Sunday, October 29, 2006

Or Just Sit Around and be Miserable. Your Choice.

Yeah Hal, real active

Joanne: And finally, with as little as 20 minutes a day spent riding a bike, you can strengthen your cardiovascular system in a few short weeks!

Hal: So remember… keep fit, and have fun!

Director: Cut!

Hal: Hey Joanne, great piece.

Joanne: You don’t think I looked too goofy in that bicycle helmet?

Hal: Are you kidding?! You looked great!

Joanne: Watch it, mister – flattery will get you everywhere!

Hal: Ha ha ha. Good one, Joanne!

Joanne: Thanks!

Hal: Say, Joanne… I was wondering if you’d like to maybe get a drink later tonight? Or, you know, maybe just a bite to eat?

Joanne: Boy, I don’t know Hal…

Hal: Oh, alright…

Joanne: Well, it’s just that I told a friend that I’d give her a phone call tonight.

Hal: Right, no, that’s cool. I totally understand, trust me. No prob.

Joanne: But thanks!

Hal: Well… I mean, what about tomorrow, maybe?

Joanne: Okay, Hal, I don’t mean anything by this, but… we’ve been over this before, right?

Hal: But that was 7 years ago, Joanne!

Joanne: Listen, Hal, I’m not trying to embarrass you, I’m really not. But you know I don’t feel that way about you. I mean, what more can I say?

Hal: So you’re saying that in 16 years, you’ve never even thought about it?

Joanne: Yes Hal, that’s exactly what I’m saying. Why is that so difficult for you to understand? Can two people of the opposite sex not work together without… you know…

Hal: Going for some drinks after work?

Joanne: Hal, you know it’s not about that.

Hal: Is it the moustache? I could grow it back. It only takes me, like, four weeks.

Joanne: No, Hal, that’s not it. I ‘m just not into you like that. And I really do have to make that phone call, so I’ll see you tomorrow.

Hal: Okay… I hope this won’t make things all, you know… weird from now on.

Joanne: It’s alright. You’re a great guy, Hal. Hang in there. You’ll find someone, kay?

Hal: Thanks Joanne. Keep fit and have fun.

Joanne: You too.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Not Since the Bataan Death March Has Japan Inflicted Such a Horrible Injustice on Humankind

This is worse than that game Hitler made

Mario Kart: Double Dash!! (don't forget them exclamation points) was an awful sequel to one of the greatest games on the Super Nintendo. That's my thesis, and I'll thank you for letting me back it up.

Let's begin, shall we, by outlining the franchise's history in an attempt to understand how completely this game dropped the ball. First, we have the incomparable original, Super Mario Kart. Recall your reaction to the screenshots first shown at CES '91. "A racing game featuring Mario characters," you might have been heard to exclaim. And what of this odd map that was taking up half the screen? Donkey Kong Jr. (with original undershirt) frollicking with the likes of Yoshi? I could play as a Koopa Troopa? Were those fine folks at Nintendo out of their minds? Not even close. They'd hit upon the magic formula, creating both the kart racing and mascot game genres all in one fell swoop.

We are now intimately familiar with Marios Tennis, Golf, Party and Baseball. Well, maybe not intimately familiar with Baseball, since it's not out yet. And it will probably be derivative and boring, but that's not the point. The point is that, before Nintendo turned these Mario games into soulless vehicles spawned from the depths of their merchandising department, Super Mario Kart was a breath of fresh air. A revolution. Nintendo took a chance, as it is sometimes wont to do, and created a wonderful game that nobody saw coming.

And the battle mode? Before these things became the standard, Nintendo had to create it. And, hey, if you saps would rather play online against some monkey you'll never meet (and who is, in all likelihood, as much of a loser as you are), then be my frigging guest. I'll stick with the unbridled fun and interaction that springs forth when two people are playing a game together in the same room. I mean, girls bonded while combing each other's hair and making fun of the ugly ones. Boys - those who have grown up to become Real Men - bonded playing Mario Kart.

Nintendo makes sequels about as often as Granny has bowel movements. So, after a 23-year wait, they pumped out Mario Kart 64. Not as good as the original, I'm not gonna lie to you. Now, with Double Dash!! out, even, one can see a steady decline in quality through these three games. Nonetheless, this game was competent. They put some effort in there, and managed to squeeze a few innovations into the game. Holding your banana peel behind you to protect against red shells? Inspired. Having 3 shells circle around you in such a way that you can mow your opponents down with ease? Brilliant! The tracks also hold up well, for the most part, and nothing will beat the rush you get after screwing a guy up on that last big jump at Wario Stadium (especially if that guy is Nathan).

Problems were mostly related to slowdown, and those damned pixellated sprites. And, come to think of it, you could never get a solid lead on your rival no matter how well you raced. The new Rainbow Road was also ill-conceived. Hey, Nintendo - if I wanted to waste six minutes of my life, I'd play Star Fox Assault. Finally, the battle mode was pretty lame, ensuring that since 1992, there has only been one battle mode worth playing. That's 14 years, man! You'd think this much-beloved feature of the original would be pretty easy to replicate. You'd also be wrong, apparently.

Years later, we arrive at Mario Kart: Double Dash!!. Yes, you knew it was coming. Nintendo wasn't going to let a whole generation go by without an entry in the venerable Mario Kart franchise. Screenshots were non-existent, but you knew it was only a matter of time. You figured that with all the processing power at their disposal, the programmers would be able to fix many of the second installment's bigger mistakes. Why, you even let yourself think that it just might go online so that you could play your friends and Nintendo could make themselves a mint! You damned fool. You stupid, silly man. When those first screenshots came in, featuring a car with Yoshi's head stuck on the front, your heart sank. Nevertheless, you soldiered on, assured by the delusion that only a rabid Gulag escapee could mess up a Mario Kart game.

In a move that you would later regard as the second biggest mistake of your life, you bought Double Dash!!, sight unseen, on the day of its release. Oh, what a fool you were that afternoon as you played through that game, bravely assuring your roommates that the game did not suck. How desperate you must have seemed to them as you tried in vain to unlock 150cc in the hope that it would speed the game up to acceptable levels. It was perhaps out of pity that they picked up your three extra controllers and played alongside you, but it was out of boredom that the four of you turned the system off after not a half hour of soldiering through the awful multiplayer mode. And the battle mode? Somewhere, Battle Track2 is rolling in its grave.

I have a theory about the Mario Kart franchise which states that the frequency with which the lightning bolt appears is inversely proportional to the game's quality. First, because lightning bolts just plain suck if they're used too often. Mostly though, I think that if you're a programmer and you allow one, maybe two lightning bolts per average round of Mario Kart, then you just don't get it. This fundamental lack of understanding will also invariably show up elsewhere in the game you design, ruining it for everyone. Mario Kart isn't about your flashy lightning bolt. It's not about your giant green shell. It’s not about your blue shell, that impossible-to-avoid projectile that hits only the guy in first place (which is almost guaranteed to hit you once per race, so you’d better pray it doesn’t happen in the last 30 seconds of the last lap). It's not about losing all of your items after every minor bump or scrape. It's certainly not about having a grand total of two battle mode levels in one game which are wide open arenas with no walls so that there's no way to avoid a red shell. It isn't about sticking two characters in a kart and calling it "innovation". It's not about giving each character their own gimmicky kart, and filling these karts with some pretty obscure characters. King Boo? I have vague recollections that for one Shine challenge in Mario Sunshine, I might have fought him or something. Mario Kart isn't about cutesy characters and everything from bananas to signposts having a set of cute little eyes. It isn't about getting rid of the few innovations of Mario Kart 64 (namely, the shell shields and holding your items out behind you) for simplicity's sake. I mean, if you're gonna give us 3 red shells as an item, Nintendo, we're also going to need some sort of defensive capabilities to balance that out. Not that it would matter, mind you, considering that nearly every hit slows you down for all of half a second.

I am in the territory of ranting now, and an itemized list of the game's flaws is a waste of all our time. Each of us, those who recall the ground-breaking original, as well as its so-so follow-up, are well aware of Double Dash!!'s faults. They are so apparent, in fact, that I have a hard time believing that Nintendo didn't notice. Come to think of it, I would go so far as to say that Nintendo purposely cutesied up and dumbed down this game to make it appeal to children, at the expense of its more mature customer base. You want the older market, Nintendo? We're right here. You think we'll shy away from a game featuring Princess Toadstool? Take a guess as to what was the most-played game in my hall in first year. It didn't have your Master Chief, your tactical espionage action or even your hookers in the cars and whatnot. It was a kart racer, featuring characters named Luigi, Toad and Wario. And even girls played it.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

this is teh suxors!!!1!!1



Somehwere, in an alternate 1991, instead of getting the SNES for Christmas, your parents bought you a bootleg copy of Super Mario World on an NES cartridge. The name of this alternate 1991? Hong Kong. Because, really, if you were living in crippling poverty, why would you pay full-price for a video game?

PS: I'm not gay, but the Scissor Sisters are pretty good.

Friday, October 20, 2006

"Lord Palmerston!"

I was recently asked by Andrew “Schultzy” Schuldt to pinpoint the moment at which The Simpsons, beloved cartoon of our youth, jumped the shark.

For those of you who don’t know, “jump the shark” is a term indicating that a once-loved series has progressed beyond the point at which it is any good. You saw it with Alf. You saw it with My Mother the Car. Sometimes we are able to point to the precise moment at which a series has jumped the shark, as on Cheers, when Diane left. Other times, the moment is less obvious. Some shows may take a whole season of suckitude before they have gradually but certifiably jumped the shark. The term itself originates from an episode of Matlock, the one where Andy Griffith raped and killed two young boys, and then jumped over a shark. As far as we can all tell, Matlock stopped being as entertaining after that one.
Worst sweeps episode ever

Some say that The Simpsons has never jumped the shark. I say that these people are fucking brain-dead. You show me an episode from the past ten years that matches anything made in the early 90s, and I’ll pay you a million dollars. The fact is, well over 50% of all Simpsons episodes at this point are maybe better than an American Dad, on a good day.

That’s not to say that the show is without merit. A bad Simpsons episode is, generally, watchable. I mean let’s face it: in a world where According To Jim is watched by human beings, Simpsons is both Citizen Kane and Lawrence of Arabia in TV sitcom form.

But when, and where, did it go so horribly awry? When did new episodes start making Lisa the Vegetarian worth watching? Hard to say. The best I can do is point to a number of trends that have developed in recent years that really get my goat up:

- Continuity within the show: It’s one thing to stick to the established background of the show (Homer and Marge have been married 10 years, Snowball I was killed before the first episode, etc.); It’s quite another to develop various continuing storylines that, I think, are more gimmick than anything else. I’m talking things like Skinner and Krabapple’s relationship, Milhouse’s parents’ divorce, Maude’s death. Stuff like this that dramatically change the status quo (and aren’t that interesting to begin with), and ruin the show. Quite simply, it rings false to have ongoing plots on a cartoon of The Simpsons’ nature. It also makes it where all the Milhouse jokes (for example) now revolve around him being a neglected child, or Ned-based stories are now connected with his being a widower.

- Homer saying something in the couch gags: Go back, say, six years and watch a couch gag. Pretty standard stuff, along the lines of what we grew up with. Starting maybe five years ago, though, Homer started being the focus of these things. Where the family would run in together and then bust into a million pieces, now it’s just Homer being hard done-by. In the ones where something funny is collectively happening to all of them, Homer will be the sole character to say something (usually just a “d’oh”), thereby putting the focus on him at the expense of the other characters. Homer is not the show, damn it, which leads me to the third point…

- Homer being the focus of far too many episodes: Homer, starting as far back as The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson, I’d say, is an annoying character. He yells, he screams, he does very annoying and jerk-ass things to other characters. He is now as far removed from the bumbling though well-meaning father of early seasons as that character was from the weird Walter Mattau-sounding, moderately sensible Homer from season 1. Even his voice is different. Take this character and set 80% of your show around him for the past 10 years, and see how good a program you have.

- Too much Lenny and Carl: We get it. They’re gay or something, and it’s funny cause Lenny has a good apartment and you wouldn’t expect it, and he can be erudite and Carl’s last name is Carlson and how funny is that, man? It seems the last couple seasons feature a Lenny and Carl joke at least once per episode. Lenny and Carl were much funnier when they were just two of Homer’s co-workers who showed up from time to time whose names were known only by yourself and maybe two other kids at school.

- Too much Wiggum/Lou banter: This is very similar to the last point. Every now and again there is a bit of witty banter exchanged between the Chief and Lou. First off, Arnold, the white cop, is funnier than the two of them. Second, a lot of the Lou humour revolves around the fact that he’s black. Comedy of that nature is just too easy and lame (“You see, a white man, he drives a car like this…”).

- Lame variations on the “Homer choking Bart” bit: The old episodes had a few standard gags, like Bart phoning Moe’s and Homer choking Bart. Both fell to the wayside after a while, but the latter has made a resurgence in recent years. The problem with it now is that 1) it happens too often and 2) every time they try to outdo the previous choke by having Bart choke Homer back, Homer choking Bart and Lisa at once, Homer hitting Bart with a telephone while he chokes Bart, etc. It’s not too terribly funny to begin with, so attempts to shock the audience with ever-increasing levels of father-son violence fall flat. It’s like they’re trying too hard to be funny.

- Gross-out humour: There’s a weird trend that developed maybe 5-6 years ago where a lot of gross, disgusting sorta things started showing up in Simpsons, the sort that is more prevalent (and funnier) in Family Guy. Like Homer’s guts being exposed by a badger, or his eyes scabbing over after laser eye surgery. The worst I can think of is one when Ralph put his hand on an open sore on Homer’s knee, and the wound scabbed over the hand. That’s just, on a very basic level, not funny if you’re over the age of 10.

- Sex jokes: What’s with Homer saying “penis” and stuff? And the masturbation gags? This stuff has its place in Family Guy, but is wholly inappropriate in a Simpsons.

- Ralph gags: Ralph sucks as a character now. Everyone picks him as the funniest (usually some girl who hasn’t actually watched it in 9 years), but he’s been lame as hell since, like, season 4. You want proof?

Funny, circa 1994:
Ralph: [whispering] Lisa, what's the answer to number seven?
Lisa: [whispering] Sorry, Ralph. That would defeat the purpose of testing as a means of student evaluation.
Ralph: [pauses] My cat's name is Mittens

Not funny, circa… I dunno, late 90s, early 2000s?:

Ralph: Even my boogers are spicy!

- Way too much Fat Tony: Used to be there was one Fat Tony episode. The good one. The one where Bart works for him and mixes cocktails. Then, years later, he showed up in the one where Homer goes to Krusty’s clown college. Okay, I guess. Kinda neat to see him again after a while. Shortly after, he’s showing up left and right to the point where, today, he will show up a couple times per season. Heck, he will even show up as a bit character, say a single line, and then that’s that.

- Celebrities appearing as themselves: These days, you’ll have a famous actor show up and play themselves for an episode. Not that they never used to do this (James Woods working for the Kwik-E-Mart is easily the best, followed by everyone in the softball episode and Leonard Nimoy), but it seems to me that rarely are they using these guys to play interesting original characters (like Herb Powell, Mr. Bergstrom, Hank Scorpio, Michael Jackson, Lurleen, and Artie Ziff – all characters who are instantly-recognized by even casual viewers of the show). Now we get crap like the rock camp episode with the Stones, Elvis Costello and Lenny Kravitz (essentially a latter day “hullabalooza” episode), Alec Baldwin and Kim Bassinger (back before he used to beat her), Mark Hamill and Mel “Sugar Tits” Gibson showing up to play themselves. And it would be nice if it was funny, but it ain’t. Like I’m to buy that Homer is just hanging around like Mel Gibson’s pal?

I’d go on about nutty plots (Moe turns the bar into a glitzy, post-modern hipster lounge! Marge becomes a carpenter! Homer and Bart own a racehorse!), but, really, is anything today necessarily nuttier in concept than, say, Homer and a few other guys being in a barbershop quartet in the mid-80s? Not really. It’s the execution that counts, and they’re just not pulling them off the way they used to.

Let me leave you with a final thought: in my 4th year, a Simpsons writer by the name of Tim Long came to Western to do his little presentation. Decent enough guy, I guess. During this presentation, he showed a reel of all his favourite Simpsons clips. Most of these were recent (“recent” being 1997 and later), and a large percentage of them were of Homer being hurt in some way (like when he’s skiing over the bumps hitting his crotch, or that whole paragliding sequence before he falls through Alec Baldwin’s skylight). First, these feature jerk-ass, screaming Homer at his worst. Second, they are not funny. It’s way too over the top in an obvious, trying too hard to be funny sort of way (just as when Homer chokes Bart), so it sucks. And if this is what the guys writing the show think is funny, then we’re screwed.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Suit Yourselves

Don’t like a guy’s balls peeking out from his shorts? How about these two beauties:

He may not be pretty now, but he was somebody's baby, once

First, from Pelican Narrows (a Native reserve south of Sandy Bay – they’re like sister cities. Pregnant, 17-year old alcoholic sister cities) comes this beauty of a dead dog. Mr. George Trevor, friend and colleague of mine, will allude to having seen this in his blog. I, however, have the chutzpah to actually show you. If this were the Iraq War and the dead dog was, oh… dead American soldiers and Iraqi citizens, George would be USA Today and I’d be… I dunno, some European newspaper.

Note that George has seen this same dog for about three weeks now, lying in the gutter just outside Pelican Narrows (or “Pelican”, as the kids call it). Their dead dog collection service mustn’t be as well-financed as that back home.

Amber: good for cloning dinosaurs, bad for bathing in

Second, I submit for your approval one water-filled bathtub. Mine, in fact. I assure you nay-sayers that, indeed, this photo has been untouched. When the water is this colour, it kinda defeats the whole purpose of bathing as I understand it.

Also, please do not laugh at the fact that I have a separate bottle for conditioner. I'm not gay. I just can't get the right texture for my hair without it. Christ.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Overheard in Ancient Rome

The Sack of Rome

We join our characters in situ, as Emperor Romulus Augustus is met by one of his retainers. The date is September, 476 CE.

“Emperor! Barbaric invaders are sacking Rome!”

Again with the sacking?”

“I am afraid so, your Excellency.”

“Vandals this time? They really vandalified the place last time.”

”No sir, it’s some Germanic tribe.”

“The Germanics? It’s always something with them. Well, alright… time to call it a day, I guess.”

“Sir?”

“Yeah, you know. The whole ‘Roman Empire’ thing. Might as well call it quits at this point, eh?”

“I’m afraid I don’t understand.”

”Meh, we had our fun. Roads. Some decent cities. Had a couple columns. Did we invent cement?”

”I believe so, sir.”

”Right. Oh, and the aqueduct. Can’t forget the aqueduct. That’s a pretty good run, eh? What say we just pack ‘er in while the going’s good?”

“Sir, my God, they’re just cutting the Colosseum apart and taking the marble!”

”Yeah. Yeah, they’ll do that. And who can blame them? Listen, Steve – you’re a good kid. Get outta town while you still can, maybe take that wife over to Byzantium and enjoy yourselves. I’ve got a brother there. I’ll give him a heads up.”

”If… if you insist…”

”Well Steve, I do. Now let’s just sit back and enjoy the next, say… 1000 years of unparalleled human achievement.”

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

"Tuberculosic" is a Word

This is a restaurant.
Sorry for making you puke.

It’s hard, you know, to shake this feeling. It clings to you like a putrid stench, knowing that you cannot stand to be where you are in life at the moment. Every conscious thought I have is devoted to counting down the days between now and late June, when I will finally be free of the godforsaken hellhole that is Sandy Bay.

It’s very odd, you know, when even at your happiest moments (in Sandy Bay, “happy moments” are confined to: catching a fish, downloading a Colbert, and waking up to find that your car’s window has not been smashed), a significant portion of your brain is reminding you that every single atom in your body desperately wants to be anywhere else in the universe than here. Even the subatomic strings that vibrate as 11-dimensional branes pass through them that make up your very being are starting to get annoyed. So annoyed, are they that they have made up a list of places you would rather be:

- The stagnant, malaria-infested slums of Calcutta
- The Barren, frozen tundra of Siberia
- The crushing depths of the Marianas Trench
- The muddy, labyrinthine, scorched landscape of Ypr
ès, circa 1915
- East St. Louis
- The very centre of a gravitational singularity
- A Lebanese wedding held on a picturesque beach in Sydney
- Kingston
- The upper atmosphere of Venus
- A Turkish bathhouse, covered in paprika
- The 17th annual German Festival of Black Homosexual Retarded Communists Who Are Also Jews (held in 1936)
- The setting of “The Stone Angel”

This is a nice picture, in spite of what I think

The one thing that keeps me going is the knowledge, secreted in the back of my brain under lock and key, that next week is convention week. Every fantasy I have had for the past 5 weeks has revolved around this convention. Note that “fantasy” in this case can involve me walking down a public street, seeing a stoplight (or even sign; I’m not too picky).

I guess I can’t really go into this expecting sex. Let’s say that anything above an anal raping by a gang of tuberculosic gulag prisoners will be a bonus. Also, if they don’t cut my stomach open and fuck the wound, that will also be a bonus. Yeah, let’s set that as my level of expectation, and see what else I can achieve.