Monday, January 31, 2011

Movie Review - Knight And Day

I can sum up everything you need to know about this film in one sentence.

Tom Cruise shoots two SMGs at once.

That's all you need to know. That sentence will tell you whether or not you will like this movie.

Knight and Day is a 2010 Action Comedy starring Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz. And GOD KNOWS Tom Cruise needs a good movie. His recent track record hasn't been spectacular. His last hit movie that could actually be called GOOD was... Well... War of the Worlds. And that was 5 years ago (from the time this movie was released).

Honestly the only thing that's really kept Tom Cruise relevant was his string of movies that were hyped and did... Moderately well. Not blockbusters, not flops.

Oh, and the fact that he went completely and totally insane, but that's beside the point.

So Knight and Day was being hyped. MAJORLY. I remember seeing tons of commercials, tons of posters, tons of interviews, tons of publicity EVERYWHERE for this movie... And then it was released and promptly fell off the radar in 30 seconds flat.

So why did this movie perform so poorly? Did it deserve its rapid death? Is it worth seeing?

...I honestly don't know why it did so poorly because I LOVED this movie.

Seriously. This movie is a blast to watch. It's over the top, cheesy, ridiculous, and AWESOME.

Cameron Diaz is the main character June Havens. (Fun Fact: Her character was so bland and cliche that I had to go wikipedia the character name. Yeah.) She is getting on a plane to head back home to her sisters wedding. At the airport she bumps into Roy Miller (Tom Cruise). On the plane they talk, she spills something, goes to the bathroom to clean it off her shirt...

Oh and then Tom Cruise is attacked and kills everyone else on the plane. And it's AWESOME. So then, in a totally over the top sequence he lands the plane in a field... After coasting over the ground for around a minute.

It's absolutely absurd and insane. Seriously, this movie has so many cliches, tropes, and cheesy over the top action sequences (Someone is stabbed in the chest, and then removes the knife and continues the fight sequence. No joke.) that you will either love this movie for what it is, or hate everything about it.

I'm serious. There are a lot of things to criticize here. Like I said, the characters aren't terribly interesting, and the plot is just silly but my gosh it's fun. That's it. It's just... Fun!

As for the acting... Well let's start with Cruise. I loved his performance in this movie. Not because it was his best performance of all time, but because you could TELL he was enjoying himself. Perhaps this is the movie he should continue making. Completely crazy ones, that is. His personality really shines through.

Cameron Diaz performance is ultimately rather forgettable. It's not BAD by any means, it didn't distract from the sheer insane fun that the movie provided, but she didn't seem to have the same energy Tom had. Or maybe that was drugs. I don't know. Could be either really.

Oh and Mark Blucas is in this, and I think this is the only thing (other than one episode of Castle) I've ever seen him in outside of Buffy. (He was Riley on Buffy, in case the name doesn't ring a bell.)

This is a movie that will make you laugh, both from funny jokes and just sheer absurdity. Whether it be landing a plane in a corn field, jumping from car to car on a moving freeway, or whatever else this movie throws at you, if you see this film wanting nothing more than an absolutely insane action-comedy, you'll most certainly enjoy this film. I did.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Your Mom Hates Dead Space 2, And Now, So Do I

Let me tell you a story. The year is 1999. Buffy is still on TV, people are scared of Y2K, and the World Trade Center still stands tall. A game called Silent Hill has just been released.

Silent Hill is a horror game.

Now, I have never played Silent Hill, nor any of the games in the franchise, but I have the utmost respect for the series. Silent Hill, from what I understand, would likely be on my list of games that are art. It's very symbolic, it's very cerebral, and it's very very scary. Which is why I haven't played it.

I don't like horror games very much. They just aren't my thing. Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Left 4 Dead... Heck, I got a copy of Penumbra: Overture in the Humble Indie Bundle ages ago and I've never installed it on my computer. I loved Ravenholm in Half-Life 2, but that's about as scary as I care for my games to be.

But I respect Silent Hill, and games like it. Horror games had existed before the franchise, but Silent Hill defined the horror genre. It knew when to be gory, it knew when to refrain. It understood that the unseen is far more frightening than what we can see. The enemies that were in it were all highly symbolic of the main characters inner psyche and emotion. (Again, from what I understand) The games were tense, emotional, and scary.

Which is why many Survival Horror games made since it have tried to copy it. Enter Dead Space.

Now, I don't hate Dead Space. Like I said, I've never played Dead Space. But, speaking as an outsider, here's what I understand the plot to be:


...Yeah. Also, puking. So there's that.

Like I said, I don't hate Dead Space, I haven't played Dead Space, I've heard it's a good game, and honestly I believe it. It looks like a good game. It got good reviews, it sold well, and it's getting a sequel. I've watched some trailers for the second game, specifically the E3 footage. It looked intense, gory, and as I said, I have no plans to play it.

And then EA decided Dead Space 2 needed just a little more publicity before launch. And of course, they decided to do it in the worst way possible. (Link contains a video with graphic violence. Beeeewaaaare.)

"Your Mom Hates Dead Space 2"

They took 300 middle aged mothers in "the heart of conservative America" and sat them down, completely unaware of what they were to see, and showed them the goriest, most disgusting scenes from the game.

The idea was simple, get the disapproval of mothers. As their new tagline says, "Dead Space 2: It's everything you love in a game, and your mom's going to hate it."

It's a brilliant marketing strategy really. The disapproval of mothers is, to many, a good indicator that something is in fact cool. And I have no doubt that my mom would cringe at many scenes in games I play, T rated, or M rated.

But here's the thing. I hate this ad campaign. I hate it. You see, there are a few reasons why I hate this ad campaign, and have lost any interest I may have had in this game before now.

1. It Makes Games Lose Creditability

You knew this was one of the reasons before you started reading this post. Don't even lie.

Let me explain something. Every time some stupid ad company pulls something like this, the whole games industry, AN ENTIRE MEDIUM, lose creditability as an art form.

Many of you probably heard about Schwarzenegger Vs. The Games Industry this past fall. In short, a bill was brought in front of the Supreme Court which was essentially saying that all violent video games were equivalent to porn, and should not be sold to children. If passed, it would show frightening precedent, and the bill itself was possibly one of the most frightening threats to our freedom to artistic expression which has ever faced the country. Do you know what games were used by the (complete scumbags) supporters of the bill? Postal, for one.

Postal is not a game which I have any sort of respect for. Postal is a game which revolves around violence and only violence. You can do all sorts of unspeakable acts in it, and YES, it's a horrible game. It is not art, and anyone who even CLAIMS that it is should seek mental help.

Let me give examples of games and game series which would be very easy to ban if the bill were passed, which were not mentioned.

Mass Effect.

All of these games are, in their own right, art. In fact, if you want to see examples of how games can be art, any of those games are very good places to start. I could write full articles on the artistic merits of any one of these games, and those were just names I came up with off the top of my head.

All of these games could be banned from sale to minors, essentially making them on the same level as porn, and would likely be ejected from most major retailers, because Postal was made.

Every time a stunt like this is pulled, every time someone makes a game that is gory it needs to be able to take flak for being bloody. But when someone pulls a stunt like this, when someone TRIES to convince mothers that their games is "demonic" it's nothing but attempts to set the genre back. Because, sadly, for every Portal, Half-Life, or Fallout, there's a Postal.

Of course, for every "Citizen Kane", there hundreds of "Meet Dave"'s. But movies are already an accepted art form, and until games reach that status, where they no longer need defenders and white knights, stunts like this only set the medium back.

2. It Tries To Sell An M Rated Game To Teenagers

I am a teenager. I have played M rated games. Mass Effect, Fallout 3, Fallout: New Vegas, Half-Life 2, all of these are M rated games, and are GREAT! So am I a hypocrite for saying that these should not be marketed towards teenagers? Absolutely not.

You see, the difference is between marketing them towards teenagers, and teenagers playing them.

Guys, I know this sounds cheesy, but the system works. The ESRB, while far from perfect, deserves some credit. IN GENERAL, it is a good indicator of the CONTENT of a game. And while I could write a whole article (and probably will at some point) about the absurd double standard between games and movies, M rated games are, generally speaking, worthy of their rating.

Now, that's not to say not all teenagers should be able to play any M rated titles. It depends on the person, plain and simple. But, those who do play M rated titles, LIKE ME, should absolutely have the permission of their parents first, and honestly, should know the content within the game and their own maturity level.

This campaign is quite clearly trying to sell teenagers an M rated game with disapproval of mothers. It's dumb. I hate it.


Seriously. When did showing that a group of people DISLIKE your product become good marketing? I just... It boggles the mind. How dumb do you have to be to come up with this? I mean, I fully think this ad campaign will sell copies of the game, and because of that I suppose it's a success, but seriously. Can companies in general please stop talking about how other people hate their stuff, but YOU, if you're a COOL KID, will definitely love it? And how if you don't love it, you must be a POSER? And a LOSER?

Seriously. I hate this ad campaign. It's stupid, it's irritating, it's childish, it poorly reflects upon the industry and medium at large, and it absolutely should not be repeated.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

An Alternate Character Interpretation of Dr. Horrible

*Note: The following contains heavy spoilers for Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. I strongly suggest you see it first, before reading this post. The Three Act musical runs at about 45 mintues long, and can be found by dubious means on youtube, can be streamed on netflix, or purchased on iTunes or Amazon. It has not been rated, but would likely earn around a PG rating. It contains mild language and some crude humor.*

*Note 2: I don't actually think this was the intent behind the plot of Dr. Horrible, nor behind the characters within it. I merely offer it as an Alternate Character Interpretation.*

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. A fun, if ultimately... Strange... Musical.

I love Dr. Horrible. The characters, the actors, the songs, the humor, everything about this show is just FUN.

But recently, I was listening to "On The Rise" and I noticed something. It was if something clicked in my head ever so suddenly. Now, I don't know if Joss Whedon intended this, but... I find this amusing. This alternate character interpretation. Honestly, this is probably just me reading to much into it, but other people online seem to have similar theories to mine, I've found.

What is this theory? My theory is an alternate character interpretation of Dr. Horrible, which harshly changes the tone of the musical. What is this theory exactly? Well, this theory is that there is no Dr. Horrible. There is only Billy, a sad schizophrenic man who has created an alter ego, Dr. Horrible. By realizing this, it brings a strange new change.

Dr. Horrible

Let's start at the beginning. What is Dr. Horrible? Dr. Horrible, as I said, is Billy's alter ego, his second persona which he slips into, protected from the harsh realities of his sad world. You see, Billy (Neil Patrick Harris) is a schizophrenic. He doesn't have multiple personality disorder persay, but he does have an alternate persona, Dr. Horrible, which he is aware of. He sees the world not as it is, but as he imagines it to be. With heroes and villains, and superpowers and fantastical things happening everywhere.

However, Billy, while aware that he has multiple personas (persona? Personi? I don't know.), neither fully realizes, nor is fully oblivious to the nature of how he sees the world. Thus, unable to cope with the way he sees reality fully by himself, he creates his blog, able to vent the way he sees the world through this blog, on the internet. Thus, any scene of him speaking to the camera, is actually happening.

Now, let's start with laundry day.

"My Freeze Ray"

This is setting up the way he feels about Penny (played by Felicia Day) who he has noticed at the laundromat before. Now, in the context of the musical it's of course, simply setting things up, that he has a crush on her, but... What if it's more than just a simple crush? What if Billy is fixated with her. Stalking her, without her knowledge. He does say at one point that he knows her exact laundry schedule. Takes on a frightening new light doesn't it?

Overall though, the "Freeze Ray" concept, shows that at this point he's still mostly harmless. He's not fully sane, but he's also not dangerous. He doesn't want to kill people, he doesn't even really want to steal money (as evidenced by the intro "It's not about making money, it's about taking money!") he just wants Penny, and he wants more people to see the world as he sees it, chaotically.

Bad Horse and the Evil League of Evil

Bad Horse and Evil League of Evil serve two purposes. The first is to establish something that Billy must strive for. Billy wants to bring chaos to the world, as he views that, in his madness, as the only way to fix the world. To "cut off the head of the fish" as he says, bringing chaos to the world, so it can regrow stronger. "Joining the league" is his goal, his mile marker, for having reached this goal.

The other, is to establish that, while Billy considers himself "Evil" he still feels he's not totally gone. That he's still on the edge between evil, and good. He still feels that he can be saved from his evil, and thus his madness. His blog is one way of him trying to explain this to the world. Trying to establish that he still feels he can be redeemed.

Captain Hammer and "A Man's Gotta Do"

Immediately before "My Freeze Ray" Dr. Horrible is answering e-mails. He mentions Captain Hammer, who will of course, be extremely important to later on. However, what is important here, is that he calls Captain Hammer his "Nemesis". This establishes past history between the two of them. You see, I think Captain Hammer is a fabrication created by Billy's schizophrenia.

What if Captain Hammer (played by Nathan Fillion... Wow, this cast is so good. My favorite actor, and my favorite actress in the same thing... Sigh... Ok back on topic.) was a jock who went to school with Billy? Always getting the girls, while Billy stood in the back of the class, a nerd, an outcast, and a loner. I doubt Hammer was even what would be called a bully. He was simply popular. And Billy hated him for that, enough that he wouldn't have forgotten about him, and would still consider Hammer his "Nemesis" after high school, and college.

Thus, "Captain Hammer" is not a real person, but a persona that Billy has created, representing everything that stands in his way. Everything he hates. Everything he views as wrong.

You see, Captain Hammer is a jerk in this. Comically so. And while I do think part of that is simply his personality, I also think a lot of it is Billy seeing Hammer how he wants to see Hammer. For example, while Hammer may have pushed him around a bit in school, I don't think he hated Billy. But I doubt that they have even seen each other in years. Not, at least, until "A Man's Gotta Do".

Billy is stealing a truck, likely one containing money, or something like it. He's being chased by the police, who he interprets as "Captain Hammer" viewing anyone who tries to stop him as his nemesis.

And then he sees Penny. Driving at high speeds, he almost hits Penny. He slows, almost caught by the police, but can't slow fast enough while pursued. He certainly would have hit her, if the real Hammer hadn't have been there. Just by crazy random happenstance, the actual Hammer pushes her out of the way.

He pushes her into the garbage, saving her life. And all Billy sees is the way he pushes them together, as he drives away, escaping the police, and slipping away quietly.

"On The Rise"

Billy is being torn up inside, after not only seeing Hammer (the real Hammer, for the rest of this I'll refer to the real Hammer as just "Hammer" while referring to Billy's imaginary nemesis as "Captain Hammer") for the first time in years, but pushing her and Penny together. He's in full on stalker mode now, as he shadows Penny and Hammer on their first date. I mean, tell me you don't get chills as you see him appear in the background at the shelter. He's insane. He's angry. And he's slowly becoming more dangerous.

The next day, he returns to his home, only to find the police there. They've found him, the thief who stole the weapons/money/whatever. They recognize him, and chase him, but he, once again, manages to slip away.

Again, in his mind, he sees it as Captain Hammer coming after him, attacking him, for using a "freeze ray" on the mayor. By this time he's realized that stealing things isn't enough chaos to bring to the world any more. There's only one thing he can do now. Only one thing, he views as "enough".

Notice the change in background from the first blog entry we see, to now. Implying he's relocated, perhaps after fleeing from the police.

In any case, he realizes now, that the only way to enter into the league (to bring chaos to those around him) is to kill. But at the same time, he struggles with the morality of killing. Remember, at this time, he's still harmless enough, never meaning to hurt anyone until now.

"Story of a Girl"/"Brand New Day"

The next day he goes to the Laundromat, and actually manages to talk to Penny, who's of course unaware of his status as an outlaw. As he talks to her, she tells him about her date with Hammer. She also tells him about the homeless shelter Hammer is helping fund, being wealthy himself. (Perhaps he opened a large chain of hardware stores, making large sums of money. That would explain the "Hammer" persona Billy invented for him.) He's enraged by this, but hides it from her. She tells him a bit about her life, and how she really likes her new boyfriend, Hammer.

And then Hammer himself comes in. Billy tries to slip away ("OH LOOK AT MY WRIST! I gotta go!") but Hammer realizes that it's Billy, someone he once knew.

I don't know what he said here. Hammer, although I truly believe he liked Penny greatly at this point, must have said something to Billy. Perhaps it was a comment about how "hot" Penny was. I don't know exactly what, but whatever it was Billy found it disrespectful. This is represented by the "And these... Are not the Hammer" line... And the following line... Yeah. You know the one I'm talking about. In any case, this finally pushes Billy over the edge. Billy finally slips into his Dr. Horrible persona fully, both in real life, and on his blog, letting it sink in.

He's going to kill Hammer. Penny will understand why, he tells himself. She'll understand he's doing it because Hammer doesn't respect her.

"So They Say"

The new homeless Shelter is featured on the news, and brings hope to many people, as Penny contemplates whether she may have found "the one". Note that the more obscene and absurd lines Hammer has in the 3rd act, as opposed to the less absurd (although still ridiculous) ones in the first and second act, are representative of Billy's descent into madness worsening, as he is now merging not only the personalities of himself and "Dr. Horrible", but of Hammer, and Captain Hammer.

Meanwhile, Billy/Dr. Horrible realizes that the opening of the homeless shelter is his opportunity. Hammer, funding it, will be giving a short speech at the opening. It will have a crowd, and it will be the perfect place for him to strike.

Moist (his roommate) tries to call him, worried about him, but Billy/Dr. Horrible ignores it. He manages to obtain a gun. And he heads to the crowd for the opening of the Homeless shelter.

"Everyone's A Hero"/"Slipping"

As Billy/Dr. Horrible watches the speech Hammer gives to the crowd. The ridiculous lines Captain Hammer is now saying have reached their peak, as Billy has now completely merged the persona's of Hammer and Captain Hammer. The lyrics of "Everyone's A Hero" represent both the merging of Hammer and Captain Hammer, and that Billy wonders, inside, if he's really past the point of no return. He isn't. But unfortunately, he's too fueled by anger and hate to leave the path he's on.

Dr. Horrible shoots Hammer. He tells no one to move as he walks around and monologues like a crazy man. He slowly walks toward Hammer. He looks around, not seeing Penny. She's hiding. She realizes what Dr. Horrible is about to do though, and runs up in front of Hammer before Billy kills him. This is what Captain Hammer standing now represents, is Penny's defense of Hammer. (Remember, Captain Hammer represents whatever gets in his way.) He now splits Penny into two Personas. Penny, and Captain Hammer. Penny is everything he loves. Captain Hammer is everything he hates.

Confused and angered, he shoots Penny (the real one).

Penny (both real, and the persona) die. Captain Hammer, however, lives, as now matter what he does, there will always be things to get in his way. Hammer too, lives (now needing severe therapy after seeing his old schoolmate kill his girlfriend, for trying to talk Dr. Horrible down.)

"Everything You Ever"

After killing Penny, he does in fact cause a lot of fear and chaos. In his mind, "[His] victory's complete". Billy, seeing Penny dead, realizes what he's done, but of course blames it in his mind as Captain Hammer's doing. You see, the moment Penny resisted him, getting in his way, she became representative of Captain Hammer. Thus when Billy shot HER, it was really (in his mind) Captain Hammer shooting Penny. Captain Hammer killing Penny. Thus he collapses, and mourns her. In his mind he has now achieved it. He has now joined the Evil League of Evil, both because he became what he truly feels is the worst he could be, what he feels is truly "evil" and because he caused enough chaos to have reached his goal. He is now irredeemable, he feels, after having killed Penny.

The police come and arrest him, but he simply revels in his victory. He's taken to an insane asylum, being truly crazy. In his mind though, he's taken to the league, and parties with them, reveling in his achievement. He did it. He got everything he ever wanted. Now the nightmare's real. Now he is truly Dr. Horrible. In his mind, there is no longer a Billy, there is only Dr. Horrible, who is now represented in a red costume. And yet before the credits roll, for just one second, we see Dr. Horrible in his old costume, talking into the camera, on his blog, tears streaming down his face.

There is, perhaps, some ounce of humanity left in Dr. Horrible. Some trace of Billy.

Sunday, January 9, 2011


Let me answer a question that I'm quite sure no one asked. I review and comment on a lot of movies, a lot of video games, a lot of TV shows, and I comment (albeit less frequently) on books and comics/graphic novels. That's really what makes up the majority of this blog. You may notice, and may (but probably don't) wonder why that list doesn't include music?

Simple... I'm really not qualified to talk about music. I... Really just don't get as passionate about music as I do about other mediums. It's not that I think it lesser, quite the contrary, I think music is a beautiful medium which, artistically, is every bit as great as books, films, or video games. (And yes I will put video games on par with the rest as an artistic medium.)

Now, don't get me wrong, there's a lot of music that I hate. I hate Justin Bieber, the untalented hack, I despise country music with very VERY few exceptions, and I don't like rap or R&B. It's just... Not my thing.

But I mean, you won't see me reviewing the latest hit single because of two main reasons.

1. I have absolutely no musical talent. Seriously. I don't play an instrument, my singing voice is... Well it's not ear bleedingly bad, but I'm not going to become a breakout music star any time soon. And I literally know next to nothing about how music is written.

2. I'm simply not qualified to talk about music because of my lack of knowledge on the subject. Now, with movies or film, I may have some... Different opinions than the majority, but I know what I'm talking about. I do reading, and I spend a LOT of my time watching films, or playing games. I know the terminology behind it. I understand game mechanics, and can identify storytelling tropes. I've listened to countless commentaries for films. I'm not the worlds greatest expert on these things, but I know what I'm talking about when it comes to storytelling, movies, games, special effects... That's not the case with music. I don't know that much about music. I don't listen to the radio, I don't pay ANY attention to what albums are being released and when, I don't know who the new big sensation is... In fact if you were to ask me to name any of the top twenty songs right now, I couldn't name a single one. I listen to music, sure, but... A pretty small selection.

I mean... I know who Lady Gaga is, I know who Ke$ha is, I unfortunately know who Justin Bieber is... But I don't own a single song released by any of them. Which, y'know, is probably not a bad thing in at least two of those cases. (I'll let you decide which two I'm talking about.)

That said, what do I like? Well, that's a tough question, because there's a lot of varying things I like, and they... Really aren't connected. But I suppose I should start with my very favorite band.

Five Iron Frenzy

Five Iron Frenzy was a Christian Ska/Rock band which was formed in the late nineties and saw moderate, yet niche success until they broke up in 2004. I only actually learned about them a couple years ago, long after they had been broken up, and then of course immediately bought every CD they had ever released with the exception of a few live ones, because they were FREAKING AWESOME.

Seriously, this band could not be any better, their songs ranging from humorous songs like "The Untimely Death of Brad", (Created after a rumor of the death of one of the members of the band spread across the internet like wildfire. He was alive, for the record, and the rumor started after he missed a concert due to equipment malfunction or some such.) to "Blue Mix" a song which called out the hypocrisy in the Christian music industry, to straight Christian songs like "Far Far Away". Which, by the way, is also AWESOME, like pretty much every song they have.

Due to the nature of the band, with many songs being completely unrelated to their faith, they saw success, albeit only moderate, among both Christian and Secular audiences. Because they were awesome. Seriously. Go look them up. Now.

Parodies. Lots and lots of parodies.

Ok, I LOVE parodies. If done right, they can be hilarious.

If done wrong, they can be awful of course... But if done right, they can be so good!


The man wrote Still Alive, Ikea, Dance Soterios Johnson, and Re: Your Brains. He's a freaking genius. Oh, and his 3 and a half minute song about a Vampire manages to convey a better, more interesting story, and create more interesting characters, than the entirety of the Twilight series.

He's a freaking. Genius. There is nothing more to be said about him. Go look up almost any of his songs, The Presidents, Skullcrusher Mountain, Mandlebrot Set (harsh language, just warning you), Chiron Beta Prime, any of the ones I mentioned above, Furry Ol' Lobster... They're great.


I covered musicals I love last year

Probably my second favorite episode of the series, next to Hush. (Interestingly enough the one where there's hardly any speech at all.)


Pomplamoose I'm mainly mentioning here because of the style of their music videos, which I'll talk about in a moment. They're a group (two people) that mainly do covers of other songs, with some original work mixed in. The covers are great, but what is really interesting is the fact that the videos, instead of showing mostly random images, show the instruments being played, and the singer... Well... Singing...

Everything which is played in the song is at some point seen onscreen. It's very cool to see, and the music is good.

Of course there's a lot of other groups and such which I quite like, but this was just a small list of examples.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

New Year, New Layout, Same Sarcastic Writer

If you're reading this, chances are you've noticed a few changes to the layout of my blog. And by "few" I mean complete redesign. I thought I'd say a few words about it.

You see, mid December marked the first anniversary of this blog, and... Well, I've kind of had the same layout for the past year. And let's face it, that layout wasn't very good. It wasn't eye-meltingly bad, but it certainly had a lot of flaws. The color scheme was blah, the sidebars were functional but hardly exciting, and... Well... It was not very nice to look at!

So I decided to create a new layout with the new year. It's still a work in progress, and more changes may be coming later on depending on whether or not I decide to do them, but hey, it's certainly better than it was.

Also, about the header: The drawing in it (Batman and Portal, two of my favorite things), as well as my new "about me" picture, are drawings done by myself, and inked and colorized using Gimp. Yes, I kind of suck. Get over it. I'll post the images here real quick, in case anyone cares enough to see the full things.


Saturday, January 1, 2011

Video Game Review - Fallout: New Vegas

Fallout: New Vegas is a game created by Obsidian Entertainment. It's not, as you may think, by Bethesda Softworks, creators of Fallout 3, as they licensed it to Obsidian, a company which makes sequels for other companies. It was made as a... Well, it's not exactly a sequel to Fallout 3... In fact, from what I understand it's more of a "real" continuation of the story of Fallout 1 and 2 than Fallout 3 was. You see the original two Fallout games were set in California. There was a deep universe set up, many creatures and characters were introduced, and then in Fallout 3... All of them were scrapped. Well, ok, most of them.

You see, Fallout and Fallout 2 were set in the Core Region, which was most of California, with bits of Nevada included. 3 took place in the Capital Wasteland, the decimated ruins of Washington D.C. While Fallout 3 is fantastic, it included a mostly separated storyline from the rest of the series. Even the Super Mutants, a staple of the Fallout series, are different from the ones you encounter in 1 and 2.

Now, I haven't actually played Fallout or Fallout 2. However, from what I've heard, New Vegas is much closer a sequel (story wise) to Fallout and Fallout 2 than Fallout 3 was. In any case, as one might expect, Fallout: New Vegas takes place in (surprise!) VEGAS! ...Well, in and around Vegas, that is. New Vegas itself is such a small portion of the Mojave Wasteland, that the rest kind of dwarfs it.

Now, I'm in a unique position to talk about this game, as I actually used to live in Vegas. And I can tell you, they did extraordinarily well. For example, they easily could have gotten away with merely recreating the Strip, and calling it New Vegas, however they did not. They recreated VEGAS, and it's surroundings.

The Strip itself is, of course, there, as well as Fremont Street, which has now become "Freeside", the slums of New Vegas, accessible to anyone, not just those with lots of caps. In fact, it takes around 2000 caps just to get INTO New Vegas proper.

Outside of New Vegas though there's still a LOT of faithfully recreated landmarks. Redrock is still in the game, as are landmarks like Mt. Charleston, Lake Mead, The Hoover Dam... Heck, they've even got that huge soda bottle right off of the Strip, now though, instead of being Coke, it's "Sunset Sasparilla". And each famous landmark has a "Snowglobe" related to it, which can be picked up and sold to a certain eccentric person.

But a faithful recreation of Vegas does not, on it's own, a good game make. So, while the game is certainly a good recreation of Vegas, how is the gameplay, one might ask. Well let me put it this way: Did you like Fallout 3? Because this is... Reeeeeeally similar.

Seriously, at first glance, you may not even be able to tell the difference. You see, it's a first person shooter, like Fallout 3, it has various types of guns, various varieties of enemies, and of course V.A.T.S., the auto targeting system, makes a return from Fallout 3.

However, there are a number of changes which have been made to the gameplay. Most are minor enough that you wouldn't notice them at first glance, but do alter gameplay quite a bit. The first, and likely what many will find to be the most major, is the complete disappearance of the Big Guns skill from Fallout 3. Any weapons which were considered Big Guns have been transferred to other archetypes, for example, Miniguns have been folded into the Guns skill, Missile Launchers and the Fat-Man into the Explosives skill, Flamers have (somewhat strangely) become Energy Weapons... And so on. In place of the Big Guns skill is "Survival", a new skill which has two uses. It increases the health you gain from food (something which will come in quite handy, especially in Hardcore mode, which I'll get into later.) and it allows you to cook more recipes out of various gathered plants, similar to the way Alchemy worked in Oblivion.

An absolutely massive change is the fact that you now only get perks every even numbered level, instead of every level. Personally, though I did a complete playthrough of the game with no mods installed, on my second playthrough I've chosen to install a mod to allow me to get perks on every level once again.

Another large change is that many new types and variations of ammo have been introduced, not only with tons of new varieties, but also with Armor Piercing and Anti Personnel versions of each type. Also, many things which were common in Fallout 3, have become much more scarce in New Vegas, such as Frag Grenades. While Frag Grenades are more uncommon than they used to be new types of explosives have been introduced, such as Dynamite, which works similarly to Grenades, and C4, which can be placed and later detonated at a time of your choosing with a detonator.

Other small changes are things like, for example, the way Speech checks (and Barter checks, and Intelligence checks, and Perception checks, and Luck checks...) work. In Fallout 3, your odds of success would get higher the higher your speech skill was. In this, you either have enough points, or don't. You either have a 100% chance to succeed, or a 0% chance to. It will tell you what your speech skill should be, and if it's that high, great, if not, better find a new way to get what you're looking for. (Perhaps violence. Violence usually works well.)

However, while the gameplay is very similar, the games couldn't feel more different.

You see, the settings are radically different. The best way I can think of to put it is this:

Fallout 3 is a tale of urban survival.
Fallout: New Vegas is a western.

You see, the Capital Wasteland was an area with no government. Complete and total chaos. Utter anarchy. It had been rocked by the nukes, and was still devastated, the air tinged green, and everything completely tainted by radiation.

The Mojave Wasteland, however, first of all, was not hit by the nukes directly. This shows as very few areas have radiation, and rads become pretty much a non-issue for most of the game, with a few exceptions. The Mojave Wasteland also has a government in the form of the New California Republic, but that "government" is very loose as you're at the complete border of their reach... Much like the 19th century American west. Thus, in many areas small settlements will rely completely on local law enforcement... Again, much like the setting of many classic western films. Almost every aspect of the game reflects this.

Heck, even the beginning of the game feels like the start of an old western movie, with your character, "The Courier" being shot in the head and left to die in a shallow grave.

The exceptions to the game having the feel of a western are mostly in the small area of The Strip and it's surroundings, which feel more like an old black and white mobster movie.

But make no mistake, New Vegas is a western. There are Cowboys (heck, there's a perk called "Cowboy"), tribes, vicious untamed wild creatures, outlaws and sheriffs. It's a western set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, but a western nonetheless. This setting shines through, and works fantastically well.

Of course one of the most critically acclaimed features of Fallout 3 returns in the form of RADIO STATIONS! This time there are 3 radio stations which can be tuned into, one of which can only be tuned into if you're within a short distance of "Black Mountain".

The first, and the one you'll likely spend the most time listening to is "Radio New Vegas" hosted by Mr. New Vegas. This is the equivalent of GNR in Fallout 3. Mr. New Vegas himself is a smooth talking radio host, who though lacking the energy of "THREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE DOG!" is nonetheless a great host for the station. His smooth voice will announce many things, although in a sharp contrast to Three Dog, his news items rarely mention The Courier, although they will at time mention his accomplishments, if not directly.

The second station, accessible only when in close proximity to "Black Mountain" is "Black Mountain Radio". Playing across BMR is the talk show "Best Friend Tabitha" hosted by Rhonda, and Tabitha, an insane Nightkin. (Think crazier supermutants. Also, blue.) Best Friend Tabitha hosts various segments like "Know Your Mutant", which describes various mutants. It's pretty amusing, not gonna lie.

The third, a welcome addition, is "Mojave Music Radio" which is all music, all the time. No talk show at all.

The songs played on the station are, as with Fallout 3, 50's and 60's music, and great. Personally, I found the best two songs to be "Ain't That A Kick In the Head"...

And "Big Iron"...

... I told you it was a western. Personally, I usually don't like that kind of music, but here it really worked, fitting the theme really well, although the other country songs in this certainly took it overboard...


In any case, the radio stations are, again, a great addition.

The story of Fallout: New Vegas, I found to be absolutely amazing. I won't spoil too much of it for you, but it takes you all over the place, and I found it to be more compelling and interesting than that of Fallout 3, which I also really liked. The writing is superb, and even (especially, in fact) outside of the main storyline this game contains some of the GREATEST storytelling I've ever seen in a game. Heck, I could do a whole blog post on Vault 11 alone. (Foreshadowing!)

And in addition to the storyline itself, the various factions and companions you meet along the way also change the storyline, along with having storylines of their own, although the fact that you cannot continue after the ending (until the inevitable DLC to come in the future) is a weak point.

Speaking of companions, the companions have been VASTLY improved upon from Fallout 3. Now not only can you more easily command and heal them, you can change and improve their gear. And each of them, as I said, has their own storyline and quest you can do for them. There are various ones, you can have up to two (one humanoid, one non humanoid) at a time, and they vary from a sniper to a cyborg dog... And of course my personal favorite, Veronica, a Brotherhood of Steel scribe voiced by Felicia Day.

Oh yeah.

Their very powerful, and (unless in hardcore mode) they can't die, only fall unconscious.

Personally though, one of my favorite additions to the game is Hardcore Mode, and optional setting which makes the game harder. I spoke about it previously, and about what it does, but in short, it makes various changes to gameplay mechanics which make the game more difficult, and I'd argue more fun. You can find the specifics in the game or online, but since rads aren't much of an issue in this, I'd say turn it on just for the extra meters to watch alone.

Now, the big dark spot of this game, and honestly one of it's only flaws, is that it's absurdly buggy. I spoke of this previously too, and most of the MAJOR bugs have been fixed by now, but you may still want to wait a month or so from the time of writing to get it if you're debating still.

In short, Fallout: New Vegas is a fantastic game.

Buy this game if:
You like westerns, Fallout 3, RPGs, or great storytelling.

Don't buy this game if:
You're squeamish. Like Fallout 3, this game is ABSURDLY gory.

This review was based on my experiences after around 55 hours of play time. I completed one full playthrough of the game on hardcore mode where I capped at level 30 before finishing. I got the NCR ending, and was considered "Very Good" karma. My character specialized in sneak, guns (mainly pistols and revolvers), lockpicking, speech, and barter mainly. The companions I mainly used were Veronica (duh, Felicia Day, c'mon) and E-DE, occasionally switching out Veronica for Cass towards the end of my playthrough. I had achieved 29/50 Steam achievements upon completion.

The Problem With Fallout: New Vegas

Although I haven't done a formal review of Fallout: New Vegas, I touched on the game during "The First Annual Wherein I Rant Awards", and called it a fantastic game, with superb writing, gameplay, and one of the best example of storytelling in games I've ever seen, and make no mistake, I would easily hold Fallout: New Vegas storytelling up there with Half-Life 2's, or dare I even say it, Portal's.

But, I did mention one enormous flaw with the game. Something which, even though it's a fantastic game, made me bump it down from my Game of the Year, down to runner up.

So what was the flaw so blatantly obvious that it would knock down such a fantastic game to a mere second place? Simple. It wasn't finished yet.

You see, Fallout: New Vegas is buggy. Really, really buggy. The game, while fantastic, simply should not have been released so soon. In fact, I bought the game over a month after it's release, and still found it plagued with game breaking glitches. Random crashes, companions would stop following, character clipping through the floor, and one (rather amusing) bug where characters (hostile or not) would stand in the nearest corner as though they were put in a time out.

You might think I'm exaggerating here, but I'm not. On multiple occasions, I found fights incredibly easy because the enemy was completely stuck, knees down, clipped into the ground, unanble to move. That's pretty game breaking.

Now, I by no means expect a game to be perfectly coded when I buy it. One thing you simply have to live with when you're buying a product like a game, ESPECIALLY a game like Fallout: New Vegas, which is absolutely massive, is that the game will have bugs. The code is just too massive, and it just wouldn't be feasible, economically or rationally, to expect a perfectly bug free code. HOWEVER, what you can expect is for GAME BREAKING bugs to be fixed.

You see, I spent about 50 hours on my first playthrough of Fallout: New Vegas. I noticed dozens, if not hundreds, of major bugs. Now, how long did they play test the game for bugs to not notice these? I have to imagine they couldn't have gotten all that far without noticing these bugs.

So either: A. They didn't properly playtest their own product, playing it for a grand total of less that 50 hours before releasing it to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people, or B. They DID know this game was unfinished and buggy, and chose to release it anyway.

Either of these options are simply not ok. You see, either way it says to me they didn't care about their own product enough to polish it before finishing it.

But is this an isolated case? Is this simply one game company, Obsidian (who aren't exactly well known for releasing flawless products...) releasing a game sooner than they should? Or is this a shocking trend, one which absolutely should not continue?

Unfortunately, I'm inclined to say it's becoming quite the trend. Not, perhaps, as obvious as Fallout: New Vegas, but still quite bad. Take, for example, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed.

Now, let me begin by explaining that, although most movie games are shovelware, Star Wars is the exception to that rule. While there certainly ARE Star Wars shovelware games, Knights of the Old Republic, Battlefront and Battlefront 2, Lego Star Wars... These are all good games. In fact, KOTOR has writing which I would hold up to any of the movies. I mean, KOTOR gave us HK-47, and if you don't find HK-47 funny, you're clearly not a meatbag- Sorry, I mean a Human.

In any case, TFU is not shovelware. It's a good game, perhaps not a great game, but a good game nonetheless. It put you in the shoes of the secret apprentice of Darth Vader, trained to kill the emperor, and gave you ABSURD force powers. You could force lightning, you could pick guys up and throw them out into space, you could disintegrate stormtroopers, you could pick enemies up and throw them at each other... It was awesome.

When it was released though, it wasn't exactly... Well it was pretty darn buggy. For example, during the final boss fight? I force pushed the final boss, and he fell behind some rubble, completely unable to move for the rest of the fight. He would stand up, and play a walking animation... But no movement.

That's, again, a pretty game breaking bug. Now, while it's certainly not as obvious as some bugs in Fallout: New Vegas, it still makes me wonder how much bug testing they must have done. I'm inclined to believe it wasn't much.

But why would companies release unfinished products? Certainly long term sales would be exceptionally low for a fundamentally broken product? Well, the answer is quite simple: Patch it later.

You see, patches were not available in the days of the NES, SNES, N64/PS, and even the Gamecube/PS2/Xbox. Patches are bug fixes or additions to a game (or other software product, but for this context we're using the term for games) which is sent out by the company later, and downloaded by the computer or console. Back before all the consoles had an easy internet connection, if you wanted to make a change, you'd have to change the code on the next edition of cartridges. Nothing could be done about the copies already out there.

For example, let's take for example, one of the greatest games of all time, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, for the N64. True geeks like me will already likely know the story I'm about to bring up, but for the sake of the masses, let me tell you the story of the gold cartridge.

You see, when OoT was originally released, it was released on a golden cartridge. No real reason why, just an aesthetic thing. However, only the first batch, if you will, the first editions, would be released on a golden cartridge.

You see, after the game was released, although it had been rated E, the players of the game noticed a few things. Namely that the final cutscene featured the final boss being stabbed in the head, and (red) blood, spewing across the screen. However, that alone was not the only thing that got the gray cartridges changed. You see the Fire Temple (one of the dungeons you adventure through late in the game) featured, in one room, islamic chanting in the background music. Something which met with the attention of extremist groups.

Keep in mind this was in the 90s, pre-9/11, and had it been post 9/11 it likely never would have made the cut, however, it was pushed through, and met certain Nintendo employees with death threats.

As such, in the next release, the gray cartridge, the chanting was removed, and the blood was changed to a yellowish green color. However, nothing could be done about the first batch of cartridges, and to this day golden OoT cartridges remain a collectors item.

Now, this may not be the best example, as those things weren't exactly "bug fixes" but I imagine you get the idea. You see, today those things would simply be patched.

Now, patches are by no mean a bad thing. They're a great thing in fact! However, they're only great when used properly. You see, many companies have used the existence of patches as an excuse for releasing unfinished products.

For example? Well, Fallout: New Vegas. Which has already gotten several patches that have fixed major problems. Thus, those who bought it on release were essentially paying $50 to $60, to test an unfinished product, something which Obsidian should have done in the first place.

These paid betas... Are simply unacceptable. Thus, Fallout: New Vegas biggest flaw. It could have been a real candidate for Game of the Year 2011, unfortunately, it was released in 2010.