TBT #10 – Holy Thanksgiving, Batman!

Originally published at Examiner.com on November 26, 2009.

Wow.  That’s weird…six years to the day.  Anyway, by this point, I was thoroughly distraught with the idea that I would keep producing work for Examiner.com and yet never draw any sort of payment from the site, even under the new payment rules (which were not much different than the old, mind you).  After this article, I would plan three more, publish two (one several years after the other), and then move onto other opportunities.  It should be noted that, aside from Examiner.com’s new uppity attitude, nothing at all has changed in terms of compensation for creative contributions.

Thanks to all who have been checking out the blog, and may all who celebrate (and even those who don’t) have a wonderful and joyous Thanksgiving.

– Randall Malus, 11/26/2015


As we’re all aware, today is Thanksgiving.  On this day, it is customary to give thanks for all of life’s little joys: friends, family, health, wealth, happiness, Corps, country, Kris Kristofferson, Chuck Norris, the solar system, trans-dimensional travel, Norman Bates and his mother Kathy Bates, Hollywood, Bollywood, Dr. Abraham Van Helsing, ninjas, and everything else that makes life worth living.  This Thanksgiving, I, too, wish to give thanks–for my great family, my good friends, and–most of all–for Batman!


batman4Possibly the most intimidating title screen in the history of video games.


Yes, Batman.  Do I really need to explain myself?  Not only has Batman saved Gotham City from the evils that inhabit Arkham Asylum more times than can be counted (though DC Comics has tried), he’s also saved the earth from multiple alien threats during the 1950s and 1960s and, recently (within the last year or so), he made the ultimate sacrifice and gave his life to save the universe from the evil Fourth World god Darkseid during an event called Final Crisis (well, he’s not technically dead per se, only caught in prehistoric times with the ancient superhero known as Anthro, but everyone is supposed to think that Batman is dead).  So, on this, a day when we give thanks, I offer my thanks to and for the Dark Knight Detective.  And, because I’m the Cleveland Classic Games Examiner, I specifically offer my sincerest thanks for the NES game, simply titled Batman ™.  Based on the 1989 film directed by Tim Burton and starring Michael Keaton in the role of Gotham’s dark avenger and Jack Nicholson in the role of the dastardly Joker, the NES game is…unique, to say the least.

Allow me to explain.

During the festivities, the Joker released toxic nerve gas contained in parade balloons, which Batman promptly destroys in the prologue.  Though the deadly crisis has been averted, the Joker’s henchmen take to the Gotham streets, causing chaos and terrorizing citizens.  So, the first level places the player as Batman on the streets of Gotham, right in the middle of the riot.  Sounds close to the movie, right?  Give it time.


batman1(1)The mean streets of Gotham.  Damn, it feels good to be Batman.


The first thing that one will notice is that Danny Elfman’s brilliant Batman score is absent from the game.  Completely absent.  There aren’t even chords of it in any of the level themes or cutscenes.  That said, the soundtrack for the game is still very action-packed and fits the atmosphere of the game fairly well, especially that level themes for the first and third levels.  Also, the player will notice that the gameplay is very action-oriented, which is ideal for a side-scroller based on and Batman property.  The difficulty in the first level is quite the same throughout the game–that is, the game is difficult, but not unfair as long as you keep your wits about you.  Also, when Batman punches enemies, they burst into flame and explode.  While my memory isn’t what it used to be, I don’t think that happened in any of the comics (ever) or in the Burton film.  But I digress.

Back to the plot.  So, Batman fights his way through the Gotham streets to the bottom of Gotham Cathedral.  As in the 1989 movie, the Joker is hiding out in the cathedral (the subplot with Vicki Vale is almost completely removed from the game).  So, after beating the boss of the level (comic book Batman villain Killer Moth), another cutscene reveals that Batman jumps into his Batmobile, leaves the cathedral, and drives to Axis Chemical plant to stop the Joker’s production of deadly chemicals.  Now, anyone who has seen the film will note that this causes a continuity error, as Batman was supposed to have taken care of the chemical plant earlier in the film.  Not only that, but why would Batman leave the cathedral when he’s so close to catching the Joker, only to destroy a chemical plant and risk the Joker getting away?  And the third level makes even less sense.  In the first half of the third level, Batman is fighting his way through the sewers until he gets to a cave, which is the second half of the third level.  Now, one could rationalize that the second level takes place as a flashback, as does Batman’s escape from Axis Chemicals into the sewers and, eventually, back to his Batcave (which has now somehow been overrun with the Joker’s henchmen and the Electrocutioner, a Batman villain that appeared for about one page in one Batman comic in the late 1980s), but one would have to be more insane than the Joker to do so.


batman2(1)In the sewers, fighting what appears to be a Ninja Turtle.


After fighting his way through the most dangerous cave in existence, Batman heads to the television station for some unknown reason.  Though I love the level design in this game, I have to note that this is the creepiest television station I’ve ever seen.  The angles, cords, and freakish machinery are Lovecraftian in design and, beyond that, I can’t come up with a single reason as to why Batman would ever go to the television station in the first place.  It never happened in the film, so why would it happen in the game?


batman6(1)A television studio as designed by H.R. Giger.


After working through the television studio, Batman finally decides that he should return to the cathedral and take down the Joker–who now apparently has the ability to call forth lightning from the heavens.  A little weird, yes, but the Joker still carries his long-barrelled joke gun, so I can forgive the programmers for imbuing the Joker with the powers of God.  After defeating the Joker, Batman (as he does in the film, though perhaps a bit less directly than in the game) tosses aside his “no killing the bad guys” attitude from the comic books and throws the Joker over the railing and to his death, citing that now the Joker will “dance with the Devil in the pale moonlight.”  Batman is totally rad.


batman7The Joker, demonstrating a technique he learned from Maxie Zeus while in Arkham.


Normally I’m a stickler for accuracy, but honestly, the NES Batman game is so cool that I can’t help but love it.  Though the game was removed from the film (which was in turn removed from the comics), it remains a good, challenging side-scroller that stands up even today.  Plus, it stars Batman.  That’s something for which we can all be thankful.

With that, I hope that everyone has a safe and joyous Thanksgiving!

TBT #9 – Fiction vs. Reality: Farmville vs. SimCity

Originally published at Examiner.com on November 25, 2009.

This article was meant to be the start of a series I’d have called “Fiction vs. Reality”, where I would take a hyper-realistic game and compare it to a game with a similar theme but rife with fantasy elements.  Of course, that never came into being–but maybe I’ll resurrect the idea here, on this blog.

The best part hands-down was the comment I received about five years ago, at the bottom of the article by someone calling herself “some chick”:

you need to calm the eff down about farming. the point of the sim is that it ISN’T real, and i’m sure the people of facebook are aware of that. sheesh

Obviously, someone didn’t get the joke.

– Randall Malus, 11/19/2015


Facebook has recently suffered a boom of simulation games, or “sims“–and by “boom”, I mean “an atomic bomb just exploded in your house, sucked all the air out of it for ten minutes, and has left so much radiation behind that you, your family, and your descendants will suffer horrifically painful mutations that will put you at odds with the rest of humanity for what will likely be the rest of time”. And what do I mean by that? Well, whereas past simulation games were so realistic as to be almost hyper-realistic, these Facebook sims are unsettlingly unrealistic. To illustrate my point, I present you with the Facebook sim known as Farmville and the sim classic known as SimCity.

First, allow me to introduce you to Farmville. As you may have guessed by the title, this game allows you to farm. You plow land by clicking on it with your mouse, you buy seed for various vegetables with in-game coins, plant the seed by clicking on the freshly plowed plot of land, and wait for anywhere from three hours to several days. When the seed has grown into corn, eggplant, or whatever it is you may have purchased (it truly doesn’t matter), you harvest the vegetables by clicking on them, watch your character stand still as a green progress bar counts down until your harvesting is complete, and then watch as your in-game coin count grows because apparently “harvesting” also means “selling your produce at market”. Occasionally, you might earn enough coins to purchase an animal that will grow to maturity in about three years (real time), at which point you can click on the animal, watch another progress bar, and assume that the animal has, like the plants, been sold at market.  And that’s about it.


farmvillefinal(2)Actually, this is probably an accurate portrayal of how plowing happens in real farming–green progress bar included.


See what I mean?

The game doesn’t even come remotely close to resembling a real farming experience.  For one, there’s no actual animal slaughter! How does one become a farmer without slaughtering animals in the most grotesque and inhumane ways ever conceived by a human being? Also, there’s no suffocating fear of one’s family farm becoming the property of some soulless corporation, ultimately resulting in one’s inevitable (yet tragic) suicide! And where’s the “city folk’s” perception of farmers as nothing more than sexual deviants involved with incest and bestiality? The people who programmed this game obviously don’t understand what farming is all about. It’s about PETA’s accusations of animal cruelty, among which is cited a true farmer’s ability to stuff twenty-eight live chickens in a wooden crate that’s no bigger than one cubic foot. It’s about large government subsidies that allow true farmers to sit on their duffs and drink moonshine. It’s about “He Who Walks Behind the Rows” and the children of the sleepy little farm town who kill all of the adults (and any unwary outlanders) in the his name. It’s about a true farmer driving a lonely country road at night with his wife after they’ve tried in vain for years to conceive a child, only to witness a meteor crash in a nearby field which, upon investigation, contains a child whom they adopt and, sometime later, who the farmer hits accidentally with his tractor only to discover that, while the child was unharmed, the tractor has been decimated and, upon noticing this, also discovers that his son will one day fight for truth, justice, and the American Way. I mean, a game like this can’t be taken seriously if a mere city boy like me just schooled its programmers in what real farming is all about.

Well, now that we’ve seen the unrealistic end of the spectrum, let’s take a look at the realistic side of sims!

In the hyper-realistic SimCity for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), the player becomes the mayor of a nameless city.  Sounds boring, right? I bet you think that there’s nothing more to being a mayor than the ho-hum job of explaining to the public how a derelict coke fiend could kill eleven women and stuff them in every nook and cranny of his house without the police noticing until about five years after his spree had begun, or answering the District Attorney’s questions on how you’re related to the corruption charges levied against the County Administrator’s Office.

Well, you’re wrong. 

As SimCity teaches us, being a mayor is roughly synonymous with godhood.  Howso?  In SimCity, the mayor has the power to build cities, generate revenue, and, most shocking of all, create disasters. That’s right, folks, the mayor gets to decide who lives, who dies, and who is worthy to serve under him. According to SimCity, all of one’s megalomaniacal dreams can be achieved by becoming a mayor. Why, a mayor can create tornadoes and hurricanes, call upon fire and flood, cause numerous plane crashes and nuclear meltdowns, and summon UFOs and monsters (such as Bowser, the main antagonist of the Super Mario Bros. series) to level the city that once praised him.

See?  Being a mayor isn’t so boring, after all!


simcityfinalInteresting note: In the PC version of SimCity, it is Godzilla, not Bowser, who is summoned.


So, what have we learned today, dear reader? In addition to learning how to kill a few moments here-and-there, we’ve learned that SimCity is possibly the most realistic sim every created. As for Farmville, well, Farmville could stand to learn something about farming by watching Smallville–namely that farming is less about harvesting vegetables and more about freak-of-the-week super-villains attacking the local high school, only to be stopped by an old farmer’s adopted alien super-powered son. Now that’s what I call farming.


Super Smash Bros. Wii U/3DS – Cloud Strife: My Take

Well, I certainly didn’t see this coming.

This announcement came on Thursday (11/12/2015), and I’ve taken the last few days to process it.  I’m still not sure that I have processed it…

Allow me to state the obvious right now: Cloud Strife’s inclusion is significant. 


First, a bit of background.

Who is Cloud Strife?

Cloud is a character who belongs to Square-Enix (which is the hybrid company that was formed after SquareSoft and Enix merged in the early 2000s).  He’s from a game called Final Fantasy VII.

What is Final Fantasy?

Final Fantasy is a series of Japanese Role-Playing Games (or JRPGs for short).

Side note: JRPGs differ from American RPGs in that, in JRPGs, you’re often given a character (or party of characters) at the beginning and are expected to build up their statistics (such as strength, magic ability, etc.) throughout the progression of the story.  In an American RPG, you’re often tasked with building one character from the ground-up (name, height, weight, even background in some cases) and progressing through an open-ended, loose story.  Really, JRPGs are more straightforward in that there’s less room for customization, but they arguably tell more coherent stories.

Thus far, there have been fifteen main-series installments in the Final Fantasy series, with countless other side-stories and spin-offs appearing across all consoles.

It sounds like Final Fantasy has a great video game tradition.

It absolutely does–and Final Fantasy VII is arguably the reason that the series is still around.  It was wildly popular when it was released for the Sony Playstation in 1997, and remains to this day a game that often finds itself in the top spot of most “greatest games of the 1990s” lists (with its closest rival being Nintendo’s own The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time).  When it comes to historical significance, FFVII is no joke.

Why didn’t I even mention Cloud very much (if at all) in the last few Smash Bros. posts? 

That’s…complicated.  Truthfully, I didn’t think Cloud had a chance.

SquareSoft and Nintendo used to be close back in the day–so close, in fact, that the first six numbered iterations of the Final Fantasy series were exclusively on Nintendo consoles (three on the original NES and three on the Super NES).  That changed with the release of Final Fantasy VII.  At the time, FFVII was meant to be on the N64–but development was an uphill battle, and the system’s cartridges just weren’t large enough to hold all the data necessary to tell Square’s next story.  Square went elsewhere.  Not only was FFVII not released for a Nintendo system (it was released for the Sony Playstation), but it was unbelievably successful.  How successful?  Well, remember when I said that games like Mega Man and Castlevania sold NES consoles to children?  FFVII did that with the Playstation, and in record numbers.  Arguably, it’s because of FFVII that the Sony Playstation was able to win that generation’s console war against the N64, thereby dethroning Nintendo as the top dog in the video game market after roughly a decade and a half.

So, though SquareSoft (now Square-Enix) has still been on speaking terms with Nintendo (and, indeed, they still release arguably lesser titles for Nintendo systems), things have been decidedly icy for awhile.  That’s why I never mentioned Cloud.


Okay.  So, what we have here is the inclusion of a character who helped put one of Nintendo’s competitors at the top of the heap at the end of the last century.

How do I feel about this?

I’m not against it, if that’s the question.  In fact, as a huge fan of FFVII, I love Cloud’s inclusion.  I was hoping for Simon, and we still might get Simon (more on way in a couple of paragraphs), but Cloud is hardly bad news.  In fact, it’s great.

With Cloud, Nintendo has successfully integrated the characters of six different companies (playable characters from Capcom, Sega, Square-Enix, and Namco, and trophies from Choice Provision Games and Ubi-Soft) in one game.  To my knowledge, that’s the most of any non-indie, officially licensed game thus far.  That’s an amazing accomplishment, and only Nintendo could pull it off.

Isn’t Cloud’s inclusion a slap in the face to Nintendo fans?

Not as I see it, no.  Though Cloud helped Sony rise to the top, Cloud is not a Sony character.  This isn’t Kratos (from God of War), or Nathan Drake (from Uncharted), or Microsoft’s Master Chief (from Halo).  Cloud still belongs to Square-Enix, and Square-Enix is not Nintendo’s competitor–in fact, Square-Enix, like Capcom, Namco, and Konami, helped support Nintendo in its glory days.  Where some might view this as an invasion, I view it as a “coming home again” for Square-Enix.

But surely there were better, more Nintendo-centric choices that could have been offered.

Sure, that’s true.  One such choice I’ve seen suggested is the Black Mage, which is a character class.  It’s look is rather distinctive, and anyone who is a fan of Final Fantasy as a series would instantly recognize the character.

Black_Mage_Shibuya

But let’s consider Square-Enix’s position in this decision.  It is no exaggeration to state that FFVII is Square-Enix’s single most successful game to date–so much so that Square-Enix is remaking it for next gen consoles (a remake which I don’t support, for reasons I’ll get to in a later post).

So, you’re Square-Enix.  I don’t know what the details are of Nintendo’s meeting with Square-Enix or what prompted said meeting, but let’s say Nintendo approaches you and says, “We want to include a character from your company in our game.”  Well, which character do you choose?  You could go with the Black Mage, which has a history with Nintendo specifically (for it was featured in several of the original FF games), or you could go with the most recognizable character in Final Fantasy franchise history–one that is assured to make headlines on both Forbes and Yahoo News, among other places (which Cloud’s inclusion has done already).

But Cloud wasn’t even on a Nintendo console.

Not in any substantial way, no (though, he was in Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, and Final Fantasy: Theatrhythm).

That’s pretty much a point of (loose) fact, and I won’t argue against that.

But looking at it from a business perspective, from the position that Square-Enix has no doubt taken, Cloud truly is the only choice that makes sense.  And it’s not hurting Nintendo, since it’s generating a lot of buzz and is probably getting the attention of gamers who otherwise wouldn’t have concerned themselves with Smash Bros. at all.  Who knows…it may even sell systems for the Big N.

How does this fit into my take on Smash Bros. being a history of video games, specifically with Nintendo’s place in it?

It actually reinforces that interpretation.

Like I’ve said, Final Fantasy VII essentially made video game history in 1997.  So, if Smash Bros. is about video game history, Cloud can’t be ignored.

If Smash Bros. is about Nintendo’s place in video game history, Cloud shouldn’t be ignored.  While it’s true that, again, Cloud is responsible for Sony’s ascension to dominance, he is also responsible then for Nintendo’s defeat–and history is made up of wins and losses, both.  I know my losses have defined me, almost as much as my wins (more than, I might argue).  Sometimes one finds themselves on the wrong side of history.  It’s a part of life.  It’s a part of business.  Fans tend to take personally that which businesses cannot.

One might also look at this from the perspective of Nintendo thumbing its nose at Sony.  Sure, Sony is the big man on campus now (thanks in no small part to FFVII and Cloud Strife), but Cloud is still a special character in one of Nintendo’s blockbuster games.  This, then, might be a bit of flexing on Nintendo’s part.

Do I think FFVII Remake is coming to a Nintendo system?

We don’t know the business deals going on behind the scenes.  While I suspect Nintendo is paying Square-Enix a tidy sum for the license, it’s possible that FFVII Remake will become a launch title for the Nintendo NX (Nintendo’s new console).  But we don’t know that for sure, and I hesitate to speculate on that without stronger evidence.

All I know (or care about) at present is that Cloud is in Smash Bros.

Okay, so why might this help Simon?

Though Konami’s relationship with Nintendo is a little chilly, it was never as frozen as Square-Enix’s relationship with Nintendo.  So, the fact that Cloud is coming to Smash Bros. indicates that Konami is likely either at the table, or is being brought to the table soon.  It also means that Nintendo doesn’t really care about the money necessary to pay for third party licenses.  I’m sure however you slice it, Cloud wasn’t cheap, and that’s good news for Konami and its characters.

Now, this may also hurt Simon because, though I’m like 75% sure Konami is at the table, they might be lobbying for their most famous character: the “fan favorite” Snake from Metal Gear.  And though Snake isn’t as popular as Cloud Strife, he was in the last Smash Bros. game, and thus may require little in the way of upgrade and effort.

Then again, when Capcom wanted Ryu from Street Fighter to be their offering, Nintendo blocked them and instead asked for Mega Man due to that character’s history with Nintendo (though Ryu found his way into Smash Bros., anyway–and, in a perfect world, both Capcom and Konami would ideally get two characters each, meaning Snake and Simon).

IMO, Simon still has a good chance, but I’m less sure of Simon’s inclusion than I am of a Konami character’s inclusion (which might be Simon or Snake at this point).

How do I know that there will be any more characters at all?

The game updates whenever there’s a new DLC released with a patch that allows even those who don’t purchase the character to be able to play against someone who has.  In the last patch update, a hacker (the same one who reported Roy and Ryu before Nintendo did, actually) took a look at the code and found what he/she/it believes to be three character slots.  Cloud obviously takes one of those, and if this hacker is correct, two remain.  The hacker’s a reliable source, so I do believe that three is the magic number.

Do I think that Cloud is the fan’s choice poll character?

No.  Masahiro Sakurai, the game’s lead developer, has stated that it takes his team about three months to properly create a character for the game.  The fan poll ended in October (October 3, 2015 to be exact), and the trailer for Cloud reveals a character that seems to be in pretty good working order already.  Not only that, but I can imagine a scenario where negotiations were potentially slow.  No, I think Cloud was planned as early as July–and if his inclusion is at all related to the fan poll, it’s likely because Nintendo took an early peek at the results.

Do I feel that this game, a celebration of Nintendo’s rich history, is being deluded by third party characters?

With Cloud, the roster currently sits at 54 unique characters (more if you count Mii Costumes and reskinned characters, like Olimar and Bowser Jr.).  Of those 54, all but five are Nintendo characters.  Only two of those five are from the same company (Mega Man and Ryu are from Capcom).

You can only go to the well so many times before you have to look elsewhere for water.

But there are still plenty of Nintendo characters from which to choose for DLC.

Absolutely.  And no one is saying that those characters won’t become DLC.  For all I know, the next two characters might be King K. Rool and Ridley, or Krystal and Wolf O’Donnell, or an Ice Climber and Stevenson, or any mixture of those, or none of those.  But even if the next two characters aren’t Nintendo characters at all, it’s not like there’s a severe lack of them to be found.  This game is still very much about Nintendo characters.

Why do you think there are so many third party characters in this game, then?

Honestly?  I think this is the last game in the series.  How does one follow this act?  You have Mega Man, Sonic, Pac-Man, Ryu, and Cloud Strife in the same game as Mario, Luigi, Link, Pikachu, Yoshi, Fox McCloud, Samus Aran, and Marth (to name a few).  How do you up the ante beyond “all in”?

Now, I’m not saying there won’t be something similar to this game in Nintendo’s future.  Though dinosaurs are gone, we still have birds.  What we’re seeing potentially is an evolution of the series.  Next time, we might see a game called “Super Smash All-Stars”, or “Smash Bros. Legends”, where we will see an increase in third party characters to a significant degree.  We may see Nintendo vs. Capcom, where the most significant characters from both companies go head-to-head.  Who knows.  But one thing is for certain…there is no going back.

So, what’s coming up in the immediate future?

Nintendo is having a special Nintendo Direct livestream in December.  It is to be the last Smash Bros.-centric livestream.  This doesn’t mean that the DLC will necessarily end after December’s livestream, but it does mean that the huge, sprawling updates will likely cease.  If I had money to wager, I’d say the next two characters (one of which will likely be the true fan poll character) will be revealed during that livestream.  Other information to look forward to includes stage information, amiibo release dates, and feature updates.

The livestream will be at www.nintendo.com/nintendo-direct/. Actual date and time information is not yet available.

RECAP

I think adding Cloud is a good thing.  FFVII holds a regarded place in video game history, and a humbling place in Nintendo history (in the end, Cloud still wound up in this game).  It opens the door for a third party character from Konami, which is fantastic (really, Konami needs a character in this game).  It also perhaps gives us a look into the future evolution of the series.


NEXT: The Shovel Knight Upset (formerly conspiracy)

Quick Writing Tip – Reading Aloud to Oneself

With November in full swing, I’m reminded that many are taking part in that great marathon writing session known as “National Novel Writing Month” (or NaNoWriMo).  And that’s wonderful.  It really is.  The point of NaNoWriMo is to get people who normally wouldn’t find time to write to, well, write.  I’ve certainly taken part in it before (never finished or “won” the event, which is determined by reaching a word count of 50,000 words by the end of the day on November 30), and if a person can come to terms with the fact that what they’ve written during the month of November is nowhere near being close to complete or worthy of publish just yet, it’s a nice little kick in the pants.

But, let’s say a person isn’t just doing this just for therapy, and actually would like to publish one day.  Let’s say that person wants to self-publish.  How does one get the manuscript to the point of being worthy of something approaching “mass release”?

Editing. 

It’s a long and arduous process, but it’s worth it in the end.  And today, I’m going to give you a quick tip on editing that I learned from the published authors (like, for realsies published) who taught me:

Vocally read your work to yourself.

Why?  Because our brains and eyes like to play tricks on us.  We know what the book, short story, or whatever we’ve written should look like, so our eyes and brains skip over an insane number of errors.  But if we read the thing aloud, we are using a different sense and two different skills (including a motor skill).  We will be 75% more likely to catch sentence structure problems, misspellings, double-word errors, typographical errors, dialog issues, and the like.

It’s an effective little technique and an easy-to-use editing tool to help get you closer to putting your work out there for the world to see.

TBT #8 – “Rockman” becomes a rock opera thanks to the talented Protomen

Originally published at Examiner.com on October 21, 2009.

Sadly, it takes about 100 years for the Protomen to write, record, and release new music, so a third act (new album) hasn’t yet been released.  But, one is indeed on the horizon I hear, and should be coming soon.  As long as the quality is as high as it ever was, it will be well worth the wait in my humble opinion.

In terms of comments on the article itself, this one came from “Joe Doakes”, from about five years ago:

Kanye West is a total douche. You might want to write an article about that.
It’s a reference to a facebook “feud” I had with this kid I knew from high school about Kanye West’s now-infamous interruption of Taylor Swift at the Grammy’s.  I found the whole obsession with the event to be hilariously trivial, and so anytime this guy would bring it up, I’d talk about how Kanye’s a genius and, as a genius, he’s exempt from the rules of etiquette.  This made him extremely angry and he blocked me.  Apparently, he felt the need to get the last word as Joe Doakes, an alias he used often.  Which is fine.  I’m still better at life in general, and I’m sure this guy will be eating his words when Kanye and Taylor take the White House in 2020 (not serious about that, but we’ll see how well President Trump does during his first term in office).

– Randall Malus, 11/12/2015


Pop quiz, hotshot:  What do Jesus and Mega Man have in common?

Aside from both being robots from a distant future, Mega Man now joins Jesus in the prestigious honor known as the rock opera.  And the Protomen have made it all possible.

Honestly, words cannot express how awesome the music is.  The Protomen have released two albums thus far and already it’s obvious that these folks are going to go far.


TheProtomen_TheProtomen_jpgGet equipped with the Protomen.


The first album, simply entitled The Protomen, tells the story of Protoman a heroic android built by the benevolent Dr. Thomas Light (to save humanity from a dystopic robot-filled society ruled by the megalomaniacal Dr. Albert Wily) and Mega Man, Protoman’s android “brother”.

Protoman fights valiantly for the humans of the city, tearing through Dr. Wily’s forces with wreckless abandon, but ultimately Protoman is killed in battle while the humans he was charged to protect look on in indifference.  Wracked by frustration, guilt, sorrow, and rage, Dr. Light goes back to his workshop and builds Mega Man.  Though Dr. Light at first tries to convince Mega Man not to fight for the uncaring populace, Mega Man disobeys Light and rushes into battle, determined to avenge his fallen brother.  What Mega Man finds near the end of his journey, however, is a bit more than he bargained for.

The second album, entitled Act II: The Father of Death, is a prequel.  Taking place more than twelve years before the events of the first album, it chronicles the events that lead to Dr. Light’s tarnished reputation and Dr. Wily’s rise to power.

Though obviously not the strictest adherents to accepted Mega Man continuity, the Protomen paint the Mega Man story as an epic with heart, soul, and a message.  The music itself seamlessly blends hard rock with bursts of synth reminiscent of the electronic beats found in the Mega Man series as a whole.  If you love rock, love Mega Man, or just love quality, the Protomen will fill you with so much awesome that your heart will burst from your chest and attack your friends like a xenomorph from a Ridley Scott film.  But, enough talk.  Below are a few selected tracks and the usual obligatory links.  Do yourself a favor and give them a listen.  Even better, buy the albums and support this incredible band.  You won’t be sorry.


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Selected tracks from Act One: The Will of One, Vengeance 
Selected tracks from Act Two: The Hounds, Light Up the Night

Reader’s Request #1 – Veterans Day vs. Memorial Day

So, when I started this blog, I had a few requests from friends and family to cover certain subjects.  The first such request (that I recall anyway) was to tackle the topic of Veterans Day and how it differs from Memorial Day.  Since this is, indeed, Veterans Day (no apostrophe before the s) 2016, it seemed appropriate to write this now.

The most obvious difference between the two military-themed holidays is that Memorial Day is a day of remembrance for those American soldiers who lost their lives in war, while Veterans Day is for those soldiers who have served in the US Military (no death necessary).  Simple, right?  Memorial Day is for the departed, and Veterans Day is for all who’ve served.

Some additional holiday facts:

  • Memorial Day is celebrated on the last Monday in May.
  • Veterans Day is celebrated on November 11th.
  • Memorial Day was created shortly after the end of the Civil War, and was first called “Decoration Day”.
  • Veterans Day was originally Armistice Day, a day on which to celebrate the end of World War I–but was changed to Veterans Day after the end of the Korean War.
  • It is customary to wear a clove of poppies in observance of Memorial Day (to honor the fallen).
  • It is not customary to wear poppies on Veterans Day.
  • Columbus Day is a day commemorating an Italian explorer who got lost on his way to India and discovered a land mass that the vikings found centuries earlier (but everyone forgot existed).  It is neither Veterans Day, nor is it Memorial Day.
  • Neither of these holidays are St. Valentine’s Day.  That’s the day on which a crazed miner killed a bunch of teenagers in a tunnel.  We don’t talk about that day.  Ever.
  • Contrary to what’s mentioned in Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2, “Garbage Day” is not an actual holiday.

Happy Veterans Day to all who’ve served.

Book Release – All In On Dead: An MI-13 (Mis)Adventure

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages!  I have an announcement to make!

THE WAIT IS OVER!

Just in time to coincide with the film release of the Austin Powers in Goldmember knock-off known as SPECTRE, Randall Malus (me) and The Fictosphere proudly present to you the inaugural chapter of Roger Hammersmith’s MI-13 saga:

aiodcover

Agent Chaste is missing, and it’s up to the misfits at MI-13 to rescue him.  But first, the team must stop a member of the nefarious terrorist organization known as Zodiac from winning a blackjack tournament and forming an alliance with the Soviets!  Are Chaste’s disappearance and the tournament somehow related?  Who from MI-13 will be chosen to bankrupt Zodiac’s agent?  How much can MI-13’s mission controller drink before his liver fails?

Find out within the first few pages of All In On Dead, a pulp parody that evokes the tropes of the super-spy genre and turns them on their collective head!  Fans of espionage thrillers in the tradition of Ian Fleming and Robert Ludlum will find plenty to keep them entertained, and those who aren’t fans of espionage thrillers will also find plenty to keep them enthralled–though less so than normal people (who generally are fans of espionage thrillers).

THE REVIEWS ARE IN!

“Well, it certainly was something I read.” – George Stark

“You can write?” – Eric the Nelson

“Argh, reading?  This feels like school!” – Rufus Pribbs

All In On Dead: An MI-13 (Mis)Adventure is available at Amazon’s Kindle Store for the low price of $2.99.  Don’t delay–climate change is said to be an actual thing, and thus tomorrow is not guaranteed to us!  SO BUY YOUR COPY TODAY!

Speaking of climate change: PRINT VERSION TO FOLLOW SOON!

TBT #7 – Offensive Stereotypes? In my classic games?! It’s more likely than you think!

Originally published at Examiner.com on September 8, 2009.

The story that starts this article is 100% true.  At the time, I thought the guy was insane for placing Italians above…well, above every other “minority” currently competing in the Oppression Olympics.  Little has changed over the last six years (thirteen if I consider the time since I truly attended that lecture).

I won’t even attempt to comment on racism and how to fix it.  Unlike so many SJWs out there, I won’t pretend that I have the answers.

Instead, I offer my own sarcastic take on the list fad that has infected so many websites as of late.  I guess I was ahead of my time.  Also, I literally just noticed the link at the bottom of the page.  After every Examiner.com article, we were encouraged to provide a link to one or more outside sources, so that folks could learn more about the subjects talked of in our articles.  I followed the instructions, but…apparently I’m just a dick.

Again, the pictures are approximations of the originals.

 – Randall Malus, 11/05/2015


About five years ago (“five” being an arbitrary number I‘m throwing out there since I have absolutely no concept of time and, as such, the point in time of which I speak could have realistically been anytime from “before I was born” up until “yesterday“), I attended a college lecture by some guy who said some stuff about how Italians are the most downtrodden victims of stereotyping in modern America.  During his spiel about how he, as an Italian-American, did not want to be associated with the romanticized, noble, anti-heroic criminals known as “mobsters”, I realized that my professor would give me credit just for showing up and that I could leave at any moment.  And so I pulled my half-asleep carcass from the chair and left.

But was he right–not just concerning Italian-Americans, but other ethnicities and social groups as well?  Does offensive stereotyping, anachronistic as it may seem, still happen in modern America?  And how does this stereotyping relate to video games?  Real-life lawyer Jack Thompson seems to be more than a little irked by video games in general, so is there something to this “offensive stereotype” thing?  To examine this, I’ve taken a look at five (there’s that arbitrary number again) classic video games, picked intentionally at random, and have found undeniable and shocking proof that, yes, offensive stereotypes still exist–and have since at least 1982 AD (sadly, Google didn’t exist before 1982, so I couldn’t find any instances prior to that year).  Observe, but be warned: these are not for the faint of heart.


offensive01Mama mia!


Super Mario Bros.: Perhaps the most vile instance of an Italian-American stereotype I’ve ever had the displeasure of crossing, Super Mario Bros. portrays Italian-Americans as honest, hard-working, blue-collar individuals who will put their own lives and sanity at risk by traveling to alien dimensions and facing hordes of monsters led by malicious fire-breathing reptiles in order to save a woman in distress or bring peace, prosperity, and happiness to the known world.  Absolutely scandalous!


NinGaiEven ninjas find the strangest women in bars.


Ninja Gaiden: What ignorant sod created this game?  I mean, am I truly to believe that the Japanese are noble, family-oriented people who place honor and justice before anything else?  Am I supposed to accept at face-value that they would selflessly travel the world and put their lives on the line in order to stop a dastardly demon cult from bringing forth a vengeful, destructive eldritch god that would only lay waste to our planet?  Nice try, Harry S. Truman, but I’m not buying into your racist agenda.


Mega“Beep boop beep”, indeed.


Mega Man: If this game is to be believed, all super fighting robots are heroic doers of good who fight the evil creations of malevolent scientists bent on world domination.  I often wonder what the robots employed at CERN would think (CERN being that Swedish science place in Switzerland which has tried to blow up the world no less than three times now).  If you asked them, I’m sure they’d reply with something witty like “please insert girder” or “beep boop beep”, but behind every flashing light and whimsical, silly “beep“, their tin robotic hearts would break at the pain caused by such an offensive portrayal.


PacI’m stereotyping those cherries as looking 100% delicious.  Mmm, mm!


Pac-Man: I once got punched in the face by a drunken, disgruntled Pac-Man because I made a snide comment about how all Pac-Men are good for is “running around fluorescent mazes whilst being chased by ghosts and gobbling balls”.  I learned the hard way that Pac-Men find this stereotype to be highly offensive and completely false.  The “wakka wakka” sound they’re said to make while they walk, though?  Totally true.

Well, there you have it.  Five games that prove my point on offensive stereotypes in modern America’s classic games–as well as display my inability to count.

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