Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Television Tuesday: When Reality Shows Get too Real AKA The Rise and Fall of "Honey Boo Boo"

Once It Was All Fun and Happy...
A show no more.
Hey, remember when we could talk about that television program, "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo," and just laugh? We could giggle at these strange self-declared Rednecks and their odd behaviors, grinning and guffawing because in some way they were, "Real," seeing as we call it reality television. I mean, we knew full well that as with any reality T.V. program it was an exaggerated sort of existence, one where we only saw the moments that were cute, funny, or heart-touching. We knew there was probably more to this family than the cameras or occasional interview revealed,  but we liked having them presented to us through that happy-go-lucky filter of the show.

It was a faux-reality, but it was comfortable and safe, more fiction than fact, but still apparently "real" enough we could enjoy it and consider it a possibly accurate portrayal of this family's life. The thing is though, it wasn't real, and this fake bubble of joy and everything seeming perfectly, "Beautimous," was bound to pop when something happened to, "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" that seems to happen to many reality shows--that is, it got too real.

...But Then The Real World Intruded
No, he really didn't.
If we want actual reality we can watch the news. There we will see all the wars going on, panic over Ebola, racial tensions in the US, and all other sorts of upsetting things. That's why we love fictional products, but sometimes we want our fiction to feel at least somewhat grounded in real-life, and that is arguably where our fondness for, "Reality Shows," came from. We can say it's real, but know it truly isn't. Still, who cares? After all, it's fun and the people on the shows are apparently "real" enough so let's enjoy it. The thing is though, it is still all fake, but with the added element that due to the people on the show being real their "fake-lives" may start coming into conflict with their real ones.

That conflict of "realities" is why Hulk Hogan's show ended up getting cancelled when his son went to jail and he broke up with his wife. That's why so many couples who fell in love on, "The Bachelor/Bachelorette" didn't last. Hell, that's why so many folk on those "Real Housewives" shows seem to end up going broke, developing a drug addiction, going to prison, getting divorced or some combination of the four. This is why I wasn't surprised when the real real-world started to intrude into Alana and her family's life, but still saddened. Plus, the reality that has intruded is a scary one indeed.

It's Over Now
June AKA Mama June
"Honey Boo Boo," is cancelled; as to why it is no more, the answer is alarming. The infamous Mama June of the show broke-up with Sugar Bear a bit ago and started dating an old flame. The thing is, this old flame just got out of a ten-year prison stint for child molestation. Also, while the case he went to prison for was unrelated to our televised family, there had been allegations in the past that he had actually molested one of June's own children, eldest child Anna, now 20 years-old an a recent-mother herself. In news reports it has been illustrated that June apparently didn't believe her daughter's claims, and I imagine she still thinks her beau, a man by the name of Mark McDaniel is innocent and never touched her child or any other--that's how denial works, after all. June probably would rather think this romantic partner of hers is wrongly convicted than deal with the fact that her own daughter says he forced her to do things no child should be forced to do.

As it became more and more apparent June was in fact interacting with McDaniel and even allowing him to be around her other underage girls TLC pulled the plug on the show faster than you can say, "This could bring some bad press," and announced they were ending all activities dealing with the program, "Immediately." Now, it seems June could even lose custody of the kids as generally the State doesn't want children around a convicted sex offender, and her ex-husband Sugar Bear (and Alana's birth-father, as the other kids have different dads) could sue for full custody in the interest of their safety. It is all extremely depressing.
(Possibly) happier times.
It's upsetting for some because they enjoyed watching the show (I quit after the wedding episode/finale of Season 2), for others it is because they now see that this supposedly adorable family they loved was never as fun or happy as they thought, but instead dealing with their own serious issues just as many families do--although often not to such a disturbing and child-scarring degree. Some people felt a mixture of anger and vindication, I bet, declaring, "Well, we wanted to see how people who make bad decisions behaved, was this really that shocking?" Other folk are probably mad the show was cancelled because now their jokes about the program or family will be little more than outdated popular-culture references--"Hey, remember, 'Honey Boo Boo?' Wasn't that crazy?" I'm not really mad, sad, vindicated, or otherwise emotional about the show--I'm just concerned.

What Does the Future Hold?
What's next?
I'm concerned because the events of these past weeks have shown that no matter how cute or adorable a "real" family can be on their television show, there always are skeletons in the closet, and how this family deals with their skeletons now that they've seen the light of day is worrisome. It is concerning because the family of Honey Boo Boo had some stark skeletons indeed, and now all we can really do is ask, What will happen to this fractured family?" Seriously, what will happen with Sugar Bear, what will happen to the titular Alana/Honey Boo Boo and her siblings, is there really any way to know? Then again, now that they're no longer on T.V. will America care? Sometimes it really does seem with us it's, "Out of sight, out of mind," so I wonder if anyone will give a hoot now  that the show is cancelled, the equipment is packed up, and instead of being a famous dysfunctional family, the household is now just another unremarkable one among millions of others.

I don't know what the future holds for those who gained fame and possibly fortune from being on, "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo," but I do truly hope they are able to use the funds wisely and figure out what is best (and safest) for the children, especially if June really is going to continue dating this McDaniel person. Only time will tell, really.I mean, maybe now TLC can go back to actually trying to be a channel of learning! Yeah, I know that isn't gonna happen, I just thought after such a depressing article it would be good to end on a joke.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Rant-Reviews of some Newer Releases That Just Started or Concluded

New-Comic Smell
Earlier today I did some rant-reviews of comics that have been out for a bit and either just started or
ended. Now, I would like to talk about some more comics that are beginning or ending, but these ones are slightly newer releases. Shall We?

The Reviews Themselves (Again)
Wytches #1
With Scott Snyder writing a horror-story (and I always think he is at his best when getting a bit horror-styled, even on his "Batman work) and Jock turning in his amazing art, would you really expect this comic to be any less than at least impressive? In all seriousness though, this is a great piece of work, even if the true premise isn't quite clear until some back-matter in the book where Snyder shares his inspiration for the story and how it will deal with the need for people to "pledge" others in order to get wishes they have granted. This issue itself is more of a way to set-up how a family, and their daughter (named Sail) in particular will be suffering due to the Wytches, an ancient evil force that Sail's parents seem to know a bit more about then they are letting on, but future issues will probably reveal more of that.

As always, Jock's art is amazing, with its somewhat scratchy-style complimenting the creepy and at times violent presentation of the story expertly. The Wytches are a somewhat hard-to-picture force, with Jock's hints of their immense scale and power allowing us to see just enough to be intimidated, and hiding just enough to have our imaginations concoct all kinds of horrors. Between Jock's stellar art and Snyder's scary writing this is quite the good first issue, although it was a bit annoying  that to understand the true "concept" of the book I had to read the additional back-matter instead of the story itself explaining things in this debut issue. I imagine future ones will clarify the concept of "Wytches" further however, so I'm not overly concerned.
4 out of 5 stars.

Sabrina #1
Another new series dealing with wytches, but in this case spelled the normal way (witches) and with the twist that this isn't just a normal scary witchcraft yarn, this is with someone who is possibly the most famous witch of all--Sabrina. With the immense success of the "Afterlife with Archie" comics that took the Archie characters and put them into something much darker and violent than usual, it was thought it made sense to do the same thing with Sabrina, although this comic takes place in its own world separate from any of the other Archie-comics.

As with "Afterlife with Archie" part of the thrill of this comic is seeing a character we are used to behaving one way and having it morphed into something quite different. Taking place in the 1960's this comic has a strong horror vibe but does work in some humor so as to keep things a tad fun. Sabrina is of course a teenage witch, but this isn't a light-and-happy witchcraft, it is dark and a bit brutal. Sabrina's cousin Ambrose (a warlock) is an interesting character too as his flippant attitude toward the rules of witchcraft is a good counter to Sabrina's desire to be well-behaved despite having her own selfish desires (such as making a boy at the high-school be attracted to her). The whole thing works quite well between the art and eerie-yet-not-too-dark tone, and I look forward to the next issue.
3.5 out of 5 stars.

The Standard #5
I've discussed my fondness for this comic before, and this fifth and final double-sized issue (with it even having a break in the middle as if to lead into a sixth) is a solid piece of entertainment. While not as meta as the third issue (something I loved), it brings things to a satisfying conclusion and has overall been a great tale about what happens when a Golden-Age hero ends up having to face the modern world and all its evils. Even though this is the conclusion to the story, certain sub-plots seem unresolved (who was "The Corpse"?) and I could see how this comic could come back in the future if desired by the creators. As it stands now though, this was a delightful mini-series.
4 out of 5 stars.

Punks: The Comic #1
I actually am familiar with the "Punks" comics. I somehow have a little digest containing some stories about the titular "Punks" that I remember enjoying, and am not quite certain how it came into my possession, although I am glad it did because that faint memory of enjoying the other "Punks" works I read helped me know I wanted to get this new release and enjoy it. As I was expecting weird abstract humor with a dash of the absurd I was happy when that was what I got. "Punks" is the sort of comic that makes no sense, but that actually is what makes it most enjoyable. As it takes place in a fiction with no rules, it can do whatever it wants, be that having a joke about pants that can withstand any punch to the groin (Wunderpants!) or suddenly becoming an activity-sheet like you see in restaurants on kids' menus, but of course with a much more twisted sense of humor (it may be juvenile, but the word-search having nothing but, "Poop," as an option made me grin).

One fascinating thing about "Punks" is how it isn't just the writer, Joshua Hale Fialkov, who makes it enjoyable, but in fact the art by Kody Chamberlain that, "Seals the deal," as it were. The artwork is a mish-mash of images that look pasted together almost as a sort of grade-school collage but with hints of well-done illustration. The strangeness of the imagery compliments the story well, with the surreal smiling faces of some murderous garden gnomes that appear early in the story working well to impart just how bizarre all the proceedings in the comic truly are. That said, comedy is a hard thing to do, and while this issue did give me some chuckles, it didn't crack me up as much as I would have hoped to give it a truly stellar rating. Still, for the masterful artwork and some solid gags I still think I can give this...
3.5 out of 5 stars.

Memetic #1
A new BOOM! comic, "Memetic" is a three-issue limited series that was initially promoted  through BOOM! and a bunch of its affiliated creators randomly posting a meme of a smiling sloth. Little did we as the populace know that the sloth himself would end up being a meme that destroys society--in the fiction of the comic only, thankfully. Regardless of if a meme really could destroy the world, this comic makes it seem quite possible and is amazingly good.

When I first heard about how the concept for the comic would how the sudden appearance of a "Good Times Sloth," causes society to fall apart I wasn't sure how writer James Tynion IV would make that work. Well, he makes it work exceptionally well, starting us on day 3 after the appearance of the meme and then rewinding back to the start. An immense feeling of dread built in me as I read the issue, seeing everyone around the world quickly become obsessed with this new meme (not unlike how real society can suddenly care a lot about some random fun image), and wondering when things would go wrong. Well, toward the end of the issue it becomes clear that the meme is not just a cute image, with it in fact causing grisly results 12 hours after once someone is exposed to it--with some exceptions such as one of our main characters, Aaron, being color-blind and therefore unable to be harmed by the meme.

When people start going mad the comic reminds me a bit of a zombie-story but mixed with the fast-moving insane-people of the "28 Days/Weeks" later series or "Crossed". The aspect of the comic that sets it apart from being just a re-hash of those stories however is how it uses the concept of our highly inter-connected society and riffs on the idea that such an easy way to connect with others could easily bring about our world's downfall. Also, the fact that it isn't until towards the end of the comic that all Hell breaks loose allows the comic to have a pace that isn't slow, but also knows better than to rush in to all the madness. By teasing us with a fear of what the "Good Times Sloth" may cause but not revealing it until we are already somewhat emotionally invested in the characters it makes the shock of sudden violence all that more scary. This was a really, really great comic, and I am surprised I loved this as much as I did, considering I expected something just decent. You should check this out for sure, just look out for that meme!
5 out of 5 stars.

Great Fun Was Had
There you go, a bunch of quality-stuff that is a bit newer. Go give them a read!

Rant-Reviews of Some Older Releases That Just Started or Finished

Not As New, But Still Worth Talking About
These comics aren't exactly brand-new, having come out some weeks (or even a month) ago. Still, I think they are worth discussing so I'm going to do just that!

The Reviews Themselves
Gotham Academy #1
This is an extremely promising start to a new series by the talented Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher as writers and Karl Kerschl on art. While many DC books these days seem to suffer from a house-style in the art as much as the storytelling, this first issue of "Gotham Academy" feels refreshing in how different it is. Part of the reason it feels this way is probably it doesn't quite fit into one genre. As a comic about a prep-school in Gotham, it has a bunch of the requisite teen drama one would expect, but also works in some serious-sounding mysteries about issues more stern than the usual teenage relationship drama, along with hints of horror (something evil clearly lurks in the academy) and a good helping of comedy. 

The main character is Olive Silverlock, whose hair does indeed match her name in its striking sheen. Apparently her attitude has changed immensely over the summer, with something awful befalling her mother and an immense fear of the Batman being evident too. Speaking of Batman, considering he never actually appears in the comic (besides as Bruce Wayne), you definitely feel his influence on Gotham, with his existence both being treated as something normal (People shurg-off the Bat-Signal shining brightly in the sky) but still ominous (Olive clearly has a reason to fear Batman, most likely relating to what happened to her over the summer).

Between the intriguing mysteries, stellar art, and otherwise being an enjoyable comic, "Gotham Academy" is a pleasant step in the right direction for DC considering how lately they have been turning me off with most of their non-Vertigo output. If rumors from Bleeding a Cool are to be believed, the success of DC's more off-kilter comics may help the company feel encouraged to put out more eccentric titles, and if that is the case with the result being we get titles like "Gotham Academy", that is good news indeed.
4 out of 5 stars.

Mighty Avengers #14
Just as we have a DC title starting-up as a pleasant surprise we have a Marvel title I was initially very excited for petering out a bit, but with the hope that its upcoming re-launch as "Captain America and the Mighty Avengers" might bring with it a stronger focus. Writer Al Ewing and future artist Luke Ross(on a side-note:  Please, God, no more Greg Land anywhere near this title, this book had enough of him) will hopefully make the future comics great, but as it stands, this is a perfectly-okay ending to what felt like a super-long story arc about a variety of things. These "things" ranged from yet another secret team of Avengers in the past (this time 1972, making us be up to how many Avengers before the official one now? I know of at least another.) to Blade fighting Deathwalkers, and the various Marvel-events that occurred intruding upon the book as needed--The Superior Spider-Man showed up, Infinity occurred, Original Sin took place, etc. etc. 

To the book's credit, despite all the distractions it did end-up telling a decent story about what was basically a more diverse group of Avengers than the other teams coming together and solving smaller problems while building up to a bigger one.  It resulted in not being a bad way to spend 14 issues, but to call it a particularly good time would be difficult. I can only hope that when the new Captain America, Sam Wilson, returns to the book it brings with it some good stories that take advantage of the possibilities this book offers with it's more diverse cast and the always-enjoyable Luke Cage. Then again, the first issue of the book ties-into, "Axis", so there might go my hope for it not letting events dictate what happens in the book too much.
2.5 out of 5 stars.

Roche Limit #1
A new series from Image featuring a writer and artist I do not recall having any familiarity with (Michael Moreci and Vic Malhotra, so wait, I do know "Hoax Hunters"), "Roche Limit" is an interesting title a bit reminiscent of another Image work that features a space station inhabited by questionable characters ("The Fuse") while also working in enough sub-plots to compliment the main mystery of a missing person so as to seem it has a lot going on. It is an interesting start and hearing press about how the book will in fact consist of separate arcs that are in the same universe but set in very different times makes me think this could indeed be an interesting book. For now though it is just moderately interesting, but with gorgeous art that helps make up for any annoyance I have with the story seeming to be wanting to juggle one extra sub-plot too many. A quality start, in other words.
3 out of 5 stars.

George Perez's Sirens #1
George Perez is a legend in the comic-book industry, and I was lucky enough to meet him at a comic convention where he was as pleasant as I'd heard. A bit ago he agreed to work exclusively with BOOM! for his future comic titles, and the first result of that partnership is this debut issue (with a total planned six) of his new title, "Sirens". Written and drawn by Perez, "Sirens" is just as good-looking a book I would hope, which makes it all the more depressing that I found the story to be a jumbled mess. There are jumps in time between the past and future, sci-fi elements along with fantasy ones, various female protagonists, and it all makes little-to-no sense. 

Toward the end of this issue I was just skimming any text and honestly just enjoying the art. Perez is basically saying, "You want some dragons to inexplicably be flying spaceships? Here you go! Desire to see a woman in the wild west firing off futuristic guns? Sure!" He isn't making a comic so much as a piece of good-looking art with an incredibly weak plot about mythical "Sirens" who have existed throughout time and are involved in some kind of inter-galactic war or such. I honestly have no clue what was going on but at least enjoyed the good art, and for that the book gets...
2 out of 5 stars--Although if they just cut out the text it would be a solid star better as an art showcase.

The Older Ones Have Been Reviewed!
Those are the releases that are a tad older which I wanted to talk about. Keep an eye out for another post a bit later in the day where I'll have some rant-reviews about slightly-newer releases!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Two Quick Thoughts on Marvel and One on DC/Vertigo

Thinking About the "Big 2"
I just have a few total thoughts today that I thought were detailed enough to put together in a post, but not nearly in-depth enough to stand on their own. As I have two thoughts about Marvel and only one about DC and its Vertigo imprint I think I'll post things in the order of Marvel, DC, Marvel, if for no other reason that my minor obsession with having things in a pattern will be sated that way.

Thought 1: Some of Marvel's Cancellations Are Really Causing Sadness

Marvel has been getting "props" for putting out more quirky or interesting books that don't fit into any sort of cliche "Marvel style". These titles are ostensibly in the Marvel Universe but still quite unique. Some successes of this style of letting the comics function more independently has resulted in some big critical and commercial successes such as "Ms. Marvel" and of course "Hawkeye", but other books apparently haven't performed well enough and are being cancelled. I heard a collective groan of sadness from the internet when it was revealed "She Hulk" was ending with issue #12 despite actually seeming to sell well, and you might have heard me cry out in despair when the announcement was officially made by Marvel and Peter David that "All-New X-Factor" was concluding with its 20th issue. There is a slight silver-lining to this very gray cloud in that Marvel clearly isn't yet giving up on at least trying to put out weirder titles, as the announcement of, "The Unbeatable Squirrel-Girl" shows they are willing to let their freak-flag fly a little bit.

Thought 2: It Seems We Are Approaching A Vertigo Revamp

I've discussed in the past how I had concerns about the future of DC's mature-readers imprint, Vertigo. However, after expressing my worries in that 2012 blog post the imprint seemed to start having some more success, with titles such as, "The Wake" selling like hotcakes and other critical hits such as "Trillium" leading me to conclude I was wrong and Vertigo was doing okay after all. Well, interestingly enough my first post thinking that Vertigo could be in for a shake-up might have been right after all, if admittedly "calling it" it a bit too early. I say that because it has been hinted by the DC brass that come 2015 there are plans for an overhaul of the Vertigo line. How much this relates to DC moving their office to Burbank in 2015, the fact that more former Vertigo-creators are now making titles with other publishers (Brian K Vaughn and Scott Snyder with "Saga" and "Wytches", respectively, although Snyder is still writing plenty of super-hero stuff for DC), or any other reason I cannot say. Still, whatever the case for this plan to change Vertigo it will be interesting to see what is done in an attempt to draw in more writers and artists so as to boost the line--like perhaps DC will be more willing to offer creators ownership of their intellectual property if  they write for Vertigo, or something of that sort. We can only wait and see.

Thought 3: Marvel is Going Teaser-Crazy

Lately Marvel has been releasing teaser-images that mention past events with small changes in images of the past event or a name alteration. These have been ranging from Civil War, to Planet Hulk, to Years of Future Past, to what could be some kind of Marvel Zombies VS Age of Ultron comic. Apparently even creators of some of these past events have no clue what is going on with the man behind the original Infinity Gauntlet comic (Jim Starlin) remarking he had no idea that Marvel was planning to revisit the series until he saw one of these random promos for it. Now, unless Marvel is planning some sort of mega-event with weekly comics that will revisit past comic-events or such, I have a feeling this all relates to the earlier announcement of a "Secret Wars" event in 2015 which builds off of the events of Marvel's "Avengers" and "New Avengers" comics that have featured alternate earths coming into contact with one another and requiring the destruction of one to save the other.

Considering how the concept of alternate realities will play a huge role in "Secret Wars" I could see how these promotional images are in fact advertising other realities where past comic events turned out differently, and is building-up to the idea that these separate planes of existence are going to come into conflict with "our" earth, resulting in a "House of M" world fighting the main one, or such. That is my thinking at least. For all I know maybe Marvel just really wants to put out a bunch of random mini-series set in past events and figure enough people will be hungering for a new "Armor Wars" that it'll sell well. Again, as I said when wondering about what the future holds for Vertigo, we can only wait and see. All I know is with my eventitis I won't be in a huge hurry to read any huge earth-shattering events that will, "CHANGE EVERYTHING...at least until the next event."

Done Thinking...For Now
So there were my three scattered thoughts about Marvel and DC I had today. I look forward to what other quirky books Marvel puts out and hope they will do well, while at the same time I desire for Marvel to tone it down a bit with all these event-promos that may or may not be for an actual event. Also, whatever DC does with its Vertigo imprint is bound to be neat to see. If only I could glimpse into the future and then think on that, if only.

The Avengers 2 Trailer is Officially Available on the Internet For Your Consumption

Marvel had announced the teaser trailer for "Avengers 2: Age of Ultron" would debut October 28th during a new episode of "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." but it leaked yesterday-ish. In an interesting twist, instead of trying to shut-down every attempt to post the trailer (which they attempted to do at first, but saw was impossible) Marvel just went ahead and made it officially available for all to enjoy later last night. As I strive to be helpful to my readers I have it posted below, with some of my thoughts following...


I'll start off by saying it indeed looks like an interesting movie, and that singing is really creepy. We see some images of mass destruction, hear James Spader saying a monologue quite menacingly as Ultron, can clearly detect hints of inner-team turmoil, and get glimpses of other new and familiar faces too (Look, Nick Fury! Hey, the "Avengers"-version of Quicksilver!). That said, it can be hard to gauge what a movie will be like from a teaser trailer, or even a "regular" theatrical trailer. For example, this really reminded me of the teaser-trailer for the first "Avengers" movie as that too had a lot of things exploding with massive amounts of people panicking and running away. That was in New York City and here things look a bit closer to the beach, but you get my point. Having said that, the first "Avengers" turned out to have the serious moments of its teaser trailer but also was quite fun, never getting too, "gloom-and-doom," but instead maintaining a mostly-chirpy attitude despite all the mayhem. Considering "Avengers 2" has Joss Whedon directing it also I imagine that while this may very well end up being a more somber affair, there still will be plenty of humor and fun mixed-in to prevent people from wanting to just sob endlessly once the movie ends.

Now, there is a place for dark and depressing super-hero movies (Christopher Nolan made a great impact giving us some mostly-solid Batman flicks), but with "Avengers" I think there is an expectation that even if the movie has sadness there will be some joy too. With that established, I think the trailer does a solid job of making it clear this movie will be a sort-of reckoning for the "Avengers", with Stark basically saying how things have led to this "End of everything," and Ultron seeming to talk about the world turning against the Avengers with his, "Puppets on a string," metaphor. There are more and more rumors making it sound like this could be Whedon's last "Avengers" film before the Marvel Universe embarks on a sort-of "Civil War"-styled story-line, so I would imagine Whedon wants to go out with a bang, and then after that this film I imagine it will eventually all lead into an Infinity-Gauntlet or Secret Wars-type super-film--what with the "Guardians of the Galaxy" and being too valuable of entities to not have a cross-over with the Avengers where they all fight Thanos or such.

In conclusion, I'm just as excited for "Avengers 2" as I already was, with this trailer not boosting my relatively-high enthusiasm or lowering it. Things just look like they are coming along swimmingly in the Marvel Universe and I bet this will be quite the epic once it comes out in May.

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 mighty 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 get 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.