File 001 | The Detective Files (Review)

“Independence and Freedom-File 001” by Jeff C. Fuller is one of the many articles/short stories that can be found on The Detective Files website. In the story, the Declaration of Independence and Constitution are stolen.

The story is told in first-person: Detective Charles Early. He and his new partner, Emma Stevens, must recover the stolen Declaration of Independence and Constitution.

The story has a noir-like style. I could almost picture a rain-drenched city and a detective in a trench coat. I’m not sure if that was the author’s intention, but it is what came across to me. Whether intentional or not, the mood and feel continued throughout the story. It didn’t feel like one minute it was a detective story and the next it was a comedy.

One of the first things I liked about the story is that it ended. By the end, the items are recovered. The story is self-contained. I don’t feel like “now I have to read twenty more files to learn what happened.”

I noticed some editing mistakes. For example, at one point Emma says, “Don’t you thin sir?” Fuller might want to look back through and fix some of these errors.

The dialogue and structure of the story gave it an “always moving” feel. I wasn’t bored or wondered “how much longer till the action.” I also liked the idea of this organization that helps solve cases that are too difficult for regular authorities; it kind of added to the mysterious-noir vide of the story.

I also noticed that Fuller repeats words in some sentences or has redundant text. For instance, at the beginning it says, “The last security guard made one last round around the building when he turned and signaled to the other guard that all was well.” The next sentence has the guard saying that the building is clear and all the alarms are on. Fuller might want to choose between keeping the dialogue or the description.

At one point, Fuller uses the word “feel” many times in one sentence. “Chuck, I have a gut feeling and I am not sure why I am feeling this way but I do have a feeling that this was an inside job…” These issues can easily be solved by eliminating the repetitive word or changing it to another word.

What I found to be the best part of the story was the style. Throughout the story, it sounds as if Detective Early is speaking. The narration stays in character. The descriptions of people sound like how a detective would describe someone in a report. The whole story sounds like someone writing a police report. Fuller does an excellent job at making the story feel like it is a file/report but at the same time making it sound like a story. Fuller balances the two well.

“File 001” made me curious to read more files and even check out the main novel The Detective Files: Emma Stevens and the Lord of Crime, which is published by Page Publishing; it is available at retailers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble. 4/5


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Global Warming | Just Shapes and Beats (Spoilers)

Contains spoilers for the video game Just Shapes and Beats.

Over on the GTLive YouTube channel, MatPat and crew finished the game Just Shapes & Beats. It’s a video game of a blue square working its way through levels of deadly red shapes all to music tracks. *For the first part click here. For the second (final) click here.*

On the surface the game seems to be just about a square trying to save his friend (a larger square) from an evil collection of red shapes that looks somewhat like a rocker. But since I’ve obviously watched way too many Game Theorist videos, I started to come up with a theory as to what was happening.

In the game, the red rocker steals three giant triangles. The blue hero travels through levels in order to retrieve all three pieces. At the end of each level, the blue square collects a smaller triangle. Once you’ve beaten the final, final boss, the three giant triangles form a tree with a bunch of triangle trees appearing with it.

So, the red foe stole/cutdown the trees and the blue square is getting them back.

At one point in the game a volcano erupts. An erupting volcano is usually symbolic of nature’s wrath. The red rocker destroying the trees (aka nature) has caused a natural disaster. Nature is out of balance. On the way to the volcano, you have to journey across a red infected sea–once again, damaged nature.

After the volcano, you visit a factory to save the larger square. The camera pans up, quite a lot, to show the rocker standing on a tower playing its corruption music–or playing “noise pollution.” The rocker’s beats infect the other shapes. This factory is pumping out toxins.

During your stay inside the factory, you must escape blades as they grind up pieces of land. This looks very similar to a factory grinding up trees to make products.

Then after defeating the rocker, it gets hit by the triangle and becomes diseased. The rocker begins spawning in egg-like things which hatch and unleash virus looking monstrosities. Eventually, the boss transforms into what looks like an evil sun and says that you are destroyed. It proceeds to smash the blue square to pieces. If you respawn, it comes from the sky and smashes you again–almost like a solar flare or extreme heat.

You are saved by the larger square, who now wears a simple crown of two triangles–much like someone would wear a crown made of nature/flowers. The blue square is finally able to fight back and destroys the evil sun-thing. After this, the sun returns as its normal yellow self (the only time you see a color other than red, blue, or white). The trees reform and everything is normal again.

So, my theory is that the red boss/rocker began chopping down trees and putting them through its factory. The boss’ pollution began to damage nature, causing disasters. The damage then caused a virus (as seen by the corrupted triangle infecting the boss and spawning in egg hatching beasts). Finally, the sun becomes evil and begins destroying everyone and everything. But it isn’t until the blue square is powered up by the triangles (aka nature) that it is able to defend itself. The plant life is then replanted and the world is once again in balance.

It seems like Just Shapes & Beats is a game about global warming, or at least a warning against aggressive destruction of forests/nature.

Lastly, the title seems to be telling us the game is simple–just shapes and beats–but it really has something more going on. But, what that story is, just might be up to the listener/player. The images you see when you listen to music is different from what I see–kind of like how one person can see a bunny in the clouds while another sees a dragon. Just as I saw a rocker in the red boss, the Game Theorists saw their cat.

So let me know in the comments, what did you see? Cat? Rocker? Just shapes and beats? Or something else?

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ONN Wireless On-Ear Headphones | Review

Reviews are my own opinion and not those of any person or organization.

Recently, I got a pair of ONN Wireless On-Ear Headphones. I have to say they are pretty great.

First, they were fairly easy to set up. It took me about ten seconds to pair the headphones with my iPad. It took me longer to remove the headphones from the package. Speaking of which, I did not like how they “hid” the charger and audio cable in a pocket behind the logo. It was lucky that I found them before I threw the box away.

I really liked that the headphones came pre-charged and it lasted for awhile. I was able to listen to music for about eight to ten hours before I needed to charge them for the first time. And considering that you’re supposed to get 14 hours of playtime per charge, that’s impressive. I also appreciate a voice telling me that the battery was about to run out.

I didn’t like that the instructions were a little confusing. I had to read it a second time to fully understand them, but that could be because I was speed reading.

I was able to get about 50 feet away from my device before the headphones started to cut out. I enjoyed that when they did start to cut out, they would just cut out. There wasn’t a loud static sound nor did the voices start to slow down. It let me know that I was out of rage without annoying me.

There was a problem with the headphones and the Vudu app. Right in the middle of the video, the app would crash and even shut down the Internet. I had to reboot the iPad in order to get the Internet back. But seeing as the headphones worked with every other app, I think it was more a problem with Vudu than the headphones.

I do wonder if the volume resets every time you turn the headphones off. I’ll turn the volume down to listen to some music; but when I turn the headphones back on later, the music blares.

But my favorite feature is that when I have the headphones on, I can barely hear anything outside of what I’m listening to. I can’t hear people, unless they address me directly and speak up a little (even if I have the volume turned down low), but it isn’t complete silence–I am able to hear the phone ring. It is like they cut out enough noise that I am able to enjoy my music or video but not so much that people have to scream at me in order to get my attention.

I was a bit unsure about getting the headphones because if I wear on-ear headphones for a long time, my ears get uncomfortably hot. Also, on-ear headphones tend to knock my glasses out of alignment so I can’t see well with the headphones on. With the ONN headphones, they do cause my ears to get hot but it doesn’t seem to last long. They also do move my glasses but I am able to right them fairly easy.

The ONN headphones aren’t perfect, but they are definitely better than other wireless headphones I’ve had. 4.8/5


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Top Run | Review

“Top Run: Retro Pixel Adventure” by Katata Games (Mark Tityuk on iTunes) is an endless runner game. You play as Kevin–and sometimes his dog sidekick Buddy–in order to collect pixels, blast bad guys, and rescue friends.

Kevin is a 1980s teen who’s gained superpowers thanks to mutation. Buddy joins Kevin on the adventure, now and then traveling to his own dimension (“Buddy Time”) allowing the player to collect bonus pixels. Kevin’s three friends, whom Kevin must rescue, have their own superpowers.

Kevin’s main weapon is floppy discs which he fires at foes. He can also collect power-ups: an enemy freezer, a hover board that draws all the pixels towards himself, a triple floppy power-up, and a Buddy shield that’ll make Kevin invincible.

The game is filled with 80s easter eggs, such as the Night Driver (Knight Rider)–a black vehicle that helps Kevin by plowing through his foes. The game is also filled with 80s music thanks to the artist Beckett.

The free version allows the player ten tokens (aka runs/plays), but the tokens recharge quickly. It takes about ten minutes for one token to recharge. You can also buy tokens through pixels or through real world money for $0.99.

In the free version, you’ll have ads that play after random deaths. You can get rid of them by paying the $0.99.

The game also comes with skins for Kevin and Buddy. You can purchase all for $3.99 or save up your pixels and get a random one for 7,500. Or you can buy everything, plus gain access to the Cybervaders arcade game for $5.99.

The game itself is very addicting thanks to the easy to learn gameplay and ability to buy tokens without spending money. The soundtrack also makes it hard to put the game down. The game objectives aren’t easy but not so difficult that you feel like they are impossible.

My main frustration with the game was that the hit box seemed odd at times. There were many times when it seemed like I was passed a foe or had avoided it only to see the game over screen.

Overall, the game is a nice trip back to the old arcade days. The graphics, music, and audio lines keep you immersed in the game. It comes with a nice balance of challenging but not frustrating. 4.7/5


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Toy Story 4 | Review (Spoilers)

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A special note for all you Pixar Theorists out there. After Buzz is added to the carnival prize wall, you can see a girl playing the game. When she turns around, she looks a lot like Boo from Monsters Inc. At least, she did to me–it happens fast. She looked a little older, like eight, maybe ten, years old.

Disney and Pixar’s Toy Story 4 has Woody and company on a road trip after Bonnie’s parents decide on a family vacation before Bonnie begins kindergarten. But during the trip, Bonnie’s newest toy, Forky–which she made during the orientation class–escapes. It is up to Woody to find Forky and return him to Bonnie.

The movie had great acting and great animation. It did well with balancing humor and emotion. Also, the interactions between Bo Peep and Woody seemed authentic. As a whole, the movie was one of the best in the series.

But, you could also see a message underneath the family-friendly action. There are many dark theories about the Toy Story series, such as if one of the toys died the child would never know and keep playing with it and the other toys would have to deal with having their friend’s body there all the time.

img_2674Another theory is about how the toys are slaves and that one day they will rebel against humanity (as explained in a Film Theorists’ video). If you watch the fourth movie, you can see some beginnings of an uprising. First, the stuffed unicorn wants to get Bonnie’s dad arrested. Second, whenever Bunny and Ducky come up with a plan, it involves violently attacking a human–in one case with laser vision.

Then there is Woody. Boonie is more interested in playing with Jesse than him. He gets left in the closet more and more. After awhile he starts to feel like he no longer has a purpose. Enter Forky who keeps saying he is trash. When Woody explains his feelings to Forky, Forky says he’s trash too. Forky explains that a spork’s purpose is to be used to eat with then thrown away. Woody fulfilled his purpose and needs to be trashed.

You could see how feeling useless could cause the toys to rebel. They are no longer needed. They spend years of their lives watching over kids only to be boxed up. It is the same in real life. When a person feels frustrated and unappreciated or useless they lash out (or rebel). 

However, in Woody’s case he does not rebel because he soon finds a new purpose. He learns that he can help other toys find their homes. When people feel useful, they are less likely to rebel. So, as long as the toys have some purpose, they won’t rebel. 

Toy Story 4 did a good job of closing the arc. You saw Woody’s story; he went from being Andy’s toy to no longer being needed by Andy to being given away to going to a new child to finding his new purpose. It really was a story of a toy. You saw how they’re loved, forgotten, and given to others. It was also a good story of life in general. You have good times, bad times, and times where you have to adapt and find a new path. You also got to see how the disappointments of life can make someone angry, insecure, or broken hearted.

Pixar once again did a great job of showing something about the human condition while also making an enjoyable movie. They did an excellent job of telling the audience their message while at the same time not being preachy.

4.9/5


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Maginary | Review

Maiginary is an interactive adventure story by Semyon Polyakovskiy. But it is not your typical interactive story. Instead of choosing from various choices, you interact through your device’s microphone, display settings, compass, and more.

When you first start the story, it asks for your name, which it then just calls you by your first initial–so giving a full name seems pointless. You then meet the previous “owner” of the story, who is now trapped within the book. Your job is to help him escape. Soon things get worse as a clock appears, with each new page turn time is deducted. If you fail to rescue the trapped character before the clock runs out, they are doomed to remain. Luckily, since the the timer counts down with each page turn, you don’t have to finish the book in one sitting.

I found some of the puzzles to be a little difficult. I ended up having to burn through many page-minutes in order to find a hint. Also, it was annoying trying to find the right level to activate the continuation prompt.

In one puzzle, I had to use the microphone to blow away some mist. I kept blowing and blowing and nothing would happen. I had to get a specific level of breath in order for the app to accept it. In another puzzle, I had to adjust my screen’s brightness levels in order to find a hidden object. I kept having to go from the app to Settings as I tried to find the correct percentage level.

People who have more experience with interactive stories or know more about their device’s features might have better luck.

I enjoyed that this story involved me more. I wasn’t sitting there clicking Choice A or B, I had to figure out compass directions or how to get something out of a vending machine that appears within the story.

I did roll my eyes at the moments where the character would hint at becoming trapped in the story because he chose to not finish reading.

I found the adventure app to be immersive and funny. Certain words would join together to form an image. For example, a group of letters spelling out “tall grass” would hook together and wave like grass blowing in the wind.

The part I found the most annoying was running into the paywall. I was just starting to enjoy and figure out the game when BAM paywall. If I wanted to continue I need to pay; fortunately, the price is pretty fair–especially for what you get.

While there were some annoying moments, thanks to the puzzles, in general the app worked fine. It didn’t crash or run slow or have long load times. I didn’t feel like I was a distant observer–I always felt like I was part of the story…at least until the paywall.

Overall, the story provided a good mystery and sense of tension and urgency–but not so much you fell panic. It had a nice balance between easy and difficult puzzles. Finally, I did not feel forced out of the fictional world that was being created. 4.3/5


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Avengers: Endgame | Review (Spoilers)

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Over the weekend I saw Avengers: Endgame. I had a hard time figuring out what I thought about it. There was discontent between my writer brain and my fanboy brain.

As a movie, Endgame was pretty good. The action scenes were well done. There was a nice balance between humor and emotional scenes.

I did have a problem with how Old Man Cap was able to arrive in present day Marvel Cinematic Universe. According to the movie, if you remove (or add) something to the timeline, a new parallel timeline is created. If Captain America stayed in the past, it should have created an alternate present and he’d just stayed in that timeline. Some might say that he used the “time GPS” to return but then he should have appeared on the platform.

It also disturbed me that all the returned people were now five years behind everyone else. Ant-Man ended up missing five years of his daughter’s life.

img_2674Then there was the ending. As a writer, the ending was OK. I knew from how Marvel set up the world’s rules and the characters that someone had to die. But, as a fan, I wanted Iron Man to live and just retire with Pepper and his daughter. I know. This ending is more realistic. The hero had to sacrifice to return everyone. Etc.

Also, I felt like it ended with more questions than answers. For example, what about Loki stealing the tesseract. Sure, the tesseract from 1970 was return thus resetting the timeline but Loki still stole it after the New York invasion. The Avengers never returned that tesseract. And if Old Man Steve managed to rejoin the MCU timeline, does that mean tesseract Loki will eventually catch up too? Thor joined the Guardians of the Galaxy–does that mean Loki will show up as the villain in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3?

The reason I became interested in superheroes is because they offer hope. Life has its problems–illness, injury, loss of a job, and so on. In the superhero world, there is the villain that causes problems. The hero does suffer and sacrifice but eventually wins. They show that no matter how bleak things get eventually it gets better.

Life is sad enough without it being thrown back at us at the movies. Sometimes you want to go to the movies to escape. You want the good guys to win and there be a happy ending.

It also felt like the crew had changed the movie to please the “trends and trolls.” When the MCU started, the movies were more lighthearted, but then people kept saying, “None of the characters die,” and “Time travel? Ugh, lame.” It seemed like things were different in Endgame–even Captain Marvel and the new Spider-Man movie seem to lean more towards how the movies were at first.

But then I realized that I was troll-feeding in my writing. I was changing the story to try to get more views or reads. I kept trying to fit the story to the wants of others instead of telling the story I wanted. I mean, you do need to compromise some–like changing something because your readers are confused, but the problem comes when you change the core of the work. If you start changing what made your work special in the first place, it starts to fall apart.

I also realized part of this discontent was a fear that the following movies would follow suit. I was worried that the rest would be all gloomy. I also realized that part of the problem was that I’m getting superhero fatigue. On my way home, I noticed that Captain Marvel was still playing at the theater. There were two superhero movies from Marvel at the theater. Take a breather now and then, Marvel.

I also suffered real fatigue. The movie was just too long. It needed to be about 30 minutes sorter…maybe 15.

Finally, I remembered that Endgame was like a series finale. It was the moment to say “good-bye” to all the characters you’ve gotten to know over the last 10 years. It was supposed to be sad. Also, Endgame was the culmination of 10 years of build-up, it needed to live up to the hype.

So, there were a few problems, like plot inconsistencies and an ending I didn’t enjoy, but as a movie…it was pretty good–I really enjoyed it up until the ending. The acting was well done as were the effects. You cheered when certain moments happened and you cried at other moments. I also enjoyed how the movie did what movies should do–make you think and make you feel. After the movie, I kept trying to figure out why I felt “out of sorts” about it.

I have to give the Avengers: Endgame a 4/5 and a 3/5. It was good from a movie perspective, but not so much from just my personal preferences–I’d much rather Tony live and retire and have the time skip to have only been a couple months to a year.

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Sparks of Rebellion has been released!

Joe Rover eBooks are available at many online retailers, such as Barnes and Noble, Apple Books, Walmart eBooks, and more.