Wednesday, October 13, 2010

My Favorite Aliens Part Two

Another day, another opportunity to babble incoherently about creatures not of this Earth. So let's jump right in with...

10. Antlions

I make no secret of the fact that Half-Life is so deeply ingrained into my mind that my thoughts actually reflect it, so much so in fact that I actually see ghostly little heads-up displays in the corner of my vision and five tiny dots in the center of my pupils, it's helpful when I need to shoot actual guns as well.

Antlions are really dandy, I remember the first time I saw them. It was ten years ago when Half-Life 2 was still a brand new experience to me. The first time the player sees them is when they're in a car that is slowly being lowered down to a beach by a magnetic crane. The crane fails, drops the car and the player is immediately swarmed by giant inter-dimensional insects.

In Episode 2 we finally get to see inside an Antlion hive and this is the first time that I was really fascinated by them. It was here that we first saw the Worker Antlion and the larvae that they protect.

I think the best part about Antlions is that they're a total mish-mash of all kinds of arthropods. First of all, they're like real-life Antlions in that they burrow underneath sand only to come up to tear something to ribbons, they're like spiders in that they spin webs around their hive but they also make giant honeycombs like bees. But then again they have huge egg sacks like spiders (that quiver when you shoot them). On the other hand it's mentioned they have some kind of "spawning season", very much unlike bees or ants. They don't seem to have a queen Antlion yet they have other clearly defined castes. Plus, they produce some sort of magic "extract" so we might as well assume they produce honey as well.

It becomes apparent that the Antlion life cycle makes no sense. Like a lot of other things in these games it seems like Valve was either really lazy and just threw everything they knew about arthropods into one creature or this was all meticulously planned.

9. Paciencia UFO Sighting Aliens

I have very particular tastes, I demand my creatures to be bizarre. Well there's few things that are as bizarre as UFO Sightings.

Our story begins with Antonio La Rubia, a 33-year-old bus driver who encountered a huge object, which he estimated to be 70 meters (235 feet) across, sitting in a field near his home. He decided to retreat, but was unable to do so, for at the moment he started to run, an intensely bright light lit up the area, and he was unable to move. At that moment Antonio saw three "robots" positioned near him, and he was captured and taken into the disc.

And what did these robots look like?

That's right. These.

The first time I saw these terrors was in my Elementary School's library. I drew them all the time when I was seven but eventually forgot about them. A couple years later they were suddenly shoved back into my life in yet another book about abductions and once again I totally forgot about them after awhile.

A few years after that I suddenly remembered them again. "Golly!" I thought "What were those weird football-shaped aliens with the funny helmets called?"

Well, turns out they were the mysterious beings who, on September 15, 1977, abducted an unassuming man from Paciencia (near Rio de Janeiro), Brazil to show him their inter-galactic keyboard.

8. Vortigaunts

I'll be honest with you, this isn't the last time we'll be hearing from Half-Life. It isn't a bad thing I suppose that so many great aliens could com from a a single franchise (I didn't include any Xen wildlife besides the Antlions lest this become the list of my fifteen favorite things I like about just one video game.)

The Vortigaunts. They're a hive-mind, they shoot lightning out of their hands and they've got giant red eyes. I've always sort of identified giant eyes with being from another dimension, they just go hand-in-hand for me. Assuming Valve ever makes another Half-Life series (which they won't) I would like to play as a Vortigaunt. Plus, Sweepy is a Vortigaunt and Sweepy is cool.

The only problem I have with them is that they're a bit too humanoid. Granted, they've got three arms which is cash, but they still sort of look like hunched over people.

Maybe if they abducted someone from Brazil they'd be higher up on this list.

7. The Borg

When you get right down to it, the Borg are like a virus. They assimilate, consume and if you were to fight them, any casualty your side takes just helps to make them stronger. Plus, they're basically robot space-zombies.

I don't care if Cybermen came first, the Borg are cooler. Did Cybermen ever give me nightmares when I was a toddler? NO. Did the Borg? YES. Did the image of a disembodied Cyberman head getting attached to a body, spinal cord and all get burnt into my memory and silently terrify me until I was twelve? NO. Did the Borg? YES!

6. The Pythagorians

Antlions are weird, the Brazilian-Abductors are weirder, and the Borg still haunt me in my nightmares. But I think the award for most mysterious enemies on this list go to the Pythagorians.

That big machine in the above picture? That's what they look like. They don't speak, they don't emote and the particulars of their society are only ever hinted at vaguely, at best. Now, I'm not even entirely sure what these are even called, I just call them Pythagorians because they're from the (again) Half-Life 2 mod Mistake of Pythagoras. In the mod, the Pythags are from an alternate reality and invade Earth for reasons that are never hinted at. The player must correct some "mistake".

They're so great because I can't tell whether they're even alive or not. They're just big floating machines. Yet, this somehow makes them more endearing, it lets the player come up with their own interpretation of them.

After playing MOP a couple times I've built up a little theory as to what exactly happened: teleportation experiments caused some disaster in their dimension, creating another faction of black (or in the above picture, dark brown) Pythags that started a war with the white ones. Later in the mod the white ones, who are losing the war, help the player.

At the end the player makes it back to Earth, everything is all well after the "mistake", somehow related to the Pythagorean Theorem, is fixed. When suddenly, a single white Pythagorian shows up. At this point the player is well aware, or at least they should be, that the white ones are there to help, but the other characters don't. This white Pythag, apparently the leader, was the one who helped the player and enabled them to finish the game and when the player has returned the favor and essentially saved their "species" he goes to thank them in their own universe.

What happens? It gets mistaken for the enemy and is killed.

Now, I have no shame in telling you that when I saw this I was devastated and the ending cutscene didn't help. We see the very same army that killed it attending a funeral for the King Pythag. I teared up. I tear up thinking about it even now. Just the thought of the giant triangular head-piece, propped up on a metal stand, surrounded by flowers as soldiers watch and wonder what they did as a single piano softly plays as the screen turns black makes me overcome with emotions that scare and confuse me.

In hindsight, these should be higher up on the list. If inanimate shapes from an obscure mod for a ten year old video game can move me to tears when nothing, literally nothing else in life will that really says something about how great of characters they are, or how insane I am.

I don't know what it says about me as a person that I feel more emotion for a triangle than most people but there will always be a strange, soft spot in my heart and brain for these nameless, featureless beings.

(Unlike the Borg.)

1 comment:

mom said...

the borg have always scared me. I mean like super scared of them. I hate star trek.

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