Trouble Thinking

July 31, 2010

Starcraft 2 First Impressions

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

First off, I am almost certain I’m actually 12 again now. Only everything is even better, and I have hair down there that confuses me.

Starcraft 2 is a great update, and anyone who enjoyed the original will enjoy this. But you already knew that.

The more important part about it is that Starcraft 2 is easily the most accessible RTS I’ve ever seen. It’s got a great single-player campaign (so far), that takes time to develop unique scenarios and teach you to use specialized units in a variety of situations. Additionally, it has challenges specifically designed to teach you effective techniques for multiplayer, as well as a simple interface for AI practice and a scorekeeping mechanism that makes it a little more fun to see if you can defeat four hard AI with one of your friends or whatever. The game still gears itself to high-level play online (seriously, it’s a national sport in Korea), but it’s much more open to the idea that you might not leap into the deep end day 1 than I was willing to hope.

I don’t recommend all that many games. Seriously! Check the archive. But Starcraft 2 is a great game to try out even if you’re not a particularly strident gamer. It’ll give you a good run-down of what an RTS is, and why they can be very fun (or, if you’re not into it: why you hate them).

There’s a 7-hour demo that you can get if one of your friends gives you a little code. So ask the dorkiest person you know, they’ll have one if you feel like trying.

Also, and perhaps most importantly: HEAT RAYS ARCING ACROSS FOOLISH HUMANS BWAHAHAHAHA

July 29, 2010

There’s more to life than just comics…

Filed under: Interesting Things, Sports — Tags: , , , , — callmegeo @ 11:51 am

Yes, I said it.  Go ahead, take a moment to recover from your mind just being blown.

Now, let us proceed to a topic of lasting importance which I have been too lazy to write about for a while:  BASEBALL!

Fig. 1: The socially acceptable reaction

Yes, yes… go ahead and emulate the great Captain Picard if you must, but I will not be daunted by your exasperation.  You see, formal leagues of athletic competition, known to the layman or yeoman as “Sports”, exist all around the world.  The concept may seem foreign to readers of this blog, who choose to avoid physical exertion in favor of reading comics like “The Sentry”, but you must embrace the pain and expand your horizons my friends, if you wish to be a well rounded and charming person like yours truly.

“But Geo,” I hear you ask, voice trembling in awe and confusion, “How do I know which team to follow in the great american sport of baseball?”

Simple my friend, The San Francisco Giants.

A few months back I spoke about this team and some statistics related to them.  I’m pretty sure no one read that, as with all the articles of this magnificent blog, but I shall persist.  The fact of the matter is the Giants are like butter right now… because they are on a ROLL (see Fig. 1).  They have won 17 out of the their last 21 games, and stand a very very good chance of making it to the post season barring some tragically ironic losing streak beginning right after I post this article.

It seems after that asshole Barry Bonds retired, the Giants decided to put together a real baseball team, as opposed to their original strategy of going with a single steroid enhanced proto-human and 24 random dudes wearing baseball jerseys.  There are a lot of players worth mentioning who have contributed to the Giants’ success, but I would like to point out two rookie players in particular:

Buster Posey

How many guys are named "Buster" these days?

23 year old catcher, and secret ingredient needed for producing rings around the rosey (1 pocketful each), Gerald “Buster” Posey has been nothing but money since being called up to the major leagues in the early summer.  For the month of July, he’s hitting somewhere close to .450  (ungodly in baseball), and has a season batting average around .363 (still ungodly in baseball).  At the time of this writing he’s also working on a 21 game hitting streak, 1 game shy of the San Francisco rookie record of 22, set by Willie McCovey.  Studies suggest that possessing even peripheral knowledge about this player makes one more attractive to the opposite sex, and wildly successful as a business professional.

Madison Bumgarner

This expression strikes overwhelming fear in opposing batters, and a vague sense of discomfort in everybody else

Madison Bumgarner has a woefully mockable surname, which naturally has forged him into a tremendous athlete after years of verbal abuse from peers, role models, and figures of state.  He’s 20 years old, and will make far more money over the span of his career than any of us can hope to match.  Since being called up from the minors this season to replace Todd “Groovemaster” Wellemyer, he has a very sharp 4 – 2 record with a 2.43 era.  Even in his two losses he’s pitched admirably, bouncing back to finish strong against powerhouse teams like the Red Sox.  Sometimes I wish I was better that throwing baseballs so I could become amazingly wealthy doing nothing but throwing baseballs for my career, as opposed to the soul-crushing void of life as a professional rocket scientist.

Despite how obviously exciting it is to watch rookie players during their breakout seasons, I fear that my unwilling audience is struggling to see the relevance to their own baseball ignorant lives.  Well, fear not my friends, because I leave you with a humorous Giants-related tidbit I think anyone can enjoy:

Giants closing pitcher Brian Wilson was just fined $1000 for wearing bright orange cleats during a recent ballgame against the marlins:

Pitching in style with the loudest cleats on planet earth

The Marlins’ manager complained that the shoes were “too bright”, and the National League slapped Wilson with a $1K fine, stating that at least 50% of his cleats must be the team’s primary color (black), whereas orange is San Francisco’s secondary color.

Wilson had this to say: “I’m surprised he hasn’t asked for these to be drug-tested for performance-enhancing cleats, because apparently they throw 97 to 100 with cut if you put them on and the ball magically disappears. It was a $1,000 fine for my cleats being too awesome. It will go to charity so it’s money well-spent.”

Well said, Wilson. Well said…

Thats it for my inane baseball ramblings today.  Whenever Durandal is finished playing Starcraft 2, I would expect a full review filled with laughter, drama, and thrilling plot twists.  If he does not live up to expectations I will be forced to hijack this blog even more frequently.  As you were, citizen.

July 28, 2010

“The Goon” is Getting a Movie if You Clap Hard Enough!

Filed under: Comics — Tags: , , , — Durandal @ 5:28 pm

THE GOON

Okay I know you don’t know about Eric Powell’s “The Goon”. That’s okay, we all have problems. Most of us not as many as you, but I get it.

Basically, “The Goon” is what Eric Powell draws to entertain himself. Luckily he’s an interesting sort of guy so it happens to also entertain every other reasonable human being in the world.

It stars the titular Goon, a man who is the only enforcer for a local mob boss who controls the weird vaguely archaic rural post zombie-plague town in which he lives. Of course, a man like the Goon is the only person you need enforcing for you. The Goon is a titanically imposing, terrifically ugly powerhouse who dishes out violence with whatever objects come to hand until whatever he’s been hitting dies or throws money at him. He also kills zombies because fuck zombies.

That's RIDICULOUS.

It also stars Frankie, the Goon’s partner. a small man with Little Orphan Annie eyes who makes up for his significantly less frightening exterior by being significantly more foul-mouthed and well-armed than the Goon. He is also just an awful, druken, misogynist of a human being.

Powell uses this simple setup to tell any story he feels like. On occasion, The Goon will knock some zombie heads and light a vampire on fire. Other times, he’ll shake down a giant bowler-wearing spider and go out for a drink afterward. Occasionally he’ll fight a robot or space alien. Weird Tales in the most essential sense. When necessary, the sheer unrelenting pace of surreal adventuring lets up to allow Powell to expand upon the Goon’s character in surprisingly affecting “serious” pieces.

The art began as interesting but not spectacular, then grew to spectacular, then grew to spectacular again, then again. Powell uses the Goon as a combination training ground and showcase. The insubstantial nature of the character and setting allow him to work with any art style or any story he chooses. Because Powell is talented as all get out, being able to read these experiments is a pleasure.

If you’d like to check out a bit of the book, feel free to check out some of Volume 1: Nothin’ But Misery at Amazon. Those of you with the smarts to pick up the first Goon collection will be delighted and obviously itching for more. Lucky you! Eric Powell was approached by David Fincher (the director of Fight Club) to write a movie. It’ll be an animated feature, produced by Blur Studios, the same people who’ve made every single cutscene/intro/trailer you’ve ever liked in a videogame. It’ll star Clancy Brown and Paul Giamatti as Goon and Frankie respectively. And it looks awesome. They’re still looking for cash-money, and the more you crow about it online the more likely it is to happen. Here’s the bit they’ve made as a pitch/preview:

July 26, 2010

No Such Thing as a Bad Character: The Age of the Sentry

Filed under: Comics — Tags: , , , , — Chris @ 8:00 am

I’ve long maintained that there is no such thing as a bad character, especially in comics. Sure, some characters are much harder to write than others, but all it takes is the right writer with the right angle on the character, and even the biggest stinker can work.

Which, of course, brings me to the Sentry.

Comic fans hate Sentry, and not without good reason. His status as a “classic” Marvel character who everyone simply forgot existed means that essentially every Marvel comic you’ve ever read didn’t happen the way you remember it happening, which combined with his reappearance as this super-powerful guy who no one can stop, but mostly just mopes around a lot and refuses to do anything, has garnered him a lot of fan resentment—as well as a whole boatload of crappy stories. His recent death in Siege, which ended with Thor throwing his corpse into the sun like a heap of extra offensive garbage, was met with the internet equivalent of a round of applause.

All of which is a shame, because while Sentry wasn’t ever used all that well, that never had to be the case. He has a solid costume design, and his premise, while obviously something that needs to be handled gingerly, is an interesting one, and the right writer could have a field day exploring all the metafictional possibilities of a character which had simply been forgotten (can you imagine if Grant Morrison still worked for Marvel when the Sentry had been introduced?). Furthermore Sentry’s tagline, “The power of a million exploding suns!” is without question one of the best I’ve ever heard. Not only is it cool as hell, it’s instantly memorably, and surprisingly subtle to boot. It tells you not only how powerful the Sentry is, but also hints at how unstable he must be as well; it can’t be an easy task to wrangle the power of a million exploding suns.

So while the mainline Marvel continuity fumbled the Sentry’s potential, Jeff Parker and Paul Tobin’s stand-alone miniseries The Age of the Sentry understands how to use Sentry perfectly, and proves that even the most difficult character can be used to great effect.

Parker and Tobin accomplish this by taking the core of the Sentry’s concept, that he is a classic, 1960s, Marvel character, and expand on it by showing what those stories would have been like. The end result is a campy, fun series, which still manages to surprise the reader at various points, and, despite its technically out of continuity status, tie into the Sentry’s role in the modern Marvel universe. The Age of the Sentry is never afraid to seem ridiculous (unlike much of mainline Marvel, which is terrified of looking silly—and then just ends up looking even sillier as a result), giving Sentry over the top villains such as Cranio, The Man With the Tri-Level Mind (he literally has three brains, but he only refers to it as his “tri-level mind”), as well as sending our hero on adventures involving giving a space alien dating advice, a rivalry with Truman Capote, and an encounter with the “Golden Age Sentry,” who despite possessing the power of a million exploding suns, carries a handgun and loves to use it. All of this is presented with a sort of straight faced absurdity that only serves to make the comic even more entertaining. Further, despite having a different artist on almost every single issue, the art is uniformly excellent; cartoony without being ridiculous, and pops right off of the page.

This series managed to fly under the radar when it was coming out, and even I only read it because I found the trade marked down to ten bucks, but I can’t recommend it enough, even if, especially if, you hate the Sentry. Even the most irritating character can make for an interesting story, and The Age of the Sentry proves it.

July 21, 2010

Inception: More Like EXception… to Being Good!

Filed under: Movies — Tags: , , , — Durandal @ 9:43 am

So, I saw Inception. I went in with extremely high hopes, not only because basically every critic told me it was great, but because I have a deep love of mind-bending sci-fi. Better still if it’s actually minds being messed with. Unfortunately Inception is less a mind-bending sci-fi experience than it is a clip show of poorly shot action scenes stretched far longer than is considered acceptable in polite company and padded out with some of the most tedious exposition I’ve seen in a while.

"Most tedious exposist- no, fuck YOU."

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July 19, 2010

Do You Use 10% of Your Brain?

Filed under: Science — Tags: , — Durandal @ 2:52 pm

Here’s something you’ve heard. “Well, you know humans only use 10% of our brains. Imagine what we could do if we starting using all of it!” Followed by either pop psychology, or someone claiming to have psychic powers.

I will make this short: you might use 10% of your brain because a horrible accident left you with nothing but a barely functional brainstem (in which case I’m impressed you’re reading this), but humans use all of their brain. Not 10%, not 60%, 100%. I don’t know precisely how this started. One explanation is that Einstein joked about humans only using 10% of their brain on an average day, and people were so dumb they took that as gospel thus retroactively making it one of the most epic burns. However it got started, after a long enough time of being repeated mindlessly at parties, it’s now gospel. It is also staggeringly, obviously wrong.

“But Trouble Thinking” you whine in that high, reedy voice of yours that so infuriates the right-thinking people of the world “what about all those images I’ve seen of fMRIs? Only a few places are lit up!”

An fMRI takes a picture of a moment in time. Look at an image of a person doing… well, anything.

Say, being a sex machine

Now, what muscle groups are they using right then? A good portion less than 100% of them, that’s for damn sure. If they were using all of their muscles at once, nothing would be getting done. Certain muscles push and pull at certain times in the proper sequence in order to make controlled movements happen.

The brain isn’t all that different. In order to perform any cognitive task, certain things need to happen in certain areas at certain times. Your brain isn’t a single undifferentiated mass of thinking goo.  If every neuron is firing all at once, the current task is a Grand Mal seizure, not goddamn telekinesis.

July 16, 2010

The Void: A Portrait of the Artist as a Bunch of Terrifying Shit

Filed under: Game Reviews — Tags: , , — Durandal @ 9:15 am

Oh hello there

So I just finished one of the weirdest but most interesting games I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing: The Void. My review would be

The Void: Too hard by half, confusing as hell, play on Easy or with cheats in order to see all of the spectacular art. 7/10

But that doesn’t nearly get across why I think you, even those of you who’ve never played any game ever, should play this. Because I know no one will ever heed my incredibly accurate recommendations, as I am a modern Cassandra, I’m going to try to describe why I found this game amazing.

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July 14, 2010

Great Contemporary Writers: David Sedaris

Filed under: Books — Tags: , — Chris @ 8:24 pm

In this new will-become-regular-if-I-feel-like-it feature, I am going to highlight some of my favorite currently working writers, and discuss why you should give them a shot. Most of them aren’t going to be very obscure or anything, heaven knows today’s isn’t, but, the way I see it, there are so many books and authors out there, even the most highly esteemed writer can still be new to someone.

There are a lot of authors out there whose work I admire, but David Sedaris the only one who I’m actually jealous of. Seriously, if I were granted the ability absorb the powers of one writer working today, and make them my own, I would suck David Sedaris dry of his literary prowess in an instant. I’d reduce that guy to withered, illiterate, husk so fast, he wouldn’t even know what hit him. By the time I was done with him, he’d be so out of juice he’d be reduced to writing haikus on construction paper with crayons, while I would be pumping out some of the most consistently excellent collections of essays and stories available today. I wouldn’t even feel bad.

A perverse way of showing my admiration I suppose, but quite simply, David Sedaris is just that good.  Sedaris has one of the greatest gifts a writer can possess, and that is the ability to make any story interesting—and funny as hell—regardless of subject. Yes, a lot of ridiculous shit has happened in his life which he mines for his books, but that’s not all Sedaris writes about. Just as often, he takes the time to recount mundane, every day events—and keeps it just as interesting as the crazy stuff.

I’m reminded of a story Sedaris tells in When You Are Engulfed in Flames, about an awkward time he had at the doctor’s. There is no good reason why a story about waiting at the doctor’s office should be all that interesting, yet without fail he finds a way to keep you stuck on every word, and laughing all the way; all while making the whole process seem effortless. It isn’t until you finish reading, and review the story in your mind, that you realize that there’s nothing there that had to be funny—David Sedaris just knew how to tell it so that it could be.

For whatever reason, memoirs have taken off in popularity in the last decade or so, and Sedaris is the best of the lot. Most of his books take that form, a series of anecdotes from throughout his life, and they’re all uniformly excellent. My personal favorite is Me Talk Pretty One Day, which primarily covers his early days living in France with his partner Hugh, but also reviews such deeply personal topics as past drug addictions, and somewhat less private subjects, such as the time he was at a party, went to the bathroom, became embarrassed because someone left a giant turd in the toilet, and the panics he went through to ensure the other guests didn’t think it had been him who had done the deed. A wide range of topics to be sure, yet Sedaris finds a way to keep the whole thing tonally consistent, not to mention hilarious, throughout.

David Sedaris is a masterful, and genuinely funny, author; one of the best out there today, and I can’t recommend him highly enough.

Also, to any mad scientists reading, I wasn’t kidding earlier: I will pay cash money for some kind of ray, brain swapping device, or vampiric essence, which will allow me to thieve David Sedaris’ talent. E-mail me.

Recommended reading:

–          Me Talk Pretty One Day

–          Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim

–          When You Are Engulfed in Flames

July 12, 2010

Blizzard’s RealID: Basically Silly.

Filed under: Game News — Tags: , , , , — Durandal @ 6:36 pm

I write this with the assumption that if you already know who Blizzard is, you’ve probably heard the news a while ago. For those who aren’t as dorky as I am, here’s the situation:

Blizzard, a subsidiary of massive games publishing company Activision, is currently printing ten-million dollar bills with their hit game World of Warcraft. Don’t pretend you haven’t heard of it, there are something like 20 Million paying a monthly fee to pay the mortgage on their mounts. Even with the amount Blizzard needs to pay for servers, staff, upkeep, and the like, it’s still one of the most profitable games of all time.

Blizzard came up in the world with games like Starcraft and Diablo, classics in their own genres and around a decade old at the moment. Starcraft 2 and Diablo III (I’s are more gothic) are both coming out soon, Starcraft later this month and Diablo III by a year from now. Each of these will not only be bought by millions of people. They’ll steal some business from WoW, because there’s an overlapping customer base. So, how do you keep your customers connected during a period guaranteed to fragment them?

Well, someone clever at the office thought up a simple idea: make their multiplayer service, Battle.Net, more fully featured. For instance, they planned on adding the ability to chat with anyone in any of their games regardless of which one you were currently playing. That way, your players stay connected and might decide to play all three games in equal portion. But that was only the beginning. At some point, someone noticed that Facebook was successful in a way that made even WoW look pissant. How does a video-game producer get a piece of that? They make Battle.Net more than just a service for finding games, they partner it with Facebook.

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July 9, 2010

Hemispatial Neglect: Half the World Ends With You

Filed under: Science — Tags: , , , , — Durandal @ 2:52 pm

You probably have functioning eyeballs. A bold claim, I know, but I didn’t build my reputation by not being the most courageous voice of the 21st century.

You might think your functional eyes mean you have vision covered. Maybe you’re getting cocky about it. Sometimes you look at things just to prove you can. Maybe you sweep your eyes over a beautiful sunset and have a little chuckle about the blind. You’re a monster.

But I’m not here to address your grievous moral failings, I’m here to tell you that there’s more to seeing than sight. That is, seeing isn’t just the ability of your eyes to receive information. Seeing is the world showing up. And for the world to show up, you need to have more than just sight. You need to be paying attention.

Have you ever been so focused on a book that you didn’t notice anyone near you talking? Or so focused on a game or movie that you didn’t see the fire starting slightly to your right?

Or been so focused on the right side of the world that you ignored the left half of everything in existence?

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