Zero Charisma: The Passion of the Geek

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A recent trend in filmmaking and television is attempting to capture the essence of nerd culture by telling stories of role-playing. It can be either pen-and-paper or live action. Community did it, as did Supernatural, Paul Rudd and Sean William Scott starred in Hollywood’s Role Models, and a slew of independent films like Knights of BadassdomGamerz, and The Gamers: Dorkness Rising have come around in the last decade to finally bring the nerdiest of nerdy activities out of the darkness of parents’ basements and into the light.

The best of these that I’ve seen is Zero Charisma. Out of all of the RPG portrayals, I think this one really cuts to the heart of geek culture by contrasting the classic neckbeard stereotype and inaccessible passion that fuels our love of the fantastic with modern sensibilities and social acceptance. It also has a wickedly clever title.

How does somebody who has been shunned their entire life deal with the modern concept of a cool nerd? The word “geek” originates from carnival sideshows where a performer would do things like biting the heads off of live chickens. This implies that the very act of being a geek should be revolting and bizarre to normal people, and for most of my life it was so. There were no Felicia Days, Peter Dinklages, or Summer Glaus for us back in the day; just asthma, endless allegations regarding our sexual preferences, and unhealthy fixations on Slave Leah. Continue reading

Mandatory Reading: Five Classic Sci-Fi Novels that Changed the Way I Look at the World

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Since I’m going to be discussion true literary classics this week, I feel like I should get us in the mood with a suitably pretentious and overused quote from a dead famous person. Pablo Picasso defined art as “the lie that enables us to realize the truth”, and conceptual science fiction in particular takes this timeless observation to heart. It’s a genre that almost by definition strives to take modern day stupidity and fast forward it to its logical future conclusions.

As somebody who has spent his entire life captivated by the most imaginative aspects of fiction and storytelling, it makes sense that a lot of the values I’ve grown into would be reflected in some of those works. Sometimes I read a novel and it opens up my mind to endless possibilities or it puts into words feelings that I’ve always had but had never effectively crystalized. The joy of writing is not only in sharing thoughts and feelings with other people, but in the process of defining those thoughts for yourself so they can be shared in verbal form.

The best stories are the ones that hold personal relevance to your life and the world you live it in. Here are five bonafide science fiction classics I’ve read throughout my life that stuck in my brain, helped me define my values, and in doing so contributed in part to making me the person I am today. Sure, that person is a cynical, antisocial geek who derives pleasure from anarchy, but he still finds childlike joy in exploring this world through allegory, metaphor, and stories where people die horribly so here we are. Nick Verboon: this is your life. Continue reading

Rebel Without a Clue: The Rise and Fall of Deadpool

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This month I reached another depressing comic book milestone. I received my last issue from Marvel Comics for the foreseeable future. It was issue 27 of the latest solo book from my favorite comic book character, the Merc with a Mouth, Deadpool. Reading it was a bittersweet experience (which I’ll get to later), but the title was on the bubble for over a year and issues would occasionally collect unread on my shelf for months before I could be bothered with them, which is a sure sign that I’m not really feeling a series anymore.

It wasn’t always like this. Marvel comics used to be good, and Deadpool was the goodest. I discovered Wade Wilson around the time I started getting really into comics as an adult beyond the occasional graphic novel, about ten years ago. Fans will note this was around the time Cable and Deadpool was a thing, but I started checking out his solo run first, eventually deciding to include Cable and Deadpool in my inaugural list of online comic subscriptions.

Deadpool comics were unlike anything else on the market. You’ve got an immortal (Weapon X injected him with Wolverine’s healing factor in an attempt to cure his cancer) protagonist antihero who works almost exclusively for profit as an assassin, is possibly schizophrenic and certainly twisted and psychotic, compulsively talks trash in an almost constant stream, and has a complete disregard for…pretty much everything and everyone. It was a combination of black humor, badass comic book violence, and absurdist satire that regularly broke the fourth wall in ways that most comics would never attempt to do, much less get away with. This character was the inside of my brain in comic book form.

In his heyday, Wade Wilson wielded Mjolnir (sort of) and used it to parody Grey Poupon commercials and deliver a suitable rendition of KISS’ God of Thunder among other fun things. He waxed nostalgic about old-school GI Joe action figures while slaughtering hapless baddies, he found out he wasn’t who he thought he was (maybe) and criticized his own writers for their handling of it, dragon-punched Kitty Pryde (complete with “shoryuken” cry), made out with the incarnation of Death, lusted after Golden Girls, was cursed with the face of Tom Cruise, traveled back in time to a classic Spider-Man issue to offer some harsh commentary, and generally made the Marvel Universe his bitch. Continue reading

Do ‘Real’ Gamers Play to Win or for Fun?

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The way I see it, there are two primary mindsets at play when we sit down to play a video game. Your classic logical right brain type will immediately begin assessing the best possible way to go about making the game of choice their bitch. The more creative left-brained individual will instead be taken with the imaginative experience and will likely spend their time on flights of fancy or set out to find what the virtual world can offer them creatively. I will call them Type A and Type B, respectively. I totally just made those terms up myself just now.

Now that we’re all occupying the same digital space thanks to our internet connections the clash between these two approaches is happening more and more often as opposing mindsets are paired with and against one another in online play and discussions. Sure there were arguments about how best to play games on the couch way back in the day, but modern gaming is so much more of a widespread social affair than it used to be and has grown from a mere pastime to a full-blown cultural force. And with that comes the controversy: what’s the correct way to play video games?gaming chart

So let’s hash this out. Who are the real gamers: the ones who take it seriously as a competition and challenge, or the ones who just want to relax and have a good time? Obviously, the only answer that matters is the one that corresponds to your personality type (which can be determined by the Bartle Test, here), so let’s take a look at each set of values and see what virtues (if any) they yield.

There’s something to be said about Type A’s philosophy of utilizing every aspect of a game to give yourself every advantage in order to obtain optimum results. These gamers are often divided into camps known as “killers” and “achievers”, with killers focusing on multiplayer dominance and achievers on single player proficiency. Achievers are the people who plan their RPG builds with great care and don’t waste a single experience point. They do the math to determine which choices will give them maximum advantage and they carefully choose only the best equipment, which they farm for constantly, and they chase down every in-game laurel they can find. Their goal is to be so unstoppable that they make a joke out of the game itself and accomplish every goal set before them with the greatest of ease.

Killers are often considered the least pleasant breed of gamers due to their hyper-competitiveness. The desire to win at all costs may lead to some play tactics that aren’t exactly kosher with other players. Spawn killing, glitching, and camping in first person shooters comes to mind. They’ll spend hours exploring each level to find exploits to use to their advantage; maybe a glitched spot on a sheer rock wall that allows them to climb to the top of the level and snipe with impunity or a hiding place where they are practically invisible so they can lie in wait for other players to cross their path for easy kills. They’re the corner trappers in Street Fighter and the ones who choose Sentinel in Marvel vs. Capcom 3. Should you encounter these individuals, they may, on occasion, ask you if you even lift and/or question your sexuality.

To other players, this kind of stuff kills the experience. It’s not FAIR! This sucks! It’s booooooring! THIS ISN’T FUN. The inevitable response: winning is fun. That is to say that Type A measures their success entirely on their ability to come out on top. “Fun” is a buzzword for losers. If you’re going to play, why not play to win? Life is competition where you can be an alpha or a beta. Who chooses beta?

gamer type relationship chartType B does. Sure, you could bust a blood vessel trying to beat the Youtube speed-run record on Grand Theft Auto V. Or you could, you know, have some fun. Go make it rain in the strip club and then start a fight with the bouncers before busting out and leading the cops on a crazed high speed sidewalk chase all the way into the ocean. Grab a parachute, hike to the top of the highest mountain, and enjoy the view all the way down. Put on a monkey mask and go try to punch a shark to death or binge watch Kung Fu Rainbow Lazer Force. With so much fun stuff to do, who gives a crap about accomplishing anything?

Type B subtypes include “socializers” and “explorers”. The latter revel in the freedom to experiment, create, and experience new things. It’s an existence beyond their existence where they can do what they want and be what they want without real world judgments infringing. This whimsical attitude towards both virtual and real life assures they’ll probably never be CEO’s, Senators, or marine drill sergeants, but they enjoy the worlds of fantasy fiction on a whole other level compared to their counterparts.

Socializers are usually pleasant individuals who see multiplayer gaming as a way to meet new people and hang out with friends. The game acts as a virtual medium where they can meet and greet other people like themselves and share a good time. They are consummate teammates, but may not be the most skilled players. The game itself is secondary to the social experience. They may hound you incessantly with invites after friending you.

Type A views a video game as a piece of software to be bent to their will. Type B sees it as a world to be inhabited, explored, and enjoyed to its full potential. Who is right? This is like asking someone the meaning of life. Is achievement more important than enjoyment? Is being the best at something worth it if you’re unhappy or is it better to be a loser who can scrape satisfaction out of the smallest things? It all depends on your perspective.

On one hand, there are people who believe that if they are going to do something, it should be taken seriously and done to the utmost of their ability. On the other are those who seek personal pleasure and fulfillment. Which are the real gamers? Well both, I suppose. Video games are certainly pieces of software often meant to challenge us, and they also often represent imaginative worlds to explore. They are there to be whatever we make of them. There’s arguably no wrong way to go about playing games, only different attitudes and alignments. For example:gamer alignments

Sure, left-brained folk are the ones who really inhabit and appreciate these worlds and some of them have been doing so since they were getting picked on and ridiculed for loving video games in leaner times -often by the same people who now inhabit Call of Duty servers. But gaming is changing. The concept of an e-sport is a pretty new one, and in some ways it signifies the legitimacy of gaming as a pastime. But what it also does is open up competitive gaming to people who only see it as a way to beat other people at things and maybe get paid for it.

The fact of the matter is that more people are playing more games now than ever. Gaming is a business and an industry, it’s a hobby and it’s an obsession, it’s entertainment and art, it’s a lifestyle and a sport and a culture. Whichever aspects are the ones you relate to; gaming is something all types have in common. How you approach it is entirely up to you. All you need to do to be a real gamer is game.

Five Terrifying Moments from the Original Resident Evil

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In 1996 Capcom created a beloved classic gaming franchise that pushed an entire genre into the mainstream and has since crossed over into film to become a true pop culture landmark. The original Resident Evil set a bar for the survival horror genre that I’m not convinced has been cleared yet. It was a game people bought the PlayStation just to play along with established brands like Final Fantasy. This was one of the games that helped cement Sony’s presence as the new king of the console scene.

The original game has since been released as a director’s cut, remade, and ported to nearly every console in existence. From a gameplay standpoint, most gamers can agree that Resident Evil hasn’t really aged well, but for those of us who were there when it revolutionized horror storytelling in gaming and gave us a whole new experience in fear, we’ll always have the memories. Here are the moments that creeped me out so much that I still remember the feeling nearly twenty years later.

Eight arms to hug you with.

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Most creatures on God’s green Earth don’t really scare me much. Lions and tigers and bears are just big kitties and furry critters and I think snakes are cool. But spiders, man. That shit freaks me out. I can’t even be in the same room with one without shaking and twitching uncontrollably. And this from a kid who used to keep pet tarantulas. Yeah, I don’t get it either.

Anyways, I remember the abject horror of playing those early PlayStation games and experiencing (for the time) lifelike threats on my screen for the first time. I went from classic Nintendo to these hairy 8-legged monstrosities who would rear up like a real spider in a threat pose. It chilled me to the bone and induced complete panic the first time I saw it. And the fact that they were clinging to the ceiling and would drop down right next to you made it even more horrifying.

If nothing else, experiencing the giant spiders in Resident Evil prepared me for the HD arachnids infesting Skyrim, which may have caused me a heart-attack if I hadn’t been prepared for it by plying through this PS classics so at least some good came out of almost wetting myself.

Off with her head!

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Resident Evil’s save system was part of what made it so nerve-wracking. You explored the mansion and its grounds scrounging every little thing you could find to survive the onslaught of monsters. You could only save in certain rooms, but on top of that, you needed ink ribbons to activate the typewriter to record your progress. So no save-spamming allowed. You had to use them sparingly.

At some point you get comfortable with the slow-moving zombies and other enemies you learn to kill or skirt around without taking too much damage. Then these goddamn Hunters enter the scene. These bipedal bastards are fast and smart and the want nothing more than to take a flying leap and knock your head off with one swipe.

Potentially hours of in-game progress gone in an instant. With every single bullet a rare prize, and the beasties often coming at you faster than you can even aim shooting them is not always an option so a lot of the time, you run. It really adds a lot to the tension of a horror game when you feel that fighting back isn’t a course of action worth the risk and you aren’t able to save every step. You’ve got something to lose and you are being pursued by a tireless and formidable threat capable of ending you with one well-placed attack. Encountering Hunters was terrifying.

Dark wings, dark words.

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Now this is the meaning of the word suspense. You walk down a hallway lined with paintings and switches. Perched above you is a flock of crows lining the walls, cawing, and watching you expectantly. You need to use the paintings to figure out which order to trigger the switches.

While observing the paintings, one may forget the Hitchcockian predicament your character is in. Well, should you initially fail in your appointed task, the game will very quickly remind you where you are with a flurry of fluttering as your avian audience suddenly swoops in and attacks you, sending you running down the hallway in total panic mode looking for the exit. Well-played, Capcom.

This works not only as an awesome classic horror homage, but it plays with classic game mechanics as well. Generally, one doesn’t expect the background decorations to attack you. The scene creeps you out then gives you something else to occupy your mind, lets you get comfortable, and then springs the trap at the perfect moment if you fail. It’s a beautiful setup.

Duh-dum, duh-dumduhdum

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Spiders aren’t actually the only things that terrify me. I’ve also got a thing about water, specifically sharks. Being in water is a situation where us land-based mammals really exposed, and the idea of large marine predator effortlessly biting us in half while we’re powerless to do anything about it is probably a large part of that.

Naturally, Resident Evil knows this and has the player wade into chest-deep water in an underground section of the mansion to progress. As you make your way down the hallway feeling uneasy about this whole thing, the camera actually switches to show the point of view of some thing swimming beneath the water line. As it rounds the corner your character’s legs come into view. The experience was like a perfect storm of AAAAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!!!!!

The camera returns for you as not just any shark but a zombie shark comes rushing towards you, looking absolutely terrifying. If you’re lucky and aren’t frozen like a deer in toothy headlights, you can escape through a nearby door, but those moments are the sort of things we need to see more of in horror games.

Scritch, scritch, scritch…

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All right, so you’re exploring a mansion full of mutant cannibal zombies, giant carnivorous plants, freaky spiders, sharks, dogs that smash through windows at unexpected times and other unspeakable horrors. Shit happens. But then you enter a room and you hear this scratching sound.

For a long moment, you are desperately trying to locate the source of that sound. There is no possible fucking way that scratching is a good thing. Not in this game. Then you see the mirror in the background and DEAR GOD THERE IS A PARAPLEGIC ZOMBIE CRAWLING TOWARDS YOU.

Now if this were real life, the offending undead monstrosity would be clearly within your field of vision, but this is Resident Evil, baby. Bad third-person camera angles are part of the experience. The room is small, the zombie is faster than you’d think, the controls are not set up as helpfully as you’d like for this situation, and you are now in full headless chicken mode.

One could argue that what made this scene really scary is bad game design, but seeing that the game was designed to freak you out, it’s kind of genius. Those moments between when you hear the mysterious scratching sound, see the reflection in the mirror, and then locate the freakishly crawling zombie are nightmarish.

So yeah, what a scary game, right? Somebody should make a movie out of it! It’d be really scary and awesome and there’d be a thousand zombies and laser beams and Slipknot could be on the soundtrack! Or, you know, it could be terrible and lame and there could be too many zombies, laser beams, Slipknot could be on the soundtrack, and Milla Jovavich’s legs could be the only thing really worth seeing in it. Could happen.

It’s not just recently that gaming is outdoing Hollywood when it comes to putting together immersive stories that draw the player into the world of the game. Resident Evil was doing it way back when in spite of laughable voice acting and pixelated graphics. You’d think anyone adapting it to film would have understood what made scenes like these work and tried to replicate those feelings that made the game such a memorable experience. You’d think.

Resident Evil is the very definition of a classic gaming experience and everyone has their favorite moments. I’ve given you mine. What are yours?

Left 4 Dead: Who’s Ready for Another?

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In 2008, the masters of the first person shooter at Valve gave us a definitive zombie apocalypse game that redefined the concept of cooperative multiplayer. Lacking any cohesive story, meaningful character development, and other storytelling elements that have defined modern gaming, Left 4 Dead was a rare current AAA title that got by entirely on pure gameplay execution and creativity.

A year after the game released, I was still playing it fairly regularly. That is very unusual for any game in this day and age. Left 4 Dead 2 came out at that time and the community responded largely with a collective “WTF”. We were still playing the first game! Why do we need another? Have you not heard of DLC expansions, Valve?

Apparently, the great and powerful Valve took this to heart because now we’re closing in on five years since the sequel came out and four since the last DLC came out and no word on more Left 4 Dead beyond the usual fan rumors. So what is up with this franchise? Why are some of us jonesing so hard for more of it?

What I love about the game is that it’s designed as the kind of thing you can play through a hundred times and have a different experience every time. It doesn’t need a story because you create the story. I’m a guy who loves stories in any medium and I play video games primarily for that reason. RPG’s are totally my thing, and in any other case the idea of buying a multiplayer-only game is a nonstarter.left 4 dead gameplay

Left 4 Dead worked for me completely although it isn’t scripted and is pretty much crappy as a single-player experience. In fact, it combined those two things and twisted them to its advantage. It makes every game an adventure, even after you’ve played through each campaign over and over through the trials of online play paired with an innovative in-game AI. Like the characters in a story, an online player is thrown together with three strangers in a zombie-filled wasteland and must find a way to survive. How it turns out is up to you and your partners.

Yeah, a lot of gamers won’t play with randoms, but those are probably the people who got the least out of the game. Perfect, rehearsed strategies are one way to deal with the unpredictable AI that strategically arranges the enemies in different ways every game depending on your skill level (or luck), but the real joy in the game is in coming together or falling apart as a team of strangers in this often harrowing challenge and the trials, tribulations, triumphs, and betrayals that make up a game. And when you are pitted against another set of players playing as the infected trying to take you out? That is the stuff of multiplayer legend.

Everyone who has put time into Left 4 Dead has stories. Everyone. Just like in any zombie apocalypse story, a campaign has its cast of unique characters and archetypes. There’s that one asshole who charges ahead of everyone else and either gets the rest of the group killed and curses them for sucking when they rush to save him or dies alone and curses the rest of the group for not keeping up with him. There’s the pro who communicates in shorthand and issues orders with military precision that can either bring your team together as a unit or rip it apart depending on whether anyone listens to him. And then there’s the consummate teammate who quietly covers their teammates , heals their wounds with their own items, and selflessly risks themselves to assure that no one is left behind. It’s a new mix and match of personality types every time.

left 4 dead 2 zombiesThis element of cooperating to survive brings about memorable moments that often mirror the sorts of situations you see in The Walking Dead and Romero films. Like those times where three players make it to the safehouse fleeing a horde and the last one gets grabbed by a Smoker at the last instant and dragged away. Do you leave them to their fate, close the door, and save yourselves to settle for a lower score or do you strike back out to face the infected masses and pray you can get them back on their feet and risk dying yourselves? When these things happen spontaneously, they seem so much more urgent than when you are simply playing a scripted sequence of events designed for you to overcome.

Left 4 Dead doesn’t care about being fair or balanced. It’ll drop the axe on you at any time. You may have a fairly standard and uneventful trek to the safehouse full of casual conversation one game, and the next may have everyone shouting at other and screaming for help when two hulking Tanks come down on you just as a hidden Boomer blasts you with bile, attracting a swarm of infected and sending your party skittering in all directions in a half-blind panic shooting everywhere and startling the Witch, effectively wiping your party.

Left 4 Dead 2 added new characters, more objective-based in-game challenges like finding gas to fuel generators or vehicles, melee weapons, and some more infected types to give you fits and nightmares. If it had come out a few years later instead of a matter of months, it would have been gobbled up and treasured, but releasing only months after the first game put it in a weird place where a lot of gamers weren’t ready for another and didn’t end up buying it.

But it’s been more than long enough now. One might argue that the second game pretty much just added to what was already a nearly perfect co-op game and served as the cherry on top of an amazing gaming experience and since it is still available to purchase, we don’t need another. But it’s a new console gen now and a lot of players justifiably don’t want to jump into such an established multiplayer game as newbies among pros. I know I’m rusty and I wouldn’t pay to get back in at this point and probably endure being booted and berated by my peers for not pulling my weight.left 4 dead 2

One of the great things about a new title in an existing franchise is that it works as a reset button for the community. Noobs, intermediates, and veterans are all thrown together in those first few months and that’s when the magic happens. After a few months to a year, a multiplayer game levels out a little and becomes more predictable and populated mostly by hardcore players who often chase out the more pleasant and less skilled players. Left 4 Dead’s focus on cooperation instead of competition made its community a much more interesting place and gave it longer legs to boot, but there are limits.

It may be possible that Valve will choose to make Left 4 Dead 3 (along with third chapters of Half Life, Portal, and Team Fortress) Steam exclusive to try and sell their upcoming Steam Machine, which would explain why they’ve been so coy about information regarding these anticipated titles, but that would be a pretty devastating blow for existing console gamers so let’s hope not.

Whenever and however it comes, I’m really looking forward to diving back into Valve’ undead apocalypse where your fellow players can be your best friend or as much a menace as any infected, depending on the luck of the online draw. I’m looking forward to more pulse-pounding action, nerve-wracking journeys, dual pistol headshots, full-auto spray-and-prays, and Molotov cocktail firestorms. And god DAMN am I looking forward to taking control of some special infected and ruining someone else’s day in whole new ways.

Whatever you’ve got planned, Valve, inquiring minds want to know. Your next batch of games could very well determine which console I buy, and the next Left 4 Dead is going to factor pretty heavily into my choice. The PlayStation faithful have yet to experience the series and although at this point I’m leaning heavily towards that camp I’d hate to jump the gun and buy a PS4 only to have L4D3 announced as another Microsoft exclusive. And if the next round of Valve creations is going to be Steam exclusive, I could even go that way. Whatever happens, I’m dying to see what’s next. Toss us a bone, guys.

Five Legendary Moments of Pure Insanity Brought to Us by Godzilla

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Soon we will all be (hopefully) enjoying the rebirth of an immortal worldwide icon of the silver screen. Gareth Edwards is attempting to do something that hasn’t been done properly since 1954; he’s making Godzilla scary again. The trailers are full of amazing destructive imagery and human emotion. Awe, helplessness, and despair; the spirit of the original Gojira resurrected to retake his place as one of the greatest horrors in cinema history.

The original Japanese film used Godzilla as a fitting metaphor for mankind’s unleashing of the atom bomb. It’s a massive destructive force able to level whole cities that we couldn’t possibly hope to control (although thankfully, we have). It was something bigger than all of us and literally capable of destroying the world. The film was Japan’s catharsis of the horrors wreaked on their populace during the Pacific War, designed to bring to mind not only Hiroshima and Nagasaki but the terrors of America’s devastating firebombings as well. And now a post 9-11 America is finally ready for a proper take on this classic story.

But before we get to that, let’s take a look at some decidedly non-metaphorical and non-scary things that happened between the 1954 classic and the remake sixty years later. Godzilla has run the gamut from fearsome villain to Hulk-like destructive defender of Earth to comical kid-friendly superhero with a baby version of himself and the demeanor of a pro wrestler. This time, we’re focusing on that last one. Here are five completely batshit moments from some of the big G’s kookier outings at his original home of Toho Studios that made me laugh out loud. Kaijuphiles won’t find any surprises, but newbies should have a good time mocking our childhoods. Continue reading

Escape from Tomorrow Takes on Disney and Lives to Tell the Tale

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When the microbudget indie horror film Escape from Tomorrow premiered at Sundance last year, it was declared a film that could not possibly exist; one that in the most literal sense could not possibly have been made. Furthermore, it was believed that one showing was all anybody could ever see of this remarkable project. The star player in this drama too powerful to be defied in the way they were in this film. It was destined to be ground up into dust and scattered to the winds, but somehow it made it all the way to DVD release late last month.

What the hell am I talking about? Well, Escape from Tomorrow represents something that almost never happens in our society: a staggering victory for independent art over the corporate machine that has nearly every law skewed in its favor in addition to limitless resources. And one of the biggest corporate machines of all in popular American culture is the Walt Disney Company.

Film fans have an interesting relationship with the company. We all grew up on the classic films and can agree that there’s no park quite like a Disney park. Our childhoods are so wrapped up in the sights and sounds of this corporate entity that we can’t help but love it. But then there’s always those nagging feelings that we’re being manipulated and fleeced by the most evil and cynical of capitalists. Continue reading

Stronger. Faster. Smarter: Arrow’s Deathstroke is Officially Terrifying

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Translating awesome comic villain to a different medium can be a tricky affair, as I’ve noted before. Sometimes it’s as simple as taking what is in the comic panels and filming it, but usually it’s more challenging than that. What we just accept in comics can be ridiculous and silly in live action if it isn’t done just right. We’ve gotten outstanding versions of classic villains like the Joker and Magneto on the big screen, but live action television hasn’t had a ton of success in that arena. Well, this time they got it dead on; taking an underappreciated DC villain and doing him right.

Arrow has brought in a lot of great villains from the DC Universe, with many borrowed from Gotham, and they’ve almost all been serviceable reinventions. Serviceable, but never outstanding. Well, season two has put an end to that streak by taking Oliver Queen’s partner in crime from his first season island flashbacks and transforming him into what is possibly the most badass villain ever in a comic book show.

Before I get into the how’s and why’s, let’s take a look at Slade Wilson as a character. Deathstroke the Terminator is a mercenary who was first introduced in 1980 where he was set against the Teen Titans. To put this in perspective, Slade has only low-level superhuman abilities gained from supersoldier testing during his stint in the Vietnam War, making him like a lethal Captain America in terms of pure physicals. You’d think this would be a mismatch since the Titans primarily consist of metahumans, but Wilson has a level of tactical intelligence comparable to Batman’s (if not superior) making him a match for just about anything he puts his mind to. He’s one villain even the Dark Knight doesn’t want any part of, and that is a rare find. Continue reading

So Can We Get that Blitzball Game Now, Square?

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Everybody got their copies of the Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster yet? Good. The glorious re-release of one of the flagship games of the PlayStation 2 along with its sequel and bonus materials has no doubt put the same thought back in a lot of people’s heads that they had some thirteen years ago when the original game came out: there should be a game devoted entirely to Blitzball.

FFX is an epic trek across a world following the requisite ragtag crew of misfits as they protect a summoner priestess on her journey to amass enough power to defeat the Godzilla-esque monstrosity that is menacing their civilization. You’d think that would be enough for one video game – or at least the main focus – but there is this other thing about FFX that kind of overshadows the proceedings.

That thing is, of course, the minigame/sport Blitzball which is essentially an aquatic classic-style sports game that plays like an RPG. And good GOD is it addicting. What begins as an optional diversion ends up taking over the game. Instead of looking for treasure chests and shops in towns, you’re scouting for new players to recruit. Instead of pushing desperately to get to that next temple for a new awesome aeon to summon, all you just want is one more league game before you go to bed. Okay, maybe two. Or three. Seriously, last one. Maybe.

And the really funny thing is that this rerelease of a game two generations past is the among best JRPG experiences I’ve had since the original PlayStation. Having skipped out on the PS2 in favor of the Xbox, choosing to get a PS3 instead of a next-gen system has proven a wise decision many times over, and never more so than with this set. But even FINALLY playing a game I’ve waited so very long to play with a great battle system, characters, story, and everything else I love about the genre I’ve instead become consumed by the game within the game.

better play blitzball To paraphrase the sports t-shirts: Blitzball is life, the rest is just details. Defeating Sin can wait. So a few more villages and cities get wrecked and Yuna-chan has to perform a few more sendings to put the dead to rest. Big deal. What really matters is the Besaid Aurochs are at the top of their division, bitches! WOOOOOOOO! Suck it, Luca Goers! Do you even sphere shot, Al-Bhed Psyches?

Sorry about that. My inner jock doesn’t get to come out and play very often.

Is it possible that having such an addicting minigame in a game already packed with greatness could be a bad thing, though? It definitely messes with the players’ priorities in this case. Every save point throughout most of the game tempts the player with the siren song of a “play Blitzball” option, making it a struggle to get through the main story. Who could resist? With a lot of attention and praise being showered on this set I think it’s definitely time for Square Enix to start considering bringing this e-sport to the big time.

I mean, look at the state of Final Fantasy as a franchise this past gen. Failed MMO’s, a trilogy where only a few people really enjoyed the first one and even its defenders weren’t asking for a sequel (much less two); we’ve discussed these things already.Maybe it’s time for Square to step away and let the main series breathe for a while. Instead of flailing away and potentially ruining the quality of the brand name, they need to collect themselves and make the next Final Fantasy game something nobody will be able to deny. And while they gather their creative forces, a full Blitzball title could plug that gap.

Square used to be a company that did more than just epic Final Fantasys. They created a really great distraction within a game that didn’t need any distractions when what they really should have done was create an entirely separate franchise. RPG fans with any proclivity towards sports would flock to buy a Blitzball game. Probably before they’d buy another game with Lightning in it, in fact.

Bblitzball gameplaylitzball is actually a pretty simplistic, shallow, and generally rinky-dink production as it is, but it’s a testament to what a great concept it is that something that was an afterthought to one of the best RPG’s of its generation can actually overshadow the main attraction at times.

I’m sure you’ve already thought of the possibilities, but let’s go through some of them together anyways. You could expand the number and variety of teams to incorporate classic Final Fantasy locales, races, and even characters into the league. You could make a wider variety of skills and class systems to better reflect the talents of the residents of the series. Beyond that, it’d mostly be just a matter of fleshing out and balancing the gameplay a little. Easily done.

Differentiating different characters and classes could add all sorts of cool dynamics to the game. You could have a black mage to set the ball on fire as a dragoon takes the shot. Or a white mage on the field could heal status ailments, and you could include summoners who can expend all of their HP to summon Bahamut to take the ball in his mouth and bust a nigh-unstoppable clutch giga flare shot (for instance).

Obviously, you’d need full stat tracking, direct control over defenders, time outs, mid-period substitutions, more strategies and franchise management with full practice regiments, and other sports game standards. Imagine all of the standard bells and whistles of a premium Western sports title with a Final Fantasy twist. And do I even need to say multiplayer?

final fantasy x blitzball tidusYou know this needs to happen. The only real question is why it hasn’t happened yet. Blitzball was and is a great concept and a simple one to carry off; making a brilliant game out of it seems like a no-brainer, and it would be a lot lower budget than another Final Fantasy game. It’ so much fun as a half-assed minigame it almost hurts to think of how great it could be if they put the work in to make it a full title unto itself.

So why, Square? Why haven’t you done this? You’ve let a lot of fans down these last five years or so, but you’ve just reminded a lot of us why we were fans in the first place with this HD remaster set. Why not let that goodwill ride and give us something so many of us are jonesing for?

We don’t want Final Fantasy XIII-4: Hope’s Big Day Out and Final Fantasy XIII-5: Vanille and Fang Take Manhattan. We want Final Fantasy Blitzball League, but maybe with some crazy Japanese title that involves random buzzwords. Final Fantasy Super Fire Blitzball Rival Attack. Now that’s a game I’d buy a next-gen console to play. Make it happen.