Saturday, December 20, 2008

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Christmas Trees in GTMO

I made the mistake of not pouncing on a tree at the Navy Exchange when they began putting up their Christmas section in, uh, October.  I hadn't thought about just how high in demand they'd be on a tiny island with a single store, so I was fairly dismayed when November turned into December and they still didn't have anything that wasn't several feet tall and pushing two or three hundred dollars.

It was with some luck that I stumbled onto a single four foot tree on Friday.  Sitting alone on the shelf and sporting a rather high forty-dollar price tag, I snapped it up.  I must have gotten lucky, since it appears to have been a display model, so I'm assuming it probably hadn't been on the shelf long.  Thanks to a little cash advance from a friend, I was good to go.

Although "pre-lit" takes away some of the fun (my fun, at least - I may have been the only one in our house who actually enjoyed putting on the lights), it's a perfect little fit for my room.  All that was left was to grab some ornaments...

...which apparently are now in short supply, rather than the trees themselves.  Having gotten paid today, I excitedly headed to the store, only to find they had four packages - yes, a mere four - of the generic bulb ornaments.  It would have been fine if they were multi-coloured, but the only two they had were, as far as I could tell, "Rust Brown" and "Shiny Rust Brown."  I nabbed a single box of "Rust Brown" - excuse me, "Mustang Velvet" - just to have something, with the hopes that they'll throw some more on the shelves in the next eleven days.

Thankfully, the good folks at home had supplied me with a handful of unique ornaments, including a nice, big black English "D," the traditional symbol for Detroit (not for "Dallas" or "Denver" as certain elements would try to assert).  And, of course, the numerous, carefully wrapped gifts rest under the branches, making the tree look all that much more appealing.

Now that I think about it, the tree is looking pretty fantastic.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

My Blood Type is (Nintendo) "DS"

I might as well be taking my Nintendo DS intraveinously.  The short story is they told me I needed to bring all my equipment here (turns out I didn't), and on top of that they neglected to inform me it didn't count against my baggage limit on the planes.  Space being that limited, all I brought was my tiny little DS case and some games, and it's been my gaming lifeblood.

It's library is something of a mixed bag, mostly falling in to three catagories.  The first and largest consists of shovelware, the cheaply made, often awful releases used to make a quick buck.  Like the Wii, with a massive, mainstream audience, companies are quick to shovel on to shelves whatever crap they can get their hands on.  Obviously, I don't bother much with those.

The second is a frustrating group of titles: ports of popular PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii titles, stripped down to work on the DS's significantly less powerful hardware.  They're almost taunting, like getting a slice of turkey and some mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving when there's a full course of turkey, stuffing, cranberries, freshly-baked bread, and a dozen other delights sitting just out of reach.  It's hard to refuse a DS version of Smackdown vs RAW 2009 when it's my only option for some wrestling action, but it's ultimately not a very filling experience knowing there are home console versions that are several times deeper and more robust.

Last, and best, are the titles tailored exclusively to the DS, making use of it's strengths and working around it's weaknesses.  These are games like the medieval action adventures of Castlevania, the humorous and intense court-room drama Phoenix Wright, the warm simplicity of Animal Crossing or Nintendogs, and so forth.  They also unfortunately make up the smallest part of the handheld's library.

With the unique exclusives on the rarer side and quickly gobbled up, the second group is garnering a more prominent position in my little library.  It's something, far, far better than having no games at all, but it's also a terribly far cry from what it could be.  It leaves me a little torn, glad to have something but a little frustrated that the cranberries are just out of reach.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Normal or Hard Mode?

The inevitable challenge facing me with all games is usually the one presented shortly after hitting the Start Button: Normal or Hard.  I sometimes find myself agnozing for obscene amounts of time, sometimes even restarting a couple times till I'm finally content with - or at least resigned to - one of the options.

I can handle "Hard" in most games, but that first hump when I'm still learning the mechanics can be pretty rough.  Higher difficulties in games are typically geared towards players already well versed in the gameplay.  Sometimes I find myself ready to toss a game to the wayside out of frustration because I began on the higher difficulty and quickly hit a wall, one I could probably surmount if I simply had a decent knowledge or grasp of the basics.

There's always the option of starting on "Normal," logging a couple hours of gametime, and then restarting on "Hard."  But it's a rather unappealing prospect to have to redo the levels or missions I already just completed, and even less so considering time is a hot commodity.  That's not just talking long Club GTMO hours, either: that's life in general.

I really should just relax and try to enjoy my games a little more.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Change can be frustrating.

I'm guilty of pushing new technology on my dad, but I really do understand when he says that he's content with 56k internet service despite far superior connections out there, or that he simply likes playing the original Animal Crossing game when there's newer versions with a lot more features.

Case in point: the Armed Forces Network hosts both WWE Raw and Smackdown! at varying times throughout the week. Working day shift and doing hours well into the double digits, I'd love to be able to record wrestling so I could see it on my days off. The Navy Exchange actually had a DVD/VCR combo for pretty cheap, so I thought my problem was taken care of. Then I realized the NEX doesn't stock blank VHS tapes.

It is a little frustrating. They have DVD recorders at the NEX, but I'm perfectly content using VHS tapes. They're simple, I know how to use 'em, and they do exactly what I need them to do. I really don't have any need or desire to change formats, but my hand will be forced if I want to indulge in any decent amount of pro wrestling while I'm in Cuber.

Sure, part of it's a mere financial issue. $300 is a lot to spend on some technology that I'm not familiar with, something I'm not positive that it will be exactly what I want. I do love playing with technology, new and old, and if it was cheaper there wouldn't be any hesitation on my part to snap a DVD recorder up.

But I genuinely do appreciate where my dad's coming from.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Christmas Movie Dilemma

I found myself cringing, yet a little excited, when the Navy Exchange put up a section of Christmas movies in mid-October. The absurdity of Christmas stuff in October aside, it did get me thinking: which one should I pick up for the holidays? Desperately trying not to go overboard, I -figured a one-movie limit would be a good idea.

Obviously, you can't go wrong with A Christmas Carol. Still, with that self-induced one purchase limit, I was debating downloading the text for the original story (it's copyright expired, it's free to download from places like and picking up an unrelated DVD. I figured I could enjoy A Christmas Carol and pick up another holiday flick, sort of the best of both worlds.
I was still on the fence, because while I'll still read it, I do like to watch it. I'm sure the Armed Forces Network will play it, probably multiple times, but with my crazy sixteen hour work days the chances of me being home and awake for it are slim.

Then the NEX made it easy to have my cake and eat it too: discounted from $15 to $5, they had a DVD Special Edition of the Alastair Sim version. I assumed for the price it was a bare-bones, cheap production, but it's actually a two-disc feature-laden release that includes a remastered black and white version and the color version amongst bios, commentary, trailers, and so forth. It even has the 1935 Seymour Hicks version ("Scrooge").

While I'm not sure if it needed to be remastered (there's some charm in grainy, old black and white productions), for the price it took care of my St. Nick movie dilemma - I think I can justify a second Christmasy video since I only spent five tax free dollars. The hard part now is holding off on watching it, because it's sitting on my shelf begging to take a ride in my DVD player.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

I'm still waiting for my Street Fighter movie.

Having seen most of the movie and anime versions of Street Fighter, I'm left with one nagging question: why do video game adaptions often deviate so much from their source material? While I liked most of the Street Fighter movie incarnations as reminiscent to varying degrees of the games I've spent years playing, not a single one of them follows the storylines laid out throughout the series.

Some iterations portray certain aspects but fail on others. The Movie featured themes somewhat related to the actual Street Fighter II game, but the many of the characters were completely unrecognizable from their video game counterparts. Alpha did the opposite, with a fairly accurate portrayal of it's cast but a peculiar storyline unrelated to anything in the Street Fighter universe.

Generations and II V missed the mark almost completely. The main characters (Ken, Ryu, Sakura and Akuma/Gouki in Generations and Ken, Ryu and Chun Li in II V) weren't too far off base, but the plots and most of the other Street Fighter characters were far removed from SF canon. Merely changing some names would've left anime that didn't resemble anything remotely Street Fighter.

There is an American Street Fighter cartoon that, if I recall, takes place after Street Fighter the Movie. Despite that, the characters and the series itself are supposed to be closer to their original forms. I have yet to see it, but all indicators are that it takes several liberties of it's own (and it would have to, if it's based on the Movie's plot).

That leaves Street Fighter II: the Animated Movie. Sometimes mistaken as a sequel to the live-action movie, it's a completely unrelated adaption of the same game as the movie (Street Fighter II). This is the closest they've gotten to successfully putting the game on the big screen, with fairly accurate character depictions and a plot somewhat reminiscent of the game of the same name. It's close in many respects, and certainly more true to it's inspiration than most, but not without taking liberties of it's own.

Street Fighter isn't even the only victim. The Resident Evil movies have little to do with their electronic counterparts. The Mario Brothers movie is some peculiar mix of inspiration from the classic game and an odd, distinctly American Hollywood approach. And just about any game movie Uwe Boll touches becomes something almost unrecognizable (and pretty awful as far as any film goes).

Is it really that hard to translate these storylines into moving pictures? All I want is licensed properties that stay true to it's source material; why would I want one that didn't? I want my Street Fighter to be Street Fighter: is that really too much to ask?

Addendum: A friend just reminded me there's another live action Street Fighter movie dropping soon by the name of "The Legend of Chun Li." Here's hopin' my wish will be granted... but my breath is not being withheld.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skill - Rant/Spoilers

"The Temple of Doom" is thrilled to no longer have to worry about being mentioned alongside the phrase "weakest movie in the series." Despite my excitement of a new Indy movie, I admittedly approached it with a bit of trepidation. The wait for the DVD to hit Cuban shores was painful, but when it was finally in my hands it took a few days to summon the courage to pop it in.

I knew I was about to be treated to more of Lucas' overarching storyline when the first scene from the Crystal Skull took place inside the warehouse from the last scene of Raiders: the vault with all the government's curiosities, like the Lost Ark. Turns out the place is - straight from the barrel of old cliches - Area 51, marking a bit of a disappointment. The mystery of the warehouse's location was part of it's intrigue; now it seems just a little blasé.

During the action that ensures, one of the crates is broken open, partially revealing what is clearly the Ark of the Covenant. It was sort of a cute reference all things considered, but it still harkened to the unnecessary connection to Raiders the warehouse stood for.

Surprisingly, a little further into the movie Indy referred to some of his excursions with Ponco Villa, as shown in the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. Up to this point I had thought the Chronicles had been more or less dismissed from Indiana Jones canon. I honestly don't mind well-placed references, when they flow naturally and aren't just examples of trying too hard to connect everything - it certainly felt less forced than the earlier Raiders references.

Skipping further ahead, it turns out Indy and Marian had an extramarital affair. Call me old-school, but part of the earlier movies charm was it's innocence; it never needed to go there to make it's point. Whereas other action-adventure movies, like the Bond series, slap you in the face with innuendo, the Jones movies were much more subtle. The good guys were good guys and didn't fool around, and while there was some blood and guts from time to time, it was always the bad guys who got it.

And while the whole storyline with "Mutt" wasn't horrible, it just seemed too much like a forced passing of the torch.

As for the actual plotline? The movie is fairly exciting and keeps moving, but it suffers from being focused a little too much on the action. It gets even sillier towards the end, when (Spoilers! You've been warned!) it turns out the crystal skull has alien origins. And yes, we actually see the aliens in the waning minutes of the show. Seriously: aliens. They rejected Indy script after script and settled on one that revolves around aliens?

Don't get me wrong, it's not horrible. It's fun and occasionally intriguing, it just doesn't match it's predecessors. It's certainly worth a watch for fans of the original, it's just always a bummer to end things on a low note (unless they decide they want to push out a fifth!).

Indy IV really just seems like typical Lucas fair: some good ideas, but highly unnecessary. Whereas reviving a series is sometimes necessary to deliver a proper finale and farewell (as in the case of Rocky Balboa), the original Indiana Jones trilogy had done everything that needed to be done, wrapping it all up with a nice little bow. Even with my unyielding adoration for the original movies, IV is unfortunately more Indy just for the sake of more Indy. Indiana Jones already had his Last Crusade, and the Crystal Skull is just a little empty.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Rethinking the Legend of Drunken Master

I originally saw The Legend of Drunken Master (Drunken Master II) in high school, and it may have even been the first time I saw a first run movie in the theatres. I had heard for years how amazing it was, the pinnacle of Chan's career. Naturally, when it finally made it's American debut, it was with rapt anticipation that I forked over the dough for an over priced movie ticket just to see it.

I was a little let down. I had seen so many Chan flicks by that time and heard so much praised being lavished on the film from other JC afficionados that I approached the movie with such a reverence that I think the only result could have been disappointed. I enjoyed it well enough, but in my mind it was just another halfway decent kung fu flick.

Having recently watched it in it's entirety in the first time in years, I'm much more impressed this time around. With a mind freed from all the hype and a little less expectant, I found I thoroughly enjoyed the flick, enough so that it may have climbed drastically up my list of favorite Jackie movie.

The Legend of Drunken Master is something of an homage to early kung fu entries, which I hadn't appreciated the first time around. While newer martial arts entries tend to be over the top special effects fests that almost seem to deviate or even shun what originally made the genre (including "tributes" like Kill Bill), Chan's tribute reveles in it's source material. The plot, the sets, and the music all adds to the feel of a vintage chop socky movie, with Jackie showing just how much you can do within the confines of the genre.

There's some wiring used for the occassional spectacular fall, but the actual fighting is vintage Chan: impressive, real deal physical feats combined with that light-hearted humor that Drunken Master's 1970s ancestors were so fond of. In that regard, this may indeed be Chan at his best, at least in terms of amazing, traditional kung-fu action.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Return of VALIANT Comics

(Or, "I timed that right!")

It's with some irony that I decided to pull out my tiny collection of VALIANT comics somewhere towards the end of '06, mostly due to a wave of nostalgia and genuine curiosity as to their quality. I remembered the comics fondly, having purchased a bunch in three-for-a-dollar packs at a local dollar store, but I also knew my original indulgence was through a young teenage mind. Surprised by the strength of the storytelling and the art, and admittedly that nostalgia, I decided to hit the streets in search. After invading mostly the bargain bins of some local comic shops, my collection grew notably, and I found myself trowling about VALIANT forums.

Of course, VALIANT hadn't had a new comic release since 2000. Rising up to rival DC and Marvel around '93 and '94, a string of bad business decisions combined with sheer bad luck (the comics industry hit hard times in the mid-90s). Acclaim, one of the most notoriously awful video game companies, took over VALIANT around '95 and went on to surgically remove the heart and soul of VALIANT comics, the slightly more scientific basis, the down to earth characters, the strong plots that connected the entire universe, and rebooted their comics line with mostly watered-down variations of their heroes that tried too hard to be hip and funny.

And then, within half a year or so, a new company called VALIANT Entertainment secured the rights and promised new releases. Two hardcovers later, reprinting the first several issues of Harbinger and X-O Manowar, and less than a year and a half after returning to the fandom, a Harbinger movie backed by Paramount is announced, with a third hardcover based on Archer & Armstrong revealing itself shortly after.

Sort of funny how that works out. My little collection lay dormant for probably close to ten years before pounce on it, probably tripling it's size, and shortly afterward the comics line makes it's triumphant return. Purely coincidental (no insider information here!), but it worked out rather well!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Street Fighter IV: Americans Unsurprisingly Love Abel

Americans prefer new SFIV character Abel over the others.

You'd think this was some kind of shock: Street Fighter fans like their Street Fighter cast to look like Street Fighter characters! This sort of thing always boggles my mind. So many Japanese companies decide they need to make their games "American" to sell, when it's the original feel of the game that attracts people in the first place! Street Fighter II wasn't a huge hit because it was Americanized, it was a huge hit because it was a great game, no Americanization necessary.

Time and again we see this happen. Games like Disgaea, a fantastic series of entertaining, deep strategy games, got overlooked for a US release until Atlus decided to "take a chance" on it. The game became so rare that it was selling for more than it's original price when it disappeared from shelves and other American companies swooped in to snap up other, similar titles from the same developer that were previously overlooked as being unmarketable to US audiences. The games we so successful that the developer shortly opened an American branch so they could cash in on distributing their own releases!

That's not the only instance of such a thing happening. With the success of the wacky Guilty Gear, numerous over the top fighting games, again previously overlooked, are garnering North American releases. Schmups - "shoot 'em ups," long regarded as catering only to a tiny niche audience - are starting to reemerge through console releases and online downloads. More and more obscure (to us, at least) Japanese titles are being picked up, ranging from the long-running Fire Pro Wrestling series, the quirky kissing-based Chulips, and numerous role-playing games, from Magna Carta on down.

So why does Capcom feel it necessary to tailor a character to the American audience, and why are they so surprised when gamers pass on the almost patronizing result for a fighter more akin to what you'd see in Street Fighter?