Movie Reviewing Goodness

You might notice that there are more movie reviews lately (and more coming) and less game design talk. There are a few reasons for that, and I thought I’d take a moment to address them…

One. Its that time of year. Christmas, for me, is always a big movie watching season. Blame Hollywood. They stack the deck, both for revenue and for Oscars, putting lots of good stuff on the screen all at once. I hate them for it. But, I still go, because as much as I hate the price of going (more on that another day), the big screen experience is still something I really enjoy. A good crowd (as opposed to a message texting, cell phone yapping, movie explaining, annoying crowd) does enhance a film. To me anyway. So yeah, I’ll be going to the movies once or twice a week for the next few weeks.

Two. Its that time of year. This sounds like a repeat, but I need to stress that Hollywood wants your money. All the good DVDs all come out at Christmas too, just in time for gift giving. So many will be bought, or gotten as gifts, and with TV shows cycling down for the winter break (even moreso with the writer’s strike this year) I’ve got time.

Three. I’m not gaming a whole lot. I’m playing Rock Band, Dead Rising, the occasional game from XBox Live (I’m addicted to Puzzle Quest)… I play Urban Dead on the web, Conquer Club, I occasionally drop in to Guild Wars (got it for $9.99 on Black Friday), and spend a little time in a few betas that I am in, some I can’t talk about and some I can. I’ve just dropped out of all the MMO gaming I used to do. It got too expensive. Although, I am considering the Sony Station Pass thingy since I’d get access to a whole bunch of games, some of which might actually be worth playing.

Four. Since I’m not gaming a whole lot, my thoughts haven’t been focused around game design. Yes, I’m still working on my own wonderful game, and its actually beginning to see a foundation, but its a long way from daylight yet and I don’t want to talk about it anymore until I have at least something I can say is complete and functions.

Five… hmm… can’t think of one. Cool.

So, four reasons. Anyway, until things change, you’ll probably be seeing alot of movie and/or book reviews. I do want to get back to more varied content, and I will. Just bear with me.

I Am Legend

12 out of 13 nots
for Depiction of Isolation, and One Awesome Dog

For the short version of this review, let me just say that if you are a superfan of Richard Matheson’s book of the same name, and you’ve been itching to see it faithfully recreated on the screen… keep waiting. This movie is not the book. In some ways I was disappointed at that, but overall it didn’t matter. I absolutely loved this movie. The only reason I can’t in good conscience give it a 13 out of 13 is that I think they went a tad overboard with the monsters in this one, they are just on the bad side of unrealistic when it comes to CGI. When the monsters are on the screen, my brain screams “CGI!”. They just don’t blend in. Outside of that though, its a great film. Go see it.

More (and spoilers) after the break.

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A Book a Week

Some people are a little crazy… other people are freakin’ nuts! This time Kevin may be falling into the latter.

The idea is to read 52 books in 52 weeks, a book a week for a year. And you know, its not really that the idea is all that outlandish. I mean, when I was riding downtown every work day and spending two or three hours on the bus between home and work and back again, I was probably on that pace. Of course, I work from home now pretty much nine days out of ten, and reading time has been given over to sleep and game time. But maybe I need something like this to give me a gentle kick in the butt.

I won’t start now though. I’ll wait until January and start the year fresh. Likely I’m also going to choose to do 26 books in 52 weeks, a book every two weeks, because I know that unless I throw in some hundred pagers like the Hitchhiker’s Guide, I’m not likely to do it. And I know myself too well. If I fall behind a few weeks, I’ll give up.

So, January 1st, I’ll start my new reading regiment. We’ll see how it works out.

The WriMo Wrap Up

You might have noticed that during the entire month of November I did not post, not once, about the NaNoWriMo. Let me tell you why…

I got sick.

Yeah, its a lame excuse, but the wife and I both caught the creeping crud somehow and it put us both down for the count. To be honest, we should have gone to the doctor as bad off as we were, but without insurance those office visits add up. Even if we’d had insurance, what I can afford to buy on my own ends up having such a high deductible and covers so little, its really like not having insurance. Instead we stayed at home and doped up on the OTC medications.

Ultimately, NyQuil with the alcohol in it did the trick. But after nearly two weeks of headaches and congestion, coughing and aching, I just wasn’t in the mood to write.

I tried, a few false starts, but since I started the month sick I never settled on an idea, a place or character or situation, and I wound up doing what I always do, write half-assed outlines. I’ve got about six more of them now, all with plot twists or cool characters and not a single one even remotely close to being a full fledged story. All in all, I probably wrote 20,000 words in November, but spread out over a half dozen stories… well, it just sucks.

Next year, I’ll try not to get sick. In the meantime though, I’ve got a few other things going to help get the juices flowing, and with the Writer’s Guild still striking, I soon won’t have much TV to distract me.

Of course, there is always Rock Band…

The Golden Compass

8 out of 13 nots
for Steampunk Style and the Best Use of Polar Bears in a movie, ever!

All in all, I was not horribly impressed with The Golden Compass. After all the hoopla and hoohaa, I really expected something more subversive than this, you know, since the Christians are telling people to avoid its atheist message. Frankly, its no more subversive than any other fantasy film, and really the only problem I could imagine a Christian having with it is that it isn’t Narnia, a movie that positively drips with Christian themes.

More after the break.

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12 out of 13 nots
for Comedic Teenage Pregnancy, Cool Parents and Silly Songs.

Juno is about a sixteen year old girl who gets pregnant and what she does after that, and I wrote out this very long and in depth review for Juno, and then my Internet connection went down while I was trying to submit it, and for the first time in forever I didn’t select and copy my text before submitting. Well, you’ll get a truncated version after the break. The super short version is that you should go see this movie. Its fun and funny.

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Last Blood

When you think about zombies as a genre, movies and books and whatnot, the truth is that zombies are rarely the protagonist or antagonist. In truth, zombies are often a setting, a world that happens around and heightens the action, a dam that eventually breaks, but the story is usually about survival, the people surviving it, and what they do to each other. From instance to instance, the differences lay mostly in the people, though sometimes in the zombies (largely in how they came to be and how fast they can move and how well they can think).

So, when I come across something that is really unique, I just have to share it.

Last Blood is an online comic book being released a page at a time, usually every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The unique twist on this is that the world has fallen to the zombies, only a few collections of humans remain and it isn’t looking good for them, and that’s when the vampires show up. Vampires need blood to live, and the zombies are killing all the humans, so the vampires need to save the humans so that they themselves don’t run out of blood to live on.

The idea is excellent, and new to me (though it may have been done before somewhere). Sometimes I find the artwork to be a little messy or awkward, the dialog is occationally stilted, and once or twice I’ve felt that a particular twist was from way out in left field, but overall it is pretty good work. Its a fun read, and when they get to the end, if they collect all the comics into a printed work (you can buy them as issues right now), I would probably pick up a hard copy.

As I write this, they are up to 109 pages, which you can read in no time. I definitely recommend it.

Pirates of the Burning Sea

I was going to write up my thoughts on the game, as I’ve been in the beta for a long while now, but Tobold already did a fine job of it, and he covered pretty much all I wanted to say.

To me, the game felt like City of Heroes crossed with EVE Online. Towns, missions, character creation, all of that feels like it is right out of City of Heroes. The economy is player run like EVE Online. The major difference, and the biggest innovation, is how “winning” the PvP game is handled. If one side dominates the game, holding control of enough ports, they “win”, the ports reset control, and the other teams all get a leg up for the next round.

Over all, I’m not horribly impressed, but I’m also not disappointed. If you have been wanting a Pirate game that isn’t Puzzle Pirates, this is a well built game, much in the way that City of Heroes is a well built superhero game. However, if you are looking for breakthrough, innovative MMOs, this probably won’t blow your skirt up.

I won’t officially give this game a rating unless I play it after release, because they still have more beta time and things could change. But if I were to rate it, right now it would be a 9 or 10 out of 13.

Ratings Systems

I decided that I wanted to start rating things. When I review movies or games or TV shows or the lives of people I meet or customer service or my own stupidity, I want to have one of those goofy scales so that something can be a “9 on the ProbablyNot scale”. But I can’t just arbitrarily slap one on.

Or more to the point, I needed to make sure my scale was absolutely arbitrary.

First off comes the symbol. There are the overused stars and thumbs or even lawn chairs. I wanted mine to be confusing, so I looked long and hard for a symbol to properly represent the site but also to completely misrepresent the scale itself. Eventually, I settled on the wide spread “not” symbol, as seen on road signs and warning labels everywhere.

A Lone Not

With the symbol decided, I next needed a range. Typically these ranges go to 3, 4, 5 or 10. Each of these makes logical sense, so as with my symbol, I needed to make sure my range made no sense at all. Being that my name is Jason and thanks to a particular slasher movie franchise it will forever be associated with the number 13, and I happen to like the number 13, I am going to go with 13. Oddly enough, this actually will help reduce some confusion, especially when it comes to reviewing video games. Most game reviewers use a scale from 1 to 10, and since 70% is passing is most educational establishments, people (insane people) have come to expect that a 7 out of 10 means that it is just barely passing, and anything from a 6.9999999999 down to 1 is failure. Stupid, yes, but also completely understandable to magazines looking to sell issues and to get exclusive previews of new games. So many game sites and magazines actually rate games from 7 to 10, with lower scores being reserved for items that are complete and utter crap. Back to my scale, confusion will be lessened because a “middle of the road” score on a 13 point scale is 7. So game makers can feel good in getting a 70% on my scale, as long as they realize that I give out grades up to 130% for awesomeness.

But a straight linear scale would be too easy, so two elements are added.

First, on my 13 point scale, 7 will indeed be an “average score”. What a 7 means is that whatever I am reviewing was not a complete waste of time. If I am reviewing a movie and give it a 7, that means that after two hours I felt like I’d just spent two hours, but not wasted two hours. Enjoyable, but nothing to get excited about. Being on the low end of the scale is not always a bad thing. While 7 will be middle of the road, the “worst” score to get will be a 3. A 3 means that this thing is godawful bad, and had no redeeming qualities. To score a 2 or a 1 on the scale, your product must be so horrifically bad that it actually turns a corner and becomes something I will actually share my pain with others about. The kind of shitty movie or game that I insist other people must experience to truely understand the depths of the miserable quality contained therein.

Secondly, even with a confusing symbol and an unusual scale, the review score still isn’t odd enough for me. So I’m going to also steal an idea from the ESRB (the people who rate video games for content) and the MPAA (the Motion Picture Arbitrary Assessment, or something like that) and include verbiage for why the score is what it is, but make sure those words are vague enough or strangely worded so that no matter the rating you might still want to see the thing I’m reviewing just so you can get it.

As an example, recently I saw the movie The Mist, which I might have given, had this system existed at the time:

11 out of 13 nots
for Creepiness, Social Commentary, Religious Fanaticism and Clever use of Dog Food.

All reviews will be presented with the rating first followed by a more in depth write up. In depth write ups will likely contain spoilers.

Keeping up with a rating system can be a chore, so we’ll see how long I stick with it. I might get bored and give it up, or not… who knows…

Rock Band

I have had the game for a week now, and I have to say it is quite awesome.

Before this, I had played a little Guitar Hero, all at parties, and I previously owned one Karaoke game for the GameCube. But Rock Band presents everything in a way that just appeals more to me that any of those.

The first day we had it, the wife and I played for a about eight hours, me on guitar and her singing. Having played no other part of the game, we stumbled into one flaw of the game: if you jump immediately into multi-player there are very few songs unlocked, so they repeat… a lot. Maps by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs is a fun song, but after it came up for the seventeenth time, we were pretty sick of it. Then on Friday we had a friend come over, he brought a guitar (the wireless GHIII guitar) and he and the wife played guitar and bass while I sang. Since the wife and I had not unlocked very much, our six hours of playing were met with some variety mixed in with repeats of Say It Ain’t So by Weezer and In Bloom by Nirvana. It got to the point where during parts where no singing was required, I would talk up the crowd by insulting the songs. However, we learned that a song unlocked by any player or band becomes available for set lists.

The last couple of days have been the wife and I trading off playing the solo version of the game trying to open up as many songs as possible. Because I didn’t spend the past few months monitoring the Harmonix website and memorizing the set list, every time I open up a new city and see the song list, I’m pleased to see new songs… Epic by Faith No More, (Don’t Fear) The Reaper by Blue Oyster Cult, and Vasoline by Stone Temple Pilots, just to name a few.

Overall, the game play is aces. We haven’t played with a full band yet, but we will. Soon.

The guitar plays mainly like any other guitar game, in fact, the much hyped “solo frets” for playing solos without strumming are usually left unplayed, because the advantage of not having to strum is defeated by having to move your hand and lose your place on the guitar. I do like the effects switch on the RB guitar that allows me to throw in some wah-wah, flange, echo or chorus on my solos and overdrive. Sadly, the RB guitar is also rush built. From the forums people who are braver than I (and perhaps more fool-hearty) have opened up their guitars to discover that some parts are hot glued into place, glue which apparently warms up and/or slides causing the strumming not to work properly. Our guitar worked fine for about a day. It still does work fine on occasion, but in any song where fast strumming is required, forget it. So later I’ll be blogging about my experience returning the guitar. In the meantime, I picked up a copy of Guitar Hero II with the X-plorer guitar on Black Friday for cheap, so we’ll use that. We had wanted to get it to have a designated bass guitar, but plans change. As a final note, the Guitar Hero games are utterly incompatible with the Rock Band guitar, so if you want to play both games, you’ll need both guitars, or just the GH guitar, which is annoying since I prefer the feel of the Rock Band guitar.

The microphone is… well… its a microphone. It reportedly has the ability to detect pronunciation to determine if you are saying the correct words, but so far on Easy level it doesn’t appear to do that. Singing is a blast, if you like that sort of thing, and I do.

I haven’t spent much time on the drums, just a few practice songs to see if I could get the hang of it, and I did fairly well (over 90% for all tries), however I’ve avoided playing them because my one short stint on the skins showed me that I need to find the right chair and position to sit in. I couldn’t seem to keep my foot on the foot pedal. The tension in my calf while waiting for the next bass drum beat lead to me constantly resting my foot on the floor instead of the pedal, so I invariably missed the first bass kick of any series. Once a chair/position is found, I will become a double pumping cymbal crashing two fisted hammer of god… hmm… maybe this Rock Band thing is going to my head.

Lastly, outside the game-play of playing songs, Rock Band allows you design your own rock alter-ego. The one thing that always struck me about the Guitar Hero series was being forced to play as the characters provided. In Rock Band, you make your own you, and you earn money and buy clothes and tattoos, you can paint your face and put on make-up. You can buy guitars and decorate them with art. It adds a whole new level to the game as I find myself not only wanting to perform my songs better, but I want to buy the perfect wardrobe to fit my new found rock and roll lifestyle.

So yeah, I like this game a lot. Hopefully I’ll be able to sort out the guitar issues before too long, and maybe RedOctane/Activition will release a patch for their games to let the Rock Band guitar play.