Friday, March 28, 2008

The Mist (Novella and Film - Part III)

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0884328/trivia

What I liked about The Mist:

* Frank Darabont kept most of the dialog from the novella and the changes he makes are mostly to modernize the story and to clean up some of Stephen King’s dialog. Personally, I like King’s dialog...as long as it stays on the page.

* Man, what a cast. Thomas Jane fills the shoes of the Stephen King everyman perfectly. Marcia Gay Harden wouldn’t have been my first choice, because she isn’t suitably “over the top” – but that’s exactly what makes her Mrs. Carmody work. In the smaller parts, Darabont fills the ranks with solid character actors. Most notably William Sadler, whose performance as Death in Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey I hold in the same esteem as Brando's in The Godfather.

* As a director, Darabont’s biggest success in The Mist is with the longer dialog scenes. He does a tremendous job of keeping characters that don’t have dialog in the frame. The inside of the grocery store seems like a real community, thanks to some small bit of business in the background or a judiciously placed reaction shot. Only a few filmmakers making movies today are better than Frank Darabont at remembering that people talking – just talking – can be just as captivating as CGI monsters and gore effects.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Mist (Novella and Film - Part II)

http://www.avclub.com/content/blog/book_vs_film_the_mist

What I didn’t like about The Mist:

* Frank Darabont removes all the ambiguity from the story – the reason why the novella was so creepy and lingered in fans’ imaginations for years. He doesn’t do a bad job filling in the blanks – but it’s all unnecessary, robbing the story of much of its power.

* Darabont, probably afraid of having The Mist called slow after The Green Mile and The Majestic, overcompensates and rushes through the first act when more time was needed to properly set up the characters and the Arrowhead Project. A slow, suspenseful build, that took time to develop characters and atmosphere, would have yielded a much scarier payoff.

* Shaky camera with tons of pans and zooms + long dialog scenes = weird pacing.

* The ending. Didn’t like it. Not for its bleakness – though, after reading the last word of King’s story, “hope,” I did just that. It’s one of the possible endings suggested in the novella, but it’s too rushed to be moving or believable. These characters aren’t traditional movie heroes – but they are fighters. I can’t believe they would give up so quickly, simply saying: “Well, shit, we’re out of gas… Hey, we still got that gun?”

The Mist (Novella and Film - Part I)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mist

* Spoiler rich, this rant is. *

The Mist isn’t just one of my favorite Stephen King stories. It’s one of my favorite stories in any medium, ever. Set in an average grocery store (brilliant, that is – only topped by the mall in George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead), King’s tale of horror and survival – both from external supernatural terrors trying to get in and the collapse of rational thought and common decency from the survivors trapped within the store – has stayed with me and influenced me like few other stories ever have. I’ve waited over fifteen years to see it turned into a film. And before I saw the finished result, I didn't think there was a better person to adapt the story than Frank Darabont.

I was surprised and disappointed with the end result. The Mist isn’t a bad film, just not the one I would've made with the source material. I highly recommend it to fans who love horror films from the 50’s and 60’s, who love interesting stories that are actually about something with well-written characters played by talented character actors.

Darabont makes one enormous blunder that truly surprises me, since he’s so attuned to what makes Stephen King’s stories work: he removes all of the novella's ambiguity...

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

South Park Studios

http://www.southparkstudios.com/

This, my friends, is totally rad.

There’s only one other long-running show that I know which legally has every episode free on-line: Lost. Even back in 1997, when South Park was on the cover of every magazine and every kid had a Cartman tee-shirt, it wasn’t hard to find a website with rips of all the episodes. In fact, if I remember right, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, a little younger, smarter, and hipper than their TV contemporaries, publicly endorsed these sites.

They were smart enough to know that people like me, who acquired the first few episodes through extra-legal means (one of the few times I’ve ever done this – seriously) would start tuning into the show on Comedy Central once they were out of shitty Real Player rips and/or start buying the merchandise. Hopefully, if this is successful, more shows will hop on the bandwagon and copy Parker and Stone’s tactic to combat illegal downloading – and, of course, make a tidy little profit, but, hey, it’s theirs and they deserve it.

Either way, further proof that these guys rock.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Rainbow Six: Vegas 2 (Story Mode)


Finished the story mode. The gameplay stays strong throughout, but the story fizzles out quickly in the standard Ubisoft/Tom Clancy fashion. As much as I’ve enjoyed the Rainbow Six and Splinter Cell series, they’ve never been able to sustain a solid, involving story. True, I’m not playing Vegas 2 for its story, I’m playing it because those tangos aren’t going to take themselves down…but, story-wise, there’s the potential there for so much more.

Having only one act out of seven take place after the original game is an odd decision, and the story's end is abrupt and anticlimactic. Before the game was announced, I assumed that the sequel wouldn't even take place in Las Vegas, with Ubisoft moving the story to another picturesque city – I was thinking Tokyo, the only city that could possibly out-neon Las Vegas, which I would’ve preferred over just revisiting previous events from a different angle.

And it was pretty hard to give a shit about Nowak, the main villain. I couldn’t even muster the energy to mildly dislike him: turns out he was always a whiny douche, who just grew whinier and douchier with time.

Eh.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life

http://www.amazon.com/Born-Standing-Up-Comics-Life/dp/1416553649/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1206401597&sr=8-1

I read Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life in two sittings, and from start to finish I was, as always, in silent, appreciative awe of Steve Martin. He is, without a doubt, one of America’s most gifted talents, not only for his obvious skills with the funny, but, as shown in Born Standing Up, with the way he can move you with his frank, gentle, and sentimental (in a good way – yes, it can be done) insight into his personal relationships and his distaste for stardom during his years in stand-up.

The last fifteen pages contain some of the most moving prose I’ve read in a long while. And, of course, I laughed my ass off.

Enough said.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Searchers and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0056217/

Hard to believe, but The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is only the second John Ford and John Wayne film I’ve ever seen. My first experience with both men was The Searchers. I know why people dig the film, but I couldn’t get into it. It was the wrong John Wayne movie to start with, since he plays such an ass in the film (the closest modern approximation I can think of is having Road to Perdition be your first Tom Hanks film), and I really fucking hate white guys in red makeup playing Native Americans. Pisses me off something fearsome.

After watching Liberty Valance, I can see why he was such an icon – though I’ll still take Clint Eastwood over Wayne, any day. Pairing him up with Jimmy Stewart shouldn’t work, but both men bring out the best in the other, and I can’t think of two men who could better personify the opposing arguments found in the film.

I should go back to The Searchers again and give it another try – hopefully, I’ll dig it this time. Between not liking it and Citizen Kane, I’m surprised those AFI jerks haven’t come breaking down my door with torches and pitchforks.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Rainbow Six: Vegas 2 (Not So Early Thoughts)

http://www.gamespot.com/features/6187921/index.html

* Shotguns are still ridiculously overpowered, especially over long distances, one of the bigger complaints from the original game. Playing a Terrorist Hunt online this morning, my entire team and I were killed from half a football field away by a flanking solider wielding a Spas 12. Insult to injury: this was on realistic difficulty.

* Finished the convention center last night in story mode. I can’t put my finger on what exactly makes this game’s story mode more enjoyable than its predecessor, but I’m loving the hell out of it. If it wasn’t for the co-op story mode, I don’t think I would have played through the first game twice – not that the campaign was bad, but just full of enough frustrating moments to discourage me from playing it again. This time, I’m doing the co-op first, then playing through those same levels again to try out different tactics with my A.I. squad…

* …who seem much improved this time around. I trust them enough now to order them ahead to take point, without fearing they’ll just “red shirt” it up a notch, doing me no good except to notify that the threat ahead is serious.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Weekend Plans of the Nerd Kind (March 21st - March 23rd)


TV and MOVIES:
None. See below.

GAMES:
Vegas 2, baby. Vegas 2.

BOOKS: None. See above.

Rainbow Six: Vegas 2 (Early Thoughts)

http://www.gamespot.com/xbox360/action/rainbowsixvegas2/review.html

I’m surprised by some of the reviews for Vegas 2, especially those that claim it’s just “more of the same.” It's true, but it’s “more of the same” refined and improved in almost every way. After spending ten hours or so with the game, I can’t imagine going back to the first Vegas and not finding it woefully inferior to its sequel.

Some early thoughts:

* The best RPG mechanics in a shooter yet, better even than Call of Duty 4. Having a single custom character for both single-player and multiplayer is a stroke of genius, especially now that you earn XP in the single-player modes, giving new players a chance to get down the Vegas gameplay and level up some without receiving a radical anal reconstruction by experienced players online.

* Thank God Ubisoft fixed the XP rewards on Attack & Defend matches, my biggest gripe with the first game. There’s no longer an additional reward for stretching out a match to twenty minutes, even if victory was decided in the first two minutes. I never understood why the attackers didn’t get more XP for capturing the intel expediently, instead of hanging out with it by the helipad for fifteen minutes like a bunch of dicks.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Exorcist III (Part II)

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0099528/trivia

Later that same rant

…and the film is a mess, though William Peter Blatty deserves little of the blame. As a writer turned director, Blatty is a surprisingly effective filmmaker, though his reach exceeds his grasp in a few places, especially in the dream sequence, which would’ve been unintentionally hilarious even without Fabio’s cameo as a hunky, slightly confused looking angel.

If I were to make a guess, most of the last hour is comprised of the new footage re-written and re-shot by other filmmakers, despite Blatty’s protests, full of the cheap theatrics that Blatty avoided for the first half of the film. Very little of this last hour is in anyway scary, nor does it make much sense.

But, man, that first hour. Blatty leaves the violence off screen, knowing what we don’t see is far scarier than what we do see, and the tension builds slowly and steadily. The film contains two of the creepiest scenes committed to film: Kinderman’s viewing of Father Dyer’s murdered body and the hospital hallway scene. It’s a shame that the original footage was lost before Morgan Creek knew they could double-dip with DVD releases, because Blatty’s cut might have been one of the most terrifying movies ever made, rivaling even the original Exorcist.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Exorcist III (Part I)

The Exorcist III scared the shit out of me as a kid. I was 11 or 12 at the time, staying up late and watching it on HBO after my parents went to sleep, so they wouldn’t know. I think the excitement of an “R” rated movie (a big deal to an eleven year-old – especially when it’s verboten by your folks) mingled with the more terrifying elements of William Peter Blatty’s film, ‘cause I had nightmares for days. And in those following days, as I tried not to fall asleep to avoid the nightmares that would soon envelop me, I both regretted watching the film and was in appreciative awe of the power it had – that any film could have.
 
I only watched the film once and never thought of it much after that, besides occasionally noticing it in a bargain bin at Best Buy or seeing a few minutes of it when it's the late late movie on one of the networks, a pretty solid guarantee that the movie was crap.
 
Last week, it came into work, and I thought, Why not give it another try? I waited till the middle of the night, after my wife went to sleep, and put the DVD into my Xbox...

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Rainbow Six: Vegas 2 (A Preemptive Apology)

http://www.gamerankings.com/htmlpages2/944073.asp

Barring any fiascos with Gamestop today, I’ll be coming home with a copy of Rainbow Six: Vegas 2 in my shaky, clammy little nerd hands. I don’t necessarily expect problems with my pre-order, but this is the first time I’ve ever pre-ordered a game, and our local Gamestop can be quite insidious with their incompetence.

Anyway, before I pick up the game, I want to get something out of the way. Partly to the random strangers I’ll play with on Live, mostly to the people on my friends list. I have been playing almost nothing but Team Fortress 2 and Call of Duty 4 for the last few months on the 360, and I'm used to their control schemes. If, like the previous installment of Vegas, “throw grenade” is bound to the B button (the very last button I’d bind it to), and if friendly fire is on, then there is a very high likelihood that hilarity – and terrible, bloody carnage – will ensue from accidental, wayward grenade tosses on my part, due to pushing the B button with the intent to reload or crouch.

So, I’m sorry in advance that I blew you up. The controls will soon be old hat. Promise.

Until then, I’d stand behind me.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Team Fortress 2 (Xbox 360 Update - March 1st)

http://www.joystiq.com/2008/03/03/team-fortress-2-for-xbox-360-patched-no-class-changes/

I can't believe this got past me: I didn’t even find out about it until yesterday. It makes me feel a bit stupid, since I wrote this just a few days after Team Fortress 2 received an update on the 360. It's not a complete fix of the networking problems, but it's a decided improvement. I've played around ten full matches – all with sixteen players, the maximum on the 360 – and only two suffered from noticeable lag.

Thank you, Valve, for not forgetting about the 360. I'm certainly less worried about how Left 4 Dead is going to play on consoles now. I prefer playing TF2 – along with anything else that isn't an RTS – on the 360, and it's nice to log onto a match without having to worry about lag every single time. Also, while the game is steadily evolving on the PC, with some big changes on the horizon, the slower pace of the 360 updates guarantees that the original TF2 gameplay will stick around for some time to come.

Some new levels would be nice, though.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Bioshock (Second Pass - Part II)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bavYkLCb8Tw

Later that same rant

I wanted to say something clever to her, but behind me, I could hear the little sister, her little body – and life – in my hands. I couldn’t do it. I had to save her.

So, I went with the happy ending again, because it felt right. How freaking weird is that?

I haven’t even seen the animation for harvesting a little sister. I plan on playing through Bioshock one more time at least, to get a few more lingering achievements and possibly trying out the complete bastard route.

I have doubts I’ll actually be able to do it. Putting all achievements and all that other nonsense aside, no game has rewarded you more for common decency than Bioshock, and the biggest surprise of its “good” ending is not what actually happens, but how much it makes you care for this world.

Of course, I’m biased. A giant, decaying, retro-futuristic, Art Deco, underwater city, in which you encounter scary monsters and wield tommy guns and hornets that shoot out of your genetically-enhanced fingers, has been a lifelong dream of mine.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Bioshock (Second Pass - Part I)

http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2007/08/29

As anyone who knows me can attest, I am an incredibly lame person with this weird Boy Scout, goody-good streak that affects almost every decision I make.

Even when I play videogames.

If a videogame presents me with the choice between good and evil, I always go with good. Then, a few months later, I’ll play through it a second time and try the evil path. And then, sometimes, a few months after that, I’ll play through the game again, taking the good path again to get that evil taste out of my mouth.

As previously stated, I was going through Bioshock a second time, to pick up a few missed achievements and see the “evil” ending. Well, I got to my first little sister and picked her up, and then – not kidding, folks – I hesitated. From behind me, my wife, who was in the room playing Animal Crossing on the DS, said, “Oh, Man…”

“What?” I said, turning to her.

She looked up at me, the DS stylus still in her mouth (God, that’s hot), and said half-seriously, “You’re not going to…kill her, are you?”

(Wrap this up tomorrow.)

Friday, March 14, 2008

Weekend Plans of the Nerd Kind (March 14th - March 16th)

TV and MOVIES: I can’t remember the name of the episode, but “The Others” were mentioned for the first time on Lost. Need to get back to that. To my surprise, we actually had a copy of Morvern Callar at work, which was on The New Cult Cannon on The Onion A.V. Club a few weeks ago. From the clips on their site, that shit looks mad freaky.

GAMES: Gamefly assures me that Splinter Cell: Double Agent for the original Xbox is in transit to me, but it’s been over a week. I completed the 360 version almost a year ago, so it felt like time to try the version for the old black behemoth, which shares the same premise but features completely different levels and gameplay. The Splinter Cell series has never been easy, but the levels in Double Agent for the 360, which featured outdoor environments in broad daylight with limited cover and no shadows in which to hide, were especially maddening. Though it is, in a way, a step backwards, I welcome a return to the shadows and traditional Splinter Cell gameplay that Double Agent on the Xbox promises.

BOOKS: Haunted mansions and zombies are planned for the weekend, just the way I likes it, with Richard Matheson’s Hell House and Books One and Two of The Walking Dead. Life is good.

Shoot 'Em Up (Part II)

http://www.avclub.com/content/cinema/shoot_em_up

Later that same rant…

First off, the movie isn’t that funny. Filling the film with “so bad, it’s good” one-liners, in the best/worst James Bond, Arnold Schwarzeneggar tradition, only works when you have a “so bad, he’s good” actor like Schwarzeneggar or Van Damme delivering them. Clive Owen is too good for the material. Imagine the scene in Predator where Schwarzeneggar throws a machete at a fleeing solider, impaling the poor sap against a wall, then saying, “Stick around.” Now imagine Cary Grant doing the same scene. True, this makes for a very interesting, peculiar mental image, but the scene wouldn’t work.

I wouldn’t have a problem with a film this violent or sadistic, necessarily, if it didn’t want you to enjoy it so. Saddling both Clive Owen’s and Monica Belluci’s characters with dead children to mourn for is a very strange, morbid decision – especially when they shag in the very next scene after Belluci tells Owen about her stillborn baby. And the film’s staunch anti-violence, anti-gun sentiment is terribly hypocritical because the film wants you to mindlessly enjoy Clive Owen mowing down hundreds of nameless goons with whatever firearm or carrot is readily available.

Enough ranting. Give it a rent and tell me what you think.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Shoot 'Em Up (Part I)

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/shoot_em_up/

Shoot ‘Em Up. Man, what a strange movie.

By the end, it lost my interest a bit and, frankly, repulsed me a good deal. I have no problem with violent or gory films, but Shoot ‘Em Up just didn’t sit right with me.

Part of the problem is I watched it by myself. This is a movie to be enjoyed with a friends and a few beers, with people screaming, “Oh, that ain’t right!” with infectious glee at the over the top bloodshed.

Most of the action scenes put a smile on my face. As a director, Michael Davis is clearly influenced more by John Woo than the Wachowski Bros. or Michael Bay. He shoots angles wide enough to take in the action, and holds on each image long enough to follow the action.

And with the exception of the parachute chase and plenty of CG baby, there’s hardly any noticeable wire stunts or digital trickery, and the film is further proof that all you need for a good action scene is to combine a graceful actor with a few trampolines, some good props, and shitload of squibs.

It’s as a writer that Michael Davis has problems.

Wrap it up tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Mr. Brooks

http://www.theressomethingaboutmrbrooks.com/

Brilliant idea, so-so execution.

Mr. Brooks (Kevin Costner) is a serial killer. He kills because he gets off on it. And he wants to quit. He attends A.A. meetings and recites theirs goofy mantras when he has the urge to kill, but he can’t resist the evil voice in his head, a separate personality named Marshall (William Hurt).

That’s more enough to fill 121 minutes of compelling cinema, but the writers feel it necessary to add twist after twist, each more ludicrous and unnecessary than the last – not the wisest of moves since Mr. Brook’s condition is probably pretty unrealistic to begin with. With all the needless subplots, the story loses focus on Mr. Brooks, and the initial premise merely becomes an interesting hook for a barely interesting thriller.

I always forget how powerful a performance Kevin Costner can give with the right material. The last time I remember was Open Range – and I can’t even remember the time before that. His performance – along with William Hurt’s – is the reason to watch this movie. Demi Moore and Dane Cook don’t hold up as well – especially Dane Cook.

If this does turn into a trilogy, the next one’s going to have to fix a lot mistakes made in the original.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War – Soulstorm (Part II)

http://www.gamerankings.com/htmlpages2/943419.asp

I’ve been so busy writing lately that I was unaware that Dawn of War’s latest expansion pack, Soulstorm, had even come out (the same goes for Professor Layton and the Curious Village, God of War: Chains of Olympus, and Army of Two). So I logged onto Steam, credit card in hand, with the intent of purchasing it. Then I looked at the price tag: $39.98.

$39.98. For an expansion pack? Really, Relic? Really?

True, it's an expansion pack containing two whole new factions, bringing the total up to an astounding nine, and providing enough new material to keep one busy for quite some time, but that’s just getting greedy – especially since Valve is charging only ten bucks more for The Orange Box.

I’ve decided to hold off on it for now, wait till a price drop. I’m curious to play the two new races, but neither appeal to me that much – and I tend to stick with my Space Marines, anyway.

And I haven’t even finished Dark Crusade, the previous expansion pack. It’s not that it failed to hold my interest – I just don’t like gaming on the PC anymore. The smallest technical annoyance drives me straight to the nearest game console, and that sexy 360 is only a room away.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War – Soulstorm (Part I)

http://www.steampowered.com/v/index.php?area=package&SubId=447&cc=US

After spending the last four days talking about D&D, which is about as geek as it gets, let’s talk about something cool, something us skinny white nerds wouldn’t feel ashamed talking about in front of da’ ladies.

I am talking, of course, about Warhammer 40K.

Well, not the 40K miniatures game published by Games Workshop. There are levels of geek which even I dare not descend into. Certainly people have returned from that dark abyss – but not with their eternal souls intact.

Actually, I’m lying. If I had the rulebook and the minis in front of me, I’d give the dice a roll, but I’m certainly not dropping $300-$400 for it. I don’t have the money, the time, the artistic talent, the patience, or the friends network to properly enjoy 40K.

And I’ve had sex…with another person – which I’m sure somehow excludes me from every 40K fraternity around the globe.

Which is why I stick to Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War on the PC, an RTS second only to Starcraft for sheer ass-kickingness.

Shit. I’m at 200 words. How the hell did that happen? Wrap it up tomorrow.

Sorry, folks.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Gygax, D&D 3rd Edition, 4th Edition (Part IV)

http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=rpga/ddxp/highlights

Here’s what I love about 3.5: for a great experience, all you need is the three core rulebooks. That’s less than $50 per player (Player’s Handbook, dice, some stationary) and around $100-150 for the DM (all three core rulebooks, dice, more dice, stationary, a decent calculator), which can provide years of gameplay.

From previews I’ve read, they’re taking out a lot of “core” races and classes from the Player’s Handbook and adding them to subsequent books or, in the case of the Half-Orc, the D&D Insider program. Here’s the link, though Mr. Baker fails to mention what this may cost. And I have a feeling this marketing ploy will grow worse and worse.

This seems especially true after looking at the 4th Edition character sheets, where movement and spells/abilities are listed solely in squares, without bothering to list anything in feet. This doesn’t simplify or clarify anything for gamers playing the old-fashioned way, and it means Wizards expects – wants – people to use their miniatures or electronic tools more often than not. The issue itself is a small, nitpicking detail – but it shows Wizards’ desire to sell product may spoil, to some degree, a great franchise.

But I’ve already pre-ordered the Player’s Handbook, regardless of misgivings.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Gygax, D&D 3rd Edition, 4th Edition (Part III)

http://www.enworld.org/index.php?page=4e

Let’s wrap this up quickly, I’m about done with this subject for now.

I love playing 3.5, though I’ll certainly agree that there are elements that could – should – be streamlined or corrected, like the ones mentioned yesterday, which 4th Edition promises to do. And I think the D&D Insider and D&DI Game Table programs are long overdo, something that should’ve been around since 3rd Edition’s original release, though I fear they’ll charge extra for new minis, rules, races, classes, and items on top of their standard monthly fee ($9.98).

In fact, it’s only that fear which gives me doubt about this new edition. I know Wizards can make a great roleplaying game. But I fear there are elements – most likely the suits at Hasbro – that are more concerned about keeping players dropping cash on a regular basis than creating a rich, enjoyable RPG experience. And this time, I think this greed is being built, at least in some part, into the core rules and design philosophy from the ground up.

One last post on this tomorrow. Promise.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Weekend Plans of the Nerd Kind (March 7th - March 9th)


TV AND MOVIES
: Bender’s Big Score! The Futurama movie! Featuring Mark Hamill as the “Chanukah Zombie”! The DVD is in my house! The excitement is causing me to use exclamation points! I hate exclamation points! I may have to kill myself if I can’t stop!

Other than that, it’s catching up for years of not watching Lost and Stargate SG-1.

GAMES: D&D this weekend, probably a lot of damage control, because we cocked up a surgical strike on the main bad guys last session. Only logged in an hour or two this week on the 360, and I still need to finish all those games I talked about last week.

BOOKS: Only fifty pages left on White Hunter, Black Heart. I can do this. I can finish this book. I’ll keep fighting to the end.

Why? Because we are the champions, my friend.

Gygax, D&D 3rd Edition, 4th Edition (Part II)

http://www.giantitp.com/comics/oots0001.html

Here’s where, to me, 3.5 starts to run out of steam. After level 15 or so, your character’s power is somewhere between a superhero and a god. Even with a solid DM, strategy and the proper application of skills are often thrown out the window because spellcasters and their level 7-9 spells are too powerful. Combat becomes a weird combination of paper, rock, scissors and the worst “techno-babble” of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The content below is not as much of an exaggeration as it first seems:

DUNGEON MASTER: The Blackguard inverses the shield polarity on his stoneskin and charges his deflector amulet to cast a meteor storm charged with anti-protons at you. It will go off next turn.

GUY PLAYING THE FIGHTER (annoyed/to DM): Lame… (to wizard) Better think of something…

GUY PLAYING THE WIZARD: I, I…I recalibrate my warp braclets, creating a Bigby’s Quantum Singularity directly behind him, neutralizing his stoneskin. Then I fire three ionized magic missiles into the singularity, and the gravitational field it creates should suck the Blackguard right into it. It would be like, uh, like…

GUY PLAYING THE FIGHTER (fed up): …like a guy pulling random shit out of his ass!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Gygax, D&D 3rd Edition, 4th Edition (Part I)

http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=dnd/welcome

I see the passing of Gary Gygax just months before the release of the 4th Edition of D&D as nothing more than coincidence – but certainly a strange, curious coincidence. This isn’t the first edition made without his involvement, and he wasn’t particularly fond of the 3rd Edition. I think he would’ve liked Wizards of the Coast’s plans for 4th Edition even less.

I have no wish to bag on Wizards. These people resurrected D&D with the 3rd Edition. Faithful in spirit to the original game, it fixed dozens of counter-intuitive rules and ridiculous race/class restrictions. And putting the d20 rule-set in the public domain is pretty righteous, since this is the same company that created Magic: The Gathering, a card game that robbed many of our young of both their money and their eternal souls.

I’m excited about the 4th Edition. Granted, I think it’s a bit too soon, since an edition a decade is about right to me, and it’s only been five years since 3.5. And there’s certainly some avarice in their 4th Edition plans – or there wouldn't be things like this. But there are some problems with 3.5 which become apparent at later levels that need fixing in the 4th Edition.

Pick it up from there tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Left 4 Dead (Rock, Paper, Shotgun Interview)


After reading this preview for Left 4 Dead at Rock, Paper, Shotgun, saliva had to be wiped off my well-chiseled chin, for I was literally drooling over this game. It’s not just that I love zombies – and the delightful extermination of said zombies – it’s the cooperative experience that Left 4 Dead promises that truly excites me.

When it comes to multiplayer, I log in more hours in cooperative sessions – even on Rainbow Six: Vegas or Gears of War – than I do in competitive matches, with the exception of Team Fortress 2, but even there I enjoy playing with a solid team more than owning the opposition. From what I’ve read, if you don’t have three solid teammates watching your back in Left 4 Dead, then you are doomed to die and rise again as a flesh-eating monster.

Hot damn, that excites me.

I still have a few lingering questions. Will it make its 2008 release date? Will Valve's network code on the 360 get a substantial upgrade? 'Cause Team Fortress 2 is still a mess on the platform. And, lastly, will there be enough content to keep players coming back for weeks, months, or possibly years?

Can’t wait to find out.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Gary Gygax (1938-2008)


Don’t really know what to say on this one. It’s not like I knew the guy – and I'm a latecomer to the whole D&D thing: I didn't even start playing till my early 20's, and I'm still not a hardcore roleplayer. I’m not shocked, choked up, or nostalgic on the matter – but I do feel like giving credit where credit is due: gaming, in any medium, would have been very different – and much less – without him.

From what I’ve read about him – and judging from this interview – I think he was incredibly sharp guy that loved games, loved making them, and loved sharing them with the world. And, seriously, with a name like Gygax (short and punchy – with two "g's," an "x," and a "y"), how could he not be destined to have the time of his life creating sci-fi/fantasy worlds?

How about I say thanks to the man and have this done with.

Thanks, Gary.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Stargate SG-1 (First Season – Initial Thoughts)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stargate_SG-1_%28season_1%29

Certain parties, if you will, have been on my ass to watch Stargate SG-1 for years now, though I had stressed adamantly to them that I had no desire to watch it. I don’t care much for TV Sci-Fi, outside of Trek and Firefly, and I refused to believe that you could replace Kurt Russell with...MacGyver. Kurt Russell was Jack Burton, man – along with many other diverse and impressive ass-kicking credentials to his good name.

Plus, unlike Richard Dean Anderson, Kurt Russell can pull off a mullet.

Anyway, I finally borrowed the first season, and it doesn’t take long to warm up to Anderson and the rest of the cast. If it wasn’t for their performances, SG-1 probably wouldn’t have stayed on the air for long. The first season gets off on a extremely shaky start. It’s already used about every TV sci-fi show cliché in the book – aliens possessing the SG-1 team, a crew member suffering from rapid aging, an alien duplicating a team member, and, sadly, aliens possessing the SG-1 team...again.

It is getting better as the show finds itself. I’ve got two more discs to go. Another rant to come after I finish the first season.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Wrong Turn 2: Dead End

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1183857-_wrong_turn_2/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dolph_Lundgren

Below is a letter for Henry Rollins. But first, let me explain why I’m writing him.

Forty-five minutes and fifteen seconds into Wrong Turn 2: Dead End, Henry Rollins begins kicking the first of many homicidal inbred cannibal asses. It is also the very moment this film becomes worth anyone’s time (previous Henry Rollins footage excluded). His sheer righteousness saves Wrong Turn 2, because this is a terribly written – but solidly directed – film. Yet I watched the whole thing, choosing not to fast-forward through lame jokes, annoying characters, and plentiful clichés, knowing it would make Rollins’s screen time all the sweeter.

So, anyway, a message to Henry Rollins:

Dear Mr. Rollins:

Damn you. Damn you, Henry Rollins, for making me watch Wrong Turn 2: Dead End and films like it. Because of you, I’ve watched Keanu Reeves, Dolph Lundgren, and a weird-ass talking dolphin…in the same fucking movie. Do you know how much that weighs on my soul? And what I have I got in return for it? Where is my compensation? I mean, you’ve only entertained me more than any other person on the planet…

…oh, nevermind. Shit. Scratch that. Keep up the good work, Mr. Rollins, you magnificent tattooed bastard.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (The Film - Part III)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_films

Enough emptying my bladder into this film’s breakfast cereal. Let’s end this on a positive note:

* From the moment Jesse James gives Robert Ford the revolver that Ford will soon use to kill him, the movie finds itself. There’s some absolutely brilliant cinema from this point on. Stick with the film, even if you’re not digging it. The end is worth it.

* Man, that cinematography... Shame they had to go to Canada for it.

* Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck both give incredible performances – the best I've seen from them.

* The music in this movie kicks ass. I thought while watching it, “That sounds like Nick Cave.” And it was (with Warren Ellis).

* Man, it’s awesome to have the Western back. There’s been so many kick ass Westerns this decade – Open Range, The Proposition, 3:10 to Yuma, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, No Country for Old Men. Jesse James falls a bit short of these movies, in my estimation (about on par with Seraphim Falls), but, man, it's nice to know it exists.