29Mar2017 1900: Knives Don't Have Your Back
Good gods but the knives are out for Iron Fist. Every little stumble made by Marvel is blown up into some sort of apocalypse but this show is the first time in a while that Marvel has actually been bad. The first half-season of Agents of SHIELD was legendarily spinning its wheels, waiting for Winter Soldier to come along and rescue it. The Thors never quite hit right. Age of Ultron was too busy. But all of them had a basic competence in either scripting or cinematography, something small worthy of praise.
Iron Fist is not like that. Iron Fist is thirteen episodes of the greatest kung-fu master in the world getting his teeth kicked in by every mook in a biker jacket. It's a potter's field of interesting themes discarded hastily in service of the next inept fight choreography. What does it mean that Kun Lun's greatest champion is a white billionaire illegal immigrant? Show don't care -- whitey needs to get his company back. How bad is the opioid addiction epidemic among the upper class of America? Show don't care -- magic ninja detox will fix everything. Which is more sinister: the violent narcos of the Striking Hand or the cloying oppression of the Helping Hand? Show don't care -- ninjas will stab things now. How bitter am I that nobody in the writer's room put in a line about "the Helping Hand"? Show don't care.
This is the show you get when you hand a Marvel property to Sir Limp Dishrag Tyrell and the guy people blame for Dexter. Contrast that with the contemporary result of handing a Marvel property to Noah Goddamn Hawley and (spoilers) Aubrey Fucking Plaza. Aubrey Plaza is the main character of Legion screw you I won't hear different. And it will continue Noah Hawley's trend of lucking into an incredible lead performance from an actress and then not having her on in the second season.
22Mar2017 2000: Reapril Approaches
Lo, as I sowed so shall I reap. Past Bob shoved rather a lot of money into a wormhole and Near-Future Bob is the beneficiary! It seems like every Kickstarter I backed in the past three years is trying to come due in the first third of 2017. Mint Works showed up a month ago, Vast last week, and two more are in nebulous quantum states between "customs" and "on a truck". River City Ransom Underground came out last month and Yooka-Laylee is next month. Any moment now I could receive a pan. Tiny time-release capsules of consumer bliss. I get to both congratulate myself on my good taste and be surprised.
And it's heavy on niche board games, but that's because I love systems nearly as much as I love text. Each box is a new-but-familiar tweak of genre conventions. A new headspace to explore and optimize. You could dig elbow-deep into the cold hard math of something like Samurai Spirit or build a city and a story in Above and Below. Smash a city if you have the patience to set everything up. Terra Mystica is not Scythe is not Cosmic Encounter, but sometimes you want to play a role and establish some colonies. What's the best way to explore a house? What's the most fun way? Dozens and dozens of replayable, communal puzzles to chill with and make friends or enemies.
I might get a package every day this week!
- Monday: Dig-A-Dino, which I had completely forgotten about even when articulating my list of "upcoming games" to friends!
- Tuesday: Apparently I preordered the new Scalzi. Probably right after finishing Agent to the Stars.
- Wednesday: A cutting mat for X-acto work and more binder clips for anti-X-acto work.
- Thursday: Now would be a good time for a cast iron pan!
- Fridy: Did I mention the Dresden Files game? It is also a game!
15Mar2017 1915: The Three-Peas-In-A-Pod Problem
I don't know if my palate has gotten soft over the years, or if I've finally come around to liking peas, but Death's End is a book I can actually sorta recommend? I remain extremely dissatisfied with The Three-Body Problem and its sequel but everything came together well in this last attempt.
The gimmick of the entire series is in the subtitle "Remembrance of Earth's Past". It was always meant to be a far-future historical record of what drove humanity to the brink of extinction (a few times), but that style didn't mesh well with the plots of the first two books. The Three-Body Problem and The Dark Forest spent all their time with two or three main characters each, following them around while occasionally narrating on the world events around them. But the narrative distance required of a historical account was at odds with following one character around. It didn't feel like the character was doing or thinking things, I was being told they were doing or thinking things. On the other hand, we couldn't pull back too far to get the historical context without losing that character entirely.
Death's End finally threads the needle on this, explicitly interlacing the main plot with encyclopedia excerpts. The bulk of the book has followed one character's exploits -- and by exploits I of course mean that after showing the barest amount of initiative, young Cheng Xin spends hundreds of pages showing no reaction to world-changing things that are done to and around her. She's the same cipher of nothingness that plagued the other two books but the events around her have upped the stakes (again! somehow!) and she gets to float through space and time while other people handle the hard stuff. Every hundred pages or so she tells people not to kill each other and this makes everybody sad and then civilization collapses a little bit again. Wish I was kidding.
Does this sound like I hate the book? I don't, really. Three-Body Problem laid the necessary groundwork for this darkest timeline and can be remembered fondly as long as I'm not trying to shove its square word pegs into my round eyeholes. The Dark Forest was the best sci-fi horror novel that I hated to read. What Cixin Liu did to the Fermi Paradox has kept me up at night. But Death's End is where this was all naturally leading and still managed to surprise me. It inflates the whole terrifying idea from a galactic threat to a multiversal threat, threads in some fairy tales, and puts its dry prose style to work in some fascinating fake articles from the Future Fakeopaedia. I can finally put this entire series behind me and cherish the ideas that were guarded behind sharp, pointy text.
08Mar2017 1800: Document of Record
It didn't strike me right away, but The Mexican Runner's YouTube channel will be a complete record of what is required to beat every NES (not Famicom) game in existence. It's a feat to do this, but it may be more important to have done this. To gather in one place a single editorial perspective on each and every game rather than cobbling a body of work together from obscure timeattacks and reaction videos. It's the tongue-in-cheek premise of Encyclopedia Bombastica cataloguing "every game ever made", focussed to a level that one man could complete it...barely.
Not only did he inspire me to go back to Might and Magic myself, I've decided to stick it out with him in the background. I want to reach back in time and give him a hug. I want to tell him it's going to be okay. I want to tell him that the game box included both the manual and a map. It will be entertaining to see the breaking point when he asks the chat for spoilers. It will be fascinating to watch a human do in 86 hours what technically could be done in 8 minutes. That timeattack uses the item-warping glitch I remember to create the endgame items immediately, but even perfectly avoiding all encounters and perfectly routing through all dungeons results in minutes of walking through dark caves to unlock invisible doors. This game was the very soul of 80s grognard Dungeons and Dragons and the fact that the game ends on an advertisement for M&M2 -- a game that wasn't even released on NES -- is the final nipple-twister from this classic game bully.
01Mar2017 1930: Monument
Ah, a fresh month and a fresh blog page to fill. For the next thirty-one days, let this post stand on the front page as a monument to my friend Poocifer! He, the first of our guild to build a legendary in... holy shit, four and a half years already?
Let this also stand as a marker, another tendril of press coverage to affirm that on February 26th, 2017, a man finished playing every NES game ever made. Three years, thirty-four hundred hours, and 714 games, with video proof of every single one. I salute you, The Mexican Runner. You persevered through the mass of chaff that was everything-but-maybe-fifty-games-people-remember. You are now the world's foremost expert on Nintendo Hard. You even conquered Might and Magic, a game which I remember cheating at with a glitch and still didn't beat. But seriously, it takes him six hours to even get his party composition down without dying. Six hours in the opening town getting his teeth kicked in by sprites and kobolds. Might and Magic was merciless.