The best Jurassic Park sequel

Jurassic Park failed because Dennis Nedry was underpaid.

As a bidding contractor he shares the blame, but in the tech world we’d call him a bad hire. John Hammond says so himself through spoonfuls of ice cream in the Visitor’s Center. There are more specific lessons: invest in a build server so compile jobs can’t be expected to take down the security cameras; use a source control system to track when your developers install backdoors; and upgrade every workstation’s graphics cards so your 3D fly-though Unix systems scroll at a reasonable pace.

Jurassic World has more than one point of failure. I’m going to discuss them all now, in detail, so beware of spoilers for the entire movie.

I can do anything better than you!

Its first problem is a common corporate woe: compartmentalization. Jurassic World’s geneticists were told to engineer something bigger, faster, with more teeth, but no one reported back on what they’d made. The ingredients of the Indominus Rex are doled out over the course of the movie for maximum dun-dun-DUN effect rather than something the park manager rattles off in her sleep. Knowing that this creature can hide its thermal signature, camouflage itself, and talk to Velociraptors would have saved a lot of lives.

Like the crew of the asset containment team sent to bring it back alive but killed in the park’s second failure: insufficient contingency planning. Twelve guys in body armor with giant tasers, stun guns, and nets go on foot to capture a Tyrannosaurus on steroids. They’re shredded effortlessly. Where are the helicopters? Armored trucks? Quadcopters that fire tranquilizer darts? Even those hamster balls would probably do well if you could fit a rifle on top. The park is so fixated on walls that it doesn’t have a good idea of what to do when a vicious carnivore scales one.

Or doesn’t. Jurassic World’s final failure is poor procedures. When the Indominus Rex scratches up the walls to make it look like she’s escaped, the first thing you should do is check the security cameras to see when that happened. Oh, you don’t want to do that. Okay, check the GPS beacon the size of a soda can you lodged in her neck. Surely that’ll tell you where… nope, don’t wanna do that either. What about looking around the cage where she would have landed for some dinosaur tracks? Just ask one of the employees outside if they see… huh. They’re playing Candy Crush and can’t be bothered? Well then, by all means climb into the domain of this mutated killing machine and touch the claw marks to make sure they’re not chalked on by an intern or something.

Wait, why is Nedry running Mac OS 9 on his desktop? Did Lex use his computer for her Unix system thing? Or was she remoting into a terminal?

That’s the point when the park goes off the rails and I stop pretending I’m writing a postmortem for Raptor Fancy.

Consider the moment of no return in each movie. For Jurassic World it’s when Owen Grady is running away from the Indominus Rex and juuust makes it past the closing door but RAAAR!! the dinosaur breaks through and eats everyone. What’s the equivalent scene in Jurassic Park? When sweaty nerd Dennis Nedry clicks his computer mouse and a stopwatch at the same time.

The trophy for “Best Jurassic Park Sequel” is a booby prize.

Real prizes include the cinematography and direction for the new movie. We’re treated to spacious shots of the park and careful camera movement during action sequences. The Indominus Rex performs like a proper movie monster as it slowly bares its teeth to intimidate the juicy humans. 2015’s expensive CGI improves on the practical models, adding lots of personality to the frequent “dinosaur head moving next to something” shots. I loved the little details of the park: the multicultural announcements, the official staff buttons, the bored teenagers working the rides.

Speculating on the realities of Jurassic World is great fun. What’s insurance like when you exhibit extinct animals and genetic anomalies whose abilities are unknown even to their trainers? Do the staff live on the island? Owen seems to, given his lakeside bungalow. What’s the aviary normally like when all the flying dinosaurs who escape are trying to eat the humans? Is the island park considered a sovereign country or does it pay taxes to the United States or Costa Rica? Is there a special restaurant for high rollers who want to taste T-Rex meat? Someone who wants to spare no expense?

Been injured while inside an "ultra-safe" gyrosphere? Call our thousands of trial lawyers and get your dino-sized check!

I wish we could spend the movie with that person.

Instead we’re shackled with two kids, one of which doesn’t want to be there, their babysitter who doesn’t want to be there, Claire Dearing the operations manager who doesn’t care enough about dinosaurs to want to be there, and Owen Grady the Velociraptor trainer who doesn’t want to be there because he’d rather be training the Velociraptors he insists are untrainable. I can forgive the kids for being one-note, but not the adults.

Have you ever tried to play the Red Letter Media Character Generator? It’s simple: describe a character without saying what they look like or their role in the movie. This focuses attention on their personality. The more you can say, the better the character.

Let’s try Jurassic Park. Dennis Nedry is sweaty, nerdy, narcissistic, greedy, immoral, and slovenly. Can you visualize him nervously lying to John Hammond over a filthy desk? Alan Grant is cautious, bad with computers, hates kids, mischievous, and practical. Unfortunately Ellie Satler and Robert Muldoon don’t have much besides “tenacious” and “Australian” but they have a rapport and a quiet history with the other characters and the movie is better off with them.

Now try Jurassic World. How would you describe Chris Pratt’s character if you can’t talk about Velociraptors? Hint: being handsome doesn’t count. Bryce Dallas Howard goes from Not Really Caring About Her Nephews to Caring About Her Nephews A Little. What an arc! Also she ties her shirt around her waist this one time. Whoops, that’s an appearance descriptor!

Maybe they won't eat me if they know how bad my hands stink.

Put it another way: could you see yourself dressing up in Owen’s vest and slacks this Halloween? Claire’s all-white suit? If you did, would anybody recognize you? Would you quote any of their catchphrases? Do they even have a single line that couldn’t be given to someone else? I’d rather go as the evil Vincent D’onofrio and talk about how dropping “trained” Velociraptors into military operations is better than using experienced United States soldiers and drones. At least people will laugh.

Subtract the corporate negligence and the movie’s plot is satisfactory. Dinosaurs are put in cages, dinosaurs escape their cages, some people we don’t care about are eaten (also Katie McGrath’s character for the sin of being a slightly inattentive babysitter), with a big fight at the end that resolves the conflict between humans and dinosaurs. Since humans are as effective here as they are in Aliens vs. Predator, the dinosaurs eat each other.

That works, I suppose. It’s all the little stuff that shreds the movie to pieces.

Same T-Rex. Same goat.

Like Jake Johnson’s character, AKA the guy in the control room with the Jurassic Park t-shirt, AKA the screenwriters couldn’t figure out how to have the movie deliver a sarcastic anti-corporate message organically so Jake’s just going to read aloud their statement of intent.

Or Vincent D’onofrio’s character, whose goal seriously is dropping trained dinosaurs into war zones. I guess it’s more original than robots or super soldier serums or biological warfare, but Chris Pratt’s Dino Team can barely understand “don’t eat me.” Vincent’s threats aren’t credible, he doesn’t menace effectively, and the bit where he takes over the park makes him seem like the voice of reason even if he is being a jerk. When he’s done being puppy-stompingly evil a Velociraptor just materializes and devours him.

In Jurassic Park the realists grumbled that a kid could survive being shocked by an electric fence. In Jurassic World electricity is used to save the kids by unrealistically reviving a twenty year-old jeep. Doesn’t gasoline go bad after sitting in a tank for just two years? Don’t tires deflate? And shouldn’t writers bring up “character has hidden talent X” more than five seconds before the character is called upon to do X?

I guess Blackfish wasn't a big hit on Isla Sorna.

How do you end a Jurassic Park film? Hopefully with a close escape from closing jaws. That happens in Jurassic World, but there’s so many loose ends tickling your nose. What happens to the parents of those two kids? Does this trauma change their decision to divorce or is it unrelated? Do Owen and Claire hook up? They have no chemistry and nothing in common. B.D. Wong’s character has escaped with his plans for… whatever, after it’s revealed he was working for Vincent this whole time. Or was he just taking bribes to tweak the dinosaurs so they’re more lethal? The audience might feel more betrayed if we had a better idea what was going on.

Having a convoluted plot doesn’t make a movie better. Mad Max: Fury Road’s simple story made a huge emotional impact on its action. Don’t be concerned about whether or not you could write something complicated, stop and think if you should.

Hi, I'm HERO

The Witcher 3 is coming out next week and I’m vaguely excited. I wasn’t a fan of the last game thanks to its emotionless hero, awful user interface, and poorly explained combat. It looks like the sequel fixes… none of those. Geralt grumbles at every situation like he’s missing the last puzzle piece in the box. I’m watching these HD streams of console gameplay and straining to see the button prompts at the bottom right of the screen. But the combat looks nice, sort of, if you compare it to the Arkham games and not From Software’s titles.

The city of Novigrad, sure to be full of dirty and horrible people and elves

But the reviews are coming in and they’re pretty positive. Big open world, the potion system is improved, there’s some kind of tracking system *cough* and unicorn sex? I guess? I’m in the mood for a long, serious RPG and I want something to flex my PC’s muscle more than Pillars of Eternity (which I also need to buy).

Unfortunately I’m still in the middle of two other games, which leads to competition for my attention.

The Witcher

“Hi, I’m Geralt, I have no memory, and naked ladies and elves want a piece of me. As you can see they’ve taken several pieces already.”

Persona 4 Golden

“Hi, I’m HERO, and even though my friend Yukiko was kidnapped and held inside the evil TV dimension where she’s taunted by her psychic opposite, I’m not going to tell her parents where she is. Instead me and my idiot friends are going to go to school and fuse trading cards in our minds until it’s literally the last second to save her life.”

Bloodborne

“Hi, I’m the hardcore reimagining of Count Chocula, and when I need a blood transfusion I go to the same place as where I get my crack. Now I’m in some horrific steampunk version of Purge Night following the non-instructions of a talking doll who can’t be bothered to say things like ‘rekindle the bonfire’ or ‘sit the throne’ like the last two comparatively story-driven games.”

Blackout

I’m not sure when I stopped caring about previews of video games.

Every gamer on Earth wants this. Please don't suck.

I still read reviews and follow the news updates for most games, but I no longer watch a lot of preview videos, most trailers, or in-depth developer commentary. I’m certainly aware of those items, and I’ll glance at one or two to get a sense of whether or not the game’s interesting, but I quickly stop. Then I wait for the reviews and make my purchase judgement at that point.

This is happening with No Man’s Sky. I’ve seen two trailers, read a few news posts, and barring 6/10 review scores I’ll certainly be picking it up.

It’s a new phenomenon, and it’s not something that thrills me. I used to devour PC Gamer magazines cover to cover. Watched everything on YouTube, went to every developer site, lurked in message boards.

But now I don’t care. Just… here. Here’s my $60, make me something nice.

Landing gear deployed

Elite: Dangerous is as close as you’ll ever get to being Han Solo.

I’ve been waiting for this game for years. Well, at least a year. My last post pining for its release was published exactly one year before the game’s launch. Perhaps I have more power than I thought (I credit Frontier: Elite II’s map hanging in my living room).

I love the advertisements in front of stations

I actually bought the game during its beta phase in August to have someting to play on the Oculus Rift DK2. Even in the early days it was totally worth it. It’s one thing to see ships and stations and planets on your monitor, but being in virtual reality with them is unbelievable. Or, not unbelievable. The opposite: utterly credulous. There are grab bars to the upper left and right of the Sidewinder cockpit. Everyone who tries the Oculus Rift attempts to pull on them. Watching the menus pop up as you look at them gets a comment every time and feels like future tech, but it’s probably the simplest computation in the game.

if player_vision_angle > 30 && player_vision_angle < 40

Dogfights in the Rift are thrilling as you track the enemy ship just by moving your head. Jumping into a new system often causes players to yelp as the star bursts into the viewport. Even sitting in a station is entertaining, watching the ships dock and undock, a graceful ballet accompanied by a hydrogen sonata.

Some things are worse in VR. Any text smaller than 20 point might as well be invisible, so you find yourself remembering numbers rather than reading them. Until recently there were some bugs with cockpit focus, but it’s been smoothed out and menus are much more forgiving and versatile (thanks devs!). Scale for heavenly bodies is almost there. Stars in the experience Titans of Space feel bigger than they do in Elite, but given how jittery I get in Titans that might be for the best.

I’ve been having a long correspondence with my friend Kelesis about Elite. He kept asking what kind of game it is, and many of my comparisons have felt inadequate. It’s open world like GTA… but there isn’t a whiff of a story or character to be found. You can buy and sell in a universe like EVE Online… but there’s no crafting and margins are thin (plus you can directly fly the ships).

In the end I have to rely on two comparisons: Elite feels more akin to Minecraft crossed with a detailed racing simulation.

Wars in Elite are supposed to look like this. They don't. I think.

Like Minecraft, the game world is enormous and procedurally generated. The developers don’t have a story campaign for you to advance through, you’re just set loose to make your own fun. This requires setting your own goals: travel to the center of the galaxy, buy a big ship, earn the Elite rank in combat, gain entrance to special star systems, have a dogfight in an asteroid belt, become a pirate, whatever. Technically the quests you take can shift the balance of power in systems, but that never really comes to anything.

This dovetails with the racing simulation comparison. In Forza Motorsport you’re not there to become Racing Champion of the World and then retire, as though it’s a traditional end to a video game. You race to buy cars so you can race more. The pleasure is in the simulation of the car, of learning its strengths and weaknesses, of comparing yourself to others.

So it goes in Elite. You buy ships to fly around to buy more ships. They have individual detailed cockpits, though you’re welded to the chair and don’t have an external view. Strangely, some ships look “old” when they’re bought new, like the starter Sidewinder and the combat-focused Viper. Each one sounds distinctive. I bought a Hauler and quickly dumped it after listening to its engines whine. You can upgrade each component of the ship, from the power plant to the thrusters to the life support (hint: buy that one, it’s cheap and it’ll save your life). The feeling of investment is great, though I can’t think of something more clever than “she’ll make point five past light speed” when talking about my Eagle.

During Elite’s beta I was a happy trader. Combat worried me; I was okay at it, but it seemed hard to find a good rhythm and payout. But now I’m fully invested. I learned how to scan targets for warrants, camp out at resource extraction sites, and deal with interdictions (hint: submit immediately and then boost away). Combat is… easy? I guess? I’m only “Mostly Harmless” but I’m finding a lot of Sidewinders, Eagles, and Cobras being pirates without having their shields up. So I fly in with a gimballed minigun and go to town. I’ve only been killed once when the NPCs at a resource extraction site ganged up on me. That $20K bounty loss was humbling, but I’ve recovered and am saving up for a Cobra.

I’m not sure what my goal is past that. I’m slightly addicted to the discovery process, and with a fuel scoop my range is effectively limitless. I don’t have a nebula to visit nor does the center of the galaxy interest me. All the stars have boring names like “Central Quadrant System 134-A” so there’s not much romance out there. I do like the sense of ownership you get over the planets you scan, and how even something like two planets orbiting each other feels special. It’s great to find brown dwarf stars and ring systems, though I’m disappointed that asteroids belts are completely invisible.

Here's one where the concept art barely does it justice. Being inside Saturn's rings feels incredible.

Much has been made about the accuracy of Elite’s star generation. If that’s true, our solar system is a real anomaly. Planets are significantly spaced out from each other, making travel in Sol a chore. Granted that has some advantages, like how you can find missions to take cargo from Mercury to Saturn’s Titan. But there’s not a single unguarded station with a black market, so I stay away from Earth.

Maybe you fancy yourself a swashbuckling space pirate, a smuggler and bounty hunter who answers to no authority. Well, hate to break it to you, but so does everybody else. There are a few chaps grinding reputation to afford faction-specific ships, but the rest of us steal cargo and life from NPCs to feed our habits. That’s one thing to keep in mind if you’re eyeing Elite: once you’re over the joy of the game’s mechanics, legitimate sources of money are rare and boring. Trading is dull. Mining is dull. Missions are either dull or impossible. Exploring, however much I enjoy it, is dull. That leaves piracy, selling stolen goods (i.e. smuggling), and bounty hunting. Smuggling sounds cool, but it has all the lows, lower lows, and low mediums of trading. You’re just cruising around looking for goods that fell off someone’s space truck, scooping them up and taking them to your black market contact. It’s nice because there’s no initial outlay as in legitimate trading, but you shouldn’t expect the kind of crazy payday that comes from station missions asking about illicit materials.

Even though I have a huge ton of games in rotation (Grand Theft Auto V, Assassin’s Creed Unity, Dragon Age: Inquisition, Smash Bros. for Wii U, Halo: The Master Chief Collection), I keep coming back to Elite. I love its permanent world, like a thin soup of EVE Online cooked especially for me. I love the sound of mundane activities, from the discovery scanner to fuel scooping to the docking experience. I love flying into ring systems, exploring moons, ducking through capital ships, and finding binary stars. I love how the game’s constant development feels like I’m unlocking new features (route plotting is a huge help).

No Man’s Sky is vaguely on the horizon, and there’s still Star Citizen, but for a space game you can play today, Elite: Dangerous is the zenith.

So Wildstar

I was hooked on Wildstar for exactly a month. It was beautiful, fun, bouncy, and had deep house customization.

Then I fell out of love. I’m not sure why. The game gets better on the higher levels, but I think I realized that even the best MMO isn’t for me. I’m done on MMOs, subscription or no. Even the exceptional Guild Wars 2 sits abandoned on my hard drive.

While watching Wildstar’s lore videos one day I got tired of the notion that there’s some moral ambiguity to the Dominion. There’s technically some sympathy in their backstory, what with the Mechari and all, but in Wildstar proper they’re a ruthless bloodthirsty creepily religious empire. They’re evil, screw them.

So Wildstar, now you see that evil will always triumph because good is dumb

It's that very special time of year, Greendale

Family Guy sure has changed over the years. Stewie no longer wants to take over the world, Peter isn’t obsessed with television, Meg has gone from a figurative punching bag to a literal one. And Brian, straight man and voice of reason, is now a liberal douche.

Is this how Christians feel watching Ned Flanders on The Simpsons? Seeing your own views espoused, mocked, and twisted is really awkward, though there’s some evidence that Ned might be a fair example. But watching Brian Griffin is painful, and not just when he’s having sex with human women.

I find Community’s Craig Pelton far more enjoyable. He’s taken political correctness past its extreme limits and sometimes bobs back on the other side. It’s possible to identify with a tiny speck of his sincerity while the rest of it blows far past your own values.

It's that very special time of year, Greendale. When your school acknowledges no specialness to this time of year.

iPhones and lizard brains

A friend in Tallahassee broke his iPhone and wanted me to talk him out of buying a Samsung Galaxy S5 Active. I failed, but he likes the phone. Here’s how he rationalizes his purchase.

I feel like with the money spent I am getting a new toy per se to play with, whereas the iPhone I kind of think of it like this, you have this pretty, reliable, and safe girlfriend that you know won’t let you down (iPhone), and then you meet this exotic stripper (Samsung) and your practical side says “stay with the reliable” but your lizard brain is telling you to go with the stripper, and you know it can cause you some heartbreak down the road but it might be worth it in the short term haha!

I love it.

From the context it is clear what you mean

Futurama is another favorite show of mine. This is the Donbot, head of the Robot Mafia, whose unappreciated catchphrase I use to excuse typos in text messages.

From the context it is clear what you mean

Do you still want to meet?

Sometimes I want to play hardball when dating.

Do you still want to meet? Then go to the Adams Street bridge. There's a really good noodle place nearby.

Kill meeee

Another in the saga of Memes Nobody Asked For.

This is a friend’s iPhone 4S after a drop from shoulder height. Is it possible to pity inanimate objects? You wouldn’t feel bad for a floor lamp that somebody knocked over, but this, well.

iPhone kill meeee