Tuesday, December 30, 2008


Need to diverge from the 'fun' for this post.
So I have a favorite watering hole in this frozen burg where I live. This town is very small, very isolated. With a population that is very judgemental.... intolerant even. So here is this bar, small, but with a pretty diverse crowd for this town. A fairly wide range of ages. Decent (jukebox) music. Cheap drinks. Friendly bouncers and competent bartenders.

So last Friday some jerknut goes into my bar and puts four .22 slugs into some guys neck. The victim was with a former girlfriend of the jerknut. He wasn't even the next boyfriend. He was like several iterations back. He was subdued with no other victims, and handed over to the police. Expectation is he'll get 15-plus years in jail. He is in his mid-twenties.

I understand there are senseless assaults all over the place... even in harmless or pleasant places (gang shooting at the Washington Zoo anyone?). I get that a bar is often a scene for a passion attack or killing. But this guy? In this place? There were dozens of witnesses. He had no chance of getting out. He didn't try to kill himself... which, considering he will spend the best years of his life, his get-a-new-girlfriend years, in jail... would probably have been the best thing he could do for himself.

Pretty clear why the girl was no longer with the perpetrator. Ugh. The victim will live but I understand he's had to be induced into coma for the extensive throat and spinal surgeries needed.

Thinking about this I feel this might be some sort of consequence of our politically-correct mollycoddling society. Yes. Gun availability is an issue. But this crazy unthinking guy would have done this with a screwdriver or a kitchen knife. Is this a guy who has been raised in an environment where every point of view is just a-okay, and consequences just have no teeth? Much of today's youth and young adults have just been enabled to the gills. In the interest of empowering them the educators, parents, and authorities have spawned a generation of tyrants. The kids believe everything and anything is their due, and anything should be within their grasp for any amount of effort shown. 'Where the fuck is my A for effort?'. And doing something wrong just means a time out or a talking to.

Guess what dipshit? You do get a timeout for shooting some dude in the neck. Fifteen years of time out.

This guy just seemed to have no thought about consequences. Give me all the claptrap you want about violence on television and in video games. Rant away on lack of gun control laws. How do those things obviate the fact that this lunatic pushed aside an axiom of society, 'kill or injure someone-- you go to jail', that everyone, EVERYONE knows? And when I say 'lunatic' I mean it in the most derogatory, as opposed to clinical, way. This guy HAD a girlfriend. He doesn't appear to be a schizophrenic living in an altered reality. Depressed probably. Suffering clinical depression? I'll go along with that. But he didn't live in a bubble where the voices inside his head shut out the basic demands of a law-abiding society.

Town's small enough to where I've only been here a few years and I'm only a few degrees of separation from the victim. I'm friends with his roommate's Mom. Cripes.

The bar didn't pat him down. It wasn't that kind of place. Now it probably will be. IF the owner doesn't decide he needs to install metal detectors at the door. This is the first time this has happened there, but in this pig-headed community if he doesn't make some kind of grandiose display of 'fixing the problem' his customers will probably desert him. There's been fights and some levels of violence displayed at this place, but this will be the topper.... or so one would hope.

In an eerie but gratifying parallel, there was another 'assault' in recent days with a decidedly different ending. Apparently a 44-year-old Dad's baby was making too much noise for the downstairs neighbor. After yelling quite a bit the neighbor went upstairs to threaten the Dad on his doorstep.

With a gun.

The difference here is the Dad (apparently trained in Kajukenbo?) found his moment disarmed the guy and beat him bloody with his own weapon.

Now. I'm not really favoring the Dad who can't figure out the right, fatherly, way to get his kid to quiet down, but sometimes babies are just like that. Colic happens. Whatever. But the neighbor deserved to eat the butt of his own gun for pulling it out over something that stupid.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Martial Arts and Me

I have a long on-again off-again affair with the martial arts. Through my late teenage and young adult years I was a student of Shudokan, an Okinawan style of karate-do that descends through Toyama Kanken. When I moved away from my hometown, I didn’t pick it up again. It isn’t like the style is taught all that many places and I just never acclimated to the idea of having to re-learn or restart in a new style, though there are other Okinawan and Japanese styles having much in common with Shudokan.

Moving back, for reasons both complicated and expired, I had again enrolled with my old instructor. This time my family attends as well. They are taking karate-do and doing all the things I remember from my youth.

I flirted a bit with iaido (iaijutsu to some) before moving back, and as luck would have it there is an instructor for Japanese sword at our dojo. So instead of karate, I’m enrolled in aikiken, the sword forms created as an adjunct to aikido training, with our sensei adding more traditional iaido and battojutsu forms and the standard seitei kata.

Sword training isn’t directly practical for self-defense in the same way karate is. If you aren’t living in the Highlander TV show you probably aren’t carrying a sword around with you day and night, ready to duel at the drop of a hat. The training CAN be applied to improvised weapons like broomsticks and pool cues, but much of our work focuses on drawing and sheathing, which is completely unnecessary with a stick you grabbed in a bar.

The training is more about overcoming mental barriers. The adversary in this case being one’s self as all the martial arts maxims term it. But with more focus on this particular conflict than against another outside oppenent. It requires focus, dedication, patience, observation, and stamina. Improving these things would, of course, make you better able to handle dangerous situations. Physically-speaking, the improvements in your arm strength, agility, reaction time, and perception of maai (the time/distance combat interval) would all be a great advantage as well. Because I already have some karate training, I’m finding that iaido does a lot to hone the aspects of combat that are much harder to explain or get an easy grasp of.

Japanese and Okinawan karate teach you to be mentally defensive (never be the initiator) but once ‘it’s on’ they are an aggressive, offense-oriented approach. Get in quick, dispatch with a one-hit one-kill mentality, get out. And my iaido training hasn’t really changed that, but it does make me understand more about how the approach to get in works, how to view a weapon in the hands of an opponent (assuming you see it ahead of time), and how to really get into zanshin (awareness/readiness) from a daily repose-state as opposed to firmly planting your feet, going to fighting stance and readying a kiai—or maybe actually busting loose with one!

I’ve read a lot of comments from various instructors about supplementary martial arts training. The majority seem to think additional instruction is fine after one has a good solid grounding in their primary art. Commonly iaido is taken along with another more practical, popular system. There is much that is different in iaido that will require some arduous unlearning if you are enrolled in another art, but I think there is an advantage to having experience in another system, owing both to the self-defense being taught there and the ability to see the deeper aspects that iaido training sooner and with more clarity because martial arts movement, etiquette, terms, and traditions are already fundamental and not cluttering up the new learning your doing in iaido class.

Now don’t get me wrong. You are practicing slicing open someone’s abdomen. You are practicing bring the sword down a direct kill shot bisecting their head. In the best iaido classes these are not taught abstractly. Part of the function of iaido is to hone your clarity and calm in a threatening situation. Nothing is more threatening than the idea of someone pushing the edge of a three foot piece of steel through something vital. After a certain amount of experience it is practiced with an iaito, a metal (though blunted) sword, the use of which carries risks. But is also fun. You are trying to put on the mentality of the samurai. If you are a fan of jidaigeki (sword drama in Japanese) as I am, this can be a really big thrill… and quite enlightening as you learn which aspects of cinema swordfighting are really practical and which are just for the camera.
So good stuff. Not sure how much I will actually blog on this particular aspect of my life since growth is slow, and it is all rather internal. No belts given really. If I had to give myself a rank, I’m probably 1st kyu, the equivalent of a brown belt in most karate styles. There are tournaments for it, but not really where I live. I will probably spend more writing time on the aforementioned jidaigeki or other martial arts films, and general martial arts comments and observations. That will change of course if I ever accidentally stab myself or another student. Then I’m sure I’ll have to write about it.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Thunder Force VI

So I bought Thunder Force VI a few days ago. This is a game I was really psyched for. I played all the previous entries (apart from the original home PC first installment) on the Genesis/Mega Drive and Sega Saturn.

As of this writing, the game hasn't been out very long, but I couldn't help reading opinions and semi-reviews on various sites from players who had the game sooner than I did. And much (maybe not the majority) is pretty negative.

I have my own opinion, but I think most of the criticism comes from two places, unrealistic expectations and a misunderstanding of what the intentions of the game designers. That doesn't mean I think everyone should believe this is a great game, but I think a lot of players... at least the ones blabbing on the web... aren't looking at the context of this game's creation.

To get it out of the way, I like the game. I think it does exactly what it is designed to do... and what Sega designed it to do. Be a basic, accessible (re-)introduction to a classic series. It doesn't have fancy Cave-esque scoring systems. It doesn't have divinely-inspired visuals or Treasure's flair for clever gameplay mechanisms. It is not an attempt to reach the next plateau of awesomeness in the same way Gradius V was. It is bright, loud, simple, fun, fast and an homage to all the Thunder Force games that went before. While mostly having gameplay and polygons in common with the fifth installment, it has the bright colors, and atmosphere similar to the earlier episodes. I'm enjoying it. It's simple, but it rocks.

Addressing some of the criticisms now, I get why many players think the levels are too short. Even for an STG where five to seven relatively short levels are the norm, Thunder Force VI doesn't last long if you are watching the clock. But the levels are not all the same length. After you get through the first three, the order-selectable ones, the length of time spent in each area goes way up. In fact level five (which is not the last level) goes on longer than most shooters I can remember. No, I'm not including Radiant Silvergun. But this game isn't supposed to BE Radiant Silvergun.

I also get why many players think the game is too easy. But um, y'know, pump up the difficulty. It isn't like the menus are in Japanese so you can't figure out how. Or turn down your lives and continues. Cripes. Accessibility. They are introducing a whole, new potentially much less skilled or experienced generation to shmups. Not every person buying this is going to be a 1CC Dodonpachi player. In an interview in Edge magazine game director for Thunder Force Tez says shooters, like fighting games, have grown 'too manic'. I agree with him. I'm all for bullet hell shooters-- I like my Mars Matrix and Mushihimesama just plenty, but there has to be room for all different styles. The idea is a fun experience, and winkling around between curtains of bullets isn't everyone's cuppa. Every now and then even an experienced bullet hell master might want to relax relatively-speaking with something not quite so fucking fussy.

I have also seen the bizarre lament that the game is too derivative of the old Thunder Force games. Hm. It has been centuries (in video game terms) since the last Thunder Force game came out. I'm not sure I would've expected them to do anything BUT closely reference the previous games. I'm guessing they were going for a balance between old and new that would show new players what Thunder Force is about while instilling nostalgia in older players. Some of the bosses are updates of old ones. The weapons all have previous counterparts. The levels are mostly polygonal remakes of areas we've seen before. But in this PS2 incarnation it is newer, brighter, faster, and louder. It is the first game after a looooooong hiatus. It kinda HAS to have that 'in our last episode' thing going on-- the talky narrative box at the beginning of any comic or manga-- only this is dosed along the whole game.

I've seen the occasional mention of somewhat unsophisticated visuals, not a lot of extras, or slowdown. Well, they work just fine for me, especially considering this project was an experiment for Sega, and as such has a really pared-down budget. Shooters are a tough sell in this age of dwindling arcades and players ravenous for RPGs(Japan) or FPS games (USA).

As detailed recently in Edge magazine, Sega bought a famous but defunct license and used it as the start of what Tez Okano hopes will be a revival of interest in shooters in Japan. In order to make that viable it had to be done economically. That meant developing it on the PS2 and not having the most wiz-bang visuals or masturbatory extras.

Realistic expectations, and a simple enjoyment of this game should equal support for it. And support for this game may help bring along more STGs.... of all types.

So yeah, I like Thunder Force VI. A lot. Sure as shit beats Broken Thunder or no Thunder Force at all.

A moment of father stuff. Sorry.

I'm currently in a video game cycle.

I'm interested in a lot of shit; racing, martial arts, genre films, genre books, manga, anime, kaiju, video games, cocktails, heavy music... and probably a lot more related to that list. But currently video games have more-or-less risen to the top. Not enough time to spread the love amongst all my geekery, and the priorities change in almost cyclical fashion.

I always wanted a kid who'd share my passions with me... and what Dad wouldn't, apart from career criminals who get caught a lot? So I have a son and a daughter and both share many interests with me... obviously the boy a few more owing to gender points. Having a kid can really re-ignite and remind you why you loved something in the first place. The kid doesn't love EVERYTHING I do... but a number of them, and a big one is video games.

Now he's only ten. So he ain't hardcore. Not only does he not like the exact same things I do, like most kids the TV ads and his friends opinions have him salivating for shovelware. Often the bottom-of-the-barrel licensed shovelware. But that's okay. He's a kid. He's smart enough to acquire taste and learn discernment as time goes by.

Witness: I'm playing my new copy of Thunder Force VI (I'll probably review this on here soon) and he's watching. In prior times he has not cottoned to STGs (shmups to some) because the manual dexterity and reaction time just wasn't there. He is warming to them now, owing to the seeming lack of complexity, the pick up and play aspects and the super showy images inherent to that game genre.

'It doesn't look all that good, Dad. It's too easy, you don't look like you have to do anything.'

'Well, its the first level and I am kind of used to this series. I've played a lot of Thunder Force.'

Later, as I am feeling out the middle and higher levels and start to get killed periodically:

'Okay, that's better. And the graphics ARE awesome, Dad.'.

My son has never really used the term 'graphics' with me (somewhat outdated though the term is now) and certainly hasn't had any opinions about gameplay or difficulty apart from whether a game was too hard for him. He's only ever seemed to care about whether the character he's controlling 'looks dumb' or not. Now he's actually critiquing out loud.

*sniff* There goes my special little man.

In case a reader thinks my daughter might be slighted in gaming household... her current faves are World of Goo and Bomberman on Wii. She also the household's most raging player on the Naruto: Ultimate Ninja series.

First entry postscript

Pertinent to my inaugural post:
I find a lot of fan opinion seems to be shallow and off-putting to me (might be good TV to others) precisely because a person can be TOO MUCH of a fan. In defining this I'm kind of trying to walk that line between the so-called American definition of the japanese word 'otaku' and the actual Japanese definition of the word. In the USA the term has an much friendlier connotation-- an actual fan or follower, typically of some form of Japanese pop culture; anime, kaiju, video games, etc. In Japan it specifically means 'maniac' with the idea that the person in question has 'no life'. The American definition CAN encompass no-lifers but it isn't specific without additional information.

I think too much internet opinion reads like the fans have no life.

I'm going to pontificate on a lot of fanboy shit and I must take it somewhat seriously if I'm going to write about it... but I don't take any of it THAT seriously. Really. If some dark day came and one or more of my hobbies just got sliced out of existence... bummer. But people should have families, friends, lovers, pets, whatever. There is no gosh-damn video game, book, or DVD that will love your ass back.

So really that's what this blog is about. Nerd shit from the perspective of someone who finds it important, but also has a life.

I know a lot of people out there DO have a life. So act like you do. A little distance and common sense perspective would be really welcome. I'll probably spend as much time addressing attitudes and controversies as I will actually posting my own opinions.

So it begins.

First post.
Probably oughtta be some kind of mission statement.

I'm a somewhat older American male with two kids. Throughout my life I've garnered a lot of interests and dabbled in quite a few more. Probably more interests have stuck with me and become serious, if that word can actually be used for fanboy passions, then the average person.

Being a fanboy, of course I am a regular internet cruiser keeping up on these things, looking at flamewars, weighing arguments. And y'know what? There is a real dearth of grounded level-headed opinion.

Part of that comes from passion. Mostly it's passionate (read irrational if you must) people that are motivated enough to write or post in the first place. There is the syndrome of internet facelessness allowing extreme reaction. And perhaps many people who once were fanboys are no longer... they've grown (or married) out of it. Maybe backburnered their geekery enough to not be plugged into 'tah interweb' on the topics.

I have not seen fit to mature enough to shed these childish pastimes. But I'm old enough and have seen enough to offer something more than 'this sucks' or 'this rulez'. I have passion enough for these things to want to talk about them and even invite discussion... so I'm starting a blog (yay!). Comments can even be 'this sucks' or 'this rulez' (or 'you suck')... I just want a space to stretch out in narcissism and blow off some geek-steam.

Take it or leave it. It's a free internet.