Friday, December 31, 2010

Month in Review: December 2010

We're back.

Writing hasn't always been easy with all the Big Life Stuff that went on this year, but we overcame our creative and logistical hurdles in December to produce (in one blogger's opinion) some of the most thoughtful, nostalgia-inducing, and unexpected posts of the year.

Just because we like you, here's a handy guide to everything we wrote in December:

- A recap of my November and December contributions to videogame humor website

- Alex's cathartic weekly comics news and opinion feature, Waiting for Wednesday, Volume 2:
+ Issue 48: The Walking Dead and Winter's Edge
+ Issue 49: The Goon in USA Today, and mainstream holiday cheer
+ Issue 50: Losing weight and gaining something occult
+ Issue 51: Comics shipment overload, and more mainstream holiday cheer
+ Issue 52: The retrospective conclusion of Volume Two

- A guide to buying comics for comics fans both from casual to hardcore

- A guide to free gifts for the geek in your life

- A review of Space Quest 6: Roger Wilco in the Spinal Frontier, a humorous sci-fi adventure game

- A review of the first season of AMC's The Walking Dead, a television adaptation of the survival horror comic where the zombies will get you

- The story of how this Nintendo fanboy became an XBox groupie

- An impassioned demand: I want my obscure fandom back.

- Philosophical thoughts about the enjoyable ridiculousness of holiday shopping

- Why bookstores are like a summer romance, or a t-rex

- A stream-of-consciousness experiment in spending less than 30 minutes writing a post

- An introduction to the unconventional stand-up comedy of Eddie Izzard

- A rational twist in Alex's comics collecting

- A video of the Flash game Robot Dinosaurs That Shoot Beams When They Roar (TM)

- A reflection on the geekiest time of my life

- Warm and fuzzy holiday nostalgia

- Why brownies are bad for your health, and other tales of RPG Game Overs

- An excuse to blow up this blog

- A story of Alex's showdown at the drive-up ATM

- A discussion of geeky and heartwarming holiday traditions

- A silly parody of a popular holiday tune

- A variety of Christmas-themed comic book covers

- A discussion of the day after Christmas, just to be different

- A link to (possibly) one of the greatest commisioned art works ever

- The finest screenshots of Mega Man 3 you're likely to find

Thursday, December 30, 2010

GameCola Recap: December 2010

No real preamble this time--December was a fun and variety-filled month for me at videogame humor website (despite the fact that two of the links below relate to Metroid). Here's a perfect opportunity to get caught up on my contributions to the site!


- Poll: What's Your Dream Game?


- Flash Flood: Holiday Mashup


- The Diary of Samus Aran


- Samus Drops the Ball on New Year's Eve

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Waiting for Wednesday, Volume 2, Issue 52

Hello and welcome to the very last Waiting for Wednesday of 2010! That marks two years of this column—which, at varying times, has served as a collection of random comics-related news and views, a personal journal for yours truly, and even a psychiatrist’s couch session once a week.

Now, while today closes the book on Volume Two, when Issue One of 2011 arrives next week, I can’t imagine the column being much different than it’s been these past two years—and especially this past year, where I feel as though I was pretty candid in the things I laid down to be read.

Granted, the length of the column shortened a bit towards the end of 2010, mostly due to the fact that I was plowed under with work and simply didn’t have the time I would have liked to devote to it. I’d like to say that, in the new year, things will be different, but I already know my schedule for the first quarter, and it’s going to be more of the same.

Still, I look forward to writing WfW more than any other thing I write during the week, and with good reason. Wednesday is my favorite day of the week—it’s a little bit of Christmas, 52 times a year. And I enjoy talking about the comics and things that get me excited.

After two years of WfW, I can honestly say that, yes, I am still excited about going to the comics shop every week. Sure, the things that excite me are different today than they were at the beginning of the column, but that’s the beauty of comics.

And that’s the reason why—mo matter how annoyed I might get with multi-title crossovers and cover price increases and shipping schedules that just don’t get met—I always come back.

I always waltz through the doors of my LCS either at lunchtime or after work on Wednesday, and I’m always happy to browse the new racks of books, and to pick up something that I’m going to sit with and enjoy in peace and quiet.

Maybe it’s because I haven’t had much peace and quiet lately that I’ve been a bit down on certain books. I guess I equate comics reading with peace and quiet, you see, because I like to hold off on reading my stack for a lazy Saturday afternoon or a Sunday morning.

I've had some downtime this week, and I’ve been able to read a slew of things that I’ve had waiting for me. So that's been nice.

Though, I must confess. I am bad at vacations. This time around, I managed to contract a wonderfully major head cold on Christmas Eve, and I just started shaking it off yesterday.

Still and all, I read a few very good books, and there was even one that I’ll be talking about in an official review thingy. And you all know how much I enjoy writing official review thingys.

But that’s for another day. For now, let’s get to this week's new comics shipment--which somehow manages to be pretty substantial, despite the absolutely massive week of new product we had before Christmas.

First up, from Dark Horse, we have a new Hellboy mini-series (very mini, as it's only two issues), entitled "The Sleeping and the Dead."
As always, if it's got Mike Mignola's name on it, I'm going to buy it and recommend it. Throw in the fact that the book is about Hellboy chasing (and, presumably, punching) vampires, and I might just call it the best concept ever. Here's the solicitation information from Dark Horse:

While chasing a giant bat through the forest, Hellboy meets an old man with insider knowledge of the coming vampire apocalypse.

For the first time, Mike Mignola teams up with artist Scott Hampton (Batman, The Books of Magic) for this gothic tale.

First collaboration between Mike Mignola and Scott Hampton.

Classic vampire horror!

Did I mention vampires? Vampires! Next up, we have a book that hasn't really gotten much love from the fanboys. From DC, Justice Society of America is a title that's had a bit of a rough go since Geoff Johns left the book following a near-legendary run on the title.

The team was split into two books; the JSA proper and a book called JSA All Stars. And, as things like this always seem to go, there were fans left annoyed at such changes.

But the series' writer/artist team of Matthew Sturges (House of Mystery) and Freddie Williams II (Robin) put out one of my favorite superhero comics of this past year. They have two story arcs, the first of which is collected in a trade called, JSA All Stars: Constellations.

Their current arc, which will wrap up in a month or so, will be collected in March. I recommend checking out "Constellations" to see if it's your kind of thing.

Reading All Stars has made me interested in reading the other team book, and I think today is a good day to start. So, despite the fact that I've missed the past few issues, I'm going to jump on board with today's Justice Society of America, issue 46, written by Marc Guggenheim and with art by Scott Kolins.
Here's the blurb from DC:

With Monument Point still down after Scythe's devastating attack on U.S. soil, looting begins! Enter Collatoral Damage, a new team of villains set to lay claim to the riches yet to be found in the rubble of the once great American city! Luckily, there are new heroes flooding into the JSA's new hometown to help stabilize and rebuild alongside Earth's First Super Hero Team!

And with that, it's time for me to head out. Oh, and, if you live on the East Coast, you might want to give your shop a call just to make sure that they are open/got books today, since the Giant Snow Storm here has, I'm guessing, wreaked havoc upon mail routes and things. I'm just sayin'.

Before I go, and for the last time in 2010, what are you Waiting for?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Mega Man 3 Screenshot Gallery

There's an art to taking good screenshots, especially in a game that suffers from frequently glitchy visuals. Such was the case with Mega Man 3, which I recently replayed in order to snag about 60 screenshots to add to GameFAQs.

As was the case with my Mega Man 10 screenshots, I wanted to capture as many aspects of the gameplay as possible. It is my hope that I've successfully showcased the bosses, enemies, special weapons, locations, and platforming challenges in a way that few other screenshotters have.

You can be the judge. My work is mixed in with other contributors on GameFAQs, but there's a nice chunk of screenshots attributed to Flashman85 (A.K.A. me). At the time of my writing this, my contributions start halfway on the second page, but that's subject to change (like anything else on the Internet). No permission is needed if you'd like to use them anywhere, but it's always appreciated!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Random Holiday Week Link Post

If this post sees the light of day, it means that Nathaniel and I are too busy doing holiday related stuff to get to a computer and write up a real post. So don't go expectin' any fancy-pants, in depth information here.

Instead, if you're a fan of NBC's excellent Thursday night show, Community, (and, if you're aren't you a fan?) then I think you'll get a kick out of this, from artist Chris Schweizer.
If you click on that link above, you'll be re-directed to Chris' blog where he graciously provides wallpaper-sized images of, in my opinion, one of the greatest commission works ever.

And now, back to the regularly scheduled holiday stuff (or not). See you tomorrow...

Sunday, December 26, 2010

6:00 AM, Day After Christmas...

Okay, so, we've already done the whole, "Best Present Ever" post and we've gotten plenty nostalgic already, so we were thinking that it might be fun to do an after-Christmas post, as opposed to posting

And, when I say "we," I mean, "me," mostly because Nathaniel's been traveling for the holidays and I was put in charge of things for the better part of the week. So you should all just be happy that the blog is still standing, and that I haven't managed to offend the Internet.


So, anyway, here we are. The day after Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring. Because they all ate and/or drank way too much of everything yesterday.

When I was a kid, the day after was always a pretty big downer, having absolutely no hope in competing with its predecessor. I mean, toys and Santa and food and parades. C'mon. The day after Christmas is like being Frank Stallone.

But December 26 does have its positives. For example, when I was still in that Yay! Toys (that don't need to be kept in their boxes for fear of their value decreasing)! mode, the next day was the perfect time to check out everything that I didn't get around to playing with the day before.

In our family, the kids would go downstairs for presents at around 7:00, and then a whole truckload of people would start coming over sometime before noon. Which meant that there was precious little time to open everything up and play with things before showers had to be taken, and sweaters needed to be put on.

So there was always that toy that got neglected on Christmas Day, only to be found the next morning, still under the tree where Santa left it.

My brother and I were very much into baseball cards as kids, and on Christmas Day we'd usually get a couple of boxes filled with baseball card packs. We'd open them immediately, of course, but we would wait for the following day to have our "draft" where we chose what cards each of us would keep.

That was always fun, though my little bro always managed to get first pick.

And then there was that one Christmas vacation when I was in elementary school when it snowed on Christmas night. So, in addition to having new toys to play with...we were able to go out and play with them in the snow.

How cool was that?

More recently, though, December 26 has started meaning other things--like sleeping late and not having to go to work. Which, for now, sounds like a good plan.


For me (Nathaniel, the other guy who writes this blog), the day after Christmas, or even two days after Christmas, was (and still is) the time for a Second Christmas with the extended family.

There's a progressive shift in focus from the religious aspects of the season (Christmas Eve in the church choir) to the gift-giving and gift using (Christmas Day) to pure family time at Second Christmas, where the gifts are often more of a nicety (and a second shot at that one thing Santa missed) than the big thing to look forward to.

Faith, family, and gift-giving are all interwoven throughout my holiday season, so even if I go materialistic on you and talk about gifts gifts gifts at any point, I'm seldom giving you the full picture. So many different parts of Christmas are enjoyable and important to me; presents are the easiest part to quantify and describe. Second Christmas has always been primarily about getting together with aunts, uncles, and grandparents--judging from the strange gifts we've gotten each other in the past, sometimes I think it's better that we get to spend so much time getting to know each other better.

Before, during, or after the Big Day--it's all my favorite time of year. Hope there's something special about it for you, too.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas, 2010!

Despite our track record of having a new, in-depth post on Christmas Day, we've decided do that this year. Instead, we will be coming at you tomorrow with all-new and hilarious material. Promise.

But I'm a sucker for holiday comic book covers, and so I begged Nathaniel to let me take today's post. Which--in case you've already had too much eggnog and haven't yet guessed it--will feature a new selection of holiday-themed comics.

But before we get to that, we wanted to take this opportunity to say thanks to all of our readers for another great, fun year of Exfanding Your Horizons. This is our third Blog Christmas, which marks two more years than I ever imagined we'd reach.

This blog has been such fun, and it's become such a part of everyday life that I can't imagine not writing for it.

Beyond that, EyH has given me the opportunity to stay in constant contact with Nathaniel, even though we no longer work together in the same office. You tend to fall in and out of touch with people--especially former co-workers--but Nathaniel and I speak on an almost-daily basis.

And I'm thankful for that.

So, from your friends at Exfanding Your Horizons, we wish you the Happiest Holidays and say thanks so much for reading. It's always humbling and confusing that anyone would bother taking time out of their day to read our ramblings, but, boy, do we appreciate it.

You guys rock.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Geekin' Around the Christmas Tree...

Rockman around the Christmas tree
Hanging out at Auto's shop.
Everyone's here with Wi-l-y;
He brought Flash, Ice, Toad and Top.

Spockin' around the Christmas tree
He's our fav'rite half-earthling.
Watching all of the red shirts die;
Boy, those phasers really sting.

You may get a sudden urge to don your pointy ears,
Shouting out, "Beam me up Scotty!" Replicate some Earl Grey hot tea.

Ewokin' around the Christmas Tree
Have a Star Wars holiday
Hang on, they did that already?
Put that VHS awaaaaaaay!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Raise a Glass

Today is the day before Christmas Eve, and for many people, that means it's the last working day of 2010--or, at least, it's the last working day before a couple of days off.

And, for a whole bunch of folks, today also means that there's only one shopping day left before Santa comes down the chimney. Expect a panic at the disco. Uh, I mean, mall.

If your family is like my family, it also means that there will be cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents coming in by the truckload over the next two days.

Being that we're really in the heart of the holiday season now, I figure it's appropriate to talk tradition.

We all have our little (or, in the case of my family, enormous) holiday traditions, and I'm always interested in hearing about other people's. Some like small trees, others--like my father--enjoy the 12-footers. Some people open gifts on Christmas Eve, others on Christmas Day. Still others open some on Christmas Eve and the rest on the Day.

I'm Italian, and one tradition we have for Christmas Eve is to serve seven fishes throughout dinner--though we usually only make it to three or four.

Now, while family traditions are great, I'm also interested in the little, personal traditions we all have at this time of the year. I have a couple that I've talked about in the past. Sometime after dinner on Christmas Eve, I cozy up by the tree and read a stack of holiday-themed comics.

But before that, during the day, I have my very favorite tradition of the entire year.

My favorite comic series is Eric Powell's The Goon. Anyone who's read this blog even only a handful of times knows that. I have all of the single issues, and all of the trades.

And the trades (and three hardcovers) sit on a shelf for 11 months and 23 days out of the year, unread. I save reading the entire run of The Goon--through to whatever the latest, uncollected issue may be--until my last day of work for the year, when I have a few days off.

I've done it each of the past four years. It's like a reward to myself for getting through the year. And, waiting for me at home is volume one, to be followed by hundreds and hundreds of pages of Goon goodness.
How about you guys? Any weird/quirky/awesome personal traditions you'd like to share?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Waiting for Wednesday, Volume 2, Issue 51

Traditionally, the last comic book Wednesday before the Christmas holiday is one of--if not the--biggest shipping weeks of the entire year. This happens for a couple of reasons, one of which being that the publishers rush to get late product that was solicited for 2010 out before the last day of the year.

That way, it's non-returnable per Diamond's guidelines.

So if there's a book that you've been not-so-patiently waiting for since, say, July, and it's been constantly delayed, take a second look at the shipping list for today, as there's a good chance the book will be there.

I think another reason for the massive amount of new product at this time has to be the idea that people will be shopping, and they'll be more likely to buy stuff if more of it is there.

Or something.

Everyone I know has less money to spend around the holidays on things like comics and books--not more. So, by inundating stores with all this stuff right before Christmas, I feel like the publishers miss out on sales that would have been easier to make had the product spread out more evenly over time.

Of course, this directly affects comic book retailers, who have to compete for their last quarter sales with places like Amazon, Borders, and the slew of online comics shops that heavily discount new books.

But, hey, they're only the lifeblood of the industry, right?

In any case, expect a metric ton of new comics, trades, and toys this week. So let's dive right in. In keeping with the spirit of the season (and to further my love of whacky, holiday related reading), there are two (count 'em, two!) Christmas/Holiday comics shipping today, and we'll get to those in just a bit.

But first, let's talk about a new one-shot from IDW and horror writer Joe Hill. Adapted from his best-selling first book (a short story anthology called 20th Century Ghosts), The Cape one-shot ships today.
And, according to the writer, he was so enamored with how the adaptation turned out, that he is planning on expanding the story to include four more issues.

And, in case you were wondering, Hill has the following to say on his website/blog:

"I suppose this is as good a place as any to note that our comic has NOTHING TO DO with the TV show called The Cape, which is just about to premiere. I wish the makers of the show well, but our Cape has firsties."

Hill's track record in comics is beyond stellar, with his IDW series, Locke & Key, continually nominated for Eisners and Harveys and, currently, Monster Awards.

I've talked about Hill's work a lot here on the blog, and I'm very much a fan of his writing. His horror makes you think, it's smart and sophisticated, and personally, I believe he's the best horror writer in comics today.

I haven't yet read the short story from which this comic is based, so I'm not entirely sure what to expect with The Cape. Here's the solicitation information provided by IDW:

Locke & Key: Keys to the Kingdom takes a month break in December, but in its place is another Joe Hill extravaganza!

This special one-shot takes Hill's acclaimed short story from his best-selling short-story collection 20th Century Ghosts and adapts it to comics! The Cape will walk you along the fence of childhood innocence, and then throw you face first into a brick wall. Explore your dark side in this tale by Hill and Jason Ciaramella, with art and two covers by Zach Howard.

I know, I know. Not much to go on. But I'm so confident in Hill's ability to deliver the goods that I pre-order every book he does, and I expect The Cape to be a great read.

Next up, it's time to get into the holiday spirit with two specials. The first comes from Image in the form of the Dynamo 5 Holiday Special 2010, written by series creator Jay Faerber.
Dynamo 5 is an interesting series in that, it's "real life" super heroes--a much overused trope in comics over the past decade--told in a way that actually seems believable.

And, as with all great super hero comics, the real story takes place when the capes are in the closet and the fighting is done.

A drama about the five teenage children of legendary--and missing and/or dead--superhero Captain Dynamo, Faerber has created a rich and interesting world for these characters.

Here's the solicitation info from Image for the Holiday Special:

It's the holiday season in Tower City, but the Dynamo 5 kids don't get any time off. They're busy tracking down one of Captain Dynamo's old enemies, who has escaped from prison. But is there more to this simple escape than meets the eye?

Featuring a special epilogue section that lays the groundwork for Dynamo 5 in 2011!

It's a good book, well written, and the art teams are always great, new up-and-comers. Give it a shot if you've never read it.

And, finally today, the book that DC fans have been waiting for with baited breath since writer Geoff Johns announced it at Comic-Con. From DC comes the Green Lantern: Larfleeze Christmas Special.
Yep. This one's gonna rock. Here's the blurb from DC, which speaks for itself:

It's BRIGHTEST (CHRISTMAS) DAY! What do you want for Christmas? Orange Lantern Larfleeze wants everything – including Santa Claus himself! And nothing, not even the heroes of the DC Universe can to stop the Orange Lantern from getting what he wants!

Plus, you won't want to miss the strange holiday season shenanigans starring the rest of the Orange Lantern Corps! Superstar writer Geoff Johns and artist Brett Booth team up for an unbelievable sleigh ride adventure!

And that's that. I'll be back tomorrow with more wonderful. But until then, what are you Waiting for?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Life's Awkward Moments

Had a bit of an awkward moment this morning at a drive-up ATM right near my office. And, before you ask, it's the only drive-up ATM I've ever heard of/seen, also. It's one of those things that manages to be both brilliant and ridiculous at the same time.

When I'm in my car--which is quite low to the ground, mind you--watching me climb through my front window is, likely, hilarious, for others to behold. For me, though, it's just ridiculous.

In an SUV or just a car that's a bit higher off the ground, I'd imagine the whole drive-up money machine thing is convenient and nice. Brilliant, even.

But the whole point of the drive-up ATM, as opposed to the normal walk-up variety, is to add both convenience (It's cold out! I don't want to get out of my car!) and speed to the whole process of extracting your own money.

Well, this morning, at sometime between 7:50 and 8:00, I rolled up to the ATM and sat in park while the person in the car in front of me...did something. She was digging through stuff on her backseat, that I could tell.

But I figured she'd at least look up when she saw me behind her, and either hurry up a little bit, or maybe pull up and let me use the ATM while she was doing whatever it was that she was doing.

Still, I gave her the benefit of the doubt.

And then several minutes passed, and she was still rifling through her backseat.

Finally, her head popped out from the car, but instead of acknowledging that she was holding me up, she just shut the door and climbed into the driver's seat. And proceeded to sit there.

Now, she was likely writing out a check to deposit in the ATM, which is fine. But she didn't even look up to see that I was behind her, or to say she'll be a couple of minutes.

And, okay, if it were me in that position, I would have made sure to have everything filled out and ready BEFORE getting to the drive-up ATM, which is, as I said, a convenient and fast alternative.


Well, there she sat, in her front seat for several more minutes, without even a hint of recognition that she was being incredibly rude (in my opinion, anyway). I wasn't sure what to do, mostly because I don't like being rude myself, so I sat there.

And then another car pulled up behind me.

At that point, the woman in front was still in the front seat, door closed. It had gone on long enough that I wasn't sure if she was done with the ATM and maybe she just didn't realize anyone was behind her.

So I decided to tap the horn. Lightly.

At which point she got out of the car and went to the ATM, deposited her check, got a receipt, and she was done. But before she got back in the car, she looked at me and waved, in a way that made it unclear if she was saying "sorry for the hold-up," or, "you happy now, jerk?"

In that moment, I wanted to ask her just that--were you acknowledging that you just help two other people up for 10 minutes while you did who-knows-what that SHOULD have been done before pulling up to the ATM? Or did you think I was the jerk because I called you on your rudeness?

I didn't ask, and then she got in her car and she pulled away.

And then I felt like the jerk. And I don't like feeling like a jerk, because I try so hard to not be a jerk. And so, since I can vent on a public forum, I decided to vent. Still not sure if I was the jerk, but it made me feel better writing about it.

Which, come to think of it, might actually make me a jerk.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Maximum Blog Destruction

Ever play Asteroids? Wish you could be playing Asteroids RIGHT NOW? Wish you could be playing Asteroids on this very blog RIGHT NOW, blowing up all the hyperlinks and images and embedded videos you can find?

OK, go ahead.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Game Over; Party Perished; Thou Art Dead

We seem to be on a nostalgia kick that started a few days ago, so while we're still in the mood to reflect on past and present, allow me to bring up an issue that's been bothering me for the better part of a decade: I never used to die in RPGs.

Roleplaying games used to be just below platformers on my list of favorite video game genres, in part because I had an uncanny knack for staying alive. Frequent death was a fact of life in any given platformer, but RPGs all carried the unspoken rule that a total party kill would bring shame and disgrace on my reputation as a gamer.

My very first turn-based RPG was Dragon Warrior for the NES, which instilled in me the value of strategy and good preparation. While the hero of Dragon Warrior was slain countless times under my command, there was an understanding that (a) a one-man army and his tiny bag of wimpy healing herbs isn't destined to last long in a perilous world, and (b) I was six years old. To survive, I had to study my foes and learn when to fight, when to heal, when to run, and when to spend an hour beating up on weaker enemies to gain the money and experience necessary to progress safely through the next area.

Having graduated at a young age from the school of hard knocks (or "terrible blows," in the case of Dragon Warrior), I found other RPGs to be easier because I practiced good inventory management, stocked up on necessary supplies in advance, pushed myself to conserve items and magic points, and spent excessive amounts of time leveling up from the very beginning.

At the start of Chrono Trigger, for example, I found that smashing 'shrooms in the forest until about level 4 or 5 is sufficient experience to get you through the entire game unharmed without ever needing to go back and grind for experience. There were certainly some close calls my first time through the game, but the only time I ever remember dying was when I let myself get killed off by the final boss in order to see the "bad ending."

EarthBound was a similar story. Yes, I got my head handed to me a few times in scuffles with the local ruffians, but like Dragon Warrior, chances of survival are not high when your combat options for your lone hero are Run, Fight, Burn All Your Magic Points On One Attack, and Suck Down a Can of Juice. After the initial learning curve, however, I was a force to be reckoned with.

I knew how to take advantage of my environment to avoid some enemies and sneak up on others. I knew the abilities of my party members, and I kept a well-stocked arsenal of hamburgers and bottle rockets. After the first hour or two of the game, I'm not sure if I ever got a Game Over again. I can think of one or two places where things got extremely bad, but my memory is about as fuzzy as pickles.

Obviously, death in RPGs was not a common occurrence if I have trouble remembering if and when my entire party got wiped out.

Even if the heroes were decimated, I always had an excuse that lifted the blame off my shoulders. In the first few hours, it was always the learning curve. Anytime after that, death was due to bad luck. Sometimes I traded strategy for luck and intentionally pushed my weary and bleeding party too far to grab just a little more GP and XP before returning to town. Sometimes every one of the enemy's instant death spells succeeded before any of my characters got a turn. As long as it was honest bad luck or I was utterly to blame for my failure, my record was clean.

Fun anecdote: The most hilariously embarrassing death I've ever had in an RPG came from Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest. Prior to having much of an opportunity to buy items and equipment, the very first real (and unavoidable) battle pitted me against three run-of-the-mill forest Brownies who (a) got a surprise round, and (b) ALL got critical hits. Needless to say, the only bards who ever sang of my exploits were the ones who needed approximately seven seconds to fill at the end of a performance.

I held myself to a high standard with my earliest RPGs because I was inherently good at them, or had at least put in the training with Dragon Warrior to avoid being bad at them. RPGs don't give you extra lives—you've got one chance to save the world, and you'd better make it good. It's pathetic to die at the hands/claws/tentacles/etc. of a peaceful roaming monster you accidentally disturbed; lesser bosses don't deserve the satisfaction of extinguishing your party; and it's a waste of an adventure to get all the way to the final boss and die like a chump. In a fairly designed RPG, there should be no reason for me to die.

Either I'm not as good as I thought I was, or modern RPGs are wickedly unfair.

I think of all the Final Fantasy games where "run away" was a command the designers never thought would be used, and thus was never programmed to work. I think of bosses like Abyssion in Tales of Symphonia and Dullahan in Golden Sun: The Lost Age, where everything you know about tactics go out the window, along with your notions of being a high-powered and well-leveled party. I think of Disgaea DS, where the sheer number of variables makes identifing good equipment nearly impossible.

You shouldn't have to die on a boss battle before realizing you need to completely reconfigure your party to have a chance of success. There shouldn't be items that get your party killed because the in-game descriptions are incomplete or misleading. ("Makes body cold." Thanks for not telling me the Relic Ring turns Celes into a zombie who dies and makes us throw the battle when I try to use healing magic on her!) Nothing I learned from Dragon Warrior applies anymore.

...Or does it?

If you learn nothing else from Dragon Warrior, it's that endless leveling up is the only guaranteed road to success. I've played Dragon Warrior II and III, and it's the same deal there: you spend some time leveling up, and you'll live long enough to do it again. Imagine my surprise while playing Dragon Warrior IV recently when my party of two kept getting assassinated by flying mice with big ears.

I've officially spent more money resurrecting dead cohorts in this one part of Dragon Warrior IV than I've ever spent on any game other than X-Men Legends. To add insult to fatal injury, about a third of these resurrections have taken place after the entire party was wiped out and brought back in pieces to the last save point. I can place some of the blame on the characters' abilities not being ideally configured for my style of combat, but the truth of the matter is that I haven't spent the time leveling up to not return to town on a stretcher.

In my defense, DWIV has multiple chapters starring different characters who all start from pathetically low levels, so repeatedly grinding my way up from Level 1 in such a relatively short span of time has finally gotten to me.

During the first chapter, I was violently reminded to refrain from being too ambitious with my dungeon exploration—this was Dragon Warrior, after all, and not Chrono Trigger on New Game + for the seventeenth time. During the second chapter, the enemies increased in difficulty gradually enough that I could poke around to my heart's content without slowing down too often to grind for XP. During the third chapter, I spent copious amounts of time fighting enemies for gold and saleable loot that would pay for something I needed to buy to advance the plot, but I rarely felt my life was in danger. By the fourth chapter, I was through with grinding and just wanted to get to the part of the game where I could hit enemies with magical swords instead of wooden sticks. How foolish of me.

After a string of defeats in roughly the same spot of a certain dungeon, it dawned on me that I hadn't lost my touch—I wasn't a washed-up, has-been RPG player. My tactics were still sound, save for one important detail: I was willfully ignoring my training. Grinding for gold and experience was no longer the relaxing, rewarding experience it had once been. I demanded instant gratification from a game—nay, a genre—that only provides instant gratification if you enjoy watching your party of Light Warriors get Rubbed out of existence in one turn by a pack of Mages in the Ice Cavern.

Side note: I maintained a perfect, "no death" streak in the original Final Fantasy by resetting the game the one time it looked like my whole party was going to be wiped out by those accursed earthquaking Sand Worms, and by never entering the dangerous final dungeon until college, where saved states on an emulator continued my winning streak. For shame.

I still contend that too many modern RPGs hand out cheap deaths like people hand out flyers on street corners, but even the worst of these can usually be mitigated by overleveling your characters. I evidently need to find more games like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, where success is more dependent on wise character customization and creative battle tactics than how many times you care to wage war on the local slime population before proceeding.

This begs the question, though: Did I enjoy RPGs more when I was younger because they were better games, or because I was more willing to go out of my way to make winning easy?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Getting Nostalgic

Every year at this time, I inevitably end up thinking about Christmases spent as a kid, and everything that entailed. You know, things like not worrying about finding parking at malls, or having to be anywhere in particular, or finishing piles (and piles) of work before taking a few days off.

As a kid, Christmas meant a week off from school, hopefully with little-to-no homework (except from that one teacher who just didn't seem to know that Santa Claus was going to bring many things to distract us all from doing that 5-page report on The Giver), sleeping late, playing video games, and what have you.

You never really get back that sense of complete and utter freeness that a Christmas (or summer) vacation gave you as a kid, and now that I'm older, it never ceases to amaze me how excited I get about having a week off.

The 10-year-old me would be horrified at the prospect of only getting 5 or 10 days off over the course of an entire year.

And let's not even mention the stack of work that will be waiting for me when I get back to work in the New Year. But, still, somehow Christmas manages to captivate me enough that I get truly and honestly excited about things like gift-giving and Christmas Eve comics reading and desert on Christmas Day.

I used to look at all the grown-ups in my family--my grandmothers especially--and wonder how they felt at Christmas. Here were all the kids, opening presents and staying up late in anticipation and laughing and screaming and being...well, it all.

And there the older folks sat, just looking on.

That must be tough, I used to think. Just sitting there while we literally lived through some of the best days of our youth.

Of course, as I got older, I realized just how cool it must have been for the older family members to watch and to remember and to smile. We might not be able to ever experience Christmas as we did when we were kids, but there's still plenty of fun to be had.

Plenty of magic to experience.

Sure, it's corny and I'm sure a lot of you have stopped reading, but you still watched Linus give his speech this year. And, admit it, you still got a little choked up when Charlie Brown and friends found a way to make that sad little tree something special.

Things change as we get older, yeah. But I've had three holiday parties/dinners just this past week, and I have to say. I had a blast. Driving into town with all the lights on trees and in windows, restaurants packed with people exchanging gifts.

Sure, I drove around for twenty minutes last night trying to find a parking spot, but still.

The destination more than made up for the journey.

I have no idea what I'm trying to get across with this post. I really don't. And I know I'm not being politically correct by using Christmas instead of Holiday. But you all know that I really mean Holiday, and whatever it might be that you celebrate and enjoy.

I hope you all have some fun this week. And I hope each one of you gets to experience just a little bit of magic. Because that would be cool.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Ideal Geek Day

Summer break during late high school and early college was consistently the best time for me to be a geek. I was at a point in my dork development where I had been exposed to a good many fandoms, and I was eager to absorb as many more as possible during the time available. I had a few obligations such as getting out of bed before 2 PM, but nothing that would keep me from devoting a massive chunk of time to absolutely anything.

Summers were when my creative side let loose. I would routinely write Dungeons & Dragons quests up until lunchtime, or I'd disappear into the Jedi Knight II level editor for hours and not surface until 3 or 4 in the afternoon, at which point I'd realize my stomach was eating itself because I'd forgotten to have lunch.

Lunch was truly the focal point of my vacation, as everything led up to lunch, happened during lunch, or faded away with increased proximity from lunch. Any time between waking up and eating lunch was reserved for writing or possibly Animal Crossing.

Truly "free" time began to diminish the closer I got to dinner, where I'd routinely spend most or all of the rest of the day with friends or family--not a bad thing by any means, but not the "world is your oyster" feeling at 2:00 in the afternoon. Lunch was reserved almost exclusively for Star Trek or the movie du jour ("du jour" being the French expression for "soup").

I started a project one summer in which I went through the local library's movie catalogue, starting at "A" and working my way through the alphabet. I went down the line, picking out any movie I'd never seen all the way through that was (a) culturally significant, such as The Godfather; (b) something my friends kept talking about, such as Fight Club; or (c) something I just felt like watching, such as *batteries not included.

The result was the emergence of a budding film buff, well-versed in silent film and modern cinema alike, from 2001: A Space Odyssey to whatever movie came just before Hotel Rwanda on the shelf. A typical week had me watching Blade Runner, Borat, Bonnie & Clyde, and Battleship Potemkin, followed by that episode of Star Trek where Kirk loses his shirt in a fistfight.

After gaining an appreciation for Japanese anime at college, I expanded my self-education to include some foreign films as well. Not too long after, my neatly organized routine of picking up 4-5 movies per week and watching them all began to fall apart as more obligations arose. It's not that I didn't have the time for movies; rather, it was that the conditions were seldom right.

I get antsy if I try to watch a movie on my own, and it usually wasn't until the weekend that I'd have at least one cohort to join me. I also get antsy if I'm not simultaneously doing something productive with my hands such as eating or folding clothes, so having something to do other than watching movies over lunch or dinner destabilized my zest for cinema.

I bring this all up because, effective at the end of work today, I'm on vacation until the New Year(TM). There will be time spent with friends and family, but if I have any say in the matter, there will be several days where I sleep in a little and still have enough time to put up a blog post, write a GameCola article, watch a movie over lunch, record another YouTube video, make more progress in one of my GameFAQs walkthroughs, put in a little time on my years-overdue Super Mario World ROM hack, watch a few YouTube videos over dinner, play video games until my eyes go googly on me, then squeeze in some comics and round things off with a beefy journal entry before hitting the hay and doing it all over again the next day.

Some people celebrate Christmas in July. I'm celebrating July at Christmas.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Robot Dinosaurs That Shoot Beams When They Roar (TM)

Perhaps you recall my Flash Flood column about dinosaurs that appeared on GameCola back in May of 2009. Well, it certainly took me a while (which you've come to expect if you've been following the slow releases of my Mega Man videos), but I've finally added Robot Dinosaurs That Shoot Beams When They Roar (TM) to the GameCola YouTube channel, joining the ranks of Dino Run and others. Here ya go:

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Waiting for Wednesday, Volume 2, Issue 50

Only two more Waiting fors in 2010! Holy cats, but where did this year go?!

2010 has been a strange year for me. I carried over lots of negative things from 2009 into the beginning of this year, and, for me, 2010 started out as an Unemployed Debacle.

However, it ended up as a Thoroughly Employed Something. Which is a Very Good Thing.

2010 was also the year that I finally decided to drop some pounds (85, to be exact) and to get back to being active.

Immediately after I stopped playing baseball in college, I kept up the college-level workouts, and I stayed around my playing weight for a year or two. But then things changed, and I stopped lifting weights and running and eating healthy foods.

Combine that with a job that tied me to a desk for 10 hours a day, and my inclination towards giving a hoot rapidly declined--which caused my waistline to rapidly expand.

So, yeah, at the end of last year I put it in my head that I was going to go back to my college workouts, and that I was going to eat healthy all the time. And so I did. Now, 85 pounds later, and I still need to drop 15 pounds to get back to my playing weight.

My, um, high school playing weight, that is. Which would be amazing. Let's just say, I'm wearing a pants size that I haven't been able to wear since prom.

But that's neither here nor there, and I'm not sure exactly why I even got into all of that. Today is Wednesday, of course, and so there are new comics in shops.

However, as it happens every year, we're once again faced with a mid-December lull in new comics--only to be assaulted in the last two weeks with a copious amount of new product, I'm sure.

But that leaves me with not very much to write about today in terms of books, so please forgive (or celebrate in) the brevity of today's post. I have one book on my list that I'm anxiously awaiting, so let's get into it.

From Dark Horse and writer Tim Seeley (Hack/Slash) comes a brand-new one-shot called, The Occultist. I saw this book in Previews, and figured it was right up my alley, so I ordered it without having heard much of anything in terms of promotion.
But I like Tim Seeley, and the premise sounds like something I'd be into. Here's the solicitation information from Dark Horse:

When a mysterious book of powerful spells binds itself to him, the fact that Rob's life has been falling apart doesn't seem like such a big deal. What do his girlfriend leaving him or his mountain of debt matter when mystics and demons are overrunning the town in search of the book--and him?

To survive, Rob must learn to control the book's unpredictable magic, while his life slips even further out of control.

* Tim Seeley (Hack/Slash) brings his rare mix of humor, horror, and heroes to the latest creation from company founder Mike Richardson.

* Character design by Guy Davis!

And, um. That's all I've got for today, folks. Oh! Actually, there's a variant Guy Davis-drawn cover for the book. I can, uh, post that...
There ya go. Now I'm really done. But before I go, I have to ask--what are you Waiting for?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Boxes and Boxes

I may have come to a breaking point.

I went into this weekend with a couple of goals. First among them was to finish off my holiday shopping. At somewhere around 5:30 on Monday evening, I accomplished that goal. Well, except for one present. And a gift certificate.

And, possibly, one extra present in case something I ordered in the mail decides not to show up.

If it does--decide not to show up, I mean--this present will join the ranks of three others this holiday shopping season that have vanished on me. Luckily, for the other presents, there was enough time to either re-order or cancel and buy something else entirely.

This last straggler? Well, I guess we'll have to wait and see.

I have a bad track record when it comes to ordering things that need to be delivered places. Luckily, however, the mail does not discriminate, as things meant for myself get lost just as easily as things I order for other people.

So at least there's that.

But, holiday fun aside, my other goal of this past weekend was to clean out a metric ton of comic books from various short boxes and floor spaces. As you can see from the photo at the top of this post, that whole effort basically turned into me throwing several hundred books into one much larger--and now almost immovable-- box.

As I went through my boxes of single issues, I asked myself the following: "Will I ever read this comic again?"

The resounding answer was, "No."

And so they were placed, lovingly (not really), into the big box you see up there. This got me to thinking. First off, what the heck am I doing buying so many books that I can't stomach to read more than once? And second, does it even make sense to buy single issues at all?

I know, I know. This is the comics topic du jour. But, hey. A big, giant box of discarded books doesn't lie.

So now the question becomes, should I switch compeltely to trades? It makes sense financially, and in the sense that I really don't care about reading something the day it comes out. Even with event books, I typically don't get around to reading my comics for weeks--usually months--after they initially ship.

I'm gonna think on this for a bit, but mostly because I don't want to stop going to a comics shop every week. I enjoy it, and I look forward to it. And it's fun coming home with stuff to (theoretically) read and enjoy.

Like I said, I need to think this through.

The other thing I need to think through is what, exactly, I am going to do with that giant box of comics. An Exfanding giveaway, perhaps? Cut them up into garland and wrap them around my tree? Pull an Uncle Scrooge, lay them on the floor, and dive into them?


Monday, December 13, 2010

Eddie Izzard: Laughs and Lipstick

All you need to enjoy the stand-up comedy of Eddie Izzard are three things: (1) at least a mild appreciation of British humour; (2) a tolerance of appropriately inappropriate content; and (3) no objections to women's clothing. Popular on both sides of the pond for his clever and irreverent stream-of-consciousness ramblings, Eddie Izzard stands out as a man who breaks the norms of stand-up comedy and just happens to fancy wearing high heels and lipstick.

The definitive Eddie Izzard performance on video is undoubtedly Dress to Kill, which is eminently quotable and highly polished. Other recorded performances such as Unrepeatable and Sexie still pack some great laughs, but may occasionally be "too British" for some viewers at certain points. You'll also need enough of an imagination to follow along when pantomime and sound effects replace talking, but these ridiculous segments are usually worth the extra attention.

Eddie Izzard typically eschews the standard stand-up discussions of personal anecdotes and private life, instead targeting broader topics and ideas ranging from dogs to vacuums to European history. He's got a bit of a geek streak in him as well, as evidenced by his routines about the original Star Trek and Darth Vader in the Death Star cafeteria (presented here in LEGO format for your amusement).

Outside of stand-up comedy, Eddie Izzard has made special appearances on a number of television shows and appeared in or lent his voice to a number of movies, including Mystery Men, Ocean's Twelve and Thirteen, and the decidedly more serious Valkyrie, to name a few. He's also a stage actor know what? This isn't Wikipedia. Here's another clip.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

(I gave up on the title)

I am timing myself as I write this. I've got somewhere to be in about half an hour. I'm a naturally verbose writer (with cold fingers, having just come inside from the seasonably chilly parking lot outside my apartment, so this is going to take longer), but it occurred to me that it now takes more time for me to write anything than it used to.

I'm home for the first weekend in recent memory, and I saw this as a great opportunity to get caught up on things where I was behind, and get ahead on everything else. I'd started writing a review for GameCola of Star Wars: Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast, a PC game I've enjoyed enough to make a few multiplayer levels and share them online. The Jedi Knight games are among my favorites--one of the few "all-time favorite fandoms" I have yet to exfand upon--and I figured this weekend was a perfect time to finish off the review. I was only a few paragraphs in, but I knew exactly where I wanted to go with it.

I also knew the things I wanted to skip. If you've read my review of Mega Man 10, you know that I can go into frighteningly minute detail about anything and everything. Sometimes I get carried away, and sometimes there are things I must discuss because they tie into the reason I'm writing in the first place. With this Jedi Knight II review, I found myself gradually veering into territory that was perfectly valid for a comprehensive review, but not exactly what I had originally planned on writing about.

I also found myself four hours into writing the review and I still hadn't even started discussing the multiplayer.

How could I possibly spend half a lunch break writing a few paragraphs and then proceed to spend virtually my entire Saturday afternoon on a half-finished review that's barely two pages long, if even? What was I doing that whole time?

Listening to music. Maybe I spent too much time skipping songs I didn't want to hear.

Eating. I did have lunch and grab a snack, but those took up hardly any time at all.

Daydreaming? No, I was fairly focused.

Thinking. Yes. Trying to be funny. Sometimes the comedy flows naturally; sometimes I put something normal into place and spruce it up with hilarity later. Sometimes I just stare at a screen until a joke comes to mind. More often, I write something hysterical, only to come back later and see that it barely warranted a chuckle. Writing's funny like that. Or not funny.

I proofread and edit as I go, and though I don't catch everything, I like to finish off a paragraph and be done with it. No going back after it's written, if I can help it. I also deliberate over the slightest wording differences. Should I go for "just" or "simply"? With any luck, the things I write will be around long after I'm gone--one aspect of my life to leave behind for my hypothetical future children and anyone else who's interested--so I want to make sure I'm as articulate and comprehensive as possible so that there's never any question about my meaning or opinion.

Still, four hours? In college, that was enough writing time for 1d3 sessions of Dungeons & Dragons! I could've gotten to the next chapter of Dragon Warrior IV! I could have sorted through all those e-mails from my friends with video links to things like dancing Korean pop stars that have been piling up for months. I could have cleaned up my dining room table, washed all the dishes in my kitchen, and prepared a real meal that wasn't five bowls of cereal or a can of Chef Boyardee.

I wrote half of an OK article that's maybe sorta funny in a few places, and I'll probably look back at it next time I sit down to write and I'll want to discard half of it. Even at my most longwinded, it never took me more than three hours to write any blog post that wasn't a crazy-long introduction with pictures. Why should GameCola be any different?

Maybe it's the funny factor. As with my Mega Man commentary, I'm not always "in the zone" when I sit down for a creative endeavor. Side note: I usually want to spell that word as "endeavour." It's one of the few British spellings that just looks better to me. Or simply looks better to me. Nah, I think I'll stick with "just" this time.

Anymoogle, there have been times where I've passed up recording on an entire day of nothing for no other reason than "I wasn't feeling up to it." Yes, I could have recorded something, but I need to feel that creativity in my veins. It's different with writing--I can bludgeon words onto a page until I have something that can be read from start to finish with no problem. It might not be good, but it's there. Commentary is totally different for me, because in a blog post, there are never sudden

pauses or gaps in the writing, or, um, stuttering and, um, or that...shoot. Writing can be made to look like it's flowing even when it really isn't. And you can't hear the intonation in my voice when I'm writing to tell whether my heart's in it. Sometimes you can, I suppose, but even some of the easy fluff posts have been written with enthusiasm, just limited time.

I honestly can't tell you where I'm going with this post. This is one of those things that we occasionally write for ourselves. If you appreciate it, cool; if not, no worries--we'll come up with something more interesting soon enough. I've been quite pleased with our writing as of late, so if this is some weird hiccup, then so be it. I'm just trying to determine what the heck happened to my Saturday afternoon.

29 minutes, 44 seconds.

...Plus the unnecessary minutes I usually spend thinking of a title for my posts.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Why Bookstores Are Like A T-Rex

I like bookstores because of their smell. I like bookstores because of the infinite possibilities that lie within their stacks. I like them because of what they represent, and what they promise, and what they provide.

If I had my way--my one, true, and ideal existence on this planet--I'd ride off into the sunset of life owning my own little bookshop somewhere. It would sit on a corner of a little street, in a little town.

I'd sell books, and comics, and coffee, and little cakes. And I'd be the happiest person you'll ever know.

I almost rented an apartment above a bookshop once, a few months ago. But then I was reminded of the inherent and exacerbated risk of fire, and the location of the store/apartment in relation to everything and everyone else in my life.

And it just didn't make sense.

But the idea of living above all those books was romantic and quaint and, because of the nature of the shop, more than a little bit quirky.

As a kid, I used to think it'd be the coolest thing ever to live in a bookstore. To stay there all day and night, and to explore every shelf, every book, and every world within.

As I got older--and became unemployed for two different stints in my young "career"--my conceptions of living in a bookstore changed. Dramatically. Hanging out for hours on end in a Borders cafe, searching for jobs, or writing things for no one, was not the dream existence I had previously envisioned.

Still, that wasn't the bookstore's fault.

Currently, I make a point of it to visit a bookstore--either a big one, like Borders or Barnes & Noble, or a local shop--at least once a week, usually on Tuesdays if there are any new releases that interest me, or on Saturdays when I have some time to wander.

And bookshops still hold for me those same, wonderful possibilities as they've always had.

However, I find it increasingly difficult to buy books at a physical store location. Out-of-stock books, insanely stupid shelving policies, employees who are so overworked and exhausted and underpaid that they just don't care what you're asking about.

The list goes on forever.

The reasons for this are myriad, and I know them all too well. As I write this, I received an email about how Borders had a(nother) disastrous quarter of sales, and that they are once again at Death's door.

We've heard for the past two-plus years how the retail giant has very little time left, and people are again calling their long term well-being into question.

Book sales stink, and there's no way anyone could argue that they'll get better anytime soon. For as much talk as publishers like to spew about being "progressive," the truth of the matter is that they simply don't know how best to utilize new technologies.

Which is understandable, since they are the first publishers in history to deal with the dawning and rapid expansion of the digital age.

Publishers are hanging on due to their content--because Content is King. But that content is available on a slew of different platforms these days, and the tried-and-true hardbound book is simply out of favor with the masses.

Added to that is, obviously, the one-shop, one-click shopping provided by Amazon, which somehow hasn't rendered actual stores completely and irrecoverably extinct. But not for lack of trying.

There's still something to books, to holding a real and actual thing as opposed to a digital file that exists somewhere in the ether.

But try going to a bookstore at this time of year.

People in every direction. Books pulled from their normal (almost) logical shelves to be placed on special theme tables at different locations in the store, the replacing of customer service kiosks with an e-reader table (huh?!)...

To cap it all off, I called a Barnes & Noble the other day, looking for a book to give as a present. It's an expensive book, and I really wanted to pay for it in cash, as opposed to buying online and plunking something else on a credit card.

So I called the store and asked if they had it. They didn't carry the book, I was told, because of its price.

"Can you order it?" I asked.

"Sure, but that wouldn't make much sense, sir," was the answer. "You can buy it on our site for much cheaper than what we would charge here--plus, you'd have to pay it in full over the phone because of the high price."

"So I--um. OK. Thanks for your time."

"You're welcome. Is there anything else I could help you with?"

"No, thanks," is what I said into the reciever. But I was thinking something else entirely.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The True Meaning of Christmas

Well, we’re just about two weeks before Christmas now, and I’ve managed to kind of/almost/sort of finish my shopping. As I do every year around this time, I have once again come to the conclusion that gift-giving is hard. And tiring. And expensive.

My list of people to buy for grew by 10 this year, making everything that much more difficult, and tiring, and expensive.

But I have to say. I enjoy buying things for people. It makes me happy while it makes my wallet sad. And, as much as I hate the whole rampant consumerism side of the holiday season, I’m also a pretty hypocritical person in general.

So I don’t feel even a little bit badly about going to a mall and buying stuff.

Sure, most of my gifts this year (and most years, really) came from small shops and independent retailers. But this wasn’t done out of some kind of altruism on my part. Not at all. It’s just that, the stuff I bought really can’t be found at chain stores or giant retailers.

Even when I’m not trying to be, I can’t help but be indie, I guess.

And that’s awesome and all, but sometimes there are just certain things that you have to buy from big, honking conglomerates. Unfortunately, you can’t buy an iPod for Cousin Jimmy from anywhere but Apple and Best Buy and Radio Shack.

All very much your prototypical mall stores.

And so I had to venture out into the abyss that is a mall at Christmas. There’s the lack of parking spots, the people with way too many bags, swinging them around without looking and/or thinking, and that one guy who just can’t for the love of Zelda find Bath & Body Works.

(It’s the one that smells like peppermint was murdered, Bucky.)

There’s the non-stop Christmas music playing in the background of every store, like a not-so-subliminal soundtrack urging you to spend more money. And that one old lady who honestly doesn’t know what size sweater her grandson wears.

Or if he’ll like the polka-dotted cat prints embroidered onto the triple XL abomination she’s holding in her hands.

The fragrance of chestnuts roasting has been replaced with the overpriced and insanely high caloric (and some might say unholy) concoction that is the Gingerbread Latte (with whipped cream, please!) at Starbucks.

But it’s all good. It’s all how it should be.

Thirty years ago, parents went insane trying to secure a Cabbage Patch Kid for little Susan. A couple of years ago, Little Susan, now in her thirties, went nuts to find a Zu Zu Pet for her little Mikey.

This year, stores opened up at midnight on Thanksgiving, and stayed open so that customers could “shop while they waited” for Black Friday deals. Good for the economy, bad for our mental health.

And, frankly, a little confusing. What, exactly, is on sale now, and what will be on sale tomor—uh. I mean, later today?

But rest assured, Exfanders. Because, at least, for every newfangled Christmas Toy Craze and holiday hotness, there will always be that clueless, wonderful grandmother holding a cat-print sweater.

And that, truly, is the meaning of Christmas.

-- -- -- --

Happy Friday, everyone!