Monday, December 8, 2008

Prince of Persia

Well, I'd just like everyone to know that I've totally already beaten the new Prince of Persia. Yeah, it came out on Wednesday. And I beat it late last night (okay, early this morning, but it's the principle that counts). Admittedly, after I picked it up, my whole life consisted of work, Prince of Persia and sleep. Just to be clear, that means I didn't eat. Okay fine, I did bathe. You caught me.

So, yeah, I can now have an intelligent conversation about a recent game. It feels kind of cool. Like, I can spoil the ending sequence (and I totally will, by the way, but not right now, it has to be in the context of the discussion of the game, not just part of being an ass).

The last Prince of Persia trilogy was built upon three game play elements: exploration, puzzles, and fighting. The best was, and always has been, exploration. Starting at the bottom and slowly working your way up to the top by moving from one interactable piece of the environment to the next. This was always the best because they built incredible environments and had incredibly cool animations, so moving from place to place was exciting in and of itself and it was exciting to see the next place. Fighting was always the worst. At best it was a distraction and at worst it was a pain. They tried new systems with each game and none of them were particularly fun (for me, I knew other people who loved the fighting in Prince of Persia, though). Puzzles were somewhere in between. Personally, I've never been a fan of progress stopping puzzles. I prefer puzzles where the reward isn't that you get to continue playing the game, but rather a slightly more optional reward, like extra life or powers.

Game designers typically seem to prefer rewarding exploration with those things, instead of puzzles. I'm not sure why that is. I guess hiding something in the environment is easier than creating a whole optional puzzle and playtesting it. Although, the best exploration rewards are more like mini puzzles in that the reward is apparent, but the puzzle is how to get there. While I count that as an exploration reward, it often requres more logical thinking and planning skills than the official puzzles.

It's interesting to look back at that trilogy because you can almost make up a story behind the development of those games. In the first game, fighting was primarily done against mid size groups and it was hard because the Prince didn't have a lot of fighting options, especially against groups. He also had a princess with him who was sometimes helpful, but typically had to be kept safe, which was kind of a pain. Long environmental exploration sections weren't especially common yet, especially in this style, so sections would provide lots of hints to make sure you made it through okay. Puzzles were simplistic at best, I think (I only vaguely remember them, but I think most of them really just involved finding the switch). Story and character-wise, though, it was a blast. The interactions of the two characters were incredibly fun and made progressing through the game really cool. We got to know the characters primarily through their conversations, which occurred during exploration periods. That was so cool and definitely a story-telling innovation at the time. At heart, though, that game was just fun and carefree. It was, and still is, the best in the series.

The second game is almost certainly the worst, but it's hard to really justify that. Now that the exploration concepts the original created were common, the second one had much more complex environments. And some really cool ones, at that. The fighting system was overhauled and the Prince was turned into a complete bad-ass who could really fight. The puzzles became much more complex too. With all those improvements, though, something was lost in the translation. For one, the story which had been both cute and unobtrusive in the first one, became inane and downright annoying. The art design, which had been bright and dynamic due to its focus on exploration and discovery, became dark and brooding with environments that were rather Gothic in appearance (epic, but Gothic). The game did managed to take those three key game play elements and improve on them, but completely wrecked the rest of the package. The result very sub-optimal. Also, the main character became an ass, that sucked too.

Oh, it also had a game breaking bug that hit me right before fighting the last boss. That was kind of annoying.

And then the third one was more of an apology to fans than a game in its own right. It had to deal with the stupid story decisions from the last one, which means that it still had a stupid story. Completely unrelated, but I think Kingdom Hearts II is one of the only games that actually managed to even remotely deal with the stupid story decisions made in a previous game in the series, which isn't to say that its story isn't stupid, but it did an amazing job cleaning up after the mess the original made. The third game's best decision was to make create these sections that were a hybrid of fighting, puzzles, and exploration. Basically, they made stealth sections where you could take out all the bad guys without having to deal with the fighting if you could figure out how to sneak up on all the bad guys. In most cases, you had to do this by never touching the floor. Disappointingly, this was not carried into the next generation. More sadly, the only real misstep of the game, on-rails vehicle sections were kept (sort of). It's hard to summarize my feelings on the third game, but it was good. It fixed the rest of the packaging and kept the improvements that the sequel made, but it somehow still lacked the magic of the first one.

So, it's a new generation, and the franchise is being rebooted again. The result is probably the second best, but in a lot of ways, this is a different game than the previous trilogy, with different goals. It has its own magic, which was a lot of fun, but it doesn't compare that well to the old games. A lot of reviewers look back on the previous trilogy and talk about sections that are just frustratingly hard and talk about how this game doesn't have stuff like that. I agree that this game doesn't have stuff like that, but I can't recall very many sections that were really frustratingly hard in the past games, either. Actually, let me rephrase that. I can't recall very many sections that didn't involve the fighting system that were frustratingly hard. And, I don't exactly miss those sections anyway.

This game has changed the focus of the gameplay. They weighted exploration and discovery even higher than it was before and reduced the number of puzzles down to 4 (actually 3, since I can't in good conscience call one of the puzzle sections a puzzle...even though it took me a little while to figure it out). Fighting was reduced pretty drastically and could often be ended with a single well timed attack . Surprisingly, something else they increased their focus on was story. This game easily has the most fun dialogue since the first game and it has a lot of it. But, they also made some other cool story decisions (ending spoilers will be part of that section).

Now, the primary mistake they made in this game, was that with this increased focus on exploration, discovery and story, they wanted all the players to experience all of that. So, they made exploration really easy. They took away the need to have skill to explore the environment. Now, the truth is that this is something of a carry over from Assassin's Creed. They decided that interacting with, and moving through, the environment should be as simple as possible in that game (because that's almost the whole game, and often times you're doing that with the entire town guard on your tail). But, it shouldn't be as simple as possible in Prince of Persia. My problem was that the Prince shouldn't automatically start wall running in the correct direction just because I jumped at the wall. I didn't prove that I knew where I wanted to go next, and the Prince shouldn't pick the right answer for me. I could be swinging from bar to bar and not know where I was going to go next, because the Prince would get there anyway.

Almost every reviewer articulated that the game felt really easy compared to the other games, but everyone seemed to struggle with what exactly was so easy about it. Tycho at Penny Arcade gave a decent explanation for why Elika (your cute heroine) automatically saving you and dropping you back at the ledge is not what makes the game easy (because, in truth, the Sands of Time in the last series were even easier than that in a lot of ways). Chris Kohler at Wired talked about how you couldn't interrupt animations, which made him feel like he didn't really have the control of the Prince that he expected (which is true). But, I think it comes down to the fact that you don't have the control of the Prince that you expect because he's too busy doing your work for you. You don't get punished for this lack of control, because it is pretty much guaranteed to make the right decision for you.

Another poor decision was this extreme focus on finding and defeating the game's bosses. Whenever you get to a new area, your whole goal is to get to the boss and beat him. After doing that, then you need to go explore and find the little collectable McGuffins (light seeds, in this case) for continuing the story. This is backwards. You should find the light seeds and then fight the boss. I know that's how every other game does it and they wanted to be different, but every other game does it that way because it makes sense. Once you beat the boss in an area, then all the evil obstacles in that area go away, which makes exploration really easy. But, we, the players, want there to be evil obstacles present to make exploration challenging. That's part of the fun. It's like if, in the last series, the big environments always had a boss in the middle and once you beat the boss, then all the traps and moving saws and everything else that was dangerous went away, even though you didn't have to get past most of them to even get to the boss, because he's in the middle (and you didn't have to walk all the way around the edge or anything to get to him). As a result, probably half or more of the traps never even had to be navigated. Doesn't that feel like a poor design decision? It certainly does to me.

Let's see, other mistakes included the tutorial being incredibly obtrusive and it often felt like it wanted to play the game for me (that's kind of a theme, it's like they thought the game was so cool and fun, that they wanted it to just play itself for our enjoyment). I'm not going to call Elika a mistake, but she could have been utilized better. People have compared her to Yorda from Ico, but for me, I think of her more like Navi from Ocarina of Time (only she doesn't drive you insane). She's certainly not a liability like Yorda, but she isn't used for puzzle solving or anything like the female companions in past versions of the game (i.e.- Farah). When playing the game, you pretty much ignore her except to use her for double jumps and for slowing you down when you're climbing on vines (why does she only slow you down then? I can't even fathom). Her only real purpose during gameplay is to make conversation, really.

So, what did they do right? They rediscovered the magic. The Assassin's Creed engine allowed them to create unbelievable environments. While Assassin's Creed was an interesting experiment, this is what it was meant to be for. It's clear the game makers dreamed of making a Prince of Persia game set more in reality, and that's what Assassin's Creed is. They built whole cities and populated them with a people and a history and it was totally cool. But also kind of boring. I mean it's cool to be running from rooftop to rooftop hunting people down, but compare that to slowly progressing along the top of a cave looking down upon glorious glowing stalagmites and a little cave lake. Or climbing up the spires of a palace and then sliding down them as they're collapsing. Or jumping across air balloons. I mean, you can't do that in reality. But that's just part of the regular environment in Prince of Persia.

As I mentioned above, the other thing they did right was the story. It's not inane or obtrusive and there's a reasonable number of cliches. Quick sidetrack, but in a pretty large number of the Final Fantasy games, the real main character is not the character that the player is meant to identify with. I especially noticed this the recent ones, numbers X and XII. In both of those, the girl is the real main character, but the story is told from the young male lead's perspective (although in XII, I'm not even sure you can call him the lead, he's really just a bystander). Prince of Persia makes that same decision. The one with the power to stop the bad guys is not the Prince (who's not even a prince in this one). Elika is.

And, over the course of the game, we learn both why the world needs saving and why she has the power to save it. Their conversations are the player's only insight into what is going on, just as it is the Prince's only insight as well. And each time she saves another area, she gets weaker. It reminds me of how Shadow of the Colossus informed the player that the hero's actions were having a negative effect by slowly turning his appearance into that of a monster. So, when she dies at the end, it's not that much of a surprise (oops, that might have been the ending spoiler I mentioned). I loved the execution though.

The credits roll as the Prince carries her out of the temple. With the player in control. Each step is very slow as you progress towards the altar to lay her upon it. To lay her in front of the place of her God. The God that the Prince had been claiming had abandoned her for the entire game. I thought it was a powerful sequence (for the record, more stuff happens, but I'm not going to spoil that, go play it yourself).

It was a really great way to end and was easily the greatest advance this series had yet. I only very vaguely remember the ending of the first game, but I think it's the only one that might compare.

Oh, lastly, everyone's been talking about the art style, but to be perfectly honest, it really shouldn't be as divisive as it's been. It feels like the art style of the first game, only gorgeous and detailed. I know that it's cel-shaded, but it's done very discreetly. And, really, any and all separation from the art style of the second game is to be appreciated (that was the only one that really went for realistic and it was ugly). So, yeah, this one looks really nice, but since I've been playing Valkyria Chronicles, which easily has the most beautiful cel-shaded graphics ever, it's hard to really rave about them.

But, in the end, this is a Prince of Persia game. And it feels like a Prince of Persia game. And that is a very good thing.

That is all.


Tuesday, December 2, 2008


Okay, so, I saw Twilight. Just to be clear, I totally swear that I really, truly am a guy, despite the fact that I do shit like this. Yes, I saw Twilight. No, I haven't read the books. No, I don't think Edward is particularly dreamy and I honestly couldn't even recognize him from Harry Potter, primarily because I hadn't paid any attention to his character (I can't remember if I was checking out Hermione or Cho during the fourth movie, but I assume it was one of them...for that matter, I didn't even see the fourth movie in theaters, so that was probably working against me as well).

Totally unrelated, a while ago I saw this indie British movie called, um, Cashback, I think. If it was called that, I don't know why it was called that. Anyways, the main character was this dude who was totally familiar but I couldn't quite place him for almost half the movie. All I knew was that his voice sounded really familiar. Anyways, to make a long story short, it was the guy who had played Oliver Wood in the first Harry Potter movie. If you recall, girls went nuts for this dude who had probably two lines and guys didn't even know who the girls were all talking about because they didn't realize they were supposed to be paying attention to him. So, yeah, I will admit that he has a pretty amazing British accent, which was actually how I managed to figure out it was him. Yeah, I'm not doing much to strengthen my case for me being a guy, am I? Not that the movie is related to anything at all, it was pretty good. Sort of like a good version of Art School Confidential, only it doesn't make fun of the art world (yeah, I said it, Art School Confidential is freaking pretentious even as it's making fun of all the pretentious people in the art world).

It's kind of weird (I'm still talking about Cashback, by the way) because it was a ways into the movie before I realized that the love interest was the love interest (she starts out as just another character and then suddenly we realize she's the love interest). It's weird because at this same point, she suddenly becomes kind of hot. Prior to that point, she's not, but then she is, even though I couldn't really see what changed besides his perspective of her. So, yeah, since we're seeing the world from his perspective, his opinion influences our own perception of the world he exists in. I think that's kind of cool.

Sorry about that, I really meant to talk about Twilight, I swear. Now, to be perfectly honest, I kind of had a good time. Okay, scratch that. I had a lot of fun watching Twilight. I certainly would not see it again and after someone attempted to summarize the plot of the sequel, I have to say I probably couldn't even be convinced to see that (the plot of the sequel was so inane that hearing it actually started to make me angry, it was pretty impressive). Of course, the reason I had a good time was because the movie is ridiculous. I spent a good 80% of the movie laughing. The parts that were meant to be funny were funny and the parts that weren't meant to be funny were typically significantly more funny (on other occasions, they were boring of course, which was less cool, but whatever).

The coolest thing, though, was that this movie had tons of characters that were familiar, to say the least. So, one game to play while watching the movie was simply: figure out what random semi-mainstream thing that actor has done in the past. It was fun. For example, Edward's "Mom" is this chick who was the star in a CBS comedy called The Ex List that was canceled after, like 5 episodes. Yes, I watched all 5 episodes (man, I'm totally failing at making even a semblance of an argument towards me being a guy).

Even better, both of the girl's friends at school had been in stuff I liked as well. The friend that looks like she should be a conniving bitch, but who turns out to be pretty cool was totally the love interest in a movie I raved about in February or something called Rocket Science (or something like that, look it up in the archives). In that movie, she played the classic unattainable love interest who is both smarter and more desirable than the main character could ever hope to be (and then she uses him for her own evil plans and it's awesome). In this one, she's just a random friend, though, but I like to think there was still an evil debate fiend lurking beneath the surface.

But, the familiar character who made me shriek like a little girl was none other than a young woman named Christian Serratos. Now, that name probably doesn't mean anything to you. And, lets be honest, it didn't mean anything to me either (until I saw it in the credits). But, oh did I recognize her. Yeah, so quite possibly my favorite live action Nickelodeon show that doesn't have anything to do with Dan Schneider (there's a post about him, check the archives) or kids named Pete, is called Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide. Actually, you know what? Ned's Declassified is my favorite live action Nickelodeon show, hands down.

It's not on the air anymore, but it was pretty hilarious (in fact, it's entire real airing time was while I was in college...which is kind of depressing, since I've seen the vast majority of the episodes). The concept sounds kind of lame: a semi-nerdy, but basically average looking kid named Ned and his two friends deal with typical school problems and give/receive advice about it along with healthy doses of humor along the way. The advice is boring, but the presentation of the problems and the silly solutions attempted (which typically are only vaguely influenced by the advice being provided) are very funny. So, yeah, I think it's one of the best kid's show's produced in that it manages to tell funny stories, presents real problems in funny ways, and makes a legitimate attempt to deal with them both seriously and comically. I can appreciate that. I would put it on par with Doug in terms of being an actually "good" show for kids.

Now, I bring this show up because Ned's love interest, of sorts, in the show is named Suzie Crabgrass (most of the side characters have joke names and her name, I think, comes from the fact that one of Ned's friends and her are always competing). And, well, she's kind of cute, and, yeah, you know how it goes. But, once the show was done and she was gone (although I never did get to see the finale episode, to my disappointment), I assumed I'd never see her again and didn't really worry about it. But then, to my shock and awe and amazement and supreme joy and excitement, she showed up as a random friend in Twilight! Did I mention that I shrieked like a stupid little fangirl? Oh, I did...then never mind. And, just for the record, she was totally amazing in Twilight (almost all my favorite laughs involved those two girls). And, the best news of all, she's 18, so it's technically okay for me to have a crush on her now (yay for me!).

Okay, after who knows how many paragraphs about things that are not really related to Twilight, or my thoughts on Twilight, I think I will actually start writing about Twilight (in case you were curious, part of the reason I'm wandering so much is because my mind was wandering while I was watching it too, so everything I've been typing is actually related to Twilight in that it's what I was thinking about while I was supposed to be watching the movie).

So, the first thing my brother said upon coming out of Twilight was that he thought it was weird that there was no explanation for why Kristen Stewart's character liked Edward. So, I imagine that's an observation that only a boy would have (of course, I'm not claiming that it occurred to me, so I can't use it as proof that I'm a guy). But, it's an interesting question to ask: what does she see in him? Especially at the start. I mean, I think once a cute guy has saved your life and in doing so given you a glimpse into a secret world that is much more exciting and interesting than the world you knew before (and risked his own reputation and safety in doing so), then most people are alright with using that as shorthand for, well, falling for the guy. Understandably so, I'm sure (yeah, like I know).

But, what does she see in him before then? It's certainly a question to ask. But, in truth, it's not supposed to even be asked. The assumption going into this movie is that Edward is desirable and any reasonable girl would be into him. I think guys, as an audience, have been trained to expect the male lead to prove himself to the girl (just as girls have been typically trained to expect guys to prove themselves to them), but this movie is different.

It's kind of like the beautiful girl in most movies, who ignores the main character or treats him like dirt as he tries to prove his worth to her. We don't question why he does that (okay, some of us do, because he's being stupid, but that's not the point, because it's an accepted plot/sub-plot, particularly from 80s teen comedies, but I imagine it's been around longer than that). In the same way, it's just assumed that he's good enough for her (but, she doesn't have to actually do anything to earn his affection either, which I suspect arises more from the wish fulfillment the book is peddling than from typical story conventions).

Possibly my favorite decision that was made in Twilight, though, was the decision to portray the other kids in school as super nice and welcoming people. I mean, who does that anymore? She's a new kid and everyone wants to be her friend!? That's ridiculous. Guys hit on her, girls ask for her opinions and welcome her into their group. And she...tolerates it. It's a cool decision. It makes her really unsympathetic, but I'm okay with that (I have to admit Kristen Stewart was cuter than they'd portrayed her in the ads...don't ask why that's relevant, but it is). She feels isolated and alone in this new town, but it's not because she actually is. It's because she's an adolescent. And I think that's kind of cool. That tells us a lot about her character (a lot more than the obnoxious narration, that's for sure) and, well, it tells us a lot about its audience as well (this is the character they identify with, for better or worse).

Let's see, those were the two things that really stuck out to me while watching it. Obviously, that whole baseball thing was kind of stupid and ridiculous, but no more so than anything else in the movie. And the pitcher was cute (but hadn't been in anything I'd seen before). So, in summary, I approve.

Also, I don't really understand why she wants to become a vampire. I know she'd get to spend forever with Edward and that would be so cool and awesome and stuff, but she should ask herself a very real and important question. If one of the main things about her that Edward finds so attractive is her smell, and becoming a vampire would get rid of that smell, then is it really worth the risk? I'm not sure it is. Tough call, in any case. Hopefully, he still wouldn't be able to read her mind, but if him turning her into a vampire got rid of that too, then she'd have to rely on her personality to please him for forever (and good luck with that, Missy, forever is a long-ass time...or long ass-time, I have no preference). So, yeah, she should really give it some hard thought because bugging him to just bite her already will probably get on his nerves (did I mention that it got on my nerves? I didn't? Oh, well, it did).

Well, I think that's all I have to say about Twilight. It was interesting. Even when it was stupid, and I can appreciate that, I think. It definitely didn't make me want to read the book, though. Also, if you're going to see a movie about a human and a vampire falling in love, then you should probably see this Swedish movie called Let the Right One In. It's better by a very large margin. On the other hand, it doesn't have Suzie Crabgrass (win some, you lose some). I don't want to get into it too deeply, but, well, it's a lot darker than Twilight (because, honestly, the kind of person that would actually fall in love with a vampire, is probably rather screwed up). It's also actually scary (crazy concept, I know).

Also, I keep meaning to watch The Lost Boys but I haven't gotten around to it yet, but I will soon. And then I'll be all vampire-d out (for a little while at least).

That is all.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Variety of Random Topics

Okay, I kind of put off posting for a while, so now I've just got a wide variety of things that I sort of had a lot to say about, but by this point I've forgotten most of it, so once everything gets added together, it will probably be pretty decently long.

Let's see, I think I want to start with...Chuck. And Jordana Brewster. Well, I guess mainly Jordana Brewster. So, the dear Ms. Brewster is playing Chuck's long mysterious ex-girlfriend. Now, we've been dying to meet Jill Roberts since, oh, um, 5 minutes into the first episode or so. We've wanted to meet her, primarily so that Chuck can finally get over her, but also we just want to meet her. Okay, then when we found out that she was to be played by Jordana Brewster, then we really wanted to meet her. We will also stop using the royal "we" at this point, because we all know just how annoying it is, don't we?

Anyways, last week she finally appeared. Now, I had mixed feelings, but I wasn't about to hold that against her. Most of my problems arose from the fact that Jill apparently got a Ph.D. in Biochemistry after ditching Chuck and, well, putting glasses on Jordana Brewster...isn't quite enough to make her look even remotely intelligent.

I mean, it's not like she looks incapable of being intelligent, but she just doesn't feel right in that role. I first met her in The Faculty, where she's playing the bitchy prom queen-type girl. I think she also had a major role in The Fast and the Furious. She's not meant to be playing smart. Olivia Wilde can sort of pull it off in House because, well, I've never really thought doctors were all that smart anyways, so I don't hold them to very high standards (it's part of being a chemical engineer, you become an asshole and lose respect for stuff that seems easy compared to the problems you had to solve). But, a Ph.D. in biochemistry, that's a little different.

But, aside from, I was unsure about how I felt about the way they were treating her character. Not surprisingly, Chuck pretty much forgets about Sarah as soon as he sees Jill (remember, he's not over her). And of course Sarah gets jealous and all that's fine. But, I just wasn't sure what they were actually doing with her character. I mean, she's still kind of into Chuck, then finds out that he's still a nobody and loses some but not all interest in him.

Then, and he's where I really got more than kind of frustrated, he informs her that he's actually a spy. I mean, seriously? She's the first person from his real life that gets to find out he's a spy? That's just...not right. She doesn't even earn it. He's basically just letting her know to impress her (right after talking about how cool it felt to have a girl be interested in him who doesn't know he's a spy...which hasn't happened since, like, midway through season 1 with Rachel I'm bringing up two different O.C. alums in the same post...freaky).

So, I came out of it feeling like if they actually wanted to keep her around and have us like her, then they would let her figure out that Chuck is a spy (since she's all super smart and stuff). And her figuring it out would give her the benefit of the doubt (in other words, if she was awesome enough to figure out Chuck's secret on her own, then we, as the audience, not as royalty, would pretty much be willing to forgive her for breaking his heart, all those years ago). But, they took that option away from her, so she doesn't really have a good way to earn our trust and respect, so she's probably going to be gone quick.

Then we had this week's episode, where they were kind enough to inform us that, yes, she is an evil bitch and we're not supposed to like her, even if she is being played by Ms. Jordana Brewster. Of course, the way they decided to do this was completely irrational and makes no sense at all, but that's okay. We're used to it in this show (and Heroes managed to botch up at least as much stuff last week in their flashback episode, so the standards had been lowered pretty significantly, but I'm not talking about Heroes right now as I sit, very tentatively optimistic for the upcoming episodes, I'm talking about Chuck). They decided that she's a spy for the bad guys.

Yeah, I know. Really freaking stupid decision. They end the episode by informing us that she's a government agent, who's actually a spy for Fulcrum (the bad guys). Obviously, this makes no sense. It doesn't make sense because if she worked for the government (which they informed us she did) then they would have informed her that bad guys were making a move on her boss and, furthermore, they would have alerted Casey and Sarah to work with Jill. But, no one told anyone that she's a government agent.

Even more ridiculous: Chuck didn't flash on her! Oh my God, people, are you that incompetent?!? I swear, it's like you wrote last week's episode, filmed it and completed it and then while working on the very next episode, decided this would be a cool idea. You completely ignored everything that had just happened. I mean, when Heroes screws up, at least they're continuous with the previous week's episode. You're not even close.

What's worse is that last week's episode could have worked just as well with everyone knowing that Jill was a government agent. I bet it would have been better even. Casey and Sarah would be working with Jill to protect/interrogate her boss and they would be trying to keep Chuck secret since he's the Intersect and all. Of course, Chuck would be chomping at the bit to see her and say hi and be all "Hey, I'm the Intersect. Have sex with me." And, yeah, it would work fine (but, then I guess the twist in this episode wouldn't be a surprise, but that's alright since the way it is now, it's a twist where the audience just goes WTF?).

So, yeah, I'm kind of sad that I'm frustrated with Chuck right now. But, really, it's not Chuck, it's me. Clearly, I'm not cool enough to be watching it if things like this bother me. But, I'll keep trying, because I do love it so much.

Let's see, next on the list is, um, Valkyria Chronicles. Sometimes, it makes me sad that I play video games so slow. I've already put a good 15-ish official game time hours into that game, which probably translates into 20-25 real hours. And I think I'm just about halfway through it at this point. But, no, I was too slow to start having impressions that won't just sound like me jumping on the "Valkyria Chronicles is so ridiculously amazing everyone should play it. No, really you should even though you don't own a PS3 or like strategy RPGs, it's just that good" bandwagon. But, well, there's a reason this bandwagon formed and it's not because people like to love PS3 exclusive games (in fact, I think people seem to prefer to either hate or ignore such games).

That bandwagon formed because this game is freaking brilliant. Let's pretend for a moment that it isn't one of the most beautiful games I've ever played. Let's just judge it based upon the gameplay. Okay then, it's the best thing the console RPG genre has ever produced, pretty much hands down. I've been addicted to Fire Emblem. I've been addicted to Disgaea. I've been addicted to Advance Wars and I've played a fair amount of Final Fantasy Tactics. All of them are very good and tons of fun. Gameplay-wise, though, not even close, except maybe Advance Wars, and that's just because it's so ridiculously complicated. Valkyria Chronicles' gameplay is almost simple compared to those other games with far fewer unit types and modifiers. But, the way you interact with it, is so much better. Sega didn't start with Chess and make it more complicated. They started with, maybe Star Ocean and Gears of War, and added a little bit of Chess to it. And it feels so right.

I never want to have to move characters around on a grid again (that is a blatant lie, by the way, I'll be playing more Disgaea in a couple months, I'm sure). That's how cool it felt to actually take control of my characters.

On an only vaguely related note, I think there's a question that some of the reviewers need to ask themselves. This would primarily be the reviewers complaining that there's lots of cut scenes. While playing the game, there's a point where you get the option to spend 50000 gold to access some extra cut scenes of your characters on vacation. Around this time, I had about 80000 gold, so this was a significant portion of my money (which goes towards funding better weapons and armor and stuff). Now, if you see that option and you immediately spend the money before even realizing that this vacation will involve going to the beach and seeing the female characters in needlessly skimpy bikinis, you are the type of person this game was made for. If you think, for even a moment, about the fact that you're going to fall behind in the research category and not be as powerful and get effectively nothing in return, then please, don't review this game. We don't care about your opinion of the cutscenes.

Also, only very vaguely related, I was just hoping that if anybody else populated their entire army solely with cute young girls (yes, there are a couple Japanese schoolgirls, but they're typically more like scouts than heavy lancers, to my ever-so-slight disappointment), they'd let me know, just so I don't feel like the only weird loser doing that. For that matter, people whose Rock Band bands are entirely populated by girls would make me feel better too. Although, for the record, I don't make those characters wear as little clothing as possible. I spend the time to find cool costumes for them that look good without removing significant amounts of clothing. I think that, at worst, that only makes me slightly sexist and possibly vaguely feminist since I'm not objectifying these female characters (who, let's be honest, actually are just objects...err, rather, digital objects but you get the idea) and am instead choosing to interact with the game through those avatars instead of my own gender and I have no idea where I'm going with this at all. Moving on...

Valkyria Chronicles is really awesome. Oh, and did I mention the art style? Gorgeous, really. It achieves its goals admirably. It doesn't feel real, but it feels powerful. Some of the best parts at the beginning show these idyllic, peaceful countrysides in this watercolor/penciled-style suddenly getting destroyed by the bad guys. Those are times when it really, really works.

Lastly, I just have a quick thing to say. So, apparently on MTV there's some stupid game show where people play Rock Band in front of an audience and get judged and if they do well then they win prizes. I'd heard it mentioned here and there, always with lots of negative connotations, but I just watched it and it was so amazing. Like, I was falling off the couch laughing at the bands and the performances were totally fun to watch as well. They do this cool thing where it's like watching people playing Rock Band, except instead of the computer generated performers and audience, it's the actually performers and audience (but you can still see the note charts and stuff like that).

Anyways, I highly recommend it. The host is kind of lame (it's kind of obvious he thinks he got stuck with a crappy gig), but everything else about it is so funny. The best part is when they go behind the scenes and interview the competitors and these people are so cool and funny. I mean, they totally love Rock Band and they're excited to be playing in front of an audience, but they're totally aware this is just for fun. And they're having fun. There were two great quotes from the episode I saw. The first one was a response to why they got into Rock Band. I'm paraphrasing but the band leader explains that they got into it because they totally sucked at real instruments, at which point the drummer pipes in and says "That shit is HARD, man!". Trust me, it was funny. The other quote started with the cliched "Rock Band is not a's an experience". But, then after a couple moments of thinking about what he just said, the guy continues, "but if it was a game, it would be, like, the GREATEST GAME EVER!". Yeah, that's a memorable quote.

Let's see, real quick I can mention that I've tried Guitar Hero: World Tour and it pretty much sucks compared to Rock Band (okay, that's a slight, changed my mind, no exaggeration at all). The primary problem is that they made the conscious decision to make it a multiplayer game that doesn't play like a multiplayer game. You're not a band when you're playing as a group in this game, you're just a group of people all playing the same song at the same time on different instruments. I mean, I think it even gives everyone separate scores (or at least it feels like it does since they eliminated anything like cooperation from the gameplay). The secondary problem is that they decided to make the rule be that if someone fails out, then everyone fails out (even though everyone else can't really do anything to prevent the person who failed out from failing out). This is frustrating, in case you're curious.

Otherwise, it's all just slightly different design choices that are neither right nor wrong, just different (so, since I'm way too used to Rock Band, they all feel wrong, but I know they're not necessarily wrong). Neither game has come up with just the right way to do vocals, but I think Rock Band is a little closer. On drums, it's nice to activate star power whenever I want, but I miss the drum fills as well. On bass, supposedly the note-less strums grow on you once you get used to the idea a little bit. Hmm, well, I failed at being real quick, but it was still kinda quick.

Well, the only other thing I can think of that might be worth mentioning (read as: really is not worth mentioning, but I'm going to anyway) is that I saw the most recent Hellsing Ultimate DVD and it was just okay. A lot of people rag on the original anime for completely abandoning the story in the manga about halfway through. So, the Hellsing Ultimate DVDs are pretty much just for those fans, since they promise to stick with the manga all the way through. I'm now two DVDs past the halfway mark in the original, and well, I'm still up in the air. Neither one finishes is all that great.

The original anime tried to go out in a rather different direction with bigger and scarier and weirder demons appearing. This doesn't really fit with the theme in the manga, but it's not inherently bad. This one, which I assume is following the manga that I haven't read, is just repeating the same theme over and over again. That would be the theme that Alucard is way more sinister and evil and demonic than any of the evil things he gets called in to fight. After the fourth disc of that, I'm kind of starting to understand why the anime wanted to do something different. There's only so many times we can watch the bad guys doing horrible things only to crumple into snivelling creatures at Alucard and the horrors he's capable of. So, we'll have to see. This one was kind of a transition one, so it's possible that the next disc could do some interesting stuff because he'll fighting Nazi vampires that he thought he eliminated, so these are bad guys who actually faced him before and are relishing the thought of facing him again, not because they think they can win, but because they relish the amount of horror and evil this confrontation will bring into the world. Like I said, this could be interesting.

I also like that we get to see more of the crazy priest dude who works for the Catholics. I like him too.

Alright, that is all.


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Obama Thoughts

Before I say anything, I want to link to this endorsement for Barack Obama. This former editor of The National Review summarizes my feelings for Obama in a very real way.

I've never really been a politically involved person. It's just not something I care about. I've never voted (and I'm keeping the record going today, although this time I can honestly say that it's not entirely my fault...I'm in Chicago on business and didn't think to register for an absentee ballot). I believe that if you don't know what you're voting for, then you shouldn't be voting. And, every year, I tell myself I'll research the various candidates and propositions and make my own conclusions and vote. And, every year, none of that happens. Then, I'm forced to ask myself: "Am I qualified to vote? Do I want me making decisions that will affect the policies that govern me?" The answer is always no. And I don't feel bad about it. I don't complain about the decisions my government makes, because I don't deserve to.

At the same time, I do still have opinions, but I acknowledge that my opinions are meaningless. And, well, until now, my opinions had always leaned Republican. If I had voted four years ago, I would have voted for Bush. I'm not afraid to admit that I would fully regret that vote not long after, but that's who I would have voted for. On the other hand, part of the reason I didn't vote that year was that I couldn't really bring myself to do that. I couldn't vote for someone who I knew wasn't qualified to be the President of the United States. But, well, I still liked him more than Kerry.

And the reason I've always leaned Republican is quite simple. I'm a conservative. I'm all for hands off government. I don't really care about the environment (I'm a chemical engineer, for goodness sake). I'm religious, admittedly, a rather liberal Roman Catholic, but still religious. I'm a good consumer, in part actually because I believe it's important to be a good consumer.

As a young person with a decent paying job and effectively no real dependents or costs, I have very few needs from the government and I am not someone who benefits from any government programs, so why should I support them? Well, because it's the right thing to do (or, rather the left thing to do, but that's just me making stupid puns).

But, ever since I first heard about Barack Obama, I knew he was the person I wanted to be the next President. Truhfully, before I ever heard him say a single word, or heard any part of his campaign, I knew. To me, he represents something much, much more important than the Democratic Party. I don't care about his promises of change or his promises of reaching across aisles or anything like that. I don't care because they're not going to happen and I don't expect them to. Change doesn't happen. Aisles aren't reached across.

But things will get better all the same. They'll get better because we're going to have a leader that people love. I've never known an America that had that kind of leader. As far back as I can remember, we have been suspicious and cynical of the man who leads our country. I know it's part of being American, that distrust of the people we choose to lead us, but it's hard to live with that. It's hard to always feel like we're choosing between the lesser of two evils. And, for at least a little while, we're not going to have to feel that way.

We're going to have a president we love. We're going to have a president we think we might be able to trust. A president who wants the best for us. For this country. For the world.

And it feels good. It feels wonderful, really. I honestly want to get down on my knees and weep for joy. Weep, as my whole being is finally filled with hope. Weep in relief for my country. Weep as I contemplate just what it means to believe in my leader. Really, I just want to weep in thanks.

In thanks for the fact that Obama exists. That he came into the national consciousness at the time we needed him most. That he will be our Messiah. That he is actually capable of taking on these roles that we need from him. In thanks that I believe in him so blindly that I actually think, for even a moment, that he can fulfill those roles.

It feels so good.

That is all.


Sunday, November 2, 2008

Recent Video Game Demo Reviews

Yeah, that's right. I'm so freaking slow at playing through video games that I'm going to just review the demoes I've been playing. To put just how slow I am in perspective, I bought Disgaea 3 on the day it came it in late-August. Yeah, I think I'm about 40% of the way through it. And I've put in a good 40-ish hours into it, so it's not like I haven't been playing it. However, I had promised myself I'd put it aside once Dead Space came out. On October 14th. So, I'll admit I've only put about 7 hours into that, but my defense on that one is that I can only play it in chunks of 60-90 minutes. I don't really like being scared shitless for really extended periods of time. It's got to be bad for something or other.

In any case, I'm almost a third of the way through that. And it's supposed to take most people 12-15 hours. So, I'm just a little bit behind. I'm not going to double that, but I'm definitely not going to beat it before the 20 hour mark, either. However, I'm kind of boycotting Dead Space at the moment because it pissed me off. Yes, this is a sidetrack, but I don't care, this post is about video games and everyone knows that gamers have ADD...and besides gamers in general, I think it's pretty clear that I personally have ADD when writing these posts, too. I promise I'll get to my subject before the end of the post (and to wander off that same subject at least one more time before the end of the post as well).

So, I'm stuck on this room in the middle of Chapter 5. Now, in Chapter 4 there's this annoying section that a lot of people have mentioned in reviews as being annoying and making them want to stop. So, I got through that one. It was annoying, but after maybe 3 or 4 tries, I got through it. I'll admit that this section doesn't fit in the game, and requires a skill set not required by the rest of the game (the skill set being aiming at things that are moving towards you, but on a parallel axis, as opposed to things moving directly at you), but it's not that far from the rest of the game, except that it's not presented as horror. Sorry, the context for that part is that you have to man the ship's asteriod defenses and it's annoying.

Anyways, the part that is sort of making me boycott the game is found later on. I'm being chased by this large monster that is semi-invincible. Now, at this point, that's pretty normal. And, I'll be the first to admit that it fits in the game much better than the asteriod thing, but there's a small but key point where the game totally breaks itself. It locks me in a room with this bad guy and then starts filling the room with more bad guys as well. See, when that happens, suddenly the game changes from survival horror into a shooter. But, it's not a shooter, at least not exactly. For example, you can't run and shoot (but you can walk and shoot). When you're locked in a small room that's full of bad guys, running is kind of key (since they can certainly run, walking is of only limited use). Next, since this is survival horror, ammo is kept relatively tight. I'll admit that I could buy more ammo and make that not a concern, since I'm filthy rich, but that's not the way I play.

Yes, I just said that I purposely play the game in such a way as to make it harder for me. Except, it's not so much to make it harder for me as it is to force me to play like it's survival horror. The first advantage to that decision is that it stays scary because every encounter continues to matter and it also forces me to conserve ammo for when I really need it because during the fight my ammo supply is limited.

Anyways, so ammo is kept relatively low, partly through my own action. This works, though, because after killing a bad guy, he typically drops ammo (it's really nice of them, to be honest). Admittedly, the bad guys are rarely kind enough to drop ammo for the gun I actually use (my starting weapon for goodness sake), but at least they drop ammo. However, picking up ammo requires you to walk up to it and press X. Under normal post-battle situations, that's no problem. But, in a room full of bad guys, you need the character to pick up ammo automatically, like in a shooter. Also, you need to be able to heal yourself automatically, like in a shooter (Dead Space has no healing item hot-key, so to actually use your healing items, you have to find a safe spot or stop moving and risk taking damage).

Now, up to this point, it all seems annoying but reasonable. I mean, you just have to enter the room at full life and play like it like shooter, even if it's not meant to be a shooter. And, so, I know that eventually I'll beat it because I don't completely suck at shooters; I just mostly suck at shooters. The final problem that I really run into, though, is that stupid invincible dude. This would be only stupid if it wasn't for him. See, the invincible dude has the power to decide that you've managed to get too far away from him and just jump into the ceiling ventilation shafts and drop down right behind you. That means that, effectively, there is alwasy an invincible bad guy, literally right on your tail and even if you shake him, he can just appear right there again. So, yeah, that sucks. And it's making me not want to play, even though I know if I just iterate the room enough times, I'll beat it. It would help if I knew what activated the doors unlocking, because it seems like killing the bad guys just activates more of them to come, which is undesirable.

Anyways, that's how Dead Space is treating me. I also bought Little Big Planet, but I haven't really had time to play with it much. So, now I'm ready to start talking about the demoes I've gone through recently.

First off, I played through the Eternal Sonata and Bioshock demoes. And, well, I can see why everyone likes Bioshock. It's good. I know, that's not news, but for us Playstation kids, we still had to try it and see for ourselves. That's pretty much a must buy, but I'm kind of amazed that they want to charge 60 dollars for it. I mean, you can find it for less than 30 on the Xbox, so how can they justify 60 on the PS3. I mean, they didn't exactly add content to it (no, really, they didn't, ignore them talking about challenge rooms and trophy support, since the challenges are downloadable, you will probably be able to get them for the Xbox after a little while, and I'm sure the trophies are the same as the achievements on the Xbox, so that's not exactly impressive). Seriously, just drop it down to 40 and be done with it. Until then, I'm just going to have to put off buying it.

Now, Eternal Sonata has the same problem as Bioshock in that you can find it on the Xbox for less than 30 and they want PS3 users to pay 60 for it. Once again, I'm sorry, but that's not going to fly. I will say that I like the graphics on it a lot. They have a very fun, very cute cell-shaded feel to them. Also, the environments are just gorgeous, if totally linear, but it's a JRPG, that's what you have to expect. I kind of wish the demo gave a better feel for the music system stuff that's in the game. Also, the demo was hard. Those bad guys are not easy and trying to time all your blocks is a royal pain, especially when you have very little warning (and punishment means losing a lot more than half your life sometimes). But, yeah, I'll buy it when the price comes down. It should be a fun little 30 hours or so.

So, initially the Valkyria Chronicles demo was only available if you bought Qore or whatever. Now, I might be a stupid Sony fanboy, but I'm not paying money for access to demoes and betas. Sorry, not going to happen. The fact that I have every intention of trying to import a copy of FFVII: Advent Children on Blu-ray so that I can play the demo for FFXIII is completely irrelevent, by the way. Pride is only worth so much. Anyways, I was totally unwilling to pay for the opportunity to download the demo for Valkyria Chronicles because I already knew that I absolutely had to buy that game as soon as it came out. I mean, why pay when my purchase is already assured? Again, ignore the FFVII:Advent Children thing. Things are different when they involve Final Fantasy. Sort of.

Now, the reason my purchase was assured is very simple. The art style. Yeah, that's right. If you've seen any videos of it, you'll understand why. It is gorgeous. Mind bogglingly so. Like, to the point that I think this game is one of the better arguments for the existence of next generation gaming. I'm not being hyperbolic, by the way. There is no way this could have been done on the last generation systems. Cell-shading, while cool, was not at this level yet. I mean, Tales of Symphonia was awesome and cool, but it's graphics can't even come close to holding a candle to what this game showcases. An interview with the game's art director talked about how this is meant to be an emotional story focusing on war and loss and he really wanted the game to be able to visually translate those emotions. I really believe it will. I can't imagine why people would want games to keep trying to look realistic when they can have games look like this instead. This is better than real.

Amazingly, though, I think this game is also going to be one of the deepest and most challenging strategy RPGs I'll have ever played. So, not only is the art style incredible, but the gameplay is looking to be equally impressive. I almost can't imagine how good this game really could be. Just playing through the demo, the level of strategy offered was stunning. The movement and cover system completely trounces the simplistic geometric boards of most strategy RPGs. Playing through it, I really felt the advantages to controlling certain ground and slow, supported advances on a fortified enemy position. I mean, how awesome is that? This game comes out in just a few days, and once I have it, it will be given a lot of priority.

Next, up is Alone in the Dark: Inferno. Now, I really, truly gave this game a fair chance. More than fair, really. I mean, I've read a lot of negative reviews of this game, but I've also read some really passionate positive reviews begging people to take those negative reviews with a grain of salt (arguing that it's become cool to hate this game, even though it's not actually bad). Well, it's actually bad. The demo couldn't hide all the problems with this game. In fact, I think it actually waved them proudly at me.

Now, to be fair, this is the demo and they made the decision to skip some of the tutorials. Like, how to fight and kill stuff, but that's okay. They also skipped tutorials on inventory interaction and management. So, when I say that the inventory is a pain and I couldn't figure out to effectively store things in it, I'll concede that maybe in the real game, they explain this to you. But, seriously, it takes effort to make inventory management hard to understand. Real, concerted effort. For example, you have space in your inventory for 3 large containers (which I imagine you can combine with cloth and alcohol to turn into Molotov cocktails, or fill with healing sprays for health...and I'm sure there's other stuff you can do, too). Now, sometimes it seemed like you could stack multiple of the same type of large container in the same slot, but I couldn't really figure out how many and it didn't seem to work with all types of large containers (I never was sure if I could stack multiple healing sprays on top of each other or not). And for some reason I could only stack 5 pieces of yeah, inventory was weird. That's an impressive failure right there.

Next, fighting. Now, shooting was decently intuitive. You could switch to first person perspective and shoot stuff. No problem there. But, if you wanted to conserve ammo, you could pick stuff up and beat guys with it. But, the controls for beating guys was, just, a mistake. So, while holding your melee weapon, you would pull the right stick back/to the right to prepare for a swing and push it forward/to the left for a swing. Yes, this means you give up camera control when you go into melee. No, that is never a good thing, but I will admit that I never had a problem with the camera during the two fights I had in the demo, so while I'll say that that's bothersome, I won't say that it's a failure.

I will say that the complete counter-intuitiveness of that control strategy is a failure though. Melee battles are like a chore as you bring the right stick back and forth trying to connect your swings. I just can't see any reason to map that as two movements instead of one (preferably a button press, even more preferably, the same button press you'd use to fire a gun, since they are both ATTACKS and so they should be treated as equivalent options, just dependent upon what is actually equipped).

Lastly, disposing of bad guys. Now, apparently, this game is really proud of its fire. I didn't think it was particularly special and I thought trying to put fires out was downright annoying and time consuming and I would definitely not look forward to the eventual chase through a burning something or other while you run away trying to put out the fires in front of you so that you can continue moving forward). But, anyways, you get attacked by zombies. Shooting or hitting them will knock them out, but 5-8 seconds later, they get back up with full health. That's annoying. So, I think to stop them from getting up, you have to burn them. The demo never actually told me how to deal with the zombies, but that worked.

So, I think/hope it's somehow possible to just light them on fire, but I didn't know how to do that. This meant that I would have to drag their knocked out bodies to the nearest fire and drop them in it. Luckily, they can't wake up while you're dragging them. Unluckily, you can only pull their bodies, you can't push them. Now, when you pull something, that means you go first, right? Yes, yes you do. So, now, how might someone pull a body into a fire? Any takers? I'll give you a hint: YOU DON'T BECAUSE IT'S STUPID!!! I would literally have to pull until I was right up against the fire, then turn 90 degrees so that both of us are next to the fire, and then, because technically the zombie is my currently equipped melee weapon, I pull the right stick back and forth trying to get him into the fire by swinging him.

This might come as a surprise, but, that was a royal pain in the ass and completely stupid and ridiculous to boot. The last part of the demo was a car chase scene with massive cracks in the ground chasing us. I never figured out how to beat it since the path seemed to always end inside a shopping mall, which wasn't very useful to me. After maybe ten tries, I realized that I hadn't had any fun while playing the stupid game and that I was more than ready to go do something else. So, I stopped.

Lastly, I played the Mirror's Edge demo. And all I can say is: Wow. Just, wow. This is what Assassin's Creed wishes it felt like when you play it. For that matter, this is what life wishes it felt like to live it. The demo vidoes and stuff like that do not do this game justice at all. There is no way to understand people's excitement over this game until you try it. Until you feel you character barrelling forward, always forward. The game translates the effort it takes to navigate a high speed chase through roof tops excellently, while at the same time doing so in an almost intuitive manner (the controls are not intuitive, at all, but since you basically only press a couple different buttons, it works). This game is like a digital adrenaline rush. And it is highly improvisational as well. I've watched two other people play through the demo and almost none of the sections were done the same way. Everyone had their own signature style of forward motion. I loved it. This game is something way more special than I had thought it would be.

Alright, I think I got through that without too many significant random asides. I'm duly proud of me for that. And now I need to go watch a random Sci-Fi channel made-for-TV movie starring Brea Grant (yes, I kind of have a crush on her right now).

That is all.


Monday, October 27, 2008

October Random Horror Movie Reviews

So, pretty much per normal, I've been watching a fair number of horror movies in celebration of it being October and all. Yeah, it's quite the excuse, I know. So, yeah, somewhere in here, maybe, is a movie you might want to see. And my glowing review of it. But you'll have to read the whole thing to find it. Oh, and I didn't really have much of a theme this year. I watched a lot of 80s horror movies I'd been meaning to see, so maybe that counts as a theme. Not a good theme but still a theme.

So, let's begin (this is pretty easy because I have my Netflix history in front of me).

I'd been meaning to see this one for awhile. This is a classic 80s zombie movie. I really like how 80s zombie movies didn't know about 28 Days Later. It makes things really interesting. It feels to me, as someone whose only conscious memory of a movie when it actually came out in the 80s being The Little Mermaid, that there was a cool experimentation period in zombie movie history during this time. There were all these movies that played around with zombies, all the while purposely trying not to just be like George Romero. Nowadays, everyone just wants to be like George and/or Danny. Which is okay, but it's nice to see a fresh perspective.

It's also nice to see Jeffrey Combs. He really just embodies the crazy mad scientist. I first saw him in The 4400 and thought he was awesome. Now I see why he got that role.

In any case, the reason this movie is awesome is because about half way through the movie, the bad guy gets his head cut off. And not cleanly, mind you. Yeah, that doesn't really stop him. It just means that he has to spend the rest of the movie carrying his severed head around. That's awesome. Now, I don't support rape, nor do I officially support necrophilia. But, when a headless corpse captures a young woman, tears her clothes off and prepares to rape her, while holding his creepy, salivating head the whole time, I can't help but applaud.

So, yeah, this is a pretty cool movie. It has some similar qualities to Return of the Living Dead, in that the people they Re-Animate are definitely in pain. Typically screaming. An extra impressive scene is when they bring a dead cat back to life and have it attack them. So, they break its spine to kill it. And bring it back again. That's just screwed up. Highly recommended.

Dead and Buried
I decided I wanted to see this old school 80s zombie movie, without knowing anything about it at all. I thought it was an alien invasion movie, to be honest. But, no, it was a zombie movie. This one even had a twist ending, although the fact that I just told you it has a twist pretty much gives it away (yeah, it's the kind of twist that is pretty obvious if you're looking for it). But, if you forget that I told you it has a twist, it's pretty cool. I really wish I could talk about it without spoiling it. Let's just say, it's about zombies living among us. Like normal people. Yeah, these aren't Romero's zombies. It's pretty old school. Voodoo zombie old school. I liked it, by the way.

Yep, I saw this one in theaters. Opening night, to be honest. No, you're not surpised. It was good. Very good. It saddens me that this, Saw 5, and High School Musical 3 were the only horror movie options for October 2008. I mean, I guess last October just had 30 Days of Night and Saw 4, so at least we're not doing worse (just watch, next year, it'll be just Saw 6 and I will die a little inside). But, I did like this one a lot. The pacing was excellently done. We got to know our main characters and couldn't help but kind of like them, especially Miss Jennifer Carpenter, who was in the not particularly scary The Exorcism of Emily Rose (as Emily Rose). But, once the horror starts, they don't slow down. At all. It just keeps moving forward, gaining momentum and momentum and tension and tension...only to just end the same way as the trailer. And the poster. Yeah, I don't know who thought to market the movie by showing its ending, but that's freaking anti-climactic as hell. Don't do that. For all you future marketing dudes.

In any case, the rest of the movie was awesome, and the end would be pretty awesome too if I hadn't already seen it way too many times. I guess the ending would also have been more awesome if Miss Jennifer Carpenter wasn't just completely ridiculous. At the end, her character is obnoxiously incapable of doing anything besides mumble hysterically and scream. It works for like 15 seconds as a way to get the audience scared, but then it's just annoying.

Oh yeah, Maya from Heroes was in it too. I think she killed someone. I couldn't tell if her eyes were black at the time. I assume they were red, though. Maybe, black-ish red.

Now, I don't want to spoil this, but there is one, very good reason for why this movie does the whole "first-person camera recording the events that happened in real time thing". The cameraman kills a zombie with the camera.

Let me repeat that, now that you're sitting up again from the shock of the sheer awesomeness of that idea. The cameraman used the camera, specifically the lens of the camera, as a blunt instrument with which to repeatedly bludgeon a zombie in its face until it died. That didn't happen in Cloverfield, by the way. It definitely didn't happen in The Blair Witch Project. But, it happened in Quarantine. I managed to get the whole theater cheering for him.

Other than that, this one isn't really about the first-person thing that much. I mean, our camera man is a professional camera man, and he carries himself like one. Except when they're running away and stuff like that, of course. So, pretty much like normal, the audience is completely disoriented whenever something cool is happening on screen, but I guess that's how these things go.

Oh, and I was also impressed with how important it was to the film-makers to have a backstory and to tell it. That was well done. Definitely over the course of the movie, I felt like I was learning about what the cause of the outbreak was and why everything was happening. Suspension of disbelief was very achievable, which was nice. I appreciate that.

Let's see, next is Dance of the Dead.

So, um, it's worth pointing out that I apparently watched way more zombie movies than I had realized. Man, whenever I don't specifically pick a theme, it always just ends up being zombies. How does that happen? How can there be so many zombie movies that I want to see? I just don't know.

So, let's get back to Dance of the Dead. It's a fairly low budget indie high school comedy/zombie movie. To be perfectly honest, this German movie I saw a little while back called Night of the Living Losers was, approximately, 10000000 times better. I don't know how many zeroes I put in there. Just assume plus or minus a couple orders of magnitude of that number. Now, to be perfectly fair, this movie was perfectly decent. I enjoyed it. But, if you're going to do a silly high school zombie comedy, you need one of the zombies to be a stoner. You also need one of the zombies to try to get laid. I mean, what kind of high school comedy doesn't have those characters, and if you're doing that genre, then, well, you're going to have to make them zombies (note that Idle Hands gets credit for the character trying to get laid because the main character tries to have sex while his hand is trying to kill the girl).

Now, let me step back and admit that there is a character who gives up his life to be undead and get the cute chick who just turned into a zombie (and the sex appears to involve a lot of biting). So, there is that (if that scene isn't a powerful argument for abstinence, I don't know what is).

But, really, this movie just doesn't really have very many original ideas and plays by the rules of an 80s high school comedy so closely that it really feels stifling. We've got the nerds who end up impressing the girls who normally wouldn't give them a second look, the bully who used to beat up the nerds but is now helping them, the student council girl who's dating the main character who's life is pretty much directionless but he's using this as a way to prove he's worth something, the punk rockers who turn out to be pretty cool...and get stoned so maybe they count as the stoners, but I'm vetoing on account of the fact that they get stoned prior to finding that zombies are attacking, the mean teacher who helps them out and well, probably a bunch more cliches than that, but this is already a stupidly long sentence, so I'm just going to cut it short, right, about, here.

I will say that there's an extended scene by scene homage to Return of the Living Dead, which is cool, but hardly original and also more than a little overkill. Because, I mean, c'mon, if I'm watching your little zombie movie, then I've probably seen the original version of those scenes, and you didn't do anything clever to make yours better either, or even comparable. Otherwise, it was, just, decent. It definitely wasn't bad, but I guess it had been talked up a fair amount, so I kind of had high hopes for it. In the end, it just made me want to watch Night of the Living Losers again.

Oh, did I mention that in Night of the Living Losers, when the zombie is trying to get laid, one of his balls falls off? Yeah, I think it's normally some sort of German slang for not lasting very long, but it was just kind of awkward, in a funny way. Lastly, that movie had a hot Spanish love interest. That wins some major points too.

Okay, now for: not a zombie movie! Yep, it's true, I also watched a Japanese ghost movie (you'd think I'd seen just about all of those too, but no, there's a whole lot of those). I watched the original One Missed Call.

Now, I wasn't too sure what to expect going into this, because it's directed by this more than kind of screwed up Japanese directer named Takashi Miike. Note this is not Takashi Shimizu, who was my horror movie theme last year. In the end, I pretty much got a by-the-books Japanese ghost horror movie with your typical Japanese schoolgirl trying to find out why all her friends are dying and then trying to appease the ghost, but failing and, well, you know how it goes.

Yeah, for the genre, it was above average, but definitely not special, until the very end. The movie ends with Takashi Miike apparently waking up and going, "Wait, I make crazy evil shit like Ichi, the Killer. I have a reputation to uphold." And, well, let's just say he upheld it. Brilliantly, too. Instead of finishing with a gross or gory climax, it finishes with a happy, dreamy song about hope and happiness and bright blue skies and stuff. This is just after we watched the ghost take possession of the main character and stab her requisite older male friend. But, she didn't kill him. Just stabbed him and took him to the hospital, because that's what she would do when she was alive. And he's just giving up and letting her do this to him.

Yeah, not a bad way to finish an otherwise completely generic movie.

Let's see, then I saw Scanners because I thought it was a zombie movie, but it turns out it wasn't. In my defense, if you ever see a picture of the cover, there is no way in the world you won't assume that it's a zombie movie. There's basically a zombie on the cover, so, reasonably, you would assume that there's zombies in the movie. But, not so much.

It was okay. I'm just not that big a fan of David Cronenberg. He just thinks very differently from me. When I want a scene to be big and dramatic, he makes it very small and claustrophobic. Over and over again. Which isn't to say that he always goes small, it's just he never does makes things big when I would want him to. The result is that I'm just not that comfortable watching his movies. Things are never quite how I want them to be. So, yeah, that's just how it goes with him.

In this movie, there's all these psychics doing battle. Basically, this involves them staring at each other until somebody's head explodes. I mean, it's cool, but the flow of the battle is entirely controlled by the camera's cuts and the people faces. It makes it feel like we're just waiting, instead of watching.

Similarly, in A History of Violence, when Viggo Mortenson goes to kick William Hurt (or is it John Hurt, God, I'm so bad at their names) ass, he just goes there and kills the goons and then William Hurt. Mr. Hurt wants to talk and talk, because that's what he does, but Viggo just kills him. Again, that's not how it felt like it should go. On the other hand, it's clear he's playing with the role reversal as this family man switches back to his old persona, a silent, cold-blooded killer, while the man whose been trying to kill him can't shut up and barely seems dangerous (okay, that's an exaggeration, he seems like a snake who'll strike and kill given the slightest opportunity, but finds there are none, so he dies).

So, yeah, Scanners was alright.

And, lastly, I watched Diary of the Dead. Now, I'd heard some mixed reviews on this one. Well, I guess primarily bad reviews, with one really positive review actually counts as poor reviews, but anyways, I saw it. In Blu-ray by the way, looked gorgeous. Really did.

And, well, it certainly did do a lot of stuff wrong. Like the obnoxious narrator that couldn't shut up to save her life (disappointingly, she didn't die, but not because she could shut up, that's for sure). I swear, the movie would have been significantly better if she didn't feel compelled to talk all the time. And, so I end up having to ask what Romero was thinking when he chose to have her talking. See, the idea behind Diary of the Dead is that it's actually this student film called The Death of Death that some film school kids made during the beginning of the zombie apocalypse. They spend a lot of time discussing why they felt compelled to do this, and if that's something you're curious about go see the movie, so they can talk about it for you.

Anyways, they made it. And gave it an obnoxious narrator who has to point out every single even potential meaning in the shots she picked and comment on the nature of humanity, and the observer, and society and the media and whatever else is on her mind. So, I have to ask, why does she exist Mr. George A. Romero, sir? Are you speaking through her? Please say no, because you didn't need to have her in your other movies. Even Land of the Dead, which seemed unable to decide between being a stupid zombie movie and a discussion on humanity and the classes in society, didn't have a narrator walking us through every shot. I mean, you don't need her. So, do you use her as a part of the gimmick of this being a student film and so they're full of self-importance and have to explain everything for the viewer? Because, that's not cool. We don't want to see a student film; we want to see a George Romero film. Just to be clear.

But, well, it's also the best zombie movie I've seen in quite a while. It's annoying to watch, but it's also pretty good. There's some zombie kills that can stand up to anything, ever. Even though the characters are annoying, I enjoyed them. I enjoyed watching them fall apart. I liked how the camera was a central character. How the camera helped to tear them apart just as much as, if not more than, anything else. It's just annoying that the characters had to talk about that too.

But, most of all, I love the way George A. Romero ends his zombie movies. They're always so hopeless. Even when humanity wins, we're losing. But, most times, George just lets us lose, straight up. This movie stopped at just the right time. And I know it's because George Romero knows how to make these movies and does it so well. I loved ending it with the characters trapped in a panic room, surrounded by aimless zombies outside, and TVs inside showing them only hopelessness. I like knowing that it was in this situation that they sat down and started editing and making this movie.

It's just, so right. God, I love George Romero's zombie movies. They're really so much better than anything anyone else does.

That is all.


Sunday, October 26, 2008

Scathing Rock Band 2 Review

Okay, so I'll admit right now that I've hardly played through this entire game. I haven't even unlocked a plane in World Tour Mode, so I've only gotten about 55-ish of the 85 total songs on the disc. I've done about half the drum trainer beats and again, a little over half the drum trainer fills as well. I've done, maybe, 10 challenges and I've submitted a score for a competition once as well. And, well, all I can say is that this game is a massive disappointment to me.

Rock Band 2 is a an after thought. I can't imagine that it took them a year to do this game. I'd say they started working on it not long after they announced it in July. I mean, this game's killer feature is that it is easier to navigate its menus and play as a group. That's the killer feature. That's its big improvement over Rock Band 1. The menu system. And it costs 60 dollars. It's probably worth noting that this menu system was already in existence shortly after the first game came out, considering that it's the same menu system they use for the store. So, no, they didn't even have to make this new menu system, because they already had it.

They want to say that the 84 songs on the disc are worth the 60 dollars you're throwing away for this update to the menu system. They want to say that the drum trainer is worth a little something too. They want to say the community of Rock Bands that they're creating with these competitions is worth something. And I'll admit that it's hardly valueless. But it's not worth 60 dollars, either.

The tracklist is nothing special. At all. If the entire tracklist was put online for download, I'd end up buying about 30 of them, at the most. And of those, most of them would only be bought if they were 99 cents (my standards drop pretty fast once that happens). I mean, at this point, I strongly prefer to pick and choose what I'm adding to my collection, over being handed a ton of songs, most of which I don't want to play. I haven't gotten around to exporting my Rock Band 1 songs, but I know there are going to be some eliminations. Faith No More won't be making it across, that's for sure. Neither will the Beastie Boys. Both of them are in Rock Band 2.

Then there's the drum trainer. My problem with the trainer is that it's no different from practice mode on the drums. It's literally the same thing, only less interesting. I'm not going to be any more capable of actually playing the drums after using the trainer than I am now (which, just to be clear, is not very). Its problem is that it still uses the paradigm of notes moving across the screen and timing my hits to that. As long as I can see notes moving in front of me that I should be hitting, I'm not learning anything. I've already trained myself to be good at that. That's not drumming. It should show me a pattern and then ask me to replicate it. Ask me to keep replicating it without seeing any notes coming down. It won't be easy, but that's what would teach me to drum. And it would give me the confidence to actually try to do it, too. As is, it's pretty much valueless. Unless you really like hitting notes at 200 bpm, then I guess it's kind of fun.

Now, the challenges are a decent addition. But they're really a substitution. Harmonix took away the linear play-every-track-in-the-game single player experience and replaced it with a linear play-every-single-track-in-the-game-typically-more-than-once-but-on-different-instruments, experience. Overall, that experience is just okay and a little frustrating. What I liked about the single player mode of Rock Band 1 was that I could just keep picking whichever song I wanted to play and continue to earn money for the store. Now, though, it feels as though that's been relegated to the Quickplay experience, which I don't really like.

Speaking of the store, it's just a joke. Having watched the credits, I know that Harmonix has a huge team of artists. Apparently, the artists all took the last year off. There are almost no new clothes, at all. Literally, the only things they added were new shoes (most of which are still lame, but at least there's more lame options than before) and a section whose name can be paraphrased to "Cheap Clothes You Don't Want to Buy For Your Character". Now, one might want to ask why such a section needs to exist (I mean, isn't that the punk wardrobe, already? Burn!). But, clearly, there's no point in asking. They didn't care. The only real improvement to the Rock Shop is the ability to change angles when you're trying on clothes, so you don't have to pick an outfit and then just sit and wait while the character eventually turns around so you can see how it looks.

My problem with this game is that it isn't Rock Band 2. It's Rock Band 1.2. I mean, part of the problem, of course, is that Rock Band didn't need a sequel. Rock Band isn't about sequels and getting you to keep buying new games. It's a platform. It wants to sell me tracks. And, conveniently for Rock Band, I want to buy tracks. All these improvements they made were meant to help that platform exist. Clearly, now that I've bought Rock Band 2, I will never play Rock Band 1 again, at least on my PS3. But, if Rock Band 2 had never been released, my buying and playing habits wouldn't have changed at all (read as, I would still be playing the game and buying music for it).

To me, this means that Rock Band 2 effectively failed. It's not increasing my usage of the platform.

If Rock Band 2 actually wants to be a sequel, it needs to add something great. But it doesn't. It's a simple, incremental improvement. And I appreciate its existence, because it's an incremental improvement to a platform that I love dearly. But it's not a sequel.

Last year, Harmonix managed to release the ultimate rhythm game, in near perfect form. On their first try. That's amazing. They did so many things right it's just stunning. And they combined all that into an excellent package. A year later, all they could do was release the same thing again. That worries me. The team that made Rock Band 1 is gifted and innovative and dedicated and awesome. The team that tried to pass this off as the sequel to the best and most lasting game since Super Smash Brothers is none of those things. I'm hoping that Rock Band 3 can live up to its heritage, because Guitar Hero is very, very capable of catching up, and I'm too invested in Rock Band to even contemplate making the switch, and I don't want to have to.

That is all.


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

What a Night!

So, my friend encouraged me to get back to writing stuff on the blog. Most likely, this means that I'll write a flurry of posts over the next two weeks or so, and then we'll see what happens. In the best case, I'll get back to writing posts, rather than just thinking of them. In the worst case, we'll get back to one post every other month. Or maybe I got those backwards, I don't really know (doesn't really matter, either).

In any case, I'm going to start using posting as an excuse to not play Dead Space. Why I need an excuse to not play a game that I'm really enjoying and am totally excited about will, hopefully, get its own post. But that's not this post. This post is about TV. Again. Yeah, I'm sorry.

Anyways, this was possibly the strongest Monday I've enjoyed since, um, well, fine, let's just go for the hyperbole and say it was the best Monday in my memory (while watching prime time television, which really means of the past 18 months). Terminator had a lot of fun. Chuck was as amazing as always. And, most amazingly, Heroes just finally got me hooked on this season. Yeah, that's how it is.

So, Terminator: The River is Really Freaking Hot Chronicles is really starting to remember to play to its strengths. Well, not its strength named River, but its other strength: you know, John. I'm finally over the fact that he cut his hair to look more military and intense and now they're finally starting to develop that character arc they started in the first episode when he killed the bad guy. Of course, the first step in starting that arc was admitting that he killed the guy, so it did feel kind of good to get that confirmation. I think John's a really fun character and this episode (as well as some other recent episodes) really showed it.

John is the only member of the group that is always looking for human contact. Two weeks ago, he made a friend in military school. Well, a friend whose life he saves and will help him in the future, but a friend all the the friend was in Carlsbad...I think I've heard of that place...although I've never heard of any La Brea Tar Pits there (on the completely unrelated topic of La Brea, Brea Grant is really hot, but I'll bring that up in the Heroes section). This week he hung out with a psychiatrist. And it's this time that he spends, interacting with real human beings who are not obsessed with preparing for the future destruction of the human race that John gets to be himself and interesting. It's fun knowing that he's supposed to become the charismatic future leader of the human resistance and then getting to watch him build connections and trust with everyone he gets the opportunity to interact with. He's training himself for that job without even knowing it. And he's training himself well.

River has been a little disappointing for me recently. For one, she hasn't tried to seduce John, or anyone else for that matter, since episode 2, I think. That obviously makes me sad. In exchange, they gave us tons of backstory on her. And, well, to be perfectly honest, I didn't really want backstory on her. I mean, I thought I did, but now I realize that I didn't really want it. Basically, if John doesn't know it, I don't want to know it. Obviously, I want John to find out about it, but that's a different story. River's an enigma. A black box from the future that was personally programmed by John to help himself. I already believed that she's supposed to seduce/sleep with him without being told that she's modeled after his, um, consort from the future. I'm still waiting for them to tell me what they plan to actually do with this whole 'River is not exactly functioning properly' thing. I guess I would be willing to settle for them actually doing something with it as well.

In other news, I really liked her obsession with suicide this week. I liked how much it scared her that John could potentially kill himself. The idea that she has to protect him from himself, and how she threw herself at it full force immediately. It was just really cool. Her last scene was even more thoughtful, though. After defeating another terminator sent from the future (although, at this point it's not totally clear that this terminator was sent be SkyNet...and I might be willing to go on record predicting that it was sent by someone else...yeah, that's my super vague prediction that's got pretty decent odds of coming true for the week), it self terminates to stop them from accessing its memories or reprogramming it. In her final scene, she's just contemplating that decision it made. Thinking about suicide. Thinking about what she would do if John were to die.

In other news, they introduced a random Asian chick for Derrick Reese to have sex with. The juries still out, but I'd say I can't come up with any reason for her to exist. It seems like she's a traitor, which is a little weird, to say the least. I mean, even if you were going to betray humanity and work with Skynet and get sent to the past, after that point, dude just do whatever you want, you don't owe SkyNet anything, it doesn't exist yet (admittedly, she mainly seems like a traitor because that's what she's doing, while also keeping tabs on John). The other possibility, which I'll admit is possibly more likely, is that she's prejudiced against re-programmed terminators like River and so is not actually following John for SkyNet but is following River, because she thinks it's her duty (to kill her). I hope she doesn't convince Derrick to come to her side (pun absolutely intended).

Now, moving on to Chuck. To be honest, there isn't much to say, besides that this show turns me into a stupid little girl. It's so amazing. There might be squealing involved. Scratch that. There are significant quantities of squealing involved when watching this show. The sequences with the Buy More are struggling, though, which is too bad. This is primarily because Chuck and Jayne don't actually spend any time there anymore. Morgan, who serves no real purpose, has to be the primary source of comic relief when Chuck is gone from the Buy More, and it just doesn't work right. But, now that the Indian dude gave up being Assistant Manager, maybe Chuck will take it and have to actually spend time at the Buy More again.

Let's see, week before last we got to enjoy watching Chuck attempt to seduce Inara's friend who slept with Mal. Obviously, that was hilarious. Last week was a little annoying because Bryce Larkin is annoying. Note that copious volumes of hilarity was involved in that as well. Very dense hilarity too, just to be clear (meaning, of course, that the sheer mass of hilarity involved was downright astounding). I'm sorry by the way. I don't know what I'm typing. It's late. In any case, every week goes by and I just keep loving this show. It makes me very happy.

But, I do have one complaint. I'm getting really tired of Charles Carmichael. Seriously, Chuck, be proud of Chuck Bartowski. He's awesome. Carmichael's just kind of stupid. I don't mind Chuck attempting to be that person as a joke, occasionally, but he's pulling it out every single episode. It get's old. I liked it when he introduced himself to new villians as plain old Chuck, when he would try to convince them that he was just working part time for the government. That was cool. Telling people that he's a spy and taking credit for saving the day, well, that's just not how Chuck was raised.

In other news, Jordana Brewster's finally coming on next week. It will be amazing. Although from the preview scenes, they're going to try to make her look kind of nerdy. I won't say it won't be hot (because, let's be honest, it will be), but it's not really the direction I would take her (um, let's not think about alternate interpretations of that statement, alright? Thanks). I will, of course, reserve judgement.

Okay, Heroes. Well, this was the best episode since sometime in Season 1. Hands down. What was awesome in this episode, you ask? Well, how about watching Father Petrelli take Adam down, like a little two-bit punk? Was that not the most awesome way to introduce your next villain, ever? It's okay, I'll answer for you. Yes. yes it was the most awesome way to introduce your next villain, ever.

Another awesome thing would be Brea Grant. I'd also like to admit that Brea Grant was not in Jericho. It turns out she has a doppelganger named Ashley Scott. You can kind of tell the difference between them because Ashley has a bigger mouth. Completely unrelated, but I think Brea Grant had a non-speaking role in Max Payne. There was some beautiful woman who looked just like Brea Grant (even the same hair cut and I can't imagine there's more than one girl with that hair, and I'm only sort of saying that her hair cut is ridiculous) who possibly get's killed by valkyries or something at a party (it's not really clear).

Did I mention that I like her? Well, I'm glad to be seeing that she's having doubts about this whole "join the bad guys, destroy the world" thing. I really hope Parkman saves her life, for both our sakes' (without Kristen Bell, there just aren't any other cutes blondes to look forward to on Heroes).

Of course, Hiro was awesome. They kindly let us know that Hiro did (spoiler) not (end spoiler) kill Ando last episode (OMG, RLY?!?). I know, who would have guessed that one.

Mohinder is basically going completely batshit crazy on us, and I wouldn't mind so much, except he's still doing the voice overs. That's kind of ridiculous. It made sense earlier in the series since he was supposed to be the voice of reason and intelligence. Right now, he's the voice of neither. So he should shut up. Of course, I'd take any excuse to make him shut up, but that does not invalidate my argument. I think.

Oh, and the most awesome thing of all. Peter lost his powers. Craziness, right there. Craziness. That's just, what needed to be done. I'm kind of hoping/expecting that somebody'll figure out how to give Peter his absorbing powers back, but it's still perfect. I can't wait for the rest of the series. What an episode.

That is all.


Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Monday Report: Or Chuck is Back!!!

You know, it's funny reading my posts from when I first started watching Chuck last year. In my memory, I saw Chuck and immediately fell in love and it was awesome. In reality, things moved much slower than that. I thought that the completely ridiculous story was kind of stupid. I thought that the action sequences were rather poor (but I pretended to tell myself that the poor action sequences were all part of the joke and so it was okay). In fact, the things that kept me giving the show extra chances were things like the random Stanford references and the silliness of his work at the Buy More.

Now, though, I've spent a whole season with the show. I've realized that Zachary Levi is hilarious. I love how often he gets to save the day. I thoroughly enjoy his pining for the hot spy and laugh at how he's always complimenting her and almost completely oblivious to the fact that she's always complimenting him as well. I admit that I was more than a little disappointed with the late season "twist" where we find out that his former roommate got him kicked out of Stanford so that he wouldn't be recruited by the CIA to "protect" him.

I thought that was lame for a bunch of reasons. The most important reason was that he is specifically not supposed to be spy material. This whole fantasy is based on the fact that Chuck is your typical nerd who by some magical intervention gets to be, not just a spy, but a super spy. Finding out that he was actually qualified to be a spy ruined that whole fantasy. That was a huge error on the part of the creators (it's like they don't even understand their own creation, I mean, seriously, what were they thinking?).

Oh, one more complaint before I go back to worshipping this show and its complete awesomeness. Because the writers had to finish last season with some sort of cliff hanger-type thing, they decided to give Jayne the order to kill Chuck once the new Intersect is completed. Now, season two has to deal with that decision (a classic example of, "hey, we'll just solve that problem later"). The result is that they have to keep coming up with excuses for the new Intersect to be delayed so that Jayne doesn't kill Chuck. That's annoying. Clearly, Jayne can't kill Chuck. Sooner or later, probably mid this season, they're going to implement some sort of excuse so that Chuck gets to be an official spy or something (or the three of them will go rogue, but that's less likely). The problem is that almost any of these solutions is going to break the structure and fantasy of the show (which would be bad). Okay, fine, I'll hold out hope that everything stays the same (with the addition of Jordana Brewster as his ex-girlfriend from Stanford, and might I add that Jordana Brewster is ridiculously if only she was capable of acting, at all).

Quick, random aside, I find it interesting that Chuck's character wants out of this fantasy world. That he wants out of this fake life and to start his real life. His life is a fantasy filled with excitement and intrigue and danger (but he always comes out perfectly okay) and he wants out. This fantasy is holding his real life in place and he's ready to move on and lead that life. He doesn't want out because it's scary and dangerous; he wants out because he's ready to take over his own life. I think it's interesting.

But, that's neither here nor there. Anyways, I hadn't really realized how much I missed the awesomeness of Chuck until I got to watch a new episode. And laugh at silly lines like, "I'm pretty sure my girlish screams in the face of danger give me away." and "How much do bad guys normally tip?" Okay, I admit I almost fell over from that one (I kind of replayed it a couple time because it was so awesome).

So, yeah, I'm glad to have it back.

Let's see, Terminator is currently focusing almost entirely on River, which is pretty awesome. Clearly, she is rather broken at the moment. But, if she can't keep her memories straight, it just means we get to see more of them. And, well, I'm enjoying them. Apparently the girl she was modeled after was John's girl. Interesting, don't you think? Not so surprising that she got reprogrammed, huh? Of course, if we start doing the math, it starts getting a little sketchy. That girl, Alison Young, is born this year-ish. I'm not sure how old John is in her timeline, but I would guess that it's something well past 30 when the bombs go off. Alison Young was 16 or 17 upon her capture. I think that qualifies as sketchy. Of course, considering that this is River we're talking about, I completely understand.

Otherwise, not much is happening in Terminator. They're definitely in stall mode while they develop River's character. We'll see where they go from there. Oh, admittedly, last week's only point was to kill off Sarah's ex-fiancee's wife so that he could give up his old life and go adventuring with them. But, I guess it'll be another week or two before they've finished filling in River's back story enough to get around to focusing on the present again and having them get around to learning about Shirley Manson.

And then there's Heroes. We've comfirmed that Tracy is definitely not Nikki and my theory (which I didn't state in the blog, I don't think, but I stated elsewhere, so it's still mine, thankyouverymuch) that she and Nikki were both creations of the company is seeming rather likely. In other news we've gotten to see more Bea Grant (the hot girl from Jericho). That makes me very happy. In rather unhappy news, the random African dude who paints the future just painted her dead body in Matt's arms. I'm hoping that doesn't happen, because Matt really deserves to actually get to hold a relationship for at least a little while (considering that his wife left him between seasons 1 and 2, and Molly has disappeared from season 3, poor Matt can't keep any women in his life).

Peter got his body back, which is nice (but future Peter needs to go away already). Poor Francis Capra's already died (and his power was lame, that sucks too). And, per the rules, Peter is going to get to check out the future and get motivated to stop it from happening (but do we really need two Peters trying to stop it from happening). I'm kind of curious to see if he meets up with that Irish chick while he's there, but I'm not sure how that's possible (not that I would put that past the show or anything).

Let's see, um, Claire's mom's a bitch. Oh, and Angela Petrelli is freaking insane. Like, my God, what's the point of her? It's like she exists to sow confusion and anarchy and trouble and sadness. I really, really hope that Sylar kills her before the end of this season. She needs it. She's begging for it. Somebody just has to make it happen (and by somebody, clearly I mean Sylar).

Now for the people we didn't get to check in on. We barely got to see Nathan (no big deal) but that meant no Linderman (which sucks). We did get to see Micah finally, which was nice. I like him, but it feels like this was his exit episode (I'd like to see his cousin one more time, though). We only had to listen to Mohinder, but that was still too much of him.

Oh, and what are Hiro and Ando doing in Level 5? That is annoying. Somebody needs to get them out. Fast (Bea Grant, care to volunteer?). I mean, this very seriously. Hiro and Ando do not belong in Level 5, next to Sylar. That's not okay.

Alright. That is all.


PS- I'm serious. That's really not okay.