Avengers: Infinity War Speculation

By Shamus
on Dec 3, 2017
Filed under:
Movies

So the Infinity War Trailer dropped this week. It’s pretty good. I really like the angle they’re taking with Thanos, our villain. He’s not just some boring sadistic space monster. He’s a big dude with big goals, but he seems to enjoy the prospect of mopping the floor with the heroes. His design is interesting as well. He doesn’t look cruel or insane. If anything his design makes him look thoughtful.

It’s interesting the movie is called “Infinity War”. Originally it was titled “Infinity War Part 1”. We know this movie and the next were shot together and form a single story. Maybe the sequel will be called Avengers: Infinity Plus One War.

It’s been a long road to get here. The Marvel Cinematic Universe turns 10 next year, and a lot of the old guard are preparing to leave. I’ve been wondering about this since the whole MCU plan was announced. It’s a remarkable opportunity: The chance to introduce a superhero, grow them for a decade as they experience multiple character arcs, and then kill them off for good. TV shows can’tIt’s not IMPOSSIBLE, but what are the odds of making it this long without getting canceled, the public losing interest, the key creative people moving on, or the meta-plot dissolving into nonsense as it passes through multiple writing teams? do these kinds of long-running stories, and in comics you can’t count on anyone staying dead. In a lot of ways, this is exactly what I’ve always wanted from superhero stories. Stories that are long but not unlimited, with characters that die when the writers run out of interesting things to do with them. It’s a shame these things are so expensive to make, because I’d love to see a lot more heroes explored in this format.

The Marvel movies are to the box office what John Cena is to wrestling. It’s almost boring to see them win all the time. Sometimes I wish they would fumble one of these things just so we can see how they’d handle it.

But that’s silly. We’re getting two or three incredible movies a year and that’s more than enough entertainment for me. Rather than wishing Marvel would fail, it’s probably more sensible to wish DC would pull it together and start giving us a rival series of similar stature.

Anyway, we’re about five months from the first Infinity War movie, and so I’d like to engage in a little speculation as to what they’re going to do, who’s going to die, and how things might play out.

I have no insider knowledge so nothing we discuss here can be considered “spoilers”, but I will be spoiling some earlier Marvel films and comics and such. For the record, I’m all caught up on the Marvel movies except for Thor: Ragnarok, which I plan to see in February when it comes out on video. 26 years ago I read the Infinity Gauntlet comics, which is what this movie is loosely based on. So if you’ve fallen behind on your Marvel-watching and you’re shy about spoilers, then maybe give this post a pass.

Still here? Great. Let’s do this…

Continue reading »


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Borderlands Part 18: Origin Story

By Shamus
on Nov 30, 2017
Filed under:
Borderlands

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel takes place in the space between Borderlands 1 and Borderlands 2. Instead of being developed by Gearbox, Publisher 2k Games handed the project to 2k Australia.

Borderlands has something interesting in common with the Arkham series:

  1. The first game was a surprise hit with a fresh look and fresh gameplay, although it was a little rough around the edges. The final boss fight was almost comically disappointing.
  2. The follow-up was bigger, more ambitious, and more polished.
  3. The next entry was an awkward one-off prequel made by a new team so the publisher could continue to capitalize on the series while the original team tried to make the fourth game even BIGGER. This one felt a little off from the others.

The final Arkham game turned out to be pretty bloated and unfocused. There’s no telling how the next Borderlands game will turn out, but I’m hoping the long development cycle of Borderlands 3 doesn’t mean the team has bitten off more than they can chew and we’re headed for another Arkham Knight.

I suppose I tipped my hand already with bullet point #3, but I really do think the Pre-Sequel is a bit of an awkward misfire. It’s got some great ideas and makes some genuine improvements on the formula, but it’s also missing a bit of the magic that made Borderlands 2 so much fun to play. I feel bad about saying this, since the Pre-Sequel is the last game the studio made before they shut their doors.

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Doing Batman Right 5: The Penguin and Two-Face

By Bob Case
on Nov 29, 2017
Filed under:
Batman

I should’ve mentioned last post that I was planning on taking Thanksgiving off. But now I’m back with The Penguin and Two-Face.

As I explained in the first of these posts, one of Batman’s strengths as a property is versatility – the ability to go from goofy to serious and everything in between and back while still remaining Batman. This same quality applies to some of the Rogue’s Gallery as well, and the flexibility inherent in the property allows for individual performances to drive the change.

The Penguin: A Tale of Two Actors

The Penguin first showed in Detective Comics #58 and subsequent issues of the same, dressed like the monopoly guy, wielding trick umbrellas, and occasionally riding around on an ostrich. He seemed destined for the second-string villainhood he so richly deserved, and, for a while at least, he fulfilled that destiny.

Then came the Adam West show, and with it Burgess Meredith. Did you know the old Penguin was played by the same guy who played Mickey in the Rocky movies? I went almost my whole life without realizing that, and have since lowered my opinion of myself accordingly. Meredith played the Penguin using the method shared by Cesar Romero, Eartha Kitt, and other notable villains: he turned the ham up to eleven.

Don’t take that as criticism. (It’s my belief that all of the best acting is overacting anyway.) The show’s writers liked his Penguin so much they always kept a Penguin script on ice in case he became available. He was used often enough that he graduated from the second string to the first, and has been considered a “main” (for lack of a better word) Batman villain ever since.

So for a while we all thought we had a pretty good handle on what The Penguin was. Then came Danny DeVito.

It`s always sunny in Gotham.

It`s always sunny in Gotham.

While up until this point The Penguin was a relatively normal dude who happened to dress like a gilded age railroad baron, the DeVito/Burton incarnation of the character was a grotesque flippered mutant who lived in a sewer and gorged himself on raw fish. He also had a prominent hooked nose, twice interrupted a Christmas tree lighting ceremony, and eventually planned to kill every firstborn in Gotham. As near as I can tell from reading the accounts of the filmmakers, this unlikely confluence of anti-semitic tropes appears to have been a genuine accident. I didn’t notice them when I first saw the movie, but on later rewatches I could see someone finding it at the very least uncomfortable.

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The Untold History of EA’s Long (and Rich) Pay-2-Win Love Affair

By Shamus
on Nov 28, 2017
Filed under:
Column

On Twitter someone linked me to this video, which tells the history of EA’s pay-to-win shenanigans. It’s a really good video. I know a lot of you don’t come here for video content and tend to skip this sort of thing, but if you get the chance I highly recommend it.


Link (YouTube)

I intended to make a column about this story, but I didn’t have quite enough time to make that happen.

This video really makes me wish I’d spent more time reading EA earnings reports. They’re publicly available, and if you’re willing to sift through the filler and jargon you can learn a lot from them. I read a little a few years ago back when Peter Moore was still running the show. They’re not a lot of fun to read, but given the amount of time I spend slagging the EA leadership I should probably pay more attention to the financial end of the operation.

Sorry to leave you with nothing but a YouTube embed for the column this week. Two of my three kids are moving out today (we’ll be driving them to the bus station when this post goes live) and I spent some of my column-writing time playing Death Road to Canada with the oldest before she leaves.

Consider this an open thread for discussing the video. EA, pay-to-win, loot boxes, the gambling controversy, the quality of their games, etc. Also, if you’re a fan of the FIFA games I’d love to hear what you think of the loot box implementation used there.

I plan to add my thoughts to this next week.


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TV I’m Watching: The Punisher

By Shamus
on Nov 26, 2017
Filed under:
Television

The Netflix Punisher series came out recently. I guess I liked it. I can’t think of anything major that I disliked, anyway. It’s not a bad show, but it’s bad at being a comic book show.

For those of you who never really got into this particular antihero: The Punisher is a guy named Frank Castle. He’s basically a distillation of all the revenge fantasy tropes. His family was murdered by the mob, and so he returns to his roots as a special ops badass soldier to hunt down the guilty and kill them all. He’s a bit like a murderous version of Batman. He’s stoic, he wears all black, he’s driven by guilt and rage, and in the comics he does a lot of inner monologue stuff to walk you through his plans. By hunting down despicable predators and bringing them to justice, both characters feed into the same desire for cathartic fantasy justice. The only difference is that Batman puts them in jail where they will miraculously escape, while the Punisher kills them and they’re miraculously replaced by someone just as dangerous.

I haven’t read a lot of Punisher over the years, but the best ones seem to map to your typical 80s cop shows / movies.

  1. Introduce a bad guy and make us hate him.
  2. Have the hero track him down. They face off, but the bad guy escapes or wins so we hate him even more.
  3. At the finale they face off again and the hero brings him to justice.

That three-act structure makes for a really good TV episode or movie. It guarantees the audience will always get both drama and action. But for some reason, this isn’t how Netflix has decided to run their superhero shows.

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This Dumb Industry: No, We Didn’t Beat EA

By Shamus
on Nov 21, 2017
Filed under:
Column

So over the past week the big story has been the massive backlash against EA for the loot box mechanics on Star Wars: Battlefront II. According to some very conservative estimates, it would take 40 hours of continuous play to unlock Darth Vader as a playable character. This is assuming you save every single point of in-game currency and don’t spend any of them on other things. Then you’d need another 40 hours to unlock Luke Skywalker. Even if you’re just going to save up for a simple loot box, it will take three hours of play.

This is a much slower system of progression than we see in other games, while at the same time the things you’re trying to earn are more substantial than the usual things like cosmetics. It rubbed people pretty raw that they might buy a $60 game and have to grind for a solid week (or pay an additional $20) just to unlock their favorite character.

EA tried to explain or justify the policy on Reddit:

"a sense of pride and accomplishment"

"a sense of pride and accomplishment"

This resulted in the most downvoted comment in the history of Reddit. The previous record was a comment with something in the neighborhood of 23k downvotes. This one got over 600k, smashing the old record by an order of magnitude. You can’t dismiss this as a vocal minority on Reddit, either. In the UK, physical sales of Battlefront II are down 60% compared to the previous entry in the series. We can’t prove that worldwide sales are down by the same ammount, although I can’t think of why sales would ONLY be down in the UK. Either way, it’s certainly troubling.

The controversy burned for a few days and was even picked up by major mainstream news outlets. Perhaps in response to this, EA disabled all microtransactions within the game. (For now.) Polygon suggested that this was in response to pressure from Disney, who perhaps don’t appreciate EA tarnishing their brand after the two entered into an exclusive deal a few years ago. While that article sounds plausible, it’s just conjecture. The reversal could also be due to low sales, or concerns that shareholders were getting nervous due to the negative press.

So that’s where the story stands now. EA is in the doghouse, sales are down, microtransaction loot boxes are disabled, and the community doesn’t know if EA is going to give them what they want (something fun) or just wait for the heat to die down and re-enable the system with some minor tweaks.

People are celebrating this as a victory, but I don’t see much to cheer about. EA is still run by a defective corporate culture, which means all of the uninformed people that made this happen will be making decisions down the road. It’s not a victory until there’s a serious shakeup inside the EA leadership, and I don’t think this controversy is big enough to make that happen.

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Rexperienced Points

By Shamus
on Nov 19, 2017
Filed under:
Column

I had a pretty good run over at the Escapist. I was a contributor there from 2008 to 2016. I made comics, wrote a weekly column that ran for 265 installments, and posted a few Let’s Plays which I’ve since reposted here on the blog.

Sadly, The Escapist is sorta-dead. Most of the staff is gone and aside from Zero Punctuation there’s not really much new content. While nobody has said so explicitly, I get the impression that the current owners will keep the site up as long as it brings in enough traffic to pay for its own overhead, and there’s no telling how long that will be. It could be years, or the whole place might just vanish the next time the domain registration comes due.

These days I have two problems:

  1. I don’t always have a good topic for my weekly Tuesday column.
  2. I’ve got some good topics in the archives over there, and now that the site is in zombie mode that content doesn’t get much (any) traffic.

So what I’m planning on doing is cribbing from those old columns for new content. I don’t plan on doing a copy / paste job. Most columns were linked to the news of the day, which makes them kind of stale by now. Also, I don’t want to match the content at The Escapist word-for-word, since Google tends to recognize this as bot behavior and lower your page rank accordingly.

But I do plan on taking those old topics, reusing their best points, and rewriting them to make new content. I’m pointing this out now so you don’t worry I’ve gone senile when I start revisiting old ideas.

I already have a couple of old columns picked out that I plan to refurbish over the next few weeks. If you’ve got any favorites you’d like to see me revisit – or just a request that I cover a specific topic – let me know in the comments below.


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Overhaulout Part 9: Confréries Sans Frontières

By Rutskarn
on Nov 17, 2017
Filed under:
Video Games

Why are the Brotherhood of Steel in this story? Frankly, what good are they?

Here at the halfway marker the player is well stocked with goals, enemies, and resources. James was murdered by the Enclave. Project Purity is both stalled and in enemy hands. Before the end of the game the player will need to find the GECK, escape the Enclave’s clutches when captured, and mount an assault to reclaim the monument and purify the wasteland. None of that requires the Brotherhood unless we say it does. Do we really need to introduce a unique location and dozens of NPCs if all we need to say to the player is, “Go find a GECK, it’s in this part of the map somewhere?” Is the idea of fighting through all the Enclave’s soldiers and singlehandedly reclaiming the monument more unrealistic than, say, fighting one’s way alone out of Raven Rock? Or wiping out small armies of Super Mutants? Or any of the other absurd battles the player’s obliged to win without backup? At best you can argue that you need an armed force like the Brotherhood to hold Project Purity after you’ve taken it…but why would you need them to? I mean, in the original draft, why do you need to occupy the monument once you’ve successfully purified all of the water in the wasteland? Isn’t a desperate lone-wolf attack to fix the device, press the button, and who knows if you’ll make it out alive more exciting anyway? Wouldn’t that give your likely sacrifice a greater sense of heft and dramatic inevitability?

In the game as written, the primary effect of the Brotherhood is to dilute the player’s agency and responsibility. They do nothing to justify this and oblige other tremendous expenses on the part of the artists, writers, scripters, and voice actors. But I can’t cut them out; that’s not the kind of lemonade we’re making here. Instead I will ask myself:

What good could the Brotherhood be? Continue reading »


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Borderlands Part 17: Dee Ell Cee

By Shamus
on Nov 16, 2017
Filed under:
Borderlands

Borderlands 2 had a lot of DLC. All together, the DLC probably doubles the size of the core game. Some of it is crap, some of it is on par with the rest of Borderlands 2, and one DLC in particular is really good. So before we move on to talking about the Pre-Sequel, let’s talk about this stuff.

These things don’t need or merit much in the way of analysis, so let me do some rapid-fire mini-reviews…

Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep

It`s like if DM of the Rings was a videogame.

It`s like if DM of the Rings was a videogame.

This is the best DLC I’ve ever played. For any game.

I admit I’m biased. I’m predisposed to enjoy humor built around RPG meta-humor. The premise here is that Lilith, Brick, and Mordecai gather around the table to play Bunkers & Badasses, an alt-universe D&D game run by Tiny Tina. You’re still playing as your character, still running around shooting things with your acid gun, and still pushing the big red murder button on the Borderlands Skinner Box, but now you’re shooting skeletons and dragons in imaginary castles.

You may be asking how Lilith playing D&D can result in your Axton gaining XP and loot. I’m glad you asked. The answer is shut up you’re ruining this for me.

A lot of the humor comes from the tension between the game world and the real world, similar to the jokes in Dorkness Rising, or even that one webcomic I did. The comedy here is stronger and more consistent than in the core game. There’s the in-game story about the party trying to defeat the sorcerer who cursed the land (Tina’s story is extremely arch) and the meta-story about everyone dealing with the loss of Roland and Bloodwing.

The main story is played entirely for laughs. We’re not expected to care about the gameworld-within-the-gameworld. The whole thing is just riffs of tabletop games, with a few jokes about story-driven RPGs, MMOs, and nerd culture thrown in for good measure.

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Doing Batman Right 4: Rogue’s Gallery – Catwoman and The Riddler

By Bob Case
on Nov 15, 2017
Filed under:
Batman

Over the years I’ve come to believe that you can gauge the quality of an ongoing fictional universe quite accurately by looking at the number of supporting characters it has. If, for example, The Simpsons had mostly been about the actual Simpsons, it wouldn’t have been half the show it was. It needed Chief Wiggum, Mr. Burns, Apu, Milhouse, Skinner, and all the rest to get to that next level.

So it probably won’t surprise you at all to learn that I think Batman’s villains are important, and almost as important to get right as Batman himself. In fact, even the tiniest, most insignificant-seeming error can be utterly catastrophic!

Clockwise from the top, this is Mr. Freeze, Killer Croc, and The Scarecrow.

Clockwise from the top, this is Mr. Freeze, Killer Croc, and The Scarecrow.

Or maybe I’m exaggerating, but still, you should try to get them right.

I Have a Thing for Catwoman

That’s why I’m doing her first. That, and because everyone is probably expecting The Joker to be first, and I’m trying not to be too predictable.

I also ship Batman and Catwoman, because I’m a boring person who likes doing boring, obvious things, and this one is just too boring and obvious to pass up. To me, Catwoman, in her own way, works as well as a foil as The Joker does. That’s because the Batman-Catwoman relationship is based in mutual envy. Secretly, each finds the other’s lifestyle tempting.

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This Dumb Industry: Another PC Golden Age?

By Shamus
on Nov 14, 2017
Filed under:
Column

Back in September a reader emailed me asking about my 2008 article The Golden Age of PC Gaming. That article can kind of be summed up in one image:

Yes, the image quality is terrible. Sorry. I made this image in 2008.

Yes, the image quality is terrible. Sorry. I made this image in 2008.

Games started out in the dark ages with simple gameplay and they were were hard to get runningI have to reboot with a special version of config.sys and autoexec.bat just to have enough memory to get this thing running.. Then we entered this wonderful age where games basically worked and we were getting several legendary titles a yearWe got Half-Life, Grim Fandango, Thief, Baldur’s Gate, Starcraft, Unreal, Starcraft Brood War, Descent Freespace, Fallout 2, and Forsaken. And that was just 1998!. Then we entered the stupid age of DRM, day-one DLC, buggy launches, and PC titles being dumbed down in pursuit of the console audience. You can’t really draw a hard line between these eras and the whole thing is pretty subjective, but in my own reckoning I’d say the golden age ran from 1998 to 2004. You could probably convince me to move the endpoints a couple of years in either direction, but you get the idea.

I didn’t ask permission to use the reader’s name, so I’ll call them KC. The email KC sent was too long to quote in its entirety, but it boiled down to the question of “Could we be in another PC golden age?” Certainly things are better now than they were in 2008. But are they good enough to qualify as a golden age?

To answer this question, let’s look at a few industry markers and see how things are now and compare it to how things were back in the supposed good old days.

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TV I’m Watching: Mindhunter

By Shamus
on Nov 12, 2017
Filed under:
Television

I just discovered this show last week. It’s a Netflix original series very loosely based on a true story of how the FBI formed a special unit focused on using personality profiling to understand and catch serial killers. It’s set in 1977, and is careful about maintaining the look and feel of the time periodIncluding having the actors smoke. I love the attention to detail, but I often worry about actor safety. You don’t want your cast getting hooked on cigarettes just so you can make a TV show.. This is a true story in the sense that this unit really existed and this is why it formed, but all of our main characters are fictional. I assume this was done so that we can have personality flaws and interpersonal conflict among the team without slandering anyone in the name of drama.

The show is produced by David FincherAnd also Charlize Theron., who is most famous for directing the thrillers Seven (1995), The Game (1997), Fight Club (1999), and Gone Girl (2014), Zodiac (2007) and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011). He’s only a producer and not a director here, but it feels like he directed it. It has all the hallmarks of his style. It’s a slow-burn thriller TV series with Hollywood-style cinematography.

I started watching the show because I know parts of it were shot here in my hometown of Butler Pennsylvania. I don’t know that this has ever happened before. I watched closely, but I didn’t see many places that were recognizably Butler. A lot of establishing shots are pretty tight on a single house or parking lot, probably because it’s really hard to construct a long shot that isn’t going to contain a bunch of modern anachronisms.

But there was one particular bit that caught my eye. Halfway through the final episode of the first season, we get this shot:

Continue reading »


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