Sunday, October 31, 2010

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Rock Band -- Random Thought #4,322

Even through a heavy gauze of ironic detachment, I still shouldn't enjoy playing Whitesnake's "Here I Go Again" on Rock Band 3.

Friday, October 29, 2010

MySpace Regurgitation -- A Letter to Pamela (2/14/07)

Going through the old MySpace page before I delete it. Wanted to save a few posts and put them on this site. Expect formatting issues, typos, and lame jokes.

You have been warned...

* * * *

Dear Pamela,

I didn't know how to contact you, so you will have to forgive me for using such a public format to get in touch with you. It's better this way – since, in all honesty, we don't actually have anything to say to each other. I imagine you settled down, happy, with a kid or two and another on the way (I tell you, you people are breeding as if there was a biological instinct compelling you).

I'll make this letter as brief as possible.

I'm thinking of you because it's Valentine's Day, and my first kiss was on Valentine's Day, 14 years ago, half my life before, with you. You probably remember, since it was fraught with calamity and injury.

I probably shouldn't share this story, but I've already used it twice – once in a play, once in a short story – and it is a simple, innocent story.

Though, as said before, full of calamity and injury.

It was just when I was leaving your house those 14 years ago, nervous and unsure, and if I remember right – and I probably don't, due to an overactive imagination that loves self-derision – it was in your entryway that I thought, "Oh, what the hell…" and moved towards you to kiss you. Somehow, in the process of doing this, I tripped and slammed us into a wall.

First off, I hope you weren't hurt. I remember being frozen in horror, then quickly making my goodbyes and getting the hell out of there. Maybe I should have lied and blamed it on a fictional inner ear condition. Or maybe I should have made a joke like, "Baby, did the Earth just move, or was that just me?" Instead, I acted awkward, tongue-tied, and unsure.

Anyway, you dumped me. Hard.

I don't blame you. In fact, I heartily endorse this decision – in retrospect, of course – and it's the dumping that primarily occupies my attention this Valentine's Day.

You did it a day or two later, over the phone, which most people would call the coward's way out. In this situation, I disagree. On that fateful February the 14th, you didn't laugh in my face, you didn't look at me like I was freak, you didn't yell, "What the hell is wrong with you?"

You let me down easy. If Emily Post had a chapter in one of her books for dumping worthless jerks, you would have followed it perfectly.

I want to say thanks for that. I probably wouldn't have been so eager to try dating again if you had laughed in my face and I might have missed out on a few things.

I'm glad I didn't.

-- Jeremy Wickett

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II (Game Complete -- Day Two)

OK, the game's story is crap. I'll run you through the first ten minutes, and let you extrapolate from there.

Darth Vader, Dark Lord of the Sith, voted most likely by his graduating class at the Jedi Academy "to kill us all in a Dark Side, whiny bitch-induced rage," returns to the planet Kamino after stepping out for a second to grab a Big Gulp.

Drink in hand, wishing he remembered a straw, Vader descends into the bowels of a giant clone factory. Vader enters a darkened room. Incarcerated within is Starkiller, presumed dead at the end of the first game.

Vader intends to turn Starkiller, who may or may not be a clone, back to the Dark Side. Never the brightest Dark Lord of the Sith, Vader sets about this task in the dumbest way possible. Using droids that can physically represent people using holograms ( there anything they can't do?), Vader tests Starkiller's combat skills.

Starkiller kills the droids, save one. The one that, moments before, with its holographic do-dad thingys off, walked up to Starkiller and -- right in front of him, mind you -- turned into Juno Eclipse, his lost love. Vader orders Starkiller to kill it/her. Starkiller then gets a case of the cry babies, because obviously Jedi can't get in touch with the Force unless they have a good sulk first. Starkiller is torn, conflicted.

* * * *

This is, of course, stupid. Starkiller saw the droid turn into her! Vader just isn't even trying anymore. He could have at least had the droid, I don't know, walk around the corner, step into a cupboard, or even go behind a conveniently placed dressing screen ("").

I don't know, something. Anything.

From this moment on, the scene should have played like this. The conclusion of the scene would end just as it does in the game:


The DROID walks up to Starkiller. It turns into Juno Eclipse. Vader watches in the background, expectantly.

VADER: Destroy her!

STARKILLER: I can't...


STARKILLER: I can't. I mean, I really can't. That's not her.

VADER: What?

STARKILLER: It's a droid, remember? You know, it walked up to me, turned into Juno...

VADER: Oh...

VADER takes a nervous sip from his Big Gulp. The echo of him clearing his throat fills the enormous room.
VADER: I was, uh, hoping you wouldn't notice that...

STARKILLER: Really? Really?

VADER: Well, I figured, you know, you're a clone...

STARKILLER: Yeah. I'm a clone. Not a retard.

VADER: You can still take a swing at it, if you want. It's kind of the same...

STARKILLER: Dude, I'm outta here.

BOLTS OF LIGHTENING shoot out of Starkiller's fingers, bringing Vader to his knees.

leaps out a giant window, plummeting to the raging waters below.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II (Game Complete -- Part One)

Jesus, I don't know where to begin with this one. Guess we'll start with some dirty jokes about playing The Force Unleashed II last night:

THE FORCE UNLEASHED II: Oh, oh... here come's the end boss fight!

ME: Already?

THE FORCE UNLEASHED II (embarrassed): Uh, is that OK?

ME: We just got started...

THE FORCE UNLEASHED II: Yeah, but you've been playing me awful hard.

ME: It hasn't even been five hours yet.

THE FORCE UNLEASHED II: Well, I'm not going to last much longer. Maybe we could take a break? You know, watch a Star Wars movie? Keep you in the mood...

ME: Oh, just finish...

THE FORCE UNLEASHED II: Oh... OK... OK... and... you... WIN!!! ACHIEVEMENTS! END CREDITS! Wait... where are you going?

ME: To the bathroom.


ME : To satisfy my own gaming needs.

THE FORCE UNLEASHED II: Oh, OK... Wait -- is that a PSP in your hand?

ME: Is that a problem?

THE FORCE UNLEASHED II: Well, it's just... you know... I thought I was enough for you.

ME: I got to go.

THE FORCE UNLEASHED II: Wait, can I watch!

* * * *

The Force Unleashed II is inexcusably short. I don't like it, but I'm beginning to accept five-hour campaigns in action games... if they have multiplayer, which Unleashed II does not. This game barely justifies the price of a rental.

Seriously, LucasArts, you had two years to make this sequel. This is all you could come up with? Even worse: the game's obviously padded to get to five hours. It's over before you know it, and it's going to leave you unsatisfied.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Fallout: New Vegas (Character Creation: Grognak the Barbarian)

Decided to make my Grognak the Barbarian character for New Vegas instead of trying it in Fallout 3. New Vegas begins with your character taking some serious head trauma, so it's the perfect setup for the character.

It didn't take long to make him. The first pre-made male character, who looks like the befuddled neighbor in a 50s sitcom, was almost perfect. I just made his hair gray and cranked up the age.

I plan on playing him as if he's a befuddled retiree turned psychotic nutjob, who truly thinks he is a barbarian -- a relentless warrior who constantly searches the apocalyptic wasteland for evil sorcerers, scantily-clad wenches, and a good Luby's.

Strength, endurance, and luck are the big stats -- the first two stats are obvious for a melee fighter, but I put just as many skill points into luck. It seemed right to me: a crazy old bastard roaming the Nevada wastes who thinks he's a fictional character would need a lot of luck if he planned on continuing to be a crazy old bastard roaming the Nevada wastes who thinks he's a fictional character.

Since his strength and endurance are so good, I'm going to use this character to attempt the hardcore mode. I figure his ability to eat things that would make a mutated billy goat puke will even the playing field.

It'll be interesting to see how his karma changes as the game progresses. I'm going for crazy bastard, certainly -- but a well-intentioned crazy bastard. I plan on having him attack most ghouls and mutants on sight, though -- which will make for an awkward conversation or two, like when Grognak suddenly charges out of a conveniently placed bush in the Nevada desert to bludgeon a ghoul caravan guard to death and then ask the traders if he can get a discount for his trouble:

GROGNAK (triumphant): I demand a discount for saving you from this foul wretch who lies dead before my mighty, Dr. Scholl's-adorned feet!

TRADER: That foul wretch was our guard! He was my friend!

GROGNAK (haughty ambivalence): You jest! He was sneaking up on you, ready to strike at any moment.

TRADER: He was walking fifteen feet in front of us!

GROGNAK (confused): cunning plan of his! The last thing you would expect!

* * * *

One last thing: I'm two hours in with Grognak and I already have the perfect outfit and equipment for him. It's a shame I'll have to trade them out later in the game. He's wearing the best old man clothes I can get: a plaid shirt, a sweater vest, and a fedora (too bad the checkered shorts, black dress socks, and sandals combo isn't in the game -- that would complete the look). His weapon of choice is a golf club, a 9 iron.

In his mind, though, he wears nothing but a loincloth (and a good hat -- 'cause, you know, it gets cold at night) and wields a strange, mystical sword that magically improves his short game...

Grognak the Barbarian (Level 1):

STR: 9
PER: 3
END: 7
CHA: 3
INT: 3
AGI: 6

Starting Trained Skills: Melee Weapons; Survival; Unarmed

Starting Perks: Heavy Handed; Wild Wasteland

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II ( Day One -- Game Release and Kamino)

* Went to Gamestop at midnight last night to pick up the game. Was the first to answer a Star Wars trivia question and won a free Star Wars cut-out and an upgraded collector's edition of the game. On the way home, Jesus spoke to me and told me He was giving me my virginity back.

True story.

* Wasn't impressed with the demo. In fact, I was so unimpressed that, driving to Gamestop last night, I thought about switching my reserve down-payment over to Rock Band 3. The only thing that stopped me was knowing that Rock Band 3 would require further expensive purchases -- keytar, new cymbals for the drums, a fee to import previous Rock Band songs, etc. True, you can just buy the Rock Band 3 disc and play it with the existing instruments, but we all know that I'm too much of a Rock Band whore to do just that.

Also, I had reconnected with my inner fanboy by the time I got to Gamestop -- though I'm still more excited about seeing where the story goes then actually playing the game. Reminds me a lot of Halo 3 in that respect.

* Did The Force Unleashed need a sequel? Or, more importantly, this sequel? The first game's story was a bit silly (to not repeat myself or come up with new jokes, see here), but it worked. It was the best told Star Wars story since Return of the Jedi, with a complete and satisfying ending, one that left no need for a sequel.

But a sequel was inevitable. I had hoped, though, that LucasArts would leave Starkiller buried, with General Kota, a man's Jedi, becoming the focus of the sequel. Seriously, who wouldn't want to play as the blind samurai?

Nope. Starkiller's back. Either he's a clone or Vader wants him to think he's a clone. I'm hoping for the former, since the first game's story almost collapsed in on itself thanks to all of Vader's silly subterfuge and double crosses (seriously, a guy that can choke a bitch using just his mind who's got a galaxy-sized totalitarian army behind him shouldn't be afraid of the direct approach).

Can't wait to see where the story goes.

* Say what you will about the first game, it was a giant step forward in performance capture, in translating an actor's full performance into a game. No game I've played in the last two years has topped it. And the cutscenes I've seen in the first two levels blow anything found in the first game out of the water.

If you filmed the opening dialog scene with Samuel Witwer and an actor in the Darth Vader suit, it would still play and feel much as it does in the game. Here's hoping the game's got a script to match the tech.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Fallout: New Vegas (Character Creation: The Courier)

Got two characters going at the moment. Fifteen hours in with my standard Fallout character, here simply called The Courier. I'll post the full stats below, but the emphasis on this character is perception, agility, and intelligence. Basically, I designed the character to play the game effectively. He's great with a gun and the intelligence boost builds up his skills quickly. With the help of a few magazines, which temporarily boost skills, there's little this guy can't do. And if he can't do it, he'll wonder off into the wastes, kill a few things, level up, and come right back to pick that lock he was having trouble with ten minutes before.

I always build this default character as if he's the star of a classic western. Tough, smart, and quick on the trigger. The intention is to play him as a real hardcase, the kind of man that rides into town, does what he needs to do (or, more appropriately, kills what he needs to kill), and rides off again, leaving the town to pick up the pieces.

That never happens. It's just not me. I'm too much of a Boy Scout at heart. I ride -- or walk, since Obsidian/Bethesda still haven't added horses to the game -- into each new town with visions of swift, brutal justice dancing merrily in my head. A half-hour later, I've already helped two old ladies cross the street, organized a pot luck raffle to raise funds for the local ghoul PTA, and cured little Bobby Sue's stutter. And if do get to shoot someone, it's because the locals asked me to... nicely. And that takes all the fun out of it.

After my work in town is done, I refuse any form of payment like the little kiss-ass I am. I regrettably tell the townsfolk -- with profuse apologies -- that it's time for me to leave. Why? Because somewhere out there in the harsh, perilous wastes, some desperate soul needs help getting their groceries in the house.

Typically, I make this default character to look like me, because I find it amusing to have a skinny nerd with glasses and a Fedora wearing Tesla Power Armor and wielding a mini gun by the end of the game. Keeping with the Western emphasis of New Vegas, I made him look like a crazy redneck, rocking a serious mullet and a close-cropped beard which his sister no doubt finds too scratchy in her tender areas. The only thing this guy is missing is a John Deere hat and an anti-Obama tee-shirt.

Also, he likes dynamite more than any one man should.

The Courier (Level 1):

STR: 4
PER: 6
END: 4
CHA: 5
INT: 8
AGI: 7

Starting Trained Skills: Guns; Medicine; Repair

Starting Perks: Four Eyes; Trigger Discipline

(Back tomorrow with my second character, who thinks he is Grognak the Barbarian.)

Friday, October 22, 2010

Fallout: New Vegas (Quick Thought)

Expect more ranting on this game in the days to come. I've got family in town, which severely cuts into my New Vegas time, which then cuts severely into my writing time.

Quick thought, though, to tide you over.

I want to make a character -- either for Fallout 3 or New Vegas -- who is a real melee bruiser, a character who actually thinks he is Grognak the Barbarian. I wonder if the game can support that.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Civilization 5 (A Minor Quibble)

Jesus Christ, I invade and conquer one measly little city-state, and all of a sudden the rest of the world sees me as a warmongering, land-grabbing bastard. Then -- then! -- they have the nerve declare war on me.

Doesn't seem fair...

Monday, October 18, 2010

Pork, or Of Carnal Passion and Processed Meats

Cooking dirty, sinful late night sausage patties. It feels like I'm cheating on the food pyramid with processed pork products in some cheap motel off the interstate.


Friday, October 15, 2010

Weekend Plans of the Nerd Kind (October 15th -- 17th)

October is in full swing here at the stately Wickett manor and we're definitely getting our scary on. Here's with what:

WRITING: Finally getting back in front of the keyboard, after a very eventful month. I hate the phrase "emotional rollercoaster" -- but that's exactly what it's been. Look for more writing updates in the following weeks, if it amounts to anything.

TV and MOVIES: Got the Kubrick version of The Shining and The Crazies remake out from Netflix. Haven't seen The Shining in at least fifteen years -- and I'm pretty sure it was edited for television. I remember not caring for Kubrick's take on Stephen King's novel or Nicholson's performance. Going to give it another chance.

I typically take a piss on remakes, but I've heard enough good things about this new version of The Crazies to give it a shot.

And finally, being the nerd I am, I've been going through the classic Universal horror movies in chronological order (*). The Invisible Man is up next.

GAMES: Been saving Alan Wake and Dead Space: Extraction for this month. Almost done with Alan Wake and just started Dead Space: Extraction. Enjoying both -- but neither has been all that scary.

Haven't had a truly unsettling videogame experience since the original Dead Space. Those experiences are few and far between, and I savor them when they come along. Looks like I'm going to be waiting a while yet for another one.

BOOKS: Mary Shelly's Frankenstein in the car. Bram Stoker's Dracula at home. Dracula is a staple for me, but I've never read Frankenstein. Am I the only one who thinks Frankenstein kinda sucks? The story itself is strong -- it wouldn't be still with us if it wasn't -- but Shelly's prose is awkward, clumsy, and ridiculously florid. Not sure I'll finish it.

(*) You know, that didn't sound that nerdy until I typed it out. I need to get out more.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Signs (A Quick Thought)

Say what you will about where Mel Gibson and M. Night Shyamalan's careers have gone, but the "people break down into two groups" monologue remains one of my favorite moments in cinema.

Back with a real post tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Army of Two: The 40th Day

It's a better game than the first -- but still a rental or markdown purchase. And it's considerably less enjoyable without a partner.

The gameplay is solid, though nothing spectacular. My main beef with the game is that Tyson and Rios, said army of two, remain characters that only a mother or a frat boy could love. They're certainly more tolerable this time around, but EA still doesn't fully understand what a brilliant idea they have on their hands, or how to properly implement it.

I remember being absolutely dumbstruck with the trailers for the first game, and had one of those "why the hell hasn't someone thought of this before?" moments. It looked like EA was making a shooter inspired by all those silly but awesome buddy movies from the 80's, like Lethal Weapon or Tango & Cash. Unfortunately, neither character was particularly likable and the first game's story bordered on exploitative (similar to the outcries against the new Medal of Honor).

My opinion of the two has improved with the sequel. I now find them tolerable, but there are several reasons why I still don't enjoy playing these characters:

1) They look silly. I mean, really silly. The only thing stopping these two from looking like they belong in a trailer park cooking up meth while watching reruns of The Facts of Life in the vain hope of a Nancy McKeon nip slip is all the scars and body armor.

2) They get along too well. It's not a love/hate relationship. It's all love. I'm surprised there isn't a button you can press to tell your partner that you love him more.

3) They love their jobs just a little too much.

4) They only do said job, which they love a little too much, for the money.

5) And did I mention they look silly, with a strong "creepy hillbilly" vibe? To the point that I am surprised that one of their camaraderie animations isn't Rios pulling out a banjo and Tyson telling one of their wounded opponents that he has a pretty mouth?

Friday, October 1, 2010

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

We may not enjoy living together, but dying together isn't going to solve anything.
--Night of the Living Dead

It's been a long time since I watched and finished Night of the Living Dead. The quote above sums up so much of what Romero wants to say with the Dead films. Too often, though, his characters are so abrasive that I don't want to live with these people for even two hours.

Which is why I usually turn the film off once Harry Cooper, one of the most detestable shits in film history, enters the story and the endless, petty arguments over the safety of the cellar begin. In the interest of keeping this brief, here's some stray observations after watching the film again with fresh eyes.

* Black & white movies are inherently creepier than color films. Don't ask me why, they just are.

* The music is surprisingly good for such a low budget film. Quite effective.

* I don't know why it hit me so acutely this time, but I love that the world has already gone to hell as the movie begins and Barbara and her brother Johnny, driving through the empty back roads of rural Pennsylvania, don't know it yet. Creepy stuff -- especially for those of us with overactive imaginations.

* Something I yelled at the TV the first time Johnny spoke: "Jesus, Johnny, would you hurry up and bust your head open on that tombstone!"

* After Barbara has locked herself in the car, the cemetery zombie that's chasing her immediately goes for the car door handle, finds it locked, shambles over to the passenger side door, finds it locked as well, and then grabs a large rock to bust out the passenger door window. Man, for a zombie, that guy really has his shit together.

* The fact that Barbara becomes and mostly remains catatonic after making it to the farmhouse never stops being infuriating. Forget about all the "weaker sex" gender issues in this film (none of the women fare much better), the film suddenly and awkwardly shifts its focus from her to Ben. Say what you will about the remake, that film validates its existence for completely rewriting the character, making the entire film her story.

* Always appreciated Romero's choice to never openly address Ben's ethnicity. That remains refreshingly progressive to this day. Ben isn't without rough edges, but he's a good man with human frailties.

To say nothing of why George A. Romero cast actor Duane Jones for the part: he was the best person for the job.

* As said before, Harry Cooper is one of the most repugnant and annoying characters in film history. The problem with his power struggle with Ben over the house is that they're at each others' throats within seconds of meeting each other, and they never let up until one of them is dead.

I know, I know -- that's the point. But it doesn't work from a dramatic point of view, since it leaves the characters with no where to go but to yell louder, to grow more insufferable.

* Love that Ben and Cooper argue over Barbara the same way they argue over the food and supplies. Classy stuff.

* Didn't realize until this viewing that Ben never tries to reason with Mr. Cooper. Ben instantly despises the man. Can't say I blame him, but it does nothing to solve their problems. It only escalates them.

* The story of the limbless torso coming back to life on the news. Damn. Proof that telling is sometimes better than showing.

* Ben and Tom's failed attempt to refuel the truck remains almost unbearable to watch. It's here that the film's documentary feel is most effective, showing three ordinary people completely out of their depth, trying to do a relatively simple task under extreme pressure. They make poor, hasty decisions, which gets all but one of them killed.

* Zombie kids are creepy.

* Like the cemetery zombie, the Cooper's daughter and several other zombies still understand how to use tools. Big change from future films, where this happens months, even years after the outbreak.

* This film has just about the right amount of gore for me. Not that I mind gore. It's just that gore simply isn't scary unless it's used judiciously. Forty years and five very bloody sequels later, the final act's gore still remains disturbing in a way the other Dead films lack.

* I've often heard that Romero has grown more cynical and bitter with age, but I'd have to disagree. Night has by far the bleakest ending in the series. The other Dead films end with several characters surviving, and while their futures remain uncertain, one gets the impression that the world is a little better for the survivors still being in it. Hell, the shared look between Big Daddy and Simon Baker in Land of the Dead, where Big Daddy seems to be saying "Don't shoot us and we won't bite your faces off" is downright upbeat in comparison.

It's also the only Dead film that implies that the living may come out of this on top. And from Romero and co-writer John A. Russo's point of view at the time, that isn't necessarily a happy ending.