You think you invented a time traveling machine, when in reality it is a teleporter. Your first destination is the Renaissance… Fair.

What follows below is the short tale I crafted last night from a Writing Prompt on Reddit.  It isn’t much, but I tried to walk a balance between serious and lighthearted with my trademark sense of humor.  After some serious consideration, I decided to share it with the rest of the internet but I think I may actually rework it into something bigger.  I think this would make a great one-act play.  Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.


Nicholas sat in the empty jail cell with his head in his hands and wished he would just wake up. This morning he discovered one of the greatest scientific achievements of the last century; of the last millennium! And now he was in jail down at the Allen County lock-up. His wife, Connie, left him there. She was so embarrassed by his behavior, and he knows after previous meltdowns that he’s probably here for at least another 2 hours before she calms down… and comes and bails him out. He rubbed his chest where they had to pull the taser barbs out of his skin, it still itches like a motherfucker.

He began to wonder how crazy he must have sounded and he realized then that the alcohol content of Renaissance Era-ale was much higher than he thought. For Connie to have been yelling at him to calm down, he was definitely far drunker than he had been in a long time.

She didn’t have to kick me in the balls.

He wanted to sleep. A full taser blast, like you saw on TV, took a lot out of a person. But his mind was racing with all the cool places he would go to now. Especially the really cool and illegal places he could go.

About that moment, the cell block door at the end of the hallway opened and a deputy escorted Connie over to the cell to greet him as they let him out. She spoke very evenly. She’s pissed.

“I payed your bail. It’s gross in here; let’s go home.”

The deputy led them back to the front of the station where they returned his belongings and Connie and he left. She drove in silence until they were several blocks away and finally, as if she’d been holding her breath, blurted, “I saw your machine and I know it works and I believe you!”

Nick huffed, “Is that why you looked so pissed? I thought you were so embarrassed you couldn’t look at me.”

“I am still pissed because you embarrassed me, but I’m so excited I don’t care. This is too big of a discovery to let that bother me.”

They drove on home, excitedly discussing all the ramifications and possibilities. Neither of them noticed the three big black SUV’s parked across the street from their house. When they walked in the front door they were greeted by the sight of a man in a suit and half a dozen Secret Service agents in their dining room. The man in the suit beckoned to one of the agents and they were shuffled into seats.  Once seated they were told vaguely passive-aggressive “truths” about national security and their responsibility as upstanding citizens. Finally when given an opportunity to speak, Nickolas asked the only question that hadn’t been answered by this important looking government official’s monologue.

“How did you know about my machine?” Nick asked.

“A phone video that captured your spontaneous arrival at the park today,” was the blunt response.

“A video taken at the fair caught my reentry and went viral?” Nickolas asked.

“No, a video taken on a phone that was flagged by our monitoring algorithm.” The G-man let that sink in for a moment then continued. “For reasons I can’t explain to you, we knew what the video captured was authentic. Mr. Hardy, you don’t realize what you’ve stumbled upon and it absolutely cannot get out. And now you’re both coming with me.”

Then two secret service agents stepped up behind them and pressed a stun gun to each of their necks. And for the second time in less than 6 hours, Nickolas lost consciousness to the sensation of his body seizing up… and his bladder evacuating.


Wow, you came. No one ever comes to these things.

“I beg your pardon?”

“I said, ‘no one ever comes to these things.'”  The gentleman with the tan vest over a plain white collared shirt above black slacks sounded rather annoyed.  The cheap, Hello, My Name Is… sticker on his left breast read, “Harold Núñez.”

I chuckled when I saw it.  “Harold Núñez?  That really your name or is it like ‘nun yuz business?'”

His demeanor went from annoyed to irritated but he laughed a little anyway.  “Yup, you got it.  Harold’s actually my middle name but I prefer it to my first and my last name really is none of yours.”

I’m sure my face turned as red as the hotel curtains behind me.  “I’m so sorry–“

He cut me off with a gesture with of his hand.  “Please stop.  It’s whatever.”

I nodded but kept talking out of anxiousness now that I made it awkward.  “So, I’m assuming you’ve held these conferences before, why do you keep doing them if no one shows up?”  I looked around the hotel conference room that had been set up to look like a public speaking engagement of some kind.  Harold continued to busy himself at the table he was seated at before me while I rambled.

“It’s not up to me, I don’t schedule ’em, I just facilitate ’em.  I don’t really agree with what these guys are doing, but I get paid either way.  Usually I just sit here on my phone for 4 hours and collect a paycheck but now that you’re here, I guess we’ll get started.”  With that he pulled out a clipboard with a stack of approximately a dozen papers on it and handed it to me.  “Read the first nine pages and if you’re still interested, sign your consent at the bottom of page ten.”

Before I could even ask what I was consenting to he shooed me away.  So I found myself a seat among the forty chairs that were arranged lengthwise facing the risers at the front of the room and started reading.  The first few pages were standard welcome messages and hyperbolic claims of excitement to come.  Even after getting through them it was still unclear what this was all about.

The ad I saw in the paper yesterday only said, “Unemployed? Come down to the Holiday Inn Ball Room on Lincoln Ave. for an exciting opportunity!”  I hadn’t been unemployed very long but I was so sick of the corporate bureaucracy that existed in most of the business world I was just about willing to try anything.  Even if it was just a get-rich-quick scheme, if it meant I was working for myself, I was open to it.  I continued reading through to page eight and finally got an idea of what I was here for:  the page explained that over the next four hours I would learn the skills necessary to recruit for one of the newest, fastest growing businesses in the country.  For every person I signed up for a 1 hour interview, I would be paid a nominal finders’ fee.  For every person that completed the interview process and was elevated on to the next level I would be paid a commission.  Finally, for every ten people that were elevated, I would receive a bonus.  It all sounded great, although the way it was worded I had a feeling that the “bonus” wasn’t a check but more like some kind of incentive or maybe stock in the company that would pay off over time.  Still, even a meaningless title and bragging rights sounded good on a resumé.  I filled out the standard application on page 9 and signed at the bottom of page ten.  It seemed like a lot of work for not much in return but what did I have to lose?  Jokingly I called back to Harold, “Hey how do I get your job?”  He didn’t even look up from the phone as he gave me the finger.

No sooner did I lift my pen from the paper than a pair of well-dressed men stepped out from behind a curtain on stage I hadn’t noticed before.  It didn’t even look like two people could have hid back there for any length of time without being noticed.  Must be a door back there, I thought to myself.  They wore fancy suits and bore the stereotypical attitude of pitchmen.  Good pitchmen, but ultimately still just sales guys

“Welcome to the first day of the rest of your existence!”  The one on the left spoke first.  His voice boomed throughout the room despite any sound system.  What an odd way to phrase it, I thought.  As he spoke, I began to take in his appearance.  He was clearly an older gentlemen but he moved with a spring in his step that suggested he was in better shape than most his age.  His hair was all white, he wore a neatly trimmed beard and had the most intense blue eyes.

He continued, “My name is Al and I’m asking you Jesse…”  I was momentarily taken aback at being addressed directly.  “…Are you ready to be part of history?”  I nodded, more out of pressure than interest.

“That’s great!  As Harry may have already told you, we rarely get any interested takers and I couldn’t be more excited to welcome you to the ground floor of this amazing opportunity.”  From the back of the room I heard an exasperated sigh.  “My name is Al and welcome to AVI.”  Then Al jumped off the stage and shook my hand vigorously.  He gave off a really palpable energy.  At this point the other gentleman on stage finally spoke.

“Jesse,” he said in a tone of skepticism, “are you ready to give us 110%?”

I stammered, “I, uh, I think so.  I’m not even sure what it is I’m going to be doing.”

“Jesse, Jesse, Jesse,” he sighed.  “You came to us!  You came here today for a job and you can’t tell me if you’re even going to give it your all?  Why don’t I just tear up your application and you walk out of here?”  My face began to flush as bad as it had when I put my foot in my mouth with Harold.

“That’s not what I meant,” I tried to say.

This guy was the polar opposite of Al.  Black hair, slicked back with a shiny product of some kind, sharp features, but with the same piercing blue eyes.  He continued, slowly and deliberately, “Are you ready to give 110%?  Are you ready,” he paused for dramatic effect,  “to be the first person to be asked to stand up here on this stage with us?”  Jumping down from the stage himself he approached me and took my hand from Al.  “Jesse, my name is Sam.  What do you say?”

I almost felt compelled to tell this guy yes just to tell him what he wanted to hear, but inside I genuinely began to feel the excitement these guys were operating on.  So I stood up and shook Sam’s hand firmly.  “Yes, I am.”  Then Al clapped me on the opposite shoulder invited me up on the stage with them.

Over the next few hours, Al and Sam proceeded to teach me sales techniques; how to incite conversation with anyone, anywhere at any time; how to overcome any objection; how to get them to sign on the line that is dotted.  When it was all over, I could not wait to get out there and start recruiting.  As Sam and Al explained it to me, all I had to do was convince people to make an appointment and they would do the rest.  And they were good, but it didn’t matter.  I felt good enough myself that I figured I could live off finders’ fees for all the appointments I was going to make.  The commissions and whatever bonuses they were offering was only icing on the cake.  And with the skills I had now, I had no question I could get another sales job in no time if I ever tired of this.

When it was all over, they handed me heavy manila envelope.  “Jesse,” Al began, “in that packet is everything you need to get started today.  There’s a pad of applications, a set of AVI pens and custom badge we had made for whomever was the first person to sign up for our services.  Go on, take a look.”

I dumped the contents of the envelope on the stage in front of me and I was surprised by the heft and color of the badge as it hit the riser.  It wasn’t gold or chrome like I expected but actually stark white.  It looked like real ivory.  I picked it up and read the word engraved on the front.  “Reaper.”

I was taken aback.  “Reaper?  Boy you guys sure are cutthroat,” I chuckled.  When I looked back toward the men they both had smug smiles on their faces, like they were in on some joke I wasnt privy to.  “What’d I miss?”

“Reaper is a fitting term, regardless of the connotation,” Sam informed me.  “It means ‘harvester.’  The world is your crop and you’re bringing in the harvest, my man!”

I laughed at that.  “Well I suppose that’s one way to look at it.”  Then as an afterthought I asked, “Why doesn’t anyone ever come to these things?  Is it because they think it’s a scam?”

Al answered kindly, “We only advertise in certain papers, the kind that we know are only read by people of a certain persuasion.  Without getting too technical, basically most people reading those publications already have jobs and are likely to never even look at an employment ad.  How’d you come by it anyway?”

“I’ve been reading every classified section I could get my hands on, this unemployed bullshit sucks,” I said.

“Yes, I’m sure it does.”  Al laughed a little at that but then asked politely, “But we do ask that you clean up your language a little.”

Sam slapped Al across the back, “Give him a break, Dad, it’s not like that’s really a big deal at this stage of the game.”

“Oh, one more question,” I wondered aloud, “what does AVI stand for, anyway?”

“It’s Latin,” Al explained.  “It stands for ‘Ad Vitam, Inc.’”

“Ad vitam,” I repeated slowly, trying to remember my high school Latin.  “‘Post living?’”

Sam grinned at this.  “You’re close Jesse-Boy!  It means, ‘After Life.’”

In that moment it all came together for me:  their mysterious entrance, their appearance, Al’s aversion to swearing and Sam’s relaxed attitude toward it, the badge of *bone* that said “Reaper,” even the middle name “Harold.”  In shock I struggled to speak but could only muster a whisper.  “So that badge isn’t a metaphor is it?”

Sam grinned bigger than ever and shook his head.  “Jesse, allow me to give you a proper introduction, since we will be working together a very long time.  My name is Samael, my dad over here is Allah and my half-brother over there,” he gestured toward Harold, “is Jesus.”

Unexplored Opportunities

Recently a friend and fellow Mega Man enthusiast encouraged me to check out Shovel Knight because it is awesome.  Also because he is aware of my dream to make a retro-inspired video game of my own.  The conversation eventually turned to how it is a fine illuminator of technology evolving faster than game design.  Here was a game that by and large could have been done on twenty-five year old, possibly older, hardware yet it still felt fresh and unique.

Yes, I am aware that “Shovel Knight” isn’t an NES game so despite the graphics, there are things going on underneath that we can’t see the NES could never do.  The Super NES or the Genesis might have been capable though.  Other recent retro-inspired titles could also have appeared during the 16-bit era exactly as they appeared today even though they were released on the PS4.  I’m talking about “Axiom Verge” and “Xeodrifter.”  Both very good games that I highly recommend you check out if you have the appropriate hardware by the way.  (Both are available on PC via Steam, while  “Xeodrifter” is also available on the Nintendo 3DS eShop and the PS Vita.)

“Axiom Verge” is a healthy chunk of a Metroid-style platforming, shooter-explorer with a unique twist on the stranger in a strange land plot that informs the game’s design.  The game’s protagonist is a scientist experimenting on bending spacetime when a disaster transports him across the universe. Eventually you unlock the ability to alter spacetime around you at will; this ability increases in strength as you progress.

“Xeodrifter” on the other hand is a bite-size morsel that takes a few pages from the original “Blaster Master” by offering only four levels that you’ll traverse across for the entire adventure.  It’s still vaguely linear but feels less so.  As you explore each planet you encounter bosses, many of them looking the same with just minor adjustments in color and ability, also like “Blaster Master.”  Each boss possesses a unique upgrade that enhances your ability to explore.  This in turn opens up more places to search on each individual planet where health and weapon upgrades can be found.  What’s more, in another twist on the “Blaster Master” model, instead of a damage or range upgrade you’re offered the ability to assign them to six different beam types.  The player is encouraged to mix and match; to create the perfect beam for any situation and save up to three different loadouts for quick recall whenever you need.  A simple innovation in level design has added playable space in the background of each level, potentially doubling the size of the map without actually increasing the two-dimensional area.  Interestingly enough whis was a gameplay feature in the Virtual Boy title “Wario Land” in the mid-Nineties.  It just goes to show the importance of a hardware’s success in the adoption of new features but that’s a discussion for another time.

My point here, if there is a point, is that while these games are doing new and interesting things with established models, it’s not because they couldn’t be done until now.  These games are doing new things because the big-time developers of the 80’s and 90’s were either required to make the games as quickly and cost-effectively as possible or they were already working on improving the graphics on the game for the next generation of hardware.  The push for better graphics was always the priority, even then, because how else do you sell games then by making them look good, by making them look like something I really have to see.

These games are doing new things with old models because of the people behind them.  Between programs like Adobe Flash & Flex, Game Maker, Construct 2 and others I’m sure I’m not aware of, anyone with the drive, the creativity, and the time can make a game.  “Axiom Verge” was completed primarily by one guy, the choice to make it look like an NES game was driven partially out of nostalgia but also out necessity.  If he had chosen to make the game in 3D, with something more powerful like Unity or Unreal Engine it might have taken him five more years to complete the game.  Not to mention it might have required a level of artistic talent he didn’t possess.  From a design and programming standpoint the “reality altering” gameplay feature is just another tool or weapon the player can wield.  However, by suggesting it can bend reality the player is encouraged to approach puzzles in new ways; using weapons to eliminate obstacles is no longer the only option, now you can go around them, use “alternate dimensions” to sidestep them, or maybe even go through them.

The level design in “Xeodrifter” takes the same efficient approach.  When graphics processors improved to the point of including fully-realized, scrolling backgrounds, levels started including massive additional amounts of detail in multiple layers behind the action itself.  The level designers simply asked the question, “Why does the action have to take place strictly on the surface layer?”  As mentioned above, by adding playable space to the background layer the map size is doubled.  This encourages the player to apply three-dimensional thinking to what used to be a strictly two-dimensional environment or else you miss a few secrets or upgrades along the way.

Finally, “Shovel Knight” takes the reverse approach.  The gameplay features were not new or unique but had never been assembled quite this way before.  The setting and presentation were reminiscent of “Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link,” but instead of that game’s free-roaming overworld levels were presented on a grid-based map a la “Super Mario Bros. 3”.  The boss and weapon systems were clearly inspired by the Mega Man series, evidenced by the number of bosses you would face (eight), and the naming scheme (each boss was named for his unique talent with “Knight” at the end), and the eight unique weapons you can collect, but instead of them the boss as he’s defeated, the weapons are found in secret rooms in the levels, or at the town marketplace if you couldn’t find the secret room.  Like “DuckTales” (and the current gen 2.5D remake) each level is full of loot, some secret and some not-so-secret, that you’re encouraged to find and collect, but again, unlike that game the loot you collect doesn’t contribute to your score.  Here, it’s the monetary system for buying reserve health tanks, the aforementioned unique weapons and other consumables.  So, while the game didn’t strictly do anything never before seen, it was new.  Additionally, in this case the old-school graphics and sound effects seem to be chosen specifically to evoke nostalgia.  Though the developers could have made something more modern it seems apparent they chose to demonstrate that good game design can transcend graphics, and they would be right.

For someone who’s been playing videogames since the NES era, these games speak to me directly because they evoke a time when game development was restricted by technology.  Restrictions that motivated the developers to find creative solutions for overcoming limitations.  Many famous staples of the gaming industry are the direct result of technology limitations.  Mario has a mustache and wears overalls and a hat because it was the only way Donkey Kong developers could give their protagonist a distinct head, face, and arms.  Donkey Kong’s name came from his creator looking for the simplest way to relate the concept of “stubborn ape” across languages.  Mega Man is blue even though his creator wanted him to be red, because the NES’s graphics processor could do more shades of blue than red, which was necessary for detail.  Pac-Man was originally supposed to be called “Puck-Man” until someone at Namco realized that a P can be made into an F on the side of an arcade cabinet pretty easily.

The constant push for better graphics has brought us some pretty cool experiences over the years.  I couldn’t imagine the Darksiders franchise without it’s very distinct art style, while “Heavy Rain” and “L.A. Noire” both used HD and facial mapping in innovative and compelling ways.  On the other hand, it seems like artificial intelligence in non-player characters or enemies has barely advanced, enemies and friendlies alike walking into gunfire and traffic still.  So-called major gameplay features in some games today almost seem like an egomaniac executive’s pet project that no one’s allowed to veto just as much as they were deliberate design choices to improve the experience.  While greedy corporations continue to search for the next killer tech feature or buzzword, indie gaming is revisiting all of the old classics and asking the questions these corporations could have, should have, asked years ago.

With so many unexplored opportunities out there, I look forward to every new indie game announcement.  I watch in anticipation as the people who started this hobby, the garage-based enthusiasts with the basic skills and a dream, take the industry back little by little from the greed-driven companies who still after all these years do not know how to monetize art.

FanMan, out.

Accountability can be fun!

I have a confession to make to all of you.  I have failed to stay to true to my Mission Statement.  Recently, when I had the opportunity to comment on a video of Olivia Munn practicing her katana routines for her upcoming performance of Psylocke, I had nothing nice to say.  Beyond just being negative about it, I let my personal feelings for the actress herself taint my whole opinion of a performance I haven’t even seen yet.  It doesn’t matter what I thought about her, what I know about her is very little and my negative opinion was based on hearsay.

Based on what little information about Olivia Munn I possess, I actually don’t have the right to have anything but a superficial opinion of her.  Classifying the opinion as superficial, I am admitting that my opinion is completely without merit and I might as well not hold it in the first place.  So, I’m abandoning the opinion.  Here you have it.  I am holding myself accountable for my own mistakes and grievances.  Objectively, Olivia looks as much like the comic book character as I would have ever imagined and based on the video that inspired my negative comment, she’ll be able to pull off the performance physically, at the very least.

I have to thank a very good friend of mine for this change of heart.  Kristin Kreuk was another recipient of my unnecessary ire and he routinely gave me a proper amount of shit for it.  I hated her for years!  If you’ll recall my “Heath Ledger can’t be the Joker” rant, I had a similar problem with Kristin’s casting in “Smallville.”

“Lana Lang!” I objected.  “Lang isn’t an Asian surname, it’s Jewish!  And she’s always been played by a redhead!!!”  From that point on, I irrationally poured my ire and distaste upon every role she played.  Fiona in “Euro Trip,” Tenar in “Earthsea” and then(!) they cast her as my first fictional crush, Chun-Li in “Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li.”  I’m not sure I can articulate how much I hated her except that the only person I hated more in my life was my second ex-girlfriend who was absolutely vile to me.  Nothing my friend would say could change my mind and while he gave me shit for my opinion, I routinely gave him shit for defending her.

Then a few weeks ago I convinced my wife to watch the pilot of “Chuck” with me as it was on my Netflix streaming list.  Then, a couple episodes into Season 3 she shows up as a recurring guest star.  I had no idea she was on this show and despite myself, I went into this performance with no preconcieved notions.  She was delightful.  Acting or not, her character was lovely and it was impossible not to like her.  I must now go back and rewatch other performances, especially “Smallville” and “Street Fighter” and reevaluate.  The first thing I did when I realized my error was to text my friend and inform him that I was wrong and I took back everything I ever said about her.

Not long after, pictures of Jared Leto on the set of “Suicide Squad” were released and once again the internet lost its mind.  Promotional photos of Leto in makeup and covered in tattoos were released for Batman’s 75th Anniversary and there was an uproar.  Hyperbolic fanboys insisted that the character was unrecognizable and held onto this opinion even after an official statement was released explaining his appearance in the photos was not representative of his appearance in the film.  Fanboys were quick to compare the two in order to call Warner Brothers’ bluff and the negative comments continued to flow.  Of course, you’ll remember my aforementioned rant which I was forced to retract two years later.  I attempted to explain to everyone who wanted another performance like Ledger’s that his Joker fit the tone of Nolan’s films.  A sillier or more clown-like version, like the one from “Batman: The Animated Series” which I wanted, wouldn’t have worked.  For now, the only “tone” we have to compare the Suicide Squad movie to is “Man of Steel” because we know they exist in the same universe.  Of course, no one knows what kind of contribution “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” is going to make to that world either.

Then this morning I heard an internet reviewer, MovieBob, unleash on the latest Adam Sandler vehicle from Happy Madison production, “Pixels.”  The YouTube video is ten minutes of some of the most vitriolic and language-stretching metaphors I have ever heard.  I’m sure I don’t need to point out that if it’s an Adam Sandler film there’s already a certain sense of humor and theme involved.

Here’s what I will point out.  Beyond the obvious of angry internet trolls hating Adam Sandler because he’s Adam Sandler being in the minority, Happy Madison films make money because plenty of people want to see what he and his regular players will do to make them laugh.  Call it lowest common denominator if you want to, but what angry fanboys tend to forget is that the majority of the planet would qualify.  Now, before anyone takes offense to that, let me explain.  Fanboys, geeks, nerds and the like spend more time thinking about this stuff than 99% of the world.  The 99% can be entertained by things fanboys hate because they’re not overthinking it, over-analyzing it, comparing it to the source material, and so forth.  When someone asks the question, “How could anyone like that?” the answer is, “Because they have no preconceived notions and therefore can enjoy, or not enjoy, at their leisure because they’re objective.”

This is where people tend to get offended because shorthand for that is, “They don’t know what they like.”It doesn’t mean, “They have no taste.”  It doesn’t mean, “They’re an idiot who doesn’t understand.”  It means, “They haven’t spent hours, upon days, upon years obsessing over it, therefore they aren’t going into their experience with their mind made up.”  Do they like it or don’t they?  They won’t know until they’ve seen it.

Something else the reviewer doesn’t expand upon, though he clearly has the knowledge to do so, is that the film is based on a book.  I don’t need to remind anyone what that means, first of all.  Secondly, anyone who read the book and was following production of the movie shouldn’t have been surprised by the final product when Happy Madison was the production company.  If you read the book and didn’t follow the production of the movie and were disappointed to learn that the adaptation wasn’t going to be faithful to the book, then this movie wasn’t for you anyway.  That sounds very disappointing in itself:  the movie based on a book you enjoyed wasn’t for you, but it’s the truth because Happy  Madison films are made for that much larger, much less informed group of people that outnumber us all.

I get MovieBob’s anger, I really do.  I’ve been there.  “Lost World: Jurassic Park” shares very little in common with the novel it’s based on.  I was very disappointed because not only was my favorite scene in the book not in the film, at thirty minutes in the film deviates so much from the book that nothing onscreen comes from the book at all.  Not to mention that “Jurassic Park III” and “Jurassic World” weren’t based on books at all.  [Ed. I must also apologize for never releasing a review for “Jurassic World.”  Accountability!]  I firmly believe that if MovieBob knew the film was a poor adaptation of a book he needed to articulate that.  He has a responsibility to do this if he’s going to be so confident in his anger to release a video review as passionate as that.  He needs to make it known somehow, by footnote or asterisk or something, that his opinion is based on that knowledge.  He does at least do the proper things for a movie reviewer to do which is specify things about the film that he thought were poor, except that was less than thirty seconds of the video, with the rest of it focusing on how colorfully insulting he could be.

Obviously, who am I to critique someone who has 800,000+ views on YouTube, which doesn’t even count the number of people who heard his review via morning radio like I did.  My biggest blog post didn’t reach 100 people, but what kind of FanMan would I be if I didn’t make it a point to be accountable to myself and at least try to hold others accountable to themselves.  So I’ll close by reiterating:  It is ok to be wrong sometimes!  I’ll also add, anger and hate and other extreme emotions are certainly normal things to feel when you experience disappointment, but if you’re going to share those emotions with the world with extreme statements, you better be prepared to defend them.  I’m not doubting that MovieBob is willing to defend his position.  I am wondering how many views of his video are people laughing at him, and not with him, which completely negates his intent to convince people not to see the movie.

FanMan, out!

I love driving!

The following is an expanded version of my bumper sticker joke from my stand-up routine.  Scroll down if you want to see it, I posted it a couple months ago.  I don’t know if I’ll ever get a chance to do this whole routine on stage, so I want to share it.  That and I’m already 3 days behind on my weekly post and I don’t have anything else prepared.  My planned piece is still in progress, I hope to have it done by my next regular posting time.  Feedback on the jokes is always appreciated.

“I used to drive all the time for work.  I still do.  *beat*  I actually love driving because I have ADHD and I always have to be doing multiple things at once and driving helps because it is the definition of doing multiple things at once.  You have your hands on the steering wheel, that’s one activity.  Then you actually have your eyes on the road, that’s another activity.  Then you have your feet on the pedals, that’s a third activity.  For most drivers that’s where it stops I think.

I mean for me you would add, paying attention to speed; paying attention to what lane I’m in; paying attention to the other drivers on the road; using my turn signals appropriately; but I find there’s so many people out there that don’t do these things. 

They’re just all over the road, doing whatever they want. 

Maybe in their lane. 

Maybe in mine. 

Maybe they’ll give the shoulder a try, “That rumble strip doesn’t bother me, no, Sir!

I’m already in the left lane doing fifteen over trying to pass a tractor-trailer and they’re riding my ass; go screaming past me as soon as there’s a gap.  “I’M DRIVING FASTER THAN YOU!”

Or worse, they’re in the left lane doing the speed limit, just craaaaawling around a slower vehicle while faster traffic just stacks up behind ’em.  Usually an elderly person.  I always imagine them going, “Beep, buh-beep, buh-beep-beep-beep, I’m-a driving in the fast lane Eustice, look out!”

Young lady in a little black Toyota went flying around me at a light the other day and disappears up the mountain.  A couple miles later at the next light, guess who’s right in front of me?  Then I see her license plate cover, it says,  “Princess,” and I thought, “Where’s Angelina Jolie when I need her to curse this girl with a fiery crash on her 18th birthday!”

You can learn so much about people from the crap they paste all over the back of their cars too; useful tidbits of information delivered in short, perfect packages.  Like the guy in pick-up with the NRA window sticker and one on his tailgate that says, “OBAMA:  One big ass mistake, America.”  You think there’s ever been an Obama voter who saw that and went, “WHAT?! He was?”   Then they go whipping their car off the road, hands shaky, eyes wide.  “What have I been doing with my life?”

Or the young lady in the huge, beat-up Mercury Grand Marquis with a sticker that says, “I love me some Jeff Gordon,” “Number 18 sucks,” and “You call me bitch like it’s a bad thing,”  as if these are things she really wants people to know about her.  You think she goes speed-dating and drops down in front of the guy and says, “I love NASCAR, I’ll leave your ass for Jeff Gordon in a heartbeat, that number 18 can suck a dick and I’m a bitch and you just gotta deal with it.”  *full impression here*  Actually, she probably does.

Then I saw one the other day that got me really excited because it said, “Americans don’t eat horses!” and I thought, “Yes, I can finally sell that line of bumper stickers with totally obvious statements on them!”

You got one that says, “Water turns to ice when it’s cold!”

Or, “Blind people can’t see!”

Or my personal favorite, “This is a car!”

You can have some real fun with that one, maybe put it on a truck, or even, better a motorcycle.

But then I really got to thinking, what is that person trying to say with a bumper sticker that says, “Americans don’t eat horses!”  Is that really a major concern for this person; do they believe that Americans do eat horses?  I think it’s worse than that; I think someone told them when they were very young that cows were just (retarded) fat, slow horses and they’ve been walking around their whole life mad at Americans for picking on those poor horses that weren’t good enough to get picked for horsey rides.

Or it’s a bumper sticker from the future and we all need to be on the lookout for cheap, lean ground meat at the grocery store.”

Fanman, out!

Selfishness and You

So I hope everyone enjoyed their Independence Day weekend as much as I did.  I had a long one granted to me by the federal government which is why this is going up so late.  Sadly, I was one of those people on July 4th, I took my son to see “Jurassic World” on Saturday.  I do not usually go out on holidays because I used to work in the same industry as most of the poor souls that work those days and though it’s not much, I try not to contribute to the mass hysteria.  Unfortunately, as I was trying to do a favor for someone close to me, I failed to realize what day it was.

First, I loved the movie and I will have a set of reviews up later this week.  Second, I may have been a little hasty in taking my son to see a movie about dinosaurs run amok and I hope my wife doesn’t read this.  A couple of the more suspenseful scenes were a little too much for the poor little guy who had crawled into my lap around the ninety-minute mark.  After it was all over however, he did say he enjoyed the movie and I hope by the time it comes out on video to have shown him the first three films in the series.  Third, I was surprised that the movie evoked some pretty powerful memories.  Some of these memories weren’t exactly welcome either, but they returned anyway.  This brings us to the point of today’s entry.

“Jurassic World” marks the third time I’ve seen a film in this series in the theater.  The only one I never saw in the theater was the original actually.  My best friend in grade school, whom I’ll call “A.J.” here, had seen the movie in the theater that summer and while I was just as excited about it, my family wasn’t big on going to the theater to watch movies.  Our movie night was homemade hot dogs and french fries with a video from the rental store.  I bought the “junior novelization” from the Scholastic book order program at our school in fifth grade.  In sixth grade, both AJ and the school library bought copies of the Michael Crichton book, which he and I read as fast as we could.  I had only read the forty-something page kid’s book before and found the novel to be the most amazing thing I had ever read.  I was eleven years old and yet everything in the book made perfect sense to me.  This would be the start of a lifelong appreciation of Crichton’s work as he has a very distinct style that makes even the most complex and impossible science seem totally believable.  AJ loved the book too and even though it was very different from the movie, the movie was still really good too.  This still being the early nineties, though I can’t explain why, some movies didn’t make the transition to VHS tape as quickly as others and JP was one of them.  When it finally came out, AJ had me and his neighbor friend over as his parents were going to rent it.

So, while I’m sitting in the theater Saturday afternoon with my son, blown away by amazing visuals of the very park I dreamed of for twenty-two years, I’m suddenly reminded of how at AJ’s house I talked through the whole film.  Those of you who know me personally can probably relate, but I will never forget how irritated AJ sounded when he told me to shut-up at the part where Dr. Grant and Lex are trying to escape the T-Rex just as it pushes the electric Ford Explorer over the concrete barrier.  This one memory brought back a flood of others that are not movie-related in any way.  Over the next year, I would continue to act in such a way that I pushed AJ completely out of my life.  You see, my talking during the movie was just one small way that a much bigger problem manifested and without going into too much detail, suffice it to say, AJ wasn’t the only one who had grown tired of my behavior.  This same behavior made my life in high school more unbearable than it needed to be and yet I couldn’t figure out why everyone else was being such assholes to me.

This would be an ongoing theme for much of my life over the next twenty-years.  I repeatedly, and consistently, acted in such a way that got me picked on, targeted, ignored and even fired multiple times.  Yet no matter what, I always managed to blame everyone else instead of myself for the situations that ended poorly for me.  It’s very easy to identify today, but at the time I couldn’t see the common denominator in all of these circumstances was me.

I used to wonder all the time what my life would be like if I had changed schools the year that I read “Jurassic Park;”  my parents gave me the option to stay where I was or go to the public middle school.  While I’m sure I would be on a vastly different path from the one I’m on if I had changed schools, simply by virtue of the butterfly effect (thank you Dr. Ian Malcolm), I used to believe that my life would have turned out better for it.  Today I know that it was my behavior that typically put me at odds with everyone else and while the venue may have been different, my behavior likely wouldn’t have changed much and I would just have different people who were irritated by me for the same reasons as before.  By that I mean, AJ wasn’t the only one I pushed away.  Another close friend from grade school, whom I’ll call Wayne, still talks to me today although considering the things I did to him too, I can’t explain why.  Though AJ and Wayne are probably the two that got it worst from me, there are other friends from those days too that I have to thank for being mature enough to realize that kids are idiots and being gracious enough not to hold some of the stupid things I did back then against me.

It didn’t end at childhood either, I was an “annoying little weirdo” in Army basic training too.  At most Army schools I would attend later I was still that guy.  Though I have always managed to make friends easily, pretty much every job I’ve ever had as an adult still found me making friends with people only to quickly make some of them regret having ever been nice to me in the first place.  One in particular because he stuck his neck out for me more than once, though the things I did certainly didn’t warrant that amount of kindness, which only speaks to the character of the person I hurt even more.  That sounds rather harsh and I’m probably being hyperbolic about how they actually feel about me, but I certainly would not blame them for thinking it, as I can see now looking back that I did some pretty indefensible things.

Twenty-two years later, between medication and therapy, I have indentified what I was doing that was just so obnoxious and irritating.  It’s actually rather embarrassing because I know at least one occassion where I recognized the same flaw in someone else and called them out for it.  I have always prided myself on my self-awareness and my ability to step outside of myself once-in-a-while and try to look at things objectively, yet for some reason I was unable to do that in this one area for years.  What’s worse is that I’m now aware how hypocritical I looked to people close to me, which makes the guilt I feel over my ridiculous behavior even worse.

In the end, there are three people specifically that I want to apologize to for my behavior, two of whom I mentioned here under pseudonyms, and one didn’t get a pseudonym but still deserves an apology.  If they’re reading this, I’m not sure they’d know I was talking about them or not but I’m pretty sure that two of them will never read this because I’ve talked to neither in years and I highly doubt they’re following this nor do they care about my progress as a writer.  Wayne might be reading this, but since I didn’t mention specifically what I did to him he may not realize that Wayne is him.  Still, I want it known that they are the three that I hurt the most and the three that deserve my sincerest apology.

The reason I am posting this on my “nerd and pop-culture blog” is because in my years as an internet user I have seen many people engage in much the same behavior.  While I won’t defend them, I can at the very least say that I understand.  There are people out there, like me, who for whatever reason think just differently enough that their worldview is a very self-centered and egotistical one for no more reason other than they believe that everyone else thinks like they do.  They have no reason to believe otherwise because no one has ever taken the time to explain it to them.  It’s not that they lack empathy, it’s that they lack the motivation to be empathetic.  Some of you might be wondering why it’s necessary to explain something so blatantly obvious and the reason is to someone like me, people like this, it wasn’t obvious; it’s not obvious to them.

So, to everyone reading this, let me say that if I ever acted selfishly and/or obnoxious to you, please know that from the bottom of my heart I am deeply sorry.  Certainly if I had known better I would have never done it and I’m ashamed of it today.  Even if I don’t know you personally, accept my apology on the grounds that my selfish behavior only contributed to making this planet a worse place to live than a better one and I intend to spend the rest of my life doing the opposite.

Fanman, out.

My dad was right! Or was he?

So with the recent announcement that Microsoft isn’t selling enough X-Box Ones, er… I mean that X-Box One will have backward compatibility with 360 games, I decided that maybe it was finally time to buy one. Then I realized the bulk of the games I am playing right now are old-school games, or indie titles designed to look and feel like old-school ones.  I do play a few current gen titles but they’re nothing revolutionary, a couple MMO’s and first-person shooters.

I find myself more excited by don’t-call-it-a-Mega-Man-reboot “Mighty No. 9” than anything else on the horizon.  Don’t get me wrong, the new Batman looks great and I played the first two to 100% more than once, I can’t wait for the new Halo, I’m pretty excited about the announcement of Gears of War 4 and there’s a couple other future titles that really are next-gen that sound interesting.  Still, I can’t help but notice that I get more enjoyment out of old, or old-school, games than I do most modern stuff.  I just bought a Moga Bluetooth controller for my cell phone so I can play my 8 and 16 bit emulators.  I’m currently engaged in a couple of dream projects, an ongoing hack of a SNES game and using Game Maker to build the Super Nintendo game I always wanted to play.

I recently made the comment on Facebook that I have no more interest in new games, regardless of the amazing new technology and what it’s capable of.  I love epic shooters and action RPG’s and hack’n’slash games as much as the next guy, but excluding the recent stuff from FROM Software it just doesn’t feel like they’re doing anything new and interesting, they’re just making them look better.  Perhaps I am wrong.  The PC title Elite Dangerous and the upcoming PS4 game “No Man’s Sky” are using the massive output and memory of modern machines to make giant universes that you can inhabit and travel through and do just about anything you want, but it doesn’t feel like the same is being applied to other game types.

A recent article explained why Nintendo’s new “Splatoon” was such a great leap forward for shooters by describing how the game is able to expand what they can be by eschewing what games like Halo an Call of Duty focus on.  This is all fine and dandy but as an adult who has particular tastes, a cartoony, paintball shooting game on a Nintendo system is about as far from what I’m looking to spend my money on as I can get.  Just to be clear, it isn’t strictly the cartoony aspect, it’s not even the Nintendo aspect that turn me off of the game, it’s the fact that it is on a system that I will likely never own by a company that is still resistant to embracing online play.  Aimed at me, my audience, or not, they missed me.

Recently there does seem to be a push to make shooters that truly do innovate.  Valve’s Evolve pits four “normal” people against a single, overpowered individual.  Epic’s next entry, Fortnite, looks to try and take shooters into the sandbox-survival realm but I’m talking about trying to use the amazing processing power of modern machines to give me a truly new experience.  Still, I can’t help but think there is a sort of wall that giant corporate development companies have hit.

Judging by the stuff the indie market is currently producing, I’m probably not alone.  A recent Steam purchase of mine was an RPG-esque title called “Evoland” that essentially walks you through the evolution of the genre from the days of the original desktop PC’s to today; each completed “quest” grants you a new feature, starting with things like color graphics and chiptune music, but eventually the game transforms from SNES to PlayStation 1 and beyond.  It wasn’t a very deep experience but it was certainly memorable.  On the reverse of that you have titles like Guacamelee and Oniken.  The first is an obvious labor of love by the developers, an homage to 8 bit and 16 bit classics like Mega Man and Metroid, going so far to reference both titles directly through art and other assets, with a unique sense of humor and visual style that would only be possible on a system post the PlayStation at the very least.  The second looks like an NES title that got lost on the way to Service Merchandise and instead got spit out by Steam 25 years later, this one a love-letter to run’n’gun shooters like Contra and Metal Slug and easily as hard.  In fact, just go onto the Steam website and search “retro” if you really want to see the amount of old-school inspired titles.  For me, what makes these titles even better is that the best of them do with their respective genres what it feels like the big boy developers should have done.

What I mean is these games feel like NES or SNES titles, but with minor innovations to gameplay that enhance the experience.  Most of the time these features also feel very natural, almost obvious in their usefulness, the kinds of adjustments that make you say, “This is exactly what [Game Title] needed!”  I could elaborate but the features themselves isn’t the point, it’s what they represent.  They represent the intent of the indie developer himself/herself/themselves in that it’s obvious these people played video games back in the day and today and put a great deal of time and thought into their project.  My favorite franchise from the last generation was the Darksiders games.  While neither title in the series was incredibly original, it was what they represented that made them so excellent, to me.  The first game basically gave us a Legend of Zelda game built with modern tools for modern machines, but it was the additional features that set it apart.  While combat in every Legend of Zelda game consists of basic melee and ranged fighting mechanics, Darksiders protagonist was an expert combatant with multiple  melee and ranged weapons.  This made the combat just as deep as the puzzle solving mechanic, where combat in LoZ is typically just an obstruction that separates dungeons/puzzles.  The makers were clearly LoZ fans too since many Darksiders’ weapons were nearly identical in functionality.  The sequel took the giant world that opens up to you as your abilities grow and added the item and leveling system of an RPG.  So just like in Elder Scrolls or Diablo where you’re continually obtaining items by random drops, you might receive a melee weapon with two more attacking power than the you have, or a helmet that protects better against ice and you are free to craft the protagonist that fits your play style, while still giving you access to the deep, skill-based combat and environmental puzzles of the first game.  Additionally, the boss fights in both games excelled at encouraging the player to use both skill and savvy to defeat them, in the same way LoZ often did.

However, to my main point and the title of this entry, I find that regardless of how interesting any game is today, I find myself needing to play them dwindling.  When I have the time and if they are available I will play them, but anymore I’m just as inclined to fill my free time with my kids, my wife, chores or other hobbies like reading and writing.  I actually enjoy spending my time on making my yard a place the family wants to spend time or basic maintenance on my cars.  I actually love assembling things, whether it’s my kids toys or build-it-yourself furniture.  I love it so much that my wife has actually gone out of her way when she needs a particular item to find something that I can assemble over an already assembled product.  On a side note, if you live near me and need something assembled, I’ll do it for you at very little cost to you, probably just a sugary, caffeinated beverage.  When I do finally sit down to play a game, I have so many to choose from I spend a few minutes just trying to decide what I’m in the mood for, but if my son’s around I often end up playing Disney Infinity or a Lego game.  Both of which, by the way, are probably some of the more innovative titles of recent memory, regardless of the fact that Infinity is an obvious cash grab, and if you didn’t know already Lego will be getting into very soon too with their very own game that uses physical, real-world figurines to affect the digital space, the difference being you assemble these yourself.

What I’m trying to say is that once, about 16 years ago, my dad told me that I would grow out of videogames, to which I responded, quietly so as to not actually let him hear me, that was very unlikely.  On one hand, I think he might actually have been correct, although I figure it’s about 16 years later than he would have liked.  On the other, I wonder if, and I’m sure I have plenty of friends who would probably agree, it’s simply a matter of prioritization.  Here’s the thing, not that long ago I had a discussion with my dad about some things that I had learned and used to better myself through seeing a therapist twice a month.  He explained to me that what I thought to be pretty big breakthroughs for myself and how I interact with people in my life he said was just “growing up” and signs of “maturity.” To him, they seemed like obvious lessons one learns in this life and more specifically things he felt as though he had imparted to me as he raised me.  I asked him in return, “If that’s the case Dad, then why did it take medication and a therapist for me to figure them out.”  He had no response though I actually do know the answer, it is irrelevant now.  My dad likes some videogames, he used to play Commodore 64 games with us, back when game mechanics were nothing deeper than could be played with eight directions and a single button, and I know he had said he always liked Missile Command.  Today he plays Angry Birds on the Roku box my parents use for Netflix.  I know that his interest in these games is a pretty straightforward one, in each game the ultimate goal is simply the highest score possible, achieved by the most basic of in-game mechanics.  What I find is that while the games I enjoy the most are still more complex than aiming and firing ICBM’s or avian BB’s, the enjoyment I get is also from the achievement of the highest score possible.

Which brings me back around to the three games mentioned above that I played the most, the Batman games (by Rocksteady only) and Darksiders.  The challenge mode of the Batman games and the endless Crucible mode of Darksiders is about the most pure expression of the combat systems in both titles, and the ultimate goal is simply the highest score possible, achieved by executing the most complex of maneuvers with the least amont of interruption, yielding the greatest possible return.  So I wonder, again, have I grown out of videogames or have my priorities changed?  Maybe it’s both.  Perhaps I’ve come to realize that videogames were just practice for the biggest game of all.  What is almost everyone’s goal in life?  I believe that working for a paycheck while continually striving to better myself along the way, progressing higher and higher in terms of responsibility and compensation could very easily be described as “executing the most complex of maneuvers with the least amount of interruption, yielding the best return.”

Fanman, out.

The Problem with Capcom

[Ed. This was originally to be posted yesterday but I had to delay it as I received a Fathers’ Day gift that was relevant and I needed time to read it, Mega Man & Mega Man X Complete Works 25th Anniversary Art Book, in order to make appropriate statements regarding the franchises.  Also, please let me reiterate that this blog is my opinion and even when I make declarative statements they are based on conclusions that I have drawn based on my understanding of any given situation.  If I make a point that you disagree or have a problem with, then please by all means bring it to my attention and we can discuss it, I’m not above being corrected or educated.]

Recently Capcom announced that they would have to release Street Fighter V this year.  A title which was only just officially announced this year.  In the article covering this press release, the company listed all of their most successful franchises.  Suspiciously, or not so much depending on what you have heard, Mega Man (known as Rockman in the East) was absent from the list, despite appearing in Nintendo’s most recent entry in the Smash Bros. franchise.  This isn’t terribly surprising when you consider that just a couple years ago several different Mega Man titles across the various established series were in the works and suddenly, quietly, cancelled over night.  The reasons, which I’ll go into more detail on later, seemed specious at best and downright mean at worst.

In the ongoing war between creativity and nostalgia, Capcom seems to be the most lost on the battlefield.  Street Fighter maintains its popularity by staying true to its two-dimensional roots even while the visuals and complexity continue to improve.  The anime-inspired aesthetic reaching across national, cultural and even generational boundaries.

Meanwhile Resident Evil  evolves, from survival/horror to third-person tactical shooter and the fans cry foul.  Though RE5 would sell well and DLC would bring back a fan-favorite character in classic form, RE6 took another step further into the realm of too much of a good idea, by splitting the campaign up across multiple selectable characters, each with his or her own dedicated story and largely unrelated plots in an effort to deliver both experiences.  Then they would hand the property to a Western developer known for portable tactical shooter experiences on the PlayStation Portable to make a first-person tactical shooter for the major home consoles.  Aside from playing as villains whose mission it is to eliminate a fan-favorite hero in the past and thus violating established canon, odd gameplay mechanics and level design choices would prevent it from achieving more than moderate success.  All the while, the series creator teased a portable console exclusive. A full console generation later it would surface on a different handheld than originally indicated and closer in theme to the series’s roots.  It managed to achieved major critical success despite the choice of platform (3DS) and so the game would later be released on home consoles in an “HD” edition. This past year it even received a sequel and Capcom had already announced the franchise would now exist as two separate series for the forseeable future in order to provide both experiences without forcing one or the other on the audience.

Mega Man, depending on how long you have been following the franchise has been all over the map in game design and rarely ever failed to yield a solid and fun experience.  Yet to hear certain portion of the hardcore audience, you would be forgiven for thinking any game in the franchise to come after 1995, were the worst thing to ever happen to the character.  At this level the audience fractures into so many different subgroups it’s nearly impossible to find anyone that isn’t overly enthusiastic about one and overly critical about another.  The most recent sequels in the “classic” series revisited the design esthetic  of the late 80’s/early 90’s era and delivered gameplay and graphics right off of the NES.  9 was cheered for the decision which also contained two other landmarks:  the first female “Robot Master”  and the first time players could play a classic series game with another character.  Unfortunately 10, while just as solid an experience, offered nothing new except the inclusion of a third playable character available via premium DLC content and the progress of a female “Robot Master” already forgotten.  In both cases, the full price of admission after the purchase of all DLC brought these “budget titles” to a price that exceeded most digital only games of the time and even today.  Games that offer much more in terms of content and complexity.  By all apperances, 10 appeared to suffer from the same “sequelitis” as the original six NES titles; twelve to sixteen new levels with accompanying bosses, a couple new power-ups that may or may not be recycled from earlier games and no upgrade to graphics to speak of.  The kind of content you could get away with charging full admission for once a year in 1993 but which would be considered a budget DLC campaign level today.  Despite this, a certain subset of hardcore fans would argue, and have, that 9 & 10 are the most true games of recent memory in the decades old franchise and to deviate from that tradition would be sacrilege.  Those same fans mostly unaware that each game took no more than three to six months to make, certainly a contributing factor to their lack of evolution.  The very same philosophy would hold true with multiple alternate series in the franchise over the years like the X titles on the SNES and PS1 or the GBA Battle Network and Zero series.  Sadly, the head producer of the franchise, Keiji Inafune, would leave the company, reportedly under a cloud of bad blood, and multiple highly anticipated, in-progress games would be cancelled with no explanation.  (Ed. Keep an eye on this space for more in-depth look at the problems I perceive with the Mega Man series specifically. )

Recent new properties like Dead Rising and Dark Void continue to display the company’s apparently unclear understanding of what their audience wants versus what they think they think they want.  While Dead Rising began as a send-up of zombie apocalypse films and its own Resident Evil series, the most recent installment has taken on a darker edge, shedding most of the humor present in the first two games and focusing on the violence and gore.

Dark Void on the other was an attempt to return to the company’s roots: a nonsensical science-fiction story that exists solely to facilitate the action.  In this case, you play a character with a jetpack and a laser gun who can hijack any flying vehicle in the game, be it retro-futuristic jet airplane or UFO, in an alien environment.  The marketing of the game included the development, marketing, and release of an 80’s-style arcade platforming-shooter titled “Dark Void Zero”.  Touted as a “lost” title from the company’s archives and intended as a prequel to the big brother console game; someone obviously felt strongly about the main game’s impending popularity.  In the end however a glitchy experience on the home consoles and the marketing tie-in being Nintendo DS only, at the time, killed both games before they ever had an opportunity to gain a following.  (Reviews of both games will be posted here soon.)  Even more unfortunate, this was not the first time the choice to release a game on a single, niche system would end unhappily.

Then there’s the Devil May Cry series which spanned five titles across two console generations, all of which were moderately successful.  The final title, “DMC”, however was a reboot that was so reviled by fans of the previous games you would be forgiven for not knowing that aside from a change in art and visual style, the gameplay remained largely unchanged and was a solid entry in the series.  Capcom’s decision to let a new team tackle the development and take it in a new direction would likely be decried no matter what, as videogame fans have a tendency to be overly and unnecessarily critical of things they don’t like, but in this case more hate seemed to be leveled at Capcom simply because it was Capcom doing it.

Finally we come to the controversial Bionic Commando series and the multiple missteps made with it.  This nostalgia-fueled escapade surely confused the already unsure executives at Capcom.  The property was given to a smaller studio that developed two separate games, a graphical update of the NES original available via digital download only and major console release 3D action-platformer.  While the NES remake received critical praise and was well-received, the console big brother soon became the butt many jokes and was poorly reviewed.  People pointed to its nonsensical, science-fiction plot with bizarre revelations and twists, poor or awkward controls, and strange gameplay design choices as its major flaws.  A sequel to the remake was released two years later while a planned sequel for the console title was quietly cancelled and never spoken of again.

Anyone who considers themselves a creator of content is well aware of the difficulty of monetizing art.  Content creators are unfortunately at the mercy of corporate executives whose only job is to monetize said art.  In Capcom’s case it certainly appears that at least part of their difficulties stem from a disconnect between their creative side and their business side.  There appears to be a larger issue surrounding Capcom’s latest failures however, which many are insisting is the greater problem.  The aforementioned bad blood that surrounded the departure of Inafune is rumored to be the result of certain comments he made to the press where he declared that Japanese game design was dying and it was the direct result of corporate interference that was more concerned with profit than any kind of fan loyalty or artistic process.  Indeed a quick Google search will show you many people who agree.

I’m not enough of an expert to be able to tell you if Inafune was on to something or not, but there is plenty of evidence to support his statements.  Events like Japanese publishers being bought by western corporations in recent years, the steady stream of dating and train simulators in the eastern market, Japanese culture moving further and further away from consoles and even handheld devices in favor of mobile phones, and so on.  Japanese companies are having no difficulty selling product to their own region, however many appear to be struggling to find success in other regions.  Studios like From have achieved massive critical and sales success with their retro-inspired difficulty hack’n’slash titles in the “Dark Souls” series, among others.  SquarEnix continues to put out solid entires in the “Final Fantasy” series while hugely anticipated sequels finally come visible on the horizon.  The studio’s existence as a studio in the stable of a western publisher appears to be partially responsible for this however.

A look at controversial titles mentioned above in the right context appears to show that Capcom is attempting to chase Western design trends.  The final boss fight of RE4 could easily be mistaken for a boss fight in the Gears of War franchise while the zombie slaying aspect of both Resident Evil 5 & 6 as well as Dead Rising 3 seem to be heavily influenced by the zombie-slaying horde-mode of recent “Call of Duty Titles.”  It could be argued that “Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City” does the same.  The recent surge in popularity in fighting game tournaments and pro-gaming circuits is likely responsible, at least in part, for the renewed interest in the Street Fighter series.  The collector’s edition gamepads and sticks, the rerelease of various titles throughout the years as digital downloads and even a film featuring a majority of Eastern characters but utilizing a largely Western cast could also indicate such.

In the meantime, Keiji Inafune himself has moved on and formed a company of his own.  Using Kickstarter he has managed to fund the development of a brand new game that features all of the things he wanted to do with the Mega Man series over the years, but was unable to for whatever reasons.  Reasons that most assuredly are related to his leaving the company other than amicably.  Meanwhile, other independent developers can be found all over the internet making their own Mega Man or Mega Man-inspired titles, filling a gap that Capcom has so far failed to sufficiently fill for nearly a decade.  Recent attempts to use the character have either ignored the market altogether or treated the character as a joke, neither doing much to ingratiate the company to the franchise fans.  The most recent release of a “classic” title, “Mega Man X Street Fighter” (pronounced, “Mega Man Cross Street Fighter) was not even developed by the company but a dedicated fan who did such a good job, Capcom offered to buy it and release it.  Still, despite the good will this may have engendered, they failed to port it to any platform besides PC, meaning that console owning fans are simply out of luck.  At the same time, titles like Mega Man 9 and 10 haven’t been made available on PC or handheld, despite the market potential.  While there exists a movement to try and get the character’s moved to another developer/publisher, it looks like Capcom is content to sit on their former mascot in favor of a feud instead of turning a profit.  A decision that bafflingly flies in the face of the the moneymaking philosophy apparently informing other decisions.

Capcom, above most other Japanese game design companies, strikes me as the the most out of touch with what it means to make games in this era.  Their loyal fans being the ones to suffer the most even as their influence in the industry at large continues to dwindle.  They join Nintendo in the clueless arena, a company that continues to struggle financially while at the same time making repeatedly dumb financial mistakes.  That however is a discussion for another entry.

As it stands, I look forward to “Street Fighter V” even though I’ve never been very good at fighting games, the story and visuals of this particular series have always held me pretty tight.  Sadly, I’ll continue to buy and play Resident Evil games, even the poorer ones, because they still provide a solid, tactical zombie-shooting experience with characters and a visual flair that I enjoy.  The same can be said of the Mega Man franchise, as I’ll surely be buying the Legacy Collection if only because playing PS4 games remotely on the Vita in bed is a big deal for me today.  However, I foresee it won’t be too long before Capcom goes the way of other Eastern corporations in recent years and decides to get out of the international game altogether.  That is my prediction, June of 2015.

Fanman, out!

My evolution from angry fanboy to calm Fanman

The following is the culmination of a work in progress of several years.  As a fanman I believe I am qualified to speak authoritatively on the subject of fanboys as I most certainly used to be one.  Among other things, I have participated in numerous fanboy operations like the signing of petitions, boycotts and even the angry writing of letters.  One such angry letter continues to haunt me to this day, however it also holds a fond memory.

It was the summer of 2006.  Everyone who was anyone had a MySpace page.  Sony’s Playstation 3 and the Nintendo Wii were just on the horizon but to everyone’s surprise Microsoft’s X-Box 360 was selling well and gaining in popularity.  Wikipedia had just recently surpassed its one-millionth entry, toward which I can proudly say I contributed.  NASA had just reached Mars with a recon craft and two new moons of Pluto were discovered, to the delight of space nerds everywhere.  Barry Bonds surpassed Babe Ruth’s homerun record to the delight of no one.  “Superman Returns” was stunning people with its mediocrity.  Finally, the official casting for the part of The Joker in Christopher Nolan’s follow-up to the amazing “Batman Begins” had just been announced.  I was not pleased.

“Heath Ledger?!” I railed to my friends, through a blog post on MySpace. “How do they pass up Adrian Brody and Paul Bettany for Heath Ledger? How dare they!  I mean, don’t get me wrong, he’s Mel Gibson’s kid [Ed. A story for another time.] and ‘A Knight’s Tale’ is one of my favorite movies, but this is gonna be his first high profile role after ‘Brokeback Mountain.’  It’s not going to work!  Please sign my petition?”  [Ed. That’s right, I made a petition.]

“Eh?” said most of my friends in response to my epic (see: “pathetic”) rant.  I got a few comments of support, a couple with the proper attitude of Wait & See, and one dissenter who’s response I never forgot.  I am still friends with him today and when I put this up on Facebook I intend to tag him so hopefully he will know what kind of impact his words had on me.  He said, “Heath Ledger is a great talent and your petition is silly.  Boycott if you want, but I’m looking forward to Chris Nolan’s take on the dynamic between hero and villain here and excited to see the kind of performance Ledger gives us.”

I disagreed.  Probably not very respectfully either.  I felt so strongly about it that I went further and wrote an angry letter to “Wizard: The Comics Magazine.”  This is why it still haunts me today:  I chose to let them publish my personal e-mail address, so confident was I that I could defend my position.  Nearly nine years later and I still get the occasional e-mail from a Wizard reader who stumbled upon my letter while going through back issues.

“I cannot support my argument,” I tell them all.  “Just please try to understand the context.  ‘Batman Begins’ was the exception to good DC comic, and especially Batman, films and not the rule.”  I still had raw memories of the miscast, ill-conceived films that spanned from “Steel” all the way to “Catwoman”.  The same time period that gave us the infamous “Batman & Robin”, a film that WB execs were so convinced of its awesomeness they had already greenlit Shumacher’s follow-up “Batman Triumphant.”  On top of all of this, I was so enamored with the Animated Series and that version of the Joker, expertly voiced by Mark Hamill, that I simply would not be happy with a different interpretation of the character.  I had no faith.

You’ll be happy to know that I am fully aware of what crow tastes like and do believe that Ledger’s performance defined not just the film but the trilogy.  People believe that his portrayal contributed to his death.  Fanboys continue to speculate how the follow-up film, “The Dark Knight Rises,” would have differed had Ledger returned or if Nolan had simply recast the part.  The internet is full of fanfiction that tells the Joker’s story during the catastrophic events of the film.

Now, I can’t say with any authority that I was representative of some kind of movement but I know I wasn’t the only one who felt that way, at the time.  However what I can recognize about myself now is that I was failing to consider any viewpoint beside my own.  This was my wake-up call.  It took being publicly, nationally, embarrassed to see that for all my self-professed intellectualism I was being very narrow-minded: different versions of the Joker had existed before and different versions would follow.  Since “Batman: The Animated Series” has aired, there have been two radically different animated series and multiple animated films, all of which have given us several different interpretations of the character; each of them accurate and valid in their own way.   [Ed. I am aware there have been three animated series since TAS but “Beware the Batman” never featured the Joker.  So I ask respectfully that no one insist on correcting me about the number.]  My son’s favorite Batman cartoon is “Batman: The Brave and the Bold” and his favorite episodes are the ones that feature the Joker.  A version that’s about as far from my preferred version that you can get, but no less true to the character.

We are living in an incredible time where the content of comic books has finally branched out into other media successfully and there’s more content available for consumption than most of us will ever have time to devote to it.  Yet, we as an audience couldn’t be more angry about it or more critical of it for some reason, and I know I’m guilty of it too.  I see a photograph of the cast from the upcoming “Suicide Squad” film and I leave the comment, “That looks really… not good.”  It doesn’t matter if I had good reason and I can support my perspective.  Despite my excitement for a feature film starring some of my favorite actors and characters, I had to say something unnecessarily critical to say.  Last summer I went to see one of my favorite comedians, a world-famous performer Eddie Izzard, live.  People sitting in front and behind me were clearly as enthusiastic and excited as I was, yet all I could think was that these people were posers; they couldn’t possibly understand and appreciate Eddie like I did.  For the life of me, I can’t justify why I would think such a thing about perfect strangers.

I’m not going to spend any more time attempting to understand it either.  I wasn’t raised that way; I’m certainly not going to raise my children to behave that way either.  I was told for years if I can’t say anything nice, not to say anything at all.  Someone recently insisted to me that if we weren’t critical, than we wouldn’t be the recipients of quality product.  All of our comics and movies and games would suck if we weren’t always on their case.  As if to say that the creative minds behind these properties and multi-million dollar projects aren’t as knowledgeable and passionate about them as we are; they aren’t fans like us but posers:  casual fans who went to Hollywood to get rich and famous at the expense of the art’s integrity.  We can’t possibly know what kind of effect our rage and vitriole is actually having in this day and age of the internet where we all have a voice.  For all we know we’re having the opposite effect and the people who hold the purse strings are misinterpreting our fan rage and doing exactly what we don’t want them to do.

From this day forward, I’m going to do my best to refrain from getting angry and being unnecessarily critical.  It won’t be easy, I’m already the kind of person who believes that its acceptable to be critical as long as the criticism is constructive.  What I have to remember is that constructive criticism is acceptable but only under specific circumstances, and a single comment without context is not one of those circumstances.  I will also try and be vigilant about not letting friends and acquaintances who enjoy this stuff as much as I do make the same mistake.  To repeat what a friend said to me recently, “We should be more than excited at all of this great stuff they’re making.”  Perish the thought, but someday this bubble may burst and our favorite things are no longer the moneymaker they are today and we’ll be back where we were in the 80’s.

Fanman, out.

FanMan Reviews: Avengers: Age of Ultron (Contains spoilers)

Several weeks have passed since the latest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe dropped, so I feel comfortable now releasing my review with commentary.

Let me start by saying that I’m disappointed with the amount of hate and nitpicky criticism this movie is getting.  If you’ve been reading this space for the last few weeks you are probably aware that I have grown out of that phase of fanboy life and as a fanman I intend to separate myself from that as much as possible.  I will not be calling anyone out nor will I be insulting or overly-critical in any way but I will be rebutting points that I’ve seen floating about the ‘net regarding the film that I believe qualify as hate and nitpicky criticism.

First, I have to give credit to the writing and production crew of the entire MCU for the way the movie was so cleverly interwoven with the “Agents of SHIELD” show.  If you’re a fan of the MCU movies and haven’t checked out the show yet I really do urge you to check it out.  As a “spy show” it stands well on its own but when taken as it was originally conceived; more tales from the MCU for those who aren’t getting enough from the films themselves, it performs that job well too.  I’m sure it would not take more than a cursory search of the web to find a timeline with recommended viewing order so newcomers would be able to see and appreciate how well embedded into the films’ mythology it is.

Once again, Joss Whedon has put together another great instance of a comic book on film, done correctly.  One of my favorite things about comic books is how your mood can run the gamut of emotions during the course of single twenty-two paged issue.  Whedon’s clear understanding of the medium the source-material comes from is on display here.  Like many comics I’ve ever read, the intro scene opens in the middle of an action sequence that began before the reader, or in this case the viewer, got there.  The purpose is to convey to the audience the idea that the Avengers’ work is never done.  “We join our heroes as they battle the mighty forces of Hydra at their secret mountain laboratory.”  Throughout this scene and the rest of the movie, his sense for entertaining and engaging dialogue is on display.  While there were places in “Avengers” where I felt like I was watching characters from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” in cosplay, here the dialogue never felt overdone.  As a soldier I have a different perspective on the “combat chatter” as well which is:  it’s not uncommon for soldiers to showcase their sense of humor to cope with the dangerous situations they find themselves.  I once read that the developers of the game “Army of Two” wrote in-game dialogue after listening to recordings of real soldiers in combat situations only to dial it down after focus testing because testers thought it sounded too macho and therefore ridiculous.  Basically, that’s a lot of words to just say, “I thought the dialogue was perfect.”

Regardless of your personal feelings on movies being screened and subsequently released on home video in 3D, the tracking shot of every Avenger passing by the camera all at once, slowed dramatically just long enough to let us appreciate it, looked great.  Several action sequences use the combined 3D and slow-mo affect to equal effectiveness throughout the movie.  The final standoff against Ultron’s seemingly endless supply of robot bodies being one of them.

Hawkeye fans, among whom I count myself, will be pleased to note that his role in the film as well as on the team was greatly expanded.  I’ve seen several complaints that the references to him as the glue or backbone of the team were unnecessary, at best, or ham-fisted, at worst.  Let me tell you that as a devoted comic reader myself, they did exactly what they were supposed to do and whether they were ham-fisted or not is irrelevant.  Remember that we’re still dealing with an art form, the source material that is, which was originally intended for children.  The scenes exist to help ground the movie in reality a little bit but also to teach a little something.  The ham-fisted aspect comes from the fact that subtlety gets in the way of the message, not just for children but even the casual viewer who isn’t fluent in Marvel lore.   Anyone who would like to argue that the presence of blood, gore and foul language in the comics or the movies makes me wrong is welcome to do so.  Without any hyperbole or arrogance I can, and will, argue that those three elements alone do not make comic books “for adults.”   Without digressing too far let me just say that comic books that are truly created for adults contain much more complex factors and are typically even referred to by another name in order to provide parity.  You would be forgiven for not being aware of the distinction, but that would not make the assessment that comics containing blood, gore, and foul language are “adult entertainment” any less wrong.

We finally got to see two of the smartest men on the planet working together!  Not only do we get to witness Tony Stark and Dr. Banner use their combined intellect to solve problems, we also got to see them disagree.  While that might seem like a minor issue let, from my perspective I can say that it is not.  The Marvel Comics brand has been tackling complex issues for decades.  In the comics Dr. Banner is considered one of the smartest men on the planet and simultaneously the most dangerous because of the big green guy that lives in his head.  Previous MCU movies have touched on this but not to the degree that this one did.

One of the greatest things this film does is reminds us that these are human beings, superpowered as they are; real people dealing with very unreal circumstances.  The introduction of the twins Wanda and Pietro Maximoff highlights this wonderfully.  These characters are known to comic readers as the Scarlet witch and Quicksilver and their movie forms are true to the spirits of the comics.  Together these characters turn the Avengers against their own inner demons and we see the culmination of each characters’ own fear and insecurity.  Banner frets over the damage he’s done and the potential future danger he represents.  Stark is still trying to escape his past as a weapons builder, something that the twins force him to deal with directly once again.  Captain America is aware that he’s a man out of time and believes he has no place.  Thor is still struggling to understand his purpose as the next ruler of Asgard and the responsibility he feels to Jane Foster and the people of Earth.  Black Widow regrets her past as a Soviet assassin.  In one of my favorite moments, as Scarlet Witch forces the rest of the Avengers are forced to see their worst nightmares. when she tries it on Hawkeye he says something like, “Nope, don’t do mind control,” a clever nod to the last Avengers film.

Comic books being what they are, there are plenty of massively over-powered villains from comic lore to choose from, but the choice of Ultron makes sense on many levels.  He is the embodiment of the entire team’s worst nightmare, again something the people behind the scenes were trying to convey.  He also represents a real-world fear that many of us have regarding technology today.  Head executive producer Kevin Feige has already publicly stated this film is the culmination of the collective beating that the team took in their solo films between Avengers flicks.  Those solo films basically dealing with each character’s “dirty little secrets” and coming to a head here.  Where “Avengers” showed the coming together of a group of alpha personalities to save the world from an outside threat, MCU Phase 2 and “Age of Ultron” demonstrates that even those alpha personalities have insecurities and sometimes the biggest threat to the world is us.  Humans built Ultron; humans created WMD’s; humans experimented on other humans; humans created the Hulk; trained children to be assassins; tried to nuke New York City.

I’ve heard it said that Ultron wasn’t given his proper due because he wasn’t given a chance to develop properly as a character.  To that I say, “What’s there to develop?”  He’s an evil, intelligent robot bent on destroying humanity, what else do casual viewers need to know?  I’ve read a criticism of this movie saying that Ultron was misrepresented and that he, like many comic book villains in a film space, was disposed of too quickly.  To that I say “Misrepresented how?”  The argument it presented was that a robot so smart and powerful should have succeeded but his own poor choices in the film is what led him to be defeated, yet he addresses the reasons given in the movie that stopped him from making better choices, and then just offhandedly dismisses them.  Obviously he saw the same movie I did and this is where I declare the nitpicking begins.  Ultron was not a super-smart artificial intelligence bent on destroying the world because he was right, it was because he was more human than even the character would admit.  He displays thinking and mannerisms obviously inherited from his “father” Tony Stark, yet threatens to kill anyone who makes the comparison.  He comes to the conclusion that humanity must be destroyed from a flawed premise and uses a straw man argument to justify it.  The movie very clearly demonstrates that he isn’t stable.  He is exhibiting the traits of a psychopath and behaves accordingly and I don’t think the evidence was subtle at all. While he most definitely could have found a more efficient or quicker way to eliminate humanity, that isn’t in Tony’s nature, so it wouldn’t be in his either; it makes sense that he would make massive, over-the-top gesture.  I think he even says in the movie that subtlety isn’t his style.  To the idea that he was disposed of too quickly I’ll say, “What is your definition of too quickly?”  These movies are telling stories in 120 minutes what comic books might take six all the way up to twenty-four issues to tell.  A proper translation that would give us the proper sense of time passing would be impossible, not to mention tedious.  Meanwhile, his onscreen death, while dramatic, was by all means not definitive and we could very easily see the character again in the future.  That scene exists to give the audience their closure for this movie and this movie only.  The nature of the character is that he is impossible to kill.  That’s something I think even casual viewers would notice if they chose to devote the time to it that we fan-persons have.  Every time he resurfaces in the comics, he is defeated and “killed” yet some intrepid writer will always manage to create a clever way to bring him back.  We’ve already seen a retcon happen in the MCU, it wouldn’t be impossible for it to happen again.

Another article stated that the scenes between the action were slow, tedious and filled with unnecessary moments that never paid off.  Welcome to the world of comic books!  Sometimes the writers are just filling space to get to the next plot point.  Sometimes entire issues of a series can feel like that.  Off the top of my head right now I can think of a dozen plot threads in various series that were dangled before me and then never revisited again because of a change in writing staff, editorial fiat, or something similar.  I would argue that while those scenes were not intended to be taken that way, they make the movie even more true to its source material.  The sub-plot of the romance between Banner and Widow was left unfulfilled because that’s real life!  However, it could also be picked up by another film in the future, something else that comics do frequently, and something else that Whedon excels at.  Lastly, any regular comic reader will tell you that a twelve-issue miniseries has a couple, possibly up to five, issues that do feel like filler to get us to the next action-packed issue.  You could argue, and many have, that this movie feels like that, we’re just facilitating the progress toward Phase 3 and the ultimate battle with the big bad guy.  In this case, my nitpicky critics, you would be right but that doesn’t take away from this movie, nor does it make it bad.

I did have one complaint about the movie and I’m sure I’ll be lambasted for being cliché, but I was sorry that it had to end.  I have literally no complaint, I just don’t want to have to wait until June to see “Ant Man.”

Fanman, out.