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Monthly Archives: September 2014

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Saints Row 55: Technicolor Yawn Parody Out of Hell

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There’s more DLC coming. With angel wings. And Shakespeare. And hilariously wacky weapons.

Just be glad this one isn’t being released as Saints Row 5 like the last one was.

Saints Row 3 was amazing because it took a GTA clone and asked what would happen if GTA were actually fun and if it had a story that kicked it up to 11.

Saints Row 4 dropped the fun part and swapped out constant parodies for the story. You were constantly figuring out which powers to swap while trying to figure out what game was being parodied now.

Since then it’s been a stream of DLC that no one can keep track of.

Gat Out of Hell throws in a new city still in technicolor darkness and with more superpowers. Like flying. You could fly in SR4, but now you’ll have wings. Also lots of arch references. It’ll be the perfect Comedy Central videogame.

And that’s all Saints Row is now. It’s Family Guy. It’s a Comedy Central show. It’s a bunch of references to things you might have heard of stuck between minigames.

Saints Row 3 walked a line. It was ridiculously over the top, but it had its own story. It wasn’t just a bunch of loosely linked Family Guy parodies of other things. It took the characters seriously in its own twisted way. Its action scenes mattered because of that.

The new Saints Row model is to amp up the jokes, more costumes, more weapons, more minigames, less story and less gameplay fun. Don’t release new games. Just release more over the top DLCs for a game that already sold well and hope everyone keeps on being excited at the latest Awesome Show DLC. It’s like Serious Sam without being fun to play.

It’s back to the manure cannon but with a knowing wink and a topical reference to another game you might have played. You know, an actual game.

Is Mr. Mercedes Stephen King’s Worst Book?

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Mr. Mercedes doesn’t read like Stephen King. It doesn’t even read like Dean Koontz. It reads like Mediocre Thrillerwriter from the four books for a buck shelf.

It reads like a trunk novel from 1992 when the internet was new and scary and a rash of books and TV movies about evil little nerds plotting to kill people with super computer magic were everywhere.

And it wouldn’t surprise me if that was exactly where Mr. Mercedes is from.

The title and cover of Mr. Mercedes strain to convince you that it’s going to be another complicated ride filled with allusions building up to… forget about it.

There’s nothing supernatural here. There’s nothing any deeper than the movie of the week here.

Mr. Mercedes is the story of a battle of wits between your stock character, the retired cop still haunted by a case (divorced, alcoholic, thinking of suicide – all the cliche boxes are checked) and an updated Norman Bates who not only has a sick relationship with his mother, but also works on the Geek Squad at Best Buy and has an evil command center in his basement full of laptops with a countdown running.

And he voice controls them by saying “Chaos”.

Stephen King has written bad novels before, but never boring ones. This isn’t Christine. This isn’t The Under the Dome. It’s just bland.

The writing is bad. The characters are bland. The plot is predictable. I skipped 100 pages ahead and sure enough, the Best Buy Norman Bates had killed his mother. I skipped ahead another 100 pages and the plastic explosive mentioned early on had been used to blow up the cop’s new girlfriend.

And then I put down the book for good.

That was the first time I put down a Stephen King book without reading it through. But before King had always put in enough hooks, enough verbal special pleadings, to keep you going. Mr. Mercedes is the first time his talent completely abandoned him.

There’s nothing here worth reading.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe after 300 pages the whole thing turns into a hidden mystical battle between his shopping list and his ghostwriter.

But I’m betting it doesn’t.

If you programmed a computer to write a Stephen King novel, it might spit out something like Mr. Mercedes. It’s unimaginative. It’s so unimaginative that it doesn’t even inhabit the same space as imagination.

There are some of Stephen King’s tics here, but they come off badly. The Best Buy Bates talks like an elderly 60s racist. Really, what twenty something today says “Darkie”. There’s a young black character who keeps saying “Massa”.

It’s embarrassing to read. It must have been even more embarrassing to edit. Except that it obviously wasn’t edited.

King tried to learn something about the internet in the process of writing or rewriting this, but it just makes the basic errors and the context of it even dumber.

The cop and the Best Buy Bates spar through a supersecret connection that sounds like a housewife’s chat room from the 90s. There’s talk about vacuuming crumbs out of CPUs. The Best Buy Bates is an inventor and computer genius who never heard of a Roomba.

I don’t know why Mr. Mercedes exists.

It’s obvious that Stephen King has been having some writing problems. He put out two trunk novels recently and a few sequels. The quality has been weak, but Mr. Mercedes isn’t weak. It has no merits.

There’s no reason to read it.

Google Wasn’t Built for Users or Websites, it was Built for Advertisers

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Google decided to borrow Amazon’s whiny PR company to disgorge this nonsense.

It’s not the case that Google is “the gateway to the Internet” as the publishers suggest.

That’s not what you tell your stockholders. You are the gateway to the internet. And a really shitty gateway because you aren’t interested in content, just in selling ads and that means filling your search results with as much garbage as possible because you have no competition and you want to display as many pages as possible.

Nor is it true to say that we are promoting our own products at the expense of the competition. We show the results at the top that answer the user’s queries directly (after all we built Google for users, not websites)

No you built it for advertisers. If Google were built for users, it wouldn’t be a giant data mining and ad factory. And it would have relevant results.

Your top results are usually Wikipedia and a bunch of keyword mongering index sites that you keep promising to filter out but never do.

Ask for the weather and we give you the local weather right at the top. This means weather sites rank lower, and get less traffic. But because it’s good for users, we think that’s OK.

This is how you promote your product at the expense of the competition. Your example of how you don’t do it, is how you do it.

And your weather results are invariably inferior and out of date, but who cares.

 It’s the same if you want to buy something (whether it’s shoes or insurance). We try to show you different offers and websites where you can actually purchase stuff — not links to specialized search engines (which rank lower) where you have to repeat your query.

You show sponsored shopping results to make money and rip off users.

Five out of every six items that appeared in the sponsored items section were more expensive than those those hidden deeper in the results, according to the newspaper. And on average, the sponsored products were 34 percent higher.

Those are ads that are paid for. And the rest of the results are spam search engines half the time or Amazon or outdated eBay listings.

Don’t be evil? You’re evil and you’re a lousy engine.

Why are Gaming Journalists Such Angry Whores?

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Blah blah entitled gamers blah blah culture of misogynistic hatred blah blah blah toxic harassment blah blah GamerGate doesn’t exist blah blah Anita Sarkeesian attacked by ninjas blah blah blah gamers need to just die blah blah just let us do Bioware press and leave us alone.

It’s not the gamers who are angry. Some gamers are angry. They’re the ones who still read blogs like Kotaku, Destructoid, RockPaperShotgun, PC Gamer (online it’s just another blog) and are a little confused about why they’re indistinguishable from Social Justice Warriors Tumblrs.

Most gamers stopped paying attention.

Why even bother? How many people still subscribe to print copies of PC Gamer? How many people care about the previews carefully leaked to friendly gaming journalists? How many people care about an introverted culture of gaming journalists who want to promote the latest pixel art indie about transgender pirate cats as the future of gaming?

Most gamers have moved on. Most non-gamers have moved on leaving behind angry gaming journalists who try to shore up their journalistic creds after all their corporate shilling by attacking gamers as misogynists, because they can’t bite the corporate hand that feeds them.

They’re whores. GamerGate and Zoe Quinn are just tiny little reminders. Mostly the whoring is virtual. Nobody went to bed with anybody to get all star reviews for Dragon Age 2.

Probably.

If you spend your nights shilling for companies and their terrible products, you have to take it out somewhere, somehow. When you can bash a game safely (because it’s not a Bioware game) you do it. And the safest targets are gamers. Dirty, filthy gamers.

There are no gaming journalists. There are employees of gaming websites funded by game publisher advertising who navigate those financial relationships and are told which games they can pan and which games they have to praise.

They’re whores and they’re unhappy whores. They’re the poor whites of the gaming Confederacy. They have to treat someone else like dirt to feel better about what whores they are.

Because worst of all, their line of work is vanishing. Gamers have figured out that the difference between a gaming journalist and an Activision employee is that the former gets paid to pretend that he isn’t the latter.

And they moved on. They get their reviews from Metacritic, Twitch and YouTube. They’ll take rips of the latest exclusive magazine preview which will be on Reddit in five minutes without reading the source.

It’s game over.

Such articles appeared concurrently in Gamasutra (“ ‘Gamers’ are over” and “A guide to ending ‘gamers’ ”), Destructoid (“There are gamers at the gate, but they may already be dead”), Kotaku (“We might be witnessing the ‘death of an identity’ ”) and Rock, Paper, Shotgun (“Gamers are over”), as well as Ars Technica (“The death of the ‘gamers’ ”), Vice (“Killing the gamer identity”) and BuzzFeed (“Gaming is leaving ‘gamers’ behind”). These articles share some traits in common besides their theses: They are unconvincing, lacking in hard evidence, and big on wishful thinking.

quick glance at financials shows that “gamers” are not going anywhere. If “gamers” really are dying, no one told the marketing departments for these publications, which continue to trumpet their “gamer” demographic to advertisers. What is going on instead is projection. As long as these journalists held a monopoly on gaming coverage, they could maintain a dismal relationship with their audience in spite of the fact that “most games coverage is almost indistinguishable from PR,” in the words of disaffected game columnist Robert Florence, who himself wrote about corruption in gaming journalism before quitting Eurogamer. But all that’s changing with the rise of long-form amateur gaming journalism and game commentating on YouTube and Twitch.tv, the latter of which was just bought by Amazon for $1 billion as the gaming press was declaring the end of gamers.

Game companies and developers are now reaching out directly to quasi-amateur enthusiasts as a better way to build their brands, both because the gamers are more influential than the gaming journalists, and because these enthusiasts have far better relationships with their audiences than gaming journalists do. (Admittedly, most anyone does.) This week, Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto signaled a focus on hard-core gamers, and Nintendo has already been shutting out the video game press for years. As Gamasutra’s Keza MacDonald wrote in June, the increasingly direct relationship between gamers and game companies has “removed what used to be [game journalism’s] function: to tell people about games.” Another Gamasutra article cited game developers saying that YouTube coverage had far more impact than all website coverage combined.

I generally don’t read gaming websites because I don’t like sifting through rewritten press releases and underage toothbrush incest anime coverage to find one or two genuine pieces of content. Instead I go to affable enthusiasts on YouTube and Twitch, people like Ryan Letourneau (Northernlion), Michelle (TheRPGMinx), Nick Reinecke (RockLeeSmile), Daniel Hardcastle (NerdCubed), and the unfathomably popular Felix Kjellberg (PewDiePie), a 24-year-old gamer who has 30 million subscribers, the most viewed YouTube channel of all time, and makes $4 million a year off his channel by, more or less, playing video games.

It is understandable that online gaming journalists would be uncomfortable in this situation. The antagonism of the gaming press toward its audience stems partly from justified outrage at the horrible behavior of a small subset of it, but also from helpless resentment toward the entirety of the press’s shrinking audience—hence the self-defeating attempt to generalize the former into the latter. Rather than stressing that the vast majority of gamers are reasonable people who don’t harass women, hold reactionary, protectionist views, or start vitriolic online campaigns against the press, the websites trashed the entire term “gamer” and, to no one’s surprise, earned 10 times the enmity overnight.

Good luck guys, because your scam is past its sell by date.

I am a straight Asian-American male from a working class family. My family survived wars, political purges, and 3 different refugee camps just to be able to come to America. I consider myself politically a left-leaning liberal. I do support worker’s rights, women’s rights, gay rights, transgender rights, religious freedom, and oppose racism. Yeah, the whole deal. Hell, number of the writers and commentators that are vilifying me right now are people I used to enjoy reading and watching. It’s not as if I was always against everything they had to say all the time. I’ve often shared very similar views at times.

This is why the behaviour of the gaming media as of late sickens me. They use the causes and values that I sincerely believe in, and turned it into a shield they can hide behind to avoid criticism. As if claiming to fight for justice forgives corruption and general cruelty to others. They’ve weaponized these issues and values for their own cynical gain. The gaming media presents the narrative as if opposing their corruption and insanity would mean turning my back on the values and issues I care about. As insane as it sounds, this is deeply troubling to me; painful even.

Hope there’s room for more than one Anita Sarkeesian on Kickstarter or you’re all screwed. And not in a Zoe Quinn way.

Paul Reiser is the Best Thing About Amazon’s Red Oaks

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There was a time when Mad About You was on the air and hating Paul Reiser was in fashion. Red Oaks is in its own way as cloying as Mad About You, but Paul Reiser’s club president, a clumsy jackass, is the best thing about it.

That’s not much of an achievement.

Red Oaks is a semi-average when it focuses on the titular club, but it’s dragged down  by its mopey dorky main character and his sitcom home life. Every time Jennifer Grey and Richard Kind show up to do a routine that got old in the 1940s as a neurotic married couple, the show becomes teeth gratingly awful.

And it doesn’t have to be.

There are fun characters in Red Oaks like the stoner valet and the sleazy tennis pro and Paul Reiser’s club president. If Red Oaks jettisoned the dorky protagonist who is there to act as our avatar and drifted around from the points of view of the club staff, this could be a much better show.

Not great, but a lot better.

An ensemble Red Oaks could be fun. It would spare us from the miserable experience of watching another TV dork who is supposed to be a stand in for the audience, but is really a stand in for the writers and producers, having to choose between two beautiful girls, neither of whom would look at him twice in real life unless he were producing or writing Red Oaks, and choosing between a successful career as a CPA and a career as a tennis pro if he can only escape his crazy parents.

I don’t want to watch this. Based on the other responses to Red Oaks, I don’t think anyone does.

Paul Reiser, Ennis Esmer and Oliver Cooper are the good things about Red Oaks. If this thing becomes an Amazon show, it will have to keep its focus on them, get rid of Kinder and Grey.

Or better yet just order The Cosmopolitans.

Whit Stilman’s The Cosmopolitans Works for the Same Reason Damsels in Distress Didn’t

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Whit Stilman’s movies are at their best when they create an atmosphere that is on the borderline between wealth and sadness, loneliness and privilege, the sense of being an outcast even while living at the center of a life that most can only envy. It’s what he captured first and best in Metropolitan.

It’s what he does again in The Cosmopolitans.

The Cosmopolitans is being compared to Barcelona, but it isn’t really. It’s closer to Metropolitan with Paris standing in for Manhattan and the loneliness of being an expat standing in for being poor. The writing isn’t quite as good, but it captures the same atmosphere and the same innocent timeless feel despite the cell phones.

Damsels in Distress was always doomed. Stilman doesn’t write women well which is why despite its atmosphere, The Last Days of Disco was a poor movie. Barcelona had the writing, but lacked the atmosphere. The Cosmopolitans brings them together. It captures what made a Whit Stilman movie work within the frame of a television show.

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The characters in Whit Stilman’s movies are trying to figure out who they are and what their lives should be. Their status has allowed them the space in which to do that without protecting them from the loneliness and heartbreak of trying. They were sheltered enough to have a kind of innocence that comes from immaturity. They were never really tested. Their decisions have never been hard. It might be easy to resent them if they weren’t basically good people underneath.

Adulthood is the truly foreign world for them. Paris is only a metaphor for the bigger emotional journey that they don’t know how to take.

I don’t know what kind of series The Cosmopolitans will make or if its mood will be sustainable, but if Amazon picks it up, I think it will work in its own way. Stillman’s openness can feel like indecisiveness and audiences may grow tired of a show in which nothing significant happens and in which the flavor of the place is the story. But the same could have been said of Seinfeld.

Stilman’s humor is the nuances. There’s no over the top word salad like Gilmore Girls. The feel of the show is in noticing the small things. It doesn’t try to fool you into thinking you’re smart. Instead you’re another outside experiencing the flavor of a particular place and time. It worked for Stilman in Metropolitan and The Last Days of Disco. It works in The Cosmopolitans.

We’re not watching stupid characters pretending to be smart to convince us that we’re smart. Instead we’re watching smart people who make stupid mistakes because they’re only learning remind us that no matter how smart we are, we’re still basically fools.

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