Monday, December 30, 2013

Card Hunter marries the RPG to the CCG... and it actually works

 Sometimes when I try to get a friend to play one of my collectible card games, they just stare at me blankly as I attempt to relay the rules to them. Part of this is because I'm a better writer than I am a speaker, but it's also because CCGs are complicated, even more so if the only games you played when you were a child were Monopoly and Clue. What can be even more complicated than a CCG is the traditional tabletop roleplaying game. Combining the two sounds like a recipe for disastrous complexity, but there are few games as easy to "get" as Card Hunter. This is easily my favorite free-to-play game to date.


Look here: I've spent a small fortune on Steam games in the past few days. None of those games are as fun and potentially addictive as this one. The artwork is perfect, the mechanics are damn-near flawless, and I've sustained no balance issues or anything like that. It's also got a fantastic sense of humor. I might write about it more in the future when I've had some more time with it. In fact, I'm pretty sure I will.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Arrival holds up today

The year was 1996. The movie everyone wanted to see that year was Independence Day, which was ultimately forgettable. I, like millions of other moviegoers, chose that film as opposed to The Arrival, the trailer of which looked absolutely awful (and still does). Give me a break, I was thirteen years old and I'm attempting to atone for my crimes here.

don't even bother with this trailer, go straight to the movie

A funny thing happened when The Arrival premiered on HBO. I caught it from the beginning and found myself immediately drawn into it. The movie was ridiculous, even goofy at times, but overall it was designed as a thinking man's summer blockbuster. Most likely because of the ID4 hype, however, the movie bombed at the box office (that didn't stop a direct-to-video sequel, though). It's a shame, too, because fourteen years later it's still a very solid effort.

The movie opens with a climate scientist roaming a picturesque meadow. She sniffs a flower and unnecessarily says to herself, "This shouldn't be here." The camera proceeds to pull back—way back into outer space. We see she's near the north pole and this meadow is completely surrounded by ice. Never mind that there probably isn't any land that close to the north pole, it's still much more exciting than instant alien invasion. The aliens are here. They're already up to diabolical machinations. Apparently they've transported dirt to the north pole. That's fucked up... or kind of nice. I don't know which.

After the title card we meet Zane, a radio astronomer played by Charlie Sheen. Charlie Sheen sounds like a horrible (yet typical) choice to play a scientist, but he pulls it off with a dorky goatee, even dorkier spiked hair, and glasses. Zane's a paranoid individual (at least that's what his girlfriend says, but we kind of just have to take her word for it until the end) who's just discovered forty-two seconds of a radio signal emitting from a star fourteen light years away. When he takes the message to Phil Gordian (Ron Silver) at JPL, the guy who pays Zane's bills, he loses his job for seemingly unrelated reasons. Gordian promises to send the audio recording up the ladder, but the moment Zane leaves Gordian breaks the tape.

So Zane takes a job in what he calls telecommunications (read: installing home satellite dishes). Before long he has the idea to link several people's satellite dishes into an array for his own purposes. How he does this without stringing several miles of cable directly to his house, I don't know, but we'll let that slide as it's always good to see such a determined character. Back at his house he manages to lock onto the signal again, but there's something strange about the second instance: the signal's not coming from the star this time, but it's being beamed from Earth to the star.

After a little detective work, Zane realizes the signal originated in Mexico. On an astronomer's salary he takes the first plane to the broadcast location. Wouldn't you know it: it's exactly where that climate scientist from the beginning of the film went, too. Together they team up and discover a power plant the aliens are using to pump gases into the atmosphere. See, the aliens like it warm. Zane's first indication something is wrong is when he sees a very similar face. At this point I've said too much.

The fun of the movie is that it posits one WTF moment after another. As ridiculous as the risks Zane takes are, we want him to take those risks. We know why he's doing it because we need the answers even more than he does. You should know by now whether this movie is your type of movie. If you think it might be, you need to see it and you should go into it knowing as little as possible.

The Arrival isn't on Netflix Instant, but it is free on Amazon Prime.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Why I haven't reviewed Elysium yet

Short answer: I was disappointed.

The long answer is I was a huge fan of District 9 which, in a medium that seems to favor technophobic scare tactics (see: Splice and the upcoming Transcendence), stood out as something that truly deserved the label "science fiction." What I want from science fiction is interesting aliens (if you plan on having aliens at all), social commentary, and a healthy dose of speculative politics. District 9 ticked these boxes and more. While it ticked some better than others, it was a huge breath of fresh air, especially considering Avatar had failed to connect with me on any emotional level whatsoever. The fact that D9 had a great sense of humor, special effects that actually worked, and futuristic guns which blew people up like the produce at a Gallagher show didn't hurt, either.

So here's what Elysium is about: it's the future. Rich people live on a space station. Poor people live on Earth. The space between the two objects is more or less a metaphor for the American-Mexican border, but I won't go much into that because the movie doesn't go much into it either. Earthlings are oppressed by the rich people's robots (courtesy of fantastic special effects, by the way) and the factory that manufactures the robots is where Matt Damon's character, Max, works. After receiving a lethal dose of radiation on the job, Max is told he's got a few days left to live.

On Elysium the rich people have futuristic tanning beds which can cure any ailment. All Max has to do, in theory, is sneak onto Elysium and get into one of the beds. However, Jodie Foster's border patrol is on high alert so Max—I hope you're following all of this—has to have a robotic exoskeleton surgically hardwired to his body. One thing I'm more than thrilled to report is, as far as movies go, this is as cyberpunk as you can typically get.

A lot of the passion is gone in Neill Blomkamp's follow-up, though. Here's a movie which is far from terrible, but none of it really clicks. There was a wide variety of action sequences in D9. In Elysium, it's all about the gunfights. When you have a giant space station in the shape of a wheel with an atmosphere that's held in by centrifugal force alone, you're telling me the most you can come up with is standard shootouts, the majority of which take place on desolate earth?

My God. So much wasted potential here. Where's the excitement? Where's the stuff I've never seen in a movie before?

And is there a reason why Jodie Foster speaks in a phony accent? Hell, even William Fichtner is off his game here, and that guy's almost always brilliant. Casting Sharlto Copley (he was the weenie hero of District 9) as bad guy Kruger is one of the best things about the movie, but his character just isn't developed enough. And I like Matt Damon and he certainly feels at home in a movie like this, but again, the character himself leaves a lot to be desired.

There is a bit involving a grenade that got a huge laugh out of me. There's more to it than that, it turns out, and they make a sort of interesting use of the previously mentioned medical beds.

At the end of the day, I wouldn't say Elysium does much to scar Blomkamp's reputation. Unfortunately, that says more about how good D9 was than it does about Elysium. I'm still excited to see his next movie. Hell, I still want to see what he would do in the Halo universe, which was the original plan for the director.

Elysium is a fairly solid rental, but only if you don't have something better to do on your Friday night.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Why Dark Souls is the best game ever

I'm thirty, which means I remember when games were actually challenging more often than not. I've got Pac-Man patterns memorized in my muscles. On a single quarter I can play Dig Dug and Galaga for so long that I don't walk away when I lose all my lives, but when I simply don't feel like standing at the game cabinet any longer. When I was a kid, acquiring a home video game was so rare, you had to learn to love the ones you actually got, and most of them were terrible. Here's one of the ones I had to pretend to love:

He's not exaggerating. This game really is balls.

Nowadays I still love games, but they're just not challenging. It's not that I'm more practiced because the games from my childhood are still hard. Mario titles are a piece of cake, Call of Duty holds your hand too much, and whenever you die in GTA, you can more or less reload where you left off. Even Doom 3 was easier than its predecessor. When the average video gamer is an adult (no bullshit), you wonder why so many of these games seem to be tailored for people who have never played a game in their lives. You can't even get stuck in games anymore—I think the last time for me was Quake 4.

That is until I played Dark Souls.

Until recently I had heard about the brutal cruelty known as Dark Souls, but I had no idea what the game was about. I finally picked the game up on a Steam sale and loved it so much I bought a copy for my PS3 so I could have the game in my office as well as my home. (For those wondering, the PC version is a pretty lame port, so if you've got the option, get it for a console.)

Let me let you in on a little secret: the game's not nearly as hard as the reviewers make it out to be, at least in the beginning. I was pleasantly surprised by how far I got before I was killed for the first time. But all the hype over the game's difficulty is a good thing: it makes you feel like a total bad ass when you clear two or more bonfires (checkpoints) in a single day. Playing this game in my thirties was the equivalent of playing The Legend of Zelda for the very first time. The Japanese creative team behind it has a wonderful take on the western fantasy setting. It's like nothing you've ever seen before, yet somehow so damned familiar.

When you begin the game you chose a fantasy archetype, a gender, starting stats, a gift (just choose the master key), and find yourself fighting your way out of a dungeon. Glimpses of the sun are so rare in this bleak setting, that players often scrawl "Praise the sun!" on the floor whenever it actually makes an appearance.

Which brings me to the most impressively unique multiplayer mode I've ever seen: you're typically alone in the world of Dark Souls, but other players can write messages—usually extremely limited tips—that appear in your game. Using a special item, other players can actually force their way into your world and beat the everliving shit out of you (at least that's usually the result for me). Another special item allows you to team up with other players to take on a hard section.

A funny thing about Dark Souls is it's not nearly as frustrating as you would expect. I've been stuck on the same boss fight for weeks, but in my defense I don't get to play the game very often. I ain't even mad, though. Shortly before finding myself stuck there, I had planned to marathon play the game while my girlfriend was out of town for a week. Guess what? Didn't even progress to the next checkpoint until long after she got back.

If you're like me and feel the setting, mood, and exploration opportunities of a game are the most important features, you could do a lot worse than Dark Souls. Hell, I'm fairly certain you can't do better, period. It's been far too long since I took my time with a game and absorbed every tiny detail of it. Get this game, play it, and don't rush it.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

2001 Ray Bradbury video is full of writerly advice

This speech is full of good stuff. Right off the bat Bradbury suggests something I wish I would have known when I started writing fiction in my teens: don't write long in the beginning, but write a ton of short stories. Preferably one per week. At the end of the year, at least one of those stories should be good. "I defy you to write fifty-two bad ones," he says.

He then goes on to suggest reading a lot of Roald Dahl, Guy de Maupassant, John Cheever, Richard Matheson, Nigel Kneale, Edith Wharton, Katherine Ann Porter, Eudora Welty, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. He calls John Collier "one of the greatest short story writers of this century and you've never even heard his name."

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Dice Tower's top 10 board games of 2013

The thing about Dice Tower is there aren't a whole lot of YouTube creators who can post an hour long video that I'll actually sit through. And considering that two of the games mentioned above have already found themselves on my to-buy list, I think it's safe to say that we board gamers are lucky to have someone like Tom cheerleading for our hobby.

Which board game have you played the most of in 2013? For me it was probably Zombie Dice, which is a blast for starting out a session and playing in between games. Android: Netrunner is my favorite of the games I acquired in 2013, but most people I know have trouble with the cyberpunk theme, mainly because I'm really bad at explaining things. So most of my guests would rather play Pandemic, which I really liked, but need a break from.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

2013 Super Trailer (and what I thought about Pacific Rim)

If you needed a reminder of why it's simply human to love the movies, here it is. Basically it's a trailer of all the trailers of 2013. Even the movies I didn't like give me chills when presented in this form.

* * *

I just realized I never properly wrote about Pacific Rim. Let's be clear: I hate disaster movies as I've said so many times before. I hated the American version of Godzilla, I hated Independence Day, and I hated just about every other modern film that destroys recognizable landmarks ad naseum. On the other hand, I love proper mecha, monster movies such as the real Godzilla, and all things Ray Harryhausen (speaking of Ray, the best documentary on him yet is currently on Netflix). Couple that affection with the fact that Guillermo del Toro hasn't made a bad movie ever and you can probably already see where this is going...

I loved Pacific Rim. It would be easy to dismiss it as a typical Hollywood action movie for kids if you've A) never seen it or B) don't enjoy the films it tributes because you're a pill. For the rest of us, however, it's the real deal. The awesome (in the true sense of the word) music, the convincing special effects, and the playful absurdity of it all had me smiling like a kid for ninety minutes straight. Sure, it's preposterous, but it knows it's preposterous and it's just too fun and upbeat to poke holes in it the way we did in the boringly morose Man of Steel. It also has some near-cyberpunk visuals as demonstrated by this image:

The colors, man, the colors!

Here's a movie that doesn't cut every three seconds as if the director is on crack. Here's a movie that doesn't relegate every country other than America to the sidelines. Here's a movie that's so colorful it's easily one of the ten best-looking films I've ever seen. Some have complained about the lack of female characters. Well, there's at least one great one in it and let's face it: it's fucking sea monsters versus mechs... it's for the twelve year old boy in all of us.

I could have written about this movie in depth, but it's no longer fresh in my memory. Perhaps sometime in the future I will revisit it. And if del Toro directs the inevitable sequel, I'm there, dude. In the meantime, check out The Host if you haven't seen it yet. I believe it's on Netflix and like most of the Korean films that actually get imported, it blows the American stuff out of the water.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Read Phantasmagoria for free, no strings attached!

Here's the link. Ooo, scare-eee!


I guess this one's a horror story, but I think that's misleading... sort of. Maybe not. I don't know. Just check it out.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Allow me a moment to gush about Doctor Who

The perception filter has broken. Oh, I was wrong, so wonderfully wrong when I reported I disliked Steve Moffat's leadership on Doctor Who, when I said I hated Amy Pond, when I stated I merely liked Matt Smith as the Doctor. It is with great pleasure that I admit my mistake and my boneheaded belief that Chris Eccleston and David Tennant are the greatest Doctors of my adulthood. They are not.

What's great about Doctor Who is at its worst it's like a catchy pop song you wouldn't admit you liked to save your life. At its best it's a far more culturally-important LOST with actual answers to the many questions it raises. The answers are so brilliantly unexpected, yet at the same time you slap your forehead and say, "But of course! The clues were hiding there in plain view all along!"

I loved it when we simply knew who was going to be in the Pandorica when it finally opened, but we were wrong. I loved that in the very next episode when the box opens again it's not the same person who we last saw in the box, but an unexpected character who all-but winks at the camera and acknowledges our confusion with these fantastic words: "Okay, kid, this is where it gets complicated." Chills, friend, when the iconic and heart-pumping title music fades in. That's the point we know we're in for an episode that's far more challenging and unique than anything typical television has to offer.

I love that the timelines are as easy to follow as tangled pasta. I love that we nerds who take these matters way too seriously can argue about what's paradoxical, what isn't, and what makes no sense at all and why it makes all the sense in the world. I love that the most whacky and unexpected stories can so easily slip into the accepted canon as if they were designed to be there from the beginning. I love that when the universe's many stars explode it looks just like a Vincent van Gogh painting; van Gogh, of course, is a recurring character on the show. Above all I love that we have a show that already took us to the bleak and unavoidable end of the universe, then destroys it all over again in an episode that successfully combines all of the Doctors most memorable enemies.

The moment I knew I liked Matt Smith the most was the episode in which he's told, "Good guys can never win because they have too many rules." His response: "Good guys don't need rules. You're about to find out why I have so many of them." I've been longing for a darker Doctor for ages. That little bit of dialogue made both of my hearts swell.

I'm glad, too, that all good things must come to a definite end, and Matt Smith's rein is nearly over. I'm very enthusiastic that the next Doctor will be the more seasoned Peter Capaldi; until now, each actor who played the Doctor has been younger than the one before him. While I would have liked a female Doctor (yes, it happens from time to time in the story universe, but so far never on screen), I'm glad they're going back to an older guy. Somehow it rubs me the wrong way when a character who's a thousand years old is portrayed by actors as young as me.

Doctor Who can never be rebooted in the Hollywood sense, it can never be remade or copied. But that's just because it never grows stagnant; it's constantly changing, forcing us to follow it through the good times and bad, the old familiar and the new uncomfortable. It is the farthest thing from the traditional sitcom, which comforts the viewer, which says it's okay to turn your brain off. It's not okay, not ever, to just sit there and go numb. The Doctor continuously reminds us of this fact and everyone who watches it is rewarded.

I'm closing in on the final episodes available on Netflix streaming and will watch the seventh series on Amazon Prime. So no, I haven't even seen the 50th anniversary yet. So expect more DW stuff in the near future.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Friday, November 29, 2013

Comet ISON plays Icarus... and wins

Like I've tried to tell so many people who don't get Reddit, it's pretty useless if you don't sign up for it and subscribe to only the subs you like. Indeed, the first thing I saw on my personalized feed this morning was this post. Comet ISON, for a short time last night, was thought to have been burned up by the sun. 

gif courtesy bsteinfeld, compiled from NASA thumbnails

As you can see, at least some of the comet made it.

It made me wonder just how fast this sucker's moving. Phil Plait calculates it's moving 1500 times faster than a commercial jet or 0.1% the speed of light. He originally calculated it was moving twice that speed, but posted a correction with the following message:
"making mistakes are a part of life. The best thing to do is own up to them… and then use them as an excuse to talk about physics. Yeah, I think that’s for the best."
Words to live by. See this website for more on the comet's predicted trajectory.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Maybe the kids are alright (Teens React to Dr. Who)

Wait a minute. 

You mean to tell me that a show that's fifty years old is this popular among teenagers? I expected each and every one of these kids to roll their eyes and say, "This is gay." Then again, I watched less than half the video... you get the gist of it quickly and I can't imagine it filling out its ten-minute runtime. That and three minutes is about all I can stand to hear a teenager speak.

I wrote recently that I didn't like Amy Pond and therefor I wasn't caught up on Dr. Who. Well, I'm watching it again, starting with the Van Gogh episode. I dug it.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Wolverine makes up for Origins

Early on in The Wolverine a group of guards wave a metal detector over Logan's body. His adamantium bones, of course, set the wand off. "Hip replacement," Logan explains.

This scene is about twenty minutes in. At that point we've already seen the atomic destruction of Nagasaki, an unexpected cameo from a former X-Man, a bar fight, and a sword that can cut through beer bottles. The violence is so graphic (and satisfying) you'll wonder how they got away with a PG-13 rating. So yeah, there's a lot happening in the first twenty minutes, but it works. With a darker tone and a more tasteful approach to casting (seriously, fuck Ryan Reynolds' Deadpool), this Logan pic quickly cleanses the palette after the horrifyingly awful Wolverine: Origins. The Wolverine isn't satisfied with only setting itself apart from that travesty; it looks nothing like a traditional X-Men movie either.

And that's good. The standard X-Men look that began with Bryan Singer's reign is thirteen years old; it's stained with the unique look of the double aughts, which is probably my least favorite era of movies. It was an awkward time when the R-rated Schwarzenegger vehicle was dying, CGI was relatively young if not downright laughable, and color treatment was being processed by a computer rather than a lab. The results of that decade were more miss than hit, presumably because all this digital stuff was so new. So The Wolverine's look is less about modernization and more about correcting a wrong. You might compare this film's look to The Dark Knight, but you'd be wrong. Wolverine has always been a dark character and a darker film just makes sense. It'd be like complaining about the lack of colors in a Holocaust picture.

So in the beginning Logan saves a Japanese soldier's life in World War II. Fast forward to the present and Logan's no longer with the X-Men he joined sometime in the interim. We find out he's living in the Canadian wilderness while being the self-loathing, brooding type. Shortly after avenging the death of a grizzly bear (straight from the pages of the Chris Claremond/Frank Miller comic book) Logan's invited to Japan. There, the man he saved so many years ago is on his death bed. He offers Logan the gift of mortality, which initially sounds shitty, but he explains, "You can get married, have a family, lead a normal life." Logan's tempted, but he refuses. The old man dies, yakuza attack and ninjas silently spring from the shadows like ghosts. Somewhere along the way Logan loses his healing abilities and the specifics aren't revealed until later. He's just a human, but his adamantium bones do shield his vitals from bullets.

Convoluted? Almost. Awesome? Entirely. We've seen many action sequences on top of a moving train before, but this one sets a new standard. And Logan's so determined and unflinchingly violent it seems more like the aforementioned Schwarzenegger flick than a modern action movie. I just love this shit. It's been too long since we've had a ripped action hero fist-fight his way through an army of armed bad guys. And Logan's method of lighting a cigar is unique to say the least.

To say it's my favorite film in the Marvel cinematic universe might not be too far from the truth. It's certainly my favorite X-Men movie to date. I do think the film's villain (Viper... if you don't know who she is it really doesn't matter) is maybe the weakest part of the whole movie, but there are so many bad guys it almost makes up for it. Sure, the plot teeters on the edge of preposterous, but isn't that the reason we read comics in the first place? I wasn't exactly expecting the sophistication of Shakespeare in Love when I purchased my ticket. I just want to be thrilled for a couple of hours and you know what? That's harder to do successfully than the stuff that traditionally wins best picture.

Slight spoiler ahead...

About the mid-credit sequence: we now have a link between this film and the much-anticipated Days of Future Past. I have to admit I was pretty skeptical about it when it was announced (Professor X is no longer dead and Magneto has reclaimed the powers he was robbed of in The Last Stand), but seeing Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen return to the characters was exciting. No, it doesn't explain their return, but the biggest question remains: Why the fuck would Wolverine even attempt to walk through airport security?

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Dr. Who's 50th Anniversary: The Day of the Doctor trailer is here!

Even though I haven't been watching many of the newer episodes I'm stoked. On the other hand I'm not sure how I feel about Rose returning. It seems to me that maybe they're toying with something that would be better left alone. Rose was RTD's thing and I'm not exactly thrilled with Moffat's lead. I know a lot of people would disagree with me, this guy being one of them, and that's fine, too. On the other hand, I do like Matt Smith as the doctor, but I hated Amy Pond. Can't explain it, just one of those things.

I've been thinking a lot about Doctor Who lately. I think the reason I actually like the reboot is American TV takes itself too seriously even when the special effects aren't that special (see: practically any of the prime time dramas on the core networks). Even though Who went CGI, it's still roughly as hokey as it was in the Tom Baker days. There's a purely British wink-wink-nudge-nudge that makes you laugh with it rather than at it. And I sure do love the Judoon.

Yeah. Writing this made me realize there really isn't any excuse... I should catch up on the Matt Smith episodes promptly. I'll suck it up and push my way through the Amy Pond episodes.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

My Blade Runner-inspired blaster

For those of you who don't know, I decided to go as a generic blade runner for Halloween. Since I didn't have $500+ to drop on a decent replica, I decided to build my own. The result was... well, you be the judge.

This is what the gun should look like:

Adam Savage's ultra-accurate build... see it here

So here's the gun I started with:

And here's the gun I ended up with:

Saturday, October 19, 2013

I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream (PC) is $4.99 on Steam

I miss The Sci-Fi Channel, which was actually really kooky and cool in the early nineties. The station introduced me to Harlan Ellison when I was no more than ten or eleven years old. (Ellison was hired as the channel's version of Andy Rooney. You can watch the segments here.)

Another significant part of the nineties: video game magazines. It seems all of them covered I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, a game based on Ellison's short story of the same name. I remember looking at the pictures with envy because I had no way to play the game. I owned it once in the early aughts, but I don't think I could get it to work with my computer.

I was going to buy the game on (which really needs support far more than Steam), but $9.99 seemed a little high. Thankfully, it appeared on Steam at $4.99. How's this for an awesome Saturday morning: crackers, cheese, summer sausage, Dr. Pepper, and I Must Scream? Answer: pure heaven. Well, "heaven" is the wrong word for it, considering the subject matter.

If you haven't read the story, it's pretty much required reading before you play the game. Ellison himself assumes the role of AM, the future supercomputer which exterminates all of humanity, save a handful of humans it immortalizes for the purpose of torturing forever. The game deviates widely from the original story, but not so much you don't get what you wanted: a wickedly refreshing horror game. 

I wasn't far in when I innocently flipped a "motivator switch" just to find its sinister purpose: the torturing of six caged animals. The player character reacts appropriately with shock, but you've pretty much got to do it in order to progress. It's grim choices like these that makes the game as uncomfortable as it is fun. Like a lot of games of this type, I Must Scream requires some hit-and-miss puzzle-solving, but so far when I stumble across a solution that initially seemed impossible I slap my forehead and say, "Of course!" It may seem silly removing the sheets from two bunks, but here's a hint: they make a fine rope.

So it's a lot like Alone in the Dark, but it looks much better. The artwork and the music are fantastic. The voice work isn't the best I've ever heard (Ellison hams it up), but for some odd reason it simply works. Here's one of those games I wish I had played much sooner, but better late than ever.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

My generic Blade Runner-inspired costume idea

Today I have new appreciation for prop builders, costume designers, and the fine men and women who cosplay at conventions. As I said in my last post I decided to build a Blade Runner costume for Halloween. I've looked at a lot of people's costumes online and I can already tell you: because of limited funds, my costume will be shittiest of all. I'm going to hate the way I look—I guarantee it. I can excuse myself by saying the other people who chose this costume probably spent a shit-load of money and months (even years) piecing together their costumes, and that'd be true, but the reality is money and time are limited for me.

I remember a making-of featurette which reported the makers of Killer Klowns from Outer Space, to save money, had their propmakers, costume designers, and SFX people approximate the concept designs they had on paper rather than make the details accurate. Since I should have planned my Blade Runner costume a little sooner, this is the route I've chosen as well. I'm not necessarily broke, I'm just extremely frugal.

If you ever played the Blade Runner video game you know that you don't even assume the role of Rick because he's just one Blade Runner of many. That's kind of the way I think of my costume: maybe I'm a different Blade Runner with a really shitty-looking, spray painted gun and a coat even older-looking than the noir-ish trenches worn in the official media. Maybe I'm not even in the same universe. Maybe it's just a "generic cyberpunk costume."

Yesterday I hit a ton of different stores looking for a trench coat, at both new and used outlets. What I found is trench coats have gone out of fashion for men. If you search popular clothes stores online, you'll likely find more trench coats in the women's departments than the men's. I mentioned this to my best friend who's my go-to guy for all things hard-to-find and he suggested an army surplus. As usual, he was right, and here's what I purchased for $25:

Close, but no cigar. I chose a light color in case I got inspired enough to dye the thing, but I probably won't do that unless I get a more accurate collar. Don't get me wrong: I can sew. I just don't like doing it.

Now. Here's what a Blade Runner blaster is supposed to look like:

And in my haste, here's what I purchased after getting bored of visiting five different toy departments:

I'm not sure what I was thinking when I bought it. Rick's blaster doesn't have a hammer, the gun is way, way smaller, and the cylinder is closer to the butt. I should just remind you this is the first time I've ever tried anything like this, but I've already gotten off to a poor start. I sanded off the raised lettering and in the process broke two Dremel attachments, masked off some of the details, and hit it with a layer of spray paint.

Kind of looks like the Millennium Falcon, yes? No? Whatever. I next hit it with some chrome paint, which I later sprayed over with about 90% black, which I hoped would give it a gradient look. I followed this with a couple layers of lacquer hoping it would keep the paint from scratching.

The ventilation holes have been darkened with a Sharpie and I masked off the cylinder to keep it shiny. I then took a step back to admire what I'd done and decided it was all shit. I've since taken the gun completely apart and there's no telling whether or not I'll be able to piece it back together. This is why I don't choose many hobbies outside of writing and Counter-Strike. I like the challenge of working with my hands for a change, but it's just not something I have the desire to pursue. I'm pretty hardcore about the hobbies I already have and any free time I lose doing something else tends to make me grumpy.

In case you're wondering just how detailed you could get if you really wanted, check out this video about BR blasters:

I fucking love his guns. I'd kill to have almost any of those.

I'm still on the fence on whether I want to call my current blaster a practice-run or if it'll be what I actually wear on Halloween. I'm hoping it won't look too bad in a holster, but as of right now, I'm just not happy with it. Next I'll be looking for a tie, a shirt, shoes, and a watch. I know the watch isn't important, but it's been a long time since I bought a watch. If I manage to find a similar Microma, I'll probably get it. The tie I might actually order from a prop shop because it's way cheaper than a gun and I freakin' love that tie.

In the meantime, here's the best looking Rick Deckard costume I've seen yet.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

My Halloween costume ideas. Take 'em or leave 'em.

I'm not a cosplayer. I haven't dressed up for Halloween in something like ten years. That's not to say I don't enjoy it. There's just something fun about staying home when every movie on television is a horror film—it's kind of like staying at home as a character from the movie Halloween... and about twenty or thirty other slasher films that came out after it. There's that and there's always the fear that if I don't stay home and hand out treats, kids will toilet paper my house.

This year I've decided to go out. Here are the costume ideas I ran through...

Walter White

For over a year I planned on going as Breaking Bad's Walter White. I would shave my head, find a pair of White-ish glasses in my prescription, and possibly wear the Heisenberg hat. The shirt, pants, and jacket wouldn't be an issue; I already dress like Walter White. Unfortunately, I already shaved my head not too long ago and got sick of waiting for it to grow out to its present length. Also, there was the realization that everyone was probably going as Walter White.

But yeah, the idea is pretty simple. Grow a goatee, lose your hair, and hit the thrift store. Blue "candy" in a baggie is optional.


The problem then was finding a character to portray that A) I like and B) non-geeky people would actually recognize. So while I would love to be a character from Fargo or classic science fiction novels like The Stars My Destination or Neuromancer, very few normal adults would get it. So I thought about being a comic book superhero, but there are remarkably few such characters I both have a connection with and the average Joe would get. I thought about Man-Thing, but costumes I've seen online range from incredibly phony to incredibly complicated. I would also grit my teeth if anyone asked if I were Swamp Thing.

This idea is ridiculous. If you want to be Man-Thing, you might complete your costume in time for Halloween next year, but it's going to take some dedication.


I thought about Magneto and to be honest this is my favorite idea of the bunch, but the one affordable helmet I could find comes with a hokey costume. User reviews say it's pretty shoddy. If you want to be Magneto, you're probably going to either drop three or four hundred bucks on a helmet or make one from scratch. Watch how to make a helmet from scratch here. I don't think the rest of the costume would be too big of a deal. You could always find a purple robe and wear some red sweats.

Snake Plissken

Then, an epiphany: I'll be Snake Plisken! There's absolutely nothing wrong with this choice as John Carpenter's one of my favorite directors ever. Unfortunately, a friend recently told me he once went as Snake and, knowing him, his costume would likely make mine look like a piece of shit.

You'd need an eyepatch and a five o' clock shadow. The rest shouldn't be hard to find at a thrift store. Bonus idea: Jack Burton.

The Punisher

The choice after this, for a few hours anyway, was The Punisher. It's a character I like and it seems really simple: all you really need is a black T-shirt with a white skull, black pants, a few guns. Sure, that's more or less a movie version (none of which I really cared for), but at least people would get it. All seemed good, but for one reason or another I decided against it. The biggest reason being I knew I would probably wear the shirt for weeks after Halloween, which would no doubt lessen the memory of the night itself.

You can see why I haven't worn a costume in so long? It's because I complicate the hell out of it.


Again, nothing wrong with this choice, other than the fact I used to go as Ash when I was a kid. All I did was tape a toy chainsaw to my arm and tear up a similar button-up shirt. Man, I was a fucking nerd back then... but not now, right? RIGHT?


I love Spider-Man, but let's face it: I'm not going to win any sex-appeal awards in a stretchy, one-piece suit, particularly the type I can actually afford. Unless you're lean and ripped, you should pass, too. Or not. Who gives a shit? Do what you want. Stop being as neurotic as me or else you'll spend a month just choosing a costume, too.

Rick Deckard

This is the one I've decided to go with, partly because Blade Runner: The Final Cut is my second favorite movie ever, but mostly because I forced myself to stick with the plan by buying the trench coat and a Nerf gun. I'm sure it's a popular (read: overused) choice at fan conventions, but I'm pretty sure I'll be the only one at the party I'll be attending. I might post some progress about my costume as I piece it together over the next few days, but don't hold me to it. I'm notoriously cheap and have already seen fanmade costumes that'll whoop my costume no matter how hard I try.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Should you buy Grand Theft Auto V on consoles or wait for PC? (First impressions, PS3)

Like a lot of people I was upset by Rockstar's decision to release Grand Theft Auto V on consoles only. That means I'll likely have to buy it again on PC when (if) it comes out, which is what happened when GTAIV game out five years ago. Yes, you read correctly: it's been five years since the last flagship GTA. For those of us who played Sleeping Dogs on PC, GTAV is a significant step down in terms of graphics. Even so, I was impressed. It's not quite as pretty as Uncharted titles, but as it simultaneously streams data from your hard drive and the disc itself, GTAV performs in ways you didn't know the console could. The draw distance is maybe a notch or two above acceptable and loading times are a thing of the past. If future games don't make use of this technological step forward, well, I doubt I'll play many future games.

To answer the question above: yes, you should buy the game now. Since Red Dead Redemption never made it to PC, there's no guarantee GTAV will. And yes, graphics would be better on PC, but not a whole lot better. The graphics here are more than okay. Now, you may think it's worth it to wait for the mods this game will surely have if it makes it to PC, but consider the timeline: you're likely looking at six months before the game releases on PC if at all. And how long after release will you have to wait until there are decent mods?

To further answer the question above: do yourself a favor and buy now and buy later. By the time there are decent mods for the PC version, the game will probably have seen a Steam sale or two.

Now, onto first impressions...

If you've ever read older posts on the matter you know I like the GTA franchise even more than most gamers, considering my favorite kind of movie is the crime film. Fargo is my all-time favorite movie and there's a shot in GTAV's prologue that's clearly influenced by it. This shot is not plagiarism, but genuine homage. And that's why GTA means so much to me: historically it has not been a cheap imitation of the crime film like so many other video games, but something that actually approached the levels of Scorsese and Coppola, people the developers have no shame in admiring.

Now, twelve years after the third entry which revolutionized gaming, the fifth installment is finally here. I don't think I've been happier with a game at launch since Half-Life 2. Read no more if you wanna go into the game 100% fresh. I won't post any spoilers, but it's still better to go into it not quite knowing what you're getting into.

The story opens as stick-up men Michael and Trevor race away from a heist gone bad. The cops appear in full force and the gang's getaway vehicle, a helicopter, isn't where it's supposed to be. Michael takes a bullet and Trevor presumably escapes across a foggy snow bank. Nine years later, Michael and his family have entered a witness protection program and are now living in Los Santos. Michael tells his shrink he thinks his posh life sucks and his wife and children hate him. He has everything a superficial Beverly Hills type could want, but he was much happier when he was performing heists and running from the law.

Soon after that we're introduced to Franklin, a young black man who aspires to leave the hood. He doesn't like the life he's "supposed" to live and he's surrounded by friends who seem proud of their prison time served for small-time crimes. When you play as Franklin you really do feel the pressures of the street, really see why someone born in his environment could make one stupid mistake after another. After stealing his son's car for an insurance scheme Franklin meets Michael. The two men, as it turns out, respect each other; Michael sees who he used to be in Franklin and Franklin sees Michael as someone who can elevate him to the big league.

Sick of sitting around his pool, catching rays and getting fat, Michael slowly emerges from retirement. When he catches his wife banging her tennis coach he snaps, hops into a pickup truck, and drives to what he believes is the man's house. He instructs Franklin to chain the winch to a support of the cliff-side home (yes, just like in Lethal Weapon 2) and tows the entire thing down into a mess of destruction. The problem is tennis coaches don't live in such nice places and it turns out the house actually belongs to a man with ties to the Mexican cartel. And now Micheal has no choice but to pull off another heist.

You've seen Trevor in the trailers. You briefly see him in the prologue. But for several hours of gameplay Trevor is absent. It's a wise, cinematic choice on Rockstar's part. You keep hearing about him in the meantime, about how crazy he is, about how bad it would be if he enters the situation. The tension builds and builds until, finally, we see Trevor. He's giving it to a meth addict whose bent over the counter of his dilapidated trailer house. While he's screwing her the television news broadcasts a story on the jewelery heist in Los Santos. Trevor recognizes Michael's M.O. and we know the situation is about to ratchet from worse to worst. Indeed, before leaving the countryside where he has relished in guns and meth and extreme decadency, Trevor decides to go on a murderous rampage, running off The Lost motorcycle game (remember them?) and assassinating business competitors.

So one day Trevor shows up in Michael's home. And really, I've given away too much already.

The best crime stories work in layers (see: Layer Cake, a film which took the concept literally), adding one volatile situation and one incongruous character after another. Previous entries in the GTA series have wavered in building their layers. GTAV doesn't. Gone is the feeling you have to do work in order to unlock more of the game. You still have to take jobs to advance, but it's no longer laborious. With the lack of loading times and the addition of numerous checkpoints, performing tasks is funner than it's ever been. In fact, I haven't even done much of the open-world exploration that was the icing of the previous GTA games' cake.

Cars drive better. Combat is more like Max Payne than Grand Theft Auto IV. The game transitions so smoothly between gameplay and cutscenes, you'll find yourself playing much longer than you expected. For those of us who are sick of Facebook, reality TV, the self-help mentality, and yoga moms, GTAV is the most satisfying and cathartic video game ever made. And that's no joke, son.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Asimov's Predictions for 2014 (from 1964)

Here is a video that shows Asimov knew a thing or two about predicting the future:

the predictions Asimov got right in 1964

The problem is the video only shows the predictions Asimov made at the 1964 World's Fair. Even so, his predictions are 600% more impressive than any purported psychic who ever lived and not nearly as vague. For the full list of Asimov predictions, click here.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Kilgore Trout is better than Kurt Vonnegut

Some say you can only write a character as smart as yourself, but that's not true. Meet Webster: he's a forty-nine year old furniture builder who stuns his small, mountain community when he completes a sixty-three day winning streak on Jeopardy. See? I just made that character and I'm certainly not smart enough to be on Jeopardy. Yet there's Webster and, as far as I'm concerned, he exists now. So don't tell me a fictional writer can't be better at something than his creator.

In my last post I unwittingly referenced Vonnegut. When I realized this it got me thinking about him, even though I haven't done much of that in nearly a decade. I will concede that I'm a fan of Vonnegut's short fiction. The Slaughterhouse-Five and Breakfast of Champions deserve their praise for the most part. I loved Timequake, the novel that even his biggest fans tend to dislike. Maybe it's because the concept scared the shit out of me. Maybe it's because it's pure science fiction.

Science fiction writers tend to be bitter about Vonnegut. The guy wrote the stuff, denied what it was, and lived like Tom Wolfe and Gore Vidal. In Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's Inferno, the main character wanders the circles of hell when he happens upon Vonnegut's final resting place, which is a tomb with a big neon sign that reads, "SO IT GOES." As if the writers' contention wasn't clear enough, they have their hero say, "I was writing better than he ever did before I left high school!"

And Vonnegut's most famous creation (other than himself) is Kilgore Trout, the failed science fiction writer who crafts weirder stuff than Vonnegut does. I have a fondness for Trout that goes deeper than most characters, especially characters who write. He writes a special breed of science fiction with no regard to how inaccessible it is for normal people. On the other hand there are consequences to writing that way. We sense Trout would be a happier person if he wrote mainstream stuff... or if he denied that it was science fiction and managed to gain entry into mainstream literature circles.

I know what you're thinking now. How could I compare Vonnegut's writing, which is in every library in the country, to the writing of Kilgore Trout which is more or less ethereal? But Trout's writing does exist. Let me explain.

While I'm hesitant to say I'm a fan of Vonnegut (although ten years ago I would have had no reservations) I revel in my fanaticism for Philip Jose Farmer. I'm pretty sure a girl broke up with me once because I told her about the plot of Riders of the Purple Sage Wage, which contains incest and pedophilia and about a million other taboos. I love the look of shock on "normal" people's faces when I tell them about Flesh, in which the main character grows horns and beds literally hundreds of strange women, or when I begin to describe To Your Scattered Bodies Go, which involves every human being who ever lived waking up on Riverworld, a kind of science fictional afterlife which trumps the aforementioned Inferno in every conceivable way.

PJF wrote the kind of fucked-up shit Trout wrote with no regard to how inaccessible it is to people who own SUVs, manicured lawns, and 401ks. Predictably, he was met with relatively little fanfare amongst the general public, although many writers in the genre thought he was brilliant including Harlan Ellison. Apparently Farmer felt a kinship with Vonnegut's fictional character. It isn't hard to see why.

Indeed, the story goes that Farmer called Vonnegut and professed his love for Trout. The lesser-known writer begged Trout's creator to let him write as Kilgore Trout. Vonnegut reluctantly agreed after initially refusing Farmer. The result was Venus on the Half-Shell, which reads a little bit like Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, but it's far more insane.

the original books make no references to Farmer or Vonnegut

What happened? Farmer himself reports that Vonnegut got sick of the letters that poured in saying it was the worst thing he had ever written since many people assumed it was actually written by Vonnegut. Perhaps a bigger factor: Vonnegut was pissed off by the amount of people who wrote in saying it was the best thing he had ever written.

I suppose I'm in the camp of people who think it's better than Vonnegut's fiction, but I must warn you I love weird SF from that time period. Farmer planned on writing additional novels as Trout, but Vonnegut wouldn't let it happen. For now, this is it, the only Kilgore Trout book we're ever going to get. So it goes.

Friday, August 2, 2013

A look back at Tim Burton's Batman

I sat down to work on my novel this morning, ended up watching Batman instead. So it goes.

I haven't seen Batman all the way through since I saw it in theaters almost three decades ago (holy shit, obligatory "time flies" comment, yatta-yatta-yatta). I thought it was merely okay, but didn't admit so much to my friends because hey, that's the kind of the thing that could get your ass kicked back then. Now that I'm older I think I can say how I really felt because I'm reasonably sure I could kick any first grader's ass.

Here's what's wrong with Tim Burton's Batman: Bruce Wayne is fucking boring. I like Michael Keaton, but his portrayal of Wayne doesn't make much sense. There's a scene early in the movie in which Vicki Vale (Kim Bassinger) goes on a "date" with Bruce Wayne. You'd think a guy who's worth a bazillion dollars could take a lady out on a proper date, preferably in a Lamborghini, but instead they stay home and eat an insufferably boring dinner at a mile-long table. I have a feeling Keaton thought this material was funny enough that he didn't want to yuck it up with cheapness, but it's not funny and nothing is more excruciating than a pointless dinner scene except for maybe bamboo torture.

Jack Nicholson is under-utilized, too, in the pre-transformation scenes. I love Nicholson to death, but I almost think Jack Palance would have been a better Joker. He's certainly the better villain in the earlier scenes and his expressive range is quite impressive to look at. One thing Burton gets right is the look of the film, at least when we're out and about in Gotham City (the interiors suck; they seem to belong to an entirely different movie). Gotham is justifiably dark yet complimentary to its fantastical elements, but when combined with the cartoonish good guys and villains it simply doesn't gel.

There are, on the other hand, a lot of memorable lines here. "Honey, you'll never believe what happened at the office today" is among the best. There's just something about the way he says it, and the circumstances, that makes that little throwaway one of the better, more subtle parts of the movie. I wish the whole movie was like that. I wish the whole thing was so fun and entertaining, but there's an awful lot of boring Bruce Wayne stuff you have to slog through.

Consider how big a star Keaton was back then, and yet he takes second billing to Nicholson in the opening credits. Imagine that: the bad guy getting his actor's name on the film before the hero. It's as if the filmmakers knew we would like the Joker better than Batman. And if they did, they should have known they failed.

Look, it's occasionally entertaining at times, but I just don't give a shit about Batman in this movie. That's like going to see an Indiana Jones or James Bond movie and everybody roots for the villain instead. Another problem is there just isn't enough time here to explore the unusual relationship between Joker and Batman (the final panel in Alan Moore's The Killing Joke may possibly be my favorite moment in comics ever). Even Nolan's Joker film somewhat failed to capture what the comics had.

The Batman/Joker material would be great for a long television series, a Batman version of Smallville or something. Just call it Gotham. Warner Brothers, just send the check in the mail.

I should probably admit I didn't finish the movie this time around. In the near future, perhaps I'll write about not finishing Batman Returns.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

I'm revising my science fiction novel

Revising sucks. Yet that's what I'm doing for the foreseeable future. That's why there (probably) won't be as many updates this week or next.

So there it is, the first draft of Sling (working title), which I wrote between November of 2012 and April of this year. This is uncharacteristic for me to say: I'm proud of this one.

In a nutshell Sling is one of those "galactic empire" war novels. I'm going to call it hard science fiction; although there is FTL travel it's too complicated and impractical for most people in my story universe to ever take advantage of it. So let's just say it's about as hard as Hyperion or Pandora's Star, just not as long as the latter.

Monday, July 29, 2013

I finished Shadowrun Returns... here's what I think sucks about it

This game is awesome. If you're interested in it at all you should pick it up. The following is just nitpicking, but prospective buyers should know this stuff anyway.

The game play is extremely linear

This may be because I didn't research what I was buying (promotional materials and video walk-throughs spoil too much of the fun), but I expected more exploration. I expected dialogue decisions to have consequences. I expected to be able to approach goals in multiple ways. Once you're in a mission there's very little in the way of variety. Harebrained Studios promises the next official campaign will be more open-world, but it just seems unlikely unless the core engine is revamped. So expect puzzles to be more like an old school adventure game.

The save system... or lack thereof

I didn't think the checkpoint system was an issue until I got to the extremely difficult last stage of the game (two of my team were dead and the surviving member was a very bad choice from the get-go). Holy shit the game got frustrating quickly. I still think that, overall, the checkpoint system isn't as bad as some people are saying, but it could definitely use some tweaks. I don't mind restarting a chunk of combat, but whenever I have to go through the same dialogue tree multiple times I wonder why there wasn't a checkpoint after the conversation.

The matrix is pretty bland

When you jack into cyberspace your avatar's avatar is just a neon wireframe. Combat in the matrix is nearly identical to combat in meat space. Want to know how to hack a server? Drum-roll please: you click on it. That's it. How exciting, right? However, once the disappointment wears off it is fun to simultaneously fight in meat space and the matrix.

At the end of the day I've played plenty of AAA titles with a lot more bugs and a lot less sophistication. Aside from a little bit of stuttering and a frame-drop here and there, the game is super sleek and super cool. The more you like cyberpunk (or Shadowrun) the more you should like this. I'm eager to try user-generated content for the game out, but I doubt there will be much to choose from for a few weeks.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Someone paid to see House Party 5 (yes, with real money)

The other day I was browsing the Playstation store and discovered there's a new House Party movie. Curiosity got the better of me and I watched the trailer. There are bad movies, there are really bad movies, and then there's House Party 5 which, believe it or not, costs like ten bucks to watch. You don't need to see the movie to make that assumption. Hell, you don't even have to see the trailer to know it's likely the worst movie of 2013.

There was one user review. The rater gave it one star. This means:

1. Someone actually paid to see House Party 5.
2. They hated it.

What were they expecting? Did they see the trailer and think, "That might be good"? Did they accidentally rent it? Did a toddler get a hold of their remote and find his way to the checkout screen?

Friday, July 26, 2013

Shadowrun Returns: First Impressions

If you read my post on Cypher, you know I'm a fan of cyberpunk in general, but particularly cyberpunk games. I never played the tabletop version of Shadowrun (always wanted to; I own the first edition, in fact), but I did have an obsession with the Genesis version as a kid.

 reminds you of the old Blade Runner adventure game, doesn't it?

I just played 70 minutes of Shadowrun Returns and I think it's safe to say that if you're a fan of anything Shadowrun you'll probably like it. The roleplaying is heavy, there's a ton of reading (no voice acting, but you really won't miss it), and the writing is quite good. The turn-based combat is, unexpectedly, a lot like XCOM: Enemy Unknown (the newer one). In some ways it's better. I haven't found myself nearly as frustrated with SR as I did XCOM.

With hand-painted backgrounds and 3D character models that fit in, Shadowrun Returns is a lot slicker than I expected. Not just the way it looks, either.

I think you should play the storyline for yourself, but I'll fill you in just in case you're still trying to decide if you want to buy. After a fairly short character customization screen you begin in an rundown apartment with very little in the way of tutorials and hints. Eventually you get a call from an old acquaintance who wants you to investigate a death: his own. Writing cyberpunk is harder than most sub-genres because you gotta keep the flavor without borrowing too much from the writers of the eighties. It's a fine line to walk, but so far Shadowrun Returns delivers.

I can't wait to play more later this weekend.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

F6s, Sharknados, and computing during Oklahoma weather

Two nights ago a hell of a storm hit Tulsa. Here are some pictures of the devastation:

I used to have my own classification for storms:

F1: No visible damage.
F2: Trashcan lids flipped.
F3: Trashcans knocked over.
F4: Porch chairs moved.
F5: Chairs off porch. 

Recently I had to add a newer classification, F6: Chairs and trashcans moved across driveway. You can see two chairs in the picture above. The third one is in the trashcan. I've also heard rumors of an F7, which is when a tornado contains living, vicious sharks, but these are more probable in Los Angeles.

my mother raved about how stupidly entertaining this movie was

The only thing left on the porch was the towel you can see beside our dog, Napoleon. That towel wasn't there when the storm began. More destruction came in the form of downed limbs:

my poor bbq grill

The real damage was done to my computer. Yes, it was on a surge protector. Yes, most of the important information was backed up. In fact, when the power returned in the morning, the first thing I did was make sure my computer was okay. It was. Feeling like I dodged a bullet, I decided to install a spare hard drive to copy over a bunch of newer files for safekeeping. While I was rebooting after the hardware installation, another power outage struck. This time when the power returned, my computer was stuck in a boot cycle that even Hiren's BootCD couldn't fix. 

My hard drive was a goner.

Now, I'm used to hard drive failures because for some silly reason I bought an HP tower (which has since been Frankensteined into a fairly bad ass machine, not including the somewhat sketchy mobo that has no English documentation anywhere on the web). I was on my third hard drive when technical support asked me to renew my warranty. I kindly told the Indian on the phone no, I would rather just buy a new internal hard drive rather than continually receiving the model that's known to be a faulty piece of shit. (HP knows it's a piece of shit and yet they keep sending it to customers, although I've read rumors it's actually the mobo that fucks up the HDD.) 

I prepared for the inevitable HDD crash by buying the new hard drive during an Amazon sale a year and a half ago: 3 terabytes of awesome goodness. It was a mechanical drive, sure, but at seventy-something bucks it wasn't a bad purchase by any means.

Problem is, my BIOS and motherboard don't like 3tb drives and refused to install Windows to the HDD I bought. Sure, it'll work fine as a storage drive, but not as a boot drive. So I grabbed a solid state drive, which I love. It took around ten minutes to install Windows, ten more to go fetch my drivers and preferred browsing apps. Now, less than an hour later, I'm writing this post.

Which reminds me about my luck with computers. When I was in high school I had a Gateway computer. I kept that piece of shit running for years through frequent maintenance and replacing of parts. One time I asked for help in an online technical support forum and one of the replies accused me of lying. He said, and I quote, "There's no way you have that model and it's still running." In fact, I'm sure it'll still run today; it's in my computer nursing home at the back of my office closet.

Anyway, if I have enough time (I probably won't) I plan to get Shadowrun Returns sometime tonight and review it here. So keep an eye out for that; I'm sure I'll get my hands on it and write about it sometime before Monday. Although I actually own vintage Shadowrun books, I've never played the tabletop game... or any tabletop game for that matter. I did have a childhood obsession with the Sega Genesis version and I'm no stranger to the SNES version, either. We'll see how it holds up, but I should warn you I kind of liked the FPS that came out not too long ago. You know the one that everybody hates? So hey, what do I know?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Here's the cover for Under The Bed, which features one of my stories

Hey, look whose name is on the cover of this kick-ass magazine:

That's right. Coming soon to a reading device near you.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

10 Things that suck about Marvel Unlimited's Android app

UPDATE: The night after I posted this there was a storm that knocked out my power and Internet. Below I tell you that Marvel Unlimited's Android app sucks because it limits you to six offline comics. That night I couldn't access a single one. After my power and internet were restored I decided to go back to the app. Now I get an error that won't even let me launch it. Like I say below, it's a huge pain in the ass.

Marvel Unlimited really is the Netflix of Marvel comics. So far I've averaged more time per day using MU than I've ever used Netflix in a single day. Just to be clear (because there's a lot of confusion about this), Marvel employs the term "Unlimited" the way cellular phone providers and cable services do—it's just a marketing word now, all pillow talk. Some people think that, for ten dollars a month, you're going to get all the new comics delivered directly to your tablet. You're not. I'm not sure if you've looked at the price tag on a modern comic lately, but there's no way Marvel is going to let you have all the stuff they release each week for a measly $60/year.

or WHAT goddamn it?!

This is where the comparison to Netflix makes the most sense: if you want brand new stuff you're going to have to pay for it separately. With a few exceptions, I'm not the biggest fan of modern comics anyway. If you're anything like me the service will pay for itself in as little as a day. I'm a guy who gets sick of things pretty quickly. Yet I've gotten hours of enjoyment from MU.

Don't sign up just yet, however. The Android app for Marvel Unlimited is bad. And I mean really, really bad. If you're used to reading comics on Comixology and CBreaders like ComicRack, you're going to get frustrated quickly. Even if you haven't been spoiled by the slickness of these standards you're prone to toss your tablet at the window anyway. As usual, developers decided to focus on the Apple version while throwing Android's together with little to no thought put into it.

I want to point out that the app, if the comments on Play are any indication, is actually improving. It apparently went from diarrhea to slightly solid turds, but hopefully the trend will continue. As it is, the MU app is the shittiest app I actually use. For all the downfalls, there just isn't a legitimate deal anywhere else quite as good as Marvel Unlimited.

Things that suck about the Marvel Unlimited app:

1. Zoom sucks. They didn't have zoom at all to begin with. When you spread your fingers on the screen you expect the interface to know that's the position where you want to zoom. The MU app doesn't know this. It always zooms to the center of the comic regardless of where your fingers are placed. Then you have to then drag your finger across the screen (always more than once) to find the rough location of what you were looking for in the first place. I've spent a lifetime training myself not to look at panels ahead of the one I'm on (a huge accomplishment for an impatient child, mind you) and this kind of defeats that training.

2. Resolution sucks. Once you zoom in to a detail you can't quite make out, you'll wonder why you tried to zoom at all. 

3. The MU app doesn't care if your tablet's rotation is locked, it'll rotate all damn day until the cows come home. When I'm reading in bed, I do a lot of turning, which inevitably makes the app rotate the page. This normally wouldn't be such a big deal if A) I could turn off the feature in the app's settings and B) the view would return to portrait mode. See, once the app decides to go widescreen it ain't going back. I used to have to back out of the app altogether, reload the comic, and flip through the pages again to find where I left off. That's a major pain in the ass. I found that if you return the tablet to its upright position, go back a page and go forward again, the problem corrects itself. This "solution" is still a pain in the ass, just not as major. Which reminds me...

4. No bookmarks. If you leave the comic you're reading for any reason, you had better leave the app running in the background. Otherwise it doesn't give a shit about continuity and it'll make you hunt for where you left off. That's a major oversight in design.

5. Page turning isn't as responsive as it should be. The only exception is when you accidentally turn the page. Then it seems as if it's trying to set a world record.

6. Entire word balloons don't load. So far, reloading the comic does not fix this issue. I assume this means MU isn't just sending us simple JPEG scans, but two or more layers per each image. But if you think it's easy reading a comic without a word balloon you're crazy. Although it's kind of neat to see the art unblocked, more than half the time that this happens you can't read the black lettering because there isn't any white there to contrast it. Good luck trying to figure out who's saying what, too. I checked: I don't have the same problem with disappearing balloons when I'm reading on the desktop. But imagine being on a long bus ride with no internet access and finding the six comics you chose for offline viewing are unreadable. Worse, those six comics are a tight run so you don't want to read the next one in line until you can read the first one. Oh yeah, and...

7. The limit of six comics (again, "Unlimited" is just a buzz word these days) for offline reading was obviously implemented by someone who doesn't use the service, never would use the service, and doesn't give a shit about anyone who does. I can connect my tablet to the internet when I'm on the prowl in town, sure, but it's a pain in the ass and I usually choose not to do it. But my job takes me out of town weekly and podunks aren't exactly known for amazing cellular reception anyway.

8. Lack of settings. Going back to point 3, I really wanted to turn rotate off. No problem, I thought. I'll just check the settings. Funny thing about that: there aren't any.

9. The app really looks like something designed by an amateur. The online desktop version looks pretty shitty, too.

10. Smart panel view isn't nearly as smart as Comixology.

I have a few issues with the service itself, too. As seen in the picture near the top of this post, there are frequent bugs here and there. There are also gaps in series continuity that'll leave you scratching your head. For instance, if you want to read Wolverine's first appearance in Incredible Hulk #180, no problem. But if you want to read the conclusion in #181 then you're shit out of luck 'cause it ain't there.

But back to the tune I was singing when I began this post: I love the service. I'm reading stuff I never thought I'd get to read and sometimes stuff I never thought I wanted to read. Bugs and shitty apps aside, it is a wonderfully convenient service. In my mind, it's easily worth the price. I read a lot more than ten dollars worth of stuff in the first night alone.

Monday, July 22, 2013

My story Phantasmagoria will be published in Under The Bed

Under the Bed (formerly eHorror) is publishing my short story Phantasmagoria in its August 2013 issue, which should be available here for four bucks. I'll post a reminder when it's out.

Phantasmagoria is a dark fantasy story about a couple of teens who get on a haunted house ride at their local amusement park. The ride hangs a right where it normally takes a left and, well, the boy gets lucky... then extremely unlucky.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

GTA V gameplay trailer... looks like I'm taking a vacation on the 17th of September

The lack of a PC version for this is just criminal. Still, I knew I was getting this game before it was even announced. Sometime between the character-switching demo and the scuba diving in the video above, I decided harder... if that makes sense.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Lawnmower Man... from the imagination -- ------- ---- comes the story of a man

A /r/printsf user points out how terrible Lawnmower Man was by pointing out the following:

It was such a departure from the story that Stephen King demanded they remove his name from the abomination - but the studio had already shown trailers which said "From the imagination of Stephen King comes a tale..."
Rather than re-edit the trailers or record a new voiceover, they just muted the narration for the words "of Stephen King," resulting in a weird pause. "From the imagination -- comes a tale..." 
It was kind of awkward.

You'll find some of the original trailers on YouTube, but here's one that demonstrates the awkward pause:

Stephen King usually doesn't seem too upset when Hollywood adapts his works into shitty movies. If he of all people asks you to remove his name from your adaptation you know you've created something so spectacularly shitty you deserve some kind of award—preferably the kind of award that makes a Razzie seem like an honor.

If you're no stranger to high-concept ideas and you've never seen Lawnmower Man, you might be tempted to watch it. I won't stop you even though it is very bad. Virtual reality was like the 90s version of flying cars and personal jet packs, although with products like Oculus Rift on the horizon it looks like we're finally going to get it in a practical and functional way. Even so, Lawnmower Man is a time capsule, not containing history so much as an era's naive idea of what the future would be. For that alone it's worth watching with a group of wise-cracking friends and a ton of sugary snacks.

As a faithful reader of Flux Magazine in the 90's, my friends and I were all convinced that, by the year 2000, we would all be jacked into the matrix, absorbing Lawnmower Man visuals directly into our brains. The boob- and comic-obsessed Flux (which seems to be a distant relative of today's 4Chan) reviewed a pricey pair of stereoscopic goggles and suggested that its adolescent readers order a pair so their moms wouldn't know they were watching The Playboy Channel. Not that the goggles could in anyway unscramble the channel's DRM, but hey, it was wishful thinking that got us all dreaming about the future.

Virtual reality was a dead dream of mine for a very long time; at an Ultimate Electronics I got to try a pair of the goggles reviewed in Flux and found the experience too much like staring at a pair of screens, each about as big as a coin... because that's exactly what the experience was. Now that the dream has been resurrected, something I never would have predicted would happen, I wonder if attempts at augmented reality (such as Google Glass) is today's version of VR. I have to say I'm much more interested in the Oculus than I am Google Glass. For one, the existing prototypes are a lot cheaper and, honestly, a hell of a lot cooler.