Movie Review: “Ready Player One” 

By: John Mills
Diversions Editor 

I usually hold the stance that movie adaptations should be as close to the book as is possible. I’m the kind of person who notices and is peeved by the cuts Peter Jackson made to the “Lord of the Rings” books.

Therefore, it may come as a surprise that I thoroughly enjoyed, and would recommend, the “Ready Player One” movie being that it is far removed from the book.  

What makes”Ready Player One” so fun to watch? For me, it was a few things.

First of all, the Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) is gorgeous and works extremely well within the setting.

Most of the movie takes place within a virtual reality environment known as the Oasis. The Oasis is given life in movie form that the book could barely hope to match.

Everything in the Oasis is clearly artificial, but is given a sense of realism despite that that is highly familiar to anyone who’s used a VR headset at any point.  

The plot stays true to the spirit of the novel without having to use any of the unfilmable sections. To point out even the biggest differences would take too long and be too spoiler-y, so I’ll highlight two instead.

The entire way to acquire the first key is entirely different from the book, in a good way. I don’t want to watch someone play an arcade game for half an hour after navigating a notoriously difficult D&D module, all the while being narrated at about how tough the whole thing is.

That just wouldn’t make for a good movie, so Spielberg changed it, and for the better.

The other biggest change I’d like to touch on for example is that the movie cuts out half the challenges, which also would have been difficult to properly film and boring to watch, not to mention long-winded.  

The two leads, played by Tye Sheridan and Olivia Cooke, work incredibly well together, whether acting in the flesh or as their virtual avatars. There’s a natural chemistry between the two that’s obvious on screen and a joy to watch.

The supporting cast includes the wonderful Ben Mendelsohn and Simon Pegg, and the hilarious T.J. Miller. All of the supporting cast do their job well and fit into the world in a way that makes sense.

Ben Mendelsohn perhaps unsurprisingly plays the primary antagonist, and it feels like there’s a touch of Orson Krennic from “Rogue One” in his performance, in a good way. 

“Ready Player One” was a book that shouldn’t have been filmable. It was a convoluted, fun, mess of self-indulgent nerdism with little true character development and worse interpersonal abilities.

The movie does away with the worst of these flaws by actually making the main character likeable, sociable, and capable without coming off as a pretentious know-it-all who is only out for himself.

That is where”Ready Player One” shines best as a movie. It’s a fun ride from start to finish with satisfying arcs and development, without the deluge of ‘80s pop culture most people won’t get. 

Diversions Reviews

Video Game Review: “Factorio” 

By: John Mills
Diversions Editor 

“Factorio” is a game seemingly custom-made for people who like efficiency.

Or rather, people who like to design efficiency. Or people who like to plan things out. Or people who like chaotic messes. Or people who just wish to visit gross environmental harm where they won’t get fined into nonexistence by the EPA.

The point is, “Factorio” has a broad appeal, something well reflected by its 98% positive rating on Steam. It is available through Steam or [www.factorio.com] for $30. 

At its core, the goal of “Factorio” is simple. Start with your wits, a drill, an oven, and build a factory to enable you to launch a rocket into space.

If this sounds like an impossible task, just know that it is only very difficult. Scattered around the map are resource deposits to make this all possible, and researchable technologies progressively make things easier.

That has to be contextualized by saying that while the technologies allow more, new, or more efficient methods of production, fitting them into an existing factory can be maddeningly difficult.

Oh, and then there’s the hostile aliens that will try to raze your fledgling factory when the pollution gets too high.  

A big aspect of “Factorio”’s appeal is that there is no set way to “win.”

Every time you start a new game, the map will be different than the last time, meaning that the setup you used in the past likely won’t be directly applicable to the new world.

Once you have won by launching a rocket, there’s nothing that tries to stop you from launching more rockets.

With sufficient work, its possible to build a factory that launches rockets with alarming regularity.

Plus, “Factorio” supports both local and internet multi-player, which significantly increases an already high playability value.

Working with a friend to build a factory, then optimizing it when it isn’t efficient enough, then tacking on oil and chemical processing facilities, then doubling its throughput of iron, then adding on a new power system, then optimizing some more can be an amazingly endless process.

The first night I played “Factorio”, I played it for roughly eight hours without noticing the passage of time. That being said, I have since found, personally, that I don’t truly enjoy playing “Factorio” alone, but your mileage may vary.  

Graphically, “Factorio” is no stunner, but its art style works incredibly well with what’s being presented, as well as allowing for absolutely massive numbers of sprites and other items on-screen without putting a heavy load on any modern computer. Even older or less powerful laptops and desktops should be able to run “Factorio” with ease.  

“Factorio” appeals to the wannabe-systems-engineer in me. It distills terribly complicated processes like ore mining, oil refining, and rocket assembly into placeable pieces.

All I have to do is ensure they are supplied with the resources they need to function, given limited space and availability.

That’s just logistics, and anyone can learn logistics. For anyone who enjoys efficiency, resource management, micro-management, or buildings things just the way you want them, “Factorio” is sure to delight for many hours upon hours. 

Diversions Reviews

Band Review: Be’lakor 

By John Mills
Diversions Editor 

I stumbled into Be’lakor quite on accident. As it turns out, this Australian melodic death metal band named themselves after the original demon from the lore of Games Workshop’s Warhammer universes. That being said, I’m very glad I discovered them, because the band’s four albums are some of my favorite I’ve heard in the last five years. They combine excellent work with the standard guitars, basses and drums with pianos and other instrumentals to create a sound that can be both fast and heavy, then slow and thoughtful, before breaking back into the pounding rhythms that defines metal as a genre. 

Be’lakor is probably not going to appeal to people who are not already fans of, or at least okay with, the basic standards of melodic death metal. The standout feature that will probably turn most people away from Be’lakor is that all of their lyrics are done in so-called “death-growls.” The aggressive and abrasive nature of this kind of singing turns a lot of people away from the genre. Be’lakor doesn’t mix death-growls with standard lyrics like some bands, and as a consequence, the words can be very difficult to understand. To compare them to a much more famous band, they sound like an Australian Amon Amarth. This is, in truth, an awful comparison, but probably the one that most people are likely to understand. 

After Be’lakor  released their first album in 2007, each subsequent album has defined their style yet further. As might be expected of a melodic death metal band, Be’lakor maintains a steady, albeit heavy and down-tuned, melody throughout their songs. This consistency has the benefit of making any of their songs instantly identifiable, while also making it difficult to discern just which is playing. Over the length of several nearly hour-long albums, it can become easy to get lost in the music, as it blends together with little difficulty, even on shuffle. As such, I find Be’lakor to be a great band to put on in the background while I work.  

Taste will obviously differ widely, especially in regard to music. Many people who don’t regularly listen to metal will find Be’lakor far from their liking. Even amongst metal fans who generally listen to faster bands or bands with more legible vocals may not enjoy Be’lakor much. All that being said, if any of what has been described sounds appealing, give them a listen. Their entire discography is available on Spotify for free. For a band with as much raw musical talent as is on display, they are almost criminally under-played.  

Diversions Featured Features Reviews

Video Game Review: “Owlboy” 

Russ Chapman
Correspondent 

“Owlboy,”  released in late 2016, is a two-dimensional platforming adventure game. This game’s genre is not new by any stretch of the imagination, being similar to classics like the original “Super Mario Brothers” and “Sonic The Hedgehog” that released in the mid to late 1980’s or early 1990’s. So, what makes this game different? 

Most usually with the platformer genre, mastering the character’s mobility to navigate levels and puzzles is a key feature of gameplay, if not the entirety of the game. “Owlboy,” on the other hand, is a platformer where the mobility of your character is entirely a non-issue.  

The character plays as the young owl-boy named Otus. As would seem natural for an owl, Otus can fly. Flying makes moving through levels simple and a unique experience. However, the developers added difficulty to actually surviving through levels. 

The next noteworthy feature of gameplay is the combat system in the game. Otus is a simple character who relies on his friends to help him survive the hostile lands traversed in the game. There are three different friends that Otus can carry into battle and call upon to help him in the world. Each of them brings different combat abilities and strategies to fend off a variety of enemies and bosses.  

The combat is made interesting by the noticeable lack of platforming mentioned earlier. Otus can fly high into the air in a boss room to avoid damage, seemingly, a quite useful skill. However, if he fails to dodge the opponents attacks then he will be dazed and begin to plummet from the sky. When this failure happens, the friend being carried is dropped and the additional combat abilities are lost. Otus also takes damage from hitting the walls or from falling all the way to the ground, also extending the daze. Therefore, positioning and moving are very significant in combat. 

A brief comment on the artistic aspects of the game: the style is in a voxel art with simplified character models and environments. This art style lends itself well to fantasy environments, allowing for vibrant colors and unique designs. The environment is paired with a retro style music fitting the graphical theme, which only improved the quality of gameplay. 

Overall the game-play aspects of “Owlboy” are very well done. The controls are comfortable, and the abilities feel unique from other games within the genre. The combat is enjoyably difficult without being overly punishing, a difficult combination to achieve. The game is, all-in-all, a pleasure to play. 

Diversions Featured Features Reviews

Cyberpunk Column

John Mills
Diversions Editor 

My favorite sci-fi author, and likely my favorite author of all time, is John Scalzi. Scalzi is the owner, operator, author of one of the oldest blogs on the internet, “Whatever.” Now, why bother mentioning this seemingly inane bit of trivia? Well, the powers that be (i.e., the editors) saw fit to let me write a column. Well, they saw fit to let me try writing one this issue. I suspect I will disappoint in spectacular fashion, but in the spirit of Scalzi’s twenty-year-long exercise in writing about whatever he feels like, I present to you my own opinions on things. This issue, cyberpunk. 

Now I realize that that was a bit of a hard cut, something akin to throwing the hand brake while in fifth gear. What goes into cyberpunk? Cyberpunk is something I’ve wanted to write about for a while, as it stands as one of my favorite genres in fiction. Here are a few key aspects of the genre that I find most defining. 

The first is advanced technology, usually with an emphasis on electronics, usually in both the industrial and consumer sectors. Think of yet to come phones or other personal electronic devices, implanted electronics, more advanced and connected internet. Despite whatever particulars may vary between settings, a massive increase in the usage and massive decrease in physical size of computers is a staple of the setting. Its worth noting human augmentation often dovetails in with this theme.  

Second is color. Most cyberpunk seems to believe the future will be lit up in frankly blinding levels of neon. If this is the future that awaits us, frankly I can’t wait. The more neon the better in my humble opinion. “The Matrix” movies are a notable exception to this trait, but it’s common enough in most other representations of the genre to be worth noting. A future without neon is not a future I want to live in. 

Coming in third is a two-pronged subject: the rise of mega-corporations and the stark increase in income inequality. The inspiration behind these themes is pretty easy to see today. Large corporations like GE, Wal-Mart and dozens of other massive conglomerates seems to control excessive amounts of power and influence due in large part to their brain-meltingly massive revenue. Meanwhile, the majority of their employees may not even get paid a living wage. 

Fourth and last is heavy Asian influence. I have to confess I don’t actually know who started this trend, but it’s very prevalent in the genre. I’m going to hazard a guess and say the original “Ghost in the Shell” movie played a large part in the trend.

Additional examples include 1982’s “Blade Runner” to 2011’s “Deus Ex: Human Revolution,” or obviously, this year’s live action remake of “Ghost in the Shell.” I suspect the extreme urban development seen in Japan, China, and other countries like Singapore in the last two decades mirrors the physical setting of many dystopian futures that cyberpunk seeks to convey.  

Why do I love cyberpunk? Ignoring my undefendable love of neon, I like the idea the downtrodden making a life for themselves in a system that would happily forget they exist. The drive shown by these characters is an inspiration I think we can all take something from, even if we don’t have a computer stapled to our skulls. 

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Column of Whatever: Hard Video Games Make Life Fun 

John Mills
Diversions Editor 

In this third installment of the Column of Whatever, I felt like talking about video games—since I’ve never talked about those before (ignoring all the video game reviews I’ve written, cough cough). I have an entirely consequence-free confession to make: I like hard video games.

This will make sense in a moment. Anyhow, the latest Call of Duty game released in the last couple weeks and it’s gone back to WWII, which reminded me of my favorite WWII shooter on the market: Rising Storm/Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad.

That’s a complicated title, due in large part to the fact that it’s actually two games packaged together. Rising Storm is the Pacific theater add-on for the Eastern Front focused Red Orchestra. They are sold together through Steam for $19.99. 

In any event, Red Orchestra has garnered a well earned reputation for absurd difficulty, brutal realism, and addictively satisfying gameplay when you get over the initial difficulties. For those experienced with multi-player first person shooter games, you are probably familiar with the concept of a kill-to-death ratio, that most sacred of metrics to measure player ability with.

The more kills you get per death, the better you are at the game. It’s a simple to understand metric that has been popular since the release of the first player-versus-player shooters. Red Orchestra simply laughs at the concept. The in-match player list records each player’s team points, individual points, and kills.

For anyone coming into the game as a new player, you will likely die five or more times for every kill you get, depending on your experience with shooters in general. Aside from that, it is a truly enjoyable game, if dying often is your thing. 

Red Orchestra is not the only difficult game I adore. In the same vein, there is Verdun, a WWI shooter with similar traits, such as accurate weapon performance and terrifyingly quick deaths.

I have also found an abiding love for realistic simulators like Falcon 4.0 BMS or DCS, both highly detailed flight simulators. Flight sims are something I expect many at this school have a deep familiarity with, for obvious reasons.

Other games in my collection that have more of a learning cliff than curve are Dangerous Waters—a high-fidelity submarine simulator—and Rogue System, which is a space simulator in the style of “every-button-is-usuable” flight simulators.

Rogue System also accurately portrays the challenges of navigating in space, with equally accurate orbital mechanics. To start a ship from just reserve battery power in Rogue System requires a solid ten minutes and a checklist that would put a real-world light aircraft to shame. It’s a fantastic feeling the first time you start up a ship from reserve power and everything works as it should.  

It would be reasonable at this point to ask “Why?” To that, I would have to say I don’t totally know, just that when I see something described as “realistic,” I immediately become interested. 

Entertainment Final Approach Opinions Reviews

Classic Game Review: Star Wars Battlefront II (2005) 

By Garrett Palmquist
Copy Editor

In light of recent events in the video game industry (namely Electronic Arts reducing a legendary “Star Wars” game series to a pay-to-win money-grabbing scheme), it seems apt to return to one of the greatest “Star Wars” games of all time: the original Star Wars Battlefront II (BF2). 

Many gamers who are now in their twenties remember BF2 with fondness—it was the perfect “Star Wars” first-person shooter that allowed players to relive the greatest battles of the series. BF2 was originally released just a few months after “Star Wars: Episode III” in 2005, catching the international “Star Wars” hype and riding it to commercial success.

And now, with Disney pumping out new “Star Wars” movies, a fresh wave of desire for new games has gripped the world. Sadly, the call for the next great game set in a galaxy far, far away was heeded by Electronic Arts. 

Electronic Arts is responsible for the newest entry into the series—unoriginally dubbed “Star Wars Battlefront II,” with the only differentiation in title being the release date.

This updated version includes expensive microtransactions that have reduced the legendary game series to a pay-to-win scheme designed to abuse fans’ desires to play as their favorite characters in order to justify expensive loot crates.

While Electronic Arts has temporarily scrapped the idea of microtransactions, it is worth noting their original logic (based on a post from a “Star Wars” fansite): 

Should a player wish to unlock every part of the game, including the heroes, by actually playing the game, it will require at least 4,528 hours of playtime. That’s six months of playing. 

Should a player wish to unlock every part of the game, including the heroes, by purchasing loot boxes, the estimated cost is around $2,100. 

Compare this to BF2 from 2005—the focus of this review—which is currently $9.99 on Steam for every map, upgrade, and hero, and the choice becomes obvious. 

BF2 from 2005 (which will be the topic of the remainder of this review, for clarity’s sake) recently resurged in popularity as Microsoft reopened the 64-player PC servers for the game in late Oct. 2017. Thousands of players have returned to the game—myself included.

Recent first-person player-versus-player shooters have made me soft, it seems, as BF2 can be unforgiving. A well-balanced squad with effective communication is required in order to seize the day—the types of players that many modern multiplayer games are lacking in (I’m looking at you, Overwatch).  

Players have their choice of six classes, including a unique hero, on each map. Play in the era of the Republic or the Galactic Empire, with era-appropriate characters, heroes, and vehicles at your disposal. Take Naboo as the droid army CIS, or rewrite galactic history and have the Rebellion take over the Death Star.

Galactic Conquest, the fan favorite mode that plays out like a strategy game mixed in with first-person shooting, makes a triumphant return as well. In addition, support for player mods is still active, opening up the fight to thousands of player-made maps. 

In one of the first games I played in the new multiplayer, 15 Yoda’s leaped and Force pushed their way through the desert streets of Tatooine.

Where else can you find a dozen-or-more tiny green aliens somersaulting in the air and yelling incoherently? Battlefront II from 2005, that’s where—once again available on PC for a fraction of what the legendary game is truly worth. 

Diversions Entertainment Opinions Reviews

“Dangerous Jumps” Gives a Fun Listen 

By James Ritchey
Correspondent 

The rap supergroup Doomtree first formed in Minneapolis in the early 2000s, intending to bring together the best hip-hop artists in the Midwest. In 2008, the seven-member group, (composed of Sims, POS, Mike Mictlan, Dessa, Cecil Otter, Paper Tiger, and Lazerbeak) released their first full album, and since then, each of these artists has split their time between solo and group projects.

The latest such project is Shredders, a group composed of rappers POS and Sims, and produced by Lazerbeak and Paper Tiger. As artists who are well acquainted with each other already, Shredders clearly play to their strengths on “Dangerous Jumps,” their debut album. 

“Dangerous Jumps” was first announced on Sept. 6, releasing their first single from the album (“Flipping Cars”) on the same day. A short EP containing three songs was released shortly after, and served as a teaser to Doomtree fans until the full album was released on Nov. 3.  

“Dangerous Jumps” opens with “Tuf Tiddy,” a hard pounding track reminiscent of any other Doomtree record. Following that are “Flipping Cars,” “Cult 45,” and “Xanthrax,” each of which boast a fast-paced beat accompanied by the semi-coherent ramblings of POS and Sims.

The album slows down with “Fly as I Dare” and “Calm/Sane,” which contrast with the rest of the album to the point it feels as if they were forced into the track list. Mike Mictlan is featured on two tracks, “Style Boys” and “Heater Season,” which further blurs the line between Shredders and a regular Doomtree album.

The album ends with another two softer tracks, “Lion’s Mouth” and “Heater Season.” “Dangerous Jumps” reaches its climax fairly quickly, with its early tracks being so loud that later tracks tend to blur together.  

Overall, “Dangerous Jumps” contains very few lyrics of any substance, but when listening, one probably will not notice due to the superb production. Without being held back by other rappers, both producers have used full artistic freedom to create interesting, heavy backings to each track, and each song still feels unique.  

The Doomtree fan base has come to expect hard-hitting tracks of minimal depth, and “Dangerous Jumps” delivers just that.

In a time when underground rap has been almost exclusively political in nature, Shredders have found a setting to have fun and steer their genre back to where it has been in the past. The longest track on the record clocks in at just 3:35, differing greatly from the nine-minute epics on some of both POS and Sims’ solo albums.

Whether or not the Shredders project continues or just folds back into the Doomtree collective, “Dangerous Jumps” will likely remain a steadfast favorite for driving and workout playlists, while creating another standard for the underground rap scene.  

Audio Diversions Entertainment Featured Features Reviews

Restaurant Review: Kiyoshi Ramen ‘N’ More

By: Reece Cabanas
Correspondent

Prescott, Arizona is not exactly known for its ethnic cuisine when compared to major metropolis areas such as Los Angeles or San Francisco. However, positioned on the corner of a small shopping center is a family-owned and operated business that brings the tastes of Hawaiian-American cuisine to this former Wild West town.

Kiyoshi Ramen ‘N’ More opened just over a year ago, establishing a location between Iron Springs and Willow Creek Roads in the Willow Creek Village shopping center. The drive from campus is approximately eleven minutes, making for a quick go-to for lunch between classes or a light dinner option.

Hawaiian food has been transformed by a variety of ethnic backgrounds which have, at some point, had a heavy influence on the Hawaiian Islands and their people. Some of the more notable influences come from China, Korea, Japan, the Philippines, and Portugal. Local food became a mix of these different cuisines and the traditional plate lunch was soon turned into the fusion cuisine now familiar to the world.

So, what is on the menu?

Starting with appetizers, there are a few items to choose from. There is the Filipino lumpia, a spring roll filled with pork and vegetables, and Japanese Gyoza, a pan-fried pot sticker. Most notable is the regular and deep-fried Spam Musubi which consists of rice formed in a rectangular fashion, a slice of canned spam, and seaweed to wrap everything together.

There are numerous options available for the main entrée. Order a bento box for on the go, or sit down and enjoy the local favorites in house. The list includes chicken katsu, teriyaki beef, teriyaki chicken, fried noodles, fried rice, or seared salmon or tuna.

Also offered is what is known as a poke bowl. This consists of green onion, Japanese seaweed, raw fish, and rice, combined with other ingredients to the customer’s liking.

Kiyoshi Ramen ‘N’ More would not be able to live up to its name if ramen was not on the menu. Customers can choose from a wide variety of options such as broth, flavor, noodle type, and toppings to create a satisfying blend of aroma and taste. A fair warning, however: eating an entire bowl of ramen can be extremely filling, so be careful not to overdo it on the side dishes.

Finally, top off any meal with Japanese mochi ice cream or a Boba drink from one of twenty-five flavors. If you happen to come on a Friday night, there is also live entertainment to sit back, relax, and enjoy.

In conclusion, along with the friendly staff and reasonable wait times on orders, Kiyoshi Ramen ‘N’ More is a light-hearted place to indulge in Hawaiian fusion cuisine. While some of the prices may be slightly daunting for the average college student, the atmosphere and food quality is well worth the trade-off.

 

Diversions Reviews Student Interest

Drink Review: Lemon Water

By: Reece Cabanas
Correspondent

From time to time I would go to restaurants and choose water when asked for my drink preference. Half the time, a slice of lemon is either floating in the water or wedged on the rim of my glass. Curious, I researched the reason behind restaurants serving lemon slices in water and eventually ended up on a tangent. A search for lemon slices in water eventually turned into a search of lemon juice in water, or simply lemon water.

To finish my first thought, restaurants serve lemon slices in their water to enhance flavor and help mask the weird taste added by their filtration systems. Likewise, squeezing raw lemon juice into your own water does the same thing, but can have more benefits than taste alone.

From the research I gathered, putting freshly squeezed lemon juice into regular drinking water is a common practice used in body detoxification. However, most detox recipes call for lemon juice, or sometimes a lemon wedge, mixed in with other ingredients such as cinnamon or honey to get more results.

Some apparent pros of drinking lemon water include the following: detoxification, increase in energy, improvement of digestive health, improvement of the immune system, increase in metabolism and weight loss promotion, hydration, radiant skin, and much more.

With pros there must also be cons; lack of detox evidence, temporary weight loss, hunger and blood sugar issues, and tooth decay are among the downfalls to this concoction. Depending on how often a person drinks lemon water, problems may start to occur. When not taken in moderation, the pros can quickly turn into cons.

I decided to try implementing lemon water into my daily routine for a good week and a half. Because I drank the lemon water in the morning before taking care of my hygiene, I felt no problems with my teeth since I brushed them almost immediately after consumption. Around the fourth day, I got acclimated to the taste of this highly acidic drink. By the end of the week I noticed I dropped two pounds and was feeling healthier and more energized as a result.

Unfortunately, that week was a bad indicator of whether the lemon water had any effect on my overall health. I had started going to the gym more often a few days before starting this routine, so the change in energy and well-being may have been due to working out more.

Let me state that I am no health expert. However, I encourage people to incorporate lemon water into their daily routine for about a week just to see if it works for them. Then, take a short break before resuming as drinking in excess may prove harmful. Despite the results and despite the initial taste, lemon water can prove to be a refreshing pick-me-up to start your day.

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