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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Shadowrun Returns, Review: Short, Sweet, and Full of Possibilities

Not every game has to be 20 hours long to prove it's point and Shadowrun Returns will not take any where near that length of time to finish. It's short, there's no way around that, it took me barely 7 hours. But I'm not docking it any points. Why? Because it ended when it had to. I had fleshed out my character as far as I wanted to, the story had reached it's logical end, and as much as I love turn based combat, I was ready to put it down when I finally dealt with Sam's killer.

Shadowrun puts you into a cyber punk fantasy world filled with trolls, elves, dwarves, guns, drugs, corporate conspiracies, and nerps. I don't know what the hell nerps are, but the omnipresent billboards about them made me chuckle. Nerps! I'm an easy laugh.

The main campaign is a story called "Dead Man's Switch" in which a old shadowrunner buddy of yours is murdered after he set up an automatic video message through his lawyer, should his death be ruled unnatural. He's apparently stashed a humongous payday since you saw him last, and becuase he couldn't take it with him, he'll give it all to you if you can find out whodunnit. The murder-mystery noire angle is more than refreshing to see in a fantasy setting. A set up like this is more inclined to introduce and develop characters, rather that spend half it's time shoving it's made up dragon language in your face.That may sound like I have a chip on my shoulder about fantasy stories in games, but that's only half true. I've got a chip on my shoulder about what fantasy games get away with.

But I'm not getting into that now, SR is a great change of pace from the RPG crowd, and it's strictly linear (dun dun dun) structure actually serves to keep the game from watering itself down. Would I have loved some side quests to flesh out the world and help me grind for that last pistol skill? Of course. But thinking about it now, it wouldn't have changed my opinion on it much at all. Unless it told a better story than the campaign, but that's just silly. I also have a few problems with the way the Native American and Haitian characters are depicted but... you what? never mind.

Actually no, It's not ok. The Haitian is literally Baron Samedi from Live and Let Die, it's gross.

Moving on.

The way it plays is just as fun and breezy as the story it tells. You play as any of the typical fantasy roles, but then choose from the less typical fantasy classes like "hacker" or "street samurai." There was no way in hell I wasn't going to try the street samurai. Even though you hand pick your squads for the major missions, your choice of class has a huge bearing on how battles play out. This is no place for a jack of all trades, pick something you want to be good at and throw yourself at it. My 5 points in hacking meant f**k all compared to my pistol and rifle skill. You need to be the strongest version of what class you play, because your back up is only going to be half as powerful.

My samurai's assault rifle automatic attack was, hands down, the most effective skill I had. But the fact only I could learn it and that it could only take on one enemy at a time, and even then only once per turn, meant I couldn't possibly carry my team alone. SR's combat is a bloody ballet of teamwork and skill balance. There are many ways to build a bad squad of shadowrunners and I became intimate with them all. You do not need two hackers. Not ever. But this genius got halfway through the longest mission with two lousy gun hands that couldn't help each other out in cyber space at the same time. Disaster. (Pro tip: Deathsigh the troll and his shotgun is never a slot wasted...oh and don't try melee your first time, this is a gun fight.)

So while some folks may justifiably believe that Kickstarter is a dead end boondoggle, this is proof it can work efficiently and effectively. The game out of the box is worth $20 bucks on the nose, not much more bang for your buck, but you will at least play it twice with a different character on a harder difficulty. The game this will become a year from now is an entirely different story. The tools and assets for everything are included and I'm assured by my more tech savvy buds that it's very easy to use. New crowd sourced content is already rolling in and I say it's only a short matter of time before we start panning some real gold.

But know that Shadowrun Returns is already a gem.

This is seriously a thing that happens in some dude's penthouse.

Bioshock Infinite DLC Reveal


Everyone else cool?


The two episode DLC is set in Rapture, a re-imagining of the story from the main game... yeah I was pretty underwhelmed too. We've already had two games explore Rapture, I honestly wanted more of Columbia and am now pretty glad I skipped out on the season pass. This looks like it could go either way at face value.

But far be it from me to judge a game by it's pitch, how does the trailer shape up?

Oh... oh god damn. Ladies and Gentlemen, never bet against Ken Levine. That looks friggn' incredible.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Artemis Fowl is now a Disney Property.


The only surprising thing about this is that it's only just become a project. I remember way back in my middle school days how controversial it was. There was a line drawn. One sided with Art, the other with Harry and never the twain would meet. I was on the Harry side and never really gave Art a chance, but apparently its pretty good and will hopefully be a pretty good movie.

Fantasy, thief caper, spy thriller? It would be hard not to have a good time at that movie... unless it gets Percy Jacksoned.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Phil Fish Affair: Why both sides are acting like children.

If he actually ate a bullet next week, you wouldn't be surprised.

So anyone remotely interesting in gaming journalism has heard about Phil Fish's (developer of Fez) dramatic departure from the industry. A twitter exchange that will live in infamy (for 6 months at the most) exposed a raw nerve of an already outspoken independent developer. It all started with GT's podcast "invisible walls" particularly with Marcus Beer's segment on how Jonathan Blow (braid dev) and Fish chose to comment on Xbox One financially embracing the indie scene.

Fish and Blow acted like jerks, no question. They both appeared in the wonderful Indie Game: The Movie, officially making them even more prominent public figures in the gaming world. In fact its fair to say that its at least 60-70% Fish's movie. They're free to decline to comment, but they bit the hand that fed them so hard its a news story in of itself. That's where Marcus Beer comes in, a hilarious commentator with the best BS detector in the business. I agree with everything he says, but in this case I do not agree with his methods.

Years 2, my journalism professor drew me aside after I had turned in a review for The Other Guys. He liked it well enough, but he had issues with how I referred to Mark Wahlberg. You see, I called him by his real name once in the beginning, but for the rest of the review he was "Marky Mark." I told him I just thought it was funny, he shrugged and said, "Yeah but is he funny in the movie?" I said yeah. "Does he hold the movie back?" I said, no. "Well then, you're being a jerk for no reason."

A futurama reference, sure, but this is still miles away from stable behavior.

Beer makes a point about calling Fish "BlowFish" which is a pretty damn funny couple mash up name, but like "Marky" serves no real editorial purpose. Yes, if the both of them had their noses upturned any further they'd crack their necks, but it doesn't mean you need to spend ten straight minutes attacking their art and their character.

I'm not saying Beer is responsible for Fish's digital temper tantrum, but he sure as hell isn't blameless. We have no idea what's going on in Fish's life right now, it could be a waking nightmare, he could have been stood up at the alter for all I know. Maybe his life is fine and this balloon was going to pop eventually whether Beer said anything or not. But why be partially responsible for someone's public display of instability? I doubt that's what Beer wanted, and if I was ever responsible for something like that I'd try to do everything I could to patch it up.

In my knee jerk opinion, Fish's rambling rage-quit is just as childish as Beer's refusal to apologize. It doesn't matter if you're right and 90% of the internet agrees with you. Not to me, you really hurt someone, and you should at least try to shake his hand. Fish may not accept, but that's seriously not the point.

Subtle, he ain't.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Freshly STEAMed: Darksiders II Review

 Wrote this one last august, but since steam has an 80% discount up until Monday (7/29/13) I thought "Hey, might as well try to get some more folks on the bandwagon." A bandwagon stuck in IP hot potato hell...but still, I love this game. I'll let my past self explain why (in tiny text I couldn't reformat):

Sometimes a remix can feel just as fresh and invigorating as originality. Originality can be strange and unrefined. Why not make something special by mixing in a ton of bits and bobs people already love, like trail mix. Then weave in diablo-style loot, prince of persia-style platforming, god of war-style combat and zelda-style puzzles and dungeons. . . unlike trail mix. Stir well for two and a half years and presto! Out pops Darksiders 2. And it all tastes great.

Over the course of twenty two hours or so, you play as Death, one of the four horsemen (and one woman) of the apocalypse. These guys had one job to do, and they couldn't even get that right. Someone, or something, rang the end times bell a little early and only War showed up to the party. Naturally War takes all the blame and is sentenced to purgatory. 
And they called him "Hookster McMurderface."
DS2's main story focus is on Death and his efforts to resurrect humanity to clear his brother's name. Anyone who skipped War's chapter is never let in on why the Apocalypse happened and rightly so. Darksiders was a damn fine game and anyone left scratching their head at the end of DS2 has only themselves to blame. you'd be surprised at how good the story actually is and you'd be ruining the little “hey it's that guy!” moments sprinkled throughout the game.
But either way, the story you get from this game is handled by a small troupe of fine actors. None of which take themselves too seriously and each always find the right way to read a line. A special shout out goes to Michael Wincott as Death. He knows how to be a raspy, no-nonsense, personification of loss. But you'll be amazed at the depth of character he creates with even simple line readings and I know he made me laugh out loud at least once. That's right folks, Death's kinda funny.

DS2 is the product of a rare and respectable kind of ambition. The kind kind that makes a sequel that at first glance looks identical to it's predecessor, but is actually almost a completely new experience. The first played at being non-linear, but the second time around, a good two thirds of the game are  entirely free roaming. There are side quests, there are secrets, and there is loot to be finished, discovered, and equipped. My hat goes off to Vigil Games as none of these activities ever feel like a grind. Find a ton of loot you don't want? You can sell it all for decent pocket money and always find something you can buy with it. Every activity feeds back into the other until you've had your fill and want to take on the main game.

Though you could have just stumbled onto one of the four or five “secret” dungeons and thought you were playing the main game. That's just the kind of mirror-sheen polish you can expect from this world. Even the side dishes feel like the entrĂ©e. 
That was the last food reference, hand to god.
I could go more into detail about the master class of animation and art direction on display here, but the linchpin in this already award worthy game is it's score. It always gives you what you expect, but in unexpected ways. You'll get a medieval choir for your trip into hell, but you'll also have a growling, otherworldly, techno-static baseline along with it. Some tracks are more overused than I would have liked, but when the music needs to swell to the action on screen, composer Jesper Kyd, of Assassin's Creed fame, moves in with a symphonic hay-maker. I mean blues guitar for an rag tag army of angels? It's f*king brilliant.

While I may have loved this game to pieces, it's not all puppies and sunshine. The final third of the game is a straight shot. No more hopping off your horse to go chest hunting anytime you want, you just gotta stick with the game's plan. Not to mention the end comes out of nowhere just when you think the finale was kicking into gear. But the New Game+ mode lets you bring all your loot and experience around for another ride. A feature that would have pushed my score to a perfect five, had the final moments not been so rushed and unsatisfying narrative wise.

As it stands, this is still one of the best games I've played in over a year, and you bet your ass I'll run through it again at least two more times.

Lets hear it for Rodney!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Shadowrun Returns, Why I think it looks Great.

If Terry Pratchett and Phillip K. Dick had a baby.

I'm a strange gamer. I love RPGs, but I hate typical fantasy tropes and design. I may have given New Vegas an 8 (initially) and Skyrim a perfect ten, but I've played Skyrim at least a third as much as I have the former. There are hundreds of reasons why that happened. One, Obsidian knows how to direct voice actors and how to build a character arc, and two, I'd seen practically everything Skyrim had to show me before in several other games. The fact that Shadowrun first appeared on the Sega Genesis is depressing. Cyber punk dwarves and elves? The additional fact that satire of the classic fantasy setting is that old makes me sadder than I can express in print.

It looks funny, the reviews are solid, the art direction is the perfect balance of somber and whimsical, and the animation is silky smooth. I want it. Simple as that. This kind of work deserves patronage.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Podcast Review: I wanna Live in Harmontown.

Why yes, they are schlitzed out of their minds.

It's no secret I'm a huge fan of NBC's Community.  And when that  bubbling crock pot of drama that is the twilight years of said network got the show's creator kicked off his post, I was left with a few questions about it. Mostly, what was Dan Harmon going to do next?

A podcast... yeah I wasn't sold on it at first either. Professional stand ups have a hard time keeping a podcast funny for over an hour, how could a writer/show runner pull that off? I love his work, but what would I think about his uncensored id in front of a live audience? The simple truth is that he's actually much funnier in some respects than Chris Hardwick or Marc Maron and if you can get past his increasingly awkward freestyle raps about mother f**king (along with the "toddler dance"), this is one of the best podcasts I've ever heard.

NOT safe for work. Look at me, both eyes. Not.

Turns out, a drunk Dan Harmon and Jeff Davis are more articulate and funny than I could hope to be at the best of times. Whether Dan is reading from his vaguely sociopathic teenage journal or Jeff is recanting how having his name gets him free stuff in South Carolina, these guys rarely have nothing to say. Or they'll make having nothing to say funny somehow. Its fascinating to see the ways in which they make talking about nothing marginally profound. Marginally. Dan has a habit of making sh*t real out of nowhere, yet always manages to bring the room back almost immediately. Took me a while to realize that's exactly what I loved about Community in the first place. A perfect marriage of tragic honesty with a gleeful sense of humor. Did I mention they're drunk off their ass for most of this?

The man really knows how to work a room, its a room full of avid fans, but still. The audience is always as much of a part of the show as either Dan or Jeff or Erin McGathy if she's feelin' it. Though there is this one dude called Adam that rushes the stage more often than not. I personally think he's funny in a David Sedaris kind of way, but you do get the sense he's constantly riding Jeff's last nerve and neither host is ever convinced of his sanity. It's never as much of a buzz kill as I must have made it sound... but you do feel like Dan's worried about the guy, and I'm not gonna pretend it doesn't put a damper on things sometimes.

It's called "Pringles Dick." 
Wear some headphones if the thought hasn't already occurred.

Normally I'd tell you about the best jumping on points in its 60+ library, but the show has a fair amount of continuity and in jokes, mostly due to it's long running D&D campaign run by Spencer Crittenden. It's like drunk kitchen but with rage dwarves and a bored Ryan Stiles that one time. Lets just say its my kind of game of D&D, where its taken just seriously enough to make sense and that's about it. The name Sharpie Buttsalot tells you all you need to know.

So I say start at the beginning, but if you're still unsure/disturbed by the rap, start with Turtle Panties.  Patton Oswalt scares Dan and Eric Idle pops out of nowhere and sings a song. Its glorious. I'm happy I've come across Harmontown for all this alone, but you do finally get a satisfying peek behind the BS of the Harmon/Chase feud. I don't remember what episode that was, but the way he tells it, they're both bigger men than I thought... and Peirce is a carbon copy of Chase's sense of humor, apparently (I had a feeling).

So try to swing by Harmontown, you might not want to leave.

Ha Ha!, adventure!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Rockstar Plants a Flag on Agent

Yeah right, I'm holding my breath.
The day after writes about 5 games you'll never get to play Rockstar renews their trademark on the #1 spot. An open world espionage shooter called "Agent." The question is, do we hope for the best here? Is this a sign of life, or do they just not want anyone else using their title? It's a very simple and effective little title. I mean, you hear about a Rockstar game called Agent you know exactly what its about.

That's something worth protecting even if you have absolutely no plans to throw several million more dollars at a project. But for me? I think this is something they still want to do. I think this will be their next Red Dead. The thing they do in between GTA to keep from losing their minds. I'd say the sordid story of Alpha Protocol must have put a damper on things, but Agent stalled out long before that. But hey, remember L.A. Noire? that ran silent for at least as long as this. So again, I think this is gonna happen.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Ryan Reynolds isn't famous, and that's ok.

Someone just had a very very bad weekend. Both Reynold's vehicles Turbo and RIPD bombed miserably to what is essentially the best horror film in about a decade. Normally I'd be pretty pleased with those numbers, but this is still spectacularly unfair. Is RIPD as bad as they say? Probably. Was a movie about a formula 1 snail the result of some sort of executive dart board/madlib concoction? Again... probably.

I like Ryan Reynolds, I think he gets a lot more crap than he deserves. I also think any unknown actor saddled with The Green Lantern would be begging for change on Hollywood and Vine right now. How does he do that? How does he keep getting these golden tickets? I have no friggin' clue. It wasn't to make a competing Ryan Gosling, he showed up later and even he doesn't hit the mark most of the time. Damn, where's celebrity death match when you really need it?

Someone out there clearly wants this man to be a bankable movie star, and the frustrating part is he's talented enough to pull it off. But you can't force these things all the time and you definitely can't run two of his films in the same damn weekend. I don't care that one's animated and one isn't, you could argue it's after the same audience. I mean, I saw Men in Black when I was in second grade (god, I loved it).

Yet the saddest thing of all is even if you put both of those movies together you wind up with a middling profit. Ryan Reynolds does not draw a crowd. It's as simple as that, I wish it weren't true, but there it is. But then again, Will Smith couldn't this summer, neither could Tom cruise, even Brad Pitt's taking a hit on his liberal interpretation of World War Z. Maybe I'm coming at this at the wrong angle. Maybe stars have less to do with the box office than we all thought.

Or maybe we're just sick of interchangeable Dreamworks cartoons, MIB ripoffs, and pretentious apocalypses.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Newsroom, Season 1 Review.

Not as bad as I feared, not as good as I'd hoped. If I had never seen a Sorkin show before last week I would have been completely enamored by The Newsroom. But I've been following him for years and while his formula is one of the best there is, its still a formula and I know all the ingredients. I was constantly playing a drinking game in the back of my mind (female pratfall!). I didn't want to, but its like those magic eye posters, (awkward shouting match!) when you see it once, you're always squinting to see it again (awkward shouting match fallout!).

But after a while you ease into it like a hot tub and just roll with it. You're in Sorkin-land and worst case scenario, you're gonna get some good monologues. Jeff Daniel's first as firebrand news anchor Will McAvoy is a barn burner. He's a decent character, you know he's an ass, but it takes a long time for that to register because he's pleasingly three dimensional. The first couple of minutes alone do a great job of fleshing him out.

McAvoy's played the moderate for too long, he's become the second highest watched cable news anchor, but at what cost? He's inconsequential at best and a phoney at worst and after being asked to explain why America is the greatest country on earth, he finally snaps. That snap gives his producer (Sam Waterson) the excuse to make McAvoy matter again. By being more editorial, by reporting news that matters... and by hiring his ex girlfriend to oversee the whole thing. Waaaaaaait a minute, isn't that how the West Wing started too?

Is it an unnecessary love triangle contrivance? Yes. There's actually going to be a couple of these, but in the moment, each of them work. McAvoy's with Emily Mortimer is the best; but you've also got the one with Alison Pill (Maggie) between the go getter 10:00 show producer Jake, (jock) and the passionate editor/puppy dog, Jim...(nerd). It gets better as it goes along but a good 30% of the show is sacrificed on the alter of these office romances. The biggest problem is Jake doesn't become anywhere near relatable until halfway through the season. You have no reason not to hate him, he abandons McAvoy professionally, he abandons Maggie romantically, and he openly tells Jim that he hates him at least four times. Its a mess.

Thankfully the news stories, as revisionist as they are, do a great service by simply reminding you of what happened 2 years ago. I had forgotten almost every story they covered and the rhetoric attached to each was viscerally satisfying, but unapologetically one sided. But that doesn't bother me, McAvoy constantly name dropping the fact he's a registered republican does. I mean, I know moderate republicans, McAvoy is no moderate. There isn't a single word that falls out of his mouth that a democrat would disagree with, in other words, its a wasted trait that only serves to make him a less interesting character. He's a liberal Sorkin, stop trying to eat your cake too.

But I gotta admit one story they worked on got me good. They made a connection I had never thought of before. Remember the bill that allowed corporations to give unlimited funds to political candidates? It also extended to unions. What happens immediately after that passed? The Wisconsin teacher strike. I'm sorry, that's good journalism.

I haven't even mentioned how much of a joy Sam Waterson is, I avoided Law and Order like the plague so maybe he's always been this funny. Olivia Munn wound up being much more enjoyable than I thought, her Fukushima sub plot was one of the highlights for me, but she's still really stone faced. Fun though, she would kill voice over work.

So there. It's patchy, hits a lot of sour notes, women rarely talk about anything other than the men in their lives, and the two black characters just don't have anything to say other than exposition. But those are my problems, objectively its a "good" show. If you liked the West Wing, you're gonna like this. If you were hoping for Sorkin to alter his vision slightly or shake things up (like me) you'll walk away disappointed. But I want to keep watching it and that's not nothing.

Oh, and this one time Terry Crews showed up out of nowhere and it was awesome.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

There's a Licensed Firefly MMO...

...That's shackled to IOS devices and is more than likely a bald faced cash in.

Ok, show's over people, nuthin' to see here. Just my shattered hopes and dreams of the possibility of Firefly: The Next Generation (which is totally not a spec script I've written). I'd love for there to be something here and I have no right to doubt the conviction of the folks working on it. But it would have to be the big damn savoir of the MMO to make me think about buying an I-pad. I just don't don't have the scratch.

But man, if they did the impossible... wouldn't that be shiny?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

So I'm ready to watch the Newsroom...

"I fixed the White House, I fixed SNL, what else can I fix?"
I really liked the West Wing in its day. I was way too young to really "get" what it was about, but I loved the feel of the dialogue and characters. I guess I should call it an influence, in the same way I should call Friends one (because people complained that I could not sound more like Chandler Bing in 7th grade).

When Sorkin went on to make his SNL show, Studio 60, I was excited! Comedians behind the scenes are miserable, dramatic, bastards and I could not wait for Sorkin to mine that gold. But a couple episodes in I began to realize why Lorne Micheals had refused any involvement. Not that he was jealously guarding his legacy (he may have been) but that he clearly could smell something on Sorkin, something he didn't like. That he was dramatist who didn't get comedy. But uh, good luck telling the creator of The West Wing he can't do something.

It wasn't as big a disaster as some seemed to think, but man, it shouldn't have been what it was. A painful act of hubris slowly bleeding out for several months. The audience deserved better, Hughley deserved better, Whitford deserved better. But it was what it was.

When the word came down from press mountain about The Newsroom last year, I heard what I expected. That Sorkin was even more entrenched in his ways with hindsight politics and sermon preaching. That can be fun though...but the critics didn't make it sound like fun. Also Olivia Munn kinda bothers me, she always looks acutely aware she's an actor in a scene instead of a character. Anywho, I passed.

But now it's summer, I'm nursing a stubborn surgical scar, and I'm bored as peanuts. See? I'm trying to coin new phrases, somebody help me! I know I shouldn't take critic's word as gospel, but I just find myself disagreeing with Rotten Tomatoes so rarely, I always do. I'm giving the Newsroom a chance, I love Jeff Daniels, I like Sorkin, I'm not a sheep.

Bah! who am I kidding?

The second season's better? I knew that...of course I've seen it.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

John Dies at the End Review: This movie is full of awesome, seriously dude, don't miss it.

Have you ever talked a physicist down from a bad salvia trip? Because that's what this movie feels like. It waxes poetic about interconnected worlds, the finality of death, the perspective of eternity by a super computer, and flying, screaming, mustache monsters.

The adaption of David Wong's opus "John Dies at the End" is refreshing to say the least. This is a bargain basement film to be sure, but if you saw Bubba Ho Tep (required viewing for any Bruce Cambell fan) you know exactly what to expect from John Dies as well as it's director Don Coscarelli. Well... not everything. This is a stupendously weird movie with a very straight face and some people may not realize that its part of the joke. To borrow a tired phrase, this isn't funny "ha ha" but I promise you'll be smiling half the time if you give it a chance.

David Wong is the son of a dead beat dad and a druggie, spiritualist, cannibal, mother who spent her welfare check every month on "Black Candles" (is that a Jack Daniels joke?). What does that have to do with the overarching story of an interdimensional hallucinogenic called soy sauce? Nothing. In fact, nothing in this film has much to do with anything...until it does. The story is all over the place and if you stop trying to take notes and just go with it, you'll be much more forgiving of the limp finale. Though I promise its still a fun scene with a cameo from Kevin Michael Richardson who obviously makes everything better.

"The next person that calls me a low rent R-patz is getting cut"

But while the special effects do their job they will not blow your mind. This is as shoe string as budgets get and its a testament to the material that everything it tries up until the big bad is so convincing. But why? The cast is why. I'm sure you've seen Paul Giamatti in the trailer and I'll have you know everyone else is up to his caliber... actually that's pushing it, but not as far as you'd think. Chase Williamson as Dave has a grip on droll absurdity that may not approach a young Bill Murray but is definitively a stellar effort with near impenetrable material. Rob Mayes as John is much more interesting than the annoying best friend he could have been and does somersaults with both prat falling drug overdose scenes as well as long winded exposition. That is thankless work. Doug Jones and Clancy Brown have tiny, but likable cameos and Giamatti has a deeper story arc then you'd think. So yeah, genre comedy like this rarely sees acting this good outside of an Edgar Wright joint. And anyone who knows me, knows I love me a flick done the wright way.

Did I ever tell you about that soul crushing boondoggle called The Goon?
I'm not going to be the guy who says the "book was better." In fact, it's my least favorite thing to say about an adaption and in my opinion, one of the laziest criticisms movies get. The book is wonderful (here, go buy it!) and the film is wonderful for different reasons. Yes, vast swaths of it are missing (this isn't a mini series) yes, the dog's name is different, and sure, the ending cuts a ton of corners. But there's no budgetary restriction on page counts; and comparing a book to a movie as if they are similar creative processes is naive at best and close minded at worst. Only when an adaptation is patently dismissive of the source and makes changes for the sake of marketability do I think "the book was better" ever holds water. People complain about skimmed subplots or several characters being condensed into one, but there are almost always damn good reasons why this happens. Publishers don't pay more for books that have too many characters with speaking roles, movie producers do. John Dies is both faithful and loving to the book's cadence and humor, which before I broke down and watched it, I was convinced it was unfilmable. I hesitate to use the word flabbergasted, not because its dishonest, but because that word is stupid.

In the end, John Dies was so breezy and likable, yet so high mined and funny, that I wish this was the pilot of a cable series than a standalone feature. They say you should always leave a audience wanting more, and on that note, I pray some day down the line I'll write a review about a movie full of spiders.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Pixar Connection: We have to go DEEPER.

Blogger Jon Negroni has made something incredible, and I'm not just talking about his section on The Incredibles. He has managed to create a fairly reasonable daisy chain of connections to prove every Pixar film takes place on the same world. He goes chronologically, explaining how each film affects the next in such a self possessed kind of way, it feels natural instead of forced.

Not every piece fits as well as others but it is stunning how thorough it all is. So if you have 45 to spend going down a rabbit hole today, spend it here.   

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Steam Cards: A beginner's guide.

So everyone who's dropped by steam's summer sale has probably noticed some new stuff popping into their "inventory." I had steam for 2 years and didn't realize I had one. Valve obviously knew that and has decided to make the functionality of it's social network more interesting. That thing is cards. Trading cards fashioned from some of the more popular games. I tried compiling a list of those games, but they're so many, and more seem to be added every day. So I'm gonna try my best to tell you what I've made of them so far and what they're ultimately used for.

Play the game. Get Cards.

From what I've seen, buying the game nets you about 2/3 of a game's cards. But don't expect them to show up all at once. My best guess is that you get one card per 20 minutes spent with a game after card support went live. Except I got all three of my Handsome Jacks for Borderlands 2 instantaneously, so maybe I don't have a clue. 

But I don't have all the Cards!

No you won't, that's kind of the whole point. Trading! Steam wants you to form friendships of convenience across many different games and gamers to get a whole set from a single deck.  The logistics of which I'm not sure of. But I've never been a card trader, so maybe this could work if you know what you're doing.  Steam talks about "Booster Packs" but I wouldn't count on ever getting one, nobody seems to know how they work.

I got em' all! ...Now what?

Now you craft a Badge! (what happens then?) Coupons! How's that for a pat on the head? Collecting cards and crafting badges to personally invoke Valve's greatest super power: Steam Sales. Better yet, your own personal Steam sale! I'm not sure how powerful these coupons are (I'll probably never finish a deck) but the idea they'd try something like this is really heartening. It's Valve, if there's one thing we know they're not, it's stingy.

Oh, and every card is a wallpaper.

Just browse them in your inventory, zoom in, copy the URL and copy/paste:

That's some damn fine Photoshop.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Steam Summer Sale is Upon Us!

It's that magical time of year where the doldrums of summer give way to credit shattering deals you won't find half as good anywhere else. The truth is I used to hate steam. In 2008 it was the dumb thing I needed so I could play Half Life 2 to see what all that fuss was about. And then it became that stupid thing that kept me from playing New Vegas so profusely I had to crack the damn thing for six months.

I know, I was disappointed in myself...please don't ban me!
 But all was forgiven once I saw all the carrots on sticks they had for my loyalty. I mean, I got the complete Saint's Row The 3rd for 7 bucks. That's nuts, that's just so much nuts I love it. So hop in, see if there's anything you like for the next two weeks... Whoa, the Bit Trip Runner 2 character pack for $1.50?!!!!! 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Ratchet and Clank: Into the Nexus, AKA, I Friggin' Knew It.

Insomniac Games has had a ROUGH couple of years. Resistance 3 disappointed at the market so much the whole series was iced. The Ratchet and Clank brand has fallen into disrepair after two failed attempts to make it translate to a co-op shooter and a tower defense thingy. Last and certainly not least, FUSE was the first new IP they launched since 2006. At first it looked like the Incredibles sequel we always wanted...but someone, somewhere (I'm not saying it was all EA's fault) turned it into the drab, uninteresting shrug it is today. Oh right, and looked like they were jumping ship to Microsoft with the Left 4 dead-Borderlands hybrid Sunset Overdrive:

But fear not, it's finally happening. A brand new feature length Ratchet and Clank is headed our way this fall and it looks more than promising. It will have been 4 years since a Crank in Time when that releases, and I hope its the last great lombaxian hurrah that CIT came this close to being. So how does it look? You tell me:

Darker tone? Anti gravity? Someone who sounds like Juanita?  Orchestral-ASS soundtrack? You had me worried there for a few years guys, but I think we can do business again. Wait...Thugs 4 less is back too?! UNCLE, Insomniac, UNCLE!

Crackpot Theory: Who Shot The Lone Ranger?

Lone Ranger's 4th of July came and went...and I promised myself I wasn't going to make a train wreck joke but come on, what the hell else would you call it? The critics slow roasted it, and the box office ignored it. But why? How did Johnny Depp (bein' WACKY!) open to less than $50 million? To less than $31 million. I think I have an idea, actually I have a couple, see what you think.

Who the Hell is The Lone Ranger?

This guy was the cream of the crop in the mid 50's. There was Davey Crockett and there was the Lone Ranger. But nobody under the age of 60 has an idea about any of this. The character died out with a whimper 8 years before I was born. No one was going to see this movie having been charmed by the character's legacy... not even parents of teenagers. So why did they do it?

You could make the same argument about Pirates of the Caribbean's cache before Disney struck gold with that number. But I'd disagree. At least they had a beloved ride that reached children for decades before that movie was made, all the ranger had was a made for tv movie in 2003. Yeah, I have no idea what they were thinking... wait, yes I do. The idea was that Depp could turn straw into gold. Speaking of which:

Depp's Tramp act is played out.

Everybody loved the first pirates movie. It was fun, refreshing, delightfully both self aware and deprecating. They bottled lightning with Jack Sparrow and couldn't keep a lid on it. Over the course of three more films Mercutio killed the play, so to speak (which is a Shakespeare reference to overexposing a character I probably screwed up somehow). I wasn't bored of Depp as an actor, but he seemed to just be on auto pilot for ten years after that. What with pedophile Willy Wonka and the Mad Hatter, he didn't seem to give a damn any more.

Its as if he resigned to being the clown for the sake of the industry and stopped caring about the craft in the process. I think a lot of people are sick of it too...or they just want him to be Jack again. They probably just want him to be Jack again. But I'd be remiss if I didn't bring up Rango. I thought he'd break free after that. But no, it looks like the guy is back in the salt mines making faces. Instead of subversive, intelligent, comedy for all ages.

The Popular Western is Dead...again.

What else is there to say? Its sad sure, but what was the last really good movie western you remember? Appaloosa? 3:10 to Yuma? Those were a long time ago guys, and they made peanuts. This isn't because they're played out, I mean they were, but there's been an entire generation since. The western should be fresh again, it should have found new ways to reach audiences. I say it did in terms of the popularity of post-apocalypse fiction. I'd be pretty comfortable calling The Walking Dead this decade's great western. But it looks like the classic flavor is radioactive to these times as well.

No one is more upset than me, I stopped watching HBO for 5 years after Deadwood. God, I am still so friggn' angry about fu**ing Deadwood. Either way, if it wasn't dead before, it sure as hell is now. Why you would spend $240 million on any movie is beyond me, but they barely made 30% of their investment back during one of the most lucrative holidays on the American calender. It's absolutely finished.

The next great western will show up where all great new cinema inevitably shows up now: on TV. Because you won't see it again on the silver screen for years. Consider the big budget western the Bikini Islands. Its not the end of a genre, but the wake up call for it to try harder.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

S'all good, man! Better Call Saul Spinoff moves forward...kinda.

According to an interview with The Wrap, Vince Gilligan (Breaking Bad creator) has figured out what he wants to do next. A spin off involving Walter White's "criminal" lawyer, Saul Goodman. That's all I need to hear. A Coen brother-esque comedy about a shady trial lawyer? Come on, you know you've never seen that before. Gilligan is willing to make it as flexible as possible. Even the running time isn't set in stone

"There’s a way to do both versions of the show. There’s a way to make it a half-hour show and make it a little more — I don’t want to say sitcom-y, but a little more traditionally half-hour comedic. Or there’s a way to do it where it fits more snuggly in with the “Breaking Bad” universe, in which it’s an hour-long show. As you can imagine with Saul Goodman as a character, a show like that would have to have plenty of humor to it. But also because he works for some pretty scary clientele sometimes, there’d be a bit of drama in it as well. We’re trying to nail that down. As of yet, we haven’t completely figured that out ourselves."

I'm personally sold on the prequel angle, You could have just a smidge more of Gus (who doesn't want more of that guy?) and you'd definitely see more of Mike. I think we could all use a little more of Mr. Ehrmantraut in our lives.

Isn't he just?
 So Gilligan is throwing his weight behind a slightly more mainstream version of BB. I can see where he's coming from. He's not content to make the next gritty suburban crime drama, he wants to branch out and try something lighter hearted. I think we should encourage him. No network has signed off on it, but I seriously doubt that's going to be a problem for much longer. As much as the public has ignored this show, folks in the industry eat it up. Conan had Gilligan on his show for Malverde's sake! Name another show runner that gets a late night interview. Exactly. So this sounds like money in the bank so far and I'm seriously looking forward to it.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Orphan Black, Season 1 Review: Rich Girl, Smart Girl, Crazy Girl, Thief.

Sometimes its hard to articulate what you like about something. Ask me why I think Breaking Bad's so great and I just shut down, I mean where do you even start with a question like that? But sometimes a show makes it easy. Sometimes when someone asks me "What the hell are you watching?" I can pause, point to the screen and say that woman is playing three roles in a single frame. Tatiana Maslany is a once in a generation kind of actor. Even if the light sci-fi caper plot of Orphan Black turns you off, I promise you (like, totally pinky swear) her performance of all three principle characters will keep you in your seat.

I've been burned by interesting up start BBC shows before. I wanted to wade through more of Misfits than I did (its still pretty good) and Being Human was just...kinda lame. But Orphan Black is different, and I'm not talking about it being on BBC America. I can see the version of this show that's mediocre quite clearly. At a glance, it's absolutely nothing special, aside from spearheading the ethical quandaries of the future of genetic research.

On paper it looks like the half baked progeny of one of Abram's disciples. Like Alcatraz. Seriously, I loved that show only for the drinking game I made up for it. A shot of gin every time Sam Neill looks like he wants to kill either himself or his co stars*. Orphan Black could have turned into something like that. A soulless procedural that may have had a spark of originality at some point, but assumed audiences wouldn't have time to care about it's characters and never bothered to develop them.

But OB knows what it's working with, it knows Maslany is dynamite, it knows it has to put it's characters first and it's conspiracy second, and it knows it has to pay off cliffhangers eventually. OB succeeds in spite of it's occasionally trite plotting  because you come to care about Sarah and her..."sisters." If you can make it through the rough patches you are gonna be in for such a treat, man you don't even know. But I guess I could tell you.

Sarah Manning is not an anti-hero, she's actually just plain awful. A product of the foster care system, she's a mother who hasn't seen her daughter in over a year, and her latest scheme to see her again involves stealing cocaine from her drug dealer boyfriend (Micheal Mando, who does a spectacular job with a character that goes absolutely nowhere...and he was Vaas). But just before she goes through with her plan, she sees a woman in a suit taking off her shoes and putting her purse down on the train platform next to her. She looks exactly like Sarah, and gives her one hell of a look before throwing herself onto the tracks.

Of all the train stations in all the world...

She runs to her foster brother Felix to tell him what she saw. Together they conspire to figure out who she was, to get into her apartment, and to empty her bank account. Things get exponentially more complicated when she's forced to pretend to be a homicide detective and begins to see just how many of "her" there are.

I could go on to ruin the differences between the other Sarahs and how easily I forgot the same actor plays them all, but I think that's best left un-discussed. The good news is how spoiler proof this show can be as the twists themselves aren't ever as impactful as the character's reactions to them are. In fact, my favorite parts are in the down time between earth shattering revelations, where the Sarahs are off stewing in their respective lives. Its here the show's character building skill is strongest and it's humor shines though. This can be a damn funny show, in fact, the finale has the funniest murder I've ever seen.

The real question is, where can you find this if you don't have BBC America? So glad you asked. I dipped my toe into Amazon instant because I really wasn't sure about it. But I would have saved 3 bucks if I had jumped in with both feet. So please, check it out if you have another free weekend, its less than the price of two movies. Think about it, get on board before Maslany inevitably drowns in her collection of Emmys and Oscars.

But before you go, check out it's jaunty opening theme:


*To be fair, the flashbacks to the prison's last year were stupidly good. $50 says that's what the original pitch was about.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Freshly STEAMed: Bully Review. "That's why it works, Jimmy, because we're all bastards.”

Let me ask you a question.

What if Ennio Morricone scored a brat pack movie?

That's pretty rad isn't it?

Well as it turns out, the red headed stepchild of the grand theft auto games is exactly that. Pretty rad. I first played Bully years and years ago and had a great time with it on my ol' PS2. I had thought I finally had an idea of what everyone saw in Rockstar games. I was never super into GTA III (arguably the most influential game ever made) but Bully got me on board. I played San Andreas next and loved it to bits, though as soon as I had heard the last from Tenpenny and James Woods I was done. The progression in both of those games were amazing. Just when you thought San Andreas was winding up, boom: AIRPLANES. Just when you thought you'd be stuck at Bullworth Academy for 14-some hours, crrrreeeeeek: the front gates open and the surrounding town is yours for the taking.

 Years went by, GTA IV finally skulked its way back to the PC and I thought I could bottle that same magic again. For a while I did...but after its riveting first act, things took a turn. The plot stopped developing, the characters I enjoyed had vanished from the story. I no longer cared about some guy Niko came to America to kill because he obviously didn't care anymore. He'd hem and haw at the revolving door of random Italian mafiosos to help him find that guy, but then he'd let it go because he jus' wants de money. Over and over again with the money.  

To paraphrase a recently deceased film critic, I hated that game. I hated, hated, hated that game. GTA IV exacerbated the issues I had with both earlier games to almost comical degrees. It wanted to be taken more seriously as a narrative. So I tried to take it more seriously too. The story began to become the game people had turned GTA into: just a bunch of fun, unconnected, random things. If the game was going to let the plot go, if it was just going to be a daisy chain of short stories, I could respect that. But the finale comes out of nowhere and throws the cadaver of the first act back on the stage after it was left to rot for 15 hours and expected me to give a damn. No. San Andreas had Samuel Jackson dropping by at regular intervals, but for some reason IV's villain had more important sh*t to do than to be part of his own story. He'd seriously call you on your cell phone every 5 hours begging you not to forget he existed. That's. Crap. Storytelling.

"You done buddy? You want some cheese with that whine?"
Sigh...sorry. That's been on my chest for a while now. I'm just frustrated. I'm frustrated at how much people care about IV when contrasted with how little people even remember Bully. Because after jumping in to it for the first time in nearly 8 years its amazing how much fun I had. It's remarkable how much fun it is. I'd like to go on the record and say it's the most fun game Rockstar has made to date. Red Dead was a fantastic game to be sure, I'd say it's their best game, but it's nowhere near as fun or as focused as Bully. That's another rarity for them, focus. See, you're on the clock in Bully. You have classes to attend and curfews to mind. That sounds like the antithesis of what makes a good RS game, but bear with me.

It makes the moment to moment game play that much more compelling. You have so many objectives pulling you in so many directions, you always have to have a plan. Do you want to build your character with the buffs you get from passing classes? Do you want to buy some new clothes or hairdos? Do you want to train your CQC with the homeless Korean vet who lives near the shop class?  Or do you want to dig deeper into the resident sociopath's plan to eventually puppeteer every clique on campus? Time's a'wasting, make up your mind.

"If I had some black lipstick and eyeliner...Rockstar already made that game?! Damn."

Even for an 8 year old game that was given a bare bones face lift for a port 6 years ago... it could look better. In fact, the steam guide has a link to a replacement exe. file that lets the game run in 60 frames per second. You're really gonna want that. The fact the port crew couldn't bother to put that in themselves is embarrassing. But the core experience does eventually shine through...but it will take a while to get a keyboard set up that works for you.

The trails and tribulations of Jimmy Hopkins will eventually hold your interest. Jimmy himself slowly evolves into a much more rounded and likable person than he seems at first blush. The central villain has a standout performance, though this game also suffers from a previously mentioned RS game affliction: D.V.D. (disappearing villain syndrome). But you won't care, the deep roster of cliques and characters isn't as bothersome as it was in GTA IV because you will see those characters all the time. The students on campus aren't the faceless droves of Liberty City, they are all people with names and personalities. They're broad and hammy personalities, but still, the effort is noticed and deeply appreciated. If you join the year book club, you can snap pictures of them and build what is essentially a trading card collection. How cool is that?
"I'm thinking about starting a conflict, a conflict with caramel."

Bully is a wonderful game that makes a lousy first impression. The character models are ancient and the script and compressed sound is hard to listen to sometimes, yet I'll admit the animation holds up surprisingly well. Once you get in a groove, pass a few classes, make a favorite outfit, and nail the wonkier control prompts, Bully will have you eating out of it's palm. This is an aging gem that deserves to be remembered as well as learned from. This is old school Rockstar at its very finest.

The scholarship edition (which is what I picked up) is available on the 360 and Wii. But Steam has it for a paltry $15... and would you look at that, they stuck the whole soundtrack in the root folder. Those guys are the best. 

Oh! And just in case you were curious, this is what starts playing when you punch a nerd:

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Great Kickstarter Swindle: Tim Schafer is NOT scaming you.

Would you give money to this man?
So one of the greatest Kickstarter success stories is hitting the rocks. Double Fine's "Broken Age" is scraping the bottom of its budget after biting off more than it could chew as a company. Instead of releasing the whole game as promised less from a year from now, its releasing the first half this January on Steam with the second half to follow as a free update in the future. 

Now I didn't back Broken Age, but if I was someone who dropped $500 bucks on the sucker, I'd be worried. Any deviation from the plan could be another limb in a financial game of hangman. I understand how it could feel that way, but that's not what's happening. This is not Duke Nukem Forever, this is a tiny bump in the road.

You know how when
the first time a game appears at E3 there is hardly ever a release date stamped on the end of the trailer? This is why. Things change, no one can see the future, not even Tim (or Majesco, zing!). The original plan was for a game that cost $400,000...they got 3.3 million. To me, this set back looks like a studio that wanted to put every dollar they had up on the screen and went just a bit too far. When they did, they turned around and apologized immediately. They did not have to do that.

So half of the game needs to go on Steam to fund the rest. Its certainly not ideal, but again, its miles away from a death kneel. Project delays are endemic to all investments, the vast majority of which the press isn't even aware of. So yeah, this sucks. But remember, you weren't buying the game. You were buying the possibility of a game. That's why you gave money to Kickstarter, not to Steam. That's what being a patron is all about, there's a reason not everyone does it. There's always that chance it falls to pieces.

So at the end of the day, isn't Shafer's over ambition what we love most about him in the first place? Give it time people, I have a feeling it'll be worth the wait.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Breaking Bad's ending is over a month away...

If you put a gun to my head and asked me what the greatest TV show ever made was...I'd say Breaking Bad. There's no way around it for me. That's not true every day, some days it might be Parks and Rec, others The Wire. When I'm drunk? Community or American Dad. Seriously. But given some careful reflection, after asking myself what has consistently surprised me, what have I re-watched more than any other, what I will defend to the death as the greatest thriller of all time?

It be dis:

I'm done selling this show to family and friends, if they don't want to watch it, they ain't gonna watch it. People get surprisingly touchy when you ask them if they've seen this show. Presumably because BB pushers are just a little bit insufferable and I get that. If I had a friend that kept telling me the "good news" about the Sopranos I'd never watch that show out of spite. But guys...the hype is real, Scorsese wishes he had made something as jaw droppingly brilliant as this show's 4th season. Whether you like it or not, critics will be citing this sucker for the next ten years at least, even if the finale disappoints.

So if you've never tasted some fresh ABQ blue sky... have a hit.