The home page for author Eric J. Juneau

Favorite Video Games for Each Year of My Life

video game controllers

Well, it worked so well for movies, why not try for video games? I’m young enough.

1981 – Frogger
1982 – Dig Dug
1983 – Jumpman
1984 – Balloon Fight
1985 – Super Mario Bros.
1986 – Rampage
1987 – Leisure Suit Larry (in the Land of the Lounge Lizards)
1988 – Super Mario Bros. 3
1989 – TMNT II: The Arcade Game
1990 – Super Mario World
1991 – The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
1992 – Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins
1993 – Doom
1994 – Donkey Kong Country
1995 – Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island
1996 – Quake
1997 – Blood
1998 – The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time
1999 – Final Fantasy VIII
2000 – Perfect Dark
2001 – Super Smash Bros. Melee
2002 – Kingdom Hearts
2003 – Grand Theft Auto III
2004 – Katamari Damacy
2005 – Resident Evil 4
2006 – The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
2007 – Bioshock
2008 – Left 4 Dead
2009 – Batman: Arkham Asylum
2010 – Bioshock 2
2011 – Portal 2
2012 – Borderlands 2
2013 – Bioshock Infinite
2014 – Mario Kart 8
2015 – Disney Infinity 3.0
2016 – Lego Marvel’s Avengers

The Best Books I Read in 2016

heart book
lindsey stirling only pirate at the party
The Only Pirate at the Party by Lindsey Stirling & Brooke S. Passey

(original review)

It’s funny. It’s light-hearted. It’s not too long. It’s poignant. It’s like Felicia Day’s book. And it’s full of her voice both tragic and comic. Grim at times, cheery at most. This is not the Kim Kardashian, Tina Fey, or even the Mindy Kaling. This isn’t the girl who made it (not yet, at least). This is the girl still hacking at that creativity mountain with a pick-axe.

masters of doom david kushner
Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture by David Kushner

(original review)

A fascinating slice of nostalgia for anyone who played computer games during the rise of the FPS and years of shareware. Find out how it all happened, who the revolutionaries were, and what happened behind the scene to find the rise and fall of a watershed era.

rejected princesses
Rejected Princesses: Tales of History’s Boldest Heroines, Hellions, and Heretics by David Porath

(original review)

Christ, are they all non-fiction this year? Either that means I picked out some crap books or I’m starting to appreciate history. My original review gushed about it for more than four hundred words. I can’t think of what else needs to be said. If you want to read about heroes or women of diverse types, this is your go-to.

A Kombatant Returns to the Arena

mortal kombat 9 box art

All right, I’m going to explode unless I get this out first. What was wrong with High Punch and Low Punch? Why did they get replaced with Front Punch and Back Punch? What was so wrong about the way you had it? You want to be technically accurate or something? In Mortal Kombat, of all things?

So I bought Mortal Kombat (2011) (a.k.a. Mortal Kombat 9, a.k.a. Mortal Kombat: The Komplete Edition, a.k.a the reboot cause our continuity makes as much sense as a plate of spaghetti). And it’s always a crapshoot whether A) the game will work on PC and B) if the game will work with my hoggled controller. As with most things I buy, it was on a severe discount (thanks to it being five years old). Even the newest edition — Mortal Kombat X — has finished releasing all of its DLC.

But I have fond memories of Mortal Kombat days, so I picked it up. I should explain that I played exclusively during the digitization era. I mean it — I even owned “MK Mythologies: Sub-Zero”. It was always blocky photographed sprites dancing around, doing impossible moves, and generally looking unpolished. Once Mortal Kombat 4 came around, I got out of it. Not BECAUSE MK4 was in 3-D, but I was just maturing away. I did own MK4, but I didn’t play it nearly as much as MK2 or MK3. Also, I should mention that I am terrible at the game. Sure, I know the moves, but I always had to play on “Very Easy” and enter the cheat code to give me more continues (and often those wouldn’t be enough). So that’s me — on my SNES, playing an old & busted concept designed to suck quarters away.

That’s right, I played this game. I owned it. I beat it. And I liked it, goddammit.

Now I boot up the new hotness. To my surprise there’s no one new, but everything has been MASSIVELY upgraded. The cubist, badly animated sprites have been replaced with fully three-dimensional entities (though it’s still a two-dimensional game — good for us old fogeys who can’t adjust to new things). These entities move smoothly, have expressions, don’t look like puppet/dolls, and take damage.

Yes, whereas the original MKs had to make players gush out more blood (or oil) than a human body can possibly hold in great splotches, this version shows how you’ve turned into Rocky at the end of all the Rocky movies — combined. Yeah, they show exposed bones and removed organs, but like I said, MK was never about realism. And the x-ray moves are proof positive — you can get stabbed with an ice sword through the chest during a fight, and you can keep going like nothing happened. It’s like a mid-fight fatality.

And here’s my question: why did they change the button combinations for the moves? Scorpion’s spear used to be Back, Back, Low Punch. Now it’s Back, Forward, Front Punch. Sub-Zero’s slide isn’t Block + Low Punch + Low Kick + Back anymore. It’s Back, Forward, Back Punch. Most of the moves are like that — two directions and a button. It’s the combos where things can get tricky. Nonetheless, why punish us veterans? Now I’ve got to learn a whole new list of moves, even though all the characters are old.

One of the new characters, a female ninja, appears to be made of blood.

There are no new arenas either (unless you count DLC), but I don’t mind so much. The upgrades make up for it. It’s like playing MK1, 2, and 3 at the same time. It’s like Mortal Kombat: Special Edition. To wit, the first time I fought Kintaro I was verifiably scared. That four-armed tiger monster was most difficult enemy I’ve ever faced in a video game. I wish I knew how many hours I spent trying to get passed him — if he didn’t punch me across the screen, he was shooting fireballs or grabbing me or jumping up and down on my bones.

So it’s kinda fun being put into cryosleep at MK3 and waking up now, seeing a reboot of some old favorites. And I didn’t have to go through all that Deadly Alliance, Armageddon nonsense that dulled my senses. It’s not too difficult and it’s plenty of fun for both the nostalgic and the newbies.

And yet, they all still have the same silhouette

Let’s Laugh at the Guy Who Doesn’t Know Marvel Comics (Part 8)

marvel logo

Phoenix

When Jean Grey died (one of the times), she was brought back somehow and became Phoenix. I guess Professor X split her mind into a light part and a dark part when they first met. Either she was schizophrenic or had a Jekyll & Hyde thing going. Anyway, now that she’s Phoenix, she can do all the psychic stuff she could before and shoot fireballs. Plus she gets these sweet fire wings.

Polaris

She’s the only other person with magnetic powers, so I think she’s Magneto’s daughter or wife. But I’ve never heard of her, and I wonder what “Polaris” (the north star) has to do with magnetism. Or the color green. The only thing she’s good for in this game is for when you’re sick of seeing Magneto’s chrome dome.

Power Man

It’s not Luke Cage, it’s “Power Man”, you jive turkey. Okay, maybe that’s racist, but that looks how this guy would talk. And you can’t get more generic than “Power Man”. I’ve seen Jessica Jones, I know how cool this guy is. Luke Cage is a perfectly fine name. And since strength is a non-factor in a Lego game (I’m pretty sure I could lift the entire city of Lego Marvel Manhattan if it were made of real Legos), this makes Power Man less useful than Absorbing Man. Who doesn’t absorb anything. Go hang with Lando Calrissian in Lego Star Wars.

Professor Xavier

This is the bald guy in a wheelchair who’s the X-Men’s leader (this wheelchair version floats via telekinesis, which I imagine would get tiring). I don’t know how good of a leader he is. Seems he’s always dying or absent. And then someone like bland Cyclops or evil Emma Frost has to take over. But his psychic powers are off the charts. Especially when he gets into Cerebro, this big machine that can track all mutants all over the world. Good ideals, but poor execution. Personally, I prefer Patrick Stewart. But I wish we could get James McAvoy’s personality into his body, and that would be the ultimate combination.

Psylocke

I think she has psychic powers too, though I’m not sure what. She has some kind of psychic knife/sword that grows out of her hand, like Soul Reaver. But I’m not even sure if she’s a good guy or bad guy. Seems like she comes from the future, though I doubt it. If I were writing X-Men, I’d give her a stronger presence, because she seems very cool but underutiltized.

Punisher

Ah, The Punisher. One of my personal favorites. Forget arc reactors and vibranium shields. Forget “with great power comes great responsibility” or “red on my ledger”. The Punisher’s not interested in justice or mercy. He doesn’t even have superpowers. Just a lot of guns. And whiskey. And he doesn’t subscribe to the idea that heroes don’t kill. He knows there’s bad out there, and he’s not going to bother with rehabilitation or “second chances”. When you’ve seen your family killed in front of you, those kinds of things seem less important.

Pyro

Opposite of Iceman, can throw fireballs. But can’t fly or set himself on fire, which makes him the Chinese pirated version of the Human Torch. But instead of the Fantastic Four, he’s part of the X-Men franchise, under Magneto’s tutelage, I believe (according to the movies at least). His hair is fancy.

Red Hulk

So I guess he’s the opposite of Red Hulk, but I’m not sure who he is really. Wears black pants and has a slightly more faux-hawk hairstyle. When I morphed him back, he became some kind of military man. I think there was a military guy chasing him in the Ang Lee movie. Maybe he becomes the Red Hulk? But how that happened, I have no idea. Since gamma radiation is green, what was he exposed to? Radon? Carbon monoxide? Is that why I have those alarms all over my house. If so, I should turn them off — I wanna turn into a Hulk!

Red Skull

Captain America’s number one bad guy. Also the easiest guy to fight in Marvel: Legendary. I can’t tell if that mask is glued to his face or not. In the movie, it seems to be, but reading his entry in Wikipedia, I couldn’t find the inciting incident where it happened. Guy likes Hitler waaaaay too much, proving even Lego games can’t escape Godwin’s Law. Seems to be one of the bigger bad guys in the Marvel Universe, which makes sense. He’s basically an analog for the squarely-mustached one. As far as I know, there’s no Osama Bin Laden or Saddam Hussein villain, unless that’s The Mandarin.

Rescue

Why haven’t I heard of this character? Pepper Potts in an Iron Man suit? Heart-shaped mask? Shoots pink laser beams? Yes, please. Get this girl a spin-off. If Gwyneth Paltrow won’t star alongside Robert Downey, Jr. how about we offer her own movie. Eh? Eh, Gwyneth? Gwynnie? Gwynerino?

The Books I Read: May – June 2016

bookshelf books
The Second Book of Swords by Fred Saberhagen

So I never read a dungeon crawl before.

Certainly not what I was expecting — not from something written in 1984 (I thought fantasy authors were better than that) — but it’s the best way to describe it. It’s straight out of Dungeons & Dragons. The main characters start by going to a town. They meet some supporting cast who are on their way to a quest. There’s negotiations and debates and arbitrary motivations. One of the characters drops out and is never seen again, like she stopped coming to the meetings. And then they break into this vault guarded by a dragon, and descend one floor at a time to get the priceless treasure, ending with a confrontation with a hell-demon and a god. That’s the whole book. And it’s not really thrilling. Just a paint-by-numbers.

You’d think the second book of a trilogy would focus more on bridging the first book and the second. Nope — here we’re just getting more swords. Adventuring in a hole while exploring nooks and crannies, occasionally losing redshirts. There isn’t any greater sense of what’s at stake. No new character development. No changes to the world. In fact, it seemed the whole purpose was to warp the characters closer to collecting all the swords (although who knows what happens when they do that). If this is supposed to be the “defining moment” for the character, it’s not a very explicit one. Everyone’s still bland, and worse, there is zero female presence. It’s no wonder I stopped reading here years ago.

beast within serena valentino
The Beast Within: A Tale of Beauty’s Prince by Serena Valentino

Some people called this the “Grey” (the book from the abusive male’s POV in “50 Shades of Grey”) of Beauty & the Beast. This is not really true, except for the styling. It’s Gothic, overwritten, and changes the canon. It can’t even get lines from the movie right. And this is not forgivable for its primary audience — people like me who have the movie memorized after seeing it so many times. I may not be able to recite the script from beginning to end, but I know when it’s wrong. And I know when the author’s being lazy. Christ, just watch the movie again.

You don’t find out anything useful or entertaining about the prince or his life from this story. Barely anyone from the castle shows up, missing an opportunity to show why the British Cogsworth is here in France or how the castle conducts business with the town. And the main character doesn’t get a name — he’s always “The Prince”. He doesn’t even act within the theme of the movie — that one should not judge by exterior appearances, to look beyond what you see. He used to be friends with Gaston, was engaged to another woman but broke it off because he got bored, and the enchantress isn’t actually one person but three, like the Weird Sisters. And the primary plot has more to do with the conflict between them than anything to do with Beauty & the Beast.

It doesn’t provide explanations for certain trivia — like that the prince must have been eleven when he was cursed, and his parents were likely deceased. That’s the kind of book I look for in those “untold stories” — filling in the gaps. And I know you can do so, and I know you can do it creatively. I’ve done it myself. Maybe you can get away with this kind of thing for a character with zero to know backstory (e.g. The Wicked Queen), but not someone like the Beast. This is just capitalizing on nostalgia.

And this book is not a standalone. There seems to be some kind of thread to the other “the villain’s story” books from Disney Press, meaning you have to read the series to understand it. This kind of commercialism is the final straw that puts the book in the garbage pile for me.

masters of doom david kushner
Masters of Doom by David Kushner

Loved it, loved it, loved it. Maybe it’s because these are the games I grew up with. This is the story of how John Romero and John Carmack got together and defined a decade of PC gaming. The rise and fall of the first person shooter. And there’s nothing better than reading behind the scenes of something you grew up with and played over and over. Finding out about their methods, their personalities — the conflicts between employees, where the ideas came from, and how the little guy gained success in the world.

This is a nonfiction must read for any nineties kid, computer gamer, or new past historian. Forget all those Steve Jobs biopics — this is the movie they should make. There’s enough plot twists and colorful characters to make it like a zippy version of Spotlight. The narrative crackles with true facts and incentivizes with cliffhangers and drama. You may not like what you see, but it’s impossible not to be drawn in.

a frozen heart elizabeth rudnick
A Frozen Heart by Elizabeth Rudnick

This tells (unnecessarily) the story of Frozen from Anna’s and Hans’s perspectives (minus the singing). No Elsa, except for the scenes she shares with either of those two. Anna’s chapters — except where she’s presented in a fan fiction, overthinking style — are the movie word-for-word. And did we really need to know Hans’s thoughts? Here he’s presented WAY too sympathetically, which I think is dangerous for young girls. Making him a victim of circumstance undermines his actions, which are truly dangerous and a cautionary tale for young women (see TricksterBelle’s Report on Misogynistic Disney Characters).

The most original part is the prologue that spends a little time on his life with his twelve brothers (while Anna would be in the middle of her “Do You Wanna Build a Snowman?” sequence). But it skips over the three years where he’s truly formed — when his father orders him to go to a village and “ensure their loyalty”. That’s the Hannibal Lecter/Ramsay Bolton origin story I was expecting. But nope, it’s still squishy. It even tries to paint him such that he wasn’t going to take over until someone said “Arendelle looks to you”.

You’re better off just watching the movie. Frozen doesn’t translate to a good novelization. It needs the songs, the animation, the quick-wit, and the comedic timing to make it the phenomenon it deserves to be. Some novels can become great movies (like Lord of the Rings and Gone with the Wind). But a movie into a good novel? I’ve never heard of such a thing. The mediums are too different. Olaf’s face melting when he gets close to the fire doesn’t come across the same way. Although Rudnick gets more points than Serena Valentino for not outright contradicting the source material.

If you want to read a Frozen book, you are *way* better off reading the “Sisterhood is the Strongest Magic” middle-grade series.

tithe holly black
Tithe by Holly Black
(unfinished)

This book was not for me. I think it’s target audience is alternative teen girls into fey/bad boy romances. It’s too concerned with imagery and doesn’t explain enough of the backstory. We suddenly jump into a mysterious murder and no one bats an eye. The author keeps the audience in the dark when the POV character knows something and we don’t. It’s drama through obfuscation.

the boy in the black suit jason reynolds
The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds

I was worried this was going to be like Kendra, full of ghetto culture and irredeemable/unsympathetic characters, like a literary YA Boyz N Tha Hood/Menace 2 Society, which, while realistic, gave us poor morals and convenient conclusions for the sake of a happy ending.

This is not like that. In fact, this is the first book I’ve read with a black main character who I could relate to. And he’s not just black in name only.

This boy is getting over the death of his mother, and in doing so, takes a job at a funeral parlor. Watching the funerals becomes his way of coping, hence the black suit. But ironically this doesn’t have much to do with the story. It’s actually more of a romance. At least it turns into one partway through, which is where it loses the initiating thread. It seems like the author started with a high concept and then didn’t know how to end it. It’s an okay book. It’s a quiet and unassuming that won’t knock your socks off but gives a few hours of entertainment.

modern romance aziz ansari
Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari with Eric Klinenberg

For those worried this is more Klinenberg with flavors of Ansari spread out to sell the book, rest assured this is not. It’s Aziz Ansari front and center, doing something I’ve never seen a comedian do — write a book that’s not just a memoir or replication of their stand-up. This is a sociological study in the same vein as Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, but with the humor backing it up. Like The Daily Show. And I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with presenting facts and truth in an entertaining way.

And it’s not just reports and findings one after the other. But it’s also instructional to young singles for what works and what doesn’t. Or what tools to use to accomplish your goals. What kind of profile picture gets the best results in online dating? Where do I go to meet people post-college? What is wrong with women/men these days? A whole chapter is dedicated to the text message. What’s the difference between texting back right away or waiting a while? I recommend this whether you’re single or married. Especially people who are “tired of the whole bar scene”.

homer simpson computer i will never tire of the bar scene
island of the blue dolphins scott o'dell
Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell

I read this to my daughter to completion, so I added it to my collection, though I would never have chosen to read it myself. This is book is supposed to be a classic, but I did not find it interesting. But I’m sure that’s just me — I’m not into survival stories like Hatchet and White Fang. In this case, it’s a native girl who was left behind on an island when everyone else fled to somewhere more mainland. She builds shelters, finds water, harvests fish and seafood, makes friends with the wildlife, all typical survival stuff.

My problem is that it doesn’t really build toward something. There’s no rising action. There’s a teensy amount of dialogue. The action is frontloaded to the beginning. And at some point, you wonder why this story is important (and you don’t find out until the end that it’s because this was a true story — hence the dullness).

stephen king roadwork
Roadwork by Stephen King

Every time I look at my list of Stephen King books I want to read, I whittle it down a little more and a little more. This one survived the stack, but I wish it didn’t. Maybe because I liked the theme of it, like Rage and The Long Walk. Written around the same time too, and published under the Bachman pseudonym. Like Rage, there is nothing supernatural and it’s about a guy getting his revenge Charles Bronson style. Or at least it was supposed to be.

From the beginning there is a promise that this is going to end in tremendous violence. In a one-man standoff against the government, standing up for what he believes in. The little guy who won’t be pushed off his land, who won’t be evicted from his memories in the face of progress. But it takes WAY too long to get there. And then it’s only fifteen pages at the end. The part you came to see is buried under overwritten prose, Maine catechisms, and wool-gathering. The book is more about the main character toodling around while he doesn’t make plans to evacuate his place of work and home in lieu of a new freeway they are building. Not to mention the content is outdated now (the energy crisis, making a big deal of buying a TV, laundry facilities).

The tension is so strung out by the end the climax sags like a Las Vegas showgirl’s chest. The main character doesn’t do anything but gripe and drink — two Stephen King staples — letting the time until 90,000 words are written expire. His wife leaves him, his friends abandon him. It brings up interesting issues, but I can recall at least two Star Trek episodes that dealt with this exact issue in a much more entertaining way.

Why Video Game Movies Keep Failing

pixels movie poster

Why do video game movies keep failing? Look at this list: Not one cracks through the “fresh” barrier. Not one above 50%. Not one broke $400 million. Yet, they keep on coming.

“Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” is the highest grossing of them all and it had fuck all to do with the video game. Not to mention white-washing several characters. It was the John Carter of its time (which was actually at about the same time, directed by Jerry Bruckheimer, he of “The Lone Ranger” and “G-Force”, the movie about spy hamsters). “Resident Evil” movies have had some success, but they’re full of tedious action and zero plot. Only fans of the video game series keep the movie series going and no one with a newspaper to write for is going to praise a movie full of zombies, CG, and girls flipping around with guns.

More known is the fact that video game movies are some of the worst every screened – “Alone in the Dark”, “Mortal Kombat: Annihilation”, “House of the Dead”, “BloodRayne”, “Street Fighter”. By money and reviews “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within” is the best that has been offered. Why does this keep happening?

I’ll tell you why. Because the producers and directors keep twisting them into things they’re not.

“Resident Evil” is not an action-horror game. It’s an atmospheric setting of terror inspired by the films of George A. Romero. It’s full of jump scares, camera angles that hide stuff, and lots of dread. There are no matrix jumps or rogue AIs.

“Mortal Kombat” is not a buddy movie about three strangers becoming friends as they discover the innocent place they were going harbors a dark secret (that’s Harry Potter). It’s a martial arts movie like “Enter the Dragon” combined with violence like “The Running Man”. It’s not PG-13.

“Super Mario Bros.” is not… whatever that movie was about. “Super Mario Bros.” the video game is about… well, I’m not sure about that either. But it should never have been a movie. It’s too trippy, doesn’t have a story, doesn’t have character relationships, and the only reason producers made it is because they’re the most recognizable mascots.

“Silent Hill” is about being lost in a misty town where satanic shit’s going on and disfigured monsters want to kill you and you have to figure out why. That’s why I like the Silent Hill movie. Even though it used different characters and a different plot, it stayed true to the spirit of the material. And that’s the key.

You aren’t going to be able to perfectly translate a video game into a movie — not even a cinematic one like Parasite Eve or Vagrant Story or God of War or Deus Ex. The mediums just don’t line up. But we’re not asking for a perfect translation from game to screen. We’re asking for respect of the source material.

There is no reason there can’t be a good video game movie. It just hasn’t happened yet. Because these directors and producers don’t care. They see some franchise that the kids like and slap it on whatever screenplay was shoved under their bathroom stall yesterday. But as time goes on, people who did grow up with these characters, who know what it felt like to play the game, will be able to put that same feeling into the movie.

So Bye Bye, Fucking GTA Guy

grand theft auto hands

SecurRom errors, Social Club forced login, Games for Windows, and top of it all, the game won’t stop stuttering.

I bought Grand Theft Auto IV for about $30 during a Steam Summer Sale, but haven’t played it till now. I’ve been dinking with Borderlands and Star Wars. Steam says I’ve spent seventy minutes playing the game, but that’s a lie. I’ve spent seventy minutes trying to get the damn game to run.

Imagine your game running as a low-frame-rate animated GIF

I’ve tried windowed mode, various launch options, disabling VRAM, limiting frame rates, turning Vsync on and off, lowering the resolution. Nope, the same damn graphic stutter keeps going. Everyone moves like its a bad stop-motion film and it give me a headache. Usually, I’d try my damnedest to get this game going — I paid for it, I’m going to get my money’s worth. But then I realized I’m 34. I have a salary where I don’t worry about money — even with two kids. Whereas time is a commodity I can’t get back. Money can be converted to time, but time can’t be converted back. If I spend any more, I’d resent the game so much, playing it would be a slog.

So fuck you Rockstar. I deleted your game from my library without every playing it. See if I download one of your games again. Besides, I like Saints Row better. It’s faster, it’s funnier, its got all the things you do + cooler explosions.

Cool guys don’t look at explosions.

Idea for Making Fantasy Football Better

college pizza books computer

I’m always thinking about how to make this game a little more than choosing some players and then waiting helplessly while they get fifty points one day and two points the next week.  I’ve said before how I wanted to have more agency, to act like I have more control over my team.  To apply some skill into the game.  And I came up with an idea.  Make it like an RPG.

You get equipment, armor, etc. through some means (quests or trivia questions, I don’t know and it doesn’t matter).  And with those, you can equip certain players.  Like give a “helmet” that gives double points for two-point conversions.  Or a “sword” that gives extra points for tackles.

Likewise, you can give other teams “curses”.  Like a quarterback gets -5 points out of the gate.  Or for a kicker, field goals under 30 yards don’t count.  The key is knowing when to put them on and who to put them on.

Or not, you know.  It’s just a thought.

The Books I Read: September – October 2015

bookshelf books

James & the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
(re-read)

This wasn’t as fun as I remember. I remembered a whimsical Dahl-esque adventure with weird stuff happening and memorable characters. But on the re-read, it becomes evident that this is Dahl’s first attempt at children’s literature. Everything up to when he gets into the peach is fine, but then I started going “get on with it”. The other characters don’t have any real arcs. Instead, they all just bicker with each other while minor obstacles appear and then are solved (usually by running away). I think the movie is better.

Al Jaffee’s Mad Life by Mary-Lou Weisman

Al Jaffee was one of my favorite cartoonists growing up, next to Charles Schulz and Jim Davis. But unlike those Americans, Al Jaffee was a bit of a mystery. I knew he was foreign, but his comics were so “American-style” with the thick, closed black lines and frequent curves. Not to mention, besides the drawing talent, was the writing talent that was incredibly inventive. So I wanted to find out where that talent came from.

Jaffee had some messed up parents. Who migrates BACK to Eastern Europe in the middle of World War II? But that’s what his mother did, leaving his father (who wasn’t a bad guy, but the most lazy, do-nothing guy I’ve ever seen; and his mom was psycho). So most of the book is about growing up in “Fiddler on the Roof”. It reminded me of Kate McKinnon’s “Olya Povlatsky” character on Weekend Update — the one who lives in abject Siberian poverty.

And strangely enough, he loves it better than America. He has the freedom to explore and create and invent there, even though he doesn’t know where he’ll get his next crayons.

The highlight of the book is Jaffee’s own drawings the show his life. But if you’re looking for information about his life as Mad Magazine, that section is woefully short. So if you’re looking for William Gaines dish, you won’t find it here. You’re better off reading Completely Mad. But for anyone interested in Eastern Europe during WWII and immigration, this is recommended.

Press Start to Play edited by John Joseph Adams

I hate reviewing short story anthologies, because there’s no way to give a unified critique when the whole work is a composite of other authors. I will say that this is the best fiction book under the subject of video games that I’ve read. And there are some superstars here — Cory Doctorow, Seanan McGuire, Austin Grossman, Andy Weir. As a gamer, I felt like all the stories fell under three categories: MMORPG’s, virtual reality, and text adventures. Way too many text adventures — a niche-within-a-niche that’s been long relegated to hipsters and retropunks. It’s as if those are the only ways to depict character interactions with video games as a central theme. What about playing two-player Nintendo with your friends at a sleepover? What about programmer stories? What about glitches and competitions and arcade groupies?

I know all the authors here know video games. But I felt like they wrote with the mindset of “writer-first, video game-second”. Most tend toward that grim, cold tone that stories about computers always have, like no one can write a happy story about robots. But I’m still waiting for that one novel that truly embraces the gaming lifestyle. “I, Video Game”.

Matilda by Roald Dahl
(re-read)

Another re-read and another case of “not as fun as I remember”. I remember an awesome story where a girl who lives with dummies develops telepathic powers. But this reminded me more of “The Twits“.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling

A comedy memoir along the lines of “Bossypants” and “Yes, Please”. I really don’t know much about Mindy Kaling. My first exposure to her was that bit part in “The 40-Year Old Virgin”. I never watched The Office, but I can appreciate the talent it takes to become writer and producer of one of those types of shows. I know she’s mentioned alongside Tina Fey and Amy Schumer but Mindy Kaling’s just not my kind of girl. Too many things bother me about her like the shopping fixation, romance & guys, appearance. Not that any of those are bad things, but they don’t appeal to me. I would have liked to know more about growing up as an Indian-American and how that led to comedy. Or stories about working on The Office.

If you liked “Bossypants” and “Yes, Please”, you will probably enjoy this book. It’s so close it’s not in the same vein, it’s in the same capillary (and those suckers are only one cell wide).

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

My third attempt, and this time I made it through, thanks to Crash Course, Thug Notes, and the Baz Luhrman movie. I don’t know how to review a book that’s the frontrunner for the Great American Novel. It’s always in the top ten “must read before you die” lists, so I feel like if you’re going to read it, you’re going to read it, reviews aside. Even though it’s an allegory for the downfall of America pre-depression, a lot of it applies today too (like the 1%, communication issues, possessive men, vapid women). But I think Citizen Kane does it just as well. In both cases, a guy becomes rich and famous, but he just wants his Rosebud. Maybe it’s the sort of book you read for the writing than the content. And I’m not into that.

The Final Fantasy VII Remake

final fantasy vii 7 logo meteor

So they finally announced the Final Fantasy VII remake. Year after year, it’s been one of the hands-clasped-in-prayer announcements for E3 as much as the Half-Life 3. And me, being a huge FFVII fan, former writer on the FF Compendium, I asked myself this morning if I’d ever play it. My answer was “Pfft, no.”

Look, man, I love Final Fantasy VII. I LOOOOOVE Final Fantasy VII. I love the characters, I love the story, I love the gameplay. My memories of it are nothing but fond. But the fact is, you can’t go home again. It’s 2015. It’s been more than fifteen years since that magic time. I’m married. I have two daughters. I have a career. I’m not the same man I was when I first played that spiky-haired hero. I’m not as forgiving of things like “This guy are sick” or weird fighting houses with no explanation. The stylistic decisions like popeye arms and fuzzy plot lines can’t be glossed over anymore.

Not to say Final Fantasy hasn’t changed/evolved during the time I have. But that’s a large chunk of the problem. Final Fantasy VII has not died in the time I’ve been alive. There have been related material — Crisis Core, Advent Children, Kingdom Hearts, Dissidia — that are fine avenues and extend the FFVII universe. But they’re not good. Not good at all. It’s not so much a quality drop as a coherence drop. I played Dirge of Cerberus and it was a load of nonsense story and dull gameplay. Style over substance. And that’s been the ongoing modus operandi for Square. As technology improves, Squeenix fills every nook and cranny of every bit, every processor, with graphics and data.

Midgar from PSX Final Fantasy VII
Midgar from PS3 Tech Demo
Midgar from FFVII Remake E3 2015 Trailer

It’s now to the point where you have to invest as much time as reading War & Peace to get a full experience. I don’t want to play a single-player MMORPG. I don’t want to walk down an endless corridor with occasional button mashing when a random monster appears. It’s not even fun anymore, it’s just pressing the same button. Attack, attack, attack. There’s no need for strategy with the smaller monsters. Not when you reach a certain level.

Of course, a remake could change all that. But that is my biggest point. Remember when the Star Wars prequels came out? Everyone was excited not just because of the new stories, but they’d get to see their favorite things without the clunky, boxy robots and rubbery aliens. And then we got a bunch of detailed CG garbage and fifteen minutes of unnecessary pod racing. This is not going to be just a rehash, this is going to be a giant amorphous mass of FFVII gray goo. Remember Cloud as he first was? He helped Yuffie get over her motion sickness, rode a dolphin to the top of a platform, he dressed as a woman in an extended fetch quest. Can you imagine this guy doing that?

This is the Cloud Squeenix has made now. A taciturn, militant, angsty badass who never sees his friends. He only works in black. And sometimes, very very dark gray. There’s no emotion he can’t push down. Armband representing memory of dead friend? Check. Using sword of other dead friend? Check. Motorcycle? Check. Short, non-committal responses? Check.

One of the lines from Ernie Cline’s “Fanboys” comes to mind, about a group of geeks questing to get their friend to see Star Wars: Episode 1 before he dies of cancer. He’s the only one that’s seen the cut six months ahead of everyone. “You gotta keep the flaws. Crappy effects, real puppets. That’s what makes it so good.”