Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Recent Gaming: Brütal Legend, Epic Mickey, L.A. Noire, The Saboteur

Not gonna lie, these video game review blogs are some of my favorite to write :-p (Hence my new feature devoted entirely to them.)


Brütal Legend

The game is a love letter to people who love heavy metal (c'est moi). The game is VERY MUCH "The Legend of Zelda meets Black Sabbath". The cartoonish-but-dark graphics are great, the sounds and music are great, the story is EPICALLY AWESOME, and the voice acting is some of the best I've ever heard (Jack Black and Ozzy Osbourne voice two of the main characters). I really want to rate this game higher....but I have to agree with this Wired Magazine review in that it "rocks the story but whiffs the gameplay".

It's not even that ALL the gameplay is bad. The game starts as a hack-and-slash adventure, but as it progresses, it morphs more into the Real-Time Strategy genre. RTS games, for those who don't know, are where you play as a disembodied commander ordering troops around, rather than as a character in the middle of the action (like Starcraft, or Command & Conquer). It's nowhere near as much fun as the hack-and-slash bits are, nor do the controls work all that well for it. The RTS parts of Brütal Legend are its one major downfall.

Everything else about the game rocks \m/

Overall: 8/10

Epic Mickey

This game feels like it was made by a very amateur gaming studio (a studio which was subsequently shut down by Disney last year). That said, it does get a lot right. The story was one of its strongest elements - it's about a rivalry between Mickey Mouse and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, which developed after Oswald was "forgotten" by Walt Disney himself. It's interesting how that narrative was designed to mirror real life - check out Oswald's Wikipedia page, for more of his backstory (and the hilarious story about how Disney reacquired the rights to use him). This game singlehandedly brought about a resurgence in Oswald's popularity - he's now a character you can find at the Disney theme parks, and I plan to buy an Oswald pin the next time I go back. He's a more interesting character than Mickey, and the elements that show how much he wishes Walt Disney had chosen him instead of Mickey and how much he misses his girlfriend are actually pretty heartbreaking.

Speaking of things breaking, the camera and the gameplay. The gameplay is....dull. Maybe they were aiming for "kid-friendly", but they landed on "not even remotely exciting". As far as level design, some are great - like the "twisted" version of Disney World's Main Street (which actually made me nostalgic for my trip there earlier this year), and the wild throwbacks to things like Tron - while others are as generic as you could possibly get. But one element that remains consistently terrible throughout the entire game is the camera. Sweet Jesus, the camera in this platformer is even worse than Super Mario 64, and that was the first game to ever HAVE a 3D, controllable camera.

The gameplay element that worked best was the 2D side-scrolling platformer stages. Not only did they control significantly better than the main game, they were also highly stylized to closely resemble old-school Mickey Mouse cartoons, including Steamboat Mickey.

Sidenote: Epic Mickey and Brütal Legend both use the same voice actor (Corey Burton) for narration.

Overall: 6/10

L.A. Noire

Holy balls, this is one hell of a game. I almost gave it a 9/10 because it's not perfect - missing a question while interrogating a crime suspect sometimes made me want to throw my controller at the wall, but then again, missing a jump in a Mario game sometimes does, too. But there's no way I could give this game less than a 10/10, because of how extraordinarily well it does so many things. The graphics are some of the best I've ever seen in a video game (the facial animations in particular, which were created with a brand-new, high-end motion-capture technology). The gameplay is incredibly unique and varied, between inspecting crime scenes for clues, interrogating witnesses, chasing fleeing suspects, and the occasional shootout. The voice acting is even better than Brütal Legend's, and whether you're in the middle of an investigation or not, it's a blast to just cruise around a recreation of 1947 Los Angeles and listen to jazz music from that era. Presentation is another of the game's many strong suits - everything from the level introductions to the menu system has the feel of a gritty, classic, black-and-white crime thriller film.

In a testament to how accessible the game is, I actually got my parents to try out and complete a couple of the levels, and they absolutely loved it (despite not being gamers AT ALL, themselves). In my opinion, Rockstar is the only video game studio around that can compete with Nintendo's own studios in terms of quality (although Bungie and Rocksteady aren't far behind).

Overall: 10/10

The Saboteur

This game feels like the developers started by making a realistic, stealth-based action game, but then got halfway into development and decided "eh, fuck it - let's just turn him into Master Chief".

Based (loosely) on a true story, you play as an Irish car mechanic and racer who becomes a member of the French Resistance shortly after the Nazi occupation begins. The main character, Sean Devlin, is a walking Irish stereotype - the thick accent, the devil-may-care attitude, the endless stream of one-liners and whiskey references - and I LOVE IT. You can sneak in, set a bomb on a Nazi installation, sneak out, and then click a button to light up a cigarette as you watch the bomb go off from a distance. Beating the game made me want to run out for a pint of Guinness.

What drew me to the game at first is the way it uses color - when you're driving or walking around the recreation of early 1940's Paris, if you enter an area controlled by the Nazis the screen is fully black and white; but if you destroy enough Nazi installations to inspire a neighborhood to fight back against the Nazis, that area of the city will become colorized. It's a really cool effect!

This game does quite obviously lack the polish of a Rockstar-style open-world game; many of the missions are very generic, and the graphics are neither terrible nor mind-blowing. But its most egregious fault is that not only can your character absorb about 50 bullets and heal completely in just a couple seconds, but some of the missions actually require you to go in guns-blazing and bullet-sponging. The fact that Sean can heal almost as fast as Wolverine for some reason is actually built into the game's design...which unfortunately reminds you that you're playing a video game, and not an actual member of the French Resistance. This game would have been MUCH better with an added dose of realism - it should have focused more on being stealthy, rather than being a one-man army.

All that said, the game was a ton of fun overall, lack of realism notwithstanding. Sadly, this was the last game made by Pandemic Studios before they closed down, which means this game will never get the tweaked and polished sequel it deserves.

Overall: 8/10

A Giant, Steaming Pile of Hypocrisy

The oh-so-'brilliant' and totally-not-sexist-at-all über-feminists over at Jezebel have raised the bar again. Last week, they posted a series of drawings that showed male Disney characters completely naked, and then proceeded to meticulously criticize their bodies and genitals.

Can you EVEN BEGIN to fucking imagine how loudly these walking sacks of estrogen and hot air would shriek if a men's website posted cartoons of naked Disney princesses, and pulled this exact same shit?

If this isn't a microcosm of everything wrong with modern feminism, I don't know what is.

Thankfully, I'm not the only one to flag that particular post (and others like it) for its blatant, vomit-inducing hypocrisy when it comes to objectification. From an article by Emily Shire at The Daily Beast:
There is also something deeply hypocritical about Jezebel running a spread about sexually objectifying Disney’s princes, even if it is in a joking tone, because the site has lashed out at the Mouse for doing the same on multiple occasions.

In May of 2013, Disney briefly ran a version of Merida, the heroine from Brave, that was slimmed down, bustier, and with straightened hair. Tracie Egan Morissey, who gets the byline for “Disney Dudes' Dicks,” slammed the “makeover.” She championed the subsequent petition against the redesign for “letting Disney know how uncool it was to sexualize a character... that was originally intended to be a role model for little girls.” Morissey was absolutely right to criticize Disney for revamping a character to meet some adult standards of what is sexually desirable. So, why does she think it is okay for Jezebel to do just that when the characters in question have a penis (or one that has creatively been sketched in)?

It is perturbing to see the site proudly revel in the double standard of giving their favorite Disney characters “idealized” genitals and the villains smaller, less “attractive" ones. To briefly indulge in a close-reading of the Disney prince dick descriptions (because what else am I going to do with my college degree in history and literature), Morissey perpetuates the same pressure on men to exhibit a certain physique that she critiqued Disney of doing to women.

If a male-focused site, let's say BroBible, drew The Little Mermaid's Ursula with, oh, a large labia and full-bush pubes to conflate these female genital characteristics with her negative personality, I doubt any writer at Jezebel, or any feminists, would find it humorous, or remotely acceptable.

The double standard of sexualization is hypocritical at best and ineffectively vindictive at worse.
What's worse, this form of extreme hypocrisy from feminists on objectification isn't even an isolated incident. Some of the most prominent feminist blogs even have made a regular series (??!!) out of pulling literally the exact same sexist bullshit that they're constantly screaming at men for.

Not only that, but they then reach into, as Andrew Sullivan would put it, "the annals of chutzpah" TO ACTUALLY DEFEND THAT PRACTICE. This absolutely god-awful piece, titled "Why We Objectify Men Without Guilt", by Kat Stoeffel in New York Magazine is a prime example.

This, believe it or not, is the first paragraph of that article, word-for-word:
Playgirl folded in 2008 — and in the years since then, a handful of blogs have taken up the mantle of shamelessly objectifying men. There’s Jezebel’s Thighlights, the work of BuzzFeed writers like Katie Heaney and Matt Bellassai, and the Cut’s own Dong Watch and Male Gaze. But does doing this make us hypocrites? By objectifying men, do we undermine our criticism of those who would objectify us?


Who the fuck do they think they're kidding, here? "It's never okay for men to do horrible things to women, but it's perfectly okay for women to do those same horrible things to men, because blah blah something something patriarchy!"

You don't get to pull crap like that and then claim that you give even the slightest of shits about gender equality.

Stoeffel was absolutely decimated in the comments section of that article, by dozens of people (mostly men) pointing out the staggering hypocrisy of this type of feminism. (Huzzah!)

Stuff like this is why I'm growing to believe that the feminist movement - at least, the radicalized elements of it - are to liberalism what the Tea Party is to conservatism.

R.I.P. Robin Williams, 1951-2014

Like the rest of humanity, I was shocked and saddened to hear about Robin Williams' suicide the other week.

A friend of mine asked me if I agreed with the people who said that suicide is selfish, or the people who think that forcing those with severe depression to live in despair is selfish. I don't think it's so black and white, either way - I think it's not really "forcing them to live in despair" so much as it is desperately hoping that they find a treatment for depression that works for them before something like this happens, which doesn't seem selfish to me. On the other hand, if someone is suffering from severe depression, then the decision to self-harm isn't entirely within their control...so "selfish" probably isn't the best way to describe that, either.

I think almost everyone has had fleeting thoughts a couple times in their life along the lines of "I should just shoot myself and get it over with" or "There's no way I'll recover from this kind of pain" or "I wonder how these people would feel if I offed myself because of how they're treating me".

But for the people for whom those thoughts aren't fleeting:

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Ninja Turtles!

I was able to take a week off in between my last day at Northrop-Grumman and my first day back in the AWACS lab, which was nice. Steph was able to spend a few days in OKC (although unfortunately I was sick for the first couple of them). But after I felt better, we got a couple's massage, saw the new Ninja Turtles movie, and ate nachos at Fuzzy's (which is an awesome restaurant, if you've never been to one before).

I was a huge, huge fan of the cartoon series as a kid (TMNT, Batman, and Ghostbusters were my big three). I still have a giant box full of all my Ninja Turtle action figures sitting in storage. Michael Bay's new movie was good, although it could have been better. It was very *Michael Bay* - lots of incredibly awesome CGI and character designs and fight scenes, but a fairly crummy plot and boring human characters.

The turtles and Splinter CGI designs were so amazingly well done that I have to say that they're now my favorite iteration of the characters. Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello, and Michaelangelo each wore unique bits and pieces that made their personalities stand out, in addition to their usual color schemes. Splinter's design actually made some people uncomfortable with how realistically rat-like he was, but I wound up loving how it came out. In fact, I'm so in love with the character designs for this movie that I'm actually thinking about buying my first set of Ninja Turtle action figures in....22 years, or so? Not to play with, obviously, but mostly because they would look cool on my shelves :-p

The film had another big problem, besides the dull plot and human characters. Because the cartoon that we all know and love took place in the 80's, the show's characters themselves were very 80's. Hence all the lame catchphrases like "Turtle Power!" and "Cowabunga!". Unfortunately, Michael Bay's movie keeps a lot of that cheesiness in place, which leads to a lot of anachronisms and flat attempts at humor in a modern take on TMNT. Some of it was so out of place that it actually detracted from the movies. I literally rolled my eyes when the turtles started beatboxing in an elevator. If we insist on keeping the first "T" in "TMNT" (which....meh), can we at least make them 18-19 instead of 15?

All that said, I liked the movie overall. Some of the changes it made to TMNT canon worked great, too - like making the Foot Clan a paramilitary unit. And the interaction between the turtles and Splinter themselves was far more interesting than anything the human characters said. I'm glad they're already planning a sequel. LESS HYUKY-HYUKY, MORE ASSY-KICKY, PLZ :D

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

So I'm leaving Northrop-Grumman and returning to the AWACS program....

So, here's the thing. I've been kind of miserable ever since I started working at Northrop-Grumman. I cannot count the number of times I've kicked myself for leaving my old job at the AWACS radar training lab.

For reasons I won't get too far into, I've had a nagging, growing feeling for many, many weeks that this really, really isn't the job for me. Working on the B-2 program is (very) cool, but it comes with so many headaches, so much baggage, so much bureaucracy, and so many roadblocks to my workflow, that it really wasn't the career upgrade I had hoped it would be. It feels like working in a tiny, closed gray box all day.

I can't say that I regret attempting to come to Northrop to advance my career. It was a calculated risk that just didn't pan out the way I had hoped. And since they hadn't filled my position at my old job, and no one else could jump into it nearly as quickly as I could, the AWACS lab jumped at the chance to get me back (which I'm thrilled about, because it makes sense for everyone all around).

My biggest worry about leaving NG is that even though the job I have right now is crummy, it might serve as a better jumping off point to something that really IS bigger and better than the AWACS lab would. But that was outweighed by one big thing: if I look back over the past several years to find the period where I was happiest, it was the time right after landing the AWACS job - because it combined the fact that I still felt (feel?) like a college student, with the fact that I actually, you know, had money to spend. That's what I'm looking forward to getting back to.

I might also see if I can get my hands dirty with some freelance work involving either renewable energy, like solar or wind, or astronomical engineering of some kind. It's worth a shot, at least.

Ultimately, it really doesn't feel like *that* much of a step backward, because I have very little doubt that I'll be happier back there than I am here.

Besides, this sort of thing is all the rage lately.