The Alabaster Sock

We Will Fight the Threat with Fighting

Archive for March, 2010

Posted by Matt on March 31, 2010

Marvel has an app on the iPad already.

As stupid as the iPad is at many things, reading comics is not one of them. It’s actually a pretty good size for reading comics, and the touchscreen-based interface makes reading them less of a hassle than they would be on a computer. eReaders in general are good for comics and other ‘disposable’ periodicals, as no one really cares about the physicality of them, and usually they just take up a lot of space. This way, monthlies and short comics are easily accessible and the dreaded longboxes will be a thing of the past, while those who want paper can still read the trades.

This is probably the best idea Marvel has had in a while, and hopefully they will keep the whole thing at a reasonable price and with a good selection. If and when this iPad thing takes off, Marvel could find this to be a very profitable venture, and other companies can follow suit.

I’m still not buying. Are you nuts? Buying first generation Apple products is just asking for trouble.

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Posted by Matt on March 28, 2010

Haven’t done this in forever.

Game Ideas #3

Idea: Time Paradox: The Videogame

Time travel and videogames are certainly no strangers. One of my favourite games, Chrono Trigger, is based around it, after all. And time warping has become a popular mechanic for action/adventure games.

However, it is worth noting that time travel storylines (especially for older games) make absolutely no sense. And not in the way time travel stories usually do. For example, in CT, your characters always seem to travel back to the point in time in a certain period where they last left that period, so that any changes in it actually count. It simplifies the time travel logic, but it’s also completely bizarre. Its sequel, Chrono Cross, which I have not played (and probably never will, seeing as I’ve lost all interest in JRPGs), did do some interesting things with the ideas of the original (which I maintain is the POINT of a sequel) by incorporating alternate universes and destiny and stuff like that.

But I still feel that is not enough, or at least there haven’t been a lot of games that go to that length. Time travel offers a vast amount of possibilities for games, and not just for stories/aesthetic either. Not even hard sci-fi time travel necessarily, although if you can find ways to create ‘scientific’ time travel logic for your game, go for it. Superhero comics have been messing about with time travel forever, and from it we’ve got fun stuff like the Kang Council. The more mindbending aspects of time travel seem to be rather underutilized, and that’s where this game idea came from.

The Kang Council was one of the inspirations for this idea, which is not set in any particular kind of storyline or genre but I have imagined as an RPG/Adventure game. The basic idea is this: you can form your party out of versions of a character from different time periods. Past, present, and future should all be available (with some reasonable limits, of course) to pluck party members from, including the characters you’ve already met. It could be them 10 years in the future, 20 years in the past, or five seconds ago: you could find them and recruit them. This might be easier to utilize if you keep the setting confined, maybe to a single city. By keeping the game rooted in a single area, I think, would not only make some of these ideas easier to manage, but also allows the effects of your time travelling escapades to be more pronounced without having to resort to ridiculous butterfly effect bullshit.

Yes, altering time should probably be more subtle. If you travel back in time and open a box, your present shouldn’t now to be filled with mutant pine cones or something. Save the bigger consequences for when your characters really start altering things in a much larger scale in the past. You can even make it that many smaller changes that do very little on their own can stack up to create some major changes. And of course, if some of those changes start to make your game a little too unbearable, you could simply go back in time and stop yourself from making those changes.

It would probably also be a good idea to focus on a specific, shorter periods in time for adventures. Much like focusing on a smaller world setting, it would easy up development and make the effects of your choices more immediate. Most time travel games let you go to what we recognize as ‘the past’ (dinosaurs, knights, cowboys) or ‘the future’ (lots of technology and robots and lasers), but that’s all pretty broad. It might be a better idea to make your character travel within 100 or so years of their current time, at most. And, as I hinted at before, that could include very short periods as well. You could go back or forward 2 months, 2 weeks, or 2 hours. Whatever times would be chosen should be done so for the sake of keeping the game interesting. You don’t need to be able to go back/forward to every minute for the next 100 years; but say, early in the game, your protagonist experiments with time travel by going forward or backward a very short distance, and you could keep doing this as a ‘test’ time. Again, the time periods you can visit, while closer together, should be done in the interest of gameplay.

With those major mechanics in minds, let’s get to the meat of the game. I would imagine that it would mission-based, with your characters getting ideas about things to see in the past/future. Say there was a major disaster that happened in the past, and your character goes back to witness it, and maybe even change the outcome. Or say they did something in their present, and want to see what happens in their future because of that decision. There would also be the kinds of things the Chrono games and even The Legend of Zelda have done before, where you take things only found in a certain time period back or forward in order to solve a specific problem. These sorts of missions would make up the bulk of the game, with a ‘big plot’ being unraveled at some point.

While I’d prefer a game that would allow a little more freedom, being able to choose to go back and forward in time and do a number of things and having those effects pile up, and let you deal or not deal with them on your own terms. There would limits to the number of things you could do, of course. We’re not at the point in gaming where developers could reasonably create that kind of complicated, organic game world (and in some cases, why would anyone want a game world like that?). But a really brilliant time travel game would at least try to let the players have some sort of control over the outcome of their shenanigans, at the very least give them options for their time travel missions rather than give them a time machine and then thrust them into a linear ‘gotta save the future!’ story.

On the other hand, it would still be possible to make a more linear game fun using the same ideas. I mean, I would be pleased with a Chrono Trigger-style game which includes different temporal versions of yourself as playable characters. I really, genuinely like some of these concepts, and if they can be integrated into a game of any stripe, that’s one step in the right direction.

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Posted by Matt on March 24, 2010

Decipher has this CCG called Fight Klub that’s been kicking around for the past few years. It’s big thing was that it had a new distribution model, one that was player-driven and not nearly as random and money-draining as other CCGs are. The gameplay itself is…adequate (here’s a random review I just found). It seems weird that Decipher, after years of producing highly-complex games like Star Wars and Star Trek, would decide to make a rock-em-sock-em robots game…but whatever. There’s the history.

New release. So far, the series has used characters from action and horror movies, everything from Silence of the Lambs and Rambo to fucking Species and Chuck Norris. The new set follows in that tradition, and even manages to land the big guns with Terminator and Robocop. So yeah, that works fine. What else is there? Jeepers Creepers? Bullshit, but I guess applicable bullshit (this is one of those things with recent movie-based CCGs, I’ve found. Both this and Marvel Superstars are games that mix material from both good and utterly terrible films, so it’s kind of hard to judge them on their own grounds because the whole time I’m thinking “Well here’s an Elektra card…my god did Elektra ever suck”) .

But then…Fargo. What? Really?

And then…Platoon. Maybe a little more appropriate, but on the other hand, I wonder how Oliver Stone thinks about his ‘Nam confessional being used to the delight of nerds. Not that this is anything new.

It’s weird is what I’m saying.

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Posted by Matt on March 22, 2010

You know what would be fun to write for? Radio drama. Just imagine writing for TV, but without all the visual stuff! It would certainly be a different kind of experience, and I think there could be a place for radio-style drama in the Internet age. Some people prefer audio to video podcasts, after all.

Radio drama presents some interesting possibilities. One, narration can be inserted without the kind of awkwardness you’d find in most video media, as it doesn’t immediately clash with what we see happening on screen. The old Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy radio plays come to mind, and those actually did a lot with narration, making them feel a lot closer to the books. And yes, I do know the radio show came first.

You also need to rely on dialogue and sounds, and those provide a lot of opportunities to mix things up. If you’re doing comedy, you need to make sure things SOUND funny, and that plays into my kind of humour pretty well. Manipulating sounds, whether it be voices, music, ambiance, or sound effects, to work for the story could ultimately be a very creatively engaging and satisfying endeavor.

It could also be relatively cheap. But I’m going to pretend that’s not an important aspect of it.

Posted in Nobody Cares, Writin' & Other Creativity | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

Posted by Matt on March 19, 2010

Things done in convenient list format:

Why the recently announced Playstation Move is off to a rocky start

1) “Price Point: Under $100

2)Look at it!

3) Price point: Under $100

Okay, that’s about all I got, but I really want to emphasize that price point. I’m under the assumption that this is meant to compete with the Wii, what with the controller looking almost exactly the same, and them releasing party games for it and all. Logic would seem to dictate that if it’s trying to compete with the Wii, it’s trying to compete for the Wii audience, AKA the so-called ‘Casual Crowd’. I mean, why else would Sony or Microsoft be releasing new controller types in the first place, if they didn’t want to tap into that new audience? So okay, we’ve established this.

So, you’re are a potential game console owner, who would likely fall into that ‘Casual’ audience. What would you rather buy: the game console that costs $200 and has an established brand name for what you’re looking for, or the console that could cost nearly twice that much for similar but less developed experience? This is what I don’t understand. Sony wants to compete with Nintendo, I’m assuming, so what they’re going to do is sell the same experience for more money? Are they out of their minds?

Some would likely try to argue that it’s worth the extra cash because it’s ‘HD’, but is there any evidence the new people Sony wants to buy the thing is interested in that at all? They’re barely interested in buying more than two games for the Wii, do you think they care if it has ‘modern’ graphics, a Second Life knock-off, and extra storage space? Fuck no, that’s what gamers care about.

Speaking of gamers, this will barely affect their numbers, either. I’m sure there will be some who will buy into the minor hype and shell out ‘under $100’ for the package so that they can use it with SOCOM 4 (which is one of the least interesting game announcements Sony could have made). But there’s also a whole slew of PS3 owners who have decided that the Wii is a Satanic device and are very disappointed that the other console manufacturers to take a similar route.

I don’t even take joy in making fun of Sony’s follies anymore. It’s just frustrating how half-assed and cynical this whole exercise appears. At least Natal looks like it might try to be a little more ambitious than it’s knock-off roots would imply. But not Sony; if there’s a road to success, Sony will take a completely different road that will send them careening off a cliff.

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Posted by Matt on March 15, 2010

I’m more negative on this – I don’t care if it’s hand drawn or computer drawn or live action combo or photorealistic. It’s about why use a technique to help you tell a story better. Is it better to tell the story in 2D or 3D or a combination? How do you tell the story emotionally? Whether it’s 2D or 3D I don’t think the audience cares – you might care as an animation geek – but I don’t think the audience cares, per se. They only care if you’ve transported me to a new world, have you told me a story I didn’t know about and have you made me laugh and cry? And if you’ve done all those three things you’re successful. I don’t know whether it’s 2D or 3D… who cares? Make a movie! Take a technique!”

-Peter Schneider, former Disney producer

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The Return of Animals!

Posted by Matt on March 14, 2010

This list of weird animals, while containing many old favourites, also has many new entries into the strange and amazing creature pantheon. Aren’t Seapigs, Glass Frogs, Geoducks, and Eagle Owls so delightful? And let’s not forget our old friends, the horrible cancer worm colonies!

But it also reminds me of one thing: MOTHERFUCKING PANGOLINS.


Who does not like this thing? Tell me who you are so I can kill you.

Armadillos have always been my second favourite animal (after the otter), because they are pretty cute and they also have armor and curl into a ball. Pangolins are like armadillos with pine cone armor, and they can climb trees, giving them another advantage. Yes, pangolins are pretty great, for all those reasons and probably more.

On that not, when you think about it, the concept of having a ‘favourite’ animal is odd. I mean, I have generally approached it in the same way I approach favourite designs in fiction…but I’m applying it to real, living things. That’s a tad fucked up.

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Posted by Matt on March 13, 2010

The Worst Words #3


I truly have a hard time believing in the concept of real ‘evil’. For the most part, I can only see it in the dilutions that are only viewed as evil by weaker minds. However, if there is one thing that I would consider truly an example of evil, it would be marketing. The evil of marketing is multi-faceted: it could only appear in a society that is economically, scientifically, and culturally advanced enough that excess is even possible, meaning that even our greatest human achievements can be easily tainted; it is inherently manipulative, as it based around convincing people to buy things of wildly varying value by any means necessary; it abuses science and art, two of the great facets of human civilization, in order to perform that manipulation; and in the end, it is a mindless entity which exists solely to make money, and everything else involved does not mean a damned thing to it: it could be selling the next great human advancement, it could be selling a worthless trinket, it could be selling genocide, but that doesn’t matter at all. It doesn’t care about anything other than maintaining the endless cycle that is its existence. It is far beyond the minds that created it at this point; the marketing ideals are now in control.

So yes, I don’t think much of marketing.What disturbs me along with that is that not only are people being manipulated by the marketing devices, many of them do so willingly.

As I said in a previous post, the Internet age has given people a vast knowledge base from which they can access at any time. The people of the Internet culture has accumulated an absurd amount of information about the things they are interested in. I doubt anyone decades ago could tell you as much about the inner workings of their favourite TV shows or movies as the fans could today. It’s not just that viewers are becoming more obsessive, it’s that it’s all there for them. People seem to have accepted this new freedom of information as an essential part of the culture. People scour the Internet for casting rumours and early script reviews. They know the industry, and they know (most) of the tricks used by the marketeers to make things appealing, whether they be entertainment or other kinds of products.

I remember being struck while studying media texts in a sociology class how close the concept of the ‘media-savvy’ was to my own experience. The definitions and problems posed by the text almost exactly described what I had observed during my years as part of various media discussions. The problem with the media-savvy is that, with all their knowledge, with all their capacity to gain discerning taste and reject some of the cruder elements of pop culture, they choose not to. They watch and they buy just as anyone else would; no matter how embarrassingly mediocre something like SNL gets, they’ll still pay attention to it, even if they complain about it the entire way. They still don’t think twice about what the commercial is trying to do, they will enjoy it nonetheless. This says something not only about how hypocritical and intellectually lazy western society can get, but also in the kind of power marketing has. Even when the Emperor is naked, the crowds will still praise his regal look.

I’d typify the type of person I think of above as the average reader of the pop culture blog (which includes stuff like The AV Club, although they are usually of more integrity than the rest of the media-savvy world). Another offshoot of this culture are the type who I see often on videogame message boards, the ones who not only accept marketing, but actively seeking to be marketed to. This is where ‘hype’ comes in. Hype is the artificial kind of anticipation that these types obtain, a short-lived high that, like a drug addiction, needs to be administered in increasing doses in order to maintain the same level of satisfaction. It is entirely unnecessary, of course. Surely a big game should hook you on what it has, and doesn’t need the regular bluster.

To see someone in a discussion go from ‘totally hype’ to ‘zero hype’ is a total non-event. The shift usually happens when there has been proper marketing for a lengthy period, and usually doesn’t mean a thing. Like a difficult child, they’ll say they are running away, and maybe they’ll even pack a bindle filled with crayons and cookies; but they are too reliant on the product to ever leave it. As soon as the producers drop another bombastically-presented slice of information, they’re back at the forefront, and the cycle begins anew. But no matter what mood they are in currently, it’s almost guaranteed they will buy. Even the most indignant fan, filled to the brim with entitlement, cares too much about their object of fandom to leave it alone.

Thus is the artificial nature of hype. The nerd culture, as one should have been able to determine if you’ve read any of my rants, thrives on seemingly being doted upon by their entertainment supplier of choice, although it is only an illusion. And as stupid as they may appear (and, for the most part, are), they are still media-savvy, maybe even more than most, so they bring this entirely upon themselves more often than not. Every time I see someone online talking about being ‘hype’, I cringe – it often seems to have replaced genuine excitement for something empty. Which is just one of the many byproducts of marketing.

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Posted by Matt on March 10, 2010

Here I stand before you, Enemy of the Internet.

A few months back, I decided to rip off Weekend Web and other things I like to read on the Internet. To give it a local flavour, I decided to pick on my city’s (in)famous web portal.

This is the result of that.

They vary in quality. It took me a bit to start finding the really good stuff.

But anyway, the reason why this is important, aside from the fact that I finally got off my ass and posted those articles online, is that I’m also being noticed by the victim. The admin comparing it to eavesdropping on people’s conversations in a public space seems to be off-base, unless he doesn’t understand how the Internet works. It’s also different in that IT ISN’T FUCKING CREEPY.

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Posted by Matt on March 8, 2010

Now to finish the series.

Star Fox

It’s actually only been four years since the last Star Fox, but that one was on the DS and had stylus controls so everyone hated it. “We need another REAL Star Fox!” they will say. The last one closest to the older games came out 5 years ago, but it had on-foot missions, so they hated that too.
Essentially, what they want is a remake of the first two games (which is funny because 64 was essentially a remake of the first game) with Wiimote controls. But that doesn’t require a full disc-sized game (just like F-Zero), unless you want to make it pretty, which is what they also want. So Nintendo is pretty stuck when it comes to this series.
Not that I’m totally against it. Arcade shooters aren’t all that common today, with only a few (including, surprisingly, Nintendo themselves with Sin & Punishment 2) daring to do it. And the game isn’t a bad fit for Wiimote controls. With the Remote/Nunchuck set-up, you have the ability to give the crosshairs and ship movement more freedom, and hell, throw in shaking to do a barrel roll if you must. But of course, every fucking game on the planet could work with remote controls. There’s gotta be more to it to justify it.
How about online multiplayer? Maybe, but even a more robust system is more of an elaborate extra than a real innovation. Some might suggest making it more like Rogue Squadron, with mission-based levels and epic battles (isn’t that what Assault was? I don’t know, I didn’t play it)? That could work, although it seems to lose a bit of that arcade charm if it isn’t on-rails and just about shooting down as many Escherian spaceships as possible, although there’s nothing that would stop it from doing both.
This is a bit more difficult to think of, as there seems to be equal sway for both an advancement into more modern gameplay and retaining the classic simple gameplay system. And even then, is simply turning it mission-based a big enough leap to justify a completely new, big budget game? I don’t know.
Miyamoto has shown to secretly likes the franchise, and that the biggest hurdle the series faces is a lack of popularity in Japan, much like Metroid did. A swing towards more western markets could be good news for the series, and let’s not forget that the aforementioned S&P2 was made because the game was a pretty popular Virtual Console download all over the place, especially NA. So, while I don’t expect anything new for Star Fox anytime soon, it’s not totally impossible. And I can’t say for sure that there needs to be a whole lot of brainstorming done in order to make it worthy, although listening to the fans clamoring for regression may not be the best idea.
It’s an odd situation, this. Maybe even more odd than the situation for Pikmin.

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