The Alabaster Sock

We Will Fight the Threat with Fighting

Archive for April, 2010

Posted by Matt on April 27, 2010

I know a lot of comics blogs probably have at least one post where they describe what they would do if they were in charge of Marvel and/or DC, and I’m likely the least-informed out of the lot of them. Even so, I have ideas, and I can post whatever I want, so fuck off.

So, here’s the pitch:

Marvel and DC stop publication of all monthly comics. All of them.

Creators seeking to use their copyrighted characters would pitch their story ideas to the company. Those stories would published as complete graphic novels, or would be released as a serial story via either a monthly anthology magazine which could contain those stories, excerpts from already-published graphic novels, reprints, and original short comics; or, periodically online on either the company’s website or through devices like the iPad. In both cases, the collected edition would be published a short time after the serial story is completed. This way, characters can be kept in circulation, creators who desire to do so will still get a chance to work with those characters, and comic shops will still have things they can sell.

Rewrite the publishing polices to allow for the publishing of more creator-owned series. While they may not be able to control or financially benefit from those properties, the chance of getting a wider variety of stories published would allow them to pursue new demographics and venues, increasing their reach.

Of course, the chance of any ideas like these being pursued any time soon is slim. For both companies, comics publishing is just something they do on the side. Both have licensing to bring in the money, and now both have large corporations backing them. Despite the ruckus they might raise whenever a new big direction in their comics is coming up, they don’t seem to be that interested in how many people actually read them.

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More not reading

Posted by Matt on April 21, 2010

Still not done important stuff. Still, I’m almost done. And then this happens.

So let’s talk about that for a minute.

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Posted by Matt on April 17, 2010

Oh boy, Ebert clarifies his points about why videogames cannot be art. He will likely be barraged by vacuous counterpoints via comments and e-mail and all the dumb sites with nothing better to do will send their passive-aggressive remarks his way. No one will engage his points in an intelligent manner, because the people who can actually view games intelligently can’t be bothered getting into this endless scuffle again. The more gamers do to ‘defend’ their hobby, the worse they come off as.

Here’s my particular stance: I love playing videogame. I love the design aspects of videogames. I honestly don’t care if it’s considered art along the traditional lines. It doesn’t matter to me because I like the game aspect. That’s what appeals to me about games of all kinds. Yet you will never see Magic: The Gathering fans send angry e-mails to old film critics because they don’t recognize their hobby as a ‘work of art’ (or maybe they have and I just haven’t heard of it).

What is art? Well, at its base, it is the expression of an idea. But there’s obviously more to it than that, but I’m not the one to ask. Even after studying literature for three years, I don’t think I’m up to such a task. But I digress.

Here’s a key paragraph:

“Why are gamers so intensely concerned, anyway, that games be defined as art? Bobby Fischer, Michael Jordan and Dick Butkus never said they thought their games were an art form. Nor did Shi Hua Chen, winner of the $500,000 World Series of Mah Jong in 2009. Why aren’t gamers content to play their games and simply enjoy themselves? They have my blessing, not that they care.

Do they require validation? In defending their gaming against parents, spouses, children, partners, co-workers or other critics, do they want to be able to look up from the screen and explain, “I’m studying a great form of art?” Then let them say it, if it makes them happy.”

This is what I’ve been asking for quite a while. If you cannot answer this question, get the fuck out of the debate.

Edit: Devin from CHUD is forced to rewrite an article he did a few years ago on the subject. He brings up a lot more interesting points.

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Do not read!

Posted by Matt on April 14, 2010

I just finished the first draft of the second last essay of my academic career. Let me have my fun.

Now, let’s talk Pokemon.

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Posted by Matt on April 10, 2010

I think one of the fundamental problems with story in videogames is the same fundamental problem with story in mainstream comics: the current generation of writers for these mediums only have these mediums as their inspiration. Essentially, a person who wants to create a story for a videogame only has knowledge of past videogame stories that they loved, so they’re only going to do it like they did.

Adding to that problem is the fact that the previous generation of videogame writers swiped ideas and storylines wholesale from other sources, especially movies, because they wanted to make a version of that story that you could control (or out of lack of creativity. Both are applicable). So there’s the dilemma: the people making games now only have games made before as their inspiration, and those games were blatant knock-offs of other things. So we’re getting to the copy of the copy problem.

This is one of the reasons I tend to ignore the RPG genre these days, even though I played and loved FFVI and Chrono Trigger back in the 16-bit era. Now for those two, I would not defend their stories as anything other than Saturday morning cartoons stretched out over 30 hours. They were fun when I was a kid, and I still find parts of them fun today, in a sub-Star Wars kind of way. But both plots are simplistic, broad, and cliche-ridden; I can’t imagine taking them serious at all. Today, what seems to have happened is that the people who played those games thought they were totally awesome and now that they get to make videogames, they’re going to make those games again only, totally more hardcore.

So we’ve getting the same fan fiction themes and ideas about evil empires and steampunk technology and generically conflicted heroes and then at the end you get to fight some sort of evil god. I’m sure there are nuances I’m missing because I haven’t played a Final Fantasy since VII, but that’s the impression I’ve been getting, and it’s made me disinterested. Considering that these games are supposed to be storyline-driven (the gameplay is often so archaic and muddled that it is only enjoyable to people who like balancing spreadsheets), having the storylines boil down to a series of cliches that take themselves way too seriously and painfully archetypal characters is quite a blow against them.

It also doesn’t help that most RPGs barely qualify as real storytelling videogames, but rather feel like movies with D&D nonsense thrown in so the player doesn’t think they just bought an overpriced DVD. I’ll be blunt: cutscenes kill videogame storytelling, because they remove the player from what makes videogames a unique medium. Whether or not you think of games as high art capable of telling stories on the level of movies or novels, that’s just obvious. If you’re going to be telling a story in a videogame and hope us to take it seriously in any way, actually try to integrate the story into the game, rather than interrupt the game with the story. If you want to make a movie, make a movie. Considering the general quality of the plots in these games, it would likely be a bad movie, but at least you’d be honest about your goals.

And again, this all seems to be because the people who make the games today take pieces from the games made before and then rearrange them. It’s one thing to take some inspiration from past videogame stories, it’s another to base your entire career as a writer only on experience with videogame stories. That goes for all mediums as well: you need breadth. You need to read a book. You need to see movies. And you need to do both outside of specific genres. And you need to learn to use them as inspiration for your own ideas, not simply recreate them. It’s one of these things I like about Grant Morrison: he likes superhero comics, but he also knows WHY he likes them, what elements he responds to the most, and then tries to write stories that not only gleefully create with those as a base, but also tackles thematic issues these ideas bring up. He’s still a very postmodern writer, and at times his more mainstream output veers off in directions that lose some of the more interesting elements of his work, but he has his own ideas and doesn’t just rewrite older stories.

Not everything is entirely gloomy. I’ve heard good things about Mass Effect 2 in terms of story, character, as well as gameplay (I could easily play it myself, but I’m busy now and I still have problems getting into longer games these days, which is entirely my fault). As in, it has interesting and fun characters, and aspects of storyline and character interaction actually exist in-game. And I think if more developers could hire people with greater experience with a wide variety of work AND can integrate them more into the actual game development process, things could improve dramatically. This way, not only would you be more likely to have an at least decent story to tell, but you could make it so that the game and the story complement eachother rather than exist in two different universes that just happen to share a disc.

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Posted by Matt on April 10, 2010

Link blog time:

AV Club’s Doctor Who primer. Really well-written and comprehensive look at the series’ history.

I still need to see the premier of the new season; I’ve been hearing good things about it. And reading the synopses, the series has a lot of neat-sounding stories coming. But I don’t know if I’ll torrent or just wait until next weekend when it premiers on Space.

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Posted by Matt on April 10, 2010

This made me laugh:

Skylar Neil (1991-1995), American cancer victim

I am a bad person

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Posted by Matt on April 4, 2010

Not seeing Clash of the Titans in theaters due to disappointing reviews and tacked-on 3D. Oh well, maybe I’ll wait and see Iron Man 2 as the first movie I see this year.

However, Clash’ release this weekend has put me in Greek mythology and monster mood. So I will now talk about one my favourite parts of the whole crazy enterprise that is Hellenistic myth: the monsters, and the crazy little things about them.

The people who say that superhero comics and classic Greek stories are pretty identical are right. But you already knew that, I’m sure. But even when you get right down to minutia like continuity they are the same, with a general timeline existing, some consistent character traits, and a whole lot of stuff that changes from author to author, even when they create inconsistencies. If we’re comparing them to modern superhero comics, there’s also a lot of moping and rape, although in the case of the myths, they didn’t need Watchmen to decide that was the proper thing to do.

Then there are the monsters. We all know the monsters. Monster Manuals and Final Fantasys the world over would have some gaping holes in them without all those Greek monsters. Some of them go on to become cultural icons, who doesn’t know what a gorgon or a cyclops is these days?, and some of them are left in obscurity, like Python and the fox that can’t be caught and was ultimately destroyed when a guy sent a dog that always catches its game, and Zeus just can’t take the paradox.

One detail about many of the most famous Greek monsters that I’ve always liked is the fact that they were related. And that includes some of the big ones, too, like the Hydra, and Cerberus, and the Sphinx. Yes, despite not looking the least bit similar, they all have the same ma & pa. The father, Typhon, was a giant horrible fire-breathing demon who tried to destroy Zeus because he locked away all his giant horrible siblings. Zeus then threw a volcano on him. This is a long line of awesome, as you can see.

For reference, here’s the family roll call:

-Nemean Lion (One of the Hercules’ twelve tasks involved killing this thing, despite it being nearly invulnerable)

-Ladon, the dragon guarding the golden apples. Hercules had to kill this thing too. See the pattern yet?

-Cerberus, the guardian of entrance to the Underworld and one of the few survivors of the the Herculean labours, only being inconvenienced. This is possibly because he was the only real non-jerk among the monsters.

-Orthus, a two-headed dog that was also a victim of Hercules’ anti-monster killing spree. In true Greek fashion, some sources claim he is in fact the real father of some of the other monsters.

-Lernaean Hydra, who famously had infinitely regenerating heads and poisonous breath. She (yes, she) also had a crab sidekick, sent by Hera to annoy Hercules while he killed the Hydra.

-Theban Sphinx, who guarded the entrance to the city of Thebes by asking riddles. When our future no-eyed hero Oedipus figures out her riddle, she jumped off a cliff, despite having wings. Well, at least she wasn’t killed by Hercules.

-The Lycian Chimaera, who was the youngest and maybe the scariest. She was killed by Bellophron and Pegasus.

Giving all the major antagonistic monsters a single origin certainly makes sense. If there’s one thing older human thinking promotes, its things have a very simple, understandable beginning, even if the rest of it doesn’t make any sense (see also: every other religion ever). The fact that the monster family is completely random doesn’t mean a thing as long as where the monsters came from isn’t.

It’s pretty easy to understand why I like this detail. One, it involves monsters. Two, there’s just something cool and cute about a family of monsters. Three, there’s a interesting dynamic created when most of the monsters are sent out to fuck people up by the same group of Gods who thought it proper to bury their dad under a volcano. Also, the children of the God who buried dear old dad under a volcano have a tendency to kill them. I think I could do something with this.

This has been my profoundly silly post of the month.

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