Thursday, November 29, 2012

Meet N Greet #8

In honor of the end of 'City of Heroes', I once again introduce you to another of my characters. This one was  the creation of a mad scientist with a love of the works of Roald Dahl. The creature had a perpetually shifting bodily structure, allowing it to rapidly grow razor-sharp spines from its body and slash (or fling them at) enemies with them. The beast's warping, semi-liquid flesh could recover from just about any injury within moments, making it a formidable foe.

But the scientist was surprised when the monster turned out to have a conscience. Somehow, its primitive brain understood the concept of right and wrong, and joined the side of the angels to bring justice to Paragon City. It could understand a few words, even if it only ever figured out how to morph its malleable flesh into a mouth long enough to speak one: "SCRAM!" (It never did figure out what it meant, but it was terribly proud of knowing how to say it.) This creature became a legendary hero, known only as...the Vermicious Knid!

(The best part of playing this character was when they installed the "Day Job" badges. The Vermicious Knid was a Shop Keeper, a Scientist, a Professor, an Architect, and a Fashion Designer...all without ever saying anything other than, "SCRAM!", apparently.)

Monday, November 26, 2012

End of an Era

This appears to be the last week ever for 'City of Heroes', which I think it's safe to say is my favorite video game of all time. I've been a member since about the first month (my friend let me play his account for a few weeks to try it out) and it is genuinely saddening to me that NCSoft seems determined to kill the game. (They said they "exhausted all options" when it came to keeping the game alive, but even the tiniest leaks of information belie that statement.)

This game has meant a lot to me. A lot of the good times with my friends over the last near-decade involved 'City of Heroes' LAN parties, and a lot of my characters have developed a life of their own in my imagination. (Suffice to say, a lot of the early genesis of 'Self-Taught Superheroes' has its roots in 'CoH'.) I think the game was an excellent piece of design work, very casual-play and casual-gamer friendly, and I think it was influential all out of proportion to its playerbase. You can see, scattered through my blog, some of my character ideas...I've backed those characters up using the Sentinel+ tool, but that doesn't mean I'll ever get to play them again. Paragon City might have been a virtual place, but that doesn't make it any less real to me.

I'm going to spend the last week of the game's existence playing; there's still at least one character I'd like to see hit 50 before they shut the servers down. After that, I'm going to keep my eyes and ears open for good news...because I believe that a game like this is too good to die forever.

Friday, November 23, 2012

True Confessions Hour

Last week, over at, I started off my post by saying, "I don't seek out fights with angry misogynists." I've been thinking about that for a few days, and it's finally time to admit that this is not 100% true. I certainly do get tired of the constant fights with angry misogynists, and I do wish that they would hop on board the Clue Train and get wise to the fact that losing the freedom to be a sexist jerk is not, in fact, a form of oppression no matter how many jargon terms you invent to disguise that...but I'll admit, there's a part of me that loves to watch these guys whine.

Take this one, for instance, from the comments on a John Scalzi post. Is it not a thing of beauty to watch this flailing, desperate, impotent panic disguised as pompous, pseudo-intellectual bloviating? This is a man who cannot understand exactly what it is he cannot understand. He knows people are telling him that he doesn't get to ignore a woman's accusations of rape, for example, but the underlying logic of why escapes him in much the same way that my cat doesn't understand why it doesn't get to go outside. The door is closed, it's figured out that much. But when I explain about cars and coyotes, it's just sound.

And the jargon...isn't it wonderful? He describes his social circle as "the Manosphere". I presume it has some meaning to him and to the other people he's talking to, but to me it just describes a house where you can hang out in your full-length black robes with the pictures of hands on them, watch your seven or eight wives wrestle in their underwear, and occasionally torture a goat-man. (Actually, this might well be what it actually is, given the context provided in the rest of his comment...) These guys have invented all these terms for the things that the voices in their heads rant and cackle at them about, because they think it makes them sound smarter and more respectable, but all it does is code their language so thoroughly that they can't even talk to a normal human being. "You're a Delta-male White Knight!" they say, not realizing it takes fifteen minutes of research to even figure out that's an insult.

So yes, in that sense, I have to admit...I do kind of seek out fights with angry misogynists. Because they're so stupid it's actually funny to read their responses. But I'll still be glad when they go away.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Fred Saberhagen's Rejected 'Sword of Power' Ideas

For the most part, even those fans who haven't read the series are familiar with Fred Saberhagen's 'Swords of Power' series. The legendary 80s fantasy books about the twelve swords forged by the gods, each with powers that make its wielder an unstoppable force, are known far and wide. But what's not known is that Saberhagen put a lot of thought into the choices for his twelve swords. He brainstormed literally hundreds of ideas for sword names, only to winnow it down to the final twelve. What follows the cut is, for the first time, the complete list of ideas that this legendary fantasy writer considered and rejected before settling on the final versions for his novels.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Transformers 4: The Warning Label

In the runup to the depressingly inevitable release of 'Transformers 4', they've now released the new logo for the movie, and I gotta say...I think they nailed it this time.

It's ugly, it's lazy, it's slapdash, it's a mish-mash of jangly images that practically makes the eyes bleed, and it only makes the vaguest stabs at coherency. Honestly, the only way they could make it more perfect was if it could be loud, racist and sexist too!

...maybe they could somehow embed an MP3 into the graphics file that screams various offensive epithets? But I guess I should leave that kind of detail to the experts.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Five Movies That Were Better If You Never Saw the Trailer

It can be hard sometimes, marketing a film. You have to show people something that draws their interest and entices them into coming and seeing your movie...and at the same time, you have to keep all the important plot points a secret so that the filmmaker can unfold their vision in the way they want to. After all, time doesn't have to be linear in films; if the director wanted you to see that 5-second clip before you saw anything else in the movie, they'd have put it at the beginning.

Of course, just about every movie has a secret twist or two that they save for the end, and there's just about nobody in the trailer-making business crazy enough to give that away (and in fact, as with 'The Crying Game', there's sometimes a campaign that revolves around emphasizing the secret to get people to go see what the reveal actually is.) But there are some movies that are just so twisty and subversive that they're best viewed cold. Here are five...if you see any titles that you're not familiar with, go watch the movie and then come back to read, OK?

1. The Negotiator. This one is really more a case of a trailer that spills too many beans, honestly. The whole premise involves one big twist--a hostage negotiator is himself forced to take hostages when he's framed for crimes he did not commit. Understandably, the trailer gives that one away because it'd be hard to present the film as exciting without it. But then, unforgivably, it gives away the second big twist--the hostage negotiator negotiating with the hostage-taking hostage negotiator comes to believe that he's telling the truth and begins working with him to help him escape and track down the real criminals. Giving away both twists left viewers with no real reason to go see the movie, which may be why it underperformed at the box office.

2. From Dusk Till Dawn. This one is still a good movie even if you know everything coming in. Let's face it, you're seeing it to watch George Clooney deliver Tarantino tough-guy dialogue and kick vampire butt, and everything else is gravy. But I do know a few people who saw this movie without seeing the trailers, and let me tell you...their reaction when the hard-boiled crime caper movie suddenly morphed mid-way into a vampire flick was instructive. To say the least. If you can get someone to watch this sight unseen, it's worth it.

3. Contagion. Admittedly, you're probably going to guess a little bit of it from the title alone. And admittedly, too much of the movie takes place after Gwyneth Paltrow dies to be able to keep that a secret. But it's pretty clear that they cast a big name in that part solely so that it would surprise the heck out of you when she just drops dead fifteen minutes into the film, and it's a shame that the trailer took away that shocking moment.

4. The Sixth Sense. Sure, everyone knows about the big twist in this one, the secret you must not reveal: Bruce Willis is secretly afraid of water because it will burn his skin like acid and reveal him to be a fake monster created by the village elders so that they won't have to send people out into the world to get killed by the plants. (Who are secretly the last Airbenders, I think...) In all seriousness, the big twist isn't the one that involves Willis, it's the one that involves Osment. The first half of the movie is all about making you think that he's a troubled youth with a psychological problem; it's only at the mid-point that they reveal the truth: He sees dead people. All the time. This, by itself, is a twist worthy of most horror movies, and it's half of why Shyamalan continues to get film gigs long after his audiences have dried up.

5. Cabin in the Woods. Already covered this one a few weeks ago, but it's no less true now. Finding out that the Cabin is a killing-bottle created by a sinister crew of shadowy manipulators for the express purpose of sacrificing the main characters in a ritualistic mass murder is something that really needs to not be known prior to seeing the movie. It's way too much of the movie to avoid showing at all in the trailers, but wouldn't it be awesome if it weren't?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Life at the Bachmann Household

Sorry there was no Thursday post--been feeling under the weather, haven't had much energy to do anything productive since Tuesday. I did, of course, follow the election results. Wonderful, wonderful news all over the country, but it is a shame about Michele Bachmann. This morning, my wife and I were speculating about the someday-eventually tell-all biography of her written by her kids. We speculated that she might be so crazy that she actually creates conspiracy theories to explain the things she did while in the grip of previous conspiracy theories and forgot.

"Oh no! The knives have moved! The UN's secret surveillance teams have broken into our house and rearranged our kitchen! I finally caught them this time, though. They'll rue the day they--"

"Actually, Mom, you put the knife holder next to the front door. In case we needed to fight off Obama's rainbow-jacketed troops when they came to take us to the re-education camps, remember?"

"Oh. Right."

Oh, well. There's always 2014.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Review: The Book of Deadly Animals

It's been a long time since I engaged in the pastime of just picking up a random non-fiction book solely because it sounded interesting, then absolutely devouring it over the next few days. It's somehow appropriate, then, that the book I chose to break my metaphorical famine for non-fiction was 'The Book of Deadly Animals', by Gordon Grice. Because when you talk about things that devour, this book has the full spectrum.

Make no mistake--at some point, this book will push your phobic buttons. It covers the entire animal kingdom, from cats and dogs (domestic cats? Not so bad. Domestic dogs? You will be surprised) to spiders, wasps and centipedes, to parasitic worms, to sharks and poisonous snakes. Somewhere in there, you will find your personal squick and you will read that section giving your profound thanks to Insert Deity Here that you do not live in Insert Location There.

And yet, it is fascinating. Every page of it is fascinating. The predation habits of hyenas, the reactions of tigers to provocation, the descriptions of the sheer and terrifying power of a Nile crocodile...all of it is amazing. And it's more than mere morbid curiosity--the book has a clear point, demonstrating that human beings are not the special and privileged stewards of the earth, occasionally murdered by sinister and aberrant monsters. We are a part of nature. Sometimes we are a threat to animals. Sometimes we are prey. And sometimes we are just in the wrong place at the wrong time when an animal is in a bad mood. Seeing things through that lens gives you an important perspective, and one worth having.

And also you get to read about whales going after whaling ships. Which is just awesome.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Post-Halloween Round-Up

As always on Halloween, my time was spent handing out candy to adorable little kids, with a horror movie playing in the background. I always like to watch horror movies I haven't seen on Halloween; sometimes it's a chance to see a classic for the first time, sometimes it's a chance to catch up on something new that folks are talking about, and sometimes it's just a chance to chuckle at some ripe cheese.

This year, I had leftover candy and leftover movies. The kids came pretty steadily until about 8:30, but we'd purchased plenty of candy on the grounds that it would find a good home even if we didn't give it all away. We always hate having to turn children away empty-handed. And since Halloween fell on a weekday, I didn't really get a good start on my movies until about 8:30, and an early start to the day today meant that I couldn't really stay up late. So 'Juan of the Dead' and the remake of 'The Crazies' will need to wait until another day.

I did, however, finally get the chance to see the John Landis classic, 'An American Werewolf in London'. I'll be honest--it didn't feel like a movie so much as a movie stew. There were little bits of very interesting movies, all sort of floating around in a savory broth of sharp dialogue and black comedy, but none of it ever felt much like anything was done with it beyond tossing it in. The idea of a werewolf tormented by the ghosts of his victims was interesting, the village with a dark secret involving werewolves had a lot of potential, and David Naughton was great in the movie...

...but ultimately, all those elements were sort of subsumed into the standard "I got bit by a werewolf/I found out I am a werewolf/I died at the hands of the good people who wanted to help me but had no other choice and it's sad but at least I'm free of the curse" plot that makes up about 90% of all werewolf movies. Well-made, brilliantly directed, excellent dialogue and character beats, but I found myself wishing Landis had done more than his take on 'The Wolf Man'. Lucky for me, it's not the only thing I have to watch.

Feel free to share your Halloween in the comments!