Weekly Update: Halcyon 6, Grand Budapest Hotel

What I’m playing: Halcyon 6-Lightspeed Edition

Almost wrote about this last week because that’s when I started. Glad I didn’t write then because this ended up dominating this week and if I didn’t have it to write about I’m not sure I’d have enough to finish.

I’ve played Halcyon 6 before. I actually reinstalled it for the EEG I had two weeks back, because I knew from experience that it was easy to stay up all night playing it. Halcyon 6 has a setup where you can have several different missions going simultaneously, so it’s easy to launch a mission to attack the space whales while your Tactical officer is researching cloning technology, just before you get a call from the machine-intelligence Collective about how they want to ask for a favor.

Yeah, it’s a pretty obvious Star Trek homage.

The galaxy of Halcyon 6 is full of races eugenic warrior Xlar and the opportunistic capitalistic Yabblings, as well as the aforementioned machine collective. There’s also a parody of the Vulcans in the Korvan Consensus, a race of aliens with dubious powers of foresight who mostly sit around sending positive vibes and insisting they know more than they actually do. The real antagonists, the bug-like Chrull, don’t strike me as having a Star Trek equivalent, but maybe I’m just not familiar enough with the series. They seem more like the Zerg from Starcraft

The central mechanic is turn-based ship-battling, as you send your three-ship fleets composed of tactical, engineering, and science vessels against similar arrangements of aliens. Each ship has an array of powers with effects that the enemy ships have varying susceptibilites to, and which you can possibly exploit for even more damage. That means that you can use one to exploit another and and the same time set up a whole new possibility. At the same time, different environments will not allow different techniques, so even if a ship is vulnerable to a tactic, you may not be able to use that tactic.

Mostly, though, what’s addictive is the gameplay flow of setting up new missions while other missions are running, which constantly leaves you with a new goal, a new end to look forward to. It makes things feel fast-paced, even if you’ve been at the game for hours.

Still I think that would be less compelling if it weren’t for the world, which is bright and colorful; full of picturesque space environments and humorous stereotypical alien races that poke fun at their sci-fi originals. I could wish that the game had something more of a sense of exploration, rather than resource management and tactics, but there’s no disputing that it’s a fun world to be in.

What I’m Watching: The Grand Budapest Hotel

I got the DVD of this from the library weeks ago, and then just never watched it for the longest time. I’d seen it before, and watching The French Dispatch had reminded me of it. Grand Budapest Hotel was the first Anderson film I watched, when I was just barely aware that Wes Anderson was a thing. Maybe that’s the reason why it seems like the most Anderson film of all with his fondness for symetrical shots fitting the genre perfectly. It is, I think, a better movie than the French Dispatch, with a more unified narrative that contains a more balanced mix of drama and whimsy. Ralph Fiennes may not be one of Anderson’s usual entourage, but he absolutely makes the central figure of Mssr Gustav come alive–no easy task when part of the character is that his persona is partly artificial.

What I find particularly fascinating about the film, actually, is something that’s barely in it, and that is the romance of Zero and Agatha. It’s sweet, adorable, compelling, and extremely minimalist. When Zero says “It was at this time that I met Agatha,” we see shots of Agatha, but absolutely nothing of him meeting her. The next we see them, he’s asking her to marry him. Zero says quite explicitly that he prefers not to talk about Agatha, because he can’t control his tears when he does. And this is despite that, as he says at the end of the film, the entire reason he held on to the hotel had nothing to do with Mssr Gustav, but Agatha.

It’s just compelling that a romance that is barely shown somehow feels sweeter and more real than many romances where every step is seen, from magical first meeting to slow interest, etc. I want to speculate why, but it’s too late on a Saturday night and I just want to submit this blog, so I’ll just admit I genuinely don’t know. Maybe it’s that imagination can fill in the gaps. Maybe the way that the story leaves such an intentional Agatha-shaped hole makes it more clear than ever how deeply the storyteller feels about her–a meaning built into the story structure. Certainly part of it has to do with the actor and actress involved. But it’s very compelling and it makes the romance feel truly intimate, a close relationship which even the audience may not enter in on.

It’s a fun movie. Crass, hokey, and ridiculous, but fun. I enjoyed it.

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