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Cyclops is *not* a douche.

Marvel Update!

 

Uncle Ben and Gwen Stacy are the worst comic book characters ever.

 

Why is it that everyone else has this innate ability to get resurrected after their deaths? Even Silver Fox, Wolverine’s lover from back when the Weapon X program was more like a badass mutant A-Team, got to enjoy coming back to life. Sure, she was a total bitch for a few issues and then got eaten by a tree (Wolverine #64, I believe. I know it’s around that issue, anyways), but she did come back to life. Hell, a teenaged Jean Grey is still dealing with the idea that a possible future for her is to die (twice) because it’s already happened, yet here she is on the pages of All-New X-Men getting new powers and adventures! I bet she’s not even scared, because all comic book character death eventually results in resurrection. All of them rise from the ashes like a Phoe---okay, I won’t.

 

I mean, I wouldn't be MAD if she became the Phoenix again...

 

Not poor Uncle Ben and Gwen Stacy, though…they’ve stayed dead ever since they died. This sounds weird until you look at the status quo for their fellow comic characters.

 

 Marvel is promoting a few big events right now that deal with the concept of death, and it feels as hollow as Longshot’s bones. First up, starting this week, is an event called Original Sin, which involves an intergalactic whodunit because someone shot the Watcher. Someone got a gun, aimed real good, slowly and steadily squeezed the trigger and blew him away…when he wasn’t looking. HE being THE WATCHER. What kind of trickery is this? I’m sure they’ll explain it away.

If you’re reading this wondering who the hell The Watcher is…he’s a plot point, and nothing more. He’s never been more than a plot point to steer the real stars of the heroes towards some truth without the writers having to explain how that truth became known. He’s also been the “host” of most of the Marvel What if? books, where they take a known Marvel story and turn it into some Twilight-Zone version of itself.

What if the radioactive spider had bit Aunt May instead?

What if Wolverines claws were made of Twizzlers instead of Adamantium?

What if Cyclops had to wear a ruby red condom instead of a visor?

What if Bryan Singer was alone in a room with young men? (NSFW, that issue is)

  

Come to think of it, that Watcher dude is pretty weird. I’m glad he’s dead. The event isn’t so much about the Watcher’s death than it is about what the Watcher knows. The Watcher knows everything about everyone. Everyone’s dirty little secrets. Secrets that everyone will know because the assassin has stolen something with all of those secrets stored on it. So while the idea of death may not be all that intriguing for this event, there might be some shake-up to the Marvel Universe over what is found out. Also, look out for old-school Nick Fury.

 

The other big event that Marvel is promoting is called The Death of Wolverine, and we have been promised that Wolverine will die. That’s right, folks, Wolverine. It was less than six months ago that Wolverine was in Heaven(or Hell; some sort of afterlife area) retrieving his friend Nightcrawler, so I really doubt that he’s going to stay dead. I doubt he’ll stay dead longer than a year. Marvel has been SO heavy with time travel lately that I wouldn’t doubt they traveled in time to the moment that Wolverine killed his alternate universe self from the Age of Ultron event and grabbed him to be their Wolverine after the Wolverine that killed him died. If that made any sense to you, pat yourself on the back because it made me want to put down the comics and slowly back away.

 

The problem with an event that doesn’t deal with anything other than a character’s death is that the only repercussions from such a thing are reactions from characters. Boo-hoo from the heroes, hurray from the villains. They might try to make him a martyr by creating some threat that Wolvie dies fighting, but unless it’s an old threat and actually has an impact on the Marvel universe then it feels like there was no threat at all, really. If they let him die killing old Cyclops, or maybe he’s killed by Jean Grey, then that will mean something to me. If Lady Deathstrike comes out of the woodwork and bleeds him out with her same old song and dance, then I’ll be disappointed. Not really though, because he’ll be back in a year or so…which will make the entire event disappointing all over again.  

 

Oh, well, moving on to the here and now. Remember how I said that Uncle Ben and Gwen Stacy are the only two non-resurrectable comic characters? I mean, even Bucky Barnes can catch a break, but not those two. Another person in the “do bring back to life” pile for Marvel must have been Peter Parker, who was sort-of killed off during the series Superior Spider-Man. Superior was a fantastic series, with writer Dan Slott really showing off his impressive writing skills and bringing Otto Octavius alive as the superhero he spent his entire career trying to kill. We’re back to having Peter Parker as the Amazing Spider-Man, now, and the #1 issue was quite a doozy that continues to rock the boat that is Peter Parker’s world. I look forward to where all this is going, because it looks like maybe there will be A NEW Spider-Hero for Parker to hang out with…

  

Not this guy. Mattafac, don't even look at this. Avert your eyes. Now.

 

Also, my brother is a big Gambit fan so I agreed to read All-New X-Factor so we could have something to talk about whenever it comes out. X-Factor is a corporate-owned vigilante group comprised of Polaris (Magneto’s half-niece or something), Gambit, Quicksilver, Cipher, and Danger. This book doesn’t claim to change the fate of the Marvel universe like the Avengers books often do, it just wants to tell a story about these characters.

 

Following the recent event The Trial of Jean Grey that paired the All-New X-Men with the Guardians of the Galaxy and the Starjammers, a young Scott Summers finds out that his father is alive and living as a space pirate. At the end of the event, when the lass is saved and the day is won, Cyclops decides to go with his father instead of live out his stupid future life with his stupid future psychic girlfriend…like a boss. The first issue of Cyclops is out today, and it’s the best Cyclops-centric story I’ve ever read. I really hope this one lasts a while, as it’s started off with a fun vibe that almost makes Scott forget that his douchey older self killed Charles Xavier.

 

Speaking of fun books, also check out Loki: Agent of Asgard and Deadpool vs. Carnage. The former is about a young Loki looking for a second chance while being a magical James Bond, and the latter is about Deadpool fighting Carnage. There’s not a lot I can say about it other than it’s probably exactly as insane as you imagine it being.

 

I’m also reading Ms. Marvel, Thor and Uncanny X-Men, which have both been great books since the Marvel Now! launch.  

 

To finish up the gimmick I started in the beginning of this article, I take it back: Uncle Ben and Gwen Stacy don’t suck as comic book characters. They don’t get resurrected because it would cheapen the lessons learned by Spider-Man about what to do and how to do it. If they were to come back to life it would be like Batman’s parents being alive again, which is just plain wrong. What would Bruce Wayne have to be dark and brooding about, then? Could you imagine Batman in a lime-green polo and Khakis, laughing it up and putting on weight from having too much fun? Neither can I, and that’s why Gwen and Uncle Ben can’t be resurrected…because Batman said so.

 

They had a battle to see whose story was more tragic, and Batman won. "Call me when you lose a kid, Parker."

 

You guys reading anything I didn't mention here? Wanna talk about something I did mention here? The comments section is made for it!

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Back To The Future Past: Marvel Update!

That’s it…right there. Do you see it? It’s a line. That line represents the amount of bullshit I can take before dissing something that I genuinely like.

Now, see over there? That’s Marvel. Marvel is beyond the line, indicative of the fact that at some point they crossed it. I do grow increasingly tired of their bullshit stories, no matter how effectively entertaining some aspects of them continue to be. There’s awesome characters that have meaningful and/or humorous interactions with each other, great villains and some real personal battles for our favorite heroes to go through. The artwork is usually great, and some of the ideas have really breathed new life into comic books for me.

If I’m enjoying Marvel comics so much, then what is my complaint? Time travel.

One of the greatest X-Men storylines was Days of Future Past, which involved mutants from the future coming to the past and telling the X-Men that something has to be done different. Bishop was from the future, as well as Cable. There was a really interesting event called “Age of Apocalypse” that explored the idea of what would happen if Apocalypse won and the X-Men were living in the aftermath. These ideas were usually pretty cool and solidified Marvel’s storytelling ability to the fans.

Cut to the present, and what you have is a bunch of stories trying really hard to recreate the greatness of the past. Now that the Avengers have fought the X-Men and major changes have been made to the Marvel Universe because of the circumstances surrounding that conflict, you would think that the writers would really take the opportunity to continue shaking up the status quo and deal with the current issues at hand while always presenting a hint of what was to come for the future. Instead, we get an almost continuous stream of stories involving time travel.

The All New X-Men is about time-displaced original X-Men from the 60’s living in today’s world and dealing with our problems. I can deal with it because it pits a non-douchebag young Cyclops against douchebag Cyclops, focuses slightly on an oft-overlooked awesome character in Beast and it brings back Jean friggin’ Grey which was always one of my favorite Marvel females. Storm’s kind of a bitch, and Kitty Pryde will always seem young and irresponsible to me for some reason. Jean Grey was supposed to be necessary to the team, not expendable. Anyways, time travel has occurred.

Thor: God of Thunder’s first 10 or so issues deals with a time-traveling God-Butcher and three versions of Thor from different times during his life. This story was excellent and is still one of my favorites, but the fact is that it does deal with time travel.

A few months into the Marvel Now! rebranding, an event kicked off called “Age of Ultron”, in which Ultron wins and Marvel’s merry mutants are subjected to deal with the consequences. First off, does that sound familiar? Go back and read what I wrote about “Age of Apocalypse” and get back to me. Secondly, the solution to the issue of Ultron taking over the world is time travel. They travel back in time and deal with Ultron like he was John Connor. I don’t wanna spoil it if you haven’t read it, but if you get the reference then you get the reference.

Hot on the heels of “Age of Ultron” is the event called “Infinity”. This deals somewhat with the consequences of “Age of Ultron” because it claims that breaking the space-time continuum or something was bad and caused by time travel. The effects of this are likely to be the cause of the end of the Ultimate world, which I am happy about because that whole deal was just a big eyesore on Marvel, sitting there as if to say “Hey, comic fans! Look at this! We have no idea what the hell we are doing!” Anyways, seeing as how apparently time travel is now universally considered a bad thing, you would think that heroes would stop using it…

In Superior Spider-Man, the Spider-Man from 2099 decides to use time-travel to fix a problem now that something in the past is going to kill his father. With gaping plot holes, this time travel is also being used by employees of Horizon Labs to (I’m just guessing here) find out that Spider-Man is Doc Ock. Or something, I’m not sure. The story is great and the characters are really awesome in this book, but it’s one of those “again with the time travel!” moments for me.

Speaking of having more time travel than you can shake a stick at, Marvel has just rolled out a semi-event called “The Arms of The Octopus”, where a possibly time-displaced Doctor Octopus is saturated with radiation and confronts the time-displaced original X-Men! The Superior Spider-Man shows up, decidedly unconvinced of that this Doc Ock is the real deal (which he is pretty much an expert on, lol), and decides to involve the Hulk. Don’t get me wrong, the first installment of this thing came out today and it’s a pretty fun read but not only is there the issue of time travel here but the time-displaced X-Men are already caught up in an event called “Children of the Atom” at the moment. Couldn’t they have used this event as something for the X-Men to do while Infinity occupies the Avengers’ time, and then had the next major event be Children of the Atom after Infinity wrapped up? It really does seem like three major events that have characters appearing at the same time who don’t seem to be concerned with what they are doing in other comics is kind of annoying.

Speaking of Battle of the Atom, guess what the major storytelling component is in THIS event? That’s right…time travel. X-Men from the future have come to the present to tell the X-Men from the past to go home, but then X-Men from the past and present travel to see other X-Men from the future and get a different story about the people who have visited the present from the future. Did you catch all that? Again, the characters and art are excellent. The story is not done all that horribly. The action is actually good. This is true of all of the time-related books I’ve talked about here. What, then, am I complaining about?

Stories that require time travel should be scarce, in my opinion. Using time travel to solve your comic universe’s problems is potentially dangerous to the sanctity of your canon and continuity because you can go back in time and kill off characters and change storylines, basically undoing stories that fans have committed to memory as happening. This concept is highlighted by the “Age of Ultron” event, where the characters had to go back in time and change as little as possible so that Ultron couldn’t take over the Earth but nothing else changed about the Marvel Universe. What purpose, then, did the story serve other than to kill off Ultron once and for all? And can we really believe he’s dead forever, considering there’s an Avengers movie sequel called “Age of Ultron” coming up? Will Marvel really not have the big villain from their billion-dollar movie franchise in the comics when that movie comes out? It didn’t really tackle anything at all, did it? I have considered that the whole point of this event was to have an excuse to kill off Ultron and bring him back in the image the movies present.

Also, look at the time-displaced X-Men I’ve been talking about. In one issue, young Cyclops almost dies and it causes old Cylcops to fade out a la Back to the Future. When young Cyclops is saved, old Cyclops stops being less opaque than usual. This proves that the young X-Men from the past are directly connected to the X-Men of the future, but shouldn’t we consider what happens if the X-Men never go back to their time? By having old Cyclops there alongside young Cyclops, isn’t the story trying to tell us that Cyclops (and, for that matter, everyone else except for maybe Jean Grey) goes back to their time and has the entire ordeal wiped from their minds by a 1960’s Professor Xavier? Cyclops has been tragically affected by the death of his bride, the fact that he killed Xavier and he doesn’t like being an outlaw very much. The only reason we still consider him to be a good guy is the idea that if he could go back and fix it, he would. Well, his younger self’s presence should be the quick answer to his prayers, but it apparently isn’t. There are a few ways to do time travel, and by hinging old Cyclops’ existence to the well-being of his younger, time-displaced self Marvel proves that they don’t know how to handle it seriously. As a reader, my only drive to keep reading is to see what, if any, consequences this all will have on the story and Universe as a whole.

Time Travel should have consequences, and Marvel isn’t convincing me of that when so many stories are doing the time warp again…and again...and again.

 

I had a dilemma as to whether I should gripe about time travel or discuss other things going on in the Marvel Universe first, but then a Charlie Mic from the future came and told me what to do. I’m sure my future was bettered by that visit, because why on Earth would I travel back in time unless it was going to have far-reaching consequences? Right!?!?!

Okay, clearly I haven’t moved on.

 

Anyways, Thor is starting a new story arc and it involves Malekith the Accursed. For those of you who don’t know, he’s the bad guy in the upcoming Thor sequel titled Thor:The Dark World. At first I was discouraged by this, but then I realized that this comic is not a cash-in and Malekith is much different in the comics than he is in the trailers for the movie. In the comics, it seems that after being banished and defeated so many years ago Malekith has gone quite insane. He looks like the artists were trying to give him a Joker-y look to him…and it looks like the artists did a damn good job. The writing is also top-notch, and whereas once I was concerned that the next Thor villain was going to have some big shoes to fill after the awesomeness that was Gorr the God-Butcher I am now pleased to announce Malekith’s arrival to you all.

Other than that, there is another villain that I’m happy to announce the return of: Carnage! The Superior Carnage has been kind of a weird comic for the last couple of issues, but the most recent one established (finally) who was going to be Carnage and who was Carnage going to fight. This Carnage has used guns so far alongside his signature symbiote-borne weapons, and sports a little bit of a different look. Though he’s probably just as crazy as Cletus Cassidy was while he was in the suit, the new guy (some scientist guy with no legs…kinda like what they did with Venom) exclaims that Cassidy was an idiot who just wanted chaos everywhere and that he will be…how should I put it…Superior?

 

Still excited for Marvel comics, despite some of the shortcomings! Thor: God of Thunder is definitely about to ramp up again, Spider-Man books are consistently entertaining, and hopefully we’ll get to the bottom of this X-Men event so the story can have our heroes tackle some actual villains instead of the consequences of their lives. If anyone reads the Avengers (I don’t, can’t justify more than 3 comics a week really) then let us all know how that’s going.

Remember how I said a Charlie Mic from the future visited me? He also told me that YOU were going to use the comment section. That’s right, so you better do it or it might have dire consequences for the future of mankind.

Thanks for reading!

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Grand Theft News Media!


In February of 2003, 19-year old Joshua Cooke bought a shotgun. It was one that looked very similar to the one that Neo used in The Matrix. In Cooke’s room there was a poster of Neo, and Cooke was often seen with his Matrix-esque trench coat. When Joshua Cooke used that newly acquired shotgun to kill both of his parents, the defense lawyers actually tried to use the defense of “The Matrix made him do it”.

           Over ten years later on August 23, 2013, Joshua Cooke does his first television interview on “Piers Morgan Live” to talk about the experience. Here is an excerpt from the transcript of that show:

“'The Matrix' impacted me a lot. When I would watch "The Matrix," I would see myself in that role. I would see myself shooting the bullies and people who had hurt me in my life. And this movie was a type of a release of aggression. It made me feel better when I would watch it. So I watched this movie hundreds of times."

It would seem that the Matrix, a movie Cooke watched so often that he had to replace his VHS copy (lol VHS), wasn’t the only thing that warped his mind. Read on:

“The video games were the same - played the same part. Video games like 'Grand Theft Auto,' 'Blood Rain,' 'Resident Evil,' 'Doom,' 'Quake,' shooter games. When I would play these games, it did a lot for me mentally for I could release my aggression with these games. I could almost bring my fantasies to fruition. The way I would verse myself in these games, sometimes I would play them 12 to 15 hours a day without leaving my room. I would have food and all kinds of things stashed in my room so I wouldn't have to leave."

Do you think that there was/is something wrong with Mr. Cooke to be so obsessed with a movie and some video games that he would kill his parents? I’m not in any way professionally qualified to state anything about him, but in my unprofessional and personal opinion this dude didn’t have any friends and he induced his own madness by spending too much time outside of reality. He flunked out of college because he couldn’t stop playing video games, and I think that probably did a number on him. You see, video games are meant to be entertaining and rewarding to the player. Could you imagine a video game that you couldn’t win? Even if you lose a life or are defeated by a tricky bossfight, you can always come back and become victorious. In an interview with Fox News, Dr. David Greenfield explained that personal victory in a video game causes a release of dopamine in the brain. This release is sought after again and again, and (most) video games are meant to be winnable, so sometimes people keep playing long hours because they are always winning and always getting a release of dopamine for doing so. This causes a video game addiction. Now imagine someone who is always “winning” and feeling good about it being hit with the realization that they have actually failed big time by flunking out of college. This is almost like circumstances forming an intervention for our addicted gamer and they are going to fight back. In this case, they are going to fight reality. This probably causes the addicted gamer to do some pretty irrational things. When Joshua Cooke’s parents had something to say about his addiction without realizing the severity of it, Joshua’s mind defended his addiction at all costs instead of facing the truth. Could things have been different if someone, anyone, had befriended Joshua Cooke and slowly brought him out of his mania? Perhaps, and that would have been a really nice story to tell here, but that job belongs to no one in particular so there is no one to blame. Can you blame the gun store for making a legal sale? Nope. Can you blame the video game maker or Keanu Reeves for making effective entertainment? Nope, in fact I applaud them. Can you blame the 19-year old MAN for his mistakes and self-induced homicidal mania? Yes…yes you can. There were a LOT of factors in Joshua Cooke’s life that caused him to do what he did; the statement he makes about “bullies and people who had hurt me in my life” that he describes fantasizing about killing in his Piers Morgan interview is pretty telling about how he may have been exposed to a lot more negative influences than video games.

In a September 10th interview with Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson, Dr. Keith Ablow states that there have been conclusive studies done and they show that video games increase aggression and decrease empathy. He further states that a decrease in empathy is dangerous because it “frees” the mind, I guess implying that a decrease in empathy is equivalent to a decrease in understanding of the concepts right and wrong. A lot of people say that a video game rewarding people for kills is equal to associating shooting people in the face to the dopamine release, but an equal amount of people will tell you that a video game rewarding people for kills is equal to associating being good at a video game to the dopamine release. Ablow really seems to be positive about those “conclusive studies” that have been done…but are they really that conclusive?

 

Have you ever seen a movie that scared the crap out of you as a kid, only to find that it wasn’t that scary after all when you watch it as an adult? One of the reasons that happens is because you’ve probably seen so many scarier movies that the one you saw as a kid seemed tame. Another reason is that you probably have a better grip on reality. Adults watch a kung-fu movie and don’t jump around kicking each other like kids do after a Power Rangers episode…generally. It’s happened, I’m sure, but the difference is that the kids haven’t been drinking. Kids want to be Power Rangers, and that aspiration might even appear to be an attainable one to them at the time. According to this CNN interview with an expert (that also disputes the claim that there are conclusive studies like the ones Dr. Ablow mentioned in his CNN interview), this emulation of inappropriate behavior that they see on TV or experience in a game is likely what caused an 8-year boy to shoot his grandmother in the head after playing Grand Theft Auto IV. This is why violent shows, movies AND video games are inappropriate for kids. Not all of things remotely violent are bad, mind you, but you do have to filter and limit their intake before you make children believe that the world is only about hyper-realistic violence and sex with no real consequences. Otherwise you end up with a kid like Devin Moore, who responded to being stopped for a minor traffic violation by taking a cops gun, shooting three other cops and stealing a police cruiser to make his escape. Moore later admitted that he was inspired by Grand Theft Auto, of course, saying that “Life is a video game. Everybody’s got to die sometime.” This is not a video game affecting someone, this is someone blaming a video game for their actions. I played TONS of video games and watched movies I probably shouldn’t have, but I was also brought up not to disrespect those in authority. I’m not meaning to turn this into a debate about parenting, but you really can’t dispute how important a role parents play in the development of their children.

Now for the other side of the story I wanted to tell here: The news media. However you feel about Fox News, it is undeniable that they have been going hard against the video game industry as being to blame for a lot of the instances where younger folks are killing people. They ran the interview with Dr. Keith Ablow on September 10; they posted an article titled 'Training simulation:' Mass killers often share obsession with violent video games on September 12; the same writer put out an article on September 13th titled 'Frag him': Video games ratchet up violence, blur line between fantasy and reality, and this one even goes so far as to make wild claims like “Master Chief’s realistic reloading animation is realistic and will alter your perception of realism…as he walks across a far-off planet in a futuristic suit of body armor fighting aliens” and another, even wilder claim that the most recent Duke Nukem was a “2011 hit”. Another article, posted to Fox news on September 14 (making it 3 days in a row for these kinds of articles), compared video games to movies in how they affect our minds. This article’s references, despite the perceived intention, doesn’t really display video games as being bad as much as having an effect that movies don’t, though the counterpoint is further down the article than most people will read.

I was wondering why Fox was pushing so hard on video games when none of the other news agencies were and then it hit me: Grand Theft Auto was coming out.

          After all that huff and puff, however, you would think that Fox would decry GTAV as overtly violent/sexual and liken its coming to that of Satan himself. Instead, we got this. Fox News wrote an article praising Grand Theft Auto despite its violence. MSNBC and CNN also posted articles concerning the release and, with special contributors to the articles such as IGN’s Steve Butts (lol) and gaming analyst Steve Bailey, they all say pretty positive things about the game. Metacritic has it at 98. IGN gave it a perfect 100. They also gave that score to The Last of Us, Metal Gear Solid 4, Grand Theft Auto IV, Mario Golf, Uncharted 3, and Magical Tetris Challenge for Game Boy Color. My intent isn’t to minimize the potential awesomeness of the newest Grand Theft Auto, but I’m just putting the facts out there.

No news organization has said that putting violent video games in front of kids is a good thing, but even Dr. Drew helps out when they do say that it is not the cause of violence. For all the noise that Fox was trying to make about the link between violent video games and violent behavior by putting out an interview clip and three articles in five days, then, why praise Grand Theft Auto V so heavily? Could it be that one guy at Fox is all bent out of shape when it comes to video games while another one wrote the article about the new GTA? Could it be that they were smooth-talked by some Rockstar marketing guys into forgetting their previous articles? Is there a connection at all?

I’ve put out a lot of info, a lot of opinions and a crazy conspiracy theory involving news media. If you think video games can't inspire people to do positive things, tell it to these two guys or click on our Extra Life link on the front page of this website. Whatever you think, I wanna hear it. You know…in the comments section.  

 

One last thing: I seem to be obsessed with what Fox says…maybe it’s due to this music video that you won't ever forget or get out of your head. Your welcome.  

 

 

 

 

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Comic Relief

 

We at PUNI talk about gaming, we talk about movies, we talk about our jobs in the IT world…let’s face it, it’s time to talk about one of the most Amazing, Spectacular, Uncanny (okay, we get it) staples of nerd/geek culture: Comic Books.

I’m not talking about graphic novels that force us to reconsider reality or our personal standpoints on heavy social issues, no Sir/Ma’am. I’m talking about straight-up comic books, with weird characters and impossible continuity and fantastic settings and abilities that somehow blend the right amount of believable and unbelievable to keep us reading. If you have no idea about any of what I’m writing here, allow me to introduce you to some of the Marvel titles that I’ve been reading lately:

 


Marvel NOW! 

This isn’t a comic book, but I reference this a lot. The Marvel NOW! Initiative was intended as a “jumping-on point”, a place where all comic books and storylines would come to a place where a reader could introduce themselves to the Marvel Universe and not feel completely alienated by the many years of continuity. DC Comics tried a similar thing with “The New 52” but the difference is that they completely rebooted their entire continuity, meaning every Superman and Batman comic that ever happened…didn’t happen. Marvel NOW! Is just a good refocus of the brand and a jumping-on point for readers, not a reboot of the entire brand.

 


Thor: God Of Thunder 

This series has been nothing but spectacular since its birth from the Marvel NOW! Initiative began about a year ago. The first eleven issues deal with a long, glorious story arc involving the rivalry between Thor and a new villain named Gorr The God-Butcher. The story spans a long length of time…no, really, the story starts with a young pre-Mjolnir Thor meeting Gorr for the first time and it involves a very old (and cranky) King Thor, the last God of Asgard due to Gorr’s butchering of all the Gods. The main protagonist, however, is present-day Thor the Avenger and his quest to solve the mystery of what, or who, can kill a God. It is probably one of the best comics I have read, and one reason I love it so much is because it has an end. So many comic book story arcs have consequences to actions but no definitive ending, and this one does. You don’t need any knowledge of Thor except for what you probably already know: He’s a God from a wonderful place called Asgard who has an awesome hammer named Mjolnir for which he had to work hard to earn. And he’s part of the Avengers team. A brief cameo by Iron Man is the only tie-in to any other Marvel books, making it a very contained story so that you don’t need to buy three Thor-related books to get it all. If you like Thor, you’ll love this comic. The 12th issue starts a new arc that will be wildly different from the previous one, introduces a new character I believe will be Thor’s next love interest, and hopefully proves that Thor: God of Thunder is not a one-trick pony.

 Assessment: With fantastic art and a story that will blow you away, this is my favorite Marvel comic right now. With the God-Butcher storyline behind us, however, there's no telling what's ahead for the God of Thunder. Pretty sure it's gonna be good, though. 

 

 Superior Spider-Man 

Peter Parker is dead. There, I said it. That would come as a shock to all of Peter’s family and friends, because they still see him every day. Heck, Peter Parker even went back to college to get his doctorate! But don’t be fooled, Peter Parker is actually dead. In his body is the mind of Spider-Man’s arch-nemesis, Otto Octavius! The dastardly Doctor Octopus was dying, but refused to go down while never having defeated the meddling Spider-Man. In Amazing Spider-Man #700, Otto takes over Parker’s body, sticking Peter’s mind in his dying body. Adding insult to injury, “Spider-Man” (With Doc Ock’s brain) defeats “Doctor Octopus” (with Peter Parker’s brain) for good! Right before dying, though, Peter told Otto that if he was going to take all of Spider-Man’s power he would also have to take on all of the responsibility. Seriously, read ASM #700, the last few pages I found to be heartbreaking and exciting all at the same time. It all ends with Octavius promising Peter that he will be a “Superior” Spider-Man! This has been a wild ride ever since Marvel NOW!, and Superior is now reaching issue #17 with a good-ish Otto Octavius at the Spider-helm! He still falls into the stereotypical villain tropes, occasionally: Over-bloated ego, raising an army of henchmen to do his work for him (seriously, the Spider-Army is pretty sweet), and not playing very fair with his opponents.

For people who haven’t been reading the last few years of Spider-Man there will be a little bit of a disconnect on who certain people are or what they are doing. New York City’s Mayor is none other than Jonah J. Jameson (wha?), Robbie is the head of the Daily Bugle with a few new additions to the crew that I didn’t recognize, there’s some girl at the police station named Carly that seems to know Peter Parker and Spider-Man pretty well, and Peter Parker apparently works at some place called Horizon Labs. You can imagine the new tensions with Otto taking over Peter’s mind…imagine how Peter Parker might treat someone who is not as smart as him but is his supervisor at work, and then imagine how Otto Octavius might treat that same person. Yeah, they go there. Also, when Otto finds out that Peter never got his doctorate he becomes enraged. How can he refer to himself as “Doctor” Octopus when no one is around if he isn’t actually a doctor? Hilarity ensues, and Parker/Octavius even finds himself with a new (but decidedly underused) love interest.

Unlike Thor, Spider-Man does tend to spill over into other books. There is a team-up book called Superior Spider-Man Team-up, where Spidey collaborates with other Marvel heroes. There is also a new title called Mighty Avengers where Spidey teams up with other heroes while the big-name Avengers are off fighting Thanos and/or Galactus in space…again. Neither of these are necessary to Superior Spider-Man readers, but if you want more Otto Octavius then there is an outlet. One thing that Marvel does a lot is bring low-selling characters into big-name books in an attempt at garnering interest in that low-selling character. One arc involving the Scarlet Spider, a clone of Peter Parker (But not the original Scarlet Spider, Ben Reilly…it’s a long story), does span the pages of Superior and Superior Team-Up. It was a really good story and did catch my interest in Scarlet Spider, but I hate it when I have to buy comics I don’t usually buy to get the full story from a comic I DO usually buy. This is the only instance so far, though, so let’s hope the frequency of such things stays at this level.

Assessment: The artwork is functional, but the story and characters are what makes this comic shine. A great shake-up on the classic Spider-Man story, but the future is undecided with the recent return of Spider-Man 2099 and the impending inclusion of Miles Morales, the Ultimate Spider-Man. Things look to get crazier than they have been, and I can't help but wonder if they plan on bringing Peter Parker back at some point. 


Uncanny X-Men, All New X-Men 

Okay, so you probably have to be an X-Men fan in order to put up with this wacky story, but here it goes: Jean Grey died several years back…twice. The daughter of Jean Grey and Scott Summers (Cyclops the douche), Rachel Grey, is from an alternate future and lives in our time now. Cyclops, a douche, is not happy about his wife Jean Grey’s death. Meanwhile, Scarlet Witch (a witch…she’s not a mutant per se, but is the daughter of Magneto so she is, but whatever) uses her powers to clear the mutant gene from the world so that no NEW mutants would be born. The many years of desperate attempts at getting humans and mutants to co-exist by Charles Xavier proven futile, the X-Men were now the last mutants and they didn’t know what to do.

Cyclops has this great idea that the Phoenix, an otherworldly entity that has never caused anything but trouble and death(*cough*JeanGrey*cough*) for everyone in the Marvel Universe, could be used to undo Scarlet Witch’s witchery and cause the reemergence of mutation in humanity. Suddenly, Cyclops found a way to be a douche AND a tragic villain. He infuses the Phoenix Force into himself, Emma Frost, Magik, Colossus and Magneto because the Avengers were all “The government told us to stop you, so we will.” This starts an event called Avengers vs X-Men, or AvX. This event basically serves as one of those reference points for “Who would win in a fight, Iron Man or Magneto? Spider-Man or Colossus? Gambit or Captain America?” and gives it a story that ends in Cyclops killing Professor X and forcing everyone to team up against his douchey Phoenix-possessed ass. There’s a funeral for Professor X, and Cyclops goes to jail. Wolverine runs the “Jean Grey School for Mutants” and, with the help of Magneto, Cyclops breaks out of jail and starts the “Charles Xavier School for Gifted Mutants or whatever” school at a secret location. His problem is that he doesn’t have any students.

Here’s my problem with the whole story: All this happened BEFORE Uncanny X-Men and All New X-Men came out with the Marvel NOW! initiative. This is all stuff you kind of have to know, or you’ll be completely lost. My biggest problem with the X-Men story is that if one hadn’t been following it since just before Avengers vs X-Men a reader would need to know all of this. You, however, are in luck because I just told you most of it.

Okay, so getting to the main plot of these two oft-intertwined books: Beast goes back in time for two reasons. The first reason is because he’s dying, and the second is that he thinks that the young and idealistic Cyclops of the past will be able to talk some sense into the tragically burdened Cyclops of the present. He brings back Cyclops, Jean Grey, a young Iceman, a pre-blue Beast and a young Angel. There is very little time spent on “Wow, things have gotten expensive since the 60’s” and “Is this what you call music?” and a lot of time spent on contemplating what the implications of their time travel will be. As a matter of fact, now there is an EVENT (Multi-Comic story arc that will change everything) going on called Battle of the Atom where there are accusations from the future that the past X-Men need to go home or bad things will happen. This isn’t just a re-hash of Days of Future Past, I think it’s much smarter than that. Also, seeing three versions of Beast and Iceman at different stages in their lives in the same room is kind of cool. There is one thing I feel that I must get off my chest: The young Cyclops…is not a douche. In the latest issues…he’s actually pretty cool. There’s something about these X-Men books that calls to me from my X-Childhood, when I read comics so many years ago.

That being said, present-day and super-douchey Cyclops also has an X-Team called the Uncanny X-Men and he’s recruiting new mutants for it. Himself, Magneto, Emma Frost and Magik are all dealing with the fact that tampering with the Phoenix Force broke their powers while trying to train new members of the Uncanny X-Men. It’s a very fun read, and the story intersects with All New X-Men quite often.

The semi-related X-Books don’t matter as much to this current storyline, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t good. Wolverine And The X-Men deals with the mutant school itself and some decent characters. X-Men came out a few months ago and deals with an all-female team of mutants…and a baby that belongs to none of them. Battle of the Atom is going to span all of these books, but if you get Battle of the Atom #1 it will tell you which issues matter for the event. Without giving away any more of the story than I already have, Battle of the Atom will involve pretty much all of the X-Men characters and a team of alternate-future X-Men trying to decide whether the past X-Men need to go home or not…sometimes in a violent manner.

 Assessment: The art ranges from decent to amazing, depending on the title. The characters in both Uncanny X-Men and All New X-Men are worth the price of the comic alone, and just like with Spider-Man Marvel plans on continuously shaking up everything we think we know about our favorite characters. 


Everything Else 

I labeled this section “Everything Else”, but in Marvel if you aren’t talking a title that deals with Spider-Man or X-Men you are dealing with the Avengers in some capacity. Currently there is a very popular event going on called Infinity, though I tire of Avengers oversaturation and thus do not partake of that event. It involves Thanos and Galactus, I believe. I have this feeling like everything Avengers-related is being handled very carefully right now due to the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, though, and that is another reason I don’t really go with it. The last event, Age of Ultron, had to do with Ultron taking over the world and the Avengers using time-travel to stop him. This use of Time Travel, combined with all of the other times Time Travel has been used in Marvel (it’s gotta be in the triple digits, seriously), has messed up the time stream or something like that. This event is supposed to end with the destruction of the “Ultimate” Universe brand of Marvel comics. If you’re a fan of the Ultimate Spider-Man, Miles Morales, then have no fear because he will be web-slinging his ass over to the regular Marvel Universe. I don’t know in what capacity he will be doing so and if he will be affecting the Superior Spider-Man, but that’s the current news out of Marvel.

There is also stuff like Daredevil and Fantastic Four out there, and a bunch of other stuff I didn’t mention either. Get the free Marvel Comics app and check out the new comics there, as well as the ability to catch up by reading all the old ones.

If you have any questions or comments about current Marvel shenanigans, don’t be hesitant to use the COMMENTS SECTION. It’s there. For comments. And you can use it. I give you permission.

I think if I write 2000+ words about the Marvel Universe and don’t once type Wolverine I should get a prize…doh!

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Whose Story Is It, Anyway?

          I woke up early this morning, feeling decidedly unlike P-Diddy, and poked around on the internet for a while. I was surprised to find wonderful news regarding the X-Com franchise: A new game is coming out, and it’s going to be a lot like X-Com: Enemy Unknown. I’m not talking about The Bureau: X-Com Declassified; I haven’t played it yet and from the reviews I need to wait until it goes on sale. If you think I’m wrong, tell me in the comments section. Anyways, back to the new game: Currently titled X-Com: Enemy Within, the previews boast a new mechanized class for the X-Com troops and a slew of new upgrades, enemies and weapons. In my head, I immediately had to rearrange my “Charlie’s Top 5 Most Anticipated Games” list:

1)   X-Com: Enemy Within

2)   State of Decay (For PC, I refuse to buy a HD for my X-Box just for this game)

3)   South Park: The Stick of Truth

4)   Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD Remix

5)   Dragon Age: Inquisition

Are these games going to be the best ever? Maybe, but I think with only one Next Gen title on the list it is safe to say that my excitement is based on chronological proximity as much as any perceptions about quality.

What this new X-Com news got me thinking about is the turn-based tactical gameplay of Enemy Unknown and how the simple feature of being able to name my soldiers meant the world to me. It wasn’t just John and Jane Doe out there fighting aliens, and I wouldn’t give a crap if some generic “Larry Smith” guy took a few plasma rounds to the face. It was THE Sergeant Lance Bass and his fellow operative Lieutenant Joey “Bulldog” Fatone taking point for their squad against an alien threat, taking orders from their commanding officer, Colonel Charlie “Ghost” Mike. Anytime I had a doubt as to who would win the skirmish, I would sing “It’s gonna be me” as I waved bye bye bye to the charred remains of the alien scum (When nobody was around, I called them the Backstreet Boys).

The lame plot in X-Com: Enemy Unknown serves as an explanation as to why you were getting better gear and the enemies were getting stronger, and not much else. Despite the flaws in the storytelling ability of developer Firaxis I had plenty of tales to tell regarding my squad, the men we lost, the battles we won and the glorious final victory against the Backstreet Boys (when people are around, I call them the Alien Scum).

When a game gives you the opportunity to tell your own story, it can become a very special experience. For me, it’s like playing with toys when I was young: my version of the characters didn’t exactly represent the version I was shown in books, television or movies. My Lego characters had to constantly endure their arch-nemesis, who took the form of an evil die-cast Batman twice their size. Matter of fact, the only toys that DID get used the way they were portrayed in their source material was the Jurassic Park playset and the dinosaurs that came with it. The added twist was that, unbeknownst to the G.I. Joes in charge of maintaining the facility, there was a DinoBot with evil intentions inconspicuously living amongst the dinosaurs. Ahh, those were the days…

When a game allows me to similarly create my own characters, and doesn’t impede on the creative process with an overbearing amount of story and cutscenes, I am extremely excited to play that game. Think of it as the difference between the Bauldur’s Gate series and the Icewind Dale series. Bauldur’s gate is known for the well-presented story, intricately interesting companions and a fun tactical turn-based combat system. Icewind Dale is known for having a lackluster story, a totally customizable party of six, and a fun tactical turn-based combat system. Most people sing the praises of Bauldur’s Gate, often calling it the best RPG ever made. Those same people will tell you that Icewind Dale doesn’t match up, and I disagree. The stories that my characters endure, while subjective to the non-invasive overall arch that serves as the reason you are fighting all of these bad guys to begin with, are much more personal and valuable to me than anything Bauldur’s Gate had to offer. By no means am I trying to demean the storytelling in Bauldur’s Gate, but I am saying that I feel a lot less involved when most of the elements of the story are chosen for me.

I wonder why more games don’t allow for some creative investment on the player’s part, and I have decided that the reason behind it must be “Not all gamers are creative.” So this whole standpoint might just be me…though I bet you that there are a ton of MMORPG players that would subscribe to having more creative control over their characters and the stories they become involved in.

What’s the point behind this piece? Do I intend on changing the video game world? Am I waging war against games that have stories? Am I a total hypocrite for saying I like these types of games when my “Top 5 Most Anticipated List” has games in it that will spoon-feed me my experience rather than let me decide it for myself? None of the above, good sir or madam. I’m just leaving some Brain Droppings on the carpet for you to see.

~Charlie Mic

 

 

Remember: Use the comments section; it doesn’t bite. Tell your own tales, say hello, give me your top 5 anticipated games list, whatever. Just damn use the damn comments section, dammit!

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Return of Charlie's Game Ideas!

Charlie’s Game Ideas!

 

Sharknado Online

Unlike any other online experience, Sharknado Online pits players against each other in the same context as the smash-hit movie, Sharknado! When you log into our servers (Los Angeles, New York, Miami, New Orleans, and Lake Michigan) you are provided with a unique choice of playing as a man or shark. If you choose to play as a man, you are running for your life and gaining points for living longer. Decide to brave the Sharknado and kill some player-controlled sharks for extra points that can be spent on upgrades!

Imagine a dude in a full suit of armor running down the street with chainsaws for hands cutting up sharks (literally) left and right as he approaches a tornado laden with Great Whites…most OP char ever, amirite? Work towards a high level and getting lots of points, and YOU could be the one running around gutting and kill-stealing your life away in Sharknado Online!

Only for Playstation.

 

Wolverine’s Friends

You’ve seen the movie, now play as every character from The Wolverine…except Wolverine! Play as Yukio and tell Wolverine about the tragic future of a couple of bear-hunting rednecks! Once he believes in your ability to tell the future, tell him a completely fake story about how he dies because otherwise Logan wouldn’t have enough to worry about while operating on his own heart. Way to go!

It would be hard to forget a character like Navi from the popular Legend of Zelda games, fluttering around Link’s head and imploring for him to “Hey! Listen! Hey! Listen!”…well, in the critically-acclaimed Wolverine’s Friends game you can play as Mariko, who flutters around the Ol’ Canucklehead’s bed while he tries to sleep and repeatedly asks him “Who’s Jean? Who’s Jean?” Wolverine wants to tell her to jump off a cliff in despair, but then he reminds himself that he stopped her from doing that earlier in the game and is now considering that fate for himself!

The last character you can play in the game nominated for Best Game Disc to Use As A Coaster by the NY Times is…Asian Hawkeye! We don’t know his name, but he has a bow and likes to hang out on rooftops during funerals! This character has a unique gameplay element of not knowing which side he is on, so quite often you will have to change alliances and start fighting someone else. Whenever Wolverine is around, you can either shoot him in the back or tell him how to escape. Now that is putting choice in the hands of the player!

 

Awkward

In the game Awkward, you play through a set of awkward social scenarios. The lady at the Taco Bell smiles devilishly and says that your debit card was reported stolen when you try to pay for your food, and you get the vibe that she is just messing with you because she is a middle-aged woman working at Taco Bell and doesn’t know any other way to bring joy into her life…what to do? This is where Awkward shines, because you can choose to handle the situation however you want! You can do something subtle like tell her “Yeah, that’s because I stole it. Now gimme my food!” or you can simply punch her in the face and take a dump in the cash register while everyone watches.

Another awkward social situation in this revolutionary game comes in the form of the men’s bathroom, where there are three urinals and the man who walked in before you chose to stand at the middle one. As you move to either side of him, the man will give you a glaring look as if the urinal you chose was his mother. And here you are, you bastard…pissing on his mother. You are presented with the choice to start pissing in his urinal, start pissing on the man, or start crying while you stare at him and molest yourself with a Michael Jackson glove on.

This game is being hailed as Dishonored meets Heavy Rain, a phenomenal story fused with exciting and pulse-pounding gameplay set on the backdrop of normal everyday situations gone horribly wrong.

 

 

Well, those are my game ideas! What do you think, should we get a kickstarter going? Do you have your own game ideas? Let us know in the comments below!

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The Wolverine: A Review

Disclaimer: I took every precaution to only disclose things about this movie that are visible in trailers. I do not believe that there are any true spoilers in this review.                 

 

 Keanu Reeves is on the screen during the preview for 47 Ronin, and because there is nothing logical or interesting about Keanu Reeves playing a samurai I attempt to recall all of the things I knew about the movie I was about to see. The Wolverine is directed by James Mangold, who as a director has brought us such gems as Girl Interrupted, Walk the Line, Identity and 3:10 to Yuma. These were all character-driven movies with a level of polish on the plot and script that I really enjoy. This bodes well for the ol’ canucklehead’s fifth appearance on the silver screen. Mangold also directed Knight and Day starring Cameron Diaz and Tom Cruise, but I figure I could give him a mulligan on that one. The Wolverine also sports the undeniably awesome Hugh Jackman as the titular character again; between Jackman and Gerard Butler, I don’t know who I have a bigger “broner” for.  There aren’t a whole lot of really notable actors that most Americans have heard of other than those mentioned above, though from what I’ve read the Japanese actors are famous in their home country. The wildcard here is Russian actress Svetlana Khodchenkova, who plays the mutant Viper. Not really knowing what role Viper would play in the movie, I remained optimistically skeptical. There were rumors abound of an appearance by the lovely Famke Janssen as the now-deceased Jean Grey, so I’m not sure how it can stand truly aside from the X-Men movies but I hoped they would explain it somehow. No complaints so far going into this.

            Another preview plays, this time it’s for the upcoming Thor sequel. It looks fantastic, and they take care in the previews not to show everything in the preview. I definitely want to see it, but I bring my focus back to the feature at hand. In interviews, James Mangold has said that this will be a completely stand-alone movie, not having much to do with the original three X-Men movies and ignoring X-Men Origins: Wolverine entirely while not retreading any origin story. I knew from the previews I had seen that the Silver Samurai would be in this movie, but I don’t know to what extent. I also gleaned from the previews that there would be a scene involving Wolverine slicing up a metric fuckton of ninjas, which upon thinking about made me decide that my broner definitely goes to Hugh Jackman. Wolverine went to Japan in the comics more than a few times, but most notably in an outstanding story created by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller. It involved a lot of ninjas, and Wolverine using those ninjas to show us that he’s the best at what he does.

            As the opening scene plays, I can’t wipe the smile from my face. I have the perfect seat, nobody is sitting next to me and the rest of the audience seems like they will remain quiet during the movie instead of being the douchebags that some people choose to be. This movie is going to rock! I think to myself, and sit back to enjoy the awesomeness that is about to be bestowed upon me.

Turns out…this movie did not rock.

I’m not going to post any spoilers, but as the credits were rolling I was severely disappointed. Not only was the Silver Samurai not a samurai at all, but his purpose was just plain silly. The plot made very little sense, and the love story seemed forced. The other villain, Viper, was not explained very well and it was never really clear why she was necessary. One of the good-aligned characters can see the future, but it is never useful and usually wrong. The character literally could have not had those powers or not been in the film at all and nothing would be different. Speaking of useless characters, Famke Janssen appears several times throughout the movie to make Wolvie feel bad. This does serve a purpose in the beginning to let the viewers know that our hero is in some mental anguish, but the movie never recalls the happenings of X-Men 3 so I’m willing to bet that anyone who didn’t see it was scratching their heads as to why Jean Grey appears at all and what Logan has to feel bad about. Jean Grey is actually talked about more in the movie than the Silver Samurai, but other than a little exposition there is nothing solved or incited by her presence. It’s almost as if the writers wanted the audience to go back and re-watch the X-Men movies, which I found annoying due to Mangold’s promise that this would be a standalone adventure for Wolverine. Additionally, I’m not a huge fan of subtitles. All of the characters seemed to know English anyways, so to have so much of the dialogue in Japanese was a little distracting.

But the fight scenes were cool…right? Well, there is the much-highlighted fight scene atop a bullet train that proves to be very entertaining, and a pretty decent duel between Wolverine and a samurai (this one not particularly silver) does prove to be another high point for the movie. Other than that…no. You are all probably wondering about the ninjas I mentioned earlier, and rightfully so because it would be very difficult to screw up a concept like “Wolverine vs. Ninjas”. Well, they found a way. I’ll leave it at that, to avoid spoiling anything.

There is a moment in the final battle involving the Silver Samurai that is probably meant to make you go all “wtf”, and it does…just probably not in the way the writers wanted. Let’s just say that Wolverine endures a seemingly permanent change to his appearance, and it made me think about how this movie has done almost everything within its power to not show us the things we wanted to see in a Wolverine movie. There was very little evidence of beserker rage; this was instead replaced with Wolverine playing a crude anti-hero while an ally stands around and sets up the comedy relief. Most of the characters not sporting retractable adamantium claws could have been discarded, allowing for a more “lone wolf” scenario where Wolverine does what he does best all across Japan. Otherwise you are trading the X-Men for some lesser-known and less interesting characters, which is more of a step backwards than anything.

As disappointment became the victor of my evening, the credits stop rolling. I stay seated for a mid-credits scene that managed to be better than the entire movie despite only being two or three minutes long. This teaser for the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past was worth the price of admission and the two hours I spent in mental anguish over the inconsistent and sloppy movie. It wasn’t just great, folks, it got me really excited for the upcoming X-Men movies and whatever else will happen in the Fox-based Marvel universe.

Thinking about it now, though, I remember how much Jean Grey’s presence in The Wolverine reminded me of the first three X-Men movies. It would be safe to deduce, I believe, that this movie was meant to be a message to fans that the Fox-owned Marvel mutant universe would be as exciting and spectacular as the Disney-owned Marvel universe. There are rumors of sentinels in the next X-Men movie, and that could be a really awesome thing. Fox wants us to know what’s coming, and they if their intent was to get me amped up for it then they have definitely succeeded. I guess I just wish they hadn’t sacrificed the opportunity to tell a great Wolverine story to do it.  

 

 

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Everybody Loves Roland

July 4th has a special meaning for me; new movies come out, Summer is in full swing and there are chicks who want to wear bikinis. Even fat chicks. They have a right to wear a bikini too, I don’t discriminate. I do make fun of them, but not loud enough that the sound resonates off of their fatty fatty fat fat and they hear it.

The movie Independence Day will always have a place in my heart because they took two of my favorite things (Fresh Prince and that dude from Jurassic Park) and made them fight aliens together.

Welcome to Erf.

One of the first movies that my brother and I ever went to see with just the two of us was on July 4th; we saw The Patriot with Mel Gibson. There’s a scene in the beginning of the movie involving bezerker rage and tomahawks that makes me realize that Mel Gibson would be an amazing Old Man Logan. Also, I just looked it up: The Patriot was directed by Roland Emmerich, the same guy who did Independence Day. Kooky.

This July 4th, good ol’ Roland (I want to call him Rolo or Roly-Poly, is that weird?) has a new movie coming out: White House Down. Jaime Foxx plays the President and shoots guns, even though after filming his last movie (Django Unchained) he said that he hates guns and thinks that violence in movies is twisting our children. Which is complete bullshit, by the way, because what Kevin McCallister does in Home Alone twisted my morals and actions way more than any unrealistic gun violence. Also, I wonder if Foxx’s Electro character in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 will commit any violent acts. I mean, it’s not possible that Electro just goes around looking suspicious and wearing a hoodie without committing any illegal acts and just minds his own business…maybe Spider-Man can team up with George Zimmerman to take him down!

Dr. Manhattan sure does look suspicious...

Still here? Good…I think we lost some people. Anyways, another tidbit related to Roland Emmerich, who has a history of July 4th releases including The Patriot and Independence Day, is that he is now releasing information about the next Independence Day movies, titled Independence Day Forever Part 1 and Part 2. One tidbit about the new movies Roly-Poly gave away is that there will be a homosexual character. Question, Rolo: What sexuality was David’s boss in the first movie? He was so gay it hurt, I mean the man was wearing a plaid button-up for Christ’s sake! But you know what? I can’t remember anyone ever saying anything negative about him. Nobody did. No one in the movie made a big deal about who or what he was, and the main character set an example by treating him like he did everyone else. The movie stands as a shining reference to how a person’s sexuality should be in movies and real life: not a big deal. The gay dude in the first movie was funny, charming, a good actor and enhanced the movie when he was in it without anyone mentioning sexuality. I feel like Roly-Poly just shit all over that dude. The character is gay, Roland, not German. Fucking idiot.

This July 4th it can’t decide between raining and sunshine, and it keeps switching every 15 minutes. Such is life in Fayetteville, NC I guess, but I think it's a good metaphor for how Hollywood treats big issues. I just want some good movies. 

Thanks for reading, and tell me about YOUR Independence Day in the comments section! Seriously, that comments section isn’t going to write itself, you guys have to come do it. I won’t do it, because then I’m commenting to myself and that’s cray-cray for real-real, not for play-play.

Happy 4th, and if you see any Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen or Marines you buy them a beer because your freedom came at a price, mufuggas. They have been doing that shit for 238 years, and they did it with guns. And guts. And balls. Lots of balls. Big, giant balls.

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The Difference

In many games there are design choices make the difference between goodness and greatness in the final product. Take the new Cryptic MMO Neverwinter, for example: The complicated D&D mechanics, heavy graphics options and expansive backstory make the game pretty good and worthy of checking out. The simplified yet fully capable control scheme and the fact that you can create your own quests make it great. Whereas some players would have satiated their D&D gaming hunger and moved on, now their imagination haunts them until creating the perfect campaign. This was definitely a design choice with the player in mind, to empower him or her into creating their own fun. The game is meant to make money, as evidenced by the high in-game purchase prices, but the business model of “good free stuff will bring more business to our not-so-free stuff” is a pretty decent one from a player’s perspective.

Boobs and Undead have always been staples of Dungeons and Dragons, and they remain so in Neverwinter. 

        Core concepts of what make a game fun don’t usually change between genres; customization, abstract goals and meaningful divergent choice are what separates a game I might pick up at the RedBox for a day or so and a game I take a few days off work for. The graphics and engine aren’t the biggest deciding factors for me, and I suspect the same is true for a lot of gamers. We need something to make us feel like we are a part of our experience, like we had a heavy hand in the victory when our tactical decisions and other choices stack in our favor. Check out the game State of Decay, where your zombie survival skills are put to the test in an open world. It’s not about headshots and hand grenades; your decisions really do matter in this game. As with X-Com: Enemy Unknown and the upcoming X-Com Declassified, the intense action is a backdrop to your leadership decisions and failure is a real possibility if careful decisiveness is not exhibited.

 

Boobs and Undead in State of Decay...I think I may be seeing a pattern. 

        So what about games that don’t really let the player do anything but press buttons? What about the Devil May Cry, Metal Gear Solid, Call of Duty and anything-by-Naughty-Dog action experiences that deliver a specific experience without ever asking the player what they want? These aren’t bad games by any means but could you imagine what amazing awesomeness it would be if there was a level editor component to Black Ops 2 zombies? I get tired of the same maps, and I think a level editor would be the deciding factor between my zombie experience being good and great. What if you could level up like in multiplayer, but instead of unbalancing the game by unlocking better weapons or perks for only your character you unlocked zombie skins and level editor items? That would make the game an instant classic in my eyes. A level editor does not make sense, however, in something like Metal Gear Solid or Devil May Cry. Not a whole lot of player input is meant to happen in games so centered around their protagonist.

But Devil May Cry does have boobs and undead, I believe. Worth picking up, if you like those things. Which should be all of you. 

         I wanna hear you guys sound off on this: What is an addition to a game you like that would make it truly ascend to greatness? 

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Reasons for Replay

                I’ve come to realize in my adult life that I don’t have the time like I used to for video games. Work, school, kids, wife, gym, dog, yard, car, bills, sleep and Netflix all get in the way of my beloved hobby that once dominated more hours than anything else. In the last year I’ve put on 25 pounds of good weight, gotten a better job and started working towards my degree. All that seems great, but in the back of my mind I wonder what will become of my gaming? This is something that has been a part of me since I was 5 or so, I've been a gamer longer than I've been anything else (Marine, Married, Father, Person with a job, person without a job-shit happens, guy who writes on website, guy who doesn't write on website because he does/doesn't have a job, and guy who does laundry-shit happens). 

                During the first week at my new job, I was introduced to a lot of people at once. Most of them I instantly forgot, but as I worked with folks more often I relearned names (thank you, security badges!) and got to know some of them a little better. I gleefully mentioned the E3 Kingdom Hearts 3 announcement as soon as I read it at my desk, and one co-worker looked at me funny. I explained to him it was a video game thing, and he said something that I don’t think I can forget:

“I played video games as a kid, but then I just grew up I guess.”

                Grew…up…? Was he implying that growing up was a process I still needed to finish doing? Are video games something only for children? Of course not, I said to myself, why does almost every game have language and violence not suitable for kids if that was the intended audience? The average gamer age, I read somewhere, is in the 20’s. Hard to believe that my 20’s are about a year and some change from being over, but I don’t think that will affect my gamer status. To my co-worker, I asked what he did in his free time and he began a confusing, ninja-fast diatribe about how awesome anime is. I pegged him right as being like me, a nerd, just misjudged the type of nerd. As he inquired about my anime knowledge, I am not ashamed to reply that I only really know Princess Mononoke and most variations of Dragon Ball. He calls me a noob and begins to explain every anime he considers to be top quality, and I wonder how many of them he only likes because they show the obligatory Anime schoolgirl panty-flashing and boob-bouncing. I also wonder where it is I am going to move my desk to get away from this fucking nerd. It’s cool if you like anime, but you must realize that it isn’t for everyone and to shut the hell up about it.

                The fact remained that I hadn’t been playing games nearly as often as I once had, and that didn’t sit well with me; I decided to investigate further. There is a severe difference between someone who drinks socially and an alcoholic, so why would it not be possible for me to consume in moderation and be more of a casual gamer? My question was answered by none other than…myself:  Because, idiot, how could you possibly get really immersed in some game if you are always watching the clock to make sure you don’t miss fulfilling some other responsibility?  Truer words are not oft spoken, Inner Monologue. It is hard to drink socially when all you really want to do is get completely tanked and wake up next to the Giana sisters. Escapism, not achievement, is the real purpose of my gaming hobby and I do find it difficult lately to really immerse myself in a game when there are so many other things on my plate.

                The key, as some of you might have been screaming at your computers for the last 3 paragraphs, is proper time management. I found that if I wake up earlier, I get more stuff done and that allows for more time later. If I do my schoolwork at my job when I can, that leaves more time later. Maybe not that same day, mind you, but at least two nights a week I will find myself with no responsibilities and the opportunity to completely engulf myself in the deadly tropical paradise of Far Cry 3 or the always-on-the-brink-of-doom home base of the X-Com Project. Hell, if our schedules align I’ll even play some Black Ops II zombies with my brother. I’m not at the point where I can schedule my gaming and have people rely on me to be online for multiplayer or anything, but slowly I am building back what once was. I really want to dive into The Last of Us, I really want to play the Kingdom Hearts HD refresh that is coming to PS3, and there is nothing more than excitement that I feel when I think about the new X-Com shooter coming out. Gradually, I am getting back into gaming and all of its glory. I will see the sights, I will hear the sounds, and I will revisit all of the greats once again (Gonna play Borderlands 2, Baldur's Gate, and Fallout 3 when I'm out of town). Slowly, I am finding my Reasons for Replay. 

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Alchemy Gone Wrong

Alchemy Gone Wrong

(or, “Ewww, you got your business model all over my games!”)

 

                I want you to come with me on a visual journey. We, together, are going to envision a chaotic laboratory where an old alchemist perfects his recipes. Now just close your eyes and try to picture it….

Okay, don’t close your eyes. Just imagine the old alchemist, his leathery and stained fingers rubbing the several days’ worth of stubble growth on his chin as he concocts several potent mixtures of differing importance. Each ingredient must be added in the right order and in the right amount. Upon the tables in his laboratory there are ingredients and chemicals strewn about in no methodical fashion; everything in the Alchemist’s life is chaos, except for what goes into the potions he creates. No potion is ever perfect, he knows, only more potent than the others. Perfection is not attainable, only better quality.

                In a way, dear readers, couldn’t the description of the Alchemist be applied to the way pretty much anything is created? If you put too much seasoning on something it can ruin what could have otherwise been a delicious meal, and if you tell her 200 times a day how pretty she is it’s going to go from sweet to annoying really fast. On the flipside, if you don’t season the food enough it can taste bland and if you don’t tell her how you feel she will eventually deem you emotionally unavailable before breaking up with you.

                Video games have balances, too. Everything from having too many complicated graphics options to having too many cutscenes can ruin the experience of the game itself. There are endless conflicts in each game about the implementation of different aspects and features, but today we are going to talk about one aspect of gaming in particular: The Business Model. Some of you may have never heard of this, while some of you might feel it is a good term to throw out there.

“Hey, I love the business model this game company has. It suits my needs while not totally draining my wallet!”

“Dead Space 3 comes out with HOW many purchasable DLC’s on day one of its launch? That is one crappy business model.”

                I first saw it in cell phone games, and it spread like wildfire. Gamers were given the option to play the game the way it was meant to be, or buy all the best gear/powerups/gold and finish the game in a fraction of the time it would have taken otherwise. Bloons Tower Defense 5 is a fantastic tower defense game, but I can’t tell you how many times I was tempted to buy a crapton of in-game currency with my real-life currency. You didn’t need it to play, and you could beat the entire thing without spending a penny outside of the cost for the game itself. It just took longer. Nowadays, a lot of games are close to impossible without spending a few dollars on what I call "helper content".

                Apply that same “business model” to an MMO. There’s an item store in-game that offers you to spend *real* money in exchange for in-game currency to buy all of the fancy items. You decline, because the game told you on the website, in the forums and during the tutorial that it was not required for you to spend *real* money in order to be functional and/or competitive in this MMO. Feeling pretty penny-wise, you set off on your first quest to earn XP and gold the “old-fashioned way”. You even recruit a couple of other low-level characters to join you in your quest, and can’t help but notice that a few are wearing gear that was not available to you during character creation. Upon inquiry, your cohorts tell you that the gear is fantastic for the low level, and there’s even one purchasable item that lets you teleport to your destination instead of running there.  The teammates you thought were going to follow you to hell and back all disappear in flashes of light. As you trudge slowly through the gameworld alone, your team chatbox is quite lively.

“Nice kill, bro!”

“Good thing we can teleport, walking would have taken forever!”

“I thought we had another teammate, is he AFK or something?”

                The scenario you have just read is happening right now. The person who experiences this now feels even more compelled to buy the “optional in-game items” that are by NO means required. Some of us play video games to satisfy the perfectionist within ourselves, and these bastards are making trophies and other stuff we can’t get or achieve without paying money!

“It’s only $1.99, dude, just get it and be better off.”

                Sure, NOW it’s only two bucks. In a few months, when the expansion comes out, there will be something else worth buying that’s two bucks more. And two more dollars a few months after that. Not to mention all the purely cosmetic character customization options that you can only get by buying them. By nickel and diming you to death, in a single year they can get WAY more than 60 dollars or a subscription fee…but no worries, fellow gamers, this product is entirely FREE to play.

                Remember Mario 64? That game was HUGE, and there was always so much to do! Imagine if you noticed a painting by the front door of the castle that you had never seen before, and upon trying to jump into it a toadstool(which, I’m sorry, to me still translates to frogcrap) informs you that if you connect to the internet and pay to download this new area you can enter the painting. A little note at the bottom informs you that it’s not required to beat the game, but you can get the Mario 64 version of the Tanooki suit if you beat the new area. What a load of crap, right? Who wouldn't want a Tanooki suit? That’s essentially what they do when they offer ELEVEN bits of DLC upon Dead Space 3’s release. And get this: One of the DLC’s is free. That’s right, EA is sooo nice to let you have one of those eleven for free, so you have to go to the DLC page and see the other ten. Grab all that DLC, and that’s $51 dollars that EA probably isn’t contractually obligated to share with distributors and retailers.

                Games like League of Legends have purchasable Riot Points that you would normally earn in-game by leveling up or it would be graciously gifted by the devs. What if the next Call of Duty game offered players the opportunity to buy XP? Why run those multiplayer servers for such a long time and not make a single dime outside of the initial game purchase? If you were to ask me, I would answer “because that is good business for the customer, and it will bring more customers. Also, BF3 isn’t doing it. “

A more shrewd, callous business man might think differently, and test the waters with something like that Elite Subscription they offered with MW3. Oh yes, kiddies, that wasn’t done out of the kindness of their hearts. Expect your favorite shooters to start getting some biz-model all up in it.

      RPG’s seem to be the hardest hit right now, with special items/classes/characters only available through DLC and in-game purchases. To make it fair the company has to(see:should) make the new item/class/character somewhat balanced with the rest of the game, but to that end I ask WHY it wasn’t part of the game to begin with? An RPG is one of those experiences that tries to allow for multiple playstyles and character builds, so game companies are offering a profitable replayability by providing extra classes, races or items through purchasable DLC or in-game purchases. Not only will the perfectionists feel compelled to buy it all up, but people who liked the game and know it will be a long time before a sequel will also want to stay in whatever experience the game provided for them. 

     I always challenge people to not only complain about something, but to suggest a solution for the problem alongside their concerns. In this case, I will provide my own suggestions:

 

Give us the game, the entire game and all of the content you have completed upon release. I'm paying $60 for a game, and dammit I want everything you got. I wouldn't buy a combo meal from McDonald's if they charged me extra for salt on the fries or ketchup on the burger. They will always give me a complete burger, with salted or seasoned fries, and a decent-size drink because they couldn't get away with anything else.

That being said, if some people want MORE food they can pay to make the combo a large. But it's more of the same, or more food in a quicker amount of time. If people want to buy in-game currency instead of earning it, let them. As long as I can earn the same things they can buy with that in-game currency without paying more, I am okay with that. Eventually I can have the exact same thing. I don't like the idea, but if there was going to be a business model that I had to choose it would be that one because it doesn't impede the miserly gamer from experiencing the same content.

Bethesda games come out with legitimate Content-based DLC's, which are legitimate expansions of the original game experience and developed after the original release. This, along with their user support of bug-fixing and game-balancing patches, makes for an excellent business model. They provide a complete game, and then they release optional expansions that are completely separate experiences. It is true that they add extra types of armor, weapons and enemies into the expansions, but all of that was truely developed AFTER the initial game release or a decision was made to hold it until the expansion to make it more marketable. It's not perfect, but it's not screwing over the gamer as much as the other games/companies are. Hell, STARCRAFT came out with an expansion offering new missions and units. No one complained about that, as a matter of fact I remember being pretty stoked to ply Brood Wars.

     Remember when extra costumes and/or special items had to be earned by completing some difficult challenge presented by the game? No longer, said Batman: Arkham City! To get the coolest costumes you must pay extra.

     Readers, beware: A lot of games are basically psychologically-based mindfuck moneygrabs that appeal to the completionist in all of us. Ever played a game that wasn't hard at all, but had a good animation style and always dangled the carrot of success in front of you? Not even relying on skill, you try and grind to get that in-game currency or whatever and eventually break down and pay for it. When all is said and done, you didn't gain anything and you didn't learn anything. You just cut down on the amount of time it would have taken to beat the game, which didn't even challenge you in the least bit and thus provided a unmemorable and worthless gaming experience. The only thing that kind of game represents is an unjustifiable conscious choice to waste both your time and money for no gain whatsoever. Do not play these games, unless you hate money.

Let's play devil's advocate, here, and tell a story:

     Steven Spielberg entered the Universal Studios lot wearing a business suit and carrying a briefcase. The guard for the lot figured he was an executive for the studio and let him in without question. Inside the briefcase were a ton of movie ideas written down on lined paper, and a Snickers bar. This was Steve's first movie pitch ever, and he didn't even have an appointment. We know that Spielberg is now a rich and successful movie maker, but he started off not having a lot of money. He had great ideas, though, and so he had to convince people with money to provide funding for his movies. The only reason those people would do that is if they were convinced they could turn a profit, so a few of Steve's ideas got modified by the studio in order to further guarantee the investors that they weren't spending money without making any.

     Are video games any different? No. Big studios with lots of money try to only put out games that guarantee them the most amount of money. Remember the big studio-driven advertising feud between Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3? Most gamers didn't care, but the companies took a note from Goody's and BC headache powder rivalry and created a conflict that wasn't even there in order to get more exposure to the populace. Multiplayer gets put in games that don't need it because it might appeal to a larger fanbase and create more sales revenue. LOCAL MULTIPLAYER with just two friends sitting in a living room almost seems like a thing of the past sometimes, because by forcing online multiplayer you guarantee a sale to each player. When you have a group of four friends, it doesn't take long to figure out who is the best at a game. When you have a multiplayer playerbase of millions, if you take a few days off from the game you can quickly lose the ranking that you were so proud of. On the other hand, if you play for an hour longer every night you may be able to covet an even higher ranking.

    My point is that video game companies force the developers into adding certain features to a game to ensure higher sales, often times at the expense of the game's quality. The in-game purchases and heinous amounts of downloadable content are part of this money machine, and despite my complaints during this entire piece I am here to tell you that THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT. If that's how they want to spend their money in hopes of making some, let them. It's THEIR money, just like if you want to spend money on WoW gold or whatever I have no beef with you. I offer this caveat, however: As gamers, we should be focusing on improving the products that come to us by not settling for this crap they are giving us. We should let game companies know that their tactics are not hidden from us; we typed "black sheep wall"* and now see the entire scope of what their strategy against us is! We should praise the releases of games like The Walking Dead and X-Com. We should be showing the companies what history should have already taught them: Quality will always win, not perfection. Kingdoms of Amalur wasn't perfect, but it was quality. Deus Ex wasn't perfect, but it was damn quality. Darksiders, which I am sad to say probably won't be seeing another sequel, was more than a clone of Devil May Cry; It was a quality game. Don't ruin Black Ops II or the Call of Duty franchise by trying to sneak little profit-gaining measures on your customers, just keep working on the reputation of quality that you have gained over the years and your loyal followers will remain while you grow your empire! Developers like Obsidian and BioWare shouldn't have all their creative capabilities undermined by the greedy little schemes of big game companies like EA. And as gamers, we should refuse to pay into what they believe will bring them profit at the expense of our damn quality games!

I feel like there should be a contextually appropriate version of Mel Gibson's BraveHeart speech here. Instead, not at all because I am lazy, I want you to imagine it IS here like you imagined the alchemist. You DID imagine the alchemist, right? RIGHT!?!?!?

 




*It's a Starcraft joke, if you got it then you get extra points. If you want more points, the only way to get them is to send money to my paypal account. The most points wins bragging rights. And...GO!

 

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Rubber, Glue and Machine Guns!

So there’s this concept floating around that a violent society begets violent people. The hyper-realistic action depicted in movies and video games have turned us all into murderers, apparently, and in order to stop it we must remove such influences from the public. The notion is a noble one that we must save the people from themselves, you know, because they are too stupid to do it on their own and they clearly need help tearing themselves away from their destructive habits.

                The above is a bunch of snooty, elitist crap from people who find it easy to place blame on things they clearly do not enjoy and, therefore, will not miss if it disappears. My son tried the same thing last week when he said he was literally sick from all the homework his teacher gave him. Then he sniffled for effect.

                There is a measure of truth to it all, though, let’s be honest. Back when I was pouring hours into GTA: San Andreas I would always do a sanity check before driving my real car. I couldn’t floor it, run people over or honk at hookers in real life because they wouldn’t let me play GTA in jail and dammit I liked that game. Play too much GTA, and the “Wouldn’t it be fun to do that in real life?” conversation comes up. At the very least an amusing daydream occurs the next time you are stuck in traffic or see a cop car. Is it the fault of mine or Rockstar Studios, however, if I had decided to steal an 18-wheeler and clear out morning traffic? That’s like saying Bethesda is to blame anytime someone gets gutted with a bastard sword (which, for the record, happened a lot more often BEFORE the inception of video games.) To make things clear, I have not ever committed such an act and I play more games than I probably should.

                In New York City all restaurants, fast-food joints, delis, movie theaters, sports stadiums and even food carts have been barred from selling sugar-sweetened drinks in cups larger than 16 ounces. When I first heard about this, I asked myself what would stop someone from buying four 16-ounce drinks and thus, essentially, having a 64 ounce drink. The only thing the ban on large sodas has done is ensure that when someone wants a lot of soda there is going to be more byproduct and waste involved. The ban was intended to benefit the health of the citizens of NYC, sure, but it doesn’t affect the root of the problem: fat people eat unhealthy and don’t exercise enough, and therefore stay fat. There’s nothing wrong with taking on some extra calories if you lead an active lifestyle. Similarly, there is nothing wrong with an interactive experience wherein participants gun down innocent people in an airport if the proper context is maintained that it is a game and not a suggestion. Has the concept of “For entertainment purposes only” been misconstrued by us as a people?

The horrific scenes depicted in some books far surpass what is deemed appropriate to put in movies, yet nobody points to books as a generator of psychosis because we want our children to read books. My kids read books, but not 50 Shades of Gray. I believe that book would be inappropriate for them. You know, maybe the key is to have a group of people get together and label movies and video games based on their appropriateness for people of different ages to experience them. This way, we could have a quick reference as adults and merchants to know which intellectual properties we must shelter kids from in order not to expose or over-expose them to certain concepts and imagery. What is that, you say? We have a system like this already!?!?!? You mean to tell me that there are many laws and measures in place to prevent our children from being desensitized to violence by the varying forms of entertainment media at a young age? ESRB and MPAA do ring a bell, come to think of it. I guess it is our jobs as individuals to ensure that our offspring benefit from such regulations and don’t turn out to be whackjobs.  

The amount of in-depth news coverage on the Aurora Theater and Sandy Hook Elementary shootings has been a continuous bombardment of disgusting imagery, and yet people focus their blame on the entertainment industry for exposing the public to realistic and horrifying concepts. I would not dare discourage the coverage of these events by news agencies, but there is a line in the sand that defines what ethical news coverage is. Unless you are investigating the matter from an authoritative standpoint there is no reason you should know every single detail. The reason the news media puts it out there is so that people enthralled with the coverage from the comfort of their homes will turn to the news channel that shows the most in-depth coverage and continue to be enthralled.

Read this movie review by Roger Ebert from 2003 in which he echoes this concept more succinctly than I can. http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20031107/REVIEWS/311070301/1023

                To blame video games and movies for these atrocities is to blame fictional works altogether. Movies present characters and conflicts to us that are interesting and shown in stylized fashions that further entertain. If these characters and/or conflicts influence someone to commit themselves to any course of action then I can hardly blame the creators or distributors of the characters and conflicts. It’s been explained to me that games like Black Ops 2 or Far Cry 3 create a conditioned response by providing a life-like environment for the player to become immersed within and then rewarding that player for killing (with even better rewards for killing a lot!). Rinse and repeat for hours, and you have created a person who feels an immense and instant gratification by shooting others.

Can we all agree that there is a definitive difference between someone playing a simulation of armed combat online with other willing participants in a tournament of skill and someone who grabs a dangerous weapon and uses it on unwilling and undeserving recipients in order to settle some selfish, emotional grudge? Don't put me in the same category with those whackos, lest I use the rubber/glue argument and stick that accusation to you instead! MWAHAHAHAHAHA!!! 

                This article was written from a simple yet personal perspective: As someone who potentially owns both violent video games and firearms, anybody who decides to play Real-Life Black Ops 2 in a building full of innocent people does it because they have something detrimentally wrong with them and that has very little to do with video games. The end.

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Holier Than Thou

Holier Than Thou: A Conniving Comment Culture

 By Charlie Mic

                As did every child in my generation, at a young age I watched the classic Disney movie Bambi. As darling as the movie was, it dealt with serious issues like sexuality, death, the responsibilities of a father figure who was never there, more death, more sexuality, and that weird fucking owl. One of the more memorable quotes in the movie was reluctantly recited by Thumper the rabbit at the behest of his mother: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.” Despite the obvious grammar issues with this quote, parents ‘round the world indoctrinated their kids by echoing its merits. This is acceptable, nay, encouraged by me (since I am grand poobah of the Parent Corps, self-appointed of course) because kids are pretty damn ignorant of things like tact and social grace. I’m not going to go so far as to say children should be seen and not heard, but I remember telling Grandma that her grits were nasty and not feeling a bit of shame. I remember complaining aloud about the way my Aunt smelled (she had sweat gland problems), and I distinctly remember informing my Mother that she did a horrible job of buying me presents one Christmas because I did *not* receive the Bravestarr action figure of a bipedal robot horse holding a shotgun it had affectionately named Sara Jane(it’s a real thing, look it up, and I wanted it dammit). Point is, I shouldn’t have said those things. I was unknowingly being very rude, and probably hurt my smelly aunt’s feelings. So, as a kid, I can understand needing someone to put your criticisms on a leash and encouraging the rhetoric of a cartoon rabbit.

 

Despite what I said before, NEVER do this to your child.

 

                As an adult, however, hopefully you and I have mastered tactful and appropriate criticism of family and close friends. That being said, what about your criticism for intangible things like all manners of entertainment pieces? Different values held by different people can cause one picture, movie, game or book to be looked at in different manners. Some people look for entertainment that embraces their values as religious folk, while the mass media tends to ignore these movies because removing the senseless violence and cussing from a movie and replacing it with a faith that not everyone believes in makes it inherently less popular with most people. Another reason you probably haven’t seen these movies highlighted is that some of these movies are completely uninteresting or just have unbearably low production value due to the studio knowing they will not get a positive return on their money if they hire expensive scribes and producers, but some of them are actually pretty good. I warn you now, if you choose to watch movies like Fireproof or Courageous there will be a moment in that movie where you will either be intrigued by the values of the characters or completely turned off. Some people just don’t see that as entertainment, while others draw inspiration from it the way a superhero geek draws inspiration from <insert favorite Marvel movie here>.

                I’m going to go out on a limb here, and say that the people who like those types of movies are going to discuss it a little differently than those that think it is low-budget, propaganda-based garbage. Here’s the first thing I want you to take away from this article: HAVING DIFFERENT OPINIONS IS TOTALLY NORMAL. An opinion is usually based on the values of the person who has it, and I’m pretty sure we don’t all have the same values. Right? Right?!?!? Well, let’s look at a quote from another fictional character, Ian Malcolm:

“…I think cyberspace means the end of our species because it means the end of innovation. This idea that the whole world is wired together is mass death…put three people on a committee and they may get something done. Ten people, and it gets harder. Thirty people, and nothing happens. Thirty million, and it becomes impossible. That’s the effect of mass media – it keeps anything from happening. Mass media swamps diversity. It makes every place the same. Bangkok or Tokyo or London: there’s a McDonald’s on one corner, a Benneton on another, a Gap across the street. Regional differences vanish. All differences vanish. In a mass-media world, there’s less of everything except the top ten books, records, movies, ideas. People worry about losing species diversity in the rain forest. But what about intellectual diversity – our most necessary resource? That’s disappearing faaster than trees. But we haven’t figured that out, so now we’re planning to put five billion people together in cyberspace. And it’ll freeze the entire species. Everything will stop dead in its tracks. Everyone will think the same thing at the same time. Global uniformity.”

  

Ian Malcom doesn't think the internet is a sexy as he is.

 

Here’s the kicker: This quote is from 1995. Seventeen years ago, before Twitter, Myspace, Facebook and Youtube came along to accelerate the process that Dr. Malcom is talking about. In some ways, for some people, these applications and others are being used to exchange ideas and promote intelligence and cultural awareness, among other things. On the other side of that coin, most everyone learned to use the terms “epic”, “fail”, “win”, “smh” and pretty much anything with a hashtag to back up any idea or point they intend to make. These sites have evolved our culture so much that even respectable news agencies are using information from them with no possible way of fact-checking or accurately determining credibility. I wish that Kim Kardashian would tweet that she is pregnant with Kanye’s baby so that it will make worldwide news before anyone actually asks her about it personally, and then a day later publicly note on her Twitter account how stupid everyone is for relying solely on the internet for credible updates.

I’m getting off topic, but just know that I believe that Ian Malcolm’s prediction is partially coming true. Look at any site that provides updates about movies and find an article, ANY article. Read the article, and then scroll down to the comments section. You will see a few opinions resonated multiple times:

  • ·         Michael Bay’s movies suck, always have sucked and always will suck because there are too many explosions. BAYSPLOSIONS!!!11!1!@#$%^^&&*
  • ·         Any movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger or Nic Cage is going to suck, despite their successful history.
  • ·         If a movie is PG-13 rating or lower, then it isn’t doing the source material justice. Every slightly violent concept should be expanded to an NC-17 rating with heavy doses of gore and explicit sexuality.
  • ·         Most new movie posters and trailers that come out will be scrutinized to a level that makes you believe that every person who comments is in their last year as a film major before they go off and change the way movies are done forever.
  • ·         A few movie posters and trailers will NOT be scrutinized despite their obvious flaws that can even exceed the flaws of the posters and trailers mentioned above. The reason for this is that someone who is associated with the film is someone who the internet has told everyone to like.
  • ·         Everyone will Wikipedia stuff and comment like they are 60 years old talking about the original source material for a comic book character as if they picked up the #1 Comic for a half-penny from the General Store before they continued down the Oregon Trail on their dinosaur.

                Some of the opinions you will read have genuine merit, but most of them don’t actually add anything to the discussion nor present anything originating from the commenter’s own intellect. I believe most of these comments have less to do with the topic at hand and more to do with the person wanting their Identifier (Chat handle, internet name, screen name, GamerTag, whatever) to be seen associated with a popular or funny viewpoint so that they will be, by association, accepted as funny or popular amongst the frequent users and viewers of that website’s forums or comment sections. Positive or negative, these people NEED you to know that they have an opinion and that it is valid, in order to validate themselves. If anyone else has a differing opinion these same people feel that their validity is threatened, and thus their popularity or comedic value is threatened. They must retaliate with obscure facts, a reaffirmation of their opinion and/or an insult to the other person’s validity to establish their superiority. I won’t go as far as to assume anything about anyone’s personal lives or mental state. You probably thought that there was more to that sentence, but there isn’t. I won’t.

                I want to go ahead and put out a disclaimer: I do not post in forums or comment sections. Yes, I realize I am writing in extreme detail about things that are purely my own opinion and I do consider myself to be funny. The caveat to that is the part where my opinion is all there is on the Brain Droppings section of the powerupsnotincluded page, so don’t be surprised if you come here and you find my personal feelings about stuff splattered incoherently on the wall like it’s a prison cell for the criminally insane. If you have an opinion differing from mine and want to discuss it with some class and respect, I don’t mind you sharing it in the comments section below.

                With that out of the way, I will tell you the second thing I want you to take away from this article: HAVE AN OPINION, AND LET IT BE YOUR OWN. Don’t be one of those people who say “Yeah, I’m a Patriot’s fan!” and then can’t name anybody on the team other than Tom Brady. That’s like false claiming, and in the right context can get you killed by people of a rival gang or just people from Oakland. Seriously, can the Raiders lose a home game and there NOT be a stabbing or shooting in the stadium or parking lot afterwards? Relating this to video games, don’t be all “Halo is WAY better than Call of Duty!” when you’ve never played CoD. The vice-versa is just as ignorant, Black Ops 2 players. Whatever fanbase you are a part of might overall feel a certain way, but I’m willing to bet only half of them actually have the experience to back up their opinion and say it is their own.

                Also, I want you all to remember that you are adults. If you aren’t, then act like one for the sake of maturity. You wouldn’t nitpick Grandma’s grits when the eggs and pancakes are amazing, you would just find a way to either choke it down without making a face or say “Man, I’m full” before getting to it. It’s a small detail, and you have to admit that overall Granny makes a badass breakfast. In the same respect, don’t complain about one small aspect of a movie or game when the whole product is overall entertaining. When I first watched 28 Days Later, I didn’t enjoy seeing a man’s genitals in the opening scene of the movie. The rest of the movie was pretty good, so I let it slide when formulating my personal opinion. Also, I can’t STAND it when people refer to The Watchmen as ‘That movie with the blue penis’. It’s, like, 2 seconds of the movie and the camera doesn’t zoom in or anything on Dr. Manhattan’s junk. If you’re a ten year old girl I can see how that small detail might have affected you in a larger way, but other than that people should get over it. What’s another movie with penises in it so I can make everyone uncomfortable with three references in a row…Any Given Sunday! Football player’s junk is out in the locker room, a place where that realistically happens often. It’s not like he was using it for anything at the moment, geez people get over it. Uncomfortable yet? Either way, you’re in luck because I don’t like talking about man-meat for more than one paragraph at a time. Told you I was funny.

These three are asking you which one of them is "biggest".

 

                A lot of movies and games, to the delight of many fans, have scenes of sexuality that go unnecessarily far, cussing that is not required for the movie/game to be enjoyable and other content that renders the particular movie/game as something I refuse to expose my kids to. I can play Skyrim all day long, but Fallout 3 I have to play when the young’uns aren’t around. I get it, the words that come out of your mouth when you might not live another day in a shithole wasteland because you either got gutted by a terrifying creature or raped/killed by bandits might not be the most kid-friendly words. I understand that…but I would consider letting my kids play that game at a much younger age if the bad language wasn’t there. This is an aspect that causes me to have a slightly negative opinion about an otherwise great game. Case in point: The Incredibles. Tell me you weren’t entertained by that movie, despite the fact that it didn’t have a single cussword or family-unfriendly scene. Single dudes or parents that have older kids might not even consider this when formulating their opinion, but I have to. The best Batman games of ALL TIME, and I can’t let my kids play them because of the language. Top Gun. Avatar. The A-Team. Scott Pilgrim. SO many entertaining movies have those one or two things about them that make it unacceptable to show to my kids. I sometimes do it anyways (I used Avatar as a testbed to see how my kids handled the cussing, and much to my delight they did not adopt the speech patterns of Sigourney Weaver), but I do some explaining beforehand and in most cases I am steadfast not to show it to them at all. Again, these things would not affect the opinion of a dude without kids and rightfully so. My opinion, due to my values, is going to be different. Other people might peg some movies as being too light on the mature content that I would see as just right. So, using the two things I said I wanted you all to take away from this article, I HAVE AN OPINION AND IT IS MY OWN and IF YOU HAVE A DIFFERENT OPINION THAT IS OKAY.

                And finally, as my last piece of advice for all you comment commandos out there, I ask that you have a purpose when you comment or post. Have something to add to the conversation, don’t just echo the crowd like a parrot with self-esteem issues (and a keyboard, and the mental capacity to communicate via written words…dammit I took it too far again, didn’t I?). Have your own opinion, even if it is similar to someone else’s opinion and you want to agree with certain aspects but disagree in others in order to further detail the argument to cover all aspects of the subject matter being discussed. Don’t just say “I disagree” and leave it at that, it doesn’t do anything for anybody. If you don’t really have an opinion, realize that you don’t HAVE to comment or post. Don’t just devolve into name-calling or copy/pasting something that someone else said that you thought was witty in order to validate your online credibility with others you will probably never meet. This ‘Holier Than Thou’ attitude is one that is prevalent on the internet, but that doesn’t mean it is the one you have to adopt. Stop telling people to ‘keep calm’, or that you are doing something ‘for the lulz’ just because you want to be a pompous asshole and invalidate someone’s argument for your own gain.

I was trying to find something topical, but this amused me so screw ya'll.

                So, in closing, instead of calling someone a dickmonkey, douchecanoe(you know who you are), douchemonkey, doucherocket, dickcanoe(doesn’t really work), polesmoker, jizzmaster zero, or just plain chicken(NOBODY calls me Chicken!), think about what you want to say and give YOUR opinion with some sort of clarity. I’m not saying don’t criticize stuff or people, because sometimes stuff and people suck. Thumper’s quote from Bambi may have worked for kids, but it just doesn’t work for adults so I’m going to change it:

“If you don’t have something worthwhile to say, don’t say anything at all.”

Thanks for reading. If you have any comments, be sure to share!

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Of Wolf and Man

Hunger.

Thirst.

Lack of safety.

These things will kill us, and in our daily lives we react to them. Humans, like any animal, are hardwired to survive during situations that threaten those basic needs. Take away the brattiest teenager’s iPad and stick him/her in a jungle and they will need food, water and safety. Charles Darwin said that it is not the strongest or most intelligent that survive, but instead those that are most adaptable to change. Therefore, in the case of our marooned bratty teenager sans distraction device, it is possible to either survive or die depending on that teenager’s willingness to change according to the situation. Some people might just sit there and wait for help, while others would assume no help is coming and try to satisfy the three basic needs of hunger, thirst and safety. Given 24 hours in a situation like that, reintroduce the teenager to his/her iPad and I bet that they see no importance to it if it cannot help them survive.

 

Now THIS is what a survivor looks like. Everyone take note. 

 

                Survival in video games has a very long history, with the term ‘Survival’ having many different definitions. In most games, survival is simply conservation of ammo and health. In a game, what were you willing to do in order to survive? In any Bethesda game you were most likely willing to steal things from good people and kill for reward. In most RPG’s, people are more than willing to endure unnecessary side quests in hopes of having access to new equipment. With safety being one of our key survival points, sometimes all that is required is to have the bigger stick or the thicker armor. Player skill comes into the equation as well, of course. Stephen Hawking said that it is not clear whether intelligence has any long-term survival value, but I think it is very clear that good strategy (which is usually intelligence mixed with common sense) is invaluable in any survival situation.

                After being in the military for a few years I tried to get into games like Call of Duty and Battlefield. I really enjoyed the single player campaigns, but to my surprise I was getting owned in the multiplayer by civilians with no training or maturity whatsoever. It was wholly frustrating, because the other players weren’t treating it like a military experience at all. Basic things like using cover and short, well-aimed bursts made the average player better but overall most people were just running around and killing each other. It was impossible to place the enemy line, pick a defensive firing position that wasn’t basically cheating and/or rally my teammates to clear areas of the map with me. Unbeknownst to me at the time, a great Military leader had some good advice for me. Anwar Sadat said “He who cannot change the very fabric of his thought will never be able to change reality, and will never, therefore, make any progress.” This was a game where my training was not useful at all. This was a situation where I COULD NOT survive using conventional tactics. Once I stopped focusing on what SHOULD work in the game and started memorizing the maps and their spawn points, cover spots and heavy traffic areas I started to do a lot better. Once I realized how most of the players reacted to different situations, I quickly learned how to get more kills. My survivability had exponentially improved.

 


                Over the past few months, one game has taken up most of my time: X-Com. This game is not perfect by any means, but it is an outstanding game regardless of its minor flaws. I think the thing that draws me back to it is the aspect of survival. If you aren’t successful in missions against the alien menace you don’t get a screen asking you to replay that mission. Instead, you have to deal with the casualties and newfound lack of confidence some nations will have in your ability to repel the extraterrestrial threat. Success doesn’t just mean you move on in the game, success means you have soldiers with combat experience and (through the support of confident nations) more money to spend on them. Each victory feels like a victory, and each defeat is a true blow dealt to the cause of humanity. The story behind the game is a little weak, but it’s all just a backdrop to the give/take, risk=reward strategy of managing an international organization of E.T. killers. It’s not very often a thinking man’s console game arrives, and we shouldn’t squander the opportunity to cherish it now that it has.

                What about future games? Naughty Dog’s upcoming game Last of Us looks amazing, but is it more or less a 3D Platform/Puzzle game or is there a real survival aspect to it? The complete truth will be evident next year sometime, I guess. The same goes for the new Tomb Raider game, which looks like it will be a more mature and graphics-intensive upgrade to “more of the same” gameplay we’ve come to expect from the franchise. There’s usually not a whole lot of deviation to these games, leaving a linear experience that you probably won’t play through completely more than once without some catchy, unlockable incentive. A franchise I’ve been looking forward to seeing the next installment of is The Walking Dead by TellTale. This is a game that has held nothing back, even with its limited capabilities. When you aren’t walking around finding stuff and talking to people, you pretty much survive through one of a couple mini-events that challenge your reaction time and ability to work under pressure. The thing I like most about this series so far, which comes out in sequential episodes, is that you get to make real choices. Two people are about to die, and you can only save one. The story changes based on your decision during these critical moments, and you have to act fast. The concepts of morality, loyalty and practicality are at constant odds with one another. It may not be the most difficult game to grasp and is very linear during a majority of the game when you aren’t making big decisions, but as a big fan of the comic book and TV show I have to say that the cameos of familiar characters and the idea that I can go back and change everything in a separate playthrough when the final episode comes out here pretty soon keeps me wanting more. I can only hope that the Walking Dead shooter starring Daryl Dixon is more than a cash-in on one of the series’ most beloved characters.

                From old-school RPG’s to newer games to long-standing franchises that keep coming back at us bigger and better than before, survival is a core concept to a lot of these games. Some, like Fallout: New Vegas, hit us over the head with the survival aspect by including their Hardcore mode. Others, such as The Walking Dead, use survival as an excuse to force us into tough decisions a la Choose Your Own Adventure. In the case of multiplayer shooters, survival is a skill that is acquired and sharpened with experience. Our instinct to survive does not separate Wolf and Man; as I said before, it is hardwired in all living things to endure whatever comes. What does separate Wolf and Man is the ability to quickly adapt to our surroundings and operate within the new circumstances. Do video games mentally prepare us for potential survival situations, or do they cause us to become disillusioned to the danger of such a thing? That I do not know, but I’ll leave you with a quote from the great Chuck Palahniuk:

“On a large enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero.”

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Nothing Else Matters

Occasionally, when the stars align properly, I have days when I work from home. I actually should put it this way…I “Work” from home. On these special days, there is a myriad of tasks I could get done. Today, I could have mowed the lawn. I could have cleaned out the garage(again), or cleaned the house,  or written an article for my page on powerupsnotincluded.com…but I played Borderlands 2 instead. You’re damn right I took the rare opportunity to play a video game for six straight hours without interruption from spouse or spawn! Such an occasion is rare for a married father of two who doesn’t want his kids to grow up useless to society. As much as I love my wife and kids, my all-day affair with my oldest mistress was exactly what I needed to invigorate me for the normal home life again.

Hell, I even made dinner tonight. Pork roast with a peach chutney. Suck it, Emeril Lagasse.

                For a gamer with obsessive/addictive personality traits, there is nothing more relaxing than pretending that nothing else matters for a while, giving in fully to the urges I have to just play games all day. It is impossible for me to forget completely my responsibilities, but this day offered to me as much of a reprieve as was possible. With a friend who just so happened to be home at the time, I blazed through the levels in Borderlands 2 and probably respecced my character three times trying to find out the best build for a Siren. Without distraction, I was able to fully enjoy the game’s charm (Tiny Tina is now a permanent member of the “Random voices in my head” club) and fully engage in the action.

If you haven't met Tiny Tina, you haven't truly lived. 

                Like any dream, however, it had to end. As I powered off my Xbox and picked up my scraps of snack food before the family started coming in from work and school, I remembered an old co-worker I lived in the same neighborhood with who complained about his kids and wife disturbing his gaming sessions. The dude would literally send his kids outside to play “until the street lights came on” under the guise of being an old-school father figure, but then he would play Everquest all day. And all night Friday night. And then sleep away a perfectly good Saturday, waking up in time for the raid Saturday night and growling angrily at anyone who disturbed him beforehand. Did I mention the town we lived in was a mere 30 minutes from the beach? I don’t think he ever went, though he did complain at work that his wife always wanted to go. He explained that there wasn’t really anything special about the beach, exhibiting a standpoint of supposed practicality and shrewdness to cover for the fact that he really just wanted to play Everquest. His kids practically lived at the neighborhood playground during their daily exile, and I occasionally would catch them doing all sorts of shady things with all sorts of shady people. What outcome was expected? They were being raised by their ‘friends’ at the playground. I felt sorry for the kids, and I often considered scolding the co-worker for forcing his family into such a life. I only said something to him about the issue once, trying to be as reasonable and comforting as I could possibly muster, and realized that the man was truly afflicted with an addiction to gaming when he snapped back at me with hate and nonsense.

                I guess the thing I liked least about working with this person was the fact that he talked about Everquest ALL THE TIME. Did I ever get an informal, thought-provoking review from this gentleman? Nope, I got story after prideful story of how he would grief people and cheat. He was the poster child for why I don’t play MMO’s anymore. Well, that and the fact that I can’t guarantee my playtimes due to family obligations. Unlike my co-worker I have been describing, family comes first. It has to, regardless of what game comes out or who wants you to come to join in on some multiplayer action. If I was a single guy you would have to peel me from my couch with a giant spatula to get me to go anywhere, and I would probably just pause the game and turn off the TV so it was ready the second I came back. Married guys like to say things like “At least I’m not going out to the bar like whats-his-face does, would you rather me do that and spend $80 a week or stay home?” C’mon, Son! If you were doing that, you’d have a lot more problems than explaining away your gaming addiction and why it has to affect your relationships with your immediate family.

Ed Lover does NOT approve of your gaming addiction excuses, and wants you to pay attention to yo' damn kids!

                Reader, if you take away anything from this article let it be this: Everquest sucks, and with great gaming comes great responsibility. As someone who grew up getting yelled at for bothering a Dad who was totally enamored with strategy games on the NES (Look up Shingen the Ruler; I still hum the tune without realizing it sometimes) and completely addicted to the original Starcraft, I knew that the most important thing about being a Gamer Dad was that the wife and kids will always come first. I try and set the example for my little zerglings, limiting my gaming during their waking hours but demonstrating during those sessions that the video game is not my true priority.

                I am a gamer and a father. Only by prioritizing those roles can I have the best of both worlds. When it comes down to it I intend to create intelligent kids, who will themselves learn to balance their efforts and never have to be told by life to “Spawn More Overlords”.

                And, as a responsible father, I will never let them read my articles. I mean, seriously, have you read Charlie’s Game Ideas? In one of them I fantasize about Batman injuring children…totally unrelated to the fact that I have some living with me. I mean, Batman saves people from Scarecrows and Jokers and Killer Crocs, why can’t he save me sometimes from my freakin’ kids? With a batarang? Explosive Batarang. No, seriously, I’m kidding. Seriously. Kidding. I’m seriously kidding about being serious. All serious kidding aside, seriously, I love my family. Everything else comes second. Nothing else matters. 

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Wherever I May Roam

                My mission, if I chose to accept it, was to ride a motorcycle at high speeds down an airstrip and onto a C-130 while its occupants shoot at me. Once aboard the aircraft it would take off to an altitude of several thousand feet. I would get into a gunfight with the occupants, plant a bomb and then jump out with my trusty parachute to safety. As amazing a feat as completing this mission seemed, what actually happened was far more awesome than I could have imagined.

                See, it took me two tries to hit the cargo ramp of the C-130 just right with the motorcycle without running into one of the barrels my enemies were tossing at me from the open cargo ramp, leading me to believe that I had a boss fight with Donkey Kong coming up. That wasn’t true, but one can dream. Once aboard the aircraft, the gunfight with a few government agents (or whoever they were) was easy enough. All I had to do then was plant a bomb (Press “X” here) and jump out with my parachute. All was going well as my camo-and-cowboy-boots version of Carl Johnson leapt from the plane and immediately popped his chute. About this time, I noticed an altimeter on the right side of the screen with an indicator at the 500 feet mark telling me that I should wait until then to pop my chute. Another indicator on the altimeter marked my current altitude…at a few thousand feet.

                I slowly descended upon San Andreas, having no idea where I would land. I got up, made a drink, came back, texted my brother, played with my floating character for a while, and I still was only halfway down from where I had jumped out of the plane. After an agonizing few minutes of falling, finally I touched down in a military compound of sorts. Camouflaged men swarmed to my position and after a mere few seconds of gunplay my health bar was almost completely diminished. I had to do something to keep from dying, so I ran into a nearby hangar for a moment’s reprieve and found my saving grace: A friggin’ tank. I imagined the military force outside, guns ready, their leader saying something like “We got ‘im on the run, boys!”. I also imagined the looks on their faces when the hangar door opened and I came barreling out in their rolling fortress of doom and terror to exact my retribution for the hostility shown to me upon my arrival. After I was done running over and/or blowing up everyone, I figured it was time to go back to the airfield I owned and park my new toy in the hangar for safekeeping. After about a 5 minute drive, I was there. I had made it! I got out of the tank feeling pride, but not from completing the assigned mission. No, I felt this pride from getting that kind of non-scripted experience from a video game and surviving it.

                Could another game ever give me that experience? The first time I ever wandered into Old Olney in the Capital Wasteland was a memory I will hold forever. I got maybe a hundred yards into the city before I wondered what the deal was because there were no NPC’s or enemies about. It turns out I had walked through a Deathclaw’s patrol route at just the right time so he didn’t see me! Before I knew it, I was in a nightmare world of Deathclaw doom where running FROM one meant running INTO another. The place was crawling with the things, and having never actually run into one of these creatures before it was one of the most frightening experiences I ever had on a video game. I even tried to escape through a sewer tunnel, only to find out how bad of a decision it was to find myself in an enclosed space with a Deathclaw instead of somewhere out in the open. That was where I died, but I wasn’t the least bit upset about it because of how insanely cool it was to have such an unscripted yet visceral experience from a game.

                The Grand Theft Auto series wasn’t the first to have an open world the player could explore at his/her will, but they did do a lot to progress the “Sandbox” type of game. The formula they used was (in my opinion) perfected in GTA: San Andreas, a game marred by criticism for its mature content. Like I said, though, they weren’t the first to have an open world. The Fallout series had been sporting an open world since 1997, though not from the perspective we have become accustomed to in Fallout 3. One might think that the most appealing nature of having such a broad expanse of territory to explore is that it gives the overall game experience a level of depth otherwise unobtainable, and that is quite true. Riding around on a horse in the 1998 hit The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was really cool for its time, but 14 years later The Elder Scrolls is fully capitalizing on that experience by delivering randomized events for the wandering adventurer. A dragon, an assassin, an orc who wants to die, guards transporting prisoners that are either political allies or enemies of the player, all sorts of things can happen when traversing between towns or missions. The first time I came upon a giant and a dragon fighting each other I sat and watched. The dragon’s appearance was meant to be a challenge for my character, but the giant had been scripted to not take kindly to any trespasser. The dragon won, and when I went into the fight I had to take on the dragon AND a few territorial mammoths the giant had left unguarded.

                In the Spider-Man 2 movie game, the open world provided a most awesome setting for a web-swinging simulator. I’m sure citizens of New York can attest to the geographical exactness of the game, though for the record I am not jealous about the fact that nobody ever made an open-world superhero game about Fayetteville, NC. In the game, however, most everything was a triggered event. There weren’t any opportunities for something actually spectacular to happen that would stick in your memory for years to come. I’m not so naïve’ to think that Skyrim or GTA has a truly organic world where everything is happenstance, but it’s a lot easier to believe when events take place that the player cannot easily recreate. Those games are just lines of code like any other, but the games were coded so that the possibilities of abnormal occurrences are more frequent by not perfectly timing and scripting every little step in the adventurer’s path.

                This article is a salute to the open world game, which has no doubt in its many different forms provided unique and unforgettable experiences to the player who is not intimidated by its enormity. If walking across a map for 30 minutes and not reaching the other side doesn’t sound like a fun time to you, go play Dr. Mario. I can’t wait to play games like Dishonored, which provides a more civilized open-world setting than what I am used to but no doubt will have me pushing the boundaries of its “choose your own adventure” style of gameplay.

Now, picture AC/DC singing a slightly varied rendition of one of their famous tunes:

For those about to walk…we salute you.

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Sad But True

     Blood dripping from her snarling face, the zombie charged full speed towards me. As I swung my trusty machete, I tried to find some way of forgiving myself for hitting a girl. Unexpectedly, the blade landed perfectly on her neck and sliced clean through her spine. As the head fully disconnected from the torso and twirled, seemingly suspended in the air in front of my face, I wondered how pretty she was before…before everything went to Hell. I forced myself to remember those first moments, how the monsters had chased me and made all my friends and family like them. Anytime I started to feel the slightest bit of compassion or consider them human I reminded myself of having to shoot a young boy before he turned into one of them. His eyes proved that he was scared, but he begged me to do it.

“Go on,” he sobbed, “I don’t wanna hurt nobody, Mister. I don’t wanna hurt nobody.” He repeated the sentence as a mantra, the bite on his shoulder accenting his words with a truth that could not be avoided. He would turn into one of them and kill if I didn’t handle it right then, and he was begging for me to handle it. There were two shots left in the revolver I had taken from an older gentleman who had asked me to use it on him less than an hour before; now, as the head I had just severed floated in front of my face for what seemed like minutes, I considered it pure naiveté that I didn’t use the second bullet on myself after putting the first into the young boy’s left temple.

                My train of thought was broken as the undead lady’s head landed with a wet thud on the wooden deck outside of a beach cabin. My ears perked up, listening for other things. Other Zombies, I thought in disbelief. I heard a scream, but it wasn’t from a zombie. A human scream, scared of something. Despite my gut reaction to run and/or hide, I followed another instinct I didn’t quite understand. I ran towards the noise, and though the banging got louder and louder I could not be turned away from the thought of saving someone. I was tired of killing, I was tired of showing mercy to scared little boys and old men and I was tired of being absolutely terrified by these damned Zombies. I rounded the corner to another beach cabin to see a bloody, crazed guy in board shorts and an Affliction t-shirt banging with futility on a locked door. On the other side of the door, I could hear a girl scream.

“No, Tommy, stop it Tommy no Tommy don’t hurt me stop goawaystopgoawayTommystop!”

“Hey Tommy!” I yelled. He turned, but the movement wasn’t human. A chill ran up my spine, but I stood my ground. The tactical advantage of not having become undead being what it is, Tommy put his hands out in front of him and charged while I pulled out the old revolver and shot him in the forehead. I stepped over my enemy’s corpse, knocked ever so politely on the door to the cabin in an attempt to not scare the girl that was inside, and spoke the ever-calming words “It’s safe. You can open the door now.” The door creaked open to reveal a pretty face with wide, terrified eyes. She looked at Tommy, who lay still in front of the cabin with a pool of blood forming around his head, and then looked at me. I expected some form of thanks for my unselfish act. I expected her to act relieved that her life was no longer in danger…I could never have expected what she said next:

“Can you find my Teddy Bear?”

 

                She had to have been kidding. I mean, there’s NO way in hell she could care about a damned teddy bear during a zombie apocalypse. Then again, there was that one girl who asked me to bring her champagne. Oh, and that guy who needed to nurse his hangover with 17 bottles of whiskey. Did I mention I was on a place commonly referred to as Dead Island?

                The setup for a serious video game setting is always meant to be taken seriously by the player, so why is it that some of the quests or actions in the game are so mundane and ridiculously stupid? If aliens are invading, I will NOT find batteries for your Game Boy. If zombies are eating people, I don’t give a crap if you like champagne or need your teddy bear. If I’m Batman and the Joker is trying to kill everyone in an entire city, I don’t have TIME for all of your silly RIDDLES! The only time I feel more slighted than when these unbelievably insane tidbits are put into a game is when they are listed as a FEATURE. Who cares about saving Skyrim from the impending Dragon-Doom or hunting the Vampire threat highlighted in the latest DLC, you need to spend countless hours building your house and filling it with stuff you can otherwise find just fine in each and every city you visit…amirite? Hearthfire can suck a big one, I’m tired of something as retarded as that being labeled as “Content”.

                You have a house, and you can design the house and what goes in it. You can get married, and you can acquire kids by some process. You know where else I can do that? I’m pretty sure I’ll think of it the next time I’m telling one of my REAL kids for the millionth time to clean their room. Seriously, the last thing I want is for a digital wife to nag at me for not taking out the trash while a real wife nags at me for playing a video game and not taking out the trash.

                With Dead Island, it was hard to accept the idea that one NPC would ask me to take on the daunting task of killing his undead wife and child while the next NPC asked me to do something as menial as put up some posters around the city or finding that damned teddy bear. Some people wouldn’t care in the least: “Teddy bear, got it, kill zombies, level up. Kill family, got it, let’s kill zombies and level up.” That mentality is one I can’t maintain, because video games like Skyrim or Dead Island are not meant to be beaten. They are meant to be experienced. Not everyone realizes this, I think, and I find it sad but true.

                Next time you are saving the town/country/planet/universe from some overbearing threat, think about it before you accept a quest to pick up someone’s dry cleaning or grab some milk from the grocery store on your way home. Have some standards, don’t do it even if it gives you experience points or in-game currency for doing so. Developers need to know that we deal with tedious, everyday tasks every stinkin’ day and it doesn’t count as entertainment any more just because we do it with a controller.

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The Struggle Within

So the intent of this article was to explain why I think video games are the best medium to tell a story, but something interesting happened: I disagreed with myself. I guess I never realized that my movie buff persona, Charlie Mac, would feel so strongly about Charlie Mic the gamer dissing his favorite story format. 

Below is the transcription of how it went down:

 

Charlie Mic: Video game characters are developed differently than their counterparts in books or movies. In books, everything the character thinks can be written out for the reader’s intake or concealed to create intrigue. In movies and television, with the exception of Rorschach and Dexter Morgan, we usually don’t know even close to everything that the on-screen characters are thinking. This is a good tool for building an interest in what happens next. Video games get to mix these as much as possible, but since the player is playing as the character, they might feel the need to want to imagine the thoughts and motives of the character themselves. Over the course of the game, the player can develop their version of the character on the screen and thus get a tailor-made experience they could enjoy better than being force-fed every detail by a book or movie. I can’t tell you how many replays of Mario 64 were made simply because of some interesting additive my young imagination applied to the character, such as a Military background or an Australian accent.

 

"Jersey Shore Mario Bros" was a sad day for imaginations everywhere. 

 

Charlie Mac: Video games are becoming more and more like interactive movies, so your point is null and void. While you do control an avatar, you control it through an experience that you don’t control. While some games sport triggered events or a series of text boxes to move along the narrative, others were just blatantly showing you short movies between specially crafted levels and set pieces. The connection a player may feel with the character is a deceptive one, because no matter what you imagine about Mario he is either going to survive or fail based on player skill. At least movies don’t try to trick you; they simply present the experience with no annoying collectibles, achievements, side quests or anything else that could distract you from a focused experience. You get the entire story in 2 or 3 hours, not 100+.

Charlie Mic: I can’t agree with you less. Ever play Dead Space? As a movie, Dead Space would have been interesting and scary. As a video game, it terrified me. The difference between a truly scary movie and a truly scary game is that in a movie there is no risk for the viewer (other than the risk of wasting money if it sucks). Every good character could die in a movie, and you would say “Wow, that’s different.” In a game, the player has invested time and effort to survive those scripted experiences you speak of. While the risk isn’t quite as heavy as if someone killed you in real life, there is still an amount of terror that comes from something threatening to send you back to your last save point. Try traversing the subway tunnels in Fallout 3 with low ammo and tell me if you don’t feel a little horrified by the idea of having to do it again if you fail. In this respect, games have a definite advantage over movies because the player feels a personal pride when their avatar accomplishes something instead of just saying “Oh, that was cool” When John McClane kills that helicopter with a car.

 

Beat that, Dirty Harry.

 

Charlie Mac: Let’s talk about Fallout 3. What happens when you reach the edge of a world map? What goes through the player’s mind when you have collision detection errors in a game that cause enemies to walk through walls or get stuck half-in and half-out of a brick building? The immersion aspect is lost, and there is nothing more frustrating than unexplained tidbits such as that. They’ve been trying to fix things like that for years. In a game that tries so hard to immerse a player in the game world such as Fallout 3, how silly did you think it was when you took well-aimed shots with your hunting rifle and totally missed the mark because your character’s Small Guns stat wasn’t high enough? Did you feel rewarded for your efforts? No, you didn’t; instead you felt like you were playing a video game. When Keanu Reeves started dodging bullets in The Matrix, you felt rewarded. When Yoda broke out with some crazy Jedi skills at the end of Episode 2, you felt rewarded. You would not have felt rewarded if Greedo killed Han Solo because Han lagged out and therefore couldn’t shoot first. You would not have felt rewarded if the Tyrannosaurus had boosted his Perception statistic (thus modifying his visual acuity to detect prey that wasn’t moving) and ate Jeff Goldblum.

Charlie Mic: I don’t know about that one…

Charlie Mac: Good point, we’ll go with Sam Neill. Or one of the kids. Both of the kids.

Charlie Mic: Meh, have you seen what that little girl looks like now?

Charlie Mac: Okay, just the dudes. Jurassic Park should have been just hot chicks and dinosaurs anyway. What I’m trying to say is that while game mechanics create a good experience for someone playing a game, it does not positively affect the story. On that same token, the harder a game tries to tell a story usually means the less diverse and challenging the game is. If the game wants to tell a story, they don’t want to have someone go through too much trouble to get that story. Story limits the game, game limits the story. This is why movies are better for telling stories, because in games there are no decided boundaries to how much a developer should focus on story and that leaves some players unsatisfied because they felt that the experience could have been better with more/less story than what the game offered. With movies, everything is done in the name of story. You don’t need skill to watch a movie. While you would probably list it as a “feature”, I list interaction as a downside to any experience trying to tell a story because it compromises the decisive integrity of that story.

 

Well, instead of continuing to argue with...myself...I think the best way to do this is open it up in the comments section. What do you think is the better story medium, video games or movies? Personally, I think video gameshutup, movies are better. I mean, it's not like Mic and Mac have been fighting in my head ever since the conception of this article or anything. Really, I'm fine. I'll just go watch a movie play a video game or something.

Joe's Apartment is in the PS3 already. No it's not. I don't even like that movfucking love that movie. 

Please help me.

Most Romantic movie ever, ladies. Who wants to watch?


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Intemectual Legitmussey

                Let’s face it: Everything has already been done. We’ve got shooters, RPG’s, strategy games, platformers, action games, puzzle games, rhythm games, fighting games, flying games, sports games, and licensed games based on every semi-profitable and popular facet of our society(yes, including Barbie).  While certain twists remain unexplored (sometimes for good reason, sometimes not), a vast majority of possible plotlines and game mechanics have been delivered to us interactively. The truth is that there just isn’t a whole lot out there that hasn’t been at least grazed by the creative bullets of video game developers. While the biggest selling titles invoke mass attempts at replication by the big gaming companies, usually those attempts fall short. Why, we ask as gamers, do attempts at recreating the success of fantastic games almost always disappoint? The answer is simple: Those companies are indeed attempting to recreate the SUCCESS of the successful video game. They aren’t nearly as concerned with recreating or improving upon the elements that made the original game a success to begin with. This behavior is classified as goal-oriented development.

                What about the games that innovate, present something new to the player or successfully improve on the mechanics of an old favorite game? These developers seem more interested in showing off the novelty of their creation. We’ll call this behavior process-oriented development. As both a disclaimer and to support this article’s intellectual legitimacy, let it be known that I did not create the terms goal-oriented and process-oriented. These terms can maintain relevancy in countless facets of society…but, you see, there’s this webpage called Power-Ups Not Included, and it’s about video games, and you’re reading it so shutup if you don’t like my usage of the terms. You shut your Pie-Dumpster right now or Daddy will shut it for you!

 Now that’s what I call intellectual legitimacy! Ahem, where were we…

                Oh, right. Did you ever have a friend who effortlessly was more successful with the opposite sex than you were, and he didn’t even seem to try or care? Putting on too much cologne and using silly pickup lines are Goal-Oriented activities; you only have the end result of successfully wooing a member of the opposite sex in mind. A process-oriented ‘playa’ only goes places he wants to go because he wants to have a good time, and if that place happens to be a place where he can meet people who are also only there to have a good time, then maybe the best way for them to have a good time is with each other.

                If only game developers were process oriented, trying to make the best game possible and grow their talents instead of taking a goal-oriented standpoint of trying to maximize their profit…imagine if the WarHammer 40K: Space Marine game fully embraced the source material it was derived from, instead of creating a Gears of War clone. Imagine what awesomeness could come from a Thor or Iron-Man game if as much care was taken with them as was Rocksteady’s Batman franchise. Dammit, why don’t we have a GOOD Star Trek simulation game? Instead of greatness, these development studios limit themselves with timelines and precedence. In the case of most games based on movies, the contract requires that the game come out in conjunction with the movie to maximize the profit and exposure of the intellectual property, meaning that a lot of polish and innovation is skipped because of a deadline. To go one step further, game companies know roughly how much profit these movie tie-ins usually make and will only budget the studio with so much money for development, further dooming the final product to mediocrity or worse. So, there you have it: Developers purposefully do not make the best game they can because you’re stupid enough to see Taylor Lautner or Chuck Norris on the front and buy it anyways. Cut it out, I say! Show some restraint, gamers!

                I remember playing WildTangent’s Fate for the first time and becoming more enamored with it than I had any major release in a while. I also remember downloading a game called King’s Bounty on a Steam sale and spending half of a deployment overseas enjoying the series. Mind you, I’m not one of those guys who refuses to buy major titles because it makes me feel like a non-conformist; I simply think that there’s a significant difference between Asura’s Wrath and Devil May Cry if you know what I mean. One is a streamlined and mish-mashed game that should have never existed, and the other is Devil May Cry.

                This article began with the declaration that there is no uncharted territory in gaming, but it will end with a statement that is completely contradicting. I want to see what else can be done; I want to see something come out of nowhere and blow my mind, whether it is something like Fall of Cybertron that I thought would never happen or something like the Arkham games where I had just previously accepted unsatisfactory performance from a genre and was proven wrong. Dishonored is a title that looks like it is on the right path. Bioshock Infinite is looking to take the fame of the previous installments to a new height (see what I did there?), and I don’t think I can imagine how much joy X-Com is going to bring to the table for me. Seek out the brightest lights in this dark and saturated hobby we partake in, fellow gamers, and maybe one day they’ll stop making the dim titles that only frustrate the fans who were focused on the possibilities and were blind-sided by the truth. 

Thanks for reading this article and the others(you DID read the OTHERS, right? RIGHT!?!?!?), gimme some comments and we can argue on the internet like we were young again. Sigh...

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The Blue Harvest of Roddenberries

You may want to don equipment that has a +INT attribute, because we are cranking up the Nerd Level to maximum warp and diverting shield power to thrusters in order to investigate a premise hairier than the indigenous population of Kashyyyk. We will boldly go where no gaming article has gone before, but be careful: It’s a trap! We will attempt a metaphorical ‘Blue Harvest’ of whatever Roddenberry and Lucas can teach us about our own gaming tastes through the differences in their respective iconic science fiction series, Star Trek and Star Wars.

 

Spock is almost certainly one of the Storm Troopers, laughing his ass off. 

 

Star Wars promotes a grand universe from which to tell extravagant stories about characters, one where you always feel like so many other stories are happening and not just the one you are seeing at the moment. It is also a world where almost anything is possible...so long as a Jedi or Sith is around. Star Wars always has The Force to use as a shiny plot device for every escape and defeat in the series in order to continue its haphazard plot that really only has one or two things you couldn’t have guessed. Imagine Star Wars without the force, and if you come up with anything cooler than Wing Commander let me know.

Star Trek is a little more focused, providing us with a usually desolate version of space with which to tell an isolated story and compel us to utilize what we already know about the universe and story to appreciate the intelligence behind the plot. The major turning points in the plot are not stumbled upon, but are the specifically designed reason for everything else in that particular episode of the show. A lot of the answers to the intellectual riddle of each episode, it often seemed to the show’s discredit, was created for the individual purpose of that episode. How could they possibly escape the <insert looming threat here> without the <insert previously unannounced or discovered use of technology here>? They couldn’t have, really, but that usually didn’t detract from the intelligence and entertainment value of the show. Usually.

Aren’t differences between video games much the same? You have several games whose basic premise is not unlike a model similar to Star Wars such as Bioshock, where the pretty mutations you can cause your character are both part of the story and a propellant of it. Throughout the game you feel as if there is always more going on, like the main character is a stranger in an already existent world and that world is reacting to his presence. I really felt like Rapture had a history before I crash-landed there and killed everything inside. When you put it that way, I kind of feel like a douche. A kid-killing douche who was intolerant of people just because they were plagued with the disposition of insanity and/or a thirst for a mutagenic substance known as Adam. Okay, maybe not that much of a douche because those little girls were CREEPY. 

Anyone think it weird that Bioshock is all about the decision of whether or not to "Harvest" little girls? I tried to not think about it. 

 

Then you have games like God of War that, in relation to our current metaphor, resemble Star Trek a little bit more. This game felt like everything that was happening was only there for the purpose of Kratos to deal with, and every character only existed so Kratos could beat them up or have sex with them (Decisions, decisions...). Not unlike Star Trek, resolutions to problems are conjured through manipulation of existing conditions unbeknownst to the player. Every time you come across a door that needs a special key conspicuously hidden in a room inhabited by either a new enemy or a previously unmatched combination and number of old enemies you can’t help but wonder “Did they put that there just for me?”. Kind of ruins the immersion, honestly, though the challenge to my badass skills as Kratos was usually welcome. Usually.  

Star Wars has this underlying religious tone in regards to its content, though not in the sense of the Christian religion. It just always has you thinking about the many mysteries of an invisible, all-present and constantly unbalanced force known as...the...Force...and how powerful an individual can become whilst using it. As the movies and games have showed us, the powers of the force can be very powerful indeed. This goes to further nurture ideas that one could be even more powerful than what we have seen up to this point, though we may never see those ideas come to fruition. The picture from The Force Unleashed where Starkiller brings down an entire Starship to me was an amazing one, and a great example of not really being surprised by an image so much as being satisfied by it.

Pedestrians have the right of way...or else. 

 

Star Trek, on the other hand, has the fault of always using these decidedly God-Like characters to test the puny mortals aboard the Enterprise. The creators of these episodes probably wanted to state clearly that simply overpowering the situation was not an option for the Enterprise crew, forcing them into outsmarting their predicament while the looming threat of being one-shotted was upon them. As earlier stated, the turning points in the plot were sometimes so much the focus of that particular episode that the substance ended up rather absolute(read: dull). I sometimes wonder if Gene Roddenberry ever did acid, honestly.

Video games sometimes take the same roads; the main draw for some RPG fans is seeing how powerful the game was designed to let you become. It usually isn’t as extravagant as your wildest imagining, as is the case with Star Wars(Unless someone can destroy a planet using just the Force), but still you yearn for every level. Kingdoms of Amalur made a critical mistake, in my opinion, of showing off every move you could eventually get in the game via the help menu. I was a dagger and chakra wielding character, and after perusing the help menu and watching all the animations for the other weapons I decided I would stay with that choice. There was no drive to level up, which would have kept me from playing if it wasn’t for the story. The game, like Star Wars, was set in a world that felt alive; Salvatore had written probably his best non-D&D universe in Kingdoms of Amalur, and my character’s story had to do with what changes I made within that world using a previously unmastered “force”.  

On the other side of the coin, you have games that forego story in favor of testing a player’s skill in any given situation. If I had to categorize Call of Duty in our Star Trek/Wars metaphor, MW3 would definitely be in the Star Trek category. As with most shooter games, the story is used solely as a reason to present you with different situations to overcome. In the single-player mode, you can’t just run-and-gun through many of the missions. The game displays a linearity that ushers you between set pieces and forces your hand in using a myriad of suggested(read: the only way to stay alive) weapons and tactics in order to provide a varied, albeit symmetrical, gameplay experience. The multiplayer has a progressive leveling component to it, but this system is really just a backdrop alongside the medals and other things you can display next to your gamertag to instill a need in all players to keep up with the camouflaged Joneses. If you reach General level, you’ve pretty much got all the weapons and upgrades you need for battle. All along, the game relies heavily on the player’s skill on that map with that weapon compared to another player’s skill on that map with their own weapon. This game is always less about an immersive experience and more about skill, as is Star Trek compared to Star Wars.

"Captain Picard is not gay, he's British!" -Seth Rogen's Trekee character from "Fan Boys"

Star Wars gives you a maximum of three movies to know and love most characters in the series. With the exception of Yoda, of course. This means that they have essentially seven hours of time to tell their story and perform some memorable character development, while at the same time convincing you of their universe and finding time to move along that pesky plot. Lucas had his hands full, you can imagine. There are advantages to this approach: How much more complex could Han Solo have really been? I think he’s just fine with the biggest argument about his character being whether he shot Greedo first. How much time could you have really spent with Luke Skywalker before his informative, audience-assisting “What is that? Why is this that way?” mentality became stale? The answer is two-and-a-half movies, or until his transformation on Dagobah just in time for the finale. Without expanding on the character too much, you only have to dive so far into their psyche and that allows for a more broad-stroked, generalized persona that the audience can generally identify with in place of a persona you will have to deal with the antics of for another six seasons.

Star Trek: The Next Generation had 178 Episodes and four Feature-Length movies. I’m not going to insult you with math, but it’s pretty safe to say that Star Trek had a lot more time to develop their characters and gradually introduce concepts. In the series, for example, we see young Wesley Crusher (dubbed the worst Star Trek character of all time, despite being named after the creator) go from early teens to a lightly seasoned Starfleet Officer. Every episode is another chance to touch on Wharf’s Klingon sensibilities, the relationship between Will Riker and Deanna Troi, or the android Data’s quest to become more human (which gets pretty good when they install an “emotion chip” in his CPU); over the span of several years, Star Wars fans have had the same two sets of three movies to watch the story of their favorite characters while Star Trek has had several weeks worth of material...and it shows. The extra time allotted to Star Trek allows for refinement of characters, and gives the audience time to soak up what is currently available before bludgeoning them with anything more complicated.

To relate this point to video games, I’m going to use a game I previously related to Star Wars and now relate it to Star Trek. Freaky, right? Well, again, I am going to mention Kingdoms of Amalur, but this time I’m seasoning it with Roddenberries. The length of this game allows you to become more accustomed to the supporting characters before anything is ever changed about them. Characters such as Agarth and Alyn Shir are wonderfully scripted beyond what they could have been if this game only took 9 hours to complete. I wanted more from them, but also wanted to avoid the perils of cutscenes and conversations that outlasted their welcomes. A culprit of this tedious crime is a game that caused me more pain than a Vulcan neck pinch to purposefully not being complete: XenoSaga. It was ambitiously planned as a six-part series, but I don’t believe it ever made it past the third installment due to...everything. I became enthralled with this weird anime RPG, mainly because the premise and character development were so damn intriguing. The sometimes 30-minute long cutscenes did bother me, but I was somehow okay with that so long as the story maintained its awesomeness. The 60+ hours spent actually playing the game and the character/story development that accompanied it was like RPG heaven. The downside: The end of the first game teased at something greater, and then the story took a turn for the stupid in the beginning of the second game. I could no longer find the desire to sit through long cut-scenes because the story was no longer one I enjoyed. I mention this because it serves as a lesson for future game developers that intend on telling long, detailed and character-based stories instead of letting the player determine some of these elements for him/herself: Be sure about major plot shifts before you make them, or your plans for a six-game series might be force choked. Look at the reception of fans to the change of zombies in Resident Evil 4 and 5, and notice how RE6 is shifting back to the fan-pleasing flesheaters we all know and love. I guess Capcom thought the iconic zombie wasn’t going to keep our attention; I find their lack of faith disturbing.

Zombie Wookie scares me more than Zombie Vulcan, but scares me less than zombie Ewoks. 


Throughout this metaphorical analysis of video games in relation to the essential differences between Star Trek and Star Wars, we find that neither series represents the perfect model for any form of media. Additionally, we can deduce that games which embrace attributes from both examples are more likely to be better games those that do not; while maintaining the same basic control scheme, look at the differences between God of War and Kingdoms of Amalur. KoA is a deeper, more extensive experience that in my opinion exceeds past God of War in every fashion other than a few style points here and there. Lacking a more in-depth story does not necessarily mean less fun, however, especially in the case of games that are deliberately not story-driven a la Call of Duty. Without devolving my entire thesis into a statement of “To each his/her own”, I will say that no single concept for a game is going to please every taste and far too many games sacrifice polish and further greatness by attempting to ‘do it all’. I will simply maintain the optimistic hopefulness that we as gamers continue to receive imperfect games that thrill and entertain us in a variety of ways. In other words, I desire gaming to “Live long, and prosper.”

 

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