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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Time Marches On.

You know, I’m getting old. This isn’t a complaint, exactly, especially considering the alternative, but it’s still true. I’m in my 30s, which is actually a good age to be. Old enough to know better, but not so old you really have to care.

Still, every now and then something crops up to remind me that I’m no spring chicken anymore.

Like movies, for example. One of my favorite comedies of recent vintage is Knocked Up. The plot is about a stoner loser who lucks into a one-night-stand with an E! network anchor that results in a baby. They try to make a go of it, and the differences between their personalities make watching them do so amusing.

Incidentally, the previous sentence is a prime example of how a Vulcan would describe a sitcom.

Anyway, in the movie there is a scene where the pregnant woman and her stoner baby-daddy are at a restaurant with her sister and brother-in-law. The stoner baby-daddy makes a reference to Doc Brown and his time machine. The pregnant woman responds that she has no idea who Doc Brown is.

I remarked to my wife, snickering, “OMG. She hasn’t seen Back to the Future? LOLZ!”

Because I often speak L33T to my wife. When you have kids, you learn to communicate quickly and efficiently.

My wife then pointed out to me that the actress on screen (Katherine Heigel, incidentally) was in her early 20s, which means she was probably born in 1989, which was four years after Back to the Future was released to theatres.

To say I was nonplussed would be untrue, as profanity still counts as speech. A cultural keystone from my formative years is not only irrelevant, but unknown to today’s college students.

It’s not like I should be surprised at this, however. It’s not like it’s the first time such a thing has happened. A few years back Dear Old Dad mentioned to me that one of his high school students didn’t know what The A-Team was.

That, dear readers, just makes me want to cry. It’s bad enough to live in a world without George Peppard in it, but to see what is; in my opinion; one of the finest examples of television forgotten is just heartbreaking. The A-Team was such a big part of my youth that to ask “What’s the A-Team” is akin to asking “What’s air?”

But enough maudlin self indulgence. Let’s get to the point. And the point is this: A list of awesome things that today’s high school graduates are too young to know about.

1) Today’s High School Graduates are too young to remember Back to the Future.
2) Today’s High School Graduates are too young to remember Captain Kangaroo
3) Today’s High School Graduates have never lived in a world with Jim Henson in it. (If that’s not depressing, I don’t know what is)
4) Today’s High School Graduates are too young to remember The A-Team
5) Today’s High School Graduates are too young to remember when Will Smith was a rapper.
6) Today’s High School Graduates are too young to know what “STOP! HAMMERTIME!” means.
7) Today’s High School Graduates have likely never seen an Atari 2600, 5200 or 7800.
8) Today’s High School Graduates have never seen Mr. Wizard on TV.
9) Today’s High School Graduates have always had internet access. True, it was AOL, but I’m pretty sure that still counts.
10) Today’s High School Graduates are too young to remember a world before Half Life changed the FPS genre forever.
11) Today’s High School Graduates are too young to remember a world before Doom made the FPS genre exist.
12) Today’s High School Graduates have never lived in a world without a Final Fantasy game.
13) Today’s High School Graduates are too young to remember video arcades, or at least video arcades before the days of Dance Dance Revolution and fourteen billion ways to play rigged games for tickets.
14) Today’s High School Graduates are too young to remember Quantum Leap.
15) Today’s High School Graduates are too young to remember AutoMan.
16) Today’s High School Graduates are too young to remember Tron, or understand why it’s relevant to video games in any way.
17) Today’s High School Graduates are too young to know Tom Selleck, Burt Reynolds, or any other actors who existed before the mustache became a registered trademark of homosexuality.
18) Today’s High School Graduates probably saw The Phantom Menace before they saw A New Hope. And if they did, their parents should be brought up on charges of abuse.
19) Today’s High School Graduates have never lived in a world where Klingons were the bad guys.
20) Today’s High School Graduates have never seen Pac-Man outside of a cell phone or retro game compilation. And they’ve never heard the song “Pac Man Fever” either.
21) Today’s High School Graduates have always had Super Mario games.
22) Today’s High School Graduates have always had Metroid games.
23) Today’s High School Graduates have always had Zelda games.
24) Today’s High School Graduates have always had Mega Man games.
25) Today’s High School Graduates are too young to know why it’s clever that Lou Ferrigno was in both of the Incredible Hulk movies to come out in the 21st century.
26) Today’s High School Graduates are too young to remember back when Dr. Horrible was Dr. Houser.
27) Today’s High School Graduates have never had to inflate a sneaker.
28) Today’s High School Graduates think Elmo has always been on Sesame Street.
29) Today’s High School Graduates think the Strawberry Shortcake cartoon is new.
30) Today’s High School Graduates are too young to remember a time before Pokemon.
31) Today’s High School Graduates have always had cell phones that fit in your pocket.
32) Today’s High School Graduates are too young to remember a time before DVDs.
33) Today’s High School Graduates have probably never played Wing Commander.
34) Today’s High School Graduates have never been exposed to the horrors of Laserdisc video games.
35) Today’s High School Graduates have never known a time when MTV played music videos (Hey-oh!)
36) Today’s High School Graduates think Rick Astley wrote that song for the internet meme.
37) Today’s High School Graduates think They Might Be Giants are children’s artists.

And there you have it. Does that make you feel old? Well, I’ve got news for you: You’re even older now.

And now you’re even older.

And now you’re older still.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

HEY YOU GUYS!

In a previous installment of FTI, I informed you that we bought a new television. We also bought an amplified antenna for it so my wife wouldn’t have to constantly change DVDs for our daughter while feeding our son.

Our daughter watches a lot of television. And you know what? I don’t care what you think. I’m on record as stating that TV itself isn’t an evil. It’s what you let your kid watch, not how much of it. Or, at least, it doesn’t matter how much TV the kid watches if the kid remains active and engaged while the TV is on. Sitting slack jawed on the couch = bad. Running in circles whilst playing with wooden puzzles and trying to match the dance steps of the characters on screen = no problems at all.

But the question remains: What’s good television? Well, I’ve had an opportunity to observe some modern children’s programming, and I have a handy-dandy guide for you! Don’t you feel special?

It’s a Big Big World. A giant sloth named Snook acts as a guide through the world of natural science. It’s all puppet based, and the puppets are exquisite. More than once I found myself wondering how the puppets work.
Why you should show it to your kids: The colorful world, the wonderful music, but most of all the excellent writing. Characters are not sanitized for your child’s protection. Any given character is apt to be stubborn, petty, vain, ignorant or just plain grumpy. They’re not always role models, but they provide object lessons. They model the behavior that your child should work to avoid well, but without making the characters vile or abhorrent.
Why you might give it a miss: Newer episodes went all Elmo on us and delivered a mildly obnoxious character with a squeaky voice. My wife informs me that they’ve also done away with Oko, an old, vaguely Asian howler monkey who practices Tai Chi and dispenses wisdom to the young characters. Seriously, Oko is awesome and if they’re going to boot him from the show, I’ll stick with DVDs of old episodes.

Bear in the Big Blue House A giant bear teaches children about living in polite society. From the post-Henson Jim Henson Workshop.
Why you should show it to your kids: It’s not for nothing that this show won a ton of awards back when it was on. It’s a fun show with likeable characters that teaches about life and living. At least the early seasons do, but since it’s only watchable on DVD, you get to pick which episodes you show your kids so it’s all good. Also, Doc Hog is an absolute riot.
Why you might give it a miss: The songs are a little uneven. There’s a gospel song about words that seems out of place; especially when Bear bellows “hallelujah” for no apparent reason. Also, the characters aren’t as well written as they might be. Treelo is annoying (though, typically, the young child’s favorite) and Ojo falls into the “We only have one girl, so she can’t be flawed or interesting in any way otherwise we’ll get sued” trap.

Curious George. The monkey made famous for sniffing ether and getting high comes to the small screen to teach kids exactly the opposite lesson that he should have learned in the books. I.E. That curiosity is always good thing. And it’s not a wrong lesson, exactly, except when George starts playing with idle construction equipment to retrieve a ten dollar bill that fell into a hole.
Why you should show it to your kids: George and the Man In The Yellow Hat have lots of adventures and sort of learn about stuff. I say sort of, because the lessons can sometimes seem to be tacked on to the action after the fact. They reinforce the lessons between stories with segments involving live kids putting the lesson of the episode into practice. Also, George is voiced by Frank Welker. Sold!
Why you might give it a miss: While each live-action segment is always prefaced with the statement “George is a monkey, so he can do things you and I can’t do,” I’m not so sure about the whole “follow your curiosity no matter what” vibe the show gives off. The original books made it clear that George got into real trouble following his curious nature. The show… not so much. Fortunately, the George of the TV show is a wiser monkey than the one in the books, and he tends to not destroy as much property.

Sid the Science Kid. A frightening abomination of a child meets up with other frightening abominations and apparently teaches kids about science and stuff. I’ve never been able to figure out what exactly they teach, because my daughter bursts into fearful tears whenever the show comes on.
Why you should show it to your kids: You can practice your quick-draw remote skills by changing the channel as quickly as possible whenever Sid shows his hideous, misshapen head.
Why you might give it a miss: Seriously, the characters on that show are freaking terrifying.

Zula Patrol: Space Aliens teach about science from their space ship while battling grumpy aliens who want to litter and stuff.
Why you should show it to your kids: The characters are cute, and the stories are interesting enough for adults to not lose their minds watching. The science lessons are a little more blunt and instruct-y than other shows, but the antics surrounding the lessons are entertaining.
Why you might give it a miss: The characters can be annoying if you’re in a certain frame of mind, particularly the pilot who seems to voiced by a woman trying to swallow a ping pong ball while high on blow after attending the James Kirk school of overemoting (note to actors: Only William Shatner is awesome enough to get away with acting like William Shatner. The rest of you are just overacting.) The theme song is an earworm to rival all others.

Electric Company: Who knew? They brought back the Electric Company. Now it’s a much more narrative driven show with a story interspersed between the old “Ssss,” “Tuff,” “Stuff” routines. The new Electric Company are high-school superheroes whose powers revolve around learning and stuff. They can throw balls of words, unscramble scrambled words, and play back overheard words. Basically, there’s a lot of do about words. Their foes are called “the Pranksters” and they consist of people with the opposite powers (scrambling words, etc).
Why you should show it to your kids: Two words: Danny Rhebus. You need more words? Okay, but I won’t explain Danny Rhebus. He must be observed first hand to be appreciated. The pacing is well done, and the storylines are corny but so earnest you won’t care. Also, there’s this dude who does beatbox that must have had bionic lips installed or something because he’s amazing.
Why you might give it a miss: The show went in the hip-hop direction, so there’s a lot of rapping about words. Also, two of the four members of the Electric Company (who are in high school, I must remind you) appear to be in their mid thirties, so I’m not sure why we should trust what they say about spelling.

Miss B.G.: Grammar school aged girl attempts to climb the social ladder with a series of schemes that usually involve misbehaving and then lying about it. It’s narrated by the girl; named B.G.; in the style of the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The show is 3D computer animated, but cheaply done. The character models for the kids are okay, but the adults are comical. Every grown woman in the show—even the high school girls—are built like Barbie after working with Pam Anderson’s plastic surgeon. Seriously. You see those coming around the corner, you’ve got time to comb your hair.
Why you should show it to your kids: The show teaches about consequences and about how doing the right thing immediately can make things easier in the long run. B.G. has a little brother who is cute, and his pet hamster is even cuter.
Why you might give it a miss: Watching the show, you can’t help but wonder why B.G. goes to such lengths to impress her friends. They’re all such jerks. Of course, she’s no prize herself, so I guess it evens out.

Cyber Chase: Three normal kids go into their computer and try to protect the benevolent MotherBoard from the notorious Hacker. Teaches about science, critical thinking and problem solving.
Why you should show it to your kids: It features the voice talents of Christopher Lloyd and Gilbert Gottfried. Lloyd plays the evil Hacker, while Gottfried plays the kids’ sidekick and helper while providing sarcastic commentary. Neither actor is phoning it in, particularly Lloyd who really seems into it. The kids in the show approach everything very scientifically, explaining in full detail their thought processes in a way that make Basil Exposition look like a deaf mute.
Why you might give it a miss: Memo to kids: When a (cyber)volcano is erupting about to engulf you in (cyber)lava, this is not the time to whip our your (cyber) notebooks and (cyber) pencils and draw blueprints of what you’re going to build to escape the eruption out of (cyber) logs that just happen to be lying about, and it’s certainly not necessary to provide a fully dimensioned (cyber) drawing with (cyber)units in (cyber) feet. Oh, and by the way, they’re in a computer. Can you tell by my judicious, reserved use of the word cyber to describe every freakin’ thing under the (cyber) sun?


Rescue Heroes: Hey! It’s G.I. Joe without any of the stuff that made G.I. Joe interesting! Basically, it’s an advertisement for a line of toys that replaced Husky Helpers because someone took offense at burly construction workers being called “husky.”
Why you should show it to your kids: The show features exaggerated versions of real-life heroes (policemen, firemen, etc) saving imperiled people from some of the slowest moving natural disasters in the world. The segments teaching about emergency preparedness are informative. It helps you to realize why the action genre usually involves people shooting at each other.
Why you might give it a miss: The show is boring as heck. There’s never any real tension, because you and I both know that nobody’s ever going to get hurt. And don’t think the kids watching don’t know that. This show just serves as a reminder of how neutered we are as a society that we can’t show our children heroes unless the thing the heroes are “fighting” is the weather.

Jane and the Dragon: Another CGI show! This one is set in a pseudo-Arthurian version of England that has dragons living in it. The main character (Jane) is a young girl who wants to be a knight.

All together now: “You Go Girl!”

Jane’s best friend is a dragon named Dragon. He’s wry, sarcastic—everything you’d expect from a friendly version of something with no natural predators. The shows generally revolve around using teamwork, trying your best, and not being a major tool.
Why you should show it to your kids: Despite the premise, the show uses a light touch with the GRRL POWAR!!!! Stuff. Jane wants to be a knight, but it’s not the focus of her every waking moment and in practice she just comes across as tomboyish. The animation is reasonably well done, if obviously motion-captured, and the stories feature a good balance of action and wit to keep kids and adults interested.
Why you might give it a miss: Some of the character models look… wrong somehow. Your kid may not like the dragon much—kids can be scared of unexpected things. If you’re not big on Renaissance festivals, you might skip this one since the whole show feels like an animated LARP session. Other than that, the show is a pretty good bet.

Word World!: Cartoon animals made out of letters learn about spelling and reading by literally building things out of letters. Want a spaceship? Spell the word “Spaceship” out of the letters that litter the landscape in Word World. The economy in that place must be seriously messed up, seeing as how easy making M-O-N-E-Y would be.
Why you should show it to your kids: The character design is simply brilliant. Making a frog out of the letters F-R-O-G couldn’t have been done before CG animation became this cheap and easy. The stories are pretty good, and as a way to teach about spelling and what words actually mean, it’s very well done. Sure, they can only do nouns, but there are a lot of nouns.
Why you might give it a miss: The show features dozens of characters and three voice actors: One for the girl characters and the rest for the boy characters. So if you don’t like, for example, Ant’s voice, you’re probably not going to like Duck’s, Dog’s or Monkey’s voices either. Also, Sheep appears to be doing a bad impersonation of William F. Buckley, Jr. because she says “uh” every 1.5 words.

Peep and the Big Wide World: A newly hatched chicken named Peep learns about how the world works, at least from a physical standpoint, along with his friends a baby robin (named Chirp) and a baby duck (named Quack). The show features lessons about simple science, like where shadows come from and how levers work, and a goodly amount of humor to soften to schooling.
Why you should show it to your kids: The characters are simple and colorful, and are likely to appeal to younger viewers. Once the kids get older, they can enjoy the in-between segments that feature real live kids employing the lessons of the previous episode. For example, an episode about flowing water will be followed by a segment where kids play with water. The characters act like real kids, being at times curious, cranky, petty, or just self-centered. Also, Quack is a laugh riot. Seriously, get the DVDs for your kids and watch it just for Quack. He’s awesome.
Why you might give it a miss: There is no reason to miss this. You can watch free episodes daily on the website, and the DVDs come in three packs. It’s just a good, kid friendly show.

Bob the Builder: The man from whom a sitting US President stole a slogan works hard every day to keep his little town in good repair. Bob and his crew of anthropomorphic construction equipment (Lofty the crane, Muck the frontloader, Dizzy the cement mixer, Scoop the backhoe and Rolly the steamroller) build things, fix things, and generally learn about teamwork and hard work.
Why you should show it to your kids: The characters are well designed, as they should be since the show is basically an advertisement for a line of toys. Bob has a can-do attitude that borders on derangement, but he models a good work ethic, and that’s a good thing. Any show that instills in our youth the value of a good general contractor gets a thumbs up from this commentator. You can’t all be astronauts.
Why you might give it a miss: Depending on how recent the episode your watching is, the voice acting might be grating (When Greg Proops joined the cast as Bob, all of the other actors spontaneously became British). Most of the episodes are pretty similar: Bob starts working on something, and he gets called to work on something else, then he goes back to finish what he started earlier. Occasionally, Spud (a living scarecrow) tries to help and messes something up, causing Travis (a tractor) to have a panic attack and giving Bob and the crew more work. This happens once every 1.25 episodes.



So there you have it. A guide to children's programming.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have more research to do for the followup to this post. That national average for time spent in front of the TV isn't going to bring itself up.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Late to the Party Reviews: Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood

Like virtually none of my peers, I was raised on John Wayne movies. Dear Old Dad is probably the Duke’s greatest fan. In the wee hours of the night, when I was just an mewling wet ball of need and remained inconsolable regardless of how many bottles, diapers or pacifiers I was presented with, Dear Old Dad turned on the TV and found John Wayne Presents: The War Movie. I was immediately calmed, so the story goes (I was kind of young at the time) and thus my status as a John Wayne Fan was cemented from an early age. I was raised on El Dorado, McLintock and The Comancheros. (Indeed, it is told that, when preparing to slide down a slide, my two year old self would bellow “Charge Mon-soor!” before riding down.)

When our first was born, those late inconsolable evenings were soothed in like fashion. North to Alaska, The Comancheros, Rio Bravo. These are movies that I soothed my daughter to sleep with when acid reflux made her cry.

If I wasn’t a fan of The Duke before, believe me I would be now.

In later years, I would go see westerns in the theatres. My father won tickets to the local premier of Unforgiven. When Tombstone came out, we were all over it; and I maintain to this day that Tombstone is the finest western ever made that didn’t have John Wayne in it. My father and I even went to see Wyatt Earp, which was Kevin Costner’s failed attempt to make a movie as awesome as Tombstone. (He knew he failed too—Tombstone was released by a small studio because Costner got the bigger studios to drop it so it wouldn’t provide so much competition).

So my history with the American Western goes way back. Way back before I was born, in fact. As you can imagine, the dearth of western based video games cuts me deeply. I’ll try just about anything with a cowboy hat on it (well, except Damnation. I still read reviews, after all.) I owned Outlaw on the Atari 2600. I’ve played Outlaws on the PC. I’ve played Mad Dog McCree in arcades. I’ve even owned Red Dead Revolver for the PS2. For the most part (Outlaw and Outlaws being two exceptions), they all disappointed.

I’m not sure why the Western is so hard to pull off in video games. I suspect it has something to do with the lack of variety in the environment. Designers of western games almost always fall back on the dusty, half-abandoned town with maybe a foray into a monument valley type environment. That’s a whole lot of brown, and there are only so many brothels/saloons/general stores a player is willing to tolerate.

The problem here is the games are almost always based on the works of Sergio Leone. Sure, we all love The Man with No Name and a Fistful of Dollars, but there isn’t a whole lot of stuff going on there, from an environment standpoint. The movies basically all use the same caricature of the American West as a backdrop. At the end of the day, that makes a serviceable demo, but not a full game.

An antidote might be to watch The Searchers. In that movie, the Duke’s quest to recover his stolen nieces spans snowy mountainous regions, desert flats, monument valley, and yes, the odd dusty town. It’s rare to see a pine tree; or indeed any kind of living tree at all; in a western game. Let alone a snowflake.

This is where Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood does something right. While the game spends a fair amount of time in dusty towns, the environments your characters will venture through include wheat farms, mining camps, mountainous regions, a monument-valley-esque region, and lush pine forests. At one point you even get to blow up a dam and ride down a river in a canoe whilst being pursued by American Aboriginals.

The enemies are likewise varied. A lot of western games shy away from injun fighting. Call of Juarez: BiB gets around the PC objections by having the whooping aboriginals motivated by being rivals to a tribe that you’re working with. You’ll also spend a little time fighting the war between the states; wearing grey, if you can believe it. The main characters are Confederate soldiers who desert to defend their family farm in Georgia as General Sherman makes his famous ride to the sea. The result of your desertion come back to haunt you years after Lee turned in his sword, and any qualms you have about shooting Billy Yanks should be salved by the fact you also get to shoot Johnny Rebs later in the game. Oh, and while you’re at it, you get to fight Mexican bandits.

So I think Call of Juarez does a serviceable job if cheesing off just about everybody, from a stereotype standpoint.

And while we’re on the topic of variety, I should mention the variety of weapons. In the game, you get to play as one of two brothers, each with his own style of combat. Ray, on the one hand, is brash and impetuous. He can dual wield revolvers, or hold a revolver in one hand and a stick of dynamite in the other, or use a long gun (rifle or shotgun). Ray’s brother, Thomas, takes a more measured approach. He only wields one weapon at a time, and while his brother might kick in a door and shoot everybody before they can stand up, he would rather find a good vantage point and pick the inhabitants of the room one by one. Be that with his revolver, his rifle, his throwing knife, or his bow. He also carries a lariat that can be used to scale buildings to get the drop on his foes. Throughout the game you’ll have the opportunity to replace the weapons in your inventory, either picking up new versions of what you already have, or buying better quality versions of them at a store. Weapons come in a variety of grades, from Rusty (not so good) to Superb (take out a hummingbird’s eye at thirty paces) and there are different versions of each. You have, for example, your standard revolver, your ranger (longer barrel, longer range) your quickshooter (lower accuracy, fast firing and reloading) your hybrid (sixshooter with a shotgun built in—and yes, they really made those) and your Derringer. For long guns you have your rifle, your sniper rifle (again, they did have them in those days) your shotgun and your sawed off shotgun.

Oh, and I should mention that you will have the opportunity to fire any and all of these weapons from horseback in the middle portion of the game. Horseback controls are handled rather like they were in Oblivion, only better. And if that means nothing to you, I don’t really have the patience to describe it better. (EDIT: Oh all right, Steering and movement are handled with one stick, looking is handled with the other so you can shoot the guy next to you without your horse trying to run through him.)

Also, you can ride your horse to death, so go easy on the spurs. You’ll rarely need to go anywhere at a full gallop.

The plot centers around three brothers: Ray, Thomas and William. William is a preacher who is trying unsuccessfully to save his brothers’ wayward souls. After their mother dies and General Sherman burns their family farm, Ray and Thomas vow to rebuild. But years later, not much progress has been made and the brothers are outlaws. They hear of a legend that tells of an ancient city buried underground and full of enough treasure to buy all of Georgia, let alone the family farm. So a prospecting they go, where Ray and Thomas share an uneasy truce regarding a woman. On the way they’ll fight bandits, aboriginals and their old commanding officer who refused to lay down his sword after the war and vowed to hang the deserters he believes cost the south the war.

I won’t spoil it more than that, but a lot of people get shot and/or blown up on the way.

The gameplay itself is your basic first person shooter. Nothing done wrong, but not a lot of standout moments. Unless you count the quickdraw boss battles. Which you really shouldn’t, because while they are interesting they aren’t all that fun. Basically, you and your foe circle each other, the camera stationed to keep your right hand and the revolver on your right hip in the foreground and your opponent in the background. With the left analog stick, you move your character’s right hand. When you hear a bell, move your hand to the revolver and shoot when the crosshair reticule moves over your opponent and turns red.

On paper it sounds good. In practice, your character’s hand moves too sluggishly and you’ll find yourself dying. A lot. Eventually you’ll catch a lucky break and take down your opponent, but this minigame really serves to break the illusion of your character as a western bad-a** outlaw.

Other than that, though, the game is a lot of fun. It’s unremarkable in a lot of ways, but the environments are well crafted, the hit detection is spot on, and all of the weapons feel exactly as powerful as they should given the technology of the era.

You won’t get the feeling you’re playing a John Wayne movie. But a game will never capture that, and I will beat anyone who tries it.

That includes you, Bethesda.

Yeah, I saw what you did with Dick Marcinko. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Wrapping up the decade.

So, 2010 is upon us. We just figured out how to refer to what year it was in shorthand (sadly, “oh 9” beat out “ought 9”) and now we have to figure out how to refer to the teen years of the current millennium.

My vote is for the “oh’s” to continue. So I christen the new year “Oh 10.”

A whole lot of crap went down, didn’t it? The United States suffered the biggest sneak attack since 1941, and today there sits in the white house a black president.

I wonder what science fiction writers will do now to indicate that the future is a bizarre, far flung place outside the realm of our experience? I'm going to go with Jewish lesbian.

But enough politics. This was a momentous decade for geek culture. We may not have flying cars, or crazy red-eyed computers that break and try to kill us (oh… wait.), but we got a lot of great stuff with in-jokes a plenty. So let’s have a look at what the first decade of 2000 brought The Geek.

1) Firefly and Serenity. Sure, it only lasted one season, but the affect on the geekiverse was massive. Joss Whedon made a space western with actual horses, and managed to remember that sound doesn’t travel in space.

2) And while we’re on the topic of Mr. Whedon, Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Weblog came out during a writers’ strike and completely blew our socks off. Plus, Ben Edlund finally got to use Bad Horse in something. Everybody wins!

3) Felicia Day. The Guild, Dr. Horrible, and Sears all discovered Ms. Day at the same time. ‘Nuff said.

4) Comic Book Movies. The first decade of the 21st century was very good to comic book fans. We got a watchable Superman movie, two good Spiderman movies and a third one that’s watchable if you skip the ending, two good X-men movies, two solid Incredible Hulk movies, two watchable Hellboy (of all franchises) movies, a decent Ghost Rider movie, and a really good Iron Man movie, two excellent Batman reboots and two Frank Miller originals in Sin City and Thermopylae. If you like comic book movies, this has been a good decade.

5) Speaking of Movies, I simply cannot let the passage of the Lord of the Rings movies go buy uncommented. Peter Jackson took a rich and complex world and brought it to the silver screen in a way that, honestly, I didn’t think possible. I went to see the first movie fully expecting it to stink, but it didn’t. Not only didn’t it stink, it was awesome. The movie trilogy is proof that a good book-to-film translation is possible; it just takes someone who’s invested in the core material. On behalf of geeks everywhere, I must say: thank you, Mr. Jackson.

6) Television shows. In the last ten years there has been a surprising amount of good television. House M.D., Monk, Chuck, Mythbusters, the aforementioned Firefly. And that’s just the stuff I’ve watched. The last ten years have also seen the establishment of the “Reality Show” which, for good or for ill, is now part of the cultural landscape. Or wasteland, depending upon your perspective.

7) Video Games. This has been the Mother Lode of all decades. Nostalgia for the 1990s (aka: the decade of a thousand side-scrolling-platformers) notwithstanding, let’s just consider what this decade has brought us. First off, we’ve seen EA go from being a blight on the industry to the friend of gamers, while Activision has won the title of corporate succubus and convenient target for corporate haterade in the gaming forum community. We’ve seen the creation of new and phenomenal intellectual properties (Bioshock, Mirror’s Edge, Mass Effect, Far Cry, God Hand, God of War, Sins of a Solar Empire, Dead Space, Portal, the Pixeljunk series, Katamari Damacy) and the competent and loving continuation of old franchises (New Super Mario Brothers, Sam and Max, Fallout 3, Tekken 4 and 5, Half Life 2, Team Fortress 2, GTA 3, all the new Zelda and Metroid games) and some truly excellent uses of existing IPs from other media (Batman: Arkham Asylum, Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, Spiderman 2, Ghostbusters). This decade has shown us that the independent developer can do wonderful things (Sins of a Solar Empire, Dwarf Fortress, Runman, Audiosurf). We’ve seen the resurrection of forgotten genres with the return of Sam and Max and the Monkey Island reboot. We’ve seen the merging of multiple genres, mostly with RPGs (Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, Borderlands) but also with RTS games (Brutal Legend). We’ve learned that it’s possible to have games where you can go anywhere and do almost anything (GTA3, Red Faction: Guerilla, Far Cry 2 and pretty much every open world game out there). We’ve even become rock stars in the comfort of our own living rooms (Guitar Hero and Rock Band). And if that weren’t enough, we’ve learned to play games on two screens (DS), with a stylus (DS, iPhone) and they’ve finally tapped the potential of the Power Glove… sorta (Wii). Sadly, not all the news has been good. We’ve also learned that console games can and will need patches, and the DRM isn’t just something PC gamers have to deal with. We’ve also learned that most of the people you’ll meet playing online console games are not the sort of people you want to, you know, meet. Taken as a whole, though, a positive decade.

8) Three Words: World Of Warcraft. This one is so big it deserves its own slot in the list. Since 2004, WoW has amassed millions of subscribers, making the MMORPG such a staple of gaming that nobody even calls them MMORPGs. They’re just MMOs. In fact, Wow has become so big that I am willing to bet that you’re surprised it only came out in 2004. Fess up: you thought it was older than that, didn’t you?

9) Lemon Demon. So let’s follow up something that everyone has heard of with something that almost nobody has heard of. Neil Cicerega started his musical career in 2003 under the name Trapezoid. Following some dustup over copyright infringement and who came first, he changed the name of his one-man band to Lemon Demon. Boasting influence from multiple sources, notably among them They Might Be Giants, I remain convinced that young Mr. Cicerega is a genius. An actual, “I could get into Mensa if I wanted to” genius. I have no proof, but I would gladly bet money on it. His lyrics are delightfully clever and he has a bizarre knack for poking fun at things in such a way that he really shouldn’t be insightful enough to do. The song “White Bread Boyfriend” is a prime example—nobody who began his musical career in high school should be able to write something that bitingly satirical. Likewise “Geeks in Love,” which I suggest you Google immediately, reveals an old soul while still retaining a healthy dollop of whimsy. And while you’re Googling, look up “Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny.” You won’t regret it.

10) Schlock Mercenary. And speaking of obscure things that cropped up this decade, Schlock Mercenary started up in 2001 and hasn’t missed an update since. I’ve already written about that, however, and you should go read my earlier thoughts on the webcomic.

11) And do you think I could possibly forget to mention that the 4th edition of Dungeons and Dragons was released in this decade? I have a copy of the books (Player’s guide, DM’s Guide and Monster Manual) sitting in my bookshelf awaiting the day when my daughter and son are old enough to participate in a quest. Having no experience with the previous editions, I can’t tell you what’s different. What I do know is that, from a beginner’s perspective, 4th edition is very accessible, and the books are just a good read even if you’re not planning on playing anytime soon.

And that’s just a taste of what happened back in the first decade of the 21st century. Imagine what I could have written if I’d have taken the time to do any research at all!

Of course, the most important thing that happened in this decade, from the perspective of the author, is finding, marrying, having children and buying a house with The Missus. We met in 2003 thanks to the power of the internet, and have been inseparable pretty much ever since. We got married in the fall of 2005 wearing Converse all-stars (mine were formal black, hers were pink). Our first child was born in 2007, and our second was born in 2009. Who knows what wonders the next two years may bring us? I look forward to sharing that adventure, and the rest of my days, with her.

That two geeks from different states can find each other, fall in love, get married, start a family and put down roots in the space of ten years is truly the wonder of the decade.