More Wacky, Less Egghead!
So I just had a few fantastic conversations with Max, the automated Xbox phone support assistant. The first time I called, I got disconnected when he was transferring me to an actual human being, so our second conversation, during which I already knew the prompts I needed to say to get transferred to a person, went something like this.
"Hi, I'm Max, the..."
"I'm sorry, I didn't catch..."
"Okay, are you call..."
"Gotcha, an Xbox 360! Here's what I can..."
"None of those."
"Let me run down the list of stuff I can help..."
"NONE OF THOSE!"
"Hang on, let me see if someone's available to help you."
What I learned from the actual human being who answered my call did not please me.
So I guess that if my console had the three red flashing lights error, my repairs would be covered free of charge, but because all I'm getting is this "To play this disc, put it in an Xbox 360 console" error, Microsoft wants me to fork over $99 to get my console fixed? What a joke! This error makes games every bit as unplayable as they would be if I got the "red rings of death." But because I've got this problem and not that one, I'm gonna be penalized to the tune of ninety-nine bucks.
Somebody called the HotSpot a few weeks ago and asked about killing his console by wrapping it in a towel so it would overheat so he could get it replaced at no cost. At the time I found the idea pretty appalling. I'm still not going to do it, but this messed-up policy is almost enough to make me see the logic in it.
You'll make puppy-killers of us all, Microsoft!
In recent months, my 360 has become increasingly fond of responding to my attempts to play games with a screen that reads...
To play this disc, put it in an Xbox 360 console.
...in nine languages. At first I found these periodic attempts at humor quite charming. "Legen Sie diese Disk zum Abspielen in eine Xbox 360 Konsole ein," you say? Please, please, you had me at "Legen Sie diese Disk zum"! But as the months wore on and my console pulled out this trick more frequently, what was at first funny eventually became tiresome, and now, it's downright irritating. Mass Effect arrived today, and I was looking forward to tearing into it this weekend, but I can't play it because my 360 is convinced that it's not a 360. (Actually, it's convinced that all my discs are DVDs.) No matter how many times I pop the disc tray open and close it again, my 360 can't stop trying to win me over with its Italian.
Ah well. It may finally be time for me to request a box for my Box. Hey, we've had a good run. Mine's gone a lot longer without needing to be sent off for repair than most I know of.
Farewell, darling. We'll always have Tamriel.
For egregious misuse of the comma, one of our most precious punctuational resources, I'm putting you on notice, job posting at a local Starbucks!
Wherever commas are being misused and abused, I'll be there! Beware, comma criminals! The Comma Cop is watching!
Also, if you think, Starbucks' coffee is great, I think, you're wrong!
I want to write stories that are different from the ones I've written so far, Junpei thought. I want to write about people who dream and wait for the night to end, who long for the light so that they can hold the ones they love.
-From "Honey Pie" by Haruki Murakami
I want to write a big, disorganized blog entry about games I've been playing and things I've been thinking about lately, one that most people won't bother to read and that will probably leave those who do read it feeling confused and disoriented.
Last Thursday I went to Berkeley Rep to see the play after the quake, which is based on two short stories from Haruki Murakami's excellent collection of the same name. The collection was written, as its title suggests, in the wake of the devastating quake that hit Kobe, Japan in 1995, and the stories all take place in the quake's aftermath. It's a quietly magical play, melding the nostalgia and straightforward, clearheaded romance of "Honey Pie" with the cartoonish outlandishness of "Super-Frog Saves Tokyo" in such a way that the two stories remain distinct and yet go hand-in-hand emotionally and propel each other forward.
It had been a long time since I'd gone to see a play. Theater used to be a pretty important part of my life. It was my major in college, and I loved it. Whether I was the star of the show, the stage manager, or just part of the crew, working on a production was always really satisfying. Climbing the hill up to the theater to spend four hours in intense rehearsals after a long day of cIasses was exhilarating, and was somehow both exhausting and rejuvenating. I believed in what I was doing, and loved the sense of camaraderie that forms between people when they are pouring so much energy into a single endeavor. I miss it sometimes.
The other night, The GameSpot User Formerly Known as Donkeljohn and I were playing some Puzzle Quest. (Incidentally, Don's new, GameSpot employee username: Donkeljohn.) He asked me what the most important thing in a job is to me, and I couldn't quite come up with the answer then, but now, it's really clear. I just wanna believe in what I'm doing. I want it to matter to me. Isn't that the most important thing? Junpei in "Honey Pie" seems to come to this realization only after his emotional landscape is shaken and shifted by the Kobe quake.
My current lower-level-of-the-house-mate is a very cool young woman who is working for a campaign that's trying to affect political, environmental and corporate change, and has met with some success. On a recent evening I asked her what's next for her, and she talked about some of the numerous possibilities for where her life will take her next. Then she turned that question on me, and I mumbled...you know...a few things about...maybe this or...maybe that but...really...urm...I dunno. On one hand my current job is a nice little increase in pay over what I was doing before (I've gone from making a pittance to making a paltry sum!), and yet, on the other, in my mind it still feels like a bridge job. I could make a career out of it, I'm sure, and make more and more money as the years went by, but it's probably never gonna be something I really believe in. But then, lots of people don't really believe in what they do for a living, right? Maybe it's time I looked for that kind of fulfillment elsewhere. Maybe I should, I dunno, volunteer for the Barack Obama campaign. But knocking on doors and stopping people in the street isn't really my thing. Maybe I should start volunteering at Berkeley Rep. Theater doesn't loom as large in my life as it once did, but I still believe in it.
Or maybe I should start writing stories like the ones Junpei up there is talking about. After all, it is National Novel Writing Month! But I'm not sure I want to be a novelist anyway. I enjoy spending time alone sometimes, but I think the path of the novelist might involve too much solitude for my tastes. And my current fledgling efforts at writing a "novel" for NaNoWriMo aren't going so well. (I put novel in quotes because the real idea of NaNoWriMo is to get 50,000 words down on the page, and I don't necessarily think that makes a novel, though I still think encouraging the impulse to write and write and write without the need to impose structure or anything is a good one.) Basically, I have a character in search of a story. Who is the character? A youngish woman who is still trying to figure out what the heck to do with herself. Gee, wonder where the inspiration for that came from. But I don't have any great story ideas to throw this person into. And anyway, unfortunately, some idiot scheduled NaNoWriMo during the craziest, awesomest period for video games in quite a while, so I'm not exactly pounding out this would-be novel.
Right now, I'm dividing my playing time between Call of Duty 4 and Super Mario Galaxy. For the first stretch of Call of Duty 4, I thought it was a decent, technically impressive game with a pretty generic 24-esque terrorist-with-a-nuke storyline. Now I think it's a great, very technically impressive game with the coolest generic 24-esque terrorist-with-a-nuke storyline ever! I could be wrong but I really do think it's the influence of 24 that we're seeing in Call of Duty 4, with the game's storytelling device of a satellite that shifts its focus between events happening in the same stretch of time in various places on the globe, and in the sense the game creates that if you think somebody isn't going to die, they probably are going to die. The conclusion to the game's first act is where it really surprised me and started winning me over.
I'm too stupid not to play on the veteran difficulty level (POINTS!), but I think the game's pacing and atmosphere suffer a bit for the ridiculously frequent interruptions caused by my constant deaths. Right now I'm on a level called Safehouse. I spent an hour playing last night and progressed by one lousy checkpoint! I agree with what Vinny said on this week's HotSpot, that it is a bit disappointing that the game relies on constantly respawning enemies. I mean, what's the point of me having an awesome helicopter I can call in for air strikes at my disposal if, an instant after it's done shooting up a house, there are bad guys in the windows and doorways again? I think playing on veteran is really all about trial and error, figuring out which approach to the next checkpoint doesn't result in you being killed instantaneously and gives you some shred of a chance of progress. You don't have a great deal of freedom, and in a way it feels like a really restrictive, almost pre-determined experience, but the level of polish on that experience is very high, and the experience is a thoroughly memorable, consistently intense one. Also, although in some ways times have changed between Call of Duty 2's World War II setting and Call of Duty 4's contemporary combat, it's comforting to know that British soldiers still serve under men with glorious moustaches.
And speaking of glorious moustaches...
...this game, here, this is the game. Super Mario Galaxy is the real deal, the game that delivers on the promise, that lives up to all of our hopes and dreams and outrageously high expectations of what a Mario game should be. It's amazing. In a year that's filled with outstanding games, this may be the greatest of all. I mean, I love shooting aliens in the face with a shotgun as much as the next girl...well, probably a bit more than the next girl, actually...but as superb as games like Crysis and Call of Duty 4 and Assassin's Creed and the rest may be, not everyone wants to stab people or shoot people or what have you. But Mario is a game that everyone who hasn't smothered their inner child with a pillow should be able to love. It's beautiful and charming, and it's endlessly fun. It's also constantly inventive. Each galaxy feels so different and introduces great new elements to the game that keep things fresh throughout. This game is pure joy. It's the video game equivalent of the latest Jens Lekman album. Or maybe I have that backwards, and the latest Jens Lekman album is the Swedish pop equivalent of a great Mario game. In conclusion, buy the new Jens Lekman album.
Anyway, where was I before I started talking about games? Oh, right, cupcakes. So I was at that CNET cupcake party not too long ago, and I met this guy who had just recently started working for CNET, and somehow we got to talking about all kinds of stuff, our successes and failures, hopes and dreams, all that. It was a great conversation. At some point in there, he asked me if I'd ever seen Steve Jobs' commencement speech at Stanford in 2005. I hadn't, but I watched it when I got home. I liked it a lot. The underlying message is pretty much the same as so many commencement speeches, but his is a little less Dead Poets Society "Make your lives extraordinary, boys!" and a bit more "What are you, 31? Ha! By the time I was 31, I'd already invented the Macintosh! What have you done, some teaching? Now you're working in tech support for [This information is currently unavailable due to the writer's strike--we apologize for the inconvenience]? Hey, you'll be dead soon, so quit ****in' around! Follow your heart! Do what you love! And most of all, stay hungry. Stay foolish." Well, no matter what else happens, I think I've got that last bit of advice down pat.
Command: Bravo Six, be advised. More hostiles assembling to the west of your position, over.
Lt. Vasquez: Two Charlie, Bravo Six. Requesting air support for fire mission, over!
Command: Uh, negative, Bravo Six. There's an enemy ZPU to the south of your position. Until you take it out, we can NOT risk sending in any more choppers, over.
Lt. Vasquez: Jackson, find that ZPU and take it out so we can get some air support! Lopez! Gaines! Cover him. All right, let's move out! Secure the western approach, move!
I've heard this exchange probably, oh, about thirty times in the past forty minutes or so, and there's a very good chance I'll hear it many more times this evening. Why? Because I'm an idiot and I'm playing Call of Duty 4 on Veteran difficulty, that's why. Playing Call of Duty 2 on Veteran almost pushed me over the brink of madness when I tackled that last summer, but we have a way of forgetting the more traumatic experiences in life, so I now find myself enduring the same maddening level of challenge in the latest Call of Duty game. Death comes very swiftly and very, very often in Call of Duty 4 on Veteran, and I'm sure the game might be a bit more enjoyable on a lower difficulty. Heck, Jeff even tries to warn people off of this course of action in his review.
"While you can raise the difficulty to give yourself more of a challenge, the main thing this does is make the enemies frustratingly deadly, which sort of detracts from the fun."
But really, while fun is all well and good, you don't honestly expect me to pass up all these points, do you?! There are lots of achievements to be earned for playing through this game on Veteran! And if I manage to make it through the game, I'm sure I'll be glad I opted for the toughest difficulty level, even if I lose some of what precious little sanity I have left in the process. After all, finishing Call of Duty 2 on Veteran was very satisfying, and almost worth all the frustration I endured to do it.
So anyway, if I should vanish from these boards and end up on a street corner somewhere, endlessly repeating the phrase "There's an enemy ZPU to the south of your position," you'll know why. But I think I'll be okay. The key to staying sane is just trying to take it one step at a time, and to remember that every checkpoint passed is an accomplishment. So for now I'm just looking forward to getting past this checkpoint, getting to that enemy ZPU and finding out what the hell a ZPU is.
I'm proud of many things. I'm proud of having graduated from Occidental College, where I studied English and theater with a healthy side of cultural anthropology. (Naturally, I'm making the big bucks now as a result!) I'm proud of having spent four years teaching English to teenagers. But mostly, I'm proud of my keenly developed ability to identify voice actors in video games. I mean, how many people, when playing Half-Life 2, heard Eli Vance's voice for the first time and thought to themselves, "Oh, snap! That's Robert Guillaume! The dude who played Benson on Benson, and later was on Sports Night, the best network television comedy of the past ten years!" Maybe, maybe a scant fifteen percent of players. And I was one of them!
Even my talent has its limits. I couldn't pinpoint the voice behind Dr. Breen, whose visage dominates screens throughout City 17 and constantly bombards its residents with pro-Combine propaganda. I finally looked it up on imdb and saw that it was The Greatest American Hero's Robert Culp. Oh, I felt like such a fool!
Why does it matter who did the voice acting? Because Half-Life 2 and its follow-ups have, in my mind, one of the best, most well-written stories in video game history. It's a story that doesn't spell everything out for you, but thrusts you into its world and hints at the state of affairs through little details--things glimpsed through doorways, a quick word between a father and daughter. It respects your intelligence enough to do that. And crucial to bringing this story to life is the superb voice acting. I don't know just how much money Valve has made off of these games, but I hope it's a whole mess, because, to paraphrase the brilliant last episode of Sports Night, "Anyone who can't make money off of writing, voice acting and, oh yeah, awesome gameplay like this should get out of the moneymaking business."
See, I think there's one thing that all good storytelling has in common, and it's the one thing that the stories of most games are severely lacking. Humanity. And Half-Life 2 may or may not have it, but it sure comes closer to having it than most video games.
"This brings me to the one note of disappointment I must echo from our Benefactors. . .How could one man have slipped through your force's fingers time and time again? How is it possible? This is not some agent provocateur or highly trained assassin we are discussing. Gordon Freeman is a theoretical physicist who had hardly earned the distinction of his Ph.D. at the time of the Black Mesa Incident. . .The man you have consistently failed to slow, let alone capture, is by all standards simply that--an ordinary man." --Dr. Breen
Our Benefactors. Our Benefactors. You hear that phrase time and time again from the Combine's human mouthpiece, Dr. Breen, as you fight your way through City 17. What a perfect little detail. The Combine do not attempt to rule over humanity through brute force alone. No, they take control of the media and attempt to exert psychological dominance as well, trying to keep people docile by positioning themselves as benefactors of humanity. How much more interesting than your typical videogame alien takeover. And fighting this threat is Gordon Freeman, no military-trained supersoldier or badass secret agent. He's just an ordinary man who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and so, naturally, became a hero.
"Far distant eyes look out through yours."
"Could you but see the eyes inside your own, the minds in your mind, you would see how much we share."
"How many are there in you? Whose hopes and dreams do you encompass?" --Vortigaunt comments about Gordon Freeman
Of course, Gordon isn't entirely ordinary. He's unusual in the way that so many video game protagonists--Mario and Link and Samus and GTA III Guy and so on--are unusual: he doesn't speak. (I don't count "It's-a-me, Mario!" and the like as speaking.) The benefit of this is that, as the vortigaunt quotes above suggest, it lets each of us who plays the game project ourselves more fully onto him. We all look out through Gordon Freeman's eyes. He encompasses the hopes and dreams of all of us, as well as those in City 17 who have placed all their hopes and dreams on his shoulders. The drawback is that, well, it's kinda weird for a guy not to say anything. But that's okay. The people around him do more than enough talking.
There are moments in Half-Life 2 which are among the most human moments ever to occur in a video game, in my opinion. A particularly good example are the moments shared between Eli Vance and his daughter Alyx. They are fleeting moments--they don't drag the game down, and before long you're back in the thick of the action--but they tell you everything you need to know about how much these two people mean to each other. That's effective storytelling. And it makes all the action feel like it matters.
Speaking of Alyx, what a terrific character. I agree with Jeff in GameSpot's Orange Box review when he writes, "Most of her speech seems to follow the formula of 'Hey, Gordon, look at this [key item you need to interact with to proceed]' or 'Whoa, look at this [scripted sequence of things falling down or exploding]!'" And yet, despite this somewhat robotic behavior, I still think she is one of the most human-seeming companions a game has ever provided. She's strong and brave and warm and funny. And it's also worth noting that while she's beautiful, it's not in some cartoony teenage male fantasy sort of way, but in an entirely believable and realistic way.
And while, for instance, the soldiers in Halo 3 seem to have no shortage of wisecracks, despite being engaged in a struggle which ostensibly could mean the end of the human race, the people you meet in Half-Life 2 and its sequels at least seem to take their predicament somewhat seriously.
"Tell me, Doctor Freeman, if you can: you have destroyed so much... what is it, exactly, that you have created? Can you name even one thing?! I thought not." -Dr. Breen
But let's get back to Gordon himself. If he chose to respond to Dr. Breen's question, I think the response would have been clear: Hope. Hope, which is perhaps the most dangerous thing to the Combine, which is perhaps the most dangerous thing in the oppressed to any oppressing force. And yet, despite the fact that people see a hope for freedom in Gordon, despite the fact that his last name is Freeman and that he is frequently referred to as "the One Free Man," Gordon Freeman isn't free at all. He seems entirely beholden to the will of the G-Man, the creepy, mysterious figure in a suit who we finally start to learn tantalizing bits about in Half-Life 2: Episode Two. (Incidentally, in addition to advancing the story in some very cool ways and setting things up perfectly for an explosive finale in Episode Three, Episode Two is also easily the best the series has yet seen in terms of gameplay. It's short, sure, but it's also one of the best shooters of the year.)
In my mind, Gordon's personal struggle for freedom is what really makes him interesting, and I also think that his story must end with him not only earning freedom for humanity from the Combine, but also, freedom for himself. Here's hoping we get to kick the G-Man's ass in Episode Three.
I think video games still have a very long way to go in terms of trying to emulate realistic human behavior. But I think Half-Life 2 and its follow-up episodes are an important step in the right direction.
Long live Gordon Freeman.
Dear Mr. Barricade Decepticon,
First of all, let me just say what a huge fan I am.You've always been great, and your police car makeover in the new movie was just brilliant.
So I was at the toy store the other day and I picked up one of the nifty Barricade toys they were selling, and I read the little bio of you on the back. This, I'm sure you know, is what it says:
Barricade is a born liar. The greatest thrill in his life is knowing people trust him because of the human decorations on his door panels. The look of betrayal they get when they realize what they're dealing with is as sweet as candy.
Now, I'm what you might call an "ideas" person. I immediately realized how you can play to your strengths of lying and deceiving people, and find an entirely new way to conquer the Earth and defeat those pesky Autobots once and for all.
Run for President of the United States.
Seriously, your skills as a liar pretty much guarantee you victory. Bring me on as your campaign manager and there will be no stopping us. We'll get the awesome, authoritative Keith David to provide your voice like he did in the recent DS games (if he can get out of his recent deal which apparently requires him to lend his voice to every video game being made) and people will not be able to resist voting for you. I mean, dude! You're a transforming robot! That's awesome! And the Transformers are huge right now. Your DVD is doing gangbusters. Maybe you can even get Dreamworks to sponsor your campaign.
I know you and your fellow Decepticons have typically thought that violence will eventually help you defeat the Autobots, and have held fast to this belief despite being defeated week after week, year after year in the old cartoons. Well, I'm here to tell you, you're absolutely right. Violence is the answer, and once you're in the Oval Office--we'll, umm, make it bigger so you can fit in there--you'll be able to bring the full weight of the American military to bear on the Autobots. Just make up some story about how the Autobots actually want to kill us all and are building a massive energon bomb or something, and the American people will support you.
Now, we may need to clean up your image a bit. We'll find you a nice girl. (You're not gay are you? America is definitely not ready for a gay robot in the White House.) Maybe we'll also get rid of the "To punish and enslave" slogan you have painted on you. American politics calls for just slightly more subtlety than that. But when we get you in front of the cameras at those debates, towering over the other candidates, it'll be clear that you're the only one with the strength of vision needed to guide this nation into a brave new future, free once and for all of the Autobot menace.
Okay, Ricky...do you mind if I call you Ricky?...I know what you're thinking. "That all sounds good, but it means I have to play nice for a while! That sounds boring!" Nice? Boring? Ricky, apparently you don't follow politics! Politics is all about being nasty! Why, just today John Edwards released an ad attacking Hillary Clinton, a fellow Democrat! If this is how the game is played with people in your own party, just imagine how much crap will be flying once the real fighting starts! And just think, all you'll need to do is release ads that say, "According to a recent study, Fred Dalton Thompson can't transform into anything cool! Who are you gonna trust, a man with eight years of experience in the US Senate, or a transforming robot?! The choice is clear!"
You know that feeling mentioned in your bio, though, that "sweet as candy" feeling you get when people realize what they're dealing with? I'm afraid you'll have to give that up. Odds are the people will never realize they've been taken for fools until it's much too late.
Gone Baby Gone is a film in which there are hurts that cut deep. It's the second film adapted from a novel by Dennis Lehane, the first being Mystic River. I've never read one of his novels, butif these two films are any indication, Lehane has a profound understanding of the ways in which crimes involving children are the most devastating crimes of all, for almost without fail they continue to have repurcussions far beyond the moment, and not just for the victim, but for everyone to whom that child matters.
I suspect Lehane's novels also demonstrate an understanding of Boston, and in the capable hands of director Ben Affleck, Boston comes to life in this film, in its faces and voices and rhythms of speech, in the web of relationships that connects everyone in the story. As the film begins, we hear young private investigator Patrick Kenzie, played by Casey Affleck, comment that it's the things we don't choose--our family, our neighborhood--that make us who we are. For Kenzie, anyway, this is certainly true. Boston is a part of who he is and a part of what he does, and that's why people come to him and his partner Angie Gennaro for help when someone they know goes missing.Patrick and Angieknow people. They can get at information the cops sometimes can't.
This time, the missing person is four-year-old Amanda McCready, and Angie, played with great intellect and clarity by Michelle Monaghan, has reservations about taking this case. Angie is also Patrick's girlfriend, and she senses that if they take the case and the child is not found, that sorrow will stay with them and color the rest of their lives together, and that's not a chance she wants to take. But the pleas of Amanda's aunt and uncle compel Patrick and Angie to meet with her mother, and before long they are deeply involved in the investigation, collaborating with a pair of detectives (Ed Harris and John Ashton) and their captain, Jack Doyle. Doyle, played by Morgan Freeman, is the head of a task force devoted to finding missing children. He lost a child once himself and the pain of that loss drives him in his work.
This movie's greatest strength is perhaps its characters, and the way it presents each one clearly, without judgment. Each one of them, we learn, is a complex person with complex reasons for doing the things they do. When we first meet Angie's mother, she's sitting on a couch with a friend, eating junk food, drinking beer and watching Jerry Springer. She hardly appears to be distraught about Amanda's disappearance, and we soon learn that she has a history of drug problems. And yet the movie does not condescend to us by sitting in judgment of her. Perhaps we will judge her, or perhaps we will find things in her to understand and sympathize with. The movie leaves it up to us.
I can't say too much about the film without risking giving away some of the plot's surprises, which would be a shame, because Gone Baby Gone is a compelling and very well-structured piece of storytelling. When the twists come, they surprise us, but they also satisfy us because we can instantly see how carefully and deliberately they were was set up, how much sense it all makes.
But Gone Baby Gone is more than just a really solid crime movie. This is a film that asks some very real questions with no easy answers. This is a film about choices--choices made in an instant and choices made with great deliberation. Two people may both want what is best for a child and have entirely different ideas of what that is, and sometimes people have to make choices that will leave them with some measure of regret no matter which way they turn. I don't know what I would have done in Patrick's situation. I don't think I could have easily lived with either choice. I don't think he'll live with it easily, either. Perhaps in the end he wishes he'd listened to Angie when she suggested they stay away from this one.
Don't get me wrong, I love the NES classic Bionic Commando. I've wanted to see it get updated for ages, and if the newly announced Bionic Commando turns out to be fun, I'll play the heck out of it. But I'm not totally thrilled by what's revealed in GameSpot's world premiere video. Clearly this game is a labor of love for producer Hal Judd and he's worked hard to make it a reality, and that's great. But I guess I just don't agree that concepts like a main character named Rad Spencer (which was actually a change made in the Game Boy version), a supporting character named Super Joe, and a villainous army called the Badds ought to be dismissed out of hand in the modern era. To me, they suggest fun, and I'd rather have names like these, and offbeat characters to go along with them, than characters that have had every last shred of originality focus-tested right out of them. At first glance, the new Bionic Commando appears to be pretty grim and, worse yet, pretty bland. I hope I'm wrong.
"Rad Spencer? No, I'm Generic Action Guy!"
It's Tuesday! Andyou know what that means: it's time to party! My typical Tuesday night consists of me rollin' with a bunch of my friends from the hottest bars to the most happenin' dance clubs, then returning home to my swingin' pad to stay up with my friends partying well into the morning hours. Usually what little I remember of these escapades seems like it was a lot of fun. But tonight I'll be slowing things down a bit to attend GameSpot's Players' Ball. Maybe some of you will take a break from your own wild Tuesday night plans to watch a bit of GameSpot's live coverage of the event.
But seriously, I'm really looking forward to it, even if it is on a Tuesday night of all things. If this event wasn't happening I probablywould have been going to see Shout Out Louds play live tonight, and there are few things in this world I love more than great Swedish pop music, so I'm making a pretty huge sacrifice to be there and contribute my own star power to the event's success. I want you all to appreciate that.
I'm warning you, GameSpot. This had better not suck.
For a while now, a restlessness has been growing inside me. A thirst for adventure. A desperate need to get away from all the trappings of society. And at last, today, I could wait no longer. The most uncompromising aspect of my self took control, and I resolved to do it. Nothing could stop me. I was going to go see Into the Wild.
For my journey, I packed only the absolute necessities: my iPod and my DS, with a copy of The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass inside. Then I began the grueling 30-minute walk to the movie theater. Along the way, my iPod shuffled up a terrific soundtrack for my journey, with songs by restless souls like Bob Dylan, Loudon Wainwright III, Guided by Voices, and Pet Shop Boys. Each step took me closer on my inner journey toward understanding, and toward that place on Shattuck that sells great pizza by the slice.
When I arrived at the movie theater, I was told that the film was around two-and-a-half hours long. Knowing that friends and family might worry about me during such a long disappearance, I sent a text message to a friend to let her know that I was committed to my course of action and that I was going to watch the film. I hoped she could read between the lines and hear what I left unsaid; that if I didn't ever come back from the movie, I wanted her to know that her friendship had meant a great deal to me.
Into the Wild is a new film written and directed by Sean Penn based on Jon Krakauer's book of the same name, an account of the journey undertaken by a young man named Christopher McCandless in the early 1990s, a journey which culminated in a stay in the Alaskan wild. It is a beautiful and powerful film. Although it's about a young man who sought solitude, it is not a lonely or desolate film. It is filled with great performances, and is about the sorts of insights that can come not from solitude alone, but from one who has lived both among others and deep within himself.
Emile Hirsch stars as McCandless, who, after graduating with high marks from Emory University, donated his entire savings to charity and started referring to himself as Alexander Supertramp. The film splits its focus between the relationships from his past that led to the pain that perhaps fueled him on his journey, the bonds he forged with those he encountered along the way, and his time alone in Alaska. Hirsch brings a tremendous range of emotion to his portrayal of McCandless, but every bit as essential to the film's power is the way that, as his parents, William Hurt and Marcia Gay Harden so perfectly capture that very specific sort of restraint that you see only in those who internally are in great turmoil. Also terrific are Jena Malone as his sister, the person who perhaps understood Chris best, along with Catherine Keener, Vince Vaughn and Hal Holbrook as people who Chris meets in his journeys and who are simultaneously enamored of him and his uncompromising commitment to his adventure, and deeply concerned about him. Each of them, in his or her own way, tries to talk what most of us might call sense into McCandless, but he will hear none of it.
I haven't read the book, but I suspect that the film is somewhat different. I imagine that Krakauer's account tries to let people form their own opinions of McCandless, and understandably there are many who have read the book who feel he was quite foolish. But it's clear in the film that Penn admires him, that Penn understands on some level why someone would run as fast as possible away from what many might consider a very promising future, because at times that future can also look like a cage. The film suggests that the instability and phoniness of his childhood family life may have planted the seed in McCandless, and perhaps that is where it came from. Although I would never do what McCandless did, I do have a real restlessness inside me, and a sense that sometimes nearly all of us compromise ourselves in ways great or small because we feel, consciously or not, that this is what is expected of us. As I sit here writing this on the brink of starting a new job tomorrow, there is a fear, not that I won't be able to do the job, but that I'll still feel haunted from time to time by that voice inside me that says that I should not be doing something so apparently ordinary as customer service work in an office cubicle, that I should be doing something grander and more adventurous and more meaningful, that I should just walk away from it all and seek something more true.
Into the Wild could certainly be described as a spiritual film. It's hinted that McCandless shunned organized religion, and yet being solitary isn't just a way for him to connect with the truest version of himself, but also to connect with something larger than himself. Near the end of the film, he scrawls in one of his many books, "Happiness only real when shared." McCandless was the only person in that bus, but in the final shots of the film, you get the sense that as he looks up into the majesty of the Alaskan sky, he didn't feel as if he was alone there in the wild.
Into the Wild: 9.5/10 impassioned cries of "SOCIETY!"
This blog has nothing to do with games, and deals with social and political issues some may find offensive. Reader discretion is advised.
I remember many years ago in Los Angeles I saw a guy walk by me down the street wearing a t-shirt that said "Nobody Knows I'm Gay Since then I've often toyed with the idea of getting a t-shirt that says "Nobody Knows I'm Transgendered."
Now I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Jeez, Caro--or whatever the hell your name is--EVERYBODY knows you're transgendered! It's totally obvious every time I watch one of your videos starring that ridiculous chin of yours, and you even made a whole blog entryabout it back in July of 2006, so we're all pretty sick of it. Would you shut up about it already?!" But what I mean is that generally, in the "real world," people who aren't good friends of mine don't know. I was at my last job for two years and, aside from two co-workers I spent some time with outside of work, nobody knew. It's not like I went out of my way to keep it from people, and I don't feel like everyone needs to know. But at times like this, I feel like maybe I should bring it up every now and then, just to get people thinking about the issues, to raise awareness or whatever. I'm probably never going to be a human rights crusader organizing marches on Washington or anything, but maybe it doesn't hurt for everyone in the community to do whatever little bit they feel they can do to get the issues out there. Some might argue that we even have a responsibility to do so, that it is wrong to do nothing in the face of injustice. So my cheesy little internet contributions to the cause may be just a drop in the ocean, but as David Mitchell's narrator says at the very end of his thoroughly unforgettable novel Cloud Atlas, "Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?" So I'm just here to say again that we are out there. Wherever you are, we are among you. And believe it or not, most of us are pretty normal in most ways. Or at least I am. I want the same things everyone wants. I just want to hear some rhythm. I want someone to eat cheese with. You know, the usual stuff.
The reason I bring it up now is because of the uproar surrounding the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the House. (Here are two storiesthat appeared inthe San Francisco Chronicle last week about the issue.) This bill is designed to protect gays, lesbians and, originally, transgender indivinduals from employment discrimination. The uproar surrounds the issue of whether or not transgender individuals should be removed from the bill to improve its chances of success. My answer, of course, is no. Absolutely not. And I'm thankful that so many LGBT rights groups agree with me on this. I think keeping transgender protection in the bill isi n the best interests of everyone in the LGBT community. This excerpt from that second article I linked to sums up my reasons pretty well.
Even though gender identity and sexual orientation are two different things - many people who have changed gender are not gay - leading gay rights organizations refused to abandon transgender people even if it meant delaying passage of a landmark bill they have sought for more than a decade.
That's because discrimination against gays and lesbians often is based on their refusal to conform to gender norms, advocates said.
"A lot of the discrimination against people who are gay or lesbian is coming less from hostility to a specific sexual orientation as from the expectation of what it means to be a man or what it means to be a woman," said Christopher Anders, a legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union who has worked on the anti-discrimination bill for years.
"The more masculine a gay man is, or the more feminine a lesbian is, the less the likelihood of discrimination," Anders said.
The worry among gay-rights lawyers is that even if there is a statute banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, employers could point to straight-passing gay employees as evidence that they are not discriminating - even if they refused to hire or promote a gay person whose dress or mannerisms did not fit gender stereotypes.
Anyway, there you have it. That's my .02. Y'know, it feels good to do the right thing every once in a while, even if my gesture is pretty small in the grand scheme of things. And hey, if I bring even one person to a greater understanding of these issues, and that person chooses to thank me by sending me a check for a million dollars, then it will all have been worth it.
Writer's Note: Issues of spacing, missing periods and quotes, and the like, are not my fault. I've triedcleaning it upabout a dozen times now but the corrections won't take for some reason. I apologize for the apparent sloppiness of the entry.
SAN FRANCISCO--CNET Networks Entertainment, the collection of sites made up of GameSpot, GameFAQs, FilmSpot, TV.com, mp3.com and SportsGamer.com, held a press conference yesterday at the company's San Francisco headquarters to announce the next phase of its development plans. "Here at CNE, we're always analyzing trends and trying to meet the needs of consumers in today's constantly evolving marketplace," said Dan Smith, Associate Director of Programs and Development. "In recent years, we've built on the foundation of GameSpot with sites like mp3.com, TV.com, and more recently FilmSpot, in an attempt to provide services and information to users who may not otherwise visit our sites. And today, I'm pleased to announce the exciting next step. Cupcakes. Ladies and gentlemen, cupcakes are at the forefront of dessert technology, and only CNET Networks Entertainment has the resources to match the unique challenges and demands they provide. Previously, many people out there whose primary source of entertainment was cupcakes had no use for CNET Networks Entertainment. That's all about to change. In addition to already being the primary source for information on games, TV shows, music and movies for millions of users, we will now be the primary source of cupcakes for millions of cupcake lovers."
When asked if siphoning off resources from current projects to work on cupcake development would result in GameSpot becoming any less crazy, Smith replied, "No. GameSpot will still be crazy."
Last night I had the pleasure of attending a panel discussion about PHP/MySQL at CNET. I learned a lot. For starters, I learned that my belief that websites work with the aid of tiny elves who live inside of each computer is, in fact, not true. And even though a good deal of the information went a bit over my head as I don't really have the background knowledge or experience for it, I'm still really glad I went. The cupcakes were delicious, and I met some very cool people.
Clearly one of the reasons for the panel discussion was to attract new talent into joining the ranks at CNET, and although, as I mentioned, I don't personally have the technical background at this point for that sort of work, I did end up having a really great discussion with someone there about, among other things, my current job search. The chat left me feeling pretty good about what I'm doing, and I'm hoping my next job builds on my skills and experience while also expanding my horizons.
Speaking of my next job, this morning I had an interview for a job that, if I got it, might do just that. (It also pays a bit more than what I've been making, which is nice.) I think the interview went great except for one little thing. I must have gotten dressed in the dark because I noticed as I was on the bus on my way to the interview that one of my socks was dark blue and one was black. I hope that doesn't destroy my chances.
These are some thoughts of mine about the Halo 3 campaign. Be warned: I will be going over the story in great detail!
I took advantage of a delay in the arrival of my copy of Halo 3 to play through Halo 2 again. I've never quite understood the amount of criticism that game's story gets. I certainly agree that in terms of gameplay the conclusion left a whole lot to be desired, especially after Halo's final moments were so thrilling. But I rather liked the story. The moment when Cortana says, "Don't make a girl a promise, if you know you can't keep it" can almost get me a little choked up. (Yes, I'm a huge sap!) Overall, I felt that Halo 2 left things in a perfect place to kick off a third and final chapter, so I was anxious to see how it all resolved.
I played through Halo and Halo 2 on normal and was planning on playing through 3 on normal as well, but in Halo 3 the description for the heroic difficulty says "This is the way Halo is meant to be played." And if that's how it's meant to be played, then by golly that's how I'm gonna play it! I was actually expecting it to be harder than it was. There were two checkpoints (the hall full of brutes in the second mission and the battle against two scarabs later on) that I had to try about a million times and that I'm sure compromised my already fragile sanity, but other than that it wasn't so tough.
Starting things off with Cortana explaining that she chose Master Chief was pretty cool, although I wish the quality she saw in him that made her choose him over other Spartans wasn't luck of all things. I believe in luck and chance, but I don't believe that some people are just naturally imbued with more luck than others, though I suppose maybe we all have Dungeons & Dragons character sheets in the sky with different luck attributes. (Can I start putting more of my points into luck?) I mean, he's really not all that lucky. In fact I'd say he's downright unlucky. With me at the controls, the poor guy had to die about a thousand times to "finish the fight." Cortana's mistaking luck for the fact that he's the central character in a video game.
I know this is ultra-nitpicky, but hey, welcome to my blog, "As Nitpicky as I Wanna Be!" I was a bit disappointed to find that Miranda Keyes and the Prophet of Truth had new voice actors. The Prophet of Truth went from being voiced by Michael "Why a spoon, cousin?" Wincott in Halo 2 to Terence "TELL ME ABOUT JENNY!" Stamp in Halo 3, and I felt that Wincott's take on the character gave his preaching a bit more subtlety and seductiveness, which I preferred over Stamp's more bombastic interpretation. As for Keyes, I probably wouldn't even have noticed the change if I hadn't just played through Halo 2 again and just watched the first season of Dexter. (Curse you TV.com season premiere spoilers on the show's main page!) Julie Benz, who plays Dexter's girlfriend on Showtime's interesting series, voiced Keyes in the second game, and I just felt her performance was a bit more committed and sold the character a bit better than the new actress.
Anyway, after the game starts, a bunch of stuff happens and you kill lots of aliens of various kinds. This goes on for quite a while and then you go rescue Cortana. The reunion scene was terrific, and having Master Chief say, "You know me. When I make a promise..." got me all choked up again just like I was when they said goodbye to each other in Halo 2.
Then some more stuff happens and then you fight 343 Guilty Spark. In terms of the story, I think this is pretty much what had to happen to bring things full circle (Get it?), but I think they could have made the battle itself a bit more involved. It was pretty underwhelming. As all of this was going on, I kept wondering what the big climax was going to be. Halo had the awesome warthog escape sequence. Halo 2 had, well, basically nothing. And I knew they were going to try to do something bigger and better this time around, but I just didn't see it being exactly the same as Halo, only bigger and better. Still, I don't blame them. I guess warthog escape sequences are the Death Star destruction scenes of the Halo trilogy, and there pretty much isn't anything better than a desperate last-second leap through the air as everything goes to hell around you.
This is the way the game ends. Cortana and the Chief are floating alone in deep space on the remnants of a frigate. She's all, "It could be a while before anyone finds us. Years, even." And as the Chief climbs into a cryo-chamber, she's all, "I'll miss you."
"Wake me," he's all as the door closes, "when you need me."
This, along with an earlier scene showing a memorial for all those who lost their lives, and a guarded step towards forgiveness and understanding between the humans and the elites, added up to a more poignant ending for the series than I was expecting, and one that I found very satisfying. Ending with Master Chief floating in cryo-sleep seems like a good send-off for such a hero. Sort of like Arthur being taken off to the Isle of Avalon. Not part of the world anymore, but ready to return again someday when he's needed.
What were your thoughts on the game's story and ending?
And incidentally, I bought the Limited Edition of the game and just watched the "story" section of Making Halo 3. I enjoyed it, and I think anyone who, like me, is interested in the unique considerations that those who are trying to tell stories within games need to deal with, will find it good watching.
Yesterday carried me into San Francisco, and emerging from BART into the hustle and bustle of Market still gets me every time. My first order of business was an early morning appointment in a rather grim office, and my mind was blown by the fact that in the reception area of this rather grim office, the receptionist was entertaining herself by screening episodes of The Office, which, in case you don't know, is a sitcom about working in a rather grim office.
After that I strolled up to the CNET headquarters to meet up for lunch with the wily and elusive Kevin VanOrd. K-Vo and I go way back so it was good to catch up with him. While waiting for him, I also had a quick chat with Tim Tracy before he ran off in search of hot dogs, and I caught a glimpse of Alex, Brad and Ryan walking by, but I didn't confront them as they were each carrying sandwiches. And although millions can say they saw Jeff yesterday on CNET Live, I'm one of the few who can say that they saw his appearance on CNET Live, live!
After that craziness wrapped up I still had a few hours to kill until my next order of business. I found a shady place to do some reading but something inside me didn't want to sit still, so I wandered down Market to The Embarcadero instead.
Sometimes I feel like San Francisco speaks to me in ways that other cities don't. I hear it in the rattle of the streetcars. I read it in the cries for help written on pieces of cardboard.
I see it in the words that are carved into buildings.
I feel it standing near this series of tubes that, like the internet, and like my heart, is constantly flowing,
and in the presence of these creatures who stand before the Bay, the Bridge spanning beyiond them, whose arms seem to be reaching out to me for something, though I feel like I have nothing to give.
And as this vehicle rolled by, I thought perhaps it was me that needed a little rescuing.
My afternoon interview, in stark contrast to the morning's, was in an office where the people seemed as warm and bright as the sunlight streaming in, I felt pretty good about how it went. Only time will tell, but I'm excited about this opportunity and hoping for the best.
When I came out of the afternoon interview I was still a bit reluctant to hop back on BART and return to my Berkeley home. I wanted to soak it all in a bit longer, the rattling streetcars, the plaques celebrating Robert Frost, the smell of the sea. Perhaps what San Francisco is trying to say to me is "You belong here."
As I was leaving San Francisco yesterday evening, I realized it was a year to the day since I said goodbye to my mom. Somehow I found a kind of comfort in that.
San Francisco, this could be the start of a beautiful friendship.
I like how the automated PM you get from GameSpot when a video you submitted is ready is entitled "Video encode succeeded!" As if it's a big deal that it was successful and there was a good chance that it might have failed miserably. I get the same feeling from games that proudly declare "Game saved successfully!" Like, should I be breathing a sigh of relief here?
Anyway, here's my latest beverage report. This time I talk about a new beverage from Miller that will make our lives easier, and spend some time discussing the most hyped beverage of all time. The potentially offensive warning is for all the beertalk, and because I use a word that some people find offensive which means illegitimate child, and is part of the name of a beer I mention. Enjoy!
Can entertainment that focuses on immoral people or acts be fundamentally moral? Can a violent entertainment be anti-violence?
It's been ten years now since L.A. Confidential was released, and I recently watched it again. That movie is so damn good, the first time I saw it I couldn't even comprehend how good it was. You ever have that experience where you listen to a new record and at first you think it's mediocre but then, maybe around the third listen, something just clicks and you realize that it's amazing? My experience with L.A. Confidential was sort of like that. The first time I saw it, I was so caught up in trying to follow the intricacies of the plot that everything else about the movie--the amazing performances, the rich themes, the complex and fascinating characters--got lost in the background. But it made some sort of impression on me, and a while later I watched it again. Since this time I knew who the bad guys were the whole time and I had at least a basic understanding of the plot, I wasn't so distracted by trying to follow it. And I was amazed. Amazed by the performances, and all the themes about differences between appearance and reality, and mostly amazed by the moral complexity of the whole thing, and how much the characters change in ways that are totally meaningful and believable. The two central cops, Edmund Exley and Bud White (played brilliantly by two unknowns named Guy Pearce and Russell Crowe), couldn't be more different, and they couldn't hate each other more. Of course, you pretty much know going in that these two polar opposites are going to end up working together, but it's not some cheesy buddy cop pairing. It's a pairing that leaves them both altered, and a look they share at the end speaks volumes. The film is an American masterpiece.
That was the first crime story I ever loved. Since then, I've become quite hooked on them. But by "crime story," I don't mean just any old story about crime. For it to pull me in, there has to be a level of moral complexity there. One great example is the series of Kurt Wallander mysteries by Swedish author Henning Mankell. Michael Ondaatje, the writer of The English Patient, has said that Mankell "is in the great tradition of those whose works transcend their chosen genre to become thrilling and moral literature." And I agree. In the Wallander novels, which work purely as exciting police procedurals as well, there's a sense of morality at work. Each case brings up some important issues about Swedish society, and really, any issue facing Swedish society can be related to American society on some level as well. Some of the killers even perhaps earn some of our sympathy, as some of them have been deeply wronged and go after people who have done truly evil things and gotten away with it. Nonetheless, of course, Wallander must do everything he can to put a stop to them, and there's something about Kurt Wallander that really gets to you. He's not an Agatha Christie-esque super-detective. He's just a man who has relationship problems and an estranged daughter, a man who in his younger days dreamed of being a tenor, a man who can forget to do laundry or take his car in for the MOT but works tirelessly to solve cases. It's funny. I don't usually get so attached to characters in books, but now that I've read every Wallander novel, I kinda miss him.
Speaking of sympathetic killers, Showtime's relatively new series Dexter tries to provide us with just that. The central character, Dexter Morgan, is a blood spatter specialist who works for the Miami police department, He's also a serial killer. He's had an insatiable urge to kill for as long as he can remember. But he channels it in a positive (or anyway not-so-negative) direction by killing very bad people. You could argue that Dexter saves lives by killing people who would kill innocent people if he didn't kill the bad people first. Does that make it okay? I don't know. But I did find myself liking Dexter, and sympathizing with him. In any case, it makes for interesting viewing. Not quite knock-your-socks-off, The Shield levels of awesomeness and moral complexity, but very interesting viewing nonetheless. What makes Dexter interesting isn't just that he's a killer but that he feels like an outsider among people, having to fake the most basic aspects of human interaction, and he imagines that nobody else understands how he feels. But of course, to varying degrees most of us can relate to that sense of feeling like we have to pretend for other people at one time or another. (I also like the fact that, unlike in those ridiculous CSI shows, in this show the forensics people just do forensics, and don't, you know, interrogate suspects, get in high-speed car chases and shootouts, and spout cheesy lines before slipping on sunglasses.)
And moving on to an altogether different sort of cop story, I played Stranglehold this past week. As an action game, I thought it was pretty good. (I gave it a 7.5.) But as a fan of John Woo's work not just for the stylish gunplay but for what I see as a level of thematic depth, I found the story pretty disappointing. Call me crazy, but I really think there's more going on in most John Woo films than just people constantly shooting at one another. I think there's other cool stuff there, too. Often we get a cop and a killer who are portrayed as two sides of the same coin. There are often religious and spiritual considerations. And I think that often, there's a strong current of anti-violence running through his films. His heroes (and anti-heroes) are often men who have lost a great deal, who want nothing more to do with violence but who can't easily escape it. Stranglehold's story is weak, and doesn't deliver any of this depth. It's just a video game with a whole mess of shooting in it. I guess there's nothing wrong with that. But still, since it has John Woo's name on it I was hoping the game would have some sort of moral viewpoint.
Maybe I'll go watch The Killer again, and remind myself just how amazing a filmmaker John Woo can be.
This entry is pure speculation about Halo 3 on my part based on the latest commercials. If you haven't even watched the commercials because you're afraid they might spoil something for you, then you don't want to read this, and also, I think you need to loosen up your concept of what constitutes a spoiler a bit.
I admit, I find this last-minute ad campaign for Halo 3 pretty surprising. I was expecting some explosive, insanely high-budget commercials, though I suppose after this unexpectedly poignant Gears of War ad generated so much buzz last year I should have known they might go in a totally different direction, and having a series of ads that looks back on a crucial battle in the game from a historical perspective is a terrific idea that lends the events in the game a much greater sense of importance than they might otherwise have. Of the three current ads, the one above is definitely my favorite. It puts a human face on the battle. It makes me care. The other ads ( "Believe" and "Monument") aren't quite as effective to me because personally, I find it a bit underwhelming to think that hundreds of years in the future, the greatest tribute mankind can come up with to honor those who fought in this crucial battle is a diorama that seems not entirely unlike what some Civil War buffs of today probably have built in their basements. But this is a small complaint, and after visiting the website that lets you see the diorama in more detail I have a bit more appreciation for the idea. Overall, I really like the commercials.
"When Master Chief armed his grenade, I was something something."
-some soldier or something
By having the soldier speak these words about Master Chief arming a grenade, and by having the second commercial capture that specific moment when the grenade is armed, the commercials aim, I'm sure, to get people wondering about whether or not Master Chief dies in that moment, if he sacrifices himself for the rest of humanity. For me the answer to the question "Will Master Chief die?" is "I don't really care." Don't get me wrong, I like the character, and I hope we get to know him a little better in the game. Keeping him shrouded in mystery is effective on some level, as it lets us project more of ourselves onto him, but I think learning a bit more about what makes him tick in this game might help to make me care about whether he lives or dies in the end, and I want to care. I really do. I want it to matter. (Sure, if I really cared about getting to know him better, I could read The Fall of Reach, but I definitely don't care enough to read a novel based on a video game, rich as the backstory created for the game may be.) I suppose if I had to bet, I'd say that, since they want us to consider the possibility that he will die, he probably won't, that he'll disappear after the war to who knows where, maybe going off to live the rest of his life in peace at a secluded Buddhist monastery, and that he'll be able to get away with it because nobody knows what he looks like. But for me it's not so much about whether he lives or dies as it is about how it happens. Is it gonna be presented in the game in some way that's really memorable and effective, or is it gonna be a cliche? I've said it before and I'm saying it again: I want this game to surprise me. Ultimately, whether it's in the gameplay or the story or whatever, I just want something in this game to feel fresh and surprising, to not just recycle the admittedly excellent stuff we've seen in the first two games, but to build on it in a way that I don't see coming, that makes me feel like this is different from the Halo games I've already played while retaining what made Halo so outstanding in the first place. And if these commercials can surprise me, maybe the game will, too.
Now Cortana, on the other hand, I care about. If she dies I'm gonna be a wreck!
Being a huge internet celebrity is a very heavy burden, but it does have its perks. One of the most enjoyable aspects for me is the ability to showcase the talents of others, in the hopes that one day maybe they'll be huge internet celebrities and I will be forgotten, letting me go back to living my normal, peaceful life that doesn't involve Jimmy Kimmel calling me every five minutes begging me to be on his show.
So without further ado, here are some things I think are pretty cool.
Harder, Faster, Better, Stronger
GameSpot user visionary put together this exhilarating video, very skillfully set to Daft Punk.
He also just posted a new video in his blog which is very different in tone from this one. Vision and versatility. Groovy.
Slower, Sadder, Grimmer, Longer
Another video I found really impressive was UpinFlames' montage set to the haunting track Dead Flag Blues by Godspeed You Black Emperor! I think the images and the song complement each other very well and make for a very moving experience.
If somehow you still haven't heard about this guy, check out Zero Punctuation by Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw. Be warned, he uses lots of nasty language in his reviews (simply calling these videos "reviews"is sort of like calling The Onion a newspaper) but man, this is some funny ****.
And Now For Something Completely Different
And lastly, I highly recommend this editorial by vikingwwu. As someone who's fascinated not only by games in and of themselves but also how they fit into our lives and into our culture, I found this piece very interesting. She's a good writer, y'all. Keep an eye on her.
What Happens Now is Up to You
And hey, just for the heck of it, I'll give you a cookie if you can name the artist, album and song the title of this entry is referencing.
Metroid Prime 3 is, in my opinion, easily the best of the Metroid Prime games. There are so many things I really like about it. The environments are memorable (Skytown in particular is like some awesome fusion of Cloud City and a world out of one of the Myst games) and the controls are great. But twice now I've been told, "Ummm, yeeeeeeah, you know that planet you just came from? I'm gonna need you to go back over there and get that thing you didn't get last time you were there." Now, I know that fetch quests are part and parcel of the Metroid series, but this repeated need for me to hike back to my ship, fly to another planet, get the doohickey I missed or couldn't get before, and then go back again to the previous planet, just kills whatever sense of momentum that I was starting to build up.
Of course a sense of exploration is a necessary and satisfying aspect of Metroid, and being able to access new areas with new abilities is part of that, but I feel that the way in which it's implemented here is starting to feel antiquated and simply not fun. I don't think elements like this ought to be done away with altogether, but I do feel that they can be worked into games in a way that makes your progression feel more streamlined rather than repeatedly yanking you back and forth. In updating long-standing franchises, developers ought to learn from the design choices in years past, good and not so good, and reshape the not-so-good ones into something new, rather than feeling a need to slavishly recreate those choices in today's games.