Friday, May 28, 2010
Coleman may not have had the happiest life or the most enduring career, but he did star on Diff'rent Strokes, the first couple seasons of which, at least, are as funny and likable as anything that has ever been on TV. His was a flame that burned too bright and went out far too quickly.
Somewhere in Heaven, I hope he's having a reunion with Dana Plato, Martha Raye, and his goldfish Abraham.
He was 42.
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
The ending of Lost has come and gone. I've had about three days and two viewings to think things over and let the series finale settle and sink in to both my brain and my heart. It wasn't the ending I was expecting and it wasn't the ending I wanted, but it was an ending. I'll give them that much. As for whether or not it it was a great send-off to a great show is anybody's guess. What it was was a really good episode of a really brilliant show that had a few fundamental problems that left me feeling a little cold, confused, and upset. In other words, it was Lost.
But while so many episodes of Lost are vexing and confusing and maddening (not to mention brilliant and thoughtful and exhilarating), there was always the promise of more to come, and that all of the answers would finally come at some point. Well, now that we had a definite, absolute ending, that familiar confusion turned into an angry realization that we were now on our own. After my first viewing, I was kind of pissed, not to mention confused about that last scene. But the more I thought about it, talked it over with friends, and rewatched it, I came to understand it more and enjoyed it a lot. But I still thought it was a big let down, if only because the "moral" of the story and the spirituality espoused right at the end was something I simply didn't buy into. But, you know, I liked it.
Oh, and if you haven't seen the last episode yet, don't read this, because I'm going to spoil the shit out of it.
This little twist and ultimate resolution didn't work for me at all.
First of all, I was kind of annoyed that, after having invested an entire season in this parallel world, it ultimately had no real point other than as misdirection for the audience. I spent so much time trying to figure out how it would all tie in (the bomb, the alternate island on the bottom of the ocean, Desmond's visions, etc) and culminate in the island Losties taking down the smoke monster once and for all, but it just didn't. It was just a trick, which bugged me. But I can't criticize the writers too much for this one, since it was supposed to be a trick. But still, it was annoying to nothing we saw really mattered in that alternate reality until the very last scene in the church.
And then we have the entire cosmology of the show's vision of the afterlife to deal with. Now, I'm not a spiritual man, and I certainly don't believe in any kind of afterlife, but I'm willing to accept different theories and ideas about it in works of fiction. But boy was this one of the dumbest, most depressing visions of any afterlife I've ever heard of. So when we die, we just go to a limbo world for a brief time that is exactly like our old lives, but just with tiny differences here and there? So instead of going to Starbucks every morning to get your coffee, you might actually go to Caribou Coffee over there. And instead of driving a Prius, now you actually drive a Kia. And instead of being an accountant, now you're an actuary. And instead of people watching SNL, they actually watch Mad TV. I could go on and on with this one.
And then we have the almost offensive appearance of Christian Shepard as some kind of spiritual adviser (the Virgil to Jack's Dante if you will), who comes in, dumps a bunch of expository dialogue, and then opens a door to some bright light. I'm sorry, writers of Lost, but that function should've been played by Desmond, not Christian. I understand what they were going for -- that it was a call back to season 1 and that Jack was finally reconnecting with his estranged father and blah blah blah -- but it was just stupid and almost offensive because, as characters go, Christian Shepard was a huge piece of shit. He was a bad father, a lousy drunk, and a negligent surgeon who killed at least one patient through his negligence. This guy has no right at all being in any kind of heaven with these character, let alone as some kind of St Peter, acting as God's representative. Sorry, Lost, but you got that one dead wrong.
I suppose it works if you look at the parallel world as just Jack's own limbo after he dies, but that doesn't make sense when you think about how Desmond envisioned it as well. Also, if it was just Jack, why would we have all those other scenes where, you know, Jack wasn't around? No, it was just dumb.
And, finally, forgetting about how their interpretation of the afterlife made no sense for me, why are we even seeing the afterlife at all? That's really how you're going to end your show? With all of the main characters reuniting after they die? They couldn't answer why Walt could kill those birds, how Ben got cancer, what happened to the atomic bomb, and so many other questions, but they did want to settle the whole "what happens after Sawyer dies" question? When people tune in to Two and a Half Men, they aren't thinking about where Charlie and Alan's souls will finally go after they die. And nobody cares about where the Losties' souls are going to go. Get back to the Island already.
And that's why the episode worked, because it was a gift to the viewers, and it was really about us moving on and not actually the characters.
Oh, and it was also about the Losties taking down the Smoke Monster! Even forgetting everything that took place in the parallel world (and I intend to), all of the stuff on the Island was awesome. The fight between Jack and Locke was epic. And the actual last scene where Jack dies and closes his eye for the last time was brilliant.
So, looking back, it was a strange episode of a strange series. But it was also brilliant in its own way, even if I had some fundamental problems with their intentions and execution. But it didn't ruin the series for me (which is what I feared after Battlestar's terrible finale totally ruined that entire series for me). After Star Trek, it's still my favorite show of all time. Even if I don't really know where Mother came from, what the Smoke monster is, who the others were, etc. And, of course, they never answered the final question that all Lost fans need answered: What the hell am I going to do on Tuesday nights?
And even this has gone on way too long already, here are a few random observations and nitpicks:
So if Sunn is pregnant with a healthy baby, does that mean when their daughter eventually died, she had to spend eternity in the afterlife as a fetus? Because that's just weird.
And who the hell is Jack's kid then? Is that a real person's soul in the afterlife, or just some kind of afterlife extra being used just to make the people who matter have a better time up there? Same goes for the janitors, cab drivers, and baggage handlers. I'd be pissed if I was forced to spend the afterlife cleaning up Hurley's bathroom.
When Miles is on the phone with Sawyer, he tells him he's at "my dad's museum/concert/benefit thing." Even the writers of this show had no idea what that party was supposed to be. Oh, and how bad of a cop is Miles anyway? An escaped murderer drives by in a bright yellow hummer and he doesn't even think to take down the license plate?
When Claire went into labor, why didn't that guy she told actually, you know, do anything about it? That seemed like a pretty ritzy party with lots of well to do people. Nobody thought to ask if there was a doctor in the house?
Boone is a total dick. Always has been, always will be. If somebody asked me if I wanted to stage a fight so my sister will get slapped by some guy in an alley on the off chance that Sayid will jump in and save her, I'd say... no. I'd tell Desmond to come up with a better way to "awaken" Sayid that doesn't involve me and my sister getting our asses kicked.
After Desmond removes the cork from the light, white smoke comes out of the hole. Is that the good version of the smoke monster?
I like the eyeliner all of the guys in Drive Shaft wore. A good idea for a punk bad would be "The Richard Alperts" who all wear really thick eyeliner, dye their hair black, and leave one single gray hair.
That concert where Daniel played piano accompaniment with Drive Shaft totally sucked. And not just because bass player left after one song to chase after some pregnant chick, but because it was just bad. And why did Daniel want to play with those guys anyway? It'd be like if my parents were rich and I told them I desperately wanted to have a concert where I played along with Dexys Midnight Runners.
I laughed a little bit when Locke said that Desmond is going to help him do the "one thing I can't do on my own," which is destroy the island. Oh, and he also can't leave the island on his own. Or kill Jacob. Or kill any of the candidates. Or Dogen. Or enter that temple. Or pass through those sonar barriers. Or, you know, anything at all really.
If Jacob's job is to protect the light, why does he live way the hell away under that statue? Why not build a house a little closer?
Why is Sayid's soul mate Shannon? Wasn't she just an island booty call because he thought he'd never see Nadia again? If I go to heaven, I want to spend it with the actual love of my life, not some chick I boned just because she happened to be deserted on the same island with me.
Same goes for Claire and Charlie. Sure, he loved her, but did she ever really love him? I always took her affection for him to be more like that toward an annoying and kind of creepy platonic friend who didn't really understand boundaries.
If Lapidus, Miles, and Alpert can get that busted ass plane flight-worthy in under an hour, during a massive storm, with only a blowtorch, a few boars of wood, and some duct tape, why do my planes always sit on the tarmac for hours just for "de-icing"?
When Jack sees his father in the church, why doesn't he freak out and yell, "the Smoke Monster is back!!!!!" and then try to kill him? He was "awakened" by that point, so he must've remembered how Smokie told him that he had really been the father he saw back on the island. Considered how every reanimated dead person he'd seen by that point was actually the smoke monster, why didn't he assume this was too? Or is that just wishful thinking on my part because it would've been a better ending had that actually really been the smoke monster?
Why does Jack have scars from the wounds he sustained on the island? Why doesn't Shannon also have a bullet hole in her belly? I'm not sure what was the point of that, other than that it was "kind of neat."
And as much as I like Hurley as a character... come on. He's going to protect the island? Jacob and the Man in Black spending 2,000 years in a struggle between good and evil is epic and totally bad ass. Hurley and Ben protecting the island sounds like a bad sitcom.
But, you know, I'd watch that sitcom.
Not that it matters, because I'm fairly certain Jack isn't dead. He gave Hurley a bottle of water, sure, but he didn't do the Latin chant. Jack still had the power all along. The "death" we saw was just his final transformation from human into the next Island protector. How that ties into the parallel world... I dunno yet. But I'll figure that out later.
I'm busy working on my review/thoughts/manifesto on the Lost series finale. But until then, enjoy this clip from the 1987 film The Stepfather and get a glimpse of what it would've been like had the Smoke Monster escaped from the Island and became a real estate agent.
Friday, May 14, 2010
I'm just going to break down my initial impressions, opinions, and experiences so far.
Set-up and Payment:
Out of the box, you get nothing but an ethernet cable and port on the back of the console. Wi-Fi requires purchase of a $100 adapter, and that's in addition to Xbox Live Gold membership that costs $50 bucks a year. So you are already looking at an initial investment of $50 bucks just to get online and play some games, which isn't very expensive all things considered, but it is kind of lame in comparison to the PS3's completely free online model. I understand why Microsoft charges to get online, but it still seems silly to pay a fee for the opportunity to buy things through the X-Box Live Marketplace.
As my buddy Justin mentioned in one of the comments on an earlier post, you also have the option of getting online by jacking your 360 into a laptop that has wi-fi, but for a couple of unimportant technical reasons that didn't give me satisfactory results. But you can read all about that here if you are interested.
I sold a bunch of old games I never play anymore to Gamestop and made enough in store credit to pick up the wi-fi adapter for next to nothing. All you do is pop in the driver CD, restart your 360, and plug in the adapter. I was literally online about five minutes after getting home from the store. It's fairly idiot proof. I do wish the cable from the adapter was a bit longer and also that it plugged into the ethernet port on the back instead of taking up one of the USB ports on the front, but these are minor complaints. Oh, and I also wish it had been, I dunno, $50 cheaper. And that's a major complaint.
Once you get online and create an account, you set up an avatar. This was pretty fun since I like that sort of thing (you can see mine up on right there), but they are a bit too cutesy for an adult game console. They look only slightly more articulated than Wii avatars. There are a lot of options to customize his or her features and play dress up, with even more options available to buy online at prices that are, frankly, way too high.
Oh, and my name is "Fuwalda." Look me up if you're so inclined. My avatar is lonely.
I haven't spent much time here, but I guess it's where you can buy music and videos. So far, all of the videos I've previewed are in standard definition and look fairly crummy, and I can't imagine why anybody would buy music straight to their 360. But if that's what you want to do, here's where you go to do it.
Here is where you can buy or rent movies in SD and HD. I haven't done this, but they seem to be reasonably priced and the selections for new releases seem decent. Much better is the Netflix tab that allows you to stream movies as long as you already have a Netflix account. It gives you access to your queue and even lets you browse for movies in different categories. A search feature would've been nice as well, but I'm sure that will come with some new update. As long as your connection is good, SD movies look great and HD movies look fantastic. When I'm not playing games, this is where I spend a lot of my time. The HD movies look so good, I'll often watch just a few minutes of each just to see how good each film looks. I've become such a video snob over the years, I'll actually watch Bio-Dome in HD instead of, say, Ghandi in SD.
And this is why you get a 360 in the first place, right? And the games marketplace doesn't disappoint. Here you can download demos or HD videotrailers for almost every game on the market. You can even buy a select number of full games, but I haven't done that yet. I think I'd rather just own the actual game all things considered, but sometime when I'm bored or drunk in my apartment I'm sure I'll end up buying Dead or Alive Extreme 2 or something equally stupid. Downloading is simple and fast, with the ability to line up downloads in a row. You can even play some games while you're also downloading, but some games suspend downloading in the background. I'm not sure why some games do this, but it must have something to do with online content. And when your downloads are down, a small, unobtrusive little box appears letting you know.
Honestly, just being able to download game demos straight to your console is a game-changer that makes this generation of game consoles the best ever, in my opinion. I never have to leave my apartment again.
Facebook is available on the 360, but the format is so odd and unintuitive that it is basically worthless. I never use it, and neither will you.
Why is there no web browser? It seems like that would be a no-brainer. Nobody in their right mind would want to surf the web on their 360, but it would've been a nice option all the same. It's not something you'll miss, but it is a curious omission.
Xbox Live is a bit expensive to get set up right away, but it more than pays for itself with the embarrassment of riches it has to offer. If you have a 360 and aren't online, you're missing everything the console has to offer.
Thursday, May 13, 2010
Gameplay wise, Gears of War is the kind of game that ruins you for other games because it feels so right. Begin able to quickly duck behind cover and pop out to time your shots brings a level of tactical strategy to the shooter genre that it's hard to go back to a game like Halo where all you need to do is strafe around while shooting. That isn't to besmirch shooters like Halo, which I love, but that the pop and shoot style of cover found in this game is more my style. This is a thinking man's action game, requiring thought and strategy for every encounter or you're not going to make it very far. I died a lot, but after almost every death I was able to look at what happened and understand why I got killed. It was usually because I got sloppy and the enemy outsmarted me. Sun Tzu would've enjoyed this game.
Of course, there were also a few cheap deaths here and there, because the controls are so deep and each button has multiple uses depending upon the situation or location. The duck and roll button is the same as the one used for ducking behind cover, for example, so there were a few times when I'd try to jump out of the way only to find my character planting himself up against the wall in front of enemy fire. It's hard to explain, but if you've played the game, I'm sure it's happened to you. Also, the character is pretty slow, which is a design choice that works 99% of the time, but a quick turn feature would've been great. So there were a few times when I felt like I was fighting the controls a bit, but never so often that it made me mad.
Storywise, this game kind of sucks. It hints at a really deep, sci-fi storyline, but the writing is just bad. I enjoyed the dialogue between the characters and appreciated how the story started in media res with the war already underway, but nothing every really made sense. Mission objectives were never really set up or explained, and the chapters never really transitioned well enough together. All of a sudden you're on a train and have to drop some bomb that is never explained. And why were the locusts coincidentally hiding out in the main character's childhood home? It was just a bad story that was poorly told.
But who cares? The action was fierce, the controls were tight, and the graphics are outstanding. There are also a bunch of multiplayer options. You can either play through the entire game with a friend, or fight online against other people. Of course, this game is a few years old, so at this point I can last about 3 seconds online before getting killed. But it's still a fun 3 seconds. I give this game two thumbs way up. I enjoyed every minuted of it and will definitely play through again on the harder difficulty levels, or die trying anyway.
Thursday, May 6, 2010
After some serious personal reflection and debate between the PS3 and the 360, I finally decided on the 360 for a couple important reasons: namely, price and the list of exclusive games. The 360 is just cheaper, comes bundled with 2(!!) games and has a list of exclusive games that just interest me more. I still play my PS2 and consider it one of the best systems of all time, but I'm too big a Halo fan to pass on the option to play the latest games in the series. Even Final Fantasy has become multi-platform, so the 360 won me over. Yes, the PS3 has a Blu Ray player that I covet greatly, but I'm still uncertain that Blu Rays will catch on and dominate the market the way DVD and VHS did. Downloadable content is catching on just as quickly as Blu Ray, so the format remains in doubt. And if Blu Ray does take over, players are going to be plentiful and come down in price far cheaper than the $300 or so asking price for the PS3.
Anyway, having played the heck out of my 360 for the past couple of days, here are my thoughts:
I bought the Xbox 360 Elite Spring 2010 Bundle from Amazon.com. The console came with one wireless controller, a 120 GB hard drive, a headset that I will never use, and the following games: Forza 3 and Halo 3: ODST. Not a bad bundle all things considered, though it strikes me as odd that it came with a composite A/V cable to connect to the TV. In case you don't know what that is, that's the exact same type of cable you used to hook your TV up to your Super Nintendo. I didn't expect Microsoft (or Sony) to include an HDMI cable or anything, but at the very least the industry standard should now be component or even S-Video. Composite? Pffft. If you have a next generation system that touts its ability to display games in full HD, you should include a cable that is capable of carrying an HD signal. End of rant.
The 360 controller is nice. It feels comfortable and all of the buttons are well placed. I hold all controllers up to the Super Nintendo standard, since that console had the best controller in the history of videogames. It doesn't quite equal the sublime, perfect layout of the SNES controller, but I can't really complain about it. It's basically a modified version of the controller S for the original Xbox, but with analog sticks that just feel... better.
But the best thing about this controller is that it's wireless, which matters a lot more than I would've thought. Until playing the 360, I never really realized how annoying cords were, and not having one dragging over my coffee table and across my floor changes everything. I can now play from any seat in the house, even if I can't see the TV! And being able to actually turn the console on from the controller is amazing. That's one less trip I have to make from my couch.
I'll probably talk more about this when I discuss the games I've played, but the 360 graphics are incredible. And remember, I've been playing games for the past few years on my PS2. So far, every game I've played (and I'm guessing all) have native resolutions of 720p or 1080i. I've played with both settings, and they look identical to my eyes and on my TV, but both look amazing. The leap to true HD graphics is the biggest leap in gaming since the release of the CD-based Playstation after years of cartridge-based systems.
If this is your only DVD player, you could do worse than this for your DVDs. There is some argument on the internet as to whether or not it upconverts movies to 720p or 1080i, but to my eye it does not, even though the picture is incredibly clear and crisp. It fails for me a bit in the colors, however, as the looked a little dull and muted in my opinion. Also, the player is incredibly loud, though it's actually quieter playing movies than it is playing games. It's not a bad DVD player, but it's nowhere near as good as my stand alone DVD player, so I've actually been going through the hassle of switching my HDMI cable between the two for when I want to watch a movie and when I want to watch a game. My TV only has one HDMI port.
I dunno yet, since I haven't gotten it online yet. Not being wi-fi ready right out of the box is a huge mark against the machine in my opinion, considering how this is the year 2010 and even my ipod has built-in wi-fi at this point. This wouldn't be such a huge deal if the wireless adapter wasn't 100 bucks! That's a heck of a lot of money to ask for a little dongle that only gets one piece of equipment online.
This game was one of two that came bundled with the console. It's a really great racing game. Not a whole lot more to say than that. If you want a great racing game -- and every gamer should own at least one -- this is probably as good as you'll find for the 360. But having played through Gran Turismo 1-4 over the years, I've kind of been played out on racing games, which used to be my favorite genre. This game is more fun and more accessible than Gran Turismo, with a lot of assists and features for newbies (like a rewind feature, which is amazing), but it's still just a racing game, albeit a next generation one.
More cars and photorealistic graphics distinguish this from most other games, but it's still just a car going fast around a track. I'm glad they included it for free, since I probably wouldn't have bought it on its own. But it's fun and worth playing when you, um, feel the need for speed.
The other game included in the bundle, ODST is another game that benefits from having been included for free. Don't get me wrong... I'm a Halo fan and this is a great game that does the series justice, but all things considered it's little more than an expansion pack for Halo 3. It's a prequel that takes place as a side story between parts two and three, doesn't feature the Master Chief as the main protagonist, and has one main city as its primary location. So while the mechanics are all there, the action is fast and furious, and it is fun to play, it comes across feeling a little like Halo light.
But what's there is awesome, and serves as a great introduction to the world of Halo on the 360. But I'd rather have Halo 3, but Microsoft knows that so why give me something for free if I'm already obviously going to pay for it? Graphically, it's a lot cleaner and more impressive looking than Halo 2 on the original Xbox, but the graphics are so dark (because the game takes place at night) it doesn't really do much to show off the next gen graphics. As a multiplayer game, I'm sure it's fantastic since it includes all of the modes and maps from Halo 3, but since I don't have Xbox Live yet, I'll have to wait and see. Good free game, but I'd rather have something a little more substantive.
Now this is a next generation game. Assassin's Creed is an open-world, third person game that pits you as an assassin fighting against the Knights Templar set against the backdrop of the Holy Land during the Third Crusade. That's quite the summary, but it really has to be played to be understood. Or maybe it has to be experienced.
This game is without a doubt the best looking game I've ever played, and considering that it came out 3 years ago, I can't wait to see what the sequel looks like. The open-world of the cities your character explores are gorgeous, huge, and ridiculously detailed. Just climbing the buildings and jumping from rooftop to rooftop is good fun. Some wacky controls and repetitive missions keep this from being the true masterpiece it set out to be, but I'll get into that in a more in depth review once I play through it a bit more. But my first impressions are that it's an astoundingly beautiful technical achievement that is incredibly fun to play. Thumbs up.
It took me a little while to warm up to this game, since it wasn't exactly what I was expecting. If you go into this game thinking you can play it like, say, Halo, you're going to die. It's an action-heavy shooter, but one that's kind of slow paced, placing an importance on finding cover and planning your tactics very carefully. Once I started to understand that design choice, I got into it and enjoyed it a lot more. But I still died. A lot. This is a hard game, but very satisfying. Every small encounter feels like a real battle, and each enemy you take down feels like an accomplishment.
Graphically, it's a technical achievement with big characters, expansive environments, and detailed textures. But everything does look very gray. That was an artistic choice I know, meant to give things a rundown, industrial look, but it does look very bland in places, even though the technical merits are outstanding. There is also a sequel out, but I picked this one up for ten bucks. I give it two way up.
This is the one game I haven't really played yet, because it seems the most complicate, the most epic, and the one that actually requires you read the manual before playing. It's seems to be a really cool, really epic sci-fi/RPG with third person battle, leveling up, and space exploration. The graphics are amazing and the whole thing feels really cool, but I bought too many games too quickly and this game lost out because it's the least immediately accessible. But I bet it will be the most fun, so I'm also kind of saving it until I have a lot more time to invest in it with out distractions.
Also, it's a bit too similar in style to Halo and Gears of War, what with it being another sci-fi action game, so I tend to cycle through Assassin's Creed and Forza to break up the monotony of shooting through hords of aliens. Though Mass Effect is much deeper than either Gears or Halo.
The Xbox 360 is awesome. This is a great gaming system with amazing power and a phenomenal library of games. I still wish I had built-in wi-fi and a Blu Ray player, but I'm still happen I choose the 360 because the available library of games just interested me more. All I can really say about the console is that I started writing this review about a week ago, and it took me this long to finish it because I couldn't put my controller down. I suppose I should call my girlfriend one of these days and make sure she's still in town.