’ original theory was that these games took place some time after Twilight Princess, which maybe makes a little bit more sense. It allows The Wind Waker to be its own little spinoff with the main timeline being that of Child Link. But for some reason Hyrule Historia invented the third, Darkest Timeline, so we have to choose between Twilight Princess and the earlier games.

    So we come now, at last, to Breath of the Wild. If we’re forced to arrange all of the series into one timeline, Breath of the Wild must fit in, too, right?

    I’m going to have to grudgingly say that it does. This game was very much intended to be a return to form, bringing back the open world concept from the original game, and I’d like to say that, storywise, it’s allowed to be free and just pick up whatever motifs it wants without being tied to continuity but as I’ve read more and more and explored the game more and more, I don’t think I can get off that easily. While the plot of the game is fairly self-contained, the setting contains too many painstakingly, lovingly crafted homages to previous games for me to let it just be its own thing.

    So, if I really have to choose, I’ll place Breath of the Wild in the Darkest Timeline. Personally, though, I’m not totally sold on this being a different timeline that necessarily excludes Majora’s Mask and Twilight Princess, and I can almost offer up an argument that this game doesn’t, either. Away we go.

    Let’s look at the story of Breath of the Wild. The first thing to note is that Breath of the Wild takes place a long time after any previous game. In the same way the Skyward Sword is a distant prequel to every Zelda game, here we have a distant sequel. Events of the previous games definitely happened but it’s been ages.

    Like other games, it features a prologue sequence that explains its backstory, this time in the form of a song:

    The Kingdom of Hyrule is a vast and storied land, Oft grasped in the palm of a villainous hand. A dark force of destruction, many times undone, Rises once again — Ganon, the calamitous one. But hope survives in Hyrule, for all is not lost, Two brave souls protect it, no matter the cost. A Goddess-blood princess and a fearless knight, They appear in each age to fight the good fight. Their battle with Ganon I’ve committed to song, To keep it through time, no matter how long.

    So, standard “Link and Zelda fight Ganon” in “each age” stuff.

    Now begins the second verse, listen and you’ll know, Of their battle with Ganon 10,000 years ago. The kingdom of Hyrule was once a land of lasting peace, A culture of such strength and wit, that suffering did cease.

    Incidentally, “10,000” in Japan, I’m told, is a magic number that just means “really big” in the same way Americans might say “a million dollars” when they’re trying to think of a big number of dollars. It’s likely we shouldn’t take the “10,000 years ago” figure literally but it doesn’t ultimately matter how long ago the past events were. Point is, a long time ago, Hyrule had an age of prosperity.

    In addition to there being 10,000 years of space between Ganon’s last defeat and this one, there must have been a significant amount of time before that for the Sheikah to develop the advanced technology they used to help Zelda and Link.

    But Ganon lurked beneath the surface, strengthening its jaws So the ancient people of Hyrule set out to help the cause. Their efforts bore fruit in an automated force, The help avert Calamity by sealing it at its source. Four giant behemoths for which power never ceased, Each of these titans was called a “Divine Beast.” And free-willed machines that hunted down their prey These Guardians were built to last so they could join the fray. […]

    The song goes on to describe the last fight with Ganon, 10,000 years before the game’s recent calamity. The Sheikah use their Divine Beasts to help that era’s Zelda and Link defeat Ganon. Over time the clan fades away, the last of whom now live in Kakariko Village, but they pass along a prophesy that Ganon will return.

    As opposed to the prologue of The Wind Waker, which directly references Ocarina of Time’s incarnation of Ganon, none of this refers to any particular Link, Zelda, or Ganon we’ve seen, but the King’s Journal found in Hyrule Castle does mention tradition of naming princesses “Zelda” as per The Adventure of Link persists, so the game has to be set after the events described in that game. Breath of the Wild’s Zelda knows that Ganon is going to return, just as the Sheikah did, prompting them to build the Guardians and the Divine Beasts, but we don’t know whether the three Ganons-ago Ganon is one from any particular game. We just know there’s the current Calamity Ganon in Hyrule Castle, the one the defeated 10,000 years ago, and another one from before that.

    (Two affordances. One: we’re meant to accept the idea that a civilization could exist for dozens of millennia and somehow still use the same royal crest, have a language that doesn’t change so much that words like “Zelda” aren’t altered at all, and so on. Two: every game has its own geography. We can’t dwell on the fact that, say, Spectacle Rock is in the north in A Link to the Past and in the southwest in Breath of the Wild. We have to accept that these locations are supposed to be the same places even though the game design required them to be in difference locations, in the same way that we accept that Robert DeNiro and Marlon Brando are both Vito Corleone. These are affordances of the media we have to grant.)

    The Hyrule that Link wakes up to is the Hyrule of previous games. Very early on you come across the Temple of Time and it’s intentionally modeled to look like a ruined version of Ocarina of Time’s structure. You can find ruins of Castle Town in the exact same place it sat. Nearby I found a pond that looked like the one in Link’s village and an appropriately placed stump where the Deku Tree would have sat. (And if not there, you can also find “Sage’s Temple” near the “Ancient Tree” stump on Western Hyrule Field.) North of Riverside Stable sit the ruins of Lon Lon Ranch. The Arbiter’s Grounds from Twilight Princess reside, mostly buried in sand, in Gerudo Desert. These aren’t just homages. The designers took great care to make these look like ruined versions of the exact locations from the previous games. Here’s a video walking through the similarities of Ocarina of Time’s Castle Town and Breath of the Wild’s Great Plateau.

    If you find all 120 shrines in the game you hear a voice bidding you to come to the Forgotten Temple, where the monks give you a gift in the form of three treasure chests containing the Armor of the Wild. Why there? Because the Forgotten Temple is the original temple from Skyward Sword, one of the few times the game’s homages is a part of the story and not just setting. While the characters in the game know it only as ruins, the gods remember.

    Culturally, the Divine Beasts are all named after famous characters from previous games. Vah Ruta, Vah Nabooris, and Vah Rudania for Ocarina of Time’s Ruto, Nabooru, and Darunia. (Vah Medoh is problematic, however, as we’ll discuss below.)

    It’s clear, then, that this game takes place in the far future of the Hyrule we’ve come to love. The question is which future.

    I’ll go ahead and rule out the Adult Timeline right away. At the end of Wind Waker the magic barrier protecting Hyrule is lowered and the kingdom is flooded and destroyed. Its sequels then follow Link and Zelda as they establish a new kingdom in a new land. Even if you imagine that the waters eventually receded and the buildings were still standing enough to remain recognizable ruins, and the Temple of Time were rebuilt (as the King in Breath of the Wild mentions it had been in use until recently), setting the game in Old Hyrule undermines the events of Wind Waker which lead to the King’s wish to destroy it, as well as those of the game’s sequels.

    Some have proposed that Divine Beast Vah Medoh is named after Medli, a Rito from Wind Waker. Every other Divine Beast is named after a famous sage whose race matches its home city. Medli becomes a sage in the course of that game, so she certainly qualifies. There’s no good way for me to argue away from this one, since there aren’t any Rito characters in any other game, much less any Rito sages.

    The item description for Rock Salt mentions an ancient sea, which some have taken to refer to Wind Waker’s sea. While this is possible I again don’t like the explanation because I think it lessens Wind Waker’s ending and its sequels which are clearly meant to be showing that the story has moved on from Old Hyrule.

    What about the Child Timeline? There are some good arguments for placing the game in this timeline. Foremost among them is the text of the speech Zelda gives when she anoints Link as a knight:

    Hero of Hyrule, chosen by the sword that seals the darkness… You have shown unflinching bravery and skill in the face of adversity. And have proven yourself worthy of the blessings of the Goddess Hylia. Whether skyward bound, adrift in time, or steeped in the glowing embers of twilight… The sacred blade is forever bound to the soul of the Hero. We pray for your protection… and we hope that — that the two of you will grow stronger together, as one.

    The text specifically mentions “twilight,” so that means the game has to be set after Twilight Princess in the Child Timeline, right? Well. Not so fast. Zelda is talking about the Master Sword, which was never wielded by Link in the Child Timeline. That’s the timeline where Link’s role was just to warn Zelda about Ganon; he doesn’t fight and doesn’t have the Master Sword. He isn’t even remembered, as the Hero’s Shade laments.

    During this scene the camera moves away from Zelda to listen to Revali and Daruk, but at one point we hear Zelda mention that Link has crossed the sea. The obvious connection here is to Wind Waker, but Link also crosses a sea in The Adventure of Link.

    One more wrinkle: the Japanese game doesn’t use the word “twilight” for the Twilight Realm in Twilight Princess. It does use that word to refer to the Dark World in A Link to the Past, so you could argue that Zelda was referring to events from the Darkest Timeline both here and with the line about the sea.

    A better argument, I think, is that the game is just referring to other games without caring about this timeline nonsense. But we’ll move on because we’re forcing ourselves to commit to a timeline, dammit!

    Arbiter’s Grounds exist in Breath of the Wild. They’re only seen in Twilight Princess, so they’re a direct link to the Child Timeline. You can imagine that they’d have been built long before Ganondorf’s execution, though, so I won’t call that strong evidence.

    The Divine Beast Vah Ruta as named after Ruto, a Zora who is the Sage of Water in Ocarina of Time and who, according to a stone tablet in Breath of the Wild, helped defeat Ganon ages ago. In Twilight Princess, however, we see Ganon kill a Sage of Water who doesn’t resemble Ruto. If Ruto isn’t a sage in the Child Timeline, then Breath of the Wild can’t be a part of it.

    Twilight Princess’s Temple of Time is in worse shape than Breath of the Wild’s. Granted it could have been rebuilt (and probably has) over the years.

    Moving on to the Darkest Timeline, I’ll borrow a few points from Reddit user ArtVandelayImporters who lays out the case well, I think, for this being the setting for Breath of the Wild, as do Geek’s Will Greenwald and John Eire at Now Loading.

    First, the game just feels like the original Legend of Zelda. It very intentionally recreates its open world concept, allowing the player to tackle most any part of the game in whatever order is desired. It was released around the game’s 30th anniversary so setting it in the same world seems fitting, and it’s in general designed to be a celebration of the series’ roots. Look at page six of the original game’s manual and tell me that illustration of Link staring off into the distance couldn’t be concept art for Breath of the Wild!

    Breath of the Wild features a maze just like The Adventure of Link and Rauru Settlement Ruins to that game’s Town of Rauru, in the same places on the map, speaking to the possibility that this is set after that game which, we’d seen, had been the last game in that timeline chronologically.

    The Darkest Timeline branches off from the Adult Timeline, with most of the events of Ocarina of Time occurring before Link dies, so there’s plenty of time for Ruto and the others to become sages and take their place in history to be commemorated by the Divine Beasts’ names.

    The games set in the Darkest Timeline all feature Ganon as their main villain, and he’s the only antagonist here.

    The Master Sword is found in the Lost Woods, like in A Link to the Past, instead of in the Temple of Time like in Twilight Princess. (Granted it could have been moved.) The path to navigating the Lost Woods resembles the original game’s puzzle.

    The inciting incident of the entire game is that this is a world where Link and Zelda were not successful in defeating Ganon 100 years ago. This entire timeline started when Link died fighting Ganon during Ocarina of Time.

    So, that’s my argument for the game being set in the Darkest Timeline. Mostly it just feels like it’s supposed to fit there.

    Another theory that’s been tossed around is that the various timelines have converged somehow. Ultimately the game is set so far in the future that it could be the future of any of the timelines. A better reckoning is that Nintendo decided it didn’t care all that much about the timeline and just stuck in references and easter eggs where it felt like it. Continuity is an albatross to a writer.

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  • Billion Dollar Limited

    This week’s Superman short, “Billion Dollar Limited,” is up.

    ↺ Reply ↻ Retweet ♡ Like

    Billion Dollar Limited

  • Tweet Feet

    You’ve probably seen this at the bottom of, well, everything on the web in the past decade:

    Clicking on that link will open up a window letting you tweet a link to this very post. There’s a good chance you’ve done that once or twice.

    Publishers like it. You’re tweeting about their “content!” (Publishers call their articles “content” instead of “articles” or “news stories” or “writing.” Movies and songs can also be “content.”)

    I want to argue that this is not the right way to use Twitter to share something you found online. First, a short history lesson.

    Ages and ages ago, Twitter didn’t have a “retweet” button. Instead, if people liked something they saw on Twitter, they’d make a new tweet, prepending “RT” and the author’s username. You’d see a lot of “RT @ev blah blah blah.” It was a good way to share what someone else had to say, but was awful in a bunch of ways. Your timeline would often be filled up with dozens of people manually retweeting the same thing. There was no good way to gauge how popular a tweet was. Eventually Twitter added native retweet functionality into its system and there was much rejoicing.

    Sharing an article using a little Tweet button is, I think, very much like the old manual retweets. A big news story breaks and you get dozens of people clicking that little Tweet button and sharing the article. This is silly. That publication has a Twitter account that certainly tweeted about the article. Why not retweet that instead?

    Here’s the “canonical tweet” for this very blog post:

    //platform.twitter.com/widgets.js<p>There are a few advantages to this approach. If you retweet this post, people in the thread will see my tweet, not your tweet talking about my article. Anyone who hits the reply button will be bothering me, not you. Anyone who “likes” it will be incrementing my ego, not yours.</p>

    There is a little bit of a chicken-and-egg problem here. I can’t tweet out a link to my post until I’ve published it, but I can’t embed the tweet until I’ve tweeted it. It’s common knowledge that the word “tweet” dates back to prehistoric times when we’d use a bird’s beak to etch short messages into wood, and this sort of thing was very hard to do back then. Fortunately we have Twitter on computers now. A sophisticated publishing system could easily post a tweet, then fetch that tweet’s ID and sub in the proper embed code.

    Failing that, you can do it the clumsy way, as I have, and make up a little footer that I paste into the post with an edit after I’ve published it and tweeted about it. You’ll see it at the bottom of this post.

    Here’s a little Markdown template you can use. I chose a few little unicode arrows but you could get fancy and use Twitter’s own images if you wanted. Just replace the 111s with the long number at the end of your Tweet’s permalink.

    [↺ Reply][reply] [↻ Retweet][retweet] [♡ Like][like]
    [reply]: https://twitter.com/intent/tweet?in_reply_to=111111111111111111
    [retweet]: https://twitter.com/intent/retweet?tweet_id=111111111111111111
    [like]: https://twitter.com/intent/like?tweet_id=111111111111111111

    So now, wherever you might be reading this, you can use Twitter as the comment system for this post, and people might actually see it instead of ignoring it like most comment sections. You can retweet or like right from the page or your RSS reader. I’m sure almost no one else will ever go through the effort, but it’s a thing I’m doing. Now back to writing about Superman or whatever.

  • Mild-Mannered Superman

    Oh, hey, I started a new little project. It’s a reconciling of a bunch of different versions of the ’40s Fleischer Studios Superman shorts. Since the films are in the public domain, the different copies you can get are all of different quality. I’m trying to take the best of each version and make the best edition I can. The second one, “The Mechanical Monsters,” just went up.

    Mild-Mannered Superman

  • House Republicans seem confident their healthcare bill will succeed tomorrow. Rumor has it the White House is going to issue an executive order attempting to use religion to allow discrimination based on sexual orientation. It’s looking like it’ll one of those days you feel helpless to stop these heartless assholes.

    Much of my motivation for starting Snowflake was to combat that exact feeling. ACLU and Lambda Legal have already promised to sue over the “License to Discriminate.” They’ll need money. The idea behind Snowflake is that these sorts of things are going to keep happening over the next months and [ick] years. Tomorrow it’s LGBTQ rights. The next day it’s internet privacy or public education or a new Muslim ban. It’s a lot to ask, but this is why I’m pushing for recurring donations. Once you set it up, you can have a little peace of mind knowing you’re helping out on a lot of fronts every single month.

  • Snowflake — Our Story

    Oh, hi. I started a non-profit.

    Snowflake — Our Story

  • Switch Notes

    I’ve had a Nintendo Switch for a week now and wanted to share a few notes about the system.

    Quickly on games, I have The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, 1-2-Switch, and Snipperclips. BotW is astounding. I think 1-2-Switch has much more potential than might seem at first glance. Picture it more as a party game like Cranium than even Wii Sports. Snipperclips is a gem.

    I’ve played a little bit on the TV, a bit on the couch while the kids were watching cartoons, some more in bed, and some in the car waiting to pick up my youngest daughter from pre-school each day. I like playing on the big TV but it’s funny how often the convenience of being able to move it elsewhere wins out.

    The console by itself is understated. So understated I don’t even want to apply an adjective to how understated it is. It’s very simply just a small, black, functional tablet. There’s no logo on the front. The power/sleep and volume buttons on the top are inset so you barely notice them. The bezel around the screen is a little wide but, as with the original iPad, that winds up being a plus as you don’t ever obscure the screen with your hands when you hold it.

    The console is very thick by the standard of modern iPads. This, again, winds up being a plus. Nintendo has learned over the years that human hand is a weird blob. Every controller since the original NES’s uncomfortable rectangle has tried to adopt a more organic shape. The Joy-Cons are small but they’re a good thickness to hold in a way that somewhat reminds me of an OXO vegetable peeler. If the Switch were as thin as an iPad, the controllers wouldn’t be comfortable to use. (It’d also probably be more expensive.)

    With the Joy-Cons off the console fits in my back pocket. In practice as far as portability goes you’ll want a bag to stow it in. I bought Nintendo’s case and it seems nice so far. It has a flip-up section that can prop the Switch up and includes a screen protector which I don’t plan to use.

    Most initial reviews I read spent a lot of ink complaining about how flimsy the kickstand is. And yeah, it is flimsy, but in my experience it works fine if you’re propping it up on a flat, stationary table, which is what I expect of it. It doesn’t work if you’re trying to play in bed. An airplane tray table might work. Nintendo could have done better here but I think it’s fine.

    I don’t have a good assessment of battery life yet. I haven’t had it run out on me in normal use, but that’s only after one week.

    The Joy-Con colors are perfect. The gray is the exact right shade. Some photos make it look a little light but it’s a very nice black-on-almost-black look. When the Switch was initially unveiled, I fell in love with that look and they totally nailed it in production.

    But those colors! I ordered the console with gray Joy-Cons but also picked up a spare set of neons, and they’re fantastic. They really are neon. Some of the product photos you see make them just look red and blue but in person they are very intense. Again I think Nintendo nailed it here. There’s something neat and very distinctive about how it looks from the back with the black console with white logo flanked by the two different colors. (Reportedly using two different colors was an accident. Nintendo’s staff had made up a bunch of shades to try out and someone stuck a mismatched set on by mistake and they all agreed it looked good.)

    Snapping the Joy-Cons onto the Switch is amazingly satisfying. The console makes its signature “snap” sound and there’s a fantastic clicking feeling when they lock into place.

    Installing or removing the Joy-Con grips isn’t nearly as good. You have to double-check to make sure you’ve lined up the + or – to put them on, and then removing them is tricky because they’re so thin and you wind up pressing buttons as you do. Once on they do add a little more bulk to the individual Joy-Cons. Many people say their preferred way to play is by using the Joy-Cons separately, one in each hand, rather than on the grip. I haven’t spent enough time doing either on the TV to comment yet.

    The left Joy-Con has four buttons instead of a plus-shaped directional pad. It’s that way because the d-pad buttons need to be able to function as ABXY when the Joy-Con is being used sideways. That’s fine, but it leaves those buttons with no good name. You can’t clearly tell someone to “push left” or whatever.

    Inserting the Switch into the dock is simpler than I expected. I thought you’d have to center it precisely or guide it down a set of rails, but really you just drop it in and the little bumpers inside seem to match up nicely every time.

    I’m probably jinxing myself by saying so, but my home theater system’s HDMI CEC setup recognizes the Switch and adjusts accordingly. If the TV or stereo receiver is off, pressing a button on the controller will cause everything to turn on and adjust to the right input. If I later awaken the Apple TV, they switch to those inputs.

    One of my left Joy-Cons did have the desync issue. I think the other one does, too. To summarize, Joy-Cons have little radios in them which send commands to the Switch. Radio doesn’t like to pass through water. Human hands are mostly water and are big enough to cover the whole Joy-Con. Thus, your hand can interfere with the Joy-Con’s signal resulting in times where Link is running toward a cliff, you tell him to stop, but he doesn’t and you die. Annoying. Reportedly the Joy-Cons are manufactured at one of a few different factories and some batches have the issue and others don’t. I experienced this immediately and called Nintendo’s support number. They picked up and put someone on the phone right away with very little hold time. The guy asked me a few questions, confirmed that this was an issue, and emailed me a UPS label. I dropped the Joy-Con off on a Saturday afternoon and had back the same unit, repaired and working perfectly on Wednesday. I’d have preferred for my brand new video game system to not have a manufacturing flaw but Nintendo handled this as well as I could have possibly expected. I’m sure future Joy-Con production runs will have been thoroughly tested. Such is the price of being an early adopter.

    That’s all for now, I think. I’ll be taking the Switch to a skiing trip with family this week and then on an airplane and the end of the month, so I’ll really get to put it through its paces as a portable system.

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  • Mangold Corn: Logan, Shane, Perdition

    Related to my last post, here’s Logan director James Mangold on Shane.

    Mangold Corn: Logan, Shane, Perdition

  • Children of X-Men

    After hearing universally good things about it, I finally managed to see Logan last night. I liked it a lot. It’s certainly one of the best-made superhero films since Unbreakable. Before the movie we watched a trailer for a Pierce Brosnan western and I made a comment to my friend about how all older British actors dream of doing a western, and then here we have Patrick Stewart in a superhero western. Cool!

    It is my high opinion of this movie, then, that makes me feel like I have to pick it apart some. It’s a good movie that was on the cusp of being a great movie. (Or, perhaps, it’s a great superhero movie that’s just shy of a great movie.)

    It’s probably not coincidence that a 2015 Kottke post showed up in my Twitter feed a week or two ago. It includes the following video about 2006’s Children of Men, which you should watch.

    [youtube www.youtube.com/watch

    [Spoilers for Logan follow.]

    Children of Men is a great film. It follows Clive Owen as he helps escort the first woman to become pregnant in decades across the country to safety. Logan, of course, follows Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine as he helps escort the first mutant born in decades across the country to safety. Both movies are set in a dystopian future where the world has started to fail. Both feature fairly simple plots. Both try to push their world-building to the background while focusing on character. Children of Men just does all of it better than Logan and includes a bunch of famous long takes, too. Fewer adamantium claw eviscerations, though.

    The comparison is, maybe, unfair, but I think it’s unavoidable, so here we are. I’d like to offer a few ways I’d have changed Logan had I been given the screenplay beforehand. I’m of course completely unqualified to make screenwriting suggestions but, hey, why not?

    1. First, and most importantly, at no point does Logan wear a cowboy hat. This is inexcusable. We even see mannequins with cowboys hats! It’s a western and Hugh Jackman would look badass in a cowboy hat! He wears one in the comics sometimes!
    2. There are a few background details that flesh out the future setting. I’d like a little more. Why do they seem to drive futuristic electric cars (which still sound like they have motors of course) but use smartphones from 2017? Don’t tell me but hint a little more in the background (unless I missed something). I liked, for example, the way we see ads for genetically-modified corn, see the trucks, then learn the trucks are evil trucks and see that corn being grown. I’d have preferred for the bad guy not to say, “as you know, we used generically-modified corn to affect mutant birth rates.” Find another way to get that information out since it’s world-building detail and not plot detail. Again, Children of Men does this all masterfully so I’m holding Logan to a high bar here.
    3. We need one scene with some levity between Logan and Laura. Just a little more the lighten the mood so the whole film isn’t so depressing. We almost get there at the gas station where she rides the little coin-operated horse. There needs to be something to put forward a fantasy that she could be a normal kid some day and that Logan could be her dad. Something happens that’s funny, they laugh, then get serious again because they’re too tough to get caught laughing.
    4. I think Xavier should die as a result of his over-exertion from the casino hotel room scene. He was using his powers one last time to save Laura. He was redeeming himself for whatever happened in Westchester. (Which, credit where due, they didn’t flesh out even one tiny bit more than was needed. We know all we need to about it. A worse movie would have included a quick blurry flashback to Xavier having a siezure and killing all his students with brain powers.) He’d already served his plot function. Let him get hurt there.
    5. I’d keep the scene where Logan helps Eriq Le Salle’s Munson with the water but have Logan get shot while fighting off the goons. He’s helped but also created trouble for the farmers. Instead of Logan being super injured from a big fight, he’s now struggling to shrug off a single gunshot, but we don’t see how much it’s affecting him for a while because…
    6. Charles is dying in the farmers’ guest bed. We have the same, good dinner scene earlier but that was about all the strength he has left. We get some good acting from Stewart as he has one final talk with Logan.
    7. I’d cut entirely the commando fight sequence here. We’ve already seen them fight commandos at the compound in Mexico, and we’ll see it again in the finale. The family doesn’t die on screen. Logan has created trouble for them by confronting the corporate guys. Maybe we see them make a phone call to the home office who call the bad guys. Maybe we see their trucks pulling up to the farm after Logan leaves.
    8. Eliminate the evil Logan clone and just make Pierce the main villain. Aside from just being a weird turn, I think his existence undercuts the importance of the X-23 kids as these super soldiers that the bad guys have invested so much in. If you really need a thug for Logan to wail on, make him an augmented human to play up the idea that these guys hate mutants. Maybe he has fancy adamantium tactical gear and a healing serum.
    9. When Logan and Laura get to Eden, it seemed obvious to me that there’d be a big showdown there. It was a mountaintop cabin with clear sight lines to terrain all around it. I fully expected the final scene to be a siege where the commandos are trying to scale that cliff and Logan has to go all Seven Soldiers + Rio Bravo. It’d be the perfect way to mix in the western themes with some Wolverine as samurai stuff! Show them setting up some traps and give the kids a few small victories using their powers to slow the assault. Eventually they’d lose ground and the kids would retreat into the woods for the ending. I’m baffled as to why this scene doesn’t exist.

    That’s what I have off the top of my head. Again, I liked the movie a lot. Enough that I think it’s worthy of this sort of criticism vs, say, X-Men: Apocalypse where my script advice would be: go back and write a better movie. Logan has so much going for it that I can’t help but want it to soar even higher.

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  • I’m optimistic about the Nintendo Switch. It presents – *maybe* – a few opportunities for Nintendo to push against attacks it’s been facing from both sides. On one side, it needs to compete with Microsoft and Sony as a serious gaming platform. It can’t do this completely, but if it can court then major sports games and a few of the other marquee titles, there can be at least some households – especially price-constrained ones – where it might be the only box. And neither XBOX nor PS4 offers a mobile gaming system that anyone takes seriously, so that’s a market Nintendo can continue to do well in.

    From the other side, Apple threatens to bloody the casual gaming waters. Honestly outside of the 3DS and the young kids’ market, Apple probably owns that ocean already. In the same way Switch isn’t going to win out in the Call or Duty space, it isn’t going to win by having the next Candy Crush. The very light game lives on the smart phone and is probably there to stay. What Nintendo can credibly present, though, is an argument that there is a huge caliber of touch screen games that the iPad will never be able to offer. I think it has a few legs to stand on here:

    1. App Store customers don’t pay much for games, which makes it impossible to risk developing complicated, expensive titles. Nintendo products exist in a world where $60 is an accepted price point, and it can easily offer smaller games for $20 eStore downloads and have them seem like bargains. It tried to charge $10 for Super Mario Run and did sell a ton of copies but also got tons of pushback from tightwads.

    2. Apple doesn’t exert enough quality control over the offerings on its platform. Nintendo won the mid-80s by fighting this exact fight. Atari and Commodore were letting anyone make games for their systems, so Nintendo came in with its Seal of Quality and provided some guarantee that what you bought for NES would be a good game. Thin though the Switch’s launch lineup may be, every choice will be worth the money.

    3. Nintendo can demonstrate the inadequacy of the touchscreen as the sole input decide for gaming. Super Mario Run shows this. It’s a great adaptation of the Mario format to the touch screen, but it ultimately just makes you wish you were playing a full Mario game. What Apple has always done well is its insistence on making the whole widget, but it’s never shown any interest in doing that with games. It could have, for example, made its own first-party game controllers for Apple TV but it didn’t and, worse, decreed initially that all Apple TV games be playable using only its remote. On the iOS side, Apple makes devices in five different sizes (iPhone and iPhone Plus and three varieties of iPad), so it can’t sell a snap-on controller its customers could use with all of their devices. Nintendo, on the other hand, can make a Joy-Con that does exactly what it wants. It’s one of the few areas where Nintendo can out-Apple Apple. Plus, it can design the Switch out of a plastic that can be dropped over and over, which works perfectly for games and children but isn’t something Apple is interested in for iPhones.

    On the other side, of course, are all of Nintendo’s shortcomings when it comes to everything *not* involving the hardware and the games themselves. The Switch *can* succeed without a good interface, an eShop as easy to buy from as the App Store, assurance that Virtual Console purchases will be playable on future systems, online backups to ensure you can get your games back if your system breaks or is stolen, a sensible friend finder, good online play, and so forth, but if it doesn’t figure some of that stuff out soon, it’s fighting uphill.

  • Don Rosa, in one of the essays in the back of Fantagraphics’s recent collections of his Uncle Scrooge & Donald Duck stories, says he always treated the residents of Carl Barks’s Duckberg as people, not animals. If a story required Donald to write with a quill, Rosa says, he’d never have Donald pluck a feather from his tail. He’d have to go find a feather somewhere. Maybe even from a non-anthropomorphic duck! Donald and family aren’t explicitly not Ducks, but they’re more or less treated as people and not animals in the stories. (It also helps paper over why Goofy is a person but Pluto is a dog, though those characters don’t really feature into Barks’s stories.)

    I’ve just watched the new Mickey Mouse “Duck the Halls” Christmas special. I liked it, as I’ve liked most of the set of Mickey Mouse shorts that Disney has been releasing over the past few years. (Aside: It’s a bit hard to hear Uncle Scrooge voiced by someone new after the passing of Alan Young.) The premise of this special is that Donald, a duck, has to migrate south for the winter but doesn’t want to miss Mickey’s snowy Christmas. A far cry from the Barks/Rosa treatment!

    Rosa isn’t a fan of the 90s DuckTales series but it was unquestionably struck from the Barks mold. With a new version launching next year, I’m guessing it’ll have more in common with the Mickey Mouse shorts. Maybe that’s okay. I love how Batman can be both The Dark Knight and the ’66 Caped Crusader. I like how the Mickey shorts felt comfortable not just putting Mickey in Paris, or Holland, or Mumbai, but also having him speak entirely in unsubtitled foreign languages. The new DuckTales series promises to make Webby a main character, bringing a tiny bit of gender diversity to the cast. The earlier show often had her fill the role of wet blanket, though, so maybe they’ll improve on that.

    Jack Kirby had a set of loose rules he followed when drawing his characters. The stripe under Captain America’s star was always red. Mr. Fantastic doesn’t stretch his neck; if he wanted to reach something, he’d stretch his torso, instead, which Kirby felt looked more dignified. I can’t read Fantastic Four comics now without being critical of any artist who has Reed stretch his neck. He’s breaking a Kirby rule (that Kirby himself something broke)! Many of the great FF books nonetheless have neck-stretching Reeds in them. Is it okay the the new special treats Donald as a duck, not a person? Sure! I just thought it was mildly interesting to point out.

  • How to Use Amiibo in Animal Crossing: New Leaf

    I got a New Nintendo 3DS recently and picked up Animal Crossing: New Leaf. I’ve found lots of articles stating that the game has new Amiibo support, but few that tell you what to actually do.

    1. Find Wisp’s lamp. If you just created a brand new town you may have to wait a day. At some point Wisp will whisper to you. Walk around until you find a lamp and pick it up.
    2. Put the lamp somewhere (I suggest your house) and talk to it. Wisp will tell you to place your Amiibo on your New 3DS (or on the Amiibo reader if you have an older 3DS). Wisp will turn into that character.
    3. Go to the campground for your town. It’s a separate screen and there should be a road sign pointing to it on your map. You should see an RV on it belonging to the Amiibo you chose. Go inside. Now you can talk to the character there. After he or she welcomes you, talk to him/her again for an option to buy stuff with MEOW tickets.
    4. You can only load in one Amiibo per day (but you can reuse the same figure again).

    The thing that tripped me up was step 3. I don’t think Wisp tells you to go to the camp site to find the Amiibo.

    On Amiibo in general, I think Nintendo did an amazing job with the figures themselves. They’re all totally on-model for every character I’ve seen and the paint jobs are very well done. In-game, though, I’ve yet to find a great use for them. Lego Dimensions does a superb job with this where you play as the mini figure select and often have to move the character around the little pad during the game to solve puzzles. Amiibo games just let you get like new costumes or whatever. That doesn’t mean, even knowing that, that I haven’t bought a bunch of them.

    See also: Griffin’s amiibo corner.

  • Christmas Playlist 2016

    I’ve been very carefully building a Christmas playlist for over a decade. I only add one song a year, and I only listen to the songs on the list between Thanksgiving and the Epiphany. There are now sixteen songs on the list.

    1. “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” by Darlene Love
    2. “Hallelujah” by Jeff Buckley
    3. “The Fairytale of New York” by The Pogues
    4. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” by Judy Garland
    5. “White Christmas” by Bing Crosby
    6. “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” By Dean Martin
    7. “Christmas Time is Here (Instrumental)” by Vince Guaraldi Trio
    8. “The Christmas Song” by Nat “King” Cole
    9. “Here Comes Santa Claus” by Elvis Presley
    10. “Baby It’s Cold Outside” by Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Jordan
    11. “What Christmas Means to Me” by Stevie Wonder
    12. “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” by John Lennon
    13. “What a Wonderful World” by Joey Ramone
    14. “Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy” by David Bowie & Bing Crosby
    15. “Father Christmas” by The Kinks
    16. “Merry Xmas Everybody” by Slade

    This year’s addition is “What a Wonderful World” by Joey Ramone. I guess Louis Armstrong’s version is definitive but I just really like Ramones’s version. Also I’ve done a little bit of work on the sequencing of the songs. After the first few tunes things drop back to the 50s and move slowly forward. I don’t really want all the heavier rock songs to be toward the end but I like the flow of the more classic stuff in the middle. Bowie and Bing break things up a little bit at least.

  • "Racist"

    There exists in America the notion that you cannot call anyone but a hood-wearing Klan member a “racist.” Hatred resides in one’s heart, goes the thought. Since we don’t know what’s really in someone’s heart, we shouldn’t judge them. Personally, though, I’m of the “if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck” school of racism. I can’t know what’s in someone’s heart, so all I have to go by are their words and actions.

    That said, it’s usually not productive to call someone a racist. Here’s an article citing, like, actual research, that calling someone a “racist” isn’t a good way to convince them their words or actions are racist. (Shocker.) Rather, you should describe why their words or actions do not point toward treating everyone equally. So, I’m comfortable saying that Donald Trump is a racist (also: sexist, anti-Semite, Islamophobe, etc.), but if you’d prefer you can say that it’s just his words, lack of rejection of the KKK’s endorsement, lack of rejection of the American Nazi party’s endorsement, hiring of white supremacists, and so on that are racist, go ahead.

    But the bigger issue I want to briefly address is the entire notion that racism is a binary thing. Either you are spray painting the N-word on the side of black churches, or you’re not. The reality, like most everything, is much more complicated. Thomas Jefferson owned people and operated a forced labor camp in his mansion’s back yard but wrote that “all men are created equal.” Overt racism is pretty easy to identify. But you should not go through life saying that because you’re not yelling at strangers wearing hijabs, you’re golden. Racism is baked into America and we all experience it and exhibit it in subtle ways. What percentage of your office is white? (Or male?) How many black neighbors do you have? How many brown friends have you had over for dinner? How many belong to your Church? What percentage of the waiters, groundskeepers, sales clerks, and so on your see regularly are white? Racism isn’t the definitive component of any of these questions, but it plays a part in all of them. Most of my neighbors are white. Does that make living here racist? Of course not. But the fact that it’s true is because blacks were once property. When they were freed, they had no wealth and had to live in a South that actively restricted their attempts to vote, get good educations, and thus get good jobs that would allow them to afford a house here, and even if they had been able to afford it, it’s likely the community may not have made them feel welcome. Would there have been a black church near here? Wait, why are there black churches and white churches? So all of that is true, but now Annandale, VA is actually very diverse, yet I’m still benefiting from racism as a white male. Segregation very effectively created a nice, safe neighborhood with excellent schools. I don’t have to worry that I might get shot if get pulled over (and I’m less likely to get pulled over).

    So here’s thing: not everyone is having the same American experience as I am. Many, because of their skin, get funny looks when they go certain places. Some get called names or beat up. Some get shot with little provocation. None of this is my fault directly. But I’m trying, every day, to figure out the way in which I can help – or am hindering – their American experience. It’s not enough to just not be lighting crosses on fire.

  • I have a lot to say about the election, but I’ll restrict it to one thought today:

    Every single American who voted for Donald Trump either doesn’t believe him to be a sexist, racist, corrupt man, or each decided that those values are less important than other issues.

    It is now our job to convince them, as quickly as possible, why those qualities make him unfit for public office. Indeed, why those qualities are un-American. Doing so may require frank, difficult, patient discussion. I argue we do so, though, from a position of strength. America’s core values are on our side. Here are two quotes which define America’s very essence, and a third containing the most important life advice ever given.

    From The Declaration of Independence:

    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

    This is the very mission statement of America. Equality came first and must always come first.

    From “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus, 1883:

    A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

    Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

    Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

    Glows world-wide welcome

    People know this poem better from the later line, “Give me your tired, your poor,/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” as the inscription on the Statue of Liberty. This, the most iconic symbol of America, implores us to be a country proudly displaying “world-wide welcome.” We are a nation of immigrants, not one race or one religion.

    Finally, John 13:34:

    I give you a new commandment: love one another; you must love one another just as I have loved you.

    Do promises to increase our torture of captured enemies show love? Does talk of banning Muslim immigration? Does the failure to reject the endorsement of the KKK? Does mocking a disabled reporter?

    Jesus gave us no other commandment. We must place that above all others. Above the economy. Above which factories may or may not move where. Above tax plans and red hats and Mexico, China, Russia, and a hundred other things. Love.

  • Are Transformers Robots?

    In episode 13 of Robot or Not?, John Siracusa categorized the Transformers as robots. His evidence:

    1. Their theme song says they’re “robots in disguise.”
    2. They’re big and made of metal.

    “Made of metal” is a pretty important criterion for robothood. I’d like to argue that there’s another essential requirement, though: robots are made. Maybe by people. Maybe by other robots. To be a robot, you must have been manufactured and programmed by another being.

    I’ve made my love of James Roberts’s Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye no secret. I’d like to argue that beings from Cybertron – Transformers – are potentially not robots but metal aliens. (At least the Transformers as depicted in IDW’s comics.) The difference being that Cybertronians were not built by anyone; their life cycle is a natural process.

    What do we know about how Cybertronians are born?

    Cybertronians start as a “spark.” Sparks occur naturally on Cybertron and its moons. The core of Cybertron is a massive computer called Vector Sigma. Vector Sigma periodically sends out pulse waves that cause fields of sparks to activate, becoming “hot spots.”

    Active sparks are then harvested from a hot spot and placed inside sentio metallico – the living metal Cybertron is made of – which grows into a full-sized adult. MTMtE 21 establishes that maturation can take as little as two weeks. Once grown the spark is essentially a Cybertronian’s heart and is one of his1 major organs (the others being the brain and the transformation cog, which collectively are known as “Rossum’s Trinity”3).

    This does leave us with a few chicken-and-egg questions: where did the sparks come from? Where did Vector Sigma come from? No living Cybertronian is old enough to remember. A turtle doesn’t know what mother laid the egg it was hatched from, nor what father fertilized it. (Though later in life it figures out these things, while Cybertronians can’t create new hot spots.)

    (Interestingly, Cybertronians’ alt modes – the shapes they transform into – are innate. Their culture for years held that one’s alt mode determined his place within society. Megatron’s early writings are treatises against functionalism, arguing for the abolition of castes based on alt modes in favor of letting everyone choose their own career regardless of what they transform into. [Yeah, it’s both awesome and absurd. You have to think about it just the right amount and not too much.])

    Since sparks occur naturally, and since the process of creating their bodies is that of a natural germination between the spark and the sentio metallico, I argue that they are living alien beings who happen to be made of metal, not robots that are created and programmed.

    A wrinkle: More Than Meets the Eye establishes that there are two kinds of Cybertronians: those that are “forged” and those that are “constructed cold.” Forged Cybertronians are born as described above: a spark is harvested from a hot spot and placed into living metal, which grows into a living, thinking being. Cybertronians that are “constructed cold” came about because pulse waves from Vector Sigma slowed down and fewer and fewer hot spots were coming alive, so they learned how to split sparks and place them in pre-constructed bodies. Those who were constructed cold were treated as second-class citizens or, often, disposable soldiers and their culture saw massive segregation between the two types. That period of their history is over but it’s still inappropriate to ask someone the method of their construction. I’ll cede that a constructed cold Cybertronian may be a robot but it’d be super racist to say that to his face.

    Here’s Cyclonus retelling his religion’s understanding of the Cybertronian creation myth (drawn in a cool retro style of course):

    (On the very of chance my appeal to Robot of Not is heard, my last name is “Ee-Lee.”)

    1. Cybertronians are genderless2. We use male pronouns for expediency. Their romances do read as gay, but that’s our bias.
    2. Well, except for the female ones… because of course there’s a storyline where someone experimented on them and made females.
    3. “Rossum” being a reference to “Rossum’s Universal Robots” from Karel Čapek’s play which coined the term “robot.”

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