I Played That! #6: Meat Puppet (PC)

They’re not all winners.

Meat Puppet seemed like it could be great. An action adventure game in the style of Crusader (which I’ll talk about later) with a cyberpunk theme to it. Alas, it was just awful.

The controls were terrible, the fights were hard without being interesting, requiring constant reloading and cutscene-viewing, and the “mature” sensibility was exactly what you think of when you see the word “mature” used to describe any geek entertainment. Meat Puppet is a dull, disheartening slog through a gray-on-gray humorless world of unpleasant people, set to a droning Nine Inch Nirvana soundtrack.

One thing in its favor is that the protagonist is a woman, which is nice. Unfortunately, that’s almost entirely canceled out by the fact that her name is “Lotus Abstraction”, possibly of the Providence Abstractions. I don’t remember if she’s sexycoolbadass, constantly spouting innuendo and receiving it in kind, but it probably wouldn’t be a bad bet.

I couldn’t find any screenshots that weren’t watermarked by gaming sites, which indicates to me that the only people who have bothered are people who were essentially paid to do so. At some point I did a purge of CDs for games. I seem to have kept games that no longer run on any computer I own but Meat Puppet is gone. It is not available at GOG.com.

Posted in Videogames | Tagged

The Blue Boots are Going to Be Tricky

In the summer of 2013 I went to Heroes Con, my first comic book convention in ages. Last summer I went to Gen Con. So what’s the plan for this summer?

Why, Heroes Con AGAIN!

Yes, once more I’ll be jetting down to Charlotte, NC, to hang out with pals. My comics booksing has been on the downswing lately, but a ton of folks I know will be there.

This year I’m going to try something I’ve never tried before. Yesterday I did some shopping on Amazon.

Hmm…what do you suppose the plan is there?

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E.T.: The Extinguished Triumph

A while back on Twitter the subject came up of movies that were huge when they came out, but were now barely thought about. The example being discussed was James Cameron’s Avatar, but I feel like there’s an even bigger subject: Steven Spielberg’s 1982 movie E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial.

(When I first saw the logo for the movie, knowing nothing else, I thought it was going to be a scary movie. Spielberg had made the sometimes-frightening Close Encounters of the Third Kind and the scrawled text looked more to me like violent scratches than a child’s handwriting.)

E.T. exploded onto the scene in 1982, and took a completely opposite path from most movies of its type. The science-fiction blockbuster was in its heyday, but was still seen as kid stuff. E.T., on the other hand, showed up for news and family magazines.

In fact, I recall “Starlog” magazine being furious with Spielberg because he was giving all this attention to mainstream publications, leaving nothing for the geek crowd who felt they were owed something from him. The editorial in Issue 63 is publisher Kerry O’Quinn complaining that everyone else got E.T. press before they did, and urging readers to write, complain, and boycott this crass treatment. Starlog was unable to understand why they were getting the cold shoulder, but in retrospect it was obvious: Spielberg didn’t want a sci-fi movie that everyone would love, he wanted a movie everyone would love that happened to feature an alien.

And speaking of aliens, check out that “People” cover. That’s E.T., up close and personal, well lit and clearly photographed. There was no teasing about this alien, as with, say, Alien. Spielberg wanted E.T. to be as real as, say, John Travolta.

And it worked. E.T. was everywhere. The movie wasn’t just one of the highest grossing ever, it was part of the cultural landscape. “E.T. phone home” was a nationwide catch phrase, toys were everywhere, Reese’s Pieces were seen as a viable alternative to M&Ms. It was showered with award nominations.

And now, nothing. I hang out on Twitter, in a crowd that regularly discusses “classic” nerd stuff and nobody ever mentions E.T. Apart from an occasional “phone home” reference, it seems to have vanished from public awareness. Its 30th anniversary in 2012 came and went without a peep. In fact, the only time I have heard people talk about E.T. in the past several years was in regards to the infamous Atari videogame that supposedly sunk the first videogame wave and was buried in the desert.

How did something so huge become nothing in such a short amount of time? I have no idea. It could be that Spielberg followed E.T. up with…well, stuff like The Color Purple and Always, instead of more E.T., or even more science fiction. I don’t know. Maybe Starlog’s boycott finally took effect.

For me, it’s a more drastic case than Avatar (which I haven’t seen, so it’s not a thing I think bout at all, much less anymore). Avatar made more money than E.T., but the big difference with it was that Avatar was built on its role as spectacle. It was huge. It was expensive. It was in 3-D, which was something that was crazy at the time. Even as they walked out of the film, people didn’t seem to care about any of the actual characters or plot of the movie, just the effects and technical aspects. While it was still in theaters it didn’t seem like something that anyone was interested in beyond the experience of viewing it, so for it to drop out of consciousness when no longer in theaters isn’t surprising.

How do you go from having Neil Diamond sing his own filk song about you to being absolutely nowhere?

Hang on, maybe I just answered my own question.

Posted in Movies | Tagged

I Played That! #5: Ghostbusters (C64)

Honestly, I don’t remember much about this game. You had to earn money trapping ghosts so you could upgrade your ghost busting equipment to trap more ghosts, and eventually trap Zuul. But the city’s PK energy kept rising, so if you took too long, Zuul would come and you’d be unprepared and you’d know what it was to be roasted in the depths of the Slor that day, I can tell you.

(Looks like I don’t remember correctly.)

Mainly what I remember about this was that Joe and I couldn’t wait to get our hands on it. We were eagerly awaiting Joe’s pirate friends to get a copy an send it our way, and rejoiced the day it finally arrived. What we found was the it was kind of dull. The ghost-busting portion was fiddly and repetitive. It got a bunch of plays when I first got it, but it didn’t really become a favorite for me. Mostly I remember it for the hype.

There probably isn’t any kind of metaphor there.

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The Movies-to-Watch List: Secret Honor (1984)

Holy cow.

When I added Secret Honor to the Movies To Watch list, I had never heard of it before. The recommendation came from Jon Morris and was seconded by Leonard Pierce, and that’s a combo I couldn’t really ignore.

The movie is a stage play filmed by Robert Altman, one of several he did in the 80s. In it, a fictional Richard Nixon is in his study, thinking over his life. Even with a life like Nixon’s that might be an iffy proposition. However, the result is incredible.

The sole actor is Philip Baker Hall, who I also was not familiar with, but who puts in a jaw-dropping performance. Nixon is a combination of drunk, senile, paranoid, and Nixon, and Hall goes all over the emotional map with him. Backing him up is the writing by Donald Freed and Arnold M. Stone. Their Nixon is a caged animal, vicious and resentful, but also scared and pitiful. He’s attempting to rewrite his history, as we do, into a story of his own heroism and strength of character, but even he can’t always make it stick. When the facts start to bump up against his narrative, he veers off on another tangent, presumably to smooth it all over later. (The entire time he is recording all of this for an unseen transcriber, and he keeps imploring this aide to erase the bad parts.)

As Nixon enters his study to begin the proceedings there are several important props. There’s a glass of scotch that keeps getting refilled, the tape recorder he’s speaking into, a bank of outside security monitors that he switches to all feature him from the camera in the room, and a loaded revolver. There are also portraits in the room of Washington, Lincoln, Wilson, Eisenhower, and Henry Kissinger. Hall incorporates all of this into an intricately choreographed dance of anger, sorrow, and madness.

I admit, I don’t know much about Nixon other than the very broad strokes. A lot passed by me, but it doesn’t really matter. You know enough. Still, after watching it I headed out to Wikipedia and filled up on backstory, something I probably should have done first, and got some more of the historical references. It’s not about the historical references, though, not really. There’s so much more going on here than just a commentary on Nixon’s career. For that, you’d only need the Wikipedia read. Secret Honor goes far beyond that. Thanks, Jon and Leonard!

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If You’re Like Me, You’re Pretty Much the Worst Person of All

It hasn’t been great lately for folks like me. It started when Phil Robertson, the “Duck Dynasty Patriarch” and now apparent Serious Theological Figure, spoke at a prayer breakfast in Florida and gave us a bizarre parable about atheists.

In it, an atheist family’s home is invaded by ne’er-do-wells who tie up the father, rape and murder his daughters, decapitate his wife, and then castrate him. The father then has a Road to Damascus moment where he realizes, in Robinson’s words, “something about this just ain’t right”, which is a far better punchline than, “The Aristocrats!”

Now, I’ll give this to Robinson; at least in his story it’s not the atheists themselves who are doing all these terrible things. In fact, in Robinson’s telling, he slips into the second person for some of the description, inviting his fellow prayer breakfasters to imagine themselves raping, murdering, and beheading. So it’s not quite the usual argument that without a god one can’t have morals and anything goes. Still, the deviants say, “Isn’t it great that I don’t have to worry about being judged? Isn’t it great that there’s nothing wrong with this? There’s no right or wrong, now is it dude?”

We’ve seen this schtick before and we’ll see it many other times. There’s no need to once again get into how this reveals much more about Robinson himself than it does atheists, or to wonder how being in that hypothetical situation would be vastly improved by believing in god. Thankfully, it only seems to work on those who are already going to hate and fear anyone who isn’t them, so it’s not like it’s going to get a lot of traction from being repeated. Still, it’s a nice reminder that there’s still a group out there who thinks I’m the literal devil and they have political power and a media platform.

And then came the Germanwings crash.

Now, I’m not going to say that I have it worse than someone who actually got flown into a mountain on purpose, or had a loved one to whom that happened. Obviously that’s not so. But in case there wasn’t enough tragedy already in the story, when it came out that Andreas Lubitz, the co-pilot who engineered the crash, suffered from depression and was on medication, we got to hear everyone’s hot take on that issue as well.

It was an exciting discussion because after being told for years that depression is not real and you just have to get over it, I got to find out that actually depression makes people into ticking time bombs who should never be put in charge of other people. The same folks who laughed off claims of depression were now appalled that Lufthansa didn’t apparently take it seriously enough. The question hung in the air: was I, a person who suffers from chronic depression, merely whining for lack of backbone, or was I a menace to all around me?

Of course, I immediately did the responsible thing:

But was that enough? I take 30 milligrams of Citalopram every morning to combat the mighty sads, and it doesn’t always work. I don’t fly planes, but I’m often at the wheel of a car, with plenty of opportunities to take some folks out with me, not to mention that I live in the guntopia of America. What if one day I forget my Citalopram and suddenly I’m going on a non-drug-filled homisuicidal rampage through the streets? Or, because a side effect of antidepressants can be that they lift up a person just enough to finally act on those self-harm thoughts, the Citalopram works too well? Either way there’s blood on my hands and you’d be a fool to have ignored the warning signs.

That assumes depression is real, though, which of course it isn’t. It’s just a bunch of malarkey, a spurious diagnosis to hide the fact that I just don’t have the strength of character that others have. When I hate myself, want to crawl into bed, and can’t bear to be around people I like, instead I should just take a vitamin, get some sunshine, and do a little cardio and I’ll just perk right up. These happy pills I take are just lining the pockets of someone profiting by pretending they’re curing something I don’t actually have. I need to throw them out, get me a whimsical little brunette, and start living life again!

I understand the forces at work here. The Germanwings crash is horrific. Even as an accident it’s too much to take, and when it was discovered that it wasn’t one, it became even more unfathomable. How to explain someone deciding to end 150 innocent lives like that? At first it was attempted to explain it as terrorism, which doesn’t make it any better but at least puts it into a context we can somehow comprehend, but when that was ruled out, we grasped at straws. What came up was “depression”, and now that’s why he did it.

I also get that depression is very hard to understand for people who don’t suffer from it. It’s not just feeling sad, which we all do at times. It’s not just being run-down and listless. It’s difficult to describe and, frankly, depressed people don’t feel great being quizzed about it. Ours is a nation that doesn’t handle any kind of mental illness well, which is why we tend to lock a lot of sufferers in jail where we can forget about them. I’m aware that depression sounds like a lot of bullshit; it sounds that way to me too, and I know it well. Trust me when I assure you that I’ve eaten right, I’ve gotten exercise, I’ve taken vitamins, I’ve gone for walks, I’ve thought happy thoughts, I’ve gotten laid, I’ve taken a nice vacation, and it’s still there. If it’s not real, then it’s the most realistic simulacrum of an actually fake thing I’ve ever had to deal with on a daily basis.

But look at it this way: millions of people suffer from depression without flying planes into mountains, making the Lubitz scenario such an extreme outlier it’s not worth getting worked up over. Or, on the other hand, nobody suffers from it because it’s made up bullshit, in which case you also have nothing to worry about. Why, it’s almost as if it’s likely that something other than depression might be at work here.

Who knows, maybe he was an atheist.

Posted in Misc | Tagged ,

Christ, What a Space Cabby

Pal John M. gave me a heads up on the latest artwork for the New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest:

Since Otto Binder is dead, I think I have a good shot at this. Problem is, the New Yorker only wants a caption, not an eight-page pitch.

And this seems like a good time to bring you the lyrics to the Space Cabby theme song, which has the same tune as the Spider-Man theme song:

Space Cabby
Space Cabby
Does what a cabby does, only in space
Drives a cab
It’s in space
He’s the driver
Of a space cab
He wears a bow tie

It’s designed to quickly get you up to speed on the character and I think it accomplishes that task.

Posted in Comics | Tagged

I Played That! #4: Dark Forces (PC)

As far as most videogame developers are concerned, Star Wars fans want to be one of two characters: Luke Skywalker or Luke Skywalker. That is, they want to either fly a space fighter or wield a lightsaber. I guess when they were kids playing Star Wars, everyone fought over who got to be Luke. For us, everyone wanted to be Han Solo. Dark Forces was a godsend, then, to us blond-haired kids who always wanted to be the cool guy but instead had to be the dork with the lightsaber.

Built to capitalize off the first-person shooter mania that Doom solidified, Dark Forces put you in the role of Kyle Katarn, one of several not-quite-Han-Solos offered up when the real deal wasn’t available. Kyle isn’t a Jedi or an X-Wing pilot, he’s a dude with a blaster running around doing missions for the rebellion. In short, he’s the guy I’ve always wanted to be in the Star Wars universe and the guy I’ve barely ever been given the chance to be, at least in videogame form.

As Kyle Katarn I got to shoot bad guys, run through maze-like places, shoot more bad guys, figure out switch puzzles, find secret areas, shoot more bad guys, jump, strafe, get motion sickness, and eventually have to lie down in a dark room for a bit. I enjoyed the hell out of Dark Forces and played it over and over, but it gave me the woozies and pain-head kind of bad, so I could only play in short bursts. (Doom had done the same thing, as had Duke Nukem 3D, and as a result I stayed away from FPSes for a good long time.)

I stuck with Dark Forces largely because of the Star Wars theme, though it was mostly impressionistic than immersive. The graphics are not great. When Boba Fett inevitably shows up it mostly as a bluish-greenish blob than the well-known character. I fought the big bads of the game, the Dark Troopers, several times, but couldn’t pick them out of a lineup because they were mostly greyish blobs I had to constantly run from. Still, I had a lot of fun and felt like the material was handled pretty well.

Dark Forces’ emphasis on the Rebellion, on helping against the Empire without flying an X-Wing, makes it stand more or less alone in the Star Wars videogame canon; it’s one of only two I can remember playing. I didn’t even play the sequel, Dark Forces 2, better known by its subtitle, “Jedi Knight”, in which Kyle Katarn gets hisself a lightsaber and a daddy plot.

Posted in Videogames | Tagged ,