The Graveyard of Dead Website Features

It’s occurred to me that I used to have a number of regular or semi-regular “features” on this site that have kind of fallen by the wayside. Rather than just have them disappear unmourned, I thought I’d take a look at them and explain what happened.

Project UFO

What it Was: Me recapping episodes of the late-70s TV show about two Air Force guys investigating “high strangeness”.

Here They Are: project_ufo tag

Last Seen: December 21, 2012, which I think was the apocalypse.

Why It Stopped: The show is just bad. It’s not entertainingly bad, just plain bad. It’s boring and flat and humorless. And the episodes are all pretty much the same type of thing over and over. There’s just not much to mine from this.

Possibility of Return: Very low. I watched one more episode after this one and even though it was set in France, it still had little to work with.

Five Songs

What it Was: Another attempt for me to somehow get back into listening to and discovering new music.

Here They Are: five_songs tag

Last Seen: April 18, 2014.

Why It Stopped: I’m kind of okay with just listening to the stuff I already like.

Possibility of Return: Moderate. People still ask me about this one, and I guess I should at least do the stuff that was already suggested. I liked the one set I did do well enough. But I just can’t get into it.

This Used to Be the Future

What it Was: Me getting big laffs from old Silver Age science-fiction comics.

Here They Are: Table of Contents

Last Seen: December 20th, 2013.

Why It Stopped: My pool of comics to work with ran dry. There’s only so many times you can go to the Mystery in Space well.

Possibility of Return: Moderate-to-High. Though I don’t see this becoming regular, I’m pretty sure I’ll stumble into some weirdo comic to use for this. Still, I already did a bunch of these and how many do we need?

The Final Volume

What it Was: A mystery about the assassination of Supreme Court Chief Justice Leroy “Encyclopedia” Brown

Here They Are: final_volume tag

Last Seen: The last chapter was on January 31, 2014, but pal Nigel provided fan art on February 7.

Why It Stopped: I hadn’t really planned out the mystery well and I couldn’t figure out how to get from where I was to something that would ultimately make sense.

Possibility of Return: Low. I don’t have a talent for writing fiction and you aren’t missing out on much. But who knows, maybe I’ll get some inspiration.

Let’s Look at the Record

What it Was: A look at albums that had a big influence on me.

Here They Are: lets_look_at_the_record tag

Last Seen: February 14, 2014.

Why It Stopped: Do we really need another feature where I talk about my past?

Possibility of Return: Moderate. There’s at least one more album that could be involved here, but honestly I think I have covered and re-covered this ground.

My Weird Musical Memories of the 70s

What it Was: Looking at 70s Top 40 charts and seeing what of that stuff I had any memory of.

Here They Are: 70s tag

Last Seen: December 18, 2013.

Why It Stopped: See: “Let’s Look at the Record”.

Possibility of Return: Nil.

Bus Off a Cliff Comics

What it Was: Incisive political satire.

Here They Are: bus_off_a_cliff tag

Last Seen: September 28, 2012.

Why It Stopped: I stopped using it because I didn’t have to stop using it.

Possibility of Return: Nil.

If one of these was your favorite, I’m sorry, but I can’t imagine that’s much of the case.

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If You’re So Smart, Why Don’t You Have Your Own Plane?

Last week a story was making the rounds about two airline passengers who got thrown off a plane following a heated dispute about seat reclining. Seat reclining on airplanes is one of those taboo subjects you should not bring up in polite company; people have strong opinions about it that they will violently defend. Forget politics and religion, you want to get the knives out, you talk about seat reclining on an airplane.

One of the responses came from this guy. I’ll not say any more about him. Go read his article and form your own opinion.

What strikes me about this debate is how well it perfectly encapsulates the current situation in America. What you have here is a zero-sum game in which one person ultimately has to crap on the other, and they’re fighting over who’s going to be in which position. At no point is it suggested that maybe nobody should have to crap on anybody. The airlines have decided to cram as many seats as possible into a plane with zero regard for comfort or even humanity. If the seats were a reasonable distance apart, the reclining would be much less of an issue, but with very little space between rows the only place for a recliner to go is into the lap of the person behind him.

So we all get puffed up and yell and demand our rights to not be the disadvantaged person, bringing in economic theorems and thought experiments and what-not, throwing water at each other and being called monsters, all in the name of trying to settle the issue of who gets to screw over who instead of saying, “Wait a minute, we’re both being screwed by the airline. They’re the ones who have created this situation and perpetuate it.”

This is America. Let the little people fight each other over what scraps are left after the ones at the top take almost all for themselves. An the “winner” of the turf war will feel tough and savvy and special even though he just got put in a “let’s you and him fight” situation by someone who couldn’t care less about him, who sees him as just another wallet to extract cash from. That guy in the New York Times article above might be the smartest dog in the junkyard, but he’s still just a dog in a junkyard.

Posted in Politics | Tagged ,

I Had That! #28: 1979 Alien Toys

The movie Alien, which came out in 1979, was a strange beast. Star Wars fever was still in the air and science fiction was huge with kids. You had your Battlestar Galacticas, your Buck Rogers, and Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Alien seemed like it was of a part with these, but it was rated R. It was a horror movie with tons of gore (or so it was said. By today’s standards it’s not terribly gory save for the chest-burster scene, and it doesn’t seem like it was any worse than the rest of the splatter-seventies) and something most kids, who wanted spaceships and alien landscapes and that amazing creature itself, wouldn’t be able to see. It was sci-fi but aimed at grown-ups, and that was weird.

But Kenner had the license, and they were going to give it a go. And we kids, even if we couldn’t get into the movie itself without a hat, trenchcoat, and friend, also gave it a go.

Probably the most famous of the Alien toys was the 18″ action figure itself. I can’t at all imagine my parents buying me this thing, yet I had one. It was amazingly detailed, had some cool features, and was totally out of scale with every other toy on the market, making it actually tough to play with. With nothing else for the 18″ Alien to interact with, you could only do the adventures of the Alien, and the Alien’s adventures consist of interacting with other people to kill them. By the time I was doing my own Doctor Who adventures with my Star Wars figures, though, the Alien had a role to play. He was — anyone want to take a guess? — that’s right, he was Sutekh the Destroyer.

For kids who wanted to know more about what this thing did in the movie, and take a little taste of the forbidden fruit itself, Kenner also had the Alien Movie Viewer. This hand-cranked viewer showed a couple minutes of looping scenes from the movie, including some pretty scary ones. (Note that the box above recommends it for ages 5 and up!) I was hoping someone would have digitized the contents and put them online, but no luck. There was also the comics adaptation, which was published by Heavy Metal, which was an “adult” magazine and may have also been out of the reach of kids. Topps had trading cards, though, which were easy to get hold of and also let one sort of experience the movie.

But the ultimate experience, short of seeing the actual movie (which HBO would eventually enable) was the apparently rare movie novel. I’ll go into more detail about “fotonovels” in a future entry, but this was a book with hundreds of photos from the movie and the dialogue running underneath. Once again, I have no idea how I got my hands on this thing (I did have an allowance by this point; maybe I saved up) an its departure was equally mysterious. It was just gone one day (and I believe it vanished while we were visiting my Aunt in Vidalia.) Just disappeared. I strongly suspect my mom found it, discovered its contents, and made it vanish, but I’ll never be able to confirm that.

I had all of these things, because for there to be a cool science fiction movie that I couldn’t go see was Not Fair.

When did I get it? During the Alien mania of 1979.

Do I still have it? None of it. I read the comics adaptation to shreds and recently re-bought it. I think I somehow broke my original 18″ Alien and when there was a similar re-release several years ago I bought one, but it went out with the Nerd Box. Never did replace the movie novel.

Posted in Toys | Tagged ,

This Delicious Week

Shared bookmarks for delicious user

Posted in Delicious

The Embarrassment of Being a “Gamer”

Metro: 2033 was an Xbox game I played last year and enjoyed. I’ve been wanting to get its sequel, Metro: Last Light for some time. I’m not so sure I still want it, though. One of the complaints I had about Metro: 2033 was that this post-apocalyptic world was seemingly woman-free. Everyone I interacted with was a man or a monster (in fact, sometimes I wonder if the “men” were…worse than the “monsters”!) There were no women at all who I spoke with or even shot. That just seemed weird to me, and I hoped it would be addressed in Last Light. Turns out, it was!

In Last Light you get to go to a post-apocalyptic strip club and have a no-doubt strong and empowered female character give you a topless lap dance! Progress!

I found this out when I watched the latest in Anita Sarkeesian’s “Tropes vs Women in Video Games” series. It’s the second part of a look at women used as background decoration in games, where female characters serve no purpose beyond sexual titillation or gruesome murder victims. Or, often, both at the same time.

I’ll be honest, I’ve played and enjoyed some videogames that had some distressing material in them. Probably the most notable is Red Dead Redemption, which took some time out from sending wolves after me to threaten an actually up until that moment pretty decent female character with rape and to send me to a nearly game-ruining racist caricature of Mexico for its entire second act. The game I’m currently playing, Dishonored, seems to be wanting to fill a Sarkeesian bingo card with its portrayal of women. It’s maddening and insulting.

Fortunately for me, I’m a straight white guy. I can point these things out and the worst I’ll be called is a faggot or “white knight”. For Anita Sarkeesian and other women who dare to do the same, they get hatred, vitriol, rape threats, and death threats. For some reason merely bringing the subject up is perceived as a call to arms for a certain section of the gamer audience if the messenger is a woman. As Darryl Ayo put it,

It doesn’t seem like it should be that controversial to ask why a videogame needs to be advertised with a photo of a dead woman wearing lingerie with her legs spread apart, but apparently doing so gets some people just poison mad.

I’m assured it’s only “some people” by folks who argue that this bunch is only a small yet vocal minority and don’t represent “gamer culture” as a whole, yet those extremists are not operating in a vacuum. The crux of Sarkeesian’s argument is that the games themselves — the vast majority of them — either ignore women altogether or include them solely as property, toys, or prizes for being the manliest man (it’s quite telling that the endless parade of prostitutes shown in the videos all have the same line: that for you, the player, they’ll give a free sample because you’re such an Adonis). Her claims are that this creates an environment which is hostile to women. Sarkeesian isn’t pointing out problems in the hooligans that are threatening her, she’s pointing out systemic issues within the entire industry, and she makes a convincing point.

This allegedly vocal minority seems to think that games exist solely for them, and that anything which threatens their hegemony must be viciously opposed. This is Sarkeesian’s actual point, that the console videogame industry is by and large a place by men and for men. It seems clear that the assholes aren’t the sole problem, they’re the most visible signs of the problem. They were created by an industry that caters to them and a community that allows them to grow and fester unchallenged in their anonymous comment pools.

To deny that the vile children who want the world to conform to their immature tastes are representative of the larger gaming environment is to ignore the vast number of incidents that are regularly reported from events like PAX, from sites like Kotaku, and from the releases from the companies themselves. You can’t look at a parade of scenes from AAA titles all featuring prostitutes cooing at the protagonist and/or lusciously draped female corpses and say there’s no pattern here. The stories of a woman who dared to have an opinion about videogames (or exist in that world) being harassed and hounded are so common and prevalent that the reaction isn’t “what happened?” but “what happened this time?” This Sarkeesian situation followed hot on the heels of the Zoe Quinn situation, where a legion of male gamers have felt the need to defend the “integrity” of “game journalism”, which is akin to defending the intellectual foundations of the Tea Party.

These are not the actions of a small, embittered minority. This shit goes on too often and to too much of an extent to just wave away with #NotAllGamers. The game releases are tilted towards a stunted, juvenile sort of heterosexual male, as is the marketing and the discussion. Anonymous, unmoderated comment sections give an unchallenging echo chamber for these degenerates to grow and flourish, eventually bursting to release their toxic spores elsewhere. And meanwhile the same people who demand that videogames be treated as art get angry when its critiqued as just that, limply replying that it’s just a game, just for entertainment, don’t get so upset, as though “art” means something is just admired and respected and never ever questioned or challenged.

The fact that “Mature” rated videogames feature nothing actually mature, just titties and cussing, shows that the industry needs to work on its idea of maturity. Not catering to and acting like 13 year old boys would be a good first step.

I’ll pass on Metro: Last Light. I don’t need to be a party to, “Oh, you want women in this story? FINE, here’s some strippers and prostitutes.” Don’t save the last lap dance for me.

Posted in Videogames | Tagged , , ,

Imperial Settlers: An Apple With a Razor Blade Inside

The game I was most looking forward to at Gen Con was Imperial Settlers, the new game from Ignacy Trzewiczek. Not only is he a designer whose games I like, Imperial Settlers is a lighter, cleaner version of The New Era, one of my favorite games. It was designed to take the core tableau-building concept from The New Era and make it more streamlined and accessible, shedding the dismal post-apocalyptic theme in the process.

As a result you have the box cover above, in which a jolly little guy and his dog caper under the marshmallow title. That’s a major difference from the Neuroshima universe of The New Era. This continues on the cards, full of roly-poly little cute citizens inhabiting the Roman, Barbarian, Japanese, and Egyptian worlds. The worker tokens are plump little pink figures, “food” is represented by charming red apples, and even the raze tokens, which are swords, have a chunky cartoony look to them.

Yes, raze tokens. As in razing something to the ground. Because you’re going to be doing that. You’re going to be attacking your opponents’ tableaus and hoping you’re wrecking their plans and bringing ruin to their nation. Imperial Settlers is like one of those adorable red apples, only filled with razor blades. If you prefer your games to be ones where you try to build the best civilization in order to win a ribbon from the magistrate, you might want to pass it by.

just hell of apples up in this piece

Be aware, this game is more confrontational than it appears on the surface. It also has a thing where, to build most faction buildings you have to get rid of an already built building. A lot of players don’t like this because they want all their stuff to last forever, and you’re not always getting a direct upgrade (i.e., trading a building that produces one food for one that produces two). You also get resources by razing cards out of your hand or making deals with them, which means having to give up a potentially good building later for a stone now, and that seems to bug some folks. Your settlement will change. Cards will come and cards will go, sometimes through the actions of others and sometimes through your own.

I’m not going to go into the rules, but there are some details to know. There are four factions, and they are not identical. Your settlement will consist of two types of cards: common cards, drawn and drafted from a single deck, and faction cards, which are specific to that faction. Faction cards usually require destroying one of your own buildings (probably a common one) as part of their cost. In addition to what the buildings do as themselves, common cards can be razed to provide one-time resources and faction cards can be used as “deals” that provide ongoing resources. Cards that can be razed can be razed from your hand (for one raze token) or from other players’ tableaus (for two or more), and in the latter case the victim receives a wood token and flips the building over, allowing it to still be used as a foundation for a faction building. At the end of the game common buildings are worth one point, faction buildings are worth two. Both types of buildings generate resources or victory points during the game.

From what I have seen so far in my plays, the Romans are about building synergy; they have a lot of buildings that work together to score big points. Barbarians do a lot with workers and generate tons of them. When they get going, they are all about razing. Japan has a weakness in that its faction buildings can also be razed, but it can deploy workers as samurai to protect them. Egypt has a lot of just straight up VP point buildings.

Whenever a game has asymmetric factions, there are immediate complaints about balance, and Imperial Settlers already has been accused of having overpowered factions. It’s true that each of the factions has some buildings that are powerful. For example, Japan and Rome each have cards that can take out any opponent building. They’re not completely unstoppable, as they are a little expensive to use and can only be used once per turn (of 5 turns). Egypt has a building that “steals” buildings from others for the round (again, once per turn). I’m not sure what the Barbarians’ killer card is. They seem fairly well balanced, but here’s the catch: it’s one card out of a deck of 30, and you aren’t going to draw a ton out of that deck. So if someone else gets their biggie and you never see yours, I suppose there’s a chance for some balance issues.

Romans gonna Rome

I’ve only played 4p games twice now, but in each one the killer card didn’t win as much as building synergy did. You want to get your faction buildings built, period. They’re where the points are. In my most recent game, I was Japan and did really well and never used my killer building. Rome lagged behind and then got its faction buildings going and zoomed past everyone. But Egypt took it and only built their big building at the end and used it once. Egypt got a lot of its faction stuff built, allowing it to combo into tons of points. (When I won as Rome, Egypt was my big threat and I *did* use the Engineers to take out its point-generating cards.)

I do have a couple of complaints. The card text and icons are tiny, which is a problem considering you will want to know which of your opponent’s cards across the table you hate the most. Thematically, some of the factions don’t really add up for me. The Romans can store raze tokens while the Barbarians can store workers. That seems opposite to me, though I guess I can see the argument for how they are. Some of the card names are misleading: there’s a “Wood Storage” building that does not, in fact, store wood.

On the other hand, it’s nice to have a New Era-type game that is easy to teach and plays briskly. The design has some great elements, including a clever method for guiding you on how to arrange your tableau. The artwork is delightful, and the rulebook, unlike many of Portal’s previous releases, is well done.

I’m only a few games in and already I’m a fan. Although I prefer the grit and depth of The New Era, I feel there’s definitely a place for Imperial Settlers on my shelf. I’m looking forward to getting new factions to play with.

You’re going to have to make some tough choices in this game, and you’re going to have some of them made for you when your opponents decide to come wreck your stuff. That little guy on the cover isn’t coming to give you a hand, he’s coming to beat you with his shovel. Don’t let the fluffy package fool you; this kitten has claws.

Posted in Boardgames | Tagged ,

I Got a Bad Case of The Star Wars

Long time Star Wars fans know that George Lucas didn’t start messing with the movies in 1997, he had been messing with them for years before and after the original movie debuted. Indeed, the 1977 movie was a moment trapped in time like an icicle in the sun, not the same as a moment ago, not the same as a moment from now.

We all know what happened to the movie afterwards, but until recently what happened to it before was open to some speculation. Various early drafts and fragments popped up, often of dubious provenance, but enough was there to know that the concept underwent many drastic changes as Lucas tinkered with it.

Now Dark Horse comics has released, “The Star Wars”, a graphic novel based on “the original outline” for Star Wars. I finished it last night and let me tell you, it is something else.

Like a game of telephone, there are some original elements, but they’ve been greatly distorted. You have Artoo and Threepio, though the former has little arms and can talk. You have Han Solo and Chewbacca, though one is tall and green and the other is Chewbacca. Also they don’t know each other. The Death Star is here, and so is Darth Vader, except he’s not the Sith Lord in the mask, that’s a different guy. Princess Leia is still the only woman in the entire cast, and she doesn’t do much of anything.

Other familiar elements are peppered into the work. You’ll recognize names of people and places, though in different contexts. Some plot elements show up again, such as the trash compactor and the cantina. There are lines of dialog that even survived the trip from this draft to the final one. (It helps that the artist, Mike Mayhew, fits in familiar items when they are functionally equivalent to later hardware.)

The thing that stands out the most, however, is how terrible this thing is. The plot is confusing, with the heroes constantly going from place to place with no seeming plan. The heroes themselves are confusing, with four similarly named and looking white guys all running around challenging you to tell them apart. The bad guys, too, are overstaffed, with at least three different ones all serving the same purpose and having interchangeable lines. Absolutely none of the characters have any personality whatsoever. The nature of the threat is never clear; Aquilae seems to be the only planet holding out against the Empire, but they aren’t really too alarmed about it. The dialogue is filled with oddball pseudo-military jargon that does the opposite of what it seems like Lucas thinks it does.

What “The Star Wars” reminds one of the most is not Star Wars but The Phantom Menace and its disjointed, half-baked plot and shallow, lifeless characters. It’s a story of exposition with no heart at the center of it.

“What happened to George Lucas?” fans said after the original trilogy finished. He was silent for a long time, then returned with the much-maligned special editions, and then put out the Prequels, which left a lot of people baffled as to how the same person could have cranked out such tone-deaf junk. Speaking for myself, the more Star Wars there was in the years after 1991, when Heir to the Empire, the first of the new books came out, the less interested I became, to the point where I’m now satisfied with the first movie and don’t care much about any of the rest. What “The Star Wars” shows us is that what happened to George Lucas was that he got very, very lucky with the 1977 movie, largely due to the influence of his then-wife Marcia Lucas, who helped edit it. Every single wrong turn that Lucas made since then is evident in “The Star Wars”; it was all right there from the beginning. Very briefly there was a person who could tell him “no” who he’d listen to, who turned his ideas into a coherent, entertaining movie.

George Lucas has always reinvented this story, as well as the stories about this story. At one point it was a “trilogy of trilogies”, though that was then retconned into there always being just six movies. It was always about Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader, who was always Luke’s father, even though there is plenty of evidence of that not being true, as well as Leia being Luke’s sister. All the fans knew of “The Journal of the Whills” and “Luke Starkiller” and such, but what “The Star Wars” reveals is that Star Wars itself was the outlier, a movie that just happened to be fun and captivating despite, not because of its creator’s vision.

So thank you, Marcia Lucas, for helping to give me a movie I truly love.

Posted in Comics, Movies | Tagged

I Had That! #27: Dark Tower

Last week’s edition of “I Had That!” was pre-empted for Gen Con, a huge boardgaming convention. I’ve been playing boardgames for almost all of my life, and this is a good time to talk about two notable ones.

The first is Dark Tower. There are things kids want, and then there are things kids will beg and plead for, offering all sorts of bargains and extra chores and sacrifices to get. Dark Tower was the latter. It was as pricey as an electronic, computer-controlled boardgame would have been in 1981, but to a 13-year old, it was so very worth it.

It was an epic game. You searched the lands for three keys that would allow you to enter the eponymous tower, all the time building up your soldiers for the final battle and food to feed them. The computer, which was housed in the large plastic central tower, kept track of it all, spinning wheels with pictures on them that showed what was going on and playing sound effects and music. It was advanced for 1981, and there’s no boardgame like it on the market today, 33 years later.

We played the hell out of this thing, and I loved every single bit of it. Not just the tower, but the plastic buildings that fit into the board, the pegboards that you kept track of supplies on, the plastic dragon, it was all amazing to me.

Alas, my Dark Tower suffered the fate of many electronic devices back then: being stored with batteries in it, which ruptured and corroded, destroying the tower. No tower, no game. Much later in life I found two copies at tag sales that I was able to combine into a single working copy. However, the lure of cash was too much and I ended up Ebaying it.

One thing that helped Dark Tower was the incredible artwork, done by Bob Pepper. His artwork also showed up in another Milton Bradley game, Dragonmaster.

This was a trick-taking game with oversized, lavishly illustrated cards and cool interlocking plastic gems. It was a gorgeous looking object and I found the rules of play to be absolutely impenetrable. I never played it a single time. I was fascinated by the art, though, and I thought the Runesword was just the coolest thing ever. I didn’t play it, but I still remember it fondly. Now that I know and enjoy trick-taking games, I’d love to get another copy of it. (It’s based on a game called Coup d’Etat, which I do have a copy of but come on, I want those great cards!)

When did I get it? Both of these came out in 1981, so probably around then.

Do I still have it? I don’t have Dark Tower at all, or any of the Dragonmaster cards. I do, however, still have two of the red plastic gems from Dragonmaster.

Posted in Boardgames | Tagged