Worlds are Colliding, Jerry!

Posted in Sports with tags , on October 6, 2010 by fieldingmellish

So, if you haven’t heard, John Henry and the New England Sports Ventures conglomerate have waded into the morass that is top flight European Football. And not only that, they’ve purchased Liverpool FC, my favorite Premier League team. I’ve been reading the English press, and it seems Liverpool fans are a bit reticent about more Yank owners. I will just say this: Tom Hicks bid against himself to sign Alex Rodriguez, and then somehow managed to pay the Yankees to take A-Rod off his hands. John Henry brought Boston its first (and second) World Series in 86 years. I can’t even tell you how excited I am.

What’s even more awesome about this is that the New York Yankees, hated rivals of the Red Sox, have a partnership with Manchester United, hated rivals of Liverpool. It warms my heart that hopefully, some day, some little lad from Merseyside will grow up hating the Yankees just because he’s a Liverpool fan. And if Henry and Co. put a Red Sox logo on the Reds’ jersey, everyone in my family is getting a Liverpool replica kit for the holidays.

Bold prediction: Liverpool will lift a major trophy by 2014. And maybe you’ll even hear the dulcet tones of “Sweet Caroline” ringing down from the terraces.

What’s the Most Recognizable Theme Song of All Time?

Posted in General with tags on September 13, 2010 by fieldingmellish

It should be obvious by now that I have an unhealthy obsession with theme songs. I’ve already covered the cheesiest intros of all time. And apart from a small segment of weirdos, people don’t generally remember the theme songs all that well. So I got to thinking: What is the most easily recognizable TV theme song of all time? Continue reading

Deep Thought for the Day

Posted in General on August 5, 2010 by fieldingmellish

If Pro Wrestling is a soap opera for men (men who really like half naked, well-muscled, oily men grope each other for the better part of an hour), then isn’t The Replacements really nothing but “He’s Just Not that Into You” or “Valentine’s Day” for men, too? I mean, it’s like the Love Boat for washed up action stars.

Webcomic Weview #2 Coming Soon!

Posted in General on August 3, 2010 by fieldingmellish

As I mentioned yesterday over at the other blog, I will be back on a somewhat regular posting schedule now that my many summer exploits and daliances are over. The plan is to get a webcomic weview and my long awaited Monty Python post up, plus hopefully some other fun stuff as it comes to me. Now though, I don’t have the effort to dig through archives for marginally related strips. I will give you a preview by posting one of my favorite SMBC panels:

See you then!

Look Who’s Late to the World Cup Party!

Posted in Sports on June 17, 2010 by fieldingmellish

Well, I completely failed to jot down my pre-Cup predictions. Suffice to say, they were all brilliant and perfect and everything’s gone according to plan. Ha. Anyways, now that the second round of games is well underway, here are some random thoughts and musings on the World Cup so far.

  • Americans have applied their unique brand of overreacting already. If it wasn’t for one lucky bounce, the US would be tied with Algeria on 0 points and looking at a potential disaster. I don’t know where all these armchair soccer experts came from all of a sudden, but if you think drawing with an England team that played like that is indicative of a squad ready for prime time, you are wrong. This is not to say the US won’t pick it up. Like every team, they’re feeling their way through the early stages. They have a great keeper and their midfield can knock it around. With a bit of luck, they may end up doing pretty well. But we didn’t see any signs the balance of power is shifting. Tomorrow’s game against Slovenia will be the real test. Anything less than a 2-goal comfortable win will be a disappointment for me.
  • That said, England looked terrible. I don’t know how many times it needs to be shown, but Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard cannot play next to each other. They’re like brothers who think their mother is favoring the other one. England needs to get Gerrard out on the wing. Hopefully Gareth Barry can come in and provide a little defense. I also think they need to get Peter Crouch in there. A lot of crosses this cup have been very dangerous, and having someone to aim at might help with scoring.
  • The most disappointing side so far have been France. They looked mediocre against Uruguay and even worse against Mexico today. They hit about 30 free kicks into the middle of the wall. They looked sort of like the team of 11 year olds that didn’t have anyone capable of kicking the ball in the air. They had little pace and never really looked like they would score. They have a lot of talent. Maybe they should have fired Domenech.
  • I’ve often been hard on ESPN in this space, but credit where credit is due. So far, the announcing has been excellent. They’ve gone with 4 English play-by-play guys who have been terrific. They’ve been funny and insightful. Also, they have such a way with words. American play-by-play guys don’t have the same ability to paint a picture of the action, even the good ones. If Gus Johnson were calling these games, we’d hear something like, “Rooney, in to Heskey. Heskey lays it for Gerrard! OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOHHHHHHH!” Versus something like, “Lovely ball in to Tevez, who dances by Park Si-Yoon, flick on to Messi. Always at his best when he’s running at the heart of defense. Danger here for the Koreans. Oh, what work from Messi to find a bit of space… What a strike! Only the merest of touches to send it over the bar!”
  • As hard as it is to believe, the color guys have even been good. They’ve got one American, one Englishman, a Scot, and a Nigerian, the wonderfully biting Efan Ekoku. They’ve been willing to criticize the players, the managers, and the refs. They’ve been great.
  • I’ve discovered the greatest Soccer nerd site of all time, the ridiculously in-depth Zonal Marking. Warning: if you don’t really care about the differences between a 4-1-3-2 and a 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield, or why a 3-5-2 with active wingers is best against a team with a single striker who holds the ball up, you may not be interested. But for the rest of you, it’s really interesting to see how in-depth soccer tactics really can be. Speaking as someone whose knowledge of tactics stopped at “you cover this guy,” it’s really opened up my eyes to all the little things a soccer manager has to keep track of.
  • And on the flip side of that coin, Rick Reilly, who I swear at one point was a funny, insightful columnist, has written the worst thing ever written about soccer. My fellow Americans, we soccer fans do not really care if you do not like soccer. We understand it’s hard to watch a sport with little scoring. It’s hard to appreciate the nuances of the game if you don’t really care to learn why things happen when they do. Soccer players look ridiculous when they flop around and grab their knee whenever someone sneezes next to them. But when you deride the sport, you’re really just showing your own ignorance. Believe it or not, a well-played 0-0 draw can be exciting to watch, as you would have seen if you’d watched the Cote d’Ivoire-Portugal game. Don’t try to give everyone advice that really amounts to the same advice you give every other sport, to be more like football. As if the game would be more exciting if goals counted as 7 points and every time there was a foul, they showed 5 minutes of commercials. Or maybe whenever there’s a play where it’s hard to tell the ball went out of bounds, we can stop the game so the ref can go look at a screen under a hood like an 18oos photographer taking battlefield portraits of General Hooker. If you don’t want to watch, don’t. But stop acting holier than thou about it.
  • So far, the only team that’s been really impressive is Germany, but hey, it’s only one game. I can’t wait to see how it all turns out.

The NBA Finals and the Shadow of Donaghy

Posted in Sports on June 9, 2010 by fieldingmellish

So far the Celtics-Lakers series has been reasonably entertaining. The games have been pretty close, the players have worked hard, and the energy has been high. It certainly feels like it’s shaping up to be a classic finals. The one thing that can ruin it? The refs. And they’ve started pretty well.

Since the Tim Donaghy disaster came out, the NBA has done absolutely nothing to dispel the rumors that the officiating is a disaster. Rather, the official policy seems to be “let’s do nothing and hope people forget that our refs are literally fixing games.” Perhaps it’s working from a PR standpoint*, but from a sports aspect, it’s pretty apparent that something needs to be done soon, or the NBA is going the way of pro cycling.

*And if you need PR, there’s no better team to do your dirty work than the ABC announcing team. I was legitimately convinced that Breen, Van Gundy, and Jackson were one of the best teams in all of sports. My respect drops every time one of them says “that’s a great call!” on an obviously botched call. Each second of silence after a terrible non-call makes me like them less. If this series goes to seven games, they’ll be in Joe Morgan territory. On the bright side, Kim Jong-Il would do well to hire them to announce North Korea’s World Cup matches.

First, it’s staggering that the NBA would assign a referee to a Celtics game who filed a grievance against Doc Rivers last season. It goes without saying that anyone in such a position should be watching future Celtics games from his recliner. I don’t want to sound like a whiny homer, even though I do think the Celtics have gotten the worst of it this series. I think Lakers guards have gotten away with more handchecks, the Celtics have been called for more tickytack off the ball fouls, and I’m not sure, but someone in the Lakers frontcourt owes Kendrick Perkins dinner after this series for all the groping he’s taken. But every time I get worked up about it, I remember that Perkins has yet to set a clean pick and Rajon Rondo fouls someone every time he does his little open-the-door-then-try-to-strip-the-guy-from-behind play. So maybe the Lakers have gotten more calls, especially in the paint, but it hasn’t been a travesty.

But if you’re like me, you noticed the ridiculousness of that last statement. At this point, we’re hoping that the bad calls against one team even out the bad calls against the other. Rather than which team plays better deciding games, we’re in “I hope the refs don’t fuck this one up too bad” territory. Say what you will about Major League Baseball. When an umpire misses a call, he hears about it. Announcers blast the umps all the time. The league office occasionally descends from high to issue a “stern warning” to misfit umpires. What has David Stern done to allay fears that the refs are taking over what should be an all-time classic series?

It’s a cliche to say that sports should be decided on the field by the players, not by the refs or umps. But all cliches have an element of truth to them. We’re going to get to see a lot of hilariously bad officiating in the World Cup over the next month. But even the worst refs in soccer can’t decide a game short of awarding stupid penalty shots or cards. And when they do that, they get pilloried in the press and FIFA gets involved. NBA refs have a ridiculously hard job, sure. We all know how the difference between a block and a charge requires chalkboards filled with Calculus to call correctly. And it’s not helped by the diving, either*. That said, there are three officials per game. This is literally the most important series of the year. How is it possible that the NBA cannot find 3 refs that can call a good game?

*Americans like to make fun of Soccer players because of the diving. Basketball players not only dive more than soccer players, they complain to the refs more too. We need to start giving out yellow cards to people like Derek Fisher and Glen Davis for diving anytime someone dribbles near them.

There has been an average of 53 total fouls called per game so far. The stereotype is that playoff sports are tougher and grittier, but so far all we’ve seen is a bunch of pointless off-the-ball fouls called on incidental contact, inconsistent calls on drives to the basket, loose balls, and big men in the paint. Both coaches have spent a lot of time complaining about the officiating. What if this continues? For all the bleating about the Rivalry and Tradition and other Capitalized Words, the NBA has been extremely lucky since the Donaghy scandal broke. They’ve been able to coast because fans want to watch the Celtics and the Lakers and they want to believe the players are fighting for history. But with all the questions mounting, it’s possible that David Stern could end up with a nightmare PR scenario, where the series is decided by the refs. No matter how much they try to play up the teams and the games, if the series continues like this, questions will get asked. Because while the reopening of the Celtics-Lakers rivalry may have helped wipe the refereeing scandal under the rug, any lingering doubts about the integrity of the officials will be magnified and blown out of proportion. It’s a double-edged sword, and the NBA is wielding it pretty irresponsibly.

If I were David Stern, I would at least acknowledge the situation. Even the old Bud Selig gem of “we’re looking into it with our blue-ribbon committee” would be better than silence and speculation. He needs to buckle down and get his best refs involved for the rest of the series. And then, in the offseason, he needs to start totally overhauling the league’s officiating structure. Of course, he won’t. He’ll stand in the court, hand the trophy to Phil Jackson or Doc Rivers, grin that shit-eating grin of his, then go back to trying to fix the biggest American sporting problem today with silly putty and a pie in the face. And in the meantime, he’ll be quietly driving one of the major sports leagues into the ground because he’s too proud to admit there’s something wrong.

Say what you will about Gary Bettman. At least they let ’em play in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

A Word about James Bond

Posted in General on May 26, 2010 by fieldingmellish

Honestly, I have no idea what prompted this, but I was thinking about James Bond today. Actually, I know exactly what prompted it, but it sounds better to say it came out of the blue than from hours of mindlessly clicking around TV Tropes. I’m not exactly an expert on James Bond, but I was about 8 years ago. It may have been longer. It started when Goldeneye came out on N64. After milking that game for all it’s worth, I eventually branched out and watched all the movies (including Never Say Never Again, shudder). I read nearly all of the novels. I played a long string of Bond games that weren’t Goldeneye. I think it’s safe to say I’m about as familiar with the James Bond mythos as any casual fan. So if you’ll indulge me, I’m going to now try to explain why James Bond will never be as good as it used to be.

Let me get this out of the way: I don’t like the Daniel Craig Bond movies. I like them better than the Timothy Dalton Bond movies. I like them better than the later Roger Moore movies. I like them better than almost all of the Pierce Brosnan movies. But it sort of shows why I fell out with James Bond in a way I never did with say, Star Wars. I understand that the original James Bond, the one Ian Fleming created, was kind of a jerk. He was a misogynist. He was a cold blooded killer who would do whatever it took. He was sort of a sociopath. Daniel Craig gets that across. But here’s the thing. The last thing James Bond movies need is a gritty reboot.

This may be unpopular. In fact, I guarantee it is. I must be in the minority on this, but I don’t much care for dark, gritty reboots. That’s the trend these days, and I feel like a loser for not being on the bandwagon. But I’d rather watch 4 episodes of Adam West flouncing around as Batman than 2 hours of Christian Bale growling about justice. Maybe I just love campiness. In any case, I think people who like James Bond tend to fall into two groups:

1. People who like Casino Royale/Quantum of Solace – These people tend to like Timothy Dalton better than Pierce Brosnan and Roger Moore. If you get enough alcohol in them, they may admit to liking On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. They like From Russia With Love better than Goldfinger. They tend to play serious video games. They watch the movie Groundhog’s Day, but only because of the philosophical implications.

2. People who don’t like Casino Royale/Quantum of Solace – These people will happily sit through Roger Moore quipping his way through space in Moonraker and think The Man With the Golden Gun is the underappreciated gem of the franchise. They liked the Goldeneye movie more than Casino Royale and will happily admit it. They absolutely think Goldfinger is the best Bond movie. They also like the entire Back to the Future trilogy, not just the first one.

Obviously, this is mostly in jest, and I’m sure completely wrong. But let’s pretend for a minute. The only thing everyone agrees on is that Sean Connery was the best Bond, and his movies are without question the best in the series. Group 1 people think it’s because Sean Connery’s Bond was a complete badass, with his hairy chest and cigarettes and the casual rape-i-ness of it all and what have you. People in Group 2 don’t really know why. Maybe it’s because Sean Connery is the best actor to have played the role. Maybe it’s because the plots are the perfect balance of ridiculous and realistic. Maybe it’s because that’s what everyone says, and they don’t want to seem like an idiot.

Well, I consider myself a Group 2 person, and I’m going to put down my theory. Sean Connery played Bond in the 60s and early 70s. He was the closest, time-wise, to the actual writing of the books. He also had the opportunity to define the role with out the pressure of competing with, oh, Sean Connery. But for me, the key is the time period. James Bond really is a time piece. Some movies age well, others don’t. Ghostbusters is still fun and interesting. Airplane! will never get old because even though traveling isn’t the same as it used to be, disaster movies are. James Bond, as a character, will always look out of place. He was crafted to be a man of his time, i.e the late 50s to early 60s. Whether or not Ian Fleming meant Bond to be a lighthearted goof like Roger Moore or a scowling sociopath like Daniel Craig is irrelevant. The fact is, 007 is not suited to our world. Maybe the stakes aren’t high enough. Taking on warlords and smugglers isn’t the same as preventing worldwide nuclear war, you know.

But I think it runs deeper than that. Sure, Craig’s Bond is probably more like Fleming’s than Brosnan or Moore’s. The problem is, we don’t want our heroes to be misogynistic twats who aren’t all that interested in not killing people for spite and raping women until they turn straight.* The world of James Bond is one of Black and White morality. No, the Soviet Union weren’t evil. But SPECTRE was. And MI6 were good. James Bond never wrestled with questions of right and wrong. You didn’t see Sean Connery waxing philosophical while he held another man’s life in his hands. Nope, he killed him because the guy invented a puppy-rapping machine. And then he quipped about it. Today’s world is much more Black and Grey, which is why we end up with all of these gritty reboots passing for original entertainment. Forcing this onto a guy who throws people through plate-glass windows and casually commenting afterwards, “He was getting to be a pane” is a bit incongruous. The problem with the Craig movies is that they’re good movies (well, the first one anyway), but not good Bond movies.

*Seriously, watch Goldfinger again. When you get to the fight scene where the 6’5” Bond is facing off with the much smaller Pussy Galore in a barn, stop and think about it. He not only kicks her ass, he has sex with her, something I’m not sure she was really interested in. But the sheer machismo not only turns her straight, it also makes her fall in love with him. The problem with dark and gritty reboots is that they’ll still keep the womanizing Bond, while playing everything else “realistically.” The mind boggles.

Anyways, the reason so many people look at Sean Connery’s Bond as best is that he was the best fit. Roger Moore seems goofy because he seems almost self-conscious. He knows the attitudes are changing around him so he has a bit of a sense of humor about it. But Connery could play Bond as Bond was meant to be. They may never be able to capture that again. But if I was tasked to make the next Bond movie, I would set it in 1967. It would have the US and the USSR, and a psychotic villain playing them against each other. James wouldn’t have a watch that could burn a hole in a floor or a belt that shoots poison darts or a car that can travel through time if it hits 88 miles per hour. He would have a gun, a briefcase, and maybe a grappling hook, and he would fight legions of baddies in an underground doom fortress before knocking the big bad into a pit of molten piranhas. Then he would have sex with a woman who actually wanted to do it while making a joke about the villain getting his “just desserts.”

And while I’m at it, maybe I’ll make a Batman movie where he still wears pajamas and fights villains who want to destroy Gotham City with a giant weapon that shoots exploding cats.

The 10 Cheesiest Sitcom Intros of All Time

Posted in General with tags , on April 8, 2010 by fieldingmellish

This is something I’ve had kicking around for awhile. Those who know me would likely say three things about me. 1) I need to get some new clothes. 2) I’m not exactly balding, but the future prospects don’t look good. And 3) I love sitcom intros and theme songs. More importantly, I like cheesy, objectively terrible sitcom intros. Show me a new one I haven’t seen and I’ll react like a 12 year old girl seeing Justin Whatsis at the Mall. I can watch them on YouTube for hours. And of course, I minored in Sitcommery at Columbia, with a concentration in theme songs. So if anyone’s going to make a list of this sort, it should be me.

First, you should watch Strong Bad tackle the dilemma of sitcom themes here. I have to admit I have cheated a little. Here are my rules: Firstly, nothing from the 70s. Not being alive hindered my ability to keep on top of TV then, but from what I’ve seen on YouTube, it wouldn’t be fair to the other decades to include the 70s. Too cheesy. Secondly, I tried very hard to not allow my feelings towards the show affect my feelings towards the intro, but hey, nobody’s perfect. Thirdly, songs and visuals count equally. We may no longer be living in the golden age of sitcom intros, but they were really important for awhile. With that intro, join me after the jump for my picks for 10 cheesiest intros of all time, along with way too many words for a blog post of YouTube videos. Warning! Due to the vagaries of YouTube, the volume of these embedded videos varies greatly from one to another. Be careful!

Continue reading

New Super Mario Bros. Wii and “Hardcore” Gaming

Posted in General with tags , on March 3, 2010 by fieldingmellish

I was going to write a post like this a few weeks ago, after Yahtzee posted his review of New Super Mario Bros, but I didn’t want to write about the game before I spent a lot of time playing it. If you haven’t seen the review, it’s worth watching before reading on. It’s here. I’ll wait.

Done? Great! If you didn’t bother to watch it, he spends half of his review complaining about the very idea that Nintendo even made this game. In his classic style, he rips the game for being a “remake of Mario 3” and representing the worst of the Video Game industry wringing dollars out of poor gamers who just want – nay deserve! – something new, but are too stupid to avoid the latest franchise game. Now, it should be pretty obvious that I am a fan of Zero Punctuation, since I namedrop like a congressman without a reservation at a restaurant. But I have to say, he is dead wrong on all counts.

I knew the review would be bad when it was sandwiched in with Left 4 Dead 2. I understand it’s tough to play a game every week and then write, record, and animate a review for it. So why on Earth would anyone think doing two would be best? And sure enough, from the word go it becomes pretty apparent that Yahtzee did not spend a lot of time playing Mario. He barely mentions the gameplay at all, outside the multiplayer. And this is a major problem because New Super Mario is all gameplay. Yep, the story, if you can call it that, is the same as always. Yep, 8 Worlds, end bosses, powerups, Yoshi and all the rest. It’s Mario. We know what we’re getting. So yes, if you are, like Yahtzee, completely opposed to franchises and sequels, then maybe this isn’t a game for you. If you think games need to be more cinematic and visual, or have moving stories and character development, then yeah, you’re shit out of luck. But if you like playing video games, maybe you should stick around and give it a chance.

My problem with the review, and with most kneejerk anti-Mario people, is that it basically assumes that yes, this is the same as other Mario games, which if you play for three levels it becomes clear this is absolutely not the case. It’s incredibly presumptuous and more than a little stuck up, because if you hold this attitude without playing it, then that means you cannot consider 2-D platformers real video games. Why is that, exactly? Since when do all video games have to be in 3-D? So you, Yahtzee and others upset by the plague of Halos and Tomb Raiders and brown, gritty first person shooters with lots of cleavage and terrible camera work, are totally willing to say to game designers, “stop making this entire sub-genre! You made games like that in the late-80s!” It’s hypocritical, but more importantly, it’s arbitrary and wrong.

I think part of the problem is that Mario owns 2-D platformers. With the possible exception of Mega Man 2, no one does a platformer like Mario. Nobody makes them any more because they’ll never be as good as Nintendo. They made a platformer in 1983 so good it single-handedly saved the home console market, and now, 17 years later, they made another one good enough to brighten the day of even the most jaded, bitter gamer.

Calling this game the same as Mario 3 is lazy. For one, the powerups are completely different. And for the first time since Mario 1, they are actually balanced. The Ice Flower is interesting because it can be used to kill otherwise indestructible bad guys, but it’s slow and only bounces twice. The Penguin Suit is a blast. The Spinny Hat thing is great because they finally made a flying powerup that doesn’t break the game.* Yoshi is back, but he doesn’t travel with you from level to level, he doesn’t lay or throw eggs, and he can hover, but only for a second. They make you think on your feet about which one to grab.

*Seriously, did anyone ever pick a fire flower when they had a chance to have a raccoon  tail or cape instead? The worst offender was the bunny ears in Six Golden Coins. You could basically stop playing the game after you got your first carrot, because you wouldn’t see much of the rest of it as you hovered from start to finish.

Not to be a killjoy by reviewing the “game” part of the game, but it’s actually really frickin’ good. The levels are a blast, with all sorts of traps and toys, new and old. It has an old-fashioned difficulty curve, and by the time you’re up to World 6 or 7, the levels can be controller-immolatingly difficult. Apparently, if you die a certain number of times trying to beat a level, they give you the option of having a computer controlled Luigi jump in and beat it for you. So you won’t get stuck, but you will be forced to sit there and stew as the computer takes its sweet-ass time showing you how it’s done.

The level design is actually outstanding. There are fun levels with giant Wigglers or a boat that only moves with fewer than five bad guys on it or blocks that move along a track and rotate at the same time. And of course, there are good old-fashioned run and jump and don’t die levels too. One of the most frustrating (in a good way) things about it is that the level designers seemed determined not to let you find a groove. In old Mario games, you could hit a rhythm with a leaf or something and beat a bunch of levels without dying. Here, the next level you play is loaded with unknowns. It makes for a varied experience. Unlike, say, Grand Theft Auto 4’s “drive here and kill them, then drive here and don’t let him die, then kill this other guy and watch a 10 minute cutscene” missions.

The boss battles with the Koopa Kids are usually sort of standard in the halfway castle, but fun and kooky in the end castle. This is the biggest departure from the old Mario games. Those boss battles were very samey, while these provide new and interesting challenges at every turn. Sure it’s annoying having to go back to the halfway point after losing one, but it really makes for some tense times. Exactly what a boss battle should be.

I have a few minor quibbles, of course. The item game takes entirely too long to play with one person, while the frequency of items, especially mushrooms, sort of cheapens them. It’s not hard to get to a point where you can use a mushroom before literally every level you play if you need too. The annoying on-map bad guys (where you have to grab 8 Toad balls without dying or turning gay) respawn, and you can beat them again for a limitless supply. Some of the big coins are in absurd places. It’s not a perfect game.

I haven’t even started on the Multiplayer yet. I don’t know how anyone who claims to be a fan of the original Mario can not like playing simultaneously with friends. It keeps everyone involved more than alternating. Plus, because of the bubble option and the separate lives/unlimited continues, you can play with people who aren’t as good and still have fun. When I first played, I spent a good portion of the game hammering the A button to not die. Sure, it can cause a little tension, since you all bounce off each other and the item boxes can dump items in a, to be generous, annoying way. But when you get in a grove, and the whole team is moving together and jumping and bouncing off each other, it looks a little like poetry in motion. For a veteran of those days, it’s fun to think about what your 8-year old self would have said about being able to play Mario 2 at a time. It’s almost like the Platonic Ideal of Mario 1. The 2-D platformer emerging from the cave and seeing what made all those shadows we remember so fondly. My only problem is the lack of a racing mode, first to the flag wins the level. That would have been a blast.

I sort of understand some of the hatred, actually. I mean, Nintendo has billions of dollars and could spend it trying to create something new. We have seen games like this before. And just like I happen to enjoy 2-D platformers, I appreciate that others just don’t. Even a game this good won’t sway them. But where I do have a problem is when the self-proclaimed “hardcore gamers” take a whack at it for not suiting their tastes. In the early days of video games, there was no distinction between hardcore and normal gamers. We all played the same games. Some people were just better than others. And then, as we got older and found new interests, we started to split into these ridiculous camps. But without Mario, without Zelda, without Donkey Kong, there wouldn’t be any hardcore gamers. A hardcore gamer shouldn’t be someone who spends a lot of money on games or outfits their PC with ridiculous video cards or only plays games with blood and boobs. A hardcore gamer should be someone who loves Video Games for what they are, from the games with great stories and complicated controls to the games with simple controls and fun levels. You can’t diss a game for not aligning with your tastes without trying to enjoy it. Otherwise, you’re the same as people who say video games are for kids or game x is too violent.

New Super Mario is a relic, sure. You can pick up the controller and play. No tutorial levels. No epic cutscenes to get you acquainted. Just plug in, pick up, and play. Isn’t that what a hardcore game should be? Easy to learn, tough to master? A Video Game, pure and simple. Somewhere, right now, some 8 year old is glued to the TV playing New Super Mario and getting frustrated at that one hammer brother in that one level and saving all his items because he might need them later. And 10 years from now, when Nintendo introduces another Mario game for the Nintendo Room, he can sniffle about how things were better in his day, and how all the damn kids should just play his game if they want to see a real Mario game. So blast poor Mario if you like. But without him, video game history would be bleak, and the future might be even bleaker.

Webcomic Weview – Dinosaur Comics

Posted in Comedy with tags , on February 23, 2010 by fieldingmellish

So, due to the massive groundswell of support for this new series, I am happy to present, in lieu of a birthday gift to Mike Lynch, a review of Dinosaur Comics! Apologies for the terrible embedding, but you can click on an image to see the full size.

Title: Dinosaur Comics

Author: Ryan North


Updates: Weekdays

Started: 2003

“Dinosaur Comics” is a good comic to start with for a series like this because it’s a comic that could never appear in a newspaper It likely would have ended up as nothing more than a sketch on a kid’s science notebook in 11th grade if we were living in 1985. Without the internet, this comic could never exist. The art is, um, unique? Every strip actually has the exact same drawings for every panel. Viz:

Every single comic has the same MS-Paint dinosaurs in the same MS-Paint world. T-Rex is always the main character. He always introduces the action and almost always has the punchline. Usually, the setup is given by Utahraptor, the orange guy in the 4th and 5th panels. Dromiceiomimus is the friendly girl dinosaur in panel three. She doesn’t always get lines. Occasionally, when the strip needs an early setup or foil for T-Rex, God (a bit of dialogue coming from the top of the panel) or the devil (a bit of dialogue coming from the bottom of the panel) will make an appearance. I only seriously started reading DC about a year and a half ago. I had discovered it well before then, but didn’t bother to bookmark it because I thought it looked stupid. “A comic with one drawing? Pish posh!” What a fool I was in my youth.

You really can’t let the art get in the way of your enjoyment of the comic. Even if you’re skeptical of the style, the writing will draw you in. Eventually, the art gets sort of expressive, in a weird way. North has set up a very difficult situation for himself here. Every single comic he writes has to conform to the exact same structure. There can be no visual jokes to spice up the strip. This is the comic strip at its barest. It’s actually interesting to note that when you think about it, most comic strips do the same thing. Does it really matter is Garfield is being lazy in the living room or the bedroom? Eating lasagna on the kitchen table or in the dining room? Maybe in 1991, but not any more. DC carries this attitude to its logical conclusion.

So, without the trappings of art and visual humor to fall back on, DC has to rely exclusively on its writing. Since it’s entering its 7th year in existence, you’d be safe to assume the writing is pretty darn good. And I’d be inclined to agree with you.

The general form of the joke is pretty standard, but interesting nonetheless. T-Rex will pose a statement or philosophical conundrum, which is explored for three panels. He is challenged by Utahraptor in a humorous exchange of viewpoints, then a punchline is delivered in the final panel. Often, as is the case with most good comics, there is a reaction to the punchline which is also funny. The major reason I like DC is the combination of intelligent, witty banter and goofy, often surreal outcomes. It’s a comic for smart people, but it’s not pretentious. The characters delve into some serious matters (like the pursuit of knowledge above), but do so in a wonderfully absurd way. There are occasional themes, but they tend to be one silly comic after another rather than a serial. It’s engaging but accessible. There’s a lot to swallow in each one. And after awhile, you begin to appreciate the way the jokes always fit the art.

If you notice, the three comics I’ve posted are obviously similar, but there are very subtle and effective differences between them, which keeps the comic fresh. I find it quite amazing the way the dialogue between T-Rex and Utahraptor can be so different from comic to comic without either ever saying anything out of character. I do have one minor quibble. Unlike xkcd, the mouseover text is really not very important to the enjoyment of the strip. A lot of times, I don’t even remember to read it. When I do, I don’t generally find it that funny (although the Teri Hatcher one above is pretty good). Part of this is because the strip is already very word-heavy and loaded with layers of meaning. Adding a 4th wall break to comment on the strip is almost never worth it for me. Your mileage may vary.

I’d say the best way to read the strip is to just dive in. Start at today and go backwards. Read some random ones (and you can click on the quote above every comic to go to a random one. I am not ashamed to say it took me months to figure that out). The early strips are, in my opinion, not as good. There’s too much continuity, it can be a little dramatic. For my money, Dinosaur Comics is at its best when it’s taking on big ideas in a goofy way. Relationships between the characters are not fertile ground here, and you won’t see many strips like that after 2004. For the best, I think.

Dinosaur Comics is not my favorite webcomic. For a long time, though, it was the comic I read first every day. It’s not always laugh-out-loud funny, but it’s always a fun read. There’s not really anything like it out there. While there are a million video game strips and a million stick figure strips and a million pseudo-dramatic hipster art/namedropping strips out there, there really is only one Dinosaur Comics. Give it a chance. I’ll bet you’ll like it.