Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Saddest Story Never Told: Firefly

If you are reading this, odds are you are to some small degree a nerd.

It might be a little thing. Maybe you like the odd fantasy book. Maybe you're fond of videogames, maybe you read comic books. Maybe it's all three. Maybe it's as simple as, you watched Star Wars once and liked it. It does not matter to what degree one is a nerd: it only matters that one is, and in that instance, know that It is coming.

If It has already happened to you, you know to which I refer--probably because of the blog title--but if it hasn't, I regret to inform you that the single-most blended moment of love, horror, delight, fury, and utter confusion has not yet happened to you. Perhaps you think that that one time that chick broke up with you was worse, and she was really the one, you know?

Well, you're wrong.

Of all the experiences nerds share--that first time you watched Star Wars IV (and if you haven't, seriously, what the hell), when you finished reading Lord of the Rings--most are fairly unique to the individual experiencing them. It may be some comfort that It is something that we all experience, in more or less the same way. Because there is no greater pain for a nerd, dork, geek, or general pop culture afficianado. No greater pain.

It is Firefly. It is coming. You cannot stop it. You will not stop it. If It has already happened to you, you know the story. The beginnings are similar. Your friends insist that Firefly is the single-greatest thing to happen to television, that you need to watch it, that Joss Whedon is God, etc., until a point where you hate the very mention of Firefly or Whedon in such an elemental way that to hear their mere mention is enough to send you into an eye-rolling gut-curling fit of grumbling upset. One day, however, you stumble upon one of those friends in the midst of a Firefly marathon, though you might not yet realize it is Firefly. It seems very interesting. There are cowboys, and spaceships.


You ask if your friend has gotten very far into the series. Typically, as though by happy coincidence of the universe, they have not, and they restart. You decide to watch the first episode with them, for kicks.

By the time it closes, you realize there is nothing on this earth that could tear you from that screen. You careen through the entire series, and possibly the film Serenity. Either way, in the rough span of a day, you reach the end.

And then it hits you like a sack of bricks concentrated on your groin. This was cancelled. You look at your friend in disbelief. They sigh and pat your shoulder and say "I know." They have not come to terms with it, either. They never will, nor will you. It is all any of us can do to continue on with that terrible, burning conviction that such a horrifyingly regrettable mistake has been made, that you and yours have somehow been wronged, forever, by the cancelling of this show.

It will never leave you. And every now and again, when your guard is down, when you least expect it, it will occur to you in an instant of sheer rage and disbelief, and you'll be reduced to that first instant of horrible realization that quite possibly Joss Whedon's best series was killed before it grew to the greatness it could have reached.

"Buffy's first season blew," you think to yourself. "Imagine what Firefly could've been."

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Review: Fallout: New Vegas

Fallout: New Vegas
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Platform reviewed: Xbox 360
Genre: Role-playing / First-person Shooter
Number of players: 1
Online/offline: offline, with DLC to be expected
Rating: M

It is difficult to enter into any evaluation of Fallout: New Vegas as a videogame without mentioning its predecessor, Fallout 3. There is the question, of course, of whether or not this game is a "true sequel". In my opinion, the short answer is no. But then, it never claimed to be a true sequel. There's no number after its name. New Vegas is not a startling new leap forward in the Fallout series, but it is a very, very good game, particularly for the teeming mass of gamers who enjoyed 3.

New Vegas is very much a retread of Fallout 3, but it is a unique experience, as well. The graphics are much the same, offering a beautiful gameworld which becomes steadily more unattractive as one gets closer to any given object, though the individual people seem to be improved this time around in terms of face models. The graphics are not remarkably better than in Fallout 3, but they are slightly superior in little ways: certain textures don't look quite so bad, better face models, somewhat better animation, etc. The audio is basically another version of the same sort of music in Fallout 3, save with an occasional western theme; Mr. New Vegas replaces Fallout 3's Three Dog, and I actually found the new announcer to be much more enjoyable, and less annoying. I remember a distinct urge in Fallout 3 to hunt down Three Dog's toaster and brutally massacre it. No such problems with Mr. New Vegas, though I suspect that after another hundred hours I'll tire of hearing how he loves me and everyone else listening to his station.

Much like the graphics and audio, the gameplay has been improved, not so much in leaps and bounds but in slight increments. The addition of "true iron sights" is welcome, though as the game is an RPG, your shots will often miss because of your Guns stat--which has been wisely combined from Small and Big Guns from Fallout 3. It's definitely an improvement, though, and I've had much fewer frustration moments as I did in Fallout 3 when shooting. There's an increased fidelity to the shooting this time around: the guns feel a bit tighter, a bit more real, and as I probably should've mentioned earlier, they sound a bit better than in Fallout 3. One of the other elements incorporated into the game is a "companion wheel", which allows you to access the commands for your companion which are regularly available only via dialogue. Revolutionary? No. But handy.

The game also features a number of additions to the "behind-the-scenes" systems of the game. Whereas in 3 there was a universal holiness-monitor that followed you around everywhere, in New Vegas your karma matters little when compared to your direct interactions with the veritable menagerie of factions in the game. Shoot up some Powder Gangers? The Powder Gangers will hate you, but the people of Goodsprings, who the Gangers were just terrorizing, will be thankful. This system works best in New Vegas because there are so many different factions, which is a refreshing update from Fallout 3. Finally, one of the most notable gameplay elements is the addition of "Hardcore" mode, which requires the player to eat, sleep, and drink to avoid stat detractions, and causes the game's general healing system to be a touch more realistic. Hilariously, playing Hardcore mode had me drinking Root Beer more often than not to recover from gaping bullet-wounds in my chest, in order to conserve on medical equipment. The mode isn't "Hardcore" so much as "a minor inconvenience", but for those who like a little more role-playing in their role-playing game, it's a nice addition.

The New Vegas Strip is more or less an entity unto itself: once players finally enter into the Strip (a lengthy process involving the cocktease that is Freeside, a free-to-enter town that surrounds the ritzy Strip) a whole new world seems to open up, creating a sense that there is almost a game-within-a-game. The gambling is fairly fun, and I believe the game actually tries to punish you by employing save/reload tactics in Blackjack by having the dealer carry out a lengthy deck reshuffling process, but in the end it's essentially another Fallout town with a bunch of quests to carry out and people to run errands for. This is fairly formulaic fare--oh, look, a rancher who wants me to investigate a casino bigshot--which inevitably winds up in an interesting twist or two. The game typically forces one to choose between two factions which, most of the time, both have something going for them, and the morality isn't necessarily cut-and-dry, which is refreshing.

The story feels a bit better in New Vegas, with regard to individual missions, at least, but that sense of a greater story that you yourself create is gone. Perhaps it has to do with the game's opener: you are rather abruptly thrust into the Mojave Wasteland after being saved from a near-death experience, rather than being raised and growing up in Fallout 3's Vault 101. It certainly lacks Fallout 3's distinct sensation that you alone were building your character from the ground up, and the game loses some of its narrative punch for it. New Vegas feels less intimate than Fallout 3, which is unfortunate. Had Obsidian managed to recreate that sense of ownership of one's own character, I believe the game's sprawling system of factions and disparate communities would've been much more effective.

New Vegas isn't so much a direct knock-off of Fallout 3, but it's not a proper sequel. It's something of an interesting creature. It's more like what Fallout 3 would've looked like had the developers spent an extra year or so fine-tuning, polishing, and adding elements to the original game, and yet simultaneously could not exist without the prior game: part of the reason that New Vegas works is that after the cramped downtown of the Capital Wasteland and the harsh, generally oppressing conditions of Fallout 3's setting, New Vegas' Mojave Desert and New Vegas Strip are wonderfully refreshing.

There's been a lot said of gamer entitlement--Adam Sessler's addressed the issue a couple of times on his Soapbox, which is infinitely superior to the actual show X-Play--which more or less boils down to the fact that a certain group of gamers will always whine, bitch, and moan incessantly when they feel they're being slighted. Those people will, undoubtedly, decry New Vegas as a cheap cash grab. New Vegas is more or less a love-letter to the fans of the first game, and offers a slightly more polished Fallout experience. It shines a little more. Some naggling issues are taken care of. But it's not Fallout 3, and in many ways that's a bad thing. Fallout 3 had a little something more: it was a fresh experience the first time around, for example, whereas New Vegas feels undeniably familiar. New Vegas has a few new tricks, and it benefits from a bit more shine, but it will never quite match the original Fallout 3 as a whole, as an experience. Don't let that discourage you, though. New Vegas is a wonderful game, and anyone who enjoyed the first will likely enjoy the second.

3 & 1/2 stars (of a possible 4)

Note: Much like Fallout 3, and nearly any game released by Bethesda and Obsidian, New Vegas is plagued with glitches. Hopefully software updates will take care of this, but for now it remains a minor annoyance.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Minor Explosion.

My reaction, upon discovering that A Feast For Crows does not feature a single Daenerys chapter:


Saturday, October 16, 2010

My Attraction to Squiggly Things

Today, I spent the better part of an hour fiddling around with the gadgets and layout of my blog page. The changes are, no doubt, nearly unnoticeable. There's now a "Popular Posts" section, which really just gives me fodder for self-deprecating humor about the relative popularity of a blog with a readership of perhaps four people. I added a Search bar, because while I doubt anyone else has this frustration as much as I do, I hate when I can't just search for something on any given web page.

I also tinkered with how my labels appear, and added the "Reactions" bit to my post, mostly so that I can see how high the "sexually explicit" numbers can get. However, these are all late additions. The first thing I added to my blog was a pageview counter.

Why did I add it there? I really don't need it. I mean, I can guess the average daily pageview right now: one or two friends who I bully into reading, a couple people who see it on facebook, maybe one or two who get there from my NaNoWriMo page, and me, refreshing about fifty times or so.

Honestly, I added it because it's a funny little line. You'd see a Simpsons character sliding along one in a slightly more surreal segment of a financial episode, or something. And I've always loved those funny little lines with an absurd devotion.

And that's pretty much the reason I need to do anything. Now, it's time for ice cream and A Clash of Kings.

Friday, October 15, 2010

This Seriously Just Happened

Today I have to submit a paper that is due. This paper is worth 25% of my final grade in my Medieval Studies course. Now, normally such a hefty piece of evaluation would merit equally hefty preparation, writing, and research. Normally. Except there are a few problems with this equation.
  1. I'm lazy.
  2. I'm fairly good at writing.
  3. And Medieval Studies is, to quote Austin Powers, my bag, baby. Yeah.
This probably has something to do with my "paper topic":
Imagine you are a scribe in a medieval cathedral or monastery with a manuscript to copy. Describe your task, how you set about it and the difficulties you encounter carrying it out from day to day.
Groovy, baby.

Okay, I'll stop with the Austin Powers reference now, lest this blog become an exercise in '60s nostalgia . . . .

So, the scene laid, one now sees that this was a chance for me to shine. My professor was all but asking me to display all the skills I've acquired over a long career of slacking off to write medieval fantasy. With a little, teensy bit of preparation, surely I could have secured a mark of the highest degree.

Instead I wrote it at 1 o'clock last morning. And y'know what? I like to think it's still pretty damn good. Of course I still have yet to get the paper back, so perhaps I'll finally meet my long-deserved comeuppance.

Here's hoping I won't.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Great Offences

I'm twenty as of yesterday. Weird.

Anyway, I thought I'd return to my blog by writing about something I loathe. That is, the presumption of nearly anyone that they could write a book if they "just found the time"/"weren't so busy"/etc.

This is bothersome on a number of levels. I've tried writing. I'm doing it now. It's hard.

First, the assumption that, when given the time, anyone could write a book. I guess this always bugs me because essentially, it dismisses writing as a developed skill. It assumes that there is no particular skillset that need be acquired, that there are no innate gifts that one needs to write a truly compelling story, that if anyone were to apply themselves, they could write the next great _____ Epic (substituting _____ for one's genre of choice). Anyone who's read the attempted writings of more or less half of this generation's young authors knows that assumption to be bullshit. Half of the people who want to be writers, who practice at it daily, can't write worth a damn. Let alone those who just assume that if they really put themselves to it they'd shit out literary glory.

For anyone who doubts this claim, I recommend one read any number of stories from Fanfiction.net. Then, go to a local business and read any signs or notices printed up by the owner/employees, and count the grammatical errors. Bonus points for bastardized sentence structure.

The second part of the "I'm the next Tolkien" mindset that really pisses me off, is the phrase that, I am sure you have all heard before. It goes more or less like this: "I'd write a book if I wasn't so busy."

Pardon me, but the fuck do you think a writer's life is like? Patrick Rothfuss went from being a student to a professor during the writing of The Name of the Wind. Do you think that the University Faculty would've responded kindly if he cancelled a week's worth of classes to indulge in literary abandon? Do you think that J.K. Rowling, as a single mother, spent weeks reclining in a hammock whilst lazily penning down the pages of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, each appearing as they do in the final version?

Fuck. Off. There is no black hole of free time that writers draw from. There are no excuses made for writers who aren't yet published; mostly, they get scoffs and derision. The actual writers out there, the ones who are published, the ones you've read, your Martins and your Orwells, didn't fucking say to themselves "Oh, I'll write this summer . . . ."

Writers write now. They write when an idea takes them, when they need to, when they're up to their ass in work and study and family obligations. They do it because they have to. They do it because they're writers.

Everyone else is just bullshitting.


Friday, October 8, 2010

Pure Nerd Glee

I made Patrick Rothfuss laugh.

Relatively minor? Of course.

Is it freaking awesome? Also: of course.

Just thought I'd share that. It brightened up my morning a bit too much. Almost to a creepy degree, truth be told.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

I'm Not Sure What This Is

I don't know what this is really supposed to be. I've had blogs in the past that aspired to be something, and you know what? They're not here right now.

So this is whatever it wants to be. Whatever I want it to be. Right now it's a confession.

Today I did a full rack of ribs. Cooked them. Prepackaged frozen ones. I felt bad about making prepackaged frozen ribs in the first place. My father taught me better. Such a manly feast ought be tended with careful wisdom and fond experience. But the fact remains I'm lazy, recently sick, and wanted to enjoy the fully returned faculty of my digestive system. So frozen ribs it was.

When they were done, I cut the rack of ribs in half. I ate one half for supper. It was a good supper. I was happy, like a child in the body of a vaguely bear-like man with a post-hibernation appetite. Then I put the other half-rack on a plate, seran-wrapped it, and put it in the fridge. This shall be my dinner tomorrow!, I thought with pride. It was almost like I was a real adult.

Around 10:00 PM I went to the fridge, took out my half-rack of ribs, microwaved it, grabbed a glass of Pepsi and took it up to my room to eat. Then I spilled barbecue sauce on myself, spilled some Pepsi on myself, and waxed poetic.

This is who I am. I hide nothing.