Awarded the position of ‘Greatest film of the 21st Century’ by a team of 177 critics, it is impossible to deny the worth of Mulholland Drive. Even someone as critical of director David Lynch’s work as Roger Ebert acknowledged the great achievements of the film, stating his feeling that Lynch had been ‘working toward’ the film his entire career.
It follows Naomi Watts’ Betty Elms as she dives deeper into the glamorous world of Hollywood. The life she leads has all the wonder and spectacle a bright-eyed aspiring actor could hope for as they start their career. Away from the sun-drenched land of dreams Betty finds Los Angeles to be, there are mysterious goings-on and dark and dodgy deals happening. When at last, these two worlds collide at Club Silencio, the result is devastating for Betty and her lover Rita.
At first promising a loving tribute to the golden age of Hollywood cinema, the creeping malevolence of certain aspects turns the film on its head. Even its name harkens back to Hollywood’s halcyon years, mirroring the title of the famed Sunset Boulevard, a film of the era from which Mulholland Drive borrows, both being significant and famed street of Los Angeles. Another tentative connection exists between the two films as Sunset Boulevard features a minor character called Gordon Cole, whose name Lynch appropriates for a character he himself plays in his famed television series, Twin Peaks.
The stunning success of this riddle-like film was never a certainty, however, as the film was initially produced as a pilot for a television series planned by David Lynch. The television executives rejected it, and so the open-ended nature of the film, whilst a staple of Lynch’s work, was not entirely planned. It also served to connect the film’s content to the reality of Lynch’s experiences as the power of creatives in Lynch’s Hollywood is surrendered to the moneymen and executives.
To help people in solving the film’s central quandary, or perhaps to further cloud the matter, Lynch released the film on home media with a series of ten clues. Whether anyone has truly solved the enigma is perhaps impossible. The film is woven through with Lynch’s familiar dream logic and denies easy answers. It’s surely fitting that a film set in the city sometimes called the city of dreams, and deals so much in fantasy, is this much of a conundrum. Only here, in this film, the dreams of the city are not all aspirations but also nightmares and horrors lurking around the corners.
So I think we can all agree that 2017 was a trash fire of a year. And while I’m cautiously optimistic that 2018 will be better, just in case, it’s good to have something to combat all the possible stress that this brand new year could unexpectedly unleash.
And there’s nothing quite as good to destress (that’s legally available) than virtual farming.
Harvest Moon is one of those classic video game series, like Mario or Zelda, with editions for most consoles, stretching back from Harvest Moon (1996) on the SNES, with following titles on the N64, Gamecube, the Wii, WiiU, on each Gameboy/DS/3DS handheld console, and the Switch. But far from being a Nintendo exclusive, you can also find these games made for the Playstation 1, 2, 3, the PSP and Vita. Last year Natsume even released games for Windows (available through the Steam store) and on Android. I can think of few other series with as wide a market reach. And all this for a simple farming game.
Keep in mind this list also includes the spinoff series (Rune Factory – which added dungeon crawling and fighting monsters to the usual farming gameplay) and the split which saw the North American distribution taken over by XSeed and create their own rival series, Story of Seasons. But as this was originally all once a part of the Harvest Moon brand, I’ll be including them in this discussion.
But what makes Harvest Moon such a successful franchise? Why have there been so many copycat games, most notably the thrillingly successful Stardew Valley (now even available on the Switch! Not bad for an indie title)? Why is a game with no combat, little customisation and no online multiplayer continually selling well enough to keep the franchise going for over twenty years? As someone who has played almost all of these games I think it comes down to a few factors.
It’s like real life but not.
Firstly, there’s something about simulation games that you don’t get in other genres. Here you are the master of your world. While you’re not quite playing God as you are in The Sims, Harvest Moon gives you a plot of land and says go at it. You are able to craft the farm of your dreams, cultivating whatever crops you desire, raising cows and sheep and chickens and (sometimes) pigs and goats and llamas, or not. You could also skip the farming all together and make your money from foraging in the local forest for berries and acorns, or become a professional fisherman, or miner. Or all of the above. The choice is yours.
It’s also a romance sim.
In addition to farming, you’re expected to integrate into the local village community, court one lucky bachelor or bachelorette (depending on the game. Unfortunately same-sex couples are not an option, although you CAN have a “friendship ceremony” with a same-sex villager in Harvest Moon DS and Harvest Moon DS Cute), get married and (usually) have a child. Each game comes with a choice from about 5 (or 10) eligible young people each with their own backstory, personality and lists of likes and dislikes. Some games even feature romantic rivals, who will move in if you’re not fast enough, so get cracking on that daily gift-giving. Each romance option comes with a list of milestones and cutscene events which are the closest thing to an actual story plot in most of these games, and all lead up to the big moment where you can propose with a blue feather (the game’s version of an engagement ring). It’s usually possible to romance more than one person to get as many cutscenes as possible, but usually you need to pick just one guy or girl by the end. Just don’t expect any explicit reward at the end. This game is exceedingly PG and child-friendly. Even the process of becoming pregnant and having a kid is vague and random. And your new virtual family won’t necessarily help you with your farm and your child may never grow up (in most games anyway), which can be a bit existentially concerning, but it’s the milestone at which you could consider the game finished, because,
You can farm forever.
In almost all the games, there is no real END. You just play until you get bored and move on. For me this usually happens after the second year or so, once I’ve married my beau and fulfilled whatever other story plot requirements there may be – most recently I’ve been playing Harvest Moon Skytree Village, and only now do I get to properly court my masculine red-headed flower shop man. Forcing the bulk of the romance into post-story content is a devious trick to extend the playability of this game, but there’s also enough new collectables unlocked to keep you busy.
If you’re a completionist, you will either love or hate these games. There are long lists of crops, animals, animal products, forgeable items, fish and more to collect in each game, as well as lists of villagers met, building upgrades, and – my favourite – recipes. Cooking in this game is usually only available once you upgrade your house to build a kitchen and/or buy some kitchen utensils, and can be a great way to increase the value of your produce (ie, boiled egg can be shipped for more G than raw eggs), as well as creating dishes which can be given to villagers as gifts or entered into the cooking festival. For the games that list a pokedex-like recipe book, I’ve literally created spreadsheets based of the lists available in the Wiki’s to systematically unlock each recipe – because I’m the kind of person who likes lists and spreadsheets – and yes it’s very satisfying to tick off every soup and salad and main and dessert and flick between your completed lists. It’s way more exciting than actual cooking.
In summary, these games are the ultimate de-stress, zone-out anthesis to your busy life. Every aspect of life has been simplified and shrunk down into a series of simple repetitive tasks, in a world where pregnancy happens by throwing sparkles over a female cow, you can till an entire 3”x3” square with a big enough swing, and spamming the local library girl with pink flowers every day will eventually lead to your wedding day despite the almost entirely one-sided conversation. It’s a world where there are only 30 days to a season, 4 seasons to a year, and people get “drunk” off grape juice at the local tavern. There’s always a goddess living in a lake, a series of tiny sprites you can recruit to do your chores, and summer will always bring a hurricane or two which will drop rocks on your fields and kill your crops. Every game is essentially the same framework in a different skin and trimmings, but there’s something oddly comforting – and addicting – in that reliability.
Words by Simone Corletto.
Simone Corletto is an Adelaide-based YA and Science-Fiction writer. She’s performed her work numerous times for Speakeasy and at the National Young Writers Festival. Her first co-edited anthology, Crush, was published by MidnightSun Publishing this year. Her work has also appeared in Empire Times, Double Helix, RiAus, and the 2017 Visible Ink anthology “The End”. She spends her spare time crocheting lumpy hats, writing about teenage superheroes, and telling people about her science degree. She tweets at @SimCorWrites
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is undeniably one of the greatest video games ever created. First released on the Nintendo 64 (N64) in 1998, it was developed and published by Nintendo and was the first 3D entry in The Legend of Zelda series. Now, twenty years later, I wish to celebrate this title by discussing it and how it inspired me to become a writer.
Ocarina of Time was a ground-breaking title at the time of its release. It was one of the first open world games where a player could ride a horse, explore secrets, and participate in side-quests. Its main quest, however, is the real prize. Players take Link, the playable protagonist, through numerous dungeons, each one unique to its region, travel through time between the present and future, all as part of the epic quest to saving Zelda, Princess of Hyrule, from the hands of Ganon.
My introduction to this game came sometime in the late 1990s-early 2000s. The N64 was the family game console and my parents had bought the game cheap from Blockbuster. I spent countless hours of my childhood exploring the world of Hyrule, attempting to rescue Princess Zelda, all the while going fishing and looking for secret caves. For a younger me, its wide-open world, engaging narrative, and many secrets were what kept making me return to it and what kept inspiring me.
Ocarina of Time started the fire that made me want to be a writer. Some of my earliest fiction works were fanfictions of the game, all of which containing my own unique, original spin on the game. I had even started to imagine my own versions of Hyrule, each one with a unique storyline and style.
There was one aspect of the game though that really fuelled my growing imagination: a group of enemies called ReDeads. ReDeads are zombies that are nothing more than skeletal beings with browned skin, a mask-like face, and the power to paralyse and suck the life from Link. Hearing their low-pitched moans in a dungeon always made my hairs stand on end and frightened me enough sometimes not progress any further. The terror of them continued beyond the game, into my nightmares. It’s in my mind that they were suddenly more frightening and powerful, a trope which later made me fall in love with zombies and the horror genre.
Although aged in contrast to its successors in the series, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is still a fantastic game. It’s the game that inspired me to be a writer and fall in love with hideous creatures of the night. Its narrative and storytelling still remain engaging 20 years on and hopefully will continue to inspire people to become writers for years to come.
For anyone who’s interested in video game writing, wanting to play an inspiring game, or just want to play a great game for 2018, then go play Ocarina of Time. If you want an updated experience of this game which is gorgeous to look at and play, pick up the remake of the game on Nintendo 3DS. If you want that same experience I had, but on a modern console, it’s available on Wii U Virtual Console for about $15AUD. If you have neither a Wii U nor 3DS, you can pick up the original N64 cartridge, or the special edition of The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker on Nintendo GameCube where it’s an extra disc. These options may be more expensive due to their age and increasing rarity.
Why the Rain Wild Chronicles? Answer: It’s a deeply engaging series and Hobb does wizardry with the cast of characters.
As a brief background, Dragon Keeper is the first of four books in the Rain Wild Chronicles. The series is a continuation from the events in Robin Hobb’s Farseer and Liveship Traders series, though with a different cast of protagonists. Chronologically, the Rain Wild Chronicles sit at the end of Hobb’s long list of published series in her ‘Realm of the Elderlings’ universe and it is most closely linked to events in the preceding Liveship Traders series.
For readers new to Robin Hobb: if this seems like an intimidating number of books to read before you start, never fear. While reading the Liveship Traders will give you a more rounded understanding of the setting, certain characters, and previous events, Hobb does a good job in grounding these world details within the Rain Wild books and even new readers will be able to enjoy the series fully.
The first book in Rain Wild Chronicles takes you on a journey of exploration up the acidic – and deadly – Rain Wild River. Unable to fly and incapable of self-sufficiency, an array of deformed dragons stuck near the Rain Wild city of Cassarick need to find a home that will support their needs. In a bargain struck with the Rain Wild council, the dragons and their keepers journey up river to find the lost city of Kelsingra; a place once home to dragons and their mysterious Elderling companions. The people who aid the dragons have an array of personal and political reasons for joining an expedition that is rife with uncertainty and danger. This is a journey of survival for the protagonists; of seeking the true self and true belonging against the background of the inhospitable Rain Wilds and the richly written political situations. These themes of belonging and discovery run throughout the entire series and are also mirrored within the plots of the novels – yet the strength to this strength to this series is not its plot, but the characters.
And what a cast of characters: girls, women, men who are explicitly gay, outcasts, and dragons. Outsiders, all of them, in one way or another. They are what I like most about Dragon Keeper and the Rain Wild Chronicles as a whole. From the smallest supporting player to the main roles, these characters are deeply complex. They each have their own goals and motivations, as well as corresponding strengths and weaknesses. What’s more, all the characters experience challenges and growth. None of them are flawless characters, especially the protagonists, and yet they are characters to whom we relate and even sympathise with. It is not easy to do that with such a sizable cast – yet Hobb does it and she does it with ease.
I especially like the dragons as Hobb has written them. Often, draconic characters are written on extreme ends of a spectrum: from inscrutable wisdom and altruism to unspeakable malice and cruelty. Instead, Hobb’s dragons are deeply self-concerned with the issues of dragons – especially with their survival as the last remnants of a species in a world that doesn’t value them as sentient beings. Their tenuous survival wars with their awareness that malformed dragons should not live and yet live they do. Unhuman, aloof, wise, and malicious at turns; these dragons are protagonists that are fully rounded characters in and of themselves. They are an utter delight to read, especially since they are central to the series.
I’m recommending this series because I return to it time and time again. The world of the Rain Wild Chronicles is rich and detailed, whilst the story is immersive and the characters arresting. Following the progression of the protagonists throughout the series makes you feel good for them because they grow so strong. With an empathetic eye, you can see parts of yourself and parts of the people you know in these characters. Diving into the world of the Rain Wild Chronicles is escapism at its finest; dark and uncomfortable at times, but always with that edge of hope that fights towards the light.