12/31/09

No Need for Plasma

It is New Year's Eve and the salesmen are briskly walking, single file, through the glass doors to the car lot. On their faces are scowls, angular and hard, masks made of long hours with little pay. In their hands are helium-filled balloons, which freely float and bob on their strings like fishing lures in water. The salesmen, with their solemn faces and bunches of red, white, and blue balloons, resemble sad clowns as they move through the car lot, placing one here and there in a patriotic whimsy that seems to say, "Yes it's New Years Eve, and yes we're open, and God bless America!"

The calls flow in on my phone. I vocally manuver my way through the oncoming waves of "uh's" and "um's," of needy husbands and ex-wives, and of needier solicitors, debt collectors, and the occasional customer. My fingers move fast on phone's keys like the beating wings of a hummingbird. My voice, stern and robotic, is often mistaken for a recording as I push each call to its respected place. I watch the flickering lights of my switchboard light up like a cityscape at dusk, muddled with the confused voices of its constituency, all asking to be guided here or there. It is the usual morning rush.

Dirk walks in from the lot and stands by my desk for a moment to adjust his tie. Last month he was asking me to google places where he could donate plasma for cash, a task I would pursue for beer money back when I was in college. Last month Dirk was nervously scouring beneath the seats of his car for loose change to buy gasoline. He was counting dollar for dollar the debt he owed to his bank in overdraft fees. But not this month. He's sold enough to hit his bonus, and mabye he'll sell more. "You never know in this business," he tells me. I jokingly tell him that this article is called "No Need for Plasma," and he says maybe not. He could always use the extra money.

The week between Christmas and New Years is supposed to be one of the busiest in car sales and so far it has been...okay. Stephen Paul Skinner asks me if we are open on New Years Day and I tell him, "bell to bell."

"Really?" He frowns and walks back to his office.

New Years is just another day in car land.

12/30/09

Kim Peek



Click Image to Enlarge
Unfinished. Will upload newer version soon.

12/16/09

My 5 Least Favorite Trends in Gaming

*This post was featured in the community spotlight on ScrewAttack.com!!*

5. Waggle
Waggle practically ruined this game.
I know this is a recent trend, but Wii developers need to stop making us shake the Wii remote. It is not accurate or enjoyable. I don’t want to waggle to make Link swing his sword. I don’t want to waggle to make Mario spin jump. And I especially don’t want to waggle to throw grenades in Metal Slug. Unless the controls of the game are specifically and adequately designed to imitate the action that your character is doing (see: Wii Sports titles, Zack and Wiki, Silent Hill Shattered Memories etc), I don’t want to waggle the Wii remote to do something that can be done by a simple button press. Just because the option is there does not mean that it has to be used. Waggling causes a brief loss of play control that is unacceptable to most gamers. It’s also just plain annoying.

4. Final Fantasy Minigames

This is Sphere Break. It's about as fun as it looks.
Let’s set the record straight. Snowboarding in FF7 rocked. It was an excellent change of pace to a game that is primarily controlled through navigating menus. FF7 got it right. Chocobo races? Yes please! Then FF8 arrived and what was the minigame? Triple Triad: an ultra boring card game that was difficult to understand and hard to play. Then came FF9 with Tetra Master. Ugh. Now, I understand how developers could think that RPG gamers might enjoy a card battle game. I used to play Magic the Gathering myself when I was a kid. But if you are going to insert a minigame to break up the gameplay of an RPG that is primarily based on menu navigation, inventory control, and statistical analysis, then I would rather it be a fast paced diversion. A card game? More menus, inventory control, and statistical analysis? Pfft! I’ve already got 60+ hours of stuff to do here. Of course, nothing was worse than FF10’s Blitzball minigame. What a missed opportunity! What could have been a fun and fast-paced arcade style sports game played like a math quiz! Then came Sphere break with FFX-2 and it literally was a math quiz. Sounds like fun, huh?

3. Sonic the Hedgehog
Sonic and the Stupid Gimmick.

These days, when a Sonic game is released, the gaming community rolls their collective eyes with the same dismissive air that is usually reserved for the latest Mario Party. The problem with this is that we shouldn’t have to feel this way about our beloved hedgehog. Our expectations should be high for the rodent, but a slew of past failures have forced us to see Sonic as the boy who cries wolf. Sonic’s problems can be reduced to the fact that he never evolved with the gaming community. A prisoner of his own “attitude,” Sonic’s character has become completely irrelevant to the generation of gamers who grew up with him. To make matters worse, the gameplay of current Sonic releases does not cater to the nostalgia of these older gamers. New games in the franchise just don’t play like the old ones. I suppose Sonic’s developers still think that gamers want a feisty animal mascot with loads of ‘tude. We don’t. So now Sonic is reduced to being a second rate children’s title. It’s sad.

2. Water Levels

Big heavy boots = fun?
Who can forget cursing as you swim through toxic seaweed to disarm bombs in TMNT for the NES? Or screaming as you die just out of reach of an air bubble in Sonic the Hedgehog? Water levels are often some of the most frustrating and boring levels in gaming. Why? Because water levels usually equate to less responsive control and slower gameplay. Moreover, water levels have become an overused cliché in most adventure/RPG’s. Particularly awful is the water temple in Ocarina of Time, where you have to adjust the depth of the water to proceed. What could make that even more boring? How about giving Link boots made of steel so that he can slowly walk around the bottom of the water! Why do game designers keep creating levels with this type of puzzle? Either way, I know for a fact that the next time I pop an RPG into my console, I’ll eventually have to cast lightning on everything when I get to the water level. Can we get some new ideas here?

1. Slowly Pushing Heavy Blocks
Can't Kratos push these things faster? So. Slow.

Be it a statue, giant crossbow, or an actual huge cube-shaped block, pushing heavy objects slows the game down gameplay so much that puzzles which require this are more of an exercise of patience than of problem-solving skills. Yet many of the best games, even the best of the best, from every console generation will make you take a break from some awesome gameplay and endure the tedium of pushing some blocks around. Zelda, Resident Evil, Tomb Raider, and God of War and countless other games are guilty of this offense. So basically, we have some incredible game developers who still believe that gamers actually enjoy pushing the block over to where it will activate the switch that will open the door up on the ledge that we can’t reach unless we push another block! Ugh. I wonder if game designers just like rearranging their furniture. They probably all go home every day and push their sofa toward the bookshelf. Then push the bookshelf into the corner. Then push their dresser onto the switch that unlocks their pantry. Then they push their washing machine toward the pantry so they can reach the crushed red pepper on the top shelf. Art imitating life, right?

**Update**
(Response to the Screwattack community)

Wow! I didn't realize that so many people enjoyed blitzball and the card games! Cool. Anyway, Nailattack made a valid point that I wanted to address: "if you wanted that then why are you playing an RPG?"

Well, I'm actually not a huge fan of arcade style sports games. RPG's are usually my favorite games. (Currently playing Demon's Souls.) I think that I was initially turned off by Blitzball because it wasn't a big departure from the standard gameplay of FF10. Don't get me wrong, I loved the gameplay, but (and I may have been spoiled by FF7) I enjoy when minigames act as a quick and enjoyable diversion from the long hours of RPGing. Things like blitzball and the card games required me to take too much time away from playing the actual game and progressing the story. However, given how much support the community has for these games, I believe that I may have been quick to judge. I think I might give blitzball another chance the next time I play through. I'll just try to look at it as its own game. Anyway, I appreciate all the feedback.

P.S. To those who think that pushing blocks is a necessary part of gaming, I point to Uncharted 2, which, if I remember correctly, didn't require any block pushing whatsoever! Now that is a game with great pacing!

Thanks for the comments everybody! keep them coming. I want to know what you think!

12/9/09

not adequate


click image to enlarge

12/4/09

Emergency Casserole


Like so many Austinites, I have been finding the scattered trinkets, collages, and toys left by Science Bear Arcade for years now. The bulk of their work is an exercise in randomness, from rescripted Garfied comics in which the hero dawns a mustache and spouts seemingly random insanities, to homemade meat/doll combos. Many of us are familiar with Science Bear Arcade and its larger artistic community Palfloat. It is with this prior knowledge of their antics that I gleefully anticipated seeing their variety show, Emergency Casserole.

What I found was a delightfully cacauphonous mixture of music, sketch, and performance.  The show itself, like the the discarded trinkets littered arond town for which palfloat is already known, was an ecclectic and almost nonsensical affair injected with humor. Often I found myself laughing at the non-sequiter monologues and dialogues even when I did not know why. Lines like: "I'm ready for some new bagel flavors," and "My first job out of college was analyzing ZZ-Top lyrics," kept the show feeling whimsical.

The patchwork performances were tied together by the weird humor of the River Boat Captain, who hosted a quiz show in which the audience could win prizes for answering unusual bits of trivia. In fact, there were prizes given away throughout the entire performance, ranging from the usual Science Bear Arcade knick-knacks like Nerf Margaritas and Arby-Dolls, to Palfloat DVD's and Top Gun on VHS.

Some of the highlights of the show included Community Lotion performing a clever song about the chestburster scene in the film Alien and a hilarous sketch in which a man endures the worst job interview in history. Also noteworthy was an interesting performance piece in which the artist painted while using her limbs to cast shadows to grinding musical score. The show was backdropped by bizzarre projections by miss Lori 16mm Varga and the music was handled by the fake mustasched DJ Trail Mix, a cowboy Burt Reynolds look-alike.

Also, the food at Cherrywood Cafe was excellent. After the show I learned that they were giving away paintings, so I grabbed this one:


It was a ton of fun. They do shows with some frequency, and I definitely recommend checking the next one out.
Check out the blogs of some of the artists:
http://amandahbjones.wordpress.com/
http://www.palfloat.com/b/

and here is a link to some slides by Lory 16mm Varga:
http://www.mnae.org/gallery/lori-surfer-varga-FILM-and-SLIDE-installations