Category: Stream of Consciousness

Why I Love The Walking Dead

Break time again. Figure I may as well balance that "why I hate" I'd been meaning to write with a "why I love" I've been meaning to write.

My new favorite comic of the past year is The Walking Dead.

Actually, issue #1 is free online. Go read it.

Did you read it? Okay. You probably have a pretty good idea why I like it. But let me elaborate: the real reason I like it is that, twenty-four issues later, it's still that good. Things keep happening. From a premise that generally fizzles by the end of an hour-and-a-half movie, we've got a series that's still interesting after over two years.

I think the appeal is that we're looking at a microcosm of life. In this tiny community of characters, we see characters become close and then drift apart, families torn asunder, and a hero forced to keep the group together who finally starts to buckle under the strain. And we see all this happen at breakneck speed -- what we're seeing is life in fast motion, spurred on by the characters' knowledge that they could die at any moment.

It's easily the best zombie story I've ever seen, but the zombies themselves are incidental -- this story could take place on a deserted island, in an Orwellian dystopia, on a hostile planet, in a post-apocalyptic wasteland (well, I guess that last one isn't so far off) -- in any setting where a tiny group tries to fight seemingly impossible odds just to survive one day to the next.

My uncle suggested that the draw of zombie stories is people's desire to see a story broken down into us-versus-them tribalism. I think that's a big part of it, but I think it's bigger than that: it's life distilled down to its component parts, people growing and changing and coming together and breaking apart, all sped up by the fear of imminent death.

And that's why The Walking Dead is my favorite comic right now. Some other comics I'm reading:

Transformers. I'm ambivalent about this one. On the one hand, it's nice seeing more G1; on the other, Jesus Christ how many times are we going to have to sit through the origin story?! By my count, there are already 5 different damn Transformers universes (G1 cartoon, Marvel comic, Dreamwave comic, Robots in Disguise, Armada/Energon/Cybertron) in the US -- I'm not even going to get into the various Japanese series that never made it over here -- and a sixth on the way in the upcoming (ugh) Michael Bay movie. Why do we need another one?

Don't get me wrong, the new comic's solid so far, but...why do it like this? Why start from scratch yet again? Why not do something that adds to the universe -- more War Within-era prequels, some stories set in-between G1 and Beast Wars, or even after Beast Machines? (Preferably some post-BM stories that are published by a company that has some sort of distribution besides ordering online and won't get its license revoked after four issues.)

Batman and the Monster-Men. Matt Wagner tells a good, solid year-two story (much better than, oh, say, Year Two), and examines a turning point in Batman's career: thinking he's finally got crime in Gotham on the run, he realizes he's instead created an arms race: he may have taken care of the petty thugs, but now he has mad scientists and supervillains to deal with. Add the fact that this is adapted from an original 1940 Kane/Finger story and you've got some serious fan service. Plus I just like Hugo Strange and don't think he gets enough play -- he is, after all, the original member of Batman's rogues' gallery, predating both Joker and Catwoman by a few months. That and I just dig Wagner's art.

Batman has always been one of my favorite characters, and always a book I simply can't stand to read. The character's been handled poorly for the past twenty years. But it seems that we're in a serious turnaround now, and with Morrison and Dini taking over his two books soon, I'm going to have to start picking them up.

Speaking of Morrison, good Lord that guy writes a lot of comics these days. Seven Soldiers has been fantastic, as has All-Star Superman.

Ellis has been putting out a hell of a lot of books too, and for somebody who hates superheroes, he doesn't seem to write much else these days. Iron Man: Extremis has been a great book, and I particularly liked the retelling of the origin in the most recent issue -- the original Iron Man armor is my favorite; it just looks like such a godawful burden to wear. And that was a vital part of the original character: Tony wore the suit to stay alive, not because he set out to be a hero. The reluctant hero theme in the early sixties was vital to ushering in the Marvel Age: Spider-Man was just trying to pay the rent, the Hulk and the Thing were desperate to cure their conditions, and Iron Man put the suit on because he had shrapnel lodged in his heart.

Tony's new nano-armor is a great arc-ending concept, but I'm not really looking forward to seeing it in-continuity. Hopefully it, like the Spider Armor, is done away with by the end of Civil War.

Dead Girl: I was a huge X-Statix fan from the get-go, and disappointed to see the book go (I blame the editors for not just letting the creatives run with the Princess Di story; I think any reader would agree that was the jump-the-shark point of the series). So it's great to see the team back again, and with the high-concept twist of exploring the very nature of comic book death. Dr. Strange is the perfect vehicle for this story, I'm wracking my brain trying to figure out who the Pitiful One could be, and the art is gorgeous -- I was worried when I heard Allred wouldn't be doing the pencils, but honestly with him doing the inks I can't tell the difference.

I've also been digging the comic adaptation of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, and it finally hit me last night that the protagonist is a dead ringer for Arthur Dent. As Gaiman is a well-known Adams fan (even wrote a book about him), there's no way this is coincidence.

Looking forward to work from Busiek (Superman, Aquaman, Marvels 2, and of course Astro City) and wondering what Priest is up to these days.

Oh, and Superman/Batman punked out: the guy in the Batman Beyond costume is Tim, not Terry. Booooo.

Seems like I must be forgetting something, but damned if I can think what it is right now. Well, I'm sure this won't be my last post on the subject of comics.

Why I Hate Richard Bannister

Break time at work; figure I may as well work on the ol' blog and some of the backlog of entries I've been meaning to write.

As previously chronicled, I picked up a Mac Mini for cheap at my old job and have been setting it up as an emulation box.

The first thing that struck me about Mac emulation is the prevalence of nagware and crippleware in the Mac software scene.

I mean, as a Linux boy I don't see a hell of a lot of shareware in the first place, but it seems to me that obnoxious, crippled software is much more common on Macs than even under Windows. Perhaps it's a simple Apple culture thing -- after all, the damn OS comes bundled with a nagware, crippleware version of Quicktime.

And in the Apple emulation community, one name keeps appearing, one name synonymous with obnoxious Mac emulators: Richard Bannister.

Bannister has a near-monopoly on the Mac emulation scene. Via zophar.net's Mac section, he has 2 out of the 3 Atari 800/5200 emulators, 2 of the 4 NES emulators, 1 of the 2 GBA emulators, both Genesis emulators, and the only SMS/GameGear, Game Boy (original/Color), TurboGrafx, NeoGeo Pocket, WonderSwan, Virtual Boy, Odyssey, and ColecoVision emulators listed for OSX to his name, and this isn't even a complete list of his catalog (which also includes an SNES emulator which you need a G5 to run for Christ only knows what reason).

How is he so prolific? Well, for starters, all these different emulators have a common library for support of such basic functionality as fullscreen and gamepad support, as well as video and sound filters and, if you're lucky, netplay.

The fun part is that this library is nagware and requires $25 to register.

Twenty-five dollars.

Bannister defends this price with the absurd rationalization that video games usually cost around $50. Of course, those of us whose ability to come up with analogies is not completely broken have probably noticed that if they're NES or Genesis games they goddamnwell don't. (Maybe Bubble Bobble and Dragon Warrior 4.) He also points out that "basic functionality" is a subjective term, though the mere fact that it's in his FAQ sort of indicates a significant number of people consider it to include fullscreen and gamepad support.

He also planned, at one point, to copy-protect the library using stealth spyware; the fact that he never got around to implementing this measure doesn't make up for the fact that he is totally unapologetic about it. (Well, all right, he apologizes for the confusion, and says that in the future he'll consider the possibility that maybe his users don't want to be spied on and treated like criminals. But he still stops short of a real apology.)

In the same thread, Bannister revives his "gamepads and fullscreen aren't basic functionality" argument, and when a poster suggests that a reasonable rubric for basic functionality is anything enabled in the console itself, Bannister shoots back that then his Game Boy emulators should only display in a tiny space. Which I suppose might make some sort of vague sense if not for the existence of the Game Boy Player.

Bannister's defenders deride his critics as "a few malcontents [who] demand everything for free". Now, why would people expect free emulators? Because on every single other OS, that's exactly what we get. Windows hasn't had a prominent shareware emulator since Bleem, and no prominent shareware emulator for a legacy console since iNES, which, if you'll recall, got its ass handed to it by the superior-in-every-way-and-also-free Nesticle, which many people consider the gold standard in emulation even today. And try releasing a shareware emulator for Linux or one of the non-Mac BSD's -- you'll be laughed out of town. Bannister is holding the Mac emulation scene for ransom -- something he would never get away with on any other OS.

Which brings us to the other reason he's so prolific: the vast majority of these projects aren't originally his. They're GPL'ed. For those who don't know, the GPL is a free/open-source license which requires any derivative works of code covered under it to themselves be released under it. But Bannister doesn't release his code under the GPL; instead, he gets permission from the copyright holders to release it under his own closed license. As he is quick to point out, since he's getting a specific exemption from the copyright holders and circumventing the GPL, this is not a violation of the license and is perfectly legal -- it's just unethical and generally slimy. Again, try pulling that in the Linux world and see how far it gets you. The only reason he gets away with it in the Mac community is that he's the only game in town. He's building his work on source which other people have released for free, but heaven forfend he himself do the same. I'm sorry, what was that about malcontents who demand everything for free? If Bannister's not going to pay his dues for reaping the benefits of GPL'ed code, he should quit whining about people who don't compensate him for his work.

I haven't tried to talk to Bannister. I haven't discussed any of this with him. Why bother? I've seen his forum posts. I know how he'd respond. Poor logic, absurd analogies, and a self-righteous sense of entitlement -- coincidentally all the same things he accuses his detractors of. I can't change his mind. But I can choose not to download any emulator with his name on it, let alone give him $25 for the privilege of playing Sonic and Knuckles. I already paid for that game.

So busy the only thing I have time to do is update my blog...

It's been an odd month.

January 16th I woke up with an absolutely awful cough and took four days off from work over it. (It's gotten much better but still hasn't gone away entirely.) Had terrifying NyQuil dreams, and found myself much too lightheaded and muddled to make any significant progress for...

My NWN mod. That's what I spent almost all my free time on the following week.

Then on the 30th, I started a new job. It's 45 minutes away from my grandparents' house, and the commute has been absolutely awful. Fortunately, I've found an apartment; unfortunately, it won't be open until sometime next week.

Meantime, I've been shopping for amenities like a new, more lightweight and higher-def TV and a stand to put it on. Amid questions like "how can a TV be 1024x768 and 16x9?" (answer: plasma TV's have rectangular pixels. Weird.), I've taken trips to exciting new places like Ikea and that Fry's off of Thunderbird where there's that big giant "Fry's Electronics" sign right on the freeway, and if you pull off you find that the sign is actually adjacent to a Best Buy and Fry's itself is a quarter-mile away. This actually corresponds rather nicely to the experience of attempting to find anything at Fry's, although the people we stopped to ask for directions were much more useful than the average Fry's employee.

Also, this particular Fry's has an ass-ugly Aztec motif for some reason.

Moving back to that part about the apartment opening sometime next week, I'd really hoped it'd be ready by Friday so I'd have the weekend to move in. Under the circumstances, I think I'll grab a mattress, a toothbrush, my bike, my DS, a few days' worth of clothes, the remote control, these matches, and this paddle-ball game, move those in, and worry about the rest of my shit the following weekend.

Also I can probably bring in my recordings of the last few weeks' worth of The Daily Show, which I've missed because I've been so damn busy, and watch them on the bigscreen TV in the lobby.


Reading: The Lays of Beleriand, by JRR Tolkien. Because I just can't read enough different versions of the story of Turin, or Beren and Luthien!

Looking for some good wireless, Mac-compatible controllers.

I've managed to get a good range of emulators up and running, most notably MAME.

(Tangent: the wonderful thing about Bittorrent is that it's made so many things so much easier to find and download online. The bad thing is that they're now much harder to find individually; I was looking for a copy of Altered Beast and wound up downloading an entire 13GB torrent of every single MAME ROM. Fortunately, the download went screamin' fast and only took about a day; unfortunately, 2/3 of it is redundant -- generally speaking, every game comes in US, Japanese, and World versions, and many have multiple revisions -- and quite a few won't run at all. I guess there are tools which will only download specified files from a torrent rather than the whole thing; if anyone can recommend a good one for Mac, please drop me a line.)

And now we come to controllers. I've been using my good ol' PS2/USB adapter for years and it has served me well; however, I now have an abundance of 4-player games I can play through Sixtyforce and MAME. So that means I need more controllers.

I've already picked up a Logitech Cordless Rumblepad 2, and it's proven thus far to be a fantastic damn controller. I'm currently scanning eBay for one of the original Cordless Rumblepads with the six face buttons, which I'd like for Genesis emulation and Street Fighter. (I'd also like someone besides Richard Bannister to release a Genesis emulator for Mac, as I hate him. But that's a Stream for another day.)

So that leaves one more controller I need to get. (Two, if I decide to go completely wireless, which I would like to do eventually -- a TV, a DVR, 4 game consoles -- I've got my GameCube, Dreamcast, NES, and PS2 currently connected --, and 3 computers make for a godawful jungle of wires that I would really, really like to thin out. Four if I go completely nuts and want to do a full 6-player game of the original X-Men arcade game -- vastly overkill in the vast majority of situations, but there were definitely times in college when there were four people playing a game and at least two waiting to play winner.) And I'm looking for suggestions. For all this MAME stuff, I think it'd be cool to get an arcade-style joystick: something wireless and in the $30 range; those $100 X-Arcade affairs are gorgeous but just a little bit too much for me, plus, jungle of wires.

It would appear that Pelican has a wireless arcade-style joystick out for around $30, but I can't find any reviews anywhere for it and I'm not about to buy one until I do. Pelican seems like a decent enough company, though; I spent today playing Dragon Quest 8 with one of their wireless controllers and it seems pretty solid, though a bit mushy in places -- I frequently find myself hitting Up or Down on the D-pad when I mean to hit Right. (Aside: I did not buy this controller and have no idea where it came from; it just showed up at my grandparents' house one day. My pet theory is that, like all the dishes, pots and pans, and silverware I owned in college, somebody left it at one of their rental houses when moving out.)

Anyhow, if you know of a good wireless arcade controller, or any kind of good wireless controller, have some general thoughts on Mac emulation, or just want to talk about how much you hate Richard Bannister, E-Mail me.