Category: Games

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Updated Favorite Searches. If there are two essential truths you should always remember, they are these: alan moore still complaining and popeye bad ass. Words to live by, my friends. Words to live by.


Playing: Oh God, you'd think I have ADD or something. Recently I have played Crackdown, Last Story, Xenoblade, Sonic 2 Delta, and Mottzilla's patch for BS Zelda. One of these days I'll probably even share some thoughts on each of them.

Reading: Rule 34 by Charles Stross.

Monument to Consumerism

Took Little Nephew to the mall this evening so he wouldn't go stir-crazy. Cliché as it is, it's true -- by the end of the evening we were tired and he wasn't.

Made for a decent enough shopping trip, too. I found a copy of Crackdown for $3. And then I decided to check an Arizona souvenir shop for hot sauce -- my cousin invited me to breakfast this coming Sunday. It's the anniversary of her father's passing, and he loved to have people over for Sunday breakfast.

I saw a wasabi and habanero sauce and thought, yeah, that says Uncle Jim to me.

I miss the old fella.

Out with my nephew, thinking of my uncle. I guess that's the way the whole durned human comedy keeps perpetuatin' itself, down through the generations, westward the wagons, across the sands o' time until -- aww, look at me, I'm ramblin' again.

Shooting Yourself in the Hoof

You know how a single ill-considered comment can overshadow absolutely everything else you say in an interview?

Well, if you've read the news today you can probably think of a pretty good case-in-point, but that's not what I'm here to talk about today.

Last Thursday I went to a Rifftrax presentation of Manos: The Hands of Fate, which ended with a fan video entitled Take It Easy, Torgo Style which I duly posted here.

The fellow in the video is Rupert Talbot Munch, who runs the site torgolives.com and who is working on an honest-to-God sequel to Manos, featuring as much of the original cast, and their families, as he could find.

The other night I poked around his (turn-of-the-century throwback red-on-black Flash) site and, after a series of dead-end "Coming Soon" links that directed me back to the main page with its autoplay music, eventually ran across a link to a Fangoria interview with Munch.

Now, Munch seems like a neat dude. Clearly he's an über fan; he's got a good costume, a sense of humor, and has shown legitimate dedication in getting the band back together and getting this sequel made. Plus a documentary. Plus...well, this is where everything goes wrong.

And if that wasn't enough, Munch and co. have been busy spiffing up MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE for high definition. "We, the people who represent the original cast and all things MANOS, have been working on the HD restoration for over 14 months," he says. "Recently, some kid who found a print of MANOS at an auction is trying to cash in with the same idea. Myself and Joe Warren do not acknowledge, recognize, or approve of what this kid is doing. In the end, we just ask that the fans hold onto their money and wait for our version. It will include tons of never-before-seen footage, plenty of extras, cast and crew commentary, interviews...plus surprises. And the proceeds will go back to Joe Warren and the MANOS faithful."

Now -- possibly due to how legitimately difficult it is to find the link to this article from the torgolives site -- there are only 5 comments at the bottom of the article. And four of them are eight months old and the fifth is from me. But I do think it's telling that four of them (including mine) are negative responses to that one little paragraph out of the entire article.

Let's back up a bit. The "kid" he's talking about is Ben Solovey, and the restoration project he's talking about is Manos in HD.

Solovey, as Munch notes, got his hands on a work print of Manos and decided to restore it; he wrote about the experience.

Here is a truly independent horror film from the 60′s, a contemporary of 1962′s Carnival of Souls and 1968′s Night of the Living Dead. The main difference being, of course, that those movies came from career filmmakers Herk Harvey and George Romero, who had already made commercials and industrials and knew how a set should be run. Hal Warren, director of Manos, did not have that sort of experience and the deck was truly stacked against him.

[...]

If you yourself have ever been involved in an independent movie, Manos becomes somewhat poignant as you see evidence of the problems that have arisen and have been worked around or willfully ignored. [...] It's all very relatable stuff. And because this is a movie where the artifices of filmmaking are constantly crumbling and being rebuilt, a little shakier every time, it holds a certain fascination to film buffs that places it above worse and more boring films (which there are no shortage of, then or now). Simply put, it's memorable.

[...]

So rather than have Manos fade away as a footnote with only a cruddy video transfer to remember it by, I've resolved to make it a personal project to restore it.

[...]

In addition to making a digital restoration of Manos of sufficient quality to produce a new print or digital projection files, I will be creating a limited run Blu-ray and making the restoration available for repertory screenings. While it remains to be seen if this film is for anything but a niche market, I also feel that if I don't restore it no one else will.

Film restoration is something that too often falls by the wayside in troubled economic times. Though it's doubtful I will change anyone's minds about Manos, I would like to send a message that every film, regardless of the place it holds in movie history, deserves a fair shot to be maintained and presented in the best way possible.

Now does that sound to you like "some kid trying to cash in"?

Because, okay, first of all? If a guy were looking for a get-rich-quick scheme, and he told you he had a plan to release Manos: The Hands of Fate on Blu-Ray...well, look, that's a pretty fucking terrible get-rich-quick scheme, is what I'm getting at.

Yes, Solovey wound up exceeding his Kickstarter goal by some $38,000 -- but he had no idea that was going to happen when he bought the print. Even with the extra money, it's not clear if he's turned a profit or simply put that money back into making the project better than he had originally planned.

Point is, this sounds a lot more like a labor of love, born of a genuine desire to preserve a historical curiosity. And Munch kinda just pissed all over it.

And here's the thing: Manos has a pretty fucking small fanbase. If "fanbase" is even the right word. There is a whole hell of a lot of overlap between Munch's audience and Solovey's audience.

And I can relate to Munch realizing this and being upset -- to him, Solovey is unwelcome, unexpected competition, and threatens not just his bottom line but the exposure of a project that, to him, Joe Warren, and the rest, is also a labor of love.

But dude, one fan dumping on another fan? Very bad form. And incredibly off-putting to the fellow fans who you are trying to convince to buy your product instead of his.

So Mr. Munch, if you're reading this? (Not implausible, really; I'm often surprised by what kind of searches pull this site up.) Here's how I think you should handle it:

"We are aware of Ben Solovey's unofficial restoration project; he is not affiliated with myself, Joe Warren, or the Search for Valley Lodge team. We wish him the best but believe our restored version will be the superior product, as we have access to a higher-quality print, a larger restoration team, and many of the original cast and crew members."

Something like that. Make your case, explain why you think people should buy your version instead of his -- by all means! Nothing wrong with some friendly competition! But don't insult the guy. Don't mock his skill or his motives.

And I also get that Joe Warren may have a sense of ownership over his father's film. That's totally understandable! But the thing is, he doesn't own Manos. Manos belongs to all of us -- and that's not in some fanboy "Star Wars belongs to all of us" sense; Manos is public domain and legally belongs to all of us.

Somebody besides you and Warren wants to restore Manos? He has every right to. Somebody else wants to adapt it as a Zelda 2-style iPhone game? Totally acceptable too. And -- not to put too fine a point on it -- some guys from Minnesota want to put it on a show where a couple of puppets make sarcastic remarks about it? Yeah, that's legal too.

And so while, again, it's totally understandable if Warren has a sense of ownership toward the property, and is miffed when somebody else exploits its public-domain status without his family's blessing -- well, if somebody hadn't exploited its public-domain status without his family's blessing, we wouldn't be having this conversation. If Manos hadn't entered into the public domain and wound up in a box of movies that eventually made their way to Frank Conniff and MST3K, there would be no Manos sequel, no Manos restoration, no Manos documentary -- because nobody would know what the fuck Manos was.

All of this may seem a little harsh, but really, if you ever read this, Mr. Munch, I'd like to repeat that you seem like a cool guy, I love what you're doing, and I look forward to seeing your finished work. I just think you've made a pretty unfortunate misstep on this -- unfortunate enough that it overshadows all the cool stuff you talk about in that interview -- and in the future I'd advise a couple of things:

  1. Remember that Ben Solovey is a fan just like you and me, and just like you and unlike me he has put a whole lot of blood, sweat, and tears into making something lasting out of this silly-ass movie.
  2. And dude, seriously, do something about that website.

It-Girl and the Atomics #1

Haven't picked up this week's comics; still going through the last two weeks' worth.

It-Girl and the Atomics is a mixed bag, but I think I'll be sticking around.

The trouble, I think, is that Allred fans are spoiled. Mike Allred's lines and Laura Allred's colors feel inseparable from their work -- to the point that I was actually disappointed when Darwyn Cooke would do a fill-in on X-Statix! Darwyn Cooke! And I don't even remember Paul Pope doing one! (I am older and wiser now and one of these days should really get all those old issues out, read through them, and give Cooke and Pope the respect they deserve.)

So this is a Madman spinoff that doesn't have Madman in it and -- the cover aside -- is not written, drawn, or inked by Doc, or colored by Laura. Instead, we've got Jamie Rich writing, Mike Norton on art, and Allen Passalaqua on colors. And, well, it's not Allred but it's not bad.

First, to the art. Norton does a pretty solid job -- I'm not familiar with his previous work, and his best bits make me feel like he's referencing Amanda Conner or Jaime Hernandez (and Dr. Flem bears a certain resemblance to Dr. Venture), but you know, if he's copying then he's picked damn fine people to copy, and if he isn't, then it's still a pretty favorable comparison. Plus he seems to know how to draw women with different body types, which is unfortunately a rarity in superhero comics.

And, in this age of muddy digital inking, it bears adding that Norton's inks look really good.

To the writing, well, some of it's really good and some of it's mediocre, but none of it's bad. The real highlight is the dilemma faced by the Skunk, the small-time supervillain who killed It-Girl's sister. This being a superhero comic, she got better -- so his conviction's been overturned and he's out of prison, but the experience scared him straight and he's doing his best to walk the straight and narrow.

So, a couple of great things about that setup: first of all, "criminal tries to reform but finds it's not so easy" is a classic premise for a story; it's an easy conflict to relate to and gives you an underdog to root for. And second, it's a pleasing bit of metacommentary on the nature of superhero comics -- and fits right in to the oddball world Allred has crafted in Snap City.

So that's the high point. The low point is probably a segment early on where It-Girl is playing an online game and, interrupted, complains that she has to save her settings or someone will steal the shoes she just got.

Jamie, that is not how online games work. That doesn't even make sense.

But, you know, that's my biggest gripe about this issue, and that's small potatoes. Really I think the comic is pretty good, and I expect I'll be back for the next one.


Special bonus comics thought: Godzilla: The Half-Century War: Oh, IDW, you had me at "James Stokoe". But you're telling me this is actually Marvels in the Godzilla universe?! This is the best "something I didn't even know I wanted" revelation since Charles Stross crossed James Bond with HP Lovecraft with Office Space.

Xboxin', Part 3

Dragon Age: Origins: Another medieval fantasy RPG influenced by Game of Thrones. To the point that it's about a kingdom that needs to repel a zombie invasion but is too busy fighting amongst itself. Also it spells "sir" with an "e".

Pretty standard plot; you're recruited to an elite fighting force, something goes wrong and you have to pick up the pieces. It's a BioWare game, and the gameplay is like Knights of the Old Republic with Final Fantasy 12's combat support system.

I enjoyed the hell out of it (and the expansion, Awakening, was pretty good too) but never got around to playing the sequel, which I hear is a much different game and which got pretty mixed reviews.

Ghostbusters: The Video Game: As a game it's okay. As a Ghostbusters sequel, it's great. They managed to get basically everyone from the movies except Sigourney Weaver and Rick Moranis back together; it's funny and it makes for a great continuation from the movies.

Do not confuse it with Ghostbusters: Sanctum of Slime. I haven't played that one, but it doesn't have the actors from the movies in it, and from what I've read it's terrible.

Mega Man 9: Another downloadable game. It's a new Mega Man game in the NES style. Think of a game as complexly designed and bitch-ass hard as Mega Man 2 or 3; now think of it with 20 years' more of game design knowledge attached to it. (There's a Mega Man 10, too; it's neat but not as good as 9 and I never did get around to finishing it.)


Also, I've started Gears of War; I haven't gotten far but it seems like a damn decent cover-based third-person shooter. And I got it for under $5 used. I also enjoyed the demos I played of Fez (a puzzle platformer based around rotating a 3D world that you can only move through as a side-scroller) and Pac-Man Championship Edition DX (which is a new Pac-Man game with different maze layouts, slightly different play mechanics, and a whole lot more ghosts -- another retro-style game with a really good modern design sensibility). The neat thing about all the downloadable games on Xbox Live is every single one of them has a demo you can download; given sufficient bandwidth and a hard drive you can try out a few levels of a new game or three every day and enjoy the hell out of just doing that.

Other games I haven't gotten around to playing but hear are good: Dead Rising, Bioshock, Skyrim, The Orange Box, Bayonetta.

I started a thread called Xbox 360 101 over at brontoforum.us; it's full of various recommendations.

So there ya go -- more games than you can shake a stick at and probably more than you can find time to play. That's like 5 years' worth of games for me, even though I just got my Xbox six weeks ago, since I played most of these on PC.

Xboxin', Part 2

The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings -- My favorite game of 2011, though the Xbox version just came out a few months ago and is still pricey. (I saw it on sale for $30 recently; maybe you can find a deal.)

Now, the first game is PC-only, and in fact the whole thing is based on a series of Polish fantasy novels that were only recently published in English. But you don't really need to know all that stuff. Here are the important bits of the backstory:

It's a medieval fantasy setting, of the dystopian sort that's currently vogue. Think Game of Thrones, only even more bleak.

Witchers are mutants who fight monsters. They're all male, they have yellow eyes, age slowly, are immune to disease, can cast a few simple spells, and use various potions to enhance their senses.

Our Hero, Geralt of Rivia, is supposed to be dead, but for some reason he's not. He's got amnesia (and if you're playing an RPG cliché drinking game, drink up) and has recently been caught in the middle of a race war in the city of Vizima. A terrorist organization of elves and dwarves called the Scoia'tel invaded, a Knights Templar-like religious organization called the Order of the Flaming Rose seized control of the city, and ultimately the King of Vizima showed up and managed to regain control. The first game ends with Geralt foiling an assassination attempt on the King, only to discover that the would-be assassin has yellow eyes.

The PC version originally had a steep-ass learning curve (as Penny Arcade put it, "It's not that hard. You just have to use abilities they won't discuss and techniques they haven't entirely taught you via controls they never quite explain.") but I hear the Xbox version fixes that and has a tutorial section that doesn't just throw you in the deep end.

Sonic Generations: The first good Sonic game in a decade. There's a plot involving time travel that causes 2011 Sonic to team up with 1991 Sonic; you play through new versions of levels from previous games (Green Hill from Sonic 1, Chemical Plant from Sonic 2, etc.), and each is split into one 2D level you play as '91 Sonic and one 3D level you play as '11 Sonic. The conceit works really wonderfully; the levels are well-designed, full of nostalgia, and have some good remixes of the old music; there's not much to the plot but it's pretty funny (particularly when 1991 Robotnik meets his future self).

Sonic CD: And speaking of 1990's-vintage Sonic games, they've ported this one to the Xbox as a downloadable title. (BTW, a friend of mine advised me never to buy Microsoft Points directly from Microsoft; they store your credit card online, tie it to a Windows Live/Hotmail/Whatever account, and if one of their affiliate sites gets broken into there goes your credit card information. You're better off buying a Microsoft Points card at GameStop or wherever and then entering it into your Xbox.) A few tweaks here: the game works in 16:9, they've changed the spin-dash to work the way it does in Sonic 2 instead of the original clunky version, you can choose either the Japanese or American version of the soundtrack, and after you beat the game you can replay as Tails.

(I think they've got a bunch of other old Genesis Sonic games for download, but they haven't been updated in any way.)

Xboxin', Part 1

Welp, couldn't think of an entry to write this evening, and I got to thinking -- my brother just got an Xbox (rather like I did), and I was meaning to recommend some games to him. So hey, howzabout a blog post about my favorite Xbox games.

(Actually, I've mostly played the PC versions of these. Because, again -- just got the Xbox.)

Mass Effect -- I haven't played 3 yet, but the first two games are, straight up, my favorite games of the current hardware generation. It's the guys who made Knights of the Old Republic, but it's a new science fiction setting they've cooked up. Humans have begun exploring space and are treated as second-class citizens by the Galactic Council; your character is the first human to be selected for an elite special-ops position. Of course, as these things go, you uncover a threat to all of galactic civilization.

The first game's a not-quite-perfect hybrid of third-person shooter and RPG; it's got a wonky inventory system but is pretty great aside from that. The second game streamlines out all the crap and is more of a pure shooter; on the whole I'd say it's a better game but the first has the better story. I haven't played the third yet; from what I've read it's pretty good but the ending is so bad the company actually released a new ending at fans' insistence.

Batman: Arkham Asylum -- When this game came out it got the Guinness Record for the best-reviewed game of all time. It's easy to see why. It's got a script by Paul Dini and stars Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill. The gameplay is just perfect, and the enemy AI is a great touch; a lot of the fighting is focused on the idea of sneaking around and slowly picking off thugs one-by-one. (You can even hang upside-down from a gargoyle, wait until a guy walks underneath you, and drop down and tie him up.) As you take thugs out the remaining ones get more and more agitated and have different reactions; some start firing randomly into the air, others start traveling in pairs -- the AI's not exactly brilliant but it's a really nice touch. And that's before the game even starts messing with your expectations, playing with what you expect out of the world of Batman and even the mechanics of the game itself.

The sequel, Arkham City, is supposed to be pretty fantastic too, but I haven't gotten around to that one yet.


Guess that'll do for a start. Other stuff for later: Dragon Age, The Witcher 2, Sonic Generations, Sonic CD. And, hell, Ghostbusters. Because it may be mediocre as a game, but as a Ghostbusters sequel, it's pretty great.

Adjust That Score and Play Some More

Xeni Jardin posted this video on BoingBoing. It's a jest.com montage of Phil Moore singing along to the theme music on Nick Arcade.

In the comments section, someone going by Seg links to a Splitsider interview with Moore and the creators of the show, James Bethea and Karim.

On the so-famous-somebody-made-a-montage-of-it song-and-dance silliness, the piece has this to say:

And there’s his rather — at times — goofy antics (which he also told me he can now look back on and laugh about, wondering "what kind of crack was I smoking," explaining to me that he only would so indulge when he felt the kids were freaking out so bad about being on a nationally televised show that if he was weird enough, nothing they could do would embarrass them).

There's some fascinating stuff in there -- I never thought about the logistical challenge of the simple four-directional decision tree for Mikey's movements on the game board. Dragon's Lair was out nearly a decade before Nick Arcade aired, but of course there's a difference between burning LaserDiscs for mass distribution and having one put together especially for an episode of a game show. Or at least there was 20 years ago; you can do all that shit on a phone now.

Other interesting subjects: making sure the girls on the show were comfortable; not realizing Moore was the only African-American game show host on TV at the time; the surprising ease with which they convinced the major publishers to send them games, even betas.

Those betas, of course, have become important to the collector community; most notably, the Sonic 2 prototype, which made its way into the wild some 14 years later. It includes the Hidden Palace Zone, which was teased in magazine previews but didn't make it into the final version of the game (causing, as you might expect, all manner of proto-Internet rumors in its day), and contains a whole lot of leftover material from the original Sonic, proving that Sonic 2 was built on top of the Sonic 1 code.

A silly little show, probably mostly forgotten -- funny how cutting-edge the thing actually was.

(And I don't know about you, but I was singing "Adjust that score and play some more, adjust that score and play some more..." before I pressed Play.)

(Also funny: "Fillmore", by coincidence, is the name of the first area on Act Raiser -- which was featured on Nick Arcade.)

Might Have Beens

It's a little weird to see things like, say, Ian Flynn doing a Sonic/Mega Man crossover for Archie Comics.

Because I wrote that story when I was 11.

(Okay, co-wrote it -- though I expect my collaborative partner would be happy for me to take all the "credit" for myself -- and it was Mega Man X, not the original Mega Man. But still and all...)

Ian Flynn and I were involved in Sonic fandom around the same time -- he went by Ian Potto in those days. I didn't really know him; we posted on different forums, but I remember seeing his name around. But, y'know, now and again it makes me wonder what would have happened if I'd stuck with it.

Per Wikipedia, Ian's about my age, give or take a few months -- but I skipped a grade. I expect I was starting college and Putting Aside Childish Things around the time he was submitting samples to Archie. Now I image laptops and he gets paid to do the shit I used to do for fun.

Which isn't to say I'd really consider writing Sonic comics for Archie to fit my personal definition of "livin' the dream", mind. You know the shit I go on about here, the way DC and Marvel treat their freelancers? Well, they're generous compared to Archie. Archie is like DC and Marvel used to be, before royalties, before creator credits, even, in most cases, before "house style" gave way to letting artists develop their own styles. Archie finally got around to crediting its writers and artists a couple of decades ago -- but if you piss 'em off they still might take your name out of the reprints.

And then there's Sega.

Ken Penders, one of Flynn's predecessors in the Sonic writer's chair, and an artist besides, was always pretty candid with the fans on the restrictions he had to work under. The book was marketed to 8-to-12-year-old boys (as he would constantly remind us), and so its content was inline with some dumb-ass Sega marketing guy's idea of a dopey eight-year-old's idea of a cool fifteen-year-old. Penders drew Sonic looking too depressed? Sega would send Pat Spaziante in to redraw his face to look more generally bored. Penders wrote a bit where Sonic, finding out that Sally wasn't dead after all, kissed her on the mouth? Sega made him change it to a peck on the cheek. Sonic was barely allowed to show an emotion north or south of 'Tude, barely allowed to like girls, and slept in a fucking race car bed.

(Let me stress that these are all real examples.)

So, y'know, it ain't exactly The Prince and the Pauper. I'm not crazy about my "career", and I grant that getting paid to write fan fiction about my favorite video game characters sounds like a pretty sweet deal. But in practice? Well, I wish Potto the best and I'm glad he seems a lot happier doing it than I probably would.

Still Not My Batman

Providing another great example of the Not My Batman point I made the other week: a thread at Robot 6 where, discussing Arkham Asylum, I utter the eight words "it's more violent than I like my Batman" (in-between calling it "a phenomenally good game" -- twice) and multiple people feel the need to condescend to me and tell me I'm wrong and that's how Batman is supposed to be.

It's still just such a weird thing to me -- the idea that it's not enough to prefer one version of Batman over others, but to have to declare it the One True Version. It's not enough to say "Well, I for one have been waiting for a more violent Batman game"; it has to be "Obviously you aren't familiar with the source material; people like me have been waiting a long time for someone to make a game that's closer to the source material." Where "the source material" means "The Dark Knight Returns", because every Batman comic printed prior to 1986 doesn't count, obviously.

I will say one thing, though: not one single person argued with the part where I said "I really can't stand the art style."