Are You Afraid of the Dark Episode 1 - The Tale of the Phantom Cab

So here it is, the very first episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark. And unfortunately, it’s not the best way to kick off the series.

We start with a ridiculously over dramatic overview of the Midnight Society and what their whole deal is. Their leader is Gary (who I remember eerily well from that show Ready or Not, which holy shit they need to release Ready or Not on DVD) and he and five others gather around a campfire every now and then and tell scary stories. These kids look way too young to be out and about at midnight, so I’ll just assume it’s more about having a cool name since the 8:30 PM Society doesn’t sound nearly as badass. The idea is that these are six people who don’t really hang out, don’t have the same friends and don’t go to the same schools, and yet somehow found each other to form this group. This is before the Internet so I would be really curious to know how they got together. I can’t accept that people would respond to an ad on a telephone pole reading “come to the woods tonight so I can tell you some ghost stories. It will be awesome I swear.” So that’s the core concept of the show, kids sitting around and telling each other stories that would be in no way scary if you were actually there listening to someone tell them. Thankfully we get visuals that they don’t so its way better.

Also while the voiceover is happening, the characters all give “intense” looks to the camera which really just makes them look confused and maybe tired.

We also find out how they introduce new members to the society. The potential candidate is brought to the site by blindfold (seriously how hard could this place really be to find) and after they tell their story, the group votes and it has to be unanimous for the person to get in. These guys are so fucking belligerent about the whole thing, you’d think this Frank guy was trying to get into the Stonecutters or the group that actually exists outside of The Simpsons. The Freemasons maybe? I’d look it up but eh. So anyway, Frank is going to tell us the tale of the phantom cab.

Two brothers who can’t act, Denny and Buzz, are hiking in the woods for reasons that aren’t really explained. They didn’t get separated from a class trip, which is the standard for why people are lost while hiking in these sorts of shows. The older brother doesn’t have supplies so it clearly wasn’t meant to be a long trip. They also seem to hate each other so I’m really not sure what the events leading up to “let’s get out there in them woods” were. Unfortunately they never made a prequel to this episode so all we can do is speculate.

Did I mention these guys are terrible actors? Ok the older brother is passable, barely, but holy shit, this Buzz kid could not sound more stilted. This is your first episode guys, you need to set some standards! The acting is actually quite good in other episodes, what happened here? Maybe it was limited production time, no faith in the project, perhaps nobody realized how bad he was until the cameras were rolling and by then it was too late, who knows. But after this kid speaks, you immediately want to turn the episode off.

So they get lost, they wander around, Buzz almost falls off a cliff side, they fight, they try and read a compass, you know, hiking shit.

Night falls and eventually they encounter this guy Flynn, who they seem to inherently trust even though he’s a creepy guy in the woods who speaks in cryptic bullshit, like answering the question “you lost too?” with “you might say that”. Maybe horror movies have trained me too well but as soon as I hear that shit I just assume ghost so there’s no way I’m going anywhere with this guy. If you’re a creepy guy in the woods asking me to follow you, you best give me some straight forward answers to my questions! No Yoda talk!

So Flynn takes them to this creepy isolated cabin that looks like something from the Shire. Then he says more cryptic shit about “paying the price”, before cackling and disappearing. Would you seriously follow the instructions of a man who did that?! But it wouldn’t be much of an episode if they decided to ignore him and then froze to death in the woods (actually that would have made the episode amazing now that I think back), so in they go!

Inside they meet Dr. Vink, who we will be seeing a lot of throughout the course of this series. His whole shtick is that people call him Fink and then he corrects them. Seriously, he does this every single time he appears on the show, and he appears a whole lot. So Vink, who makes it immediately clear that he is out of his god damn mind, tells them that he will only help them if they answer riddles. They get the first one (How far can you walk into the woods? I ain’t telling you the answer!) but he still says they can’t call their parents until they solve another one. This still sits ok with these kids so they hang around. They don’t get the riddle (What is weightless, can be seen by the naked eye, and if you put it in a barrel, it will make the barrel lighter) so he tells them to piss off and that a cab will pick them up down the way. Either that or Buzz can give Vink his brain. Well I assume he means brain, he holds up a hand in a jar as the example of what he wants but he’s talking about Buzz being intelligent so who knows. Finally these guys realize some shit is way off so they bolt. They do still decide to go and try to get in the aforementioned taxi cab however.

The cab is driven by Flynn who, surprise, is way a ghost! Turns out 40 years ago he also couldn’t solve Vink’s riddle so Vink took his hand and then I guess Flynn died so now he has to drive a cab forever until someone solves the riddle and whoever doesn’t also gets killed in his cab? I don’t know man, the afterlife is weird.

Then we get to watch some of the most stilted acting a human being has ever produced as Buzz works his way through the riddle. Seriously, this kid makes Hayden Christiensen look charismatic. In fact, I think I need to provide you with a video. Check this out, skip to around the 5:00 minute mark or so and just watch -http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ydx8bRC7Td4

How painful must that have been to watch as a director?! And to know that you really have no choice but to use it in the final product. Wow that must sting. My favourite part is that once he sorts out the solution, he doesn’t just blurt it out as fast as he can since, you know, their lives are in dire jeopardy and all. No instead, he makes sure to go through the entire riddle again, piece by piece, so that we understand his exact thought process. We get it, you’re smart, save our lives and say the fucking answer! I think a fantastic twist ending would have been to have him halfway through reciting the riddle and SMASH, they go right into a tree. Then they’re stuck driving the cab as ghosts and all they do is spend eternity bickering about why Buzz didn’t get over himself and say the goddamn answer right away.

Alas they chose not to go the amazing route and instead have him say the correct answer and save the day. Then a ranger pulls up and everyone is saved. The End!

Now, watching that story unfold with actors and presentation is certainly not very exciting at all, so I can’t even imagine how boring it must have been to be sitting at a campfire and listening to someone just tell the story with only words. “And then Vink held up a hand in a jar and it was so spooky you guys! It was the spookiest thing I swear!” Sadly I think that’s how most AYAOTD (that acronym took me longer to piece together than if I had just typed out the whole title, especially now that I’m adding in this extra bit) would play out if you were to just hear someone telling the story with no visuals. That might actually be a fun show to make. However, Frank must be a masterful storyteller because they all decide the story was in fact scary enough to let him into the group! Either that or they have crazy low standards. Or they think Frank could beat up anyone who made fun of them so he’s a good guy to have around. Either way, he’s in.

And that concludes The Tale of the Phantom Cab, the debut episode of the show. It’s a weak beginning, no doubt about that. The story itself isn’t at all scary, it’s a little slow, and the acting is pretty atrocious. Things do get better from here, but if you are looking to revisit this series, or watch it for the very first time, just know you’ll have to get through this sort of thing before it starts to get good.

Remembering Ryan Davis

Yes I know I'm a few days late with this as news of Ryan's passing broke on Monday, July 8th, but there was no way that I wasn't going to write anything at all.

I've been aware of Ryan Davis since back during his Gamespot days, but it wasn't until he and Jeff Gerstmann launched Giant Bomb that I became a legitimate fan. From that point forward, I digested every piece of content the site released. I have never missed an episode of the bombcast, I watch every live show I'm around for (and will often seek out the archived versions of the ones I'm unable to watch as they happen) and the list goes on. It quickly became my favourite site, and has remained in the top spot to this day.

While there is no member of the site I'm not a fan of, Ryan was always my favourite. He was ridiculously funny, had an appreciate for all sorts of dumb things, and could rage like nobody's business. He also made for a great host as he was energetic, charismatic, and very well spoken. He was always an engaging person to watch no matter the situation.

I will also admit that in the past, Giant Bomb is a site I have gone to when life was being a bastard. Nothing would pick me up faster than videos such as the quick looks for Darkest of Days, Dragonball Evolution or Rogue Warrior. I have seen each of those dozens of times and they never fail to make me laugh just as hard as my first viewing.

News of Ryan's passing hit me far harder than I could have expected as he is a person I have never met or interacted with on any level. Of course death is always a tragedy but the fact that he was only 34 and had gotten married only days prior to his passing, makes the whole thing seem cruel. I have no idea where Giant Bomb goes from here, but I will definitely be sticking with them to see.

RIP Ryan Davis. You will be missed good Sir.

Should I Watch That S**t?! - Weeks of June 4th and 11th

I watch a disgustingly large amount of movies. Far too many to review here, at least without taking precious time away from watching disgustingly large amounts of movies. So why not do a weekly breakdown of what's coming out on DVD/Bluray and what's worth watching? I guess the fact that renting DVD's may not be a thing anymore. That's probably a good reason not to do it. But here we are anyway! Read on!

June 4th Releases

Identity Thief

Every year there’s at least one movie that makes gobs of cash and nobody can figure out why. Identity Thief seems destined to be that movie for 2013. Critics didn’t like it, audiences didn’t like it, word of mouth was bad, and yet it made like, all the money. Frankly I’m with the majority here - this one ain’t too good. First of all it’s way too long (it’s 2 hours and it really feels like it too) and seems to forget it’s a comedy for long stretches, with the jokes it does tell mostly coming down to “oh shit Melissa McCarthy fell down!” She also punches people in the throat no less than 5 times. There’s a couple of funny lines that are clearly improvised, but for the most part the humour is bland and falls flat.

The worst though is that after spending the first half of the movie making us hate McCarthy’s character by having her just completely destroy this poor guy’s life and feel no remorse about any of it, it then asks “but don’t you feel bad for her? Aw poor thing, Jason Bateman is being mean to her!” No movie, I don’t feel bad for her!! What are you doing?! The final half hour is almost pure sap that feels completely unearned. I went in not expecting much from this, and it met those expectations handily.

A Good Day To Die Hard

I wrote a full review for this (http://www.totalactionadventure.com/content/movie-review-good-day-die-hard) so there’s not a whole lot more to say other than don’t watch this if you want another solid Die Hard movie. If you want a decent but forgettable action movie then sure. Just pretend it’s actually called “Bulletfire” or something and you can have an ok time with this. The Bluray does contain an extended cut of the movie, which I haven’t seen but unless extended cut is code for “we went and shot a completely different movie”, I’ll assume it doesn’t improve it much. At the very least, this should work as a fantastic demo of your sound system cuz this fucker is looooouuuuud.

Warm Bodies

If I had to choose one movie this week, and I’ve decided that I do, this is the one. Everytime you think zombies are done and there are no stories left to tell, something like this comes along. A zombie love story does sound a little dopey but trust me they make it work here. The cast is excellent, it’s funny, and best of all it’s just so god damn joyful. You’re so happy watching this movie. I just wanted to hug people when it’s over. I drank beer instead, not sure what that says about me, but I drank it while real happy at least. Never would have expected a zombie movie to be the ultimate pick-me-up, but here we are.

Week of June 11

Oz The Great and Powerful

Prequels are an odd beast. It’s a story where, for the most part, you know exactly how things are going to end. It’s why I found it extra strange when they started talking about doing a sequel to this movie since that sequel would just be The Wizard of Oz. So while I can’t say I cared about finding out how the Wizard became the Wizard, this was an entertaining movie! The visuals are fantastic and while the story is cliched (gee, will this asshole dude became an ok guy by the end), the humour and characters make the proceedings enjoyable. The cast is solid, with Michelle Williams as the good witch being the stand-out for me because the actress just radiates happiness. Mila Kunis may be the weak spot, which was a surprise since I expected Zach Braff to fill that slot but the dude is actually quite funny here. Probably worth watching for the rare oppurtunity to not want to smack Zach Braff in the mouth.

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters

I don’t want to blow your mind or anything, but this movie is kinda dumb. Thankfully it’s fun dumb, embracing it’s ridiculous concept and just fucking running with it. As interesting as it might have been for them to play this completely straight (ala Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter), I’m ok with this approach as a slice of goofy, disposable, fun. The plot is ridiculously predictable but the relentless pace of the movie, as well as the admirable decision to make it R-rated, helps make up for some of that. It also runs a quick 80 minutes without credits so it’s over before you know it. This will either be a blast to watch, or the worst fucking thing you’ve ever seen. For my wife and I it was the former so I would recommend at least giving it a shot.

Snitch

Love me some Dwayne Johnson. As much as he seems to occasionally not want me to like him (Tooth Fairy, Journey 2, Race to Witch Mountain), I love a good helping of The Rundown, Walking Tall, and the recent Fast and Furious movies. Snitch is different in that it really allows Johnson to act and play a character as it is far more a thriller than an action movie. There’s a couple shoot-outs and an impressive, though short, truck chase but for the most part it’s more character and story driven.  It’s not the most original plot by any means, with Johnson going undercover to get dirt on drug runners in order to get his son, who is serving 10 years for trafficing as the result of a fairly innocent fuck-up, out of jail. They wring some solid tension out of the idea though and Johnson is easy to root for in the lead. It’s a solid thriller that is easily worth a watch.

Right, pick of the week. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmm....maybe Oz? Unless you can find a copy of Street Trash, then get that. Dude’s penis melts off, it’s a classic.

I Gots Goosebumps Episode 5 - Phantom of the Auditorium

It's tough to get a hold of quality images for any episode, especially this one, hence two-face kitty.

Watching Phantom of the Auditorium reminded me of an incident that happened when I was in the fifth grade. I remember I had brought several Goosebumps books with me to class. I can’t remember the reason. I want to say it was for show and tell, but I’d like to believe I had something better to bring in than books anyone can just go to the store and buy. Anyway, at the end of the day I noticed several of them, including Phantom of the Auditorium,had been taken from my desk. The next morning, my classmate brought in Goosebump books he claimed he went and bought the previous night. The rub? They were the exact same ones taken from me the previous day! Oh and did I mention my fucking name was written inside one of them? The last I heard about that kid he was repeating the 8th grade, and apparently the signs were there years earlier.

Anyway, let’s talk about the episode! There’s not a whole lot to say, hence the preamble.

 

We open with a bunch of drama students sitting around in a circle and talking about the fact they are doing drama. It goes on for longer than necessary, but to the show and actors’ credit, they do a pretty good job of replicating what it would be like if a bunch of pre-teens were sitting around, shooting the shit and trading tame insults. They’re doing a production of Phantom of the Opera, which one of the kids mentions is cursed. This girl is my favourite character in the episode because her sole purpose every time she shows up is to remind people “Don’t forget, shit is cursed”.

Also there’s a mechanical trapdoor in the floor from a production that was done decades earlier. It’s old, broken and unsafe, and yet the teacher feels it’s not worth mentioning until one of the kids has already tripped the mechanism and scared the shit out of everyone by vanishing down into the floor. You would think the first piece of business on this set would be to rope off the dangerous trap door, but eh, let’s just wait and see what happens instead.

So we see them rehearsing and the lead girl occasionally has visions of a phantom calling to her on a smoky stage. Oh and a new kid who is crazy enthusiastic about being a part of the Phantom show has joined the team, and I bet you he is not up to anything at all. No way.

Eventually, for reasons I don’t entirely remember, one night our two leads go down into the basement via the trap door. It’s there they encounter a creepy dude who claims to be the night janitor. As with all horror janitors who never end up being actually evil, he talks in a low, threatening voice and speaks in nothing but vague, ominous statements. Although now that I think about it, I don’t believe I have ever once encountered a friendly janitor, so these horror movie makers may be right on the money actually.

Our lead girl (I think her name is Brooke) starts getting warnings to stay away from the production, and her best friend keeps getting blamed, eventually leading to him getting booted from the play. I felt bad for the guy because he really gets screwed. He adamantly defends himself and Brooke backs him up, yet the teacher just decides fuck him so he’s out. So the new guy, who I still bet you is completely on the level and is not at all a ghost or some shit, takes his place as the Phantom in the play. I think....actually I’m pretty sure that maybe didn’t happen since the original kid (I don’t at all remember what his name would have been) ends up playing the role anyway. I think they let him back in after some freaky shit happens that he clearly couldn’t have been responsible for. The fact that I already can’t remember says a lot about this episode.

The night of the show arrives, and during the performance, the Phantom is knocked down the trapdoor and replaced by, oh shit it’s the new kid! He WAS up to something! Can you believe that shit? I never saw it coming! So he deviates from the dialogue and instead tells a story about how he was supposed to play the role of the Phantom decades prior, but he died, which of course made it tricky to do so. Sadly this then became his sole post death goal. Seems one could have higher post-mortem aspirations than “do some middle school drama” but it’s what he wants so I guess all the power to him. Also, nobody seems to mind at all that the lead has completely tossed the script aside and given a monologue that I can’t imagine would make a lick of sense within the context of the play they’re performing. How are they not picking up that this is a real story being told and not just nonsense improvisation? I don’t know but they are pumped as shit about the performance when the scene is done. I’m pretty sure that isn’t where the play would normally end, but they were just so excited that they had to rush the stage and fuck it all up.

Then, in the most hilariously blunt ending to any episode of a show ever, they find out the new kid has in fact been dead for decades when they see a newspaper headline. SLAM TO CREDITS! I assume the writers knew we would figure that reveal out 20 minutes earlier and decided it wasn’t worth devoting any time to.

Oh and there never was a night-time janitor, so I guess that guy was also a ghost? I don’t remember them explaining it. They may have but I distinctly remember that by this point in the episode I was pretty into some Mrs. Vickies’ chips, so you can’t fault me for not giving the show my full attention.

This is another ok episode. The obvious twist hurts things as you then have to spend the majority of the episode waiting for the characters to catch-up. The character interaction feels natural though, and the acting is solid, and that seems to be the best thing I can hope for with these things. Forgettable, but watchable.

I Gots Goosebumps Episode 4 - Welcome to Camp Nightmare

Now THIS one I remember. If I recall correctly, Welcome to Camp Nightmare was a favourite of mine in the Goosebumps book series. I must have really loved this episode of the show too because I remember it strangely well. The dialogue beats, the story beats, I knew everything that was going to happen and it was a strange feeling because I don’t have any memory of seeing this beyond it’s initial airing. So the only rational explanation is - I have one of them genius brains.

This episode doesn’t bullshit around and opens up with a bunch of kids being ditched in the middle of nowhere by their stoic bus driver while on their way to Camp Nightmoon. See how close that is to nightmare? Don’t worry the kids make the connection later and sound really fucking proud of themselves when they do. We are then introduced to overly cheery Uncle Al, who, primarily because of the poor video quality, I spent the first few minutes trying to sort whether he was also the Al from Home Improvement (you probably know him better as world’s worst Family Feud host Richard Karn). This is in fact, a completely different Al. Oh and also they are told that a monster named Sabre lives in the woods and will eat them if they stray off the trails. These kids are some brave motherfuckers because they don’t even bat an eye. 

Shit doesn’t get much better once they arrive at camp as it takes about 2 minutes before one of the kids is bitten by a snake. Unfortunately it’s not the goofy kid with the flat face who laughs at his own awful jokes for about 15 seconds after he tells them. They then meet their counselor Larry, who even if he were the nicest guy on the planet, would still seem like an asshole purely because of the layout of his face (I think it’s mostly the teeth that do it). He’s one of those bullies who in real life could never actually be a bully because fucking look at the guy. His wiry frame and his boy band haircut. His insults are also terrible, mostly relying on calling people dorks and dweebs. Granted, it’s a kid’s show so they can’t go too far and have him call a kid a cocksucker before punching out his teeth.

In the morning snake bite kid is gone and everyone is all “what? Ain’t no kids here named whatever that character’s name is”. But our hero Billy, who I haven’t actually mentioned up until this point because he’s pretty bland, knows some shit is up. But missing kids can’t get in the way of baseball so off they go! It’s there that Larry throws a hissy fit when a player is called safe (the way he throws down his mitt and kicks it is actually pretty funny, though I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be) so in retaliation, he whips the ball at the guy’s head, and I think we’re supposed to believe kills him.

Of course the next day nobody remembers him, and Billy is all “I’m gonna get to the bottom of this shit....after breakfast”. Nobody seems as freaked out as they should bd. Granted when we get to the ending it makes more sense, but Billy always seems more curious than genuinely worried. Your friends are gone man, presumed dead, and everybody says they never existed. This kid would be losing his mind, but instead he’s more “This is quite strange. Oh man yeah eggs!” Also he tries to get in people’s faces about it but it’s never ever convincing.

So then shit goes completely south and his last two friends drown in a lake in front of him after he can’t save them, which again he brushes off as a troubling event instead of something completely soul destroying. Then he finds out that all of the letters he and his campmates have been writing home (there’s no working phone on site, though Al did put a prop one up as a joke because haha false hope is hilarious) haven’t gone anywhere. Also one of the girl’s escaped from their camp and all the dudes are hunting her down with tranquilizer guns. And occasionally Sabre shows up and roars but we never get a good look at him because clearly they had no confidence in his special effect.

So once the insanity hits its apex, we are introduced to the twist, which at this point was starting to get pretty obvious (I should mention this is a 2-part episode, so there’s a lot of build-up). It’s all a ruse! You see Billy’s parents are actually kick-awesome scientists who are going away on a dangerous mission for a long time so they needed to make sure Billy was ready to go with them. And how better to do that than getting a whole bunch of government employees to waste 2 days pretending to be campers and counselors in an effort to make sure this kid is brave. I’d rather see the alternate version where Billy pisses himself right at the beginning when the driver ditches them so his parents have to tell him “Well so long pussy” and take off.

But wait! R.L. Stine wasn’t satisfied with just that twist, but he also had to make sure everyone was a god damn alien too! Yep, the dangerous mission is to Earth! It’s such a sudden revelation and it’s completely needless. You already had one twist, was this really necessary? The second twist is also a huge rip-off of a classic Twilight Zone episode, so I’m wondering if Stine saw that, and figured “kids don’t know what fuckin’ Twilight Zone is” and wrote it into the story.

Welcome to Camp Nightmare is....ok. I’m not convinced it needed to be a 2-parter and the hero is dreadfully bland, but there’s some decent intrigue and some unintentional hilarity. The lead actor went on to do 2009’s Ice Twisters, so at the very least this certainly isn’t the worst thing he was involved with. So it’s a victory!

I Got Goosebumps Episode 3 - The Girl Who Cried Monster

The use of Cuckoo Clock of Doom for the second Goosebumps episode was a strange decision so going into the third I wasn’t at all sure what to expect. It turns out though, I actually remember The Girl Who Cried Monster, or at least the cover of the book. You can guess exactly how the story will play out based purely on that title, but it’s all about the execution and I’m happy to report this is an improvement over the last episode.

Here we have our lead girl Lucy, who we quickly learn loves to scare her younger brother. It immediately becomes clear why because if you also had a brother who was this cartoonishly large of a pussy, you wouldn’t be able to help yourself from messing with him either. She tells him this story about a monster who eats your toes, and she doesn’t even sell it well either, but this kid immediately looks like he is going to melt from sheer terror. He even continues to be scared by it after she openly admits she’s bullshitting him! Scaring him seems so easy that it doesn’t even look fun. There’s no challenge. You could be sitting across from him at the breakfast table and mutter “boo” and this kid would burst into tears and wet himself. They don’t give his age I don’t think, but he definitely appeared to be older than a fetus so there’s no way he should be falling for any of this. 

Lucy also has a best friend but I don’t remember his name because he serves absolutely no purpose to the story. Also, I don’t know if it was a problem with the audio on the copy we were watching, but this kid had the highest, Mickey Mouse-esque voice I’ve ever heard come out of a human being. It was like he had been sucking helium non-stop for years. We really only see him in a couple scenes. He walks home with Lucy from the library after school, but she has to go back because she forgot her “blades”, by which I’m choosing to believe are her swords. 

She apparently left her blades at the library three towns over because it’s pitch black by the time she gets there. The door is unlocked, which is interesting because her creepy, sweaty librarian is in there, blatantly being a monster. At first he appears to just be way into feeding his spiders, but then Lucy sees him transform into this yellow, bug-eyed goofy looking monster who starts devouring the crickets and laughing maniacally. The laughter struck me as odd. In the context of Lucy, and us, watching as an audience, the laughter is important so we immediately know he is way evil. But in the context of the story where he doesn’t know anybody is watching him, what the hell is so god-damn funny?

We know Lucy likes monsters because she makes a point of mentioning this every few seconds during the opening minutes of the show. So of course nobody believes her when she tries telling them her story (just like that other poor fucker who cried wolf). This is exactly why the password system I talked about in the last review is so important! She goes back to the library the following night to get proof. Here we are treated to literally the same transformation footage we saw in the last library sequence. The one big difference is that the sequence is capped with a surprisingly grotesque sequence of the guy consuming one of his spiders. The poor video quality hid the no doubt primitive effects though. 

Lucy quickly proves herself to be the most incompetent spy in existence as she takes his picture using a flash in a dark room. Needless to say he quickly spots her and she drops her backpack in the process. This leads to the best scene of the episode when he shows up at Lucy’s house to return the backpack. This is the patented Martin Lawrence “shit just got real” scene. He knows that she knows what’s up and clearly is there to murder her and her family. It’s not overly tense but it’s well acted and does contain a legitimately funny line of dialogue when Lucy calls out “Mom is Dad still cleaning his gun?” 

Lucy’s parents continue not to believe, even going so far as to invite the librarian to dinner in front of her. This was hilarious as the ultimate fuck you to their daughter, but then in a twist I remembered about two seconds before it happened, Lucy’s parents are actually monsters! After dinner they turn into snakes and eat the librarian right in front of their children, which in retrospect is kind of irresponsable. They then proceed to have a stilted, exposition heavy conversation with their kids about how they are all monsters and they didn’t believe Lucy because the idea of another monster out there was absurd (not sure why, their existence is pretty solid proof that monsters are real). It’s a conversation no human being would ever have since it’s simply them pointing out the obvious to each other, it’s only their for our benefit. Then it looks like they might eat Lucy’s best friend Captain Helium, but then they don’t. Credits! Wait...why was the brother such a pussy if he was in fact, also a snake monster?

So this episode ain’t bad. It’s certainly a huge jump in quality from The Cuckoo Clock of Doom. The acting is solid, and while the plot is largely predictable, the ending is a decent twist that perhaps doesn’t make sense in the overall narrative, but at least it’s something. The next episode is one I remember quite well so I think the quality train may just keep right on chugging.

I Gots Goosebumps Episode 2 - The Cuckoo Clock of Doom

I ended the last review by recalling that this show started to get real bad as it progressed in its run. I was more on the nose than I thought because as it turns out, it gets bad almost immediately. Maybe “bad” is too harsh, but “far less good” is certainly not an understatement as we go to the second episode - The Cuckoo Clock of Doom.

What an odd choice for the second episode. I get why The Haunted Mask was chosen as the lead story. I remember that one being very popular, even with people who weren’t that into the series. Now it comes time to select the next story, of which you have dozens to choose from. Why this one? This feels like the one you do late in the series run when you’re starting to get desperate but don’t want to craft an original story.

So in this one our hero is 12-year-old Michael but from here on out I will be referring to him as Dopey Haircut because my god, look at him. Dopey Haircut is not happy with his life because his little sister Tara is a nightmare, his Mom seems completely oblivious to it, and his Dad’s seemingly only goal these last few years has been to buy an antique cuckoo clock. Things aren’t going great for this kid.

We quickly see his twelfth birthday, which is ruined by the following: Tara revealing he has a crush on a girl (the idea that there was a period in life where you were made fun of for liking girls is blowing my mind right now) and then tripping him while he’s carrying his cake so he does a face plant right into it. The best part of the scene is easily his friends, who have the most overplayed “HA HA HA HA HA” laugh you’ve ever heard. Seems the director should have made them redo that scene and have them laugh like actual human beings do, but I imagine the budget was whatever they saved by not buying coffee while filming episode 1, so maybe nothing could be done.

Thankfully though, this cuckoo clock the Dad’s obsessed with is all magic and shit, so when Dopey Haircut turns the bird’s head around (it’s in an effort to frame Tara so he doesn’t do it for fun, but that would be way better) he starts going back in time! He goes through his twelfth birthday again, which means we get to watch the exact same scenes we just saw a few minutes ago. For a 20 minute show this feels wasteful. Also how does he fall for the birthday cake trip again when he knows damn well it’s coming this time?!

So he goes to bed that night and wakes up in the morning as a six-year-old who is a better actor than his 12-year-old counterpart. However, he ruins all good will almost immediately when he finds out he is now six, and proceeds to do the Home Alone scream. Hands on the face and everything. It sounds so much like the Home Alone scream I’m not convinced they didn’t just use the same audio. I wonder if on set somebody realized the actor looked like MacCauley Culkin and so they thought this would be hilarious, but shame on the rest of the crew for not immediately putting a stop to that. It’s so bad I had to physically stop watching and gather myself up again.

Let’s get sidetracked for a second. My wife and I, very early in our relationship, decided that we needed a password that we could use if something freaky is happening to one of us and we need the other person to know we’re being serious. So if I’m travelling through time or saw a ghost in the shower, I just say the word and she knows immediately that I’m of sound mind and not fucking around, and we need to deal with this time travelling ghost problem or whatever. We also will pass this code along to our children. That way we can easily avoid the situation this episode presents, where the parents just assume the kid is sick or fucking around so they don’t believe him that they need to go to an antique store and turn the head of a cuckoo bird back around so he doesn’t vanish in time. I’m not going to take that chance with my kids because with me, I just assume that situation is inevitable.

There’s a strange part during the six-year-old sequence where he runs off to the antique store, only to find it’s closed. On the way there a homeless guy asks him for change and then creepily follows him for a while while ominous music plays. Then he just, goes away. Nothing comes of it at all. Maybe the book dealt more with it? Either way it feels out of place and meaningless.

In our last scenario he wakes up as a baby but thanks to his dad’s unsettling love of antiques, he takes the kid there on a walk. Also thanks to his parents being frighteningly neglectful of their baby, they leave him unattended long enough for him to get out of his stroller, climb up to the front of the clock, and turn the bird’s head around right before his parents grab him.

In the end he wakes up as a 12-year-old again and everything seems back to normal. Except, oh shit, the year Tara was born is missing from the clock so she no longer exists! The end! It seems strange to have the happy ending be the complete eradication of a child from existence, but I guess she did trip him so fuck her.

Cuckoo Clock of Doom is not quality television, especially following the surprisingly decent Haunted Maskepisode. The acting is poor, the plot is decent in concept but boring in execution, and it’s overall uninteresting. Apparently it’s the only episode to never be released on VHS. That tells you everything you need to know right there.

I also just read that apparently R.L. Stine called this his favourite book in the whole series. Let’s just assume he was messing with us. 

I Gots Goosebumps Episode 1 - The Haunted Mask

You remember Goosebumps? No not the undeniably incredible series of books but the far less discussed TV show adaptation? “Kinda” you say? Well then it sounds like you need some dude on the Internet to write a review of every single episode! And that’s me! Maybe! I tend to get bored! So we’ll see!

The Goosebumps TV series kicked off with an hour long special based on the book, The Haunted Mask. This was played up as a huge event back when it premiered. YTV was psyched about this thing! It was set to premiere during this annual horror event the station did called Dark Night, where they would run the season/series premieres of shows like Are You Afraid of the Dark?Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or that really shitty show where the cockroach puppet talked about urban legends. Freaky Stories? It was dumb, so I don’t really remember. And eventually they started running it at like 3PM so that tells you just how freaky it was.

As a huge fan of the book series (I used to have the first 60 or so of them but foolishly gave them away years ago), the idea of a TV show was pretty damn exciting and I have distinct memories of talking with my friends about which books we hoped they made into episodes. Man, schoolyard hype was way better than Internet hype. I know I really liked this episode as a kid, but how about as a nearly 30 year old adult? Well, read my words and find out!

We open with a very bored sounding R.L. Stine introducing the episode. Maybe he just isn’t comfortable in front of a camera, or maybe he was going for a low key and ominous tone, but he just sounds sleepy. It’s hard to get too amped up about this when someone is telling you in a monotone voice, “Oh man you guys better get ready to be scared because this is way scary you guys. I’m serious. Way scary. Yaaaaaawwwwwn”.

Our protagonist is Carly-Beth, and about 60% of the dialogue consists of other characters saying and usually shouting her name. It would be a fun drinking game to organize if you wanted to kill the participants. Carly-Beth is a known scaredy-cat (it works out great for taunting that those both have the same number of syllables) so she is mercilessly picked on by these two assholes. Most of the pranks do indeed prove her jumpiness, but for one of them they just put worms in a sandwich she’s eating. Scaredy-cat my ass, you show me a motherfucker on the planet that wouldn’t be upset about that. And she isn’t really scared, just grossed out that she was eating a worm sandwich. So the bullies aren’t sending a clear a message with their bullying but they are established effectively as assholes who are in dire need of some comeuppance.

Carly-Beth plans to deliver this by wearing a really scary mask and freaking them out, which in theory is a pretty lame plan. However, she finds this creepy shop run by the dude from Tommy Boy who was obsessed with guarantees. In the backroom he has a bunch of genuinely unsettling masks, however they aren’t for sale. Carly-Beth doesn’t play that shit though, so she steals it and runs away. Her mask is pretty good but did she not see the one next to it that was missing all the skin around its mouth? That shit was gold!

Now, of course, this wouldn’t be a Goosebumps story if she put on the mask, scared everyone, then took it off and had a normal night of trick-or-treating before going to bed at a reasonable hour because she has school in the morning. Maybe in one of the later, shittier Goosebumps stories, but this is old-school so it puts in a solid effort. Once she puts the mask on she becomes a total dick, running around cackling and scaring small children. She even gives one of their moms the business. She also ups the ante by placing a model of her own normal head (more on that later) on top of a broomstick. Needless to say she is quite successful at scaring the bullies. Then it comes time to take the mask off but oooooooo shit it’s her face now!

That idea gives me the jibblies. Imagine putting on a mask, only to find after that the seam between it and your face is gone and you cannot remove it. They even give you some POV shots from inside the mask to show how suffocating and terrible that would be. It’s a pretty creepy idea and presented well here. The actress playing Carly-Beth is surprisingly good, and shows the right amount of “holy fuck what?!” panic without taking it too far over the top. Her friend though doesn’t quite seem concerned enough about what is unfolding in front of her. She seems worried, sure, but not to the level you would perhaps expect.

So Carly-Beth goes back to Tommy Boy guy, who confirms that yep, those masks are indeed evil and also used to be his faces. I wasn’t completely clear on that second part but apparently yes, he keeps making himself new faces and then they rot away so he keeps them on display in his storage room. A strange decision but as the owner of a fully intact face maybe I just don’t understand his world. He says the mask can’t be removed, only to immediately reveal seconds later that it totally can be, you just need a symbol of love.

Now here’s where I have issues. We know immediately that the symbol of love will be the model of Carly-Beth’s head because her mom made a big show of it, saying she made it out of love. She also must have made it out of dark magic because there is something fucked about that model head. It talks a couple of times during the episode, asking for help and what not, which is likely meant to show it as a representation of Carly-Beth’s trapped soul. However the head is fucked long before Carly-Beth (so sick of typing that name) even finds the haunted mask. It smiles the very first time we see it. What is that?! What are you model head?! It’s never explained either, so I guess it’s just art.

I should also mention that while going to retrieve the model head, she is being chased by the floating disembodied masks from the shop, who are telling her to come and join them. This part used to scare the FUCK out of me as a kid. Now it’s tainted by the dated effects, but they’re still creepy floating masks so they get some mileage out of them regardless.

So she gets the mask off by holding the model head up in the air, and then for reasons I’m not clear on, takes the mask back home with her. If that were you, wouldn’t you throw that shit out or bury it or burn it or whatever it takes to immediately dispose of it? There’s also a strange moment when she gets home where her younger brother starts pleading with her to take the mask off. Oh no, is it really still on her head?! Well no, because we have eyes and we can see it’s not on her head anymore. I guess that scare worked better in the book. Also how would the little brother know to fuck with her like that unless he knew what she went through that night? Either way he’s fucked because the episode ends with him putting the mask on and I assume a symbol of love won’t work because nobody likes him. Pretty dark ending. Then bored R.L. Stine takes us home and that’s the first episode of Goosebumps!

The Haunted Mask holds up surprisingly ok. Obviously the fear factor is diminished because of my intense adult bravery, but it’s not too corny and the acting, especially by the lead, is pretty solid. The story often doesn’t make sense but it’s not boring and they do give the whole thing a pretty downer note to go out on. Overall, not bad! I remember this show getting pretty shitty though so stick with me because we’re only just getting started!

Quick Thoughts on the Playstation Vita

Depending on how you look at it, the Playstation Vita has now been out for just over one week or just over two. It has been a strange launch to say the least. I pre-ordered the First Edition bundle back in January, less so because I wanted the pack-in deals (which for the record include a decent but unimpressive carrying case, a mediocre pack-in game and a 4 GB memory card that likely won’t last me very long) and more because I got caught up in the idea of getting it early. For some reason that strangely appealed to me.

So I’ve had it for over a week now, and I would never ever have the time to give a proper review to each of the games I’ve played (it’s a pretty high number, I tend to go overboard when a new system launches) as well as the system so I thought I would do a general write-up and give a very brief overview of my thoughts up until this point.

The System Itself

I will say that the Vita didn’t make the most terrific first impression as some of the initial set-up felt strangely convoluted. In particular, a system update was needed and until I went through with it, I was unable to input my existing PSN ID. So I had to skip that step, go in and perform the update, and then go and input my existing information. It doesn’t sound like much but at the time it was a little baffling and I actually had to hit up the Internet to make sure there wasn’t a bigger issue at play here.

But once the first steps were out of the way and I was playing the system, I was immediately impressed. The desktop (I don’t know what else to call it) is clean and clearly laid out, though I did initially have trouble figuring out to enter in my online pass codes. I know a lot of people don’t like that you can only navigate this area by using the touch screen but I had no issues. It moves things along quickly and it works well. My one complaint is that each game is given it’s own space here, which crowds things up pretty quickly. I’m sure they will add some way to group these together down the road, or at least I hope they do otherwise this is going to out of hand really quickly.

The Vita of course gives you just about every possible way to play a game ever in existence. We have dual analog control, a first amongst the portable systems, at least as far as I’m aware (the control stick pro for the 3DS does not count). There’s obviously the front touch screen, but then there is also the rear touch screen. There is tilt control, a built in camera, and more things I didn’t even know about until some of the games busted them out. It makes for a tremendous amount of possibility for what developers can do with upcoming titles.

The biggest appeal for me is the Vita’s screen. My god do games ever look fantastic on this thing. Large, bright and just fantastic looking.

I could get into more detail but I wanted this to be a broad look. I am very impressed with the Vita overall. It feels good, it looks great, and although I do have some issues with the general menu layout and functionality, it’s nothing game breaking and I’m sure will be patched and fixed as time goes on. Battery life isn’t terrific but it does seem better than the 3DS so far. I would put it at somewhere around 4-5 hours per full charge. This is one of the few systems where I am genuinely excited to see what developers do with it down the road, as it seems like there is a lot of potential for innovation here.

The Games I’ve Played

Of course impressive hardware can only get you so far if there aren’t quality titles to back it up. The Vita’s launch, in my eyes, was impressive in terms of game selection. There were numerous titles I was interested in and Sony brought a lot of their flagship titles to the system right out of the gate. Here are the ones I have tried out so far.

Little Deviants

I figure I will lead with this one, as it is the pack-in with the FE bundle. Little Deviants is a mini-game collection that essentially serves as a way to show off all of the Vita functionality as fast as possible. Front and back touch screen, tilt control, the camera, they all come into play here. It’s a great pack-in in that it shows all of the ways you can use your new system. It’s not a great pack-in in that it is not all that fun.

Some of the games are decent, such as the tilt-focused games that have you tilting the Vita to maneuver through a maze. But the majority are boring, repetitive, and often frustrating. Many of the games repeat themselves (you will be tilting you way through mazes at least 5 times) and when you didn’t have much fun with them the first time, imagine how soul crushing the fourth time is? Some of the games, maybe even all of them, feel like they drag on forever! A whack a mole style game that has you doing nothing but tapping the screen to kill enemies goes on for minute after minute and it was boring about 15 seconds in. This is a consistent problem.

It’s a decent enough game for a pack-in, but not worth picking it up separately.

Uncharted: Golden Abyss

One of the two main reasons I picked up the Vita, this was the first game I tried out after cracking open the box. While I can’t put it above Uncharted 2 and 3 (god damn it I liked that third game!), it’s easily on par with the first game, if not maybe a slight improvement. The writing may not be quite as snappy but the story is interesting and the action is very solid. There’s also tons of collectables, some of which are well implemented, such as using the system to take in-game pictures of certain locations.

I wasn’t a huge fan of some of the Vita specific mechanics. Many are optional, many are not. There’s definitely some that are used well, like the charcoal rubbings and one neat trick involving light. However I certainly didn’t miss using the tilt function to not fall off platforms that you’re crossing, and some of the QTEs, which are all done by swiping your finger across the screen in specific directions, are frustrating because often you’ll fail and wonder why. And some of them go FOREVER and one wrong input means right back to the beginning.

Overall though I really liked this one. It looks fantastic and feels great with the dual analog sticks. It’s a lengthy adventure and one I will go through again so if you’re getting a Vita, this is a must.

Modnation Racers: Road Trip

Another flagship franchise is brought out for the launch of the Vita. I only played some of the PS3 and PSP versions and had fun so I figured I would pick this up. I have not been having as much fun with this one. It just feels so stripped down. There’s no online multiplayer or sense of community and once that’s gone all you are really left with is a pretty mediocre kart racer. The later levels get frantic to the point of frustration and the controls often feel a little broken. My character seems to veer wherever the fuck he wants and will often go skidding off the track for reasons I can’t understand. I wouldn’t bother with this one.

Hot Shots Gold: World Invitational

If you are a HSG fan and are looking for more of it, here is that. No massive overhauls to the formula, just more of what you remember and for the time being I’m still ok with that. The controls feel great and the game has a bright and colorful aesthetic that still works. Tons of unlockables, lots of course and a store full of items to buy increase the replay value, and there’s a daily online tournament you can compete in as well. If you’ve grown tired of the franchise then this won’t change your mind but if you’re up for another round, it’s completely worth your time. A great portable game.

Michael Jackson The Experience HD

Sooooo I definitely was amongst those who downloaded the demo of this and was a little surprised to find that trophies were unlocking and there seemed to be no limit to what you could do. Yes the full game was put up instead of the demo and I nabbed it before the error was fixed.

The game itself is decent. It’s all touch screen based as you tap and swipe to match the on-screen prompts. There are definitely occasions where I get a ‘Miss’ and am not sure why, which can get frustrating when you’re trying for a trophy that requires a perfect run. The song selection has everything you would want but you’ll burn through them fast and if you don’t have any interest in playing the same 15 or so tracks over and over again to get all of the unlockables then the game will grow tiresome quickly. The presentation is top notch, with each song capturing it’s associated video pretty well. Overall, decent.

Lumines: Electronic Symphony

Full disclosure – this is the first time I’ve ever played a Lumines game. Oh I knew a lot of people had some serious affinity for it,  but I had never experienced it myself. First time I fired this game up, I played it for about 2 hours. The next session? Almost 3. Since then I have toned it down to only a few rounds per play session but it has been getting a lot of play. Puzzle fans and video games alike need to buy this immediately, that’s all I’m going to say. Fast and addictive game play, great music and a ton of content, buy it!

Rayman Origins

Did you love the console versions of this game? Then you will love the Vita version as they are one and the same. Didn’t play the console version? Then you will love the Vita version because it’s a fucking fantastic game. Easily one of the best platformers to be released in years, Rayman Origins looks incredible, plays incredible and is flat out incredible.

Touch My Katamari

Aside from being able to stretch your katamari by using the rear touch panel, the katamari formula has not changed here. If you are up for more katamari then you shall receive exactly that. Hell the game itself jokes about how the series may have grown stale. The gameplay remains fun but the game is over very very quickly. I would say this game took me 3 hours at the most to get to the end. There are reasons to go back and replay the levels but the whole package still does feel a little thin. For 30 bucks though, there is definitely fun to be had.

And those are all of the games I’ve played so far and just my quick thoughts on each of them. I think you can piece together that I am a fan. I think the system itself is great, and it features an impressive launch with a lot of quality titles to pick from. Yes many are slight revisions on well known franchises, but I’m kind of ok with that. If anything I forgot just how many great franchises Sony has.

A lot of people are not happy with the Vita’s $250 entry price but you know what, I feel it has been completely worth it so far. Sure the memory card prices are a little insane (I’m rocking my 4 GB for as long as possible) but god damn it I like this thing. I like it a lot. Well done Sony, you got me once again.

The Double Fine "Controversy"

Last week Double Fine productions launched an initiative on Kickstarter to raise $400,000 to fund an old school adventure game in the vein of Day of the Tentacle, Monkey Island, and Grim Fandango. Publishers were never going to fund such a project, so why not go to the fans instead? Well the rest is history. They surpassed their goal (of which they expected to take the full 33 days to accomplish) in just 1 day and less than a week later have raised almost 2 million dollars. Yes we are indeed going to get a new adventure game from the mind of Tim Schaefer, something I, and clearly many others, have wanted for a good long while. It’s one of those rare occasions where just about everybody seems to be in agreement that this is a great thing.

Well, almost everybody.

I’m writing this rant in response to a few articles I’ve read over the past few days that take a negative approach to all of this, often labeling it as the “Double Fine Controversy”. That alone is baffling as I really don’t see anything about this that could be considered controversial and the fact that some people have called it such is insane. If they turned around and used that money to buy a bigger office or make a military FPS or something then yes, that would be extremely controversial. But this? This is one of the least controversial things I have ever seen.

It’s so simple. They wanted to make a game that nobody would give them money to make. They also aren’t successful enough to fund it themselves. Fans have wanted a new Tim Schaefer headed adventure game for years and years, so they asked the fans to help with its production. That way not only could the game be made, but they could make the game they wanted without having to worry about outside influence from a publisher. They didn’t come out and beg fans for the money and say it was either that or the company would be finished, though apparently that may not have been too far off as there was fear of layoffs due to a canceled project.  They simply said “look guys, we’d love to do this but this could be the only way. What do you think?” And people responded.

But this is the Internet and these are video games so naturally you’re going to get a crop of people who have somehow found a way for this to anger them. I will say that 99% of the Internet seems to think this is a fantastic turn of events. It’s that very vocal 1% however that I want to address.

The most common complaint seems to be the one mentioned above. “That’s so pathetic that they would beg their fans for money. I’ve lost so much respect for them as a company.” I think I already said my piece about this so there’s no real reason to elaborate.

On a similar note however, I have definitely seen more than a few comments along the lines of “I can’t believe people are actually donating their money for this shit” or “It pisses me off that people are supporting this”. My only real question here is why? Why does it bother you so much that people are giving money for something they want? By that rational you could get pissed about practically anything anyone buys ever. It’s fine if you don’t care and don’t want to contribute, but why does it make you angry? If Double Fine had started an initiative to pay for guns to murder children then sure, you can get mad about support towards that but this? I just don’t see it.

This is something that has bothered me countless times before and yes it really can be chalked up to “Well, it is the Internet.” No matter the story and how positive it is, there will always be one person (usually more however) who bitches about it, doesn’t matter the subject. In particular I remember when Relic developer Brian Wood was killed in a car accident a couple of years back, after he swerved the car to take the impact, saving his pregnant wife in the process. It’s a tragic story but if you visit many of the stories about it, you’ll see comments like “Who cares?! This isn’t gaming news!” and the one that really did it for me “It fucking pisses me off that people keep calling him a hero. It was instinct guys, he’s not a hero!” Again what the fuck?! How could it anger you that someone is calling him a hero?! How can you read that story and get so riled up that someone is saying this man is a hero that you have to post about it?! I’m getting sidetracked but my point is, people can find a way to get mad about anything and seem to have chosen to do so here as well.

Anyway, another common complaint I keep seeing in the comments on the Double Fine stories, are people saying “This money could go to charity instead” and fully expect Double Fine to donate all but the $400,000 to charity since it goes above and beyond their original goal. First, I am not railing against charities. I have contributed to a number of charities in the past, of course I’m all for that. I do have issues with this however.

First of all, do I think the additional money should go to charity? In this situation I don’t, simply because that isn’t what people invested their money for. They paid to have an adventure game, and would have every right to get upset should that money not go towards it. Besides Double Fine could never pick a charity that everyone would agree with, so this is not the root to go.

The second, and I’m about to get really really sidetracked here, is that I kind of absolutely hate it when people play the charity guilt card. I can’t help but get a twinge of rage every time someone busts out “Come on that money could have gone to charity.” I’ve had it done to me after I purchased a video game system a few years back. After hearing about my purchase, this person (wouldn’t really call them a friend), rolled their eyes and asked “Don’t you think you could have given that money to charity or something?” I hate this both because there’s no good way to respond to it without sounding like an asshole, and also because it’s the most condescending dick move on the planet. Unless that person only buys the bare essential items they need to survive life and the rest goes straight to charity, they have no right to say anything. It’s tempting to be petty and just keep throwing it back in their face. “Wait you bought a movie ticket and popcorn? You know that could have gone to charity right? Isn’t that how it works?”

As a fan of video games, I of course make some pretty outlandish purchasing decisions and I hate when people feel they can judge it. It’s my money, fuck off. If I decide I want to buy a Virtual Boy on eBay, or donate to a developer to make an adventure game, so long as it’s not putting me in debt, what right do you have to make me feel bad about it? It will more likely make people resent charity (and you of course) and why would you want that?!

Oh and to anyone who is criticizing Double Fine for this because they have had a ton of successful games, this is not so. Just because you have heard of the games does not mean they were successful. Titles like Psychonauts may have a cult following but the average gamer would give you a blank stare if you mentioned it, and Brutal Legend was a flop. Their move into the downloadable space with titles such as Costume Quest and Iron Brigage (formally known as Trenched) has proved more effective, but you still could not qualify Double Fine as a highly successful company. In the sense that they make consistently great and unique titles? Sure. Financially? Not so much.

I think I’ve said my piece really. I just needed to vent because all in all, what is happening with Double Fine should be a fantastic, heart warming story of a developer beating the odds and seeing just how much people care. But you still have people out there complaining and trying to find the negative here. Why can’t we all just agree for once that something is awesome?! If you don’t care then fine, but don’t start throwing around shit about controversies and lame charity guilt trips. And yes, I know we’re all entitled to our opinions, just try not to cram it down people’s throats in the most aggressive and asshole way. Just try and take comfort that the rest of us will be getting a product that we have been waiting a very long time for.

Come on Parents, At Least Try to Care

I won't lie to you, I wrote this rant about 10 months ago and just plain forgot about it. There's no use in letting it go to waste though because although specific events being referenced are clearly old, the overall subject and story are timeless. So please enjoy my 2009 adventure in an Ottawa Walmart.

Last week my fiancée and I hit up one of our many local Wal-Marts. We went in with the intention of buying a few groceries and some snacks to sneak into the movies the next morning (yep, we’re those kind of people). Of course I also walked out with the Star Trek bluray and the Master Assassin’s Edition of Assassin’s Creed II…because I’m also that kind of person.

Anyway that’s not why I’m writing this. While perusing the Xbox 360 games, a father and his son (I’m saying the son was 9 but he very easily could have been younger) came walking up with a Wal-Mart employee. While walking the father somehow managed to knock a slew of DVD’s off the shelf and onto the floor. His response to this?

“Fuck! Fuckin’ things. (starts picking them up) Fuckin’ things just fuckin' jumped right out at me.”

The kid didn’t even bat an eye so obviously this is an all too common occurrence (the language I mean, although presumably the same goes for knocking shit down). That’s not the end of it though as somehow this guy managed to knock down MORE DVD’s off the shelf. Not the same ones he had put back mind you, but completely different ones. After all of this had gone down I stared at the DVD’s and struggled to figure out how this guy even pulled it off. The mechanics still escape me. The only two logical conclusions are that he did it on purpose or he’s a witch. Or maybe he was right and the fuckin’ things really were jumping out at him. And that just leads to a whole new world of problems, not just for him, but for society.

Anyway, I don’t think I have to tell you that this second incident was naturally followed by a few more curses. It brought the total up to at least seven or eight within about 20 seconds.

If the story ended here, you would still walk away thinking the man was not exactly father of the year. I doubt you’d even consider him in the top few million. But I’m not done there folks, not by a longshot.

So they have the Wal-Mart employee open the glass case for them. Dad asks the kid which game he wants and the son points to Left 4 Dead 2. Now even if you had never heard of the game I’m sure you could conclude that hey, that doesn’t sound ok for a child. As someone who has played the game I can confirm that no, it is most certainly not.

That’s not even it though. After that the kid then pointed to another game and said he wants that one as well. That game was of course Assassin’s Creed II.

I could maybe let Left 4 Dead 2 slide. I mean the violence is all being done to zombies and if anything children should be trained for this sort of thing as when the zombie apocalypse comes we’re going to need all the help we can get so it’s best to harden the youth now so they’re ready. Assassin’s Creed though, I think that just might cross the line.

Now before you get up in my face about how this kid is probably mature enough and how you played violent video games at this age (and I did too, don't get me wrong), etc, let me pose a question to you. Sure he very well could be mature for his age. But what if he’s not? What if he is part of what most people consider the worst part of online gaming – the homophobic, racist youngsters who scream the most insane, offensive things at you in a non-stop barrage that kills any hope you had for the younger generation. Do we really want it to be that easy for these wee bastards to get their hands on these games?

Anyway that’s not really the point of this post, since yes many of those same people are well into their teens/twenties/sadly sometimes even older. My problem isn’t that this child could be part of the downfall of our society, but that the dad seemed to have no idea what the hell he was actually buying for his son.

How do I know this? Because he referred to the two games his son had selected as “yea them there games there.” Do those sound like the words of a man who knows what the hell he’s talking about? Correct, they do not.

I mean seriously parents is it really too much to ask to at least have a vague idea what your child is up to? This one is easy. The games have “assassin” and “dead” in their titles! The work is pretty much done for you! If the game was called “Teddy Bear Cupcake Factory” and featured the same content I could see how it could be deceptive. Also, someone make that game.

Seriously these are the same parents who after buying the game, will turn around and say how horrible it is and how kids shouldn’t be allowed to play these violent video games. Yet if somebody were to point out that it was in fact the parents who got the game for them, they would say “Well how am I supposed to know these things?!” Because you’re a fucking parent! GOD!

I thought maybe the employee would step in and say “Sir I’m not sure if the stabbing and decapitating of others is appropriate material for your son. Also how DID you manage to knock those DVD’s down because that’s just astounding.”

The employee however did no such thing. Instead he just started telling the kid how awesome the games are and the cool stuff you can do in them. I mean talking with the kid about the cool murders and such. Dad seemed oddly disinterested and was more focused on a light this was blinking on the ceiling (not kidding). Maybe that says everything about him that we need to know actually.

Now I’m going to get side tracked for a moment and focus on this employee. I didn’t like this guy. Not one bit. His voice, his presence, his general existence, everything just rubbed me the wrong way. It didn’t help that he then called Modern Warfare 2 “the greatest game ever made”. It’s a very good game (must…resist….Billy Madison quote) but come on really?! It’s not even the best game I’ve played this season. It could also be that he ignored other customers who were waiting for help so he and his friend could open the game display cases and look at the game boxes. It was like an odd time paradox since each game they took was proceeded by “Dude this game is so fucking awesome.” I’m not kidding, they did it 5 times, I counted. The quote only changed for the aforementioned “best game ever” quote.

Anyway, perhaps you had to be there but my god this guy deserved a slapping.

However a fun side note, that Assassin’s Creed Master’s Assassin edition I mentioned earlier? I bought it immediately after this guy expressed how fucking awesome it is and how after his shift he’s going to get it. Even better? He had to sell it to me. So a happy ending overall!

Thoughts on Sony's E3 2010 Conference

First of all, yes that is an old picture, and yes I was too lazy to go and find a new one.

Sony brings a close to the large press conferences. Did they save the best for last? I’ll give you a hint…no they did not.

I don’t really want to do the chronological breakdown again so let’s just free form this shall we. As expected, we got a lot of talk about 3D. It seems the majority of the large titles will have 3D incorporated. Of course not at all being able to afford a 3D TV renders the first 20 minutes of this show a little meaningless to me. I get why they’re showing it off and I get why people are excited, but for the time being I’ll just have to trust it really is as good as they say because I won’t be able to see it myself for a long, long time.

Also not a surprise, lots of talk about the Move. We see a lot of the games we already knew about, and it seems like they are making an effort to back and implement Move in already released games, such as Heavy Rain. The hardware definitely looks pretty cool, and I’m certainly intrigued. However, in a break of pace from the other conferences, Sony actually announced prices for the product. It was almost funny when the initial announcement of the Move controller being 50 dollars got such a huge round of applause, only for immediate silence to fall once it was followed by the announcement that the required attachment controller would be sold for an additional 30 dollars. There’s a bundle for 100 but it doesn’t seem to come with the attachment, just the Eye (required to use Move) a game and the main Move controller. I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that could very well be a deal breaker.

Oh and between all this Kevin Butler showed up to mock Microsoft and just generally be awesome. Whatever they are paying that guy, it isn’t enough.

Quite a bit of focus on the PSP, although just on games, no new hardware iterations this time around. They seem almost desperate to convince us that the PSP will receive a ton of attention, with the promise of 70 games between now and the end of the year. I recall a similar promise last year with some underwhelming results, so we’ll have to wait and see.

Finally we got to some games. Here’s a quick breakdown of all the important goings-on:

  •  Little Big Planet 2 looks fun and adds grappling hooks to the mix.
  • Portal 2 is coming to PS3 which is both neat and funny considering how much shit Valve has talked about the system in the past, a fact that was humorously acknowledged.
  • Dead Space 2 will have a Move enabled version of Dead Space Extraction for the PS3. So congrats on that one Sony, you just stole at least one sale away from the 360 version.
  • Medal of Honor will have a remade Medal of Honor Frontline only on PS3. Again, well played Sony. I didn’t even plan on buying the game but that might have just pushed me over the edge.
  • Infamous 2 is indeed coming, and the main character looks like he can control ice now as well as electricity. Caaaaan’t waaaaaaiiiit! Is that the same guy from the first game though? I almost couldn’t tell.
  • New Twisted Metal! Very very cool.
  • Gran Turismo 5 will finally see the light of day this November.

I believe that was all the biggies. Definitely some pretty cool stuff in there, but overall the show was a little dull, at least until those final 20 minutes or so. Kevin Butler brought the awesome and there were some cool announcements, but that first hour of 3D and Move was just not very engaging. Aside from Twisted Metal, there were no real surprise announcements, and even that game has been rumored for a while. All in all, decent.

Update: I won't lie, I was in a pisser of a mood while watching the Sony Conference which perhaps affected my views. Going back and looking at it again, there was actually some pretty cool stuff happening, ergo my overall score has changed to reflect that. 

Sony – 7.5/10

Thoughts on Nintendo's E3 2010 Conference

Nintendo always comes under the most scrunity with their press conferences. People always have such sky high expectations that it’s near impossible for Nintendo to ever meet them. Plus their usual focus on the casual crowd doesn’t help matters either. So how do I think they fared this year? Read on and find out.

Nintendo brought out the big guns early by starting the show with a look at the new Zelda, subtitled Skyward Sword. We got a live demo of it from Miyamoto and despite some hiccups with the wireless, causing Link to spin in circles, the game looks pretty good. Very Zelda. Of course the big new focus is on motion plus and it looks like they’re going to implement it well. The one downside is that the game is no longer scheduled for release this year.

Next up was a quick glance at Mario Sports Mix, which looks to include Volleyball, Hockey, Dodgeball and Basketball. I’m just glad they combined all of these into one game. Looks like a great deal of fun.

Golden Sun DS now has a subtitle, Dark Dawn. I have not played the original games, but I know they have a lot of fans so it’s pretty awesome that the franchise is back.

Keeping the golden motif we got a look at a new Goldeneye for the Wii. They said it was a new game but it looks more like a hybrid of the old game with a lot of new material. The most glaring change is that now you play as Daniel Craig as opposed to Pierce Brosnan. They had me at online multiplayer though, so you can have me play as whoever the hell you want.

Wii Party…well it looks like Mario Party with Miis and will no doubt sell 18 billion copies. I’ll check it out, but this ranks near the bottom of my excitement list out of everything that was announced.

However it can’t quite get the absolute bottom spot because that honour belongs to Just Dance 2. The success of the first game is a baffling occurrence that quite literally nobody can explain. A sequel was inevitable, though it’s hard to imagine that people out there are legitimately excited about this.

We got an indepth look at Disney Epic Mickey which looks pretty awesome actually. I love that Steamboat Mickey is in there and it seems like they found an interesting hook with the paint/erase themed game play. I’m actually way more excited about this one now.

Until here I was pretty content with everything we were being shown, but at this point the conference took such a left turn into straight up awesomeness that my head damn near exploded.

First up, new Kirby. Kirby’s Epic Yarn. Kind of a dumb name but the game looked pretty damn cool. They completely changed the art style and it looks like the game play is radically different as well. It has a sort of weird Paper Mario-ish mechanic where Kirby can interact with the background as though it were a page, and although it is still clearly a Kirby game, I’m intrigued by the route they seem to be going.

Now new Kirby was pretty cool, but Nintendo wasn’t satisfied there. They went a step further, said “how about this fuckers?!” and threw out a new god damn Donkey Kong Country game! DKC is easily one of my favourite franchises of all time, so I am absolutely giddy at the thought of a new one. No lie, I lept off the damn couch when they announced it. I maybe danced a little too, I don’t remember. Either way it was embarrassing, but completely called for.

Next up was the 3DS. They spent a lot of time talking about how great it is, but unfortunately they weren’t really able to show off the techonology on stage. Everyone in the crowd got to try it out, so I’m sure we’ll have some testimonials soon, but in the meantime we at home will just have to take Nintendo’s word on it. They did reveal that you can watch 3D movies and take 3D pictures, which again sounds cool, but until we see it, it’s hard to say.

As cool as the hardware no doubt is, what really did it were the games. Things kicked off with a look at Kid Icarus Uprising! The first thing to note is how impressive the graphics looked. If nobody told you it was the DS, you would no doubt assume it was a console game. The game itself seems to have a third person action adventure game, and personally, I am very excited.

We didn’t get any more game footage for other 3DS titles, but they did list a lot of them, including: Nintendogs + Cats, Resident Evil, Ridge Racer, Metal Gear Solid, Kingdom Hearts, Final Fantasy, Professor Layton, and tons more. No pricing or release dates announced, but even before seeing the 3D effect, I already plan on getting me one of those.

Overall I think Nintendo fucking nailed it. Aside from Wii Party and Just Dance 2, they didn’t really focus on the casual market much, and announced tons of new games based on classic franchises, completely going against two of the main complaints people always have. I personally can’t wait to play just about every game they showed. Good job Nintendo!

Nintendo – 9/10

Book Report - Behind the Bell by Dustin Diamond

Yes you read that correctly – I’m doing a book review. Granted what I’m reviewing stretches the very definition of what you can even call a book, but it still technically counts. Fair warning, I wouldn’t expect this feature to reappear all too often. It’s not because I don’t read books, I read what I would consider a fair amount of them actually. It’s that I have no idea how to review a damn book. In book reviews you can’t just curse and talk about punching people in the throat or whatever I usually talk about. No in a book review you have to talk about subtext and character motivations and use words like “superfluous” and “prognosticate”. What does that second word mean? I don’t know! That’s why I don’t write book reviews!

So how come I feel I can review this one? Simple, here’s why:

Because this book is really, really bad. There’s no subtext here. It’s a book where a former child star talks shit about everyone he worked with and brags about how big his dick is for 300 pages. Character motivation? An excuse to write a book about how big his dick is I assume. Does this sound like something you want to actually sit down and read? You know what at this point it still might, so please allow me to crush any remaining desire you may have.

The prospect of hearing all the inside dirt on one of the cheesiest, most squeaky-clean television shows in history is definitely intriguing. Who doesn’t love themselves some scandals? It’s just too bad the inside story is being given to us by a self absorbed jackass, who is obsessed with the size of his own junk. I know I keep bringing that up, but trust me so does he. I’m only trying to give you an idea.

The other problem is that the scandals themselves aren’t that shocking or well, scandalous. Ok the Mario Lopez rape story is pretty fucked up, but other than that there’s nothing too mind blowing. Hey guess what? Cast members hooked up behind the scenes. I bet that’s the only time that’s ever happened in TV ever. Well that’s nothing, because suck on this tasty tidbit – sometimes, off the set….they’d smoke weed. I KNOW RIGHT?! People smoking weed?! That shit is crazy!

Someone told me that it’s a little crazier because it’s a bunch of kids doing it, but not really. By this point in the show most of the actors were like 16 or 17. Sixteen year olds having sex and smoking pot? That’s not scandalous, that’s pretty much the standard. Plus a lot of it is pure speculation on Diamond’s part.

A lot of the book, at least in the early sections, is centered on how mean they were to Dustin, who was several years younger than them. Again, a bunch of teenagers were rude to a younger kid? I’m still not too shocked. It’s not like they were mean to him in that they would set him on fire or poison his coffee, because that would have made for a fantastic book. No they just said rude comments to him sometimes. So…there ya go.

Seriously, look at the guy. Now you just wait until I tell you how many women he's apparently slept with.

That pretty much sums up the behind the scenes stuff. There’s also a lot of talk of how Screech should have got more focus and how the show was terrible and the only funny lines were the ones Dustin came up with on the spot (none of which ever made it to air mind you) and so on. It’s all rather unpleasant to read. Wouldn’t a lot of people reading this book be fans of the show? So why would they want to read about how terrible the show is and how they’re fools for enjoying it?

I was still kind of with the book at this point but that’s when shit goes off both the rails and the deep end. The next section of the book is focused entirely on how much ass Dustin has gotten over the years. He says it’s well over 2,000 women. Process that shit. I’ll wait. Really let it sink in. Picture the episode where Screech put on a grass skirt and played a ukelele.

That’s right, let the image seep into your mind. That dude has had sex with multiple thousands of women. Possibly while wearing that outfit. The world can be a pretty unfair place sometimes huh?

It’s interesting to note however that a couple of years ago Dustin did an interview where he said he had slept with about 400 women. Now math will tell you that 400 is not the same number as 2,000. In fact it is a great deal less. So unless Dustin had a very busy couple of years (to get to that number he would have needed to sleep with about 2.3 women a day), me thinks somebody isn’t telling the whole truth. Also I’m told if you watch his amateur porn (which I have absolutely no fucking intention of ever doing ever), the big dick rumours will be quickly put to rest.

Even if you ignore the fact that all the sexual conquest shit probably isn’t true, it’s still all presented in a very hypocritical way. First of all, one of the biggest criticisms he has about his cast mates (primarily Tiffani-Amber and Mario Lopez) is how slutty they were. Get the irony? You can’t critique someone for being a womanizer and then turn around and go “I banged 2,000 chicks, aren’t I fucking awesome?”

That’s essentially what the core concept of the whole book boils down to – look how awesome I am! I’m not like Screech at all, I’m cool! Actually no lie, almost that exact sentence appears in the book. I’m not sure about you, but I don’t really want to read several hundred pages of a guy desperately trying to prove to us how fucking rad he is.

On top of the actual content not being good, the book itself is not well-written. There’s awkward wording, paragraphs that repeat themselves (I don’t mean he repeats his thoughts, I mean the physical paragraph is printed twice in a row), and many sentences that just have words missing. It’s just sloppy. Yes I’m sure I have typos and what not in here but let’s face it this is pretty much a glorified blog. This is a book that you can actually buy in stores, so there’s no excuse. Plus he uses the word ‘douche’ and it’s many variants waaaaay too much. Every other sentence seems to have the word. It’s as though he just learned the word right before writing the book and was super excited to use it.

As sort of a side note, this book inspired me to do some reading up on our friend Dustin Diamond and my god I had no idea how widely disliked he is. There’s so many websites devoted to how he sucks, comedians hate him for stealing their jokes, the general public just doesn’t seem fond of him. I had no idea.

I also didn’t know about how a few years ago he told everyone he was going to be ejected from his house and asked people to buy t-shirts to support him, then proceeded to never send t-shirts to anyone who paid for them. In fact, apparently the whole thing was just a publicity stunt, although I’m not entirely sure if that’s the absolute truth. Either way isn’t that fraud? How did he actually get away with that?

What’s kind of insane is that just a few short hours ago, news came out that he actually is facing foreclosure on his house again (or for the first time if that t-shirt thing really was a hoax). I’m actually curious now to see how this unfolds.

Anyway I’m getting offtrack. The point is that the book is not good. It’s poorly written, doesn’t really contain any stories that are shocking, and really just comes off as petty. It all comes off like a child going “this is what you get for being mean to me!” Thankfully I didn’t pay anything for the book and I recommend you do the same, only go one step further and just avoid it all together.

My Thoughts on the Late Night Wars

At the moment I have at least five different articles on the go that I’m really trying hard to finish up. However all of them need to be put aside for a moment because I want to write this while it’s at least somewhat timely.

In case you may not have heard – there’s some drama going on in the world of late night talk shows. Then again if you haven’t heard about it then chances are good that you don’t have a TV, so you probably don’t really care. A lot has been said about who is getting screwed and who is a dick and who got screwed by which dick and so on. But there’s one thing that hasn’t been said – my thoughts on the matter.

I want this article to be a little more in depth than simply “fuck Leno and fuck NBC!” (although yes….fuck Leno and fuck NBC) but we’ll see how well I succeed.

First I should state my bias right up front – I don’t like Jay Leno. Even before this whole mess got underway, I was not a fan of the guy. His humour doesn’t appeal to me (so neutered and safe) and the only times I found him at all funny was when his humour relied on the stupidity of others (jaywalking and headlines). I don’t care for his interview style either since it’s primarily full of ass kissing and softball questioning. Oh and yes, I do like Conan. Despite all this, I will try and keep all this fair and balanced – or at least the Fox News version of fair and balanced.

Do I think Conan got screwed? Yes I do. As much as someone who is being paid millions of dollars to walk away from a job can be screwed anyway. After wanting the Tonight Show for so long he gets it for seven months before its previous owner comes and takes it right back. That’s a pretty raw deal right there.

Do I think Leno pulled a dick move? Yes I do. It’s true that NBC approached him five years ago and basically said “We want Conan to have the Tonight Show so you have to give it to him.” I can understand why Leno would be a little thrown off by this but he came out and said that Conan would get the show and that he would retire. Video evidence below:

I can't get the video to embed here (I'll admit it, I don't know what the hell I'm doing) but please also go watch Conan's announcement. It's just sad to watch now.

But as we all know Leno’s retirement didn’t happen did it? No instead we got The Jay Leno Show, five nights a week at 10 PM. I don’t know how anyone thought this would be a good idea. Sure enough the show bombed and many of the affiliates got super pissed since Leno’s ratings were affecting the local news that followed. Apparently some even suffered a 50% drop in ratings. Math will tell you that’s not a good thing at all. Of course this lead to a drop in ad revenues and generally NBC was not looking so good.

Anyway I really don’t have to go into the whole series of events that followed because I’m sure you all know. In a nutshell: Jay gets rewarded for failing by getting his old position back, Conan asked to move his show to 12:05, Conan refuses to do so since he believes it will ruin the history/legacy of the Tonight Show, Leno is cool with ruining it however so Conan just bails.

I have to say, all the drama aside – late night shows have been fantastic these past couple of weeks! Conan and Leno are taking shots at the network (although Leno’s I have a problem with, we’ll get to that), Kimmel did an entire show dressed as Leno (see one of the pics below) and Letterman, well Letterman has been having the time of his fucking life with all of this.

“I’m telling jokes and making fun of Jay Leno relentlessly, mercilessly, simply for one reason: I’m really enjoying it.”
- David Letterman

I do find it funny that the only thing Leno can strike back with against Dave is about his affairs, something Letterman himself has joked about time and time again. Also funny is that everytime Leno makes this joke, his fans treat it like “Oh shit! Leno just took Dave down a peg!” Hell even some articles are headlined “Leno Strikes Back!” Yes he struck back with an 8-month old joke about a topic nobody really cares about anymore. Leno seems to be able to take it, but he certainly can’t dish it.

This entire time I’ve had a huge problem with the way Leno is handling things. He did speak about the incident the other night so some kudos there (though not many kudos, we'll get to that) but he is trying so hard to make it sound like he is the victim in all of this that it almost further solidifies him as the villain. Well a villain anyway. NBC is definitely the evil wizard of this whole scenario.

As I said Conan has been understandably taking shots at NBC on his show. The thing is, so has Leno. About what you may ask? About how the Jay Leno Show has been cancelled. While this is true, there is one important fact that he always conveniently left out – THAT IT’S BEING CANCELED SO HE CAN MOVE TO A BETTER JOB!

Everytime Leno made a crack about NBC canceling his show it just made him look more and more like a dick. You can say the network has screwed up overall, but don’t try and make it look like you’re getting screwed here too. I think the two comments that bothered me the most were:

“With the all the controversy going on here at NBC, actually, The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brian’s ratings have gone up. They've gone up. So you're welcome!”

and

"Conan O'Brien, understandably, is very upset. He had a statement in the paper yesterday. And Conan said NBC had only given him seven months to make his show work. When I heard that, seven months, how'd he get that deal? We only got four."

I don’t really think I need to explain why these comments are piss offs for me. I mean come on. The second one proves my point even further that for at least a good long while Jay refused to acknowledge what comes after his show being canceled. Yes you got four months, before getting a fucking promotion! The man is failing upwards and yet is trying to make it look like he is getting a raw deal. We’re not buying it Jay.

I said earlier that Leno recently addressed all of this on his show. This was the first time he really acknowledged that he technically isn't being fired. However the speech still didn't redeem him, at least not in my eyes. For instance he is still trying so hard to play the "I'm such a good guy" card. He said he took back the Tonight Show so his staff could keep working. That's a nice sentiment, I just don't completely buy it. 

During this speech Leno also said "This is all business.  If you don’t get the ratings, they take you off the air." Yes this is true....UNLESS YOU'RE JAY FUCKING LENO! Come on man....

On a side note: here’s a fun article I found from 17 years ago. It’s an interview the New York Times conduced with Jay Leno. Seems Leno is upset that after having The Tonight Show for just a few months, they might take it away and give it to someone else. He says he needs time to build an audience, a point Conan recently made as well. A point Leno himself seemed to disagree with when he pointed out Conan’s bad ratings in his speech from the other evening.

I agree that Conan needed time to build an audience. He and Leno cater to very, VERY, different audiences. Conan is for people who have a sense of humour, and Leno is for everyone else.

Seriously can we address Leno fans for a second here? Maybe this isn’t all of them, and I apologise to the good ones out there who see both sides of things, but this is what I’ve seen numerous times now. It seems many Leno fans hate Conan because “oh he’s weird.”

“Oh I don’t like that Conan, he’s too weird.”

“Look at his hair, his hair is so weird. I don’t want to watch him.”

I’m amazed how many fucking people refuse to watch Conan because “his hair is a little weird”. That has to be the lamest excuse I’ve heard to avoid something. Leno’s chin is a tad large but that’s not why I refuse to watch him. There are actually people out there who firmly believe Conan should not have the tonight show because his hair is strange. There are probably the same people who, once Oprah has gone off the air, will blindly roam the streets, confused and begging strangers to tell them what books they should read.

So what happens next? Well I understand there are protests being held at NBC by “Team Coco” members but let’s face it, it’s not going to do a lick of good. The deal is done; Leno will be going back to The Tonight Show.

Ideally the ratings slump that Leno went through at 10:00 will carry over to his return to 11:35. I’m also curious to see if there are any celebrities who will flat out refuse to go on his show. A lot of people have spoken out in favour of Conan so it will be interesting to see where they stand.

Unfortunately that’s not likely. I’m sure Leno’s ratings will come back and NBC will say “See? We were right to do all this.” Celebrities have shit to promote so they will come flocking back as well.

I think this can all be summarized simply by saying that NBC fucked up the most here, but I think Leno should have taken more of a stance. I don’t think he should have taken the Tonight Show back and that it was pretty much the textbook definition of a dickmove, were that term actually featured in textbooks.

So that’s my surprisingly curse free and long winded take on everything that went down. Conan = classy, Leno = dickish, NBC = trainwreck.

Fun Fact – Did you know that in 1989 Leno starred in a buddy cop movie with Mr. Miyagi? Because I sure had no fucking idea. Check this out.

How I Hate Funny-Money

I think I am officially sick and tired of using funny-money for purchasing goods.  No, I'm not talking about Canadian dollar bills, but using point cards to purchase stuff from vendors.  Why am I paying money for virtual dollars to spend on virtual goods?  Why don't I simply spend money directly on those goods?  Save overhead of having to translate it, the coders from having to write that into software, the retailers from having to stock it, the manufacturers from having to make the card, and so on, and so on.

But no, I need to pay money, to up my account, so I can spend money.  Does anyone see problems with this?

Case in point: This past Christmas I got to spend a wonderful holiday season with my in-laws.  Drinking, gaming, and spending time with loved ones; can there be anything better?  My brother-in-law (well, in a few short months anyways) shipped presents from the States, and we all sat around a laptop using Skype to open presents, laugh, drink and be merry.  One of the gifts from my soon to be brother was 1600 MS points.  Excellent!  I could already see Borderlands DLC and Rock Band tracks virtually enabling themselves on my console.  After things subsided, I opened xbox.com and proceeded to attempt to redeem my points card.

A quick aside, has anyone tried to do this online before?  Why are there two separate places to redeem codes, and you can only use one for Microsoft Points?  That doesn't make any sense!  If you go to "Redeem Code", you can enter your 25 character code, but not if its for Microsoft Points.  No no no, if you want to do that you need to go to "Add Microsoft Points" -> "Redeem Code".  That only exacerbated my problem when my code didn't work.

So yes, back to my story.  Attempting to redeem my code generated the frustratingly vague "Please enter a valid code".  Not "You're dumb and using the wrong form"; or "That's not even close to be a real code, stop trying to guess stuff!  JERKSTORE!"  After some searching, I finally found the illustrious Add MS Points-Redeem Code section.  25 characters later, I hit enter, glad that my ordeal was over.


At least this would have been clear what my problem was

But WAIT, "Please enter a valid code"?  No way!  Trying a few more times yielded the same result.  Once I returned to my abode, I loaded up my 360 and tried one last attempt at redeeming directly on the console to no avail.

A number I know unfortunately much too well was quickly dialed (18004MYXBOX, so many red rings....) and after being passed around a few times, I was informed of my issue.  The cards are region coded. 

Ok, to be fair, I had a sinking suspicion that this was my problem.  But come ON!!  How is this not something they ever took into consideration?  And maybe instead of "Please enter a valid code", maybe "Please use this in the region it was purchased"?  They have no way of gifting content or points cards in their system, so the only way to do it is with the cards.  The CSR on the end of the line said the only way to use the points would be to create a USA based account and redeem the code that way.  Great, but I want them to be on my current account.  Sure, it would have authenticated to my Xbox, and any content I purchased would have been accessible, but what if I don't spend it all.  Would I have 100 to 300 points perpetually in limbo?  I'll get into that in a second...

I wasn't having any of that, and even said I would gladly take the Canadian equivalency in points (20$ in the States nets you a 1600 point card, wherein in Canada its 1400).  The CSR didn't think that would work, but would put in a request none-the-less.  I gave my email address and was told I would be notified within 24 hours.  96 hours passed when I returned from work to find a message on my answering machine informing me that my request was still pending.  Thanks?  I guess I appreciated the call.  Two days later I got the following email.

Popping the code into the "Redeem Code" form online gave me my 1600 points.

So yes, Microsoft did come through for me to make my Christmas a successful one, but the bigger point is this; why are we still using funny-money?  Why not just be able to flat out purchase this content?  At least give us the option to use both.  Before that 1600 MS point was added to my account, I had 190 points.  190!!!  What the fuck am I going to do with 190 points???  And its not like I can buy points in increments of a single point, I'm just always going to have leftovers.  Always.  Imagine if every person had a balance of even 70MS points (I say 70 because I believe that you can't buy anything for under 70MS points).

If 80 Points are equal to 1$ USD, then its easy to say that every point is worth 8 cents.  With Microsoft saying that their XBL install base is close to the 17 million figure, you can already see that, without having to give you ANYTHING, Microsoft has 1.4$ Million USD of consumers money.  All because they use funny money instead of letting you just buy stuff like a regular economy driver.

So yes, my story did end up a (decently) happy one, but imagine if he would have been able to gift me some content instead?  Or just give me a pre-paid credit card?  There would have been no problem crossing borders in that instance, and physical media would work fine across those regions.  But no!  Instead, Microsoft is relying on a terrible way of doing these transactions.  And although it works out well for them when you don't spend all your points, the consumer is the one who has to jump through all sorts of hoops just to spend money.

Dear God Why Are You Honking Your Horn!?

I think it’s time for another rant which is completely not connected to video games. No I would like to take a minute or five to talk about the car horn. It’s no doubt a useful invention, I don’t think anyone would deny that. However I’m concerned that today’s drivers are starting to abuse their horn honking rights and pretty soon we may have to take their horn privileges away unless they start to behave. Let me break it down with some examples.

Click on for the real rage/the rampant cursing.

Anyone who honks at pedestrians who are crossing at the right of way.

Yesterday there was an old lady, walker included, crossing an intersection with the Walking Man symbol. A car turning left sped into the intersection, came to a screeching halt right before the lady, and then just laid into the horn. I don’t mean a quick one, I mean a full on 5 or 6 second honk. I saw him doing it and he was fucking givin’ it. He laid right into that thing, arm stretched, leaned back, you know how it works.  When the lady was just enough out of the way, the car took off, probably missing her by maybe a foot.

As much as I wish that story ended with the car driving straight into a field full of land mines and dinosaurs, I can’t. I’m sure he went home and told his no doubt abused wife about how some old bitch got in his way while he was driving to the douchebag store or wherever.

Let’s sidetrack for a moment, doesn’t that make you angry? I mean think about anytime you saw someone being an asshole in public to someone who didn’t deserve it. The asshole in question no doubt told people the story later and made himself out as some kind of hero. I hope they have at least one rational friend there to kick them in the throat.

Anyway my point is fuck that guy. It’s bad enough when any car honks in that situation but it’s an old lady in a walker dude! You’re in a fucking car! You’re going to get to your destination far quicker than she is so cut her a break! I never even thought of the heart attack potential that situation held. If there’s any justice in the world, a lion is eating that driver right now.

Honking at situations that will never be resolved with honking

You ever see someone honk in a traffic jam? Or honk several times? Don’t you just want to knock on their window and ask “So…where do you think that’s gettin’ ya?” I really don’t understand it. I mean they can’t possibly think it will fix anything right? They don’t actually believe the other drivers will hear the honking and say “Uh oh, someone is upset. Come on everyone, let’s work together and make this right!” That’s some strange utopian world I would love to live in, although preferably without the honking guy. We can kill him once our eden has been established, then display him as a warning to others.

Same goes for anyone who honks at construction sites. The construction crew won’t hear you honk and say “Shut ‘er down boys! The man wants to pass!” Not long ago I saw a car, stopped at an intersection that was closed due to construction, just honking constantly. This was late at night, so nobody was around, and there were signs everywhere saying the road was closed. But he kept honking and honking and was still going when I had left the area. I haven’t been back to that intersection, so a part of me wants to believe he’s still there.

I don’t have a category for this one

I guess this sort of belongs in the previous category but it’s a story I want to tell and it’s also the main inspiration for this article.

Yesterday I was walking down a side street to get to work and a car had gotten stuck in a snow bank. The way the car was positioned made it tricky for other cars to get around (narrow street). Behind that car was a large van that had stopped to help. And behind that van, was a car with a driver constantly honking the horn. Those moving the car sort of mumbled about them but that was it.

You know what would resolve the situation faster than honking? BEING A DECENT FUCKING HUMAN BEING AND HELPING OUT! Again, how how how how can that driver justify that? He could have easily turned around and went a different route, it wouldn’t have been hard. He also could have hopped out of the car and lent a hand. I can’t accept he didn’t think of those options, so what made him decide “I guess I’ll just honk”.

Oh and before you ask, yes I stopped to help push the car.

That’s all I have for now but as always please jump in and share your stories/thoughts about the use of a car horn.

In the meantime I think someone needs to get straight to work on a car that can detect when the horn is being misused. Then a huge boxing glove comes out of the wheel and hits the driver in the face. Or if we could program one of the foot pedals to come up and hit them in the genitals, that would be preferred. That one’s for free Toyota.

Holiday Shopping Guide

Well the holiday season is upon us – unless you believe TV and department stores in which case it’s been upon us since two weeks before Halloween – and we feel it’s our duty to present you with our holiday shopping guide. Oh but it’s not the kind of shopping guide that advises you on what presents to buy. No this is the kind of guide that advises you on how to not piss people off while you’re out doing your shopping.

Holiday shopping is stressful enough as it is. Finding that perfect gift, finding the willpower to actually go to the store, dealing with the crowds, etc. Shoppers don’t need any extra aggravation, they got enough going on. So here is our simple guide to making sure you provide the best experience for those around you, including both fellow shoppers, and the unfortunate souls working at the stores you’re frequenting.

Click onwards and let the education begin. Also to juxtapose all the anger, I’ve made sure all of the photos are nothing but adorable Christmas animals. ENJOY!

Please try to have some knowledge about the product you are searching for.

An all too common experience, but especially around the holidays. I’m sure anyone who has worked a retail job in the past can relate to the experience of dealing with a customer who has little to no idea what it actually is they are looking for. If you haven’t worked retail (and everyone should have to at some point in their lives, if only so they will appreciate every other job they get) then it’s a safe bet you’ve been behind this person in a line up.

Let’s role-play for a moment. You are working at say Wal-Mart. It’s December 22nd, it’s insanely busy. You’re dealing with hordes of people. Then someone comes up and throws this at you:

“My son is looking for this game….I think it’s on the Sony Box…Soldier of War? War Soldier? It’s definitely something like that. Soldier Gears? It’s a Wii game I definitely know that. Oh and if it helps he said these guys made another game before.”

Then she drops some of this:

“I also need a DVD-ray of…oh I can’t remember the title (laughs, cuz you know…that’s funny). It has that young guy in it. It’s a new movie, definitely in the last 10 years. It’s not a cartoon I know that. It stars mostly white people, but not completely. Oh if it helps the cover may have red on it.”

And finally…

“Last thing I need, it’s a CD by this new artist. I think she was on TV. One of those award or reality shows, or a talk show, something like that. She sang a lovely song. Unless she was a boy, which is possible I don’t remember. It had a guitar I know that for sure. Oh but if it helps, my favourite kind of muffin is blueberry.”

This probably isn’t even the most cryptic it can get. How would you even begin to guess what this person was looking for? I asked Curtis what he would tell the person to get if he were the employee. He responded:

-Gears of War
-Shaun of the Dead
-Taylor Swift

Pretty decent guesses huh? Well he’s wrong. This person was actually looking for:

- Batman Arkham Asylum on PS3
- UP on DVD
- Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits

Too bad, you’ve now ruined some child’s Christmas. Who could blame you though? The worst part is that no amount of questioning will ever help them remember things any better. It’s a no win situation. So please don’t be that person. Just write down the name and save a ton of people a ton of grief.

Don’t Hold People Up For Stupid Shit

It’s the holidays and lines are long. Excruciatingly long. People aren’t patient as is so please have mercy and keep that line moving. Don’t hold it up for stupid things. I can’t even begin to think of all the possibilities here so I’ll just name a few.

Here’s an all too familiar scenario. Person gets to the front of the line:

“I would like to purchase a Wii.”

“I’m sorry we’re actually all out of Wiis”

“What do you mean you’re out?!”

TIME-OUT! Let’s stop right there for a moment. I think “what do you mean?” has to rank as the worst question an employee can be asked. Why? Because there is absolutely no way to answer it without being condescending. Try it. It’s actually impossible. Usually you stare for a moment while you struggle to think of an answer and it almost always comes out like this…

“Oh….well…really?....I mean that…. we’re out of Wiis?”

I’m not really sure the answer people are looking for when they ask “what do you mean?” Usually the situation is quite clear. Unless the employee responded to your question with “Oh man those dolphins are gonna eat that bear!” then chances are everything has been spelled out pretty well for you.

Also, if a store is out of the item you’re looking for, yelling at the employees won’t make it magically appear. They’re not a genie, and that’s not even how genies work so your logic is simply flawed. It just wastes everyone’s time and makes you look like a jackass.

Oh and if you’re pulling the “what do you mean you’re out of stock?!” routine and it’s any day later than December 20th, then the employee should be legally allowed to rob you and steal your shoes.

Another thing – don’t haggle. If you want to haggle with an employee on the floor then have at it. It won’t work because it’s not a fucking flea market, but hey, have fun trying. But please god don’t haggle with them in the actual line. I don’t think anyone behind you wants to wait while you try and get 87 cents knocked off the price of a god damn candle. And the threats of “Well such and such place has it for this price” or “I will never shop here again” don’t mean a damn thing. There are 12 people in line behind you who will be back and I’m sure nobody is too upset that you won’t be gracing this store with your lovely presence ever again.

FUN FACT: While working as an employee at a small CD store we had a guy on Boxing Day try to return a CD because he found it 2 dollars cheaper somewhere else. The kicker? The CD had been purchased weeks beforehand, there was no receipt, the CD was open and there was a huge sign behind us that said No Refunds. Fucking humans…

Please Don’t Have the Display Case Opened Unless You’re Serious About It

I have Curtis to thank for this entry so I’m just going to use his exact words here.

“Don't shop with your five children in tow into the tiny electronic aisle in Walmart when they just want to look at the covers.  Sit them down at the computer at home and let them rifle through covers that way.  Know what the hell you want before you head down that aisle, and don't ask the guy to open the case just so you can look at the back of the box.

If you need to look at the back of the box you won't be buying that game.

That just pisses me off so much.  The Wal-Mart guy is standing there with the case open, and the kid is like "Can I see Game X?"  reads back of box "Ok, can I see Game Y?"  reads back of box "Ok, thanks!" and walks away to go talk to his mom.”

Curtis is right on the money with that one. You’re just getting in the way of people who actually are getting something out of that case. Stop keeping the employee away from people who legitimately need help.

Seriously, why are you in the way?

Any particular reason you and your friends are standing in a group at the top of the escalator? Just chatting it up? Got to the top and realized you didn’t know where to head next? Either way, unacceptable cuz YOU’RE IN THE WAY!!!

Standing in crowds at the top or bottom of escalators should already result in the headbutting of faces but to do so during the holidays? No…NO! And are you really giving people dirty looks for fighting through you? Seriously why isn’t your face being headbutted more?!

Ah so you and your group have moved away from the escalator and are now just standing around in the middle of the mall hallway (is that what they’re called?). I guess you thought that was better huh? Nope guess what, YOU’RE IN THE WAY!!!

Seriously guys this isn’t cool either. If you want to chat go and have a sit down and get out of people’s paths. People are in a hurry and are definitely not above shoving you out of the way, and quite frankly they absolutely should.

Ok so you’ve moved outside of the mall now. Your group has situated themselves in front of the doors that enable people to come and go from the mall. I guess you think since you’re no longer within the actual confines of the mall then this is all ok? You would be wrong because IN THE WAY!!!!!!

People should not have to open doors just enough to squeeze out because your inconsiderate ass is standing in the way. They should open them full force regardless and then giggle their ass off.

Well that’s all I have for now. Feel free to share your own tips and tricks for the holiday shoppers. In the meantime have a safe holiday and please PLEASE, don’t make shopping worse than it has to be for your fellow shoppers.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS EVERYONE!

An Open Letter to Tim Horton's Customers

For this first installment I’ll be talking about an issue I’m sure many of my fellow Canadians can appreciate: Tim Horton’s customers. For those of you outside Canada, simply replace Tim Horton’s with say Dunkin’ Donuts, and I’m sure everything will relate to you just as easily.

So ladies and gentlemen, I proudly present you with my open letter to Tim Horton’s customers.

Dear Tim Horton's Customers,

I do not work at a Tim Horton's, nor am I affiliated with the company in any way. I'm just writing a friendly letter with some helpful comments on how we can strengthen our relationship and how you can perform better in your role as a Tim Horton's customer.

1. Let's say you are in a particularly long line at Tim Hortons. I mean it's going to be 10 or 15 minutes before you even reach the counter. Here's a helpful suggestion from me to you....USE THE FUCKING TIME TO DECIDE WHAT YOU WANT!

What is the matter with you? Don't you see the giant glass display case right in front of you? There's a reason they moved it out from behind the counter, so shit like this doesn't happen anymore. There is no reason why after waiting that long you should go to the cash and start making your decision. In the lineup I was just in, 3 separate people went up and asked for either a box of donuts or timbits, and then had to stand in front of the display case and look before they could decide. No....NO!

I think we should incorporate a new company policy where those customers get a limited window to decide if they haven't by that point.

"Can I have a dozen donuts?"

"Absolutely which ones would you like?"

"Oh um...oh I don't know." (sometimes they laugh here to let us know it's all ok....but it's not....it's not fucking ok)

"Well you have 4 seconds to decide or I'm picking for you."

"What? Ummmm......oh..."

"Too late. 12 old fashioned plains, fuck you. NEXT!"

Problem solved. Until that day comes however, please GOD start looking at the case befor eyou get to the front.

2) Stop making up products! What in god's name is a "apple crisp cinnamon donut"? I know they don't have those, in fact I'm sure nobody has those. That's not a thing! You can't just make it up and then get mad when you can't get one. It reminds me of when people would come to concession at the theatre and ask for shit like cake. The fuck kind of theatre serves cake?! Please tell me, if only so I can go there.

3) I swear if any more of you utter some variation of the phrase "I just want you to know I don't appreciate having to wait in line" to the cashier, there will be trouble. Yes, I've heard this several times now. Unless you are a king, Jason Statham, or Jesus, you are not allowed to say that.

That is everything I have for now. So thank you for listening Tim Horton's customers. I hope you take my advice to heart and get your fucking act together before I steal all your dogs.

Thanks,
Shawn