Trouble Thinking

May 31, 2010

Tropicana Field is a Cold, Dark Blight on the Very Soul of Humanity

Filed under: Sports — Tags: , , , , , — Chris @ 1:24 pm

Shown: Tropicana Field Not Shown: Any Rays Fans

By all accounts Tropicana Field, home of Major League Baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays, is an abortion of a ballpark. Built upon the chemically seeped soil of an old coal gasification plant, the modern equivalent of an ancient Indian burial ground, Tropicana Field is cursed by dark powers to torment both fans and players alike.

Its architect was a madman; a crazed evil genius who either had no idea what baseball was or how it was played, or was a bitter deviant, who grasped desperately onto a seething, unnatural hatred for the game. The dome’s rooftop lights blind and confuse visiting outfielders; looking up to catch a soaring fly ball, the player cranes his neck upwards, only to find gazing back down upon him hundreds of small, spherical, white lights—a swarm of false baseballs! His eyes are ensorcelled, and what should have been an easy out becomes a successful, ill-begotten, hit.

Oh god the horror

In addition to the baseball imitating lights, a vile network of catwalks and wires stretch across the ceiling like cold, metallic spider webs. These catwalks seem to serve no practical purpose (what use have cats for a ballpark!), but to bedevil batters. Oh yes, occasionally a hit to the catwalks grants a homerun, but just as often it may be caught for an out, or ruled as that most back-handed of baseball compliments, the ground-rule double.

Tropicana Field is also ugly. Repulsive. An eye sore in the sense that looking at it will actually make your eyes sore. Its horrible, hardened dome blocks out the warm Florida sun, creating claustrophobia in even the most relaxed of baseball fans. The walls of the park are drab and gray, covered in no decorations but despair.

Yet, despite all this, the Rays currently have the best record in all of baseball. How is such a thing possible? Don’t they know where they play? Haven’t they seen the fans’ eyes bleeding in the stands, while baseballs bounce around the rooftop catwalks like pinballs? How has walking into this decrepit hellscape for an entire season not wracked them down with such despair as to make them unable to even lift a baseball, let alone obtain an over .600 winning percentage?

I believe I have the answer.

Around what time is it, that the Rays went from being the worst teams in baseball, to one of the best? With the introduction of manager Joe Maddon. Maddon’s unorthodox managerial style has often caused him to be jokingly referred to as a “mad scientist”—but I ask you, what if it is no joke? What if Joe Maddon is an actual mad scientist?

It’s the only possible explanation. Deep underneath the polluted soil of Tropicana Field, Joe Maddon has constructed massive subterranean machines. Enormous, other-worldly, steam-powered devices designed to channel and focus the eldritch powers of the Trop itself into his players, creating a team of inhuman, unstoppable supermen. How else would you explain Evan Longoria?

The only possible alternative is that they are an exceptionally talented ballclub, who play in an uninspired, but otherwise serviceable, park—an idea naïve to the point of madness. Simply look into the crazed, bespectacled eyes of Joe Maddon, and you will see the truth.

Stare into the face of evil

May 28, 2010

Welcome to Chris Month on Trouble Thinking!

Filed under: Site News — Tags: , — Chris @ 11:14 pm

Good evening noble reader(s). For those of you who don’t know, James—I’m sorry, Durandal—has recently departed on the twenty year plane ride it takes to get to the mystical far off land of Oz, where he shall be communing with the kangaroos, dodging boomerangs, wrestling crocodiles, and visiting his sister for the next month.

This is all well and good, but as you may or may not have noticed, Jimbo is a bit of a madman when it comes maintaining a strict Monday/Wednesday/Friday schedule around these parts. Further, since he doesn’t want to have to do anything resembling work on his fancy-pants exotic getaway, it has fallen on me, an irregular contributor, and a lazy, lazy man, to maintain that curly-haired Polish tyrant’s ludicrously demanding three day a week schedule.

It is with this gun to my back that I have decided to make the best of the situation, and declare June “Chris Month” on Trouble Thinking! Starting Monday (because let’s face it, this post is one-hundred percent space filler), join me on an exciting roller coaster ride of all-Chris, all-the-time, as I struggle to come up with three different ideas a week! Will I be able to do it? Will any of these articles be worth anything? Will I by the end of the month have devolved into a weeping, moaning mess curled up into a fetal position in the corner, anxiously awaiting James’ return? Will I be able to limit myself to just one superhero post a week?

Yes folk(s), it is going to be a horrible experience for all of us, but with a little bit of luck, we’ll all come out of this a little stronger. You will have learned to exercise patience for nonsense worthy of Buddha, and I’ll have figured out if I’m actually capable of doing anything resembling actual work.

May God help us all.

May 26, 2010

The City and The City

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — Durandal @ 10:35 am

China Mieville’s most recent novel, “The City and The City” is one of my new favorites. It has a unique idea at the heart of it as well as a spectacularly plotted story that avoids the pitfalls of over-explanation that plagued his early works.

China Mieville gets a lot of credit from me simply for being at least surface-level unique in almost all of his writing. Having read enough sci-fi to choke a whale as a young adult, I find that I get a little bit bored by even the best stories using the older tropes. So when, in the first Mieville novel I read, the cast of fantasy archetypes was replaced by women whose heads were gigantic scarabs, massive sentient cacti, and evil vampire hands I knew I was going to at least pay attention.

However, Mievilles’s earlier books (Perdido Street Station, The Scar, The Iron Council) suffered from a ridiculous amount of what I am certain has a name but I will call World Builder’s Myopia. Mieville, to put it mildly, spends a massive amount of time explaining the intricacies of the city/people/world he built. At first, this adds a layer of interest and complexity to the story. But somewhere along the way he tends to lose the thread, and the book becomes a list of briefly explored ideas followed by a brutally abrupt ending when he runs out. Still, I enjoyed all of his early books because I loved seeing so many new ideas, regardless of the harm to narrative structure. His newer books, a short story collection called “Looking for Jake” and a young adult novel called “UnLunDun” are spectacular because they pull back from the overly copious world-explaining and replace it with a more understated world-building that makes it clear that if you ask he can tell you why exactly giraffes are murderous pack-hunters in UnLunDun, but he doesn’t have to lay it out right this moment. “The City and The City” is further evidence that Mieville is capable of writing about places with complex and interesting backstories without becoming distracted by minutia.

“The City and The City” never really gets any more or less complex than the hook: the city and the city in which the novel takes place are two eternal rivals, Beszel and Ul Qoma. They’re presented as being reasonably like East and West Berlin or Palestine and Israel. The difference is, Beszel and Ul Qoma are topographically the same place. Which is to say, they aren’t next to each other, they’re in each other. The borders of the cities are more mental than physical. Citizens of each city assiduously unsee the citizens, the buildings, the cars, the street signs of the other. Two people can live next door to each other, or sit down next to each other, and be nations apart. This simple idea permeates every interaction the characters have, and by the end seems almost natural.

The novel opens with a murder of a young woman and an investigation by detective Tyador Borlu. Where it gets complicated is when they determine that the murder and the subsequent dumping of the body may have taken place in different cities, in which case an illegal border crossing was committed. In Beszel and Ul Qoma, crossing a border can be physical, mental, or both. And crossing one illegally, or “breach”, is a crime so grievous it merits attention beyond the police or government of either city. In order to continue the investigation, Borlu needs to cross from Beszel to Ul Qoma, and work with an investigator in the other city that exists within and on top of his own. Both of them must then attempt to discover whether this girl was murdered by the citizens of Beszel, Ul Qoma, or something that exists in between both.

The pace of the investigation never slackens, and the transition from one city to the other allows for an interesting change in scenery and character interactions without actually switching focus from Investigator Borlu. The unique setting makes it read like a combination cold-war era spy novel and modern detective story. Surprisingly, Mieville manages to continually raise the stakes and still delivers a close that makes consistent sense with the rest of the story, as well as being exciting in a manner that could only exist in the setting he’s laid down.

Mieville expertly introduces the reader to the city and the city, and allows them to figure out the strange rules that dictate interactions between them. He also takes care to lay down small hints of the interactions with the wider world these two fictional power have had over the course of their lifetime. What emerges is a lifelike picture of two cities with a difficult past and uncertain futures desperate for respect from a world that finds them a curiosity at the best of times. The subtlety with which Mieville introduces the reader to the central idea manages to make it seem plausible while maintaining an element of the fantastic that keeps the reader interested in finding out more about the place he’s created.

I can’t recommend this novel enough. The pacing makes it a quick read, and the central conceit is absolutely fascinating to explore.

May 24, 2010

Craterface: A Strange, Beautifully Animated Love Story

Filed under: Interesting Things — Tags: , , , — Durandal @ 1:07 pm

This is a surprisingly wonderful little film about two moon-rock-pimples finding love and being assisted by a heroic astronaut.

May 21, 2010

Blur TV Spot Tries To Make You Forget It Is Mario Kart (Yet Only Serves To Remind You).

Filed under: Game News — Tags: , , , — Durandal @ 3:06 pm

So I like Blur a lot, I got a surprising amount of time in on the multiplayer beta, and I already told you fools to sign up for it (which you didn’t, if I know my audience[my audience consists primarily of fools]).

But the reason I like Blur is because it reminds me in almost every way of Mario Kart. Same power-ups, same focus on drifting and never ever letting the accelerator up, and same general infinitely repeatable fun. The reason I’m excited for it is that it looks to add a sheen of new multiplayer features and it’s basically the only game I can play with actual real-life people in the same room this generation. Which makes it seem funny to me that their first major TV spot will be this:

Big Boy racing is super boring guys, I like your game because it isn’t Project Gotham or Dirt or whatever the hell. I like Blur because it has floating powerups and I can shoot the cars in front of me. The only thing that would have made Blur better would have been ditching the realism for something more interesting. I cannot tell you how much harder I would have bought a game that had say, upgradable “Death Race” looking supercars.

That said, I can see why it’s an effective ad. Anything that links the halcyon days of playing Mario Kart to your game is good. It also sets them apart from Modnation Racers, the other new Kart Racer that looks to be even more staunchly a Mario Kart rip-off, but is trying to differentiate itself by allowing players to create and edit tracks and player/car models.

Plus, I think I heard somewhere that people love it when you call them big old crying babies.

May 20, 2010

Vast Maaaaan

Filed under: Music — Tags: , , , — Durandal @ 2:33 pm

Vast Aire is a rapper I think is pretty okay and also apparently reads too many comics.

Who name-drops Vicki Vale, or the Green Hornet?

Although it’s unfortunate that apparently he and the Weathermen are angry at each other, I found him from his collaborations with Aesop Rock.

Oh goodness jeez his new group is the League of Extraordinary Gentleman.

May 19, 2010

Red Dead Redemption First Impressions

Filed under: Game News — Tags: , , , , — Durandal @ 11:45 am

So, you may or may not have heard about this new game coming out.

The game is called Red Dead Redemption!

Red Dead Redemption, besides being a really fun to say example of assonance, is a game about being a gunslinger in the Almost Not Wild West of the turn of the century. Things are changing fast with the adoption of rail, telephone, and automobiles. Revolution is afoot in nearby Mexico. You need to figure out how to make your way in the world.

Oddly enough, although Westerns are one of the most popular genres in recent history almost no games have been set during the Old West. Red Dead Redemption does the setting very well, driving home the changing times while delivering a heaping dose of Western style gunslinging action. Sure, in the actual old west, people probably didn’t really shoot each other for looking shifty-eyed and bandits most likely never really rode through towns shooting their guns in the air and hollering for no particular reason… but that doesn’t make it any less fun of a setting.

Red Dead Redemption is a game that basically drops you in the Old West with a pistol and a horse, and asks you to figure out what you want to do. Most of the meat of the game comes from either following story-quests by talking to significant people or just riding around in the wild doing challenges like hunting or sharpshooting until you come upon someone in need.


May 17, 2010

Black Dynamite: Outta Sight You KNOW It’s Right!

Filed under: Movies — Tags: , , , — Durandal @ 12:09 pm

You’re sitting around wondering why you feel so low-down, aren’t you? Why the world seems to have lost all color slowly, and your favorite foods turn to ash in your mouth?

I have something that will fix that.

Do you wonder why you can barely do kung-fu and when you do hardly any suckers fly out a plate-glass window into the street?

They just sort of... thump. *Sigh*

I told you I can fix that.


Black Dynamite is a movie, it’s a movie you most likely did not see because it was too excellent for most theaters. Unfortunately, not seeing this piece of cinemaphonic excellence makes life into a cascade of colorless calamity. You owe it to yourself, your friends, your family, your sweet little puppy dog to go out and buy the living hell out of this film. It is equal parts comedy, action, and manual for a better life.

I give you my personal guarantee that by the end of this film, you will be an inch taller and your hair will be more full and silky. By the end of this film you will be able to run farther and jump higher. By the end of this film I guarantee you will be able to wear sunglasses inside and no one will question it because you will look too damn hip.

Black Dynamite will treat you right.

May 14, 2010

Humble Indie Review: Aquaria

Filed under: Game Reviews — Tags: , , , — Durandal @ 9:00 am

So you’ve only got one more day to make good on the sweetest possible deal in gaming, the Humble Indie Bundle. I can make a bold claim like that for two reasons. One, I’m amazing. Of course I’m bold. Two, you can pay whatever you want, down to a single insulting cent. There’s no possible way to make that a more excellent bang for your buck.

Aquaria is another game in that bundle, and it is pretty excellent.

I haven’t completed everything in the game quite yet, but thus far it consists of three things:

1.) Exploring a beautifully rendered ocean environment by solving light puzzles, usually related to singing wonderful songs or swimming to hidden groves of undersea delightfulness.

2.) Finding ingredients to cook delicious food with.

3.) Muuuurder.

The game begins with you as Naija, a lovely young mer-person who apparently becomes sentient about when the player takes control. Following an odd impulse to explore, she (and you) leave the safety of a tiny cave for the wide open seas and all the interesting things they contain. Let me be straight: this game is beautiful. It has wonderful art all over the place.  Simply swimming about is great fun.

The controls are pretty simply, point and click anywhere to swim, right click and mouse over music notes to sing songs that you can use to manipulate the environment. As you explore more, you run into areas you can’t get through for some reason or another, maybe strong currents or a rock blocking the way. Eventually, exploring the areas you can reach will grant you the ability to sing that rock away or charge through the faster waters. The further you progress in the game, the more you find out about who and what Naija is, and what exactly happened to all of the extinct civilizations littering the world. Discovering more about the world of Aquaria and the history it contains is an engaging quest that propels you ever further from familiar waters.

One of these path-opening abilities involves shooting bolts of pure destructive energy out of your hands. As you can imagine, it has certain other uses. Okay, the other uses are killing. This leads to the murder part of the game, but also the cooking. As you slow-roast various ocean life with your energy beams, you get to gather up the meat/eyes/oil that they drop and combine them to form delicious ability-improving food. The combat ability you gain also grants you access to the more dangerous places in Aquaria, and serves you well when you face off against the occasional unreasonably belligerent giant sea creature blocking your way. Combat controls are again a simple matter of point and click, with the game by default allowing all of your shots to be guided into nearby enemies.


Also, I feel that I should point out specifically how amazing the sound can be in Aquaria. The main character’s singing sounds lovely, the music is catchy without being distracting, and the portions involving a voice-over are well acted and affecting without being too melodramatic.

The constant unlocking of new and interesting places to explore combined with the growing power of the main character to affect the world makes Aquaria addictive and entertaining,  and the lovely environments make it completely natural to attempt to see as much of the world as possible.

I can’t recommend this game enough, especially if you get it with the Humble Indie Bundle for the low low price of whatever you feel like paying for it.

May 12, 2010

You Should Read This: Witchfinder – In the Service of Angels

Filed under: Comics — Tags: , , , , — Chris @ 11:57 pm

Writer/artist Mike Mignola’s “Hellboy” series of comics represent some of the most consistently excellent serialized fiction being produced today—and I’m not just talking comics. TV shows, novels, film franchises, video game series, books on tape, fucking old timey radio dramas…Mignola’s comics stand out as the best of the best amongst all of them. This isn’t just a matter of opinion, this isn’t hyperbole—this is fact. The release of each collection of Hellboy, B.P.R.D., or any one of the stand-alone character based miniseries draws the reader deeper into a strange, wonderful, terrifying world, with endearing characters, and marvelous, oddly subdued, storytelling.

What I’m trying to say is that I really love these comics you guys.

Part of what makes them so great, is as you read through them, you get the sensation that Mignola is really playing the long game—that he has planned out the history and intricacies of this universe, while at the same time never falling into the trap of overwhelming the reader with too much information. Most of it, he just lets float around in the background as flavor, occasionally pulling the odd morsel to the fore, and expanding it out into a full, rich tale. It is this that Mignola does with his newest “Hellboy” miniseries, Witchfinder: In the Service of Angels.

Witchfinder’s protagonist, Sir Edward Grey, first appeared way, way back in the second Hellboy volume Wake the Devil, in a single panel, mentioned off-handedly as a Victorian era paranormal investigator. Years later, he appeared as a flashback in the introduction to the Abe Sapien miniseries. Now, we have an entire tale recounting one of his earliest adventures. It’s kind of like uncovering some previously unknown piece of history, except instead of the Rosetta Stone or something like that, it’s a five issue story of a late nineteenth century English gentleman who once saved Queen Victoria from a demon with mouths in its hands.

Of course, part of what makes Witchfinder so good is that you don’t actually need to know any that in order to follow the story. Even if you’ve never read a Hellboy comic in your life, you’ll still be able to enjoy this Victorian era ghost story, replete with such exciting features as spiritualist mediums, secret societies, a man who claims to be the inspiration for Gulliver’s Travels, and what I’m pretty sure were steampunk tasers.

In short Witchfinder, has a little something for everyone, and if you’d like an introduction to one of the best series out there right now, I’d highly recommend picking it up.

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