The X-Files Are Closed

It’s now been almost a month since the latest (and probably last) season of The X-Files ended. I’ve had a month to think over and reflect on the latest season, what it means to the overall legacy of the show, and whether or not I even want another season (if it ever even happens, of which I’m doubtful).

Anyway, The X-Files returned a couple years ago with a six-episode run. The show had been off the air since May of 2002, with a single movie released in 2008 (a movie I’ve not seen, but have not heard good things about). Season 10 had only one good episode, and that was written by Darin Morgan, who wrote or co-wrote some classic X-Files episodes (including “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” and “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space“. (For those keeping track, I’m speaking of the episode “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster”. That episode was great.)

Season 10 began and ended with two atrocious episodes (“My Struggle” and “My Struggle II”), both written solely by series creator Chris Carter. The episodes continued the series’ core mythos arc, but 14 years later, was anyone still remembering where the show left off after those last several seasons? These two episodes are examples of what not to do with a show. There was excessive meddling with the mythos arc, taking it in crazy new directions that made no sense, and repeatedly changing direction. The editing and pacing was way too fast paced and hectic. There was also plenty of misogynism. The episodes made me no longer care about the mythos arc.

Season 11 had 10 episodes. It also began and ended with Carter-penned “My Struggle” episodes, the creatively-titled “My Struggle III” and “My Struggle IV”. The first episode again changed direction with the mythos arc but I’d given up caring. Apparently season 10 was just a vision Scully had or something like that, it doesn’t really matter. Carter had some original idea way back when, but his writing has gone insane.

Episode 11.02 carried on the story of the Lone Gunmen. I remember, in the months leading up to season 10, reading the comic book continuation of the show, the I guess officially unofficial season 10 (muddled a bit because the comic books had support from Chris Carter). One element of the comic books was that the Lone Gunmen, all three, were still alive and were now working for the government in a base hidden underneath Arlington Cemetery. Of course, the Lone Gunmen died in the original X-Files, so having them return would ruin that episode. Season 10 had a cameo by the Gunmen (or at least from Langly) in a sequence that probably didn’t really happen. There’s a scene in this episode (called “This”, by the way) where Mulder and Scully are tracking clues from Langly that lead them to Arlington Cemetery, to a specific tombstone. My first thought was that Carter was actually following the story of the comics and would bring back the Gunmen. However, that wasn’t the case. This episode shut the book on whether the Gunmen were still alive. They are all dead. They’re not returning. Glad that at least Langly had a final episode, though.

Next memorable episode is 11.04, “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat”. I remember the promos playing this up as a humorous episode, which it was. This was a great episode. Introducing a character who has supposedly been part of the main character cast all along but we just have never seen him (or we remember a false history), this episode plays a lot with the Mandela Effect (or the Mengele Effect, as our mystery character, Reg, puts it). There’s a lot of playing around with false memories, and a lot of hilarious scenes. Stuart Margolin is great as Dr. They, in some well acted and well shot scenes with Duchovny. This is a great parody of the show itself, and the scene at the end with Skinner is just great. Already this season is better than season 10.

11.05 is one of those Major Episodes, finally introducing us to William. He turns out to have a superpower of manipulating how people see him, because of course he does. Best thing I can say about this episode is that at least it wasn’t written by Carter (it was written by James Wong, who wrote/co-wrote such classics as “Squeeze”, “Tooms”, “Home”, and “The Field Where I Died”). Of course the episode ends with Mulder and Scully just missing William, encountering him without knowing they encountered him, and William runs away. We’ve still got four more episodes followed by one more mythos episode.

11.06 is probably going to go down as the best episode of this season. It’s a Skinner-focused episode (I think only the second episode to be such). Mitch Pileggi is fantastic in this episode, and it’s great that he gets an entire episode about his character. Anything more I say will ruin the surprises of this episode. Give it a watch, I think you’ll enjoy it.

11.07 is a letdown, overall. It has some great ideas. Doing an episode with minimal dialog is a great approach, and is done well here. That it all leads up to a pretty bad joke is a disappointment. It has some great moments, such as Mulder wondering why Scully has a better house than him. There’s a great underlying message about how we, as a society, have become so focused on our phones, though.

11.08 is a classic in the creepy ghost and supernatural vein. There are so many different styles of a classic X-Files episode, ranging from UFOs/aliens to monsters to ghosts to the unexplained. This is the creepy ghost variety.

11.09 is pretty forgettable, but it was in the classic vein of those episodes that are just really morbid and grotesque.

And that brings us to the finale, 11.10, “My Struggle IV”. If you go into something expecting to be disappointed, you’re rarely surprised. This is Carter’s finale to the series. I’m wondering if he wrote this expecting to do another series or not. Gillian Anderson has said in recent interviews that she’s done playing Scully, so that puts to rest any real possibility of a new season. (Also, Skinner is apparently killed in this episode, so that’s a disappointment) Mulder and Scully both finally and officially meet William and he’s supposedly killed but the final shot of the episode proves that he is in fact still alive (does that surprise anyone?). Cigarette-Smoking Man is also shot and falls into a river but does anyone expect that to really be his end? The guy survived missiles launched from helicopters to the face. This isn’t gonna hurt him. Frantic pacing and editing plague this episode. Also, Carter has an obsession with car chases. Seriously. Also, Scully is pregnant again.

And that ends The X-Files. Season 11 had some great episodes, among the series’ best, but the mythos is such a mess that I don’t see how anyone can care anymore. It’s sad that the series ended on such a bad note, but at least “My Struggle IV” offered some sort of closure, unlike “My Struggle II”. The let-down of that is enough to make me rather the series had not come back, but I’m glad that this last season gave us some new classic episodes. It was like reuniting with an old friend and realizing you’ve both gone separate ways enough that a brief meeting is enough. Society has changed. The world is different. The X-Files belongs to a different, past era. Let’s close the book and move on.

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Rest in Peace, Art Bell

Radio legend Art Bell passed away today at the age of 72.

Bell was best known as the creator and original host of late-night radio show Coast to Coast AM, where he covered all sorts of supernatural and paranormal topics. His show aired from midnight to 3am east coast time. Popular subjects on his show included alien/UFO sightings, ghost recordings/sightings, out-of-body experiences, “shadow people”, remote viewing, and even “reverse messages” (that last was about taking recordings of people talking and playing them backwards to hear subliminal messages). In many ways, Bell helped create the culture that would embrace The X-Files.

It wasn’t until the late ’90s that I discovered Coast to Coast AM, and thus Bell. I was able to pull in a station on my radio late at night that carried the show. I found the show fascinating. I really found the callers interesting. I knew many of them were silly (esp. those calling on the time traveler line), but it was neat to hear them talk about possible futures and alternate realities. This was at the time Sliders was on, and X-Files had reached its peak. Bell’s topics were part of the fabric of national culture. Paranormal, supernatural, and extraterrestrials were a national fascination. We were all about UFO sightings and ghost recordings. I remember FATE magazine, which covered similar topics. Bell’s voice, the way he respected callers regardless of how ludicrous they seemed, was great.

Bell would eventually step down from Coast, to be replaced by current host George Noory. I never listened to many of his shows. Back in 2015, I had my first shortwave radio, a Tecsun PL-310, and late at night I’d scan the shortwave dial. I picked up a station out of Tennessee that carried Bell’s new show, Midnight in the Desert. I found that during his second episode, and would try to stay up late just to listen to it most weeknights, my sleep schedule be damned. Midnight was much like Coast, just with a different name. Bell broadcast out of his home in Pahrump, Nevada, the Kingdom of Nye.

I remember when Bell stepped down as host of Midnight. The situation was that someone was threatening him and his family, and would act if Bell continued on the air. Bell took the threats seriously when he heard gunshots outside his house one night when he was on the air. Heather Wade took over as host and remains to this day.

Back when I was still doing Radio Free Caemlyn’s Friday Night Trivia, there was an idea from Bell that I wanted to use, called “Truth or Trash”. For that, Bell would have people call in, volunteer to serve as “judges” (three people for that). Other callers would tell stories that the judges had to guess were either true or false. Bell wanted the stories to be strange, the sort that Rod Serling would be proud to have penned. I wanted to use this on Trivia, but could never work out how to implement it. For anyone who remembers that I had a round I was working on but never got to use, that was it.

More recently, the guy who plays T. Rucker on the YouTube/Vaughn/Twitch series “Haulin’ Ass” has launched a new show, called “The Vortex”, where he plays a character named Ira Cutler. This show and character are based entirely on Bell and Coast/Midnight. A popular recurring guest on Bell’s shows, Richard C. Hoagland, is planned to be introduced, to be played by the guy who plays Bob Croft on “Haulin’ Ass”. Hoagland is another story entirely. I guess he still hosts his own show, The Other Side of Midnight.

Anyway, rest in peace Art Bell. You will be missed.

Update: Wait, this is the remembrance NPR posts? That isn’t a remembrance as much as it is a mockery. They mock the radio legend. “Hey, remember that kooky radio guy who talked about Bigfoot?” Ugh. She calls him “quirky”. Wow.

Games I Don’t Think Anyone Remembers: Shimlar

Doing something a bit different today. Usually for this series I post about old PC games, specifically DOS games, but this time I’m gonna talk about an old MMO, one that was text-only.

Shimlar is an MMO that I discovered back in high school. A neighbor told me about it, and we both started playing. I played it a lot for a couple years, getting a couple high-level characters before moving on with my life at University.

Shimlar is presented as a text-only game. You roll a character, choose a race and class (basic stuff like elves or dwarves and mages or soldiers, etc). Each race has a home area, where you have the same basic locations (healing locations, banks, stores, and so on).

For combat, you choose an enemy name from a drop down list. The list is in ascending order in terms of difficulty; grind against the earlier enemies on the list before tackling those at the bottom or you’ll be wiped out. Occasionally you’ll fight against special versions of enemies, who have different stats and may drop rare items. You’ll level up quickly in your starting zone, and can choose which stats get more of a boost. I typically played elven mages, so I would use spells instead of weapons. Basic stuff.

Once you felt you’d leveled up enough, you could venture outside your starting area. The main overworld was much larger, and was also a PvP area (you were safe from other players as long as you stayed in your starting area).

You could visit other starting areas, but they were all mostly the same.

Each character had an alignment stat. Depending on if you fought other players in the overworld, you could alter your characters alignment, from good to neutral to evil. There were certain late-game areas that were only accessible if you had the corresponding alignment.

There was a constant chat window on the bottom of the screen. This was divided into the main chat and role-play chat. This was in the days before Twitter or even Facebook, back in the “web 1.0” days I guess they might be retroactively called.

Occasionally, enemies would drop gems of different types. These could be fitted to weapons or spells to grant stat boosts. You’d constantly see people offering to buy, trade, or sell these in the main chat.

One unique area in the overworld offered quests. Earlier I mentioned the special types of enemies you’d occasionally run into. These quests would have you track down and defeat specific ones.

The game offered clans you could join. I guess most of what I’ve been typing is run-of-the-mill for MMOs, with the only thing to set Shimlar apart is the text-only approach. You had lists of links to click, directional arrows to click, drop-down menus, nothing visual. It was all played in a browser. This was back before my family had Internet access at home, so I’d play it a lot whenever I went online at the local public library. I’d also play it a lot on library computers at my University my first year there.

In the end, Shimlar didn’t really do much unique. You had traditional level-up systems, characters mastering different weapons/spells, some PvP, quests to complete, an active chat community back in the day. It was a fun way to kill time.

I briefly revisited this game a year ago, surprised to see that it still existed. Of course, my old characters had long since disappeared (they have server wipes at least twice a year, with inactive characters being removed).

I might update this if I remember more about Shimlar, but until then, does anyone else remember this game?

Games I Don’t Think Anyone Remembers: Cosmo’s Cosmic Adventure: Forbidden Planet

I’ve not written a new entry in this series in years. It’s time I post something new, so here it is.

Cosmo’s Cosmic Adventure was another shareware game I played as a kid. At least, I think it was shareware. Maybe it wasn’t. Either way, I remember getting a box of floppy disk from an aunt that had all sorts of games. Maybe it was on a full-size floppy disk, but was probably a 3 1/2″. Or maybe it was a game I got from the dollar store. I clearly remember having a sleeve for this game (a thin, paper case with the box art on the front, info on the reverse. The box art I posted above is not what I remember, and neither is what shows on Wikipedia).

Anyway, it was yet another DOS game. Remember having to type up commands in DOS prompt to start games? “cd\cosmo”, enter, “cosmo”. I still remember that.

This was a sidescrolling platformer, in which you play as a small, green humanoid alien with suction-cups for hands. Those let you climb walls and poles, adding a lot of verticality to otherwise left-to-right horizontal stages. There are lots of collectibles along the way, springs to bounce off of. There are also some hovercraft stages. It’s all alien and space-themed, which kid-me really enjoyed.

Reading through the Wikipedia page, I see Duke Nukem had a cameo (though referred to as Duke Nukum). I don’t remember this, but I do remember an old DOS Duke Nukem game. And I wouldn’t remember this, as it was in the second game, which I never played. Was it ever released? Must’ve been for a reference to be on the Wikipedia page.

There’s also the scrolling. Apparently this scrolls past at 8 pixels instead of one, which definitely adds to its aesthetic. Of everything I remember about this game, it’s that. It kind of glitched across, as I remember, instead of scrolling smoothly. I guess in my mind I chalk that up to it being a DOS game, but who knows.

A main reason I remember this game, besides it being a fun, simple game, is how vivid the worlds were designed. They were all so lush, so alive, so fantastic. It was so neat to visit those realms. In particular, I remember stage five had a system of pipes you could travel around in. Later on, when I played The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and saw those pipes in the Turtle Rock stage, I immediately thought of this game.

I also remember how the game ended, with Cosmo falling down a long pit, only to be eaten by some large creature. That was the cliffhanger leading to the second game, which I never played or even knew existed. That ending always freaked me out, as a kid. Maybe that’s another reason I remember this game so well.

All said, it was a fun little game. I never hear anyone mention it. Maybe I’ve seen it mentioned once in relation to a GamesDoneQuick marathon or some other speedrun thing.

Anyone else remember Cosmo’s Cosmic Adventure?

The Petscop Mystery

On 12 March of this year, a new YouTube channel began, called “Petscop“. The channel was devoted to a Let’s Play of a single and previously unknown game. (For the unfamiliar, a “Let’s Play” is a series, usually on YouTube, that combines player-recorded gameplay footage and audio commentary/reactions. I’ve done quite a few myself, and even uploaded most of an LP of Ultima: Exodus for the NES)

The premise was simple: our Let’s Player had found a copy of an unreleased, unfinished PlayStation 1 game called “Petscop”, apparently made and never finished in 1997. The game had you searching through a number of stages (or “houses”) to rescue 48 total pets that were left in the “Gift Plane” after said area had closed indefinitely and the staff had left. The game encouraged the player to find these pets, each one unique and valuable, and surely they’ll find one they can love. It was a puzzle game of a sort: solve puzzles to get to and “capture” each pet. The first pet captured was one in a cage, another was a simple music puzzle.

Then the Let’s Player (called Paul simply based on what he names his game file) mentions a note that was with his copy of the game. The note was in two parts, written by two different people. The first was seemingly written by a child, to judge by the words and phrasing: “I WALKED DOWNSTAIRS AND WHEN I GOT TO THE BOTTOM INSTEAD OF PROCEEDING, I TURNED THE RIGHT AND BECAME A SHADOW MONSTER MAN.” The second half of the note contained a date and instructions to go to a certain room, pause the game, and enter a sequence of button presses before resuming gameplay. Paul did that and the game subtly changed. At that moment, the only noticeable change was that the music stopped playing.

This is where everything in the game changes, where it goes from being a friendly puzzle-solving capture-the-creature game to something else, something more.

There have been attempts at this idea in the past, of a creepy video game. All notable examples I know of are based on existing video games, which is useful if you want the audience to go into this sort of story with a certain set of knowledge and expectations. For example, there was the famous BEN Drowned creepypasta, a story of a haunted copy of The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask for the N64. This story combined text story posted to the /x/ section of 4chan and short gameplay videos posted to YouTube. Those gameplay footages were what sold this story and cemented it in Internet lore: we actually saw what the author, “Jadusable”, was discussing. We saw the game glitching out, we saw that Elegy of Emptiness statue follow Link around, we saw the corrupted text. But this was all based on an existing property, and we knew the rules of the game, we knew the limitations of what could be expected. The only time these limitations were approached were when footage from another Zelda game (Ocarina of Time) were briefly spliced in, which only hurt a viewer’s immersion in the story (that visual data does not exist on Majora’s Mask, there’s no way that could possibly show up).

Petscop is something different, something new, something unexpected, and something that is still, seven videos in, a complete mystery.

Petscop is not an existing game. Prior to this, no one had heard of Petscop. The videos set this up as some existing and unfinished video game from 20 years ago, but it is highly doubtful that the game actually exists outside the world of this Let’s Play; that is, this game is purely fictional and the gameplay we see was made solely for this video series (and is probably being created as these new videos are made). A lot of people have been wanting the series creator to release the ROM or ISO of Petscop, but for reasons I’ll mention later, I do not think such a ROM or ISO exists, nor will one ever be released to the public. No, our view of Petscop, our understanding of Petscop, will be limited to what “Paul” decides to show us of the game.

Once the code is entered, the “hidden” portion of the game is found. Exiting that first stage (called “Even Care”) does not return Paul to the overworld of the Gift Plane, but rather to a vast, grassy, and flat plain we eventually learn is called the Newmaker Plane, an area resting under an eternal night. At first, the Newmaker Plane looks to be empty, until Paul finds a staircase that leads down. Through there, Paul finds a game world far larger than the incomplete “Even Care” stage from the “actual” game, a game world that includes a child’s grave, a windmill, a kiosk that allows him to communicate with something (or maybe several somethings), and a long list of mysteries. There are clues to what the “hidden” game is about, and this is where the viewer must start questioning their own limited interaction with the series.

You see, the game starts throwing out names, such as Michael Hammond and Candace Newmaker. Simple searches reveal that Candace Newmaker was a victim in a very real case of a dangerous therapy method with no basis in science. The methods of this therapy are referenced in this Petscop game. The “hidden” game is referencing child abuse and death, and this is where the purpose of this is brought into question. Who is actually doing this and why? What’s the ultimate point of this Let’s Play? Is it simply to show us this supposed lost PS1 game and the odd content it hides?

Pictured above is the Quitter’s Room, which people have taken as a reference to the Newmaker murder. As is documented, her “therapists” taunted her by calling her a quitter. This room was a brief oddity in Petscop 2, but is revisited in Petscop 7 and greater significance is placed upon it. The game plays an unknown melody, presumably played by the mirror character on the left. The game starts communicating with Paul directly in this room via a note on the wall.

The game starts taking on a life of its own. In an early video, Paul notes to himself that this is not an incomplete game, the whole game is actually this hidden content, and the Gift Plane element was just a cover. This part of the game feels finished, like a whole lot of work went into it.

But is this a real game? Any possibility of this game being real can be discounted quickly, mainly as it references a murder that happened three years after the game was supposedly made. There is one fan theory going around, however, that claims the Gift Plane section was made in 1997, game development ceased, the game was shelved, and revisited by someone in 2000 following that horrible event, that the Newmaker Plane section was made in reaction to that.

The latest video, “Petscop 7”, concludes with Paul visiting the rooms of Mike and Care. In an earlier video, Paul discovered a building (one that Petscop 7 reveals is a “Child Library”) that lets him visit numerous different rooms, each accessed by inputting a set of facial features (eyes, eyebrows, nose). The first of these two rooms doesn’t seem too unusual. Each of these rooms contains a different carpet, and different items on a table. The carpet pattern and items on the table presumably represent a specific child. It is the second of these rooms, a variant on Care’s room (the facial design he input combined Care’s face with Mike’s eyebrows (lore from an earlier video told us that Care doesn’t have eyebrows)) that brings the video to a halt. From the moment Paul enters, there is a censor block (added, we are told, after the gameplay was recorded, so not by the game itself) over something on the table. There are no outright clues to what information is being withheld from the audience. What is on the table? What are we not being shown? Paul is fixated on this unknown object, and spends a lot of time focused on the table, staring at it. Our only spoken clue is Paul’s guess that it might be something the game puts in any room. Whatever this object is, it clearly unsettles our narrator, as he remains silent the rest of the video, and barely moves the character; his attention is held by whatever that is on the table.

It’s the presence of this censor box that leads me to believe that we, the audience, will never be given a copy of the game to play ourselves. If there is graphic content (by graphic I do not mean obscene or violent, I simply mean visual) that must be withheld from the audience, then simply giving the audience the game would reveal that content anyway.

Petscop 7 ends with text telling the viewer that further information will be withheld from future videos. Besides acting as a way of telling the audience to expect more censorship, this also acts as a preview of what to come. We now know to expect “a big present with a sticker on it”, “something on a wall, in a black house”, and something “written on a chalk board”. We know Paul is going to continue exploring the Newmaker Plane and discover these locations and items.

We know more is to come of this series.

So what is Petscop, exactly? It’s still too early to tell. The creator of this series is keeping silent. Websites like Kotaku have reached out to the creator (how they did or what channels of communication they tried are unknown. How do you even find the creator of something like this who does not want to be found?) with no response. It’s good for this series that this person is remaining silent, as it keeps the mystery alive. Right now, there is still an element of doubt as to whether this game actually exists (it very likely does not).

What Petscop is is a very modern form of storytelling. This is a story told exclusively through recorded footage of a video game combined with that player’s reactions and thoughts to what is happening. We aren’t given any outside sources of information, the videos are it. We learn as Paul learns, we experience as Paul experiences. We even notice things that Paul doesn’t notice (there is an ever-growing list of things in the videos that we as an audience see but Paul never reacts to). There is a story hidden here, mysteries hidden, just waiting to be unraveled. There have been attempts on this format in the past (including an infamous story based on a supposed Godzilla game for NES), but Petscop is being really creative with the format and drawing the audience in. We’re still early in the story with no idea where it is ultimately headed, and the journey is exciting so far.

For all of its darker elements, though, what drives this series is all of its mystery. What is Petscop? What is the point of this series? Where will it go? Is it a real game? Will we ever get to play it? Who are these characters? Is it actually Paul uploading these videos? What are the pets? Who are the children? Who is Marvin and should Paul lead him back to his house?

We’ll see what, if anything, Petscop 8 and future videos explain.

In addition, I have recorded a Radio Free Caemlyn episode discussing Petscop.