Dec 19, 2010

Listening to: Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros

I have been absolutely obsessed with this song lately: "Home," by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.

Dec 5, 2010

The Walking Dead: Episode 6

So my overall impression of the first season is this: I liked the show; I did not love it. I felt that it could have done a better job of building toward some kind of crescendo, so that the very real moment at the end would have been more, I don't know, meaningful.

Don't get me wrong, I think the show did some great things over the course of the last six episodes, but the whole of the CDC sequence seemed tacked-on or unsatisfying in some way. I was actually even excited about them leaving camp and heading out, but I'm not sure this was the best way to handle it.

Maybe next season will be (A) longer and (B) more even. Last week's episode felt more like a season-ender than this one, honestly. I'm going to give it some time, and I hope that the staff find their legs, because the material for a knockout show is there. A six episode arc without the arc barely even scratches the surface of what a long-term zombie project could turn out to be.

10:57 - Hmmm.

10:50 - So far, this has been an anticlimactic episode, and I'm not hoping for too much in the next, oh, nine minutes. Personally, I don't really care about them getting out of the CDC. It's only been a thing for the last few minutes anyway, and it only seems to falsely add tension to what seems to be a middling episode of the show.

If Rick Grimes is Jack Shepard, then Dale is John Locke.

Well, we are getting a separation here. Andrea's threatening to stay behind, and I guess Dale is trying to talk some sense into her.

10:46 - Um, okay, so maybe the writers aren't so very concerned with depicting Shane as a conflicted dude. All he's done this episode is sulk, fight, scream, and shoot things. He's basically a screaming, yelling plot device, an enraged means to an end.

10:44 - The Quizno's 543 commercials are just as creepy as anything else on television.

10:39 - "What happens in 28 minutes?" The doc makes a good point about not wanting to let dangerous viruses, etc. out. I mean, who would want people getting sick? That would be a catastrophe. Imagine the millions upon millions of people...who'd...erm...die. We'll, not air-tight logic, I suppose. But he's a scientist, and, like Patton Oswalt says, "Science is all about coulda, not about shoulda."

10:36 - I don't know how I feel about any of what's going on right now.

10:34 - Lori seems to be lying to Carl, though the reason isn't clear. I wonder just how long keeping up pretense would actually last in a similar situation.

10:33 - I'm loving the fact that one of the local commercials is for an Army supply store. How utterly fitting.

10:29 - I don't want to draw too many similarities to L O S T, but the clock countdown and the grizzled insider character and the potential for a split in the factions, all of these things point to a L O S T influence.

Of course they existed superficially in the comic books, but the way the show has branched off from the comics points to an influence from something else entirely. It could just be Darabont's hand guiding the series, which is likely, given the fact that AMC shows are largely unaffected by the need to perform on the level of mainstream network shows.

10:28 - I'm digging the "science" here. It's gibberish, but at least they're creating an internal logic. If this show is going to have legs, they're going to have time to flesh out this kind of stuff (no pun intended).

10:23 - for some reason, they just let the thing about Shane's neck go. Certainly any person in their collective situation would be a bit more skeptical about flesh wounds. Right?

I'm already anticipating what sort of ending they're going for tonight, given the fact that they've shifted the entire operation to the CDC. There's no way all the loose ends can get tied up in a significant way tonight, not even one that will set up the next season.

On a similar note, Frank Darabont recently fired TWD's entire writing staff.

10:16 - the show's writers are going a long way in order to vindicate Shane, but they're making Lori react in a such a way as to make him unsympathetic. It's odd. I guess they're driving at the guilt and personal torment she feels over it. She obviously wants to believe Shane but can't let herself.

10:12 - What usually happens in situations like the present one is that the characters explore the new environment, waiting for the shit to hit the fan. They (and we) are lulled into a false sense of comfort (not hope), and it will all amount to naught in a matter of time. It's something (surprise, surprise) Stephen King does very well. The Stand jumps to mind.

10:09 - We're getting an explanation of what went down early on in the zombpocalypse, but can it be trusted?

10:08 - I've got some shenanigans going on with my computer, but I'll try to do my best with the liveblog.

10:08 - False hope and alcohol: never a good combination.

10:01 - Looks like we're starting with a flashback, way back in the onset of the zombie apocalypse. Obviously that's what's going on, because Rick is in a coma...

Episode 6: TS-19

Nov 28, 2010

L4D2: US / Australian Comparison



There is a huge disparity in the amount of blood in these two games.

LiveBlogging: The Walking Dead: Episode 5

Tonight's episode is probably my favorite. I liked the first episode, but this one surpasses it. It's finally getting to be the show that I thought it could be. It was evenly paced all the way through. The tone was perfect. There were bits of action, and it all seemed to meld together very well. I'm impressed. I want the series to keep going, and I'm worried they won't be able to tie up the next episode in a way that makes sense, but they could give us one hell of a cliffhanger.

10:57 - Oh, man, this is an intense ending. Rick is losing it, walkers are everywhere, and, suddenly, the door to the CDC opens. I am utterly intrigued by this direction.

10:54 - The CDC is screwed. The close-up of the face is disgusting. In fact, just about everything they're showing right now is utterly disgusting. Dead bodies everywhere. A near-maddening sound of flies buzzing.

Speaking of, do you think they had to experiment with fly sounds to get the right one? Hmmm.

10:53 - "I think tomorrow I'm going to blow my brains out."
"Tonight, I'm gonna get drunk."

Wonderfully delivered lines.

10:52 - Dumb-ass. This definitely has a King "Stand" / Matheson "I Am Legend" vibe (both the movie and the novel).

10:50 - We're getting some insight on the infection. This is a surprising shift for the show.

Also, the brains / flesh...disgusting(ly awesome).

10:41 - The numbers are dwindling quickly. Jim (That guy) is about to get it. They've got him resting against a tree, and it looks as though they're going to leave him there.

This situation speaks to the very tension that perpetually exists in post-apocalyptic literature / media. Does a single person's right to do what he wants override the necessity to keep the group together?

Of course they couldn't take Jim with them, but to what extent is each individual able to act selfishly / individually? It seems like the group would have to adopt an ostensibly socialist philosophy to survive. Every person would have to work to benefit the group. I know the free market folks would disagree, but the philosophy of "means" is worthless when the "end" (existence) is at stake.

10:38 - The caravan is heading out. I love the shot composition and the music here. It's a little over the top, but it may be my favorite musical moment of the whole show. It manages to be transcendent and ominous at the same time.

I also like the shared movement of the whole group...and a little comic touch there. Wonderful. Of course one of the vehicles would break down almost immediately.

10:36 - Wonderful-looking shot to bring us back from commercial. I love just how green it is. I also like that we're opening the second half of the show the same as we did the first. It's interesting.

10:35 - Synergy. They're really piling on the zombie stuff for this show. Either it's a brilliant move, or a brilliantly stupid move.

10:31 - Shane isn't totally despicable, and yet they kind of make him one-note. I want to like the guy. He's got mixed motivations, sure, but the way that he's coming undone is genuine. They just need to give him a balance of screen time so that he's not just portrayed as being the guy to disagree with Rick on everything. He's not just the counterpoint.

10:30 - Okay, it's back. I kind of dig the first person POV shot they just put on display. Very comic book-y.

10:28 - I actually do kind of like Shane. He's been kind of the one-note villain...wait, my screen just went black! Anybody else?

10:27 - There's something vaguely metaphorical about Rick and (that guy) having a conversation about right to die and euthanasia while framed directly in front of an American flag.

Speaking of, what I do like is that they're not going overboard with the social satire stuff, which plagues a lot of shallow zombie flicks.

10:25 - Maybe I'm just way off in not seeing the connection between Rick and Lori. It's not like they don't have chemistry, but they only seem to come together to have a moment of "I love you blah blah blah" before going off to do other stuff. They haven't really come together in a meaningful way...or maybe I don't know what in the hell I'm talking about.

10:21 - And we're back. I kind of like the flashes of zombie premonition that (forgot his name) is experiencing. Nice little touch.

The field where the bodies are being buries is awesome, as well. It's giant and lush and green and works as a nice counterpoint to the disgusting nature of the work.

Also, the characters are starting to get a look I can only deem as "post-apocalyptic grime." Or, "Post-apocalyptic Grimes." Am I right?

10:15 - The death of Amy is sudden and tender without being melodramatic. Of course the speech Andrea gives borders on the melodramatic, but it manages to mostly avoid going too far. It's a nice touch.

What I like about this episode so far is the fact that the characters are interacting with each other and the environment well. It's an evenly-paced work, and the camp isn't divided between the people who are staying behind and those who have rushed off for some Macguffin or another.

Dealing with the crisis is what intrigues me about the show. I actually like watching the characters be conflicted about their situations and digging graves for other characters and things like that. Unfortunately, I think it might kill the momentum to only have a six episode run. They'll have to build the momentum back up after an extreme break.

10:12 - The gore is extreme, but it lies on the outskirts of the very human story taking place at its center, between Andrea and her sister.

We're getting the first stirrings of the zombiefied (or walkified) version of Amy. There's only one option here, unfortunately.

10:09 - Jeffrey DeMunn (Dale) is comforting Andrea by telling the story about his wife's losing battle with cancer. Very human. DeMunn is probably my favorite actor on the show, and I like seeing him get a moment to show off his ability to empathize.

This discussion is very King-ian in nature, and it, too, works very well. Dale and Andrea steal the scenes in which they are featured, most times.

10:07 - The characters are all discussing the possibility of offing one of their own, who was bitten in the attack from the previous night. The characters' personalities are coming out well in the dialogue.

10:06 - The show seems to be settling into the tragedy of the zombpocalypse very well. Up until now, there has been a lot of running around and going back into the city and so forth. Now the terror and shock and paranoia have all begun to sink in. I love it.

10:04 - Is it bad that I am much more a fan of Andrea (Laurie Holden) than Lori Grimes? I remember being specifically drawn to Lori in the comics. In the series, not so much. I mean, I like her, but just not in the same way. It's not her fault, though.

10:02 - Whoa! Pickaxe to the head. Way to balance the emotion related to death with the reality that they would come back to "life." Only two minutes in, and this is already my favorite episode.

10:01 - This episode opens with Rick Grimes talking (not) frantically into a walkie-talkie. Great cold opening. Perfectly silent, save for Grimes himself. Wonderful beginning. This is the sort of thing I've wanted to see all along.

Episode 5: Wildfire

Nov 26, 2010

First Thoughts On: Wii Punch Out



So I didn't do much Black Friday shopping, but I did manage to pick up Wii Punch Out for the Wii (of course) for half-price on a clearance shelf at Target. How I managed to pull this off, I don't know, but I did. I went, expecting to buy nothing but I ended up getting a Nintendo game for a discount, which almost never happens. Nintendo games manage to hold value better than Apple products, and that's saying something. Now, to the actual experience of playing the game.

Some of my fondest memories from childhood come from the Punch Out series, and for good reason. Mike Tyson's Punch Out (for the NES) and Super Punch Out (for the SNES) gave me literally hundreds of hours of enjoyment.

When I say enjoyment, though, I have to undercut that statement by saying that I used to be a complete and total gaming douche bag. I'm not a violent person, but I gave my NES games hell way back when. I remember getting so pissed during a game of Tecmo Bowl that I threw the game against my bedroom door.

I'd done it at least a dozen times, but this time there was something wholly different about the experience. The way the game sounded bouncing off the doorknob made me cringe. I thought I saw a quarter-sized piece of plastic go flying into the living room, but I hoped and prayed that wasn't the case.

It was. I'd ostensibly broken the cartridge for my absolute favorite game (right behind Mike Tyson's Punch Out, of course). I picked it up and started repeated no, no, no, no, no. I didn't know what it was like to be an abusive husband/boyfriend (and still don't), but this was as close to it as I could imagine. I had reacted violently to something I couldn't really control (Punch Out could be totally cheap) and felt immediate and overwhelming remorse for it.

Luckily, I put the cartridge into my NES and the damned thing worked (for a few months). It lasted me long enough for me to get tired of it. I think that the second Zelda game completely replaced it in my imagination. Sorry, Tecmo. You will be missed.

ANYWAY, back to Punch Out. I like it. I've always liked it.

The truth is that I don't even really care for fighting or boxing games all that much. Punch Out provides the necessary nostalgia to keep me busy for a time, but it's also a pretty great game, as well.

I'm pretty good at this series, which is to say that I'm less worse at it that I am other Nintendo franchises. I somehow managed to master the game's basic mechanics in the late 80s, and, since the game hasn't changed very much, I've remained pretty good at it since then.

In fact, when Super Punch Out was released for the SNES in the mid 90s - 95, I believe - I went through a strangely obsessive period, wherein I fought the same boxers hundreds upon hundreds - and perhaps thousands upon thousands - of times. I'm not normally a numbers guy, but because I had a subscription to Nintendo Power, I became obsessed with the times people posted for defeating various fighters.

This was well before I had the internet, so the sense of competition I felt was palpable. I'm sure, internet notwithstanding, I'd feel the same sort of competition today over Rock Band or Guitar Hero. I was always better than my friends at the games that truly captured my imagination, and back then that was all that mattered.

These days, all you have to do is go to YouTube and find video of somebody beating "Dyer's Eve" (Metallica) on Expert without missing a note. It's heartbreaking for those people who fantasize about being good at anything. Go ahead. If you want to kill a dream of yours, just type it into YouTube. You will lose your motivation by the end of the hour.

That's why I was lucky to have Super Punch Out during the period of time that I did. I was good at Mike Tyson's Punch Out, but I couldn't, for the life of me, beat Mike Tyson. I could get to him, and I could hit him once or twice, but he normally beat me senseless in a matter of seconds. I won't hold that against myself, given the fact that nobody else I knew could beat him either (this is also a situation in which the internet would be a ego deflater).

Moving on...

Wii Punch Out (or Punch Out Wii) continues the tradition of excellence that started well before Mike Tyson's legal troubles. The characters are fun, the tone is just right, and the gameplay works very well, so it's more or less a success. I'll have to adjust to the timing - I hated that I lost to Great Tiger the first time I fought him, but I'll get it down pat - but otherwise, Wii Punch Out is a fine game. The whole game just seems to have an attractive atmosphere, because I, for example, played for well over half an hour longer than I had first intended when putting the disc in the drive.

One thing I like is seeing the parade of returning characters. I know that it's a bit lazy on Nintendo's part to release YET ANOTHER GAME full of characters we've seen on multiple occasions - Glass Joe was in both the NES and SNES versions of Punch Out - but it works here. I would like to have seen more new characters early on, but the experience of working with these old characters in a new way was enough to pique my interest.

Additionally, the learning curve isn't all that high. I played using the Wii-mote like an old NES controller, so it was like going back to my childhood. The main difference is that I was drinking beer instead of Mountain Dew.

That's part of what makes Nintendo games so successful. Yes, they go to the well way, way, way too often, but they also make fun, nostalgic games for Reagan babies, so it's entirely forgivable. The games, if a bit derivative, make for an interesting experience. New isn't always best. Games can be derived from the same pool of characters, plots, and story devices and still be original and fun (think Super Mario Galaxy. Well, not the sequel).

Wii Punch Out is the same way. I liked stepping into the ring against the horrible stereotypes which have been a staple of the series for over twenty years.

I have always been somewhat unsettled by the stereotypes on parade here, but how are they different from any other video game (or professional wrestling, for that matter)? The fact that the series wasn't developed by Americans doesn't shield it whatsoever from the criticism that it's just plain racist as hell, yo.

Glass Joe (a Frenchman) is literally surrounded by baguettes if you knock him out. Von Kaiser is stereotypically German. Don Flamenco fights bulls (I thought he was Italian in the original. I'm also an idiot). Bear Hugger (a Canadian) chugs syrup and fights bears. He even calls you a hoser during the fight.

Now, the way that the game is set up can lead you to believe that the characters are mere cultural touchstones rather than blatant stereotypes, but in my leftist cultural guilt, I refuse to jump onboard completely and say, "Yeah! There's nothing wrong with having an Asian character named Piston Honda!"

Still, so far Wii Punch Out has exceeded every one of my expectations, and I cannot wait to play it in the coming days.

By the way: I hope Georgia destroys Georgia Tech tomorrow. Go Dawgs!

Nov 22, 2010

Mortal Kombat: Defenders of Stupidity

I needed this today.

Nov 21, 2010

LiveBlogging: The Walking Dead: Episode 4

10:58 - What an awesome ending. Even when the show lags in the middle, the endings always seem to pull through.

What is strange is that the scenes with zombies are oddly the most humanizing, not the conversations about fishing and whatever. There is no pretense in them.

10:56 - With the way that the opening scene played out, I should have know this was going to happen. At this point, I cannot even remember what happened in the comic books. I can't tell what is faithful and what is not. I find that to be a good thing.

10:55 - This is the sort of thing to which I wish there had been some kind of build-up. But I suppose that it mirrors the way that things inexplicably happen in the comic book.

10:54 - Zombies are spectacularly adept at finding the jugular vein.

10:52 - Don't you hate it when people stumble into your camp site, ruin a perfectly serene night?

10:50 - I wonder what is so compelling to Frank Darabont about inaction. About stasis? Think about it. Shawshank. The Green Mile. The Mist. The Walking Dead. They all deal with the banality of inaction. Characters sort of sitting around and biding their time. It's interesting that all of those things have something fairly obvious in common.

10:48 - Those bruises are hyper-realistic.

10:48 - I'm not complaining about the mood or the tone (or really even the pacing of the show). Is there such a thing as balance of pace?

10:44 - The filmmakers do not effectively balance the zombie tension with the human tension. That's really my most damning criticism. Every scene is a talkie scene or a zombie scene, and the range in between is fairly shallow.

In a comic book, this idea is profound. On television, not so much. It makes the work seem unbalanced and leaden.

10:37 - Whoo-whee, it's about to go DOWN! Just kidding.

10:34 - (I apologize in advance for the obvious question) Are there no abandoned gun shops in Atlanta?

10:33 - Laurie Holden, it seems, has all but disappeared from this episode. Also, I still don't really care about Lori Grimes. Just throwing that out there. I want to care for her, but I just don't. I just don't.

10:31 - The zombie element is being minimized in order to maximize the human drama, and I can't decide if they are doing it because they think it improves the story, or if they are intentionally making it seem high-brow.

10:28 - I like young, Hispanic Denzel Washington.

10:24 - What's so terrifying about 'TWD' is that it holds very closely to the zombie trope of uncertainty. Just about any character (who is not a lead) can die at any point in a zombie story. The tension we feel for Rick Grimes is real, because his story could end any moment. The fact that it doesn't is almost irrelevant.

10:23 - Tying someone to a tree in a zombie story is the one way to ensure that person's situation ends tragically.

10:18 - I wonder which is a more terrifying proposition: fighting off the zombie hordes in TWD or facing down a screaming crowd of Beatles fans, circa 1966.

10:17 - I haven't seen the shaved head / bangs look since 2006!

10:13 - This is the first scene we get of real, honest zombie cabin fever. Jim's losing his mind. Jim hasn't really been featured in the show, which should give us a slight hint of what's going to happen to Jim.

10:10 - It takes some major cojones to cauterize a wound with a flat iron. Woof.

10:04 - I don't know why the Boondock Saint is so pissed. The severed hand indicates the guy - The Rook! - left with a fighting chance.

That hand is awfully sick (and real) looking.

10:02 - I get so caught up in trying to dig metaphors out of the characters' conversations that I sometimes lose track of what they're actually talking about. Like fishing.

10:00 - Episode 4 - "Vatos"

My First Thoughts on: Alan Wake



Alan Wake is basically just one hellish nature walk, which would be awesome, if not for the combat and the controls.

In fact, I would probably like the game a whole lot more if there were no combat and I was just allowed to walk through the woods and collect manuscript pages and coffee.

I'm only a few hours into A. Wake - get it? - and I find myself much more interested in the scenery than the story. The background is lush and detailed and indicative of the Northwest (I think), and it makes me want to visit the west coast.

The story is sort of overwrought, which wouldn't be such a bad thing if the controls were much, much, much tighter. Combat kind of sucks, and I dread fighting off the shadowy hordes, and not because they're scary or anything like that. They're kind of lame and one-note and the shittiest thing about fighting them is that there is absolutely no way to avoid them.

AWake would be a much better game if avoiding combat were possible. The few times I've tried to run away, I've been tracked down and axed to death almost instantly. The bad guys gang up on you and kill you in a matter of seconds. It's kind of boring and tedious.

Which sucks. I really wanted to enjoy this game, and I also wanted to overlook its most obvious flaws. The story isn't that bad for a video game - writer gets trapped in his story-slash-subconscious, basically - and all of the visual touches are pretty great. There are no zombies (yet), and, unless a dramatic shift occurs, I won't be transported to the beaches of Normandy to ward off unnamed scores of Nazis.

But the sluggish combat is irreconcilable. If the fights were more sporadic or could be avoided, the game would be much, much, much better. The developers seemed to think I would be more interested in shooting things than I would exploring an interesting and original world (and maybe I am not your typical gamer), and they got that wrong.

I would be much more pleased to experience a game where not as much "happens" except for when stuff happens. Does that make sense? The story is engaging, and hoofing it around the woods of the Northwest, turning on televisions and radios and finding seemingly randomly placed coffee containers and manuscript pages (for the worst novel ever written) was fun enough for me.

I'm not saying I would have preferred to do this for twelve hours, but I would much rather stalk around the woods, pretending to be the Green River Killer or Dora the Explorer than fighting off half-assed enemies.

Nov 14, 2010

The Walking Dead: Episode 3

My overall impression - tonight's episode started off slow but ended up being somewhat strong. The human drama is picking up as we learn more about the characters. As the characters become more real, the more interesting the show will become.

Also, Next week's episode looks quite awesome.

10:57 - The Rook saved himself by re-enacting the first Saw movie.

10:56 - Since when did "cooze" become cable-friendly?

Also, Shane is taking his frustrations out on wife-beater Ed. Again, Southern masculinity (and masculinity in general) is being placed on the stand.

Traditional gender roles are being set up. The men are going in for a rescue mission, and the women are washing clothes.

10:55 - The "arrow being pulled from the skull" sound effect is perfectly disgusting.

10:54 - What we don't get from Shane is a sense that he wanted Rick's wife from the beginning, so we're clueless as to what his motivations might have been.

10:53 - Southern masculinity is being put on trial here.

10:50 - I now see a connection between people and frogs. Startle animals, and they scatter. If they scatter, then they're easier to catch. Like people. Intentional? Not intentional?

10:48 - Seeing commercials for Lipitor and Grady Medical Center puts everything in perspective. I can't entirely empathize with absolutely fictitious threats like zombies if I'm seeing statistics about actual problems popping up on screen.

10:44 - That tent is huge. I'm so jealous.

10:41 - Not to nitpick, but doesn't it seem odd that Rick would go back for a bag-o-guns? I live near enough Atlanta to know that guns are plentiful.

10:37 - Over the break, I read an interesting article about TWD at The New York Times. The ratings have been great for the show, and a second season has already been ordered.

10:32 - Long talky scene with Rook's brother. They've decided to go back to Atlanta to save Rook. Tonight's episode is supposed to be more emotionally than viscerally resonant, but for some reason I'm not really feeling it.

10:27 - The make-up is wonderfully disgusting. I'm a fan.

10:25 - Back from commercial break. There is already a pervading sense of detachment from the zombie threat. Almost has (forgive me) a LOST sort of vibe to it.

Oh, wait. Here we go.

10:20 - More than a literal storm is brewing at the camp. Sorry. Couldn't help myself.

10:19 - Nearly twenty minutes without a commercial break.

10:12 - One thing I have noticed is that none of the characters really stand out all that much. They're all pretty stock. The thing about AMC shows is that they feature peculiarly strong protagonists (Don Draper & Walter White), but no character from TWD really stands out as different.

It's not necessarily a fault that will hurt the show if the chemistry of the whole cast works together fairly well.

Perhaps it is why horror shows don't have the same punch as other kinds of shows. In horror shows (or movies), regular people are placed in extraordinary situations, which is sort of the opposite of the norm (L O S T being the obvious exception).

That may be a reason (excuse) why the characters don't stand out. They're the straight men in this otherworldly setting. They need to be normal and regular to make this work. If they were not grounded to reality, then the show might lose all sense of credibility.

10:10 - The family is reunited (ten minutes into the third episode). Not bad. I thought it would take a little longer, so perhaps my ideas about it being paced too slowly are way off. Good.

10:07 - What symbolic significance does the frog legs conversation really have? It's odd, given the circumstances. I'll have to ponder that.

Frogs are subject to the story about slowly boiling water. Slowly boil water and a frog will not jump out of the pot...that sort of thing. Any connection? No?

Frog legs. It's odd.

10:05 - Even though the fan credit sequence someone posted online is better, I still like the regular ones. The music is awesome.

10:04 - Either I don't remember the comics all that well or this sequence didn't really happen. Either way, a tension has crept into the show that I hadn't felt until tonight. I like that.

10:02 - The threat of zombie violence hasn't been quite as overt in the previous weeks as it is right now.

10:01 - Immediately, we see Rooker going crazy on a rooftop. Beautiful. It took him this long to realize just how fucked he really is.

"Tell it to the Frogs."

Nov 11, 2010

Suspense in Video Games: Alan Wake

What makes suspense difficult to create in video games is the necessity for player and character, player and controller, and player and game to interact. All of these elements combined make for an experience that takes the audience member - the player, ostensibly - out of the game itself.

Take Alan Wake, for example. It opens with suspense, but that doesn't matter, because it's nevertheless a tutorial level, which destroys any sense of built (and I hate to say it) immersion. Even if you were immediately pulled into the game, the fact that you are told how to run and dodge attacks minimizes the actual story and brings the game's mechanics to the forefront.

Of course, this is unavoidable in a game, but I don't remember (and forgive me for destroying Alan Wake in favor of nostalgia) Silent Hill doing anything like this, and I hold Silent Hill 2 to a gold standard of suspense (much more than Resident Evil).

But these are just my initial impressions of the game. I am more critical of the things I love, like works of horror. I wonder why that is.

Nov 10, 2010

Conan: Do You Agree?



Here's a snippet of a conversation about Conan's show. Obviously, these hosts come off as a triplet of jagoffs, but they weren't really wrong. Apparently, Conan's ratings dropped by a third last night,, but at 2.8 million viewers, it's still holding strong.

It didn't quite beat Leno and Letterman, and, though it's doing respectable business, you know Conan wanted to keep the trend going. He came back with a vengeance, and he spent a lot of his time dogging NBC (which a lot of people seemed to reject). I didn't mind it so much because it's the big elephant in the room. I don't know how I would have reacted had not not talked about being canned by NBC. That would have been out of the ordinary.

I like Conan. I like the new show. I'm not a talk show kind of guy, but I like his sense of humor. Part of me is supporting him because he's popular right now. I'd be lying if I didn't admit that. But I'm also on his side because I genuinely like the guy. Even though he's doing nothing really super outside the box, his persona isn't couched as much in the "talk show guy" gimmick. I don't buy Leno. He seems smarmy and host-y. I like Letterman, but I still know he's a host. Conan seems quite a bit different to me, and I like that (even though I can admit to watching about ten percent of his stint on NBC).

Still, I hope the show does well, and I know he's looking for my blessing to keep going, so...here's to Conan's return.

Nov 7, 2010

LiveBlogging: The Walking Dead: Episode 2

10:57 - sort of an unexpectedly blunt end to the show this week.

10:54 - The key thing is the most comic book-y moment thus far. And who wouldn't leave that guy behind? We have all been trained to be compassionate, even if it goes against our basest instincts, which is what makes zombie fiction so interesting. It's about the constant struggle between altruism and selfishness and where to draw the line, which is one of the most interesting aspects of 'TWD' so far.

10:52 - If I were in one of those giant moving trucks, I'd be tempted to just turn on the crowd and put the gas pedal to the floorboard, just to see what would happen.

10:48 - Is walking on one's ankles a skill that can be taught? Or do you have to be a natural at it?

10:41 - Does the end of the world change how people experience jealousy? If I were to die in some horrible shenanigans like the Zombpocalypse (and I had a son), I would want someone to take care of my family. But still. The filmmakers are setting up the situation perfectly, but it makes me wonder how I would react. Not favorably, I would guess. But I'm no Rick Grimes.

10:39 - Favorite line so far: "Give me the axe. We need more guts."

10:37 - So I guess eviscerating a dead person is not subject to the kinds of FCC regulations that everything else is.

10:36 - Brutal.

10:31 - Even though 'TWD' is somewhat somewhat slowly paced, I think it's going to benefit the show overall. Zombie stories are epic in nature, and cramming the end of the world into a ninety minute work (a film) is pretty difficult, so perhaps a good zombie show is what the genre needs in order for zombie filmmakers to really get the pacing down. Maybe the genre needs something that can really stretch its legs out.

10:28 - Why did it take so long for the zombies to learn to use the rock on the plate glass window? Stupid question, I know...

10:25 - This whole thing has a very Kingian quality to it. This whole store scene is reminiscent of the part of The Stand where whats-his-name meets the dumb assistant from 'Coach.' Remember? Tom Cullen?

10:24 - Is the blonde the same one from 'The Mist?' Looks like her, and since Darabont did both 'The Mist' and the pilot for 'TWD', seems pretty likely that it is her. She's awesome.

10:22 - There's nothing too meta about this show (or about the comics, either, I suppose). It's really straightforward, very earnest, not necessarily a critique of zombies or an ironic take on the zombpocalypse or anything. I wonder if it's 'hip' enough for the audience that comes to AMC.

Also, and this is a major concern, is the show a bit too deliberately paced?

10:21 - Sugartits! I don't remember that from the comics. Maybe Rooker's channeling Mel Gibson.

10:20 - I love the R. Lee Ermey Geico commercial.

10:16 - I know there's quite a bit of talking in 'TWD', but what's strange is that nothing's really that memorable. I cannot recall a single thing anybody's said over the last two weeks.

10:15 - Not to cross the streams of too much zombie lore, but Rooker totally looks like Francis from Left 4 Dead. Or, and this is possible, Francis may be based on the Rooker character from the comic books.

10:11 - Is that MICHAEL ROOKER? Awesome. I had no idea the ROOK was in this show. It just went up an entire letter grade for me. Whoa, and the Rook's a bit racist in this show, as well. Hmmm.

10:09 - So far the show's followed the comic pretty closely.

10:07 - The make-up for the show is excellent. Tom Savini would be proud.

10:05 - Crane-in shot over Rick's tank. Looks like something out of the 'Resident Evil' movies. Odd how silent it is inside that tank, given what's going on just outside.

10:04 - What's odd about 'TWD' is that it doesn't really step outside of the cliches of zombie fiction or play with them too...oh, wow, that sex scene is overt!

10:02 - The main female protagonist looks like a cross between Angelina Jolie and Katie Holmes, at times. Weird.

-oh. Rustling sounds in the woods. Of course, it's just the weirdly possessive-ish boyfriend character.

10:01 - Opening on a track shot of a woman's ass in white jeans. Much different than the last episode. But not bad.

Episode 2: Guts.

A Brief Note on 80s Metal


There are few things in this world more universally ridiculed (or ironically lionized) than 80s metal, most notably what we deem today as "hair metal."

I don't exactly know why that is for everyone, but I do know why it happens to be so for me. I'm currently reading Chuck Klosterman's wonderful Fargo Rock City, and while I agree with him on almost every one of his points, there is one thing he neglects to mention that can help to explain some of the disdain people had for 80s metal (it now seems as though 80s metal has been forgiven and let back into the house of commercial music).

Klosterman points to the idea that labels more or less ruined the legacy of 80s metal. He writes at one point, "Part of the reason '80s hard rock will never get respect - even kitschy respect - is because so many of the major players have retroactively tried to disassociate themselves from all of their peers. Disco didn't wrestle with this kind of shame" (29).

Now, on its face, the statement seems true enough. Hard rock bands have always been obsessed with their own images. Even Metallica, in not wearing make-up and teasing their hair out, was trying to mold the public's perception of what their music, and, as an extension, what they were all about.

Metal is kind of like a giant religion in that all of the competing subgenres are actively trying to excommunicate one another. There are moderate metalheads and moderate metal bands, but they are always under attack from more militant factions under the metal tent.

You can get a general sense of this idea by listening to Pantera's 1996 album, The Great Southern Trendkill. Philip Anselmo railed against "the trend" incessantly for the whole of that album (check out the opening track and "Sandblasted Skin, Pt. 1) without really quantifying what "the trend" was. One can assume that, given the climate of the music scene of the time, that it was grunge music (even though Kurt Cobain had died two years before and the grunge scene had more or less petered out), but no one can be for sure.

But I don't think that it's the constant self-labeling that corrupted the integrity of the 80s rock movement. I think the answer lies in the time period itself.

My first (and most damning) piece of evidence: Monster Ballads.

Now, I will reconcile my point with one of Klosterman's strongest. The culture of the 1980s had an indescribable impact on the way that metal bands sculpted their images. They were materialistic and opportunistic and plenty of those bands made gobs of money.

If you listen to Monster Ballads (or take even a cursory glance at the song list), you will notice that a great number of bands that do not generally fit together have tracks on that album, from The Scorpions to Damn Yankees.

Yet, given the fact that (most of) these groups released the bulk of their material in the 1980s is the key point here. It reflects the dominant philosophical ethos of the decade: that of greed.

I'm not necessarily saying that metal bands from the 80s are or were greedy, but I am saying that the problem wasn't that they were hesitant to label one another. It's the fact that they chose to cash in on the female demo swarming to rock music during the 80s, which isn't an out-and-out sexist comment, by releasing such overtly sensitive music. I refuse to accuse them of selling out (though this is probably a moot point), but the commercialization of rock music in the Reagan Era plays into the criticism.

Combine that with the fact that albums like Monster Ballads exist, and you have at least a partial answer to why these bands have a problem gaining any sort of respect, even the kind of ironic respect Klosterman mentions above.

Dozens of bands tried to emulate Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath during the 70s, but what we often forget is that most of those bands have completely disappeared into obscurity. Led Zep and Sabbath persist for a reason, and the other bands gave up on their dreams and went to work at normal jobs because the viability of their music had all but dried up.

Bands like Poison and Ratt and Quiet Riot benefited from and were cursed by the music milk machine of the 1980s and 1990s, which sold immediate nostalgia to the masses without any sense of shame. The bands, critics, and the fans got caught up in a nostalgia loop from which they could not immediately recover.

Normally, there is a cool-down period between the death of a certain genre of music and the nostalgia that helps us forgive or endorse it. The bloated 70s rock of the aforementioned Zeppelin and Sabbath had a cooling off period, wherein people weren't necessarily spiteful of its existence but didn't necessarily care for it either, but the rock of the 1980s did not, and the bands suffered. Poison went directly from the bargain bin at Wal-Mart to the nostalgia circuit without much of a gap between the two periods.

All in all, Klosterman is dead-on, however, and I'm not entirely sure that the points I've made contradict his own, but I couldn't help myself. All right. Now I'm going to listen to a little-known ballad from Sabbath's fourth album.

Can Science Shape Human Values? (NPR)

Super There Will Be Blood

Super There Will Be Blood from Tomfoolery Pictures on Vimeo.

Oct 31, 2010

LiveBlogging: The Walking Dead

I don't know what kind of mass appeal the show is going to have, but I sincerely liked the first episode. I wasn't blown away, but that can be attributed to the fact that I have read the comic books. I want to see a horror show actually succeed, and, of all the ones I've seen, The Walking Dead definitely has the best chance.

11:22 - The lingering temptation to commit suicide is something I imagined would be present, but it's not something I really, honestly thought about until now. If I were trapped in a tank with a "dead" zombie, there's no telling what I would be thinking about.

The scene involving the horse feast is a definite nod to George A. Romero.

11:20 - Yep. Hiding under a tank feels as sufficiently claustrophobic as I would have thought it to be.

11:12 - I'm ready to see images of a zombie-ravaged Atlanta, but, aw damn, another commercial break is interrupting it.

11:11 - Seeing him wrangle the horse brings to mind images of old cowboy movies.

11:04 - Headin' down I-85 toward Atlanta.

They just showed new characters. Oh, man, Jeffrey DeMunn is awesome. He has the coolest voice in all of filmdom, in my opinion. I've been a fan of his since I listened to the audiobook version of Dreamcatcher. He's the scraggly, white-haired guy in the fishing cap.

10:59 - One of the underlying ideas about zombie lore is that it gives regular people the right to kill indiscriminately. In fact, you are supposed to kill the undead. It is encouraged for the sheer fact that to not do it is to risk all of human civilization.

What The Walking Dead does is confront that notion with a simple conundrum: what if one of the people you are supposed to kill is your wife? Even though it's not her her you're shooting, it's still kind of her, and even though it's the smart thing to do, it's not the easiest. You say now you'd do it, but would you be able to?

10:57 - It's odd hearing ethereal music behind the sight of a zombie dragging itself (herself) across a grass lot.

10:45 - Second commercial break.

10:43 - What's great about the Rick / Morgan dynamic is that Rick's experience with Morgan is the exact opposite of his own, which will (ultimately) cause him to head toward Atlanta. Unlike Morgan, who knows that his wife is (un)dead, Rick does not, and it will become a motivation for him to move forward, to find out, even if finding out is as terrible for him as it was for Morgan.

10:39 - In seeing Morgan's wife, I have the hope that this show will be much more about the psychology of being involved in an intense, life-altering situation such as this one, rather than about the zombies. It seems counterintuitive, but it's what sets The Walking Dead comic apart from other pieces of undead lore. The characters are so well-drawn (forgive the expression) that you end up actually rooting for them, which is rare in the horror world.

10:35 - Morgan and Rick are discussing the Zombie Apocalypse (ZA) right now. I'm so jaded by zombie mythology that I have trouble sitting through the explanations of "what's happening." I almost find it tedious that every piece of zombie fiction feels the need to make this explanation.

Almost.

What makes me happy is that, somewhere out there, there are people experiencing zombies for the first time, or at least experiencing them seriously for the first time. Zombies are so pervasive now that it's hard to have a defining experience, but I'm sure it's happening for some people. And I love that.

10:29 - First commercial break.

Overall, I like the show. Since I read the first several issues of the comic years before, I both have a vague sense of remembering what has happened without knowing the details. It's as though I'm experiencing dull deja vu.

I'm interested in getting beyond the stuff that I've read. I can't speculate or anticipate very much. It seems as though they're sticking to the source material with some fidelity.

10:25 - The show is very deliberately paced.

Lennie James (Morgan) is a bad-ass. That headshot was excellent, even despite the level of CG involved. In the last few months, he's played a pimp (Hung) and a zombie apocalypse survivor. Lucky guy.

10:21 - Characters in post-apocalyptic movies tend to walk in disbelief through the remnants of the final moments of humanity, among dead bodies and ruined structures, mostly to show the viewer the horrors which have taken place. I don't know. I've never been overly impressed with that method of storytelling. I understand why it's there, but it's so far removed from what 99% of the population would do (which is perhaps why 99% of the population is dead at this point) that it strains the suspension of disbelief.

Also, the Return of the Living Dead-esque lady in the grass - gross.

10:15 - I've suppressed just how similar to 28 Days Later this opening hospital sequence is. We have been told why he wakes up in the (non-functioning) hospital. Did we ever get that in 28 Days Later? Not sure. Having visions of Left 4 Dead and The Stand, also. Are there only a few horror archetypes that can exist in an epic (post) apocalyptic work? Is that the connection, or am I unnecessarily drawing on similar apocalyptic worlds?

Also, the chick in the hallway - gross.

10:13 - They're not shying away from the blood. Great.

10:09 - I like the way Darabont is shooting the show so far (though I'd be lying if I
said I knew if it had any distinct Darabontness to it. I don't know what Darabontness would entail.) They don't seem to have gone out of their way to make the show seem absolute in the awareness that it was a comic book in a previous life.

10:06 - The Southern accents aren't too terribly distracting, which is nice. I know, as a southerner, I shouldn't ever be personally offended by much, but southern accents are usually egregious enough to be prosecutable. All right, the dialogue sequence is over. Here goes...

10:03 - I still think Timothy Olyphant would be a great Rick Grimes, but I can see that Andrew Lincoln fits the bill as well. Also, the burgers in the post-title sequence look delicious.

10:00 - The show has just started. What I'm afraid I'm going to do - especially early on - is try to pick out the places where the show was filmed. This is sad for two major reasons, the major one being that I don't really know Atlanta well enough to be able to do that, so I'd be lying half the time if I did pretend to know.

Happy Halloween!

Oct 19, 2010

The Quality of Zombie Death

I've been thinking a lot about Left 4 Dead lately, and, for the most part, it's because I cannot seem to get it out of the tray of my 360 (sorry, Mass Effect).

I mean, I really love that game. The shooting is terrifically precise, individual missions are tense and dynamic, the music gives a sense of dread that I wish more horror movies would adopt, and, of course, because it is perfectly all right to be a fan of games that Valve makes.

There is no question that Valve is a great software developer. Left 4 Dead, while only one of about a million zombie games to come out in the last five years, manages to stay within the mold cast for it and yet be better than ninety-nine percent of games within the mold, like making a fine wine in a prison toilet.

Much of Left 4 Dead's success has to do with actual quality of the game, a point I find so mundane I should scarcely mention it. Its metacritic score is 89 at present moment (for the XBox 360), as is the sequel's, curiously. So, not a great game, according to the critics, but not a repeat of E.T. or Superman 64 by any stretch of the imagination. Just a good, solid game.

But a game, like any form of media, does not exist in a vacuum. Some of the praise heaped upon the game, though, is due to perceived quality. Left 4 Dead is perceived as a quality game in part due to the studio delivering it. Were it Activision or EA putting out L4D, then the reception might have been somewhat more plagued by criticism.

That point, though, is also teeth-grindingly specious. If EA, Activision, or Capcom, even, had released the game, it would have been completely different altogether (and probably much, much worse). I will concede that the argument doesn't hold up to close scrutiny, but I can't help but to argue with myself when I feel like I'm making obvious points.

Video games are different than other forms of media in that quality becomes evident over time. Games are easily digested, and even some of the better games released each week die after a couple weeks of intense play. To get a better sense of a game's quality, look down the road a few years. Servers all over the internet are fill with hordes of gamers still hooked on Quake or Doom II. Plenty of people play shitty games for a time, but no one really plays shitty games over a long period of time, unless the purpose of playing that game (or series of games) is done for some ironic purpose. I can remember friends of mine and I engaged in hours-long

People still play Left 4 Dead because it is a terrific game. It gets a bit samey in parts, but that is a flaw of the game's construct. To give gamers a variety of experience in each campaign, different types of terrain must be inserted. I'm speaking specifically of bloody (or dingy or rotten) corridors here. There are certain points during each campaign where I forget which level I'm playing, usually during the places - and each campaign has one - where you and the other three survivors are forced to walk into a building, walk up stairs, walk down a corridor, clear out rooms, walk up more stairs, walk down a corridor, and so forth.

It doesn't make the game bad, and, besides, this post isn't about how good or bad Left 4 Dead is or is not. It is about how perception influences the relative quality of a product.

Tell me if this has ever happened to you: you see a preview for a movie and, seeing nothing that interests you, independently decide that the movie is going to be shit. This may be during the preview for a movie you actually want to see - Inception or something - and you even think during the movie, "God, I can't wait to tell everyone how terrible this movie is going to be." You are giddy because you feel as though your friends will agree.

However, when you disparage the movie to your like-minded cohorts, you find that the movie was directed by this guy or produced by this other dude...and suddenly your perception changes altogether. You may not be entirely on-board, but you are more on-board than before. Slowly but surely, you come to find yourself liking the movie, or at least liking the idea of the movie, because of the potential. It usually relates to the "prism" (and I hate using that term)through which said director will view the movie he/she is making.

This is profoundly fascinating. I have found myself literally changing my mind over the course of a two-minute discussion in reference to a movie I thought I'd despise just because of some arcane detail I didn't know before the beginning of the conversation ("Oh, that movie was produced by Quentin Tarantino? Hmmm. Maybe I'll check it out.").

I didn't have that reaction to Left 4 Dead for two reasons: (1) I became aware that Valve was making Left 4 Dead at the same time I found out that Left 4 Dead was going to exist, and (2) I am a sucker for zombies. The fact that Valve was involved had almost literally no effect on me, other than that first thought, which was, "I bet that'll be interesting." Interesting is by no means the best endorsement I could give of a product, but it's by no means the worst. I'd almost something be interesting rather than good. In the world of democratized media, plenty of "good" things exist - just check Reddit on a daily basis - but few genuinely interesting things pop up.

To put it another way, think of how many mediocre or declining bands release albums that, if released by other artists, would be considered excellent. If Christina Aguilera had put out "Fame Monster" and Lady Gaga had dropped (whatever her album was called), then people would still probably care more about Lady Gaga than Christina Aguilera and "Fame Monster" would, thus, die on the vine.

This has nothing to do with the relative quality of either person or either album (though I think that Lady Gaga's is somewhat listenable), but it speaks to the force behind the product (and let's face it: these are all products, first and foremost). Nothing is without context, but that's obvious to anyone who has taken an intro history course.

I would like to parse this difference, though (at a later date). People don't play Left 4 Dead because it's a Valve title. That would be a silly and transparently false argument to make. People don't crowd servers because the studio producing the game generally makes solid titles.

They play it because it is (mostly) a good game, and I suppose that is what trumps all. I have no real response to that argument, and until I do, I'll have to leave it alone. Nothing is without context, but, then again, very few people really care about context. Users on Steam (Valve's gaming response to iTunes) don't care whose name is on the menu screen. They just want a clear angle for a headshot.

Oct 17, 2010

Bill Murray in full Ghostbusters Gear



I don't need anything else to make me happy today.

Oct 11, 2010

Zakk Wylde and Slash Playing Jimi Hendrix



Because it's badass.

Joel McHale at the Cobb Energy Center


Being funny is something that just about anybody who works hard enough can accomplish. Think about it. If you are my age or around it, then Pauly Shore has made you laugh at one point or another. If you spend enough time honing a comedic persona, sooner or later you will become somewhat talented at the craft of telling jokes.

Joel McHale is a hardworking guy, no doubt. But he has something that a lot people much funnier than he is do not have: likeability. He's the friend who, in high school, could call the prom queen a disgusting mongoloid and end up going home with her at the end of the night...and get tired of her.

McHale is frustratingly adept at being a likeable jerk, and the longer that he's in the spotlight, the farther he tries to rib the audience and then subsequently pull them back in. However, it's not like he's a comic who tries to push the envelope - much of the time his comedy is little more than PG-13.

It's that he's caught in a space where he has to try really hard to put people off. He's a good-looking dude, but that's not really a hindrance or a source of contention for anyone looking to criticize him, because he doesn't even address his own good looks, even ironically. It's something that really attractive female comedians do, more often than not, because they seem to feel a need - understandably - to address their looks so they can get on to the funny stuff.

Joel McHale is able to glide along on his personality, and I mean that in the best possible way. He has perfected the ability to say absolutely heinous shit to celebrities' faces and have them love him for it.

It's not like they have a choice. Joel McHale is the Jon Stewart of the celebrity world, a merry prankster who, on the surface, seems to denounce and deride his own existence but in reality takes the necessity of the public's need for something like The Soup very seriously. Anyone who lashes out at him or The Soup looks deservedly stupid and callous, despite the fact that what Joel McHale says on a weekly basis would drive seventy-five percent of the television-watching public to wracking sobs, if not in front of friends, at least in the privacy of their homes (while probably watching The Soup.

In seeing him live, it's obvious that he's somewhat new to the stand-up game, but that doesn't matter. Watching him perform is like watching a really excited friend hold the room at a party in the palm of his hand for an hour-and-a-half. His live persona is very similar to the one we see on The Soup, but somehow he's able to string together a collection of high energy jokes into a solid night's worth of entertainment.

And the thing is, it's mostly him. It's not really the writing, and that may sound kind of mean, but it's really not. McHale, like I alluded to above, is able to carry a room on his charm and wit, which is not something I could imagine most comedians could do on any given night, especially early on in their careers. He's able to pull it off as though he's barely trying, even though we all know he's one of the hardest-working entertainers around. Standing up in front of people and making them care, making them want you to like them, rather than the other way around, is nigh impossible. And Joel McHale makes his audiences feel like the prom queen who can't believe she's about to go home with the class clown. It's almost like John Hughes was right all along.

Oct 10, 2010

Oct 7, 2010

Down - Stone the Crow

Just a song from the 90s that I happen to enjoy.

Oct 6, 2010

A simple quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson

“When a resolute young fellow steps up to the great bully, the world, and takes him boldly by the beard, he is often surprised to find it comes off in his hand, and that it was only tied on to scare away the timid adventurers.”
~Ralph Waldo Emerson


I have lately become quite fond of the Transcendentalists, chief among them being Ralph Waldo Emerson. This has not always been the case - my distaste for their idealism remained trenchant throughout my teens and early twenties - but a question that keeps recurring to me seems to have softened my view of them: Do people change, or does the world change them? It's a trite expression, of course, but I am solipsistic enough to ignore its application elsewhere, and it is a damned intriguing question.

As I get older, and I am still relatively young, my yearning to search out Truth has taken me, well, very few places physically, but emotionally, mentally, and spiritually (even in my atheism, I can think of no better existential metaphor), I feel I have traveled to a variety of different places. I am all the richer for the search.

I can say, somewhat, that it is my perception which has changed. I used to believe myself running from something, but I think the camera itself had been positioned in the wrong place all the time, because the wide open space before me has never seemed more intriguing and enigmatic.

While I cannot relish in lingering silence even still today, my need to be immersed in the noise of life has subsided somewhat. I have begun the necessary steps to transcend my more prohibitive notions about existence. I am going to die. Someday. I will grow old. Someday. My life is but a tiny wrinkle surrounding an aged eye. A blind eye, though one which is as intriguing a spectacle as any out there.

This is me at my most vague, my most oblique. It is freeing to know these things, or, rather, to be able to try them out. I am not one of those people who can know about death or age, but only one who can have intense moments of knowing, like someone who has been pulled to the surface of some raging ocean for a desperate moment every now and then. Either way, you drown, but the drowning isn't so bad as long as you're not contemplating it. It's when you flail your arms, see the way your fingers have pruned, that you realize how dire the situation really is.

It is difficult to be free enough to see the water for what it is. But I am trying.

Oct 3, 2010

My First Thoughts On: Dead Rising


Yeah, that's not a typo. I didn't somehow miss the 2 in there somewhere. I am really playing the first Dead Rising game, the one that is about to become seriously unnecessary by way of its sequel.

Still, there's someone out there in the Eastern Bloc or Haiti who hasn't played this clunky gem of game, which is the thing I love most about the internet - people are always finding new and interesting ways to amuse themselves - so I feel entirely validated in talking about it. Whoever reads this review may become me a month from now.

However, the need to pick up the first installment may be diminishing, considering that (a) the sequel is out and (b) the original seems to be getting pulled from the shelves in order to make room for the sequel. I'm a compulsive gamer - I'm a compulsive everything - so I spent the better part of an afternoon searching the shops, malls, and cavernous used game stores for a copy of Dead Rising, and, it being my luck and all, only managed to find a battered version at my local used dealer.

The original copy I got was overpriced and seemed to be suffering from third degree burns inflicted by the previous owner's 360's laser, so I had to return it and get a fresh(er) copy, which worked fine, though once I got it home and slid in the disc tray and went through all of the installation mumbo-jumbo, I realized, well, Dead Rising isn't really that fun.

It's sort of like Grand Theft Auto with zombies, which sounds on its face like a magnificent time, but there's some aspect of fun that seems to be lost in the follow-through. I'm no expert, but I expected more than just the melee combat from a Rock Star game to be present in Dead Rising.

You may disagree, and, yes, there are some aspects to it that aren't jaw-droppingly inane, but Frank West moves too slowly and clunkily, the controls are somewhat awkward, and the constant need to check one's watch detracts from the emergent, open-worldedness of the whole experience, which, in my gaming OCD state, I found irritating.

I sincerely want to like Dead Rising, and I do, to a certain extent. I think I should have played it several years ago, before games of a higher caliber had been released. It is a dated, flawed experience, but one that I will give more of a chance in the coming weeks.

To be able to enjoy Dead Rising, you almost have to give into its Dead-Rising-ness and enjoy it for what it is, which is what I intend on doing until I feel I've gotten my money's worth. Since I managed to snag it for 15 bucks, ostensibly the cost of a pretty good XBLA title, it shouldn't take long for me to be able to squeeze worth out of the experience. If nothing else, I should be able to run around and mow down zombies (literally!) to my heart's content.

Sep 27, 2010

Red Dead Redemption Time Lapse



It's unironically beautiful in a strange way, and I never thought I'd say that about a RockStar game.

Sep 26, 2010

Nathan Fillion is the Wrong Ryan

Revisionist LOTR

Revisionist Pulp Fiction

Sep 22, 2010

If 'Zombie Apocalypse' Were Accurate...



...Armageddon would be mind-bendingly tedious.

I don't normally buy games from the Playstation Network, but I am eerily susceptible to media about zombies. Movies, comics, books, games, ringtones (I wanted a Left 4 Dead 'Witch' ringtone for a time). That's why I initially picked up Zombie Apocalypse for 10 bucks on PSN.

It is a standard two stick shooter that has a few similarities with Valve's Left 4 Dead franchise. You can play as one of four characters (just like in L4D). One of them is a grizzled old white guy. Another is a hipsterish African-American. One is a hipsterish ginger...and the woman.

Well, I guess that's really just the most blatant example of lifting from L4D but even that isn't totally egregious and obvious - and not necessarily true - so I'll move on. I mean, I could fill an entire post with the coincidences between the two games (They both have shotguns! They both require you to kill an inordinate number of similar-looking people! They both mostly take place at night! Holy Jeez!)...but I won't.

Suffice it to say that ZA is fun for short stretches, but it's a same-y sort of game, so don't expect much in the way of varied gameplay. You shoot zombies. And more zombies. And even more zombies. Blood literally covers whole stretches of the screen at certain points, and yeah, that's fun, but honestly it gets old.

And this is me saying it! I absolutely love zombies, couldn't get enough of them. That is, until this game.

The problems arose when I decided to try for all of the trophies. There is one little sucker called "Hotter Than Hell," which prompts you to finish a game mode called "7 Days of Hell."

Now, granted, I should not complain that a game mode called "7 Days of Hell" is frustrating. It's like ordering snake whiskey in Thailand and complaining that you got a rattler stuck in your throat.

But it is really frustrating! And really tedious! The game has no sense of pace, even a rudimentary one. It sounds ridiculous that I should point pacing out, because Zombie Apocalypse is not a story-driven game. It's a challenge, much like old NES titles, but there should at least be a suitable crescendo of zombie violence in the final portion of each stage.

Especially the seventh and final one.

Instead, what I got was a mass of zombies midway through the final level and then a gradual tapering off in the numbers, until the very end, where I was forced to snipe the occasional zombie until the DAY 7 SURVIVED accomplishment popped up. Unacceptable. There should have been a frantic battle at the end, or the level itself should have been shorter and more difficult. Overall, I killed about four thousand zombies in that final level, and it took an astonishing forty-five minutes to beat it.

The regular game mode isn't that horrific, but it does get quite repetitive, because there are only a few levels, a few guns, and a few zombie types.

Zombies have been cool long enough for me to get a substantial fix on the undead, but

Sep 19, 2010

My First Thoughts On: Mass Effect



This is going to be a tough one for me. 'Mass Effect' is the first BioWare game I've ever played, and it's so different from most everything I have ever encountered, I have little to compare it to. I never got into 'Knights of the Old Republic' back on the original XBox (save the hissing and spitting until I finish this post). Ditto for the Baldur's Gate series. I'm simply lacking a formal vocabulary that I can use to discuss it.

Like with most of my gaming discussions, I guess you'll have to suffer through another post of me talking about how fun [insert game] is.

So far, and I've only put three or four hours into it, 'Mass Effect' is...fun? I think? I'm definitely enjoying it, even though I've killed fewer than fifty people so far (and what video game is any good that isn't a complete and utter massacre), and the last few hours have consisted of running around a building and talking to random people. I assume that's going to take up a great chunk of the game, which is actually fine by me.

At one point, an assassin tried to take me out in a hallway leading to the station's closest approximation of a strip club, and I felt that the combat in that particular instance was getting in the way of my aimless conversations with aliens. It took me entirely too long to kill my assailant, and I am a casual gamer, but had I known my destination, I would have fought much harder for the cause. The fact that I was somewhat disappointed in the club itself does not mitigate my point.

Being a sci-fi noob, I am still unsure of the plot, but it seems as though a Predator has turned on the Empire and is causing a human army to go all Starship Troopers on a few of the surrounding planets. That is the reality I've created, so I'll let it stand at that. I spend most of my time thinking about what choices I'm going to make in the dialogue trees, but I am reticent to take any longer than normal in my actual decision-making. I'm playing Shepard as a centrist, a cypher, in all of these proceedings, and I think I'm doing a fairly good job of it, as well.

Commence your hissing and spitting now.

R.E.M / Stevie Wonder MashUp



Even though I know the trend is waning, this is a particularly great mash-up. Not only am I impressed with the way both songs come together, the isolation of Wonder's voice makes me think about the vocal melody in an altogether different way. Me gusta.

Sep 14, 2010

L4D Comic

Jumping into L4D doesn't seem quite so untimely now...since the Left 4 Dead comic is officially out! P.S. Click on the link and you can read it online for free.

Sep 12, 2010

First Impressions: Left 4 Dead




I am continuing my quest to catch up on all of the interesting games of the last few years that I've missed, and that quest includes - DEFINITELY includes - Left 4 Dead. No, not the sequel (I haven't gotten that far yet), but the original, a horrifying, frantic, nerve-wracking, panic attack-inducing game. It is the most claustrophobic experience I have ever had watching something play out on television (except, perhaps, for the Texas Funeral scene in Kill Bill, Vol. 2), and I have loved just about every minute of it.

Except for every minute of it. True, the game is fun, as much as any game that is as hard as Left 4 Dead can be fun, but the real challenge lies not in the game itself but in the engine that runs the whole experience. The AI Director (who I always imagine to look like Dr. Claw from Inspector Gadget) simply chooses the most inopportune time to send hordes of the undead pouring through doors or down open hallways like cockroaches out of a cadaver that's just been prodded.

It is insanity. I am not one to respond to video games, one way or another, but when my health is depleted, I cannot help but beg the forces inside the XBox to please, please, PLEASE not place a witch in this spot on the map or place a Boomer behind that door.

Forgive the particulars of the language. In Left 4 Dead, you play as one of four survivors during the zombie apocalypse - hence the name - and, in addition to the numerous "normal" zombies in the game, there are special versions of them as well, infinitely more deadly and pants-wetting-scary in nature than their humdrum counterparts. Hunters are stealthy, powerful z-words that can pin you on the ground and rip chunks out of you until a team member saves you. Smokers have long tongues and will drag you long distances...until a team member saves you. Tanks are giant bruisers that require the entire team to kill. Boomers are fatties that vomit zombie juice all over you and attract a horde. And witches, well, witches are weepy little vixens that, if disturbed, will lay a hurtin' on you that will make you flinch every time you hear them in the distance.

All of which hints at the brilliance of Left 4 Dead. The co-op actually works, as opposed to most games, in which the sidekick is most notable for going out of its way to get in yours, or for taking all of your supplies while you singlehandedly take down the enemies (you know, the things your buddy's supposed to be helping you out with).

I've beaten the four major campaigns but haven't played the online co-op yet (alas, I just bought the XBox and must wait for another pay period in which to purchase a year subscription to XBLive). Overall, the game is extremely enjoyable, if frustrating. I do like that, though each campaign has the same basic structure, the number of zombies changes each time. Without that adapting AI, L4D would only be worth a play-through or two.

Oh, and my favorite campaign (and by far one of the best climaxes of any piece of zombie-related media) has to be NO Mercy, where you and your three compadres search for a local hospital and have an epic shootout on the roof while waiting for a chopper. Excellent. Can't wait to play it with actual people.

Aug 29, 2010

Full Review: Borderlands (PS3)



My posts have been few and far between for the last month or so, and it has more than a little to do with my recent career change. However, some of my absence from the internet has to do with a near-obsession I've had with the RPG-FPS Borderlands (read my "First Impressions of Borderlands").

Needless to say, I jumped completely on-board with this strange, cell-shaded, Beyond the Thunderdome-ish romp of an action RPG, and I've only this past weekend stopped logging hours in it. I beat the game, hit level forty, and decided there was little else I wanted to accomplish.

I'm still not a fan of the online co-op (even though that's the way everyone says I should play it) and parts of the game toward the end get unbelievably tedious, but overall, it's pretty solid. My friends have been calling it "Cartoon Fallout," and I suppose that's a fair description of it.

But DAMN is that game fun! Beyond the endless trekking across sort of repetitive, desolate landscapes in the last quarter of the game, seeing a dude's head explode through the scope of a sniper rifle never quite gets old. I ended up overleveling for much of the game - once I realized that being underleveled would be a nightmare - and dominated entire sections of the game, blowing through missions and racking up HP, money, and guns like nobody's business.

I have to admit, I grew to enjoy maintaining my inventory like I would a garden, selling guns when all my slots were full, buying new and improved corrosive or shock rifles, watching my pockets grow fat and then using that money to purchase new guns, mods, or upgrades. It went well beyond playing a game. I'm sort of a clutter nut, so I hated keeping unnecessary guns. Even though I played the game using the Solder class, I became attached to the sniper rifles and abandoned or ignored pistols, shotguns, and SMGs altogether after a time. I didn't even really ever upgrade my grenades, because the sniper rifles I found came to be so overpowering.

The literally thousands of guns in the game kept the interest level high. Borderlands might have peaked for me had I been stuck with the same few weapons. And here's where I have to say that it's pretty dishonest to claim that there are thousands of guns in the game, since many of them are merely differently-named, differently-colored, or differently-statted (yep, I made it up) guns, but the constant upgrades gave me a strange sense of accomplishment. Like with my distaste for clutter, I found comparing the stats of guns and making a snap judgment to sell one in favor of another made me feel unnecessarily like a leader or a rogue or something.

Each enemy, like the player, has a level attached to him/it, so you instantly know what you're going up against. I was always keenly aware of when I had stepped into an area I wasn't ready conquer (due to the markedly higher number above the forehead of my enemy) and would thus haul ass out of there until I'd reached a higher level. Even though I hated the grinding, once I reached about level 25, the difficulty curve of the game leveled out, and I was able to move with some confidence throughout the rest of the game.

I couldn't tell you what the story was about (mostly because I played while listening to my iPod), but that doesn't matter. I've heard that the plot for Borderlands is kind of watery anyway, so that never got in the way of the game for me, either way. I was able to tune out much of the plot garbage in favor of killing things and upgrading my character. That's really the big draw of Borderlands in the first place. It's a bloody, goofy, fun game, devoid of any unnecessary self-seriousness, and I highly recommend it, if you can be patient enough to reach level 10.

Aug 25, 2010

Guns N Roses - "Dead Flowers"



I'm feeling a bit nostalgic today. Here is a super rare video of Guns n Roses covering the Stones' "Dead Flowers" (From Sticky Fingers). Enjoy.

Aug 22, 2010

BioShock: Infinite Plot (Conspiracy) Theory

One of the most interesting theories I've heard bandied about the internet about the coming BioShock: Infinite game revolves around one of a few circumstances: either (a) you are a character who becomes "disillusioned by the city's [Columbia's] jingoism and decide to deflate the city's balloons" to sink the city to the bottom of the sea (this according to G4) or that (b) you become influenced by a young man disenchanted with Columbia and help him destroy it (this man would be Andrew Ryan, of course) or that (c) you are or rename yourself as Andrew Ryan (this theory is all over the internet). It's all tinfoil hat stuff at this point, but if this game is to be anything but a non-sequitur in the series it must revolve somewhat around the original storyline.

Source: http://g4tv.com/thefeed/blog/post/706872/BioShock-Infinite-Trailer-Pretentious-Analysis-Time.html

Aug 14, 2010

BioShock: Infinite Trailer

Jul 25, 2010

Viral Levi's Ad



Kinda makes me want a time-lapse camera.

Ron Livingston's Cosplay Cat

Mental Health Break - The Daily Dish | By Andrew Sullivan

Mental Health Break - The Daily Dish | By Andrew Sullivan

L I M B O



I never played 'Braid' last year, but that said, I came across what is being touted as "this year's 'Braid'" and, alas, I want to play it. The fact that I can't because I own a stupid PS3 and not an XBox won't stop me from giving the game some free press. It's got a great art style, it's creepy-looking, and it has a giant spider.

'Limbo' was made by a Danish studio called PlayDead, and for some reason it makes me think of 'Let the Right One In.' It's not about vampires at all - at all - but I can't help but think of them similarly, for some reason. I guess it's because of the parallel of children in danger.

Either way, check it out on XBLA ($15) and tell me how good it is.

Jul 22, 2010

The 27 Club: Almost Out!


Lately I have been on a tear of writing about sensitive and/or depressing topics, so, here, on the eve of my birthday, as it winds down, I'm going to talk about something a little different: DEATH.

Yep, but not just any kind of death. I'll be talking about "The 27 Club." No, it's not the crappy religious program on the lower channels (that's the 700 Club, although it is fixated on death of all kinds, mostly of old people).

The 27 Club - or Club 2-7, as it'll be known, henceforth - is a collection of musicians who died at the age of (you guessed it) 27.

I'll be 28 in less than an hour and will have eclipsed Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, and Jim Morrison in years. Now, it has nothing to do with talent (or curses), and if it does, I'm in the clear. Put my BEST writings up against Jimi Hendrix's worst songs - "Dolly Dagger" comes to mind, sorry - and you still have a mind-boggling difference in talent. Ditto with the other folks on the list.

Here are some other members of Club 2-7: Brian Jones (of The Rolling Stones); Robert Johnson (yes, THAT blues guy); and, well, quite a few musicians I've never heard of, including the sound manipulator for The Mars Volta and the leader of Badfinger.

I'm not a superstitious person, and I don't believe in any nonsense about curses, but remember the fact that Club 2-7 is in the pop culture consciousness gave me reason to pause and reflect on life. I'm a lucky man, even if I'm not famous. I've got a lot to be thankful for, and I'd rather spend my birthday being grateful about my life than thinking about death (in all its forms). I hope I don't become obsessed about the future, death, and general loss of youth, but you never know.

So, in closing, here are a few things that keep me going. Feel free to post yours in the comments section (and forgive me this once for this):
* My wife, LP, who helps me keep life in perspective, enjoy good days, not take too much stock of the bad days, and with whom I hope to see everything worth seeing in this life. I love you.
* A big...family, with whom I don't always agree but love nonetheless. You keep things interesting. Love you all.
* Friends that, on the spectrum, feel a whole lot more like family than anything else. Who else but bros can ice bros?
* The deer and the stinky one.
* Long books, short movies, hot wings, cold beer...you get the idea.
* Video games and a giant slushy on Friday afternoons.
* Training for a marathon I may or may not ever participate in.
* College Football season. A good-to-fairly-good Falcons squad. MLB Playoffs.
* Europe
* et cetera, et cetera, et cetera...

Jul 20, 2010

The Primaries in Georgia

I'm from Georgia, so I'm mildly interested in the gubernatorial primaries going on today. Everyone's focused on Roy Barnes, the guv who was ousted in 2002 because he went out of his way to be shitty to the people who voted him in.

But I'm not overly concerned with Barnes at the moment, because all of the vitriol is on the side of the Republicans, and elections are always more interesting when they're like reality TV. Right now, the Repubs are engaged in a battle to see who can reach the bottom of the ideological cesspool most quickly.

And yet, it's still all of the same old, tired, right-wing douchebaggery. Abortion rights, immigration, and taxes. That's it, folks. If you want to see anything of any real importance to the country at large, look elsewhere, because in the heat of election season, anything but real issues will be discussed.

However, what is impressive is the level to which the Republican candidates are flinging acid at these hot-button causes. It's like they're involved in a rap battle with pro-choice and pro-immigration people, even though Dems in the state are fairly conservative themselves on these issues. It's an interesting form of pseudo-conservative cannibalism going on at the highest level of Georgia's government.

The other night at the gubernatorial debates, the Rs all fought for who could win the right to be called the most xenophobic candidate in the country. John Oxendine said he'd sue the federal government about illegal blah blah blah. Ray McBerry proposed that local sheriffs should round up illegals and bus them to the steps of the White House. What this has to do with solving the problem, I don't know, but it seems like an awfully expensive process for a bunch who value monetary restraint. Of course that's a pot-shot, though. The Republican party hasn't cared about conservatism, really, in decades.

The night's winner, hands-down, is Eric Johnson. He said (no shit), "If we have to set up a Guantanamo Bay of Georgia, I would do it." Wow. I'm not surprised in the least bit, but you've got to admit that threatening to hold illegal immigrants without trying or deporting them is some pretty harsh rhetoric. What's surprising is that he's only running at a measly third in the most recent polls.

Wait, hold on. Maybe I'm way off on this, because didn't Roy Barnes - a Democrat - recently say he would support an Arizona-type immigration law for Georgia? Not only would he try to pass a law like that, but he says he doesn't believe it's a state issue, so he'd expect the federal government to pay for it! It'll be interesting just to what level the immigration debate will stoop if these two assclowns get the nomination (which won't happen, because Eric Johnson doesn't have a chance in Hell). Oh, do I pick the extreme right-wing idiot, or the Republican? I don't know.

This is obviously simple campaign rhetoric at its worst, but you cannot tell me there's a shred of difference between Roy Barnes and his right-wing counterparts (except for his shameless teacher-courting offensive, of course). And, despite the fact that there are more Democratic candidates - I will not dare call them left-leaning - it all seems like an inevitability that Barnes will secure the Democratic nomination. He's so far ahead in the polls that I was hoping the people opposing him might slip up and say something left-of-center, for once. Shame on me for my naivete.

It should be noted that Karen Handel has been softly endorsed by Sarah Palin, so naturally she has vaulted ahead of former leader John Oxendine. More on her later.