Friday, June 25, 2010

Food For Violent Thoughts

This article in large part reflects my own feelings.

Anyone who knows me knows I'm about as far from an advocate of actual censorship as you can get. Given the nature of the sorts of films, books and music I subject myself to, pushing envelopes is pretty much standard operating procedure.

Still. I don't ENJOY every bit of this transgressive media I consume. Much of it isn't designed as a positive, uplifting experience. It pushes emotional boundaries.

I maintain an awareness, as the article attempts to define it. Personally my fears I have about my children and media violence is distilled down to the idea that I don't want them to join that burgeoning demographic that doesn't seem aware of any lines.

I want my kids to realise that fucked up is fucked up... whether presented humorously or not. And the video game community seems to continually buy, buy, buy the fucked up stuff. So that's what the companies produce-- or out of all their offerings at least, that's what they promote.

Read the comments, if you have the patience, for a pretty good example of different takes on the topic and how to keep an online discussion civil.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Monster Ending

Finished Urasawa's dramatic manga Monster! a few days ago.

If one isn't familiar with some of the conventions of manga, reading this you'll find a fair amount of over-emoting and a lot of drama-injection over ultimately small plot points, but this mostly owes to the episodic nature of the material. Like most manga this was released bi-weekly for years, and when you read it in collected volumes (tankoubon) like this it compresses the dramatic scenes together and their frequency amps up into melodrama territory.

Nonetheless, this is a first-rate dramatic story. Apart from the above caveat, other scenes (and the emotions therein) are handled with deft subtlety. Urasawa's artwork is a real grower. You'd think at first glance it was just sort of workmanlike, but as the story moves along you realise how talented the guy really is. There's a huge cast for the type of story it is, and his ability to keep everyone distinct and well-characterised with both art and writing is pretty admirable. His talent also shows how a topic normally consigned to film or television really can make a good manga... a medium characterised by the phrase over-the-top.

The last few volumes really dovetail everything together well. In the final book I actually found myself getting a bit choked up in two or three places, and the last revelation to the reader, though it wouldn't seem like such a big deal out of context, was pretty devastating from within the story.

In some ways you get a lot out of it that you might've from Death Note, but more believable (of course) and without any supernatural aspects... though the villain, Johan, is inhumanly evil.

At any rate, take a break from robots, battlesuits, and lolis and give Monster! a go.

These Guys Are Insane

...and they make insane games. I cannot wait to finally be able to play S&P 2.

I've had to wait because I don't have a Japanese wii... though there's some temptation to get one since Milestone's Ilvello was canceled for US release.

Bring on the Sin and Punishment!

(pic from

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Trying Stuff Out- The Waxing Erratic Edition

Earth Defense Force 2017

Final Fight on XBLA. Don't like this game any better than I ever did. Streets of Rage improved on it.

Magic Sword on XBLA. Love it. Always have. Smooth graphics option is blech-y.

Metal Slug XX on XBLA. Love it. I want to have its baby.

Spending some time going through Earth Defense Force 2017 on other difficulty levels. Only one of the best games EVAR. Moar EDF!

Okay, post over. Don't want ECM going to sleep on me!

Friday, June 11, 2010


Having finished Skies of Arcadia (59 hours put into it) I was casting about for my next 'big' game.

I usually have one sort of long-commit game I play (big racing game, RPG, or FPS) surrounded by several shorter games (STGs, fighting games, etc). While I'll still plug away at Keio and Ketsui as the 'small games', I think I've settled on Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 as my next biggie.

Hyped up from seeing Iron Man 2, and the continual coverage about the various Avengers movies in the future, enthusiasm is high for me and my children to dig into this game. We played the PS2 prequel and despite all the knacking around with the characters that must be done to make a playable game, it was really enjoyable.

There's just one problem.
MUA2 is fucking ugly. I mean seriously fucking ugly.
The environments are alright, but the in-game characters are borderline grotesque. Wow.

Originally I wrote a version of this post prior to my ever having booted the game. I went on a rant about the manual and guidebook artwork. I allowed as to how that might have nothing to do with what was presented in the actual game, but having played the game now I know that I was wrong. So I've rewritten this to bitch about ALL the character art associated with the game, since all printed illustrations are just shots of the in-game models, sometimes treated with Alex Ross-esque effects for the printed page.

I'd like to think I'm not the total graphics snob (read whore), but the visuals DO matter. Even to really old school shooter players who say dumb shit like 'the play is the thing, not the graphics'. The truth is that if graphics did not matter at all to shmup fans, then one game with nothing but a square ship shooting different size triangle enemies against a black background would suffice. I'm not saying visuals all need to be cutting edge. Some genres can benefit from older-style sprite-based graphics, or there are games where abstract objects are aesthetically pleasing. And intelligent players put the graphics presented in the proper chronological context, or the era being emulated if it is a current but retro-styled game. 8-bit games can have great visuals, but they need to be judged by the standards of their day, not some new PS3 game.

Simply put, graphics offer interest (and possibly immersion). And that frequently leads the player to wanting to experience the 'nobler' aspects, the mechanics. Shadow of the Colossus wouldn't be nearly the game that it is if it was just an exercise in climbing up moving towers of Lego-like blocks. Anyone who REALLY believes graphics have no bearing on the quality of a game is a soulless asshole. It is possible for a great game to have merely serviceable or even shitty visuals-- MUA2 may be such a game-- but it still has a deleterious effect on your game experience even if only in providing a distraction that you have to get around to find out the game is actually good.

So here is Ultimate Alliance 2, an action game drawing on one of most visually dynamic fantasy worlds ever created, and it looks a bowl of sick. WTF Activision?

Like the movies, the Ultimate Alliance games seem willing to hit up the Ultimate line of Marvel comics for a lot of their inspiration, or recent innovations and experiments within either line of books to update uniforms, ie the Captain America of MUA2 is clearly inspired by John Cassiday's visual update to the character introduced a few years ago. Also like the films, there have been some alterations to distance the heroes from 'mere' comics and make them seem more substantial and badass. Film's track record with this is really hit-or-miss. So it seems really odd that Activision (or developer studio Vicarious Visions) would even think that this was necessary given the considerable latitude for graphic style that video games have... almost as much as comics frankly. Do they think Marvel vs Capcom games should've done it this way? And the first MUA, that looked more comic book accurate, was just fine anyway.

It isn't just the costumes. The figures themselves are either bland or repellant. Like they stuffed any old schmoes in the costumes. Or they tried to use life models like Alex Ross, but have no sense of tuning the looks of the images to make them larger-than-life as Ross does. I'm not expecting incredibly lifelike figures in this game. Hell, no film has managed to do CG humans in full roles and make them believably real (the technical reason the natives of Pandora are huge and blue). People are just too complex and we are all too familiar with them for our current tech to manage this yet. So maybe not lifelike, but characters in games don't have to be distorted and gross either. These are. Whether this was an effort to real it up, or just some sort of stylistic decision it really rubs me the wrong way. They have an incredibly serviceable example of a realistic superhero in the Iron Man films, but the one in MUA2 is as grotesque as all the other characters. He wound up resembling some sort of vinyl model of a man-shaped insect. Or a Guyver. He's recognisable as Iron Man, but only because of the iconic red and gold coloring.

Whatever the reason the choices blow. I think whoever had final say on the visuals had their judgement impaired by thinking this was a chance for them to stamp their imprint on these beloved characters. Y'know really make a difference, and show something inspired. They shouldn't have bothered.

Fortunately, during actual play, the characters onscreen are rather small. Even on a big screen TV you don't really see tons of details in the heroes. Its an angled top-down view with the camera backed quite a ways out, to encompass lots of enemies attacking your party. You see their shape and coloring, and their moves are still pretty cool. You only see the yucky details during the menu screens and when the camera zooms in for the cutscenes and story sequences.

THAT's when I'm going to have to fight down my gorge.

(image cribbed from someplace on IGN)

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


In case anyone is interested in what I used to do. The above photo is for a Thousand Sons Space Marine, what are now called Rubric Marines in the current edition of Warhammer 40,000. The photo above comes from the second edition rulebook, but I cribbed it from the current online fan standard wiki for 40K lore, the 40K Lexicanium site.

The link for the Lexicanium page:

This is my marine. I painted it and set up the photo for it. It is part of a set of four chaos marines that Jes Goodwin originally sculpted and the designs became the standard by which all subsequent marines dedicated to specific Chaos power were based. In the same way that Jes's designs set the stage, this is MY interpretation of the text-described blue and yellow scheme for this troop type, and it became the standard. I expect my 'blueprints' for the other powers are probably also still floating around out there.

My day in/day out job there was not to paint miniatures, but getting involved in the hobby end was pretty standard for staff, including some fairly high profile stuff like this. I was first out of the gate with painted versions of this set of four models, and GW liked them so much they were figured pretty prominently whenever Chaos Marine stuff came up.

Painting models is so much more obscure than being a writer, painter, or filmmaker, but I'll admit to quite a bit of gratification that something I did is STILL relevant even if it is in a really nerdy niche corner of the universe. Most of my models are packed away, but I was kind of missing them the other day. I don't have any of the photos of them handy either. So I looked about on the internet to see if someone else had pics.

Yes they do apparently.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Lolis Gonna Pass Me By

So it is looking more and more like the US localisation of Cave's Loliween horizontal shooter, Deathsmiles, is going to be region-locked to this country. That sucks because my Xbox 360 is Japanese.

I already own the Japanese version of the game, but it'd been nice to get the goodies that are being made available in the American limited edition, and to be able to see the in-game dialogue in English.

Info on the teh intarwebs is conflicted because no one will own a retail copy for another three weeks as of this writing, but I think some staffer from Aksys, the US publisher, has been quoted as saying USA-only.

That being the case if I decided to buy it to get the LE extras, I probably would have to wait until it showed up on Games on Demand to actually play the English version. No intention at this point of buying another 360.

For the Xbox 360, as usual it appears the smaller publishers are the ones to region lock here in the USA. Which is really odd considering how copy-protection in any media is usually considered to be 'big corporate stupidity'. In my collection the USA games that are not region-coded are either the American ones or the ones from big Japanese companies, like Capcom and Sega.

I just find that interesting and paradoxical. The companies that would benefit the most (seemingly to me) are the least likely to make their games region free in this country, ie Koei, Genki, and D3 Pub. So if I want to play a 'little game'-- one that could probably use all the sales it can get-- like Dynasty Warriors Gundam, Kengo Zero, or Earth Defense Force 2017, I have to get the JPN one. But if I want to play Super Street Fighter IV or Sonic Unleashed-- games that were never going to lack for sales no matter what restrictions they might've had-- I can just have at it on any region's console.


Mind you, I'm not complaining about Capcom and Sega's choices. Its just how often do the big guys stand up as the exemplars of customer convenience? I don't think they made a conscious choice, they probably just can't be arsed to deal with it, 'cause they'll sell so many copies no matter who buys it where.

The thing with Deathsmiles is a little different and even more paradoxical. Given US company Aksys' track record they don't region-code (see BlazBlue or Agarest), yet THIS game, designed by one of the few small JPN companies that HAS flirted with all-region discs themselves (Cave) IS probably locked.

Double WTF?

This sort of bullshit used to be a big problem with DVDs in this country. You'd have to buy an all-region player or hit the conventions for fansubs or fan versions. It can still be kind of a hangup if you're an anime fan who wants the latest shit currently showing over in Japan. But nowadays most foreign films can be had on USA region discs if you are patient or know some good gray marketeers on the internet. I want to get the big fat five hour version of Red Cliff, released in theaters in Asia but not here. So when I went shopping for it I half expected to have to hassle around like I did in the old days when I built my kaiju/tokusatsu film on VHS. Who'd release a five hour chinese historical film here? One of the HK distros like Tai Seng or Meh Ah could have a fully subtitled one, but they are frequently expensive and of dodgy quality.

I needn't have worried. There's a US-printed Blu-Ray available on Amazon, all five hours-- nineteen and a half dollars. There is a network of publishers of all sizes, keenly aware of fanbases and snapping up all sorts of properties. There's frickin' competition to get these weird, obscure things released here these days.

Boy, I wish video gaming was like that. If it was, even with region coding there'd be no need to buy overseas versions. I wouldn't even have had to buy a JPN Xbox 360.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Skies are Endless

The 'Currently Playing' list on the side looks like it might be stuck for a while, because Skies of Arcadia is taking forever.

I know I've spent a lot of time looking for Discoveries in the game, and the game's encounter frequency just makes this an exercise in frustration and tedium. A game about exploring and yet you can't walk or fly longer than fifteen or twenty seconds before you're halted by another fight.

If the game was just 'straight lines' between towns or dungeons, then the encounter rate wouldn't be all that bad. BUT. They want you to find stuff. Not just secret stuff scattered around the map, but you often have to search out your next location based on the plot or dialogue. It isn't usually super far away or hidden to any real degree... but any looking around you have to do AT ALL will be utterly plagued with random encounters.

Actually, the word 'random' is kinda stupid in this case, because the frequency of them is all too predictable. Choose one; a) as soon as you think you're going the right way, b) if you are impatient to advance the plot, c) right now. Any one of those criteria filled seemingly triggers another battle. I'll tell you one thing. I have yet to enter a single boss fight where I didn't feel completely comfortable with my items, spells, and levels. Y'know why? Because the game basically makes you grind, grind, grind, just to get anywhere. You don't have to force yourself to do it to make sure you are powerful enough... it's going to happen to you anyway. You are going to fight and gain levels and gold whether you fucking well like it or not.

There are six major treasures (plot-crucial items) and therefore theoretically six chapters or stretches of the game. But that doesn't take into account a sort of 'prologue' stretch, a separation from your shipmates stretch, and a earn and crew your own ship stretch, that are each about as long as one of the basic six. So I've plunked in about 35 hours and I'm just getting to area of the third treasure, and I've had the second one for umpteen hours now.

The plot and cutscenes are fun and interesting. I really do want to see how this is going to go and have scrupulously avoided all references to the narrative or the battles coming up. I've used a FAQ once. When something I was navigating to find was just not appearing to me, and I got tired of all the fights while I tried to find it.

50 hours my ass. How would this game be 50 hours long (DC version) if you actually hunted out all the discoveries? Honestly.

I still like the game, but this sure as shit reminds me why I've long since gotten stuck on the idea that I 'don't have time' for RPGs.

And I want to play Baroque at some point in the future. I must be insane.

Avengers Assemble!

I'm getting pretty psyched about how all the Marvel Studios Avengers-related movies are coming together.

I'm not enough of a fanboy (anymore) about Marvel Comics to pore over every little magazine and internet detail about the upcoming Thor, Captain America, and Avengers films... I basically don't have the time and energy... as a kid I'd probably be all over this round the clock.

But I'd be lying if there wasn't a frission of giddiness and thrill over the possibilities. I enjoyed Iron Man 2 somewhat less than I did the first one, BUT seeing the Black Widow and Nick Fury (even if its the Ultimates version) brought in pretty plausibly... and more importantly really start to expand the was like the best old days of reading my favorite comics again.

I liked The Incredible Hulk, but wasn't so keen about the tacked-on tie-in with Tony Stark at the end. It'd have been better to have him integrated into an earlier part of the film, forking over anti-Hulk weapons or whatever, though I understand the need to keep Downey Jr to a minimum in there. Now with the way the groundwork is being laid in the main narratives of the Iron Man movies, it's exciting.

I don't know how they are going to resolve the military finding Mjolnir versus either of Thor's 'origins' in the Marvel and Ultimate lines... but y'know what? I don't want to read up on it to find out. I want to go in cold. Just like I did in the old days of comics before all the internet oversaturation. When all you had was MAYBE a little preview page blurb next to Stan's Soapbox.

In celebration of my excitement, I think I'm going to break down and finally buy Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2. I think one or both of my kids will want to go through it with me because they are all jazzed up too.

I'm most excited for The First Avenger: Captain America. My hands-down favorite superhero as a kid. And finally after years of way-below-par movies about the guy, a chance at a really good film if the other Avengers have been anything to go by. See Emil Blonsky's proto-supersoldier in the Incredible Hulk film and then improve on THAT... and you can get some idea what they can do with him physically. I know Hugo Weaving is the Red Skull... and beyond that I don't want to read or know a goshdamn thing! And whether they draw on the Marvel version or the Ultimates version, for Cap they basically amount to the same guy! The Ultimates one is just a bit less tempered by modern thinking... like what the Marvel Cap might've been like during the 1940s.