Sunday, February 13, 2011

Red Steam: Ripping Steampunk Apart (fiction and essay)

Julian Dollop looked at the intricacies of the mechanical device in which he found himself suspended. He wondered who had come up with the idea for the cogs to have so many individual teeth as they pinched together, biting into him, pulling him together like a zipper. He screamed to get out of the machine, but his cries went unheard in the cacophonous din of the factory. It was silenced further as the cogs crushed his ribcage with a sick, wet crunch. 
He fell down through the machinery, onto the conveyor belt. His breaths were shallow, but full of soot. He crumbled and coughed, clawing at the conveyor to escape the stamping mold. His leg slipped into one of the hydraulic presses, twisting and breaking it, sending a jet of blood into the unfazed machine. His other leg was in the cooling red iron in the mold, and he scampered away on bruised and bleeding arms, only to get a lungful of that hateful steam.
He opened his mouth, eager to exhale the burning vapor, attempting to scream but managing only a weak crack of voice, feeling his throat blistered, his eyes opaque with blood and soot. The conveyor belt spat him in a heap in the balmy, midsummer afternoon at Lady Hensington Farley's estate.
Lady Farley flicked her goggles up and glanced away from her brass jet-turbine.
"I say, Charles are my fan blades out?"
Her butler picked up the combined form of Julian Dollop and iron alloy fanblades. "Miss Farley, it would appear another boy got gummed in the works."
She observed the crumbled, twitching corpse.
"Bloody hell. Now we've got to get another one."
"I shall send to the workhouses at once, ma'am."

Steampunk is a movement that is gaining popularity; specifically by bootstrapping modern technologies into a victorian era (translated as covering them in brass, wood and cogs, basically). It has tentative (and almost entirely illusory) ties to cyberpunk- the only real similarity being that a) the alternate history novel The Difference Engine (sometimes considered  a steampunk novel) is co-authored by William Gibson, notable writer of cyberpunk fiction and b) they both contain the word 'punk'.

This is where the similarities end. Cyberpunk is a science fiction genre that extrapolates how technology is not on our side, and how it can be used as a tool of control, and that it doesn't necessarily make our lives better. It's a world of heartless mega corporations and amoral antiheroes.

Steampunk, on the other hand is whimsical nostalgia for the industrial revolution mixed with an arts and crafts class at JoAnn's fabrics and some junk you picked up out of a smashed clock.

Miners have to mine the coal to power the steam engines. These miners work in hellish conditions. In turn, the coal will be burned in factories which are likely staffed by child labor. This is how you provide the steam. Unless you go in and mine it yourself, the steampunk world is essentially one built on the concept of being a gentrified dilletante who doesn't have to care about the plight of the working poor because that's not part of your fantasy land of dirigibles and useless machines with lots of cogs that ultimately do nothing.

To me it's like feeling nostalgic and writing fantasy stories about the antebellum south. You can defend it all you want, but you're still fantasizing about an ugly time in human history and you being at the top of the heap, able to mince around freely while other, less worthy people do all the grunt work for you.

So yeah, enjoy your brass-accented computer. Just remember that realistically, had that existed in the late 1800s it would have been an investment in some poor kid's blood and sweat. So think of that- think of Tiny Tim Cratchit's fingers being smashed in a hydraulic press. 

And honestly I don't think anyone would be more appalled by people's nostalgia for the industrial revolution era than Charles Dickens.

Monday, December 20, 2010

X-Men Arcade: In Defense of Dazzler

This article has nothing to do with Wolvie
Ah, the X-Men arcade game. It's a fun, classic brawler that just resurfaced on the PSN and XBLA. But something I've noticed as a theme in every review: endless jokes about Dazzler. "Better call it now so you don't get stuck playing Dazzler." Having spent a considerable portion of the last week playing the hell out of the game I have to wonder: what's everyone's problem?

I mean sure, Dazzler is pretty obscure (I can't tell you her real name, origin story, or if I've ever read a comic she appeared in). She's not an iconic character like Wolverine, Cyclops or Storm, or a character with a big following like Nightcrawler has. And gameplay-wise, she's not the Mutant Power spam machine that Colossus is. And yeah, I can kinda understand how you might want a more well known character like Jean Grey or Jubilee in her spot, but I've been playing the game and honestly...I really like playing Dazzler.

No adamantium claws or eyebeams. Just PLASMA BOMBS.

She's a pretty solid, balanced character. Not that there's that much difference between the characters- but most of them have a jump attack that tends to send me flying over whoever I'm trying to kick in the back of the brain. Not so with Dazzler- her jump attack is ACTUALLY USEFUL! She's also probably (I have no way of proving this) the quickest character. It might just be me thinking that, but in any case: she's fun to play.

Also, her mutant power is pretty useful at clearing out a bunch of enemies at once. Granted, ALL of the mutant powers are supposed to be like this, but hers is second only to Colossus for spread, and isn't accompanied by a WHOOOOOOOOOOOA!!! Plus, her attack range isn't nerfed to hell like Cyclops.

Anyway, show a little respect for the obscure but oh-so-playable Dazzler. That plasma-bomb mutant power may save your ass sometime.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


So apparently a new Sparkster game has been out for months. I just discovered this on the PSN. Clearly I didn't do any research- even a quick Google search would have turned it up. But hey, the game just slipped in under my radar, and thus its place on my 5 classic series is moot. So anyway, yes, I just had a drooling retard moment.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Island of Misfit Spinoffs, Sequels and Reboots

Since my review laid the smack down on Splatterhouse, I've decided to take a look at some other similarly ill-conceived, half baked, or late-term aborted sequels, spinoffs and reboots. So here we go!

Golden Axe: Beast Rider- The fact that it starred teh secksay Amazon from the original game in this reboot with a rather suggestive title didn't help sales of this piece of shit. Probably because they totally forgot what Golden Axe was all about- beating the hell out of people. With your friends. The fact that you can't play as Gilius Thunderhead is a pretty big red flag.

Final Fantasy X-2 - While Final Fantasy X is a pretty stupid game on its own...Good god, I can feel my brain vegetating just thinking about X-2.

Sonic The Hedgehog (06) Sega drops the ball again. I could choose many Sonic titles to criticize, but since I'm lazy I'll go with this one. Why is Sonic's love interest a human? I'm just creeped out by that.

Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow- I know, everyone likes this one. It just rubbed me the wrong way that this was like the 5th Castlevania where I was controlling an androgynous prettyboy.

Doom 3- I'm sorry Id, I thought this was Doom? Give me a gun, lots of ammo and plenty of light so I can see who I'm exploding into blood sausage!

Alone In the Dark (2008) It was unplayable. And the script was HILARIOUSLY bad. And did I mention THE DESIGN TEAM LOOKED TO UWE BOLL'S MOVIE FOR INSPIRATION. There's no way it could have turned out good.

Final Fight: Streetwise- Capcom thought it would be a good idea to make a Final Fight game without a playable Mike Haggar. This is the least of the game's problems, but that fact doesn't bode well, does it? They attempted to make a series that was reasonably lighthearted (or at least not too serious) and turn it into a grim and gritty urban sleazefest.

Bomberman: Act Zero- OK, maybe grim and gritty wasn't as big of a jump for Final Fight. I mean especially when compared to bomberman. Turning the cute lil' Bomberman into...a Master Chief ripoff was a terrible idea. And that's just the beginning of the problems.

GoldenEye: Rogue Agent- I don't think the crew of this had seen the film GoldenEye OR played the video game. They just heard the name and knew it was a cash-in and turned out this festering communal toilet of a game.

007 Racing- Another piss-poor James Bond game, this one has you driving around many classic cars, only it isn't fun because they all control exactly the same (badly) and it's less a racing game than a shitty vehicular combat game. I'd rather play Twisted Metal, myself.

King's Quest: Mask of Eternity- This is probably the game on this list that I hate the least. It was a decent game, just...not King's Quest.

Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3- They went overboard with the camp aesthetic here. Although the second game was campy (in the vein of a 50's Sci Fi flick), I just feel they went too far here. Although George Takei as the emperor of Japan is rather amusing.

Warcraft 3- There, I said it. Compared to the first two, it just felt too generic throw-it-all-in fantasy- like they were trying as hard as they could to see how far they could go without Games Workshop suing them. The big shoulders and lack of Bill Roper's voice didn't help. This is probably the only Blizzard game I really dislike (somehow I enjoyed WoW despite the art style). I think this one focused too much on the Hero aspect, which some people love, I just didn't care for it.

Metroid: Other M- Benzaie said it best. "Blah, blah, blah, the baby, blah, blah."

Medal of Honor: Rising Sun- You know, this game wasn't terrible just...not an impressive followup to the legendary Frontline. The gameplay was fine, and the move to the Pacific theater was a good choice. Unfortunately it was too short, linear, and shallow to make much of an impact.

Prince of Persia 3D- Before the truly wonderful Sands of Time, we dealt with this headlong jump into the polygon ceiling. 

Prince of Persia: The Warrior Within- After making a sublime, genre-redefining game with Sands of Time, Ubi Soft decided to go a different direction, turning the once-likeable Prince into...a jerk who smoldered with generic rage. Honestly, the gameplay isn't terrible (it is after all, the Sands of Time engine.), but the game is just...not as fun.

Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness -I'm usually a pretty staunch defender of Lara Croft and the Tomb Raider series. This is the notable exception where I have absolutely nothing nice to say. It shipped broken and buggy. While the Crystal Dynamics reboots are nothing special, they're much better than this mess.

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories- Why do horror games (with the standout exception of Resident Evil) get such shit-tastic reboots? It wasn't scary, it wasn't tense, it wasn't even very interesting.

Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures - Let's take the beloved hero of the classic arcade game, turn him into a henpecked husband and let the player experience THAT! Good idea, Namco! Why is this game practically forgotten again?

Death By Degrees - Now I'm just picking on Namco. Take THAT!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Raging Rant of Great Justice: On Reviewing

Since I reviewed Splatterhouse, I've gotten quite a few personal messages in the various forums in which I've posted it. Messages that tell me I'm wrong, that I wasn't fair to the game, that I should consider that a lot of people worked really hard on the game. I've gotten messages saying it's not my job to rip games apart. Well you know what?

Fuck that noise.

My review is my opinion. Yes, I accentuated the negative. I also highlighted what I liked. The problem was, there wasn't a lot I liked and there was a lot of negative to accentuate. And you know what? I did this because that's what a game reviewer has to do. A reviewer's responsibility is to gamers. To consumers, not producers. And you know what?

You might have a different opinion than I do. That's fine. It's even OK if you like the new Splatterhouse. A game, or a film, doesn't have to be good for you to like it. If you like it, it's your business. I'm not the taste police. But please don't try to tell me I'm wrong. You're wrong for telling me I'm wrong. Any review is subjective.

I developed my theory on game reviewing while my grandma watched me playing Final Fantasy X. It was one of the Cloister of Trial puzzles. And she asked me "Are you having fun?". I realized that I wasn't. I was bored out of my mind at the lazily designed puzzles I was solving. Since then, my key, most important feature of any video game? I should be having fun. And with Splatterhouse the fun ran out in about 20 minutes (loading pauses included). I played through to the end so I could review it fairly. And I gave my opinion, which included all of my problems with the game.

This is called reviewing.

And look, I'm not a paid professional. I'm not even a blip on the industry radar. I'm just writing for fellow gamers and consumers. I'm just trying to give potential buyers my opinion. Games cost a lot of money. I shelled out $65 bucks for Splatterhouse, and I think I should let other gamers know that I found it to be a steaming pile of shit before they spend that kind of money. And then the fanboys (who have formed after the game's been out for a day, that's scary) come out of the woodwork and tell me to shut my trap.

I don't care about the feelings of game producers if they produce a piece of shit. If you defend Splatterhouse by saying "a lot of people worked on this", then you can defend Action 52. Or an Uwe Boll film because a lot of people worked on them. Screw them. If they produce a low quality product, they should feel bad. They turned out a half-ass product and sold it for 60 bucks. They deserve to have their feelings hurt. Mediocrity should not be rewarded!

How dare I pay full price and demand a competent product instead of an unfinished game that rewards me with CG nudie pics. How is that even an incentive these days? I have the internet! I may be pitiful enough to look at pictures of naked women, but they're real flesh and blood women, dammit!

And as for bad jumping controls- Mario has been around for 25 years and competent jumping controls have been around at least since Pitfall on the Atari 2600. I could forgive the early Castlevania gams for tanklike jumping. But this is 2010. There's no fucking excuse. If you can't make a character jump properly in 2010, then stop programming and start working the Drive-Thru window where you belong.

Anyhow. Long rant short, you don't have to like my opinion. I just ask that you respect it so I don't have to call you an internet tough guy assclown who can't tell a Feral Ghoul from a Goron.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Zombie Problem

They're everywhere! And frankly...I'm getting a little sick of seeing them EVERYWHERE. Zombies have been on the pop culture radar, but in the past 5 years or so they've exploded. We now have TV shows, Jane Austen crossovers, and they now appear in pretty much every videogame known to man. There's Nazi zombies, Red Dead Undead Nightmare, the Zombie Island of Dr. Ned...Hell, the only game that doesn't have zombies anymore is Resident Evil (figure THAT one out). The most egregious example to me, though, is in Uncharted. Up until near the end you fight nothing but human enemies in cover based firefights. And then...zombie-monkey things attack you. Um. OK. There was no point to that other than to destroy the cover mechanic THE WHOLE GAME WAS BASED ON.

This kind of thing just leads to me facepalming. Yes, I know zombies are ubiquitously humanoid without those things like thoughts and feelings so we don't feel bad about making their heads a splode. The thing is, they're becoming more generic than Imperial stormtroopers. They're just mooks. That's all they are.

Zombies and vampires have both been bastardized to hell and back in the last five years. Can't we try something new? I mean we had some great body horror films in the 80's, and we're just throwing that aside.

And the people who waste their time talking planning for a zombie apocalypse...enjoy your perpetual virginity. Because like a zombie apocalypse, sex is never going to happen for you.

And by the way: I'm not criticizing Shaun of the Dead because A) it predates the zombie bandwagon and B) it's brilliant.