Game of Thrones spoilers are actually in this post about spoilers, needless to say.
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Andrew Jeanes pointed this out to me:
The twerking gets all the play because white people think it’s a funny word, but it’s that unison at 1:13 that just kills me: until that moment I didn’t realize that there was an ideal to which “group hip-hop choreo for people in Stormtrooper outfits” could aspire, but yeah, that unison is: the use of unison animation-style to reflect machinelike fascism, that’s it right there.
I read this in IDW’s April solicitation for its Transformers comic: “MEGATRON joins the AUTOBOTS! The perfect jumping-on point for new readers!” This may in fact be the least true statement in comics.
I don’t know, it seems like the whole point of Megatron is that he is irredeemably evil. I guess it’s the cannon. When I was a kid I couldn’t help but notice all the good guy robots had little pistols, and the head bad guy robot had this giant arm-mounted nuclear bazooka and I was like “That’s not faiiiirr!!!” To me that’s the basic appeal of Megatron–he is a machine hardwired to be a dick.
Granted, this is probably a turning point in a larger story, where Megatron’s shifting loyalties are competently explained, and this unlikely alliance will lead to a return to the status quo. But stuff like this is exactly why I could never get into the Transformers comics, even though I love the ’80s cartoon. Once in a while I’ll be watching that hokey old cartoon, and be like “Gosh, I can’t get enough Transformers, I wish there was more of it!” And then I’ll think of the comics and be like “Ennh, actually, this is plenty right here.”
It always seemed more chic to prefer the comics to the cartoon. The comics had Simon Furman and detailed mythology and half-naked cyber-ladies and that one ninja Skeletor guy. The cartoon had Bumblebee and Spike getting a giant can of bug spray to fight the Insecticons. Nevertheless, I feel like the cartoon had a better grasp of the concept, which is–let’s face it–pretty simplistic. Transformers is fundamentally just good toys in an endless war with evil toys.
David Wise, who wrote the cartoon’s finale, once compared the Transformers’ war to Doctor Strangelove–the only major developments turned on some silly new gimmick which was inevitably adopted by both sides. On the surface that theme comes across as a crass marketing tactic, but it also forced the cartoon to set its stories within the “doomsday gap.” Optimus Prime and Megatron can’t dwell on the big picture, or dream up some truly novel way to turn the entire war upside down. Their forces are deadlocked in a war of attrition, and it’s all either of them can do to maintain the stalemate. The drama is in how the characters cope with that–Prime can’t lower his guard and it’s giving him an ulcer, Megatron’s authority is constantly challenged by Starscream, etc. Most of the cartoon’s plots were frankly interchangeable, but all of them provide that sense of getting a snapshot of life in the trenches.
The comics, to me anyway, never seem satisfied with that. Every time I take a look somebody is becoming a robot god, or there are parallel universes, or a somebody decides to create a third force in a definitively dualistic conflict. I suppose the realities of selling a monthly comic force you to employ those kinds of plot devices. But it ends up feeling more gimmicky and cheap, ironically, than the toy line itself.
So we are well into 2014, and commenters have had their chance to answer as many questions in the 2013 Not the King William’s College Quiz, and have mostly done fairly well. A few questions I thought were gimmes just got missed, a few I thought were stumpers got answered quickly, that sort of thing. Which means that next year it has to be even harder!
Answers below the cut.
The King William’s College Quiz has come and gone for another year, and of course its insistence that quiz-takers “know a lot of things” of course just makes the whole thing harder than it really needs to be. Therefore, once again we bring you the Not Quite The King William’s College Quiz, which we promise is not quite as hard as its namesake and panders to nerds shamelessly. Probably the latter is more important to nerds.
(P.S. Although still probably much easier than the real KWC Quiz, this should be much harder than last year.)
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My recap of Fan Expo is up at Torontoist.
In the next couple days I’m hoping to get up scans from my convention sketchbooks, because there are some goddamned awesome Brainiac 5s and Doctor Stranges out there. I think next year I’ll do a Rex the Wonder Dog sketchbook as well. (Of course, by next year I might be an exhibitor rather than press.)
Somebody asked the chief a rather loaded question about Lobo and Deadpool being “overplayed, really-limited-joke” characters. And frankly, I don’t think that’s fair to Deadpool.
Let’s set aside the tragic aspects of the character here–that Wade Wilson has a lot of emotional baggage that he can’t escape because he can’t die, that sort of thing. That’s all well and good, but I’m just talking about how the character works in pure farce. In that context, Deadpool’s problem isn’t that he’s limited as a joke character. It’s that people are limited in how they make jokes with the character.
This was already on my mind since I recently saw a gifset on Tumblr of Deadpool’s WACKY ADVENTURES at SDCC. It struck me that in each gif, somebody was doing something amusing with cosplay or props or whatever, and the sole contribution of “Deadpool” was to enter the scene and play along just like any other fun-loving convention-goer might. So you’ve got people cosplaying as Tetris blocks, which is kind of interesting I guess, and then OH MAN DEADPOOL IS WITH THEM NOW IT’S HA-HA-LARIOUS~!~!! XD XD
I get this same vibe from Deadpool’s appearances in comics–at least, the comics that are played for laughs. Deadpool is fighting ninja mimes because it’s funny, and it’s funny because it’s happening to Deadpool, and Deadpool is funny because it’s happening to him. It’s circular logic that only makes sense if you accept that Deadpool is some sort of humor-enhancer, who by his mere presence makes funny things funnier.
If humor were food, Deadpool would be the “bacon strips & bacon strips & bacon strips…” meme. Because let’s face it, bacon doesn’t actually make everything taste better, and even when it does there are diminishing returns as you add more. The first time I tried to make a sandwich with more than one layer of bacon, I ended up with a crispy-chewy mess that wasn’t at all what I hoped for. But the idea of extra bacon is indulgent and tempting. So we assume Epic Meal Time knows what they’re doing when they wrap a pork roast in a four-layer quilt of bacon, even when we should have the common sense to know better. Similarly, fandom seems to have been conditioned to assume that once anyone attempts to work Deadpool into something, it must be funny because Deadpool.
It’s not that bacon or Deadpool is bad, but the trick is in how you use them rather than simply using them at all or a lot. Wade is probably pretty versatile as a joke, but if Marvel and Deadpool fans forget to tell the joke, he is extremely limited as a punchline.
Dear Mr. Card,
I wanted you to know that I recently read your statement regarding the proposed boycott of ‘Ender’s Game’, and I can understand where you’re coming from in your plea for tolerance. Believe me, I can understand what it’s like to worry that your livelihood will be affected by the intolerance of others. Many of my LGBT friends have had to face open discrimination in the workplace due to the kind of open hatred you personally fostered with your time and money…and in fact, continue to foster today, despite your belief that the whole issue is now “moot”. So I can deeply sympathize with your hope that “the victorious proponents of gay marriage will show tolerance toward those who disagreed with them when the issue was still in dispute.”
To that end, I pledge that I will in fact show just as much tolerance of you as I expect to see you and others show towards people of different sexual preferences and identities (by the way, I assume that since the issue is now “moot”, you’ll be disbanding NOM? After all, no sense throwing good money after bad, right?) In that spirit, I pledge the following:
I will not seek to deprive you of your legal and constitutional rights.
I will not seek to have you declared mentally ill and institutionalized.
I will not seek to have normal, healthy sexual activities that you perform in private with consenting adults declared illegal, in order to “send a message” to you about their morality.
I will not seek to have you declared an unfit parent based on your sexual preference/inclination, nor will I suggest you act in a sexually predatory fashion towards prepubescent children who match your sexual preference.
I will not refuse to serve you at my place of business.
I will not advocate the overthrow of the United States government in order to install a puppet regime that discriminates against your sexual preference/inclination.
Because I agree with your request for tolerance, I freely and happily pledge to all these things. I think you’d no doubt agree that I am meeting you more than halfway, given your previous verbal and financial advocation on LGBT issues. Nonetheless, as you pointed out, your backwards and hateful rhetoric is rapidly receding into history’s rear view mirror, and you are rapidly becoming seen as nothing more than a bigoted old crank who nobody listens to anymore. In that light, I agree that it’s easy to be tolerant in victory. So let’s stand on this agreement and let bygones be bygones.
…oh, you may note that “paying good money to see your shitty-ass movie” isn’t included in the definition of ‘tolerance’. That wasn’t what you were asking me to do, was it? Drop me a line back and let me know!
I just added my name to John Scalzi’s pledge (original pledge here, place for others to co-sign here) to refuse to attend any convention that does not have a clearly defined, well-publicized, rigorously enforced harassment policy. Admittedly, John Scalzi would be refusing to attend as a Guest of Honor, while I would be refusing to attend as a paid guest, possible volunteer and occasional panel presenter, but the principle is the same.
Why is this important to me? Because I was just at CONvergence. For those of you who’ve never been, it’s a good-sized sci-fi/fantasy/gaming/general geekery convention in the Twin Cities (actually the largest entirely fan-run con…there are plenty of larger ones, but they’re all run as for-profit businesses.) And it has a great harassment policy. You don’t need to take my word for it; Paul Cornell came here and has said publicly that he thinks it’s the best of its kind in the entire world. (Not that it’s a competition. Although maybe it should be…) The con doesn’t just have a policy, it commits to it. They have posters in every public space with slogans like “Costumes Are Not Consent” (with models of both genders on the panel, just to make it clear that men have as much right to wear kilts without having jerks use a leaf-blower on them as women do to wear Power Girl costumes without inappropriate “boob window” comments.) They have officially designated “Safe Spaces” where people who are being harassed can go and find someone who will keep the harasser away until con staff can come and kick them out. They make people feel safe at their con.
And it is wonderful. It’s a wonderful feeling, knowing that everyone there feels free to be themselves and to enjoy themselves without having to worry about someone taking their self-expression as a license to attack, demean or belittle them. It creates a welcoming, friendly environment full of great people who share a common interest. It’s basically everything you’d hope for in a con. (And it’s got a great consuite. And it’s got amazing, amazing, AMAZING volunteers who make it all happen, including the harassment policy. I can’t praise the volunteers enough; cons this good don’t happen in a vacuum, and so let me take advantage of the huge soapbox for a moment to tell everyone how AWESOME they are.)
And having seen a really good con with a really great policy, I want to give everyone that opportunity. So I co-signed. My voice might not be noticed as much as John Scalzi’s, but I’ll add mine to his for whatever it’s worth.
“See, the thing is, I’m not sexist. I respect women just as much as the next person. But as a male, I have certain basic biological instincts, and it’s not like they can expect me to simply ignore them. That’s setting aside millions of years of evolution.
“I mean, I don’t even think I’m that bad. There are way worse guys than I am. You don’t even want to be in the same room with them, you know? But by the same time, I don’t think I should be blamed for my biology. It’s just the way I’m wired, you know? I’m not going to lock myself away in a little room for the rest of my life just because some chick can’t handle it.
“And it’s not like they don’t have any alternatives. They chose to come here, you know? They had to know there were going to be guys here, but apparently it’s my job to just undo generations of basic urges just because they’re not ‘comfortable’, whatever that means. That’s the problem with feminists, you see. They think that people can somehow be educated to stop being people. But we’re animals at heart, and it’s not like you can just make that all go away, no matter how much you want to. Scientists all agree on that. It’s basic evolutionary psychology.
“And yet, somehow, whenever I shit myself in public and spatter them with human feces, they keep insisting I should be able to just ‘hold it in until I get to the bathroom’. Like I can just choose when my bowels and bladder get full. You know, if she didn’t dress in something so skimpy and difficult to clean, it wouldn’t even be a problem for her! …hey, where are you going?”
So over on io9 they’ve posted an article about the central problem with Stephen Moffatt’s Doctor Who, and while I agree with some of their points, I think that the central problem with it — with almost any incarnation of Doctor Who, though particularly with this one — is that it makes absolutely no sense.
I’m not talking about things that are scientifically impossible or implausible, which to my mind are no more legitimate criticisms of Doctor Who are than saying the the monsters look phony and the sets are made of cardboard. What I mean is that the central premise of the show makes no sense from a logical perspective.
It’s particularly obvious in recent years because the show has returned to doing a lot of show set in Earth’s past, but always with some fantastic element (I’m informed, via The AV Club, that “Black Orchid” was the last historical Who story with no SF element other than the Doctor in it, and it was the first one since “The Aztecs” about twenty years earlier.) Often these fantastic elements would have earth-shaking or even earth-destroying consequences (an Ice Warrior triggering a nuclear war in the 1980s, for example) if the Doctor didn’t stop them. But the Doctor has been to our time, which has not shaken or blown up by any of these events, “before” (in his timeline) going to many of these times and places. So how did these events happen “before” the Doctor got involved? Why wasn’t modern-day London a smoking, radioactive ruin until the Doctor went back and stopped that Russian sub’s missiles from launching?
Now maybe this has been answered somewhere — I’ll admit to not having an encyclopedic knowledge of all Whoiana, especially of the Colin Baker-Sylvester McCoy years — but to my mind there are a couple of possible answers. The first is that these things didn’t happen because the Doctor “always” went there — essentially, when he visited our present (or future) he was experiencing the effects of things he would do in our past, his future. This makes the most logical sense but is also the most dramatically unsatisfying, because it basically means that everything he does is already set down by fate.
The only other option, considering that multiple timelines have been declared a no-no in Who canon (and are similarly undramatic, since they undercut the significance of anything you do when you travel in time) is that the times and places the Doctor goes are in some way temporally indeterminate: essentially, if they’re left alone they’ll happen the way they did in our history, but they can be changed by outside intervention. The problem with that interpretation is that it suggests that everything would be fine if the Doctor just stayed home, and that he’s risking all life on Earth to satisfy his wanderlust. Unless, that is, we suppose that each indeterminate point can only be changed once, in which case the Doctor is being brought to them so that he can seal them up before some other time traveler does.
Why are these points in time and space indeterminate? Why are so many on Earth? Why are they crawling with extraterrestrial and interdimensional visitors? Why do they so often seem to create points where history could be changed significantly? And why is it the Doctor’s job to seal — or perhaps we should say stitch them up? I don’t know. But they are pretty interesting questions…
As I’m given to understand it, Sony announced the other day that the astonishing perfection of the CD-based Playstation, which had been superseded by the even more astonishing perfection of the DVD-based Playstation 2, which had then been rendered obsolete by the Blu-Ray vision that was the Playstation 3, had in turn become an outmoded and worthless piece of crap compared to the forthcoming Playstation 4. The reaction I’ve heard (which is, admittedly, reading a bit of Penny Arcade and Kotaku, because I didn’t even bother with the PS3 let alone caring deeply about a hypothetical game console that they wouldn’t even show people at the press conference) is a resounding “meh”. Why might that be? Apart, of course, from the fact that they wouldn’t even show people the console at the unveiling press conference.
I’m starting to form a radical theory about why the latest generation of game consoles (Wii U, PS4, and whatever Microsoft is going to unveil in a wek or two) have gotten such lukewarm receptions. It’s probably going to be controversial…heck, I’d say there’s no more than a 50/50 chance that it’s right…but I think that there’s not actually as much incentive as the game companies think there is to improve the performance of their consoles. In short, I’m starting to believe that the age of video game hardware improvements is coming, slowly but surely, to a close.
This isn’t to say that they can’t do any better. I’m sure that processing power is improving on a very impressive curve, if only because the experience of my entire life has been one of computers getting constantly better (when I was born, the brand-new state of the art personal computers had 16K of RAM.) While there does at some point have to be a plateau for the improvement of the computer, we’ve not found it yet and we don’t even really know where it might be. So this isn’t a “man will never reach the moon” type rant about how they’ve reached the limits of how good a gaming console can get.
It is, however, true that there is a point of diminishing returns in terms of how well these improvements in processing power will translate into practical, measurable gains in the finished product. The previous jumps in technology have been immediately obvious to the average consumer; someone playing an Atari 2600 would see the NES as a clear improvement over their machine, just as the Super Nintendo was obviously better than the NES, the Playstation was immediately better than the Super Nintendo, and the PS2 was eye-poppingly better than the PS1. But with the PS3, there wasn’t the same level of “eye candy”. It was better–of course it was better–but it wasn’t a quantum leap the way the PS2 had been over its predecessor. That was the opening that let the not-quite-as-powerful but much cheaper Wii in to lead the market; it wasn’t as good as the PS3 or the XBox 360, but it was good enough and it was about $350 cheaper.
And while the PS4 is bound to be an improvement over the PS3, developers already have enough processing power to make astonishing games that are beyond our expectations. Slight improvements in skin texturing and particle physics isn’t going to make the next Batman game better than ‘Arkham Asylum’; clever game design and innovations in playability will. Being able to represent more figures onscreen at any given time, doing different things isn’t what makes a game great; if it was, ‘State of Emergency’ wouldn’t have been as dull as dishwater. We have reached a point where it’s not how much power your machine packs, it’s what you do with it.
The question is, what does this mean for the industry? Because it’s clear that Sony/Nintendo/Microsoft have a marketing strategy that involves avoiding market saturation for their product by putting out a “new, improved” version every six or seven years and coercing the software companies into supporting only the latest toys. But if the buying public doesn’t make the jump, what does that do to the company that just spent hundreds of millions of dollars on R&D? Can software companies afford to gamble that there’s no need to design games for the next-gen platforms? Or is the system simply “too big to fail”? Will the buying public just continue to buy next-gen consoles simply because the assumption that they must be better has become too ingrained? Something tells me there has to be a reckoning at some point for the continuing push for an ever-better system at all costs, but I can’t predict when it would be.
If you think you can, feel free to share it here! I’ll buy stock based on your recommendations, but hey, no pressure.
For those of you that have never played, it is one of the most chaotically fun board games ever, pound-for-pound. You steer a robot through an obstacle course (one that involves, over the course of the various expansions, lasers, flamethrowers, radioactive waste, crushers and bottomless pits, among other things) using your hand of cards to program the robots. On a given turn, for example, you might tell your robot to move three forward, turn right, move two forward, turn left, and back up one. The trick is that everyone lays down their cards, and then flips them over at the same time. So your robot might, on that example, move forwards, get rammed two squares back while turning right, move two forward onto a conveyor belt that moves it sideways two more, turn left and go two squares further down the conveyor belt, then back up into the path of a flamethrower. (Timing rules resolve which cards happen first in the event of a question.)
This is pretty universally regarded as a great game. If anyone has a complaint (and of course, some people do, because I don’t think there’s ever been a game that every single human being has liked) it’s that the game is a little book-keeping heavy. You have to remember the sequence of events on each phase of each turn (When do lasers fire? When do crushers crush? When do conveyor belts move?) as well as the timing rules, and the slightly complex-but-brilliantly-insane rules for damage. See, as your robot gets damaged, it has less “memory” to process your commands, resulting in a smaller hand size. If your hand size gets smaller than the number of cards you need to lay down each turn, you have to leave some of your cards in place from turn to turn. Thus, a heavily damaged robot from the previous example would end each turn with “turn left” and “back up”, and you’d have to decide what order to place your only three cards in before the robot ended the turn by swiveling and reversing.
The other complaint, which is minor, is that there’s a limited number of boards and a large space requirement. You need a big table to play Robo-Rally, and even with the total number of expansions, there are only 26 courses. Admittedly, that combines to make…oh, crud, I can’t remember whether this is combinations or permutations, but either way it works out to an insanely huge number…but the point is, it’s a game that begs for a custom board editor.
Oh, and as one tiny final issue, as cool as the whole thing sounds in your head, it really does mostly involve pushing little miniatures around a board in practice.
All of these issues could be resolved with a good Robo-Rally computer game. (Yes, I’m aware that Game Table Online has a computer version of Robo-Rally. I have never, on any computer I’ve ever owned, been able to get it to work. Nothing against the undoubtedly hardworking programmers who made it, but “able to work” is, in my mind, a primary component of a “good” computer game.) With a computer handling all the timing issues, turns would move smoothly and easily (and very quickly, too. A game would go from several hours to about thirty minutes.) A board editor for Robo-Rally the computer game would be child’s play. And if you wanted, the computer game could store the turn-by-turn info and transform it at the end into a CGI cut-scene video of your robot’s odyssey through the factory floor.
Seriously, with the exception of that last part, this could be done as a Facebook game, a smartphone app, a Flash game, pretty much anything. It is a greatly popular board game already, and would be even easier and more intuitive as a computer game. And it’s just crazy fun, too. Can’t we, I dunno, get a Kickstarter going to buy the rights from whoever’s got them, and make this happen or something? Because in my head, this is awesome.
A few weeks ago, I suggested the idea of a Geek Guide to Everything, a sort of A-Z of geek interests that a young and inexperienced fan of cult fiction could use to pick up information on the things they were likely to hear about from folks with similar interests. The idea was not fondly received, judging by the comments. Most people seemed to feel that it was a bit didactic; telling a new fan what they “should” be into instead of letting them discover things for themselves.
This sort of surprised me, because that’s exactly what I used “episode guide” books for. On subjects where I don’t really see myself as likely to get into a topic (like, for example, anime or the Stargate series) but don’t want to feel completely left out every time there’s a conversation that references the topic, I pick up a guide to it, read that, and at least gain a cursory knowledge of the situation. Sometimes, like with Buffy or Babylon 5, I wind up interested enough that I later get into the topic, but at least this way I’m not completely in the dark. To me, a “Guide to Everything” would just be an expansion of the basic concept.
But again, judging by the response, this isn’t how most people use these guides. So I thought I’d ask what most people do buy an episode guide for. Because they’re certainly popular; there are whole publishers out there who make their living doing pop culture non-fiction media guides. But if people don’t buy guides to things they’re unfamiliar with, what do they read them for? Is it to get another perspective on a show they already like? Is it simply to reminisce about their favorite series? I can understand both of those views; after all, I do think I’m on my tenth or eleventh guide to Doctor Who, and I may even be up into the teens. Then again, even in those cases I’m reading them to learn, because Doctor Who is one of those series that’s difficult and expensive and time-consuming to watch in its entirety and I am learning what happened in stories I haven’t had the chance to watch.
So the question is out to the blog-reading audience: Why do you read episode guides? What do you get out of them? (I don’t know that people who find episode guides pointless will get much out of these comments, really, but if you feel that you have something to contribute besides the basic fact that you find them pointless and you want your voice heard, feel free to chime in too. I promise next week you’ll have the chance to talk about comics or science fiction or zombie apocalypses or something.)