Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Five Greatest Cartoon Villain Headquarters

As any such list is, this is of course personal taste and/or arbitrary.

5. The Eyrie Building. Not many cartoon villains have plausible headquarters that are also cool, but this one's not too much of a stretch. A medieval castle that an eccentric industrialist put on top of a skyscraper is about as cool as semi-plausible buildings can get.

4. The Decepticon undersea headquarters. Helping establish a long tradition of Transformers using crashed spaceships as bases, this one was mostly interesting because they had an impossibly tall elevator that could reach the surface coming out of it...

3. The Technodrome. I'm not a huge fan of the original Ninja Turtles cartoon, but even with the big stupid eyeball, the Technodrome was pretty cool.

I mean, come on, it could move around underground. That was awesome.

2. The giant flying Cobra city.

Don't have any idea what I'm talking about?

I'm pretty sure it never showed up in the cartoon itself...

It's darned cool, though.

1. Snake Mountain. I'll admit, I'm kind of a helpless fan of the old He-Man cartoon. Its backgrounds especially are just artistic joy. Snake Mountain, Skeletor's crib, is particularly nice.

Almost every building connected to powerful magic in that show had an air of incredible age and at least a bit of creepiness.

And yes, I realize I just ranked a silly fat tank with an eyeball on it higher than a cool skyscraper and a giant spaceship wreck sitting underwater, yet lower than a flying city with a snake face and a mountain with a snake wrapped around it. I told you, arbitrary.

-Signing off.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Golden Age Moment(s) of the Day (38)

That's right, I decided to put up two panels.

Both are in sequence from Military Comics #1, original home of the Blackhawks comics, but this is from the Blue Tracer feature, which is considerably less famous and apparently not picked up by DC.

In the first panel, we have a guy misrepresenting the primary purpose of tanks, though the smashing into things is fun and useful. (Also, planes can dive just as well as submarines, just not in water-that linguistic usage is misleading.)

In the second, we see that this supposedly normal American engineer, who recently suffered a head injury and heat stroke, now feels the need to dress rather eccentrically.

In true Golden Age style, nobody every mentions that outfit again, by the way...

-Signing off.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The End of Free Television

You know what I hate? Cable/satellite TV.

Why? I can't really afford it, and it's pretty much devoured the content of broadcast television that interested me.

You know what I really hate? Digital TV.

Why? Suddenly, the diversity of programs available was cut in half. I do not exaggerate.

How was something that was supposed to improve television delivery so bad for it? Well, the effective range for a digital television signal is maybe half what it was for the old analog broadcasts. Guess how far away some of the stations I used to watch (when I watched more TV) were?

I mean, sure, there have been some minor additions of good content. If you want weather coverage at any time, most news stations will now deliver it; if you want to put a show on for a little kid, PBS now airs children's programming nearly 24/7; and one relatively nearby station has a retro channel that airs stuff from several decades ago. (Even the commercials are more old-fashioned [though they still mention the websites]-let me tell you, that's a breath of fresh air. The main problem is that the content seems to be rather unpredictable. Of course, our local TV schedules don't cover it...)

What makes it worse is that digital fidelity and reliability is, while quite good most of the time, much more likely to suffer flagrant failure. Sure, analog signals would sometimes be a bit fuzzy, but if there were signal problems, usually it was just a flash or so of static and then it was done. If DTV goes out, it goes down.

It sure doesn't help that most network television is trying to copy most other network television. Bland/grim shows are on every channel, and what's worse, they compete at being bland/grim.

No thanks. No wonder cable/satellite is so popular.

-Signing off.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Hitchhiker's Guide to Daleks

Ran out of time, so here's a nerdy, silly video (which you would have gotten here anyway).

-Signing off.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Micro Vs. Macro In Real Time Strategy

I love real time strategy games for the simple reason that being able to control a bunch of stuff at once is really cool. It's good to be the boss.

Which is why it drives me batty that, in order to be truly successful at such a game, you need to micromanage. There's all kinds of things wrong with that, not the least of which is that it completely defeats the point, which is to have fun on a big to huge scale.

Now, let me clarify just what I'm talking about, for those of you who aren't huge RTS gamers. "Micro" is what you're often told to do to exploit certain strategic tools in the game.

For instance, in Total Annihilation, a common micro tactic is to use called Slashers and Samsons, which are similar units with long-ranged light missiles that don't do that much damage individually, to make up for their individual low damage values by concentrating their fire on a handful of targets. Their combined range and concentrated damage actually makes "microed" Slashers/Samsons the most efficient and destructive units in the game (at least, against low-level units) despite the fact that on an individual basis they're pretty weak.

Or in the strategy guide for Seven Kingdoms here (which is essentially an official page for the game), there are various suggestions for micro tactics.

Why does this really bother me? Well, for one thing, it rewards the exact same skill set as every other computer/video game. In and of itself, that shouldn't be a problem, but the RTS represents a different activity from most games. Whereas in other games you are usually controlling one individual or a small group, in an RTS you command an army or a nation. This requires an entirely different makeup and tendencies from those other situations.

What makes it even worse is when everything about the game requires excessive micromanagement. Total Annihilation, for example, has arcane ways to exploit bugs in the game (the main one is called "sparking," but I'm not going to explain it because it's a form of cheating, it's rather involved, it's something that experienced players assume everyone knows [and thus can be jerks about], and worst of all for me, it's micromanagement) that let a player produce more resources faster than without them.

It doesn't have to be that way (and it really shouldn't be). I've thought for years that many RTS games would probably benefit from delegation-you build a special unit or structure, and that unit or structure does the "micro" for you-and perhaps you can't even do it for yourself. Another possibility (to handle the micro tactics such as the ranged unit example above) would be berserker units-i.e. units that, once they were involved in battle, couldn't be given new orders until the fight was over. Yet another possibility would be, in games like Seven Kingdoms and Kohan (where units tend to travel around in large squads rather than alone) a slow reaction time that was represented as a delay from the squad captain receiving, processing, and relaying the orders. (Or, in any other game, a simple communications and response delay. Take your pick.)

Don't think I'm complaining about micromanagement because I have poor reflexes (which I do). In fact, I'm actually terrible at pretty much all aspects of RTS games, and regularly get curb stomped even by Total Annihilation's lame AI. I just think that the playing field shouldn't be unfairly stacked in favor of those with quick reaction times (like almost every non-turn-based game ever).

-Signing off.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Space Crazy Comics: Target: Earth

Target: Earth comes from Outer Space #25 (Golden Age Comics yadda yadda yadda).

It starts on the planet Neptune. (For some reason, I kept thinking it was Uranus. No jokes, please.)

Neptune is divided into two huge nations, Doria and Obia. Doria and Obia have two things in common: They hate each other, and they want to conquer Earth.

Why Earth in particular?

Well, apparently most of the other planets were already conquered by the Neptunians. No joke.

No, I don't think this is a Cold War metaphor, why do you ask?

Doria decides to get started, and send out their slightly tanklike retroship fleet...

...and Obia responds in kind with their own rockets.

Doria is confident that their ostensibly superior weapons will carry the day, while Obia is sure that their numbers will turn the tide.

But no! A third force will be the deciding factor!

There's something about that ship...

Oh, snap. A "giant" Earth ship. (FYI, there's a real X-50, and it bears no resemblance to this ship at all-in fact, as you might be able to tell from this picture, it's a discontinued unmanned test bed for VTOL technologies.)

If I advocated playing drinking games to old weird space comics, this is where I'd tell you to take a shot. (Heck, even this could be considered a weird case of the size weirdness twist ending.)

Anyway, those Neptunians learned their lesson: Don't mess with Earth...

...because you're tiny and easily squashed.

You have to love this particular iteration, though, if for no other reason than because the lizardoids of Neptune wore clothes that would not have been out of place in the 1950s on Earth. I mean, it's obvious why...

-Signing off.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Game Review: That Gravity Game

I don't know why I keep finding and reviewing games that take the basic platformer concept (i.e., the Mario games) and mess with it. First, Enough Plumbers (I later noted its ending); then, Hello Worlds!. And now, That Gravity Game.

In That Gravity Game, you play a marshmallow, Marsh, who was struck by lightning and brought to life.

Marsh isn't very lucky, because he falls into a machine called the Gravitron 3000.

There, gravity works differently than in most games (and differently than in real life). Within the machine, there are fields that shift your personal gravity.

It's very easy to tell which fields do what, as they are color-coded and have arrows pointing in the direction of the exerted force (i.e.the direction you'll fall in).

As you can see, you can fall up...

...and also sideways.

Sometimes you fall in every direction in rapid succession.

Like Hello Worlds! and Enough Plumbers, That Gravity Game is a puzzle game at heart, and sometimes, it's quite clever.

And like those games, it can also be quite vicious.

As with the other games, That Gravity Game is short and to the point. If you've got a bit of patience for the rough spots (and love a bit of cool music, which speeds up as the game progresses), you could do worse than playing it for half an hour to an hour.

-Signing off.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Golden Age Moment of the Day (37)

There's nothing quite like Golden Age villains, such as the Lynx, from Clue Comics (v1 #2)...

And there's nothing quite like Golden Age villainy, either... (Granted, it was pretty illegal to do what he was doing [selling steel that should have gone to the war effort to private citizens and businesses], but is it pure evil? In fact, the hero of the feature Lynx appeared in, Zippo, had a huge tendency to fight villains who were breaking patriotism laws... Hm...)

-Signing off.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Golden Age Moment of the Day (36)

Remember at some point I mentioned there was an Airboy story with Nazi Mayans?

Well, there was.

-Signing off.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Space Crazy Comics: Misfits

This story, from Outer Space #20 (downloadable at Golden Age Comics blah blah fishcakes), is pretty typical fare. At least it actually involves space (unlike some other story I could name). In fact, it takes place on Jupiter (many of these stories do).

Obviously, though, the inhabitants of this version of Jupiter are... a bit different.

Eek. Make them go away!

Anyway, apparently, they were having issues with sterility because of a big radioactive war or some such, and they made artificial clones/duplicates of themselves called duplicos.

They seem deliriously, terrifyingly happy over this fact, don't they? Maybe they're all nerds. Stupid nerds.

And they are all so. Darned. Happy.

Every now and again, there are... issues... with the process, and chief smiley scientist Sagor observes a couple of oddballs.

Here's the problem:

I love how Sagor's all "don't hurt their feelings, plz!" Seriously, it makes me laugh.

The president's pretty upset.

"They will frighten our women! They frighten me!" Ah, sexist and intolerant. Gotta love these Jovians, eh?

Sagor is told to get rid of them, but he doesn't have the heart to kill them. So...

Comic book aliens are lucky that they have such easy access to space travel that they can waste a ship on something as insipid as that.

Sagor must do some research before he can do even this in good conscience.

Fortunately, there's a recent report on a planet whose inhabitants are an improbably perfect match.

And here comes the predictable old twist:

Yeah, the horrifying duplicos look just like reasonably normal humans.

And yes, it is supposed to be a reasonably modern Earth. This story isn't saying that humans are descended from duplicos. In fact, depending on how you interpret it, these guys are probably sterile... Which makes it doubly weird that they're a man and woman, really.

And it's also just as well-they presumably wouldn't be able to interbreed with humans, so their kids would have some pretty creepy problems if they wanted kids of their own...

-Signing off.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Game Review: Tower of Doom

Tower of Doom is a game where you build a tower in order to bring doom. Who would have thought?

In the game, it's pretty obvious that you're the villain. How so?

How many good guys seek to destroy a happy green island nation?

And how many build a red, sinister tower with an evilly glowing red crystal atop it, with a ticking clock proclaiming total destruction?

None that I can think of, anyway.

Hapless humans of several varieties do their darnedest to destroy your tower, which starts off helpless. However, by spending some form of currency (the meter seems to indicate it's magical energy that you siphon from the humans when they die), you can upgrade the tower with new sections that are capable of counterattacking. (They don't increase or alter health or armor, however.)

As each level progresses towards destruction, the sky turns red, tinting the grass into a sickly color and creating a sense of doom-a nice touch.

In case you were wondering, when they say "total destruction, they mean it-check out the little island, the tutorial level, after it's been completed.

A game like this wouldn't be complete without a little variety, and it exists here in the form of additional tower section types besides arrows-magic fire, magic ice, and magic... purple stuff (which is actually generically called magic).

The upgrade menu clarifies an interesting point that's hinted at by text in the "You lost this level" screen: Your character apparently has an underground mobile fortress at his/her disposal, and the tower is merely a minor extension of it. If you lose a level, it's not a big deal to the character-s/he just rebuilds. This little island kingdom? Totally doomed.

Each weapon has its own strengths and weaknesses, but there's no point in explaining it-the game does. (And it's a short game.)

What's nice is, no matter your health, if the time on the clock runs to zero, you win.

The game is actually a survival game by nature (you have to live a certain length of time, and it becomes harder to do so over time), but ironically, it's pitched completely backwards from that, and that makes this game fun.*

That, and the fact that you're apparently evil incarnate and intent on wiping out a hapless little kingdom simply for the sake of wiping it out.

*A bit less fun is the survival level, where the clock, naturally, goes up, and thus it's endless. I have no idea how the user "" (yes, seriously) racked up over 3 million points.

-Signing off.)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Three Branches of Sci-Fi

Popular science fiction has developed three major branches, each derived from a certain science fiction tradition. Each "school" or "family" is distinct and tends to gather a certain number of mutual fans... thought that's hardly a rock-solid rule, and some fans of some works look at anything similar to "their" work is automatically a rip-off.

The three branches are:

The future will be terrible (or terribly cool, or both).
Exploring space will be terrible (or terribly cool, or both).
Let's have war in space. (And it will be terrible, or terribly cool, or both.)

The Future Will Be Terrible: The oldest vein of science fiction is where this finds its roots. H. G. Wells wrote a lot of stories about how tomorrow is going to be terrible. "The Sleeper Awakes" and others strike me as typical of his works in this area. Pop culture approaches to this are almost any science fiction work that doesn't take place in space, such as Terminator, Robocop, Minority Report (never seen it and don't know much about it, but from what I've heard it fits this category perfectly), and Soylent Green.

Exploring Space Will Be Terrible: Space exploration in fiction has always been far too exciting. It probably, however, is derived from travel literature of the Age of Exploration; works like Marco Polo's journals and Gulliver's Travels (admittedly a satire) are the ancient roots, but there's a more recent category, found in works such as The Voyage of the Space Beagle. The early pop culture explorations had enough strong similarities to Voyage, in fact, that author A. E. van Vogt sued their creators for infringement. What were these early works? Star Trek and Alien. (And if you read this, a story that was later integrated into a longer narrative as part of Voyage of the Space Beagle, it's easy to see where he got the idea.) Works such as Predator, where space comes to Earth (in small scale), are similar.

Let's Have War in Space: The first work that can be said to really fit into this category is The War of The Worlds, which was followed shortly by a schlocky, unauthorized (and completely hilarious) sequel that sort of qualified as the first space opera. Other works that set up for this type were the Lensman series and other space operas, and military science fiction such as Starship Troopers. The best-known example of this in pop culture is certainly Star Wars, and there are plenty of others, like Flash Gordon and, well, almost any other thing that has a science fiction label and takes place in space.

I could go on and on, but for now I'm done.

-Signing off.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Future of Mass Transit? I Hope Not.

I read a fair number of magazines, and have for a long time. In fact, I've read magazines for so long that, about the same time I graduated from high school, I started receiving offers of membership for the AARP. No joke.

My first magazine was National Geographic, followed by Popular Mechanics, then by back issues of Popular Science which then led to a subscription. (I also receive Smithsonian. I used to get a few other science magazines, but those generally annoyed me.)

Popular Science was a more enjoyable magazine in the late '90s than it is now, partly because editorial fiat has pushed it ever further into environmentalism, which I'm tired of seeing covered in the regular media, thank you. (Nothing against environmentalism, but I think people overdo it. And that's the deepest I'm willing to go into politics on this blog, because it's supposed to be fun, dangit.)

Sometimes, in a well-meaning way, no doubt, they manage to totally flub in other ways.

Do you see that concept art? DO YOU SEE IT?

Here it is again-look at that blimp, and those other aircraft.

They have people hanging in pods on what look like lines, and are certainly long and probably flexible. (The other things are some kind of "jet" pods, which don't look too much safer.)

How in the blue... er, heck... is that a good idea? If even a stiff breeze comes along...

My sister has remarked that scientists (and artists working for scientists) often don't seem to know what ergonomics are-ironic, of course, since some scientist presumably invented ergonomics.

I just look at that and shudder, and hope that if that's actually a serious project that somebody beats some sense into them before it gets to the phase where it could kill people.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Movie Review: Fantastic Four

(Over at the Writing Blog, I discuss the basics of what I call space ecology.)

Or Fantastic 4, as its title is usually rendered in its graphics.

I've actually had a DVD of this movie lying around for ages (since shortly after it came out), but every time I suggested to my sister that we ought to watch it, she would mumble vaguely about how the Fantastic Four have always failed to really interest her.

She enjoyed it anyway, though she had complaints. The same is true of myself.

It always bothers me when adaptations radically depart from the original form of a character for no good reason, and on casual inspection, one could interpret some of the changes they made to the characters in this movie as unnecessary changes.

I'll never, for instance, be able to think of "Von Doom" as he appeared in this film as being Doctor Victor von Doom, mostly because he totally fails to be Victor von Doom. But that isn't to say that he's a bad character as such.

It was pretty stupid for Doom to gain his powers from the same source as the Fantastic Four, especially since, in the comic books and every other adaptation, Doctor Doom had no powers (unless you count his magical abilities, which is not considered to be a "power" as such in the comics, merely utilization of training), just sweet armor and lots of gadgets. It made for cool fight scenes and tension building, sure, but that slick, yuppie-like CEO made an utterly unconvincing crazed megalomaniac. (A megalomaniac, sure, but tame by comic book standards.)

No, what worked about Doom is that his motivations for hating the accursed Reed Richards was sensible (well, not "sensible," I suppose-logical, then), rather than merely a combination of misplaced blame for the damage to his face and fury about their college rivalry and being unable to accept that maybe Reed Richards is smarter than he is.

(Momentary aside: I tend to think that Doctor Doom is at least a bit smarter than Reed Richards. Why? Reed Richards is clearly the superior in a number of specific fields, but Doctor Doom at least rivals him in most of those fields, outclasses him in at least a few more [has Reed Richards ever invented a time machine, and if so, how long after Doctor Doom did the same was it?], and further has his skills and knowledge in magical, economic, political, and social endeavors, all areas in which Reed Richards sorely lacks. [In fact, even by comic book polymath standards, Doctor Doom is extravagantly polymathic.] So Doom ranting and raving and being insecure? Pretty stupid on his part. Which is actually kind of believable, because many very smart people are also total morons in some respect.)

A bit more intricate and interesting were the changes they made to Ben Grimm.

On the one hand, I can see why they didn't go with the comic book incarnation. In case you're not adequately familiar with that version, Ben Grimm is not in fact a middle-aged, overweight, implicitly past his prime astronaut... he's a young, handsome, athletic jet jockey turned astronaut. He played football and had nice hair.

So in the comics, his transformation into the Thing was traumatic because he had a great, wonderful life-he was attractive, skilled, and probably quite well-paid. Then, he went to massive, frightening, clumsy, and probably fairly difficult to place in a job, not to mention bald.

Hollywood being what it is, they didn't want to hide a handsome movie star behind the Thing suit. They like their actors' faces being on screen, hence many comic book adaptations trying to dispense with masked costumes. So they chose a dumpy bald guy to play him, figuring that said actor would not object to mostly being a voice actor.

(A bit of a shame, too-the dude's a pretty good actor, really. Possibly my favorite non-action/crazy comic book stuff scene in the movie was when he started to go on his spacewalk, and as the airlock opens into space, he gives one of the deepest smiles I've ever seen on a human being. His smile covered his whole face without being bizarre. That's talent, man.)

Not only that, but lots of people would be at least somewhat unsympathetic to an extremely successful, handsome man who was suddenly transformed into a bizarre-looking indestructible being. Lots of people would have seen it as whiny that he was that upset over it, taking him as rather self-centered.

Which would be why they gave him a wife who loved him, but couldn't handle him being a Thing. Being upset that your spouse left you over something you couldn't control, something that wasn't even necessarily that bad? That's something most people will have some sympathy for.

Of course, it's one of the things about the film that most stuck in my sister's craw, and one of the things that has always bothered her about the Fantastic Four: "What, only blind women can appreciate an ugly guy? WHAT? Also, the Thing wasn't Jewish enough." (In case you're wondering at that remark, it's a reasonably well-known fact that many aspects of Ben Grimm were based on his co-creator Jack Kirby, one such feature being his Jewish faith [another being his cigar-smoking].)

Johnny Storm? Eh, he was pretty much spot on, except that he was probably a little too successful at his, erm, escapades with women. (My sister was quite loudly annoyed.) Sorry, Hollywood, but that kind of character's a huge... erm, well, they're stupid.

Also, they sure loved the fact that Johnny's and Sue's powers encouraged them to take off/destroy their clothes, didn't they?

Eh, whatever. The movie was still pretty good.

-Signing off.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Quick Referral to a Good Website

A while back, I made reference to a website that talked extensively about Gobots, even the widely reviled "Challenge of the Gobots" cartoon. I just thought I'd mention that the same guy put up a complete episode guide to the series; an impressive feat, especially when you consider that it was a thankless task involving protracted suffering.

He even suggested a revised episode order that he thought made more sense than the original airing order. That's right, he thought about it long enough to see what made sense. What a guy.

-Signing off.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Space Crazy Comics: Encounter In Space

Encounter In Space is a story from Space War #2 (downloadable on Golden Age Comics). It demonstrates, quite succinctly, that you can be nonviolent/pacifistic and still a huge jerk.

We start with Ship #67, a patrol vessel-wait, "#67?" Not again.

If this seems reminiscent of the early panels of "The Incredible Giants," well, it is. Don't worry-this story'll have a different stupid twist at the end.

They spot an unknown object-again, very similar (how many science fiction stories start this way? It's probably incalculable)-and near it.

The ship is not, in fact, a Venusian experimental, as they speculated, and it's downright rude when they hail it:

...Though I'll admit, I have no idea what they were trying to say to it.

Then, the ship responds ominously.

This is reminding me of something, but I can't think what.


Oh, snap. The ship is populated by be-tentacled aliens... which rather have a resemblance to the ship and its... probes... as well.

And it turns out that this is more than something that looks kind of wrong-it's something that simply is kind of wrong:

Or very wrong, depending on your stance on ethics in fiction.

The captain makes a last-ditch effort to defend the ship.

Sadly, it's pretty ineffective.

The aliens decide to leave, because they got what they wanted: Data.

It turns out that they're merely peaceful explorers of a more advanced race, who were casually examining the subjects...

...with painful mind probes and ship-to-ship tentacle attacks.

Oh, yeah, sure, they're such nice guys, aren't they?

-Signing off.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Game Review: Hello Worlds!

Hello Worlds! is a game produced as a project of some kind at Washington State University, apparently.

It's a clever little game that, while a simple platformer at a glance, messes with how you have to perceive the world, in a similar yet distinct fashion from Enough Plumbers. (It also has minor points in common with Eversion.)

Whereas Enough Plumbers forces you (especially in its harder levels) to think about coordinating the movements of multiple individuals with the same controls, though, Hello Worlds! forces you to think about how to move one guy through multiple worlds simultaneously.

You might be saying "say what now?"

Well, take a look at this level. You might begin to get the idea.

Or not.

Here's the trick: Your little guy (which is a gray... bug thing... with three legs) interacts with each object in each environment (which there can be as many as four of at one time) as if each of those environments were overlaying each other.

Which you can see in-game with the "combo" button:

This leads to bizarre in-game visuals, such as floating little bug guys. Once you work on it for a while, though, you get used to it.

However, that doesn't turn the game into a simple platformer once you're used to the setup; no, you also must rearrange the worlds that you travel through (and even "destroy" them) by the use of blue and green doors in order to reach coins and eliminate obstacles.

This level, by the way, is actually a post-"normal game" reward level, from a group of levels that were too complex/counterintuitive to be obstacles from reaching the end.

Or in other cases, too silly.

This is a fun, inventive game that's challenging without being too excruciatingly hard, and I'd strongly recommend checking it out.

-Signing off.