On the Marvel Cinematic Universe

After watching a bit of the first Avengers movie tonight, it kind of struck me: this is the most ambitious and fairly insane venture in the history of the cinematic medium. The first 10 or so movies in the MCU have been successful, especially considering the first Avengers movie, but to expect 25 or more films, most of which will have a budget of 150 million dollars or so, to all make a return on their investment...it's fairly amazingly ballsy. No one really knows if Benedict Cumberbatch is going to make a Dr. Strange movie actually work, assuming that 20 million people are actually willing to pay to see a Dr. Strange movie. Will people show up to to a Black Panther or a Captain Marvel or an Inhumans movie if they're not familiar with the characters? Can marketing overcome the knowledge shortfall here four or five times in a row? Was Guardians of the Galaxy an outlier or an indicator that Disney's marketing team really knows what they're doing and can keep it up for the next decade?

It's weird. It's totally weird. Disney's making what is maybe the biggest gamble in the history of motion pictures, and they're quite literally betting billions of dollars on something that might not play out. I pretty much love everything they've done with the Marvel Universe so far, but it's easy to see how people might get tired of event comic movies in a year or two. I'm sure there are people at Disney who are taking some nuclear-grade ulcer medicine at the moment as they have to commit the hundreds of millions of dollars to these movies years before they're actually made. Good for them. Life in the movie business is based on risks, and they're doing their best to mitigate or play those risks as they come along.

Anyway: Age of Ultron. I liked that movie. I want to see it again. It was a bit long for my tastes, but I'll pay good money to see it twice before it leaves theaters. That's what I wanted to say here. Here's an image from a Box Office Winner's League that I didn't wind up posting because I was busy.

You and I remember Budapest very differently.

33 Comments

Box Office Winner's League: Furry-ous 7

It's that time again!

If any of you were around for the old days at Screened, you'll recall that we used to run a contest called Box Office Winners League when we got the feeling to do so. It's a simple premise: guess how much money a movie is going to make in a given weekend, and if you're the closest guess, you win! There's a bit of skill in it, since box office is roughly predictable, and there are tracking companies that are paid quite a bit to do so, but there's also a lot of luck, since almost no one is able to consistently guess a box office weekend with any degree of accuracy or precision.

Last time around, we asked people to predict a few movies from the weekend of February 20th, all of which wound up doing fairly poorly, combining for a total of 27.792 million bucks. The winners, according to my estimation, are @kalmia64 on the premium side, with a guess of $28 million, and @kubqo on the non-premium side with a guess of $25.6 million. (Note again that the rules for this disqualify any posts that are edited after they're posted.) Congratulations! Kubqo wins two months of premium while kalmia64 will net himself a super-special prize of: an XL-sized Giant Bomb East shirt. Is that his/her size? Who knows! It's what I have on my desk.

Next up: Furious 7.

caption with funny quote from a furious movie i haven't seen

The rules are pretty simple.

vroom vroom

1. Guess how much money Furious 7 will make in its opening weekend in the U.S. We'll count all the money it makes through the Sunday after it comes out, which includes the Thursday night previews. Just throw it in as a reply to this post, e.g.: $56.79 million (be as specific as you like).

2. Make your guesses as a reply to this thread, and make sure that they're in by Thursday 4/2 at 9 PM PST/Midnight EST/whatever crazy clock time you have in your crazy timezone. I won't count anything after that. IMPORTANT NOTE: Any post that is labelled as "edited" will be disqualified. If you want to change your vote, delete your original post and make a new one, up until the time limit. Just don't make a million posts trying to read the tea leaves; keep it to two or three at most.

3. The winners will be determined the Monday or Tuesday after the weekend ends, when actual box office figures are released at boxofficemojo.com, or whenever I get around to it. Weekend estimates are often released on Sunday afternoon, but we'll wait for the real numbers to determine a winner. I'll compare that number to see who's closest; over or under doesn't matter. In case of any ties, I'll decide between the entries with either a coin flip or some other randomized method.

4. There'll be two winners. The closest Premium member will win something cool I'll figure out tomorrow and edit in here. The closest non-Premium member will get two months of Premium access.

That's pretty much it! Go forth and prosper, or something. I'll reserve the right to change any of these rules as I see fit before the deadline, but I doubt that'll be necessary. (Don't be a dick and make it necessary, in other words.)

186 Comments

Box Office Winner's League: Weekend of February 20th

It's that time again!

If any of you were around for the old days at Screened, you'll recall that we used to run a contest called Box Office Winners League when we got the feeling to do so. It's a simple premise: guess how much money a movie is going to make in a given weekend, and if you're the closest guess, you win! There's a bit of skill in it, since box office is roughly predictable, and there are tracking companies that are paid quite a bit to do so, but there's also a lot of luck, since almost no one is able to consistently guess a box office weekend with any degree of accuracy or precision.

Last time around, we asked people to predict Black Hat, which wound up superbombing with a mere 3.901 million dollars over the three-day weekend. That sucks! The winners, according to my estimation, are @driam on the premium side, with a guess of $3.99 million, and @eddiephlash on the non-premium side with a guess of $2.2 million. Congratulations! Eddie wins two months of premium while Driam will net himself a super-special prize of: a Borderlands 2 game code for the Vita! Enjoy in good health.

Anyway, while I would've loved to do one of these for Fifty Shades of Grey, I'm heading out of town this weekend and there isn't enough time to set it up regardless. So let's look forward to next weekend, when The DUFF, Hot Tub Time Machine 2, and Macfarland USA all hit wide release.

Hollywood says one of these women is a hideous ugly fatso! Let's find out which one...

The rules are pretty simple.

1. Guess how much money the movies The DUFF, Hot Tub Time Machine 2, and Macfarland USAwill make in their opening weekend in the U.S. We'll count all the money they make through the Sunday after they come out, which includes the Thursday night previews. You don't have to make individual guesses (unless you want); just guess how much all three of them will make together. Just throw it in as a reply to this post, e.g.: $56.79 million (be as specific as you like).

psst...hollywood thinks you're worthless

Commentary: All of these movies look kind of poopy. John Cusack's presence is generally enough to make me stay away from a movie he's in, so I can't really speak to HTTM, but you can count me out of this one. MacFarland USA is yet another in a series of Totally Inspirational sports movies Inspired By Real Events from Disney, featuring a Coach That No One Believed In grouping together his Ragtag Team and Winning The Championship. I'm sure it'll be enjoyable enough, but that's like the seventh movie along those lines in the last decade.

The DUFF might be the most off-putting of all of these, featuring Mae Whitman from Arrested Development in a high-school drama where she discovers that she's the Designated Ugly Fat Friend. I mean, Mae Whitman is attractive by any reasonable standard, or am I wrong? Casting her as some hideous third wheel that pretty girls keep around as amusement seems like a great way to give a whole bunch of high school girls a psychological complex. At least Easy A had the decency to just imply that Emma Stone was withdrawn or introverted and not some horrific hambeast. This movie kind of creeps me out, at a glance, but as it is a product of CBS Films™ I am compelled to recommend that you see it multiple times. Bring your daughters.

2. Make your guesses as a reply to this thread, and make sure that they're in by Thursday 2/19 at 9 PM PST/Midnight EST/whatever crazy clock time you have in your crazy timezone. I won't count anything after that. IMPORTANT NOTE: Any post that is labelled as "edited" will be disqualified. If you want to change your vote, delete your original post and make a new one, up until the time limit. Just don't make a million posts trying to read the tea leaves; keep it to two or three at most.

3. The winners will be determined the Monday or Tuesday after the weekend ends, when actual box office figures are released at boxofficemojo.com. Weekend estimates are often released on Sunday afternoon, but we'll wait for the real numbers to determine a winner. I'll compare that number to see who's closest; over or under doesn't matter. In case of any ties, I'll decide between the entries with either a coin flip or some other randomized method.

4. There'll be two winners. The closest Premium member will win something cool I'll figure out tomorrow and edit in here. The closest non-Premium member will get two months of Premium access.

That's pretty much it! Go forth and prosper, or something. I'll reserve the right to change any of these rules as I see fit before the deadline, but I doubt that'll be necessary. (Don't be a dick and make it necessary, in other words.)

133 Comments

Fantastic (Literally)

grima wormtongue holds the ear of the king

I wrote a while ago about The Expanse, a series of sci-fi books that I really enjoyed. (I recently re-read the first one, and still found it to be pretty great.) I figured I would proceed onward with the works of James S.A. Corey, but, alas, that's not actually a dude; it's two dudes, and as far as I can tell, Daniel Abraham is the one that handles the heavy lifting of the prose-writing in those books. I figured I would catch up on the rest of the stuff he's written and, after dashing through the books in the Long Price Quartet and The Dagger and the Coin series, I'm fairly confident in saying this: shit's dope.

Now, understand that I'm not a big fantasy guy, outside of video game and RPG system plots. I've read Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, sure, and a few of those laughable Sword of Shannara books, but apart from that, magic and wizards hasn't really been the kind of thing that I reach out for when I’m looking to pick up a new book. (And yes, I’ve tried the Game of Thrones stuff enough to know that they’re really not for me.) Part of that is just due to the fact that I don’t read a lot of fiction anymore, but the sheer repetition of the same old orcs and wizards across many of the fantasy series that I’ve dipped into has been off-putting. It’s like Tolstoy wrote: “Happy families are like science fiction, which seems more vibrantly varied in the imaginative flights of its best practitioners, but unhappy families are like fantasy novels, which are for dorks.” I think it went something like that, anyway.

Anyway, Abraham’s two fantasy series are both pretty damn good. It’s possible I like them largely because they’re both magic-light fantasy settings; these aren’t D&D worlds where every village has a priest casting Cure Light Wounds when you get a stomachache. The Dagger books are purposefully set in an almost magic-free world, hundreds of years after the extinction of the dragons that ruled the world, and while magical swords and creepy priests eventually show up, the bulk of the plotlines are driven by believable characters without any unique abilities (unless you consider simply surviving in the world a unique ability; it’s a dangerous place). The bulk of the chaos in the story is driven by armies and generals, but, somewhat amazingly, considering the genre, most of the battle scenes are dispatched in five or ten pages. The war is what drives the story, and the characters fight, command, and survive that war, but rattling sabers aren’t what Abraham’s interested in; it’s the way all of the characters interlock throughout the years of conflict that he emphasizes, and he does pretty well at that.

a cockatrice! run, you fools!

The Long Price features a more core magical experience, with a dozen or so wizards (they’re called “poets,” but yeah, they’re basically wizards) with the ability to command god-spirits capable of reshaping the world with a whisper or a thought. I didn’t like this quite as well as I did the Dagger (in the sense that I finished the four books in perhaps a month as opposed to the marathon two-week session that got me through the other series), but they’re still really interesting and feature many of the strengths of the Dagger books, although the central characters feel a tad more muted than their companions in the other series. They also tend to be a bit shorter than the Dagger books, for those with limited time.

It’s difficult to sum up what I like about Abraham’s work. Nothing about it is especially moving or difficult; he just writes pageturners that consistently fail to annoy me in the way that a lot of fantasy does. His use of language is always readable with occasional bursts of elegance. His characters have internal lives that are interesting, and his treatment of their personal relationships feels restrained and tempered instead of overly passionate or overwrought like you’ll find in some of the more flowery writers working in popular genres. People fuck and fight and fall in love and kill each other without resorting to moonlit soliloquies or pages upon pages of exposition. The books can feel somewhat brisk as a result, but hey - it's not like every book needs to be Infinite Jest.

I dunno, I dig it. The Expanse books are better than either of these series, although that series also looks like it’s tending towards an open-ended nature that at this point makes it feel a little unfocused. I’m assuming that the next Dagger & Coin book will be the last one, just from the general momentum of The Widow’s House. It’ll be interesting to see how he wraps that one up. For a series that revolves around a plucky banker fighting against a brainwashed central government that wishes to control the world, there’s a little plot twist at the end of Widow’s House that makes me suspect that the entire work is some kind of meta-troll on economic libertarians, which would be amusing.

Anyway, read them if you like, or don’t! But read the Expanse books, for sure, even if the upcoming SyFy series looks fairly skippable, just based on its production values.

33 Comments

Box Office Winner's League: Blackhat

It's that time again!

m'asgard

If any of you were around for the old days at Screened, you'll recall that we used to run a contest called Box Office Winners League when we got the feeling to do so. It's a simple premise: guess how much money a movie is going to make in a given weekend, and if you're the closest guess, you win! There's a bit of skill in it, since box office is roughly predictable, and there are tracking companies that are paid quite a bit to do so, but there's also a lot of luck, since almost no one is able to consistently guess a box office weekend with any degree of accuracy or precision.

The rules are pretty simple.

1. Guess how much money the moviesBlackhat will make in its opening weekend in the U.S. We'll count all the money it makes through next Monday, which includes the Thursday night previews. Just throw it in as a reply to this post, e.g.: $56.79 million (be as specific as you like).

Couple of things to keep in mind: the movie is not getting great reviews (40% on Rotten Tomatoes as of right now), and American Sniper is going to make a shitload of money this weekend. (It's the only movie in history that has ever had three straight weekends with a per-screen average of over $100,000, which is an odd metric, but still interesting.) They're both R-rated adult dramas, so you can expect Blackhat to come in a distant second to Sniper; Paddington might also beat it. So take all that into account!

2. Make your guesses as a reply to this thread, and make sure that they're in by Thursday 1/15 at 9 PM PST/Midnight EST/whatever crazy clock time you have in your crazy timezone. I won't count anything after that. I'm going to take screenshots of the replies at that point, so don't bother editing your post or deleting a post and trying again later.

3. The winners will be determined next Monday or Tuesday, when actual box office figures are released at boxofficemojo.com. Weekend estimates are often released on Sunday afternoon, but we'll wait for the real numbers to determine a winner. I'll compare that number to see who's closest; over or under doesn't matter. In case of any ties, I'll decide between the entries with either a coin flip or some other randomized method.

4. There'll be two winners. The closest Premium member will win something cool I'll figure out tomorrow and edit in here. The closest non-Premium member will get two months of Premium access.

That's pretty much it! Go forth and prosper, or something. I'll reserve the right to change any of these rules as I see fit before the deadline, but I doubt that'll be necessary. (Don't be a dick and make it necessary, in other words.)

249 Comments

More like Bore-lords of Lame-bored, am I right?

Hah, no, I'm joking: Warlords of Draenor is pretty rad. I've been playing it a bunch. Here are some thoughts! (Keep in mind I wrote most of this a month or so ago, so some of it might be a bit dated.)

gotta get home to play warlords

Garrisons: Mostly great! I would've changed a few things here and there, of course. I think buildings are a bit expensive compared to what I would like; considering the difficulty in understanding precisely which buildings will benefit you most, it would've been nice to be able to experiment and build a few and give those a while before going another direction. I guess it's easy enough to switch, but the resource and gold costs can be punitive if you get something up to level three before you decide to go another direction, especially when you’re splitting time between multiple alts, and especially since gold seems to be flowing in at a slightly slower pace than it has in the past.

It’s an interesting iteration of the Panda farms, but the garrisons are good enough at this point to make it interesting to think about how future expansions will incorporate the tech. Farm to garrison to...what? Your own city? Your own airship? It’ll be fun to see how they top this. It feels expansive enough as it is; it’s hard to imagine what the bigger garrisons they’ve hinted at for later in the expansion will look like.

I’m not sure if it’s a drawback or a bonus, but the garrisons feel like they’re almost enough content to get me through a day’s worth of WoW. Between two lvl 100s and a few more 90’s, logging in and doing my missions during a lunch break (this is especially great for old-ass laptops that don’t run dungeons so well), and then spending an hour or so more doing some of the same tasks at home can top off my WoW crackdiction meter before I even think about going to do a garrison daily or a dungeon. With garrison missions that can drop 630 ilvl gear or even better (I just got my first Highmaul mission for a 655 piece), maybe I’ll never have to do a dungeon again! Go forth, my peons, and retrieve my goods for me. I’ll be having a snack in my inn.

i say hello to your behind

Also, the act of finding followers and increasing their level is inherently pleasurable, and that’s coming from someone who never bothered much with pet battles. I would’ve been happier with a bit more randomization of the followers in the field, though; there aren’t quite enough options to make the leveling experience feel all that varied from one alt to the next. But as it is, hunting down Leorajh and Blook and Archmage Vargoth and the other followers that you missed is a good way to kill some time while leveling or when you hit 100.

It’s a bit odd at first to realize that missions will never really fail. I mean, they can fail, but you always get something from them, and never risk any true setbacks. I’m mildly surprised they didn’t put in some kind of penalty system (a failed mission makes those followers inactive for 12 hours, or something like that), but as it stands this is one of my favorite systems they’ve thrown into the game in a long time.

Dungeons: Blizz was pretty clear that they wanted these dungeons to fall somewhere on the difficulty spectrum between Pandaria (cakewalks) and Cataclysm (also cakewalks, but the cakes were made of poison and explosives and beartraps). The Cataclysm dungeons put me off WoW for most of that expansion; it’s one thing to issue a corrective to the general ease of Wrath dungeons by upping the difficulty a bit, but even the Cata normals were punishing enough to be simply unenjoyable, especially in LFG. (Part of this was largely due to CC not being necessary at all in Wrath, which made the learning curve for CC classes a bit too high for what seemed to be most average players to clear.)

The Panda-to-Warlords difficulty swing feels comparable, if not quite as punishing. I’ve gotten through all the normal 100-level dungeons on my tank, with varying successes. Some of the fights are just naturally tricky, with Nitrogg in Grimrail and everyone in Shadowmoon Burial Grounds being on the upper edge of that curve. My first trip to Shadowmoon featured perhaps a dozen wipes or so, spread across the four boss fights; we only managed to kill Gul’dan after I died when he had a few percent of health left, on maybe our fourth attempt. I’m sure it’d be easier now that everyone’s ilvls are a few dozen points higher, but at the time, it was enjoyably rough without feeling super frustrating like Cataclysm dungeons usually did.

draenor is addictive like cupcakes

Granted, learning any fight for the first time will lead to some flubs, so it’ll be interesting to see if heroics go any more smoothly. I’ve been avoiding them for the most part, despite a 632 ilvl; I mostly play this game to relax and unwind after a long day, and the notion of tanking a heroic largely seems like it’d be an hour-long session of tension and/or rage and/or crying. At least heroics would theoretically have a higher level of play from DPS classes; in plenty of normal dungeons I wind up in the first or second DPS slot despite the removal of Vengeance. I would like that to not be the case anymore.

I still need to dip into LFR, as well, which I hear is at least easier than heroics. Tanking anything is stressful, though, and LFR tanking is especially annoying due to the presence of 20 people who want to proceed at maximum speed despite your need to coordinate with your off-tank, keep an eye on a million different cooldowns and lifereads, not stand in the fire, etc. I dug LFR in Pandaria, but I’ll still probably let everyone else have a couple of weeks of progress to gear up before my dumb ass hops in. Since I wrote this a couple of weeks ago, I guess that means it’s about time to start them up.

Crafting: I’m a bit confused as to how any of the crafting changes were considered to be improvements. I don’t craft all that much; my main (prot pally) is a top-level blacksmith, but after crafting my three allowed epic pieces, I’m not sure what more I’m really supposed to do with it. I keep making my ingots every day, and I guess I could start putting some pieces together for my death knight alt, but beyond that, I’m not entirely sure what my profession is supposed to do for me.

did you know the survival rate for lumberjacks in the wild is less than twenty percent

There’s a fair amount of that going around, though, I guess. I’ve leveled my five main characters to 100, 100, 93, 93, and 98 at this point, and I’ve seen a grand total of two items that have had gem slots. I’m guessing that gems and jewels will become more important as people progress through raids, but at the moment, what advantage is there to jewelcrafting?

There’s kind of a basic disconnect between resource gathering and the crafting options that you have, at least in terms of my blacksmith characters; I have thousands upon thousands of pieces of each kind of ore and almost nothing to use it on besides my daily cooldowns. It’s certainly nice to have the ability to make 630 or 640-ilvl stuff and give it to a new alt that I’m leveling (my Death Knight has been rocking a 630ilvl sword since 91 and it’s made the process almost too easy), but it definitely feels like there’s an imbalance between what I gather and what I can make from those materials. I mean, I have multiple stacks of all of the herbs despite not having any herbalists among the classes that I normally play.

One of the wow.joystiq.com bloggers suggested restricting the ability to create epics to one/week and expanding the amount of endgame blue gear you can craft a bit, which feels like it might have been a good compromise earlier in the expansion. We’ll have to see what they do with the content patches. In the meantime, I should probably work on some first aid and cooking, which I haven’t spent much time on. I simply didn’t find many cooking mats while I was leveling, and the marriage of first aid to fishing dims my enthusiasm for leveling it.

Speaking of, the change to fishing where you now catch up fish and then turn those fish into flesh, rather than simply using the fish themselves, seems like a needless complication, not to mention a major hog on bag space if you’re someone like me who mostly fishes when you see schools of fish while questing rather than dedicating time to it. With three different sizes of fish and six or seven different types of fish that can be caught, you’d better be packing some 28-slot bags if you want to fish casually.

everyone thinks i'm superman so i'll dress that way

Other Junk: I’m not a huge fan of the constant aggrandizing of the player-character; having almost every NPC you come across react in awe at your overwhelming majesty gets a bit old. (There’s an early quest in Stormshield where you have to basically talk a rookie soldier down from the ledge that illustrates this issue particularly well.) I mean, I don’t mind feeling powerful, but the whole notion of your character being THE Commander is a bit of an odd fib when you know that you’re just one of a few dozen million characters that are being played on any given week. I think Wrath of the Lich King did arguably the best job of making you feel like a greatly important part of a war machine focused on heroic deeds; Warlords makes your character out to be almost singularly indispensable, an illusion that falls apart almost as soon as you enter a party with another character. It’s a weird, dissonant tone that frequently winds up bugging me.

Apart from that, though, WoD seems like a really solid expansion, and it’s been fun to see a bunch of people come back to the game. That’s great!

39 Comments

Free Collector's Edition of Warlords of Draenor - with a caveat

Hey, I got sent a Collector's Edition of Warlords of Draenor. All I really wanted from it was the game code (I didn't pre-order), so I popped open the DVD and redeemed that. All the rest of this stuff is not really the kind of thing that I'd usually keep, so I figured if anyone wanted it, I...could give it away to a Premium member. (You can still enter as a non-premium member and I'll hook you up with a month of Premium.) Again, this won't unlock Warlords of Draenor for you: you'll still need a game code to play it. But if you want an art book and soundtrack and some free Hearthstone card packs and a mousepad, etc., this is what you get:

You can see a full listing of all this stuff here. Unfortunately I think the in-game items like the mount and the pet were tied to the game code, so they're probably on my account and can't be given away. But you still get all this other stuff!

Just leave a comment here (one comment only) and I'll roll some random numbers in a couple of days and pick a couple of people. If you're Premium, you'll win the box; if you're non-premium, I'll get you a free month of Premium.

466 Comments

Rainer Maria is getting back together, but that's not what this blog is about.

The sole bright spots of the last couple of weeks for me have been musical in nature. The almost transcendently loud Pujol/Screaming Females concert on Saturday was one of them. Live music is, generally, a fantastic way to put your troubles out of your mind, and this year has been a fantastic one for it. Robyn/Royksopp, New Order, Xenia Rubinos, Minipop, Lake Street Dive (twice), , Black Prairie, motherfucking Prince oh my god best concert ever, Charli XCX/Elliphant (I somehow spent $40 on a shirt that announces me as a member of the Baltic Semen Armada), with London Grammar and Tycho yet to come. A fine calendar year of music.

All of this excitement is somewhat odd on its face, as I am not the most musically-inclined of people. Alex used to amaze me by writing his Top 50 Albums of the Year back in the Screened days; I’m usually lucky if I hear five albums that I really enjoy in any given year. Music, like poetry, usually requires of me a lot of concentration and quiet time to appreciate, and both of those resources are in short supply these days. That said, when I latch onto a band or album, I latch the hell onto it, and usually replay it to the point of disgust.

As with any medium that requires some level of mature critical skills to appreciate (which is basically all of them aside from iPhone games), I don’t think musical tastes really being to develop in earnest until the late teens. I’d even go so far as to say that most people over 30 probably share some kind of shallow embarrassment about the first few musicians that they really loved; I mean, To The Extreme was revelatory to my 12-year-old self, but can anyone look back at that album and sincerely call it good? I’m not going to apologize for my 10,000 Maniacs phase or that summer I spent watching the sun come up listening to Throwing Copper (even if Live somehow managed to become almost transcendentally shitty during their V and Birds Of Pray era), but I’m still going to admit that a lot of the music I listened to at the time was pretty goddamn bad. If you're too young to truly understand love and passion and sex, you're probably going to gravitate towards artists that express their opinions about those subjects in a juvenile way.

Music’s a little different than film or games, though, mostly due to the accessibility of the tools used to create it. Making a film or game of any note or quality requires tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. (Although this is changing; Lena Dunham’s Tiny Furniture was shot on DSLR cameras for under a hundred grand, and obviously indie games are regularly being made on the cheap by one or two-person teams.) Making a demo cassette with your friends requires just the sunk cost of instruments you likely already own and a studio rental for a weekend. Or, hell, just make it in your apartment; plenty of fine albums have been recorded in relatively spartan conditions, e.g. Kathleen Hanna’s Julie Ruin, Julianna Barwick’s The Magic Place, Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago, Jolie Holland’s Catalpa, etc., etc. (When was the last time you heard someone cough on an album track?) These records will not sound professional, but what they lack in slickness they usually make up for in sincerity.

More to the point: late adolescence is a time of incredible confusion and romance and angst and struggling with the dichotomy of adult responsibilities and youthful passion, all of which are uniquely suited to being expressed in song, preferably of the loud and intense variety. The accessibility of the tools to create it allow for very young bands to group together and make sometimes astonishingly raw and piercing music. By the time you head off to college, you’re probably only slightly younger people playing the Tuesday punk night at the local bar or scribbling away at lyrics while they strum away at their acoustic guitar in their dorm room.

That’s not to say that music is the only art form available to the young: plenty of 20-year-olds write novels or screenplays or poetry, and while 99.99% of the resulting work is no doubt truly insipid, the occasional Rimbaud pops up to make it clear that youth is not an absolute barrier to genius. But I’ll admit that I haven’t found many novels or films made by people under 30 that I’ve truly enjoyed or considered to be memorable works of art; some media require the weight of experience and Gladwell’s probably-mythical 10,000 hours of practice before true talent is honed out of the rawness of youth.

Music is different, perhaps in an ineffable way, or perhaps in a way that I’m simply biased toward without realizing it. Music can be raw and scratchy and weird and unprofessional in ways that I’m willing to accept and even appreciate if I get the sense that the artist behind it is trying to express something true and personal, but I’ve written enough words in my life to find the flaws or excesses in the prose of an adolescent or twentysomething writer to be more off-putting than endearing. Prose (and poetry) requires control and self-restraint to maximize the impact of the words (neither of which come easily to non-prodigies), whereas music is often at its best when you reach some combination of artistic ability and the grandiose and passionate loss of self-awareness and self-filtering.

Novelists generally get better with age, as their skill and experience trumps the dimming of their youthful inner fire; most of my favorite musicians have followed the reverse course, as technical skill and slicker productions make it more difficult to connect with the meaning behind their lyrics. In general, of course it’s true that music should be pleasant to listen to, or at least reward a determined interpreter if not, but sometimes the sheer artifice of production erects a wall between whatever sincere meaning a song has and the listener.

That’s not true in all cases, but it’s unfortunately so in the case of Rainer Maria, perhaps my favorite band from my college years. They were a seminal part of my college years, and, given the rambling paragraphs above, it shouldn’t be surprising to learn that they were formed just two years before I graduated high school. Despite their missteps late in their career, their recent announcement of a reunion show on New Year’s Eve (their first in eight years) gives me some secret, selfish hope that they’ll come back to tour one more (last?) time, or record a new album.

It’s an odd thing, realizing for the first time that people your age are actually making music, expressing the thoughts and desires and anxieties that you yourself are experiencing. It’s clear upon re-listening to most of Rainer Maria’s albums over the past week or two that I probably wouldn’t find them so dear if I hadn’t been in the frame of mind (a cliched late-teens mishmash of despondence and loneliness and sexual frustration) I inhabited when I first stumbled across them, but that’s largely irrelevant: they were the band. They were my special thing, something obscure that I could love and not share with anyone. (Before the internet’s explosion, it was a relatively simple thing to convince yourself that you were the only person who listened to any given indie band; it’s not like they had Facebook pages or Twitter accounts with thousands of followers.)

I don’t know why that would be important, but maybe it’s part of growing up: you share so many things with your parents and siblings and classmates as a child that you can’t help but desire things that are uniquely yours as you reach the teen years. Secrets are, perhaps, the things that define the experience of adolescence; secrets you keep, and secrets you share. Who you’re sure that you love, who you wrote that note to, who you are sure that you would murder if you could get away with it, the book or album that means so much to you that you don’t want to tell anyone about it.

I was originally trying to find a way to link this conversation from Almost Famous here, but I couldn’t find a way to make it feel natural, so fuck it: here’s one of my favorite scenes from any movie ever.

Maybe Snapchat and Twitter and technology will erode this sense of self-censorious secrecy that existed before the internet; I’m not sure I look forward to that. I wrote a secret admirer letter to a girl once and it took real fucking guts to put the stamp on it and walk up to a mailbox and drop it in; I’m not sure if the experience of tapping “send” quite compares. We live in an era where communication is easier than ever before, and by and large that’s an amazing thing with serious repercussions for all kind of repressive societies, but at the same time, sometimes it’s best to keep things inside and try to understand them before sending your thoughts out into the ether. I love passion and self-expression, but I also love discipline and how it can refine a thought into something that's not just immediately intriguing but something that's timeless and universal.

Anyway, that was a long blog entry mostly about nothing at all. I already wrote a bunch of words about Rainer Maria’s first few albums; I’ll try to clean that up and post it sometime this week, followed by some thoughts on their last two albums! Spoiler: they're really good.

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Just, you know, games and stuff

Some thoughts on games and stuff I've been playing lately.

take a trip to sleepy town

Destiny: I got to max level in this without ever grouping, which is a nice feature for a pseudo-MMO. Not sure I have much more to do here, but maybe I’ll dig it out from time to time.

Generally speaking, I really enjoy the action here, but it is pretty baffling to encounter the story and variety issues that Bungie let slip through. When every mission seems to end with your Ghost scanning something as you defend it from waves of enemies, well...it feels like someone should've said something at some point during development. It's difficult to figure out a reason why that didn't happen except for myopia or perhaps a bit of intimidation on the part of people who would've had the power to give feedback on gameplay. Theoretically the role of external producers (i.e. people from Activision) would've included giving more harsh feedback than what might come from internal testing, but then I suspect that Bungie's contract might've made them somewhat immune from publisher feedback, given that they're one of the most popular developers in the world.

Tough to guess. Regardless, the game is fun. I like fun games. It could’ve been better.

Dead Rising 3: This game is surprisingly fun, but then that shouldn’t be too much of a surprise considering how much I enjoyed the first two games in the series. I was initially worried about the fact that the casual difficulty still had a timer ticking down, but thus far it hasn’t seemed like I’ve felt pressured by the clock, even when I’ve been spending plenty of time going after the side objectives and collectibles and such.

no cage can hold me

That said, I don’t think that the vehicle combinations really add much to the game, and it’s a bit annoying when the PC versions of a game come pre-loaded with a bunch of DLC weapons that make the early sections of a game trivially easy. That said, this doesn’t seem to be focused on being much of a challenge even without super weapons; the way you can just retrieve whatever you’ve built before from the locker as you jaunt off to a psychopath fight seems to make those kind of trivial, at least the few that I’ve done so far. At any rate I’d rate this as more intended to act as an entertaining diversion than some hardcore death simulator, which is fine by me.

Wasteland 2: It’s amazing how something as simple as the ability to create your whole party makes me like this more than Divinity: Original Sin, which I’ve been meaning to complete but simply can’t get enthusiastic for due to its somewhat hamstrung character creation. That’s unfortunate, as Divinity’s combat and general design is pretty clearly the better of the two games, but hey: the heart wants what the heart wants.

Even so, my time for gaming is so bursty these days that I’m far more likely to sit down for a half-hour of Spelunky than spend the same amount of time on Wasteland or Divinity. I used to love super-long games, but knowing that it’ll take me two months to get through a game with nightly hour-long sessions just makes me feel more blank than excited these days. It feels like I either need a game to be under ten hours long or open-ended like WoW to get me excited to sit down and give it a whirl, which is a shame, but seems somewhat common as people who play games often get older. Maybe if I take a vacation that doesn’t involve travel I’ll give Divinity another whirl sometime. Or try to breeze through it on the easiest difficulty and not worry about the party composition so much. I know they added a pair of new companions, though; maybe those will be a bit more up my alley.

More than anything I guess I’d really like someone to make a decent respec mod. It looks like there’s a custom henchmen guide, though; might have to give that a whirl sometime, even though it looks super-complicated.

you know, just thinking about stuff

I guess this was mostly about Divinity. I sincerely regret the error.

Men who don’t raise the toilet seat before they pee in a public bathroom: what the hell, people.

The New La Roux album: This isn’t very good! It’s repetitive musically and doesn’t have any songs with the kind of lyrical hooks that songs like In For The Kill and Fascination did on the the first album. There’s a strong theme of sexual anxiety in the album, and anxiety can lead to some amazing music (see: most of Fiona Apple’s best songs), but that only works if the songs are actually interesting to listen to. They were decent live when I saw them, but damn does Elly Jackson ever dance like...well, like me. I don’t dance well.

Spelunky: I’m up to 1,237 plays in this game, with five Olmec kills and five Yama kills. I don’t know why I keep playing it, but I easily clock half an hour a day with it on my Vita, without fail. At a rough guess of 7.5 minutes per run (probably high), that’s over 150 hours I’ve spent on this game. I almost gave up after the first 50 runs or so, but I’m glad I persisted.

Shadow of Mordor: This is good, and noticeably more difficult than most recent Assassin’s Creed games, which is a fine complication. I’m not very far into it, but it’s a solid PC port aside from some extreme framerate issues when you’re in tight spaces and have been playing for a while - this can extend back to the upgrades menu, at least in my case, which can cause problems. It feels like this is probably related to my five-year-old CPU (an i7 920) rather than my video card, so maybe I’ll try to just shut down all my other programs while it’s running and see if that helps. But somehow it feels like a memory leak. Who knows!

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Vacation! Vacation!

Hey, I'll be on vacation starting tonight and probably won't be very quick about getting back to PMs and the like for the next week or so, until after PAX. If you have moderation concerns, use the PM All Mods button on the right side of any forum page, or send an email to giantbombmods@gmail.com. If you have a site issue, post in the bug reporting forum or email support@giantbomb.com and someone will hopefully get to you soon. If something super urgent arises, send me a tweet, but I can't guarantee a timely response.

Au revoir or whatever!

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