Friday, November 30, 2007

Crash is Right

Speaking of David Hasselhoff (which I kinda-sorta was, by way of Knight Rider), Knight Rider is not the campiest thing he ever did in his career.

Nope, neither was Baywatch.

Behold, Starcrash:

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Black Knight

Maybe you've heard, maybe you haven't -- but a new version of Knight Rider is being made. It's actually just a two-hour TV movie for the moment, but with the possibility of a new series in mind.

This is all part of the Battlestar Galactica wave, I figure. "Remember that old super-campy TV show? Let's update it and do it seriously and gritty and realistic!" Worked great for Galactica. Sucked out loud for The Bionic Woman. We'll see what it means here.

But I will say this... the first pictures of the new K.I.T.T. car have been released, and in my opinion, the thing is damn fugly:

It's all built up and box-like and trying to be vaguely S.U.V.y when K.I.T.T. is supposed to be sleak and sporty. I say this as someone who really doesn't know much what I like in a car, but I know damn well what I don't like. Honda Elements, all Scions, the Pontiac Aztec, and now apparently this can be added to the list. It's a Ford Shelby GT500KR Mustang.

And it's hideous.

Monkey Humor

Courtesy of Brad, this video is part nostalgia, all weird:

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Bond, Part 1

Much earlier this year, I set out on a little movie "quest" to watch all of the James Bond movies in order. Well, "re-watch," for the most part; I had seen nearly all of them, though some I remember much better than others.

I'm still working on it, but I'm close enough to the end now that I'll probably find time to finish by the end of the year. So I figured I'd start a short review series detailing my thoughts as I've been chugging along. First up, the Sean Connery years.

I know for many that Connery is and always will be the James Bond. But by the time I was old enough to see my first Bond film, Roger Moore had been doing them longer than Connery ever did. This is not to say that I necessarily think of Moore as the definitive James Bond (though I think you'd find many in my generation who indeed feel that way). Rather, I just don't overly romanticize the Connery films.

He did make a good Bond. A real jerk at times, which I suppose is accurate to the books. But very smooth, and very much the one who set the tone for spy thrillers in general for many years to come. But how were the movies?

Dr. No - Anyone who tells you that in the beginning, Bond films weren't so crazy and over-the-top needs to go back and watch Dr. No. Sure, things got more lavish and ridiculous later on in the series, but this first movie is hardly grounded in reality. The title character has two black prosthetic hands, runs a nuclear-powered secret base on a Caribbean island, and tries to have Bond assassinated at one point by releasing a tarantula in his hotel room. Some parts of the film are pretty cool, but overall it feels very slow-paced to me. The middle act is a fight to stay awake at times. This film is strong for its characters, not for its plot. I give it a C+.

From Russia With Love - This film was the first time a "title song" was recorded for the opening credits of a Bond film. It's languid and slow, and likely to induce coma. Rather like the film. Much of it takes place on a train from... well, somewhere to somewhere else... I forget now, months later, because I was so bored. There's some fun moments with Blofeld, crazy Rosa Klebb and the knife in her shoe, and not much else worth your time, in my opinion. I give it a D-.

Goldfinger - Now we're talking. There's a reason this film is one of the most highly regarded of the Bonds. There's a great heist at the core of the plot. The villain delivers one of the most memorable lines in all cinema ("No, Mister Bond, I expect you to die!"), and then that great scene is followed up seconds later with the unforgettable introduction of Pussy Galore. There are flaws in the film, to be sure (and I talked about some of those a few months ago, when I got to see Goldfinger on the big screen), but I still give it a B.

Thunderball - A very cool opening sequence involving a jet pack, and then it almost immediately starts going downhill. Something about a missing plane, and lots of ploddingly slow underwater action. Not as boring as that damn train ride two movies earlier, though. I give it a D.

You Only Live Twice - I know Goldfinger's supposed to be "the best Connery Bond film," but for my money, it's this one. Maybe it's just that I loved astronauts and outer space growing up and still have a soft spot for it all. (And this film's take on it all, though stretched at times, isn't patently ludicrous like Moonraker... but more on that another time.) But how can you not love a hidden volcano lair? A frakkin' helicopter you can build from a few briefcases? A giant group of ninjas laying the smack down at the end of the film? This movie has it all.... including, unfortunately, some casually racist handling of the Japanese that is a mark of time period. I give this film a B+.

On Her Majesty's Secret Service - This was actually not a Connery Bond film, but it fell here chronologically. George Lazenby took over the role, and it's not hard to see why that lasted only the one film. This should have been a very cool story, with Bond actually settling down and marrying (Diana Rigg!) only to have his wife killed by evil agents. And a big ski chase for the first time in a Bond film. But no, this is absolutely a drag from start to finish -- all 2 hours and 16 minutes of it. I can't think of a single reason why anyone should see this movie. I give it an F.

Diamonds Are Forever - Connery's last "official" turn as James Bond (not counting the unaffiliated film Never Say Never Again). It involves the villain Blofeld, usually a good sign. Much of the film is set in Las Vegas, which is a complete head trip to see circa 1971. There's some good action and engaging sequences. But there are also many of the worst "minor villains" to ever appear in a James Bond movie. The kickboxing bimbos known only as Bambi and Thumper? The gross caricatures that are Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd? This odd blend of action, nostalgia, and annoyance is worth a C in my book.

Average all these grades together (throwing out Lazenby, of course), and Connery's James Bond filmography gets a C from me overall. But I think it's not entirely fair to look at that average as a reflection on what I thought of him as Bond. He definitely made some films worth seeing... and some films to avoid like the plague.

Sometime in the next week or two, I'll be moving on to the Roger Moore films. Until then...

Monday, November 26, 2007


Now that Thanksgiving is passed, I can no longer take issue with people having their Christmas decorations out. I saw a number of houses that had them up all last week, though, and those people are entirely too festive for their good or anyone else's.

I mean, this year had almost as many days as there can possibly be between Thanksgiving and Christmas, thanks to the extra Thursday in November. Isn't a full month (plus the week until New Year's, which is also "fair game" in my book) enough?

Also, you notice how ever couple years, there's some "new technology" in Christmas lighting that seems to seize everyone in a fad? I remember when the so-called icicle lights appeared for the first time. Every single house on the block had to get them (and those strings that still work are still in use). Well these days, the trend seems to be those giant inflatable lawn ornaments that are distant cousins of the "Wacky Wailing Arm Inflatable Tube Men." It seems no lawn can have just one.

One thing a lawn should have only one of, though (if any at all), is those wire-framed light-up reindeer. More than one, and you're just begging for prankster kids to come by and mount them on each other for a laugh. (This happened to the family across the street from my house all the time as I was growing up.)

Sunday, November 25, 2007


So, this weekend brought our first new Battlestar Galactica in (unbelievably) eight months. And (worse) our only one for another four. It was definitely great to have it back even for a short time, but I have to say it felt like only a "very good" installment, and not an "excellent" installment like so many have been.

I think that for me it fell short because it covered a lot of ground we were already well aware of, because of all the material centered on Cain in command of the Pegasus. Don't get me wrong, it was fun to see Michelle Forbes again. It was nice to see return appearances from many of the Pegasus characters who are no longer alive, or haven't been seen since the second season. Sort of a greatest hits album.

But also kind of like a greatest hits album recorded by a cover band. We already heard the tale of how Cain executed her X.O. right there on the bridge (and it was far more chilling to hear Fisk tell it to Tigh than it was to see it). We already heard the tale of Laird being forcibly conscripted off the civilian ship after watching fellow passengers be killed. We already saw the results of the torture of the Cylon Gina. And so forth. Shocho hates prequels, and this is a very vivid example of why. Not only did we know the end destination in this case, but we knew a lot of the steps on the journey.

Fortunately, the rest of the two-hour episode was more compelling. The flashback material of Admiral Adama's mission at the close of the first Cylon war, and all of the material surrounding Lee Adama's early command of the Pegasus (pre-fat suit) was interesting stuff. Seeing "classic model" Cylons was just a big "squee!!!" moment. I mean, there was the gold one as the leader, and they said "by your command," and all that fun nostalgia that made the original Galactica series so much better in your mind than it actually was.

Still, with all the balls thrown in the air at the close of season three, this episode was rather frustrating in its inability (by its very time frame) to address any of those issues. We'll have to wait many more months to learn anything of the Cylon sleeper agents that have been with us from the beginning, or of Starbuck's mysterious journey to Earth and back. (Though I suppose the hybrid did give that brief, tantalizing hint that it will in fact prove to be a very bad thing for our heroes.)

As I said, it really wasn't a "bad" episode, by any means. But it couldn't really live up to the burden of being the one and only installment of the show in a year-long period.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Galactic Plumbing

I recently received Super Mario Galaxy as a birthday present. I've only been able to sample it so far, but it was enough for me to conclude a few things.

This feels a lot less like a traditional Mario game and a lot more like a Zelda game to me. (Perhaps this is because I somehow skipped over playing Super Mario Sunshine.) In any case, this is a plus in my book.

I think this is not a game for those with weak stomachs. You do a lot of running around on spheres, and it doesn't take long before your character is running any which way but with his head pointed toward the top of your television. You can push a button to "right the camera," but sometimes this re-orients things so that you're actually upside-down on the little planet you're running around on. Moving in this environment doesn't take as much getting used to as I thought it might, but looking at it certainly does.

I don't know that this is "the game you want to buy a Wii for," but it certainly is a game that makes me feel better about having purchased a Wii. It seems really fun so far, and there's no other console I could be playing it on.

Now, how I'm supposed to make time for this and Rock Band, I don't know... but I feel like I somehow want to try.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Play Misty for Me

My buddy Sangediver set me up to write this review, so I figure I'd better deliver. The night before Thanksgiving (and all through the house?), I caught The Mist at the movie theater. Any lover of scary movies should see this film. I believe I enjoyed this more than anything in the genre I've seen in several years.

It starts with very cool monsters, which are effectively revealed bit by bit. First, you don't get to see anything at all -- only very well-created sound effects. Gradually, you see more and more varieties of critters, each nastier than the last. Very creepy and very clever.

That underpinning is then built upon by very good characters. To me, this can be a hit-or-miss area for a Stephen King story, but either the source material was good this time, or Frank Darabont improved on the original in his screen adaptation. You do get drawn in to what many of the characters are going through. You really get worked up to cheer for some, and boo others. Where many films would just line up lambs for the slaughter, the people in this film matter.

Indeed, some of them fulfill very specific narrative roles, because it turns out the movie has a few points of biting social commentary to make. In a perfect story, I might prefer it to be a little less overt and on-the-nose than depicted here, but it's sort of hard to quibble with it. For one, these characters are facing down "the end of the world," which will surely bring out some melodramatic behavior. And secondly, most horror movies don't even bother with a "message." (George Romero's stuff, and maybe almost nothing else?) So points here for that, especially since the movie still manages to be scary at the same time.

Actually, not just scary. The movie does have its "jumpy moments," but it has even more genuinely tense moments. A sequence involving a person heading out into the mist, tied to the end of a rope, is one of the best sequences in the film, and there's not a single cheap scare in the entire scene. Perhaps the most impressive thing is that the movie is able to regularly generate this suspense without the aid of the music. The film does have a score (by Mark Isham), but it is used very sparingly. I believe that over half of the movie plays "dry," including every scene that takes place in the supermarket. Yet the movie doesn't need an orchestra to put you on the edge of your seat.

Then there's the ending. Very strong, very unconventional.

I give the movie an A. It might even make the bottom few of my top 100 list, though I must admit that when I looked at the list to try and slip it in somewhere, it only made me realize it's well past time I did some housekeeping on it.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


Happy Thanksgiving -- to those of you here in the States that celebrated it, that is. I'm taking it easy for the day, so I have even less of interest to say than normal. Instead, courtesy of one "Snarky Smurf," I'll share with you the humorous musical stylings of Jonathan Coulton.

Every track I've sampled off this web page is funny and great, but I particularly recommend his rendition of Baby Got Back.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Band Together

So, the PS3/Rock Band purchasing saga was fun and all (or maybe you didn't think so), but what about the game itself?

It's only the most awesome freaking thing ever. Playing the game is just one of those experiences where the world compresses into tunnel vision in front of you, and next thing you know, hours and hours have gone by.

This feels like it must have been the game the people at Harmonix wanted to make all along, and were working toward it inch by inch with Frequency and Amplitude, and then Guitar Hero. There were so many brilliant new touches in this that seemed like the most natural evolution of Guitar Hero. It was basically the opposite of my reaction to Guitar Hero III, where I felt they'd slightly messed up dozens of tiny little things throughout the game. Here, they added countless details that added up to the perfect package.

First, the guitar stuff. When you earn Overdrive (this game's version of Star Power), deploying it doesn't turn the notes a different color, thus making the patterns easier to follow. You can also still earn more Overdrive even while you're using it, just raising your reserves and continuing the double point streak. They've added highlighted sections for guitar solos, where the game scores your accuracy within the solo, and gives you a bonus for a good percentage.

The new guitar control adds some cool new features. There's a second set of fret buttons up the neck that you can play solos on without strumming. (Difficult to switch to, really -- but cool looking.) There's now a working modulator switch on the front of the control, which actually switches your in-game sound when using Overdrive to have echo effects and distortions.

Then the drums. Awesome. You trigger Overdrive for the drums by actually improvising your own drum fills during select portions of the song, then slamming on the "crash cymbal" at the end of the fill to deploy it. Whatever you improvise in the drum fill, you actually hear live in the game. It's really easy to start believing you're actually playing the drums when you play the game... especially if you're able to hack it on higher difficulties.

The vocals seem pretty fun so far too, from what I've seen. I know very few of the songs well enough to even dream of attempting them on higher difficulties, where you really must be pitch perfect and rhythm accurate. But on easy, it's forgiving enough that it's possible to flub your way through even a song you've never really heard before. You can hear the actual vocals in the background (which can be turned off, once you feel secure in your singing), and a line on screen helps guide you toward the proper pitch.

Singers get Overdrive too. Like the drummer, you'll have sections come along where you just improvise anything you like. (Even an oh-so-rock "HELLO, [insert city name here]!") Bang, your Overdrive is deployed.

All of this gets exponentially cooler and more fun when you play multiplayer. You can use your Overdrive to pull back in fellow band members who failed out of the song. You can further increase the multipliers on your band's Overdrive if you deploy yours while one or more other band members have theirs on. You get bonus points for playing sections of the song accurately all at the same time. And some songs have those sorts of crazy, open free-styles at the end of the song where the singer just wails away, the drummer does his best impersonation of Animal, and the guitarist strums until the strings threaten to snap. Your score goes up and up and up, provided you all brings it back together and hit the down beat to close out the song at same time.

The multiplayer mode has you earning money and fans, managers and roadies, playing dives until you can afford a tour bus to get to other cities, playing actual sets of songs, one right after another after another. You can sell out for big buck concerts and sacrifice some fans, or play charity events for no cash but lots of fan cred. Incredibly well thought out and authentic.

None of which says anything about the graphics, which are also just great. You can completely customize the appearance of your in-game characters. Dozens of hair styles, face types, attitudes, and more are just the beginning, as you can spend money you earn playing gigs to buy new clothing, jewelry and other accessories, and of course, better instruments. The characters you create then actually appear on the load screens in various freeze frame settings while you're waiting for the songs to start.

During the songs, all sorts of fun touches come out to play. You do some songs in black lights with glowing drumsticks and shiny teeth. You see camera angles in black-and-white, shot by some bootlegger in your audience. The lead singer actually whips out a cowbell to play the opening of Mississippi Queen. And these are only the things I've been able to notice so far.

I only have a couple small complaints about the game, and they all have to do with that new guitar controller. I mentioned some new things that are really awesome. But there are also a few differences that can really mess you up if you've played on the standard Guitar Hero controller for two years like I have.

The strum bar (though now silent -- a plus!) is kind of spongy in feel, and when you're strumming up and down rapidly, not every "click" seems to register, causing you to miss notes. The buttons are flush against the neck of the control, which makes it nicer looking, but easier to potentially lose your place mentally -- especially because the raised markings telling you where the center (yellow) button is are far less obvious than before.

My only other complaint as far as the guitar control goes is that the game only comes with one, and because of the demands to produce the "full package game" for the holidays, you won't be able to buy one separately until next year. Many earlier Guitar Hero controls aren't compatible with it either. (On PS3... none.) Which means unless you have a friend who also bought it, no fourth player for you until the new year. No bass player in your band. (Or guitarist, depending on your preference.)

Other than that though, this is a top notch game on every level. If you're a Guitar Hero fan, try not to let the high price tag on Rock Band scare you away. It's worth every penny.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


So, after several days of agonizing with my PS3 vs. XBox 3609 dilemma, I pulled the trigger and got a Playstation 3. (The larger model with some PS2 compatibility, for the curious.)

Ultimately, there were two main factors that tipped the balance. One, the XBox doesn't come standard with Wi-fi; that's an "optional" attachment. Let me tell you, where I'd have to run wires in my place to plug the thing in? Not optional at all. And by the time you factor in the cost of getting that Wi-fi attachment, the 360 wasn't that much less expensive than the PS3.

Secondly, it's Microsoft. If I can reasonably avoid using their products, I'm going to do it.

So I'm in the store on Monday night, getting ready to make the purchase, and I get into a conversation with one of the clerks about their stock on Rock Band. Not high enough for comfort, as it turned out... 60 copies for XBox, and 12 (only twelve!) for PS3. In other words, not a snowball's chance in hell of still being there if I waited until after getting off work to pick up my copy.

Time for a phone call to the family. As I was wrangling someone to go at store opening and pick up a copy of the game for me, my sister comes through with the scoop: some Best Buys are supposed to actually be open at midnight selling the game. Well... clearly not the one I just bought my PS3 at, or the guy would have said something. I do some research. One store, in all of Colorado. About 25 minutes from my place.

Now, I've never done the midnight wait to buy something before. Like for the Harry Potter book? Never considered it. There was no possibility that that book would have sold out, so the way I saw it, the only reason to do the midnight wait then was if you were going to stay up and start reading the thing right then and there. (If you did, hey... more power to you! But I have an awfully hard time reading when I'm sleepy.) Here, this was shaping up to me to feel a lot like: "be there at midnight or don't get one."

So I went. And though the line I found wasn't preposterous, it wasn't small either. The PS3 stock was especially limited too. A store employee was pointing to my range of the line, saying, "I'm afraid we might be running out right around in here, from the quick count I've taken of PS3 users in the line." Was this some sort of sign that I'd made the wrong choice?

Well, a few minutes later, the same employee comes back, and now he's actually handing out tickets to the people who want the PS3 version. And he reaches me...

And hands me the last ticket.

Perhaps some sort of sign that I'd made the right choice.

I got my copy of the game, having a second chance at that thrill of getting "the last one" when the sales clerk actually puts it in my hands. I loaded it in the car, drove home, got there at about a quarter to one...

And went to bed. I had to work the next day, and I'm not young enough for all-nighters anymore. But I've got the system and the game, and after what seemed like a particularly long day at the office, I got to try it out tonight.

Which I think will be a topic for another night, because this story has gone on a while already, and it's late, and I didn't get to bed on time last night. (grin)

Monday, November 19, 2007

Newtonian Recreation

I've never quite understood why people get excited about the "physics" in video games. Probably this is because this issue really only comes up in what... First Person Shooters and realistic auto racing games? Neither of which thrill me. I mean, seriously... who says:

"Man, I was really liking that game already, but damn, those physics!"

"You know what really would have put that game over the top? Physics!"

"I've been thinking about getting that new game system, but the games they've released for it so far just don't have enough physics."

So you'd think that a game with the word physics right in the title would be a pretty big stinker in my book. But what can I say? This is pretty damn cool.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Wait is Almost Over

Less than 24 hours remain on the Slap Countdown. And though it may be strange to use a Barney-ism here, since he's the one who's going to get slapped, I think it's going to be "legendary."

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Playing with Your Food

This pretty cool display of food carving can be found in this collection of "what chefs do when their bored."

I'd like to get one of these artists to do my next Halloween jack-o-lantern.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Time For a New Toy?

So, Harmonix's brand-new music game Rock Band comes out this Tuesday... for the XBox 360 and Playstation 3, that is. The PS2 version is due next month. And up until recently, I was pretty sure I was going to wait that month and then start rocking out. But then a few things happened.

First was Guitar Hero III. I noted in reviewing it that I thought the new developers had messed up a number of things with the game. I said less about the graphics, other than to mention the butt-ugly lead singer and the way the PS2 version looked like an after-thought. Since then, I've been able to see what the game looks like on one of the "next generation" consoles, and what can I say... it looks a lot better. Way faster load times too.

Second, I learned that the PS2 version of Rock Band really is an after-thought. Its development was outsourced to another company. And while this particular article I linked to says that the translation "looks great and plays as well as the in-house developed Harmonix next-gen versions," I'm not quite willing to believe that. And I guess I shouldn't be surprised at any of this; the PS2 version was only even announced in the U.S. a few months ago.

Third, there's the downloadable content. The PS3 and XBox 360 versions are going to be adding new songs all the time through their online connectivity -- whole albums, even. And it's not like I have to have every song ever programmed for the game, but I'd certainly feel like I was missing out not to have, for example, the Police three-pack of Roxanne, Synchronicity II, and Can't Stand Losing You. And missing out on more all the time.

Fourth, if I'm going to buy the game with its pricey peripherals (the drums and the mic), what happens down the road when, inevitably, some sequel isn't available on PS2? Am I to spend that money to buy the accoutrements all over again?

So... it all seems to add up to this: I'm suddenly thinking pretty seriously about buying an XBox 360 or a Playstation 3. There's just one problem with that: up until now, I haven't wanted either of them.

I never owned an XBox, and never for a moment considered getting an XBox 360. In the nearly two years it's been around, I've never regretted not having one. It seems to my like anything worth having on that console is available for some other console. The only high profile exclusives seem to be First Person Shooters of one variety or another, which I completely despise.

On the other hand, I've loved having my Playstation 2. But I was not an "early adopter" of the system. It had already gone through two price drops before I finally picked mine up. I've always sort of assumed that I'd get a PS3 someday, but I've had one eye on the games available for it, and have yet to see anything to sell me. I've figured that, like with the PS2, I'd probably wait out a few price drops before there was a critical mass of games to get me involved.

But just one game? I've been in this position before, debating whether to upgrade my PC for Civilization IV. And while I didn't quite end up upgrading just for that game, I did soon end up upgrading. (And of course, I bought the game.)

Then I think about my Wii. I've had it since March, and I have to admit that it has been virtually a one-game console. I've picked up a few things here and there, but the only game I seem to ever play on it is the one that it comes with -- Wii Sports. But you know what? I don't regret that purchase, either. I've gotten a lot of enjoyment out of that game, and I'm sure that eventually, more games will come. (Super Mario Galaxy is on my Christmas list.)

So, despite the somewhat scary price tag on the PS3, it seems I have plenty of precedent that type of purchase. I guess maybe I'm just looking for a nudge from somebody.

Can anyone out there think of any non-shooters that might convince me I've been wrong about XBox 360?

Does anyone out there own a PS3 and been happy with the purchase?

Any other thoughts?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

When You Right, You're Right

I've mentioned recently in passing the I side 100% with the Writers in the current strike. (And it should surprise no one who knows me that I think creative people should be well compensated for the things they create.) I hate that I'm about to lose my favorite shows for who knows how long, but I'll accept them being gone for as long as it takes for the writers who make those shows great to get a fair deal.

Shocho recently linked to a video that very articulately presented the position of the WGA in this. Let me add to that by sharing this article from one of Entertainment Weekly's columnists that I also believe states clearly why the Producers and Studios are completely insane.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Cow Power Ready!

I still say "Cowbell Cowbell Revolution" is a better title than "Cowbell Hero," but either way, this short video pointed out to me by "Snarky Smurf" is funny:

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Harry Potter and the Costly Tales

Got $62,000 -- minimum -- burning a hole in your pocket? Looking for an incredibly thoughtful gift for the Harry Potter fan in your life? Well, buddy Roland Deschain sent me word of an item going on auction next month. Rather exclusive, to put it mildly.

J.K. Rowling has taken the idea of the book of fairy tales mentioned in The Deathly Hallows book and actually written it, but only for the purpose of creating seven copies. Only one is being released in any public manner, it seems, and that's at this auction next month, where the opening bid works out to $62,000 in U.S. currency.

She's tried taking her share of $30 per book from millions of readers. Now, just to be different, she's planning to take a whole heap of money from just one reader. (Well, not "taking," exactly. She's giving it to charity. My point is, it's a whole different revenue model.)


Monday, November 12, 2007

Bang and Burn

So far, the writers' strike has taken The Daily Show and The Colbert Report away. Now, it has made an impact on Prison Break. (On the side, I'll just mention that I completely side with the writers on this one. I blame the studios for messing things up. As they so often seem to do. But back on point....)

Clearly, tonight's episode of Prison Break was meant to be "just another episode." The show's writing staff had planned for a mid-season break, but they were planning it for a few more episodes down the road. Despite the fact that tonight's episode contained another failed escape attempt, and the admittedly significant plot development of Michael apparently being taken out of Sona, the story didn't really feel like it came to a major head.

Past cliffhangers on Prison Break, be they mid-season or end-of-season, have felt like they've come rushing at you at breakneck pace. Several plot threads were thrown up in the air, characters were in jeopardy, suspense was high. Here, we've ended at a point where no one seems to be in any immediate danger, and though I wish there were more episodes coming, I'm not exactly waiting on pins and needles to see what happens next.

I've more been starting to dread what will happen to the story of Prison Break if the writers' strike drags on for several months, as is looking more and more likely. Prison Break's ratings at the start of this season had dropped off rather significantly. Several fans took big issue with the (unavoidable) death of Sara, and have stopped watching because of it. The creators had started mounting plans for a Prison Break spinoff set in a womens' prison -- and it seems unlikely they were thinking of running both that show and the original simultaneously.

In other words, things have been starting to look quite a lot like this will be the last season of Prison Break. And you know, if the story would end well (in the narrative sense, not necessarily "happily"), I could be fine with that. But if the strike drags on long enough to scuttle the whole television season, then what happens? Is FOX likely to renew Prison Break for a fourth season (really the last half of the third season, plus another handful of episodes) just because the story was left incomplete?

Please. This is FOX we're talking about.

So more than the "whatever," dangling non-ending we got tonight, I'm concerned about the possibly of having a similar ending come five more episodes down the road... and for that to unceremoniously turn out to be the actual end.

Not a good time to be a television fan.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Jack is Back... in Time

So, my friend Brad recently e-mailed me this great 24 parody. He's got his own blog, so ordinarily I'd leave it to him to offer this up himself. Maybe he doesn't find it as funny as I did?

I will say that I found this more entertaining that anything that actually did happen on 24 last season. Sigh.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Barnyard Antics

I like to try to blog a review of board games when I try them out for the first time. (Well, more after having played them a couple times, unless I outright hate them.) It only just occured to me tonight that there's one game I've played several times throughout the year, but never commented on -- Snorta.

It's easy for me to see how this slipped under the radar. Like nearly all of Out of the Box's other games, this isn't a deep "thinky" sort of game... it's a social, party atmosphere sort of game. And also, like their most of their other games (Apples to Apples springs to mind), it's a pretty strong entry in that category. This is to say, it's not the sort of game I'd want to play every week, or maybe even every month, but when I do play it, I generally enjoy it.

Every player has an animal figurine hidden under a barn. You see what animal everyone got at the start of the game, but once play begins, you have to remember what they all have. Then each player is given an equal number of cards, each card depicting one of 12 different animals. You go around the circle, turning over one card from your stack when it's your turn. If the animal on the card you turn over matches that on a card in front of another player, the race is on for you two -- each of you must quickly make the sound of the animal in the other player's barn. If you do so first, the other player must scoop up all the cards in front of both of you, and return them to the bottom of the stack he's dealing from. Your goal is to get rid of your stack of cards.

Snorta, as it turns out, can be a game of pretty extreme mental dissonance. You're looking at the animal on the cards in front of you, yet trying not to make those noises, but the noises of the animals hiding under the other players' barns. The mismatch can be striking. And of course, it's more chaotic (and more fun) with as many players as possible. Perfect party game, in other words.

It's particularly diabolical to play two or three games of Snorta back-to-back, having each player redraw a new animal for each game. Just when you get it figured out once, you switch everybody up, and then it's complete word salad in your brain.

Fortunately, you can play a whole game in about 10 minutes. Any more, and it might wear a bit thin. And, as I said, it's not the sort of game you'd probably want to play much. But it's good every now and then, and especially good if there are people with children in your circle of friends. I'm not sure how well a young child could actually play the game, but one could certainly grasp the idea instantly... and it's very rare in my experience to find a game appropriate for a kid that you don't mind playing yourself.

So there you are. Do you often find yourself in situations with six or more game players? Snorta might be a good thing to have in your game closet.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Google Fight!

If you don't normally read the comments threads of my posts, you'll need this background to understand the following. Well... "understand" is not the right word, because I sure as hell don't understand what's happening here.

To Evan Heimlich:

I've been ignoring you until now for a couple of reasons. One, I really don't have to justify or explain anything to you. I've been using my nickname for years now. And this is the internet, where people can style themselves however they like with varying degrees of anonymity.

Which brings me to my second reason for ignoring you, and by far the biggest issue in my mind. I have never used the name Evan "Heimlich" Lorentz (which, if I understand correctly, is the core of your grievance) on this blog. In fact, I've never used my real last name on this blog until now, and have only used my first name once. I was trying to enjoy a relative degree of anonymity here as the alter ego "Dr. Heimlich," and now you've basically ruined that. So thanks a lot.

The only place I'm aware of where you'll find Evan "Heimlich" Lorentz on the internet is in the byline of articles I write in my capacity as a game designer for Stargate TCG, Legends of Norrath, and others. You were actually making a leap of logic to assume that the author of those articles and the author of this blog (who until two days ago had been known only as Heimlich, or Evan) are one and the same -- there are, after all, plenty of Evans, Evan Lorentzs, and yes, even Evan Heimlichs in the world. (As Roland Deschain so ably explained in one of his comments.)

Now, as it happens, you were correct... the game writer and I are the same person. But this doesn't excuse the underlying lack of consideration you demonstrated in exposing my anonymity here. In fact, it doubles the offense. As a general rule, I do not blog about my job here. Nor do I mention my blog in any capacity at work. "Don't cross the streams," I say. So you are here stirring up trouble on my personal blog over issues you have with my internet presence at my job. And I suspect you're fully aware of how ill-behaved you are and how ridiculous you sound in doing this, precisely because you're pursuing me here and not in the many discussion forums available from my employer. You know full well that if you went there and "thread-jacked" another topic, demanded I explain my nickname, and challenged me when I refused to answer, you'd be banned from those forums faster than a Stephen King novel from a religious library.

Taking all of that into account, I don't know why I would bother to respond any farther to your nonsense. But since I suspect you're not going to go away until I do, here you go:

I named my blog Heimlich Maneuvers and adopted the handle of "Heimlich" (or "Dr. Heimlich") because I find Eddie Izzard's stand-up comedy really hilarious, specifically the concert Dress to Kill. I explained this in one of the first posts I ever made on this blog. Two-and-a-years ago, I might add. My Guitar Hero bands are all named Heimlich. My character in the newest Zelda game, and in most Civilization scenarios I play? Heimlich. And when I log on to the online games I design for my job? I log on as Heimlich. It's just a nickname, one I use a lot, and have used for a long, long time.

In my capacity as a game designer, I write articles that are posted on my company's web sites. It is the decision of someone else in the company -- not me -- to attribute those articles both to my real name and to my log on name. And it is also the decision of someone else to do this by inserting my online nickname in quotation marks between my first and last names. This was never a decision I personally made. And this is the same format used for ALL of the people who write articles appearing on our web site. I only hope that people named Chuck Shocho and Paul Merakon don't turn up to badger my co-workers in the same manner in which you've hassled me.

So, there's the explanation you so desperately craved. But I reiterate that you hardly deserved one. You're the one who charged in here piercing whatever veil there might have been over my anonymity, you're the one coming after me on my personal time for things done in the course of my job, and you're the one completely off your rocker when you claim you were "the only Evan Heimlich in the world." (See? Not true!)

To everyone else who posted comments in this ridiculous thread, or who e-mailed me privately to ask "wtf?":

You all rock. It's really quite awesome to see friends be so clever and witty (and thorough -- damn, Roland!), and rushing to your defense.

I love you guys!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

A South Park Rerun

So yes, I did see this week's Guitar Hero-themed episode of South Park. Some episodes of South Park actually carry some kind of message or try to make some point. Other simply try to be funny. This was one of the latter, unless you take the "message" to be that "gamers are dumb." (But given that creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have acknowledged their own video game addictions from time to time in their commentaries, I'll assume that's not the case.)

In any case, to delve too critically into this episode is probably silly. Still, I have to make one major observation. To me, there was nothing in this episode that wasn't already done in last season's "World of Warcraft" episode. Both depicted the same tale of emotionally investing overmuch in a video game, and the same transference of the game into the real world. Been there, done that.

So which time was it funnier? The Warcraft episode, or the Guitar Hero episode?

I personally think the Guitar Hero episode had the funnier setups and jokes, and that serves as the answer to "why do the same episode over again?" But I of course have to acknowledge that, as I'm a fan of GH and not WoW, perhaps I only find it funnier because of the familiarity.

Anyone else want to weigh in?

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Who is Driving?

I was unsettled to notice this about the car in front of me the other day.

Seriously, I have like 17 phone books stacked on top of my refrigerator. You can have as many as you need.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

How Not to Name Your Business

Do be careful around Jerry. Seems he has an odor about him that demands a sign you can read from two blocks away:

Monday, November 05, 2007

Photo Finish/Vamonos

I'm amazed that, with the writer's strike now jeopardizing the number of new television episodes the networks will have to run before they're out, FOX would decide to run two episodes of Prison Break on a single night. But unlike past cases of FOX stupidity, this time we the audience are the beneficiary.

And what a one-two punch tonight's episodes were. Two great episodes that were loaded with as much suspense as some of the best moments of season one. My one complaint would be that there were a few unfortunate moments of stupid character behavior crafted solely to drag the plotline out for more episodes.

For example, there was Michael's decision not to just try and make a run for it when he's already down the ladder and Whistler's well on the way. As it turned out, in the time it took them to climb back up and haul up the rope ladder behind them, I'm sure they could have crossed the yard.

Or Linc's decision not to just shoot "Susan" the moment she staggered out of the van after the crash. After all, he shot the driver. If he'd also killed her, he'd have been able to pick off the bodyguard, and LJ would be rescued.

This missteps aside, so much about the rest of the episodes worked wonderfully. We all probably suspected from the first episode or two of this season that eventually Michael and Whistler would end up in a yard fight together, and it was good to finally see that paid off. Lechero bringing himself into the escape plan was a fun development. Seeing Whistler's girlfriend pull a few clever moments of her own (like taking over in the attempt to drug the prison guard) was a long time coming, and it was great to see her become more than a damsel in distress this week.

And kudos to the writers for the moments of Bellick reacting to Sarah's death. Surely Bellick's condolences mean nothing to Michael, but they were a very authentic moment for his character that might have easily gone overlooked. Brad also had a connection with her from their rehab meetings together, and it was nice to see this kind of emotional vulnerability in his character, rather than the simple physical vulnerability he usually endures.

As I said, it was in all a strong pair of episodes. I'm hoping things keep rolling along this way.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

A Hero Tarnished

Guitar Hero III has now been available for a week. I've had enough to time to play with it to really figure out what I think about it.

In the plus column, the music in this one is really excellent. The "Legends of Rock" subtitle for this game isn't superfluous, it really does contain a large number of classic rock songs -- far more than the earlier Guitar Hero games. There's considerably less assault-on-the-ears metal here than there was in Guitar Hero II, and much of what is there is actually relegated to the "bonus tracks." This is all great to me.

There are a few truly inspired elements added into the game. In one of the venues, you'll occasionally see a spectator climb up on stage and dive into the crowd. The career mode "storyline" of cut scenes tells a cute and fun story of the rise and fall of your band. The idea of a final guitar battle with the Devil himself, to a rocked-up guitar version of The Devil Went Down to Georgia, is absolutely kickass.

Unfortunately, that's about it for what can firmly go in the plus column. The new developer, Neversoft, got a lot of little tiny things just slightly wrong, things that the previous developer, Harmonix, had working great in the earlier installments. For example, the load times are ridiculously long now, as though no efforts to optimize the resource usage were made.

Star Power animations, which used to make watching people play Guitar Hero almost as fun as playing yourself, are now non-existent. Characters used to propeller their guitars around their necks, ride them like bucking broncos, toss them 30 feet into the air, and more. Now, they simply don't do anything at all. Star Power turns the notes blue and makes the crowd start clapping just like before. But the characters keep on doing the same boring movements they do all the rest of the time.

Co-op Mode now no longer allows the play of single songs; you can only play in a Coop Career Mode. When playing Co-op, it used to be that if one player missed a note, only his side of the screen would shake. Now, both players get the "you messed up" treatment. And then, at the end of the song, stats on accuracy that used to be calculated individually are now only displayed for the pair combined.

But that's not the worst thing they did with Co-op Play. That mode now requires both players to play at a high level to be able to unlock maximum content in the game. In Guitar Hero II, you and a buddy could pair up, one on Expert and one on Medium, and still manage 5 star ratings that would unlock every extra the game had to offer. Now, in your career, you unlock only at the level of the player on the lowest setting, which means that to get at everything in the game, you need two players who can both hack it on Expert -- pretty rare.

Not that even players who used to be able to play on Expert can do so now. They've significantly increased the difficulty of the game even over Guitar Hero II, which was widely thought to be a rather big step up from the original. Mostly, this jump in difficulty is achieved through note patterns far more complicated than the earlier games, but once or twice it is a result of bad synch with the music. I was happy that the song Barracuda by Heart was finally added to a Guitar Hero game -- until I played it a few times and realized that no, it's not me that's off... their programming of when to expect the strum input is mis-synched.

There are a few new additions to the game that, while sounding good in principle, turn out not to be in practice. As I mentioned, the idea of an epic guitar battle with the Devil sounds awesome, as do battles against Tom Morello and Slash. But the actual implementation of them sucks. The console-controlled adversary plays perfectly unless you've deployed one of the "weapons" against him -- perfectly enough to always have a full Rock Meter. The only way to win a battle is to save up three "weapons" (the maximum allowed), then deploy them all at once during a stretch where your computer opponent has a lot of notes to play. Nothing else works.

The game has added a streak counter that flashes notices on the screen when you reach a streak of 50 notes, 100 notes, 200 notes, and so forth. DDR has been doing this for years, so it seems like a natural addition to Guitar Hero. But the little sound effect it plays when this happens is almost identical to the "you just screwed up and missed a note" sound effect. The result is that when you reach a long streak, your "reward" is to think you've screwed up, which disrupts your rhythm and then causes you to actually screw up.

The articulation of the lead singer is at an all-time high in this game. When you see close-ups of the singer, he really looks like he's singing the words to the songs now. Which would be incredible, except that in the character re-design done for this game, they made him look like some ghastly offspring of a Muppet and Mickey Roarke's character from Sin City. This guy is fugly.

The thing is, though, Guitar Hero is ultimately about the music. So even with this long list of problems (and more I could go on about), the fact is that the first thing I mentioned probably balances them all out. I'll say it again: this has the best song selection of any Guitar Hero game. Still, I have to wonder if down the road, when some of the luster of the songs has faded through playing them again and again, if all that will be left are these abundant flaws. If so, than this game will be ultimately come to be a real disappointment -- the point where a good thing turned sour.

In all, while I am enjoying Guitar Hero III, more than anything it makes me look forward to Rock Band. That game, from Harmonix (the original developers of Guitar Hero) also looks to have a kick-ass soundtrack and lots of master recordings (as opposed to lots of cover versions). And they'll likely not screw up all the little things that Neversoft couldn't seem to get right.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of

This weekend's flashback movie at the Continental Theater was a true rarity to come across on the big screen these days -- The Maltese Falcon. And actually, until today I had never seen it before in any venue.

Ordinarily, the so-called "classics" don't do it for me... not the ones I've seen, anyway. Casablanca nearly put me to sleep. Citizen Kane seemed like a thoroughly boring film, only interesting when considered not on its own merits, but in the historical context of how much controversy it stirred in its day.

I'm happy and surprised to say that The Maltese Falcon bucked the trend for me. I actually really enjoyed this movie. Yes, the acting was still a little unreal in the manner of movies from that era, but it somehow seemed less over-the-top here. Or perhaps it was simply more fitting in this, the prototypical hard-boiled detective movie. After all, the slightly unreal performances that go with this genre are still very much a convention today that audiences can recognize and accept, and I can fit in with that audience.

I was struck by how much the movie actually felt like a stage play to me. Each scene was more packed with dialogue than action (I mean that in a good way). They were long scenes with plenty of room for the characters and the words to breathe and play, not the rapid-fire, often image-driven stuff of today. With the exception of only two or three short scenes (a cross-town attempt to evade a tailing thug, a quick stop to see a ship on fire at the harbor, and so forth), every scene took place in very conventional "room" sets -- an office, a hotel room, an apartment, etc. It was quite easy to imagine quick set dressing changes allowing the whole story to be told on stage in live theater instead. Which is perhaps another reason I responded so favorably to it.

There were a couple of plot points that did rub me the wrong way, though. The biggest one of these was the beginning of the final act. After being a relatively clever hero for most of the movie, Sam Spade has the item everyone's fighting to get almost literally just fall in his lap. (A heretofore unseen character just shows up unannounced at his office, mortally wounded, to hand off a package to him.) It really seemed a too-convenient way to bring on the climax of the film, and undermined the main character in the process, too.

But all things considered, I have to again say how pleasantly surprised I was to enjoy this movie. I give it a B+.

Friday, November 02, 2007

A Colbert Report (that's a non-silent T)

This week, I read the new book I Am America (And So Can You!) by Stephen Colbert. (Co-written with members of his writing staff from The Colbert Report, though their names aren't on the cover, of course.) It was pretty funny at times, though nearly as entertaining as The Daily Show's book from a few years back, America the Book.

Mainly, reading the Colbert book made me gain a new appreciation for his talents as a performer. He very often makes me laugh on his show, but I suppose that on some subconscious level, I took it as a given that it wouldn't be very hard to be funny playing that "character" (the fictionalized Stephen Colbert), and with quality writing behind him. I mean, it's an inherently funny character, like Bill O'Reilly.

But the truth is, though I did find the book funny, it amused me in that vaguely intellectual way... the sort of "oh yes, that is funny" reaction that doesn't ever really show on your face. Watching Colbert on the show, on the other hand, makes me laugh out loud almost every night. And really, it's not the caliber of the writing making the difference here -- it's from the same people. I figure it has to be his performance. So my hat's off.

Would I recommend the book? Probably not to everybody, but if you can't get enough of Stephen Colbert, then it's not bad. And of course, right now the book will be the only way you can get Stephen Colbert, since the Writers' Guild of America has voted to go on strike.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

All Dolled Up

An announcement came yesterday that soon, the television universe will be put back in proper alignment: Joss Whedon has a new show on the way. You can read more thorough details in the link, but the bottom line is that he's creating and writing a new series starring Eliza Dushku -- Dollhouse. And I'm frakkin' ecstatic.

And nervous.

Because the show is going to be on FOX. And despite the fact that Joss roundaboutly mentions the criminally quick cancellation of Firefly in the above interview, and tries to offer reassurances, that's not changing my nervousness. There may be a "new bunch of people" at FOX, but they're the people that canceled Drive after three weeks, yet gave a full season order to the painfully formulaic and unfunny Back to You.

So, I'm hoping that the ratings are phenomenal, or that FOX stops for a moment to reflect on how crazy-ridiculous the Firefly DVDs sold month after month on Amazon. No itchy trigger fingers this time, please.

Bring on the Dollhouse!