Picking at the bloated carcass of geek culture...occasionally!!!

Archive for June, 2009|Monthly archive page

Video game monotony

In Video Games on June 30, 2009 at 12:17 am

I recently downloaded the old adventure game, Quest for Glory II because I saw it was available for free (and legal) download from here.  I really loved this game when I was kid, enjoying its fun adventure game elements and its minor roleplaying elements as well.  You had to pick from 3 classes (wizard, fighter, and thief) but you could take skills from other classes, solve problems in different ways, and generally have a goofy time in silly Arabian Nights themed setting.  It has been a blast playing one of my favorite games of all times, without a doubt.

The funny thing about to returning to a game like this is a reminder of how much more user-friendly games have become.  I don’t mean complexity, as in my description of mastering a flight sim, but how much monotonous stuff many of us are unwilling to deal with in this day and age.  I mean, the game, even at max speed, moves super-sloooow.  Your character idly saunters around the world and objects and NPCs are constantly are moving around, forcing your character to stop and watch.  As a kid, I don’t remember this frustration.  In fact, I remember waiting even longer for load times but I guess I was extremely patient.  It was the early 90’s and I didn’t understand computer games could move faster.

It’s not just the character animations, but just the gameplay itself.  The game is progressive, in my opinion, in giving you the ability to buy a map for fast travel.  Great, right?  Well, before you can buy the map, you need to exchange your foreign money with a moneychanger.  That, however, requires you seeking out this individual by walking through monotonous, uneventful, almost empty streets using the map that came with the game to make your way.  Then you need to exchange your money.  Then, lastly, you need to return to the map seller to purchase the map.  Then, and only then, can you move instantly around the city.  I have no idea why these steps were necessary, how they helped the game, or made it more enjoyable or challenging.  It was needlessly monotonous, however, and almost a deal-breaker.

Everytime you you want to sit down for a meal (which is often) you need to watch a slow unskippable animation of sitting, ordering, and being served.  It gets old by the eleventh time.  Who am I kidding?  It's boring after time #1/2.

Everytime you you want to sit down for a meal (which is often) you need to watch a slow unskippable animation of sitting, ordering, and being served. It gets old by the eleventh time. Who am I kidding? It's boring after time #1/2.

It makes me think back to all the games from the past, not just PC adventure games.  How much tedious, bullshit gameplay did we deal with back then and consider it normal?  Have you ever gone back and played any beloved games from childhood by way of X-Box Arcade or Nintendo’s Virtual Console and wondered how we could have considered those experiences enjoyable.  I guess, in the case of Quest for Glory II, I’m still playing it instead of working on my WoW toons, rereading Game of Thrones, or getting some much needed sleep.  That, I suppose, has to count for something.

The future of cyberpunk

In Movies, Science Fiction on June 27, 2009 at 2:10 am

I have been somewhat of a cyberpunk fan since the 80’s, since watching Bladerunner, reading William Gibson’s Neuromancer, and playing my share of Cyberpunk 2020, I enjoy the well lived-in, culturally-diverse dark near-future.  What I enjoy even more, however, is the ridiculous, non-intentionally comedic dated details of most great works in this genre.  Nothing makes me nostalgic like the  Japanese-dominated, hair-metal listening, underpowered computing of the mid-21st century.  While the genre was so prophetic in the direction our lives would go, I love how off it was on the cultural development and underestimation of the progression of technology.  I mean, most tropes of the cyber-future were created before the internet.  How crazy is that idea?

It's the future and everything is bodaciously rad.

It's the future and everything is bodaciously rad.

So, cyberpunk continues to roll on, I wonder what we’re getting wrong now.  Early cyberpunk feels so 80’s.  I wonder how the science-fiction about our dark future will reflect who we are now.  Tell me what you think, please.  I will return to this topic soon.

Transformers: Much Less Than Meets The Eye

In Movies on June 26, 2009 at 12:41 am

Sorry about the lack of a post yesterday.  I got home very late and was having internet problems.  Why did I get home late, you ask?  I was seeing Transformers: The Fall of the Risen or whatever yesterday.  I have no desire to make this a review site, nor do I have a ton of time to write right now.  Let me just say this.

This movie is amazing.

Why?  Well, I thought the fight scenes were much improved this time around.  They felt a little clearer, a bit better choreographed, and actually kind of visceral and gritty.  While still suffering a bit from “what the fuck is happening” problems, I really enjoyed the giant robot fighting.  That is not why I thought this movie was amazing, though.  What was amazing was the plot.

Most big summer blockbuster movies have plot holes.  We look past them because many of us tend to be entertained by explosions, special effects, ect.  This movie, however was something else.  Simply put, this movie is ALL plot hole.  Not one scene, that I can recall, in the entire movie made any sense in the context of the picture as a whole.  Not one transition smoothly pushed the narrative to the next point in the story.  Not one character moment seemed earned by the filmmakers or true to human (or robot) emotion.  To say it was a clumsy bit off screenwriting would have implied there was an attempt to write a movie.  I desperately want to avoid making that implication.

Does that old transformer have a robot beard and appear to be walking with a cane?  You know what?  I don't want to spoil it.

Does that old transformer have a robot beard and appear to be walking with a cane? You know what? I don't want to spoil it.

You see, I wanted to give examples for your enjoyment.  I started remembering the movie and I found that EVERY scene has an embarrassing example of utter hackery.  To shine the spotlight on any example would minimize the plethora of moments I have left out.  The film needs to be savored as a whole.  Then this achievement of ineptitude can be appreciated in its full glory.  So go, my friends, and prepare to be amazed.

The inevitable hand-to-hand combat

In Movies on June 24, 2009 at 12:33 am

I like action movies.  From gun movies, to martial arts movies, to car chase movies, I find the genre of action to be entertaining as hell.   I have a diverse interest in not only different sub-genres, but different levels of quality, as well.  While I obviously like films such as Die Hard and the Bourne Identity, I kind find a certain, differnent kind of enjoyment in shit like Kickboxer 3 or Blade Trinity too.  So, as a fan of the genre, I want to discuss a certain characteristic found in many action movies, both good and bad.  That is the dramatic hand-to-hand fight that these affairs tend to deteriorate into at or near the finale of the film.

I know why it happens, I do.  I get that they need to draw out the final showdown for cinematic effect.  We, as the audience, need to feel like the struggle between antagonist and protagonist has the proper closure that a burst of realistic but extremely fast piece of violence might not convey.  That being said, I often find it ridiculous.

Let’s look at some examples.  In Commando, Arnold Swarzeneggar’s John Matrix has literally mowed down hundreds of  potentially soulless Latin American soldiers, sometimes the same ones several times wearing different fake mustaches.  Yet, at the conclusion, despite having a metric assload of guns, he is forced to have a knife fight turned gunfight turned impaled with a dull steam-pipe fight with Vernon Wells’ Bennet.  Or, how Arnold in Predator, despite being an armed soldier versus an alien with a ray gun, ends up engaging this guy in a fistfight.

He doesn't need the knife, John.  Um...maybe he should hold onto it in case his portly, out of shape, middle-aged body isn't a match for a former championship bodybuilder in the heyday of his steroid abuse.  Just an idea.

He doesn't need the knife, John. Um...maybe he should hold onto it in case his portly, out-of-shape, middle-aged body isn't a match for a former championship bodybuilder in the heyday of his steroid abuse. Just an idea.

Let’s look at Underworld again.  The movie shows how easy it is to kill vampires and werewolves with the arsenal both sides have.  So how do we finish the movie?  A fistfight and swordfight.  What?  No one thinks to pull a gun?  No is able to dig up a revolver among the scores of corpses?  Really?

Even really great action movies do this shit, too.  Look at Die Hard?  McClane and the blonde thug need to duke it out.  The guy with the gun gets rid of it because this shit is personal.  Yeah, of course it is.

That’s why I will always love Raiders of the Lost Ark. Only Indy remembers that the best offensive move against a skilled opponent is to murder him with a gun.  See, I like drawn out, personal, gritty hand-to-hand fights.  I mean, I love They Live, and it has the longest drawn out brawlathon in film history.  But the action movies’ insistence in getting into it everytime can drive me nuts.  What say you?

Monday”s “That Guy:” J.T. Walsh

In Movies, That Guys on June 23, 2009 at 1:45 am

Well, I feel weird laying down such an obvious pick, but I don’t think I could go much further with this feature without acknowledging one of the people in the Mount Rushmore of “That Guys,” J.T. Walsh.  Never has there been a more familiar face that you just couldn’t place.  At least, not to me.  Like many of this brood, he could play the jerk or the creep to amazing effect.  Unfortunately, he passed away in the late 90’s, ending the prolific but all too short career of my “That Guy” of this week.

Walsh’s earliest roles that I ever saw were probably his parts in Good Morning, Vietnam as Sgt. Major Dickerson, the dickhead antagonist to Robin Williams.  This, however, is far from one of my favorite movies and Williams’ fucking schtick has grown embarrassingly tired in the last few decades, making this movie lose any esteem it ever held very quickly.   Also, Walsh played Annette Benning’s mentor in The Grifters, revealing his ability to play the charmingly but utterly ruthless dark figure he would portray often.  Unfortunately, this movie does not age well, from Annette Benning’s annoying accent to Pat Hingle’s threatening of people with a sack of oranges.  Ooh…Pat Hingle.  Okay, maybe next Monday.

If you caught the gaze of this man, you were sure to have an uncomfortable next 5 to 120 minutes.

If you caught the gaze of this man, you were sure to have an uncomfortable next 5 to 120 minutes.

Walsh really entered my consciousness with his role as Colonel Markinson in A Few Good Men. Despite this movie having moved into self-parody territory in recent…okay, always.  Where was I?  Oh, yeah.  Despite the ridiculousness of basically everything in this move, Walsh brings an icy coolness to this flick, creeping me out as much as Tom Cruise when Walsh appears in his back seat to reveal some Code Red zaniness.  Even more terrifying was his suicide (Spoilers!  Those work better before, don’t they?  Damn.) in his dress uniform with the always scary nickel-plated service sidearm that seem created solely for military-types to seppeku the shit out of themselves.  Good shit, J.T.  It’s too bad no one told you that you were in a silly comedy masquerading as a courtroom thriller.

That’s maybe the most vibrant J.T. Walsh performance, for me, but he is in tons of shit.  He shows up tons of places, like the creep would-be statuatory rapist in Alicia’s Silverstone The Babysitter (cricket, cricket) and a child molester in Sling Blade.  I’m sure that got him plenty of dates cause everybody loves pervy middle-aged dudes.  He played slimey politican types too, like in Needful Things or Nixon. And of course, who could forget him in Backdraft as Marty Swayzack.  The last film I saw the talented Mr. Walsh in was Pleasantville, a movie that hits you over the head with its metaphorical message like the Joker beating Jason Todd.  You guys enjoy that unnecessary geek reference?  I’m a regular Kevin motherfucking Smith with this shit.  Anyways, J.T  Walsh is awesome.  May he rest in slimey peace.

Geek shame, Part 2

In Uncategorized on June 20, 2009 at 5:43 pm

Sorry I didn’t post yesterday.  I was out of town.  Anyway, back to the discussion at hand.  I wanted to discuss how we divide up our geekiness into different compartments when dealing with people.  Namely, you may wear some geekiness on your sleeve but keep other aspects of it buried deep from the public.  Need an example?

Well, comics are pretty popular right now.  The unusual critical and box office success of many comic properties is continuing to make enjoying comics interesting.  Also, the prominence of different genres within the comic medium is making graphic novels increasingly acceptable.  Maybe even slightly hip?  Depends on who you talk to, I guess, but there is less shame than has been in the past.  So, maybe you read your Daredevil in public, not with a “I don’t care what people think” attitude, but “this actually makes me kinda cool” swagger.  Don’t worry, you’re still not cool, but everyone might not know that anymore.

But, how about your roleplaying  hobby?  Do you tell people you play cards every Saturday?  D&D is one of the major stereotypical hallmarks of nerdiness and many, myself included, can be hesitant to drop it into casual conversation.  It might not be shame, exactly, but a desire for someone whom doesn’t know you to not have a flawed impression based on their ignorance.  Not every D&D geek is necessarily a basement-dwelling, hygiene-adverse, fatbeard virgin, but many believe this to be the case.  So we keep that interest on the back burner, maybe, until we know someone well enough to have our reputation survive the pop culture stereotype.  People might know I like video games or comics, but know less about my game sessions or love of fantasy fiction.  There is certainly a pecking order to geek pursuits and, whether we like it or not, we are cognizant of it when we present ourselves to the world.

Not much to do with anything, but it reminded me of this blog entry.

Not much to do with anything, but it reminded me of this blog entry.

So, I don’t like talking loudly about my WoW guild, how strong my fighter is, or how the new Cap is okay but no Steve Rogers.  I like myself pretty well, but maybe I just don’t like being judged by people, whether their judgments are valid or not.

Geek shame, Part 1

In Uncategorized on June 19, 2009 at 12:31 am

This is an important topic to me.  Not really important, like world hunger or social injustice, but important like “Who’s better?  Superman or Batman?”  I’m not much in the writing mood, so I will keep this relatively brief and maybe return to it at a later day.  The topic, if the clever name at the top didn’t clue you in, is geek shame.

How much you do let the non-geeks in your life know about your secret obsessions right off the bat?  For me, it’s pretty simple.  I don’t lie about it but I don’t often volunteer it to random people.  Part of it is a lack of interest.  I have no interest in taking the time to explain what an rpg (not rocket-propelled grenade) is to a near stranger or explain the virtues of the comic medium to someone on the elevator.  Not only is it most likely a boring conversation, it often comes across as the defensive posturing of someone with something to prove.  So, if someone wants to get to know me better or has legitmate questions about my life, I’m happy to answer.  If someone asks me my plans for the weekend, I would probably avoid my efforts to farm honor in Wintergrasp, my standing Star Wars game, or daily geek blog I plan to write.  I might answer “seeing friends” or “just taking it easy,” instead.

I tend to keep my geekiness a little more private than some.

I tend to keep my geekiness a little more private than some.

This is just the introduction, because I’m not much in a writing mood just now.   Tomorrow, I want to discuss the compartmentalizing of different geek hobbies into different levels of revelation.  For now, comment if you like, you talented bastards.

Just enough power

In Uncategorized on June 18, 2009 at 2:10 am

I was watching the trailer for the Star Wars: Old Republic that I had seen Jon’s blog the other day and I was pretty happy with it.  It had a nice piece of cinematic action, with lightsabers, blasters, and wrist rockets a plenty.  What struck me, however, was something that often strikes me when I watch a fight involving superpowers, whether they be the Force, mutations, or the ability to manipulate the Matrix.  It’s the question I cannot answer.  Why don’t people with powers use them more often.  From this trailer, for instance, we see a Sith lord picking people up with the force and throwing them against walls.  He then proceeds to go for more lightsaber actions, slicing, dicing, and parrying.  Why not just throw people around?  Or hit them with force lightning over and over.

The trailer is just one example.  Why, when Neo can rewrite the Matrix on the spot, does he engage in kung fu fights with the agents?  Why does Superman constantly get hit by slow energy blasts when he has superspeed?  These beings have great powers but they only usually use them occasionally when its dramatic instead of all the time when it would be most useful.

When you can throw people around with your mind, or choke them out, or squeeze their hearts, don't laser swords get kind of silly?  Fuck it, lightsabers are cool.

When you can throw people around with your mind, or choke them out, or squeeze their hearts, don't laser swords get kind of silly? Fuck it, lightsabers are cool.

I already know the answer, of course.  Because its dramatic and cinematic.  No one wants to watch Neo jump into agent after agent, destroying their code.  No one wants to watch Jedis throw their enemies around like bowling pins all the time.  No one wants Superman to fly around a less mobile enemy pelting him with heat vision.  They want martial art mastery, lightsaber duels, and old-fashioned sock-em brawls respectively.  I get it.  But when I see heroes using tactics that make it harder to win or employing just enough power to succeed, it takes me out of the drama of the situation versus amping it up.  I wonder if anyone else feels the same way?

Keeping tabs

In Comics on June 17, 2009 at 12:46 am

Have you ever lost touch with someone in your life.  You don’t have a big falling out or anything so dramatic.  You just find yourself hanging out less and less.  New people enter your life and you just don’t have as strong in interest in spending time with your old friend.  You almost forget that person and you were ever really close then, boom, out of the blue you find yourself wondering what that person is up to.  I am having this experience right now.  That person in my life is Batman.

Okay, not Batman in particular.  And not just because he is not a real person, either.  Batman represents my decision a few years back to stop buying weekly comics.  While certainly a fan of the medium and many of the characters, I could not justify the expense in my current financial situation and, frankly, I wasn’t enjoying very many of the titles I bought.  After making the decision, I quickly got over it.  I have a lot of other interests and I always knew I could return to comic-reading at any time.  They weren’t going anywhere.

Just recently, however, I had a conversation with a friend about the status quo of Batman.  I found myself out of the loop and ignorant of the current story.  Sure, comics change less than soap operas and sure, everything would probably go back to normal relatively soon.  The relatively static nature of iconic comic characters drove me from the hobby in the first place.  Yet, a part of me felt bad about not being abreast (teehee.  Oh grow up, me) on a character, a world, and a mythology that is still pretty important to me.  What’s up with Captain America…or Spider-man…or the Fantastic Four, I suddenly wondered.

Is this the current situation in Batman's world?  Um, probably not considering I found this slash romance sketch at this blog.  Still, since I don't read the comic, who knows?

Is this the current situation in Batman's world? Um, probably not considering I found this slash romance sketch at this blog while looking for an image. Still, since I don't read the comic, who knows?

I’m sure I could get all that information from websites or wikipedia or something.  But then, if the characters only exist in the narrative, and I’m skipping the narrative to get the gist of the story, what’s the point in caring?  Not sure about that.  But strangely, I do care.  To quote Qualen: “Go figurrr.”

Monday’s “That Guy:” Xander Berkeley

In Movies, That Guys on June 16, 2009 at 1:23 am

Writing about Jeanette Goldstein made me think about the poor sap on the business end of her spike in Terminator 2.  While last seen in T-2 impaled along with a carton of milk, Xander Berkeley has has a long career that stretches before and after that iconic moment.  He is a consumate “that guy.”  He is instantly recognizable but impossible to place in more than a handful of movies.  Let’s explore some of the roles that stick out for me.

If I were a hack, I would include a lame joke about not drinking from the carton.  Oh, what the hell.  "She told him, for the last time, NOT TO DRINK FROM THE CARTON!"  Nice work, me.

If I were a hack, I would include a lame joke about not drinking from the carton. Oh, what the hell. "She told him, for the last time, NOT TO DRINK FROM THE CARTON!" Nice work, me.

Well, the earliest role that I can remember him from distinctly is Todd from Terminator 2, he was on a ton of TV prior to that from stuff like the A-Team to Remington Steele.  I recognized him at the time, even in 1991, so it was clear I had laid eyes on him before.  This is the mark of a good “that guy,” for sure.  While appearing in stuff I had seen before, his next notable role for me was the creepy, traitor secret service agent in Air Force One. That movie remains as one of those violent, innocent-people-getting-blown-away type movies at harkens back to the Veehovenian 80’s.  So, the bad Agent Gibbs played by Berkeley stands as one of those terrifying figures the audience knows is evil but the good guys trust.  Such a classic suspense builder that Berkeley carries out with sleezy aplomb.

When you absolutely, positively need a source of sleazy menace.

When you absolutely, positively need a source of sleazy menace.

Another fun role for him was as Nathan Van Cleef, the bad guy cowboy from Shanghai Noon. While a pretty forgettable buddy comedy franchise not starring Chris Tucker, Berkeley carries his scenes with relatable malice.  While clearly a despicable villain, we can enjoy his exasperation with the antics of Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson.  He had the best line in the movie to Wilson’s character,”How did you survive out here?” when facing his horrible shooting.  It’s funny how good his chemistry was with his co-stars despite being the antagonist.  A solid job in an otherwise forgettable movie.

Oh, I could go on.  He has been on every conceivable TV drama, from Law & Order, to CSI, to Bones, to 24. It was nice to see him in Taken recently as Liam Neeson’s ex-wife’s new husband.  You may remember him in that buying Shannon from Lost a pony.  He has small roles in plenty of big movies like The Rock and North Country. But the fact that you know him, but can’t really place in him much makes him probably the most “that guy” type of guy in this list so far.  You got to respect that.