The Multiverse’s Tiniest Violin

23 December, 2018 at 7:31 pm (gameplay)

A few weeks ago I was at work, killing time, and I pulled out the defunct, previous model phone that I keep for two reasons: as a decoy, in case I get robbed, and for mobile gaming. I’m crap at games, generally, but find that games on the Free-to-Play model are simple enough that they match my natural level of ability. And since I strive mightily not to spend any money on F2P gameplay and see how well I can do if I am patient, I tend to spend about ten to fifteen minutes a day gaming, which suits my lifestyle.

I get a reasonable amount of crap around the office for having the two phones, and was unsurprised when they garnered a little attention from a colleague, who asked what I was doing. When I said I was playing a video game, she reacted strongly, telling me to delete it immediately. When I protested, telling her that it was a cheerful distraction and that I only played for the tiniest amount of time each day, she was steadfast: “Any amount of time is too much,” she said, “because those games make you want to play more and more. Delete it!” she warned me again.

Considering that she and I were going to be co-hosting a field trip in a few months, I spent a little time weighing her words. Two weeks in France was a perfectly normal amount of time to stop playing a video game to which I claim to have only the barest of attachment. But at the same time, such games are wonderful in airports terminals and other periods of interminable delay. However, if that was going to be her reaction, then it would probably be the better part of valor to just free up the hard drive space before the trip rolled around, and then see how I felt about restarting or not once we returned.

Turns out, the decision was made for me. TinyCo. has announced that they are shuttering Marvel: Avengers Academy on February 4th.

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In Space, No One Can Hear Your Engine Cavitation

19 March, 2006 at 11:43 pm (film, gameplay, performance)

Went to go see the Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination exhibit at the Boston Museum of Science yesterday. I’ve been in Star Wars mode of late, really enjoying my nostalgic connection with the films. I dug out my Star Wars Lego sets from a couple of years back and reassembled them, noticing again how well designed they were and how old school the design was. Much of Lego’s current output relies heavily on the large, structural pre-fab elements that remove any resonance from the traditional term “Lego brick”. They are vastly un-brick-like. Rumours persist that this is because Lego had to design new and different building elements once their copyright on the traditional nubby blocks expired, and so in order to prevent their kits from falling into commercial obsolescence they have engaged in a number of marketing and licensing deals, and have increasingly built kits using their non-rectangular “bricks”. Whether this is completely accurate, it is one of the seeming failings of the upcoming Batman line of Lego kits, which seem flimsy and chi-chi, without the solidity of the classic kits. Amusingly, to further justify the bitterness of the prequel-hatahs, the Star Wars original trilogy Lego kits are largely designed like the kits that would have been their contemporaries in the 1980s.

Smithsonian Star Wars Exhibit - Leia and StormtrooperI had been to a Star Wars museum exhibit at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in 1998, and so I anticipated that this exhibit would be similarly enjoyable. However, except for the presence of an AT-ST, a jawa, an actual full-sized set-model of Luke’s Episode IV landspeeder, and some jedi outfits, there was little in this exhibit that I hadn’t seen before. Some artifacts and props were totally unfamiliar, and upon closer examination, I discovered that they were part of the world of design that underlay Episode III. How sad that I was so underwhelmed by the prequels that by the time it came to Revenge I wasn’t even paying attention to the world-building and prop and costume design that LucasArts has always done so well. Although, it must be said, the original trilogy was designed with the aim in mind that the used objects would have been well and truly used, that little would look clean or pristine. And the new films were designed at the apex of a civilization, with curves and opulence. And, frankly, I found it less interesting. The way in which an object wears and is distressed gives it a sense of history and tangibility. It makes it look less like a prop and more like a tool. And the little crater marks and dents on the Falcon and the landspeeder make them more interesting than any lovely Naboo creation.

One other thought on the exhibit: the gift shop had a number of t-shirts and hats and the like featuring the visage and color scheme of Darth Vader. Most of these were accompanied by various logos that spelled out “Vader” or “Sith” in gangland fonts reminiscent of tags and tattoos and tribal markings. And while this was relatively cool, I am totally bemused at the idea that The Empire, an ultimate expression of a monolithic Establishment, could be successfully sold as teen-friendly rebellious street-wear. S’all I’m sayin’.

Jaden Sumpthinorother, from JEDI ACADEMYAnd what has caused all of this fondness for the creative works of a man I had largely disavowed? Star Wars: Jedi Academy. I am now up to level three, and the difficulty level has progressed to the point where my ass is being handed to me by Sith on a regular basis. With the most recent upgrade to my powers, I had the option of sticking with one lightsaber and being able to wield it as strong levels, or to use two sabers simultaneously, or to use a Darth Maul-stylee dual-bladed weapon. Frankly, the hilt designs on the dual-saber were all terrible, but after fighting a bunch of Sith apprentices, I was keen on the idea of being able to see more than one color laser-blade while zooping about the maps. However, the fact that I can’t seem to defend myself with two blades, thus causing me to die shrieking every couple of minutes is causing me to seriously consider jumping back to a previous save point so that I can stick with one supah-strong blade.

But while working valiantly to get to my current stalemate, I was having a really good time. Despite the fact that I needed to consult the walkthrough about four out of every five missions at some seemingly impassible point — a mark of shame, as it clearly indicates that I could never buy a video game on its release date, as I would hit some intractable puzzle and have to wait a few weeks until someone else had taken the time to map everything out… how demoralizing — the gameplay and the action have been incredibly compelling. Wired magazine mirrored my opinions to a T recently when they pointed out that the best movies George Lucas has released lately have been Star Wars video games. The blend of sound effects and soundtrack, and the complex action sequences are exactly what I want out of a Star Wars film, and i have the ability to skip past the lame dialogue. These are the adventures I would have played in my backyard in 1980, with gun-shaped sticks and the occasional Mattel product. And that is a most satisfying nostalgia, far more fulfilling than trying to justify the failing vision of a once-inventive director.

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PVP: Star Wars vs. Annie Hall

3 January, 2004 at 8:23 pm (film, gameplay)

Scott Kurtz has written a strip for December 27th where he claims that nerds are demanding reparation for Star Wars losing the “Best Picture” Academy Award to Annie Hall in 1977. Now, I remember the Best Film internet poll a year or so ago when a bunch of iSavvy revisionists took to the bulletin boards across the web and “proved” that there was more popular support for Star Wars to have received “Best Picture” in the 1977 Oscars. There was some minor flap about it as people who actual had taste and perspective were outraged and everyone who registered as “Jedi” for their religion in the 2000 census celebrated this overturn. But because it was an internet poll, and therefore statistically representative of, um, nothing, people eventually forgot about it. Also, a new personality test had been created and everyone needed to see which Angel from Neon Genesis: Evangelion they were, or something. Anyway…

What I object to in this comic, is not simply its sentiment. It’s the use of the character who voices this sentiment. I don’t know how old Mr. Kurtz is; I assume he’s in his early thirties. In reading PVP, I have regularly found that I believe Mr. Kurtz places his editorial voice, the voice representing his age and life experience in the voice of Cole, the most aged character in the strip. Cole is the character who says that the Nerd Community is instigating for reparations for Annie Hall‘s “Best Picture” award.

Image copyright Scott Kutrz.  Used without permission for the purposes of publicity and criticism.Cole is old enough to have the perspective that Annie Hall very much is a Nerd Movie. It is a series of nerd fantasies, strung together in Allen’s signature nerdy perspective. Who else but a nerd would open his film with references to Groucho Marx and Sigmund Freud? Who else but a nerd would portray his girlfriend as a sexy rendition of the Evil Queen in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty? Marshall McLuhan steps out from behind a sign to prove Woody Allen’s character’s point: a total nerd fantasy.

Nerds didn’t become so codified, so specialized until after the Star Wars phenomenon. By the 1977 Oscars, Star Wars hadn’t even been re-released in the cinema with the “Episode IV” subtitle. It made a supreme amount of money and took the toy market by storm. It stayed in theatres for almost a year before being shelved and re-released. These are indicators of a great popular devotion, no question. But it wasn’t just a nerd thing. Look at the “Cancellation of Star Trek” skit on Saturday Night Live or the Trek references in the film Serial. These show that the appeal was broader than the Nerds. Nerds were literary fiends and HAM radio operators and Hi-Fi geeks and classical music DJs and political activists. They also read Greg Bear and Lester Del Rey and Philip K. Dick and were entranced with science fiction. But not just Lucas’ science fiction, but also the science fiction of Asimov and Serling. And they didn’t lock themselves into a narrow, narrow spectrum of interests: sci-fi, fantasy, comics, and computer games. Annie Hall shows beyond a doubt that the Nerd has withered. He is anaemic and inbred. And if he lacks the perspective to see that Annie Hall is his antecedent and his legacy, than he deserves nothing.

Or, to be more precise, he deserves precisely what he is getting. Hope you enjoy Episode III, Cole and Mr. Kurtz. They are what you demanded by not accepting the Oscar in 1977.

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Jedi Knight

12 June, 2003 at 11:55 am (gameplay)

Lightsaber styleeWhen my coach tried to get me to hit a baseball, I could never make contact. When my older brother tried to teach me to skateboard, I wasn’t goofyfoot, I was just plain goofy. But while some semblance of coordination has happened to me over time — except being able to dance… always excepting being able to dance — I have always been and have resolutely continued to be an absolute waffle when it comes to video games.

When I learned to drive, it was terrible. I was incredulous at the amount of actions one was required to perform simultaneously. You have to push on the clutch, step on the brake, downshift, put on your directional signal, turn the steering wheel AND not hit any pedestrians or other drivers? Yeah, right… good bloody luck. I gave up on ever being able to drive a standard transmission right there. But my brother required a standard in order to feel like he was in control. But then again, he was a drummer, and accustomed to using both hands and both feet in independent tandem. And then again again, he was the household videogame king.

We could sit for hours in the family room (read: basement) watching him tackle level after level of THE LEGEND OF ZELDA. He’d suffer through the sort of repetitious requirements that allowed the “unlocking” of special characters, and his siblings would sprawl on the floor or the natty green couch and stare at the screen. But whenever I tried to play the games on my own, I’d give up. I couldn’t manage all of the little buttons — and we’re talking Nintendo, here, where there was only an A-button, and B-button, and a joypad. As videogame systems have progressed from 16-bit to 32-bit to 64 and beyond, the controllers have increased in size and complexity, and watching me try to maneuvre in TONY HAWK 3 is just laughable. My fingers could never find nor remember which button exacted which command. It was as if I was trying to grind my avatar’s face and chest into a smooth, planar surface.

But last night I spent two hours playing JEDI KNIGHT II on my Mac. Sure, after two hours, I still haven’t reached the second checkpoint and I seriously doubt that I’m even near completing the first level (or mission or whatever), but by god, I’m still alive and I’m having fun. I am controlling my panicky reactions when I walk around a corner and find myself in a room full of storm troopers. I’m firing with my left hand and targeting with my right, and yet somehow still moving and maneuvring as well. It’s complex cognition and anti-intuitive, and yet I seem to be doing okay so far.

Who knew?

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