Path of Exile Screenshot

In my previous post, I described the mood of the game as ominous and foreboding, but the screenshot I offered up was of one of the spell animations (that I just happened to screenshot at exactly the right moment). I took a bunch of screenshots after that trying to find one that would be able to capture the “feel” of the game and represent it in one still image. That is absolutely impossible to do. This one comes pretty close though (again, click through for full resolution):

This is a shot taken in one of the many dungeons. There is a tremendous amount of detail in the environment, as you can see. What you can’t see is what this looks like in motion -when the water is rippling, the light is dancing, the music is playing, and the edges seem to transform into an impenetrable darkness. You don’t know what might be just a few steps away, only that this tiny bridge will be your only means of escape. It really does set a mood.

This will probably change after the thousandth time of leveling a character, but for the first time through, with really no information available online about what might be lurking just out of camera view, this game has my pulse racing like no game in a very long time.

Path of Exile Beta test day one

There are some pretty silly rules as part of beta participation, for example:
Quote:

– Please do not reveal unannounced information or comment on how things in the Beta work. For example, you should not post about some skill that hasn’t been announced yet, or some unannounced looting system we are testing out.
– Please do not post balance values from the game or update public websites or wikis with this information. For example, if someone is gathering a list of item names in the Beta, you should not tell them new names. This information will change very frequently and we don’t want to confuse people.

But I wanted to throw up some information over here, so I will try to do so within the confines of the rules.

1) The game looks amazing. I am running it on a machine that I built for WoW WotLK release some time ago with an AMD AthlonII 250 at 3.0ghz, 8gigs of corsair DD3 ram, and a 1 Gig Radeon HD 5570 DDR3 PCIe video card. I am able to run PoE at my monitor’s max resolution (1680×1050) with the (still very few) graphic options set to max. Although I only set the anisotropic filtering to 4x (it goes as high as 16) because I can see no appreciable difference between 4 and 16. Frame rates go from 30 or so in a zone with others to 60 or so when I’m alone. During some spell animations it will spike as high as 200 (according to their meter). The spell animations are beautiful to watch; it’s not just a lightning bolt that comes out of a pointy stick, there is a full animation for each cast type that is clearly rendered in dozens of frames to give it a beautiful, fluid look. These animations can, of course, be sped up with some skills both passive and as affixes on items. Here is a screenshot of one of the spells in action (click through for full resolution):

2) The mood in this game takes me back to the original Diablo. The whole thing is very dark and gritty (and by that I mean the mood and the tone, not the gamma of the visuals), and from the start gives you a feeling that you are an unwanted stranger in Wraeclast, and there are precious few strongholds in which to seek shelter. The sound effects, special effects and lighting all contribute to the mood and the whole package is quite ominous and foreboding.

3) The systems in place in the game are all very intuitive. I don’t want to overstep my bounds and say something that gets me kicked out of the beta, so I’ll just say that what Chris says in the Diablo Podcast #30 about the handling of the flasks (eliminating the need to stockpile potions), the way the skills are handled, and the passive skills are all put together in a way that is very simple and intuitive, yet gives infinite possibilities for different builds. In fact the way the skills work it would be entirely possible to have two characters wearing exactly the same items -both benefiting greatly from the gear- without having even a single skill or passive in common.

4) The only complaint I have about the game so far is the camera angle, a sample of which can be seen in the above screeshot. It just leaves you wishing that you could scroll out to get a bit better perspective of what is going on around you. That is a petty complaint, to be sure, as I was used to the angle after about the first half hour of play, and in taking the time to think it through I think it would really take away from the ominous mood of the game if you were to be able to take stock of too much of the game world all at once. As it is if after you barely survive a battle you take a few steps in any direction you could quickly be overwhelmed -making you think through your actions a bit more carefully than the normal faceroll technique that will suffice as strategy in an ARPG.

5) The Beta discussion forum is buzzing. A lot of the people who are in the beta (myself included) are taking the time to give thoughtful, relevant feedback, and the guys at GGG are in the forums every day looking over our posts, offering advice, explanations, and asking for further feedback on everything from issues of balance, to issues of the handling of maps, quests, etc. It is clear from their daily responses that they are still trying to hone this game (which is already beautiful, and has very few mechanical issues) into something that can take the throne as THE must play ARPG. They are so quick to react, in fact, that a patch that will be released on Friday will already incorporate some of the items suggested since the beta started.

6) I felt an obligation to write something over here now that I have been playing around with it for a day, now I have done that. I got get back in there and play!

How far I have come in Java

I started fucking around with programming Java in probably 2000 or 2001. I had never taken a course, read a book, or otherwise seen or written any code since, well, ever. So I bought a book with the deceptive title Teach Yourself Java in 21 Days. Here it is at least a decade later, and I am still a long damn way from actually knowing the language. Despite that, I have made leaps and bounds in my programming knowledge along the way.

Old Lightz OutHere you see my first ever completed Java Program (click through for real size). I had made a few other applets along the way, but just silly little image cycling and displaying type stuff that took very little knowledge, and I don’t think any of those exist on any of my backup disks. This is the first playable game that I ever made (well, a screenshot of it). It was probably the happiest day of my life when this applet was the “featured applet of the week” on the Java Boutique shortly after I finished it. After that though, I pretty much gave up on the language entirely. Why? Well just look at that applet. It is very blocky and drab; it clearly looks like someone’s first applet. Not to mention that since I didn’t know anything about arrays, I had handled all of the blocks in the grid in a ridiculously complicated axa, axb, axc, … bxa, bxb, bxc …, type manner that made the code overwhelmingly long (over 1400 lines of code) and difficult to understand. Simply put, nothing in that applet taught me how to do anything because, while I did soldier through and make a working game, the way I handled every single thing was just flat wrong.

Shortly after the release of the Android, a friend’s suggestion that we should start programming games for the device (which runs on Java, but with a different enough library that it requires a completely different knowledge set to program), combined with a game idea that came to me for the game Cubits (click through to play Cubits on the GoGamesZone), got me excited enough to give programming another go. Unfortunately Cubits proved to be too difficult to play to become popular (though I still love the concept, and love playing the game). The game was successfully ported to the Android OS, and along the way the friend who ported it over helped me learn a great deal about the Java language. I then decided to go completely the other way with it, and created HyperSpheres” (click through to play HyperSpheres on the GoGamesZone). This game uses most of the methods from Cubits, but simplified the game play so much that it is way too easy to play, and as such it also doesn’t get much play. These games were both conceived entirely in my head, without doing any research into what puzzle games were the most popular, and without doing any of the requisite legwork, the absolute flop of both should have been expected.

Fruit MadnessSo for my next, and most ambitious project, I chose to go with the popular match three item type games to see if I could get a bit broader appeal. What I came up with is Fruit Madness (click through to play Fruit Madness on the GoGamesZone). Fruit Madness is just like all of the jewel matching games that are so popular. I went with fruit instead of jewels for two reasons: 1) so that it would stand out a little bit from the myriad Jewel matching games and 2) because in my head I had this super cool casino type theme that I wanted to implement. So when you clear a group of 3 blocks the fruit drops away, but if you clear 4 blocks one of those blocks will turn into a “Spin” block (the spin is a wild block that can be matched with any group of two blocks. It will then spin, slot-machine-style to the same fruit as the ones adjacent to it). But the real fun starts after that. If you match 5 or more fruits, one of the blocks will turn into a gold “Super Spin” block. This block has the ability to turn all of one type of fruits on the board into “Spin” blocks. The spin blocks can also be matched to each other in groups of three or more, in which case they will all spin until they come out in a matching group. The feel of the game really did come out like a big slot machine. Between the mechanics, the audio (some of which I was able to download, and some of which I created the midi files from scratch to match the theme I was going for), and the images (which started as images gleaned from the internet, that were then modified -heavily- to get them to look uniform to the game), not to mention the big, neon sign on the top of the board, I nailed pretty much exactly what I was going for with this one.

But here’s the problem. Still suffering from a lack of programming knowledge, the code for this game is a whopping 2000 lines. Many of the methods used in the game must be used in a sequential order that makes it impossible for me to go in and make edits to the way situations are handled. An example: the biggest difficulty in the game is how to handle when the spin blocks will spin automatically and when the user must initiate it. I had initially programmed the game so that the blocks would only spend if the user had initiated it (meaning actually moved the spin block during the current turn). What this did (and what I would have known had I done any testing whatsoever) was made it possible for someone to get about 80% of the board filled with spin blocks, after which the game could go on, quite literally, forever. In order to change this, I decided to go exactly the opposite way with the spin blocks: they would all spin if matched at any point during the game. This meant that if you made a clear that caused a spin block to drop into a matching position it would automatically spin. Long story short, the idea is that there will never be a time when there is a valid match on the board since they will automatically clear themselves. The way the code was written though, I had to add a bunch of methods to try to handle this, and it is far from perfect. The only way to remedy this will be to completely scrap the code and start over, something I am loathe to do with such a large code that functions almost as intended. But it was another lesson learned.

KERPOPThis brings me to Kerpop (click through to play Kerpop on the GoGamesZone). Taking what I had learned from all of the previous experience, Kerpop is the most mechanically sound game I have created to date. The mechanics are every bit as complex as any of the previous games, but are handled in a mere 1100 lines -that’s almost half the size of Fruit Madness-. In addition to being the most mechanically sound, it also has by far the best combination of graphics and audio of any of my games. The graphics in this case were created completely from scratch, while the audio was gleaned from some slide whistle samples I found at freesound.org. As near as I can tell, the mechanics in this game perform flawlessly; I have played hundreds of games without a mechanical error (some may note that if a group of balloons is in the process of raising and you clear another group it will make that first group restart their ascent. This is true, however since that is how the code is written it is not a mechanical glitch. This led to me rethinking the way I handle the animation timers though, and in a planned sequel to KerPop, every balloon will have it’s own timer to eliminate this).

I took a few steps back from programming over the last six weeks or so. I am still kicking ideas around in my head, still actively working on the sequel to KerPop, and have one other interesting concept that I am working with a friend to try to hammer some potential mechanical problems with before I go to programming it full scale. This short hiatus has given me a chance to clear my head of the code a bit, and is ultimately what led to me writing this today. I actually went and played each of these games today as a fan of puzzle games for the first time -every other time I had played them was as a programmer, and I didn’t take away from those sessions the same experience that a player would- and I was just blown away by just how far I had come as a programmer. They may still have a couple of little bugs here and there, but for someone who has never had any training in Java, audio engineering, or graphic arts, I am damn impressed with the results that I have thus far achieved. Now if only I could get more people to agree and play the damn games…

New Lightz Out To finish this post more or less where I started, I recently got another request for the source code for Lightz Out (click through to play Lightz Out on the GoGamesZone), and was so embarrassed by the code that I decided to rewrite it (I still get requests for the code once every couple of months. Usually from kids in college or trade schools taking courses in Java that want to see how to make a simple game work… the old code was not going to help them). I set about to re-writing the game without using any of the old code. In fact the only thing that made it into the new game was the audio (for nostalgia really, since this game is a direct rip off of Tiger Toys handheld game and I sampled the audio directly from that device.). Every method in the code was changed: the overly complicated board layout was changed to a simple boolean array; the hints were put into a separate method that makes their use more reliable; the graphics were updated to bring it into this century. The only reason I used the old code as a reference at all was to know the layouts of the fifty boards (again stolen from the handheld device), the exact hints that were given on the boards (also stolen from the game), and to know what the minimum and maximum moves were (also taken from the handheld game). Did all this modernizing increase the size of the code? Nope, exactly the opposite; the old code was 1434 lines, the new code is 399. Additionally the new code is handled quite well (I think) and is heavily commented so that when I do surrender the source code it will be helpful to those who are reading it.

Along the way I have learned how to handle arrays fairly well. I have learned how to use some simple graphic tricks to make mouse-over buttons that change colors. I have learned how to create fairly decent simple graphics. I have learned how to create a separate, system-based timer for every object on the board to move separately. I have learned how to store the entire game board all the way back to the very first move for the purpose of undoing them. And, probably most importantly, when I look at the finished projects like KerPop and Fruit Madness, I am filled with pride that I was able to handle all the elements, from code to finished graphics and audio, with nothing more than determination and a bit of technical advice from a friend (mostly in handling arrays and reciprocating check methods). And now that I have taken some time away and had the opportunity to see how fun the games are to play, I am getting excited about creating the ones that I have currently shelved. Who knows which one of these could become the next Angry Birds.

Diablo 3 controversy

I have been anxiously awaiting the release of Diablo 3 for a very long time now, and am as excited as ever that there is news coming out fairly frequently, and that the beta is supposed to start sometime in the third quarter of 2011. But the last bit of news, coming from the reporters who played the closed beta, started a bunch of controversies.

The first controversy is about not supporting offline play. They were pretty clear that you can still play by yourself online, but that you can’t play the game if you aren’t online. This upset a couple of hundred people, it seems, but they are all very vocal about it. I wholly support the online only decision though, and here is why: In the days of Diablo, Diablo II, and Diablo II:Lord of Destruction nearly every hack, cheat and dupe method was made possible by somehow getting offline characters into online games. Offering Diablo III as a server-based game instead of a client-based game makes it so that the actual files that run the game will never touch your computer. It is much more difficult to reverse engineer, and that means it will be much easier to control hacking, duping, and cheating. While it will still be possible for some talented programmers to recreate the server, it should be next to impossible to force any of this hacked data into Blizzard’s servers. And it is their game, so if they want to limit it that way, that’s their own choice. But I’m sure that the hacking, cheating, duping thing played a huge role in their decision.

The second controversy is about the removal of skill points. For anyone who played Diablo II, the way it goes is each level you get a skill point. You generally ignore those skill points until you get to level 30, then start dumping them into only your most powerful skills. Ultimately, you have a character that has 80 skill points dumped -20 a piece- into 3 powerful skills, with the other ones going one point a piece into pre-requisites to use the most powerful ones. Not everyone played that way, of course, but anyone who played much beyond level 80 in multiplayer pretty much had to do it that way or else you just couldn’t kill anything or survive. In the new system, you don’t have to dump 20 points into the skills, you just get the skills, then have to choose which ones you want to use. A simplified process that will take a lot of time out of looking up builds, looking up what skills work best in what situation, and lets you play the damn game already. I’m for it, but some hate it. It does take away from some of the personalization of the characters, but I’m all for getting to playing the game and not having to dick around choosing skills and then having to redistribute them all again later once I found out that I horribly fucked them up in the first place. Again, I am for the change.

By far the biggest controversy to come out of the closed beta though is not only an auction house, but also a real money auction house. The auction house was something that was being hotly debated prior to the announcement, but no one had ever really considered that not only would there be an auction house, but also one for real money. I think it is a great thing for the game, for a lot of reasons, listed here in no particular order (except the numbers to separate them -which in no way are by way of importance):

1) Blizzard will be charging a listing fee for items listed and taking a percentage of the sale price of all items that sell through the real money auction house (they did say there will be a couple of listing free items for each account each week, so you don’t have to pay to post your first couple of items). This means that, if successful, Blizzard should be able to generate enough revenue from the auction house that they won’t need to charge any fees to play -ever. This also means that they will have a vested interest in keeping patches coming to release new end-game content, thus adding new and better items to the economy, to keep the revenue coming in. That should mean way more time and attention spent to Diablo III after release than to Diablo II. Which would be great.

2) A real money auction house will stabilize the economy. Without having to go through the black market (illegal websites) to buy items, the prices will eventually stabilize. And with the listing fees and sales fees, it will be in people’s best interest to post only items that are worth real money, and to only post those items at fair (consistent with the current economy) prices. This means that if you choose to pay real money for items, you are going to be far less likely to get screwed. And also having it as a part of the game means that you won’t send money to some korean website and never know if you are going to actually get their item or not. Blizzard will be backing it, the sales will be instant (once the auction ends) and the items are yours.

3) I have thought a lot about this, and the way the economy should work is like this: Only the most valuable items will be selling for real money. Nothing in normal or nightmare will be worth real money, and really only the very best drops in hell will really be worth anything. This means that at least 2/3 of the items in the game will likely only be traded for gold. Because of that any of the dreaded “farmers” that everyone is worried about will be far more likely to sell any item that is not a guaranteed quick sale item for gold, then sell the gold for real money. It doesn’t make sound financial sense to post the items for real money and possibly not sell them for days -if ever- when they can quickly sell them for a little bit of gold, then sell the gold quickly. And the gold will sell quickly, because there will be 2/3 of the items in the game that will only be trading for gold. I would go so far as to theorize that, given the hatred from a lot of people about the idea of a real money auction house -and their staunch position that they will never use it-, it is probably more likely that anyone interested in making real money playing the auction house in Diablo III will be more likely to buy items from the real money auction house and sell it on the gold auction house. Why? Because a lot of people won’t use the real money auction house, be it because they are morally opposed to it, or because they aren’t old enough to have a credit card linked to their account, the gold auction house will have a much higher demand for the high-end items. So it is entirely possible that an item that is selling for (making up numbers) $10 on the real money auction house could be sold for $11 worth of gold on the currency auction house; much higher demand, much lower supply.

I’m sure that there will be people who try to buy all the mediocre legendary items for gold and then sell them for cash. That works great in theory. In practice, however, it is more than buying it for gold and listing it for real money: someone has to actually pay the real money or you just screwed yourself out of $X.XX worth of gold that you payed to buy the item in the first place. And as previously mentioned, since you pay a listing fee to post the items, if the item fails to sell enough times you could actually lose money overall on the transaction.

I could be dead wrong on this point, but I really think I have a good idea of how it is going to shake down, and I needed to vent it.

I apologize for the lack of relevant links, I just wanted to get this posted before the my burrito was done.

Harold and Maude

Next up in the movies that are way too old to be talking about, yet I am doing so anyway because it’s my damn website, category is Harold and Maude.

This is a movie that came out before I was born, so not something that I had ever really heard of prior to meeting my wife. Her mother, Michelle, made references to this movie fairly frequently, or at least frequently enough that I remember it even though said references were made during that decade of my life when I spent more time drunk than sober. Unfortunately Michelle passed away several years ago, so I couldn’t be certain if this movie held a particular meaning for her or if she just thought it was a good movie. At any rate, once I saw it available through Netflix, I figured I may as well watch it to see what it was all about.

As is the case with pretty much every movie that finds its way into type here, I knew nothing about the movie going in. In this one I knew nothing more than what can be gleaned from viewing the cover to the left. …Which is very little… Harold is played by Bud Cort and Maude is played by Ruth Gordon, both of whom have impressive lists of credits after this movie -although a quick scroll through the list shows that aside from a couple of cameo appearances, I have only seen a few of the tv episodes that they were in -which explains why I didn’t recognize either of them by sight. According to IMDB, this movie was actually nominated for a number of awards when it came out, but again, well before my birth.

The first thing that I have to say about the movie is that I found it difficult to watch for the soundtrack alone. The soundtrack is done by Cat Stevens, and includes about a dozen songs (full listing here). There is nothing bad about the songs, and I don’t dislike them in any way; they are just your typical, early-70s, pop music, but in this movie they are just so loud it is almost unbearable. Perhaps this is just a result of watching it without surround sound? I dunno, but I found myself getting all gameboy with my remote to try to adjust the volume down when the songs were playing and up when the dialogue was happening. A petty bitch to be sure, especially so since if you have been to a movie theater in the last decade you know that you pretty much need to wear ear plugs to get the audio to a reasonable volume.

Now to my spoiler-ridden plot breakdown.

Harold is a well-to-do, 20-ish kid, at least his mother would like him to be, but he doesn’t take the well-to-do lifestyle well. His mother (according to Harold) has never really showed any real emotion towards him. Partly to try to get his mother to show some emotion for him, but also, I think, partly just to irritate her, he likes to stage ever more elaborate suicides. The first such suicide caught me completely by surprise and made me wonder what I was getting myself into. But when he got up and walked away it left me with a big smile on my face wondering why I hadn’t done that when I was a kid. Be it a further attempt to irriatate his mother, or a fascination with death, Harold is using an old hearse as his daily driver at the start of the movie, and he also likes to go to funerals for people he doesn’t know (easy to pull off if you are driving a hearse, I expect).

Harold meets Maude (a woman who must be 79, according to later events) at one such funeral. Maude is the exact opposite of Harold’s mother; she is a free spirit, seemingly unfettered by rules. Harold and Maude start up a friendship that we see grow into a love affair. The movie was released in 1971, and I would be curious to see just how well this relationship was received back then. The late 60s was all about free love, but I’m sure there were still a lot of the parents of those free lovers that were none too happy about a movie depicting such a relationship. There were several times when I started to think that perhaps I had read too much into it and they weren’t having a sexual relationship, but then it showed them in bed together, and not even a fast-talking, cologne-drenched used car salesman can talk his way out of that.

I’ll not go into any more detail about the plot, since I actually intend to recommend that you watch this one if you haven’t already (perhaps a first for me), but I simply must share the image to the right. When Harold’s mother gets rid of his hearse and replaces it with a car that is “more suitable for a man of his stature”. Harold takes the Jaguar into the garage and creates what has got to be in the top 10 of coolest movie cars ever.

All in all this was a really good movie. It is theoretically a comedy (perhaps a cross between a dark comedy and a romantic comedy?), but the characters have a lot of depth to them that you simply don’t see in most comedy films that are released today. The acting is quite good, which is why I was surprised to not recognize either of the primary actors or any of their characters from subsequent films. Aside from the overwhelming loud soundtrack, I don’t really have anything negative to say about it.

As I said going in, I watched this one just because my mother-in-law had mentioned it a few times. Having now seen it, I can say that her sense of humor must have been fairly similar to mine. Which further leads me to think that our parents’ generation is really just us +20 years. The only difference is that now I am the one that makes references to the movie (which no one I know has ever heard of), and every time I do I can’t help but think of her.

Soylent Green

With Netflix making so many movies available to download instantly, I have taken to watching a lot of movies that I wouldn’t rent at a video store. Most of these are older movies, or movies that I remember having heard about but not having had a particular desire to watch. In some cases they are classics, in some cases they are movies that were recommended or talked about by friends or family members. I figured since I am taking the time to watch them, I may as well take the time to write down what I think. The first up on that list is one that I have been hearing about my entire life: Soylent Green.

Soylent Green was made in 1973, and stars Charlton Heston and a bunch of other people that are way out of my generation, but that my mother will probably flay me for not mentioning here. I have been hearing references made to this movie my entire life, and as such decided I had better go ahead and watch it. This one was not available on Netflix when I watched it though; I happened to see it in a 3/$10 bargain movie bin, and I dropped 3 large (and 33 1/3 small) to buy it. I knew literally nothing about the movie going in except that it was often used in references to cannibalism. I didn’t know who was in it or what it was about, but I mistakenly thought that Soylent Green was a chemical similar to the Agent Orange that was put to use during the Vietnam War. Which didn’t turn out to be the case.

For being shot in 1973, I was surprised that the video quality held up as well as it did. Aside from the fact that everyone in the film was dressed in late 60s fashion and all the decorations were also clearly contemporary to that era -which doesn’t make sense when you think about it, since it is supposedly happening in 2022- it wasn’t too painful to watch. The acting, on the other hand, was fairly godawful. This isn’t a criticism of this particular movie though, just the way acting was done back then; it seems fairly clear that prior to around 1980 if you wanted to be in the movie business you had to overact. William Shatner takes a lot of flak for his overacting in the Star Trek series, but if you watch any movies from that era overacting was the status quo. Today we take for granted that a good actor should appear to be actually experiencing the plot as it unfolds, while for actors a few decades ago it seems more that they were trying to convey a more if-this-was-really-happening-and-I-were-to-recount-it-later-in-overly-dramatic-fashion-this-is-what-it-would-look-like approach. Heston delivers that approach with brilliance in this one.

The story in Soylent Green is actually fairly topical, even today, and seems more and more so with every passing day. The basic gist is that in the future over-population and all forms of pollution have led to the few remaining citizens living in a police state where real food is such a luxury that many have never actually tasted “real” food and subsist solely on Soylent food wafers -government provided, dog biscuit like patties, of which the most popular (and theoretically tasty) is the green wafer. This applies to the general populace, of course; the tremendously rich have seemingly bought off the government and police, living in luxury while the average Joe lives in poverty. The dead are collected in an a garbage truck and taken outside the city walls for disposal. This all seems pretty plausible.

The plot, as far as I could tell, was about one of these police trying to solve the murder of someone wealthy and therefore powerful. As his investigation unfolds, he uncovers a huge government conspiracy that ultimately leads to the revelation that Soylent Green is made from … wait for it … wait for it … people!

The part I don’t get about the movie is why that matters. In this future police state no other animals exist, there are only (extremely rare) books with photos of them. But there doesn’t appear to be any farming going on either, since things like trees are in the same books and looked on with the same wonder and astonishment. So, hypothetically, if there aren’t any animals and there isn’t any farming, what are we supposed to be eating?

For me, I think that the reason that this movie is held in such high regard by those who were old enough to watch it when it was released had more to do with that era than with the film itself. With the Vietnam war on everyone’s mind, and the threat of communism -perceived by most at the time as a police state similar to that of the movie- the possibility that the government would herd people up like cattle and force them to live like this probably struck a nerve. They probably saw this, at least subconsciously, as something that might happen not as an eventuality due to lack of agriculture or overpopulation, but what might happen if Communism got a foothold in America. With all that so fresh in their minds, and then with the Arab oil embargo forcing the national consciousness to rethink the overuse of finite resources, it gets a bit easier to understand why this film might have a bit more meaning to my parents than I am able to glean from it.

Plus it makes me think twice before using the term “overacting” to describe any actor’s performance in a modern film.

Destiny’s Bastard Son

Founding members of the metal band Destiny’s Bastard Son(DBS) have agreed in a principle to a one-time reunion/farewell concert in July 2014. Shadowtwin.com was able to secure an exclusive interviews with both Donnie Burgess and Ryan Goldhammer about the upcoming concert, a small portion of which you can see here:

ST.com: “So, Ryan, what brings about the sudden talk of a reunion/farewell concert?”

Ryan: You’ll never get me lucky charms!!! [Ryan runs to the next room and hides behind the sofa]

ST.com: “Donnie, there is speculation that this concert may be more about the money than the music. What do you say to that?”
Donnie:
“Well no shit. We haven’t put out a record, hell even a single song since, well, ever really. We just looked at this as a quick way to score a huge sack of cash.”

ST.com: “Regarding the lack of any studio albums… Some critics have argued that DBS doesn’t qualify as a “band” since they have never released any music. Would one of you card to respond?”
Ryan:
“I’ll respond to that.” [he pauses for 20-30 seconds] “They’re magically delicious!” [he again retreats to the other room and hides behind the sofa]
Donnie:“If I may… DBS has never been about the music, we have always been about a clever name creating false recognition -really just straight ripping off another group. When we came up with the name back in ’98 or ’99 we knew that we would never have to write a song to sell out stadiums, and to date we haven’t.”

ST.com:”Haven’t written a song or haven’t sold out a stadium?”
Donnie:“We’re here to talk about the future, not the past.”

ST.com:”Donnie, much has been made of your highly publicized battle with mediocrity. The critics say that there’s no way a second-rate guitarist can propel this band to stardom. How do you respond to that?”
Donnie:“Perhaps one second-rate guitarist can’t, but we have two [Burgess motions to the sofa in the other room; Ryan quickly ducks behind it]! And if two isn’t enough we will add another one… and another… We will just keep adding second-rate musicians until the group is so big people have to take notice, it worked for Earth, Wind & Fire.”

ST.com:”Your answers are so crass, it seems you’re not too concerned with offending or alienating people…”
Donnie:“Look, we’re not here to talk about music, we’re here to talk about reuniting long enough to grab that huge sack of cash and run. If you ask questions on that subject I could certainly give you a more polished answer.”

ST.com:”Fair enough. What do you plan to do with the huge sack of cash?”
Ryan:“I’m going to use my share to buy a small island of the coast of Tanzania… I’ll build a huge castle with a mote, pitfalls, secret passages, booby traps… Then me lucky charms will finally be safe!”
Donnie:Lottery tickets. Quickest investment on the planet. I’m going to put all my money into the powerball.


Stay tuned to Shadowtwin.com for this interview in its entirety and updates on the proposed July 2014 DBS reunion/farewell concert.

Torchlight

I was absolutely addicted to The Diablo Series until probably 2005 or so. This may not have been the first fantasy video game, nor was it the first multiplayer game, but it was certainly the first game to successfully combine very dark subject matter with a very urgent plot and what I believe to this day was probably some of the best mood-setting music ever put to use in a video game. The randomization of the maps, combined with a max character level of 99, a bunch of different classes, and infinite item stats made the game playable for well .. I got about 7 good years out of the series.

It wasn’t even a lack of replayability that killed Diablo II either, what it came down to was screen resolution. The first game had a max resolution of 640×480, the second one -only several years after release and the release of the expansion- finally maxed out at 800×600. That was pretty good for the year 2000, but by 2005 very few monitors were running resolution that small, and certainly no gamers were using them. That, at least in my mind, is what killed the game. It pushed me off to try Guild Wars at any rate, and it seems the majority of the Diablo II community also sought different games to fill the void.

Then, as all Diablo II players know, while we were eagerly awaiting the release of Diablo III, there was a highly publicized resignation party at Blizzard North that basically amounted to everyone who had ever worked on the Diablo franchise was gone. Some of them went on to form Flagship Studios, which I was counting on to carry the torch of the Diablo franchise, but the group fucked up in a big way in my opinion. How did they fuck up? Hellgate:London.

I want to be clear that I don’t think the game Hellgate:London was a fuckup, instead I think everything surrounding the games publicity and release absolutely doomed it to fail. I had been following the group at Flagship since they left Blizzard and I was eager to see what new titles they were going to put out. They were talented without a doubt, and I am sure that the entire Diablo community would have been eager to see what they released. The problem with Hellgate was that no one, not even the fansite community, was quite sure what to make of it. It looked like a futuristic, sci-fi, first person shooter, but was trying to incorporate the fantasy elements from a dungeons and dragons type world. Rather than bringing together fans of the FPS and fantasy it seemed to alienate them both. That is how I perceive it at any rate. But that wasn’t even the real problem. The real problem was that they rushed the game to release by Halloween 2007 despite the fact that the interface was clunky as hell and there were tons of bugs. And with, as near as I can tell, zero advertising. Why they rushed it to release at that point probably comes down to money; not having a product for a few years can scare off your investors, but unfortunately pushing out a shoddy product will scare off your clients.

Flagship had also been working on a game called Mythos at the time which never made it to release before the company folded. This is why I think Hellgate:London was such a bad idea. These guys were legends for the characters, bestiary and lore of the Diablo series, but rather than embrace that and play into it by trying to release a game that was similar to it, they tried to play away from it. Perhaps they just wanted to show that they weren’t a one-trick pony, but, as I’m sure they discovered, fantasy nerds are fiercely loyal to the genre.

I continued to check back on the Mythos website over the next couple of years as I toiled away playing World of Warcraft, always hoping to see it nearing release. Instead the site just started throwing a not found error a couple years back and I more or less gave up on it. Gave up until yesterday when I happened to type Mythos in my address bar and was taken to a site where a Mythos game is going to be release by Red Bana -a name I remember for infecting some of my old pc’s with malware. This, I was sure, wasn’t the work of the Flagship crew, so I started looking around to see what became of them. I finally found them at Runic Games, having just released a game called Torchlight, which I immediately downloaded.

This is the game they should have released in 2007. The game is much like the first Diablo, being set in a single town with a dungeon beneath that you must quest and fight to the bottom of. The gameplay is quite similar to Diablo, and the skill and attribute point system is also quite similar. There are three playable classes to the game currently, which as I’m sure you could guess are a strong man archetype, a nimble, ranged attack archetype, and a pure casting archetype. There are four different difficulty levels -though only three are really playable since the easiest could probably be completed by a developmentally challenged two year old. There is even a Hardcore setting (death is forever) although since the game is strictly played offline it hardly matters since you could just restore a saved game from before he died and he would live on. At any rate, this game has kept my attention for the past couple of days, and with a sticker price of only $19.95 and a download size of only 411mb (10 minutes on high speed) I suggest that you Go buy it if you haven’t done so already. There is also a two hour free trial if you aren’t sold by the following screenshots (click through to see them in much higher resolution):





Beauty?

I was surfing the internet one night several months back and I happened to see a picture of Kate Moss on one of the news sites. I didn’t think to grab the picture at the time, and there is no way I would be able to remember specifically which photo it was that got me to thinking about it, but the one at the right will do for my purposes. My question is: Who the hell finds this sexy? The little thumbnail there doesn’t do much justice to the picture though; I encourage you to click to look at it full size. That skinny, gnarly body with the sunken face and empty eyes looks like it would be more at home in one of those Save the Children commercials. I’m just not sure at what point someone decided that the emaciated look was sexy. In fact I have yet to meet a single person that actually thinks it is, so why the hell is this what they are putting on magazine covers nowadays?

I don’t mean to pick out Kate Moss specifically here, as this seems to be the way the entire industry has shifted. Although when I use the word “industry”, I’m not sure what exactly that is referring to. The magazine editors could choose to hire models that didn’t look like they were about two days postmortem if they chose to, and I don’t see that any make-up manufacturers are going to get better results from using painted corpses to showcase their products than using attractive women. So what gives? Who is paying to put these malnourished women on billboards and magazine covers, thus shifting our perception of beauty to include women that appear so unhealthy .. Indeed, to even exclude women who do seem healthy. Does our perception of beauty, as a people, now exclude anyone with even the hint of a figure?

Just for fun I dug around and found a picture of Bettie Page for comparison. I warn you that if you click to see this one at full size it is certainly not safe for work. Bettie Page was popular at the same time as Marilyn Monroe, however she was more of an every woman than Marilyn. Bettie was in many of the beach movies throughout the 60s, and lent her image to countless posters that were surely on young mens’ bedroom walls throughout the 60s and 70s. Bettie was a much thicker girl than the women who would play her role in the movies nowadays. While the picture I have chosen does make her look like she certainly has her share of ribcage, I chose this one specifically because of the other thing it shows off that no model would dare to let anyone see nowadays: Hips. This girl has a genuine hourglass form, in fact if her arms were down in this photo I think she would have nailed the shape exactly. I am going to go out on a limb here and say that I am probably not the only person on the planet that thinks that the second picture here is far sexier than the first. Doesn’t sexy imply beautiful? In my mind it is possible to be beautiful without being sexy, but it is not possible to be sexy without being beautiful.

And now just to prove that I am being objective about the subject (so much as I can be), and not letting the fact that I can see Bettie Page’s NO-NO’s sway my judgment. I offer up these two photos of Jenna Fischer from The Office. I should note that, for reasons unknown, I think Jenna Fischer is without a doubt the most beautiful woman on television. I wanted to point out, however, that I think that she looks far more beautiful in the picture on the left than she does in the one on the right. Why? I gots no idea. Is it the curly hair? The wedding ring? The fact that she looks so intelligent and matronly in the photo on the left? There certainly isn’t anything wrong with the picture on the right, mind you, I just think that the one on the left is far more beautiful.. Despite the additional layers of clothing. Damn Jenna Fischer is hot!

I have included this picture of Kate Moss just to be fair to the girl. She really is quite pretty in her own right, and she really takes a lot of heat for the entire emaciated supermodel community. She looks pretty good in this picture, but a lot of that has to do with the fact that she is hiding the worst of her bony frame. I still don’t see what could be so appealing about a woman with no shape whatsoever though. When I look at this picture for anything more than a quick glance, her lack of anything resembling a feminine shape is a bit disturbing. Without hips and a waist she kind of just looks like a long-haired little boy. Come to think of it, she kind of looks like one of the chick’s from that band Hanson. Oh damn, those were little boys weren’t they?

Whoa. I just figured this out. Now that the priests are getting in trouble for molesting altar boys they are turning to women, but the women must look as much like little boys as possible. That must be it, because as Sherlock Holmes said, “…when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth…”

This conspiracy runs deep…

It’s Bubba Ho-Tep!

Since signing up for Netflix I have been watching a lot more movies than ever before in my life. I probably watch 10 movies a week now, where previously I would watch maybe 2-3 a month. As a result of this, and also having the ability to stream the movies instantly as opposed to having to wait for the mail to both deliver and return them, I have been watching pretty much anything with a flashy cover or catchy title; Mom always told me to always judge movies by the cover…

I have watched some pretty bad movies lately as a direct result.

To be fair I have also found a couple that were pretty good. Interstate 60 for instance was a great movie that I had never heard of and would never have seen were it not for the fact that Netflix recommended it to me. Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon was another title that they recommended that I thought was excellent. Occasionally they are bound to hit a bit wide of the mark. Such was the case with Bubba Ho-Tep.

Bubba Ho-Tep was another of the Netflix recommendations. As is generally the case with the recommendations, I don’t like to read anything about the movies they recommend before I watch them. Being totally unaware of where the plot is going keeps me from trying to guess the ending (which I’m sure my wife will tell you is an annoyance that I have trouble shaking). So I went into this movie knowing nothing except what you see in the picture to the right there: It somehow involved Elvis.

I know from spending hours watching the history channel that “Ho-Tep” came at the end of the names of some of the Egyptian Pharaohs. While I wasn’t entirely sure whether that was a name or a title (still don’t know really) I was relatively sure that it was being used in the latter context in the film. When the movie opened up on what appeared to be Elvis in his 60’s in a retirement home, I was a little thrown. I had been expecting this to be some sort of a bio-pic about the life of Elvis or something. Boy was I ever wrong. The reality was far worse.

I’m going to spoil the plot now.

Evidently, according to the film, the real Elvis had traded places with an Elvis impersonator sometime prior to the famous death of the king in 1977. The real Elvis was still living as an Elvis impersonator, but had accidentally burnt up the only proof he had of that on a barbeque grill at his trailer park (seriously). So the real Elvis was now wasting away in a backwater retirement home. Everything in the movie was very anachronistic though, this was supposedly at least a couple decades after Elvis’ death -clearly set in the 1980s or more current- but the lights, beds, radiators, doorknobs, bedpans, and, well just about everything electrical inside the retirement home looked more like what you would expect to see in the 1940s than the 1980s. That’s really beside the point though.

While he is in the retirement home, Elvis happens to meet John F. Kennedy. Kennedy is now a black man. Evidently after the shots rang out from the school book depository that day in Dallas, Kennedy’s brain managed to survive the ordeal (although anyone who has ever seen the Zapruder film could clearly see that a great deal of his brain matter got splattered all over the back of the convertible. In fact Jackie O was said to be trying to scrape it up off of the trunk in the later frames) but for security reasons the secret service had put his brain into a black man… ‘Cause no one would think to look there. No shit, This is really in the movie.

Now that we have both Elvis and JFK on the lam in a retirement home somewhere in Jerkwater, what do they do with the film? Do they tell the stories that led up to them eventually being put into the home? Do they try to quell rumors about the alleged conspiracies that surround both of their untimely deaths? Nope. They fight a Mummy.

Yes, that’s right. A mummy. An Egyptian mummy that at one point actually uses a toilet inside the retirement home and scratches graffiti -in hieroglyph of course- on the walls. The mummy was evidently being transported by bus between a couple of towns when it somehow got lost (in a bus accident I think it was). But for some reason that they never even bothered to try to explain, this mummy was not wrapped up in the typical strips of cloth you have come to expect from mummies, he was dressed up as a cowboy! Because when I think Egyptian mummy, I immediately think of ceremonial silver and gold belt buckles that say “Bubba”, don’t you? As I say, they didn’t even try to explain this part. But they do say that he eats people’s souls…

What becomes of these legendary figures in American history as they battle it out with the boot-scootin’ bad-ass from Beni Suef? Well you’ll just have to watch the movie to find that out, won’t you…

But the odds of you actually watching it are bad enough that I should just go ahead and tell you that JFK dies in the fight, but Elvis manages to kill defeat the mummy. And I just saved you the 90 minutes of your life that you would have wanted back if you had watched it. You’re welcome.