Newish Movies

Papa Smark!
I picked up the new live action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, Into The Woods (Disney version), and The Penguins of Madagascar. Curious if you've seen them; I found TMNT was pretty good, but could have been way better had it lost a few of the mustache twirling lines. Into The Woods was interesting in that I'd never even heard of it prior to the Disney release (there was another version that caused The Lady Amanda™ and I a bit of confusion at the video store). Overall I liked it, though the frenetic and fun Gilbert and Sullivan first half overshadowed the somewhat melancholy and bittersweet second half, which to me felt like it lost a bit of steam as it finished. Penguins was a hoot though; I laughed a heck of a lot more than any of the Madagascar movies combined, and while perfectly fine for the kids, had a ton of in jokes for the adults, particularly the constant celebrity name dropping (Nicholas, cage them! Drew! Barry! More power!) Very funny, and has moved into place as one of our household favorites, along with Pitch Perfect (sequel next month!) and Butter. Isn't there a PPV happening this Sunday or something? Thanks for reading,
CJ Ambrosia
Ugh, HATED Into the Woods.  Thankfully I used a free movie pass on it, because it was not my cup of tea at all.  The advertising was pretty misleading, as it didn't really make clear that it was a MUSICAL and not just the usual Disney occasional-song type of musical.  It had some cute moments, like Chris Pine and "I'm trained to be charming, not sincere" and his duet with the other prince.  But holy shit, once you hit the fakeout happy ending and it turns into Death March Into Wonderland for the remaining HOUR, the movie goes off a cliff completely and never recovers.  Bleargh.

TMNT was just a movie.  I'm not of the age group that holds any particular nostalgia for the TV show or comics, so it didn't move me or offend me one way or the other.  My wife loved it, though.
The Penguin movie was brilliant.  I have to go see pretty much every kids movie now, and this was by far my favorite.  I liked it way more than my daughter did (she felt Spongebob was the superior choice) and I actually bought it for myself.  It's definitely funnier than any of the Madagascar movies and has a totally different sense of humor.  I lost it at the camera crew shoving the baby penguins over the edge and pretty much laughed for 90 minutes straight after that.  
And yes, there's a PPV on Sunday, which I couldn't even be bothered to do a Sporting News preview for.  That's how jazzed about it I am.  

10 MOVIES YOU’VE NEVER HEARD OF STARRING PRO WRESTLERS


http://www.ifc.com/fix/2013/04/10-movies-youve-never-heard-of-starring-pro-wrestlers

It is an an old list but I found it pretty interesting to find out that film snobs consider these "Movies you've never heard of" seeing as I had heard of all of them except the Trish Stratus one.

I have indeed heard of all those movies, and the WWE ones are only "obscure" in that no one went to see them.  They were all very heavily marketed flops for the most part.  The Marine remains a "so bad it's good" laugh-fest, the rest are pretty much straight-up terrible as noted in the article.  

MeekinOnMovies on….Some Movies For a Change

Howdy Otters – the Ottie Awards are likely coming tonight / tomorrow / Monday depending on when I can get my video editing software working properly / build the right graphics, until then, a round up of movies I’ve seen, including Captain America: The Winter Solider, Wolf of Wallstreet, True Detective, and Saving Mr. Banks.  Also a review of South Park: The Stick of Truth is at the bottom.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

What a rush! While The Winter Soldier naturally refers to the super-powered villian in the movie, it also refers to the role of someone like Captain American in our current America, where the general idea is that we’re very quickly turning into an Orwellian / Minority Report kind of world.

 It tackles questions of security vs. freedom in a surprisingly even-handed way, and finally offers the counter-balance to the “stop spying on us NSA!” thing, which namely is an uptick in things like domestic terrorism. Robert Redford, looking like a non-eye-patched 616 continuity Nick Fury says something like “A Dirty Bomb in Atlanta, an EMP blast in Chicago, it’s inevitable!”, and sadly, it probably is. As technology grows and information becomes more wildly available to those people on the fringe with warped minds, these sorts of events become all the more likely. 

The action is also *awesome* with the hand-to-hand combat being particularly skillful. You can savor all the crazy choreography without feeling like you’re watching a rehearsed dance number, and there’s quite a few action set pieces, including shoot outs, chase scenes, a heist, and a climatic battle that doesn’t end the way action movie flicks normally do, along with some great twists and turns and callbacks that make the movie feel like a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe without it feeling hokey or tacked on.

It’s well acted, too. Scarlett Johansson seems to be doing a Rashida Jones impression, Chris Evans plays a man out of time really well, and Robert Redford brings so much legitimacy to his role that you almost feel bad for the guy. His heart was in the right place, it just got…tangled up along the way.

As far as the post-credits and overall Marvel connective tissue stuff goes, this movie nails it. Perhaps because this is now the 9th movie in that universe, but the call backs and references are becoming both more obscure and more obvious at the same time. There’s a couple of scenes involving a list of ‘targets’ that likely has enough Easter eggs to last you until the resurrection of Christ.

With Guardians of the Galaxy on the horizon, and Avengers coming next year, it looks like the Marvel Universe is in great hands. This is probably the most well-rounded of any of the Marvel Flicks, with the quiet scenes informing the action, the action being satisfying, and the message being front-and-center in a way that makes you think about it, but isn’t up its own ass like in say, The Dark Knight Rises.
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The Wolf of Wallstreet

I saw most of this movie on a post workout high where I was giddy and hyped, so the sheer insanity of this movie was totally welcome. Interesting is that this ultimately a comedy and a farce. It’s even labeled as such under Red Box.
And that it is. When movies claim they’re “Outrageous!” odds are they
often times are trying to hard to be that way. “Wolf of Wallstreet”

Like the best of his movies, this one is about process. We follow Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort through his rise to Wall Street supremacy as he brings friends, drugs, women, insanity, midgets, farm animals, fast cars, expensive suits, and Rob Reiner along for the ride.We understand what penny stocks are, who they exploit, why there’s no backlash from customers for awhile, and generally speaking over the movie’s three hour run-time we understand enough of what Leo and his band of merry men are doing, so that when it goes wrong, or something goes poorly, we get it. Compare this to American Hustle where you get a lot of time on the broad strokes of the various scams, but never really get a sense of the nuances that make them feel real.

It helps this is a true story and adapted from a memoir, allowing you to dig as deep into this subject matter as you want – additionally with the story being told from a first person perspective, when Belfort narrates about the various horrible things he’s done, it comes with remorse, sure, but also a sense of “Can ya blame me? Really, can you?” – as a result the wish-fulfillment aspects – the money, the women, the drugs, the parties, are all just a hint more rollicking and fun because we’re not being hammered with “THIS IS BAD FOR YOU”.

To borrow from Michael Cole, this is vintage Scorsese with a modern twist. Biker ‘Taker if you will. It doesn’t take itself as seriously as Goodfellas, Casino, or Shutter Island and the movie is better off for it. It’s a  ribald parable, the R-rated uncle to “Catch me if you Can” and less stuffy cousin to “Wall Street”. Belfort isn’t Gordon Gecko, he’s the guy someone like Gecko is worried about. Good comedy comes from drama, and boy oh boy does Marty know drama.
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True Detective (I know this isn’t a movie, shut up). 

A good sniff test for a great work of art is that you’re thinking about it after you’ve seen it. Even if you react negatively to something – like American Hustle, if you’re stilling wrapping your head around some of the juicer parts a week later, odds are it affected you in some way. True Detective has been swirling around in my head with every back road I ride down and dilapidated house I see. It’s a show about the horrible things that can happen on the fringe. The fringe of our mind, the fringe of society, the fringe of America, the fringe of the law, and so on. It’s totally bleak and nihilistic, but also darkly funny and poignant, and any time you get someone monologing about 4th dimensionality I’m up for it.

I also had the advantage of seeing six episodes of this show in a row while sleep deprived and on [drug that rhymes with flaccid], which added an entirely new element to the proceedings, which made the disturbing elements all the more disturbing and the awesome moments all the more awesome – including a 6 minute unbroken take scene in the 4th episode that is simply masterful – though I imagine there was a little compositing going on.

Anyway, I feel strongly about True Detective but I don’t have anything very strong to say about it. It’s great, well worth your time, and I can’t believe that Woody Harrelson has become such a reliable force in our entertainment, he’s the new Gene Hackman in that you can find him in some movie somewhere on cable at any given moment.
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Saving Mr. Banks
 
So this is the movie about how a raging anti-Semite and a child-abandoning lesbian wacko come together to make one of the most endearing movies of all time – Mary Poppins. Of course the anti-Semite and Child-abandoning and Lesbian things are completely ignored since this is a for all ages Disney picture, so instead we get a churned-up-inside tart of a woman who has to let go of her most precious possession – Mary Poppins in order to stay afloat financially.

This is a pretty great flick actually if you avoid checking into the ‘real’ story before watching it. It presents about fifty dozen cliches, sure: “The magic of Disney”, “Curmudgeon who doesn’t like fun,”, “Blue collar guy melts the heart of aforementioned up-tight curmudgeon”, and the eventual “Heart to heart between creatives” thing, but they are all executed pretty well.

This is a movie for fans of movie making. I saw it with two people, one who has seen “Mary Poppins” and one who hadn’t, and not seeing that flick makes a lot of the various references and call-backs feel hollow if you don’t know what they’re referring too. It’s weird. They’ll make a joke about how “Dick Van Dyke will never play that role!” and it’s dropped, but because you know what happened in reality, it becomes a funny gag.

The cast includes Tom Hanks as Walt Disney, Emma Thompson playing pretty much the exact same character as she did in Stranger than Fiction, BJ Novak, Bradley Whitford, and Jason Schwartzman as jolly producers writing the movie and music (the “lets go fly a kite” scene in this flick is wonderful and heartwarming even to an old cynic like me), Colin Farrell as Hollywood’s idea of a drunk, and Paul Giamatti as a limo driver with a heart of gold. 

Ultimately, good stuff for the whole family. Not ground breaking, trend setting, or mold breaking, but as far as general Hollywood mass-produced stuff goes, you can do a lot worse.
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 South Park: The Stick of Truth

 If Kurt Vonnegut was the “Moralist with a Whoopee Cushion”,  “South Park” packs a flaming bag of dog doo instead. Through 247 episodes and counting,  “South Park” has grown into itself, the intelligent writing and unique point of view hovering below the scatological surface becoming apparent. Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s brain child became something of a socioeconomic court jester, using Kyle, Stan, Cartman, Kenny, and a supporting cast of dozens to call out society’s hypocrisy and extreme polarization, while being foul mouthed and ribald and touching and scatalogical and subversive and popular and instantly quotable all at the same time.

And now RPGs and “South Park” have combined via Obsidian’s oft-delayed, publisher shifting “South Park: The Stick of Truth”, which is certainly “South Park”’s biggest undertaking in the gaming space, ever, and yet another high-profile licensed title from Obsidian, who’ve previously taken the reigns of “Star Wars” and “Fallout”.  

And “Stick of Truth” plays great once you get your hands around the gelatinous nature of the combat and environmental interaction. By which I mean the tutorial and introduction to the gameplay is anything but solid. A cohort I shared the first four hours with openly cursed when Cartman mocked her inability to parse the strong / weak attack timing mechanics for the fifth time.

Battles are turn-based, fast-paced, input-intensive, and getting comfortable with the timing, item management, and various buffs and debuffs will take a couple of hours, plus one or two more if you want to figure out the best way to synergize all your equipment modifications for a proper build. Attacks require hitting the right button at the right time for a ‘perfect’ hit, and you’re encouraged to hit “A” when being attacked to block some incoming damage. It actually feels quite a lot like the “Super Mario RPG: Legend of The Seven Stars” in that every spell or attack involves some sort of mini-game or input from the player to achieve the optimal result.

Like “Mario RPG” is the way you can affect battle conditions via environmental factors. Fart on enemies, they’re “grossed out” to start the battle. Hit them with your bow? Dazed. Knock a lamp onto an enemy or two? The boss battle starts with two enemies already downed. It’s really creative and lends an almost point-and-click adventure appeal to the non-combat parts of the game.

The combat difficulty is scalable, and on the normal setting I found hitting one or two powerful attacks could vanquish most enemies with ease if you know their weakness. Boss battles are tougher encounters, and you’ll find yourself engaged in a great back-and-forth struggle as enemies throw their best attacks and various defensive maneuvers at you – a particularly enjoyable battle involves being sure to defend every attack from an umbilical cord or else it regenerates life infinitely.

Once you’re cozy with all the systems, the whole shebang is quite a lot of fun. A neat addition is that you can also use items and attack on the same turn, which makes battles go by way faster, and a little easier to swallow for non-gamers or folks who picked this up for the “South Park” name but generally avoid RPGS. If you’re a game dev looking for a gameplay innovation worth popularizing, this would be a great one.

Ultimately combat feels great once you get the hang of it, and is made all the more sweet by the various South Park tropes that are layered on top. You’ll be utilizing things like bathroom robes for wizard cloaks, tin foil for helmets, cardboard for horses, and so on – in addition to actual ‘real’ looking weapons and armor too. Beyond that, you get to pick from several South Park mainstays as a battle companion. Butters is a lighting focused Paladin who decries “I uh…I was just seeing if it worked!” upon knocking out a fake elf with a very real ball-peen hammer. Jimmy is a bard, his special attacks requiring you hammer the “A” button when he stutters during one of his debuff creating songs. Stan uses his dog in all manner of not-PC ways in combat, and Cartman, of course, lights his farts on fire for AOE damage.

However one problem is the size of “The Stick of Truth”’s proverbial boat, versus its motion in it’s the ocean. I played “South Park” in about a week’s time, savoring a fair amount of the content, talking to pretty much everyone and completing the side quests that seemed interesting, and clocked in at around 12 hours play time if the save screen is to be believed. A lot of this 12 hours involved walking from Point A to Point B, arranging equipment, and watching cut-scenes. With such a robust combat system and litany of customization options, it’s a shame you find yourself nearing the final third of the game before you know it. I’m not one to harp on game-length, but I can’t help but feeling bummed by how quickly the whole thing wrapped up.

But the length could also be a “South Park” problem. There’s only so much to do in a single mountain town (and parts of Canada), and maybe Obsidian didn’t want to overstay its welcome, or Trey Parker and Matt Stone simply didn’t have it in them to write and perform the dialog required for a sprawling 30-40 hour RPG.

Regardless, it’s impressive how well the RPG part of “South Park: The Stick of Truth” comes together, to the point where it steals the show from the narrative. The only real gameplay misstep being the two non-combat special abilities you earn. One allows you to teleport over gaps, and the other allows you to shrink. While novel, switching from your bow to cross a gap, then hastily switching back to your bow to get a quick pot shot off at an enemy to daze them before combat, is a hassle, especially when a jump button would have been welcome and felt a little more organic to the experience.

Speaking of organic experiences, It’s almost…sublime how developer Obsidian managed to capture “South Park”’s crappy animation to perfection. Friends *will* think you’re watching the show if they casually glance at the screen. The school, all the characters’ houses, Tom’s Rhinoplasty – it’s all here and accessible to explore, and all completely authentic to the show. There are literally hundreds of callbacks to prior episodes spread across the open world, with cameos by the underpants gnomes, Mr. Hankey, the aliens from the pilot (“Cartman gets an anal probe”), Mongolians and the “Chitty wall”, and countless more in the various item descriptions and NPC one-liners. The bigger the fan of the show you are, the more masterful the world becomes, down to correct geography, and the diegetic audio being popular songs from the series. It’s a real nostalgia trip, with many moments not only calling back to a specific episode, but subconsciously stirring up the memories of whatever you were doing at that time in your life, too. And of course, Cartman, Kenny, Butters, Stan, and the supporting cast all get moments to throw in their most known phrases, and naturally Kyle’s mom gets called a…well, you know.

So It’s kind of a big fat bitch that the tale told in this fantastic world feels a little underwhelming. Look, I didn’t expect to be moved emotionally, nor did I want some grand deconstruction of gaming. I did expect some level of intellectual stimulation, be it a message, theme, blatant allegory – anything! Instead ”Stick of Truth” presents itself as a high-quality farce and nothing more, which is fine. “Airplane” is a high quality farce. So is “The Naked Gun”, “Young Frankenstein”, and “Family Guy”.

But “South Park” is a farce with a point, damn it. “South Park: The Stick of Truth” delivers shocking content in droves. wangs, balls, racism, abortions, sexism – it’s all here, and a lot of it will make you laugh in the “how did they get away with that?!” way. Yet, there’s little context to set up a lot of this stuff…so in a way it’s just a lot of (funny) racist, sexist, offensive, humor…without a point, which, if my memory serves me, is the exact same thing “Cartoon Wars” got all bent in a tizzy about in regards to “Family Guy”.

Previously, when “South Park” dipped its toes into the interactive media space – the N64 FPS being something of a cult-classic, “Chef’s Love Shack” trying to do the ‘Mario party’ thing, poorly, cart racers, tower defense games, and beat em’ ups, the titles were received lukewarmly.  The problem with these titles is they took the look and feel and style of South Park, but none of the creative pungency of Matt Stone and Trey Parker – creating a “South Park” experience in name only.

My theory? I don’t think Trey Parker and Matt Stone are very big gamers. They’ve tackled videogame related topics in “South Park” before, and have done so admirably, but generally those episodes have treated games as a sort of macguffin to arrive at a larger point – The “Chinpokomon” episode generally speaking to how fads can be good and bad, and it’s best not to get too riled up about them. Similarly, “Towlie” featured the ubiquitous Okama Gamesphere as an object of single-minded desire for the characters, but had little to say about gaming culture. The “World of Warcraft” episode is lauded, but ultimately closed with a lasting image of our South Park heroes sacrificing their lives and well being for a pointless MMO. Toss in the brutal message at the end of the “Black Friday’ trilogy about how the kids should use their imagination to play – not needing 500 dollar consoles to have fun, and not only do I think Trey Parker and Matt Stone aren’t gamers – I don’t think they “get” gaming.

Which is…okay. One thing Parker and Stone do very well is educate themselves on a topic before tackling it. I’m sure they’ve played games, lots of games in fact, because their entire livelihood depends upon being up-to-date with pop culture, and “South Park” certainly know the broad strokes of the who, why, how, and where of video gaming culture.

But considering their generally sour take on the medium, I don’t think they have anything (more) to say about gaming. Especially considering what they’ve said before is that gaming is a life-sinking, imagination killing, electronic, interactive, dopamine dispenser – all things you probably don’t want to communicate through a video game people pay hard earned money for.

Thus I find myself in territory similar to Remedy’s “Alan Wake” – a game I bought for the story, but loved for the gameplay. Here, “South Park: The Stick of Truth” delivers fantastic combat, customization, and strategy in droves – you can sink your teeth into the system and feel mostly full by the time you’re done chewing. However, if you’re a person who loves “South Park” for what it says, versus how it says it, you may find the story  portions a little malnourished, not because they aren’t good, or entertaining, or funny, but because ultimately it’s mostly empty calories.

Look, there’s no way a game where this much care, and effort, and personality doesn’t get a proverbial thumbs up from me. It’s a high-quality game that doesn’t quite live up to *my* high-standards of what “South Park” is, and can be, but it doesn’t stop me from appreciating it for what it is – a surprisingly deep, terrifyingly funny, oh-so-very beautiful, old-school, RPG that despite being brand new, will flash your brain back to 1997 and all the years in between with startlingly regularity as through not only a game, but 17 years worth of television history that may just be a little more important to you than you may think.

Meekin On Movies on…”Smooth Operators: Call Center Chaos”

 
Smooth Operators
Publisher: Bulkypix
Developer: Heydeck Games
Genre: Simulation
Platform: IOS / XBLA Indie
 Cost: $2.99

“They say if you go to enough movies, sooner or later you will see your own story, and believe me, “The Natural” wasn’t mine.” – Roger Ebert

When’s the last time your job was the focus of a novel? What about a movie? TV Show? How about a video game? Lets face it, unless you’re living the incredibly exciting life of a cop, drug dealer, vampire, teenage mother, Surgeon, space Marine, work in a restaurant of some kind, or are Mark Cuban, your career is probably underrepresented in terms of faithful representations in media – “Wrestling Blogger 2013” isn’t happening anytime soon folks. But that tide is changing rapidly. Farming Simulators, truck driving simulators, robot vacuum simulators (seriously), and more are gaining both word-of-mouth buzz, and some critical praise too – it seems finding the joy in the mundane is what’s hot in gaming right now, a “new wave” of interactive experiences that ditches the laser guns and damsels in distress for something a little closer to home. Case-and-point: “Smooth Operators”, a charming-as-hell call center management simulator, that was recently ported to iOS. 


Initially, “Smooth Operators” appears similar to games like “Tiny Tower”, “Yoot Tower”, “Sim Tower” and pretty much any other “Tower” game you can think of – tasking you with building a business literally from the ground up via convenient modules. The twist here is that you’re building a call center, and populating it with cell-center-centric employees like office workers, call takers, project managers, janitors, and woefully underappreciated IT staff. The goal being to meet daily inbound, outbound, and back office quotas as efficiently as possible – the more calls you take, the more money you make. 

Money you’ll need to replace all the hair you pulled out while playing. “Smooth Operators” is an exercise in barely-controlled chaos, each business day a balancing act of managing employees’ happiness while trying to eek every last bit of productivity from them. You’re consistently behind the 8-ball, worried about meeting quotas, granting vacation requests, which buildings to upgrade, understaffing, overstaffing, and lots more. Couple that with random events like employees simply up-and-quitting over things like a lack of quality reading material during break time, and the fact that your progress and success is judged by a single report that comes out at the end of every day, you can see why working in a call center qualifies as a high-stress gigs.

The symbiotic relationship between all the different employees you can hire is both apparent and nebulous, which is good. Managers scream at employees to increase their call taking speed, IT techs kick the back of broken computers until they work, and each call taken by an employee results in a smiley face, sad face, or a L2 thought-bubble, giving you pleasant visual feedback on in-game developments while hiding the actual ones and zeroes of it all to give the game a really human feel – heck, you can even drill down to find what your techs thought of individual calls.

The 2D retro aesthetics of “Smooth Operators” greatly informs that human element, too. Office facilities provide colorful visuals and heaps of personality. Little details like bikini posters in an office, trash piling up if you fail to hire a janitor, broken computers smoking, or the building literally seeming to fall apart until a handyman is brought aboard, immediately endear you to what “Smooth Operators” has to offer. There’s a “Roller Coaster Tycoon”-vibe to it all. A hard-to-quantify, staring-at-a-fish-tank-esque quality that makes the act of simply watching characters on screen do their thing immensely enjoyable. It’s one thing to hire a janitor. It’s another to be able to watch him go about his shift, bathroom and lunch breaks included, tracking how much he does in a given day with fascination.

“Smooth Operators” actually has a quite a lot in common with Chris Sawyer’s infinitely compelling and deceptively weighty series of theme-park sims. Namely the deceptively weighty part. The depth of this simulation is brutal. Similar to how you could adjust individual ride settings in “Tycoon”, here you can educate employees, place various objects like book shelves and potted plants to increase the aesthetics of your facilities, give raises to keep disgruntled employees on board, and about a dozen or so more intimidating-but-not-overwhelming nuances. As a result you’re consistently stressed out in the best way possible as you wait for your funds to tick up enough to allow a purchase of a new building, upgrade, or employee. 

“Smooth Operators” falls short of “Tycoon” in one area – fun factor. While intensely compelling, the playfulness of the presentation doesn’t translate to gameplay. The best sim games are also puppets. Meaning that you can play them as they’re intended, or bork around with the mechanics to great delight. Building a roller-coaster death-trap, unleashing a tornado on your “Sim City”, or seeing how many barrel rolls you can do with a 747 in a flight simulator add enormous amounts of fun, creativity, and longevity to any gaming experience. “Smooth Operators” doesn’t offer this sandbox-style opportunity for misadventure, which is a minor shame. But at the same time I’m not sure how they’d fit it in without completely redesigning the core experience.

I really enjoy this game’s depth, charisma, and attention to detail. But it may not be for everyone. The barrier to success is brick-wall thick, and it takes quite a few restarts to really understand what you’re doing. Similarly, employee information is tucked away inside the game menu, versus being easily accessible like HR and vacation requests are in the top right hand corner of the screen, so assessing the mood of a manager or janitor requires an extra tap or two…Andddd considering you can manage railroads, airports, lemonade stands, kart-racing teams, kennels, an entire space program, and a variety of other more exciting businesses, you may find the idea of managing a call center a bit esoteric.

Look, “Smooth Operators” is so far up my alley it could stick bowling pins up my nose. I’ve worked in a call center for six years and love sim games. So for me this is the gaming equivalent of being Bill Clinton and sitting down to watch “Primary Colors” – the broad strokes are all too familiar, and the nuances are surprising and welcome. It’s perfect for mobile devices too, fantastic in bite-sized chunks as well as extended play-sessions. It’s a quality sim with quality mechanics and heaps of enduring aesthetic qualities as well.

It’s also a great game to play while on hold. 

Four Stars (of Five)

Meekin On Movies On…Booking Revolution

 MeekinOnMovies on BookingRevolution
 IOS / Android / PC – $4.99 (Pro Version)
 
Perhaps
due to the lingering spectre of Kayfabe, pro-wrestling games have
always been about making a staged competition seem real. Thus, when you
buy your Smackdowns, or WWE 13s, or TNA Impacts,
you’re not really getting the quintessential pro-wrestling experience.
The number of high-quality wrestling games that have come out -Fire Pro Pickaletter, WWF No Mercy,
 a few others – that make wrestling *real* by turning it into a
legitimate competition number in the dozens and are really a game genre unlike
no-other. These games are so good in fact, that it’s nearly impossible
for me to play any sort of fighting game because wrestling games hold so
much more depth, excitement and appeal to me. But pro-wrestling games,
regardless of quality, are also missing out on what makes wrestling
awesome for the hardcore fans.

Imagination.
Your normal wrestling game doesn’t care if you spent 40 minutes in an
epic battle to the near-death with The Undertaker, or spent 5 minutes
spamming The Bronco Buster with X-Pac before pinning your opponent.
Wrestling fandom celebrates a most bizarre creativity, and it’s a real
shame that most games in the genre have a hard time capturing,
quantifying, and rewarding it.

(Hopefully)
fans yearn for the ability to have a great match, with unexpected
moments and death-defying and creative moves. And just like how our eyes
grow wide in anticipation when CM Punk ascends the top turnbuckle and gives
props to Macho Man before leaping Elbow First at a 40+ year old man who
pretends to be a zombie laying on a paper thin announce table, *we* want
a chance to create some of that magic ourselves from the inside out.

So,
to fill that void you may not have known existed in the wrestling-game
scape, I present to you, “Booking Revolution”, now available on the
Appstore and Android Marketplace for less than the cost of a pack of
cigarettes.

For the un(or under)-informed, Wrestling Revolution
was the latest in a series of wrestling games by Indie Dev Mat Dickie,
who was “indie” before “indie” was a thing. After starting out on PC
with varying degrees of success (utilizing Blitz Basic and Blitz 3D of
all things), he took his game-development expertise to Mobile Platforms
(and switched to developing via Flash). As of today Wrestling Revolution has been downloaded somewhere in the neighborhood of one-hundred thousand plus time via the Appstore and Google Play.

While Wrestling Revolution was a great warm-up and a pretty decent wrestling game, it’s sequel (or counterpart) Booking Revolution is the game I’ve been waiting for. Booking Revolution
has you create your booker, has you choose from a variety of available
promotions (Ranging from the super-popular All American Wrestling, to
the lowly Federation Online), then hands you the the keys to the book.

But, who is the best person to take the reigns of a wrestling empire?

You may have heard of him…

Dozens
of hairstyles, faces, facial hairs, poses, taunts, moves, boots, and
tights options populate the customization screen. The tap interface can
yield a couple of problems when selecting moves; and as you click on one
side of the screen to move through the list, it can be a little touchy
and you’ll find yourself accidentally skipping through moves frequently
unless you’re incredibly delicate with your tapping. But the tapping
to-and-fro works pretty well with appearance customization, though
changing the color of your outfit can be a bit cumbersome if you opt to
play with the three-bar color slider. Ultimately It’s somewhat intuitive
and unless you’re *really* trying, it’s very hard to make a wrestler
that doesn’t look at least somewhat bad-ass.

Once
your booker looks tough enough to survive in the dog-eat-dog world of
fake half-naked guys pretending to hit each other, you’re given a status
screen that displays your promotion’s money, popularity, current
champion, booker, owner, and whether you’re booking a PPV or a TV
taping. The options to hire talent, edit your roster, or check out that
evening’s card (which we’ll get to later) are also displayed.
The
editor is pretty self-explanatory, but a caveat here is that if a
wrestler has “creative” you can’t edit them (in career mode), which is a
pain-in-the-ass, but in a cool way – and you can’t change their
face/heel alignment either, which is accomplished through in-ring
promos. 
Hiring
talent is pretty self-evident too, but once you get a gander at the
absolutely massive roster available to you, you may just fall in love.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that pretty much everyone of note who
has stepped in the squared circle, is represented in Booking Revolution.
Albeit in a bit jerry-rigged sort of way, much like the old “Fire Pro”
games.The Brock Lesnar-esque character has tight-red tights instead of
his MMA shorts, Stone Cold has blonde hair (which is so offensive I
changed it immediately), Mankind has an eye-patch, and there are similar
idiosyncrasies sprinkled across the massive roster to keep things
exciting (and I imagine to escape legal action). But once you customize
the roster’s appearance to your liking, you’ll be amazed how authentic
the big-names really feel – despite a relatively limited move list. 
 I may have made…one or two additions to the roster
Using the roster properly, and booking quality matches is Booking Revolution’s
bread and butter. In addition to the Yokozuna-huge roster, there’s a
Rikishi-big number of match options. Singles, Triple Threat, Fatal Four
Way, Battle Royal, last man standing, Steel Cage (Blue, Black, or Gray
mesh), Inferno, Barbed Wire, ropeless (hell, ringless is an option),
Furniture smash (Tables match, anyone?), and literally dozens of other
match modifiers like 2/3 falls, escape the ring to win, Sumo, and a few
others – unfortunately there’s no Hell in a Cell, or Ladder Match but if
you can’t find a match type you enjoy, you’re not trying hard enough.
You also have a number of pre-match promos to select from, too:
including face turns, heel turns, arguments over drugs or stealing
friends, farewell announcements, team formations, and some more to
add a little extra juice to a match.
Setting
up a match properly can take a bit of time considering all the options
available – but the game tends to reward sound logic. If you throw two
nobodies into a regular 1-on-1 match with no promo, gimmick, or feud
behind them, the crowd will crap all over it unless they’re highly
skilled. If you toss two hugely popular wrestlers into a barbed-wire,
steel cage, inferno match, you’re sure to get a quality match rating,
but your two competitors will likely end up injured or worse (wrestlers
can die in this game, and they do somewhat regularly). This is probably
the first game that gives you a reason to play as marginally skilled,
but “hardcore” wrestlers who can take ridiculous abuse.

Matches
are rated on a scale of 1-5 stars (with half-stars being included in a
forthcoming update), and have a whole slew of factors that go into
exciting the crowd. Ideally you want to strike a balance between
hardcore, in-ring work, and the popularity. A match between the highly
skilled and highly popular  “Slam Dunk” and “Cody Massacre” needs little
more than some quality back and forth, an occasional elbow drop off the
top rope, and an exciting finish to get yourself to a four-star match
rating. Similarly a match between “Ralph Zipper” and “Les Miserables”
might need a guest referee, some hardcore brawling, or a third party to
obtain a quality match rating.

Matches themselves are wildly unpredictable. The gameplay is a mix between Fire Pro Wrestling and the old WWF Raw games on the SNES and Genesis. You’ve given a straight-on perspective of the ring (ala Raw),
and the punch / kick / grapple system may seem rudimentary at first,
but once you get into the flow of a match, the countering and grappling
mechanics become deceptively deep and sometimes out of your control,
leading to more genuine “OH MY GOD!” moments than any other wrestling
game I’ve played.

This
is accomplished in three ways. First, while you’re wrestling to have a
great match, wrestlers do have health meters that can be depleted,
therefore, as you approach the end of a match and both you and your
opponent’s meter is in red, each-near fall elicits Oohs and Aahs from
the player, and eeks out precious match rating points. Second is the
intuitive chain-grappling / reversal system that is completely out of
the gamer’s control. At first the inability to counter a move via direct
input seems like a missed opportunity, but it adds incredible drama to a
given match – going for a late match powerbomb through the announce
table, only to have it

countered into a hurricanrana or back body drop
is wildly entertaining – counters can come out of no-where, too. I’ve
had top-rope moves countered into pile drivers, a spear countered into a
suplex, and had a pretty stellar re-enactment of Rock v. Cena where
every other move was a Rock Bottom or Attitude Adjustment counter.
Thirdly, and most important, is the ability to control any of the
competitors at any given time. What this does is allow you to control
the flow of a match, to ensure back-and-forth fighting ensues to pop the
star-rating and to make sure “Gold Bolder”’s 15 match winning streak
doesn’t end on a fluke win by “Petrol” and his magical stun-gun of doom.
But even with the control of both wrestlers, and the referee,
unexpected results occur, especially if you’re counting on a quality
near-fall that never comes (switching to the pinning player and “letting
off the pin” doesn’t pop the crowd), or a big move gets countered into a
submission that results in an immediate and shocking tap out. The A.I is pretty great here, and on more than one occasion you’ll switch to playing as your opponent just to give the other guy a breather.

There’s also some light business management elements that will certainly become a bigger factor in gameplay as the updates are released (Mdickie has a way of updating his games like a mad-man. Wrestling Revolution today and when it was released are amazingly different), there’s backstage drama and politics to deal with (“Ripper Ace” came to me the other day and wanted to change his name to “Golden Balls” and, well, I had to let him because he had creative control), and it’s pretty amazing the whole shebang fits in your pocket. 
The game does have it’s share of issues – weird glitches, if you do a 3 person promo with two wrestlers the Ref acts like the world champion, sometimes wrestlers will intentionally get themselves DQed (which may be intentional) – and the game threw a weird bug (or intended consequence) where all my matches for one TV taping had to take place without a ring – which was incredibly annoying. I fully expect these bugs to be fixed, and more robust management / feuding elements to be implemented too – but regardless, the game is an absolute blast.

Simply put, with a little imagination on the player’s part Booking Revolution
becomes the quintessential wrestling game for wrestling fans. I know I’m
approaching Mick Foley/Tori Amos on the creepy scale, but what Mat
Dickie has done with this game is sort of profound – essentially showing
up every other wrestling game, ever, simply by rating your performance.
Wrestling is never about winning and losing, it’s about entertaining audiences,
and that’s what connects with people. This is why Caliber Winfield’s bizarre
star-ratings garner such scrutiny, and Scott Keith’s rating of Punk v.
Bryan from Over The Limit was quote unquote controversial, it’s why we
buy the PPVs, it’s why we complain Bryan is being held down while Triple
H gets to waddle around the ring with Brock Lesnar. We’re fans after
all, and we want to be entertained – and to be honest, with a little
logic and quality matches, it shouldn’t be that hard to do so.

Booking Revolution gives you a chance to prove it.

You can find MeekinOnMovies on Twitter at @MeekinOnMovies
and on Facebook at facebook.com/meekinonmovies
 

Movies Biopics about Wrestlers

Hello Mr. Keith.  I was a huge Benoit fan, and I always thought his career, culminating in his WM20 win, would have been a Great Story that an honest-to-god Movie can be made about.  Since he did what he did and that will never happen, and instead we are getting an entirely different movie, I was wondering who do you think has the career that can be made into a audience accessible film.  My Picks:


Vince McMahon: I wish i can have Aaron Sorkin write a script covering his purchasing of the territories, 80's boom, steroid trails, probably ending with his victory in the Monday Night Wars.  A lot to cover, but the man is quite the story

Paul Heyman/ECW: The documentary did very well, but in a company where the Boss had his table in the middle of a  lockeroom full of new guys, legends and crazies, i wouldn't even know where to begin

Mick Foley:  To me, this is my #1 pick, adapting from "Have a Nice Day".  The story of an out-of-shape Joe Shmo, starting in the smallest arenas, the strangest venues around the world, going through a lot, JAPAN MATCHES!, the stories from the road, a wide variety of friends, foes, bosses, gimmicks, marrying the model, ending achieving his dream winning the world title….the book is the screenplay.

Your thoughts?  And Dexter this year……WOW!!!!!


Dexter kind of fizzled out for me once they killed off the character who I will not spoil here.  It was going awesome and then turned into Serial Killer True Romance and the last few episodes weren't really ABOUT anything.  That said, the ending was a total gut-punch and a gamechanger, for sure.  
Anyway, I have long thought that a Vince movie was the money idea.  Rock was reportedly developing a Boogie Nights-style TV show about the 80s wrestling scene for NBC but that seems to have vanished.  But Vince himself is a such a character that you could easily do a movie about him. 
And I think, but don't quote me on this because I haven't had any caffeine this morning and could be totally out to lunch, that Ready to Rumble was supposed to originally be a loosely-adapted version of Mick Foley's life before it went completely off the rails during development.  It's been a long time but I thought that's what I had heard before it came out.  

Meekin On Movies On…Reality TV

The Unreality of Reality TV: An Opus

(Author’s
Note: As someone who has worked on his fair share of Reality TV, I
figured I could help explain the process that goes into making those
sorts of shows)

(Second Author’s note: The third part in the editing pro-wrestling series is on hold until I obtain the hard drive.)

Introduction

I’m
of the firm belief that reality TV is the new soap opera. It’s also the
new educational television. It’s also the new game show, geekshow, and
travel show.  As the world grows and changes and new forms of media and
entertainment obsolesce older ones, it’s becoming readily apparent that
audiences crave “reality”. “Pawn Stars” may be about history, but it’s
also about three tough-guys in Las Vegas. “No Reservations With Anthony
Bourdain” may be a travel show, but it’s also about one tough S.O.B’s
love of cooking, boozing, culture, and fun. “Keeping Up With The
Kardashians” may be a vapid, banal, and ultimately pointless show, but
it’s about four very real women who have very real lives and make very
real news.

But
how real is “reality”? Are Kim Kardashian and Co. secretly reading a
script outline before heading to shop for clothes? Has Rick from Pawn
Stars been told what he’s going to pay for a Civil War musket? Is
Anthony Bourdain’s attitude a function of the production? Well, the
question is complicated.

And I know the answer.

In
much the same way pro wrestling becomes infinitely more fascinating
once you’re “in the know”, Reality TV becomes a triumph of editing,
cinematography, directing and perhaps most importantly, producing once
you understand the process. It’s really easy to film a bunch of people
doing things and call it a reality show. It’s incredibly difficult to
coordinate meetings, locations, camera crews, and audio people and still
give the audience the feeling that they’re a fly on the wall at a lunch
between Harvey Pekar and Anthony Bourdain.

In
what I hope will be a successful series of articles, I hope to educate,
entertain, and explain the process that takes place when it comes to
shooting a reality television show. I will hit on the history of the
genre, the various sub-genres, and ultimately tackle the question of
whether, by and large, the genre is “real” or “fake” (Spoiler: Somewhere
in between).

I
will do this using the knowledge afforded to me by my fancy pants degree
in Television Production, my experience working on a variety of reality
TV shows, and for flavor, relay to you the times I was on “Jerry
Springer” and “The Judge Pirro” show – and how those shows bend
“reality” for the purposes of good television.

A
couple of notes here: I can’t 100 percent guarantee the factual
accuracy of my claims and research. It’s mostly coming from wikipedia
sources, my own common sense, and things I’ve read or heard throughout
the course of my life – plus I’m writing this for fun on a niche
pro-wrestling blog. So feel free to yell at me if I claim a show was
“groundbreaking” when an obscure show in Germany did the format first,
that’s cool,  but in general I’ll be writing this from the perspective
of the general consensus of American audiences. Sorry Canada.

But lets dive in.  

Part 1: History
Docusoaps, reality competition, and PBS ruined everything.


If
America felt so inclined, they could blame reality TV on PBS. In 1973,
“An American Family” aired on the Public Broadcasting System, compiling
300 hours of footage into a single 12 episode season. Initially intended
as a “fly on the wall” (or Cinema Verite) look in at your typical
American suburban family, the Louds, the filmmakers actually ended up
capturing something a bit more compelling – namely an affair by the
patriarch of the Loud clan, and one of the Loud family’s sons coming out
as a homosexual (and became the first openly gay “character” on
television). Safe to say, this was some pretty spicy stuff. Due in part
to this unexpected drama, the show was a smash.

The press wasn’t as enamored. This article from “The New Yorker” features
a few particularly brutal highlights from the contemporary press’s
reaction to the show at the time, with charming insights like referring
to the gay son (Lance) as  “camping and queening about like a pathetic
court jester, a Goya-esque emotional dwarf.”

The
Loud family weren’t pleased about how this whole thing turned out,
either. At the time, the Louds claimed the footage was unethically
edited to make their lives more compelling, to focus on the “drama” and
“negative” aspects of their lives at the expense of how things played
out in reality (sound familiar?).

Creative
editing is a staple of the documentary process, and is probably the
most important tool in turning hours of footage into a compelling
30-minute TV show. Take a look at this silly trailer I made for my family and friends (Yes I know about the typo).
Judging by the trailer you’d assume my life was filled with parties,
booze, kittens, marijuana, and bald-spots. While this is a trailer and
not an actual reality show, it’s safe to say that if you watched that
trailer and didn’t know me or my family, you’d assume we’re a bunch of
party animals. What you don’t see are the numerous weird looks I got
from following my friends and family around with the camera, and endless
amount of boring footage of me driving in my car or filming birds. To
keep things entertaining, you need to cut the fat – even if the finished
product is less than a true-to-life interpretation. Unfortunately it’s
the price of doing business.   
Equally
as unfortunate – the aftermath for the Loud family wasn’t pretty. The
aforementioned Lance Loud eventually became addicted to Meth, and died
from HIV at the age of 50. It was filmed for a PBS special in 2001.
Whether or not being America’s first “Reality” TV family contributed to
the downfall of the Louds will never be answered. Was the scrutiny of
the media, and the camera, and the american public so much that it was
impossible for the family to ever be normal again? Who knows.

But
lets fast forward two decades when MTV green lights “The Real World” –
which took a similar approach to “An American Family” but replaced a
single American family with angsty young adults from all walks of life –
throwing them into a house with limited bedrooms and ample alcohol. It
debuted in 1993 and has thus far produced well over 500 episodes. It
covered a whole bunch of taboo topics including homophobia, racism, HIV,
homosexuality, domestic abuse, and how much coconut rum it takes to put
a person into a diabetic coma (lots).

While
the series initially started as a fascinating social-experiment, as the
show went on (and audience numbers waned) it morphed into a combative,
sexually charged, vulgar, and trashy ghost of what “The Real World” once
was. The hyper-charged “Docusoap” was born.  

Which
brings us to the Heisenberg effect, which more-or-less states that the
very act of observing something changes the outcome. Did the Loud family
change their actions or act differently because cameras were
documenting their every move? Did Lance Loud become addicted to the
fame, and when it was gone, replace that addiction with Meth and
unprotected gay sex? You can’t really say.  

What
I can say with some authority is that the cast-mates on “The Real
World” (at least the newer seasons) are very obviously playing to the
camera, supercharging fights, partying, and their perceived “personas”
in an attempt to be the most engaging and outlandish personality in the
house. Controversy creates cash, after all.  

“The
Real World” ultimately begat “Road Rules” which was essentially “The
Real World” on wheels. It followed a buncha people in a giant winnebago
as they competed in challenges in an attempt to win a prize of some
sort. The shows would regularly cross over for the “Real World / Road
Rules Challenge” which unintentionally invented (or popularized) the
concept of a “Reality TV All Star” and the sub-genre “Reality
Competition”.

Both
the “The Real World” and “Road Rules” helped pioneer the use of the
“confession cam” where the show’s “characters” would talk directly into
the camera about their situation, their roommates, and a variety of
other subjects. In fact it’s impossible to watch any reality TV show
these days and not see a confession cam. It is here that the line
between reality and Reality ® blurs.

These
confessional interviews are generally made to look like off-the-cuff
comments. Very often, however, there are producers encouraging the cast
to speak about a specific subject, person, or event in the household,
often times not-so-subtly suggesting ways a cast member can incite drama
or rage amongst his house-mates. These sorts of conversations between
producers and cast members are instrumental in creating “quality”
“reality” television for the masses.

Ultimately
“The Real World” and “An American Family” paved the way for the
sub-genre of reality TV that is largely responsible for the trashy
stigma associated with the format. From “The Real World” you can pull
out well over a dozen shows that have used a similar format, or opted to
follow a select group of people during their day-to-day lives. There is
no “Jersey Shore” without “The Real World”.

“Docusoap”
Reality TV is popular and ever-present for a few reasons. First of all
it’s far cheaper to produce than most forms of television entertainment –
a 26 week run of “The Real World” is likely shot in a little over a
month or two, where as a standard drama or sitcom takes 7-10 days to
shoot and edit a single episode in addition to months of pre-production.
Additionally there is a sense of fidelity that comes with watching
“real” people do outlandish things. It’s far easier to become engrossed
in the acts of a “real” person who jumped into a pool naked with two
bottles of tequila in her hands than it is to invest in the antics of
Ray Romano on a set with a canned laugh track.    

But
to really understand what made Reality TV is what it is today, we need
to get tropical. “Survivor” debuted in the summer of 2000 and was an
immediate smash and cultural phenomenon. It averaged about 28 million
viewers per episode, with the finale pulling in just north of 50 million
eyeballs (well technically 100 million eyeballs). By comparison the
Super Bowl that year was watched by about 88 million folks.

Hell, it’s 12 years later and people still know who Richard Hatch is and I had to look up who played in the 2000 Superbowl.

Following
“Survivor” reality TV was off to the races. American Idol, Big Brother,
The Bachelor Fear Factor, Dancing With The Stars, The Surreal Life, and
about six dozen other shows ushered in the era of competition reality
television. MTV launched “Making the Band” which combined the theatrics
of “The Real World” with the competition element of “American Idol”.

There
was a reality sub-genre for everyone. “Project Greenlight” appealed to
our inner filmmakers, “Last Comic Standing” for our funny bone, “The
Bachelor” for our inner romantic, “Joe Millionaire” for our cynic, and
so on. One part human drama, one part game show, it was easy to see why
these shows attracted massive audiences – some became invested in “the
game”, others in the people, and most, if I had to guess, watched these
shows as guilty pleasures. By and large, these shows are…okay.
“Dancing With The Stars” might as well be America’s personal USO show,
and after 12 years “Survivor” is so slick it’s impossible to *not* be
enthralled by the challenges, locations, characters, and competition.

As
Reality TV boomed like never before, chances and experiments were taken
regularly. A&E launched a show about the day-to-day lives of
Airport employees, as well as a show about the workers at a funeral
home, they also launched the delightfully trashy “Dog The Bounty Hunter”
in 2004. Discovery Channel chimed in with “American Chopper” in 2003,
and followed it up with the incredibly popular “Deadliest Catch” in
2005. The “workplace reality show” was coming into it’s own – and as the
2000s turned to the 2010’s, they’d come to dominate the reality TV
landscape.


Next time:

The “unreality” of “reality” – The tricks of the trade you won’t notice unless someone tells you about them, and the ethics behind them.

Also: the creation of “reality” – inside my production documents for my own reality TV show, “The Good Samaritan”

Meekin On Movies On…WWE 13′

Wrestling
games have always been a curious genre. They’ve always treated matches
as if they’re actual athletic competitions, where one guy is attempting
to beat the other guy within an inch of his life and pin him or make him
submit. This is problematic since we all know that a real pro-wrestling
match is more akin to a heavily muscled dance number than an actual
fight (though they both get colorful outfits) and the excitement of a
match – innovative moves, heightened drama, near falls – are all but
absent in the “wrestling is real” gameplay model because simply put, the
better you are, the shorter and less fun your matches will be,
especially against the historically brain-dead AI you find in wrestling
games.  

However,
when played against a human friend “in the know”, as you’d say, the WWE
games become a transformative experience. Booking dream matches,
winning titles, and getting immersed in the not-quite-fiction of the WWE
universe, makes you feel like a kid again. On that front “WWE 13’” is
awesome. There are numerous gameplay improvements for long-time fans,
including the ability to fight on the announcers table, counter top rope
moves with finishers, a bevy of new superstars (Jericho!) and some of
the iffy collision detection is gone, too. But for wrestling fans who
are absent a friend to get their smackdown on with, alas, you may be in
for an all-too-familiar single player experience.

To
combat this, THQ has taken a quantity over quality approach to this
year’s single player offerings. “WWE 13’”’s big feature is the inclusion
of the “Attitude Era” mode. Stone Cold, Kane, Shawn Michaels, The Rock,
Mankind, British Bulldog, X-Pac, and Bret Hart are all present and
accounted for, as the mode takes you through a somewhat disjointed and
slightly modified version of the events that made WWF programming a
major success in the late 90s.

I
say disjointed because some of the story is told via Full motion
videos, others through in-game cut scenes, and most of it through boring
old text. It’s pretty obvious the FMV stuff was culled from an upcoming
DVD release by the WWE (Hey look at that),
the in-game cutscenes (which use real audio) are largely a mess because
they have to bleep the F in WWF every couple of seconds, and the text
is, well, text.  The problem with this mode is that anyone playing it is
likely already intimately familiar with this epoch in WWE’s history,
and it will feel like a hollow, cliff-notes retelling of the moments
they lived through every Monday night adorned in their “Austin 3:16”
shirts a little over a decade ago. There’s nothing in the mode that’s
particularly enthralling or exciting, or innovative, and at its core
it’s a series of matches against the same crappy AI that makes your
typical pro-wrestling game a slog.

But
that’s not to say they didn’t give it the old college try. There’s tons
of content to explore in the “Attitude Era” mode, and having specific
objectives to accomplish in-match shakes things up and provides a
challenge that’s generally absent from matches against CPU opponents.
And yes, there’s a bit of a rush in re-living Stone Cold’s Wrestlemania 14
win over Shawn Michaels, or throwing Mick Foley off the Hell In a Cell,
but much like comedy, wrestling is less exciting the second time around.

The
Universe mode is a bit better, as the game will throw new matches and
stipulations and storylines at you as you run through the events of a
typical WWE year. This mode is wholly customizable. You can assign
wrestlers to either Raw or Smackdown, make new shows, bring in the
legends you’ve unlocked, create belts, and if you’re anything like me,
disband the Diva’s division as quickly as humanly possible. Universe
mode has potential. But there is nothing to bring you back after a few
matches, simply because there’s no goal.  

There’s
nothing to keep gamers attached to this game. Sure, there are graphical
improvements, audio improvements, new moves and new match types, but
everything comes off feeling like a novelty simply because there is no
compelling feature that challenges you to put it all together in an
exciting and rewarding way unless you’re playing ad-hoc with a friend.

So,
yes, “WWE 13’” is the ultimate playground for Pro Wrestling fans.
There’s dozens of wrestlers, hundreds of unlockables, and a nearly
endless combination of match and arena customization options that should
make your inner Vince McMahon squeal in glee. If you’re a fan, it’s
entirely possible to get lost in this content for hours. 

But, before you
slap that whole “WWE 13’ is the ultimate playground” thing on the back
of a box, or make it the headline over at metacritic, let me be clear by
stating that I do not *want* my wrestling games to be a playground. I
(and I suspect other gamers) want an obstacle course. Yes, Attitude Era
and Universe is fun, but it requires a great deal of imagination to
continue to play that mode without feeling a bit like an idiot – simply
because there is no goal – seriously, when was the last time you had the
urge to go to a playground by yourself?

Despite the popularly held belief that the N64’s “WWF No Mercy” is the Best Wrestling Game of All Time ® The illustrious title actually
belongs to a little known indie pro wrestling game “Booking MPire” (and
it’s sequel Booking Remix) developed by one dude in England named Matt
Dickie. “Booking Mpire” while graphically low res, was (and is still)
years beyond anything THQ has put out in the past decade. “Booking
Mpire” put you in charge of one the several not-quite-real-life
wrestling promotions, and told you to run the show. Book matches, deal
with egos, make money, use that money to sign popular wrestlers, use the
popular wrestlers to make less popular wrestlers more popular, have
good matches with said wrestlers, all the while trying not to get anyone
killed, maimed, or blown up in the process. It was (and is) wrestling
game nirvana.

Why? because it challenged you to succeed in all aspects of the
pro-wrestling business. Yes, the meat of the game involved having
matches between wrestlers and attempting to win, but you also had to
take wrestler health and (most importantly) match excitement into
consideration, as well – it wouldn’t be uncommon to switch between
competitors to pull off an exciting top rope dive to the outside, or a
powerbomb through a table to boost the match rating. THQ actually had a
“match rating” in its ill-fated “GM Mode” during the “Smackdown! Vs. Raw
years”, but it’s sadly been removed, thus giving gamers very little to
work toward in the Universe mode.

But
I digress. These are just the musings of a lifelong wrestling fan who
has no one to play his wrestling game with. All my criticisms melt away
if I had a friend to bash some skulls with. If you’re a parent wondering
if this is a good investment for your wrestling fan kids, or a gamer
(with friends that like wrestling) wondering if enough has been upgraded
to warrant a purchase, the answer is definitely a Yes! Yes! Yes!

(that was so cheesy I could not resist) 

Why no WWE Jericho movies

Long time listener, first time caller: with all the generally crappy movies the WWE puts out in a given year, and given that Chris Jericho has, y'know, some modicum of actual acting talent, why hasn't Jericho been in a WWE production yet?  Is he more about the music nowadays, or just not interested/too smart to spend three months shooting some crappy action/comedy film that's going to go straight to video?


Thanks and keep up the good work as always.

I think Jericho's very protective of his own brand and wouldn't want a project where he didn't have control.  

Meekin On Movies #2

Movie: AdventureLand
So I’d be lying if there wasn’t some subconscious urge that drove me to see Adventureland again. From just moving back home after College, to visiting my local theme park Canobie Lake Park in Salem New Hampshire, to recently having one of those unrequited romances that never end the way they do in the movies, something inside me, my soul, my brain, my love of Jesse Eisenberg’s Jew-Fro, or whatever, drove me to seek out and watch Adventureland again.
woops.  
I had previously seen the flick at the height of my college optimism. I was producing my own TV show, going places and doing things, and was a hopeless romantic madly in love with someone I was certain to never have. I found myself taken with the romance and setting, but to be honest I didn’t pay all that much attention to it the first time around.
However, after moving back home and having student loans and The Amazing Spider-Man tear away what few shreds of innocence I had left, I felt it was time to revisit Greg Mottola’s Adventureland in a more objective light.
A bit of background: Adventureland was largely marketed as a thematic follow-up to Superbad. The trailer was raunchy and ribald, and really seemed to make the movie appear like a feel-good coming of age comedy. Despite this, the movie underperformed at the box office, only taking in roughly sixteen million dollars during its entire theatrical run, not exactly Superbad money.
Anyway, Adventureland is set in 1987 as James (Jesse Eisenberg) graduates from college, is forced to move back home, and gets a job working at a local amusement park. There he meets a colorful cast of characters including the owners Bobby (Bill Hader) and Paulette (Kristen Wiig), Pipe smoking Joel (Martin Starr), and the slouchy and largely boring Em (Kristen Stewart). Also in the mix is the attractive Lisa P (Margarita Levieva), and Ryan Reynolds as the douchebag we’ve all met before, Mike, the carnival’s mechanic. Eventually James falls for Emma and they embark on a tumultuous romance that is made more difficult by Mike, who is currently sleeping with Em. And Em just can’t say no to him, because, uh, well, he’s Ryan Reynolds and junk, or something.
If you’re confused about names and actors, that’s okay, as thankfully, since everyone is largely two-dimensional, characters are coded by appearance. Jesse with the Jew-Fro, Mike with the Guitar, Joel with the long hair, Lisa P with a perm and bubble gum, and Bill Hader with a manly, manly, mustache.  
On paper, the plot itself is fine. Nerdy Jesse Eisenberg likes damaged-but-beautiful Kristen Stewart, they make out, they have a falling out, then get back together to live happily ever after. You could list off a dozen movies with similar plots involving nerdy love, including Mottola’s own, far sweeter, Superbad. What’s important to making this sort of plot believable is characterization, tone, setting, and most importantly, entertainment value of the proceedings. Astonishingly, Adventureland manages to misfire on all of them. First, characterization is way off. Jesse Eisenberg’s James is portrayed as a male Betty-sue. At the beginning of the film, a point is made to illustrate he’s a virgin. Typically this would signify the character is a dork, or shy, or at the very least not very good with the ladies. But instead, he’s smart, witty, majored in comparative literature, and manages to have two beautiful women throw themselves at him throughout the course of the movie.
Maybe it was mis-casting, but I do not, for a second, buy Jesse Eisenberg as the kind of confident, smug, smarter than everyone else in the room sort of character, who’s also apt to make a move on someone like Kristen Stewart after a somber car-ride where they listen to some real deep 80’s tracks. Why is he a virgin again?
By and large Kristen Stewart exists to be, well, Kristen Stewart. Her trademark slouch and disaffected stare are here in full-force, and she continues to strike me as the kind of girl they sing about in Everclear songs. She too is smart, but also has to contend with her parents, specifically her step-mom who, as Em puts it “Is a status obsessed witch” (which is an actual line from the movie, not one I took from Degrassi).
A point is made to show that everyone important is smart. Everyone. At one point Kristen Stewart goes all ape-shit on some chick that rejects long-haired Joel for being Jewish. She tears into this girl by asking if she “supports apartheid” and hates gay people, too. This being 1987 and in the middle of Aids epidemic notwithstanding, this is another moment in the film that shows characters are too smart for their own good, and too perfect to be rooted for. Another example is that long-haired, pipe-smoking Joel, who majored in Russian Literature and Slavic Languages. Why I don’t know. At one point there’s a big discussion about the metaphor of Moby Dick between him and James, and it feels like a giant “we are smarter than you” moment.
This is magnified by the fact that any and all characters that aren’t “smart” are cartoons. Lisa P serves her purpose as a sex object and gateway to 80’s music and style. James’ former best friend, Tommy, goes around being an asshole and whacking everybody in the nuts, and Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig’s roles are largely that of bumpkin-esque comic relief. Due to this, the movie seems to inadvertently convey this concept that if you’re not all high-minded about literature and miserable about the world, you’re an idiot or an asshole.
The second oopsie is in the way the plot of the movie was handled given the expected tone and setting of the source material. By and large a theme park is a romantic place. There are lights and colors and rides and little nooks and crannies for folks to hang out in and do whatever naughty business they see fit. I think probably everyone has made out with a girl/boy at the top of a Ferris wheel, or held a girl / boy’s  hand as you went over the first big hill of a roller coaster (Toby Keith’s best song is about this very thing!). It would take a real special kind of magic mushroom to make this setting seem dull and uninteresting.
Outside of one sequence toward the end of the movie where a couple of characters are hopped up on goofballs, pretty much everything that occurs in this movie happens in the most boring way possible. Characters sitting and talking. Characters walking and talking. Characters driving and talking. Characters standing and talking to a sitting character. And on, and on, and on, and on. Nothing in this movie seems fun and exciting. And what’s worse, I think that was the point. Maybe it’s because it was shot in the middle of January and everyone was cold and annoyed. Who knows?
If I had to venture a guess, Adventureland is a largely autobiographical story, probably about how Mr. Mottola saw himself at that age, and is either something that happened to him, or something that almost happened to him, and he changed the real life ending to give himself the girl he never got IRL. Another good example of this sort of filmmaking would be The Art Of Getting By which really comes off as porno for the pseudo intellectual. When you see something like this, it typically means the Director has taken a right turn down Self-indulgence Boulevard. Mottola probably hated working in that theme park, but like any good writer kept banking ideas for that screenplay he’d write one day about how boring and awful and miserable it really is. It felt like Mottola’s goal in this film was to make a theme park appear boring and monotonous. Which he achieves expertly. Good for him, bad for audiences.
This monotony of the theme park permeates the entire tone of the film. The romance between James and Em is matter-of-fact, and grounded in a sort of droll mutual attraction that we never really quite figure out because it’s just assumed from the trailers and posters they’d fall in love. Question: What’s the more romantic scene?
This one from Sam Rami’s Spider-man
Or this one from Adventureland
Keep in mind that Spider-man had to also be an action movie, whereas Adventureland was focused solely on the romantic entanglements of its protagonists. And, again, I think this was the express point of the movie. To create a romantic comedy with somber romance and comedy that comes from characters humiliating themselves. To quote Homer Simpson “Just because I don’t care, doesn’t mean I don’t understand.”
what I don’t understand, however, is why everyone needs to be dark and miserable in what could be a largely exciting setting. I understand the urge to avoid being hokey and nostalgic for the time, but that’s what audiences are going to expect from a movie set in a fucking theme park! Do you think a single person went to this movie hoping and praying someone would *finally* take the piss out of theme parks? Ang Lee’s Taking Woodstock did the exact same thing, taking the magic out of the event, when audiences went to the theater specifically to experience the magic of Woodstock.
This would all be okay if the movie actually had the balls to have an ending that fits with reality established by the film. Which it does not. The movie spends the majority of time making everyone miserable and understated, and it just screams out for one of those endings like in About Schmidt or Up In The Air or Chasing Amy where our protagonist doesn’t get what they wanted, but learns a greater life lesson (like maybe how to smile?). But instead James and Em magically rendezvous in New York and appear to live contently ever after, thus making this entire ego driven exercise a fairytale.  If you were the kind of guy Jesse Eisenberg is in this movie – sheepish, smart, neurotic, and smug, and followed the girl of your dreams to New York City, you would be greeted with a restraining order.
Ultimately this movie is so bland it’s practically a flat line. The entertainment value is practically non-existent. It’s literally the anti-summer-romance movie not a single person has been clamoring for. But again, this was probably the point of the movie. Greg Mottola isn’t a bad director, and his work on The Newsroom and Arrested Development was pretty excellent. Just the entire thing seems like an exercise in righting the wrongs of his youth, or something. 
This movie is a smart person movie. If you’re someone who slogged through a shift at wal-mart one summer, turning your nose up at everyone that came through, hating the people, the work, and location, this could be a movie for you.
(Also I just had a horrible vision of the reboot of Spider-man with Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart in the Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone roles and I almost puked – this was probably closer to happening then we think).
—Interlude—
Confession Time:
My initial plan for this week was to attempt to review both Adventureland, then do a retrospective on Rollercoaster Tycoon (which is a classic). However, with Adventureland pissing me off to such a great degree that the very thought of a rollercoaster had me considering wrist-slitting, I decided to write about something Adventureland was greatly lacking: Humanity.
Plug Time:
My Blog
My Facebook Fan Page
My Tweeter
Is Wrestling’s closest “real” sport comparison Figure Skating? Yup.
Game: The Best Feature of Grand Theft Auto IV.
This is the best feature of Grand Theft Auto IV
(For those of you who are reading this at work, that’s a video of several of the drunken dialogs you can have in the game with various secondary characters. They are all thoroughly entertaining and absolutely worth playing the game again to experience.)
I know, I know. Sprawling world, lots of guns, fast cars, eastern European war criminals, the ability to go virtual bowling on a whim, and I’m here to tell you the best feature of Grand Theft Auto IV is the ability to get hammered with virtual friends. But it is. Part of the challenge in creating a “living, breathing, world” (Rockstar’s Trademark) was making you care about the people in the game. GTA IV did this by writing some of the most human dialog in videogame history.
The folks at Rockstar had always succeeded in writing memorable characters, in fact we could all do a little thought experiment right now, endeavoring to picture in our mind’s eye the protagonists of the three PS2 GTA games. In an instant a color palette springs to mind for each. The black and grays of GTA III, the neon blues and purples of Vice City, and the sun bleached sands and greens of San Andreas’ ghetto.
In fact putting Tommy Vercetti in an hawaiian shirt was probably the key to making Vice City one of the most visually iconic games of the PS2 era.
But these characters were ultimately B-movie anti-heroes. While the characters and visuals are seared into our memories like that time you’re not allowed to talk about, the plots of these games are, much like Jr. Prom night, largely forgettable. And that’s perfectly fine. Often times the plot of an action movie doesn’t matter much.
Example from a movie:
The Avengers was a quintessential summer blockbuster. It’s high on melodrama, humor, exciting visuals, sharp dialog and pretty ladies. it’s also careful not to smell it’s own farts. It’s on the border of tongue-in-cheek, content to throw in fan service in appropriate places, and really did feel like a 1960’s comic book brought to life in the modern era.
The plot is nearly negligible. If we play the same “close your eyes” game from above and think about The Avengers, does anything about an interdimensional portal or scenes involving Loki strategizing really spring to mind? Of course not, and it’s perfectly fine.
It’s a lot like that scene in Almost Famous where Lester Bangs tells William Miller that The Band were poets because they had the courage to be drunken idiots. The Avengers had the courage to be a dumb action movie, committing to entertaining audiences by being just this side of winking at the camera, and comes out better then any of the three big comic book movies this summer for it.
By and large, the plots in the first GTA games were largely unimportant to the style and grandeur of the proceedings. The homages to other movies and pop culture were obvious and intentional, and that was okay and exciting in the same way “Ted” and “Family Guy” are largely reliant on your ability to be a pop-culture sponges and get every reference, and Avengers was largely predicated on the “Awesome” factor.
However, with Grand Theft Auto IV the folks at Rockstar decided to attempt a real drama. The Great American Tragedy so to speak. Not content to produce pulpy games, Rockstar invented a new physics engine, pushed consoles to the bring in terms of graphical fidelity, and attempted to bring a mature and nuanced story to a proudly sophomoric franchise.
Whether or not Grand Theft Auto IV succeeded in this is up for debate. I think it should get credit for being the first game in my opinion to truly present the kind of interactive experience only console games can provide. Specifically when it comes to characterization. Hours of dialog were recorded between Roman, Packie, Malorie, Florian, and others for the express purpose of exploring their personalities, wants, needs, and dreams. And you discover it all when characters annoyingly call you up to go bowling or go see a show.
The dialog between Niko and whatever cohort you’re taking out for a night on the town is fun, insightful, entertaining, and most importantly, human. Packie talks like a mick from Boston who found his way to NYC. Roman is a lovable and annoying cousin who is grateful you’re there, but sort of annoyed at the great amount of chaos your presence has caused in his life. Formerly incarcerated Dwayne talks openly about life in Prison and how horrible it was. Heck, even the random women you date can provide some insight into Niko’s character and the way he related to women and humanity.
The conversations had in the car rides to and from various friend activities is a feature of GTAIV that is sadly under appreciated. these moments are when you get inside of the characters heads, and it truly allows you immerse yourself in the great GTA fiction.
If, of course, that’s what you’re there for.
Some people play these games to go on ridiculous sprees, driving around crashing into things, and that’s perfectly acceptable. In that case, getting a phone call from cousin Roman every couple of in-game hours can be annoying and distracting to the overall experience. Then again the game does let you shut off calls like this in the phone menu. Of all the things in GTAIV to complain about, this is the one most often mocked by gaming journalists and fans of the game. Claiming it to be annoying or not in the spirit of the franchise.
But as gaming progresses from its roots of geometric outlines shooting other geometric outlines to the current generation of heavily armored soldiers shooting other heavily armored soldiers, for this platform to become an artform, folks are going to have to get used to being annoyed, disliking characters, or having responsibilities in-game that add to the ultimate experience, but may not be as entertaining. The point of having these relationships in GTAIV is to make you feel like a part of this world, and yeah, I think, to dissuade you from enjoying the game strictly as Homicidal Mania: The Game.
Personally, I like it that way.
10 thoughts about stuff:
1. I love the scene in The Shawshank Redemption when The Warden takes innocent inmate Andy Dufresne’s bible during a cell shakedown and hands it back, saying “Salvation lies within”. And then, literally, it did. I of course refer to the scene toward the end of the movie when the warden opens the bible and finds that Andy had hidden his rock hammer (and salvation) *in* the Holy Bible the warden had in his hands.
2. Speaking of The Shawshank Redemption, this video by Famous Last Nerds is quite possibly the greatest thing on the internet: Shawshank In A Minute
3. I know Mick Foley made a point in his book about how he never smoked pot or even drank a lot, but there was something cooky going on the with guy during Raw1000, or he didn’t want to show up Funkasaurus. Either way, not a fan of the cameo from my favorite wrestler of all time.
4. Does anyone here play “The Price is Right” facebook game? It’s incredible.
5. I cannot believe that facebook chain letter about getting Christian Bale to visit kids in Aurora worked. This is surely the high / low point of all memes in the history of the universe. Yes, greater than “Arrow To The Knee” working it’s way into an episode of NCIS.
6. The Rock looks like George Takei.
7. Undertaker looks like Mike from Breaking Bad
8. Back to Shawshank for a second, the novella “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” in Stephen King’s Different Seasons is an incredibly fun read in its own right, and is included in the Anthology that includes Apt Pupil (made into a movie by Bryan Singer of all people) and The Body (which later went on to be “Stand By Me”).
9.  I think everything on the internet should be more like this: Batman: the Dark Knights best and worst animation edition
and this: Difficulty with Duality: The Batman films of Tim Burton & Joel Shumacher
and this: Red Letter Media’s Star Wars Reviews
(Seriously, I spent 4 years in film school, 6 months working with Roger Ebert, and somehow The Red Letter Media reviews of Star Wars / Star Trek  stuck with me more than either of those things from a film criticism perspective)
10. Three Netflix picks:
1. Parenthood – A great, warm, fun, TV series from the guy who was pretty much responsible for making the last 2 seasons of “Friday Night Lights” watchable. Dax Shepard steals the show.
2. Breaking Bad – An excellent rollercoaster ride. There are no bad episodes. Bryan Cranston owns every scene he’s in, and once lovable criminal lawyer Saul Goodman makes his way into the mix, you’re watching what is quite possibly the most wall-to-wall entertaining TV show on air right now.
3. Stone Cold Steve Austin: The Bottom Line on the Most Popular Superstar of All Time – Probably the best in house wrestling documentary WWE has ever produced, the two and a half hour documentary is eye opening and exciting to watch for fans of wrestling who “came of age” during the attitude era and feel like getting their nostalgia on. For all intents and purposes it seems that Stone Cold is a pretty down to earth fellah who happened into the biggest phenomenon in pro wrestling history. Believe it or not my favorite part of the documentary is the discussion of Stone Cold’s ill-fated heel turn. “Well, I thought it could work”.
Anyone else notice how every single one of these documentaries end with the requisite “movie career” plug? Big Show, Orton, Rock, Edge, and Stone Cold’s DVDs all end the same way.
The Rock is the exception here, since that entire DVD is essentially a big circle jerk about the fact that the WWE actually produced a real, honest-to-goodness, B list movie star.
Next Time:
Seth McFarlane, Family Guy, and how Ted is somehow the most heartwarming movie of the year. 
Plus: The Witcher 2: Enhanced Edition. The best Polish J-RPG of all time.

Tryout: Meekin On Movies

@MeekinOnMovies On Gaming Ego Trippin’ “If I’m going to have a past, it might as well be multiple choice” – The Joker “The Killing Joke” I’ve been pretty sick of things lately. Most recently I’ve been working a marathon (for me) 60 hour work week marathon, where every day I get up at 6, drive to work, tool around for 8 hours, drive home, and barely have enough energy to get out of the car before taking a nap, waking up for a couple of hours, then going to bed and doing it all over again. During these relatively mundane and soul crushing portions of my life that are becoming more and more common with each passing year, I tend to seek out gaming experiences from my youth to dally around with in my fleeting spare time. Now, sure, my youth included all the gooey Nintendo goodness us gamers have come to expect. Mario and Link and Donkey Kong and I think I may have lost my virginity to Samus in a dream once, but these experiences are all mostly tests of skills and reflex, and even Link’s most devious puzzles mostly involve putzing around Hyrule until you figure out what specifically you’re supposed to do. I wanted something more, and always had. As a kid I think the thing I typed into google most was “Free Games”. Eventually after what I am sure were countless sites that loaded my computer with enough Malware to create a “Firefly” MMO, I stumbled across HOTU.ORG, or The Home Of The Underdogs. And this place was loaded with the games I never thought existed. If you’ve never played “Starflight” or “Colonization” or any of the games from the early days of PC gaming, boy you are missing out. it was on Home Of The Underdogs that I stumbled across probably my favorite non-game game of all time, 1986’s Alter Ego. For the uninformed, who is probably everyone, Alter Ego is a text based life simulator that’s based on actual psychological concepts and coded and designed by an actual doctor. With a degree and stuff, Peter J. Favaro . As a result it’s sort of a ‘choose your own adventure’ with a heart and some science behind it. It’s written deliciously, too, with a charm and rapier wit that reminds me of the kind of thing that made everyone so wet for the Harry Potter series. In fact I think it’s the only text based adventure game where a baby’s first words are spelled phonetically over the course of 4 screens. The game starts out by having you select male or female. Not quite ready to cross *that* particular final frontier yet, I selected male and answered a series of about 30 true or false questions pertaining to my personality. “Do you get the urge to touch signs that say wet paint” “I typically do as my parents say” and other questions you’d probably get if you were under psychiatric evaluation at a local prison. By this point in the game you’re either bored off your ass or thoroughly intrigued. If you’re a gamer who wants more “game” in their games, you’ll probably take one look at the white on black type, notice the lack of guns, military personnel, and online multiplayer, and hightail it for the closest FPS you can get your pudgy little hands on. This is not a game for the impatient, or even the logical. Instead, what Alter Ego offers is a series of loosely connected vignettes, which all add to your alter ego’s score and spheres. As you age, you gain points in various attributes: physical, social, aggressiveness, and a couple of more all go a long way to informing the way your character will act in a given situation. If you have a low social sphere and try out for a school play, the odds are you’ll be booed off the stage and whisked back to the chess club where you probably belong, dork. Similarly if you have a habit of disagreeing with your parents throughout your youth, and suddenly decide to empathize with them, they will be suspicious of your motives. Part of the problem with most life simulators such as ‘The Sims’, for example, is that if you play those games as they’re meant to be played, they pretty accurately reflect the utter monotony and quiet desperation that is day-to-day life. barely enough time in the day to eat, bathe, clean and work, let alone throw a party, learn to play guitar, buy a chemistry set or socially interact. And if we’re being honest here, in that game after I spent 45 minutes creating a character I wanted to look and act just like me, my first social interactions were met with the encouraging messages “Sue-ann thinks Paul is being awkward” and “Sue-ann is uncomfortable”. Depressing. Of course, I’m probably one of three people who attempted playing ‘The Sims’ game for keeps. Practically everyone else cheats at it, gives themselves the most money, the biggest house, maxes out their happiness, and generally scams the system to the point where really the game ought to be called “White Trash Wish Fulfillment: The Game”. Not that I’m any less guilty. I still remember the password for 50k simoleans. (It’s Rosebud.) Alter Ego avoids this by boiling life down to its essence: Social interactions, romantic interactions, and the various moments of truth that really define all our lives. it becomes an eye opening experience. Many a time I have played this game “as myself” answering questions honestly, only to find the moment when I acted against the type of person I am, blow up in my face. Especially since certain events can be fatal (for example in one game I stupidly approached a car offering free candy and was promptly raped and murdered), the effort required to play the game and succeed becomes its own reward. And, then, well, I was humming along in my little Alter Ego life, toiling away in school for Social Services because it was always an interest of mine, dating some chick named Cathy I didn’t really care too much about, when BAM, I won 500 thousand dollars and instantly stopped caring about the choices I would make, or the game in general. I had “rosebuded” without meaning too! Up until this point I was invested, eagerly pondering every possible outcome, attempting to be the best me I could be in the terms of the game. And at that point, I was pretty much me: Creative, a touch anti-social but overly sympathetic toward everyone, a “real character” as the game said. And now it didn’t matter anymore. But now, it seemed, none of that mattered, because I was rich, bitch. But now, as I finish up this article after nap, I am very curious to see what kind of person I would be if I had all the money in the world. Guess there’s only one way to find out. *http://www.playalterego.com/*