Monday, November 9, 2015

Clueless Review of Free Halloween Comics and a Colitis Memoir

Here's what I got. Yeh, I love showing off my Master Sword replica as of late.
So I got these free comics for Halloween and now I'm gonna blog 'em.

Ghostbusters: Times Scare

This was a fun minisode. Movies were funnier tho. Art was fine too.

Wonder Woman #43

I was lost in the middle of this. I liked the imperial armor design although I wish it showed more skin. Also she might've died or just bled a lot at the end.

Superman Doomed #1

I had no idea what was going on but the action was cool.

Superior Spider-Man #4

Doc Ock as Batman as Spiderman. This was just as dumb as I heard it was. I needs to be read to be believed, from Spidey's ghost conscience to Doc Ock using Spidey gear to patrol the city which probably should've made peeps suspicious but did not,

Ash and the Army of Darkness #3

Reads like a Gunstar Superheroes to the film's Gunstar Heroes. That's a good thing.

Archer & Armstrong #17 & #22

I don't know who these people are but their bickering was amusing. Weird origin story stuff tho.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Torgo Goes to a UCI Panel on Games, Turns Out HEVGA is Anti-#GamerGate and has a Social Agenda with the White House

I could type up a long read for this, but I am usually a man of brevity and have kept everything down in notes. Instead I'll just give you a quick link to what I wrote and two audio recordings. The gamedropping happens somewhere around 40 minutes or later [EDIT: it actually happens around the 52-minute mark] into the bigger recording, and the smaller one is a promised 'interview' that happened after. Make use of this how you will, and if SJWs try taking it down, keep circulating it.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Days of Thunder VS. Top Gun

I like Days of Thunder more than Top Gun. There I said it. Yeah, that movie's core can be summed up as "Top Gun with NASCAR" but I genuinely feel it does the Cruise formula better. How so? Well, let's compare these films' aspects categorically, starting with.....

The Cruise: Tom Cruise could never sell me as a cool guy. He plays cool to such an extent that it comes off as a facade. The best Cruise performances utilize this to their favor by focusing on him either playing a dork (Edge of Tomorrow) or playing a jackass whose "coolness" actually grates on others (Rain Man), often involving some sort of journey that requires him to develop into the cool guy he is usually hired to play. Top Gun's Maverick easily falls into the "regular cool guy category" whose only real arc involves something about dead pilots without any real weaknesses of his own. He doesn't really seem to overcome anything by the end, and feels like the same character at the end without much sense of development. Days of Thunder's Cole? Well, let's look at this conversation between him and Robert Duvall's Harry, his manager:

Harry: "You've got to tell us what's going on with the car."
Cole: "You want to change the way I drive. Set up the car so I don't have to change."
Harry: "Tell me how." 
Cole: "What do you want to know?"
Harry: "Is she running loose or tight? A turn here, take some wedge out, we'll win some races."
Cole: "I can't do that. I don't know what the hell you're talking about."
Harry: "How do you mean that?"
Cole: "I don't know much about cars."
Harry: "Neither does any other driver."
Cole: "No, I really don't know. A turn here? A wedge there? I don't know."
Harry: "How can that be?"
Cole: "They told me to get in a car and drive. I'd like to help out, but I can't. I don't have the vocabulary."
Harry: "Well... we're just going to have to figure one out."

In this dialogue we immediately understand Cruise has a dorky side underneath the cool persona he had been holding up to this point. Another layer Days shows off that Top Gun lacks is arrogance: from his early radio chats with Harry we get that Cole has a serious superiority-inferiority complex, barking back at him whenever a race doesn't go out as planned. And the best part is, SOMEONE ACTUALLY RESPONDS TO THIS unlike where everyone in Top Gun just takes his coolness on face value. Which comes to our next category...

The Love Interest: There is nothing to Kelly McGillis' Charlie. Everything about her feels like a shoehorned Hollywood love interest who could have been removed entirely from the film and nothing would be different. Admittedly Nicole Kidman's Claire isn't much different, showing up, breaking up, and returning in all the same manner. But at the very least she has this line:

Claire: "You and Rowdy have the same sickness, it's called denial and it's probably going to kill you both."

Remember what I said about the best Cruise performances above. Here we see a rational side effect of Cruise's aggressive coolness, arrogance, leading to a breakup that is at least convincing enough to not feel as hopelessly formulaic as the former. And on the topic of arrogance.....

The Rivals, Friends, and Surprise Final Bosses: I'm gonna throw Top Gun a bone here. Val Kilmer's performance as Iceman is nothing short of magnetic. The character he plays is stock to the bone, but he is just mugging with the role so gleefully it actually kinda works. His rivalry has no real stakes however because it just goes from "Maverick is dangerous" to "Maverick is cool cos he killed the surprise final boss." There isn't anything here that Maverick has to conquer to develop in accordance to the plot or as his own character beyond having a celebratory wingman declaration at the end. Anthony Edwards also does a charming job as Goose, playing yet another stock role with enough fervor to elevate what is essentially a plot device whose death fuels Maverick to be the best.... even though he already wants to be the best. And we come to Top Gun's surprise final boss, the Mig. He's really just there so the movie has a big action climax and nothing else.

Now let's look at Days of Thunder's equivalents, starting with the rival who ends up developing into the friend: Michael Rooker's Rowdy Burns. Referring back to Claire's quote from above, Rowdy actually feels like an obstacle for Cole to conquer because he shares a similar obsession with victory, coupled with a matching sense of arrogance that further drives each of them to be on the top of the game. When Quentin Tarantino described this as "a Sergio Leone race car movie," he was looking at this relationship, as the racing that first pits them against each other ironically becomes a catalyst for Rowdy to become the Friend. As beautiful as the volleyball scene is in Top Gun where it gives the characters a great moment to unwind from the plot and pretty much just be characters, Days ingratiates the racing element into these two. When they first get out of the hospital, they are so bent on racing that they do so even in recovery via wheelchair. This goes even further when they use rental cars to race each other when they're supposed to meet together, solidifying the two as friendly rivals who realize they can relate in their ambitions in the midst of their competition. When Rowdy ultimately gets too brain-damaged to race, it only feels natural that Cole continue his legacy because no one truly was closer to him. So takes us to Days' surprise final boss, Cary Elwes' Russ Wheeler. He has more build-up than the Mig, but he likewise is mostly just there to have a final action climax. Okay he does rub Cole once to hint at a rivalry but he lacks enough presence to make as much of an impact as Rowdy. I love Elwes as much as the next guy, but he may have even less to do in this than Kidman. This is probably a weakness of both films, as their final battles both rely on one last threat and then just sign off, but a slight presence is still better than minimal presence, so Days is at least a little better in this category.

The Scott: I can't really criticize Tony Scott for his work on Top Gun, mainly because he has an ability to film action scenes using angles that are visually disorienting yet cohesive, allowing the audience to literally see the tension onscreen, yet is able to build character by basically just letting his actors cut loose and shoot the breeze for a good while (see the "Sicilians are half-n*****" scene from True Romance for example). Really it's his direction that makes Top Gun decently enjoyable despite its stale writing, and Days really does benefit from having a stronger script in comparison. But I will argue that his directorial skills improved in Days in large part to the lessened restraint that comes with having more studio brownie points. Top Gun is one of those things that just feels unnaturally PG-13, from having a clearly sanitized love scene between Maverick and Charlie to the action being delivered in a way one can't really imply much blood/gore in the face of burning wreckage masses. Days of Thunder, on the other hand, has Scott pushing the MPAA rating as much as possible. We get insane crashes which we can only imagine racers nonessential to the plot had their bones cracked to bits, Sweet N' Low packets rubbing against as much of Nicole Kidman's thighs as possible (it's a less tame love scene to say the least, despite a similar PG-13 rating), resulting in a more raw experience that feels more like a Tony Scott film and less like a Jerry Bruckheimer & Don Simpson production. Tony is a filmmaker who prided himself on mindful, deliberate excess, and that lessened restraint for Days just plays more to his strengths.

The only remaining category to which I can really use to VS. these films with is music, to which I'll admit Top Gun has the edge because Harold Faltermeyer basically was 80s sound where Days has Hans Zimmer playing discount Faltermeyer. Also, Danger Zone. With the right sense of freedom and an effective enough screenplay, formulas can be made engaging in spite of their predictability. Days of Thunder is an underrated proof of this.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Final Fantasy XV: Episode Duscae

Final Fantasy, let alone Square Enix, hasn't been in the brighest of spots for a while. Between neglecting various IPs from their pre-merger heydays (only to briefly revive a few half-heartedly and never touch them again), bloating out the FFXIII saga past any sane person's interest, and teasing things far too early and never following up on them. One of these games was known then as "Final Fantasy Versus XIII," a game which we knew very little on back when it was first announced in 2006. A smart company would have teased this in 2010 when director Tetsuya Nomura and company had finally entered full production, but this again is SE we're talking about.

Or maybe we WERE talking about. While I'm not an MMO player, seeing Naoki Yoshida present a complete understanding as to why FFXIV originally failed highlights the kind of bad thinking that plagued the company so bad. The fact he was able to take what was originally an unplayable mess and make it into a success also shows he has something the company desperately needs: focus. Bravely Default, despite it's frustratingly repetitive second half, worked because it stayed focused on presenting an earnest throwback to 90s FF with a surprise Madoka Magicaesque deconstruction twist to top it off. A Realm Reborn worked because Yoshida, as shown in his presentation, focused on FUN above all other things, something the prior XIII saga either dropped for an overly lugubrious tone (much like most current media) to force greater weight onto its own narrative without thinking of giving the player any lighter side to actually get invested in. The result is sound and fury of exposition with little actual character beneath, which I easily consider to be the worst storytelling I have seen in any game. But to the main point, this demo is surprisingly solid, mainly because it remembers to start with the light stuff before gradually increasing in scale.

From the get-go, Episode Duscae doesn't open on an action climax where we don't know anyone and therefore can't give a shit for their adventures, but a breezy camping trip between a close band of friends. Rather than constantly stating their aims during every conversation, they actually talk about small things that make them feel like actual characters. Even though we have been teased large battles and political intrigue(?) in an earlier trailer, it also showed a small scene regarding soup between a father and son. This demo essentially is one big small scene; rather than show off all the grand struggle and bombast this game might have, it instead focuses on the minor quest to get their car repaired. They find a sign pointing to a Behemoth whose reward can pay their repair costs, find themselves overpowered by the thing, hear about a dangerous cave, visit it because why not, and use the summon they find to get their dough. Rather than forcing in a complex yet vague lore, the cast jumps from one simple yet rational goal to the next. Effective simplicity over XIII's willful convolution is the focus here, and all for the better.

Yoko Shimomura does a solid job with the music here. Both day and night battle themes are fittingly tense yet upbeat, "Omnis Lacrima" makes an effective boss theme booming chants and all, the menu theme is pleasantly soothing (taking the sweeping "Somnus" from earlier and transposing the vocals to a gentle violin, giving a relaxed feel to the whole thing), and the Chocobo remix for the ranch is as jovially calm as you would expect from that description. That being said, I do hope the full soundtrack has more range than what we currently have. Currently pretty much every track fits into the Kingdom Hearts category of sentimental, sorta-classical-romantic (often C minor) compositions Shimomura has covered before, and while they are done well, she has done best by straying from these limitations such as Legend of Mana's "The Darkness Nova" or blending them into an alien, inorganic synth hum as shown in Parasite Eve's "U.B." Maybe this is Nomura's direction holding her back for this, but I would really hope I could hold her debut FF soundtrack among her best work instead of just being another fine one.

Combat here is simple but fluid. You have your attacks which you can customize based on the way you lay out your weapon roster, a dodge function, a parry for dodging certain attacks, and a warp that works for both quick escapes and catching up to foes. The partner AI seems mostly solid although there are several instances where I felt my allies should have come up quicker to rescue me, especially when I hobbled up to them only to watch them wait 5 seconds until reviving me. The techniques the demo showed were cool, but other than Drain Blade and the Armiger limit break I pretty much reserved MP for dodging and warp-striking towards foes. I hope the battle system for the full game offers a little more depth than what we have at the moment, but it plays well enough and the return of seamless transition between battle and travel is very welcome.

Since the demo only offered the techniques you have at the start, I can't comment on the leveling system other than I don't like how you have to camp to actually gain your experience instead of just grinding proper. Camping however does offer some nice buffs based on what meals you make, which I think could be put to great use in the full game when we see a broader range of these.

Now for the last part, visuals, presentation and art direction. This game in terms of graphical power does kinda look like a PS3 game converted to the current-gen hardware, but it still does look quite good with rich textures and detailed animatons. The cutscene direction has all the detail to gestures we have come to expect from the company, and despite some unnervingly long loading times the transition from gameplay to cutscenes flowed impressively. Battles are genuinely cool to look at with the flair given to each attack yet are kept easy enough to follow so that I can figure out what's going on at each moment. As for art direction, the enemy design feels surprisingly classical in the use of iconic monsters such as Goblins, Garulas, imperial soldiers, etc, yet they look modernized enough that they don't conflict too much against the black-leather the party dresses in. That being said, none of the NPCs besides Cindy felt like they were dressed like FF characters; everything they wore looked too plain and casual. I get this is a fantasy based on reality, but I don't expect them to look like they aren't part of a fantasy at all when none of the earlier previews hinted at this. The art in the ending cutscene though was particularly fantastic, topping the demo off with the one tease to the epic FFXV has in every trailer and demo prior been selling us, reminding us that there still is a larger adventure ahead for us.

One last nitpick: Lunafreya is a really silly name.

In short, Episode Duscae is a solid demo that shows Square Enix is finally getting their act together again slowly but surely. Perhaps it doesn't show off the full capabilities Nomura has been aiming for, but the fact he has let the series have a sense of lightness to rekindle its adventurous spirit shows he understands how this series became such a brand name in the first place.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Her, Relatability, & the Difficulty of Society

So last night I was rewatching Her. The first time seeing it, I found it to be a relatable, humorous tale showing the reasons why people get caught up in their gadgets (including myself) while acknowledging the wonderful things they can do that can justify such. The second time however, was when I truly realized how poignant this movie is not just the way we interact with our tech, but why people such as myself have such a hard time sticking with other people.

For starters, I'm gonna bring up the scene where Theo (Joaquin Phoenix) blind dates Olivia Wilde, only to be put off because she thinks he's creepy. The odd thing is, Theo up to this point does not do anything aggresive towards her, yet by remaining completely passive he ends up scaring her off. Throughout life I have struggled in taking initiative with others, for similar reasons, and after seeing this I realized how difficult it has always been for me to go beyond passive and thought about how I may have missed opportunities of my own. Then we have the scene where Theo tries to perceive peoples' entire lives from his first glances, to which I can relate in the sense that I only try to look for people who aren't neophiliac to the point their knowledge begins and ends with the current fads of pop culture, quickly cycling the old out for the new in a desperate attempt to stay relevant. In other words, I cannot stand the people who sit comfortably in bad pop music and Chuck Lorre sitcoms because they do nothing to challenge themselves, and therefore feel I can gain no enrichment from such a crowd, so watching Theo try to figure out people in a similar manner yet never feel comfortable enough to interact with them also struck a familiar chord. Spike Jonze won a well-deserved Oscar for this screenplay, as his insight into modern relationships is so spot-on with current struggles such as my own that I learned that it wasn't my struggle alone for trying to find a place in society. Rather, this is a shared struggle of our generation: the immediacy of the internet has let us observe people at their worst along with their best, pushing us apart as much as it has brought us together. Sometimes those lows are unbearable to think we can actually have certain pieces of human excrement, yet the opposing highs can feel justifying to know some people still have some integrity withstanding.

After a second rewatch, I'm not quite sure how I may resolve my own loneliness fully, but seeing it addressed so thoughtfully at least reassures the reality of my own struggle and that it is a shared difficulty. Perhaps Her is not a film meant to answer how to find a comfortable place in society, but as an address to why we want one yet why we struggle so much with it, it is a poignant masterpiece, and quite easily the most remarkable film of 2013.