Trouble Thinking

April 30, 2010

Starman Mystery Theatre

Filed under: Comics, Movies — Tags: , , — Chris @ 4:54 pm

Superhero Hype, the obnoxiously designed website that unfortunately remains a pretty good source for news on comic book movies, recently reported on industry rumblings that DC Entertainment may have a “Starman” movie in the works. For those who don’t know, Starman is the name of a number of different DC Comics superheroes, most of whom could be generously referred to as “B-List,” published over the last 70 years. DC has no doubt taken a look at Marvel’s success with adapting less well known characters to the big screen, and is now making moves to do the same for themselves.

The part of the article that really caught my attention, however, was when Superhero Hype’s source wrote, “…according to an inside source, Warner Brother (sic), in partnership with Lin Productions and DC Comics, is bringing Starman to the big screen. Which version is sort of unknown… “

Really? Unknown? Just a complete mystery there? Can’t even guess? I’m pretty sure you should be able to guess. Let’s go over the various DC Starmen, and see if we can use the powers of detection crack this nut, shall we?

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April 28, 2010

Martin Preston: The Troubled Life of a Brilliant Actor

Filed under: Comics — Tags: , , — Durandal @ 9:00 am

Martin Preston was born in Rutland, Vermont in 1950. By his early 30’s, he was a well known and influential member of the Hollywood elite, an actor without peer as well as a crowd pleasing leading man. But those who burn brightest burn fastest, and Martin Preston was no exception.  Preston was always troubled by the spectre of addiction, alcoholism ran rampant through his family, and he was no exception. Reportedly taking his first drink at age 9 on set for “No Cure for Flamingos!” , his growing stardom gave many more opportunities to imbibe. was able to function, but the high-wire act was always on the verge of collapse.

One fateful night in December 1982, the collapse came. Martin Preston drank heavily at a party earlier in the night, and convinced those in attendance that he was able to drive home. He took a turn too fast and flipped over, impacting with a guard rail, and leaving him with his right arm severed, bleeding out quickly.

It was at this point that Mephisto, Lord of the Demons and Master of Lies, appeared. Mephisto offered to replace the recently severed limb. Martin hastily agreed to the deal, at which point Mephisto summoned a minor demon, ripped off its arm, and attached it to Martin. At this point, Mr. Preston passed out. Mephisto proceeded to rip off Martin’s remaining limbs and replace them with demon limbs. He also opened an inverted five-point star hole in Martin’s chest.

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April 26, 2010

299/300… only Impossible more to go!

Filed under: Video Games — Tags: , , — Durandal @ 8:15 pm

I need to talk about this.

Okay, so you’re designing a game that involves traversing a big open world, ala Grand Theft Auto, Spider-Man, Brutal Legend. You understand that it’s impossible to make missions that cover every square inch, but you still want the player to have something to do when they’re just sort of dicking around exploring. Plus, you want some way to call their attention to your hard work on that one underpass in Brooklyn. The solution: make them collect junk scattered over the landscape. Whether that means comics, buried metal, secret stashes, whatever. You put 100 X’s in different areas of the map, and keep track of them for the player. Maybe there’s a token reward for getting them all, but it’s not really meant to be anything but an incentive to explore.

I have a problem with this, because I’m a goddamn madman. I need 100/100. I know there’s no reason for that, because you’d have to be insane to actually believe that there’s a reason to do that. You don’t cure cancer when you find all the bing-bongs. The reason this is a problem is because getting 100/100 is impossible.

Okay, maybe not completely. But these sorts of scavenger hunts get harder and harder until once you’re at 99/100, you’re looking for one single purposefully difficult to see object in a city. At that point, it doesn’t matter how good you’ve gotten, you can’t go back and think “okay, now I found 1 here, so it can’t be here, and 2 here… and 98 here”. The worst offender I’ve played was Crackdown. It had 300 “hidden orbs”. The “hidden” part was because these things were visible only from particular places, usually on the ground (which you spent very little time on). Nothing called your attention to them if your camera wasn’t pointed directly at them. I think I found 35. And let’s say I did find 299/300. What are the odds I’d actually stumble upon that 300th at any point?

Oh! So simple!

Again, I know it’s only the brain troubles that make me really care, but I hate how not really fun this method of gameplay extending is. You know what a simple solution would be? Make it hardest to find a given sparkly thing when there are 0/X collected. Maybe give the player a tracker that can find them, but there’s “jangly things interference” if there are too many on the map. That way, causally flipping about the city would reveal enough to get the tracker up and running, allowing those last few stragglers to be discovered. This is basically the method already in use by most players who complete collectathons, because after they’ve found the few that they stumbled upon, they turn to consulting dozens of maps like the above that go into excruciating detail about where everything is.

Another option is to do what Arkham Asylum did, and provide the player with a combination of reasonably easy to discover collectables, as well as reasonably easy to discover maps of further more difficult to see collectables. The fun came in figuring out how to get to them, not in stumbling over the right area. Just please, for the sake of people like myself, don’t just scatter them and make us go to gamefaqs to print out a leetspeak-annotated map. It’s not fun enough.

April 23, 2010

So You Saw Kick-Ass

Filed under: Movies — Durandal @ 3:24 pm

Did you think “well, no one is actually that dumb, right”? Or maybe copy the exact “why is no one a superhero?” conversation from the movie wholesale with your friends, then giggle a bit and high-five?

Check out the World Superhero Registry.

Kick Ass has nothing on the dozens of actual for-real real-life superheroes.

I think the most amazing part is how many people managed to get an even worse costume than a green/yellow SCUBA suit.

Like this dude:

Go ahead, guess his name.

And yeah, these people really, really do walk around and patrol for crime.

This actually happened.

So it turns out that the reason no one is a superhero for real isn’t because you’d get killed, or it’s too hard, or no one is tough enough. It’s because being a real-life superhero is incredibly lame.

In the end, only one of these brave people is of any practical use to the average citizen: Angle Grinder Man. He uses an angle grinder, you see. To cut the Boot off your car, if you’ve been parking illegally. It’s not technically “crime-fighting”, so I guess he’s technically a real-life super villain. But that doesn’t make him any less welcome a sight when you come out of the bar to find that the police disagree with you about how you can totally park here so long as it’s after ten. Real-life superheroes are so lame even the villains aren’t doing it right.

Awesome

Also of note: like one guy on that page looks like he works out more than once a week. Why is that never the first thing people think of when they decide to go out looking for punches late at night as a hobby?

April 21, 2010

Baseball Ramblings

Filed under: Sports, Statistical Anomalies — callmegeo @ 4:40 pm

Now before anyone does something rash and violent to wake themselves up from a suspected dream:  No, you are not hallucinating.  The topic line for this post does in fact contain the word Baseball.

“But, Trouble Thinking” I hear you ask, “Why would such esteemed gentlemen such as yourselves, who are clearly men of character and conscience,  defile this blog with mention of the lowly sport of baseball?”  It is a fair question, but sadly a misguided one.  For you see, Baseball isn’t just a slow and largely uninteresting game watched by middle aged men who are on medication for erectile dysfunction and an enlarged prostate.  Baseball is very much a game of numbers and statistics; Which intelligent handsome males such as yours truly find interesting.  Additionally, as an admitted follower of the sport, I seek solace and comfort in ranting about a string of unlikely losses by my favorite team through online text-based media.

Let us begin:

On the night of April 20th, the San Francisco Giants squared off against the San Diego Padres at the Padres home stadium of PETCO Park (enlightened sponsorship, to be sure).  For those of you unfamiliar with the teams, a quick rundown:

The Giants in times past were the home of a few well known baseball players like Willy Mays and Barry Bonds, so you should at least be aware of their existence as a professional baseball team.  Last season they finished 4 games shy of making the playoffs, and are blessed with incredibly talented young pitching.  Unfortunately, the Giants also have the batting ability of that 7 year old pigtailed girl you knew from gym class, who couldn’t hit a baseball sitting stationary on a tee, and cries when you yell at her for having total motor skill ineptitude (which I will elaborate on later).

And in the blue corner:

The Padres, or as I like to call them, “That Stupid Team from San Diego”.  They’re an unremarkable team, in that they have a penchant for locking up 4th place in the division every year.  They aren’t the worst team in baseball, as it takes a lot of work to lose more games than the Orioles, but they certainly are in the bottom third in my opinion.  Their stadium is sponsored by a pet supply company, and they’re named after Spanish missionaries.  Their alternate home uniforms are desert camouflage.  To answer your impending question: No. I don’t believe they actually have a common theme linking these three things.

Now that you’re introduced, on to the actual numbers:

Giants: 0 Runs, 6 hits, 0 Errors

Padres: 1 Run, 1 Hit, 0 Errors

Since the winner of a baseball game is the team which scores the most runs… the Padres won.  It was the second time in Padres history that they won a game in which they only had 1 hit.  That’s the second 1 hit win out of nearly 6500 games played.  For the Giants, it was the first time they lost a game in which they gave up only 1 hit to the opposing team since moving from New York to San Francisco back in the 50’s.  What makes it even more remarkable is that the Padres’ one hit was only a single, which scored after a steal of 2nd base, advancing to 3rd on an out in foul territory, and a sacrifice fly to bring the runner home.

On the other side of the coin, the Giants out hit the Padres by 600%, but went 0 for 9 with runners in scoring position, including failing to score a runner from third with no outs.  Even if the team collectively batted a lukewarm .250 average, that equates to two hits with runners in scoring position.  What’s more remarkable is that over the past 3 games, the Giants are 1 for 25 with runners in scoring position: a pathetic .040 batting average when it counts.

The Giants’ starting pitcher, Jonathan Sanchez, earned a Loss that game despite a pitching performance that was outright dominant: 7.0 Innings Pitched, 1 Hit, 1 Earned Run, 3 Walks, and 10 Strikeouts.  Talk about being a hard luck loser.  Enjoy your loss, Jonny.

A similar unfortunate event happened the game prior where the Padres’ David Eckstein hit a winning 1 run home run off of Giants pitcher Jeremy Affeldt in extra innings.  The statistics nerds over at fangraphs.com estimate that such a homerun would occur only 31 times in 10,000 plate appearances between the two, which equates to a 0.31% chance of soul crushing heartbreak, if like me, you actually care about the Giants.

So in conclusion… should you care about all this stuff? Probably not, but you’re now armed with the knowledge that I’ve been brought to my knees by an unfortunate combination of statistical outliers the likes of which the modern world has rarely seen.  Direct all complaints about the content of this update to Durandal, who is too much of a little pansy visiting his grandmother to talk about something you enjoy.  For the benefit of you readers (whose existence I still question), I’ll try to talk about other topics in the future, like rockets, or science, or scientists with rocket packs.

Until next time, good luck and godspeed…

April 19, 2010

On This Whole Roger Ebert “Games Aren’t Art” Thing

Filed under: Uncategorized, Video Games — Tags: , — Chris @ 4:17 pm

For those who don’t know, film critic Roger Ebert recently posted an entry on his blog, revisiting his conclusion that video games cannot be art. He hasn’t changed his mind. I’m not here to get into an “it is or it isn’t” argument, but before I go on I want to just point out that the whole “are videogames art?” argument is entirely inconsequential. What defines “art” is so vague and indeterminate that the word is practically without meaning. Besides, whether games are art or not is not going to in anyway affect the enjoyment you take out of them, nor the amount of effort developers put into creating new, exciting games. It’s just a label, stop worrying about it.

Now, onto Roger Ebert. I dig Roger Ebert. The man is one of the best film critics out there today, and every week I go out of my way to read all of his reviews, whether I plan to see the films in question or not. He is a top-caliber writer, rarely fails to provide some level of insight, and is an expert on all things film. He doesn’t know jack about games though.

Asking for Roger Ebert’s opinion on videogames is like asking Stephen King for his opinion on women’s fashion. It is so far out of his realm of expertise, that while he clearly has some sort of opinion, it’s not based on any sort of knowledge or experience in the field, and therefore doesn’t carry with it a hell of a lot of weight. Ebert doesn’t play videogames, and Ebert doesn’t know videogames. As much as I respect the man, he’s not exactly the first person I’d field the question of “Can videogames be art?” to.

Ebert doesn’t even really know what videogames are. He practically says so himself in his article, writing, “Why are gamers so intensely concerned, anyway, that games be defined as art? Bobby Fischer, Michael Jordan and Dick Butkus never said they thought their games were an art form. Nor did Shi Hua Chen, winner of the $500,000 World Series of Mah Jong in 2009.” If you play videogames, I don’t really need to explain to you that, say, Bioshock, isn’t a game in the same sense that basketball or Mah Jong are games. The latter are about contests of skill, while the former is about relaying a story and a set of ideas (specifically an argument against Ayn Rand style objectivism) to the player through an entertaining, interactive medium. To non-gamers, however, this distinction is nonexistent.

This, I think, is the real source of the debate. To gamers, the difference between Bioshock and basketball is obvious, and they can’t understand how anyone could equate the two. For someone who’s never played a videogame, however, the confusion is excusable. After all, they’re both called “games.”

Basically, what I’m trying to say is, don’t worry about it. Whether Roger Ebert thinks your games are art or not, isn’t going to actually affect their status as such—and even if they aren’t, you’ll still enjoy them, right?

April 16, 2010

Just Old Enough for a Retrospective: Fable II

Filed under: Video Games — Tags: , , , — Chris @ 10:00 pm

The fall of ’08 was a flurry of AAA video game releases, with games like Rock Band 2, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (yes, I was the guy who liked The Force Unleashed), Fallout 3, Left 4 Dead, and many others all released within a scant few months of each other. Many of those games I still find myself playing even today. Yet, of all the great games released in the autumn of 2008, my favorite at the time was without question Lionhead Studios’ Fable II.

I know. I was surprised too. I mean, first of all, the first “Fable” was impressively disappointing, with far too linear environments, and a half-baked morality system. Secondly, this is a Lionhead game, which means just one thing: Peter Molyneux. Peter Molyneux has never met a game concept he couldn’t oversell and fail to deliver on. Peter Molyneux is so bad at developing video games, that he thinks “unlimited character customization,” means one player model, and five different shirts. Peter Molyneux is so bad at developing video games, that when he promises a “dynamic game world, gradually altering over time to reflect each of the player’s actions,” you get a single town that either becomes poor, or does not become poor. Peter Molyneux is so bad at developing video games, that when he sets out to create “gripping emotional resonance,” he gives your character the ability to fart on command.

Yet, despite Peter Molyneux’s best efforts, there’s something about Fable II I find endearing. First of all, the combat is just fun—incredibly, annoyingly, easy at times—but just fun as hell to play, and instantly gratifying. It’s real time combat with no combos to learn, just one button for melee attacks, one button for ranged, and another for magic. Combine that with the ability to dodge and roll all over the place, and a skill progression system that is rewarding and satisfying with every level up, and you get a surprisingly entertaining combat engine.

Furthermore, as played out as a “morality” rating has gotten in RPGs these days, Lionhead made excellent use of theirs. How? Simple: Fable II’s save system. This thing is devious. Each character gets one, and only one, save file. This means that when the game auto-saves—which it does, frequently, every time you make an important decision—it overwrites your save file. You’re stuck with whatever it is you’ve done. Sell some people to slavery? Stuck with it. Sacrifice someone to an evil god? Can’t go back. Kill off the population of an entire village? Yeah, that’s not going away any time soon.

And if you want to be good, you really want to stick to your guns and be the bigger man? It’s gonna hurt. Lose experience, grow old, all kinds of decisions that you can’t go back on just because you’ve been making save files left and right—and that’s awesome! That’s how it should be! I love that Fable II reinforces that being bad is easy, but doing the right thing takes work, and even sacrifice.

Another reason I found myself so hooked to Fable II, is that it stumbled across an excellent character creation system. Unlike basically every other RPG ever made, your character’s equipment in Fable II have no affect on his or her stats, meaning that you can choose to dress them however you want.  It sounds simple, but more RPGs need to do this. When as the player you’re freed from having to worry about whatever equipment is “the best,” it lets you instead get involved with who your character is. Combined with the morality system, the ability to choose in what ways your character presents and carries themselves adds layers of depth to what is an otherwise simple and straightforward story.

Still, as much as I enjoyed Fable II, I can’t help but feel like it was all some kind of miraculous, once-in-a-lifetime accident. I don’t know if you guys caught onto this earlier, but I don’t exactly have a lot of faith in Peter Molyneux, and when I look at the way many of my favorite features were implemented, this opinion only seems to be confirmed. All those sacrifices your character has to make via the game’s save system? Completely undone after you beat the game. Later quests completely reverse your character’s aging, and eliminate all of your scars, defeating the purpose of your character having made it so far. It robs them of their integrity, and undercuts the entire narrative.

Oh, and all that great customization? Oh, I know that was by accident. There are literally around five shirts for each gender in the game, and while Fable II does helpfully allow you to cross-dress if you so desire, that’s not nearly enough variety to carry an entire game the developers clearly intend you to replay with multiple characters. On top of that, the whole thing is saddled with a terrible interface, which is completely unorganized, and doesn’t allow you to preview color or costume changes.

Maybe I’m being cynical, though. Yeah, Peter Molyneux has a god awful track record, Fable I was lackluster, and Fable II seems to underestimate and undercut many of its best features, but Fable III is well into development, and I’m sure that at this point a seasoned team like Lionhead can learn from their successes and failures, and build upon them, instead of focusing on other meaningless, gimmicky, borderline absurd, nonsense.

Oh.

God damnit, Peter Molyneux.

April 14, 2010

A Brief Biography of John Jameson: Astronaut

Filed under: Comics — Tags: , , , , , — Durandal @ 7:40 pm

Hero Astronaut Col. John Jameson, son of famed newspaper publisher J. Jonah Jameson, has had a complicated career.

*During his first space flight, his return capsule had a catastrophic failure. Luckily, Spider-Man was able to rescue him by replacing a guidance module on the plummeting space capsule mid-flight.

*During his second space flight, he came into contact with the Jupiter Spores, microscopic alien life forms which granted him super-strength. He was given a special super-suit to control his strength. Unfortunately, the spores also increased his size to unwieldy levels and enhanced his aggression. During a fight with Spider-Man (orchestrated by his father), John was electrocuted. Electrocution killed off the Jupiter Spores, but left John normal and unharmed.

Astronaut Business

*During his third space flight, Jameson landed on the moon. While there, he acquired a strange glowing ruby, which he then felt compelled to steal from NASA and turn into a pendant. The consequences were predictable.

Space crime pays, but it pays oddly.

After months of intermittent rampages as the savage Man-wolf, Jameson eventually managed to throw off his lupine berserker persona. Unfortunately, a run-in with Morbius, the Living Vampire, turned him into Man-wolf again. He eventually made his way to Georgia, where he helped fight a clone of Hitler who could control minds. This put him in good with the government again (he had been considered AWOL), and he was told all charges would be dropped if he assisted an investigation of the breakdown of communication between NASA and an orbiting space station.

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April 12, 2010

Half a Head is as Good as One.

Filed under: Science — Tags: , , , — Durandal @ 5:25 pm

So when I was in high school, we got a speech in health class about how drinking was bad so bad that every time you did it some of your brain cells died and brain cells never regrew. Also, same with pot. Now, although I was pretty certain that wasn’t completely accurate, it stuck with me that every single time I bumped my head or had a drink brain cells died and never came back. The older I got, the stupider I’d get, until finally I’d demand that my local paper continue running Hi and Lois.

Finding out about hemispherectomy patients has made me a lot less concerned about losing a cell or two.

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April 9, 2010

The Job Market Just Got Awesomer: Velociraptor Job Interview Simulator Pro

Filed under: Game News — Tags: , , , — Durandal @ 11:10 am

As we are all aware, it’s a tough job market out there. But have you stopped to consider how much harder it is for dinosaurs? Faced with prejudice in and out of the work place, some of these brave and noble creatures are forced to go “incogdino” in order to make it in the business world. Hiding their light under a bushel and consuming live cows under that bushel.

Finally, some one is brave enough to tell these stories. In a bold move, a Mr. LaCabra has decided that a game is the best format to truly involve the passive audience in the struggle for dignity. Hopefully it will be released soon, but it’s already looking quite impressive for a charitable work done by a very small team.

The face of bravery

Velociraptor Job Interview Simulator Pro will make you ashamed, but will also make you think.

Preliminary images below the cut:

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