MeekinOnMovies On: “Masters of The World: Geopolitical Simulator 3”

Editor’s Note:  The alternate title for this game is “Parallax’s dream job: The game” 
 
“Everyone hates the President” said my Mother after I, yet again, bemoaned the extreme polarization of folks on various social media platforms toward Mr. Obama. I guess it’s true. But still, don’t these people on Facebook and Twitter and Disqus know how hard that job is? What the actual *job* of the President is? The hoops and loops and crap you have to jump through to get something done? Surely, the man running our country deserves at least a hint of respect – how can anyone *seriously* believe the President – Bush, Obama, Clinton, whoever – is actively trying to destroy our country, while *also* being incompetent and stupid.
I was not expecting, upon discovering and playing “Masters of the World: Geopolitical Simulator 3” to feel incompetent and stupid as the President supposedly is. Nor was I trying to destroy the country, but I managed that too. 

You see, “Masters Of The World: Geopolitical Simulator 3” is a pineapple game. Rough, prickly, and inaccessible on the outside, but if you borough your way in, you’re rewarded with the sweet, sweet fruit of miles deep content and satisfying gameplay.
Although, ‘gameplay’ may not be the proper word, as you’ll be staring at legal proposals, swaying political leaders, and balancing budgets via an interface that isn’t the very exciting or polished. You’re presented a view of your country on a world map, given a series of buttons relating to revenue, security, environment, domestic & foreign policy, a few others, and are essentially told to have at it. Toss in weird 3D characters and text-to-speech dialog, and there’s a kind of weird, uninviting, held-together-by-duct-tape-and-silly-putty vibe to the game’s presentation.
Once you find your way around interface, you’re charged with appointing cabinet members, passing laws, balancing the budget, and setting about leading your nation to prosperity or turmoil. More than likely turmoil on your first playthrough or two because “Masters of The World” is more obtuse than a 359 degree angle. Unless you’re an actual student of politics or went to Harvard, a lot of the technical nitty gritty of running a country is going to require a lot of trial, error, impeachment, and trial again.
There is a tutorial hosted by a weird John Oliver looking fellow that helps with the multitude of mechanics, but fails to help you understand the nuance of political maneuvering. You’ll be confused about what people make good political allies, how to rally the proverbial troops behind a law, and if you even think about messing with any taxes or budgeting or staffing, you better know what the heck you’re doing, or prepare for a nation-wide strike. It’s easy to find yourself paralyzed by the options and their nebulous consequences.
Helpfully almost every potential law, enactment, and political issue comes with a handy link to wikipedia – which lends the title a subtle ‘edutainment’ vibe. If you want to be effective, you have to do some real world research. If you’re willing to invest the time researching real-life topics on real-life web pages, including things like budgeting deforestation taxes, and government entitlement programs, you’re in for quite the adventure. Scheduling meetings with the Speaker of the House to rally support behind legalizing gay marriage is enjoyable, and as the date of the vote approaches you will be meeting with every leader you can to see if they can sway support.
These meetings don’t have a lot of nuance to them on the surface. You meet with a political figure, ask them to support the bill, and they will if they like you enough or won’t if they don’t. What’s clever is you can influence the ‘like’ rating by passing laws in line with their ideology. Another way to influence voting is to create a reform. So if you mix in stuff democrats really like with one or two things Republicans really want, the odds of that reform bill – with multiple laws, being passed goes up.
And this is where that whole pineapple thing comes in. I equate “Masters Of the World: Geopolitical Simulator 3” to something like a high-end flight sim for politigeeks in that I have a hard time calling it a ‘game’ in the strictest sense of the word. All of this content is interesting and enjoyable, but not really thrilling – and hard to get a grasp on. Sure, there’s a novelty to simply invading Canada just because, or trying to legalize pot, gay marriage, and gambling nationally at the same time, but to get your money’s worth, you gotta play it right, and playing it right is probably not the typical gamer’s idea of fun.  
But there’s also nothing else quite like it – save 1991’s “Shadow President” and a seemingly blossoming subculture of message-board driven D&D-esque U.S Government roleplaying games similar to online E-feds for wrestling fans. But lending a face (even if it’s a grotesque, puppety one) and voice to the people running the country give the game a personality, it makes the simulation feel a little more real. 

If you worship at the altar of “The West Wing” or CSPAN’s website is your home page – I’d give it a shot. I’ve barely scratched the surface of what this game offers – I haven’t dabbled in playing as another country, nor have I tried being a Republican to see how that would go, but after pouring hours into “Masters Of The World: Geopolitical Simulator 3” I feel comfortable recommending it to anyone who thinks it’s their cup of tea. Sure, the game is finicky, a little buggy, and if you breath on it wrong it could crash, but the various interconnected systems work well enough together to present an educating and brain-teasing experience that may just teach you something about the world we live in and provide some insight to boot – the least of which is running the country ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.
3.5 Stars.

Blog of Doom Exclusive Note: This is essentially the TEW of Politics – almost TOO in depth for its own good, whereas EWR was just in depth enough while still having a casual appeal.

MeekinOnMovies On….”Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition”


Lara Croft is her boobs. Seriously. I don’t mean to be this guy, but if you’re a gamer who was around to play the first “Tomb Raider” or to hear about the first Tomb Raider, the first thing your subconscious brings to mind – most likely – is Mz. Croft’s green tank top, and those not-quite-round polygonal, boobies. Heck, the second game had a level where Laura runs around in a bathrobe shotgunning dudes. Much like how Indiana Jones *is* the hat and whip, Lara Croft is her sex appeal.

Which in today’s day and age, is kind of a problem. After numerous sequels, sidequels, and puzzle games that have attempted to turn Tomb Raider into something a little more respectable, it looks like the 2013 Xbox360, PS3, PC reboot “Tomb Raider” did just that. So it’s a bit ironic then, that one of the first major releases for the sexier hardware of the PS4 and Xbox One is a remake of that reboot, “Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition”.

The setup finds Lara and a team of multicultural-in-skin-tone-only scientists and boat crew stranded on an exotic island where mysterious and potentially supernatural storms begin to pile up, preventing ships from leaving the island and planes and helicopters from landing. Toss in a mysterious, gun-wielding, American-accent having, ‘sun goddess’ obsessed cult, and it’s up to Lara and her trusty bow to uncover the mystery and get as many of her crew members off the island as possible – before it’s too late.

Thus we have yet another entry in the ‘stalk your prey’ video game sub-genre made popular by Assassin’s Creed III, Splinter Cell, Far Cry 3, Crysis 3, and even the “Batman: Arkham” games. The genre is popular for a reason of course, as exotic locale + stealth + enemies = thrilling satisfaction with every completed objective and silent kill. In “Far Cry 3” you could take out every command post silently with your bow and a variety of other weapons and tools; landing headshots, distracting guards, and unleashing wild rabid animals to do your bidding. “Splinter Cell” encouraged both silent and deadly playthroughs, where encounters felt more akin to a life-and-death puzzle than a shooter or action game. Even “Crysis 3” with all it’s super-powered nano-suit glory, presented a half dozen tools and weapons to make stalking and killing your enemy satisfying.
However “Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition”’s doesn’t quiiiiteeeeee reach that level due to gameplay schizophrenia. The game is broken up into ‘stealth’ sections where Lara uses her bow to pick off foes, occasionally run up behind an enemy and take them down with a pick-axe to the dome, and ‘action’ sections where you’re required to shoot, dodge, melee, and kill until the game decides you’ve downed enough bad guys for a given set-piece. There’s also environmental puzzles to solve that have a sort of “Legend of Zelda” vibe to them, light platforming and spelunking elements, and an upgrade system that’s pretty much standard for the genre.

Unfortunately any time you’re forced to shoot frantically against waves of enemies, you’ll contend with iffy aiming and a camera that goes on vacation any time you want to dodge an oncoming grenade or melee attack. When stealth is an option the game handles itself far better, though some weird checkpointing hiccups will cause you to repeat large sections of a given objective over again if you die.

The whole thing just feels…perfunctory.  Gameplay wise, “Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition” brings nothing to the table in regards to new and innovative gameplay features, and worse, is missing a couple of things that have become staples of the genre. There’s a lack of verticality. There are no trees to climb, or cliffs to dangle off while waiting for an enemy to walk by for air assassinations, and once detected, it’s seemingly impossible to hide again, as enemies seem to know where you are immediately, even after dying and restarting.  

All of which would be…mostly fine if the story delivers. In much the same way movies like Lethal Weapon, Rush Hour, Die Hard, and heck even Cop Out, can deliver unique expierences while all painting with the same “Buddy Cop” genre brush, if “Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition” had something to say, most if not all, would be forgiven.

Think for a second what this game *could* say 18 years removed from the first “Tomb Raider”. How our world has changed in regards to the perception of women, social politics, the increasing awareness of sexism and feminism in literally aspect of our lives from the workplace to the cinema to our oh-so-very-precious video game consoles.

But instead Crystal Dynamics punted the ball, and not in the Chris Kluwe way, either, instead content to present a decent plot without much meat on the bone when it comes to subtext or themes or emotional takeaways.

Outside of the way the dialog of the enemies you kill changes from “It’s just some girl?” to “oh no! it’s the girl!” as the game progresses, there’s nothing presented in “Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition” that speaks specifically to Lara’s femininity or the specific challenges and dangers and threats a woman in this kind of environment would face.

Maybe that was the idea. To essentially palette swap a typical male protagonist for a female one and see if audiences react differently to a lady going through all the gruesome death scenes and violence and murder a male protagonist would. I know I did. I was embarrassed to play this game in front of my parents, worried they’d wonder what kind of crazy person wants to see a girl get decapitated, impaled, bitten, shot, drowned, and splattered for 16 hours?

Then again, maybe I’m old fashioned. On one hand it’s great we have a strong female protagonist in a game who isn’t wearing two pieces of tape and a cork as an outfit, but on the other hand, it feels like an opportunity not only lost, but deliberately buried.

There’s nothing special about Lara here aside from the fact she’s a girl! Which isn’t enough, especially considering 18 years ago her claim to fame was was being a girl! She’s pretty, well mannered, smart as a whip, endlessly agile and adaptive, and there’s absolutely nothing about her that makes her relatable or interesting. There’s no depth. No flaws, even her skin is silky smooth and her hair stays flowing majestically throughout the entire game.

Imagine for a second if Lara was someone like Abby Wambach, or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, a bookish lass without an assertive bone in her body. Someone a little left-of-center when it comes to the typical mind’s eye view of what a woman is or should be. We could understand her struggles, how her crew and friends can’t relate to her despite her *lack* of femininity, then come to respect her throughout the adventure. Instead from the start Lara is brave, passionate, willing to stand up to authority, and everyone looks to her for guidance despite her perceived lack of experience due to this being a reboot. She’s a Barbie doll with a beretta. It’s not enough.

Thus if you haven’t guessed, “Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition” left me cold. It’s a quality piece of entertainment, the graphics are beautiful, the gameplay is solid if you like combining stealth and action and puzzle solving and don’t mind having the game dictate to you when you’ll be doing each. On it’s surface, it’s a really well made game – and succeeds in making Tomb Raider about a little more than just Mz. Croft’s endowments. But when you think about the game on a critical level, it kind of falls apart; a ‘modern’ reboot stuck in the proverbial past, content to deliver decent gameplay perpendicular to a largely forgettable narrative and largely forgettable characters – which you’ll mostly enjoy if you are willing to turn your brain off long enough to ignore the mountain of missed opportunities scattered all over the floor in an effort to make Lara Croft something more than her sex appeal.

They succeeded. I don’t know what she is now. 

PS – QOTD 100 and “The Ottie Awards” are forthcoming. 

MeekinOnMovies on…Dead Ahead

Dead Ahead
Publisher: Chillingo
Developer: Mobirate Games
Genre: Side-scrolling Vehicular Zombie Homicide Simulator
Platform: Mobile
 Cost: Free

Every now and then, when cruising the app store, pawing my way through game after game, I like to take survey of just how great ‘gamers’ really have it. At literally any moment of any day, I can hop on my iOS device and for a little less than the price of a Starbucks coffee, find a gaming experience tailored to whatever whim I want to indulge. Strategy, RPG, CCG, Platformer, Shooter, MMO, Flight Sim, Puzzle – not to mention all the subgenres and hybrids. Simply put, if you ask me, we are in the golden age of gaming accessibility. But ease of accessibility breeds entitlement, and with nearly limitless options, it’s difficult for one title to stand out. So it’s with much delight, and a dopey smile on my face, that I’ve chosen to describe Dead Ahead, the new side-scrolling vehicular zombie homicide simulator, with one word (and a punctuation mark): Wow!

If you combined the animation of Invader Zim, The gameplay of the NES Classic Excite Bike, a bit of homage to Akira and Terminator 2: Judgement Day, plus some classic side-scrolling beat em’ up tropes, and you have the core of Dead Ahead.

Following a fairly haunting cut-scene that plays on start-up, you’re presented with a motorcycle, a weapon, and an endless stretch of road. But Easy Rider this ain’t. That endless road is filled with debris, broken down cars, trucks, buses, potholes, the occasional jump, and, oh yeah, hundreds of sortadorable zombies eager to nom-nom on your face parts. 
And I mean sortadorable. Dead Ahead’s anime-influenced art style is an absolute treat, packed chock-full of numerous little details that add up into something closely resembling a soul. From the way your character’s shirt flaps in the wind, to the hilarious way in which the hordes of undead will waddle-run after you, flailing their arms in front of them like a toddler eagerly reaching for a bottle, to how each of the different kinds of zombies: Cops, nurses, bikers, construction workers, have different little animated nuances – it’s easy to get distracted admiring the game’s ability to mix the endearing and the disgusting with ease.

Which can be problematic since the actual game part of Dead Ahead is excellent in it’s own right. It’s a capital V, capital G, Video Game that would have been right at home in a 1990’s arcade cabinet, perfectly content to nom-nom-nom on quarter after quarter like the zombies on screen. The mechanics are tight, with your main controls being the ability to move vertically on a 2D plane by moving your finger up and down on the right hand side of your iOS device, and a shoot and boost button on the left. You’ll use these buttons quite frantically, shooting the zombies that come up behind you, then hammering the zoom button to plow through zombies ahead of you as your boomstick reloads, all the while navigating around road obstructions across 5 seemingly endless levels.   

These three elements: shooting zombies, plowing through them, and avoiding roadblocks would probably make for a decent free-to-play game, something to be played for twenty minutes and forgotten. But the beauty of Dead Ahead is in the way it combines these perfectly serviceable elements into an addicting sort of poetry, thanks in part to an objective system that ties directly into how you progress through the game. Being challenged to make it 1500 meters without using boost, or score 20 kills with a pistol before dying in order to go up a level extends the replay value exponentially. When you toss in boss zombies, a hefty selection of weapons, and a few upgradable bikes to try out, it’s easy to drink Dead Ahead’s Kool-Aid.

But, surely there must be a catch. Is this Kool-aid loaded with the empty calories of pay-to-win carbs and IAP sugary-substitute nonsense? No. It seems developer Mobirate has gone the noble route with Dead Ahead, literally providing the entire game free of charge, and hoping that the gaming community will choose to buy something as a show of support. I’ve put about five hours into Dead Ahead, and outside of a few advertisements, I’ve advanced in the game completely unabated. The game’s only currency is coins, and you’ll earn plenty just from playing – though you can buy some with real cash-money if you’d like. Similarly, a wicked cool looking Akira style bike, along with the two most powerful weapons in the game (who are actually additional riders on your bike), are only available via in-app purchase – which is perfectly fine considering the karma Dead Ahead earns in every other facet of the game. A guy’s gotta make a living, right?  

Ultimately, Dead Ahead scratches an increasingly elusive itch that arcadeish classics like NARC, Mega Man, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Battletoads, and X-men used to pinpoint like the fingernails of a goddess. The addicting, I know I can do better nature of the difficulty, the power-ups, the style, and a certain simplicity of design that did a few things excellently, instead of many different things decently – created some truly exquisite games. But, for better or worse, gaming has evolved in complexity. Simple pinpoint back-scratches became antiquated in favor of more elaborate, but ultimately less satisfying massages. Even the re-releases of those arcade classics lost something in the translation, so it’s kinda of profound that Dead Ahead nails it so flawlessly. I’m tempted to use a cliche about how Dead Ahead is greater than the sum of its parts, but in truth, the parts are excellent on their own, and the fact they fit together so well is gravy.


Five Stars (out of five)
(Writers
note: I attempted to post this review on a popular IOS review outlet
that rhymes with Smuch Marcade, and they informed m
e my opinion was wrong. I ultimately quit that paid writing gig because they told me I liked the game too much.
Since the game is free, It’d be nice to see if I’m the only person on
the planet who thinks this game is awesome

MeekinOnMovies on….Iron Man 3

(my normal movie review website is not accepting my submissions at the moment, why I don’t know, so, uh, Sorry Caliber!)


IRON MAN 3
Dir: Shane Black
Poor
Iron Man. So far the guy’s been saddled with launching the Marvel
Cinematic universe in his first outing, introducing that universe’s
characters like Black Widow in his sequel, and carrying a good portion
of The Avengers,
too – it’s the kind of stuff that’ll lead a man to drink. So, It’s safe
to say Iron Man deserves some credit and a little breathing room. But
instead, he’s been tasked with being the first post-Avengers
Marvel universe flick, and must contend with heightened expectations, a
new director, and a good section of the audience that are very
possibility only in it for the 30 or so seconds after the credits.

Following his near-self-sacrifice in The Avengers, Iron Man 3
finds Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) a man obsessed. Obsessed with his
armor, obsessed with protecting his girlfriend, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth
Paltrow), and despite the technology at his fingertips, ultimately
feeling more vulnerable than ever thanks to the presence of Ben
Kingsley’s “The Mandarin”; a vicious terrorist responsible for worldwide
bombings and a multitude of threats leveled at America, and scientist
Aldrich Killian (Guy Perace) wooing Pepper, just a bit, while expositing
on his Extremis virus providing untold possibility.
Without
spoiling too much, the plot is quality comic-book pulp, and a bit more
fantastic than the first two Iron Man movies, involving multiple humans
with special abilities that aren’t technologically enhanced (in the
standard way), as well as Tony dealing with the fallout from his
near-death experience in New York at the end of The Avengers.
The plot isn’t too complex, and it suits Iron Man’s action-comedy
stylings, allowing Robert Downey Jr. to mug for the camera and interact
with his co-stars in naturalistic ways that makes everything feel a bit
more real, despite the ludicrous nature of what’s going on in the flick.  
The
biggest change is obviously the directorial switch from Jon Favreau to
“Lethal Weapon” writer Shane Black. The differences are mostly cosmetic.
Favreau had a keen eye for the “coolness” of the Tony Star character.
Hot cars, cool technology, hot women, all were handled with a sense of
“look how great it is to be Tony Stark”, his Iron Man
efforts had just a hint of “Entourage” in them, along with an
improvised, mumbling quality to the dialog that, again, made the
ludicrous things happening on screen feel a bit more real. Shane Black
seems to care more about Tony Stark the person. Sure, Tony drives his
awesome car, and has his awesome mansion, but these things are treated
in a matter-of-fact way – we’re more inside Tony’s head for this one,
where fancy cars and pretty girls and flying robot death machines are a
part of day-to-day life.
The last two “Iron Man” movies had an incredible burden of setting up Avengers,
the Marvel universe, and shoe-horning in Nick Fury, Agent Coulson,
Black Widow, and so on. “Iron Man 3” get to be it’s own little self
contained picture, ultimately devoid of that “Avengers” hype, so, it
will probably feel lackluster to audiences who wanted some tidbits on
what Joss Whedon and Marvel think “Phase Two” would entail. But, the thing
about this movie is that it’s actually the most comic-booky of all the
Marvel movies so far. Crazy stuff happens to characters, there’s
interesting plot twists and turns, and like a comic book it follows up
on the last big crossover event, too. Iron Man 3
features a lot of asides on how different the world is since the
arrival of Thor, Hulk, and Captain America, and how everyone is, well, a
bit scared. These touches are welcome, but don’t over-power the movie.
But
I had..a couple of problems with the flick, a Deus Ex Machina chimes in
at just the right time in the third act, canceling out a big twist and
saving Tony in the same eye-rolling moment, which is irksome. There’s
also a weird “Terminator 2” vibe throughout the entire movie, between
the location of the climax and the way enemy super-powers are handled –
Robert Patrick would be right at home here. I also didn’t like how a
certain supporting character got certain abilities, but again, that’s
something that’d you’d find perfectly acceptable in a standard
comic-book event that’s a a bit…weird on screen at first – growing
pains and all.
Anyway, objectively, no Iron Man 3 is
not *as good* as the first two movies (and I liked the second one quite
a lot, actually), but it’s very good in it’s own way, summer
blockbuster way,  too.The “cool” factor is gone, but it’s replaced by a
lot of stuff I did like. I liked that they ret-conned the little
ear-buds that they wore in Avengers (Tony loses his, puts it in his ear,
and you can see it’s impossible to see from a straight-on camera angle,
cute), I liked the kid Tony meets about halfway through the flick, I
liked that they kept bringing up “New York” then never quite resolved it
(probably saving it for later), and I loved the way they handled the
Mandarin simply because Ben Kingsley is the only person on the planet
that could pull it off and not have the audience fart all over it.

What
you have here is a quality three-star adventure that has good action
and good humor, and sort of felt like coming home to find your typically
tired wife wearing something a little silky, and though one or two
varicose veins may be exposed, but you’re still pleasantly surprised,
and  thoroughly appreciate the effort.

MeekinOnMovies On…”The Organ Trail: Director’s Cut”

The Organ Trail: Directors Cut
The Men Who Wear Many Hats
IOS / Android
2.99
By: MeekinOnMovies

I
fancy myself something of an…ethical gamer. While it accounts
for barely a drop in a bucket, when I find a concept, or studio who’s
work I either enjoy or find innovative, I figuratively turn into that
omnipresent meme of Fry: “Shut up and take my money!”. I’ve felt this
way about a few devs and publishers. Rockstar annually gets 60 bucks
from me, regardless of my interest in “L.A Noire” the drunken stumblings
of “Max Payne” and being baffled at what, exactly, a “Red Dead
Redemption” actually was. Visual Concepts is another, having bought the
NBA2k series long before I understood that a 15 Foot Jumper wasn’t
Shaq’s nickname for his penis. Heck, I’ve mentioned the indie dev MDickie to warrant
some sort of restraining order.

So,
when I came across the “Oregon Trail” parody “The Organ Trail:
Directors Cut” on the iTunes app store, I was instantly smitten. The
accurate-for-the-era graphics, the concept of running from Zombies along
the same trail our ancestors used to colonize the west, the punny name,
it…spoke to me.


For
those of you who didn’t have a good childhood and don’t know what I’m talking about, the original “The Oregon
Trail” is sort of like the “Citizen Kane” of edutainment titles. It
tasked you with loading up your Conestoga wagon with food, ammo,
supplies, and up to three custom-named friends, and had you hit the road west on your
way to the Oregon territory. Primarily made for education, the game was
a boat, well, wagon-load of fun too. Chalking the wagon and floating,
fording the river, and “X has dysentery” all entered the pop-culture
lexicon. While it’s sequel “Oregon Trail II” and it’s human digitized
graphics was ultimately a more compelling and complete title, “The
Oregon Trail” remains a classic – and
also ripe for parody.

If the “Organ Trail: Directors Cut” was simply a
cheap cash-in that directly copied the gameplay and added in zombies and
lols, I’d still probably enjoy it on the level someone
enjoys a crappy Nicolas Cage flick, or rocks out to Wham in their car on
the way to work – namely as a guilty pleasure. What I did not expect,
was to get a capital Q quality game that expands upon and adds to the “Oregon
Trail” formula – transforming what should be a throw-away impulse buy
into an enthralling, challenging, and surprisingly haunting gaming
experience.

After
an introduction that, uh, introduces you to Clements, you make your way to
Washington DC where you meet up with your custom-named pals, have to
deal with a particularly…brutal piece of housekeeping, you’re given a
chance to stock up on tires, mufflers, ammo, food, medkits, and so on,
 then hit the road to the west in your beat up…wait for it….station
wagon. While a lot of the game features just typical one-for-one
swapping of ye-olden supplies like Wheel Axles and Oxen for things like
fuel and car batteries, “The
Organ Trail: Directors Cut” also adds some really interesting features that
would be right at home in the original game, well, sans the zombies.

The additions to the “Oregon Trail” formula work out really, really, well, too.  Firstly, you can upgrade your party leader with a variety of buffs
including the ability to shoot faster, reload quicker, and some others. You can also upgrade the station wagon with damage resistant tires,
chainsaws to cut through hordes of zombies (This game’s equivalent of
having to cross a river) and a few other perks too.

Beyond
that, there are a few mini-game diversions to liven up the experience,
all mostly based around either shooting moving zombies from behind cover
ala “Space Invaders”, shooting stationary bandits (who shoot back) from
behind cover ala “Hogan’s Alley”, and well as scavenging and recovery
missions which have you tapping to move your character as you shoot your
way to the next piece of loot or treasured item you’d be richly
rewarded for. There’s also a ball-cup guessing game, and a few sections
that have you avoiding zombie animals and knocking over bandits on
motorcycles using the awesome stopping power of a 1980s Station Wagon.

It’s worth nothing this game is also, incredibly
hard. I’ve died roughly 2 bazillion times and have yet to beat the game
on the normal difficulty. Trying to maintain rations, food, fuel, ammo,
the health of your party and keeping the wagon in a working state is a
colossal undertaking, and as you go on the silly little 8-bit zombies become
very threatening when you’re down to your last sliver of health and
need to go scavenging for a blasted car-battery.

Believe
it or not the audio/visual component really ties the game together. The
authentic early 80’s PC sound effects and soundtrack go a long way to making your really long journey
haunting. I played this game on my back porch in the cold, smoking a
Black & Mild, and I found myself looking around my surroundings very
alertly at every noise. The graphics are quintessential of the era too,
with gorgeous splash-screens of destroyed cities, farms, and towns
looking like something straight out of the windows 3.1 version of MS
paint.

In
an era of information and graphical overload, it’s pretty amazing what
some haunting chiptunes, a steep difficulty curve, and the human
imagination can conjure up. At the least, it accomplished “The Organ
Trail: Directors Cut” and at that, my friends, it over-achieved.

4.5 stars

MeekinOnMovies’ Date Movie Diatribe #1: Silver Linings Playbook

The
date movie. We’ve all been here. Be it a night out with your wife or
hubby, a first date with someone you met online, or simply something you
enjoy doing with your boyfriend or girlfriend, oftentimes seeing the
right kind of movie can enhance your romantic endeavors for the evening,
and seeing the wrong kind of movie can damn them completely. Some
movies are romance neutral. I don’t think anyone seeing “Parker” is
going to come out of that movie questioning the very fabric of their
lives, for example. But, some are profound. In a series of articles
highlighting the good date movies, the bad date movies, and the kind of
date movies you should really only watch after a couple of tequila
shots, I intend to provide you with a primer. These will be broken down
into three categories: 

The Flick: The movie, is it good, what makes it good 

The Chick: Who is this movie right for? Couples? First Dates? What does it mean if your date doesn’t like the movie? 

The Stichk: What
are some pull-aways from the movie. Conversation topics, recommendations
for other movies you may enjoy as a couple if you enjoyed this one, and
so on.

So, here goes!


The Flick:

Typically,
David O. Russell has been romance neutral. While a phenomenally
talented (and infamously hot-headed) director, there’s really nothing in
“Three Kings” or “The Fighter” or “I <3 Huckabees” that would lead a
couple to seriously ponder their romantic predicaments. This, alas, is
not the case in his new film “Silver Linings Playbook” a romantic
not-quite-comedy about mental illness, family, and the Philadelphia
Eagles. 

            

Silver Linings Playbook
Director: David O. Russell
Runtime: 122 minutes

After
being admitted for violently beating a man he caught in the shower with
his wife, the high-strung Pat (Bradley Cooper) is discharged from a
mental hospital after his parents agree to take him in and keep an eye
on him. Following his incarceration, Pat appears to be a changed man –
he’s working out religiously, and reading classic novels regularly, too –
the problem being that all this positive energy comes from the
misguided notion that he could win his wife back if he was just a little
stronger, and it turns out all those books he’s been reading are ones
that appear on the syllabus his wife made for the English class she
teaches. It turns out Pat is fairly obsessed with his wife, and despite a
restraining order, is intent on seeing her again. Pat brings her up
consistently throughout the course of the movie’s first two acts,
delusionally believing that if he could *just* talk to her, he’d be able
to explain everything.     

The
fact is Pat is mentally ill, and refuses any sort of medication –
leading to a variety of incidents with his family, psychiatrist, and
former co-workers. On top of this, Pat is somewhat of a pariah in his
own town, as the community is very well aware of his horrifically
violent outburst and trip to the loony bin. Following a dramatic
outburst over the inability to find his wedding video, he’s forced to
start taking his medication. But crazy doesn’t stop with Pat and
Tiffany. Pat’s Dad (Robert DeNiro) is his own kind of high strung and
obsessive, particularly about the Philadelphia Eagles (and betting on
them), going as far as to arrange the remotes a certain way on the
table, and consistently clutch what appears to be a decades old Eagles
hanky.   

Eventually Pat runs into widower Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), and they inadvertently bond over all the various medications they’d been put on (and hated) throughout the years.
Lawrence and Cooper have great chemistry, and you root for them right
off the bat.  Lawrence is a real gem, playing Tiffany as a disaffected,
sexy, totally-lacking-in-social-filter, but still very obviously damaged
kind of gal – the sort of woman an Everclear song would pine over.
Cooper’s Pat is unsettlingly high-strung, and despite the strong
bravado, has a very dangerous self-hate bubbling under the surface about
the very horrible things that happened to him, and what they caused him
to do. These characters click like lego bricks. Pat, deliberately
chaste and obsessed with his wife, initially looks at Tiffany like the
dorky girl down the block – annoying, nagging, and bothersome, whereas
Tiffany, a sex-addict, finds herself intrigued by the only straight man
on the planet that doesn’t want to sleep with her. Which is partially
true. A particularly pivotal scene in a diner during a not-quite-date
between the two eventually degrades into Pat living vicariously through
Tiffany’s sexual exploits, then feeling immensely guilty after realizing
he’s allowed himself such lustful thoughts about a woman that’s not his
wife.

Director
David O. Russell has a knack for demanding perfection from his
performers, and it may actually be working against him because it almost
seems *too* easy. Despite the big names in the movie, you ultimately
forget that Bradley Cooper is Pat and Jennifer Lawrence is Tiffany. For
the time they’re on screen, they become real people, with real problems,
and real depth. They turn performances that are instantly immersive and
captivating, but not showy, and as a result you may not notice how
triumphant they really are. Part of the joy of “Silver Linings Playbook”
is how both Lawrence and Cooper work very hard to slowly let their
character’s guard down, as they come to trust each other and just
possibly learn to function as relatively normal human beings again. To
be fair,  DeNiro is always DeNiro, but that’s more the fault of his
incredible legacy than anything else.

Thanks
in part to the performances and a stellar script, “Silver Linings
Playbook” is incredibly funny in a natural way. A lot of uncomfortable
humor is extracted from the obsession Pat has with his estranged wife,
and with the initial antagonistic relationship with Tiffany. There’s a
sequence toward the end of the film at a Philadelphia Eagles tailgate
that is simultaneously hilarious – and heartbreaking.

 
In
the end, “Silver Linings Playbook” is, well, hilarious, heartbreaking,
and ultimately uplifting. Lets face it: we’re all crazy. We all have our
idiosyncrasies, obsessions, skeletons in the closet, shameful memories,
and regrettable choices. These issues can be paralyzing, preventing us
from reaching out to make a connection with someone who may just be, if
not the cure, the salve, for what ails you. It’s rare a movie tackles
such serious subject matter without a smidge of heavy handedness,
unintended camp, or actions that ring in-authentic to the characters in
the film. You may not notice it at first, but “Silver Linings Playbook”
is a great movie, regardless of the company you may or may not keep.

The Chick:

If
you’re bringing a girl you’re fixing to romance to this movie – make
sure she’s interested in *you*. There’s nothing worse than taking a girl
to the kind of movie that makes your mind wander to the lost romances
of your life, and finding out your date still isn’t quite over her
breakup from Tommy who works at the Starbucks. Thankfully, if she digs
you, there is a lot to be sappy over in this movie. On more than one
occasion you’ll very likely hear sniffles and “awww”s from the audience
during the movie’s tender moments, that are like music to the romantic’s
ears. Take note of when your date makes these noises, and try to use
them to your advantage for strategic hand-holding and
arm-around-shouldering – certainly the key to any successful movie-date.
Similarly, you’ll be able to gauge your potential mate’s penchant for
intelligent movie-going by her engagement. While compelling, funny,
human, and enthralling, “Silver Linings Playbook” isn’t very exciting.
If you look over to find the harsh white glow of a cell-phone, you may
want to bail out on any potential relationship.

“Silver
Linings Playbook” is ultimately a great first date movie for a few
reasons. It’s touching, romantic, celebrates love and family – and it’s
sexy too. While certainly more than eye candy, Bradley Cooper and
Jennifer Lawrence are incredibly attractive people, and certain scenes
in the flick feature palpable romantic chemistry that may very well get
your libedo beating faster than the drums in a White Stripes song.  

While
I’m not a doctor or even in a relationship, I worry if perhaps that if
viewed in the wrong light, this movie could be potentially damaging for
mid-to-long-term couples and married folks. Especially if there has ever
been infidelity or a tendency for bursts of anger or violence on the
part of either mate (TAMMY SYNCH FOR EXAMPLE!). “Silver Linings Playbook” hammers home the fact
that we’re all crazy, and that love can and will conquer all, if not
most. The problem is that while the movie is very natural and
believable, watching it with someone who you know to be unfaithful could
rend an incredibly painful experience for both parties.

Also,
often times relationships that are emotionally abusive find themselves
in a situation kind of similar to what “Silver Linings Playbook”
presents toward the end of the film. Bradley Cooper’s Pat is violent,
and crazy, and is ultimately saved, in a sense, by Jennifer Lawrence’s
Tiffany. That whole “We’re both crazy, baby” kind of mentality is what
allows an insecure gal to stay with her boyfriend through his
semi-regular fits of anger that may very well land the family cat in the
E.R. – and if taken in the wrong light could reinforce a person’s
commitment to making a poisoned relationship work.

But,
if you’re happy and married, or headed down that road, well, you can’t
do much better than “Silver Linings” Playbook. While sexy, it’s not
deliberately misogynistic, and there aren’t really any shots or
sequences in the film that exist solely to show off the sexy bods of
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence – which some movies are wont to do,
and there’s enough comedy, romance, humor, and sports talk to satisfy
even the most cynical of men.   

The Schtick:

There’s
a lot you can talk about coming out of “Silver Linings Playbook” the
first topic which may very well be “That got nominated for a bunch of
Oscars?”. It’s true, “Silver Lining’s Playbook” is up for 8 Academy
Awards, including Best Picture. As mentioned above, the movie has a
habit of making it look easy, to the point where you may not even
realize how great the movie really is. Really very few films are capable
of balancing the subject matter of obsession, mental illness,
competitive dance, romance, family, and self-betterment in a way that
doesn’t come off ham-handed or just simply awful. A single wrong turn
would have derailed the entire shebang, and if you want an example, give
“Friends With Benefits” a watch and watch the entire film come crashing
to a screeching halt upon the introduction of a sub-plot involving
Alzheimer’s disease.

If
you’re looking to impress your date with your knowledge of the
cinema-scape, David O. Russell is probably one the best Directors to
read up on – and talk about. He’s notoriously difficult to work with.
You could mention how the guy got into a fist fight with George Clooney
on the set of “Three Kings”, or about the viral video that features an
tirade of epic proportions toward Lily Tomlin on the set of “I
Guys,
also be prepared to talk about “Hunger Games”. Sorry fellas, there’s no
way you’re getting out of it. If you haven’t seen it, “Hunger Games” is
a movie about a bunch of teenagers who compete in a brutal fight to the
death in order to win fabulous cash and prizes. It’s actually pretty
awesome – though I think girls are in it for the empowerment, love
triangle, and crazy futuristic fashion (Psh, wearing real burning flames
after Labor Day? That’s so 2029). While the movie featuring Jennifer
Lawrence was middling at best, there were highlights, and if you want to
sound like a movie buff, talk about how great Stanley Tucci was in the
flick and that you think Josh Hutcherson was an insufferable cad.  

Girls,
get ready to talk about “The Hangover” and get ready for drunken
college stories from your date. Bradley Cooper made a name for himself
in both “The Hangover” and “The Hangover Part II”, and while you
completely forget it’s the same guy during the course of “SIlver Linings
Playbook” inevitably some time after you leave the theater, your beau
(or potential beau) will talk about how “Epic” those movies are and very
likely relate them to some surely exaggerated debauchery from his own
life. A key thing to look out for here is that you very much want to
hear him say that the first one was better than the second – this is a
universally accepted truth. If not, well, you may have yourself a man
with bland tastes.

If
you and your date thoroughly enjoyed “Silver Linings Playbook” and
you’re looking for another movie to watch, but don’t feel like diving
into David O. Russell’s back catalog, “Bridesmaids” pairs delightfully
well with “Silver Linings Playbook”. Both films, while on appearing on
the surface to be romantic comedies, are quite a bit deeper than you’d
initially give them credit for. “Bridesmaids” trends closer to being a
flat-out farcical comedy, but both films subtextually fixate on
accountability and taking responsibility in their own slightly slanted
ways. “Silver Linings Playbook” takes a messier approach; by the end no
one is “cured”, and surely the ghosts of past transgressions will haunt
the characters even after the happy ending. “Bridesmaids” seems to have a
weird AA undercurrent going throughout the film, with Kristen Wiig’s
character being a self-blaming not-quite-sad-sack throughout the film
until she learns to respect herself and take responsibility for her life
and actions – Salvation is only for those who help themselves, and
such.

But
the main reason for watching “Bridesmaids” after “Silver Linings
Playbook” is that the one-two punch of Cooper and Lawrence’s chemistry
and Kristen Wiig and Chris O’Dowd’s adorable courtship is simply too
authentically romantic to resist. If you and your date make it all the
way through both movies, and no-ones made a first move, either play
two-person “Spin The Bottle” or call the whole thing off because the
sparks simply aren’t there.
There’s
a lot to pull from “Silver Linings Playbook” and if you feel like
talking about the movie and seeing where the conversation could take
you, there’s obviously quite a lot you can discuss, or expect to discuss
as you can see above. But like good movies, good dates can sometimes
wash over you, a cavalcade of sights and smells and sounds and moments
that form together into a distinct mood, and leave an impression on your
psyche that’s everlasting. If that’s the case, I hope I helped.

Paul Meekin is a writer, producer, editor, and all around nice guy. You can like him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter  and check out his other writing at Hollywood Chicago  and Starpulse.com 

(those are all click-able links by the way)  

(Editors
Note: Above is a preview of a column I’m going to be writing for
starpulse.com that’s going to be posted this coming Saturday morning. My
editor seems a bit…trepidations about the length and content of such a
series, but I think a little movie-dating advice could do wonders for
the awkwardly single (not making a joke about WWE fans here), married,
and those inbetween. So, if you like it, feel free to comment below, and
hit up Starpulse.com on Saturday and comment on it when it goes up!) 

MeekinOnMovies On…”Parker”

PARKER (R)
Director: Taylor Hackford
Starring: Jason Statham, Jennifer Lopez
Runtime: 118 minutes

The pulpy, B-movie thriller Parker is a curious choice for Director Taylor Hackford. Hackford is probably most known as the man behind An Officer and a Gentleman, Ray, Everybody’s All American, The chilling Dolores Claiborne, and one of my all-time favorite guilty pleasure movies, The Devil’s Advocate.
Those movies, while varying quite wildly in terms of quality and
subject matter, are almost entirely focused on human (or non-human)
interpersonal drama and conflict – which is something Hackford
traditionally does well. Even in a rightfully maligned film like the
aforementioned Devils Advocate,
the performances and characters were memorable, if not entirely three
dimensional, and it made for some compelling drama and lasting images.
  

But, compelling drama direction does not necessarily make for a quality action thriller.


Parker seems to have all the elements in place for a slam-bang B-movie thrill ride, and they never quite
come together. Interestingly enough, the most inspired pieces of the
film are small moments of incredibly high tension mixed with high
comedy, which are few and far between.
   
Parker follows the exploits of, well, a guy named Parker,
played by Jason Statham. He’s a world-class thief, a master of
disguise, weaponry, hand to hand combat, and continuously sports the
sort of rugged five o’clock shadow that drives the girls batty. Things
kick off with a fairly entertaining robbery of Ohio’s State Fair, where
Parker, dressed as a priest, charms his way into the cash office of the
fair, while his clown-dressed cohorts sneak in from below. Meanwhile,
 Carlson (Wendell Pierce) keeps watch, and Ross (Clifton Collins Jr.)
 is tasked with setting fire to some hay bales to create a distraction.
Parker is a thief with a heart, however, and calmly assuages a
hyper-ventilating security guard before he and his crew make off with
all the money. What a sweetheart.  

However,
things are not all hunky dory, as almost immediately after the heist,
Parker refuses to partake in another, riskier job, and is shot and left
for dead. The betrayal by his crew, creates the setup for this revenge
tale, as audiences watch with relative delight as Parker goes from
practically dead in a ditch to mercilessly coming after the people who
put him there. This country sprawling  trek takes him from Ohio to New
Orleans, with visits to Chicago, and Sunny Florida, as Parker amasses
his resources, reconnects with his trusted contacts, and prepares for a
show down.

Parker
does a pretty good job of honing in on Statham’s character. He’s
merciless, but not without a heart, only killing those who he deems
deserves it, but is not afraid to intimidate, hurt, or maim the
(relatively) innocent in order to get his way. Statham’s screen
presence, and ability to take seemingly any material given to him
seriously, go a long way to making Parker more entertaining than it probably has any right being. Parker
is at it’s best while depicting the cunning creativity of it’s
namesake, whether it’s escaping from a hospital with a somewhat willing
hostage, dressing as a Texan to scope out potential hide-outs, or hiding
out in the apartment of Jennifer Lopez’s character while she tries to
distract a cop who’s come snooping around.

The
other members of the cast do not fare as well. Nick Nolte appears in a
supporting role, providing money and resources in times of need, but
really serves as an expository device, which can be kind of a pain
considering the talented actor’s tendency to mumble through dialog.
While Michael Chiklis is set up as the main nemesis of Parker, sadly he
and his crew is given very little to work with besides the procedural
set-up for their heist, and standard “Oh crap! He’s alive!” style dialog
once they learn the rumors of Parker’s demise had been greatly
exaggerated. The immensely talented Bobby Cannavale pops up in a
supporting role, but only serves as a foil to remind us how hot Jennifer
Lopez is, consistently hitting on her in every scene he appears.
 Jennifer Lopez appears quite a ways into the movie, and while she isn’t
a tour-de-force, does display ample…Charisma (among other things)
that eeks out more than a few smiles from the audience, and her and
Statham do have a midocrom of chemistry within their begrudging
relationship.

The
interpersonal relationship between Statham and Lopez, or Statham and
any of the characters, are the highlights of the film, which is weird.
Typically a B-movie action flick would be filled with cheesy dialog,
throw-away characters, and scenes that really only serve to move us to
the
next action set-piece. But alas, those action set-pieces feel…flat.
Aside from a brutal bare-knuckle brawl involving a toilet-seat cover and
perilous tumble over a high-rise balcony, the rest of the action seems
largely perfunctory. Part of me thinks this was possibly the point –
that Statham’s Parker
is so good at what he does that nothing is spectacular or over-the-top.
The final confrontation at the movie’s climax is actually completely
devoid of real stakes if you think about it, and the heist scenes are
shot in a fairly standard way – which tends to suck the drama out of
them.

Parker’s
most exciting moments involve things like cleverly breaking into the
manager’s office at a nightclub, shooting and robbing an armored truck
driver (in the nicest way possible, all things considered), talking a
document forger out of shooting his very large gun, and a short sequence
where a battered, bruised, and bleeding Parker hides out in Lopez’s
apartment while her typically yippy dog trails in little bloody
footprints on the floor of the kitchen. These moments pulled the
audience in, allowing them to smile gleefully at the cleverness on
display. But beyond these scant few moments and an occasional joke or
two that can catch you off gaurd, the movie is fairly standard stuff.

And standard is the problem here. Parker lives in the uncanny valley between “Bad” and “So bad it’s Good”. It’s not a bad
movie, it’s not embarrassing or stupid, or incomprehensible, but it’s
not inspired either. It reminds me of a theme park roller coaster with
the shortest line. Parker’s not
the fastest, or the longest, or the scariest, but it has one or two
little hiccups that do just enough to serviceably entertain you. But,
there are certainly far better coasters, with steeper drops, crazier twists, and better turns, that you should probably try out first.    

———

Paul Meekin is a writer, producer, editor, and all around nice guy. You can like him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter  and check out his other writing at Hollywood Chicago  and Starpulse.com

MeekinOnMovies on “Wrestling Revolution Pro”

Wrestling Revolution (Pro)
IOS / Android
Price: 4.99 (IOS)

Do
me a favor, hop in your brain Delorean and let me take you back in
time. Oh, you don’t *have* a brain Delorean? That’s okay, you can borrow
mine. We’re traveling back to the early 2000s; The internet has
exploded, parents are just about over that whole “violence in music”
deal, and pro wrestling is the hip thing. Stone Cold, The Rock, and
Triple H are household names – hell, Mankind had a New York Times No 1.
Best Seller. Wrestling was so popular in the 2000s that an entire
cottage industry of wrestling games sprang up in the span of a few short
months.

Hardcore
wrestling fans have always yearned for something that took us backstage, let us
control the inner workings of a largely staged sport. They wanted to
book the matches, settle the feuds, win the ratings war – not just
compete in ring. And by and large, their demands were answered by a
dedicated group of indie developers. The PC game Extreme Warfare Revenge
took gamers inside the workings of a promotion – tasking you with
booking matches and feuds, managing contracts, and fighting for TV
ratings, sort of like Championship Manager: Pro Wrestling Edition.
It was incredibly complex, and exciting in it’s own special way –  but
required a lot of attention to detail, and a lack of actual wrestling game play made it a niche product for those of us who *really* wanted to
run our own pro-wrestling promotion, backstage politics and all. There
were a few other games in this genre, but nothing held a candle to EWR.  

While
it was (relatively) easy to find a text-based wrestling simulator to
satiate your inner Ed Ferrara (who I met a few times – nice guy!), if
you wanted an actual wrestling *game* your options were pretty limited
outside of the available WWE Smackdown and WWE Wrestlemania / No Mercy games of the time. A select few took to importing the Japanese Fire Pro Wrestling
series of games for their PSXes, a 2D grappler with mechanics based
more on timing and skill, as opposed to the button mashing of it’s
American counterparts. But still, the pickings were slim for those of us
who wanted the management and the mayhem.


Enter
Mat Dickie and his Federation Online – a combination of the
management mechanics of Extreme Warfare Revenge, with enough game play to
keep things enthralling through multiple play-throughs. The free game
featured a small roster of notable and not-so notable characters,
including Bret Hart, Triple H, The Rock, Stone Cold, and some folks from
a local Indie promotion in Europe. The game was intoxicating. You could
play out a match, a card, or a month of shows in a single sitting and
not get bored. The management wasn’t as deep as EWR, and the game-play wasn’t as good as in No Mercy; but regardless, the game was greater than the sum of it’s parts – due in part to it’s charming audio visual design.

Unlike
other games made by a team of developers, everything in Federation
Online was 100% Mat’s. The graphics, sound effects, music, coding,
moves, game-play, and menus were all him (though initially the graphics
were heavily modified sprites from Super Fire Pro Wrestling X from the
SNES). Playing an Mdickie game (and it’s sequels) almost felt like
watching a movie from an indie director – little things about the way’s
characters taunted or moved, the pained noise a wrestler would make when
tapping out, the way the universe has featured an ever growing list of
both fictional and real wrestlers that have evolved over the better part
of a decade (Jimmy Ciera is John Cena, Triple H is Treble 8, etc etc)
immerses you in a world that had (and has) no right enthralling you such
as it does.

Eventually Dickie upgraded the game (with dozens of new wrestlers and moves) and sold it’s sequel in two versions, Federation Wrestling and Federation Booker. Federation Wrestling
saw you tasked with creating a wrestler and working your way up the
food chain through a series of matches. You’d be responsible for signing
your contract, dealing with backstage politics, and ultimately becoming
the champion of your chosen promotion. Federation Booker
made you the president of a promotion and challenged you to book
exciting shows, sign popular wrestlers and keep them happy, make money,
and most incredibly, *have good matches*.

Pro
wrestling is ultimately a game of entertainment, not a sport of
competition, and it was baffling to me that this was the first game (Outside of EWR) to
include match quality ratings as the marker for success. Federation Booker
finally stumbled upon the very thing wrestling gamers had wanted all
along; Challenge and gratification. Wrestling in a brutal contest to eek out a few
more rating points became a battle of wills against the stamina and
limitations of your chosen wrestlers. Do you put a frail Ric Flair (or
rather, Perry Class) through a table to send ratings through the roof,
or do you have a sub-par match in order to save his health for the
upcoming all-important Pay-Per-View?

The
goal was to earn money and win the ratings war. Good matches netted
more cash, and more cash netted the ability to sign more popular
wrestlers which in turn increased ratings. Couple this with a variety of
match types, insane weaponry, and backstage drama, deaths, and feuds,
you had yourself a hyper-stylized version of what every wrestling fan
probably wants in a management sim, coupled with completely serviceable game-play.  

Unfortunately
not a lot of people wanted to pay for it. While never released, the
sales numbers were low, and in an era before “indie games” were a thing,
the asking price of 14.99 was a bit too much for most fans.  

Eventually
Mat Dickie went on to make a series of interesting and experimental
games including the prison simulation “Hard Time” and Jerry Springer parody
“The Mdickie Show” (which eventually served as the basis for his 3D
wrestling engine), a duo of management games: Popscene and Popcorn,
before finding God, writing a book about sports, and releasing The You! Testament which put you in the shoes of a biblical prophet.

Within that period of time he released 3D versions of Federation Online and Federation Booker, the
latter of which introduced the ability to switch between competitors
with the tab key – again underlining the point that the game was about
having the best match – not winning. These games weren’t perfect, but
introduced amputation, flaming ropes, barbed wire, and glass panes into
the Mdickie verse.

Now,
for all my gushing, these games were not without their flaws.
Graphically, while charming, the 3D modeling was somewhat rudimentary,
and to call the clipping and collision detection serviceable would be
generous. There weren’t a *ton* of moves, so a lot of wrestlers felt
samey – though the ability to powerbomb / suplex / belly to belly
someone over the top rope to the outside was always exciting. The
management aspects were solid, but a lot of the backstage stuff ended up
feeling hollow or lacking in resolution – but for a game with limitless
replay value, and a virtual wrestling economy that could continue on
for years, the game’s ambition more than made up for it’s (many)
significant flaws. The 3D versions, alas, sold poorly as well.

Mat
took a long break after that, made all the games he’d previously
charged for free (Seriously, go download and play Booking Remix Right
The Fuck Now) and I thought I’d never see him take on the world of Pro
Wrestling again.

I was wrong.

Available
this instant on your IOS (4.99) and Android devices is “Wrestling
Revolution Pro” – A career focused mobile version of “Federation
Wrestling” featuring a fairly unique art-style, all sorts of chaos, and a
pretty enthralling career mode, too.

The
game world is broken up into a few different promotions: Maple Leaf
Wrestling, Strong Style Wrestling, All American Wrestling, Federation
Online, Lucha Libre Pro, and Wrestling School; which is where you’ll
start out. After winning a few matches and learning the ropes, you’ll
eventually be signed by a larger promotion for a meager sum, and have to
work your way up that food chain.

And
it’s a *lot* of work, too. The game’s A.I is pretty brain-dead, and
since you’re wrestling to win, versus wrestling to have a good match, it
can be annoying getting your opponent to follow you up a ladder stacked
on two tables in the ring so you can power-bomb him through them. Thus a
lot of early matches can be a little bit of a slog to get through – but
when you get the opportunity to wrestle for a title or wrestle for a
number one contendership, all that hard work puts a great deal of
pressure on you to win, and it makes the title match all the more
exciting. There are also increased difficulty levels to play with, so if
the game is no challenge *at all* you can crank that up.

In
terms of control, you have two options: One is a buttonless
point-and-drag interface which is probably the most confusing thing I’ve
ever seen, and the other is a virtual button style control scheme that
works *far* better than I expected it too, both on an iPhone and iPad.
There’s no “Counter” system in play, nor is it properly explained what
buttons you hit to kick out of a pin, but mashing them all seems to work
relatively splendidly.
Graphically
the game is punk-rock through and through. Tons of options, attention
to detail, but rough around the edges. Wrestlers don’t so much climb up
ladders as they levitate to the top of them. Some moves look a little
weird thanks to the 2D perspective, and occasionally it’s hard to tell
who a specific wrestler is supposed to be. But after you become
accustomed to the game engine’s limitations, you can actually start to
have a lot of fun with it.

For
example, during my playthrough I was in a “Loser Leaves” match against
“Brook Lazer” for the World Championship of Strong Style Wrestling. This
was my first title shot, and internally I wanted to do some crazy ass
things. I started by stacking the ring steps on a table, and putting a
ladder on top of it. The plan was for the finale I wanted to give Lesnar
a belly to belly off the ladder and out of the ring, then pin him. He
countered and powerbombed me through all the hardware, leaving me a
broken and bleeding mess on the ring canvas. And he pinned me,
1…2…3. It. Was. Awesome.

To
ape a phrase from Game Trailer’s Grand Theft Auto retrospectives,
“Mdickie’s Wrestling Revolution Pro” is a game you can play – and play
with. You can have a perfectly serviceable time wrestling your
opponents, winning matches, and not getting too outlandish. Or,
alternatively, you can beat Roddy Piper within an inch of his life using
a Guitar and Christmas tree. The game encourages the latter. Throughout
the career mode you’ll encounter all sorts of matches, from “No Rope”
sumo-matches, to Steel Cage bouts, to “Tables and Hockey Sticks” matches
that allow you to embrace your inner Cam Neeley. While the objective is
to win the match, half the fun is seeing what kind of crazy ish you can
get away with on your way there.

Ultimately,
I happily paid for Wrestling Revolution Pro – sight unseen – because I
have gotten literally hundreds of hours of enjoyment out of Mat Dickie’s
previous wrestling efforts, and 4.99 didn’t seem too high a price to
pay. I’m not (and still am not) a fan of the “Career” side of things –
I’d rather book matches and try and earn snowflakes, versus win the
title myself. If you consider yourself a wrestling fan, and haven’t
tried the Mdickie brand of games, you’re seriously missing out – it’s
seriously my contention these are some of the best wrestling games of
all time. 

(Paul can be found on Twitter at @MeekinOnMovies, and on Facebook at “MeekinOnMovies”)

MeekinOnMovies’ Indie Wrestling Odyssey: Part 2


Part II
MeekinOnMovies jobs to WCW, a  tripod, an audio recorder, and a laptop.

One
of the better ways to look like a bumbling fool is to trip over a
replica of the WCW Hardcore Championship in front of Spike Dudley and
The Full Blooded Italians. While the Fall River PAL is an awesome venue,
The gorilla position area backstage is crowded with audio equipment,
lighting rigs, TRP personnel, cables, and to the determent of my
balance, the aforementioned replica of the WCW Hardcore Championship
belt on the floor.

Not
that the floor is a bad place for such a…bizarre item. Despite it’s
treasured lineage – it’s the only championship in pro wrestling history
to be held by Terry Funk, Lance Storm, and Eric Bischoff –  I somehow
doubt there’s a high demand for the illustrious title amongst fans.

So
down I went, instinctively grabbing hold of the red velvet curtain that
was there to separate the Dorothys and Totos of the audience from
machinations of the great and powerful Wizards of Oz backstage. I saw
the curtain collapsing from the unexpected ballast in slow-mo. Falling
forward, it wafted over the audience like a blanket, confusing the
elderly, delighting the kids, stopping the competitors in the ring in
their tracks – in an instant I’d become most infamous figure in the
history of TRP, including zonked-out Scott Hall. Man, WCW really ruins everything.


Thankfully
the catastrophe was my overactive imagination acting up again, and
while the curtain wavered under my weight, it stayed up-right. I turned
back to see if anyone had noticed the narrowly avoided calamity I
caused. Only one person made eye contact. Guest commissioner Spike
Dudley – who shot me a glare the likes of which he probably hadn’t used
since he taught 3rd grade. I half expected to be kept in from recess.

Heck,
I only came down from my happy little perch in the Balcony to grab a
tape. Naturally the first tape started running low right in the middle
of Sarge’s big match, which is a problem – Cause the guys seemed afraid
to hit him. Which is fine in theory. Sarge is 64 years old after all.
But I needed the wide angle to make the match work (weak offense + wide
angle = okay match) – as it stood I would be losing that angle for at
least 45 seconds as I switched out tapes.

The
match itself is a tag bout between Sarge, indie wrestler Jeff Star (who
looks to be the real deal, btw), and TRP’s World Champion Biff Busick and his manager / partner “The Ladies Man” Gregory Edwards.

Biff
and Edwards are my personal favorites (though I like pretty much
everyone). Biff because he looks like the unholy love child of what
would happen if Kane and Daniel Bryan ever had a baby – and he does a
nasty top rope neck breaker I’ve taken to calling the Biff Blockbuster.
Edwards is great because he’s a dick who loves to piss off the crowd –
and you can tell he loves every second of it, too. He’ll call out folks
in the audience, rile them up, and generally be a grade-A tool bag in
the way the best heels in the biz typically are. They occasionally do
the whole Mr. Fuji powder thing, and it’s nice to see someone is keeping
the classics alive. Plus they don’t really seem to like hitting Sargent
Slaughter, so you know they’re probably nice guys, to boot.

It’s
kind of a testament to the talent of Sarge, Jeff, Biff, and Edwards
that they can all have a match that really excites the crowd despite
Sarge’s supposed limitations. The crowd was hot, the action was
exciting, and once you add the commentary in, it’d make for some really
exciting television.

Oh
yeah…. The commentary. There won’t be much of that. The way TRP
records commentary is into a Tascam / Zoom that’s typically used for
dual system audio on movie sets. You plug a Mic into it, and then the
commentators share the mic. I’ve used one….twice in my life. Once
during an interview with Vidal Sassoon and once during this video of me complaining about the CGI-ization of the beloved Thomas The Tank Engine.
The audio was met with mixed results. So when the commentator for TRP
found me during the first match of the night – which was a strong style
bout between the members of The Whaling City Wrecking Crew – I was a
little bummed.

I shimmied past the people in the balcony, down the narrow steps, across the Gorilla position curtain, and was greeted with the Tascam Zoom.
This was my Slumdog Millionaire moment. I could prove myself a capable
production person to this commentator, save the show, and be welcome
with open arms into the world of independent pro-wrestling after
literally hours of trying.

And
I sorta fucked it up. A note to aspiring filmmakers. Always. Check.
Levels. Always. Always. Always. Always. Always. It was dark and I missed
the mic input button, so the first…half of the show is likely without
commentary – a fact I didn’t figure out until the intermission *after*
Sarge’s big match.

Now
would probably be a good time to pause and explain that I actually
enjoy doing this sort of thing very much, and am not an incompetent
buffoon despite what my writing may suggest. Unfortunately, with
wrestling shows being as chaotic as they are – especially indie
pro-wrestling shows, the production people are largely an afterthought
and have to fly by the seat of their pants. There are simply more
important things to do.

It’s
also worth noting I am doing this for free.  While I was told I would
see some of the proceeds from the DVD sales, any money coming my way
would rightfully be split three ways. So if you sell 20 DVDs at 10
dollars a piece, split that 50/50 with TRP, the remaining 100 dollars
then needs to be split 3 ways, giving everyone a cool 33 dollars for
their time and effort. Safe to say, I’m not in it for the money.

Anyway,
the commentary…hiccup meant for the second show in a row I’d be
turning in a less-than-optimal product. It eventually was rectified in
time for the second half the show – including a super hot 6-man tag team
bout between the FBI and some guy under a hood, and the tag champs; the
Alden Brothers and their partner “The Devil’s Reject” who wears a
gas-mask out to the ring and sort of looks like what would happen if
Bane got heavy into ICP as a teen. The kids love him.

At
the first show I was at, there was a 12 year old kid sitting next to me
who was hamming it up the entire show. He’d call out “woos!” during
chops, kept (repeatedly) shouting that if “The Ladies Man” likes Biff
Busick so much they should kiss, and so on. He really brought an energy
to the show and it was cool to see someone mark out in such an
innocent(?) way. After every match though, he kept asking me if “The
Devil’s Reject” would be coming back out to sign autographs and sell
more merch. I told the kid I didn’t know. For some reason I felt
compelled to help the kid out, and went looking for the guy backstage,
but since he wore face paint it was kind of futile quest.  

Wrestling
actually needs more of that little kid then you would think. In a
figurative sense. While most fans are cynical and largely sick of the
kind of muddled and inconsequential bullshit we’re feed weekly by the
WWE and the like, there was a time in practically all our lives when
we’d mark out for anything. And a boisterous wide-eyed kid yelling at
wrestlers he hates has the kind of kinetic energy you can’t buy, or
edit, or post-produce into existence.

Which
brings me to the sweet spot. The sweet spot can occur in a variety of
media. For example during “The Avengers” when Captain America points to
The Incredible Hulk, says “Hulk…” then pauses, the audience my theater
collectively uttered “Smash” in unison, so caught up in the awesome
action we were of a sharing a single brain. These things happen during
concerts, sporting events, and of course in professional wrestling.

In
a pro-wrestling context, the sweet spot will pop the crowd and keep
them engaged throughout a sequence. My personal favorite example of this
is the last…10 minutes of the Wrestlemania 15 main event. With the
Stunner kick out, Vince hammering Austin, Foley running out, and Austin
winning the title back from Rock. The crowd was at a fever pitch for the
entirety of that sequence of events, caught between the knowledge the
match would soon be ending – and not wanting it too. Kind of like
quality love-making.

While I don’t know if  Vinny Marseglia
(Vinny from now on) is a quality love-maker, I do know he’s excellent
at finding the pro-wrestling sweet spot. I don’t know if this is because
he’s the most over, or because he brings the most friends to shows, but
It seems everyone knows the guy, and when he comes out to the ring he
gets the kind of pop that is typically reserved for Jeff Hardy is taking
his shirt off. He’s also kind of a lunatic; doing an insane springboard
somersault plancha to the outside during the previous show, as well as
taking a pretty innovative backdrop onto the ring apron too – both
sending the crowd into a fancy.

After
getting the tape situation…situated and fixing the commentary during
intermission, I actually got a chance to be a fan for a good majority of
the second half the show, and got a chance to chat with the wrestler
who trained Vinny (who also happened to be the guy who picked up the
first DVD), Ryan. He was shooting with a little flip cam from roughly
the same angle I was.

Then
it happened. Something I’d never seen before in a match. Vinny, on the
top rope, was pulled off by his leg, and his opponent turned it into a
back breaker. While the crowd’s pop on tape isn’t nearly as loud as it
sounded in the arena (though my high-pithced “OHHHH” made it through
loud and clear), it was one of the most innovative things I’d ever seen
in a match, and the look on Ryan’s face was a combination of proud
mentor and marking out fanboy geek. Vinny, was for real.

This
moment of exuberance was tempered a tad once I realized I should
probably be keeping tabs on my camera men, and didn’t see George – the
long haired, Metallica loving, wrestling fan who’d never operated a
camera before. Eddie was…directly opposite my camera angle, so I hoped
he nailed the shot, I wouldn’t know until days later.

Eventually
the show ended after another stellar contest involving Vinny and a
member of the Whaling City Wrecking Crew in the finals of the
tournament, where a suicide dive by the 350 pound strong-style grappler
popped the crowd into a “Holy Shit” chant that I intend to use in the
promo video for the DVD that I intend to set to “I Can Tell We’re Gonna
Be Friends” by the White Stripes. Vinny gave an emotional promo,
thanking Ryan, the fans, his family TRP in general…and then the
announcer came on and said Vinny would be doing photos in the ring for
10 dollars to commemorate this historic occasion.

Gotta love indie wrestling.
 
We
broke down the cameras, collected the footage, and prepared ourselves
for the two hours it would take to transfer Eddie’s awesome footage to
Top Rope’s hard drive. It was an awesome show, and one I looked forward
to watching again (and again, and again, and again thanks to the wonders
of non-linear editing).

“Did you bring a laptop?” Eddie asked me. It was my turn to answer in the negatory.
“No….” I responded.
“Well,
you can always come to set tomorrow and get the footage there” Eddie
said, referring to a commitment to a small independent film I committed
to helping out on earlier in the day.
“Where’s the set?” I asked.
“Oh, just Pawtucket Rhode Island”

Welp, they never said the business would be easy.

In Part III: post-mortem cigars, slatuting Sarge, a rainy day in a winnebago, absent minded promoters,

MeekinOnMovies’ Indie Wrestling Odyssey: Part 1

Part I
A wrestling fan, a cameraman, and a crazy person walk into an armory…

“Are
you a wrestling fan?” I asked. I knew the answer, but hoped someone
else on the production side of things would be able to geek out with me.
And boy oh boy did I want to geek out. I was behind the curtain, man.
The Gorilla position. If you pardon the pretension it was wrestling
purgatory. Behind it were men dressed in funny costumes, beyond it they
became larger than life superheroes; entertaining the kids, parents, and
relatives that crowded the intimate Fall River PAL to watch a pro
wrestling show. And literally, I was in the middle of it all.  


(Note:
I’m writing about this show without much in the way of permission from
the kind folks at Top Rope Promotions, I don’t think they mind, but if
this post goes away, just assume Spike Dudley kicked my ass and pulled
the blog).

(Note
two: What follows is a relatively detailed and possibly sort of boring
account of what it’s like to produce, shoot, and edit an independent
professional wrestling show. I’ve changed the names of my cohorts in
case they don’t want to be talked about, but have left wrestler names
the same because who doesn’t like free press, right? In a perfect world
I’d love to write these every couple of weeks after shooting or editing a
show, but if this is lame to you guys lemme know!)  

 

“Not really,” came the
response from Eddie. This could be a problem. Eddie, you see, had the
good camera. The kind folks at Top Rope Promotions in Fall River,
Massachusetts, had two cameras at their disposal, and Eddie kindly
brought the third. A fancy, HD, three-chip, prosumer model that made
good matches great and bad matches good. It also had the best mic –
which was sort of a pain in the ass when it picked up wrestlers calling
spots, but it was a small price to pay for the glorious footage he could
obtain just by pointing it in the general direction of a wrestler.

The
problem was that the general direction of the wrestlers tended to be
close-ups that are kind of hard to get on the fly. One second there’d be
an awesome facial expression of a guy locked in a Boston Crab, the next
you’d get a viewfinder full of referee crotch. 

One of the things that
goes unnoticed during your typical wrestling show is that 90 percent of
the time the camera will cut on action. Be
it a chop, drop kick, neck breaker,  or DDT, if you watch enough
wrestling there’s almost a poetry to it – a rhythm. And that rhythm
exists to prevent audiences from noticing how often wrestlers screw up.
If a guy throws a weak kick and you cut to a wide angle – its much
harder to tell. If a guy throws a shoulder block and you cut to the
close up of the victim hitting the mat, the attacker looks like a
monster. And the more of those shots I had, the better the DVD would be.

I
explained to Eddie to keep the camera angles wide, and only go in for
close ups during obvious rest holds (I then explained what a rest hold
actually was). Eddie, a consumate pro, smiled and nodded and part of me
kind of wondered what *exactly* he was doing shooting a pro-wrestling
show considering how good he was.

My
other camera man, George. George had long hair and, Metallica, and I
think kind of didn’t want to be there. He was a wrestling fan but wasn’t
a particularly adept technician – and this was his first show. With ten
minutes to show time, I ran down everything I needed from him as my
secondary camera. He could *never* be opposite of Eddie, or else
everything would look terrible and jarring (For geeks this is called the
180 degree rule). I attempted to explain by likening it to a strap
match. Pretend you guys are tethered. You can’t be opposite each other,
keep it at a 90 degree angles. These are all important things that make a
wrestling show look great on DVD.

With
five minutes to go, the crowd had filed in. I had wanted to get footage
of wrestlers working the gimmick table for a sort of “Fan Interaction”
portion of the DVD, but gave up the ghost on that after realizing I’d
have to explain what a gimmick table was, and wasn’t sure if special guest Sergeant  Slaughter would
be annoyed by being filmed without permission.

Plus
I still had to set up the hardcam in the balcony. I’d opted to run the
Hardcam because A) I’m a fat-ass and didn’t want to get in the way of the
show, B) I’d never been inside a pro-wrestling ring before and didn’t
want my first time to be in front of hundred(s?) of people, and C) The
hard cam had the best seat in the house.

I am a fan, after all.

Top
Rope Promotions itself was a really interesting promotion. I’ve never
been one to follow Indie wrestling particularly closely, but after
spending some time with TRP, I can see why people love it. This
particular crowd isn’t filled with rabid fans out for blood. Instead
it’s kids, mostly teens, moms, dads, the elderly, and some special needs
kids (who are actually the biggest fans of them all). It’s actually
sort of a family atmosphere. It’s blue collar thing. Most of the
wrestlers are from Fall River, Rhode Island, and other parts of southern
New England. 

Through
sheer force of will and schedule availability I was also sort of in
charge of this whole shebang too; Where the cameramen went, making sure
the commentators could use their commentary recorder properly, hopefully
getting a one-on-one interview with Sergeant Slaughter (who was the big
name brought in for that show) and then editing the whole thing into a
hopefully saleable DVD.

Tonight’s
card was the 7th annual Killer Kowalski cup. A King of The Ring style
tournament named after the Malden, Massachusetts native who trained
Chyna, Triple H, Kofi Kingston and Damien Sandow (if Wikipedia is to be
believed) among other notables. It was a big night for the promotion –
but a bigger one for me. I wanted this to go smoothly. The last show,
had not.

It
was mostly my fault. I had waited to long to capture the footage, and
misjudged how long it would take to render (geek speak for encode)
Eddie’s footage. As a result the DVD was delayed several times over and
it was all on me. The DVD itself came out…Okay. I didn’t have much in
the name of resources, and had to cobble together wrestler names and
spellings from Facebook. There also seemed to be a few color correction
issues, as well – namely everyone looked yellow.

Eventually
I handed the DVD off to another wrestler and it was actually pretty
cool to see fans clamouring to buy a DVD I edited and produced. I think
the deal was that we’d split the proceeds 50/50 with the promotion, but
as I later found out, only 4 DVDs sold, and I figured TRP could keep the 8
bucks they owed me.

Up
on the balcony I set up the camera, cutting it dangerously close to
showtime. The crowd was pumped, and rowdy – awesome. A “Feed me More!”
chant broke out amongst everyone in the audience, which quickly turned
into a “Goldberg” chant, then turned into a dueling chant. If the crowd
was this hot during the show – and I had every reason to think they would be,  the show could be something
special.

Getting the show on video – well, that was a different story.

To be continued….

In Part Two (Lets shoot for…Tuesday?): A camera without power, an audio recorder without a mic, a man and his country, and I make an idiot of myself in front of Spike Dudley and Sarge on completely separate occasions.