Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Inarticulate Snarl!

Doing things in good faith is a perfect way of getting it in the gub.  It's a life lesson I can't quite grasp, even though it's happened to me so often.  I enter into things with an open mind and end up getting kicked in the brain*.  I have been approaching some modern horror films with this attitude of late, fool that I am.

I'm still not finished with this little jag; there are a load of horror films from the last few years I haven't seen.  In truth there are some older horror films I haven't seen – wouldn't mind giving Don't Look Now and Freaks a go around.  By the same token I'm not interested in some newer horror films like The Human Centipede 2 or any of the Hostel films.  I am not squeamish, as you'll know if you've read some of my fiction, but the retarded and boring fascination with gore and debasement** just doesn't do anything for me.  Add to that, the first Human Centipede was some of the most inept film making I've ever seen and it didn't bode well for the follow-up.  Use an idea as the basis for a story, but it shouldn't be the entire fucking thing.

Anyway, I entered into watching a couple of Rob Zombie films a few days ago.  Yeah, I suppose walking into Rob Zombie film-making exploits is a big invitation to getting a toe in the frontal lobe, but I decided I should just to see if the impression left by House of 1,000 Corpses was erroneous.  This is the point where I stick a disclaimer in your face: I have liked Rob Zombie's music for a long time, going on twenty years now, and I was really excited when House of 1,000 Corpses was coming out, abandoning any misgivings about his directorial abilities, because even the promos he directed for his songs are on the shoddy side.  So, yeah, fan of Rob Zombie music.

House of 1,000 Corpses turned out to be an incoherent clusterfuck of a mess.  It's like it has been written by someone who doesn't know what a story is and has the tedious hyperactive style of bad music promos.  Bad film!  Swat it with a fucking slipper.  It was disappointing and quite saddening, that trashy, wild and incoherent style that worked so well in his music didn't stand up to a change of medium.  Should have seen it coming, but I was naive and really wanted to enjoy his film work as much as I liked his music.

I pretended this hadn't happened.  I pretended I was coming into The Devil's Rejects without ever having seen House of 1,000 Corpses, aaaaaand it was still shit.  I will admit it was better written, there was actually the semblance of a narrative.  It was a shit narrative with the desperate need for you to empathise with a bunch of reprehensible psychopaths.  It's almost impossible to empathise with characters who have no redeeming features whatsoever.  Yet there goes Mister Cummings trying to make us care for characters so horrible and twisted there's nothing tangible to hold onto.  They're just a bunch of gurning sick fucks who kill a bunch of faceless people and deserve to die.  Actually they probably didn't deserve to have what little cinematic life was given to them.

What's probably most dull about The Devil's Rejects is Rob Zombie's slavish copying of a particular brand of seventies films.  He doesn't even try to bring anything new to the business, just making a nasty seventies exploitation film a couple of decades too late.  It's witless and artless and a kind of wank material for people who want to see senseless, pointless killing and boobs.  It would be fine if that was all he was trying to do, but there are too many things inserted that make it seem like he's trying for something loftier and when he doesn't get anywhere near them it's difficult to decide whether to scud him on the head for being so inept or pat his weirdly-hatted bonce in commiseration for making an attempt.

And while we're on the subject of mindlessly copying the work of other directors, having seen The Lords of Salem, it seems he'd watched a bit of Stanley Kubrick, only instead of taking the lessons of story-telling and character he took away STATIC SHOTS and DRAGGING SCENES.  So many static shots for no reason.  You're not learning anything, it's not moving the plot along and it's not creating tension.  What's the fucking point, man?

I mean, again, better than either The Devil's Rejects or House of 1,000 Corpses, but still a million miles away from being a good film.  He shows a wee bit of restraint when it comes to the violence, but his need to have waaaaaay too much nudity is yawn-inducing.  Actually, I'll correct that: too much female nudity.  I'm a red-blooded heterosexual male, I enjoy looking at the female form, but when it's just women parading around nude, for no real purpose, it gets creepy.  It does get to the point where a full-frontal naked guy would be something of a relief; it would make it feel less like some leering pervert's sitting next to you massaging himself.  Urk.

I dunno if there's something inherently wrong with modern horror, or if this kind of rot has always been there, but Rob Zombie's films are kind of indicative of something a bit skewed about the genre.  The need to parade unpleasant violence and nudity in place of story and character makes me feel a lot of horror film makers miss the point of the genre.  Like most genres it's about showing us fundamental truths about humanity, yeah that sounds fucking pretentious, but it doesn't make it any less true, but a lot of directors seem to think it's an excuse to show off boobs and wave a dripping pancreas in our faces while screaming, "Ha ha ha ha!  Isn't this fucking awesome!"

Rob Zombie probably isn't beyond redemption as a film maker.  There were a few points in The Devil's Rejects, actually some of the best scenes, where he showed a keen sense of comic timing.  Perhaps ditching horror and making a foray into comedy might work out better.

* Okay, not everything.  Some things.  In case you hadn't noticed I'm not the most open-minded person.  I'm not the most closed-minded, either.  Receptive to some things more than others.  Like A REAL HUMAN BEING!  Gasp.

** And don't forget that little smattering of misogyny, that shit gets everywhere and leaves a funky smell.

I even got to see White Zombie the one time they toured in the UK.  Throwing that out there for no particular reason.


Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Gonna Pop a Vein.

You ever cast about like a fucking maniac trying to find something to take up some space?  You ever do that?  Just me?

It looks like it comes so easily to other bloggers.  Every week they have something new to tell us, and here I am, almost in tears trying to think of something to say that will inspire and entertain.  It makes me wonder if I have an extremely boring life.  Might be that I need to get out and do a wee bit more living.  Then I look at my bank balance.

You know that thing about money can't buy you happiness?  Yeah, it isn't that simple.  Having money and just shoving it in a bank account to watch it accumulate isn't going to make you very happy*.  Having money ready for when you need it and then using to have fun will make you happy.  Well, it will certainly make your life richer in experience.  Sometimes.

I used to have money.  I'll let you pick yourself up off the floor from that bombshell.  You wouldn't think it to look at me, but I used to have quite a comfortable bank balance.  I didn't do much with it.  Then I blew all on stuff I didn't really want**.  That wasn't the best time in my life.  I should have spent all my money years before.  I might not have so many regrets.

Instead of being so dull when it came to summer holidays I should have got myself a passport and zoomed around a bit.  My younger self could have benefited from zipping to comic cons in the US and schmoozing with people in the business.  Ah, if my youthful incarnation had even half the ambition and one percent of the knowledge I do now, he wouldn't have been seen for dust.  Boom!  On a plane.  Bang!  At a convention.  ?!  Profit and enriching experience!

But, then, I did what I did, which wasn't very much at all.  So here I am, banging my head off a desk, trying to think of interesting things to write about instead of thinking about how important money is in the modern world, how integral it is to get by and why this shouldn't be.  Oh, yes and boring you, I can see you nodding.  I'll leave it there and let you snore and dribble.

I think I could do with some cheering up.

* Or, it doesn't for most people.  There are probably a few Scrooge McDuck types out there who would go swimming in their money bins if they could.

** There's a whole story there, but it's not for the internet.  Lemme have some kind of mystery about me, you bastards.

Really, Will, hindsight?  You really are getting desperate, aren't you?

He could really have done with his grammar getting a shake-up.  Not that I'm perfect now, but he was really terrible.  It's embarrassing, he needs a slap.


Wednesday, 2 April 2014

It Had to Happen.

Yeah.  I've got nothing.

Just as I expected to happen, I'm coming up dry.  Not a lot's happening that I feel strongly enough to go on about.  This week has been particularly quiet.

I'll rack my brain for something to say for next week.


Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Them Ole Square Eyes.

TV.  Teevee.  Telly.  Television.  It's been a big part of my life for as long as I can remember.  As you can imagine I was the weird kid who would disappear home to watch television while everyone else was out playing.  Drove my mother nuts, to the point where she would kick me out of the house so that I would get some fresh air.

As a teenager I was a bit of a recluse.  Not terribly sure why.  I would go to school and then go home and spend most of my time with the television on.  Yeah, I'd sit and scribble things: stories, games and bad drawings.  All the time the comforting grumble of the television going on in the corner of the room.  Film and TV are, unsurprisingly, my biggest influences when it comes to fiction.  My brain is full of flotsam and jetsam from years of watching some of the most obscure things because I couldn't bring myself to hit the 'off' switch.  Oh, fucking hell, does late-night Channel Four programming in the nineties have a lot to answer for*.

So.  Now you know what my viewing habits were like as kid**, you get to see the special relationship I've developed with it over the years.  The magpie effect of flicking around when nothing was on means I know things about programmes I didn't chose to watch.  It's had the dual effect of making me more discerning and more willing to try new things.  I know, for instance, bone-deep, that I ain't going to sit through an episode of a soap opera; horrible cancerous things that choke out anything else that might turn up on the air.

In the interests of community-mindedness, I'll give you a little list of the current programmes I'm watching and enjoying.  Should be fun.  Might show you a shocking lack of taste in your eyes, and if that's the case: FUCK YOU, YOU MALICIOUS CUNT!  HOW DARE YOU JUDGE ME!  I'LL JUDGE YOU RIGHT BACK!


Ahem, anyway, onto the list.

Person of Interest.  I'll actually start with a complaint about this – go me!  Why are we in the UK a year behind on this?  Not everyone has Netflix, motherfucker.  Channel Five have to be applauded for showing it, but it's irritating having to avoid places because there are people who have to talk about what's going on twelve months ahead because it's so fucking good!  I want to know!

The show had a bit of a slow start.  The first half of the first series is almost a write-off.  Then it hit its stride.  It's a fantastic mix of conspiracy thriller, A-Team style good-deed of the week and comedy.  It's exciting, dark and asks some big questions.  Just don't tell me what happens in series three, I will have to have you killed or, at the very least, severely beaten.

The Blacklist is another bit of conspiracy and espionage, but it manages to be far darker and uncompromising than Person of Interest.  We are introduced to the wonderful character Raymond 'Red' Reddington, a criminal facilitator and extremely bad man who drops himself into the FBI's lap telling them he'll give them access to criminals they haven't even heard of, the titular blacklist.  Oh and he'll only talk to a particular analyst.  It's murky in the best kind of way.  There's no question about the people Reddington is handing over are extremely bad, but his motives aren't clear and as it goes on it's obvious a lot of the characters' motivations are uncertain.  I don't know what the fuck's going on and I love it.  You should jump in and not know what's going on either.

Talking about being reeealllyyyy behind on series, I give you Parks and Recreation, a comedy programme filmed in a fly-on-the-wall documentary style and we're three series behind on this.  This took even longer than Person of Interest to get into its groove, but in the third series the insanity set in and the documentary presentation gives great opportunities for characters to give silent reactions to the madness around them or getting little interviews to give their insights.  For ages before BBC Four started showing it I was seeing things about Ron Swanson on the internet and got really annoyed, but now I see the appeal, he's a stand-out character in a programme of brilliant characters.

Without Community, I would never have tried Parks and Recreation.  This is another one I'd been hearing about for a while and finally found the whole first series on catch up.  That was a rewarding Sunday afternoon.  For a while we were a year behind this one as well, but last year the Sony channel showed both series three and four.  Four wasn't quite as good because Dan Harmon had been dumped as show runner, but it still managed some interesting episodes.  Community relies on the interplay between the fantastic ensemble, guiding us through their time at a US community college.  It starts off pretty grounded, with some odd moments, but by the end of the first series and the paintball episode it laid the groundwork for the strangeness to come.  Then we have the references, you remember what I said about references, right?  It's chock-full.  A lot of it is self-referential, something a lot of people point out as a bad thing, but I think it's great and gets you invested in the strange family unit of the Study Group.

The most recent addition to my watching is Brooklyn 99.  This is an odd one, because it has a bog-standard police procedural as its basis with all the beats and tropes the genre has, yet it's all wrapped up in a comedic skin.  Yeah, I know a lot of police procedurals have elements of comedy in them, and Castle is even described as a comedy-drama, but the writers will ditch any semblance of comedy trappings in favour of a dramatic storyline.  Brooklyn 99 is straight-down-the-line funny.  Yes, there's a case of the week, and it forms a big part of each story, but the characters' eccentricities make up the rest of the bulk.  It could have been fucking awful, but it, amazingly, works.

There are others, like the slew of crime dramas I watch, like Castle, Rizzoli and Isles, Elementary and Bones, but the ones above are the programmes I feel most excited about watching of a week.  I highly recommend them if you can get access to them.

* Now a bit of a sad imitation of its gloriously vibrant and mad landscape.  Late-night television, in general has become a depressingly conformist precession of gambling shows.  That made me a little sad, writing that.

** Or reiterated for some of you.  Yeah, I'm looking right at you, dude.

As pioneered in The Office.  One I never did get around to watching in either its original UK run or its US incarnation.

That I think in a lot of important ways is far superior to Sherlock, though I did enjoy that too.


Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Grinding On.

Looks like I wasn't done with talking about Borderlands 2, after all.  How curious.  I will move away from this subject, I promise.  Seriously, I don't want to flog a dead horse, it only gets messy.

I'll just reiterate, though, Gearbox did a good job on building what they'd created with Borderlands.  They've created this fun and addictive game.  The only reason there was so much for me to complain about is because I've spent so much time going through the game.  Having clocked up so many hours* playing the game the flaws are magnified.  The fact I'm willing to spend so long playing the game says as much on its own.

You see all that content?  Some of it coming out over a year after the game was released is still pretty fucking impressive.  And their still rolling out fixes and support** in that same time.  While they might look like they're not sure how to handle some of the gameplay stuff, they do have a handle on the technical stuff.

So Gearbox did a good job.  We clear on that?

It still could have been so much better.  My main gripe with it is the nature of the loot drops.  I'm not going to go into it, but this gives a good overview: Evolution of Loot.  I'll give you some time to look through that.  It's a big fucking post.

One thing I'd like to point out is '1 in 30'.  It's the standard drop rate for a lot of the bosses in the game of their best equipment.  This doesn't sound bad, but when you think about it, it veers quite hard into the stingy territory, especially when you consider some of the bosses can be very challenging.  Yes, it's better than the one in ten thousand chance normal enemies have to drop top-tier gear, but it still leaves you at Stingy Station with a bit of straw clamped in your teeth.

You shouldn't need to fight the one boss anywhere near that number of times to get their best gear.  Getting to and fighting one boss ten times is a tedious exercise of Sisyphus-like proportions, thirty times can be brain-mushing.  And because it is probability and as close to random as technology allows you're likely to find yourself fighting that boss a lot more times to get the piece of gear you want.  There have been some horrifying statistics posted about how much chance you have of getting certain pieces of gear and they go into the hundreds before it starts to look decent.  That's not fun.  A game should be fun.  No it shouldn't just hand you the good stuff the first time you hold out your hand, but it shouldn't point and laugh at you when you're trying to get it while tripping over your grey beard.  Rewarding you for your persistence in a half-way decent manner without taking a grinder to your patience.

I've thought about how they could do this with my non-codery brain.  My suggestion can't be implemented in Borderlands 2, unfortunately, though I do hope Gearbox tweak the drops before they finally have to walk away.  Perhaps for Borderlands 3?  Maybe?  Perhaps?  Dudes?  Please?

Anyway what I thought would be a variation on the RNG reliance.  The RNG sounds good in principal for the loot drops, but, as many people have seen it actually turns out to be very unfair.  I think the game should note when you've fought any boss.  Each time you fight a boss, a little note to say no loot was dropped and to start with there's that one in thirty chance at the good gear.  If by, say, the fifth boss fight without a drop the game starts to incrementally put its thumb on the probabilities scale.  Each time a boss is fought that doesn't drop its best loot the game weights the probability more and more until it hits a high probability, like one in five.  Once a boss drops its highest level loot the count resets.  Not perfect, by any means, but it would redress the imbalance gamers feel.  Or just really make it more likely to find good stuff across the board, that could work too.

That's the important thing that's forgotten in the reliance on the RNG, it's how the people playing the game feel.  Whether or not its completely random doesn't always register in our emotion-fuelled ape-brains.  We get pissed and start to see negative patterns where there aren't any.  We feel like the game is mocking our efforts§.  That's not a feeling to be engendered by a game, characters in a game, perhaps, but we shouldn't feel like the company behind the game are sniggering every time we kill Hyperius and get a pile of white gear§§.  It's childish to think they might be, but in the halucinatory haze you find yourself in while farming§§§ it's easy to start thinking it.

This unwillingness of the game to part with its most prized items leads to behaviours that are considered cheating: duping and gibbing.  Gearbox have gone to great pains to wipe out gibbing in particular, but neither would be the problem they are if drop rates were more generous, less Ebenezer Scrooge and more Père Noël.  Never going to get rid of people cheating, but minimising it by making game mechanics feel more fair to the players.

No, we don't need these weapons or equipment – well maybe some of it to make progress in the hardest level of the game, but we want it.  Gearbox created the demand for it for those of us with the particular brain damage that makes us crave it, but they haven't quite furnished the supply.  Would it be so difficult for the unsung heroes of the games industry, the quiet programmers and coders, to bump the drops more in the player's favour?  That's the main aim, to create a game with even more lasting appeal, without doing it in a cheap way.

There are other criticisms, like the poor Krieg and Maya players who got shafted in the Overpower levels, but I think I've gone on long enough about the subject, don't you?  Next time something different, I think.

* I'm now too terrified to calculate it.  My self-esteem can't handle that kind of knock.

** The most recent one redresses, a little, one of the stingiest drops in the game.  That's pretty cool, I have to say.

Which is just jim-dandy, sir.  You don't want some schlubby gimp basic enemy dropping the best stuff, that would just be weird and make it pointless to fight the bosses once you've finished the game.  Yes, I do see the merit in replayable bosses, that's pretty cool.  I just don't agree with the low possibility of good gear.

Yes, even the ladies, because nature is cruel and hates everyone.

§ Especially those fucking loading screens where it shows a parade of some of the rarest items in the game.  Three Pearlescent weapons in a row?  You fucking cunt!

§§ If you don't get the reference, don't worry.  Or maybe you should, you made it this far not knowing what the fuck I'm talking about.  What's wrong with you?

§§§ A term I discovered last year for fighting the one enemy over and over again to get a piece of equipment.  It's about as boring as my explanation sounds.