28Aug2013 1430: Saints Row 4
Saints Row 4 is something like a masterpiece, and it is almost embarassing to articulate why: it is pushing a button that I didn't even know I had until last year, a button labeled "Fast and Furious". Bear with me, this is going to be a long one. Saints Row started out as a B-grade Grand Theft Auto, the adolescent imitator of what was then still an adolescent gangster fantasy. Its peak in the GTA3 era was the infamous mission in Saints Row 2 where you commandeer a septic truck and proceed to literally spray shit all over a neighborhood. Something about property values or insurance fraud or...yeah, it's just spraying shit.
So after that fondly(?) remembered sequence, the gaming world split in twain. Grand Theft Auto got super-serious with GTA4, a dour "adult" game that I attempted to enjoy. And rereading that post, it seemed I actually was enjoying it! At the time! Shortly afterwards I grew tired of the constant hassling by NPCs, the unlovability of each and every one of them. I never finished that game. I kind of dislike that game.
Although SR2 released after GTA4, it was only by a few months and -- video game development being what it is -- was probably mostly complete by the time GTA4 was visible. Saints Row 3 was the first real reaction to the direction GTA4 had taken, and the response was clear: dildo bat. SR3 fought back against the po-faced melodrama of GTA4 with unrepentant and unrelentingly hilarious writing coupled to some unfortunately juvenile inclusions. Because seriously, what looks like a more entertaining game? The beginning of Saints Row 3 or the beginning of Grand Theft Auto 4? That's what I thought. And then you become a toilet in cyberspace and fight off zombies at the behest of Burt Reynolds and unmask a luchador to avenge your sensei. SR3 is a rare example of a funny and parodic game actually working in spite of its lowbrow moments.
So there's an interesting reversal shaping up this year: Grand Theft Auto 5 releases in just a couple weeks and I'm 99% certain I'm going to skip it, while Saints Row 4 came out last week and is rocking my face off. I don't want to spoil all the glorious humor throughout, but I will say that the juvenile crap is toned way down or merely implied. And further, in the first half hour you ride a nuclear missile to the swelling strains of Aerosmith, become president, get kidnapped by aliens, and learn to leap tall buildings in a single bound. It is distilled fun, cribbing bits from Crackdown, Prototype, GTA, and Mass Effect 2 and bringing them all together under the roof of one madhouse. It references not only the plot from previous games, but the voice actors and real-world contractual disputes surrounding those games, and it does it with a deft hamhand and tongue planted firmly in (a hooker's) cheek.
So. Fast and Furious. This was supposed to be about parallels with Fast and Furious. What happened in both cases was a creative team that took a lightweight little fluff of a (game|movie) and then disappeared so far up their fiction's ass that they popped out of their throat again. The insane temporal gyrations and series-spanning ensemble cast of FnF mirrors the insane plot gyrations and series-spanning ensemble cast of Saints Row. Both began in a slightly heightened fictional reality and, over the years, ramped themselves to dizzying heights of ludicrous action, all in a calculated effort to deliver the densest awesome-per-minute in entertainment. And, sadly, both of them now rely so much on their twisted ur-fiction that you can't jump in to the latest installment. In this case, I highly recommend SR3 -- which is currently a steal -- before attempting SR4.
Now pardon me. I have to go collect 1200 glowing orbs.
Is [Black Tusk - A Cold Embrace] a sequel to their [Embrace the Madness]? Who cares? Black Tusk is the kind of balls-out metal that themes every album cover with a radioactive pig skeleton, and I avoid that shit like herpes. Also! This is an instrumental and I don't care much for instrumentals either. It IS less than two minutes; perhaps it's just one of the guitar solos from Embrace the Madness?
[Moon Hooch - Mega Tubes] rolls in like a Hanna Barbera villain in a jazz club. It is uncompromisingly weird, running a saxophone line around a fart machine before a Disney princess takes over with floaty, repetitious platitudes. It doesn't feel like Moon Hooch wanted to make a song; they wanted to create a substrate for dance-club remixes.
From there we move into explicitly dance music: [Novalima - Diablo (Sabo's Moombahton Remix)]. Latin rhythms and a bass beat and some mariachi guys shouting over the top. Hooray, I just described every Latin club hit that has ever crossed my ears. Ugh.
21Aug2013 1715: Mainly About Boardgames
Everybody should go to Maine. If possible, everybody should go to Maine and stay at a relation's coastal house. I ate five lobsters, a crabcake, a bowl of chowder...and too much truly awful train food. I touched an ocean, farted on a mountaintop...and left greasy hair stains on a train pillow. Guys? Guys, don't take the train. That was the weak spot in all our plans, a boondoggle of Amtrakian proportions. You know what happens when a plane gets delayed by half an hour? It lands half an hour later. You know what happens when a train gets delayed by half an hour? It interferes with other trains' schedules all the way across the country, becoming later and later until finally you're five hours late on your four-hour layover and stuck in DC until 3AM and renting a car to Maine and shiiiiiiit. It's utterly draining. It broke me of my train-love from my last attempt.
Even playing board games in the lounge car couldn't offset the terrible train depression. Space Hulk went okay; Alhambra is surprisingly playable on a limited table; Hive was a pretty good buy from that exceedingly perky board game lady in Belfast. However, the surprise hit of the weekend -- also usable in a train booth -- is Anima. It purports to emulate a JRPG experience in card form, but it's really a more thematic skin on essentially Munchkin; players race around a "world map" having random encounters and building up their strength and finding loot. Eventually you declare endgame and punch Evil God in his face, just like all JRPGs. And the female artwork is all horrendously exploitative, just like all JRPGs. We had fun, though!
Book report: after Monte Cristo rocked my casbah I went looking for another fat tome to fill my train ride. It just so happens that the book that caught my eye was yet another serialized Napoleonic fiction: Vanity Fair. It's also pretty good! The text is definitely denser than Dumas and the satire is laid on thicker than the parody in Scary Movie, but for all that I'm enjoying it. And you know what? You know why I read old books? It's mainly for crazy shit like this:
Because if you want to tell me that Grease isn't creative enough to come up with that on their own, I'll say sure. Apparently not. But man that freaked me out.
Google hasn't screwed up any ID3 tags so far, so the all-caps in [True Widow - FOUR TEETH] must be (sic). The song certainly doesn't live up to that energy; it's like Heart in one of those 800% slower videos. Six minutes is a bit much of this, they could stand to crank it up to 700% slower or so.
[Myron & E - Do It Do It Disco] exhorts you to do it disco, yet is itself less than five minutes long. When a disco paean is shorter than True Widow's drone-rock, you done something wrong. While a thirteen-minute runtime would let us dismiss this out of hand, it would also be honest. But man, if you still somehow want a funky funky disco beat for only a couple minutes: this is totally that.
[Ka - Our Father] may literally be profane, which is a change of pace for rap. It starts with a corruption of the Lord's Prayer -- also forming the refrain -- and continues through the usual poor-dude-doing-crimes motions. The most interesting bit is the almost total lack of beats or production here; the backing is one simple loop of a marimba(?), invariant and cold. It's an intriguing sound but ultimately I can't recommend it. Maybe if the song was about robots!
07Aug2013 0950: ALL ABOARD
Two days left until train time, the beginning of what I'm studiously not calling The Maine Event because my sister already called it that last year for her vacation. Between that and Bangor I imagine the Mainenites are sensitive to puns. I don't have that problem; Fargo is two actual words shoved together, where could you take a pun from that? Dakota hardly rhymes with anything. "Dakota? I hardly knew her!" Can't see it.
LOBSTER. ALL THE LOBSTAH.
Book report: Monte Cristo was totally worth it. It breaks down into about 20% outrage, 30% scheming, 30% Romeo and Juliet, 20% revenge. You can see the seams from the serialized-chapter format of most novels from that era but it's free and you should all read it.
In an amazing confluence of events, my workload has intersected my home life in the last place I expected: one of my tasks as manager is to get a webinar set up using XSplit streaming to Twitch.tv. That's already surreal, as I spent last weekend watching video games on that very site. But the process to get your game in the official Twitch.tv list is to make a wiki page for it on Giant Bomb, the best of all possible gaming sites. I'm getting paid for this. Finally my skillset is coming to bear.
Google has kept up its super-discoverable free music list for two months now. Is it too much to hope that their sane URLs and front-paged banners will continue in perpetuity? Because how else will I be exposed to terrible pop music like [AlunaGeorge - Your Drums, Your Love]? The song itself is an R&B trifle with a heavily vocoded backing vocal. The album art is not something I want popping up in a webpage at work; it is literally the lady singer in a skimpy outfit shoved into a box lined with mirrors. I'm not sure if it's some sort of feminist power statement or if she signed a terrible contract with her label. If you need a feminist power statement -- with an eerily similar vocalist -- just get the classic [Madison Ave - Don't Call Me Baby].
[Kevin Gates - 4:30am] begins with a "fuck" and goes downhill from there. This will be somebody's favorite rap song for nostalgic high school reasons but the rest of us can safely give it a miss. And of course it involves shooting somebody, although in this case it's a confessional song about doing it by accident. Kudos for calling himself something that might be his actual name and not a reference to how many chains he possesses.
[King Tuff - Sun Medallion] is not a song about The Mysterious Cities of Gold so to hell with this. Kidding! It's actually okay. I don't think this is a track from the mid 60s -- it is on the "upcoming artist/new music" list -- but it sounds like somebody reached back into 1966 and pulled a band out of the first wave of Dylan imitators. And as you all know, I'm a sucker for time travel.