Monday, February 28, 2011

Game Diary - beat Bulletstorm.

Yesterday, in fact. I was considering writing the review last night, and then I began to consider writing it today - but after completing the campaign, I turned right around and started up a new game on the hardest difficulty. I feel this game has more to tell me about itself, and I'm loathe to offer a final verdict without hearing all it has to say.

I could simplify an overall impression, of course - the game is fun. Very fun. A different kind of fun than any other shooter out there, thanks to the whole skillshot thing - without which it would simply be a pass-the-popcorn, slightly pulpy, indulgent experience.

I'm not just talking about the crazy shit you can do in this game - I'm saying if you weren't graded and rewarded based on your grades, this game wouldn't be as good as it is - but you are, and so the game really manages to stand apart from... well, pretty much any modern first person shooter due to its style, content and most of all gameplay.

Gameplay. That's not something we see much variation in with this particular genre, is it?


Welly welly welly.

A listing went up on today - a listing which was promptly pulled, but remains in a mangled form via internet caching.

What's it say? It says what Atlus are likely to reveal tomorrow on the opening day of the Game Developers Conference:

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The games of March 2011.

There's only three major games dropping this month - Dragon Age II, Crysis 2 and Yakuza 4 - but if you dig a bit deeper, there's nearly a dozen noteworthy titles coming our way. Some are downloadable fare, some are portable, some are HD up-ports of last-gen titles - and not all of these will suit every taste - but they say variety is the spice of life...

March 1st
Dead Space 2: Severed
Hype-O-Meter: Day one.

It takes the protagonists from Dead Space: Extraction and places them on the Sprawl as Isaac is carrying out his journey - you spend this DLC desperately trying to get back to Lexine - and while that's all lovely, I don't need that information. I don't need to know how long it is (they haven't told us, yet) - all I need to know is that Dead Space 2 is one of the better games I've played in the past few years, and Severed is more Dead Space 2.

Day one.

March 2nd
Beyond Good & Evil HD
Hype-O-Meter: Medium-high.

I wonder if BG&E HD will sell well?

I hope so.

No doubt Ubisoft is using it as a dowsing rod to check for rich deposits of gamer passion, to legitimize financing further mining operations in the form of the previously teased Beyond Good & Evil 2.

If you're one of those folks who are hazily aware of the title without actually understanding why it's awesome... how to put it... it's got a mix of gameplay (none of which are an especially weak link) from racing to combat to stealth to shooting, old-school adventure game puzzle sensibilities, Zelda-like world progression, and a whole smattering of things that were way ahead of its time - but are, on the current gen, widely used. It's also got a great story, great characterizations and wonderful art direction.

I'll be waiting for the PSN release.

March 8th
Dragon Age II
PS3, PC, 360
Hype-O-Meter: Day one.

BioWare could write its own check prior to the spectacular success of Mass Effect 2, and folks are expecting another phenomenal RPG when Dragon Age II drops.

It's abundantly clear to anyone who's played the Mass Effect games and the Dragon Age titles that the two franchises are being handled by different teams within BioWare - with Dragon Age being the weaker of the two in terms of production values and gameplay.

Dragon Age II ostensibly attempts to address this with a combat system that's been revamped for consoles, but it's yet to be seen if the change is enough - and if it will be a story worth telling. Still, BioWare has earned the faith of gamers - and this blogger.

Day one.

March 9th
Hype-O-Meter: Medium.

Indie Diablolike darling Torchlight finally lands on consoles with this Xbox Live Arcade version - with major reported changes to the controls and even gameplay.

If this were on the PS3 I'd likely snap it up, but at this point I'll just wait. It'll either come to my console of choice, or I'll pick it up during some (impossible-to-forsee) future moment when I run out of other games to play.

March 15th
Yakuza 4
Hype-O-Meter: Depends...

I have never played a Yakuza game. This is directly at odds with my general tastes. It is nothing less than rich with Japanese flavor (which I adore), it's open-world (which I love), it has great production values (bonus!) and it's a story-driven action-RPG with a bunch of other crap to do (lovely!).

But I've never played a Yakuza game. I tried the demo for 3, didn't feel it was to my taste, and moved on. I don't know why I never took the plunge and bought one of the titles - perhaps just because I already love so many other franchises, I don't feel the need to add one to the pile.

Still, lots of other gamers in North America are in love with these games - more power to them - and I can do nothing but give a heartfelt thanks to SEGA for its continued localization of the franchise.

March 15th
Hype-O-Meter: Don't let us down, Capcom.

Much like Valkyria Chronicles II, the sequel to masterpiece adventure game Okami being developed for a handheld is nothing short of a kick in the knickers.

Still, a DS sequel to one of the best games of the past ten years is infinitely better than no sequel at all - which is the hope I'll cling to until reviews, the insight of other gamers and perhaps even my own experience proves otherwise.

Yes, I think I do intend to buy Okamiden at launch - I'll do my part to show Capcom there's an audience for this franchise - but I also plan to throw it into a borrowed DS and see what, precisely, they've done with what could be Capcom's true, vital, valuable answer to The Legend of Zelda.

March 22nd
Crysis 2
PS3, PC, 360

My internal Hype-O-Meter keeps ping-ponging back and forth between being bored by and totally wowed at Crysis 2. Recent reports that the PS3 version runs at slightly sub-HD resolutions (1024 x 720) have of course made waves - but c'mon, Red Dead Redemption was like x 640, and that game was still gorgeous.

I don't expect it'll be that big of a deal - assuming performance and gameplay remains intact - and we'll have another big name to add to a year that's already flush with quality shooters.

March 22nd
Tomb Raider Trilogy
Splinter Cell Trilogy

Continuing the trend Sony began with the God of War Collection - which Ubisoft picked up for the Prince of Persia Trilogy - we've got six "classic" games coming to PS3 with HD up-ports.

It's notable that the Tomb Raider trilogy contains only two last-gen titles (Anniversary and Legend), with the current-gen Tomb Raider: Underworld rounding out the three - which makes sense, as Underworld continues the narrative of Legend.

Still - I've already got all the Tomb Raider games - and I don't actually like them so much that I want to re-play them in HD. Splinter Cell is even less appetizing - I've never played an SC game I liked.

Speaking of which, I really should give Conviction a spin one of these days.

March 27th
Nintendo 3DS
Hype-O-Meter (me): Meh.
Hype-O-Meter (everyone else): Day one.

The successor to the stratospherically successful Nintendo DS finally arrives next month, and I'm having a hard time caring.

It's got a reasonable launch lineup, but neither does it boast any games I desperately need to play.

Still, I'll be keeping my eyes open for an in-store display that will allow me to see for myself what all the journalists are talking about. I know the entire Japanese supply sold out in one day - but I'm not yet convinced Nintendo's latest foray into gimmickry will be as successful as the last... two times they did it.

March 29th
The 3rd Birthday
Hype-O-Meter: Medium.

The Parasite Eve franchise has been absent from gaming since 1999. Having never owned a PlayStation, I never played the first two titles - so the character and her world hold no sway over me.

I doubt I'll be picking it up. I already have a small backlog on my PSP, and Patapon 3 is coming next month - but if it actually turns out to be a fun, involving, capable shooter on Sony's little handheld, and not a title that merely coasts on the sizable fan support its been receiving - sure, I may give it a taste.

Demo please!

* * *

Man, there's a lot more coming out in March than I thought. I'd better get Bulletstorm and Killzone 3 out of the way fast.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Atlus, you tease! You filthy, filthy tease!

On Valentine's Day, Atlus USA put this out:

Now, some folks (myself included) immediately were struck by how close that shade of pink is to the one used for much of Catherine's promotional material.

But it was Valentine's Day. Pink makes sense, yeah?

Still... that shade of pink is awful close..:

But, again - Valentine's Day. Pink. Makes sense. They could just be "trolling" us.

Today, however, Atlus sent out another one. A simple bit of text on a plain background - a short little message - like a text message. A flirty little text message. Like the texting that's so predominant in Catherine...

...and it ain't Valentine's Day today. And that's the exact same goddamned shade of pink.

They're localizing Catherine.

Friday, February 25, 2011

This is actually in the book.

V is a lot funnier and crazier in the original version.

Oh Sony, you're hilarious.

So on Tuesday, I picked up Bulletstorm and Killzone 3. I've been playing Bulletstorm, exclusively.

One night, I thought I might be in the mood for some badass graphics, so I threw in Killzone 3. Oop! There's an update! This I download, let install, and by the time it's done, I figure "screw this - time for sleep."

I kept on playing Bulletstorm. Today, finally, I have a day off, and I think I've just begun the final act of the game. I decided it would be a good time to taste-test KZ3, so I throw it in.

Oop! There's an update!

Le sigh. I know, it's not precisely Sony's fault. This is more of a "have I said thank you lately, GeoHot?" moment.

Awesome inFamous 2 duality trailer.

Woo! If you want a deeper look at inFamous 2, check out last night's episode of GTTV. The ice powers in that old E3 trailer are finally explained (and shown in the below trailer), as well as the opposite option - pelting your enemies with napalm.

The title of this trailer should remind one of the excellent duality trailer for the first inFamous. I'm quite fond of the music in this trailer, but watching them both back-to-back really illustrates the graphical leap between the two titles ... and makes me want to pop inFamous in for another playthrough. Too bad I'm up to my neck in a Bulletstorm.

Girls on Xbox live are disgusting.


It's a sequel to last October's Xbox Girls Get Revenge.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Buying Blu-rays is a science.

When I upgraded to an HDTV, I went out and bought Kill Bill, Volumes 1 and 2, and Planet Earth on Blu-ray. Since then, I've become somewhat expert at pricing Blu-rays and ferreting out the deals. I have a... pretty respectable library, now.

The problem being, these things are bloody expensive. A new-release Blu-ray is never cheaper than thirty bucks - and sometimes more. Experience is required, to find reasonable prices - although sometimes, titles are worth the premiums asked (I did pay day-one prices for How To Train Your Dragon and Despicable Me).

These tips may not apply to your town - but still, try to think of buying cheap movies as a game. A game you can win. Here's my top spots:

Blockbuster is a good place to check for two reasons. First off, their previously-viewed section - where they sell off rental copies of BRs that folks aren't renting enough of - is a good place to find new(ish) movies for much less than their standard sticker price. The downside of this is that you're always getting only the movie disc. If the package originally came with a movie and a special features disc, you won't be getting that second disc.

They also have a bin full of old "crappy" Blu-rays, priced to move, sometimes as low as five dollars. That is the lowest I have ever found a new, sealed Blu-ray for, and how I got my copies of Blade, Run Lola Run and The English Patient (which, yes, I actually like.)

Word to the wise: never, ever buy your Blu-rays from their "new" rack. They have the worst prices for the premium stuff.

If you're looking to buy new, Best Buy and Wal-Mart are the places to do it. Yeah, yeah, I hate Wal-Mart too - but... it's so cheap. That said, I rarely purchase movies there - except when I find a significant deal. It's often a better use of time to check out Best Buy, as their selection is far superior, they have generally reasonable prices for their premium releases, a few animes on Blu-ray and a wide assortment of cheap ones - and sometimes we're talkin' about really good movies.
"...if I don't buy Casablanca for ten bucks, I'm going to regret it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow - but soon, and for the rest of my life."

I'm not taking any bets that my readership lives in The Shitty Part Of Town - but if you do, these places can be a gold mine. I've found one place that occasionally gets new stuff in, and their running deal is two-for-fifteen. That's good-as-new Blu-rays for $7.50 each, often when they'd cost you $40 new - that's a score. Finding Tekkonkinkreet there was an absolute thrill.

If you can find a pawn shop that's a clean, friendly place with nice staff? Put it on your rotation of places to check out, when you're hunting for movies.

...but that's a big "if."

HMV has become my new go-to store. You can browse every title they have in their system online, and check to see if the store nearest you (or in the nearest town, or province, or country) has any in stock. If they do have it, you can reserve it with the click of a mouse and they'll hang on to it for you until you can pick it up. Handy!

They also carry some rather nicely obscure stuff. They're the only brick-and-mortar retailer in Canada that actually has Paranoia Agent in their system (strangely, they have volumes 1, 2 and 4 - but not 3). I can't tell you that they're particularly quick, when it comes to delivery - but they've yet to screw me - and they let me order Azumanga Daioh, which puts them miles ahead of, well, anyone else.

Seriously. Go into Best Buy or Future Shop or Wal-Mart and ask them if you can order in an item that exists in their system, but is not currently in stock. The answer is no.

HMV's answer is yes, so they have secured a great deal of my custom. They have constant deals on Blu-rays they're trying to liquidate, but the roster for the 2-for-20, 2-for-30 deals doesn't rotate with any great regularity. Once you've cherry-picked the ones you want, you'll find there's not much purpose in checking for the cheap ones there.

Still, their prices are reasonable, the 2-for-whatever deal sometimes results in a score, and they're the only brick-and-mortar retailer that actually lets you order stuff. Good on ya, HMV.

...but lately, it seems, I have exhausted the potential for finding great stuff in the physical realm. Or rather, some stuff just can't be found in stores, and it's only then that I turn to the internet.

My first, trepidatious toe-dip in these heady waters was back in 2008, with the Asian disc release of Siren: Blood Curse. I certainly wasn't dissatisfied with the experience, but it's taken me until this new year to re-enter the world of online shopping.

It started with the art book for Valkyria Chronicles, and then when I discovered I couldn't get the third disc of Paranoia Agent from HMV, I turned again to the virtual sundry.

I currently have another... two pending orders, I think - but two came today, and they perfectly illustrate the inarguable strength of the service offered. Amazon's price is nearly always excellent, but it's the stunning selection that makes it such a resource.

As I was writing that article about Lindqvist, I discovered my Blu-ray copy of one of my all-time favorite films had wrong subtitles. I'd never noticed, because after watching the totally legal format I first viewed the film in a half-dozen times, I bought the BR out of love and never actually watched it.

After confirming the subtitles were, indeed, wrong, I set to tracking down the right ones. HMV had a copy of Let The Right One In on Blu-ray, but it was an initial-run copy with the wrongness. The only place I could turn to guarantee a copy with the correct text was - only the PAL release of the film had the theatrical subtitles (though new-print NA copies do too) - and after a mere nine days, it arrived.

Pulp Fiction, on Blu-ray, doesn't seem to be in print in North America. The copy you see above is the Hong Kong release. It has the option for English or Chinese subtitles, and half of the text on the box is kanji. Hah! This is the miracle of the internet!

Now, I have the definitive version of Let The Right One In and, finally, my Blu-ray collection of Tarantino's films is complete.

Thanks, Amazon. You are a retail juggernaut with good reason.

Okay, Skyrim may be great.

Show me a trailer with actual gameplay, and I'm a happy camper. At the same time, I'm not sure I entirely buy that a lot of the animations you'll see within represent gameplay. I'm worried that we may end up with... well, more shitty Bethesda animation - but as I watched this trailed, I realized that I want it to be great.

I want a fantastic first-person fantasy RPG - and so long as they steer clear of the godawful leveling system from Elder Scrolls IV, this looks pretty damn enticing.


An Atlus PR dude told small gaming site BeefJack that “Catherine is a Japan-only game and there are no plans for a NA release at this time. Sorry about that!"

Now, this is likely your Standard PR Dude Statement because they're not prepared to announce the localization, but it's... it's in the realm of possibility that they may not localize it. And the very thought of it makes me vadernooo.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Catherine debuts at #1 in Japan.

The PS3 version of Atlus's weird thriller with action-puzzle gameplay took the top spot, overshadowing Marvel Vs Capcom 3 (PS3), which took second. Catherine's 360 version came in at 8th - pretty damn impressive for an adults-only game with a decidedly unusual premise.

Atlus! Localize it, damn you!

L.A. Noire box art is like a pretty flower.

So colorful, for a game with "noire" in the title, no? Still, it makes sense, given what we know of the game. The red and blue are an obvious visual reference, but we have the lead caught between all the style, beauty and grit in his plain brown suit - our anchor in this crazy, crazy town.

I like it.

Prototype 2 mini-teaser.

Here's the Penny Arcade comic, for reference.

Oh hell yes.

That is next Tuesday. Sweetness. Sweetness and candy.

It's like Gawker is just run by idiots.

When Gawker and its subsidiaries (of most interest to us: Kotaku) switched up its layout earlier in February, everyone agreed that it was... well, it was absolutely terrible. It was so terrible, in fact, that their readership almost instantly dropped from a few million pageviews a day to less than 200k.

Wisely, Gawker and Kotaku quickly switched back to the old style.

Today, they switched it back again to a layout that is best described as Tycho suggests - as a war crime.

Are these people like... were they just wanged on the head with a lead pipe recently? Are they all stoned?

Can they not read bar charts?

'Cause I can.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Tonight will be nice.

Not much news today. Except, I suppose, that the lady we've seen shots of who seems to be a player character in Dead Island has been officially announced to be Xian Mei, a waitress at the resort who takes up arms when things go apocalyptic.

Beyond that? I'm home, I've got Bulletstorm and Killzone 3, and I'm sorely tempted to break with my new healthy-eating thing to head over to Safeway and pick up some Pepsi. And not just Bulletstorm, in fact, but... well, check this out:

For the record, I "get" the cover of the LE, but I don't feel it's as awesome as this bad boy for the standard edition - which, you'll find, is not unusual. Let's see what the difference is...

Bonus in-game Bulletstorm content:
  • 25,000 Experience Points
  • Visual Upgrades (repaints, skins) for the Peace Maker Carbine, leash, boots and armor
Hmph. Well that ain't worth an uglified cover.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm about to get my badass potty-mouthed Space Pirate on...

GeoHot's got his cash.

It took GeoHot about a day and a half to receive all the money he needed to hire three more lawyers after Sunday's request for donations.

Monday, February 21, 2011

A few new screens for Dead Island.

Kotaku got their hands on some brand new screenshots for the suddenly-important Dead Island, and while most folks are sounding off on what they think of the graphics, the most important screens are the second and third, here - finally showing the first-person perspective, and another showing (what I think is) a third character.

And here I was all pleased at the idea of a herione - but it looks like what we've got are heroes.

And this last one is rather "eugh."

Check out Kotaku for the full-size pics.

Tomorrow will be nice.

Bulletstorm and Killzone 3 both drop tomorrow. I'm very much looking forward to picking them up, but if I feel the same as I did when I got home from work today, I'll probably just snuggle them in among the library and go to bed.

After making my requisite post, of course.

In the meantime, I was mulling around my HMV today, finding nothing of value, when I spied V For Vendetta in on their 25%-off graphic novel shelf. It was like, hells yeah - and I'm rather enjoying it, for all the ways it's different from the film. Lovely.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The best defense of GeoHot I've ever read.

This comes from a forumer on the Penny Arcade boards, and it's the first one I've read that came across as reasoned, free from the self-righteous crap that tends to lace most arguments with similar aims.
"...Your error in this argument is that you assume that hacking and homebrew are the only two arguments. You see, as someone who participates in the console "hacking" community. I don't give two poos about the software. Here's what I get out of it.

Did you know that the Wii has a CPU inside it's graphics chip, and Nintendo didn't tell anybody? Even the actual, official, licensed Wii developers had no idea there was an ARM chip embedded in Hollywood. ARM, by the way, is the same CPU found in the GBA and most Android phones. Heck we don't even have a name for the thing. "Starlet" is just what the hackers call it. Nintendo, NEC, and ATI *still* deny it's existence even though we've seen the stupid thing. Why is this significant? Well, no one has ever done this before. This might have all kinds of benefits to GPU processing, or programming theory in general. Well, not here though. Here, starlet is used as a hardened bootloader. Who would of thought of booting a system though it's graphics chip? That's interesting to me.

Why is Sony's master key significant? Well, first of all Elliptic curve cryptography (ECC) is still technically "experimental". It was only developed in 1985. Sony saw it as the best new thing, which is not how you approach encryption. You have to use tried and true. (Actually, you don't use public key encryption when you have to give a private key the the entity trying to compromise the system, but that's another argument). The fact is, Sony botched it. Haha lolsony, but wait! What about other companies and governments out there that use ECC too? This seems like such a trivial error. How easy is it to trip up on this function? Is it trivial? Is it a common mistake? Can this compromise the ECC algorithm as a whole?

There are people out there who study this. They are scientists. Many of them don't wear lab coats and have to publish to stay active in the community and collect a paycheck. Now we have a company saying that simply telling how something works can land you in jail.

Don't think this is relevant? Tell that to Dmitry Sklyarov who was arrested by the feds by telling how secure PDFs worked at a security conference. Even after Adobe dropped the charges, the feds didn't drop the case. In the end he was found not guilty. How about Ed Felton who was threatened with litigation after the RIAA said that he was no allowed to tell how digital watermarking worked. It was only after the Justice Department promised that the DMCA was invalid for his line of work did he start to publish his findings. My favorite is David Touretzky, professor of artificial intelligence and computational neuroscience. In the U.S it's was ruled that the publishing of the code to decrypt a DVD was distribution of an illegal "circumvention device". So where does that stop? Can teach a class on how DVDs are decrypted? Can I tell my friend? Can I tattoo the code on my arm? Professor Touretzky pushed this to the extreme and put up a web site showing how the code worked though t-shirts, haikius, songs, and dramatic readings. He also issued a declaration of his intent to the MPAA. He has yet to be sued, but really, where does it stop.

Like I said before, a console is not made out of pixie dust and fairy farts. It's just a computer you plug into your TV set. I'm sorry that Sony decided to subsidize the cost of their game system relying on broken encryption. Don't punish others because you screwed up your business model. Subsiding costs is a dumb route to go because it makes you look stupid when the revenues don't work in your favor. Ever wonder why the PSGo cost more? Well, they didn't have the UMD movie subsidy to make up for the cost anymore, therefore they had to raise the price. Economics 101 here Sony, if you make a product that is too expensive for the market to bear, either change the target market, bring down COGS, or get out with sunk costs.

On the flip side. GeoHot must of had a wake up call shortly after the rap video. That was quite a change of tune. When I was in the Connectix case they were throwing around millions of dollars back and forth. He has only been in litigation for just shy of a month and has lost $10,000 to it already. It's pretty easy to see how Bleem imploded.


It's not about games, Sony needs to chill and Geohot got a reality check recently."
-halkan, Penny Arcade forums member
* * *

First and foremost, let me say - he's right. Or at least, I have a hard time finding much that he's wrong about - but I'm viewing this as someone who doesn't muck about with the innards of my console. I'm purely a PS3 consumer - I bought it to play PS3 games - and this whole thing just makes me pissed at Hotz. My priority is to seamlessly enjoy my PS3 library, and I anticipate the result of the rootkey publication will be a series of hassles, on my end.

I don't give a shit about Hotz and whether or not he has the moral or legal high ground - I just want to be able to play my PS3 library without getting griefed by modders online, or being forced to log in to the PSN during every play session of an offline, single-player game.

My position is a purely selfish one, I admit, but I feel that Hotz has essentially fucked with my shit - and the shit of millions of gamers - just to prove to himself and other hackers that he could. At the same time, I feel halkun's right - but I really hate what Hotz and fail0verflow have done because the quality of online gaming is suffering, and I anticipate the previously nonexistent DRM on the PS3 may become very, very troublesome for all of us who merely bought PS3s to play PS3 games on.
"There are people out there who study this. They are scientists. Many of them don't wear lab coats and have to publish to stay active in the community and collect a paycheck. Now we have a company saying that simply telling how something works can land you in jail."
And I find nothing to disagree with here. I absolutely feel that folks who want to muck about in their PS3s or whathaveyou should be allowed and even encouraged to do so- but...
"It's not about games."
For me and, I have to think millions of other, it totally is. And he has fucked with our shit.

At the same time, the PS2, Wii, DS, PSP, 360 and PC gaming scenes have survived similar crap - the PS3 will too. I just don't like that it's now obliged to, and that it will impact my experience.

A goat that sings like Usher.



Another Videogame Webcomic (from the dude who does Joe Loves Crappy Movies).

What the eff?

Daniel Craig? Cool. Harrison Ford? Awesome. This still looks pretty awful.

I think it looks so bad because it's clearly trying to take itself so darned seriously. As I was perusing YouTube I also happened across this next trailer, which is equally ridiculous without looking bad because it's clearly in on its own joke.

They should've just been as honest as the first movie and called it Cowboys and Ninjas, but at least it's got its tongue firmly planet in its cheek. "Dayum. Ninjas." Ha!

GeoHot wants donations for his legal defense.

Internet celebrity hacker GeoHot, who's being sued by Sony for publishing the security key to the PS3 online, is asking folks to donate to his legal defense.

Given that GeoHot's moral high ground has so far resulted in Call of Duty cheaters, pirates and general douchebags running rampant on the PSN - and of course, even more restrictive DRM as publishers try to defend themselves against what he's unleashed - I really hope no one gives him a penny. That won't be the case, of course - but it's nice to hope.

Voice work makes such a difference.

I'm working days this week, so I had to wake up at five A.M. It's nearly six now - this offends all that is right and good in the world - but last night before sleep, I watched the first two episodes of Batman: The Animated Series.

First of all, I find it very reassuring that it actually is as good as I remember. I was concerned that nineteen (ohmigod) years and the rose-colored glasses of youth had created some idealized cartoon that exists only in memory, but no - the show is wonderful - though it gives me pause.

I wonder if media would've had such a strongly positive reaction to Batman: Arkham Asylum if Kevin Conroy (Batman) and Mark Hamill (Joker) weren't involved? I plainly said in the review that these two actors as these two characters "instantly bypasses my cynical defenses and plugs in to my unconscious expectations of the character(s)," but watching the show makes me wonder if that's only true of my generation.

My buddy Blue likely has no such connection to Conroy and Hamill's versions (I think), which may be why he simply describes Arkham Asylum as being "like the Saw games." I tell him he's entirely and limitlessly wrong, though I've never actually played a Saw game - which is probably wrong of me, but I'm going off-topic...

The lion's share of the folks reviewing games for professional sites and newspapers and magazines are of my generation. We're a group of people for whom Batman: The Animated Series was the holy grail of the character's interpretation - it carried the life of Batman, so squandered after Tim Burton stopped directing the movies. I can't think it's just me who is so comfortable with Conroy and Hamill in these roles - which begs the question, how would we all have reacted to Arkham Asylum if they'd simply brought in a pair of very talented unknowns to play Batman and Joker?

Perhaps I'm undervaluing the rest of the Arkham Asylum experience, but I have to think you'd lose at least 5 points on Metacritic, right there.

* * *

Which reminds me, I'm looking forward to seeing the first incarnation of Harley Quinn, again. Have you seen this vid?

Poor Harley.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

In which I endorse cartoons.

I admit it, a huge part of why I enjoy Shank and Ultimate Ninja Storm is how much they look like cartoons.

On Wednesday, I went into my local HMV (which has secured my future game-and-movie custom, until such time as they betray me in a GameStop-like fashion) and picked up Let Me In on Blu-ray. I asked the clerk if they had Archer on Blu-ray, but she reported it only exists on DVD.

I've had these conversations before. Every store you walk in to will tell you Pulp Fiction doesn't exist on Blu-ray, because if an item isn't listed in their computer it doesn't exist, even if it does. I told her I was certain I'd seen it on Blu-ray, so I purchased Let Me In and went home to verify my veracity. I was wrong - and that still stings.

Oddly, a show on FX's HD channel, broadcast in HD, isn't available to purchase in HD. Which is idiotic. So on Thursday, I went back to HMV and picked up Archer on DVD. Upon returning home, I gazed upon my collection of cartoons which are ostensibly for adults, and realized I seem to have a bit of a library going.

So let's chat about cartoons, shall we?

My affection for animated series from North America - which I view as a wholly different experience than Japanese serials - can only begin with Batman: The Animated Series. In the early 90s, after-school cartoons were big business, and Warner Bros. was attempting to lock horns with Disney. (This was during the period where Disney would launch one new high-quality cartoon series per year - the age that gave us and Chip N' Dale's Rescue Rangers, Darkwing Duck and Duck Tales.)

Warner Bros. had their own high-quality series, though. They gave it a good go with Tiny Toon Adventures (1990), and hugely improved on things with Animaniacs (1993) - and while there's no denying that Animaniacs was some fantastic viewing, it was Batman: The Animated Series (1992) that made me sit up and take notice.

This, it seemed, was a cartoon not expressly made for me - a child. This was a cartoon made for everyone, and I often sensed it was going over my head in some areas. I now realize that Batman: TAS was courting the same ambition as those old Japanese animations which so soundly floored me as a youth, without risking all the blood and boobs - it was animation that adults could enjoy too.

Just well-told stories, never watered-down.

As I look at my library now, I realize that Batman: TAS is the only North American cartoon series I'm missing. The only remaining series that's important to me, any way. It's... unfortunate that the seasons are so damned expensive, but... I'm not sure that will stop me.

You could certainly point to Fox and thank The Simpsons and Family Guy for the late-90s resurgence of "mature" cartoons, but let's not be generous, here. For some reason, there's a line I draw between The Simpsons and Futurama. While I haven't really enjoyed a Simpsons episode in... the better part of a decade, both are replete with references that require a quick eye to notice, but for me it's only Futurama that really holds up to repeat viewings. Watch a Simpsons episode, and you never need to see it again - watch an episode of Futurama a half-dozen times, and you'll find you're still noticing new stuff. Or at least I do.

Which is why Futurama was the first TV series I ever bought.

For me, Futurama is a bit like the God of War franchise in that it took me a while - multiple viewings/playthroughs - to really appreciate what makes it so damn special. Like many North American 'toons, Futurama has a supremely talented cast, but I believe without question that it's the writers who made the show so different from all the rest.

It's a bit like The Far Side (anyone remember The Far Side?) in animated form - a show for nerds and geeks, by nerds and geeks. There are little - and many not-so-little - in-jokes everywhere, if you take a moment to look for them, and they sometimes manage to pull off stuff that is both supremely funny and absolutely brilliant.

My Futurama collection - what with the four straight-to-DVD movies and the new season - now spans... hang on, let me check... nine purchases and twenty discs. That's a lot of quality entertainment.

I do feel the most recent season attempts, on occasion, to be trendy instead of focusing on what makes the series great - but it's largely a return to form, and a welcome gift to fans of the series. Futurama remains one of the single best examples of an animated series that children and adults can each thoroughly enjoy on entirely different levels.

* * *

The rest of the series listed here are pretty much for adults only, and feature a certain contrast that I find especially tasty. And before you tell me about it, yes - I have seen Frisky Dingo.

Next up, we have Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law, about a superhero from the 60s trying to get by as a lawyer. Each twelve-minute episode of Birdman is a rapid-fire blink-and-you'll miss it barrage of sight gags and sharp writing, but two things set it apart, for me. First off, the cast is stellar - particularly Stephen Colbert as Phil Ken Sebben and Reducto (Colbert launched the hugely popular Colbert Report during production of the final season of Birdman, but returned to lend his voice here and there).

The second thing - the thing which I find so endearing whenever I see it - is the dichotomy of the uncanny and the mundane (perhaps the best example of this is Pixar's The Incredibles). Birdman is, without question, a crazy show where crazy shit happens all the time, but what makes it work on a higher level is that we often, in our own lives, have friends or family members just as weird and seemingly complex as many of the ancillary characters, and Harvey's own foolish optimism and debilitating self-doubt mirrors our own.

Harvey is the emotionally crippled straight man to the rest of his wacky life - the only one who sees how weird things are - but he's still got a job to do, and by golly he'll wear a suit while doing it.

Arguably the purest distillation of the "incredible and mundane" conceit put forward by The Incredibles is The Venture Bros.

The Venture Bros. posits a world where magic, aliens and super-powered humans exist - but it's still our world. It's still a world of selfish, flawed people and hungry capitalism, of desperation for success and affection, of basest desires and questionable morals - and two wholly innocent boys.

In the world of Venture Bros, Johnny Quest grew up to be a junkie, desperately doing every drug known to man to keep the post-traumatic stress of his "boy adventurer" childhood in check. Super villains debate whether or not the malicious laugh at the end of their last ransom demand was too much or not, and the question of "why would someone actually be an expendable henchman for these people? What kind of person does that?" is raised and explored.

In this scene, the young Dean Venture walks in on the villainous Monarch, fucking a robot with the face of Dr. Venture. It's all very character-driven.

Cartoons have changed.

Every character - from the heroic to the "heroic" to the depraved - is given just enough weight to flesh out their character beyond your standard two-dimensional fare. These people feel relatable, understandable and - whether a master Necromancer, capable of piercing the veil of perception or not - a touch pathetic.

The show's creators have said they feel The Venture Bros. is "about failure" - and it is - but to me, it's also about exploring the real-world consequences of the grand tales and larger-than-life characters we unquestioningly accepted as children. Very Watchmen.

It's a real full-circle kinda' thing - and if you don't want to look at it in such light, let me also add that it's funny as hell.

Finally, Archer premiered on FX in 2009. Leading the cast is H. Jon Benjamin, the go-to-guy for an everyman voice with comedic timing - and while it's uniformly strong throughout, I feel Judy Greer steals the show.

It's the same basic idea - apply the idea of combining the fantastic world of international espionage with the familiar office environment, complete with the freakish personalities you'd find within, and mix with comfortable writing and excellent voice work.

Like Birdman and Venture Bros, Archer is the result of kids who became addicted to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Batman: The Animated Series and... well, dozens of others who have now grown up, and found they'd still rather watch an animated comedy than a sitcom. But we're not kids any more. Our kids are watching Dora The Explorer and Phineas and Ferb (which is actually pretty good, if you've ever seen it), but our tastes have... I hesitate to use the word "matured," but you get my drift - we want stories and comedies that speak to our life experience, to the understanding we hold of ourselves and the world, and sure - a little violence and sex appeal. Archer boasts all of this, along with jokes you wouldn't want your mom to know you enjoy.

Season 2 of Archer is now three episodes deep, but the first season is available on DVD for a helluva lot less than those Batman seasons.

And I'm spent.

[update] HMV was having a spend-fifty-get-ten-bucks-off dealie today.

I am officially ridiculous. [/update]