Wednesday, October 22, 2014

"Wasteland 2" Has Been Quite Fun to Play so Far

Press Start
"Wasteland 2" is an immense game, really huge. It harkens back to the era of the computer role-playing games where you could plan to sink upwards of 100 hours into exploring everything you could find and still wind-up missing a whole bunch of stuff. With all this content the next question is if the game is actually good and utilizes all its size well. From what I've played so far I would say yes.

Background Information
Brian Fargo, arguably the "face" of "Wasteland 2".
"Wasteland 2" of course came to fame during its highly-successful Kickstarter campaign by InXile entertainment that had head-employee Brian Fargo working hard to promote it. I eagerly supported the project as when you have folk behind the original two Fallout games asking for funds to make another post-apocalyptic isometric-view strategy game I'm gonna throw the cash at them as fast as I can. Don't get me wrong, I love the newer "Fallout" games too, having played so much "Fallout 3" that I practically consider it a second home. That said, something about those old-school "Fallout" games is magical, and little other computer games can beat them besides maybe my all-time favorite "Arcanum". Plus, that the game had a clearly outlined plan made me feel I could support the Kickstarter campaign and not be too worried it would end-up cancelled and I'd be out my chunk of change (you have my sympathies, "Clang" boosters).

As I had believed/hoped would happen, "Wasteland 2" did use its funds well, continuing to gain supporters post-Kickstarter through InXile's website, but never groveling for more money by declaring they had made the game too big for the amount they had received, or other such nonsense. The game did get delayed a tad due to its size requiring more testing, but the release of the Beta helped quell too much anger at that. Then, on September 19th, "Wasteland 2" was officially done and released as a completed title, albeit with a, "Day-one," patch to fix-up some issues. I backed at a level where I get a snazzy physical boxed copy of "Wasteland 2" that is in the process of shipping to my home, but to InXile's credit I also got a full digital version I have been playing and enjoyed. What have folk besides me thought, though?

Love It or Leave It
"Wasteland 2" has received generally positive reviews, although a division can be seen among  those who love its old-school style and others who are displeased with it and feel things could be better. I think it is a great game having gotten as far into it as I have (which considering how big it is, actually isn't that far despite all the hours I've put in already), but can see where some of the complaints come from.

The exploration is well-done, with you clicking where you want your squad to go, and them traveling there. There is a ton of dialogue to read, and unlike some games where you can ignore the plot this is a title where you actually want to look at the text as the combination of story and dialogue creates some solid reading from what I've played so far. Combat flows well too, operating as a turn-based affair with your various characters and whoever/whomever you are up against taking their turn too, firing off a weapon or running behind cover. It's good stuff, and other than people maybe disliking the combat system (some folk prefer a real-time kind of battle) I haven't seen complaints about those aspects of the game. One thing that has split people and which I can take a side on is the difficulty of sorts.

"Wasteland 2" can be brutally unforgiving and is a game I would encourage you to save often with, even on an easier difficulty level. Should a teammate die for example, that's it. No resurrection serum, they're just dead. If you have a character with the surgeon skill they can help someone close to dying who is collapsed and bleeding out, but should it be your sole surgeon who is incapacitated and close to death you're basically out of luck.
Look upon this might skill-sheet and tremble!
Speaking of being, "Out of luck," this is a game where due to the sheer number of skills you can train your characters in and the limitations of those skills there will be times something is in the game you just can't do much about. See a bunch of mines but lack the ability to disarm bombs among any of your four squad members? Well then, I hope you have an alternate route. Notice a shiny safe but don't have anyone who can pick locks? That safe is going to continue to sit there looking shiny. This isn't like your newer games where you can have one character fully trained-up in every skill, this is a game where there will be things you want to do, but lack the ability to engage in, be it a certain conversation, using a weapon, or kicking down a barrier.

"Wasteland 2" is so determined to make it clear you can't, "Do it all," as in other games, that very early on two locations will radio-in a distress signal and you can only save one, no matter what. Depending on which you choose to help the other place will fall to its threat, and you'll lose the possible allies you could have gained in one location along with making a bunch of enemies in the Wastes due to your actions rippling out and causing an effect (Oh, and you can just ignore both places too and really make the world angry). These elements make "Wasteland 2" a game you  will probably want to re-play even if it is so huge, just to see how different things could be. I admire the game being as cruel as it is in this era of games often letting players recover from any injury, fix any problem, and otherwise be perfect saviors in the world they're playing.

You're not a savior in "Wasteland 2", you're a squad of four people (and up to three other people who you've met that wanted to join-up) trying as hard as you can to help a mostly-barren wasteland, but you'll never do it perfectly. People will hate you, people will love you, and often  there will be little you can do to change their minds, you'll just have to hope that in the end you're doing more good than bad--and that makes for something awesome.

There Are Downsides
Get ready to click on weapon modifications a lot.
I've seen this tough-as-nails style of "Wasteland 2" turn some people off, and I respect their opinion but think the difficult and unpleasant nature of the world is what makes "Wasteland 2" especially exciting. One area where I can agree with complaints however is that sometimes the game can be annoyingly, "clicky." By that I mean certain things that should be intuitive and easy require you to do a lot of clicking to get them set-up. For example, if I have a squad where one member is skilled at taking weapons apart and applying modifications to them, I can't just select any weapon and apply its attachment. I have to take whatever weapon one character has, trade it to my person who can do modifications, put on the modification, and trade the item back. Oh, and if I want to remove a modification from a weapon I need to do that too for if the character with the weapon and less skill tries to remove the "mod" the odds are good they'll just ruin it. This results in a lot of clicking, and may seem like a minor issue but after you spend 10 minutes doing it for the 30th time you start to get annoyed.

This same problem applies with buying or selling items from non-player characters. Should you have a character with the Barter skill you need them to do all the buying or selling, lest you lose out on the discounts. Therefore, instead of getting ammo or items right away for a character who needs them, or selling something valuable one character has, you have to dump everything on your "trading" character besides junk items you can auto-sell so that they can get the best deal, and then trade everything around among your characters--click, click, click goes your mouse.

Other issues can arise too, from big problems such as the game suddenly crashing without warning to small annoyances such as all of your squad switching their weapons when only one member of the group should do so. As the game currently is however, the clunky way of moving around items is probably my biggest complaint, and something that could possibly even be fixed in future patches. Any other issues are again moreso opinions. For example, some folk have complained the game is ugly, even with the graphics quality turned-up, but I would say the ugliness fits the theme of a ruined world quite well, and when the gameplay is (generally) so good it doesn't matter if the looks are a bit on the homely side.

Overall A Great Game
It took over two years of development and a lot of funding from individuals who desired to see the game made, but "Wasteland 2" is indeed a success as both a Kickstarter project that made good on its promise, and as a quality game.

I wouldn't say my score is a true "review" because for all I know once I finish in the Arizona location of the game and make it out to California (which is about another 50 hours of content or so) I could end up hating "Wasteland 2". I doubt that though, as I've even read some people saying they don't think the game truly becomes amazing until you get out there! From what I've played though, and as the game currently is since its first big patch and another recent one, I think a rating of  4.5 out of 5 stars is appropriate. Considering how much enjoyment I have gotten from "Wasteland 2" and how just some small issues hold it back I think that high-mark is very appropriate. So yeah,..
4.5 out of 5 stars.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Thoughts on the New Social Network "Ello"

What is this "Ello" Folk Keep Jabbering About?
Ello is like if Facebook and Tumblr had a baby, except that baby was a marsupial in that it only came out somewhat developed and officially "existed" but really needed some more months to finish developing. Ello is at that point where it has been "born" but isn't really "done." Should you desire another example, Ello is currently a full recipe but presented to us half-baked. The question is even if its only half-baked could Ello still be considered a "tasty" good? After messing with it off and on for a number of days I can answer that question with, "Eh, maybe?"

Don't gete me wrong, the idea behind Ello is amazing. Its a social network that says it will forever be ad-free and will never, ever sell your personal data as other social networking sites are prone to do. It says it isn't setting out to be an anti-Facebook or anti-anything, but a person could see how that is what it's driving at. The thing is, Ello does have investors, so how does it plan to make money? Apparently in the future there will be premium features users can pay for, but as that is a bit of a ways away I won't worry about it now. Speaking of, "now," what is there currently? Some interesting features and a lot of stuff I and others would want missing, that's what.

Style and Ideas
Ello's design-style is like if a modernist and minimalist were told to invent a social network and then went utterly wild. The format is a monochrome wonderland with pictures people have posted serving as colorful snowflakes of sorts decorating the otherwise somewhat barren landscape that is your pseudo-feed on Ello. A person can make a post of any length they like and put it up, with others then "liking" it or commenting just as with Facebook. One interesting idea to this concept of following people--and the biggest thing Ello has going for it--is that you can take people you've followed and make it so that they appear in an information feed where you see what your "friends" are up to or a general "noise" feed for people you want to follow but wouldn't consider important enough to call a friend.

People have no idea what feed you've put them in, just that they are being followed, so it is fascinating to think you get the ego-boost of being followed, but could very well be relegated to a bunch of people's, "noise" section. It is great Ello has this, because there ain't much else popping-off, as the kids' say these days (Note: I am fully aware the kids don't say this anymore, they now say things like, "Bae.") Seriously though, once you try to do something that is easy on Facebook but currently impossible on Ello you will understand. You know what? I think this calls for us to have, "Example Time!"

Example Time!
I can search for any random Ello user and follow them,
like with these random folk who appeared when I clicked the search/discover page.
You know how we all like our privacy on Facebook and make a big deal about it, going as far as getting mad when we have to adjust settings to make our accounts totally private? Well, there aren't "private" accounts yet on Ello so anyone can just follow you and whatever musings you have. You can block someone, but I'm not sure how useful that is right now other than you won't have to worry about them commenting on your stuff anymore. Ello is working on creating private accounts, messaging, and a, "Not Safe for Work" tag for sexually explicit content(so that you will be able to/can post as much nudity as you want, unlike Facebook if that floats your boat) among other things, but as it stands now you can't even have a YouTube video embedded in there. It is like I said, all these ideas, but the cake is still baking and at the moment a bit of a goopy mess.

It just isn't the irony that Ello will keep your account private from advertisers but forget other users that irritates me some, either. Another example would be that while it is enjoyable to no longer have all the ads, game requests, or such that makes Facebook look awkward, but how in a weird paradox we find that despite its clean look Ello can feel a bit clunky to use. When I tried to make my first post/sorta status-update I couldn't figure out how to post it, instead creating all these breaks and boxes. It looked weird. I eventually figured it out but couldn't understand why something as simple as posting my thoughts was done without a second's hesitation on Facebook but caused me so much annoyance on Ello. I encountered the same difficulty when I went to try and put an image up too, and as I consider myself someone pretty decently-versed in technology I don't think this was a case of being like the old Grandpa who can't figure out how to use the inter-webs.

More Time to Cook
But I want these now!
Other than the clever system of, "friend," or, "noise," Ello is really at the moment more of a cool idea that is fun to talk about than an actual functioning social network. It has that sheen of being brand-new and still invite-only, but I honestly wonder if it will be able to sustain itself after this early burst of excitement and press wears down. I actually do hope Ello does okay, as if it is given more time to grow in its metaphorical marsupial-pouch/cook in the oven I think some of the promised features will make it more of a full-fledged product. Right now it is just a thing to brag about being aware of to your friends who you want to feel cooler than (seriously man, have you ever worn a t-shirt in a non-ironic way?) or a way to try and impress people by offering to send them an invite code if they listen to your demo tape/mp3.

In closing, if you keep hearing your friends or the media talking about Ello, you shouldn't get too jealous that you lack an account on it. The whole thing at the moment just has an air of, "We're so much cooler than Facebook," while not actually working to be better than Facebook, just a bit snazzier-looking and with a somewhat political manifesto of being against all the internet advertising. Maybe in a few months when more features are in place Ello will really be something to chat about, but for now its that metaphorical marsupial, emerging into the harsh light of the sun only to realize it needs to crawl back into the safety of a dark pouch and develop for several more months before its truly ready to step out and be involved in our daily lives. Whatever the case, if you get on Ello you could always follow me as I occasionally use it by searching for @davidbitterbaum. Just don't expect me to do much until Ello gets more fully-featured.

Thanks is Due To This Person
I would like to extend a special thanks to Jason Church AKA DJ Churchdogg for sending me the Ello invite I needed to try it out. You can check out his official Facebook page here and if you ever need a DJ for your event in the area of Saint Louis or Saint Charles I would recommend him as he is both a good friend and a great DJ!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Super Busy

Normally I try to post more often,but life has been a tad busy lately. I do have articles in the works that should delight all my readers before too long though!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

"Gamergate" is Dumbest Thing I've Seen In Quite Some Time

Yeah, so I'm not at the huge New York Comic-Con, clearly, and with announcements coming out a pace that could be understated as, "brisk," I'll probably wait until it is over to express any thoughts about the overall event and all the stuff that will have occurred at it. That said, I do have an opinion on what has to be one of the most stupid (stupidest?) so-called "movements" ever. I referring to what has been dubbed, "Gamergate."

What is Gamergate? Well, some fools out there would say something along the lines of how it is a consumer movement for more honesty in games journalism, but as soon as we start scratching the surface of that claim we see it is a paper-thin skin with nothing but a boiling blood of hatred for women beneath it.

This article summarizes Gamergate well, but to give you an abbreviated version of how "Gamergate" itself came about, basically a jilted ex of independent game developer Zoe Quinn wrote an angry article about how she had slept with game reviewers in exchange for positive reviews of her own title, "Depression Quest." This led to an outcry for journalistic integrity from some in the gaming community, which sounds all well-and-good until it became clear these members of the "gaming community" were people who had always had it out for people like Zoe Quinn, or any woman in the gaming-world who developed games, talked about them, etc. When your group claims they want honesty in the press, but then privately exchange emails about how they wish various known-female gamer-makers or writers would be raped or murdered, you clearly are not, "The good guys," in this scenario.

I've seen and heard claims that even if Gamergate has somewhat toxic origins it has grown as a movement and is now truly about journalism. No, no its not. Leaked files of various horrible people have shown the goal has always been to demonize women, feminists, gay folk, minorities, or anyone who doesn't fit the normal profile of the boys' club gamer--e.g. a white straight dude. People who have spoken out against Gamergate have been dismissed as, "Social Justice Warriors," which is a weird thing to insult someone with as isn't it a good thing to fight for social justice? I mean really, the fact they dismiss people with that alone should raise a large red flag for anyone who wants to support Gamergate. Were Gamergate just a small assortment of angry fanboys I wouldn't be concerned, but it has festered and gained power to a point where harassing Intel to stop running ads on website Kotaku (for running an article critical of Gamergate) actually resulted in Intel capitulating to Gamergate, and then panicking when seeing how it made them look like sexist jerks. So yeah, Gamergate may be a small-ish group of hateful people, but its large and well-organized enough to cause serious trouble.

I don't really have much of a point to this article other than to inform those of you who were unaware about Gamergate what it was, and why supporting it would be foolish. Also, if you knew of Gamergate but didn't know the ugly truth about it, I sincerely hope I've changed your mind from thinking it is some respectable movement to how it actually just a hate group hiding under a guise of legitimacy. Therefore, Gamergate is understandably the dumbest thing I've seen in quite some time, and might be for awhile.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Fallacy of an Automatically Successful Cinematic Universe AKA Quit Copying Marvel!

Alright, let me get this straight: because Marvel's Cinematic Universe is proving so successful we will be seeing other studios try to emulate this to a point where we now are being told there might be a movie-verse for Robin Hood? Seriously, freaking Robin Hood? What are we going to do, have a movie all about Little John and how he came to join-up with the only character in the Robin Hood myths people care about, i.e. Robin Hood? This whole concept of a "Shared Cinematic Universe" is clearly getting out of control if we are at a point when that could seriously happen.

I suppose it was inevitable people would see the income from Marvel's flicks and say, "Damn, we need some of that sweet, sweet 'Avengers' money," and proceed to attempt and build a franchise out of an intellectual property where there wasn't one (and really doesn't need to be one). After all, it's not just "Robin Hood"; some time ago we had heard rumblings of Universal wanting to start a shared film-world for their various famous monsters they owned the rights to also, with it recently confirmed the new "Dracula Untold" movie is basically a stealth-launch for the franchise where if the film does well it will officially be folded-into the cinematic universe. This would join other planned features such as a "The Mummy" pseudo-reboot and a most-likely a Hugh Jackman-less "Van Helsing," thereby making me uninterested in the movie (as I enjoy his acting) along with other folk (who enjoy his rock-hard abs). Plus, we of course have DC, "Betting the farm," as it were on, "Batman VS Superman," in the hopes it will allow them to spin-off a bunch of other heroes into movies and undoubtedly move forward with a "Justice League" flick. The thing is though, all these movie studios are being incredibly presumptuous and believing in the fallacy that a shared cinematic universe is an automatic money-maker when it has only been so successful for Marvel due to a mixture of factors.

No Hugh Jackman? In that case, no "Van Helsing" for me.

What are these factors I speak of? Well, first off as a major element of comic-books themselves is the concept of a shared universe ,Marvel already had an advantage. Yes, they might have lacked the rights to a variety of franchises due to desperate business decisions back when bankruptcy seemed imminent in the early 2000s, but they still had a hefty catalog of intellectual properties. The fact that it wasn't out of place to see one character pop-up in multiple comics lent itself expertly to such a thing happening in the Marvel movies. This argument however raises a potential counter in the form of, "Well, Spider-Man is a Marvel character too and Sony's attempts to spin him off look like they may be in trouble." To your claim I can simply say that while you are right about the comic-book element you're overlooking my next point about what is important--namely, people didn't get the full story they wanted.

Marvel Studios let its franchises grow organically, they started with movies that could mostly stand alone perfectly well but planted bits and pieces to allow them to build-up to the "Avengers" movie. For an example of a studio doing basically the complete opposite we look to the aforementioned Sony with their "Amazing Spider-Man 2," which was met with an at-best lukewarm reception by critics and a decent-but-nowhere-near-what-was-hoped-for box office intake. It seemed as if any review I read pointed-out it felt more like "ASM2" was trying to set-up other movies and franchises than it was focused on telling its own tale. Basically, by spreading the metaphorical meal too thin people didn't receive a full entree and a tasty appetizer for what was next (as Marvel has done), but instead got half-a-course and were teased with, "We can't give you the rest of the dish now, but just wait a couple of years and we promise in the end you'll feel it was worth the wait!" 
Begins, and then possibly ends prematurely.
This concept of jamming everything into one movie with little pre-introduction and thinking people will walk away satisfied with a little taste of everything clearly didn't work for Sony to the point rumors are now circulating that they and Marvel might be working-out a deal so as to benefit both studios, and this makes me worry how, "Batman VS Superman" will fare. After all, we already have it confirmed Wonder Woman will be appearing in the film and it feels like every other week we hear a new casting rumor about another hero potentially appearing in the movie (Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, and so forth). I could be wrong and in the case of "Batman VS Superman" people actually will enjoy just getting a taste of various characters and turn out in droves for the movie and it's potential spin-offs; or, it could also turn out the movie is indeed tightly plotted and does what Marvel has been doing with their, "Full meal, plus an appetizer of what's next." I honestly don't know because "Batman VS Superman" is so far in the future that little is known at all about the plot. However, "Batman VS Superman" does lead into my third point about a factor that helped Marvel, that they had a foundation on which to build.

When Marvel made "Iron Man" there was no guarantee it would succeed how it did and lead to many other movies and the eventual "Avengers". Sure, they laid some groundwork and threw in that Nick Fury cameo at the last second, but once people enjoyed that and other Marvel films they had the thought, "Okay, I liked those earlier movies so I bet 'Avengers' will be good." After all--if I may return to the food metaphor--I bet if you were served two tasty meals and told to come back to an establishment in the near future for more I imagine you would hesitate less than if a chef were to come up to you and say you ought to stop by their restaurant multiple times as they have a variety of dishes planned, but you haven't even tried anything. That's basically what the article on Hitfix I linked to above (here it is again) is saying DC is wanting people to be okay with, declaring they have all these grand plans, but not giving us anything substantial yet to get an early measurement of if we think the overall plan is even any good.
I really do hope this is good.
There hasn't been much like the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Sure, the old horror-movies of the black-and-white era would have cross-overs, and we've seen it with Freddy Kruger and Jason Vorhees duking it out, but otherwise it has been less cross-overs between various properties and instead one franchise growing with multiple films, like your "James Bond" or "Fast and Furious" movies--but without any sort of spin-offs. You could maybe, just maybe, make the case for the X-Men movies as they have had "Wolverine" spin-offs and rumors are always swirling of a "Fantastic Four and X-Men" cross-over, but the "Wolverine" movies were more like a prequel and sequel to the X-Men flicks, and we don't even have the new "Fantastic Four" out in theaters yet to consider the idea of a cross-over, so let's not play the "X-Men" card.

As I've said, Marvel has three factors working in their favor in addition to a fourth I haven't yet mentioned. To review those three:

1. Comic-book movies draw from the shared universe concept of comic-books.
2. Marvel let their franchises grow organically with complete stories.
3. Marvel has had a foundation on which to build.

What is the fourth element? It is multi-faceted in that, Marvel has picked the right directors, writers, and actors to make their movies (mostly) quite good. Sure there have been some misfires (Marvel would prefer you forget about Edward Norton), but overall each movie has had its own tone, been marketed extremely well, and been overall a fun time. Honestly, who would have thought a year ago a movie set in space featuring 1970's music and a talking tree would become the highest-grossing film of 2014 so far?
"I am Groot, and I am making the paper!"
In conclusion, just because Marvel's cinematic universe has been a smashing success that doesn't mean every other one will make a bunch of money. Therefore, my request to film studios is please don't make a movie-verse unless it actually makes sense. DC I can understand, maybe even a monster one, but when I start hearing about it for Robin Hood its obvious things are getting crazy. Although, if they could get Lil' Jon to play Little John I could probably go for that.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Mini-Run Review: The First Six Issues of The Current "Moon Knight" Series Versus #7 and #8

I loved the first six issues of the current "Moon Knight" series. Between Warren Ellis' writing, the art of Declan Shalvey, and amazing color-work by Jordi Bellaire, it was an utter treat from the first issue until the end of the all-too-brief run. It was a perfect trifecta of talent and once I heard it would basically end with the sixth issue all I could do was mope some and have high hopes for the next creative team to do a good job too. Thankfully, the comic has maintained its quality, if a decent seventh issue and amazing eighth issue are any indicator.

When I heard that Brian Wood would be replacing Ellis as the writer I felt some trepidation, as even though Wood has turned in some great work on various comics almost no one else writes in the odd way Ellis does--plus all the sexual harassment matters that came out last year involving him has left a sour taste in my mouth. I then also heard that Shalvey would be replaced by Greg Smallwood on art, and as I'm not too familiar with Smallwood I thought I would wait to pass judgement on how the comic would look. I was at least relieved to hear Bellaire would be staying on the book, ensuring we would continue to get the amazing colors with the cool effect of Moon Knight being an eerie stark white against all the background elements. Now that I've had two issues to get a feel for this new set-up, with the latest issue coming out this week, I feel I can offer at least somewhat of an opinion on why this is still a super-solid series.

I did not know the doctor would be as important in Wood's issues as she is in Ellis' first.

Whereas the first six issues of Moon Knight were all basically stand-alone tales with only the sixth bringing some aspects together, here Brian Wood seems to be trying to do a balancing act of having each issue sort-of stand alone, but also clearly connect to the other with plot elements that carry-over more-so than with Ellis' mini-run. A doctor-character we've meet briefly before in the first issue of this series is scorned in issue seven and it comes back to bite Moon Knight on the proverbial bottom in the eighth issue. It is clear a kind of over-arching plot is forming,  but like Ellis' run each issue could still be considered mostly a tasty single serving--unlike say, Bendis' run which was basically one sort-of decent story stretched out over 12 issues.

With it established the issues stand pretty well on their own even with Ellis' departure and Wood's arrival, the question becomes if the comic itself is still good, with this new writer and artist. Well, the seventh issue(Wood and Smallwood's first) is decent if not amazing. It is a story with Moon Knight, but it sort of feels like almost any other heroic character could have been substituted for him and it would not have changed much within the comic. It basically is just about our hero stopping an assassin from killing a dictator who now has been able to shroud himself in a veil of legitimacy by holding questionable elections within the country he rules with an iron fist. Why exactly Moon Knight is trying to stop this assassination isn't clear other than his stating it isn't how he wants justice done. It's all perfectly well-written, and Smallwood does a solid job, but it lacks the "Wow" factor of Ellis and Shalvey's stuff. Thankfully,  the eighth issue is an amazing piece of work that is just mind-blowing.

Issue eight of "Moon Knight" is incredible because just as Ellis and Shalvey seemed to have a symbiosis that resulted in some astonishing comics, in this issue Wood and and Smallwood turn in something just delightful. The majority of the issue is told as if being viewed through various forms of technology, be they the camera on a phone, a television broadcast, security camera, or Moon Knight's own personal drones. Also, this issue really feels like it is about Moon Knight, as it has discussion of his personality issues, his working with his friend on the police force (Flint), and otherwise maintains that off-kilter feel of wondering if our hero is really especially heroic. So yeah all  the stuff that the best Moon Knight comics have always had. The situation itself is that the new World Trade tower has hostages taken within it and Moon Knight has been called in to resolve the situation--although clearly there is a bit more at play than meets the eye. The way Smallwood uses panel layouts to simulate various forms of how we would view an electronic broadcast is amazing and shows that this artist I only knew a little about is definitely quite talented. Coupled with Wood's writing style that makes Moon Knight seem just the right mixture of unbalanced-yet-professional it results in a stellar comic that makes my slightly lukewarm feelings about the seventh issue vanish away as I think about how superb this eighth one was.

I enjoyed Moon Knight when done by Ellis and Shalvey the most when it used the form of comics in a creative way, with the whiting-out of panels over a series of pages in the 2nd issue being a prime example. Well, the eighth issue is so clever that it measures up to those first sixth issues with ease and even surpasses some of them in quality. A great deal of thanks also of course goes to Bellaire, who has maintained the murky-look of the series with that ever-impressive blinding-white of Moon Knight standing out in a way that is both imposing and confusing to the eye--but in a good way.

The first six issues of Moon Knight were miraculous, with even the weakest issues being of great quality. While the seventh issue starts Wood and Smallwood's new run with a bit of a stumble, the eighth issue feels like a creative team firing on cylinders. The question now of course becomes if the ninth issue and on will be more like the decent-but-uninspiring seventh, or the dynamite eighth. Clearly I'm hoping for the latter, but only time will tell.

Issues #1-#6 (overall): 4.5 out of 5--because there are some 4-star and 5-star issues, so it balances out.
Issue #7: 3 out of 5 stars
Issue #8: 5 out of 5 stars.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A Good Independent Comic--Dash #1

I'm hoping to post one of my "rant-review" segments where I do a bunch of capsule reviews of comics, but I am a bit behind on some of the more "mainstream" series I'm reading I instead have lately been checking out more and more independent and smaller-press stuff. Perhaps I'll get some rant-reviews up of those even, but for now I thought I would point out one smaller-press comic I read and especially quite enjoyed. It is titled "Dash" and contains story elements I often quite like, namely noir-type stuff, but with a twist.

Dash Malone is a private investigator in 1940's Los Angeles. He hasn't gotten a case in awhile until the start of the comic when a woman named Zita Makara has come to his office hoping for help exchanging, "A large sum of money," for an item she insists Dash will find of little importance. Zita attempts to use her sex appeal to get Dash to take the case, but that is where one of the first interesting elements of the story come into play that make it more than your usual "old-timey detective tale." Namely, Dash Malone is gay, and only sort-of in the closet with it clear some know about his background (especially on the police force, interestingly) but many more people who don't. He of course realizes Zita's request sounds fishy, but as he really needs some income he decides to sleep on it.

Zita really wants Dash to take her case.
From this point the comic spends much of its time introducing the other various characters that will play a role in the story, such as Dash's assistant Cindy, his one friend on the police force, Sal, and his secret-lover Johnny Plinketts--or "Plink", for short. We actually meet both Sal and Plink at the same time, as Dash and Plink find their romantic meet-up in the park interrupted by Sal--who chides them that if it were any other cop they could be going to prison for, "Public Sodomy." Sal also mentions a strange series of murders going on near the park, a plot element I didn't realize would become as important as it does.

After we start getting feel for the characters the plot advances some more, with Dash trying to get in contact with Zita (whom he learns works at the museum giving tours of the Egyptian exhibit), but finding it increasingly difficult to locate her. Then the issue comes to its cliffhanger that involves a character Dash knows becoming another victim of the mysterious murderer, with it actually surprising me a bit which character is affected. This twist, which I won't fully spoil so as to encourage you to pick-up the comic, makes it clear future issues will have Dash trying to figure out who is behind the murders and how it relates to the people he knows and has recently met.

Dash and his lover "Plink".
I greatly enjoyed "Dash". As I mentioned I love noir-type stories and a good detective yarn always gets my attention. When I first heard about "Dash" being a mystery story and then learned that it also incorporated the intriguing element of the main character being a gay man in a time being gay was especially dangerous, I knew it was a comic I wanted to read! Writer Dave Ebersole gives us a suspenseful story and artist Delia Gable provides artwork that is appropriately moody, with muted colors and a slight feeling of unease that compliments the events of the story perfectly.

The aforementioned Northwest Press is behind this comic, and is a publisher that focuses on putting out, "The best lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender comics collections and graphic novels," and, "Celebrating the LGBT comic's community." This first issue of "Dash" definitely is a great comic and one a person can enjoy regardless of their sexuality--although it is of course encouraging to see more diversity in comics. As Northwest Press is a smaller publisher your local comic shop may not carry "Dash", so if you want a physical or digital copy you can check it out on their website here. I would recommend you do!
4 out of 5 stars.

Note: A digital review copy of "Dash" was provided at my request.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Marvel and Jack Kirby's Family Actually Have Settled?

In news that I did not see coming, Marvel Comics and the family of Jack Kirby have actually settled their long-running dispute over the copyright of characters he created. It was thought the U.S. Supreme Court might take the case up on Monday and that it could heavily impact copyright law in our nation. I guess Marvel thought their odds were bad enough that finally settling was a better option than going to court. We don't yet know what the settlement was, but it wouldn't surprise me if it were some huge number like a billion dollars.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

My Thoughts on the Game "Destiny"

This isn't a review of "Destiny" even though I will give a "score" in a sense of rating how much fun I had during my playing-time. I say that because while over the past week I played the game a great deal as a rental from Redbox on my PS3, I didn't get far enough to feel I experienced everything. Don't get me wrong, I did a lot; I went to every story-mission planet in the game except Mars (which is towards the end) and played a variety of matches in the, "Crucible," where people can fight other players. All that said, I didn't hit the technically highest level of 20, and have only played as the "Hunter" class. Therefore, I don't think I can truly "review" Destiny, but I can offer my thoughts on it, as many have been doing lately.

"Destiny" is a first-person shooter with a bunch of RPG elements, and it is online. It's quite the mish-mash of genres and to the credit of developer Bungie it mostly works well. That is the basic way to define the game, but what is "Destiny" in a broader sense? To answer that I would say that "Destiny" is fun, good-looking, and encourages socialization. "Destiny" is also at times dull, repetitive, and very lonely. While I would often love looking at the beautiful rusting buildings and barren lands on various planets, I would get tired of seeing the exact ones for mission-after-mission as I kept going into the same buildings to shoot the same enemies.

I would get a thrill from scoring a perfect head-shot on an alien, or using my throwing-knife against a robotic "Vex" and hearing a satisfying "thunk" as it slammed into them, but on the other hand I would grow tired of countless waves of the same-looking aliens or Vex appearing in front of me and doing little besides charging or occasionally moving sideways until I shot them. Plus, those times I was in areas where I would have to start over if I died got pretty annoying around the 3rd time I lost 20 minutes of progress because an enemy got off a lucky shot or two. That made me a little enraged.

One big missed opportunity is the story. "Destiny" will at times have cut-scenes you can't skip where it gives off the impression that it is telling a grand space-opera of a story, when really the game is at best putting on airs. It opens promisingly enough with talk of a "Traveler" and a "Darkness" but soon melts away into nonsense, serving as little more than exposition to give you an excuse to go somewhere, shoot some stuff, scan an item, shoot more stuff, and get a last-second info-dump of useless story before getting kicked back out into orbit to decide on another mission. It's kind of sad really, because there is some great voice-talent on deck (Peter Dinklage serves as your "Ghost", a floating robot companion) but it all seems wasted on a story that appears as if it has a decent idea but does almost nothing useful with it. Clearly you aren't playing the game for the story then, but the adventures you can go on and the friends you can make. Therefore, you would think making friends is easy considering this is an online game, right? Well, you would be sort of correct.

"Destiny" will at times facilitate you meeting other players and forming "Fireteams" which are basically the "Parties" of other online games. You and two other people can create one and go run missions together. It is fun to meet other people, but the game is very weird in that for regular missions it won't help match you with folk, instead making you do the work of making friends in the main-city of the game, or when you run into the occasional stranger out in the main game-world. This is bizarre as the game will at other times helpfully assign you a team should you choose to do a "Strike" mission, which is basically like the dungeons of fantasy games where you fight through some weaker foes before facing a super-powerful "boss" character. Why "Destiny" chooses to be helpful for Strikes yet otherwise leaves you hanging is a good metaphor for much of the game, because as "Destiny" gives it also can taketh away.

What I mean by my previous statement is that "Destiny" can be really stingy with giving you good "Loot". As a lower level player I'll steadily level-up, but oftentimes find a small amount of items "drop" when I'm running missions that can result in my being level 15 but having level 10 gear--which doesn't sound too horrible until you think about how I'm facing enemies that are also level 15 and designed to fight players who are equipped for such an encounter.

Someone has reached level 30,
thanks to good item drops and a lot of playing.
Apparently things only get worse once you hit level 20, because to level-up further you need "Rare" and "Legendary" gear, which contains "light" and makes you a greater level than 20. These items can be extremely hard to come by or earn enough in-game money to purchase. Hence, when doing a super-hard Strike doesn't even guarantee you any reward at all, I imagine that is frustrating. This has resulted in players doing things such as taking advantage of a bug that allows them to enjoy a, "Loot Cave," which sounds a little like cheating, but I can understand people going there when they have a choice between playing difficult missions for hours and getting nothing, or mindless shooting aliens at a cave for a bit and having a somewhat decent chance of getting some sweet gear. Although now as of today the loot cave is no more, so there goes that option. I mean, most online games guarantee you some kind of reward when you play the hard stuff, and while "Destiny" is working on getting better at doing such, it isn't quite there.

It is interesting to note how "Destiny" can be so tight-fisted with rewards, because as if the game would realize when I was about to quit in rage it would suddenly provide me with a kickin' pulse rifle, or a beautiful-looking and wonderfully stat-heavy helmet. Perhaps this mixture of anger and joy simply illustrates "Destiny" has a good grasp of a punishment-reward system, in that I am punished with repetitive missions and enemies but, "Thrown a bone," in the form of some awesome equipment just often enough to want to keep playing. That's the crux of it really, "Destiny" makes you mad and bores you, but then chooses sometimes to give you something really useful or show-off a gorgeous landscape and makes you want to keep playing to see what's next, even if it will be 3 hours of monotony before a blast of joy.

"Destiny" is a game that is gorgeous even if you're playing on a PS3 as I did, but it also gets old traipsing around the same places countless times. "Destiny" is a game that is fun with others, but will often have you by yourself. "Destiny" is a game that can feel rewarding but much of the time has you annoyed, and all of that sums up "Destiny" well. It is a game which you can describe as, "It's good, but..." because no matter what kind thing you have  to say about the game, there usually is a caveat to follow-up with. All of that said, if you approach "Destiny" not expecting something utterly amazing as all the pre-game hype built it up to be and you go in knowing you'll need to be patient with all the boring stuff to enjoy the exciting parts, then you will have fun. Should you expect a constant stream of rewards, excitement, and new environs to explore every mission you'll find yourself cursing the game relentlessly.

I truly did have a great deal of fun while renting "Destiny" and will probably buy it when the price drops or I make enough money to buy a PS4 and transfer my save over (a nice feature) as I am still an extremely poor AmeriCorps VISTA. I had avoided reading much about "Destiny" compared to many others who had gotten so excited for the game that nothing could have met their expectations; that is probably why I had the degree of fun I did, and why I would indeed recommend you check "Destiny" out if you want to have an interesting and enjoyable experience. Plus, Bungie has made it clear they plan to keep adding things to the game (some stuff for free and others costing money) so I bet in a few months or a year "Destiny" will be a bit different than it is now, and quite possibly even better.

The only thing I am mostly sure of is that the story will probably still be atrocious in the future; that's a case of needing to not just throw the baby out with the bathwater, but it being a good idea to dump the bath too. Maybe keep Peter Dinklage around if a sequel is made, because even if people have been making fun of his subpar job in the game I thought he did good work with what he had. That's "Destiny" at its core really, doing a good job with what it has, but nothing amazing.
3.5 out of 5 stars.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Music Videos Have Made a Bit of a Quiet Comeback

MTV is "Music Television" in the same way TLC is "The Learning Channel".
I was sitting and thinking, as I am prone to do sometimes, and came to an interesting realization--it seems music videos have made a bit of a comeback. Just think about how back in the late 1980's and during the 1990's you would have stations such as MTV, VH1, BET, and so forth playing music videos all the time. However after some years they started playing them less in favor of other programs...then only at late hours of the day or during their video count-down shows...and then basically never.

I did a report for a college class back in the mid-2000's where we evaluated a particular health-message in various forms of media. One of the forms of media we were supposed to evaluate was the music video. My professor said for the next year he was probably going to drop music videos from the project because they just seemed to never be broadcast anymore, and at that time I agreed. Then something interesting happened, YouTube became really popular (and watching music videos on iTunes, or other websites, but mainly it was YouTube).

These days you still will almost never find music videos on basic cable channels. However, if you go onto the internet and search for a song that is quite popular the odds are not too shabby it will have a music video. Sure, these music videos may not have the insane production values that some contained back in the 1990's when videos were in their heyday (Michael Jackson spent literally millions on his, for one example), but they exist. Whether it is an extremely mediocre pop-rapper declaring how she is fancy, or Snoop Dogg and Jason Derulo--excuse me--"Jasoooon Derullloooo", informing women with large bottoms they need to wiggle, new songs are indeed getting music videos.

I honestly would not have predicted this happening; I thought music videos were going to go the way of VHS tapes and Surge--namely, old ones would still be around getting dusty and spoiled, but new ones would not be produced. However, just like Surge, music-videos now are making a comeback thanks to the internet. This isn't a loud and outrageous return, but a quiet one that nonetheless is occurring. Perhaps this is because we as human beings like to have both visual and auditory stimulation, so it makes sense that music videos would refuse to go away. After all, why would we want to strain our imagination and think of imagery for a song when we can just log onto the web and see some (he asked slightly sarcastically)?
We've always desired something to "see" with what we hear.
I suppose music videos evolving into a form of internet-entertainment is another example of a form of media staying alive by keeping current with technology. Being able to digitally-download video-games is another example, with computer-gamers barely buying discs now, and consoles starting to have more and more digital purchases (downloadable content, anyone?). The only thing that annoys me about these internet music-videos now is that sometimes artists will have their video with one website or service exclusively. Therefore, if you want to see the newest video of Popstar A, you have to go onto Streaming Service 2, which may be annoying if you only ever use Streaming Service 1--e.g. why the Hell would you put your music video on Yahoo when everyone uses YouTube? Still, that is a somewhat minor complaint overall and probably won't ruin internet music videos or anything major.

While I once thought music videos were doomed they have now risen from the ashes of cable television like the veritable phoenix of legends. It has been truly interesting to see this form of media that I thought was petering out come roaring back--albeit in a quiet-ish roar, if such a metaphor makes any sense. I can only wonder what other seemingly antiquated form of media or technology will suddenly be given new life thanks to the creativity of others. I really am curious what could get updated next. Maybe the watch? Nah, who would do that?