No one should be too surprised that Mayor Charlie Hales has decided to deviate from a posted schedule that had him handing back, right about now, all the bureaus he took from his colleagues in February as part of his new-look budget process—something the Oregonian has definitively reported this morning.
Hales made the move to promote citywide thinking about the budget (and maybe hold some leverage when corralling votes for his preferred version of it), and it always struck me as strange that the handover would happen before council finished haggling with Hales. And it would be strange, but he's not doing it.
But the O piece, by city hall reporter Brad Schmidt, caught my eye for a different reason: It handicapped where the bureaus will land. You'll remember we had city hall staffers make their very own guesses in a survey we published in January. Schmidt's take is "unsubstantiated," he writes, but it's a pretty good look at the possibilities.
Here's my take, blatantly stealing from Schmidt's format, since playing along seemed like a good idea when I started writing this post.
In news that's hardly surprising—but still pretty depressing, at least for a guy like me, who started playing videogames in the '90s—Disney has shut down LucasArts, the videogame division of LucasFilm. After acquiring LucasFilm for billions of billions of billions of dollars and then instantly greenlighting a slew of new Star Wars movies, Disney's streamlining the empire that once belonged to George Lucas—first getting rid of the animation division that produced The Clone Wars (canceling the show in the process) and now getting rid of LucasArts, along with their in-development titles Star Wars: 1313 and Star Wars: First Assault. Here's some soulless PR:
“After evaluating our position in the games market, we’ve decided to shift LucasArts from an internal development to a licensing model, minimizing the company’s risk while achieving a broader portfolio of quality Star Wars games," LucasArts parent company LucasFilm said in a statement. "As a result of this change, we’ve had layoffs across the organization. We are incredibly appreciative and proud of the talented teams who have been developing our new titles.” (Via.)
LucasArts hadn't had a great game in a while—the last game they developed that I played was the underwhelming The Force Unleashed 2—but it's worth remembering that in addition to a bunch of great Star Wars games (the Dark Forces/Jedi Knight series, the X-Wing series), they were home to a rash of some of gaming's best, funniest, and most groundbreaking point-and-click adventure titles: Maniac Mansion, Day of the Tentacle, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, Sam & Max, Full Throttle, The Secret of Monkey Island. I always felt like it was a huge missed opportunity that only one of those games—Monkey Island—was ported to iOS; while there are still ways to play those games on a PC, I would've paid good money to tap my way through Fate of Atlantis while riding the bus.
In case you missed this story over the weekend like I did, here's your morning dose of awesome parenting:
When Mike Mika saw the disappointment on his daughter's face when she realized Pauline wasn't a playable character in Donkey Kong, he felt a call to action. Thankfully Mika happens to be a competent developer, and after a few late-night hours spent hacking the NES version of Nintendo's classic, he accomplished the role reversal his daughter had wished for. Mario was now under Donkey Kong's control, and Pauline was tasked with rescuing the plumber in distress.
(WARNING: As is usually the case, if you want to continue feeling good about humanity, you shouldn't read the comments on The Verge post, as it has been hijacked by dipshit "men's rights" morons making dumbass false equivalency comments about replacing Lara Croft with Larry Croft for the sake of fairness and so on.)
Monopoly is about fucking everyone over.
That's all its ever been about, and if you try to play the game in a fair and reasoned fashion, that's a good way to find yourself in the fifth hour of self-induced Monopoly coma, politely rolling dice, shedding skin cells and letting loose successively larger and larger yawns until you, your brother, your cousin, and gramma are unhinging your jaws like somnambulistic pythons, expelling aerated sleep as you numbly nudge a fucking thimble around the table for the 300th time.
Monopoly is supposed to end with angry people, hurt feelings, flipped tables, and gramma spitting her dentures and the c-word across the room at the ungrateful children who dared screw her out of Marvin Gardens. The winner should be smug, self-satisfied, and secure in the knowledge that they are smarter, slicker, and oh-so-ruthless. Their smile should be oil, their eyes glittering, razor-sharp obsidian.
But even knowing this and playing accordingly, sometimes games can take up to two or three hours at minimum, which is still way too long for a Monopoly game. Luckily for you, I've fixed this. Print this out, stash it in the box, and from now on, these rules are the rules, and I guarantee Monopoly becomes something you might actually enjoy at a family gathering, instead of something you volunteer to be played as a means to make everyone either leave, sleep, or die.
Ah, the late '90s and the early '00s! Now that was a time for comic books, my friends. Comic books like Tomb Raider!
Based on the videogame series, Top Cow's Tomb Raider comics started in 1999 and ran for 50 issues. Which leads me to today's news from Dark Horse Comics: A new Tomb Raider comic will launch once the lastest Tomb Raider game hits—and in the meantime, a "48-page, six-part hardcover omnibus" (huh? okay!) will set up the new game's story. Which, sure, fine, but what's really great is the cover for the new comic. Where are you going, Lara? Are you blind? You're walking off the boat!
As a dude who's gone on record as loving Danger Girl, I don't have the strongest leg to stand on, but still: Few comic book covers have ever been more ridiculous than those of Top Cow's Tomb Raider books, which were a shameless, nonstop parade of tits, asses, guns, and monsters (to be fair, the above things still sell a lot of terrible comics). In celebration of what's merely the latest ridiculous Tomb Raider cover (seriously, Lara, you're a terrible swimmer—at least put on a life vest), let's take a moment to remember the Tomb Raider covers of yore.
Duncan Jones is making the jump to big-budget tentpole movies, signing on to direct Warcraft, Legendary Pictures’ live-action adaptation of Blizzard Entertainment’s video game universe....
Taking an almost kitchen-sink approach to fantasy, Warcraft, which has grown to be one of the most popular multiplayer online role-playing games out there, is part fantasy, part science fiction and—depending on the game you’re playing—includes elements such as dragons and orcs, zombies and werewolves, and aliens and spaceships. (Via.)
I haven't touched World of Warcraft since I wrote a feature about it a million years ago (the thing I'm most proud of in that article: The O.C. reference). So maybe I'm out of the loop—maybe the kung fu panda expansion really took it to the next level—but but from what I remember, Warcraft's world was generic and candy-colored enough that infusing it with any unique personality, let alone finding a narrative within it, would seem incredibly challenging. Even the crappy videogame movies we've gotten so far have started off with more cohesive narratives and characters than are immediately evident in World of Warcraft's open-ended playground. Much of the appeal of the increasingly aged WoW is that players can tailor the experience to how they want to play; once you strip away that customization, you're left with little more than a vague, sprawling fantasy setting.
That said, Jones sounds up for the challenge.
Yes, you definitely should buy me everything in the wish list I put together in this week's issue. However, I forgot something very, very important. THIS:
That is all. Thank you.
They don't really let you see the goods in that video, but pictures and details are here.
Back when Halo 3 was about to come out, Microsoft hired Neill Blomkamp—who'd go on to make District 9—to do some live-action ads for the game. They were neat!
For Halo 4, Microsoft's tapped visual effects guy Tim Miller (director) and motherfuckin' David Fincher (producer) to make this, which... is neither as good nor as interesting as Blomkamp's stuff.
It says a fair amount about the risk-averse state of Hollywood that even Halo is thought of as currently being too risky to greenlight, but at some point a Halo movie will happen, and this feels as much like a proof-of-concept reel for movie studios as it does an ad. Which makes me think about why, so far, videogames haven't translated well to film. The traditional reason offered is that videogames lack stories and characters that're good enough, but that's becoming less and less legit—games like Mass Effect and Halo have stories, mythologies, and settings that run laps around a lot of successful movies'. The bigger issue, I think, is the fundamental difference between mediums: Videogames are interactive, in that the good ones provide you an intriguing playground and make you an active participant, while films are passive, in that the good ones make you open yourself up to what the filmmaker's expressing. Blomkamp's ads work like film: They're distinct and engaging and a little bit weird and they pull you into a new world—one that, notably, has a different look and tone than the actual Halo 3 game did. Miller's tries to more closely approximate Halo 4, and instead comes across as stressing all the goofiest aspects of the game—specifically, visuals that will might work great in the game, but don't translate nearly as well to film. (FLAMING SCREAMING SKULL.) There's a reason videogames have been able to take a lot more from film than vice versa, and I'm pretty sure it boils down to an awareness of how vastly different the mediums are—at first glance, they appear to share more than they actually do. Right now, videogame designers seem to understand film a lot better than most filmmakers seem to understand games.
Games designer/theorist Jane McGonigal wrote a great book a while ago called Reality Is Broken, which argues that the reason humans spend three billion hours a week playing online games is that games are better and more engaging than reality as most of us experience it, in part because games tap into the best parts of us. She's interested in ways gaming and its principles can be applied to real-life scenarios—she's also a fascinating speaker, and I've got three pairs of tickets to see her speak Thursday night at Concordia. To enter to win 'em, just email me by 9 am tomorrow with "epic win" in the headline, and your full name in the email. Winners will hear back tomorrow by 10 am.
UPDATE! This post originally said the event was tomorrow night—it's Thursday! Sorry :(
I spent my Labor Day weekend mostly at the Washington State Convention Center, wherein I was surrounded by motley and colorful crowds. Men with goatees and fedoras abounded, as did girls with candy-pink and Smurf-blue hair. Countless enthusiastic fans were dressed as either David Tennant or Matt Smith’s version of the Doctor. Last weekend downtown Seattle played host to the Northwest’s biggest geek party: the Penny Arcade Expo, a gaming convention spawned by Internet’s most successful web comic.
PAX is not like other conventions. The geek culture at PAX is very much of the inclusive sort, and is defined first and foremost by enthusiasm and curiosity. That sort of fandom stands in stark contrast to the corpulent, cynical, self-satisfied strain of fandom most exemplified by Kevin Smith. With its pointed ban on booth babes, panels on queer gaming and preventing online harassment, and its list of recommended indie games, PAX seems to constantly go out of its way to say “We’re the good geeks. We’re not going to insult your gender during a Modern Warfare match. We just want to play Bananagrams.” And, for the most part, it pulls off the neat trick of being absolutely huge yet still seeming cuddly and inclusive.
Spotted last night in the window of Happy Knits on Hawthorne:
Hit the jump for closeups of Mario, Bowser, the Fire Flower, a star, and a Bob-omb.
This is my favorite thing that I have learned today.
This is the guy who does Duke Nukem's voice. The fact that his name is "Jon St. John" is fairly remarkable, but not nearly as remarkable as the fact that someone got him to read 50 Shades of Grey. In Duke Nukem's voice.
Also remarkable: Man, I'd heard from various snarky lit snobs that 50 Shades of Grey was terribly written, but I had no idea it was this terribly written. You are correct, snarky lit snobs. Keep on keepin' on, America.
Thanks, Topless Robot.
1) I'd hoped to do a full, thorough review of the Game of Thrones videogame that came out a few weeks ago; the game's release was timed perfectly with the ending of the show's second season, and since the Great Bearded Glacier's next book is probably a couple of decades away—
—I'd assumed a lengthy, sleep-depriving visit to Westeros via my Xbox would be a foregone conclusion. However:
2) The Game of Thrones videogame is remarkably mediocre; after having it for several weeks, I still haven't managed to force myself to play much of it. It's a chore, and while I might be a Thrones junkie, I'd like to think even junkies have their limits.
3) Okay, maybe that's a bit harsh. The game isn't terrible, and once you get past its dated graphics, bland quests, clunky combat, and bare-bones presentation—the game frequently looks like it's from the last console generation, not this one, and there's a severe lack of polish to the interface and menus, where you have to spend a lot of time—there are some good ideas here. For example: When you pick your abilities, you also have to pick a set of weaknesses. (I picked a collapsed lung! Because I had one of those once! IT'S LIKE I'M LIVING THE GAME) Or: George R.R. Martin helped out on story. Or: You can tell that the developers at Cyanide dig the books' universe; the graphics might not be much, but the style and the color palette do a solid job of matching what Westeros should feel like.
4) Well, what the books' version of Westeros should feel like, anyway; while there are some elements here from the HBO show—the theme song, a few of the actors, but not any of the ones you care about—most of them feel like they were tacked on at the last-minute. Cyanide reportedly worked on this game for seven years, which maybe explains why it feels so dated; it also might explain why the newer, HBO-approved elements stand out like Varys at a whorehouse.
Tonight, kicking off a weekly series of screenings at the Cartopia food carts on 12th and SE Hawthorne: Alien at 10, Blade Runner at midnight. Free admission! Food that comes from carts! Bittersweet remembrances of olden times long past—O! Those halcyon days when Ridley Scott made good movies!
Pixar's got Brave coming out soon, but after that? Wreck-It Ralph, which has a trailer that's just a tiny bit like The Truman Show's—thanks, in part, to some well-deployed Talking Heads. Not a bad touchstone, there, and then PAC-MAN GHOST and Q*BERT and BOWSER and etc. It's like a goddamn Roger Rabbit for videogames, which—considering Pixar will likely back it up with great original characters and a solid story—I am 100 percent okay with.
(UPDATE: Because I'm an idiot, because it's Disney, and because I thought this looked good, I assumed Pixar was involved. They are not. Which, yes, somewhat dims my expectations. Because Disney is not, shall we say, reliable, or at least they certainly aren't in the way that Pixar is. Still—it still looks good! WE SHALL SEE.)
The Game of Thrones RPG came out yesterday (we've got a review copy en route, and I'll blog some impressions once it shows up), but hey, look at this: A digital version of
author George R.R. Martin "Maester Martin" from the game, where the bespectacled fellow awkwardly talks about how he's writing a history of Westeros and—oh ho ho!—he still hasn't finished writing it! But he will soon! He swears!
So I'm guessing the point of this in-game encounter is that sometimes maesters will just straight up lie to your face. Lesson learned, Game of Thrones RPG. That said, hopefully your character will be able to smash the shit out of whatever wooden barrels Maester Martin has in his little hovel, in which you will no doubt find crudely scratched outlines for The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring and then BLOOP! ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED: LEARNED JON SNOW'S PARENTAGE and SAD VALYRIAN TROMBONE NOISE! LEVEL FAILED: YOU CANNOT KILL THE SANSA AND/OR BRIENNE NPCS NO MATTER HOW ANNOYING THEY ARE OR HOW MUCH THEY KEEP DISTRACTING YOU FROM EVERYTHING ELSE GOING ON IN WESTEROS THAT IS ACTUALLY OF INTEREST.
Via Topless Robot.
Let's assume you're a fan of Blizzard Entertainment's Diablo series, but just don't have the patience to wait for the May 15 release of Diablo III. Now that I type it all out that's a pretty likely scenario, so it's probably a good thing that as of an hour or so ago, the company has opened up the Diablo III beta to anyone with an internet connection, a (free) Battle.net account and either a Mac or Windows computer capable of running the title.
Excited? You should be. I've been playing the beta for a few months now and it's awesome. The company has tweaked a few things and made some interesting additions to the series, but I can say with total honesty that if you loved Diablo II, you will also love Diablo III.
So how do you get in? Simple. Head over to Battle.net, sign in (or register a new account), then download the client from Blizzard's servers. Though the company's hardware is likely taking a pounding from the massive crush of people trying to get into the beta, their client downloader is bit torrent-based, so the multi-gigabyte client download shouldn't take too long.
Once complete, you have until the stroke of midnight on Sunday to explore Blizzard's latest massive hit. Hope you didn't have any other plans this weekend.
Daniel Johnston's new comic book/album features a bunch of Portland guests. Space Ducks: An Infinite Comic Book of Musical Greatness—its humble title notwithstanding—was the result of the songwriter's lifelong dream to make a comic book, and there's also a fancy iPad game app that goes with it too. Johnston's accompanying new album, Space Ducks: Soundtrack has seven new Johnston songs plus tracks by a bunch of guests, including Portland's Fruit Bats and Unknown Mortal Orchestra.
Portland ad company Wieden + Kennedy worked with Johnston to create the multimedia package, which initially began as a simple redesign of Johnston's site. But that led to Johnston writing the full-length comic, and W+K bringing it to life through the iPad app (in the iTunes store here here). Chris Funk of the Decemberists helped with the curation of the music and also lent his voice to the game; James Mercer of the Shins also did some voice work. In the meantime, you can hear all of the Space Ducks: Soundtrack over on Spinner this week. I'll include the track list after the jump, as Spinner doesn't say who performs which song. Fruit Bats' "Evil Magic" and UMO's "Satanic Planet" are definitely worth checking out.
Ah Spring! That special time of year when the sun returns, love blossoms alongside the tulips, and Ground Kontrol attracts a swath of the region's finest pinball wizards for the annual Pinbrawl tournament!
As you can see from the above poster, this year's event goes down on Sunday, April 22. Doors open at 10AM, registration ends at 10:45AM and the event will likely run throughout the day. The official press release advises spectators to show up by 4PM and though watching the tournament is free, it will cost $20 to actually participate.
Full details on the event can be found on the official Pinbrawl page, including an up-to-the-minute list of what's at stake here (though I doubt anything is going to top the chance to own your own pinball machine).
Like the headline says, this morning Microsoft officially announced the release date for 343 Industries' Halo 4.
We still don't know much about the game's plot or what it will add in terms of new gameplay concepts, but expect aliens, guns and oversized military vehicles with the handling characteristics of RC racers.
Strangely, tonight's episode of Conan features a segment trumpeting the announcement, because apparently simply telling the gaming media about this sort of thing is passé. Or maybe TBS is the network of choice for trigger happy teenagers. Who the hell knows?
You remember Max Payne, right? It was that film noir action game that Rockstar developed in between Grand Theft Auto sequels that introduced bullet time to gaming in the short time period between The Matrix making that sort of thing mind-blowingly cool and every single media property overusing the gimmick until it was a tired cliche.
That game is now available on the iPhone and iPad for only $3, and despite my reservations about how its made-for-PC control scheme would translate to devices that are completely devoid of useful buttons, it's fantastic. Actually, it looks and runs a bit better than it did in any of its previous incarnations, so once you get used to the control scheme's short learning curve, you'll be playing the best version of the game to date.
Plus, there's some part of the primal human brain that really gets off on diving through a door in slow motion, akimbo pistols blazing, like some kind of John Woo-directed wet dream. That's worth the cost of admission alone. All the hard-boiled noir detective stuff is just icing on a morally grey, hyper-violent cake.
I would like to play this game.
That's Han Solo Adventures, a fan-made game that developer Stacy Davidson has been working on single-handedly for a few years—it's modeled after old LucasArts titles like 1992's great Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, but, you know. Han Solo. Davidson says he's working on getting it finished soon, which would be great, because yes. I would like to play this game.
P.S. That reminds me: LucasArts, if you put Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis on iOS, I would buy that more or less immediately. Just saying.
Two reasons: First, that $10 price point. You've likely got that kind of scratch between the cushions of your couch (and if you don't, you should probably look for a better couch).
Second, and more importantly, Persona 3: FES is arguably the best roleplaying game of the last two console generations. I'm willing to admit that its sequel (the aptly titled Persona 4) might improve on it in some ways, but this Wired review makes a solid argument as to why everyone with even the faintest interest in the genre should own the game.
Fair warning though, the game is long and incredibly deep. Expect to drop a minimum of 100 hours into it before you reach the end. And don't be surprised if, after playing, you immediately seek out the other half-dozen games and off-shoots in the series.
Statistically speaking, you're a smart, cultured lot, so I'm going to take it for granted that you've played (and thus loved) thatgamecompany's recently-released PlayStation 3-exclusive Journey.
Likewise, I'm going to assume that you were wildly impressed with the game's gorgeous flowing sand that piled up around your character's feet, was blown about by the wind and generated the most entertaining dunes since that one episode of The Critic where Jay gets stuck in Iraq.
If all my assumptions are correct, I urge you to read this post on the developer's forum that explains the tech behind that sand. It's a bit dry and hyper-geeky, but for any aspiring developers or fans of the game, it's a nice extra snippet of commentary on how thatgamecompany managed to create such a striking world.
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