Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Waiting for Wednesday, Volume 3, Issue 35

Annnd I'm back. After a wild weekend of Hurricane (then Tropical Storm) Fun, I'm back at the office today--or, at least, for part of today. You see, back at home I still have no electricity, no water, no phone service, and my cell phone can only be used to text message.

Apparently even cell towers managed to collapse in my area. And, when you're I am, well let's just say that text messaging ain't cheap, let me tell you.

Anyway, the point of today's post was supposed to be an introduction to the DC relaunch, which kicks off today with Justice League, issue 1, by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee, and Flashpoint, issue 5, from Johns.

Obviously, it's not about that.

Instead, I just want to say this. I'm very happy and very lucky that everyone in my family got through the storm just fine, and the property damage was kept to a minimum.

The basement is on the brink of flooding, however, and only a constant guard of the portable, hilariously out-of-code generator keeps the water at bay. This means filling up the tank every three hours or so, which means no sleeping for yours truly.

Well, okay, I can sleep in three-hour intervals.

But somehow, that feels worse than not sleeping at all. But now, for the next couple hours, at least, I'm back at work and back in the much and mire of pressing (and not moving, despite the fact that the entire state blew up) deadlines.

More on the new DC books probably next week (that's the estimate of when the lights will come back on).

In the meantime, have fun, everyone. Someone around here has to.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Next Trek

I don't have the mental or physical wherewithal to expand on this at all today, but I'd at least like to share something rather exciting for Star Trek fans such as myself who've been longing for a new TV series built on 40+ years of history, rather than a reboot with enough Star Wars in it to appeal to those who didn't get what they wanted out of the prequels, and just enough Star Trek in it to pretend like it wasn't actually a Star Wars prequel.

What I'd like to share is the news that there's the possibility of a new Star Trek TV show on the horizon. Real Star Trek. True to form, this news is a week old.

Whether or not this idea goes anywhere, I am heartened to know that people with honest-to-goodness clout in the entertainment world still care about the Star Trek universe beyond Kirk--and beyond Picard--and want to explore the countless strange new worlds that have yet to be visited there.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Oh, Uh...

It's always difficult to resume normal posting after something big or something terrible. Sometimes it feels like we should press on as usual, and sometimes it seems wrong to do anything but dwell on the subject a little longer or gracefully transition to another topic.

Well, here's an ungraceful transition. Enjoy a little Star Wars humor from The Dork Dimension.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Uh Oh

So, yeah. Um.

I'm writing this on a Friday evening with the distinct possibility that a major hurricane is going to rip directly through Exfanding HQ. I'm trying to stock up on a couple days' worth of posts, just in case what I think will happen actually does happen.

So let's just say this. If you don't hear from us for a couple of days, please don't be mad. And most importantly, please don't go anywhere.

We'll be back as soon as we possibly can. We promise.

If you happen to be in the path of the storm as well, please be smart, stay safe, and we'll all plan to regroup right here once everything's back to normal. Okay? Okay, good.

We'll see you soon, Exfanders.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Grant Morrison Vs. Comics (Not Really)

Well, here it is. This week's most controversial comics-related thing.

Comics writer, magician, and altogether genius Grant Morrison gave a fascinating interview with Rolling Stone earlier this week. The article, entitled Grant Morrison on the Death of Comics, features Morrison talking candidly about a whole mess of things.

Included in those topics of interest is his deteriorated relationship with fellow writer Mark Millar, a frank discussion about comic book groupies, and the obligatory promotion of Morrison's new book, Supergods, which is a history of the comic book medium.

But what's caused the biggest reaction from the comics community has been Morrison's comments on the state of the industry itself. The title of the piece certainly hits the nail on the head in terms of the long-time writer's feelings on today's comic book landscape.

I encourage you to read the article in full, but if you don't, here are the bits that have been most talked about online:

DC is relaunching its entire line – is there some desperation there?

There's always going to be a bit of that because comics sales are so low, people are willing to try anything these days. It's just plummeting. It's really bad from month to month. May was the first time in a long time that no comic sold over 100,000 copies, so there's a decline.

Do you think this is the death spiral?

Yeah. I kind of do, but again, you can always be wrong. There's a real feeling of things just going off the rails, to be honest. Superhero comics. The concept is quite a ruthless concept, and it's moved on, and it's kind of abandoned, the first-stage rocket.

And you know what the crazy thing is? I think what he's saying makes a whole lot of sense. "Death spiral" might be a bit much, as comics have been in a seemingly perpetual death cycle since the late 90s.

But comics has a readership of--at the very ceiling--one million people. If that was the amount of people watching a TV, on any channel, it would be cancelled after two episodes.

We hear a lot of creators talking about how things are actually just fine in comics right now when we all know that's simply not the case. It's refreshing--though a bit scary--to hear arguably the most important writer in the medium speaks openly about how he sees things from his side of the convention table.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Exfanding Your Horizons Turns 3 Years Old!

It's official: Exfanding Your Horizons is three years old! Happy Birthday to us!

Because it works, and because we like it so much, we're bringing back the same reflective Q&A style we utilized the last two times. We know what you're thinking: "Waitaminute--you guys celebrated this blog's first birthday on August 22, and its second birthday on August 26. What gives?" We'll tell you what gives: We have no idea.

Our blog rules.

Three years into blogging, is it (a) mostly the same as when you started, (b) less fun than when you started, or (c) more fun than when you started?

Nathaniel: How about (d) just different? Yes, I know When we first started, just about everything we wrote was a new topic and/or an excited introduction to one of our favorite fandoms. Now we've got a long history behind us to refer back to, and much of what we write expands on topics and ideas we've already covered.

I miss having that "world is my oyster" feeling of being able to write about anything for the first time--and having the time to do it--but I also appreciate the increased depth with which we're now able to discuss the subjects we've already introduced. Plus, there are plenty of fandoms yet untapped. If blogging is less fun, it's only because of circumstances conspiring to deny me the time I require to write a suitably satisfying post and still get to bed at a reasonable hour.

Alex: Funny you should mention that whole, not having enough time to write posts thing. Seems like we write a lot about not having time to write on this blog, but there's (somehow) still plenty of new content every week.

It's amazing that, no matter how busy the day--or week, or month--may get, we always find time for Exfanding.

Probably should have asked this question on Day One, but are we justified in having a blog? (It’s been three years, and we have readers, but still.) And, if so, what makes us/our opinions on things so special?

Alex: Well, clearly, it's the fact that we are all inherently special. Each of us, a precious snowflake with something unique to contribute to the world.

That, or Nathaniel and I just never seem to shut up about certain things. Specifically the things we love--like Star Trek and The Goon--and so we always have something to write about.

We're also snowflakely--I mean, uniquely possessed of that wonderful trait wherein neither one of us ever thinks our opinions are wrong. And so we force them upon--I mean, share them with unsuspecting denizens of the Internet.

Nathaniel: Asking us whether we're justified in having a blog is like asking us whether we're justified in expressing our personalities to other people. This blog is us, in a format you can enjoy in your home, at your job, outside, and all the other places we'd never actually want to go. Though we certainly listen to reader feedback, we have always written this blog for ourselves; if you're interested in our opinions or our writing style or the topics we choose, then that's a bonus, not a justification. Also, it helps that we're never wrong.

How often do you read other blogs? How have your blog reading habits changed in the last three years?

Nathaniel: I hadn't really been exposed to blogs until I myself became one. Erm...became a blogger. I started with Occasional Superheroine, Beneath the Screen, and KP's Take, reading them during my lunch break on a regular basis until they all started going longer than a month without a new post. Nowadays I'm subscribed to some two dozen blogs, a few of which are now defunct, and none of which I actually read. Well, aside from the occasional eye-catching post on my feed or our blogroll.

Alex: There are other blogs on the Internet?

A lot of Big Life Stuff has happened this year, some wonderful, others quite difficult. What has the blog meant to you these three years, and have your feelings about the blog changed over the past 12 months?

Nathaniel: I used to keep a journal, and while I technically still do, I now average about one entry a month; this blog has become my journal. As a result, my writing has become a little more personal than I ever wanted it to be online, but it's also become a little more philosophical.

This blog is not only a chronicle of my life told through a geeky lens, but it's also a great resource for sharing my longwinded tales and opinions with others. On multiple occasions, I've avoided wearing myself out retelling my engagement story or explaining why I'm not a big fan of The Legend of Zelda in sufficient enough detail to avoid being punched, simply by copy/pasting a link to a post.

To the casual observer, this might seem like a shamefully lazy thing to do, but when you think about it, this is actually shamefully lazy and it drives up blog traffic. Alternately, it's an efficient use of time that also allows me to share this wonderful website with others. Perspective is key.

Bottom line is that this blog has become a part of my life. I've stayed up until 3 AM to finish posts for the next day. I've abandoned quality time with my wife-to-be for the sake of that 11 AM deadline. I've occasionally adjusted my playing, viewing, reading, and listening habits to maximize the amount of blog fodder I get from my sources of entertainment.

There are days when I want to call in sick to the blog, but I never do (unless Alex is willing to cover, and he's awesome about that) because it is deeply rewarding to stick to this routine and continue developing both this absurd backlog of reading material for my future children, and this blogging partnership that has helped to keep both of us sane and in touch despite anything else that's been going on.

Alex: I think it's pretty clear that, at times, I use this blog as a place to vent or to complain. Sometimes I do so excessively, I admit, but that's never done without purpose. If I'm in a certain mood, or if something really frustrating has happened in my life, I love the fact that I can come here and talk about it.

Conversely, when something good happens, or when I discover a great new book or film or TV show, EyH is always there as an outlet for that. While I have a couple of geeky friends, the majority of the people I hang out with have no idea who Matt Murdock is and couldn't care less if the Kree have decided to attack the Marvel Universe again.

So when news breaks about, say, the DC relaunch, I can't bring that up at lunch with a co-worker and chat about the intricacies of starting that particular universe over from scratch. Because, as my brother likes to remind me quite often, that universe doesn't actually exist.

But--and this is going to sound corny--because of the fanbase of comics, or roleplaying, or what have you, these universes do kind of exist. In our heads, on paper, in a basement on a Saturday afternoon.

And writing about them here--and sharing my opinions on them with like-minded people--allows me to breathe just a little bit of life into the world of the Goon, or the Marvel Universe, or Gotham City.

And that's pretty cool.

What ongoing factors or situations have had the biggest impact on your writing in the last year, for better or for worse?

Nathaniel: Mega Man Mega Man Mega Man. When I first started recording my video game playthroughs for YouTube, it was a little side project. Between unavoidably protracted recording schedules and a huge increase in the number of comments I receive, I've been spending far more time in the Mega Man mindset than I ever have, and it's been very easy to default to Mega Man whenever I'm strapped for time or ideas. I swear, I can stop anytime.

Alex: I had a negative experience in the comics world this year, and I have to say, that's affected my Waiting for Wednesday columns for the past couple of months. Instead of writing about three, four, or even five new books, I usually keep the column to an intro and one or two titles.

I'm hoping that's something that will change for me in the next few months because the comics industry today is literally the most exciting it's ever been.

We’ve had run-ins with Blog Thieves and we’ve dealt with some negative criticism this past year—both Exfanding firsts. Anything in particular you’ve learned from the past 12 months?

Alex: Actually, yes. If you yell loud enough, eventually someone will hear you.

Nathaniel: If you yell loud enough and get other people to yell with you, eventually someone will hear you. Also: know when to use your indoor yelling voice.

Take a moment to imagine a world where Exfanding Your Horizons never existed. Once you're done wiping the tears from your eyes, how would your life be different?

Alex: Well, without this blog, I wouldn't know a minor Internet celebrity, that's for sure. I mean, the guy's got his own forum (that I just found today, thank you for telling me).

Nathaniel: Hey, I posted about that forum three months ago. I was going to say, "I probably wouldn't have become friends with Alex, and that would have been sad," but I take it back now that I know he's not reading my posts.

I would never have found that picture of the amazingly ridiculous cheesesteak hat.

Alex: Oh, and to answer a question from a little ways up there, the biggest change on this blog? Definitely how Nathaniel's Internet celebrity has changed him. Such a diva now...

Nathaniel: You are so fired.

How much has the Other Guy (read: your blogging compadre) influenced the kinds of things you talk about here, and how you talk about them?

Nathaniel: Alex got me to read comics. The fact that I have written any comics-related posts at all is a miracle. Maybe not a miracle on the order of, say, turning water into wine, but at least as impressive as turning water into Kool-Aid.

I think we've both picked up some of each other's writing mannerisms; I'm told by my family that, if you don't see the "Exfanded by So-and-So" tag at the top of a post, it's often like a game to determine which one of us wrote it. Personally, I don't think it's that difficult to tell us apart; I'm the one with the better beard.

Alex: That was going to be my answer. (Not the beard thing, though that is true.) During Nathaniel's recent move, his father told me that he sometimes can't tell our posts apart, and I think that's pretty cool.

I like Nathaniel's writing style, and if people compare mine to his, then that's a compliment I'll gladly accept.

Nathaniel: Okay, okay. You're un-fired. Flatterer.

When we get to this point next year, what will you hope to see on the blog? Changes? Mostly the same?

Nathaniel: We've got a revamped banner in the works, and a subtle background image of some sort might be nice to have. I might like to consult a professional someone-or-other about the layout and HTML code of the site, because I essentially slapped everything together with just barely enough know-how to get borders on all sides of a text box.

In terms of content--and this may be a shock to you--less Mega Man. More of all the stuff I seldom talk about, like anime and tabletop roleplaying games and Mega Man X.

Alex: Ya know, I want to see Nathaniel talk more about RPGs, too. I've been reading a lot of Wil Wheaton lately, and I really like hearing stories about things people did when they were kids--be it roleplaying, riding a bike to the local comic book store, or playing catch with their father.

So, yeah. More roleplaying, and more stories of our youths.

Seriously, now. Where the heck are that Blog Book and Blog T-Shirt you promised two years ago?

Alex: They both got bumped in favor of something WAY better. We're pleased to announce that we are currently hard at work on Exfanding Hand Puppet Theater©.

See? Told you it was better.

Nathaniel: I have no response to that.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Cameo Call

I've been known to make the occasional cameo in other people's YouTube videos, and this time I've rejoining Kirby Pink; you may recall that we joined forces previously to conquer the arcade game Mega Man: The Power Battle. A year later, almost exactly to the day, we sat down to record a playthrough of the sequel, Mega Man 2: The Power Fighters...except, true to form, nothing worked properly.

After several hours without success, we decided to make it easier on ourselves and just have me as a guest commentator for his latest video in a walkthrough series for Mega Man X2. Unless you're already familiar with MMX2, this video will make zero sense. Get it? Zero sense? This is why I don't write jokes for Letterman.

More videos available on MMX9Play's channel, or so they tell me.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Waiting for Wednesday, Volume 3, Issue 34

It's kind of a strange comic book week, as DC wraps up their current line of books in preparation for next week's much talked about relaunch, which will kick off with the release of only two new books--Flashpoint, issue 5, and Justice League, issue 1.

But we'll talk about all that next week.

In the meantime, my list of things to buy for today is pretty short. I'll flip through a number of the DC books that are wrapping up, but, honestly, I don't really see the point in owning many of them.

I will be buying American Vampire, issue 18, and issue 43 of Brian Wood's excellent Northlanders series, so at least I'm giving Vertigo some love.
It's also a pretty slim week for the independent stuff--Image ships issue 20 of their amazing ongoing, Chew, but other than that, I'll be saving my pennies (read: dollars).

Not to fear, though, as Marvel classes things up with yet another comic book in a plastic bag with issue one of the new Ultimate Comics Ultimates title. Which has seemingly relaunched on an endless loop the past couple of years.

Anyway, you can check out the opening of said comic book over at Bleeding Cool.

I wish they'd stop it already with this plastic bag stuff. It's stupid, frankly, and it does the opposite of everything I've learned in book publishing. People are buying the book blind--and for what reason?

Do they bag the newest Twilight book because someone in the store might flip ahead to the last pages? How about Harry Potter? Certainly all kids did was spoil the ending because the books weren't housed in carbonite on the day they shipped to stores.

Marvel, obviously, has a great product. Stop hiding it behind plastic bags.

And with that incredibly upbeat post, I'm going to sign off for today and look forward to next week's new books. My snarkiness today aside, it's a pretty exciting time to be reading comics.

The biggest news of the year--the DC relaunch--starts next week, which means we'll finally get to see what a year's worth of hype actually has to offer. Things are certainly going to get interesting, and once we get past this week's weird holding pattern, expect Internet buzz to ramp up.

What's more, by the time New York Comic Con rolls around at the end of October, fans will have had plenty of time to check out what the new books are all about. So the DC Nation panels at that particular show are going to be especially intriguing.

Anyway, more about that when the time comes. For now, I'm gonna get a move on. Before I do, though, what are you Waiting for?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Wedding Themed Post. Also, Zombies.

I'm back today--both to the blog and to reality--after a Big Wedding Weekend. A very close friend got married on Sunday, and it was a great day, start to finish.

Actually, it was a great weekend overall, as even the rehearsal dinner on Saturday was top notch.

It's weird now that I can say I've known certain people for 20 years--it makes me feel old, but also kinda cool. You know, in an old, "I now think lame things are cool" kind of way.

Still, he and I played together pretty much from Little League through high school, and we even became acclaimed coaches at some point along the way. (My definition of "acclaimed" is probably different than yours.)

Anyway, I'm incredibly happy for the couple, and even though they don't read this blog (how dare they), I wish them the very best in their new life together.

Oh, and speaking of weddings. You need to go check out these wedding photos--officially the greatest of all time. And, no. This wasn't the wedding I attended.

Right. Time to go. I miss one day of work, and everything breaks in hilarious, horrifying ways. Back tomorrow with an all-kinda-the-same Waiting for Wednesday.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Ten Things Resulting From Last Week

1) I have a newfound loathing for thunderstorms.

I used to love turning my wired world topsy-turvy by unplugging everything electronic and taking in the wonder of nature, or curling up with a book and flashlight, or taking an opportunity to chat with whoever was with me. After losing approximately 8-10 hours of potential wedding planning and blogging in the past four days due to keeping my computer off during one thunderstorm after another, I am on the verge of moving to Idaho, or whatever state has a law against thunderstorms only striking when I am about to attempt something productive on the computer.

2) I now understand why so many of the video games I've played in the last few years have dragged on--it's not because of the specific games so much as a prevailing game design mindset of superficial gameplay.

Playing Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance became my activity of choice while waiting in frustration for each thunderstorm this week to end, and as I play farther into the game, I realize more and more that this otherwise enjoyable game suffers from Artificial Replayability Syndrome. That is, by repeating room layouts and requiring backtracking through areas that are more linear than the branching paths would have you believe, the game successfully increases the time spent playing with a minimal increase in developer effort and creativity.

Thinking about it, this apparent developer thought process that games must be as long as possible to maximize player enjoyment has resulted in so many modern (and, honestly, older) games implementing quick, easy methods of extending gameplay without adding any real content. Now I'm annoyed at the whole game industry.

3) I have decided that chocolate creme-filled Oreos are not as filling or satisfying as the regular variety (read: Double Stuf), though still good.

4) I realized that the news stories on's main page are so frequently depressing because when one terrible thing happens, whoever's in charge of the news reporting ensures that as many stories that follow are somehow similar to the big, tragic news they just covered.

I don't follow the news unless I hear of something directly of relevance to me, or unless the buzz is so great that I can no longer tolerate being in the dark about the only thing anyone is talking about. News of the Casey Anthony trial and its aftermath dominated AOL news for some time, and when that all began to subside, AOL kept the momentum going in the days that followed by featuring every story they could find about someone committing a disturbing act of violence against a family member. "If you liked this story about a woman who may or may not have murdered her child, you should check out these stories!" It sickens me to think that the media is encouraging our fixation on such things, and that we as a culture are so receptive to it.

5) The importance of sleeping is proportional to the length of my commute to work.

I moved. I previously had a four-minute commute to work. Four minutes. Fifteen if I walked briskly. Now I have a significantly longer commute to work, and I use up a lot more energy getting there and back again every day, as I have a lower tolerance for traffic than the average human being, I think. Sitting around in the car wears on me pretty heavily. Suddenly, midnight has changed from the marker of probably needing to go to bed, to the indicator that I'd better have a darn good reason for still being awake.

6) Video recording technology is more beyond me than ever before.

A friend of mine from YouTube and I tried to record a joint playthrough of a game this weekend, and were thwarted by a series of issues with the sound and video that neither of us could resolve after three hours or so. Moreover, my attempts to research and plan a video game marathon streamed live over the Internet resulted in a resolution to try thinking about the matter in another year, when everything would hopefully be magically easy. It's a wonder I ever made enough videos to become a minor Internet celebrity in the first place.

7) I've been feeling a strong urge to produce content for GameCola.

The thunderstorms have had other ideas, however.

8) I think I want to read the sequel to Dune once I'm finished with the book.

I've heard from one or two people that the sequel is terrible, which makes me all the more curious. I like to be entertained and intellectually stimulated, but I'm also fascinated by what makes things bad.

9) This blog featured two guest posts only a few days apart, a blog first.

One on the LEGO Movie video games from my wife-to-be, and one on the Marvel Cinematic Universe from my previously brother-in-law-to-be. Remember, we welcome your ideas for guest posts--drop us a line if you're interested.

10) I'm another week older.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Marvel Cinematic Universe

Wow, another guest post! This time, my brother-in-law is back with a response to my Marvel movie post from a few weeks back.

Imagine this: you plan on going to a movie. This movie is not only gaining its reputation for great directing, visual effects, beautiful scenery, extraordinary music and the like, but it is also the story of a great character embarking on a wonderful journey. Furthermore, this character happens to be the product of a brilliant scientific endeavor, or a freak accident, or a genetic mutation, or the son of a god. This movie exists as a fantastic achievement all on its own. Even if you saw no other movie, this one would be worth seeing.

Now imagine this: Not only did this movie make sense all on its own, as its own movie, but this movie exists in a network of other movies; a universe, perhaps.

Take the Pirates of the Caribbean movies for instance. Pirates exists in its own universe. The problem with these movies, however, is that you must see Movie #1 before you see Movie #2, and even though Movie #2 isn't worth seeing [Editor's note: BEG. TO. DIFFER.], Movie #2 must be seen before Movie #3.

In 2007, with the creation of Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, Marvel has created what is called the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The MCU includes the following movies: Iron Man 1 & Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America. You may wonder: X-Men, Spider-Man, and a few other movies with Marvel characters came out around that time; why not these?

You see, not all Marvel movies are Marvel Universe Movies. Marvel sold the rights to many of their characters to make some money. Blade 1 & 2, all of the X-Men series (X-Men, X2, X-Men: The Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and X-Men: First Class), Spider-Man 1-3, Daredevil, Ghost Rider, the first Hulk, and the two Fantastic Four moves were all produced primarily from other companies like 20th Century Fox, New Line Cinema, Universal Pictures, Colombia Pictures & Lionsgate.

It was not until 2007 that Marvel really stepped it up and decided to create their own Universe. Take a look at movie enterprises like Pirates of the Caribbean, or Star Trek, or Transformers, all with good and strong fandoms. These fandoms draw from of a string of movies, tied and connected in a series, and even a reboot or two. This I would call building a vertical universe where one story builds off of another.

MCU is more of a horizontal universe that will have vertical stories built in. Iron Man 1 is the predecessor to Iron Man 2, but it exists in the same world, the same universe as Thor, and Captain America. Each movie exists as a solid, coherent, fantastic movie in its own right. But it also exists in an ever developing universe of movies. Yes, we will still see vertical developments, movie upon movie and a reboot *cough* *cough* Star Trek. But now, there is a new giant entering the cinematic stage…

…but this one is not green when angry, nor is it the son of Odin. No. This movie giant is the combination of stories and heroes, the union of myth and magic, the joining of different characters from across the big screens to save our world once more.

I do have one caution, however: Do not be mistaken with another X-Men or the new Spider-Man reboot. They are still not a part of the MCU. The movie to look forward to is the movie that will literally unite their worlds: The Avengers!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

I Have Standards, You Know

Yesterday I was weighted down by my own indecision, and couldn't commit to any one of the three topics I wanted to write about: wedding planning, video games, and comics. After the day I had yesterday and the night before, I've got a story that encompasses all three topics.

But mostly video games.

When I wrote yesterday's post on Thursday night, I found myself continually coming back to the question of what video game(s) I should play next. It is unusual beyond unusual for me to have no single-player games going, but such times are typically the only times when I'm willing to take a chance on something...different. Here's the breakdown of what I had been playing:

I'd just finished Back to the Future: The Game, having started back in December 2010, when the episodic PC game series first began. Each episode only took me a few evenings to a week to complete, but at the rate I was able to actually sit down and take the time to play, each new episode was released right around the time I was just coming to the end of the previous one. Given how little waiting I actually did between episodes, it genuinely felt as though I had taken eight months to finish this game, and that's quite an investment.

I had recently conquered the final boss of Final Fantasy III for the Nintendo DS, read about how I was totally missing out on a bunch of sidequests that I could only unlock by rounding up a group of ten friends and exchanging Friend Codes with them, and proceeded to free up another 20 hours of my life by taking the game out of my DS and putting it in a safe place where the obsessive completionist in me would be reluctant to lazy to look for it.

I had just wrapped up a few weeks of love-'em-and-leave-'em platforming, enjoying a brief fling with Tobe's Vertical Adventure, visiting my old flame, Mega Man (the PC game, which I'll be reviewing on GameCola before too long), and suffering though a mercifully short relationship with Mega Man's sororal twin sister, Mega Man III. (OH, THE GENDER CONFUSION, IT HURTS.)

Two lengthy commitments and a string of one-night-stands all at the same time leaves a guy ready for a break, so it was a welcome change to have nothing whatsoever on my gaming to-do list. For one night. Then I started to get antsy, and wanted to get at least one new game going. I considered polling our blog readers, or asking for opinions on the Racketboy forums I used to frequent, but I started to find that I was already formulating a list in my head.

Ideally, I like to have three games going at any given time. As a self-imposed requirement, I must at all times adhere to my Standards for Upholding Variety in Gaming. The Standards are met by ensuring that each game I'm playing represents a different item from both of the lists below:

- Adventure/Puzzle
- First-Person Shooter
- Platformer (as my favorite genre, this can be counted twice)
- Roleplaying
- Other

- Console (NES, SNES, N64, GameCube, Wii)
- Handheld (Game Boy/Color, GBA, DS)
- PC

It should be noted that I become progressively more lax about adhering to the Standards once I have three or more games going at once. I can't tell whether this all sounds more like common sense or complete nonsense, but it's a system that has served me well for many years nonetheless.

My normal procedure anymore when choosing a new game is to consult my Backloggery, scroll around until I find inspiration, or let the site's Fortune Cookie feature decide on my behalf what game I should play. Normal procedure was thrown out the window when a tremendous thunderstorm hit, and I hurriedly shut down my computer and retreated to the couch to read Dune for a while.

When the lights began to flicker, I shut off my lamp and sat in the dark for a moment, accepting my fate: I had no other suitable source of light on hand by which to read, and I wasn't about to put my PC or TV at risk of electrical overload. I had no recourse but to fetch my Game Boy Advance.

My initial thought was to try out Kirby & the Amazing Mirror. I'd been seeing a lot of references to the pink puffball on the Internet, and it had gotten me to think about how the most modern Kirby game I've played was released in 1995, when Bill Clinton was still in his first term as President. As I lifted the game out of my travel case, I noticed another game below it I had completely forgotten about--the Castlevania Double Pack.

I've played Castlevania, half of Castlevania II, and about an hour of Super Castlevania IV, and I can tell you right now that it's almost my type of game series. I'm a sucker for platformers, and the distinct game physics give the series a unique feel (which gets less painful the farther away you get from the original), and this is a big series that people like to talk about--so on one level, I'm curious. Still, it's a series featuring vampires and zombies and mummies and all those things people love around Halloween time, and I don't like Halloween. Ah, but the music is terrific.

It's a toss-up.

Much like I bought Kirby & the Amazing Mirror to get a handle on where the Kirby series has been in more recent years, I picked up the Castlevania Double Pack (featuring two games from 2002 and 2003, respectively Harmony of Dissonance and Aria of Sorrow) to see what the Belmont clan was up to some twenty years after the days of Simon Robo-Belmont. Curiosity got the better of me.

Alone in my living room, pitch black except for the occasional flashes of lightning, utterly silent aside from the sudden cracks of thunder, I sat down to play a video game crawling with every possible iteration of the undead.

It was fantastic.

As far as I've observed, Castlevania has always been just creepy enough to have atmosphere and character without being over-the-top scary, and that held true for the twenty minutes I got to play Harmony of Dissonance before the Game Boy ran out of power. I was having a blast exploring Dracula's castle with a responsive character who could level up and be decked out with fancy equipment. It was so nice to have RPG elements without being a full-blown RPG like the ones I'd been playing for the past two years, with their interminable cutscenes and endless random battles.

I finally understood what people meant when they called the newer games Metroidvania, and the simple satisfaction of discovering new areas and collecting powerups without any stupid gimmicks or aggravating game design decisions to detract from the experience suddenly made me feel that much more unfulfilled by the last official Metroid game. Everything was fun because everything worked. Well, aside from the part where the game stopped working.

The timing of my Game Boy's battery failure was awkward. It was almost time for me to consider going to bed, which is both too early to go to bed and too late to do anything other than continue playing Castlevania on my Nintendo DS, which I knew still had some battery life left. Not that I had many options other than bed or video games, but still. Awkward time.

More awkward: Having your DS tell you that there is no game inserted in the game slot, when you have very clearly just loaded the Castlevania Double Pack. Maybe two games was just too much for the system to handle. I was annoyed, because I was in the middle of one of the best gaming highs I'd had in a while, but I was willing to settle for a time-waster DS game, like Metroid Prime Pinball or Tetris DS. If the GBA game slot wasn't being recognized, at least the DS game slot would be.

Or not.

I can only assume that my DS is affected by the weather, because none of the games I shoved into it were recognized during the thunderstorm. I chalk it up to that, or to fumbling around in the dark with sensitive electronic equipment. Two portable gaming systems rendered completely useless for totally different reasons. At least I now had a substitute flashlight; the DS screen glows pretty brightly. Except I was too angry to strap the DS to my head so I could have enough light to read. "Fine! I'll go to bed!" was my response.

Last night was worse, yet somehow better. My plan was simple, as plans that fail always are: get home from work, watch a few YouTube videos over dinner, do some vital wedding planning (see, I told you there'd be wedding planning), call my family to say hello, and then do some writing before capping off the evening with more Castlevania.

What ended up happening was that I got halfway through dinner, received a phone call that led to another phone call that had me talking with my family during that awkward time where you want and need to talk, except your dinner is getting cold, and then hung up the phone to hear that another thunderstorm had overtaken the neighborhood. I died a little inside, turned off my computer, and brought my dinner into the living room, where I still dared to leave a lamp on in the midst of the cataclysm outside. Doggone it, I was not going to bed at 7:30.

It also occurred to me that I should plug in my Game Boy, if only for a few minutes, to ensure I still had something to do if the power cut out. I made a mental note to buy a proper reading light this weekend, along with five other Game Boys as backup. For the moment, though, I had ample light for reading, so I fetched a Star Trek trade at random from my bookshelf and sat down to read The Modala Imperative over dinner, and until the storm cleared. (See? I told you there'd be comics.)

I was a few paragraphs away from the end of Walter "Chekov" Koenig's introduction when my apartment lost power entirely. I unplugged the charging Game Boy, flicked the On switch, and panicked for a moment when it didn't turn on. I flicked the switch again, and all was well again. The battery light seemed to indicate I might not have to go to bed at 7:30 after all. I settled in for almost two hours of pure gaming, and I would've stayed there until the battery died on me again if the storm hadn't eventually cleared up and permitted me to get back to the wedding planning and blogging I had been meaning and needing to do.

I had officially found my first new game, though, and I hadn't (and haven't) been this enthusiastic about playing through a game since I picked up (and quickly finished) VVVVVV back in January. It looks like there are enough secrets to keep me busy awhile, but I'm still making excellent progress. Now I need two more games to add to my active roster.

I'm thinking that, to satisfy my Standards for Upholding Variety in Gaming, I should go with a 3-D platformer for the Wii and an adventure/puzzle game for the PC this time. Specifically, I'm looking at either Donkey Kong Country Returns (which is technically a 2-D 3-D platformer) or Super Mario Galaxy for the Wii, and Police Quest III: The Kindred for the PC.

There's a third and fourth aspect of my Standards that I'm taking into consideration here: Games that were given as gifts by friends or family should be part of the lineup whenever possible (which is the case for the Wii games), and games that bring me closer to writing an Exfanding post about a series are encouraged (which is the case with Police Quest).

However, I'm open to suggestions--the universe seems to be telling me to play The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, for example; I was toying with the idea of installing it (and its two expansion packs) on my computer when I found I had no more active games to play, as this might be the only time I'd be willing to sign myself up for what will probably be the lengthiest RPG experience I've ever undertaken. I dismissed the idea, citing to myself that I'd been playing RPGs continuously for the past two years, if not longer, few of which were completely worth the time spent playing them. Then I got a message from another Backloggery user who was currently playing Morrowind and Castlevania, and then my Backloggery fortune cookie also told me to play Morrowind.

I think it's going to be a matter of which install CD I find first--Morrowind or Police Quest. Though, as I said, I'm open to suggestions.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Pick a Post

I've got three posts in mind for today, but I can't seem to commit to one.

I've got wedding stuff on my mind, but anything I'd write would be more for me trying to vent this building panic over being severely behind on a few key things.

I also find myself thinking about what video game to play next, as this is the first time in I can't remember how long that I am not currently playing anything, save for LEGO Batman, which was discussed yesterday. However, half of this week's posts have been about video games, and I like to maintain a little bit of variety when I can.

Lastly, I've got an inkling about how I can get back to writing about comics a little bit more frequently, and while this topic is the most appealing of the three, it's also the least-formed in my mind.

The first thing that occurred to me was to put up a poll about which topic I should write about...tomorrow. Sorry excuse for a filler post, and high chance for failure, given that we tend to get more comments when we don't ask for them. The second thing I considered was writing all three posts at once, combining them into a hilarious mishmash of nonsense, but then I wondered...what would be the point? Lots of probable effort for hopefully funny fluff. Didn't seem like the potential payoff was worth it.

Sometimes I think ideas themselves are better than following them through to a completed work. Maybe that's the delegator in me talking--let the ideas people come up with the ideas, and let the people most qualified for the job go out and apply the ideas. Today, I'm feeling more like an ideas person.

So, I've got wedding planning and new video games and my ongoing comics self-education in mind. I'm open to suggestions...but I won't ask.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Total Studs and Total Duds: A Review of the LEGO Movie Games

Today's post comes from none other than returning guest writer Neko-chan, who is also engaged to half of the writers of this blog.

As readers will know, Nathaniel and I have been playing through the various LEGO Movie games as a couple. Now, LEGOs are something that he and I both cherish. We both have our respective collections, we both get excited every time we pass by a LEGO store, and he even proposed with LEGOs, so of course we were going to buy and play through each LEGO video game together, especially since these games are based around some of our most-loved fandoms.

To date, we have completed Star Wars I+II, slogged through all of Indiana Jones, and have played a few hours' worth of Batman. You would think that each game would improve upon the last, keeping the things that worked, and touching up the things what needed fixing, but unfortunately that has not been the case.

LEGO Star Wars I+II

Plot: Broken into two sagas (on the GameCube; combined into one complete saga on the Wii), the Star Wars games follow a condensed and oh-my-gosh-kids-can’t-see-violence-let’s-make-it-funny-instead version of each movie from the original epic through the less-than-satisfying third prequel.

Characters: Fans get to play as all of their favorite characters, and even the secondary characters are unique and interesting to look at. Sure, there are a few more Stormtroopers than necessary, but the fact you can play as a Jedi with force powers, an evil Sith Lord, a crossbow-shooting Wookiee, a bomb-throwing bounty hunter, or a robot that can fly, totally makes up for any extraneous characters. You can also use the character editor to customize your own character using costume parts and weapons from any character you have unlocked thus far.

This is a very family-friendly game. Level designs are just interesting enough to offer multiple pathways, exploration, and a decent challenge, but not so confusing that you are often at a loss for where to go. Aside from the usual running around and attacking enemies, there are simple puzzles, a little bit of minor platform jumping, some swerve-and-dodge podracing scenes, and a few chances to blow up starships with other starships. As you play, you can attack plants and other destructible background items to earn “studs” (coins), which can be spent to unlock characters, hints, and game modifications that either make playing the game easier or sillier.

Most moderately-okay gamers should have no problems with the difficulty level, and even the worst players can join in and have fun. You are granted infinite lives, so if your character dies you just respawn in place, losing nothing but studs and pride. Also, the game gives hints in the form of arrows if you are unsure what to do with a particular object you have picked up.

As with all of the LEGO Movie games, there are two modes–“Story Mode” and “Free Play.” In story mode, you get humorous cut-scenes, and can only play through levels with the characters indigenous to that scenario. In Free Play mode, you can replay through levels with characters of your choosing in order to unlock secrets and bonus areas that were inaccessible, or that you missed, on the first playthrough. In effect, this gives you infinite “do-overs” and the ability to keep racking up in-game currency, so eventually players of any skill level will be able to beat the game, having unlocked and collected every secret.

The game is allegedly designed for two-players. Certain puzzles need two characters to simultaneously pull switches or attack targets, and certain boss battles require cooperative strategies to win. Both players have independent control of their characters, so each player has the free ability to attack, interact with objects, or collect studs. However, due to screen limitations, the characters can only run so far apart. This means that if one player decides to explore the far side of the screen, and the other is standing on a platform, the second character will be dragged along and most likely fall into a pit of despair.

Also, the camera angles on two-player mode are awful. For certain levels, the camera is not only skewed, but is zoomed out so far that it is almost impossible to accurately judge platform edges or to distinguish objects from one another. Players must alternately drop in and out of one-player mode to zoom the camera far enough in for detail, and for many sections of the game it is simply easier for the second player to drop out entirely.

Gimmicks: In these games, each character has a specific weapon or ability; for instance, some characters can use Force powers, and others can high-jump or use specialty weapons or computer terminals. The abilities are built-in and inherent to that type of character. Certain secrets require a specific ability to unlock, so if you see a control console in story mode, and don’t have a droid in your party, you know you will have to come back later in free play to get in.

There are also hat disguises that you can get from random hat dispensers, which allow you to sneak through enemy territory and bypass checkpoints. In Free Play mode you will have characters that are automatically equipped with these disguises, but in story mode it can be a pain because a single hit from an enemy removes the disguise, and then you have to wander halfway back through the level to re-equip one.

Bonuses: There are numerous secrets to unlock as you play and replay through levels. Some secrets involve unlocking game modifications, some unlock bonus missions or cut-scenes, and some are merely for fun or decoration. There is a percentage counter that lets you know how much of the game you have unlocked, and you can see at the start of each level which bonuses you have yet to clear. Almost every secret is worth going for, and the rewards you get, either in awesomeness or in laughs, are proportional to the effort you put in.

LEGO Indiana Jones

Plot: I don’t know many American children who didn’t at one point run around the house pretending to be Indiana Jones. He is an iconic figure, and I was super-excited for this game to come out, if only for the chance to play as him and destroy everything on the screen with a whip. However, this game somehow managed to capture the events of the movies while removing any sense of excitement or adventure.

Characters: There are really only a handful of characters in the game. Besides Indy, Short Round, Sallah, Indy’s dad, the female love interest du jour, and the guy with the yak on his head, every other character in the game was a generic thug, a generic thuggee, a guy in a uniform, or a screaming female. There were far more palette-swaps than original characters, and it wasn’t worth raising the in-game currency to unlock them, as they did not add any new abilities or visual interest.

Gameplay: This game had the same problems with camera angles that the first games had, and compounded those issues with non-coherent level pathways that made it difficult to figure out not only where we were supposed to go, but how to get from point A to point B in the first place. This game was also heavily glitched, crashing at random points that caused you to lose an entire level’s worth of gameplay, having places where you could literally fall of the map of the level or fall into areas you shouldn’t have been able to get to...and then there was the infamous “elephant drop.” [Editor's note: Don't ask.]

Additionally, certain sections popped you directly into a cut-scene if your timing was off, making it nearly impossible to collect a few of the secrets. Furthermore, a couple of the boss battles are illogical to the point where Nathaniel and I had to use a walkthrough to figure out what in tarnation we were supposed to be doing. Moreover, it was difficult to determine which of the secrets we could get in story mode, and which we would have to go back and get in free play, because it so often looked like we should be able to make a jump or get to an area when in fact the bounding boxes made it impossible. Finally, this is a poorly designed game that will result in fights and one of you sleeping on the couch.

Gimmicks: LEGO Indy uses a tool system. A character can carry one tool at a time, and certain characters are always equipped with a specific tool such as a wrench or a shovel. During story mode, you must bribe monkeys with bananas in exchange for tools, and sometimes you will find a tool randomly on the ground; however, whatever tool you procure will not be necessary until more than halfway through the level, so if you accidentally drop it, or decide to take your chances by picking up a different tool instead, you must then run all the way back to the beginning to get another one, but most of the time it is no longer available and you are out of luck. Free Play is more tolerable because you can choose to have the proper tool-bearer with you if you know in advance which tool the level requires.

They also added torches, which usually burn themselves out in-between when you pick one up and when you find what you are supposed to use it on, so you have to go back and wait for the flame to respawn. This is a joyful process in battles than require fire, especially when you try to throw your torch and miss.

Oh, and they kept the hat system, but took away the dispensers, because a whole level built around scrambling through piles of random drops that disappear within 10 seconds of hitting the ground is fun.

Bonuses: Most of the useful bonuses require you to beat story mode, go back through each level in free play, find a random block, run to and fro through the level looking for a hidden postal box, mail the block, complete the level, run back to the in-game store, realize you don’t have enough money to unlock it, and cry. Almost all of the other bonuses are not worth getting. There are a few cameos that make you pine for the first two games, there is one cameo that is just strange (and glitched), and the bonus missions are simply not fun to the point that we gave up on achieving 100% completion.

LEGO Batman

Plot: Seeing as there is so much source material to draw from, this game does not seem to be following any particular movie, TV plot, or comic, but rather is extrapolating a plot in accordance with the spirit of the characters and the setting of Gotham.

Characters: You play as Batman and Robin. If you play far enough, you can unlock a few of the villains, but otherwise, you play as Batman and Robin. This should feel limiting, but somehow it wouldn’t feel right to play as anyone else. [Editor's note: Except Batgirl! Maybe we haven't met her yet.]

Gameplay: The camera angles continue to be a problem, and in fact, I think they got worse. Also, the designers made each level dark and foggy to fit in with the feel and aesthetic of Gotham, which is nice in theory, but makes it less playable when you are trying to see the edge of a tiny platform stretching between rooftops. However, this game seems to be easier and more straightforward than the first three as far as level design paths and boss battles go, and ::cross our fingers:: so far it has not been glitchy. It is also really fun and satisfying to wave the Wiimote around and Batarang everything on the screen, which I guess makes up for not being able to see what you are Bataranging.

Gimmicks: Instead of special abilities or tools, Batman and Robin have special suits. Scattered throughout the levels are teleporter platforms that allow you to switch suits, gaining new abilities like gliding, tech panel control, magnetic metal-walking, and janitorial dustbustering. Most of them are fun, and it is incredibly obvious where you are supposed to use each one, but Robin’s dustbuster suit can be annoying when you have to backtrack through the level picking up random blocks, and then backtrack even further to find the machine to dump them into, so you can then build a vehicle that you have to ride halfway across the level with, just to unlock one secret.

We have not unlocked all of the villains yet, but it seems like each one has some sort of ability related to their superpowers, as is to be expected. The Riddler is actually quite fun to play as because they gave him Yoda’s staff-physics in addition to mind-control powers. Good times.

Bonuses: It seems as if there are almost too many things to simultaneously unlock. I’m not sure what the rewards will be for our efforts, but so far we have unlocked a few bonus missions, have access to the villains’ lair, have a couple of less-than-but-not-equal-to-good game modifications, and have picked up a couple of different suits and vehicles. We have also collected a few different styles of LEGO minikit components, but at this point it remains to see what they will build.

Right now, LEGO Star Wars I+II are still reigning supreme. We genuinely had fun on each and every level, despite some bad camera angles. LEGO Indiana Jones had some enjoyable moments strung together by many moments of pain and frustration and boredom, but I’m still glad we stuck with it and gave it a chance, even if it didn’t really deserve one. LEGO Batman is shaping up to be mindlessly fun in that, “I want to satisfyingly smash something after a long day” kind of way, but it doesn’t have the presence or the atmosphere that Star Wars did. I think that is part of it.

As much as LEGO Indy and LEGO Batman try, neither one has really captured the feel of being in the world of its subject, neither one fully engages the imagination. Hopefully we’ll have better luck with LEGO Harry Potter, LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean, and LEGO Star Wars: The Clone Wars, but it seems the more I play through LEGO Batman, the more I want to go back and replay the Star Wars I+II.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Waiting for Wednesday, Volume 3, Issue 33

Ya know, for someone who writes a column each week called Waiting for Wednesday, you'd think I wouldn't be so ill prepared when Wednesday actually rolls around.

Double negatives and clunky opening paragraphs aside, though, I will say this in my defense for why I have very little to talk about today. You see, I think I might have a minor case of food poisoning.

Okay, fine, so maybe it's not so much "food poisoning" as it is, "Alex bought sushi take out last night and then proceeded to get stuck in traffic for over an hour...with the sushi in the car."

And, yes, I still ate the sushi when I (finally) got home.

Let me tell you, though. I had the air conditioning on so high in the car that I was shivering. 80 degrees outside, and I was shivering. Somehow, I figured that would make the over-an-hour-old car sushi edible.

And it was, in that I ate it all. The whole thing.

And, by and large, I was fine afterwards. I even slept through the night with no problems, which would lead one to believe that I dodged a car sushi-sized bullet.

And then I woke up this morning, and I immediately regretted every decision I made after 7:00 last night.

I think I might be through the woods, as they say (who says that, though, I have no idea). Still a little woozy, but mostly back to normal. And, because I am a true Wednesday Warrior, I will bravely try to get to my local comics shop at some point.

Once I'm there I will be buying a handful of things. Not too many, though, as comics are in a weird holding pattern while we wait for DC to launch their 52 new titles in a couple of weeks.

So, what's at the top of my list? John Constantine, of course.

This week we get a double helping of the stodgy old wizard himself with a new issue and a trade of the most recent story arc. That trade, entitled, Hellblazer: Bloody Carnations, features something that I never thought I'd see.
And when you're talking about Constantine and the Hellblazer universe, that's really saying something.

John, you see, is getting married.

Anyone familiar with the character knows why that's an insanely bad idea, and trust me, this story lives up to that expectation.

Hellblazer is a title that spans decades--at 275 issues, it's got pretty much anything without Batman, Spider-Man, or Superman beat in terms of numbering--and as such there's quite a bit of built-up continuity.

Over time, I've managed to read a good amount of those 275 issues, along with many of the mini-series and original graphic novels featuring the character.

Still, there are complete story arcs that I've missed, and I'm sure there are years' worth of stories that I haven't read. Even so, I have enough of a base for the character to be able to pick up pretty much anything with him in it and follow along.

Constantine is tortured, and tortured, and tortured, for his craft and his lifestyle.

And he's a downright bastard, as he'll happily tell you. When I drop the title, it's usually because the themes get too heavy, or too depressing. So when I head that Vertigo was planning to marry off their middle-aged bachelor, I was intrigued.

I picked up a couple of the previous trades to get a feel for what writer Peter Milligan was doing with the character, and I really enjoyed his work. I read "Bloody Carnations" as it came out in single issues, and that put me over the top.

I'm now back to having Hellblazer on my monthly pull list.

While this trade may not be the best place to start for complete newcomers to Constantine, I would definitely recommend this to Hellblazer readers who may have fallen off the path for a while and are looking for a good excuse to return.

Here's the solicitation information on the trade:

Haunted by memories of striking Epiphany, John cuts off his thumb and enlists help from Shade the Changing Man. Plus: Old friends and demon foes converge for the royal wedding of the century when the U.K.'s perpetual bachelor gets hitched! Collecting issues #267-275.

It's good stuff, and it signifies a return to form for one of comics' best characters. Check it out when you get to the shop today, but before you go--what are you Waiting for?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Nature of Comics Fans

I woke up this morning without a clue as to what to post for today. So I went through my morning routine of running on the treadmill and lifting, all the while listening to a couple of podcasts from the venerable iFanboy crew.

Enjoyable as always, the iFanboy podcasts got me through my workout and made the whole waking-up-at-five-AM thing that much easier to swallow.

At the end of the second episode, one of the guys mentioned that the iFanboy site was in the process of being redesigned, and that the new site would be unveiled this week. Yesterday, actually.

So when I got into the office, I poured a cup of decaf, looked at the teeming pile of work on my desk and the ready-to-explode inbox on my screen, and I did what any rational human being would have done.

I went to the iFanboy website to check out the new look.

And I liked it. A lot, actually. It's spiffy and you can find things--two traits that I look for in a web page.

But then I noticed the comments section of a post that gave a nice recap of what, exactly, had changed on the site.

Big mistake, that.

I like the new site, but there are people who don't. And they're not afraid to let their (fake Internet monikers) tell you exactly what they hate, and why they hate it.

Though, I have to admit, the comments were nowhere near as mean-spirited as on other comics sites. They were, in fact, quite civil and constructive. Still, I stopped reading almost immediately, because I honestly don't care why someone else doesn't like something that I like.

But it got me thinking about comments sections, and comic book fans, in general.

As many of you know, the comments section on any comics/fan site can be...well, they can be nasty. And insane. And, sometimes, both.

Usually, though, the comments section is just mostly complaining.

I don't like this book. This creator is horrible. They've destroyed my beloved characters--again. I don't like change. I want more change. My foot hurts.

Just like the comic fan in the shop on Wednesday with nothing better to do than tell everyone why he would write a better Batman than Jeph Loeb, comics fans on the Internet are...*ahem*...passionate about their books.

But because it's the Internet, and there's that wondrous veil of anonymity, Internet fans tend to be less rational and more venomous than your Wednesday Warrior fanboy in the corner of the shop, yelling his views at whomever will listen.

Now, I know what you're thinking--crazy Internet fan is nothing new.

I know, I know. But like I said, I had no idea what to write about for today, and this popped into my head.

It's a faction of fandom that I will never, ever understand, and it never fails to utterly amaze me. I mean, I care about the characters, too, but if I don't like something, I just don't buy it.

Simple as that.

In my real job (you know, when I'm not fighting super villains), I'm an editor at a pretty big, very well respected trade publisher. Let me tell you, though. We get our fair share of raving phone calls and rambling emails.

Mostly about how we don't know what we're doing.

It's funny. The most critical calls and emails are never presented in a professional, courteous manner. And they typically end with a note about how our entire editorial staff should be laid off.

And presumably, be replaced by the angry caller/emailer.

Because, you see, he has this great idea about Batman and a giant chicken...

Monday, August 15, 2011

Recording Recap

As reported yesterday, I have completed my video playthrough of Mega Man 6 after a year of interruptions, delays, and chipping away at recording whenever a spare moment presented itself. My Mega Man videos have a history of show-stopping technological problems, most notably the entire process of making my first videos, and that time I had to re-record half of Mega Man 5, but never have they been plagued by so many problems from all across the spectrum than this time around.

I had to unexpectedly reinstall Windows...twice in one week. I found myself moving to a different state with barely five weeks to prepare, and three of those weekends spent out of town for a graduation and two weddings, respectively. I myself got engaged and have been helping to plan the wedding since the beginning of the year. This is a good thing, but from a recording standpoint, it's a problem. Please still marry me.

Alex and I had to deal with a messy situation caused by a blog thief, which dragged on for uncomfortably long. I covered ten consecutive days of posting on this blog (including one guest post I edited) which kept my creative focus on writing instead of recording until Alex returned from a necessary blogging hiatus. I agreed to write GameCola reviews for two brand-new games whose review copies I had acquired, Gemini Rue and Tobe's Vertical Adventure, which required me to pretty much drop everything else I was doing in order to produce completed reviews in any kind of timely fashion.

The final installment of my Mega Man 6 playthrough was stricken with inconsistent audio volume issues that caused me to re-process the entire video no fewer than four times before getting it right (a procedure that can take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and a half, depending on where the problem lies). Along the way, I found Windows Movie Maker to be taking longer and longer to load my audio and video files. Once everything was loaded, about 50% of my attempts to record commentary while viewing the video footage ended up misfiring, because the video would skip and stutter well beyond acceptable parameters during playback--which is especially irksome when it takes me 37 takes on average to record commentary a 45-second clip.

And that's to say nothing of the times when I was too sniffly, tired, or uncreative to record.

Yet despite setback after interruption after delay, my video series of Mega Man 6 was eventually finished. According to the feedback I've been hearing for the past year from my viewers, this playthrough is as impressive and entertaining as always, if not more so. The initial responses to my most recent video have been overwhelmingly positive; aside from one person who expressed disappointment in the final installment, the consensus so far is that I have produced a satisfying conclusion that was worth the 4-1/2 month wait since the last video.

I'm truly astounded by how well everything came together. Often times entire weeks went by between the recording of one sentence to the next, especially in the final video. Part 3 sounds the most disjointed out of all of them, I think--circumstances required me to record everything piecemeal, and I tried to cram in almost too many ideas--but overall, I'm impressed with how focused and vocally consistent I was across the whole series.

The fact that I ended up with an hour and seventeen minutes of (mostly) coherent commentary after a year of stop-and-go recording is mind boggling enough; the fact that people actually like it, especially with the high expectations that tend to accompany prolonged anticipation, still blows me away. It's no wonder I've been so curious to hear about what went right and what went wrong with Duke Nukem Forever; in many ways, I've been in the same boat that the people on Duke's design team.

I came to realize a few things during the course of recording this latest video series, which I expect will impact how I record in the future. First, recording during the summer is a lost cause until everyone on the face of the planet is permanently married, owns a home they never want to move out of, and has transitioned from a vacation-happy graduate school to a full-time job. Between the fun social get-togethers and the Big Life Stuff, I've been home and completely free to record maybe one weekend each month for the past two summers.

Second, I need to upgrade my technology. My current recording solutions are more or less fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants workarounds that miraculously work well enough. If I'm going to continue with this, it's in my best interests to switch to recording and video editing software that won't require so much time and effort put in, only to yield audio and video quality that's acceptable but by no means completely professional. My microphone is part of the issue here--I need to jack up the volume on anything I record until it almost sounds a little fuzzy (and believe me, I've played with all the settings and couldn't find a better fix). One way or another, I suspect I'll be changing my recording setup somewhat by the time Mega Man 7 rolls around.

Third, when I'm recording, I need to make recording my creative priority. YouTube, GameCola, and this blog are my three ongoing geek projects, and I naturally gravitate a little more toward one of them at a time; it's rare that my focus is equally split amongst all three, but it's also rare that my focus is centered entirely on just one. Given how long it takes me to record, I need to record little bits at a time on a regular basis, or dedicate a few entire afternoons/evenings to finishing up a video. If I can start writing posts and articles in advance while I'm still on a writing kick, I'll be able to give my full attention to recording when I'm actively working on a video.

Fourth, and lastly, YouTube's current time limit of 15 minutes per video (upped from 10) is intimidating to me. Just because I can make a video that long doesn't mean I have to--a mentality I've held for quite some time about any technological advancements--so I might find it easier to record if I occasionally break things up a little sooner than is technically necessary. Quicker turnaround times for each installment and more frequent feelings of satisfaction at finishing a job might help me from struggling so hard to keep these videos going at a reasonable pace when the going gets busy.

One thing's for certain: I am relieved that I am finished with Mega Man 6. It's been fun, but it's also been an entire year. I still have at least one bonus video with bloopers and glitches in store, but for now, I'm taking a much-needed break. For a few days, at least.