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Resident Evil 4

THE TITLE IS THE WHOLE POST GOODBYE

…okay, of course it’s not. You know me. If I can say something in nine words, I might as well say it in nine thousand.

Anyway, there’s a big update post to come, giving you all an idea of what to expect in the coming months. In short, though, December is going to be awesome, with the Fourth Annual Xmas Bash!!!! live stream, a great Christmas-appropriate Fiction Into Film, and a major, huge surprise that’s going to make December the busiest month this blog has had in a while.

But…you’ll have to wait to find out about that.

Because I’m playing Resident Evil 4 again. Or, I’m trying to.

And I can’t. I mean, I can, of course. But I also…can’t. Because this game genuinely scares the daylights out of me.

I don’t know why. I can’t put my finger on anything in particular. In fact, I don’t think it is anything in particular. I think it’s a combination of things. I think it’s the fact that the hordes of enemies (largely) don’t look like monsters, making it more difficult to keep them at a fictional remove. I think it’s the visuals of sickly greys and browns. I think it’s the soundtrack, which keeps unnervingly quiet until it rises up and swells against you right along with the enemies.

I think it’s everything. I think Resident Evil 4 is so well built, so atmospheric, so masterfully constructed that I can’t feel safe.

Other Resident Evil games have scared me, sure. But they’ve mainly scared me through unexpectedly placing an enemy around a corner. One of my most formative scary moments in games is shared by anyone who’s ever played the original: the dogs crashing through the windows. It’s effective, it works, and it’s also kinda cheap. And that’s been Resident Evil in a nutshell for me.

Cheap makes you jump. Cheap makes you shout a bit. Cheap makes your heart race.

But it doesn’t terrify you, because cheap is over as quickly as it begins. And cheap gets old. The 50th time a zombie pops out of nowhere, it doesn’t register the same way. You no longer panic; you respond. Instinct kicks in. The dogs crashing through the window are so fucking scary because it happens so early in the game, when you don’t know what to expect, don’t know how to deal with them, and are likely still learning the controls.

The later scares in that first game aren’t as memorable, because by the time you get to them you have some idea of what you need to do. You ready your weapon. You deal with the problem. We can all agree that the dogs scared the crap out of us, but can we all agree that anything later in the game had the same effect? Probably not.

And so Resident Evil, as a series, faced diminishing returns on its horror. We got used to its tricks and its methods. We started to anticipate what should have felt unexpected. We may not have known the lyrics, but we sure as hell knew the melody.

None of which is to say that the series peaked with its first installment, or that the series shouldn’t have continued, or anything like that. It’s just that the first Resident Evil could have done anything, and we wouldn’t have known what to expect from it. In later games, we had a kind of understanding. We knew what we were getting into. We’d jump when something popped up. We’d run out of ammo. We’d cling desperately to our healing items, trying to gauge how likely it was that we’d run into a save point before keeling over. The tension was still there, and in large part so was the horror, but it was also something we understood before it kicked in. That’s what Resident Evil is: monsters and ammo issues and unknowable gaps between save points. The first time, it’s a surprise. Every other time, it’s a convention.

Which is part of what made Resident Evil 4 so great. Knowing that fans of the series already understood how it ticked, and were savvy to the series’ tricks, Capcom chose to make a fourth installment that was entirely different. If the horror didn’t work as well, that was fine; Resident Evil 4 would be an action game instead.

Shift the genre. Shake up expectations. It was a gamble, but a smart one. You might be able to find some people who don’t think Resident Evil 4 is the best game in the series, but you’d have to do some digging.

And so Resident Evil 4 succeeded. It kept the general themes of the series alive, checked in on a few of the recurring characters, and was still artfully stingy with the ammo. Players familiar with the previous games felt largely at home, while the game itself took the series in a very different direction.

All of which is to say this: Resident Evil 4 shouldn’t scare me.

I’ve even seen people say that it’s not a horror game. They’re wrong, quite clearly, but the fact that anyone could even entertain that opinion says something.

There’s more of a focus on combat, for one. If you’ve played the previous games you probably have a lot of memories of dodging enemies in a panic, but in Resident Evil 4 your memories are more likely to be of taking on throngs of enemies with little Leon, hoping to cluster them together in a way that won’t overwhelm you, yet will allow you to send many of them toppling over with a kick.

Resident Evil 4 doesn’t want you dodging…at least, not for long. It wants you running, climbing, crashing through windows, knocking ladders down behind you when you finally find the right vantage point. Soon enough you meet your companion character, and it’s her job to stay out of trouble. She plays the role of a protagonist in the previous games, in that sense; she avoids danger whenever possible. It’s your job, by contrast, to clear the trouble away.

And yet, the game scares me. It scares me more than any of the other games do, and I think I’ve played them all (outside of Resident Evil 5, Resident Evil 6, and Revelations 2*).

It’s the best of the games I’ve played. It’s the most exciting. It’s probably also the most fun.

…but I’ve never gotten far in it.

I’ve played the Game Cube version. I’ve played the Wii version. Now, thanks to a Halloween sale, I’m playing the PS4 version.

I’m going to finish it. I’m going to force myself to finish it. I feel as though I need to. But every time I’ve picked up that controller to play it — any of three controllers to play it — my heart sinks. My blood grows colder. There’s something about the game that scares me more than the others do, scares me in a way that the others do not, and I don’t know why.

Partially, I think the shift to action-oriented gameplay is responsible.

Strictly speaking, Resident Evil 4 isn’t scarier. It’s not. Like, it really is not. It’s rarely claustrophobic, ammo and healing items are not as rare as they were in previous games, save points are indicated on the map to let you know exactly how far you have left to go, a merchant pops up regularly to serve as an armory, a medic, and comic relief all at once…

But I can’t play it. I keep having to stop. I pick it up. I make some progress. I get overwhelmed with feelings of terror, and I have to stop.

Nothing’s happening, and I have to stop.

I try five times to get through a wave of attackers. I succeed, and I have to stop.

I see nothing around me. Maybe a merchant. It’s quiet. I’m in no danger, and I have to stop.

It’s confused me for years. Why can I play the other games in the series? It’s not that they don’t scare me — they often do — but I can keep going. I can push on. The scary moments are thrilling, and then I move along.

In Resident Evil 4, the scary moments are oppressive. And they’re all scary moments.

Years ago I had a friend who couldn’t sleep in the same room as the box for the first Resident Evil game. He’d have to move it out of the room before he’d be able to rest at all. That always fascinated me, but I felt something like it when, very early in Resident Evil 4, I came across a man’s body hanging over a fire pit, while deranged villagers circled around it. The game just started, and I was already chilled.

Why didn’t I have his reaction back then? Why would I have it now?

Again, I think it’s the fact that the game is an action game. For some reason, that’s scarier to me.

See, I’m not good at those. Give my character a gun, and he’s probably not going to use it very well.

I’m clumsy. I don’t think well when I have to think quickly. I end up wasting ammo and spraying the air around the enemy. If I hit my target, it’s luck, and luck runs out. My favorite example of this has to be the first time I played Half-Life 2, where my chronic ineptitude rendered the conceit of the entire game incompatible with my reality. Characters would materialize and sigh with relief that I was finally there to save them…that I was their hero…that I was the only one who could help. Which is an odd conclusion to reach about the guy covered in bullet wounds who keeps blowing himself up with grenades.

But earlier Resident Evil games were puzzle-heavy. This may have been the design result of the fact that the controls and camera angles were, to be diplomatic, fuckawful.

Players couldn’t be expected to gun down hordes of baddies because players couldn’t be expected to even move their characters around reliably. And so the experience was something more like an adventure game. You’d find a puzzle, scour the area for clues, and have to figure out the solution for yourself. Resident Evil is a game about zombies, yes, but it’s also a game about consulting journals, analyzing paintings, shoving bookcases around, and searching for keys. That’s because without those things, you’d just have the combat. And the combat was terrible.

Resident Evil 4 makes the combat better. Much better. The camera isn’t fixed, you can aim precisely rather than simply point a gun in some general direction, and Leon is more nimble than the protagonists of previous games. As such — and I doubt this is coincidental — the puzzles take a back seat. You still have to find some kind of key or other, but they’re not especially well hidden, and there’s nothing you won’t find if you simply comb the area around you. Compared to the original Resident Evil, which required a good deal of oblique thinking and pixel hunting, this is a massive difference.

Now that you can be expected to kick zombie ass, in other words, the game might as well let that become the focus.

Here’s the thing, though: I’m good at puzzles. And I’m bad at combat.

And I think the lesson here is that horror, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

My friend who couldn’t sleep in the same room as Resident Evil was probably better at combat than he was at puzzles, so the game frightened him in a way that it didn’t frighten me. Resident Evil 4 scares the pants off of me, but not off of so many others…at least most of whom, I’m sure, are better at video game combat than I am.

See, fear only sets in when you believe you’re in danger. Puzzles — lateral thought, process of elimination, research — are my element. Yes, it would be scary to be locked in a mansion with zombies, or to have to find some way out of a city infested with them, but if the main thing standing between me and salvation was a complex puzzle with some esoteric solution…well, I’d stand a chance. Because that’s how I work. I can do that.

I’m in a relative minority, and I think that’s what made Resident Evil so scary for so many people; they knew they were in danger, but escape required a level of knowledge — or at least an ability to find knowledge — that they didn’t have.

Resident Evil 4 switches the focus to combat. I’m out of my element there. Suddenly, I am in danger.

Others see this as less scary. They’ve been shooting moving targets in the head since at least Goldeneye. They’re ready for this. The big door with the puzzle embedded in it is replaced with some guns and ammunition. Now they stand a chance. That’s how they work. They can do that.

For me, the change to a better control scheme actually made things harder, because the game now expected me to use it. My capacity for abstract thought no longer serves me well. I need fast reflexes. I need precision married to speed. I need to actually fight.

And so the action game is actually scarier to me than the horror games ever were. Because fear is being forced into a situation that you don’t feel you can escape.

Puzzles were challenges. Not always fair challenges, as anyone who played those games can attest to, but they were able to be solved. Resident Evil 4, though, is war. If anything, a capacity for abstract thought is a detriment. If you’re taking time to think, you’re already dead.

I find this interesting. We all have different fears, of course. I don’t mind spiders, or heights, or most of the things that traditionally scare people. But put a gun in my hand and tell me I need to fight my way out, and I’ll be terrified. That isn’t me.

Fear really is in the eye of the beholder. Because we’re all comfortable with different things, we’re all afraid of different things. That’s why, for example, I can fight my way through Bioshock and trudge my way through Fallout with no problem, but I’ll never as long as I live touch Silent Hill, because as a man who struggles with mental health issues every day, I already know that’s a series — however good — that I can’t handle.

So I’m a few games behind. I love the Resident Evil series, as cheap and cheesy and unfair as it is. But the game that so many believe isn’t scary at all is the one that scares me so much I can barely even play it.

I’ll get through it. That’s a goal of mine. I’ll push through, because the game is good enough that it deserves that I push aside my fear.

But for now, I find it interesting that as the team was developing a game that they knew would shift away from horror, they were crafting, expertly, my worst nightmare…one in which my survival hinged on something other than my brain.

—–
* Are any of these worth playing? I heard 5 is awful, but beyond that…I really don’t know much. I adored the first Revelations, which I think is what’s keeping me from bothering with the sequel. It was so good that I’m really not sure what another game could bring to the experience.

Crossroads

August 4th, 2016 | Posted by Philip J Reed in Meta | personal - (1 Comments)

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

So, this site. And what’s to come. And all the other questions I wish I didn’t have to answer.

In short, I’m not going anywhere. Or, actually, I’m going very far away. But the site isn’t going anywhere.

Or, actually, it’s going to keep going where it’s always gone, but maybe more slowly.

Should I start again?

OKAY

I’m at something of a crossroads with Noiseless Chatter. The ALF series is done. Forever. Period. And I can basically write whatever I want from here on out. I still plan on being amusing (NOT LIKE I CAN HELP IT) and saying curse words, but I’ll also say other things, too! And I’ll get to write about the things I want to write about!

Like Fiction Into Film! And Trilogy of Terror, since October is coming back around!

I’m excited about those things!

However, I’m…also really low on time.

I started a new job recently. It’s a great job with a great company. It’s good money. It’s fantastic experience. It’s awesome.

It also takes a lot out of me. When I get home, sure, I can write. And I often do! But I also have a girlfriend. And things I’d like to read. And things I’d like to watch. And Tokyo Mirage Sessions, which is brilliant yet refuses to play itself.

So it’s going to require me to…basically rebalance my entire life as far as that goes. In a way, that sucks for the blog, because it (necessarily) gets the short shrift. With pretty much anything else, I just have to be there, doing what I want to do. With this site I need to think of an article, watch or read or listen to whatever it is I want to write about, draft the article, gather my pictures, format it, edit it, post it, realize I missed 15 typos, correct them…u.s.w.

So needless to say I HATE ALL OF THAT

…of course I don’t. It’s just that it takes time. And I need to find a way to set that time aside, while not taking too much away from the other things that are important to me and my sanity.

In time, at the very least, I’ll get more settled at work, and it’ll involve less learning and more doing, which should give me some of my energy back. Until then…I guess I just ask for your patience. And for you to believe me when I say, hey, please do check back now and again, because I’ll be posting things.

Maybe I’ll give myself a weekly posting schedule. Would that work for you guys? Granted, one post a week isn’t much, but I’d like to think my posts are worth, like, 40 posts that anyone else would write. Surely you agree.

Let me know. I want you guys to be happy with whatever I do.

Another thing to mention: I’ll be leaving next weekend for Germany, to train for my new job. I’ll be gone for three straight weeks. I’m going to try to lock some posts down to publish while I’m gone, but I honestly can’t promise I’ll have the time to do so. (Man, I’m sure glad I got this job after stupid ALF was done. If I bailed for any length of time in the homestretch you guys would have rightly eaten me alive.)

So it may be quiet. And even if it’s not totally quiet, it’ll still be quieter.

But I do have more to come. Red Dwarf is airing new episodes soon, and I’ll review them. I’ll finally finish the second half of season two of Better Call Saul. I’m working on an ebook with Casey and J.P. that I think you guys will like, if you know what’s good for you.

And there’s more, like the article I’m writing for The AV Club. Did I ever mention that here? I forget. BUT I AM WRITING AN ARTICLE FOR THE AV CLUB and I need to get them the final draft this weekend so THAT TOO.

This is a tired post, from a tired man, but the site still has so much to say. I’m just trying to find the time to say it.

Any thoughts or feedback are welcome. But all I ask is that you stay tuned.

Thanks, beautiful.

My grandfather

It’s completely optional, of course…but if you’d like to help me make my grandfather’s day, I’d appreciate it. Read on to find out how.

I’m lucky enough to still have my paternal grandparents in my life. I know they won’t be here forever…and I don’t even know how much longer they will be here. It’s a thought that frightens and saddens me, because they’ve been there for me more than anybody else I’ve known. They’ve supported me, encouraged me, and been family to me even when it felt like I had none.

I care about them. And on June 4, President Obama is flying my grandfather out — along with many other veterans — to see the Korean War Memorial in Washington, D.C. It’s something called an Honor Flight. I don’t know all of the details. But I do know that my grandfather fought in that war, and never got to see the memorial.

He was injured in the line of duty, and only a few years ago did a congressman manage to award him the Purple Heart he earned, which had been held up in red tape. I wrote a bit about it here. I had no idea my grandfather was even entitled to one. He didn’t talk much about the war. There’s probably good reason for that.

Anyway, I don’t know all of the details about the Honor Flight, but my grandmother told me that I could write something for him to be delivered (or perhaps read) at the event. Again, I’m hazy on the details, but either way, I’m going to write something.

I know readers here don’t know him. But I also know that readers here would understand that I wouldn’t be talking about him at all if he didn’t mean a lot to me.

So if you want to write something, anything, even if it’s literally nothing more than “Thank you for your service,” please email it to me. His name is Philip J. Reed, Jr.

I’m sure he would appreciate any words of thanks, especially on a day like that, when a lot of memories are going to come back to him.

If you’d like to send something, please do so by Wednesday, May 25. I’ll print out whatever I have and send it all together.

Thanks in advance. I appreciate you guys.

MASH, "Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen"

Fake Plastic Teeth

February 8th, 2016 | Posted by Philip J Reed in personal - (4 Comments)

BIRD

I’m mainly writing this because I didn’t want my last post to stand for too long on its own, lest someone assume I…y’know.

I didn’t.

And, honestly, I’ve been doing pretty well this year so far. I write about depression because it helps me to voice things, and to get them out…and because every single time I do, somebody writes in and thanks me for saying what they haven’t been able to articulate themselves. If anyone, ever, feels just a little less alone when I open my mouth and talk about it, that makes the discomfort and difficulty of doing so worth it.

But things have been quiet for a couple of reasons, neither of which is depressive! One, the writing of a new novel project, which I’ve already talked about. Two, SEVERE DISCOMFORT.

See the photo above? That was taken two days ago. It might be the only time you get to see my mouth full of teeth that aren’t actually teeth.

I had dental surgery on my birthday (five hours of dental surgery…), and for the next two weeks or so, I’ve got a fake set in there. They’re over my real teeth, so, don’t worry, I didn’t pull a Pnin or anything, but they’re there until I can go back to the dentist and have my work completed.

It’s…odd so far. They feel much different in my mouth, and it’s often painful to bring my teeth together. The rest of the time, there’s just a feeling of vague discomfort. And eating under these conditions is, to borrow a phrase, exquisite torture.

I’m more or less on an all-soup diet, which might be good for my weight but bad for my sodium intake. Who cares. Life is just a long balancing act involving the thousands of things that are trying to kill you, anyway.

Much more excitingly, I bought some of that liquid astronaut food Facebook is always trying to sell me, and I look forward to eating something that doesn’t have CAMPBELL’S written on the label. I’ll report back if anyone’s interested to know which color sock it tastes like.

So, dentistry. Needless to say I’m bedridden and miserable. Right?

No! Look at the fucking picture! I met birds!

Things are fine. I feel, on the whole, great. But, oddly, writing is more difficult.

I can’t really explain why that is. I don’t know. But when I sit down to write (articles for this site, pages of the novel, even emails and texts to friends) I end up making loads of easily avoided mistakes and typos. The pain doesn’t bother me, really…I’ve felt far worse…but I guess it’s just enough that it distracts my mind. It’s strange that a pain so relatively mild can still interfere with your ability to do good work. Or, at least, work you can be proud of.

So I’m here. I’m still working on this. I’m not violently depressed or in oral agony. I’m just full of soup and typos. And appreciation for readers who allow me to make fun of a sex-crazed puppet one day, and open up about depression and mental health issues the next. I don’t know of any other site that could get away with that, and I really do appreciate all of you.

It means the world, and I’m always glad to see folks sharing posts like that and discussing it on their own. I’ll say what I say. It may not apply to you, or help you. But I truly, genuinely hope that discussing it does.

Anyway, one final footnote for now: yesterday I attended The Balki Bowl, which was a live-streamed event in which eight episodes of Perfect Strangers, along with vintage commercials, music videos, and other curios, were screened with live chat.

Sound familiar? It’s a total coincidence, I’m sure, but that was pretty Xmas Bash!!!-like, and I think I might have found my technical solution for the Bash!!! moving forward.

…at least, potentially. We’ll try out this new platform for the Project: ALF live stream, and I’ll definitely ask for your opinions then, but, for now…it looks promising. So get excited! I’m already putting together next year’s torturous playlist.

Here’s hoping you enjoyed your Super, Puppy, or Balki Bowl of choice. Thanks for being beautiful.

Every God-Damned Day.

February 4th, 2016 | Posted by Philip J Reed in personal - (9 Comments)

A Charlie Brown Christmas

I made a new friend recently. She struggles with depression. It’s part of why we get along, I’m sure. It’s part of why I get along with most of the people I get along with. She asked me if I struggle with it, too. I told her the truth: every single day.

It’s unfair. I know that. I’m down on myself and rarely see beyond my own, many flaws, but even I know that it’s unfair the way my mind treats me.

Does it have to be every day? Is that really necessary? Do I deserve to have to fight every single day I’m alive just to be okay? Does anyone deserve that?

I don’t think anyone does. And yet, I know I’m not alone. I know it isn’t just me. If it’s unfair that I need to struggle, to fight, to work hard just to keep going every single god-damned day of my life, how much less fair is it that so many others do, too?

I don’t mean to oversell it. Some days aren’t as bad, but it’s always there. And I win plenty of battles against myself, but the victories are small, and fleeting. The losses are devastating.

With depression, you don’t fight to win. You fight to survive. At some point, for many people, you lose enough times in a row, or hard enough, or unfairly enough, and you stop fighting. I don’t blame anyone who stops fighting. I know it’s hard. I know how it feels. I know lying down and giving up seems like a very tempting prospect at times. To be honest, I wonder if I’ll ever do that. To be more honest, I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if I did.

It’s hard. It doesn’t end. You never win. You just fight it until you lose for good.

Another friend of mine asked me a few weeks ago if I’d be dead if it weren’t for my writing. The answer I gave him was more conversational. The actual answer is yes. Yes, I would.

Writing is my weapon, I could say on certain days. On other days, I’d say it’s my defense. Whatever the perspective, I need it. Whatever the perspective, it’s all, sometimes, that I have.

Birthdays are difficult for me. Holidays are difficult for me. Compliments and kind words and presents and people who wish me well are all extremely difficult for me. I’ve worked very hard for everything I have and every inch I’ve gained, and still my mind is unsatisfied both because I could have more, and because I might not deserve what I do have.

There’s no progress. There’s no advancement. There’s change, but no way forward. The struggle is inside. I can change the outside as much as I want, and it means nothing. The inside is where the battle plays out, endlessly, continuously, starting over every day.

Every god-damned day.

I take a few days every year for personal reflection. It’s around this time, which is convenient, because I tend to isolate around my birthday anyway. It’s rough for me. It’s rougher for many others.

I have friends. I have friends who care and who understand. I have the funniest, sharpest set of readers and commenters on the internet, as far as I’m concerned. I have an audience. I write some piece of crap, and people read it. People read it! That’s miraculous. I’ve known writers, and know writers, who would kill for that.

I have a passion. I have a weapon or a defense or whatever you want to call it that keeps me steady. Something I can turn to when I’m feeling at my lowest that helps me to get back to a healthier place. I have people I can talk to. I have a steady writing job. (A writer with a steady job! That‘s miraculous.)

I have so fucking much, and other people don’t. They don’t have that. They face what I face — and worse — every god-damned day…and they don’t have what I have. They fight harder than I or you could ever know, just to make it through a day. And then the next day comes…and they have to do it again. Depression is a Sisyphean punishment. The boulder always rolls back down. Every god-damned day.

I’m sharing this here because you know at least one of those people that’s worse off than I am. I have a voice, and some small platform. They don’t. I have the strength, for whatever reason, to talk about the difficulties I have. They don’t.

It’s my birthday today. I’m thirty-five. If I live another thirty-five years, I’ll have struggled with depression and actively fought it for 70 years. 25,550 god-damned days.

So, do me a favor today. Okay?

Reach out to someone.

Someone you care about.

Maybe you know they have problems of their own. Maybe you have no idea.

But reach out.

Okay?

Just let them know you care about them, and leave it at that. If you want to be really great, let them know you’re there if they ever need somebody to talk to.

It’s a small gesture. I’m not asking for much. They aren’t, either. And you’re not going to change a life.

But I can promise you one thing: you’ll make their day a little easier. And when you struggle for 365 days out of the year, you feel every day that’s “a little easier.”

Thanks in advance, on behalf of someone who needs you right now. You can make a difference, and be a hero, just by reminding somebody that they aren’t alone.

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