Archive for January, 2004

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January 30, 2004

Equal Parts Funny, Weird, Gross
You can contemplate the weirdness of a whale on a flatbad truck being pulled through downtown Taipiei, or you can contemplate the weirdness of that whale exploding in a spray of rotten entrails. Add in photos and the strange allure a five-foot whale penis holds for Taiwanese men, and you’ve got this strange article.

Sara finds the best stuff on the internet.

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January 29, 2004

“…with a high today of minus five degrees.”
This was said by a broadcaster on MPR this morning. It makes no sense to me whatsoever. It’s gibberish.

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January 28, 2004

Happening at Work
Those of you who aren’t gamers won’t care about this. Some of you who are gamers won’t care about this. Regardless, I’m pretty excited about it. Here’s what I’m working on at Atlas right now.

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January 26, 2004

Pop Did, Has, Is, and Will Eat Itself
The iTunes antics continue, with each excursion stirring up old favorite tracks that I’d either forgotten or missed. For example, VAST’s romantic alternative-goth would-be single “Touched” and Pop Will Eat Itself’s “Ich Bin Ein Auslander,” which is kicking ass even as I type this.

Likewise, I’ve seen a couple of movies lately that I hadn’t seen in a while. Why isn’t important, but here’s the gist of the experiences.

True Lies
James Cameron’s creepiest film to date. The weird spousal play in this movie still makes me uncomfortable. How are we supposed to feel when Schwarzenegger’s interrogating his wife in a concrete room? Are we supposed to think the striptease he extorts from his wife is romantic? Are we to have utterly forgotten about the international terrorists with stolen nukes?

Whatever. The film is in many ways stranger today than it was back then. At the same time, it’s somehow become a reminder of a simpler time, when terrorists and hijacked nuclear warheads were funny. I guess.

Truth is, the movie’s funny and exciting, in that order. Schwarzenegger’s got better comic chops than I’ve been giving him credit for, though just remembering that brings to mind Twins and Kindergarten Cop, both of which are the sorts of comedies I can get distracted by when they surface on TNT. Of particular note in True Lies is how understated some of his material is; he gets great mileage from lethal glares and little eyebrow cues (“What can I say? I’m a spy.”). His truth serum-induced explanation of his escape plan is a great bit of spy spoofing. Tom Arnold even turns in a remarkably funny and human role as a sidekick who’s both funny and intelligent. We’re allowed to believe that he’s of value in the espionage outfit where he works and we’re allowed to side with him when Arnold’s husband-hero goes crazy for forty minutes of screen time.

That’s the real treat in True Lies, I guess. It’s got a wacky situation comedy with wacky characters and potentially horrific subject matter, a bizarre broken method of plotting with a series of disjointed action set pieces, and somehow it works out in the end. Still, King of the World Cameron demonstrates that he’s an over-budgeted, over-indulgant fanboy when he drops $100 million to make pee jokes, rack his villain in the nuts, and blow up a Florida bridge for his zany comedy picture. What a bizarre movie.

Pitch Black
Quite by chance I happened to sit down with the so-called star-making sci-fi suspense picture Pitch Black after reading about the forthcoming Riddick videogame and its big-budget brother Chronicles of Riddick, both of which debut this summer (when this sentence is scheduled to end). Suffice to say that Pitch Black is better than I remembered, and I remembered liking it rather a lot. It’s strong where it counts, with characters more interesting than the enjoyable sci-fi tropes they wear, and slips cleverly past it’s trouble spots, usually by eluding at realism rather than really worrying about it.

A strong, thrilling opening gives us effects and some set-up in a nicely realized sequence. The first act is patient and immersive, happily blending over-the-top music video cinematography with exposition and dialogue. The second act delivers the monster-related suspense we bought tickets for without pretending that we’ll be surprised when second-tier characters get the axe. Even better, it’s not so easy to predict the order in which the characters will get eaten. Finally, we get character-driven action that deals with questions brought up throughout the film, rather than just repeating punchlines or making token references to theme. Characters slowly switch from making choices based on strategy and intelligence to making gut decisions and following their instincts. Satisfying.

I see no reason, based on Pitch Black, why Chronicles of Riddick can’t be a fine sci-fi action picture. If it contains its need for an epic scale and keeps some focus on the characters, I’ll be happy. There’s a certain serial adventure quality to the Riddick character (maybe it’s seeing him chained up Frazetta-style in Pitch Black) that could handle a trilogy just fine. If they don’t reach beyond their grasp this summer.

Noise: The Crystal Method, “Name of the Game”

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January 22, 2004

Autofocus
A spot on John Tynes’s Revland Dispatches this week has me thinking about the issue of focus in a weblog. More specifically, about how this blog has little or no focus to speak of. How long has it been since I wrote a movie review? Seldom do I post game design notions for fear that I’ll accidentally pollenate a more talented designer and be left unbloomed. Of course, I haven’t exactly been blooming as it is, so that may be a moot point. This may all be symptomatic of my own lack of personal focus, and in fact, probably is. Regardless, my meditation is the same: What is the focus of this site and, honestly, do I want to stick to one that closely? Perhaps we’ll get an answer to that later. In the meantime, I welcome all opinions. Click the “comments” buttons, if you please.

In the meantime, you should check out Kagan McLeod’s stellar new site for his magnificent kung-fu-and-sometimes-zombies-or-automatons comic, Infinite Kung-Fu. Speakers on, volume up.

Kagan did the colorful cover for the newest Feng Shui book, Iron & Silk, which is shipping this week. Click the picture to see it bigger, etc.

I do have some pretty wonderful game-related news, but not yet. Soon.

Noise: The Strokes, Is This It

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January 20, 2004

How Much Is That In Music?
For just ninety-nine cents, I can now buy songs that I loved in high school but was too embarassed to be seen purchasing at Best Buy. That’s so little money that it’s not even worth the time it would take me to get out my dollar sign. As an experiment, I’m on a $5-a-week music budget. Think about that; it’s like buying a CD a month, except I’ll be buying two CDs a month or two CDs’ worth of music with no fillers, no stinkers, no skippers in the lot.

Every day, when I go to work, I can scratch a musical itch I’ve been unable to reach since the ’90s. At the end of the week I can put it all towards a stellar mix disc I’ll burn every two weeks. Every month my music collection will grow larger, stronger, more diverse and more rewarding. At first, I’ll think of it like a eugenics project: I’m drawing from the atoms, notes, blood, and bytes of the world’s best music to create a breed of super-album the likes of which mankind has never known. Then, later on, I’ll think of it as some sort of construction project: I’m slowly expanding my apartment into the sort of ridiculous and convoluted presidential palace that rebel soldiers will get lost in during their hunt for the czar.

The coffee I could be drinking, the scone that it washes down, seem once again like foolish investments. Five dollars for a nonfat au lait and an M&M cookie? Why, that’s two Smash Mouth singles, a Bix Beiderbecke tune, Rob Zombie’s magnificently tacky “More Human Than Human,” and one-tenth of the new Crystal Method CD! That seems like an awful lot to pay for a beverage that’ll last just a few minutes in the best way (and most of the month, in the worst way). It’s absurd, really.

If I didn’t so love ordering coffee, I’d be trying to give up coffee shops. In the end, though, that’s half the reason why I shop, isn’t it? To see the shop. For all that I’m relieved to be free of some stranger’s judgment when I buy a Fiona Apple radio hit, I have a certain need to go into the public venue and participate in the commercial ritual. Living in an American city (he said generously) without stopping into the local businesses is like going to Rome and eating Burger King. Or is it? I’ll let you know once I’ve spent the last of my coffee money on Johnny Cash’s cover of “Hurt.”

Noise: Suzanne Vega, “Blood Makes Noise”

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January 19, 2004

Alert Flavor
When last I was told about the Terror Alert status, we were at Condition: Orange. Just typing that makes it feel like we’re living in a police state. Then I remember that I can say anything I want about the politicians in this country without getting, you know, killed and I get over it. Anyway, what’s the alert level now? Cherry? Grape? I hope it’s grape.