Thursday, August 31, 2006

I love my dead grey console: part 1

As I mentioned earlier, I recently acquired a Dreamcast. I did this for no particular reason: I saw one at Goodwill, it was cherry, it was insanely cheap. I didn't know anything about it, I thought it might be cool. Initially, the purchase kicked my handheld gaming time right in the teeth. I'd just suffered a major setback in my Advance Wars II campaign, so those energies were easily canalized into my new toy.(1)

The second main effect of the Dreamcast was a serious pride of ownership. This wasn't a defensive posture, it's just that I'm thoroughly charmed by the little white box.(2) This seems not uncommon: there's the excellent Dreamcast Junkyard, there's this odd little page...(3) The Dreamcast seems to inspire an affectionate loyalty quite unlike the (hostile, incoherent, fanboyish) outpourings other consoles recieve. Couldn't tell you why. I'll say that when it starts looking around on those GDs, it's so goddamned loud that the machine seems like it's trying really hard to entertain me, and I can't help myself, I just start rooting for it.(4)

The third thing I had to do was find some games to play. I'm happy to use the console to play cds in mono through my tv's tiny, tinny speakers, but games just seemed appropriate. I've had luck with this process, and would now like to present a little Reviewiera feature:
how to build a dreamcast collection.

Step 1.
Get lucky and score a free copy of Soul Calibur. This game will flip your wig, making you realize that those Street Fighter days are over, because all that SF once did, SC does at least as well, adding a bunch besides. One title in, your Dreamcast has already fundamentally altered your gaming tastes! A twelve year long relationship with Street Fighter ended in like four hours of game play...

Step 2.
Pick up Rayman 2 for five bucks. Add it to your collection of high-rated 3d platformers you'll never play again, because the whole genre is foreign, inscrutable, baffling. Hello there, Super Mario 64 DS! Haven't seen you in a while...

Step 3.
Throw in a copy of Space Channel 5, for another lincoln. Every library needs a rhythm game, right? Later on, you'll discover that the rhythm game bit is just a cover story: really the game is an upskirt sim. A damn' fine upskirt sim. Speaking of cosplay porn...(5)

Step 4.
Now you'll want to do some research on the nets, figure out exactly what this Dreamcast thing is about. It's about Junkyards and Planets, mainly... Quickly score Armada, which will turn out to be not exactly what you were looking for. A simple scrolling shooter, or maybe, dare one dream, something a whole lot like Tie Fighter? Nope, a game a lot like Asteroids, where the flying is as hard as the shooting. But there's a lot of ship-customization in an RPG-like way, you'll get to this eventually. It'll justify its ten bucks, no fear.

Step 5.
Hit big with Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver. (Another hamilton!) Spend a couple weeks playing this game a lot, even though you seriously suck. Solve block-moving puzzles! Solve platforming puzzles! Feel bad because you never finished Metroid Prime, which is better than this, even though this is really really good! Reave souls! REAVE SOULS! Give up eventually because there's a monster you can't figure out how to fight.

Step 6.
Watch the opening movie of Resident Evil: Code Veronica. Be wowed. Resolve to play the game sometime, if you can ever figure out how to play the stupid thing and its stupid stupid controls. Three disks for five dollars, shouldn't be hard to get some mileage out of this one.(6)

Step 7.
ZOMBIES! Ah, Zombie Revenge. Nobody understands you. Nobody really likes you, even. Well, Tycho from Penny Arcade is on record as liking you, and so am I. So your controls are a little sloppy; not every game needs to be ridiculously technique-filled. Sure, I love all that in my 2D side-scrollers, along with a nice sense of design, but the only place you get those anymore is on a handheld. On a bigger screen, I'll take some 3D action, nifty textures, well-done scurrying sewer rats, and, oh yeah: a shitload of zombies lining up for bullets in the brain. Looks great, sounds good, and there's all the zombies you could reasonably want to annihilate.

Step 8.
Back to the internet! Score a copy of Shenmue. Be totally into Shenmue. Be, if you will, all about Shenmue. Decide that all modern "sandbox" games with "urban" settings and "crime" stories are hacky ripoffs of Shenmue. Contemplate changing your name to Ryo Hazuki. Ponder Nintendogs, a game that obsessed you for a couple months, and marvel over the kitten in Shenmue, from years before. Get to the second disk, and wonder at the incredible realism of the warehouse district. The game really captures what it feels like to loiter in a warehouse district! Lose some momentum by butchering a couple of save routines. Hit a really annoying stealth mission and fail at it for a couple hours. Give up. Resolve to come back to this game: it'd be embarassing not to finish a title that's in your top 5 all-time.

Step 9.
Ecco! I'd read about this game a bunch. Consensus was: this game is pretty. Playing Soul Calibur, I'd already decided that the 'Cast level of graphics is as good as I'd ever need, so a verdict of "it's pretty", even from 7 years ago, is good enough for me. And five bucks? Yoink!

Sure enough, it's pretty. Beautiful, matter of fact. And there's no doubt about it, it's a game where you play as a dolphin. I mean, you're very much a dolphin in this game. After I'd played for an hour, I had the following exchange with Canada:
Fat: Man, this Ecco thing is cool. You're a dolphin, you swim around, there's a bunch of special moves that all pretty much just make you...frolic.
Canada: ...
Fat: ...I just recruited some other dolphins to help me rescue a baby whale from an underwater landslide.
Canada: What the fuck are you talking about?
Fat: This game, Ecco, Defender of the Future. You play as a dolphin!.
Canada: ...
Fat: Dreamcast game. Launch title.
Canada: Can't hardly see why the system failed, can you?
Fat: (while thinking "people like dolphins, though") I dunno, it seems pretty cool to me.
Canada: Can you breathe underwater?
Fat: ? What? No, of course not. You're a dolphin. You're a mammal, you have to surface to breathe.
Canada: That's lame.

Back downstairs, I began to muse on purchasing some weed, which surely would kick this game to the Next Level.

Or...skip the weed, run upstairs and raid the fridge for a can of whipped cream.


Step 10.
Crazy Taxi. Drop a fiver on a copy of this, beat up, though complete with booklet. Play this for most of an evening, realize you'll never get much better at it, understand that you've already gotten yr fiver's worth. Rejoice! --Between this and dotstream, you'll never need another racing game!

And that's how you build a Dreamcast collection!

(1)An amusing progression, two tex from DDT:
Dude. Advance Wars 2 is the shit! 17jul, 20:35.
Advance Wars 2 is rad. But evil. 21jul, a school night, 00.12. Shockingly late for DDT to be up!

Not long after recieving these tex, a customer of mine wasnted to see my copy of AW2 on his new DS Lite. While he was dicking around with it, I got distracted by the phone. I returned to him and noted the sickly look on his map: "what did you do, Tom?".

"Uh, I think...I think I just..." "Oh fuck no. You didn't just fucking wipe my save file. Fuck. You just wiped my fucking save file."

"Maybe it's still saved on your machine?"

"That's not how portable games work, Tom." Since I'm not totally stoked about replaying the first 20-some hours, I haven't picked up the cart since. I'll probably sell it.

(2)As opposed to my defensive pride in my Gamecube, for example. The customary take on this platform is that it's underpowered, the weakest machine of its generation, which simply wasn't the case. I dunno, maybe people are gentler with the 'Cast because they have fond memories of Sonic or whatever. Whatever, it's the only console that prods people to say things like "There was a lot of unrealized horsepower in the poor, star-crossed little Dreamcast, and it was hard to see it go." (Tycho, from the 2nd Penny Arcade book, p28.)

(3)This has to be a project in somebody's history of design class.

(4)Nobody needs to root for their Xbox, their Playstation. These machines were hits. Somehow the Dreamcast's career is...forlorn. Unloved by the world at large, forgotten by most, considered a failure if it's considered at all. Even a piece about interesting and influential industry failures mentions the 'Cast, without actually pointing out what was interesting or influential about it...

The short version of that answer would be, I think: the Dreamcast was the Xbox without a company able to lose huge money establishing it. Both consoles have libraries dominated by shooters, racing, and sports games, and both were well ahead of the curve in offering an online component. Unfortunately, Sega combined being too early with doing a crappy job on its online component, and had shallow pockets for marketing.

(5)Thank you, UK Resistance.

(6)The voice acting and intro movies in my meagre Dreamcast collection kick the hell out of their counterparts in my rather larger 'Cube library. This is probably just a result of Resident Evil having super-good movies, and LoK:SR having the best voice work I've ever heard in a game. The MDK2 intro is funny and stylish, two attributes few cutscenes ever feature. Just an odd fact.

Loyal solider, devoted companion, beloved VCR...

Back when, I was convinced for a year or two that I should be a filmmaker. With the wisdom of age and relative sobriety I am now reasonably confident that anytime some person says, "I want to be a ____," they will either:

(a) become "___," but be either mediocre or suck at it (the kind of person you say behind their back: "so-and-so should have stuck to being a [housepainter /dogwalker / jivetalker]), or;

(b) become "____," turn out to be really good at it, but make everyone sick to their stomachs because said person is one of those "success stories" we all hate, and they're probably independently weathly anyways, so the degree to which they truly "realized their dream" is questionable, since they clearly had a leg up on the rest of us shlubs in the first place. Ahem.1

Back then, I was so terrible w/ money I never came even remotely close to being able to make the first step: buying a digital camcorder, which were expensive, back then. Times have moved on, & the other day I dropped the $400 to get a digicorder and necessary accessories, mainly for the purpose of digitizing some shit off old VHS tapes.

So I get home and decide to try and find some certain footage. These tapes are, in what seemed like a simple and clever strategy at the time, simple labeled #1, #2, #3, all the way of to #13. There are no other guide as to their content - leaving me with the joy and agony of watching them all one by one. So I throw a tape in the ol' VCR, watch about 5 seconds, realize I should just start with #1 instead, eject the one I'm watching, and put No. 1 in.

Then it happens.

You see, this isn't about the camcorder, or the old VHS collection...

My vcr, the ol' girl, just sort of IDLES DOWN, if you can imagine a vcr doing such a thing. I hit eject and the power button a couple times. More of the same. I panic a bit. Its kind of late and I have an invite to go to the neighbor's birthday party (including free keg!), so I give it a rest and head out.

Next day, I'm brushing my teeth and it hits me: is my vcr dying?

Fat may recall I had a similar scare about three years ago, and was prepared to take the fair lady out to a parking lot, stuff her full of fireworks, douse her in lighter fluid and give her a proper Viking funeral pyre. Then I just got a head-cleaner and she was okey-dokey.

But this is different. This problem sounded... mechanical.

For the record, I received this vcr as a Christmas present in 1995. Yeah, ELEVEN years ago. It was the cheapest vcr on the market at the time, and it still cost $90 (maybe $125, things were different then) - at K-Mart! 'Course, that high price tag, I'd like to think, even if it was the cheapest model, implied, y'know, some investment in parts and labor by the manufacturer, which is why it took 11 years before I was faced the prospect of getting new vcr (for what? $19.99?).

Still, I'm terribly upset by the prospect the ol' girl's given up the ghost. Eleven years! As far as things go, this vcr is antediluvian! I not sure what else I own could sit in that esteemed company. Probably some books. Maybe a CD or two. I think I have a board game or two kicking around that pre-date '95. Still, this detris of my youth, of this vintage, could probably fill two milk crates.

And let's not forget, a vcr, especially one you've owned for 11 years, signifies a lot of movie watching. There's probably not a single genre of film that I didn't start watching on that vcr. I had a tape once of about five episodes of the second season of Futurama that I taped off Fox with that VCR. I taped CGI cut-scenes from playstation games with that vcr!2 I watched Battle Royale and Neon Genesis Evangelion and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the Warriors and Return of the Night of the Living Dead and Zeram and "gray market" Godzilla flix and El Topo and god know what movies I'd seen a billion times before and over and over again on that sweetie.

The next day I get home from work, take the top cover off, kind of poke at the parts, and then, get this, I BLOW ON IT, as if some dust is the problem. And guess what? I hit power and the son of a bitch fires up, ready and rearin' to go!

That's my girl!!!


1 Pardon the butting in of my views about the role of entitlement in this society of ours.
2Come to think about it, I still have that tape of CGI cutscenes (all of 'em from Legend of the Dragoon, then some other stuff. Maybe I'll digitize that!! Yreka!

As Fat's Giant Robot Week lingers on, slowly transforming into Fat's Giant Robot Month, I stumble over Chou Sou Juu Mecha MG on insert credit. It's a giant-robot-war game for the DS, apparently. Transforming giant robots! Fighting around the Eiffel Tower, no less. So, title that rolls off the tongue, possibility of trashing the Eiffel Tower, giant robots with multiple configurations. This one should be hard to fuck up.

The gameplay movie looks only okay, except for the super-rad control interface: on the touchscreen there's levers to move, switches to throw, and the like. If your character's got a giant bow, there's a bow-analogue on the touchscreen, where you've got to pull the string. If your character's got a spinning-blade attack, I suspect, there's a blade you'll have to spin on the touchscreen. Assuming these controls are analog, rather than digital, then this will be worth a strong look.

This title is apparently another step down a long-established manga/anime road: these games will serve to train the next generation of mech pilots, and there will be vast, lengthy tournaments to see who those pilots are likely to be.

As long as those tournaments aren't of Virtual On, at which DDT used to school me mercilessly, I expect I'll be fine.


Thursday, August 24, 2006

I will!!

A couple years back, there blew up on the truth box the genre of robot wars. I was fairly into it, not for the product, but for the future. See, the wars were inevitably dominated by recent engineering-school grads, CalTech/MIT types who'd just gotten decent gigs and their own houses big enough to, y'know, build robots in their garages.

And who were these guys inevitably dominating? Midwestern hobbyists, mainly, of a sort I had thought long-disappeard. Popular Mechanics, Boy's Life kinds of Midwestern hobbyists. Usually it was a father-and-son combo, just a solid family, doing what families do: building remote-controlled minitanks with buzzsaw blades and sharpened stakes. At the end of the battle, you'd always get a priceless shot of the father and son, stunned, staring, holding each other up, their smoking ruin laying in the background while the victorious 'bot...yes, it's actually managing to strut somehow.

This brings me to the future. If I know anything from the comix I've read, it's that agonizing humiliation is the best motivation in the universe. See, right fucking now one of those children is fuming down in his basement, honing his plans, whetting his appetite for revenge and recognition, sharpening another buzzsaw blade, inventing gundaminum. Right now this second one of those boys is pioneering the next generation of doombots. He's transcending battery power and radio control, no doubt, and maxing out the number of hardpoints available for customization of his war machine.

Clearly, the kid will be too busy in the lab to pilot the damn' thing. This is where I come in. The prototype, the production model, whatever, I don't care. Just so I get my time at the controls, showing all the bastards, crushing all lesser foes, and so forth. I have, in this life, oft been wronged. I demand recompense. Only a giant robot can satisfy me.

This is a good start.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

one-oh-oh-one uses, We got the juice to bruise the fuses!!

(continued from The Self-Actualization...)

1. Melo's rep is going to emerge from this in the best shape of its career. Its gonna be the one kicking the sand down at the beach, now, muthafuckas!

2. If Chris Paul's your main PG, then either Arenas has to be a 2 or he's backup and you cut Hinrich. But he's too good to be a backup and there are better 2s… Either way, Gilby got cut. Maybe. Whatever - one way or the other he's not on the squad anymore. He's a fave but I'm not really broken up about him not being on the squad. Why?

3. I'm still sticking with my earlier instinct that the "American" style of basketball lays in the trait of versatility, as in, if you assemble a squad of really good American players, whats their biggest strength? The answer to this inquiry is quintessential, as the coaching adage professes you play to your strengths.1 Really good American players have many strengths. Hence, versatility.

4. The cutting of Gilby, however, has exposed the earlier hypothesis, that American basketball is Kevin Garnett, as FALSE. Garnett is not versatile. Garnett is a virtuoso. He is not merely a "really good ball player," he's a fucking goddamn demigod. Same with LeBron and Kobe. Can't tell for sure yet with Wade. Gilbert might be a late-bloomer half-diety. You might throw Amare in there too. And its not just their games that are quasi-Asgardian, its their gravitas. Put them on a team with at least 11 really good basketball players and they won't know what to do with themselves – Herculean feats are their soul's calling, and Hercules works alone. Seeing as LeBron & Wade are already on this edition of Team USA, and can easily play multiple positions (and given a lack of big men, LeBron's crucial since he can play some four), Gilbert had to go. Its like, Patton and MacArthur were never in the same combat theater for a reason, y'know?

5. Gilbert Arenas in a Patton tank helmet or in MacArthur aviator shades w/ a corncob pipe? Much ink could be spilled over this subject, so I will shelve the issue, for now.

6. Hey, waitaminute! If KG, Kobe, and LeBron are demigods, and Wade, Arenas, Amare are the sleeper unawakened, then how is it that Melo's the Dude on this U.S. Squad? Simple: while the blood celestial courses through the viens of the aforementioned larger-than-life players, transcending this hardwood coil, Carmelo Anthony is, simply, the World's Greatest Basketball Player .


1 My conviction in this adage, and its extension that the "True Way" of good basketball is a team that plays to its strengths (last years Suns were as pure of an example as we may ever see of this…) is deep. This belief apparently lay dormant in the subconscious for many years, until one night Fat and I were both talking about NBA Live teams we liked to run with (me: the crippled Blazers, the Redd-Mason Bucks, the Alston-Bosh Raptors; Fat: the Zarko Cabarkapa Warriors), and it occurred to us we had no interest in running with the, say, 85+ rated teams. Booooooring! For us, perhaps, apothesis of the game was made manifest in short-handed, under-talented team, taking what few strengths it had, and riding that mare into the ground, even if it meant using a committee of six players to generate the illusion of having a decent backup center.

Anyways, if you were to watch us running these teams over our shoulders, it'd probably be like watching the Suns' last year: "how are they winning? They play no defense, have no reliable outside shooting, and half of them can't rebound, pass, or shoot a free throw, yet they're winning division titles and making deep playoff runs." I hung up my coaching controller when I took last year's abysmal Trail Blazers to the Finals for a loss against the Pacers, then the Western Conference Finals for a loss against the Wolves, and final trip to the Finals to beat the Heat in six games after going down 0-2. I think in that playoff run there was a double OT game against Phoenix where the final score was in the high 80s or low 90s, with regulation FIVE MINUTE quarters! Defense? We don't need no stinking defense!!

Monday, August 14, 2006

"the color of a bleached skull, his flesh"

If my sci-fi leanings have a genetic Adam and Eve, then Adam would be Robert Heinlein's1 Starship Troopers, which may be of no surprise. After all, whose skiffy roots aren't? Eve, however, is definitely Michael Moorcock's Elric books.2

Specifically, it’s the second volume in that saga, The Sailor on the Seas of Fate, which I first purchased. I read the second book first because (a) the first book, Elric of Melniboné , was not in stock at the Waldenbooks at the mall of the mid-western town the Tinzeroes' clan was blowing through during the late '80s, and (b) of the available Elric books in stock, The Sailor on the Seas of Fate had the coolest cover.

Of greater significance, however, was that I went to Waldenbooks, and picked those two books out in the first place, because I was already in possession of the Avalon Hill board game versions of those skiffy stalwarts. I'm confident that Starship Troopers was the first to catch my eye at, strangely, the aforementioned mall's Kay-Bee. Additionally, chances are all the Avalon Hill products were on clearance, which explained my mother's willingness to buy them for me.

Like the other Avalon Hill games I came to own (1776, their RPG Powers & Perils, Squad Leader, Freedom in the Galaxy), I "played" Starship Troopers by myself 99% of the time, which mostly involved going through the elaborate starting game set-up procedures of putting a hundred-odd ¾" by ¾" pieces of card board ("chits") on a board divided up into hexagons.3 But man, by Arioch, that Starship Troopers game just straight-up nailed the translation of a sci-fi book into actual board game mechanics. Those boys in Baltimore at Avalon Hill were some mean board game mechanicists.

Since the game's design and mechanics were so completely derived from the text of the book, and included a handful of actual quotes from the book, and since the game and the rulebook so completely infatuated me, buying and reading (repeatedly) the book was not a big conceptual leap.4 The discovery of the Starship Troopers game led me to haphazardly pick out other Avalon Hill titles, of which one of the early ones was the ELRIC board-game.

Just like Troopers, the degree to which the game was absolutely and directly derived from the text of six, count'em, six books boggles the mind a bit.5 Hate to spoil it for you, but the sixth book, Stormbringer, ended with Elric unleashing the End of the World. This had the effect of ending the influence of the petty Gods, preventing them from meddling in the affairs of the universe ever again. Unbelievably, the board game incorporated this element.

Many other specific events from the books were in one way or another represented in the game, which was an odd way to design a board game, really.6 The number of sub-sets of rules which represent the various incidences from the books essentially dictated 'this is Michael Moorcock's world, and we're all just pushing chits around in it.'


P.S. See also, Moorcock's Miscellany.

1Speaking of Heinlein, at the time of this writing, I am terminally stalled mid-way thru Heinlein's buddy E.E. "Doc" Smith's sixth & final book in the Lensman series, Children of the Lens. I mention this since Heinlein and Smith were friends, and Heinlein claims that once he asked Smith to help him buy a car. The two of them took the car for a test drive. Smith drove the car over unimproved roads at high speeds, with the two of them pressing their head against the roof of the car to see if they could hear deficiencies in the car.

2The appropriateness of genetically likening the Elric books to Eve and Starship Troopers to Adam is remarkable. To date, I have only read two other Heinlein books, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and, of course, Stranger in a Strange Land. Heinlein's Friday is still one of the few books I ever started that was so completely unreadable I just stopped after about 50 pages or so. This rather skimpy sampling of Heinlein's collected works makes the Elric books the metaphorical Eve, since I have read many of Moorcock's books. Seven Elric novels, Warlord of the Air, The Land Leviathan, The Dragon in the Sword (still one of the stranger created worlds I've ever read – and Hitler's in there, somehow), pseudo-historical-fantasy-fiction Gloriana, and, of course, his Nebula winner Behold the Man!, wherein Jesus Christ is a stranded time-traveler.
3The singular exception to this rule was the hands-down brilliant game The Mystic Wood, which I'm still pissed I don't have anymore…
4If this was the way, which seems really complicated now, that I became acquainted with sci-fi, and, indirectly, "adult" literature in general, then how the fuck do kids today make their introductions with the craft of reading, if its not spoon-fed to them via family or school? Certainly, my parents and my school(s) never handed me a copy of Heinlein or Smith, much less Moorcock.
5Credit where credits due: California-based Chaosism originally developed Elric, and I suspect many Avalon Hill's products were actually acquired from smaller companies. I find little fault with this since I highly doubt I would have ever found these games in a Kaybee in the middle of the American gulag if not for Avalon Hill. Salut!!
6 For example, Section 2.0 of the ELRIC rulebook read as follows:
THE WORLD OF ELRIC For 10,000 years the mighty Melnibonean Empire ruled the world. It was an inhuman race,. originally peaceful In their ancestra1 homeland of R'lin K'ren A'a. When the gods needed their city as a neutral meeting ground to create a lull in their cosmic strife, the ancient peoples were blessed with great powers and sent into the world. They found their way to the isle of Melnibone, mastered the dragons which lived there and began the building of their empire. Through sorcerous research and experimentation, the earliest emperors established mystical bonds and pacts with the gods and spirits of the planes. Armed with such knowledge and power they gained easy conquest of the known world. Thus secure, they settled into their long rulership; entertaining themselves with all known and several unknown experiences until their centuries filled with jaded dreams. Then the gods moved again, setting cosmic forces into motion. The Young Kingdoms arose, casting off the Melnibonean yoke. Once free, they squabbled about their petty human pursuits. The Melniboneans continued to decline. their dragons slept longer after each battle. and the race drifted into a deeper slumber, like that of the black lotus eaters. Then the Cosmic Balance grew more unstable as the struggle between Law and Chaos became more than philosophical discussion. Nations rose and fell, and ancient monsters and deities again stalked the world. This time of legend and dangerr demanded a new breed of person to confront the grave dangers. Thus began the age of heroes. There were many heroes in those days, but formost among them was Elric. Kinslayer, Red-handed Reaver , the White Wolf were among his names. His saga is powerful and bitter, the story of a man whose life was a curse and whose blessing was evil. EIric was the last of the Melnibonean emperors. As if to personify the decadence of the race, this emperor was born a weak, sickly albino able to remain alive only through the constant use of powerful magics and drugs produced by Melnibonean sorceries. Yet he was stirred to immense curiosity and intellectual vitality amid the slumbering race. This isolated him. He was known as a brooding and alien king by his own people. EIric sought and suffered from mighty magics. Through his knowledge and fate he came to find the mystical sword called Stormbringer. This ancient blade was a tool of the gods, for instead of merely taking the life of a person, it drew the very essence of their sours into its wicked being. Yet this power was useless without one to wield the weapon, and in return for Elric's hand upon the hilt the sword was bound to share its unholy energy with the emperor. Elric, needfu1 of such vitality; accepted the pact. Sword and man became slave to the other. None could tell the master. It was Elric's destiny to be tossed about by Fate and the gods, bandied like a toy, forced Into the most dangerous and foolhardy positions, suffering forever the doom of his sword. Thus he went forth into the Young Kingdoms.
Got all that?! Because there will be a quiz when the game is over!

Sunday, August 06, 2006

I am the red menance and I am at your front door!

Seriously, not nearly enough was made of this story, but it was enough at the time to endear the "Power Twins" to me: Viktor & Sergei. Enough so that in NBALive I gave them matching asymetrical tattoos (a black star on thier forearm) and armbands.

Viktor & Sergei, when CSKA Moscow won the championship.
Check out that cup, you can drink booze from it!

Namely, this tidbit:
“The journalist asked me about the dog, and I decided to play a joke on Sergei,” Khryapa says. “I told him the dog was named Monia, as a diminutive of Monika. I looked in the Internet the next day, and everyone was writing about how I named the dog after Sergei. So I called Sergei and asked if he was OK with it. He said it was fine, and the name stuck.”

Okay, so Viktor's dog is named after Sergei, sorta. But then there's this gem...
The two were virtually inseparable in the Russian capital. They would emerge from the locker rooms after games wearing matching gray sweat suits and would often hang out together at the Starlite Diner, a kitschy American burger joint in central Moscow.

MATCHING grey sweatsuits?! Sadly, Monia has yet to become the NBA equilivent of the KGB super-agent assassin in From Russia With Love, and Viktor's still a ways off from being "smooth yet devastating like moonshine vodka."


Is something for nothing Really a dumb thing? Making swans out of Ugly ducklings.

Jamaal Magloire for Blake, Skinner, and Ha.

As to the latter three I'd put good money on Ha being next in line to move into the Lovable Big Stiffs Retirement Village, right after Pavel Podkolzin's paperwork clears admissions. Skinner is a reliable journeyman, like that 1/2" wrench you have: its nice to have around but you'd rather just carry around you adjustable spanner instead. Blake is the latest local victim of adequate-player-has-decent-year-on-worst-team-in-the-L syndrome, in that his departure is strangely mourned by the local peoples. But hey, nobody mourned the loss of Erick Barkley, did they?

Speaking of the Erick Barkley* Era, Jamaal Magloire's going to be second coming of Kelvin Cato for the Blazers. 'Member when Mike Dunleavy won coach of the year during the '99 lockout season? That Blazer team rocked J.R. Rider and personal-fave Damon Stoudamire (Jimmy Jackson or Rasheed at the 3?, can't remember), but more pertinently ran Sabo at the 5 and Brian "History Greatest Monster" Grant at the 4, and deployed Cato & Rasheed Wallace as subs or put Wallace on the floor with Grant & Sabo at the same time. For the record Sabo's 7'3", Cato & Sheed are 6'11" and B.G.'s 6'9" but played bigger than that.

The Blazers freakin' Injury Manifesto last season hurt enough as it was, but the fact they were limited to one, count 'em, ONE power forward (Nate somehow said in training camp that Ruben Patterson and Darius Miles could play some 4, & in a true show of his devotion to the game, kept a straight face while saying it) in Zach. The tandem of Pryz and Theo looked nice on paper but Theo's a lifetime member of the Injurious Avengers.

Comparative History is inherently and categorically bunk, but basically what I'm trying to say is the Blazers have gone from a laughablely undermanned front court of Pryz & Zach supported by Theo to Pryz & Zach supported by Magloire & Aldridge, and despite the nifty new Streamlineresque rules that govern this League of ours, a solid, tall front court is still money in the motherfucking bank, far as I'm concerned.


*Erick Barkley played two seasons at Christ the King HS in New York with Lamar Odom and Speedy Claxton. His favorite band is the Red Hot Chili Peppers, according to his bio.

Friday, August 04, 2006

did somebody say "zombies"?

It occurred to me the other day that, when it comes to storytelling in videogames, the most successful genre seems to be horror. I want to take up this topic again later, but for now I just want to note that the late, lamented Dreamcast featured a library that really couldn't've been more zombie-infested. Seriously. Practically every game that wasn't a racer, sports game, platformer, or fighter was a horror title with at least a spattering of zombies. Check it:

  • 3 Resident Evil titles
  • House of the Dead 2
  • 2 Alone in the Dark titles
  • Blue Stinger
  • Carrier
  • Illbleed
  • that Evil Dead game
  • Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver (more vampire than zombie, admittedly, but a lot of the lower-level vamps are essentially ghouls and at least zombie-esque)
  • Nightmare Creatures 2 (not just zombies, Rob Zombie!!)
  • Shadow Man
  • Typing of the Dead
  • Zombie Revenge (which, as PA argues, really is a good game that got a ton of misguided reviews).

Had I known that the Dreamcast was essentially a Zombie Adapter for my TV, I would've bought one years ago! As it is, I'm trying (hard!) to get caught up. I've been fairly busy reaving souls and, as mentioned, revenging zombies, and I'll get to Resident Evil in a while. For now, I'm still giggling over a moment from the first cutscene in Legacy of Kain.

Now, I love movies that include the title of the movie as a line of dialogue. I can't figure out why any movie wouldn't do this. So I'm starting off in the game, watching the awesome unfold. I'm a betrayed vampire lord, gotcha, resurrected by an Elder God to take revenge upon all remaining vampires, particularly my betrayer. So far, I'm stoked. The Elder God's got this plummy, rich voice, and he's really putting a lot of juice into the dialogue. Good stuff. Then he sez:

"I need you to go forth and reave souls."

I'm on the couch, going nuts. Glee! The Elder God goes on:

"I need you to become my...soul reaver."

I lose it.

This game is freaking awesome. I'm really hoping that, towards the end, somebody looks at the player character and says something like "Raziel, the Soul Reaver, is truly the Legacy of Kain".


blogging makes you dumb.

0. Introduction.

From the gawping maw of the nets I am made aware of a couple pieces of imbecility.

1. Bill Simmons is an ignorant rich kid.
Some guy points out that Bill Simmons has crappy taste in music. However, dude fails (utterly) to notice that this crappy taste is merely a symptom of Simmons' more general failing: a total lack of knowledge of anything except mainstream pop culture. I'll talk a little first about the mainstream bias in Simmons, then move outside pop for a moment.

Simmons thinks U2, Pearl Jam and Springsteen are the greatest musicians of the rock era, and Randall Monty beats him up for it. Monty points out, quite correctly, that Simmons, given his age and proximity, had a fabulous opportunity to become acquainted with a pair of the greatest underground bands in twenty years: Mission of Burma and the Pixies. Presumably, Monty believes, as I do, that MoB and the Pixies are both substantially better than either U2 or PJ, and at least as good as the best Springsteen. Alas but that Simmons only knew what was on the radio, and lived--and lives--in ignorance...

But Simmons also believes that Rocky and The (fucking) Shawshank Redemption are genuinely great films. Both were giant hits and made noise around Oscar time, but no serious mind could find them works of great art. The only way Simmons' belief is tenable is if it's ensconced in a stout web of unknowing. I suspect both that Simmons has (a) never seen a genuinely great film and (thus) that (b) he hasn't the faintest notion of what a great film might actually be like.* (So if he did stumble over something great, it's as like as not he'd miss its quality.)

We can add to this lack of education in matters of pop Simmons' basic lack of culture more widely. It is not evident that the man has read a single book not about sports, nor is it evident that the man has a single idea about anything other than television, whether the topic be history, art, political economy, or what have you.** Simply put, the man is a failed jock turned class clown, wholly unreliable for any service other than intitially-convincing, surface-level connections drawn between matters of no import.

2. Internet: Zombies are kewl. Contradiction: Christ, you're an idiot.

And then there's this guy, who somehow manages to spill a couple hundred words on zombies, the most promising of topics, without saying a single interesting or novel thing. While I shall leave any serious interrogation of the topic to site zombie expert D. D. T., I will point out that Chris Martin*** in his worthless little piece begins by promising to:

detail just...why games and movies with zombies have become a cornerstone of Americana.

Great! I'm ready! Lemme have it!

It might be because we just love watching and reading about them.

Oh. They're commonplace because they're popular. Nice analysis, Chris. Way to go, buddy. In other news, apples are tasty because they're pleasing to the palate.

3. Conclusion.

Ugh. The only consolation I can offer is this, an entertaining, even thoughtful piece involving the utility and desirability of the humble zombie as a videogame adversary. I'm going outside to play.


* I had a co-worker once who said "I didn't like BladeRunner. I thought it was slow." Okay, well, if you watched the movie, and this is all you have to say, then you're a fucking idiot and I'm not going to talk to you any more.
** He is, for example, as misinformed and ignorant on the topic of race in America as it's possible to be without actually knowing it. That is, everybody alive who's actually more racist than Simmons at least knows that they're a bigot. Simmons is not this self-aware, nor has he been well-educated enough about the world to see this about his writing. How it is that Ralph Wiley (R. I. P.) condescended to engage the man, I shall never know.
*** Isn't "Chris Martin" the singer of Coldplay?

plastic forms of escape part 2: giant robots arise!

Holy hell do I want this.