Friday, October 31, 2008

King of the Hill (Canceled)

What a bummer...but it's probably for the best. King of the Hill's second decade has been considerably stronger than The Simpsons, but it's still been missing something these last few years.

That's not anyone's fault, though. That's just what happens when a show runs for this long.

Still, I wish Mike Judge and company had been able to end the show on their own terms instead of being canceled by those ungrateful Fox bastards. I'll be extremely pissed if they don't get to make a final episode before the show goes off the air - to give the show some closure, to have Hank and the gang ride their lawnmowers into the sunset.

King of the Hill has been one of the best shows on the television since it first came on the air in 1997, and it is without a doubt one of the best comedy shows of all time. I mean, where else are you going to find a line like, "Fine. Maybe I don't want to sell you no Hitler's canoe!"?

To one and all that that worked on the show:

Thanks for the laughs.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Still Alive (Fan Video)

Portal - Still Alive typography from Trickster on Vimeo.

Damn. Just...damn...

Fallout 3 (Pre-Purchase Doubts)

I want to be excited for this one, but I'm not even sure I want to play it. I dig the Fallout series - and there's been a lack of pulpy nuclear apocalypse stories in any medium for awhile now - but I just got a lot of Bethesda hate in my heart. I played both Elder Scrolls III and IV for several hours and found them to be ugly, buggy, and just plain boring - and don't even get me started on Star Trek: Legacy.

Personally, I think Fallout 3 should have remained a 2D, top-down, completely turn-based game. I don't think I'm living in the past, because there's a wealth of new and excellent 2D games still being made for the DS, the PSP, and XBOX Live Arcade, and I would love a new 2D Fallout for one of these systems - especially the PSP.

I might have to rent it on Gamefly, though I don't like renting RPGs through their service, because it's not very cost effective to have one game checked out for a month or two. Or I might ask the wife for it for Christmas. It might sound strange - since her money is my money - but I'd love to play it without personally throwing down sixty bucks.

Dead Space (Final Thoughts)

Alright, I want to blow through this. I got videogames to play.

Here's ten thoughts on Dead Space:

1) Isaac Clarke? What, was Arthur Asimov too obvious?

2) I was wrong: the game does lose a lot of its creepy in the second half. Part of the problem is that the developers recycled the monsters for the second half of the game, making "burnt skin" versions of each baddie, which are tougher and harder to kill. I spent the last three or four chapters thinking, "Oh great, it's one of these assholes again," when I should have been thinking, "AAAHHHHHH!!!"

Also, I didn't care for a single character in this story. And all but one of the story's twists were telegraphed far too early. I do have to give EA credit, though - I knew exactly how the last cutscene would end, and it still made me jump.

3) For the last few years, every action game I've played from EA has featured upgradeable weapons, and Dead Space isn't any different. But this is the first time it actually made sense and was properly balanced. In their other games with this feature, you started the game with your weapons being ridiculously underpowered and ended the game with these same weapons being ridiculously overpowered.

The weapons felt just right throughout the game, and finding that next power node was one of the highlights of the game.

4) 200 Microsoft points for a special level 5 suit with enhanced armor? That's just damn greedy.

5) The little touches and nuances are by far the most enjoyable part of Dead Space. The lack of a HUD and the way all menus and video are displayed via a holographic projector from within the Isaac's suit really does immerse the player in the game.

6) Speaking of which, I like that there's no HUD...but isn't a bit silly to think that the manufacturers of these survival suits would put all the crucial monitors and gauges on the back of it? You know, right where the wearer couldn't see them without the aid of a trusted friend or several conveniently placed mirrors?

7) Where's the chainsaw? True, it's an oldie - but it's a goody, damn it.

8) I'll say it three times to make sure you remember it.

Conserve your ammo. Conserve your ammo. Conserve your ammo.

9) Boss fights are too easy. The final fight was especially disappointing, because the creature design is truly enormous and formidable, yet it went down like a chump. It's so easy that when I beat it on the second attempt (the only reason I didn't kill it the first time was because of an insufficiency of ammo), I thought it took a dive on purpose, like it was working for some kind of zombie Don King.

10) To my knowledge, this is the first truly great game that EA has made in-house in many, many years. It delivers the scares, the controls are solid, the production values are top-notch throughout, and the weapons kick a whole lotta ass.

You did a great job, EA. Keep it up.

But next time, come up with some of your own ideas. Combine equal parts Alien, The Thing, and Event Horizon with System Shock 2, Doom 3, Half-Life 2, and Resident Evil 4 - and you've pretty much got Dead Space.

True, there hasn't been a game exactly like Dead Space, but that's because it's a unique blending of obvious inspirations, instead of actually being original. The only exception is the weapons, which are truly unique.

* * * *

That's it, people. I recommend renting Dead Space over buying it, unless you're a real horror junkie. But you gotta play it. It's one of the best games of 2008.

And remember:

Conserve your ammo. Conserve your ammo. Conserve your ammo.

The Clone Wars: Episode 5 - "Rookies"

(This rant is brought to you by the word "consistent.")

Now this is more like it.

Rookies is the first consistently enjoyable episode of the series, with tighter plotting, a consistent tone, genuine excitement, and jokes that are actually funny and part of the story. Hell, even the wife - who, as always, watched this show against her will - enjoyed this one, and gave it a begrudging "well, it wasn't bad..." Knowing her disposition on Star Wars, that's high praise, indeed.

Unfortunately, the next episode doesn't look too promising, but I have a feeling that the people making this show will notice how positively fans responded to Rookies and will make more episodes that match its tone and quality in the future.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Gran Torino (First Trailer)

This trailer features Clint Eastwood telling punk kids to "get off my lawn" at gunpoint. That could be the coolest thing I've ever seen in my life.

Eastwood is, without a doubt, my favorite director. That might strike you as odd, since none of his films feature giant spaceships, superheroes, monsters or aliens, Nazis getting punched, hardcore pornography, and/or some righteous combination of these things - especially the hardcore pornography - but everything I want out of a story and a storyteller can be found in almost every film he has made in the last twenty years.

Why is Eastwood my favorite director? There's no flashy or pretentious camerawork, no desire to be hip or cool, and no sugarcoating. He tells his stories with naked, brutal honesty, without being overly hopeful or cynical.

Can't wait to go see this and The Changeling.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Team Fortress 2 Pictures (10/24/08)

A Badass in Repose (The Spy)


That's the way I wanna go...

Close Encounters of the Fiery/Explosive Kind

A love that has no name...thank God.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Team Fortress 2 (The Killing Gloves of Boxing Unlocked)

Just hit the third Heavy milestone and acquired the K.G.B., the Killing Gloves of Boxing. Haven't got a chance to try them out, but I checked out the taunt - and it is, unless I'm very much mistaken, a pretty righteous Punch-Out!!! reference.

I love Valve more than any one person should.

End of line.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Quick Updates (10/22/08)

Too many things I wanted to write about for a week now, going to blow through them quickly.

Team Fortress 2 (Natascha Unlocked)

Unlocked Natascha this morning. I think after a day or two I'll switch back to Sasha, but it's a much nastier and effective weapon than I imagined, while still keeping up the Valve standard for game balance.

Castlevania: Circle of the Moon;title;0

Picked it up two weeks ago. And after the first two days, I had been lost in the same spot, with no clue where to go next. That Dracula builds himself some bigass castles, yo.

Yesterday, I noticed a jumping puzzle that was, in retrospect, painfully obvious. Don't ask me why, but I refuse to use a FAQ with this game.

Condemned: Criminal Origins

Spent most of my free time last week playing this one. Monolith is a curious developer: most of their games fall just short of greatness, but they always make unique, innovative shooters. Not everything they try works, but I'm always glad to see them push the FPS genre in new directions.

And they made Tron's glowing Frisbee into one of the most enjoyable weapons I've ever used in a shooter - and that gets them a lot of points in my book.

Condemned, like F.E.A.R., knows how to get under the skin. But like F.E.A.R., the game begins to feel repetitive after only an hour or two. With the monotony in the color palette, level design, and enemies, I felt like I was playing a really long demo to a really kickass game.

I'd give a rent, though.

Star Wars: The Old Republic;thumb;1

I want to be excited about this - and I have no doubt that Bioware will make a kickass game - but it's still an MMORPG. I haven't subscribed to an MMO since the early days of Everquest, and as much as I enjoyed my ten-day trial of World of Warcraft, as attached as I grew to my Dwarf Hunter's pet bear, Poohbarathor, I still can't bring myself to invest the kind of time and money that these games require.

Still, I'm curious to see this game in action. Not because it's Star Wars, but because it's Bioware. One of the reasons MMOs don't interest me is their lack of a proper story, which Bioware plans to rectify with The Old Republic. If they can tell a good story, and if it's possible for players to actually impact and change the game world, I might pick this one up.

Dead Space (Second Night)

Damn, this game went from challenging to downright nasty. For the first four chapters, I died once or twice a level. For the next two chapters, I died once or twice a checkpoint.

I'm getting close to the halfway mark, and the game is still plenty damn freaky. Most horror games lose some their punch in the second half, but I have a feeling Dead Space won't be one of those.

Have to wait till tonight to play it, though. Playing a game of its kind when the sun is up just seems wrong.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Doctor Who: The Eighth Doctor Adventures - Season 2

The first episode of the second season is up on BBC7. The writing is more in line with the classic Doctor Who show instead of the current series, I'm afraid, but it's good to see Paul McGann get a chance to flesh out his take on the Doctor. He could have been one of the best (watch or listen to Shada - he can keep up with Douglas Adams's inspired lunacy, and that's no small feat), and hopefully he'll somehow make it into the current run of the TV show.

This is just one of many attempts I've made to push BBC7 onto people. I think radio dramas are still a viable medium, as long as you have good actors, strong dialog, and a rich imagination to make the story come alive in your mind. The British have kept the radio drama alive and well. May some deity bless them for it.

Dead Space (First Night)

Timed my Gamefly returns perfectly and got a virgin copy of Dead Space in the mail today.

The wife, ever the good sport, decided to watch and enjoy the experience with me. She only does this with horror games and Japanese RPGs - don't ask; I don't know. We waited till dark, turned off all the lights, and the two of us got completely sucked into the game. It took between three to four hours to complete the first four chapters on normal difficulty. Looks like this game could hit or exceed the (for me) necessary ten hour run time on the first play through. That definitely scores some points with me.

But that's not important. What is important is that this game delivers the scares.

The wife screamed. I peed my pants a little.

A good time was had by all.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Clone Wars: Episode 4 - Destroy Malevolence

For the first time in four episodes, the scales have tipped in the other direction: the bad outweighs the good in Destroy Malevolence.

Like the Clone Wars movie, the writers shoehorn Padme into a story where she doesn't belong, though it's nice to see that she's capable of taking care of herself again, instead of the barefoot and pregnant Padme from Revenge of the Sith, who let Anakin do some some Force Wife-Beating on her and then said, "He can change. I feel the good in him. Oh, and I just fell down some stairs - that's all."

Even with adding Padme to the story, there still isn't enough material for 23 minutes of television, since the Malevolence was already gimpafied at the end of last week's episode. And with this episode, The Clone Wars creates a trifecta of annoyance of unbelievable proportions in order to fill the required air time - battle droids, Ahsoka, and now C-3PO.

I've been buying this show off of iTunes. I decided not to wait the extra week to watch them for free because I had a few bucks left on my account from a gift card, then I got into the habit of watching them every Saturday morning...the perfect time to watch such a show. This is the first episode that I have regretted buying. I'm going to give it one more week. Unless next week's episode really impresses me, I'm going to start waiting the extra week and watch them for free on the Star Wars website.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Random Thought #248

Well, shit...there goes my plan for a solo attempt at joining the mile-high club.

Star Trek (First Production Photos)

Don't let my skinniness, glasses, nasal voice, asthma, scoliosis, and constant rants about videogames, D&D, and Star Wars fool you: I am, in private, actually quite a geek. And there's enough geek in me for a love of both the Wars and the Trek.

Yes, you read that right: I swing both ways.

But I still can't muster that much excitement for this new Trek movie. Personally, I think Trek needed to pull a Doctor Who (Star Wars, Star Trek, and Doctor Who in the same's a good thing I'm not going to mention Babylon 5 or Battlestar Galactica; if I did, I might somehow magically get my virginity back) and disappear off most people's radar for ten or fifteen years.

It's too soon to attempt a resurrection of this franchise, and as invigorating as fresh talent in front of and behind the camera may be, a remake of the original show is yet another example of what's been wrong with Trek since Voyager and Insurrection: the need to tell a story - any story - to keep the franchise going, instead of having a story so good that it needs to be told.

To me, the photos Paramount released are a mixed bag. I was surprised by how right the actors look for each character - even Chris Pine, who looks entirely too WB and not enough Shatner for Kirk. The true test for Pine will be how well he pulls of the patented Shatnerian double karate chop and that weird jumping drop kick, the latter being one of the dumbest, most awesome fighting moves ever captured on film.

The sets and production design don't hold up as well. They look like a strange blend of 60's cheesy sci-fi and modern cheesy sci-fi. And I have serious doubts that I'll be able to take Eric Bana seriously, what with that bald head and goofy face tattoos. And where the hell is his goatee? He is evil, after all - and this is Trek.

Oh well, that's more than enough geek posting for one day. I'll pick this up again when the first trailer comes out next month.

Bioshock 2: Sea of Dreams (First Trailer)

There's a part of me - a very small part - that wants to decry the very idea of making a sequel to Bioshock, one of the most complete, thrilling, and involving games ever made. That little part of me thinks that making Bioshock 2: Sea of Dreams is as much of a travesty as Hollywood making Citizen Kane 2: The Revenge (the tagline: There is a man, a certain man...and he wants revenge.).

But screw that little voice - I want more Bioshock. The world of Rapture is deep enough, compelling enough, to tell another story. The video linked above, blurry as it was, sent a shiver up and down my spine.

I don't know if 2K can make a sequel that lives up to the original Bioshock, but I'm more than willing to find out.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2nd Viewing)

Wow, it looks like George Lucas/anal rape jokes are really in the zeitgeist of late.

True, I slummed it up a notch (or down a notch - probably down) with a joke similar to South Park's overreaction to Crystal Skull, but I was attempting to make fun of fanboyism run amok, while last week's episode of South Park was fanboyism run amok. Liked Parker and Stone riffing on that scene from The Accused, though - if that's wrong, then I don't want to be right.

I'm a fanboy - I got no problem admitting that. And I think Trey Parker and Matt Stone are, too. I mean, can you think of anyone else who has repeatedly used the Klingon word "K'plah!" as a joke in a TV show (that wasn't Trek, of course)? I'm not offended by anything in that episode, or the insinuation that fans who liked Skull are as dumb and gullible as Butters, but I was a bit bummed to see them, along with many older fans, convince themselves that the previous Indy movies were much better - and important - than they truly were.

Was Skull perfect? No. The first half-hour is a little creaky and the final scenes are so underdeveloped that the ending barely makes sense, but it's several orders of magnitude better than Temple of Doom - better story, better McGuffin, better villains, better sidekicks, better love interest, better jokes, and a feint but sustained emotional pulse throughout the film. And this is Harrison Ford's best performance as Indiana Jones yet. The character is more of a cynic and a romantic than ever before, and it's obvious that Ford is enjoying every moment of this film. His joy is infectious.

Crystal Skull, like Hellboy II, was the most fun I've had in a movie theater in years - and that's all the Indy films were ever supposed to be: fun.

That's all I want to say on the subject, except one last thing: the fridge bit was completely ridiculous and unbelievable. I wish they'd go back to the realism of the previous movies - like that scene in Temple of Doom where Indy and company jumped out of a plane in high altitude without parachutes and survived the fall by inflating a life raft.

Now, that was believable...

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Clone Wars: Episode 3 - Shadow of Malevolence

I know I'm sounding like a broken record here, but the good outweighs the bad in Shadow of Malevolence. Somehow, though, this is both the most enjoyable and infuriating Clone Wars episode yet.

So much of this episode captures the spirit of A New Hope - the villains' monstrous plan, the smugglers' run, the giant space monsters, the dogfights, and the heroes' costly but triumphant victory - but cutting away from good material to include Ahsoka's lame, unnecessary dialog makes her even more grating than usual. It's not just that she's annoying, but her presence feels completely out of place with the rest of the episode. Without her, this could been the first truly great episode of the series.

After seeing this episode, I'm pretty sure this series has the potential to become something pretty damn good, if not great. Shadow is even darker than the first part of this story arc - with even more clones casualties this week, which once again impressed the hell out of me - but, more importantly, the tone is more consistent and a step closer to being honest. Here's hoping for some more Ahsoka free episodes after this storyline wraps up on Friday.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Starcraft II (Trilogy Announcement)

Mmm... I don't know I feel about this one. It's all going to depend on their pricing plan for the second two installments of the Starcraft II trilogy, the amount of multiplayer content they provide on top of the Zerg and Protoss single-player campaigns in those releases, and Blizzard's continued guarantee that remains a free service. Not only that, but it's going to make for some wiggy game titles, like the Half-Life 2: Episode games or Star Wars: Dark Forces IV: Jedi Knight III: Jedi Outcast II: Jedi Molester - and those goofy titles just annoy the hell out of me.

Thankfully, Blizzard has assured gamers that the multiplayer will not be changed or scaled down for the game's initial release. That's good news - 'cause the loss of a full multiplayer client would have created a full blown diplomatic incident with South Korea, making our relations with North Korea seem quite chummy in comparison. And as good as the single-player was in the first Starcraft, it was the multiplayer that made it a classic and kept it on people's hard drives for ten years. The same, I'm sure, will go for Starcraft II, with or without the expansion packs.

Personally, I'd rather wait the additional year Blizzard said it would take to make Starcraft II as one complete title and pay less for it, instead of dropping another - and this is just guessing here - 80-100 bucks to see how the story ends. But I look at it this way: this game was going to have expansion packs, and Blizzard has always given players their money's worth with their games. Right now, I'm cautiously optimistic, though still a bit irked to know this game is going to lighten my wallet considerably more than I previously expected. The real make or break for me is whether they can actually get the first installment out in 2009 and, more importantly, release the next two installments on a yearly basis after that.

And speaking of getting the next installment out in a year or less, where the hell is Half-Life 2: Episode 3? And how do you make an episode 1, 2, and 3 for a game that already exists? Damn you, Valve and Blizzard, for delaying your games repeatedly and always making them worth the wait, to say nothing of your silly game titles.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Force Unleashed - Part Two and a Half

(I'm back, baby...and I brought spoilers.)

With The Force Unleashed, Lucasarts finally tells a story worth telling for the first time in years, with some of the best cutscenes, dialog, and voice acting in a videogame to date. In its best moments, it captures the spirit of the original trilogy. The scene where Darth Vader discovers Starkiller as a child is quite possibly the most compelling moment in Star Wars since Luke went all apeshit on Darth Vader at the end of Jedi.

Forget the physics and the other technological innovations in the gameplay, Unleashed's biggest accomplishment is the level of performance Lucasarts gets out of their 3D characters. For most of the characters, the studio used the same actor for the voice and facial/ motion capture, so the characters look, move, and behave like the actors. This makes an immeasurable difference in the quality of the cutscenes.

The story is far from perfect. As I've said before, the game is far too short, and the story never gets a chance to develop properly. I want to discuss three things quickly and have this rant done with, so here goes:

1) Juno Eclipse: The game's most underdeveloped character. There's potential there, but her character is reduced to little more than standing around and being hot. She's blond, looks great in her tight Imperial hottie outfit, and has a British accent, so of course Starkiller wants to shag her, and that's all her character is good for. Her feelings on the Empire, the Rebellion, and Starkiller are never explored.

2) The Rebellion: So, the big twist in Unleashed is that the Emperor and Vader hatch up a plan to create a rebellion to draw out their enemies, to publicly brand them as traitors...and are then surprised when a formidable rebellion against the Empire is created? What the hell? There's one horrible line near the end of the game - I can't remember it exactly, but it starts with the Emperor saying, "This rebellion we've unwittingly created..."

Nope. Sorry. Sounds pretty wittingly to me.

3) Darth Vader, Starkiller, and Some Serious Daddy Damage: The twist listed above also negates the most compelling element of Unleashed: that Starkiller is basically Vader's adopted son, that Vader has used Starkiller to replace the child which he thought died with Padme. This idea is hinted at throughout the story, but never lives up to its potential - and once Starkiller finds out his true purpose, Vader's "Fooled you! Ah, what's with you, man?!" betrayal removes the idea completely from the story. What a waste.

All right, that's enough ranting and negativity. I still enjoyed the story and I still can't stop playing this damn game.

The Force Unleashed - Part Two

When I was coming of age in the late 80's/early 90's, there were four game developers whose games I followed with an almost religious devotion: Infocom, Sierra, Origin, and Lucasarts.

Why these four? Because all of them could tell a story.

The most surprising thing about the golden years of Lucasarts was how little their success had to do with Star Wars. Games like Maniac Mansion, Zak McKracken, Monkey Island, Full Throttle, Outlaws, and Grim Fandago consistently told quirky, original stories full of wit and wonder. Plus, they were one of the first developers to actually feature full speech using professional actors that could, you know, act during the CD-ROM boom in the early 90's.

One of the bigger insults to injury in the years following The Phantom Menace was the sharp decline in the quality of Lucasart's games - not to mention their decision to almost completely abandon original Lucasarts properties in order to greedily clutch the ready to burst teats of the cash cow that was Star Wars, in order to milk that bitch almost to death. Sequels to Sam and Max and Full Throtle were canceled while games like Super Bombad Racing and Jedi Power Battles were allowed to be released. Whoever was running Lucasarts during this period should be forced to play their own games again and again until they have a mental breakdown and promise never to make a game again.

(Finish this up later - gotta run)

SPL (Killzone)

It's hard to like a Hong Kong action film that dual wields retarded kids to get an emotional reaction out of the audience. Busting out the mentally/physically challenged has long been a cheap, offensive bit of melodrama in many Hong Kong action films, but SPL hits a new low with not one but two different retarded kids in the same film. Writer/director Wilson Yip wanted to put the short bus on the HOV lane to tissue town, but all it did was guarantee that I watched the rest of SPL with skepticism and loathing.

It wouldn't be so bad if the action scenes made up for the drama, but they don't. True, the movie does have the most intense fight choreography ever performed by metrosexuals in tight, stylish pants, but that's not saying a whole lot. Neither Donnie Yen or Sammo Hung, who can fight and act, are able to save this film. But it's cool to see Sammo Hung, now well into his 50's, still kick a whole lot of ass. It'd be cool to see him and Jackie Chan team up again in a movie that takes their age into account.

But please, no retarded kids...

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Punch-Out! for the Wii

Oh baby, I want to taste me some Glass Joe meat in three dimensions.

My copy of Mike Tyson's Punch-Out for the NES is like my R.E.M. and Beatles CDs: both coveted and indispensable. It's the sole reason I still have an NES plugged into my television. Every few months I come back to the game, since I have yet to get past Mr. Sandman without able assistance.

This game has finally sold the Wii to me. As I've said a million times, I'm a gamer on a budget. I usually wait a year or two to acquire new systems. The hardware is generally more reliable, I know whether the system is a success or not (I'm still stinging from that Dreamcast fiasco), and there are enough games - and "greatest hits" titles - to make the system worth the investment.

And I've been waiting for that "must have" game for the Wii. For the Playstation 2, it was Kingdom Hearts; for the Xbox, it was the one-two punch of Halo 2 and Knights of the Old Republic II; for the PSP, it was Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories; and for the 360, it was Dead Rising. Those were the games that tipped the scales, and I have been waiting patiently for a Wii game that would have the same effect on me. Now, it's only a year away.

Come on, 2009...

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Clone Wars: Episode 2 - Rising Malevolence

I was a bit rushed yesterday, so I wanted to finish some thoughts about the structure and style of the first two episodes. Here goes:

* Love the newsreel openings. The voice actor delivers each prologue with the perfect balance of enthusiasm and camp. I know a lot of people miss the opening crawl, but that would've gotten real old real fast if there was one every week.

Also, people have complained that these openings are cheesy and over the top. I would say this to them: that's Star Wars. It's cheesy, over the top, and a helluva a lot of fun. It put a smile on my face in the movie theater, and it's put a smile on my face every time I've watched the first two episodes.

* It's surprising how amazing the animation looks on the small screen compared to the big screen. What looked merely serviceable in theaters looks great on my computer monitor (I'm watching the episodes through iTunes on a 22" LCD flatscreen with DVI cables, by the way). The last kid-oriented cartoon I watched was Invader Zim - and I think the Bruce Timm Superman was the last one before that - but this is the first TV show using computer animation I've ever seen that works. I love the character designs, which look like puppets or action figures come to life, which is quite rad.

More importantly, the character's eyes are full of emotion and feature subtle body language, which is what makes or break computer animation. It'll be interesting to see how the animation will grow and improve over the years.

* The voice acting is also above average for a kids' show. It's a shame that the actors that returned for the movie won't be returning for the show - especially Christopher Lee - but many of these actors have been voicing these characters for years and are starting to truly inhabit their roles, instead of just sounding like they're doing a Yoda or Ewan McGregor impression.

* * * *

And now on to the second episode, Rising Malevolence...

Here's the most important thing you need to know about this episode: people die.

Yes, the deaths so far have just been clones, but seeing two clones without helmets get sucked into the vacuum of space and suffocate, without the camera cutting away, surprised and impressed me. And it's followed by one of the few successful battle droid jokes that's incredibly dark for a primetime kids' show.

I know some parents - whiners, mostly - will think showing this level of violence on a kids' show is irresponsible, but I would disagree. I think having the good guys safely bail out of an exploding plane every time or making sure that bad things only happen to bad people is, in fact, irresponsible.

We've been moving away from the Disney, G.I. Joe brand of storytelling in family entertainment for over a decade now, and I can't tell you how much that pleases me. I think J.K. Rowling deserves much of the credit for this, since she had the intestinal fortitude to keep taking Harry Potter down dark paths and dared to kill characters like Dumbledore and Dobby the House Elf.

Dobby. Dobby, for Christ's sakes.

I imagine that this show is only going to get darker with time, once the initial buzz dies down and the show becomes established. That's probably a good thing, since the tone is now a bit uneven and too focused on just pleasing kids. That doesn't make sense to me, since the Star Wars films (save Sith) had just about the perfect tone for family entertainment.

I'm not one of those people that think darker is always better, and it seems like some fans want Star Wars to be much darker than it should be - but any story, for any age, should be honest. That, my friends, is the difference between Han shooting first and Greedo shooting first. The Clone Wars isn't honest yet.

To my surprise, Rising Malevolence is the better of the two episodes that premiered last Friday. I didn't have high hopes for it, since it was an Anakin and Ahsoka episode, but the good outweighs the bad, even more than it did in Ambush. It'll take a few more episodes to judge the overall quality of the show, but it looks like this could become a quite a fun little bit of sci-fi television.

Random Thought #5,437

I realized this morning that it's been years since I've told someone that they will kneel before Zod.

Now I feel like I haven't been living my life to the fullest.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Clone Wars: Episode 1 - "Ambush"

Smart move to start the series with a Yoda episode after the failure that was The Clone Wars movie. For adult fans, both casual and hardcore, who grew up with the original trilogy, Yoda has the same undisputed, universal appeal as beer, sex, and pizza. Friends of mine that hated Attack of the Clones still talk about Yoda's fight with Dooku as if it was a religious experience.

Ambush nails the character, blending the impish side of the character from Empire with his unparalleled displays of badass found in the prequels. He sells the episode, despite its flaws.

The biggest problem with Ambush is the battle droids. They almost ruin the episode, carrying on the Lucas standard of wasting valuable screen time on a parade of lame jokes from characters that are completely unessential to the story. Only one joke even made me smile ("Oh, well. It's my programming..."), and most made me cringe. With only twenty minutes and some change to tell a story, these scenes take time away from Yoda and his relationship with the clones, the emotional core of this story.

The biggest surprise of both episodes that premiered last Friday was how effectively the show conveyed the regard the Jedi have for the clones, something missing from the prequels. It's the one element of the show that has truly enriched the time period between Clones and Revenge, making the clones involuntary betrayal in Revenge actually kinda tragic.

Gotta run, so let me sum this up:

The first two episodes of The Clone Wars are a huge improvement over the movie. The most offensive elements of the movie have either been removed (the butt rock guitar solos in the score, jokes that involve bodily functions) or toned down (the battle droids, Ashoka). The good outweighs the bad in Ambush, and I would recommend giving the show a chance when it shows up later this week on the Star Wars website.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Star Wars: The Clone Wars (The Movie and Early Thoughts on the Show)

It's taken two months to write this. But it's good I waited, since I would have been part of the chorus of fans who wrote something like this:

"With The Clone Wars movie, George Lucas has taken my childhood, forced it to the ground, and anally raped it... while repeating 'Meesa likea dis!' over and over again in a husky voice as he climaxed in my virgin anus. He smelled of Diet Coke and Scotch, and the flannel shirt he still wore as he entered me left a strange rash in my most private areas.

"But, it hurt less than The Phantom Menace."

Boy, I'm glad I didn't write something like that.

You see, it's neither constructive nor true. It's not the worst piece of Star Wars animation - not by a long shot. But it was a wasted opportunity, and I wonder whether the show, premiering tonight on Cartoon Network, will be worth tuning into every week.

Before walking into the theater that fateful afternoon on August 15th, the idea that the movie would suck never crossed my mind.  Lucas seemed to be getting his groove back: each prequel was better than the last, with Revenge of the Sith finally capturing some of that old Star Wars magic, in my humble - and obviously right - opinion. Also, the Tartakovsky Clone Wars series kicked ass.

I figured the movie, a collection of the first few episodes in the TV series (I refuse to believe what made it up on the big screen was always intended to debut there), would keep up the high standard of the previous animated series.


The wife - who, it must be said, went against her will - and I knew we were in trouble the moment we walked into the packed theater. In front of us was nothing but small kids and patient, bored parents. There were only two other people our age without kids in the theater, a couple about the same age as the wife and I, who were looking around them with "Oh God - what did we get ourselves into?" looks on their faces. The same look that the wife and I no doubt had.

Things went downhill from there.

The movie runs the length of four episodes, padded with filler... a lot of filler. Each episode is worse than the last, with a lame, convoluted plot that not even a mother or a Kevin J. Anderson could love. The first twenty minutes aren't bad, with a surprisingly large-scale ground battle and a few nice moments for Obi-Wan (still my favorite Star Wars character), but none of it's worth the price of admission. The last half is equal to the worst moments in The Phantom Menace, thanks to another needless, annoying character that will most likely be universally hated: Ahsoka Tano.

While not as annoying as Jar Jar, I somehow hate her more, since she is such an obvious example of Lucas the businessman overruling Lucas the storyteller: she's a character that in no way fits in with the established timeline, who was created solely to appeal to a specific, untapped demographic - young girls. They might as well have called her Hannah Montano.

Still, there are five things things that will get me to watch the show (once it shows up for free online, most like):

1) The Clone Wars movie was, essentially, a pilot for the TV show. And a lot of pilots to good shows suck - especially sci-fi shows. Which is why they aren't shown in movie theaters. Hopefully, The Clone Wars movie will be just as poor an indication for the overall quality of the show as "The Emissary" was for Deep Space Nine. Even the greatest animated series of them all, Batman: The Animated Series, had growing pains, though it was never a disaster like The Clone Wars movie.

2) Ahsoka won't be in every episode.

3) Kevin Rubio and Paul Dini are writing for the show

4) Yoda + lightsaber + battle droids = rad.

5) It's Star Wars.

Here's hoping, folks.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Force Unleashed - Part One

I'm going to apologize in advance, people.

There's about to be a whole lot of Star Wars ranting on this site, what with The Force Unleashed and Clone Wars coming out so close together, not to mention I finally got around to reading the first book in the Legacy of the Force series when the power was out for almost two weeks thanks to Hurricane Ike.

Because of Ike, I didn't get to start the 360 version of Unleashed until last Wednesday. Don't worry: I made up for lost time when the power came back on. I completed the game the next night, which is what the first of several rants about The Force Unleashed is about: the game is too damn short.

And I'm not saying this because I didn't want the game to end. No, this game is ridiculously, inexcusably, pissesmeoffingly short. My first run through the game, including multiple, multiple deaths and retrying stages, clocked in at two minutes short of seven hours.

If there's one thing I'll remember about this generation of games, it'll be the (pardon me for using the word again, but it's the right word) inexcusably short length of A-list titles by major developers. And here's the real kick to the proverbial junk: games of this generation cost ten bucks more.

The Force Unleashed now joins Halo 3 and Call of Duty 4 as games I will shake my fist at every time I walk past my gaming library for their brief single-player campaigns - but at least those games had some kickass multiplayer, which made them worth sixty bucks. The Force Unleashed has no multiplayer or co-op (man, imagine the co-op...).

And the brief length of The Force Unleashed affects the game negatively in every way. The story (more on that later) and the characters never get the time to develop properly. The difficulty of the game doesn't progress smoothly, which is as much due to game design as length, but a longer game could have ramped up the difficultly more slowly to create a game with better balance.

And three levels in particular - the medical ship, Cloud City, and the Death Star - end far too quickly. The Cloud City level, one of most iconic and memorable settings in Star Wars, is the biggest disappointment. I didn't feel like I visited Cloud City. I felt like I had a layover in Cloud City. True, it was a kickass layover, one in which I got to kill a shitload of Stormtroopers, but that's not the point.

In the game's defense, I can't stop playing this damn game: I've already clocked in fifteen hours in a week. So it's been worth sixty for me, but I am, unfortunately, that kind of Star Wars fan. For normal people, I recommend waiting till the game drops in price, if you want to get your money's worth.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Super Awesome October Scary Games for Much Super Awesome Scary Entertainment

I take this Halloween shit seriously.

Every year in the last week of September, I make sure that my reserves of scary games, movies, and books are fully stocked to get me through the month of October. I've got a pretty juicy crop of titles lined up for this year, so here's some of the games I plan on playing.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night: This may come as shock, but I haven't played a Castlevania game since the original trilogy on the NES. Don't ask me why, because it doesn't make any sense to me either – since I'm a nut for both the old Universal monsters and Japanese RPGs. I bought the game a few months ago, but I've been waiting patiently for October to finally play it.

Yes, I know how much of a square this makes me... but I'm comfortable with who I am.

Cold Fear: The reviews weren't great, but it was three bucks at my local Half-Price Books, and it's a scary game I haven't played. I figure it's worth a shot.

Dead Space: One of three games I'm truly looking forward to this fall (along with with Force Unleashed and Left 4 Dead). If it lives up to the hype, this game looks scary enough to make some instant pants fudge, though the letters “E” and “A” give me pause.

EA's games are getting better – and kudos to them for their renewed focus on original properties – but every game I have played of theirs on the 360 has still come up short in at least one respect. I'm not buying it, since scary games have little replay value, but I'm definitely going to Blockbuster on its release date.

Silent Hill: Origins or Silent Hill: Homecoming: The top two games on my Gamefly queue. It's been awhile since I've had some Silent Hill lovin'. The last one I completed was Silent Hill 3. I tried number four, but I just couldn't get into it.

If I were to make a list of the most memorable games I've played, the first Silent Hill would be on that list (Goddamn that music...beautiful, creepy shit). None of the sequels have come close to having the same impact on me, but playing the sequels brings back a warm feeling of nostalgia (and fear – don't forget fear) of playing the first game with some friends, taking turns with the controller, and losing ourselves in the world of Silent Hill.

And lastly the reserves, if those three games don't last me the month...

Dead Rising: Not really scary, but it's the best zombie killin' that money can buy. And just where the hell is the sequel to this game? The 360 ain't getting any younger, Capcom.

Clive Barker's Undying: It's been a few years since I've played it, so it might be scary again. The only game I've played that comes anywhere close to being as creepy as this game is the original Alien vs. Predator for the PC, which I'd love to play again – but AVP doesn't like Windows XP and I haven't figured a workaround yet.

Castlevania 1, 2, or 3: I bought the PC ports for five bucks a few months ago. The only game I had for the NES that got more play than Castlevania was Mike Tyson's Punch-Out. Could be fun to replay a classic. In fact, I'm not sure I ever beat it. Not sure I even could, those old NES games are wicked hard.

Have a good October, people. Pick a scary game, wait till the middle of the night, turn off the lights, put on some headphones, and enjoy purposely going out of your way to scare the hell out of yourself.