Death Valley

Years ago (or can it be measured in decades now?) when MTV pretty much stopped airing music videos, I pretty much stopped watching it. Occasionally I might drift back to it for the odd awards show, special event or boredom, but that came to a complete stop when I canceled my cable TV and no longer had easy access to it. Which is why I find it so odd that I’m now watching (by *ahem* other means) a show on MTV.

But how could I not watch Death Valley?

The show is set in a world where zombies, vampires and werewolves (and possibly other things) exist. Shot as a reality show like COPS, the camera crew follows members of the Undead Task Force (UTF) of the Los Angeles Police Department as they deal with the shambling undead, ones that are fresher and run faster, vampires involved in the “blood for sex” trade, werewolves who forget to lock themselves up for the full moon, and more.

Being that it’s on MTV, this show is far better than it has any right to be. While occasionally there is an effects shot that looks off, the majority of them are quite good, probably because CG work is becoming so cheap while quality keeps improving. The acting is also pretty good as well. Anyway, this totally gets a thumbs up from me and I recommend at least checking it out to see if it happens to be your cup of tea.  Check out the trailer below for a start.


I had never played paintball.  So, when a deal popped up on Living Social a while back, a few friends and I (who had also not played paintball before) bought in.  It took a long while, but we finally went.

In a word… meh.

I suppose I can see the draw that some people have to it.  Being able to shoot other people isn’t something you get to do very often.  But overall, it was fairly lackluster.  First off, there were four of us and we mixed in with a larger group, and they put two of us on one team and two on the other.  Frankly, I’d have had more fun with my friends being on my team since I had no desire to shoot my friends.  Next, they lead a team to each end of a field which was dotted with forms of cover.  They counted to three and said “Go!”  People ran to cover and then started shooting.

The first round we played, my team won.  I didn’t shoot anybody.  In fact, I spent most of the time trading shots with another guy who eventually got shot by a teammate of mine.  We had spent nearly the whole time swinging out, shooting and then ducking behind cover.  Then, suddenly, we just sorta won.

The second round we played, my team lost.  I got shot… kinda.  I mean, my gun got shot.  I didn’t even see it happen, but a ref told me I had been hit and there was paint on my gun.  Umm… okay.  I watched from the sidelines as a repeat of the previous game happened.  People hiding, swinging out to shoot occasionally, and when one team was down enough players one dude ran out from the side and shot the last two players on the losing team.

The third round, I can’t tell you who won, because I don’t know.  The full seven minutes ran out and they called it off.  Not that it mattered.  I got shot in the first fifteen seconds.  By my own team.  I ran forward to a position (we were on a different field this time, larger, more cover, a spot of trees in the center, and more people too), I was crouched over, and then felt the painful sting of being shot, right in the gap between my shirt and my pants, right on the skin.  If I were so tattooed, I’d have been shot on the tramp stamp.  The girl who shot me (and I know it was a girl because the only people behind me were three girls who refused to leave the original, completely out of range, bunker) was no more than ten feet away.  That freakin’ hurt!  Team kills count, so I was out and I walked off the field and walked off the pain.

Round four, same larger field, other side.  We found good cover and began shooting our foes.  Minutes went by of a pitched battle, and I think I shot someone… I don’t know, because with like thirty people on each side and so many paintballs flying around it gets hard to tell if it was me or some other shooter.  All was going well, and then someone on the other team, who was sitting out of traditional range, switched to mortar fire.  He couldn’t hit us firing straight, so he started arcing his shots.  I’m going to pause here and tell you one of the rules of the field: if someone is hiding behind a low barrier, you are not allowed to come over the top and shoot them from above.  This rule exists for two reasons, 1) shooting down on someone’s head can really hurt them, and 2) them shooting upward at your chin (and by virtue of the equipment, the gap between your face and mask enabling them to possibly hit your mouth and nose) can really get you hurt.  So back to the mortar moron… if he’s arcing, that means that the paintballs are coming from above, you know, as if he was shooting down on us.

Boom! Headshot!
Right on the top of my head.

Yeah.  Some people suck.  That really hurt.

Anyway, despite how much I’ve written here, the day was basically a check mark.  Play paintball?  Check.  No reason to ever do it again.

The Monsters at My Door

October is over, my favorite month. And one helluva month it has been.

Last night was our first Halloween in our new home, an actual house in an actual neighborhood. See, when you live in apartments, especially ghetto apartments like I lived in, Halloween is scary for all the wrong reasons. You should be scared of the vampires and werewolves and other creatures of the night, you shouldn’t be scared of getting mugged or shot when you stumble across a drug deal. So, we decorated the house. A grave out front with a wheelbarrow full of bones, blood on the windows, a body hanging in the front bedroom window as a single bare light bulb swung behind it, and more… it was a hoot. And people seemed to really like it. Kids liked the scare, and parents stood in the street taking pictures.

The only downside was… well… we live in a fairly small neighborhood, and while we did get visitors from other neighborhoods, we really didn’t get that many Trick-or-treaters. So now we have this gigantic bowl of candy just daring me to eat it… bad candy, bad bad candy.

I was fairly happy with our visitors last night though… plenty of home made costumes, and not very many fairies and sports figures.

Sadly, though, staying at home means I didn’t go to the North River Tavern for their Halloween night… well, since I now know that kids stop coming around about 8pm, next year that’ll be when we close up the house and go out.

Hope you had a Happy Halloween.

Hellboy: Unnatural Selection

Man… I really am digging these Hellboy books. They sort of take a stab toward horror without getting into any of the cheesy melodrama that some horror has. Writer Tim Lebbon takes his shot at Hellboy with Unnatural Selection.

The story here is that someone is bringing back all the monsters of legend, pulling them right out of the Memory. He’s setting them loose on Earth, and its up to the BPRD to find out why and stop it, because the dragons and sea monsters are starting to eat lots of people.

Like other Hellboy books, its one part horror and one part action, with a dash of comedy. The blend is so perfect that the pages pratically turn themselves. The writing was good enough that I’m going to seek out more Tim Lebbon books. Thumbs up for the lastest Hellboy.

Video Game Violence

The Senate is having a hearing on Video Game Violence, and here you can read the statements given in testamony.

The first statement is by Steve Strickland, a minister whose brother was one of three police officers killed by a teenage boy. The boy took one officer’s gun, shot him, then executed the other two officers. Of course, Jack Thompson, lawyer for the persecution of game designers, has convinced this man that this teenager would never have hurt anyone if it hadn’t been for playing Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. I’ve got a brother who has played this game. He’s played it alot. The entire thing through, every mini-game, several times over. My brother has never shot anyone. Nor has he stolen cars, raped women, blown up buildings or anything else depicted in the game. In fact, I’d say the game has had no effect on my brother at all. He is the same easy going happy guy he has always been. Perhaps he’s just waiting for the right moment to explode.

The next statement comes from Elizabeth Carll, chair of a department of the AMA that believes that violence on TV makes people violent. So of course, they also believe that violent video games make people violent. The AMA has released this document as a call for what must be done to protect our kids. One of the bullet points of her statement I really enjoyed:

Encourage the entertainment industry to link violent behaviors with negative social consequences. Showing violence without realistic consequences teaches children that violence is an effective means of resolving conflict. Whereas, seeing pain and suffering as a consequence can inhibit aggressive behavior.

The emphasis is mine, because, well, perhaps kids shouldn’t watch the news or read history books either. Violence (war) has been an effective means of resolving conflict for a very long time.

Third we’ve got a statement from another psychologist, Dmitri Williams, who says the smartest thing so far: We don’t know. Internet media and gaming on the level we are talking about is a relatively new area. There are no 30 year studies because violent video games haven’t been mainstream for 30 years yet. As he points out, most of these studies are 10 minute and 30 minute studies, and legislators trying to pass game laws ignore the longer, more in-depth studies, like his own one month test because they show that nothing is conclusive. Also games of huge disparity are often tested together. One such study used sessions of playing Wolfenstein 3D with sessions of playing Myst. The problem is that its not just a case of one game being violent and the other is non-violent, but one game is a fast paced shooter while the other is a plodding puzzle solver.

Next, David Bickham comes in and basically says that the problem isn’t violent video games, but prolonged exposure to violence being rewarded. You know, I can’t say he’s wrong, but as I said a couple of paragraphs above, you can’t limit that to just video games and media. After watching our own government trounce people’s basic freedoms and fight a few wars, the idea that might makes right becomes pretty prevalent through just watching or reading the news. He also says that younger kids are more susceptable to this exposure and what amounts to a desensatization to violence, and again I can’t disagree. But I don’t think legislation is where this needs to be address unless we are going to legislate parents being better parents. Yep, 8 year olds playing Grand Theft Auto might end up with a warped sense of reality and violence, but what parent in their right mind allows their 8 year old to play GTA? And the funny thing is, even though he’s arguing for the wrong side, he agrees with me:

As caretakers of the next generation, we have a responsibility to provide children with a safe environment in which to grow, develop, and learn. As a society, we have decided that we should understand and control the quality and safety of the air they breathe, the water they drink, and the food they eat. Research has shown that the media children use have real effects on their knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors. In the Information Age, media must be understood as a powerful, nearly universal environmental health influence. We ensure the safety of what we feed children’s bodies, we owe it to their future and to the future of our society to ensure the safety of what we feed their minds.

The only difference is that he’s fighting for more laws, more organizations, more government, while I’d prefer parents just pay attention to their kids.

Then we come to Jeff Johnson of the Minnesota House of Representatives. Basically all I have to say about him is that he’s trying to force stores to be penalized for parents not being good parents. Who lets their kids rent or buy games on their own? If you, as a parent, don’t at least look into it before they do it, you are a bad parent. Get better, please.

Now we come to Paul Smith who says, with lots of legal references, that games fall under the same first ammendment protection as books, film and TV. Did you know its not illegal to sell a ticket to an R rated film to an 8 year old? The movie theater may refuse to do it, but there is no law. The MPAA ratings are a suggested guideline. The ESRB already has in place a much better rating system than the MPAA so that parents can make informed decisions about what to buy for their kids. In short: If you don’t want your kids playing violent games, then don’t let your kids play them.

The last statement, from Kevin Saunders, kind of bores the hell out of me. He’s just reviewing the reasons behind various court decisions, and in the end says that even though they keep losing the battles to restrict game, they will keep on fighting because the Supreme Court hasn’t told them “no” yet. One of the most important statements made is:

Judge Kennelly also expressed concern over the size of the community of those studying the issue and the relationships among the scientists. He noted that, of the seventeen research articles relied on by the Illinois General Assembly, fourteen were authored or co-authored by Professor Craig Anderson, one by a colleague of Professor Anderson, and two by a scientist who relied on Professor Anderson’s research in designing his own studies. This concern might be eased by recognizing that the articles all survived peer review, but the concern might simply transfer to the peer review process and the small community from which referees might be drawn. It should, however, be noted that Professors Anderson’s and Bushman’s meta-analysis of the research in the field included studies by a significant number of scientists unaffiliated with Professor Anderson. See Craig A. Anderson & Brad J. Bushman, Effects of Violent Video Games on Aggressive Behavior, Aggressive Cognition, Aggressive Effect, Physiological Arousal and Prosocial Behavior: A Meta-Analytic View of the Scientific Literature, 12 Psychol. Sci. 353 (2001): Craig A. Anderson, An Update on the Effects of Playing Violent Video Games, 27 J. Of Adolescence 113 (2004). While these concerns of the court do not even currently seem valid, the continuing development of this area of scholarship and the attention paid by an increased number of scientists should eventually overcome the perceived shortcoming.

While he takes the stance that the court shouldn’t be worried by the lack of variety in sources for study, its important that he mentions it because this is the real problem. Out of 17 studies used by the people trying to pass a game restricting law 14 of them were written by the same guy, and the other three were a friend of his and two people who used his research for the bulk of their work. I think the effect of games on kids should most definately be studied, but right now there just isn’t enough data from which to draw anything close to concrete that would justify the legislation of games exceeding that which already doesn’t exist for other forms of media.

Anyway, in case you haven’t guess yet, I’m against legislating access to video games. Frankly, our society fosters a lifestyle in which neither parent is encouraged to stay home with the children. Raising children is the single more important thing we as a people can do, and yet “homemaker” is a derrided job title. If the US government really want to have an impact on protecting children, institute a new tax write off: If one of your dependants is classified as a homemaker for your other dependants, you get an extra bonus deduction. Reward people for being better parents and they’ll desire to be better parents.

You go long.

It weird sometimes when you realize that you see or understand something that other people don’t. Team Fortress Classic for Half-Life is a team game. Most maps, you and your team protect your flag or key or base, while trying to take the other team’s flag or key or base. Pretty simple.

So I hop into a game, and I’m assigned to the blue team. Before I spawned, I had to do a couple of things (clean up my desk a little, stuff like that). While I’m sitting in limbo I’m listening to the game. “The enemy has your flag.” “Your team has the enemy flag.” “The enemy has captured your flag.” “Your team has captured the enemy flag.” These four lines repeating over and over. I sit back down at the PC and before picking my class I see that the other team has five people and we have five people (including me, not yet spawned). So I choose soldier, and the map is 2fort so I take up residence in the ramp room. The map has 3 choke points inside the base: the ramp room, the basement, and the flag room. By choke point I mean only that it is a room you HAVE to go through in order to get the flag. The flag room is a poor spot to sit, mostly because if a scout gets your flag and you don’t drop him with the first shot you don’t get a second chance, you can’t keep up. The basement is almost as bad, the two entrances are on opposite ends and its so narrow that if you blink you might miss the enemy running through. The ramp room is where its at. Two entrances on the lower floor, two ramps up, two exits on the top. This room offers the best opportunity to stop the enemy AND allows you to have a shot at recovering if they do happen to get your flag.

One of the great things about TFC over the original TF is the footsteps. You can hear people running. In the ramp room, if you are on the upper level, the entrances to the room are below you, so you can hear people coming. You hear them coming, prime a grenade, then when they come in you attack them with grenades and rockets. You even have a resupply room right near by (just make sure to pop a nail grenade before you go so you can hear hasty enemies getting hurt while you are away).

Anyway, I’m in the ramp room and I start killing enemies. I tell my team to avoid the ramp room, so whenever I see a “friendly” face, I know its a spy and blow them up. And just like that, the enemy stops taking our flag. Sure, they get me every now and then, even make it to the flag room once in a while, but I always stop them at the top of the stairs.

I guess I’m not as rusty as I thought I was going to be.