March 2007 Archives

Upgrading Movable Type in One Easy Step

As I discussed a month ago, I'm working to initiate some under-the-hood upgrades here at fourhman.com. I have a new main page template already cobbled together; it will not be much of a design change (still khaki-and-red!), mostly some key layout moves and some fun interactive bits. Before I go much further, I wanted to upgrade Movable Type.

Although the party line is how easy it is to upgrade, my initial experience was not as successful. First of all, I'm still on version 2.661, which dates from 2003. (And my Movable Type forum account is from 2002, which just shows how old I am in weblog years.) The upgrade path from 2.661 to 3.34 is not as simplistic. Particularly when you factor in that I'm still running a Berkeley database, which I now understand to be terribly gauche and a highly questionable practice. The suggested database solution these days is MySQL, which you might as well mambo dogface in the banana patch for all the sense this makes to me.

But I tried it tonight. I downloaded the free 3.34 system and correctly uploaded it to fourhman.com (you need to make sure your FTP knows what stuff to send as ASCII and what to send Binary and no, setting it Automatic is not good enough; shouldn't this shit be figured out by now?)

The only clever thing I can say I did was to spirit away my [working] 2.661 install by changing the folder name, rather than deleting all the old system. This was either highly clever or highly stupid, given that nothing worked anyway, as you'll soon see.

After uploading, I tried the new Movable Type and got a big failure. This was because I had not set the chmods of all the cgi files to 755. Duh.

After I did that, it still failed, because I had not modified the config.cgi to reflect my local site path. Duh again, but at least I could follow along and adjust as necessary.

After I did that, I got a Welcome To Movable Type! screen with a request to set up a user account. And the ominous message "after this, we'll initialize your database!"

That scared the everloving shit out of me. Two things: I wanted to upgrade my database from Berkeley to MySQL, and MY FUCK PLEASE DO NOT ERASE FUCK MY WEBLOG SHIT BALLS. So, and this was probably the key error of the night, I backed out of the friendly Let's Make A Username And Erase Your World! screen and went to see about upgrading my database.

There is a supplied cgi that is supposed to convert that, but I had a question: How do you "make" a MySQL database in the first place? The reason why MySQL is the way to go is because the resultant database is more stable, less prone to getting "corrupted," and easily backed up. If your hosting service supports MySQL (mine does), you can even do it all yourself without having to bother tech support, should there be a catastrophic failure. It took me some searching, but I finally discovered that you have to create a MySQL database via your hosting service. This is probably really obvious to some people.

Once that is done - and you have to create user access accounts and everything - you slap that in a config file and then Movable Type's db2sql cgi can do the deed. So I ran that, and I don't think it worked. If you think of a MySQL database as one of those old hotel front desk cubbyhole systems full of room keys, I had the cubbyholes but no keys. No data.

But the worst part is that, now, when I tried to get into my new MT, it declared my login invalid. Probably because I bailed out of it before it finished setting itself up.

None of this bothered or altered my existing Movable Type install and its hopelessly old fashioned Berkeley database, by the way, as evidenced by the fact that I'm able to post this mess for you to skim on your way to another whimsical Animal Crossing / Gangsta pastiche.

I tried deleting and re-uploading the entire 3.34 system again. No dice. I burned through tons of support forum posts, many of which described my exact problem without any kind of offered resolution. So, seeing as my old MT was still working, I gave up. I don't need this kind of stress.

So I bought Movable Type, which entitles me to tech support (the free download does not.) I've been using it for five years now, so they definitely have earned some compensation. I also went a step further and paid for them to install 3.34. Once we exchange information, they should be able to upgrade my MT, get my existing weblog(s) into a MySQL format, transfer all of my current authors and templates and categories and entries and everything, plus save me the cost of a new desk chair to replace the one I surely would have crapped in had I blown up fourhman.com again.

Although the cost made me choke a little ($150 total, and my Google ads will cover it - why don't you click one to make sure!), it's worth it to know that the shit will be taken care of without any chance of me screwing it up. And I'll be able to move forward with my redesign plans. I feel so much better now.

Flashes of brilliance in Baten Kaitos

As mentioned before, Baten Kaitos started out really mediocre, storyline-wise. You have the emo kid out for vengeance who partners up with an unlikely band of combatants out to save the world form some giant ancient evil. The best you can say about it is that the Guardian Spirit thing - wherein the game characters routinely face the camera and talk to you - is a small splash of inspiration.

The lands you visit are routine: woodsy forest world, folksy farm world, gruff-but-lovable dockworker world. There is definitely some lush background work here, but, seeing as the environments are all pre-rendered, you would expect that it would all look damn good. There's sidequests out the ass. Every country you visit is populated by generic characters who gush endlessly about their respective King/Queen/Lord/Duke being super-awesome. You churn through battle after battle against skeletons and giant insects and bats, eventually hitting a big boss fight at the end of each world's visit.

About twenty hours in, things begin to change, and the game starts to show the kind of unique vision that it should have displayed ten minutes after bootup.

Near the end of the game's first act, you travel to the country Mira, which is described as a land of illusion. The first city you visit is made entirely of candy, which, although a departure from the game's previously normal worlds, is still more or less in-theme. Then you enter the nearby magical garden maze and you get this:

No freaking kidding. Namco loves their retro fan-service. That there is an almost pixel-perfect rendition of any given screen in Tower of Druaga, a 1980s arcade game series that was never as popular here (US) as over there (Japan). You can't tell from my picture, but there is a fully-3D character standing in the middle of the 2D maze, top-down. Talk about a surprise. And I'm not even going to spoil the game further by mentioning the awesomely outlandish Picasso designs that make up Mira's Picture Book Village. Wow. It definitely proves that most reviewers acted a little prematurely by seeing airships and writing up "Final Fantasy clone, durrrr." Why oh why didn't Namco include more elements akin to the Druaga riff and Picasso-town?

Not long after your first trip to Mira, the game takes a huge narrative turn that I did not expect and rather enjoyed. It is such a loss that the game doesn't use any animated cutscenes for the plot's key moments. I could see myself becoming far more invested in the characters and story if only the presentation was more cinematic. The constant subtitles, the tinny audio, the doggedly unappealing use of the game engine, and the glacially slow pacing just serve to destroy any and all hopes at immersion.

Baten Kaitos could have been Nintendo's Final Fantasy. Or rather, Namco's Final Fantasy, but you get the idea. It could have been a major N-exclusive RPG with a well-developed gameworld, interesting character arcs, and meaty customization. But without the pomp that it deserves, it falls awfully flat. My feeling is that the game is just physically too big for two measly GameCube disks, which is why the character audio is compressed to all hell and there is not a single CG cutscene apart from the intro movie. Jeez, why not go for a three disk game and give us some mind-blowing dramatics.

Had I been invited to the marketing meetings back in the development days, I think I would have also suggested a name change. Either adjective-noun pairing of the game's subtitle - "Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean" - is better than the impassively nonsensical title we ended on.

The Week in Links

Kingdom Hearts 2 Final Mix Trailer (YouTube)
I cannot watch a Kingdom Hearts trailer without breaking into tears at some point. We need verification of KH2 Final Mix (+ Chain of Memories) getting a US release.


By the way, I'm impressed and more than a little in love that Gabe of Penny Arcade would call KH2 his favorite game of all time.

Beautiful Katamari Rolls On To Consoles This Fall (Kotaku)
The Wii version will be $10 cheaper.

The story behind Panic's awesome Katamari t-shirts (Cabel Sasser)
There is nothing less than awesome about this tale.

The Eyes of Hal Jordan (Absorbascon)
"DC's Scariest Image!" I'm so glad Scipio didn't quit.

Information Wants to Cost a Buck (Greg Costikyan)
One of the smartest-sounding pieces on copyright I've ever read. It definitely made me re-think some of my long-held opinions on piracy. Summary quote: "Creators (not necessarily intermediaries) deserve compensation."

Hacking the Super Bowl (Zug.com)
These guys hustled their way into the Super Bowl, gave out thousands of electric lights in order to spell a giant secret message, and nobody reported on it. So either America is still completely paranoid about how crappy our event security actually is, or this video is impressively faked.

Pokemon Pearl/Diamond Details (Nintendo World Report)
So far, it sounds like an awesome Best Of: Secret Bases, Real Time Clock, Berry Growing, Pokemon Contests, GBA Connection (one way only). All this plus special Friends List co-op, voice chat, and online trading/battling. Woof. I've already decided that my starter will be Chimchar.

First Look at US Pokemon Diamond/Pearl Cards (Pokemon Elite 2000)
Every time they redesign the card templates, they look a little bit better. The Diamond/Pearl set sees the return of Pokedex info, which I have long missed... especially the Level number. YES INFERNAPE!

The Colossus and the Comedian (Kotaku)
This makes me want to both see the new Adam Sandler movie (which I otherwise had no interest in seeing... being, you know, Adam Sandler) and play Shadow of the Colossus (which I thought had a crappy demo).

Deal With It (Email vs. IM) (Daring Fireball)
In an office environment that refuses to acknowledge any practical use for IM (we all use it anyway), I've often been at a loss to explain just why IM is a more natural-feeling tool than email or god forbid, the phone. John Gruber links to an original article on the topic, then offers further discussion. This is good, Your World Is Slowly Changing stuff.

Free Rita's Day 2007

Last year, Josh and I ventured out for Free Rita's Italian Ice Day at exactly the wrong time: when school let out. It took hours out of our workday. So this year, we went too early: before the store opened. Josh did a spiffy photo essay on the '07 adventure, of which this panel is my favorite, because I'm doing my Pantomime Italian Ice bit.

Somehow, fellow officemate Tony has managed to miss this trip two years in a row. I'm starting to think he doesn't like free Italian Ice, the commie.

Anyway, don't miss Josh's True Life writeup on Free Rita's Day.

$33 on comics

The Brave and the Bold #1

Yeah, I know the phrase "Brave and the Bold" is a DC legacy title, but it's also terrible. This is DC pandering to the 40+ crowd instead of just doing good comics. The new B&B is DC Team-Up, end of story. It's Superman/Batman without always being about Superman and Batman. They could have trotted out "DC Showcase" again if they didn't decide to staple that one to their b&w trade paperback reprint series. I think I would have liked the return of "DC Challenge" as a better title, although that one has weird baggage to it. At least they didn't call it "World's Finest," which is another legacy phrase that DC can't put to press enough times.

Great book. George Perez's art is so unique, he's the comics equivalent of a big screen blockbuster. His stuff may look dense and cluttered, but it's really carefully positioned and visually rewarding. I love when he uses the panels themselves as storytelling tricks. And it wouldn't be Perez without his ol' half-a-face bookend sequence:

The story is great too, with Batman and GL (Hal Jordan) stumbling into a murder mystery. The first issue reads very much like a fun buddy picture. Mark Waid pretty much has my dream job, writing good solid dialogue for comics legends.

Green Lantern Corps #10

This is a good example of the only acceptable to way to do multiple artists in a single book (unless you're doing one of those artist jam books that always crop up during major character anniversaries): have one artist do the A story and the other do the B story. I'll take whatever they have to do to get more pages out of Dave 'Watchmen" Gibbons, even if most of his modern work looks like panel tracings of Watchmen. There's just something so clean about his art. My only complaint about GLC is that the book seems determined to make every other Lantern a complete asshole, as seen in this issue with Tanak, who goads on his weaker partner with all the subtlety of an afterschool special.

52 #44 and 45

These are the Black Adam-goes-nuts issues, which you knew was going to happen since about, oh, Week 1. I thought the Black Marvel Family thing was really clever, so I'm marginally sad to see it all end in tears, even if it seems to be Adam's fate to never let a rehabilition stick around for long. He's become one of my favorite villains over the last few years, but I'm a sucker for the Confidently All-Powerful types.

Did this really need to be two, maybe even three, issues though? Black Adam loses everyone close to him, so he goes on a death-and-destruction spree, pissing off Intergang, Checkmate and China in the process. Not a lot of actual story there; but I think all of the resolutions to 52's core storylines have been weirdly handled.

Loved the bit with Sivana at the end. That guy needs more face time.

Justice League of America #6

Man, am I the only comics fan around who just does not care for the Red Tornado? He drags a lot of nostalgia along with him, but other than that, his main job is to explode during every crossover event. I liked the three months of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman talking about possible recruits more than I liked the actual action story that followed it. I still don't get why Dinah and Hal came for Roy rather than Ollie. Not that I wanted Green Arrow on the team, just that the awkward grab for Roy seemed totally without cause. And when did we officially start calling him Red Arrow (as shown on the DC Direct toy ad for the new League figure/statues)?

Shazam: Monster Society of Evil #2

Here's the truth, folks: I don't particularly like Jeff Smith's art. He runs about 50/50 for me. Some of his panels will be great, emotional, legible, and unique... and then the rest will look like a first-year art student who hasn't yet had his anatomy class. I know it is sacrilege to not enjoy the creator of Bone, but there you are. I love when an artist has his own style, but I need that style to be consistent in and of itself. This book is just all over the place, completely off-model when it shouldn't be off-model. John K. would probably adore it.

You don't have to go any further than one page in to see it. Look at the inset of Mary on the interior cover: sassy, non-traditional comics art (more comic strip than comic book), fun, full of personality. Then look directly across the fold at the big center image of the same little girl. Ugly, off-perspective, creepy, over-lined. WTF?

Superman/Batman #32

This has been an interesting story, even if you know it's going to go absolutely nowhere. Somebody has convinced/brainwashed/controlled all of Earth's alien heroes (and villains, I assume) that they need to unite against the Earthlings. Initially, it was an excuse for the creative team to toss out a lot of dopey 1960s concepts like Ultra the Multi-Alien, Jemm Son of Saturn and that stupid one-time sidekick puppyface alien thing whose name escapes me. But it quickly graduated to realizing how many of DC's heroes are born offworlders, and that they are disproportionately powerful. Martian Manhunter. The Hawks. Superman. This issues adds friggin' Power Girl to the brainwashed mass, which stretches the concept far too thin for my liking. OK, she's from Earth-2. What about Wonder Woman then? Themyscira isn't exactly just another Guam, and her animated-god-clay origin ought to qualify her as not being born on Earth.

Great bit with Lobo. As a fan who lived through the Great Loboplosion of the mid-90s, it's hard to imagine I can have any fondness left for the character, especially when he's treated as mainstream DC canon. But I do.

JLA Classified #36

God, what even happened here? There's so many alternate realities populated with identical characters that it's really difficult to pull the story out. I feel like I've been reading this one for months, but the title page says this is only part three. Guh.

This reminds me of an old Justice League story I just read (in one of the Showcase reprint books, so this is a 1960s story) where this guy makes his own universe and his own (identical to ours) Justice League, but runs up against a threat that his League can't handle, so he comes to our universe and duplicates the threat for our League, so he can see what they do to beat it so he can go back and have his fake League beat the enemy that he just faked for our League. With all the duped identical characters you have no idea what in the hell is going on.

Fantastic Four #543

I think I'm down to just the one FF book, now that I finally dropped Ultimate FF.

This is a sneak-up-on-ya anniversary issue; apparently it's been 45 years since the Four's debut. As such, you get two supplemental stories after the main post-Civil War tale. The first is done in a mock Lee and Kirby style and is actually written by Stan Lee himself... which is, incidentally, the only thing good ol' Unca Stan should be writing these days: stuff that mocks his own seminal work. I actually emailed Mark Evanier about this a few years back - why doesn't Stan just retire already? - and Mr. Evanier replied to me personally, saying that Stan doesn't know how to retire. Although being a professional writer, Mark used the word "anathema." Well, if retiring would kill him, then I guess Stan should keep working! (Yes, I know what anathema means.)

Also, whatever Team Allred did to ink and color the Stan Lee story, it is delicately gorgeous. It is so atomically different than anything else you see in comics, it completely grabs you.

The scan-to-web here does not do it justice at all.

As for the other backup piece, it sucks.

As for the Civil War epilogue, it's weird. You mean to tell me that Wolverine and Dr. Doom would participate in a network news interview special on the Fantastic Four? Really?

Marvel Zombies vs. Army of Darkness

The first Marvel Zombies miniseries was so hot that they had to do another one... but did they have to tie it in to a freakin' movie license?

I like Bruce Campbell heaps. I've even reading his second sortabiography at the moment. But this is just bottom-of-the-barrel teamuppery. If that awful ending to the first Zombies mini wasn't enough to murder the concept, consider this one the killstroke.

Kids know... it's a great barter split!

This Captain N one-sheet has been hanging in my office for literally years. But for some reason, as I walked past it today, I thought, "This is exactly the kind of stupid crap that the Internets love." So I scanned it in.

What this is, is a pitch for television stations to buy Captain N to run five days a week in a syndication deal. It's full of broadcasting buzzwords, which makes it unintentionally hilarious. Plus it has that horrid little troll that we were supposed to accept as Mega Man.

Can you believe they did 63 half hours of that? Ugh.

Random purchase of the month.

I started up Baten Kaitos this week, of all things. It was a mega-sale at Toys R Us two weeks ago. $5.50, plus a pack-in bonus of an exclusive soundtrack album. At that price, even if I just play it for a weekend, I'll have my money's worth out of it.

This is an '04 game, so I only had the vaguest of notions about it. I remember it being sort of a big deal as a GameCube exclusive, and I remember it being another one of those RPGs with weird Germanic names. I also recall helping some confused mom find it on the shelf at Target back when it came out.

I was never much of an RPG gamer back in the day, because - and I say this in the fondest way possible - RPGs were what the poor kids played. When your budget is limited, you gravitate towards the titles that purport to offer the most gameplay. I tended to send dollar after dollar after new stuff, because I wanted to experience lots of different types of games rather than play Final Fantasy for months. Nowadays, every game wants to tout 30 to 60 hours of gameplay, so that distinction of the early days is gone. Today I get the best of both worlds.

So what I'm saying is that I have nothing to compare it to, except for Kingdom Hearts and Pokemon. Do the various core Legend of Zelda and Resident Evil games count? My opinion on this is unvalidated, if not unexpressed.

In one weekend, I'm about seven hours in. According to the promises on the back of the box, this puts me at around 12% done. Although I'm enjoying it so far, I can tell you that the outrageous time claim is almost completely due to everything is the game happpppeeennniinnnggg soooooo slooooooowlllllllyyy. You have watch every single dialogue box draw onto the screen, and the conversations are packed with useless filler like "I see" and "...". Luckily you can click through it, so a fast reader (such as myself) can make some inroads towards speeding things up without losing the thread of the story. Not that it's a great story, it's the usual Ancient Evil Threatens World and only a small band of adventures brought together with all the dramatic import of the first Muppet Movie can save the day.

One weird thing is that the game has this metatextual bit where the main character (appropriately named Kalas) talks to you. You, the fourth wall gamer you. You punch in your name and then Kalas regularly asks you for guidance, which usually means you ordering him to go do something that the whiny brat doesn't want to do. You're the big picture guy. Entering in your name means that you show up in the conversations and the characters all make fun of how your name is strange.

What I really like about it is that the battles are card-based, which is a metaphor I can totally get behind. I find this much more interesting than choosing skills off a tree and pumping up stats with point bonuses. Throughout the game, you're constantly finding new cards to add to your deck(s), then tweaking them for each character as needed. I know this wasn't the first game to do this, but I'm hoping it's one of the best. What other games (aside from Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories and the obvious Magic: the Gathering video games) did card-based gameplay like this?

I'm figuring I'll get far more than $5.50 out of this one. It may take me all the way to Super Paper Mario and Pokemon Pearl, but if it doesn't, I have Okami waiting in the queue. This weekend I also did a ton of Guitar Hero, at Clark's continual request. While I played, he used one of his toy guitars to mimic the onstage histrionics of the GH band. Like, holding it over his head and everything.

The Week in Links

Canadian Customs & Excise (YouTube)
I really miss Cartoon Network running "O Canada" late on Sunday nights.

Venture Bros goes for Seasons 3 and 4 (Publick Nuisance)
Creator Jackon Publick's weblog has this welcome news plus a ton of awesome Venture images.

Interview with Bob from Sesame Street (Muppet Central)
The show's accountants once tried to get the season bumped from 26 shows to 25 shows, and the head writer replied "There are 26 letters in the alphabet. Which letter am I supposed to fire?"

Galactus is coming! (Your Mom's Basement)
Superb parody of those insulting religious comic booklets.

New footage from Mario Galaxy and No More Heroes (Aeropause)
Two upcoming Wii games on opposite ends of the mature content spectrum. I'll be inhaling both.

Pa. city defends illegal immigrant rules (Yahoo News)
Here in Pennsylvania, we have a word for Scranton: "armpit." As reprehensible as their little racist tirade is, immigrants of any kind would do themselves a favor to stay the hell out. Check that. People of any kind.

Cartoonist says SpongeBob stolen from his Bob Spongee (Toon Zone)
You'd almost think there's a case here, until you actually see Bob Spongee. One of the guy's complaints is that "both live in a house."

Probably my final Chulip videos

I finished Chulip last night. The manual is NOT KIDDING when it says that you should collect everybody's name card and show them to everyone in Long Life Town. The final "boss" runs you through a 20 question multiple choice quiz with such WTF gems as:

"All of these four have a disease. Which disease's name is the longest?"

"How many cans of Funny Cola does Policeman drink in a week?"

"Who wrote the screenplay for Summer Story?"

Every wrong answer takes away 20 heart points, and your max heart level is 99. So you can see that there is not much wiggle room. I got down to 19 life on the last question and had to guess on Policeman's age. Crazy.

On to the videos. This is Zombie Mika, whom I could not find for the longest time. She's in the grassy section of the Worldly Desire Temple graveyard, but she only shows up at 2am. The manual says you have to "touch the floating spirit" to see her, but that does NOT mean the floating spirit with the scythe that wanders around the graveyard killing you. Mika is an entirely different floating spirit. I love the sound effect when she cocks her head.

After you master that bathhouse ritual, you can meet with Leo for tea. This movie just shows a typical visit; the real point of the tea party is to give Leo the right herbs so that you can finish Mika's quest.

This one takes place at night, so it's difficult to see. It's the fourth security guard doing his patrol of Funny Bone Factory. What you'll want to hear is the sound when the guard visits the port-a-potty about halfway through.

This is really cool. There are film cans hidden in the game, and once you work on kissing Goro (a failed movie director), you can ask him to play the movies at the late night theater. This is the Hideyuki Film, called "Devil."

Wow. As weirdly fun as Chulip is, I'm glad it's over. This game hates when people play it.

Siren Hearts Hero

Kingdom Hearts 2
released March 2006, purchased May 2006

I can't recall for the life of me why I waited two months before buying KH2. Must have still been busy playing Trapt.

Kingdom Hearts 2 upgraded the series by streamlining the gameplay, phoning in the plot, and adding a handful of really oddball movie choices (Pirates of the Caribbean? Tron?) Obviously I was really chuffed by the former, intrigued by the latter, and disappointed by the bit in the middle.

It's great to get better gameplay. The item and ability management was much smoother, and the Gummi Ship portions rocked the freakin' casbah. After the drubbing the Gummi Ship got in the first game, it's clear the KH team took that as a challenge. It's a worthwhile game in its own right.

More disappointing was the story. Initially, it's a cumbersome extension of the first game and the GBA sequel, Chains of Memories... so it feels very deep and RPG-like. Once Sora and his pals really get into it, the story takes a backseat as they just trot from world to world declaring to solve everybody's problems, be they related to the encroaching Heartless or not. It's repetitive and silly. And by the time you pick up the main thread later on, you've forgotten everything you probably didn't understand in the first place, so the revelations in the endgame fall flat.

And, of course, Kingdom Hearts 2 is another one of those games that packs in tons of sidequests and exploration but demands that you fit it all in before triggering the final boss battle. I'll never understand that line of thinking.

As far as the new worlds go, adding Lion King, Mulan, and Steamboat Willie was pure gold. Tron was interesting, definitely visually cool, but all other attempts at reviving the movie have been met with failure, so it reeks of mis-managed corporate synergy. Pirates of the Caribbean may be the most brutally obvious marketing choice... shoehorned into the game based solely on contemporary whims, regardless of how odd it feels compared to the rest of the game. Imagine if Eddie Murphy's Haunted Mansion movie had been a Hollywood blockbuster; you can bet it would have ended up in Kingdom Hearts. Disney is that shameless.

Memory Score: Don't miss the great secret stuff after the credits.

Guitar Hero
released November 2005, purchased August 2006

I hedged on buying Guitar Hero for months. I've certainly played rhythm games before, so the gameplay was likely to be no shocker. I have more single-use peripherals laying around than anyone could possibly need, so a giant fake guitar wasn't exactly dreamy. And then there's the song list, which contains far too much truly terrible music.

But I'm very susceptible to cultural movements, and Guitar Hero is currently the do-no-wrong gaming darling. So when I saw the original package on a slight discount at Sam's Club, I decided that was the time to act.

And I don't regret it for an instant, even if some of the music is embarrassingly bad.

This is a breakthrough game, as pleasingly tactile and as compellingly aural as DDR but without the dance mats' imposing barrier to entry. It's great for parties, it's great for non-gamers, it's great for the hardcore. Like the Wii, this is the kind of thing that forces you to pay attention to it. It's a head-turner. As a gaming pro, you can't believe they pulled it off... and as a novice, you can't believe that such a wonder even exists.

I'll never play much higher than the early hard levels, and that's okay. It's still fun to replay the few songs that I really enjoy, over and over again every time. Getting 100% on Ziggy Stardust on Medium is enough reward for me.

Memory Score: Future versions need quieter plastic guitar parts.

Siren
released April 2004, purchased August 2006

This was a super-sale impulse buy. $8, I believe. I remembered this getting lousy reviews, but I dig the survival horror, so why not.

Odd little game. I only got about a third of the way through because it is stupid hard.

It's a really cool idea, sort of a Pulp Fiction non-linear approach to storytelling, with several groups of characters exploring a town full of not-zombie zombies. Where it breaks down is in execution... the characters have almost no defense and the baddies can kill with one shot, so it's not any definition of fun I've ever used.

The general idea is that the zombies all have set patrol patterns, and you're supposed to "sight-jack" them one at a time to find out what they see so you can make an effort to not be where they are looking. It is just as complicated as it sounds. It's very much a you-better-be-perfect-or-else kind of game, and I have a fantastically limited tolerance for that.

I should YouTube the first level sometime, because it is freaking hilarious.

Memory Score: The characters all have real actor faces, which looks nicely creepy.

Next time: Rockstar's final PS2 masterpiece, a Nintendo-esque peripheral game, and the good trilogy.

The next great Nintendo disappointment.

Kotaku is claiming a final end to the discussion over the Wii requiring individual Friend Codes for each game, rather than using the one console code for all games. Several sources have corroborated the continuance of the Friend Code system, per game. So it looks like we'll be back to sending each other long, obnoxious randomized numbers for the forseeable future. I guess our Wii codes were for nothing more than sending e-mail and Miis around.

Looking at the comments for that article, it's clear that opinions are really divided. I've been trying to figure out where I sit. On one hand, I find the whole concept of having to manage a pile of separate codes extremely distasteful and inconvenient. But on the other hand, I'm not really interested in online play anyway.

I'm sure it's different when you have a system that's as full-featured as Xbox Live, because they found ways to elevate the online experience beyond simple match-making. Having your Xbox generate weblog entries, being able to view player stats, and the whole achievements thing... this is all really appealing to me. Getting my ass handed to me in Mario Kart DS was not.

I think the Friend Code thing would be far less obnoxious if Nintendo had a unified, consistent system in place, full of features you didn't know you needed. I mean, these guys invented a Wii Channel were you vote on complete rubbish... and they made it clean and compelling. But as it stands, their current online DS games are largely crappy, and you have to field silly non-intuitive Friend Codes to boot.

Without any kind of real online HUD system, it's just not efficient to even bother playing DS games online. You don't know when your friends are on, you can't see what they're playing, and since the DS is a one-game-at-a-time handheld system, it's not even possible to quickly switch from one game to another even if you could find somebody you know. What we need is a Wii Channel that tracks your Wii Game Friends and your DS Game Friends, preferably through some kind of Mii visual. What we have now isn't worth the effort.

I gave up on playing DS games online several months ago. Mario Kart DS and Starfox Command both were just terrible. You'd get some great random matches in Tetris DS (tough game to exploit), but you can't tag good opponents as potential new Friends... they just disappear forever. I put up with Animal Crossing far longer than necessary, enduring months of switching Friend Codes in and out thanks to a tiny Code maximum.

And now we'll have more of the same on the Wii, which is awfully disappointing.

Nintendo is doing this to keep the cast of To Catch A Predator off their systems, but as several recent news stories have illustrated, the always-terrible local news scene doesn't care about reality. They are willing to completely fictionalize the dangers of PictoChat if it makes for a good, parent-baiting sweeps piece. The true story is that internet predators are a slight percentage of a percentage of a percentage of a percentage. I don't care how many repeat offenders are entrapped through one of NBC's set-up suburban kitchens, they do not represent the majority of internet users out there, much less the majority of game-playing internet users.

So no matter what Nintendo does, they are going to get roasted in certain quarters, for transgressions that may not even apply. Most parents would just rather that there be no online play at all, since they're all scared out of their gourds by shadows and lies.

Perhaps what Nintendo should have done is set up a kickass, uniquely-N online front end, and then only allow access after a lifetime credit card fee of $5. Then they could still be (nearly) free, and limited to adults with credit cards, or children with adult permission.

Pokemon Battle Revolution (which will suck) will finally reveal what Nintendo has been sitting on since Wii launch. We still know next to nothing about Smash Bros or Animal Crossing, two games with huge online potential. They've been cagey about the whole topic for a good reason: they know we're all going to hate it.

I just want it to be easy. I want the experience to be consistent. I want to have fun and not get destroyed by MKDS pros snaking all over the track.

Big Pile of Chulip Nonsense

Here is the tediously long sequence that gets you into Funny Bone Factory, if you show up early enough. This is before Batayan gets fired, obviously.

Here's a look at a kissing sequence. Gives you an idea how the Underground Resident thing plays out. This is Mr. Apollo, who has a rocket fetish thing (which is not the most ridiculous fetish you'll see, not by a long shot.) I totally expected to grab a video of him failing to land AGAIN and killing me, but somehow I got lucky. And yeah, that's Rhonda in the background, sitting on the pipe. Hot.

There's a trick to kissing Michelle. The game is really clear that she wants an eggplant. Done. But you can't just give it to her. You have to wait until late at night after she is done cleaning. But you can't just walk into her yard and knock on the door either. You have to ring her intercom bell, which is cleverly and entirely hidden from your view. Nice.

Here's the sleeping/upgrading process. You don't have to sleep every night, actually. You can stay out all night... and you'll have to, for some kisses. But when you do sleep, that's when Dad and Lovers Tree review your recent kisses and upgrade your heart strength. Pretty hilarious quotes about me in this one.

Why am I posting these? Because anybody out there who is playing this game needs all the help they can get.

By the way, what's up with my YouTube clips running audio out of sync? Is that just me? Because the clips play fine in their original, pre-YouTube QuickTime form.

The Week in Links

Your Python Clip o' the Week (YouTube)
An interview with one of the world's leading modern composers, Arthur "Two Sheds" Jackson.

Tide turning against DreamHost (Red Sweater Blog)
Apparently DreamHost had a massive failure last week. I totally missed it. (I've been with them since '02.) So while I'm not as ticked as some customers are, I will totally agree that their pimply oh-so-irreverent attitude is long past played out.

EA head says Sony's lead may slip (Yahoo News)
$600 $600 $600 $600 $600 $600 $600 $600

And also, $600.

Sony Reveals LittleBigPlanet (Kotaku)
But then again there's this.

A Tale of Two Children (Yahoo News)
Ted Rall makes an affecting point about the great US divide between the poor (military-bound) and the wealthy (party-bound).

"Are You Being Served?" actor John Inman dies (Yahoo News)
He's free.

Gamer Nation (The Escapist)
Korea is super freaking awesome. The first few paragraphs should break any gamer into an anticipatory sweat.

iNiS' Yano on the History of Elite Beat Agents (Gamasutra)
GDC presentation from Keichi Yano, part of the team behind Ouendan/Elite Beat Agents. Best part: he had real-life ouendans onstage helping him with his speech.

Spoiler Guessing Game

As Spoiler Week draws to a close, let's go all out and wreck everything. Below are 25 pithy summaries of some of gaming's critical storyline moments or character development touchstones, largely randomly selected from my own memory. I have helpfully blinded the answer in highlightable white text so you can play along. Some of these are genuine spoilers; others are just silly. Many might actually apply to several games.

1. In a blind rage, he killed his own wife and daughter. (God of War)

2. The princess was, finally, in this castle. (Super Mario Bros)

3. One sister kills the other, completing the ritual. (Fatal Frame 2)

4. The family is happy again after the wedding ring is found and an old friend is returned to them. (Chibi Robo)

5. She's actually hot. (Legend of Zelda: The Twilight Princess)

6. The one-time super-hero idol is actually in league with the main baddie. (Ratchet & Clank)

7. Mickey is behind the door. (Kingdom Hearts)

8. You've just finished a virtual mission about a virtual mission about a virtual mission. (Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty)

9. They like watermelons. (ICO)

10. They were all real people, and they're all dead. (Killer 7)

11. The doctor, who didn't survive the massacre, is his father. (GUN)

12. Shadow dies. (Sonic Adventure 2 Battle)

13. Everything is the machinations of the Corpse God. (Eternal Darkness)

14. It's a Halloween episode. (Simpsons Hit & Run)

15. Trogdor is in it. (Guitar Hero 2)

16. His memories are actually Zack's. (Final Fantasy 7)

17. Seafood cake comes just like the riddle. (PaRappa)

18. The turtle loses the use of his legs. (Sly 2: Band of Thieves)

19. One of the old gang has let wealth and power go to his head. (Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas)

20. He knew her parents and he has a secret spaceship. (Beyond Good and Evil)

21. The earthquake was man-made. (Disaster Report)

22. The pirate is the princess. (Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker)

23. This fop was responsible for the virus outbreak. (Resident Evil: Dead Aim)

24. Becoming the king wasn't exactly what he expected. (Conker's Bad Fur Day)

25. What the... it's a girl? (Metroid)

I remember why adventure games died.

Spoiler Week continues, now teetering relentlessly towards Chulip.

Chulip is the hardest game in the world.

It's an adventure game, so you have to figure things out by exploring. It wouldn't be so bad if the game didn't insist on punishing you for exploring...

And even that wouldn't be so bad if the game didn't have an antiquated save system, where you can only save in certain locations. This game is rough.

This is why adventure games died... because we all got tired of the endless trial-and-error with little to no clues. If you need a hint book to get through the game - and I mean you need it to figure stuff out, not just using it to find sidebar quests or hidden junk - you end up feeling like you're reading an interactive novel, not playing a game.

Sam and Max had stuff in it that made no sense, or requirements that you were just too likely to keep missing. I never would have discovered that their office is two screens long on my own. Never. There's nothing to make you think that you can walk to the right and push the background to reveal a storage closet (which contains an absolutely necessary item.) Either you got lucky and discovered it on your own, or you looked it up in the hint book seven hours later. And that's not even a truly egregious example, just the first one I could recall.

Even Animal Crossing was like this... how would anybody ever had figured out the Perfect Town crap without getting the info from an online guide?

All the adventure games of the classic era had stuff like that in them, but where they deviate from Chulip is that they didn't kill you over it.

Chulip is also really bad about giving good hints. Or at least, it's really uneven about it.

The basic grind of the game has you kissing people to add to your heart strength. Most of the kissable citizens are found in underground holes. You look in the hole and you get a short clue about what this person likes or wants before they'll accept a kiss. These folks only come out of their holes at certain times of the day, but most of them don't say when that will be. All you know is that, when they do show up, they will walk around for a few moments, animating I'm Pissed Off, which means you can't get near them... except for a split second when they animate little happy music notes: the Kissing Moment.

So you probably don't know when you will see them so you can kiss them. You might have an idea about when you should go for the kiss, or you might not. And even if you do see them, they may very well not ever give you the Kissing Moment, either because their shtick is tied into something else you haven't done yet, or just due to complete random happenstance.

Example: Mr. Apollo takes off like a rocket every day around 1pm. He's one of the few who tells you his time. Your only chance to kiss me occurs when he lands, and lands correctly. If he lands on his head, he goes right into pissy mode and attacks you. Whether or not he lands correctly is a coin flip. I have parked myself near his hole at least twenty times, and I only saw him land it once. And I missed the kiss anyway.

Example 2: Dr. Fill bounces out of his hole on springy shoes sometime in the middle of the night, but he will not allow a kiss until a (seemingly) unrelated storyline event happens (Mrs. Plum loses her teeth). Before that, he remains completely unapproachable, not that you'd know any of this from the supposed hints.

Then there's the stone tiger guy who runs the bathhouse. In order to get his kiss, you have to pay 200z to gain entry to the male side of the bath sometime after 6pm. After undressing, you have to use the faucets in the following order: right, left, right, left. Then you have to stand on a bucket and trigger a silly balancing animation. Then you get in the tub until your eyes shock open in surprise, at which point you can kiss the tiger guy. Now where is the hint system to explain that to me?

Beyond that, there's another underground character (Turtle Boy) who has a 50/50 shot at allowing a kiss, but only if you're undressed... so his Kissing Moment is contingent on doing the 200z bathhouse trip and then sneaking outside while still nearly-naked.

And don't even get me started on the arcane guesswork required to kiss Dr. Dandy.

Not all of the game is this bad, just enough that it really inhibits your fun value. On one hand, the game expects you to explore to find the solution to all the various puzzles... but on the other, it will slaughter your soul and make you replay for hours if you're not careful about it. Especially in the beginning (because your heart meter is low), which is a game-killing sin.

How do I know all of these tricks, by the way? Because I gave up and started peeking through the strategy guide that inhabits the back half of the Chulip manual. I'm having a lot more fun now, because I at least have some guidance as to what the hell is going on.

I've always said that going to FAQs and guides is a renter's cop-out and does nothing but speed-play you into a joyless experience. The underlying premise to that is that it only applies when the game is good... well-designed with in-game hints, a logical task progression, and its own internal logic.

When the game is fundamentally flawed in the way that Chulip is, however, all bets are off. Without that strategy guide (which is kinda vague anyway), there is no gamer out there who stands a chance in hell of finishing the game.

Civil War #7

What do you know, I was right about how Civil War would end.

Spoiler Week continues.

You didn't think they would wrap this up and return to status quo, did you? (Barring the usual quotient of HEROES FOREVER CHANGED, re: S&M Speedball.) That's just not how the modern comics event works.

Look at Infinity Gauntlet. We had six issues and a zillion tie-in books over those six months. It was a big deal. Early on, half of the population of Earth was killed... which was just a clever way of eliminating the less popular heroes so the writer wouldn't have to worry about managing such a large cast. But by the end of #6, the Marvel U is more or less back to normal. Dead people were blinked back to life. The only major swing being that the Infinity Gems are once again back in play, tended by a horrible new spinoff series that nobody read.

But me.

That's not how it works today. The editorial trend is to craft stories that will get the reader hooked into the next big event. I'm not saying that's bad - I'm certainly falling for DC's Identity Crisis into Infinite Crisis into 52 into Countdown play. Business-wise, it's obviously a very good idea. And as long as the stories are good, nobody loses.

Civil War was really crappy, though. Sure, Infinite Crisis had its share of detractors, but at the least it could skate through on sheer density. Fans love density. Even if you didn't understand what was going on, at least you knew something was happening. In Civil War, nothing happens, and you still don't understand the characters' motivations.

That's a touch facetious, because obviously something happens in Civil War. In fact, the same things happen over and over again. Everybody fights in the street. Team A loses members to Team B.

Can you believe that they trotted out the Thor clone again?

Why Captain America suddenly has his epiphany now, after six previous issues of showdowns with Iron Man, is unclear. Of course he gets tackled by a bunch of non-superpowered paramedics, the only normal humans left in the five boroughs... Marvel's fascination with making the city of New York a "character" has always escaped me. The supposition is that this last battle is far more destructive, and Cap surrenders to stop the madness. But to the world of comics, that's like declaring one blueberry muffin far more blueberrier than the prior muffins. Nobody of any sound mind is going to buy it. These guys trash Manhattan all the damn time.

We could have reached this point in the story arc around, say, issue three. Dragging it out for seven issues and nearly a year of real time was just ridiculous. Although the setup coming out of #7 are great - Captain America the prisoner, Spider-Man the fugitive, Iron Man the secret traitor. I would have felt better served by getting those stories inside of the Civil War series... whereas now we won't get resolution on that until the next big event.

And I'd be okay with that - launching me into additional series - if I felt that I got "enough" story inside the main series. I didn't. Civil War was a three-issue story stretched across seven books.

They never even returned to the X-Men question! I don't care if Marvel handled that in depth over in the X-Books; they're a big enough part of Marvel that Civil War itself should have provided coverage of their supposed neutrality. Here's a book that largely lacks star power, and Marvel's biggest family of celebs is totally absent. I've said this before, but the classic Avengers are bush league. Nobody cares about Hank Pym, or the Black Knight, or Tigra, or Wonder Man, or Warmaster, Warhawk, Nighthawk, what's his name? Once you get past the Avengers trinity of Cap, Iron Man and Thor, you've lost your Q-rating. That's why the latest Avengers team includes Spider-Man and Wolverine.

Hulk is off-world, so he's out. Thor is dead or something. Thing moves to France (but returns for the very end.) Doc Strange couldn't care less. Ghost Rider (and all the other supernatural characters) aren't even given a token mention. (Howard the Duck was seen in a one-shot back when it all started, which was nice. The government decided he didn't have to register because he's not a person. Howard, being open-minded, decided this means he no longer has to pay taxes.) And the X-Men are on sabbatical. So you're left with Captain America, Spider-Man, Daredevil-Who-Isn't-Daredevil, Iron Man, 3/4s of the Fantastic Four, and a cast of thousands of nobodies. If it had been done well, I wouldn't have minded it, but some absences are so glaring, and the questions raised by those absences are so critical, that the small cast just looks like a writer's cheap way out.

If I were to represent Civil War using only the pieces from the Spider-Man and Friends Mix-and-Match-Up game, it would look like this:

True to form, the most interesting bit about the end of Civil War didn't even happen inside Civil War. At the end of the Embedded storyline in Civil War: Frontline, the reporters confront Iron Man with the idea that he orchestrated events and purposefully engineered the "war" just so that he could end up being the guy in charge. IE, he saw that government control of super-heroes was inevitable, so he set it up so that the White House would trust him so much that they would make him Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. Which, if you read the inferences, means that he takes on the role to protect other heroes from the government. Another intriguing twist that the core series glosses over, with only one scene at the end of #7 offering any clue that Tony may in fact be on Captain America's side after all.

Not to mention controlling the whole Norman Osborn vs. Atlantis bit from Frontline that seems like it should have been mentioned in Civil War at least once.

But his 50 State Initiative thing is really goofy, more like a DC kind of idea. Imagine the fun Giffen would have with the New Jersey team. I can't wait to see how Armadillo Man does in his new gig as protector of Texas.

So, to sum up Civil War: fun idea, lots of awesome individual moments, but a lousy, overextended presentation. And if you didn't read Frontline, Civil War was ten times worse.

The End of Zelda

Finished Twilight Princess this weekend. Big spoilers coming. Look away.

OK. Since this "realistic" look stripped most of the series' prior charm away, the rest of the experience is really laid bare. I hope that Nintendo's claims that this will be "the last Zelda as we know it" turn out to be true and not just false marketing hype. Because this franchise needs to amp it up so that it returns to its high status as a gaming standard, rather than just toeing the line set by Ocarina.

Hey Nintendo, you know what I don't want as my reward for reaching a particularly well-hidden treasure chest, or for completing a complicated and lengthy sidequest? Fucking rupees. Money is cheap in Hyrule, so cheap that they had to include a money-eating suit of armor just to make use of it all. It is not an acceptable reward for going out of your way to clean out all the nooks and crannies. How about rewarding players with rare (and inconsequential) trophies for Link's hovel, customizable clothing sets, or weapons over and above the traditional sword-and-shield.

Moving on. It is time for voice acting. It looks so low-rent to see the characters lips aimlessly flapping to nothing (not even the syntho-garble of Animal Crossing or Chibi-Robo), while you click through freakin' subtitles. It really is crappy. In the big finale where Ganondorf gives a big speech but all you hear is his repeated laugh sound sample... it just wrecks any chance at immersion. And without immersion, you just want the cutscenes to end and get back to the game. Is that really what Nintendo wants?

I mean, I guess I don't care if Link himself never gets a voice beyond the "aah HAH!" of combat. There is precedent for a muted hero. But everybody else needs to get cast. This is a big reason why nobody gives a shit about your average Zelda storyline. Maybe if Midna had a voice and therefore a presence deeper than an animated slideshow, I would have remembered more about her and the reason for the quest, instead of just following the map to find the next dungeon and screwing around looking for golden insects.

About that quest. I'll admit that I spent so much time NOT doing dungeons that I probably forgot some stuff, but was there any reason to bring in Ganondorf other than pure fan service? It's not like each dungeon is of his crafting, or even that you chase him through each level in order to advance the plot. Hell, even Zant, the red herring baddie, is barely seen throughout the game.

You're just going through dungeons because you know you have to - and because it will be fun - not because you feel any real pressing need to dive in there. Shouldn't one of Nintendo's A-list series aspire to more than that? Both Ocarina and Wind Waker had far more compelling twists... like Ganondorf's early appearance as the bandit leader in Ocarina, and the mystery of flooded Hyrule in Wind Waker. The only personal hook in Twilight Princess is the subplot with the kids of Ordon. And when I say "personal," I mean not the hoary old "we have to save the world at all costs" macguffin. And what happens to those kids? Only Ilyia cares about being separated from her home, and only because she has amnesia! The rest just hang out in Kakariko like it's summer camp, and you're given gradual updates on their status that may or may not have anything to do with the cross-country temple trek.

There's a lot of promise in the first third of Twilight Princess that never pays off. Or rather, it is quickly forgotten in favor of the usual Beat This Dungeon, Then This Dungeon, Then That Dungeon. The initial fear that Ordon could be overrun by evil is never played out. The burning stagecoach scene and the bridge joust scene promise more huge setpieces that never arrive. You only do the Twilight ghost thing early on and then never again*. There's not even a satisfactory explanation as to why Link gets to turn into a wolf with psychic powers... nobody else in Twilight looks like a wolf.

Again, that's not to say that the dungeons aren't fun and clever. Just that they are disconnected from the core game, and thrown out there as a crutch while everything else remains unchanged since the N64 days.

Like I said before, there is no reason for the game to roll credits and shut down after beating Ganondorf. As I predicted, there was no earth-enveloping light wave that eradicated every moblin and spider from Hyrule. You could kill 'dorf and then ride right back out to continue exploring and killing skeleton dogs. The only reason you can't rests in Nintendo's incompatible opinions of their game: One, that the plotline is so good that when you end it, it's worth ending your own linear progression (like a movie)... and Two, that your interest in the plotline is so non-commital, that you won't mind jumping back in time to play parts you may have overlooked and re-do sections of that plot.

And another thing? No more of this half-assed save bullshit. When I save inside a dungeon and quit playing for the night, I should not return tomorrow to find that Link has been reset to the front door. Saving should work as you expect, consistently. It should not be different depending on whether you're deep in a dungeon or not.

All right. Enough being harsh. The bottom line is that Twilight Princess is a very serviceable game, in terms of gameplay, but unable to generate much emotion out of the storytelling... and Nintendo's weird myopic quirks continue to drag the series down. Of course, the game's greatest failing is that it is held to standards that most games never dream of.

Not that that stops EGM from asking Nintendo the assiest question possible in their post-mortem on Twilight Princess in the Feb '07 issue:

We can't help but think how much better the game would look on the PS3 or 360. Wouldn't that power help convey the story better?

Dicks! That's just a ham-fisted way to trick the Nintendo rep into saying "Yeah, the Wii just isn't powerful enough to cut it." As if. What did EGM expect to happen, that Nintendo would see the bump-mapped light and announce their plans to develop a PS3-exclusive Zelda game?

*I had completely forgotten about seeing ghosts while in psychic wolf form, until the final castle level when I was doggedly going after every single treasure. There was one corner of the floor that I just could not get to, naturally with treasures within. In desperation - there are no hints that you should do this - I turned into the wolf, activated the spidey-sense, and experienced the only time I have even been shocked in a Zelda game.

Your senses reveal a small troop of ghost soldiers pointing towards the wall. That's called a clue, folks. Shouldn't the whole game have had stuff like this in it?

The Week in Links

George Takei responds to anti-gay hate (YouTube)
A parody PSA that roasts the recent homophobic jackassery of some basketball player I've never heard of. Actually contains Sulu.

Lost Ghost Rider PS1 game (GameSetWatch)
In 1995, hell yeah I would have bought this.

Topless wife photo ends man's pole protest (Yahoo News)
A guy hiding at the top of a TV tower is news enough, but I'm more interested in his wife who is A) 20 years younger, B) a former stripper, and C) has borne five children for him by the age of 25. This guy should be crowned the new King of All Men.

Disney planning martial arts version of Snow White (Jim Hill Media)
And if you think that sounds unlikely, at one time they planned to do one set in outer space.

Scipio threatens to quit weblogging (The Absorbascon)
We all go through this.

EB downgrades Pokemon Pearl/Diamon pre-order bonuses (Pokemon Elite 2000)
I'll agree they're being dicky about this, but they could offer a pre-order bonus of a kick in the junk and they'd still sell a million.

Scarface announced for Wii (Kotaku)
I was iffy on Godfather on Wii, but I'm definitely intrigued by this one, if only for the 1980s soundtrack. At this stage for the Wii, getting high-profile ports is a good thing.

Looney Labs offers another exclusive Fluxx promo card (Looney Labs)
You just have to buy $25 at their online store to get it. I'm not sure who this is targeted at. Casual fans really aren't going to know/care about the card (IE, that's not much of an incentive for ordering something), and you'd pretty much have to buy two games to crest the $25 level... and I'd consider their stuff rather pricy for what you get, even if the games are generally super-sweet. Longtime fans who already own all of their games are going to feel abused at having to buy more just to get this rare card. I guess you can always buy stuff as gifts. This gouging of the fanbase bugs me. Neat card though. I hope they eventually give in and sell it separately. (Full disclosure: I helped playtest the second Chrononauts game. Go buy it!)

Belushi.

I remember watching the news report on John Belushi's death. It's not one of my earliest memories, but it's usually one of the first I think about when I think about my earliest memories. It was March 1982. I was in second grade.

My family was visiting my grandparents, as we often did, and the evening news was on, as it often was. I remember one single piece of film, an exterior shot of the hotel where he was found. I'm not sure why I remember it. It's not like John Belushi was part of my world at eight years old. Belushi was part of my parents' world, and my aunts' world... a modern movie megastar they had watched do the craziest shit on Saturday Night Live five years prior. Most likely, when the news came on, the quiet of the room was what soldered my attention.

A celebrity death. That night, it was a shame, a loss, a surprise... to my family and to America. The whole drug thing didn't come out initially, and we didn't have abominable 24-hour news networks trumpeting every single detail or lack thereof to raise the issue. It did, surely and rightly, and only then did the general public hear about his unfettered life, his ups and downs, his quest for - and this would become the single most associated word with the posthumous John Belushi - self-destruction.

I went to school during the "Just Say No" years, so the dangers of drug abuse were made very clear. In my mind, Belushi was always the Bad Example. And yet, my aunt would still quote bits from Saturday Night's golden years, and she'd play the "safest" parts of the cast album for me. It was years before I understood why "With a name like Fluckers, it's got to be good" was funny.

I didn't discover who the man truly was until high school, when Nick at Nite ran the hell out of The Best of Saturday Night Live. At one point, I lived for that show: memorizing all the best lines, staying up for the entirety of their all-Nite marathons. I dubbed off my family's stock of SNL paraphrenalia, which consisted of that original SNL cast album, some Steve Martin comedy albums, and the first Blues Brothers cassette. This was formative material for me, one generation removed. I stopped watching the current Saturday Night Live.

Dan Akyroyd was my favorite. Frequent host Steve Martin was a very close second. I liked Chevy Chase but soon realized that he never actually did anything but be Chevy Chase, so I never missed him during a Bill Murray episode.

I was wary of Belushi. Because.

To a high school kid fifteen years later, 70's Belushi didn't seem to stand out at the first look. He wasn't a Conehead. Nor a Wild and Crazy Guy. I didn't know who the fuck Joe Cocker was.

And then it started happening. I actually paid attention to a Samurai sketch and saw him accidentally slice a chunk out of Buck Henry's head. The "But Noooooo" weatherman. Little Chocolate Doughnuts. The Belushi fashion line. That super-hero bit where he played the Hulk and detonated the bathroom. I became a fan.

An interesting convergence occurred about that time. The movie Wired came out. I was just about the only person in the theater. I haven't seen it since. What I remember most is how the movie failed to get Saturday Night Live right (like gamely shoehorning two classic Akyroyd bits into one scene, by having the actor do Akyroyd as Nixon while in Conehead gear), so what was I to believe about the Bright Lights Big City portrayal of Belushi himself?

I read the book to see if it was enlightening, and, not having any counterpoint, I at least found it more informative. Of course, both book and movie were thoroughly derided by everyone who ever knew the man. I used the book for a tenth grade class where we had to read a biography and then act as that person in group panel discussions. The teacher tried to goad me into performing a skit and I started to do Belushi-doing-Joe Cocker but then chickened out with a "I'm sorry, that's all behind me now." Perhaps she was expecting something more outrageous from me (I had a rep in that class), but I went with a more subdued, reflective portrayal, commenting that perhaps my indulgent death had inspired others in Hollywood to turn their lives around (for example, Robin Williams and Robert DeNiro, both of whom were with Belushi the last day of his life, allegedly to get high).

So even if Bob Woodward's accusatory book and tactlessly weird movie were sensationalistic and designed to be so, I still found I could respect John Belushi's life. There was more to it than the caustic line, "he wanted to take the whole world and snort it."

A few weeks ago, we're at Border's. In the remainder section (those super cheap books they always red-tag and stack at the checkout so you'll impulse shop yourself out of another ten bucks), I see half of John Belushi's face staring at me. It's a 2005 hardcover produced by Belushi's widow Judy, simply titled "Belushi." It's definitely a biography, but rather than follow the traditional route, it's a collection of quotes and anecdotes about his life and accomplishments, told by those who knew him at every stage. An unbelievable bargain at six whole dollars. Brilliant cover design as well.

It's really the philosophical antidote to Wired, and to decades of reducing the man's body of work to "died of drug overdose." I'm sure that some of the memories are a little rose-colored, but there's enough honest appraisal of the low points that it doesn't feel like a whitewash. The list of stars interviewed within is staggering, making every pageturn an enjoyable geeky moment for "old" fans such as myself.

There's a fantastic candid of Belushi flipping off Chevy Chase in the SNL chapter. Akyroyd reveals that Belushi was intended for both Ghostbusters (in Bill Murray's role) and Spies Like Us (in Chase's, ironically.) Akyroyd and Belushi conceived the Blues Brothers on the day they met.

Imagine what he would have done, had he been able to stop himself in March of 1982.

After the cultural shame of his death, we quickly forgot that he simultaneously had the biggest movie (Animal House), the biggest TV show (Saturday Night Live) and the biggest album (Blues Brothers), all around the day he turned thirty. Nobody has done this before or since, and I'll bet a lot of A-list talent would consider it an insult to even try.

John Belushi died twenty-five years ago this Monday. He was thirty-three years old. I just turned thirty-three, and I've always had this slightly depressive internal monologue that goes "Well, if I live past thirty-three, I'll have outlived John Belushi." So it is happily fitting that this book - and his amazing life - would appear before me near both my birthday and the anniversary of his death.

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