Thursday, August 7, 2014

New Uke Day

Islander GL6
Laminate Acacia Baritone Body Guitalele

Sound test coming soon. 

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Ranking the Marvel Films

So I just got back from the opening of Guardians of the Galaxy, and it was, quite simply, amazing.  I’ll write more about it in a bit, but after exiting the theater, I decided that this would be an excellent time for me to rank the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movies.  Guardians essentially marks the end of the Phase 2 Marvel films (with the notable exception of Avengers 2), so it will be fun to step back and take look at this juggernaut that Marvel built as a whole.  For extra funsies, I’ve decided to put these films into categories names after the recent slew of DC movies (I was calling these the Nolan-verse, but then DC went and screwed the whole thing up by adding Bats into the new Superman movie.  So now the DC cinematic universe is really two universes, even though they are both being produced by Nolan and are damn similar in tone).

As per usual with these types of things, the films will be presented in reverse order.

Category I: The Man of Steel Category

i.e., the kind of mentally handicapped, related-but-not-really-related cousin of the the films we actually want to watch

10. The Incredible Hulk (2008)

I kind of wanted to create a separate category for this one, but unfortunately there aren’t enough DC movies (we do not speak of Green Lantern).  I guess The Incredible Hulk was a decent enough movie when it came out (though I struggle to remember what exactly happened in the movie.  Something about the Abomination, I think).  Ed Norton and Liv Tyler did decent enough jobs in the lead roles, though neither of them are likely to appear in the MCU ever again.  Which is why this film was odd.  If Tony Stark didn’t appear at the end of the movie, I would wonder if we should even consider this as part of the MCU.  He did, however, and I guess we have to live with it.  The Incredible Hulk is kind of like the appendix to the MCU.  It may have served a purpose at some point in time, but we’ve long since forgotten what that point was.

9. Iron Man 2 (2010)

Iron Man 2 was probably the most disappointing of the MCU films.  While I don’t think it’s as bad as some people claim, it does feel like it was rushed out to cash in on the success of the first Iron Man film.  I guess you could argue that the film is important to establishing the character of Coulsen, introducing Black Widow and War Machine, yada, yada, yada.  The problem is that the neither the film, nor the characters, are really that interesting.  This might have been the only MCU film to insult the audience’s intelligence.  Rather than establishing meaningful conflict, they just threw more suits at us (admittedly Iron Man 3, which is a much better film, also was guilty of this).  Both critics and audience were quick to announce their displeasure at Marvel’s laziness.  In response, Marvel’s subsequent films have all been far superior to Iron Man 2.

Category II: The Batman Begins Category

i.e., films that are fine in their own right, but don’t quite stack up to studio’s best

8. Thor (2011)
7. Thor: The Dark World (2013)

These films are so close together to me, that I don’t really want to do a full writeup on each one.  Both films had great potential, but ultimately failed to live up to it.  Thor had fantastic character development yet, apart from the opening battle, failed to live up in terms of the action side.  Thor 2 had much better action sequences, yet apart from a predictably great effort from Tom Hiddleston (Loki), the acting really wasn't there (Natalie Portman, in particular, seemed to just be going through the motions for the entire film).  Maybe if these two were combined into a single film (element-wise, not plot-wise), we would have a movie that could hang with the big boys.  Ultimately, we’ll just have to settle for “good enough.”

6. Captain America (2011)

Of all of the Phase One films (not including Avengers), Captain America had the greatest potential.  A wartime epic, perhaps with espionage, that had occasional superhero-ish moments.  The birth of perhaps the most iconic Marvel character not named Spiderman.  A villain in Red Skull who, if done right, could be truly terrifying.  Instead by got a war film that wasn’t really a war film, with a guy that just so happens to be able to run very fast, and one of the more cartoony villains in the MCU.  I went into the movie expecting something that could challenge Iron Man.  Instead I had to settle for another Thor.

Category III: The Dark Knight Rises Category

i.e., films that could be the studio’s greatest, if not for that other guy

5.  Iron Man 3 (2013)

This was probably the most divisive of the MCU films, and I happen to fall on the side of people who love it.  Tony Stark was not really Iron Man in this movie, he was a real person.  Which is important because he really is the only on the super-friends that doesn’t really have any superpowers.  Kinda like a snarky Batman.  The film's interpretation of the Mandarin was fantastic, and Iron Man 3 was the by far most personal of the MCU films.  Yet it still had the action chops to contend with the other films above this list.  However, the film did not really bring anything new to the table and, thus, can only be ranked this high.

4. Iron Man (2008)

The most important the MCU movies, this is the one that started it all.  Iron Man was Marvel’s big gambit, tired of seeing their other IP’s waste away in the hands of other studios, they decided to launch their own movie.  This is the movie that (along with The Dark Knight) revitalized the superhero genre, helped relaunch Robert Downey Jr.’s career, and laid the groundwork for what has rapidly become the greatest cinematic universe created in recent memory.

3. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

And now, we’ve reached Guardians.  This film was definitely Marvel’s biggest gamble since the first Iron Man.  The casual comic book fan was at least aware of who Iron Man was before this whole thing started.  You would be hard pressed to find anyone who really knew anything about Guardians before this movie came out.  Yet somehow, Marvel has succeeded again.  It remains to be seem whether or not Guardians will reach the same economic highs as the other MCU films, but in terms of quality it can punch with the best of them.  Sure the action sequences might now have the polish of an Avengers or Captain America 2, but Guardians is hands down the funniest of the MCU films.  On top of that, the balance struck between each of the five main characters is exceptional.  Chris Pratt (Star-Lord) and Bradley Cooper (Rocket Raccoon) might steal the show occasionally, but Zoe Saldana (Gamora) and Bautista (Drax) more than hold their own.  Vin Diesel’s mo-cap work as the relatively silent Groot is outstanding as well.  This is the most light-hearted of the Marvel movies, yet there is still enough danger to lend some gravity to the situation (oh, and that soundtrack is amazing).  Who knows when we’ll see the Guardians again (I suspect we won’t be seeing much, if any, of them in Avengers 2 considering Thanos isn’t supposed to be a major player yet in that film), but I do know that I will be eagerly awaiting their next excusion.

2.  Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Moving from the lightest Marvel movie to the heaviest, I really considered putting Captain America 2 first on this list.  Ultimately, I couldn’t rank this over The Avengers, but by all regards this is a near perfect superhero flick.  The action is among the best of the genre, the villain (H.Y.D.R.A., not Robert Redford) is terrifying, and the interplay between Chris Evans (Steve Rodgers) and Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow) is endearing.  Plus Sam Jackson as a badass again?  Plus Cobie Smulders finally being allowed to kick some ass?  Plus Danni Pudi from Community (that last one’s for me)?  This film really was amazing, and was everything that I had hoped for the first Captain America to be.  In fact, just this might be the only other superhero film than The Dark Knight to truly transcend the genre.  Just as the The Dark Knight was a crime film that happened to have guys running around in masks, The Winter Soldier is a spy thriller that just happens to have a few Avengers in it.  If not for a rather uninteresting interpretation of the Winter Solider himself, this film might very well have place on the top of this list.  As it is, the film will have to settle for second.

Category III: The Dark Knight Category

i.e., The Best

 The Avengers (2012)

Remember “Puny God”?  Remember “We’ve got a Hulk”?  Remember “Shawarma”?

Remember this?

And this?

And this?

Remember how Joss Whedon undid the damage done to the Black Widow character in Iron Man 2, and made her a badass?  Remember Loki?  REMEMBER LOKI?!?!?

Avengers managed to achieve perfect balance between all of the characters, made the Hulk character interesting again (thanks to a fantastic performance by Mark Ruffalo), and firmly established that the MCU is here to stay.

What was I thinking trying to rank this anything but first?

Monday, May 5, 2014

My Skyrim Journal: Journey To A Platinum

So I finally decided to buy Skyrim over the weekend.  Why do you ask (and why did I not buy it before)?  Well to answer the second question first, the Playstation 3 version of the game was apparently horribly broken when it was first released.  When it was eventually fixed, I had long since lost interest. Until last Friday that is, when my mind wandered at work (as it does sometimes) and I decided "I should platinum Skyrim!"  A quick Google search revealed that this task would take over a hundred hours, there might be a glitched trophy, and there were definitely a couple that were missable.  Sounded to me like a piece of cake.  (If you have no idea what trophies are, or why I'm so obsessed with them, click here)

Since this is probably going to end up being a crazy task on my part, I've decided to chronicle my insanity in a weekly journal.  Wish me luck.  Hopefully I don't lose my mind.

Day Zero: 5/3/2014

The road to all role-playing game (rpg) platinums starts with character creation, and that is exactly where I begin.  I choose to play as a cat-like character called a "khajiit" because cats are cool (and slightly, ok very, mean).  I also choose to name her "Selina" after Catwoman in the DC comics.

Apparently I've gotten myself into quite some trouble here, as I'm sent tot he beheading block before I've even taken a step in the game.  Which is just horrible.

Luckily, right before the axeman swing his mighty axe, a dragon appears out of nowhere, and I'm able to escape with a fellow prisoner (I am also given a choice to run away with a guard.  One of the guards who just tried to kill me.  I'm sure that would have turned out well).

Anyhoo, after a quick journey through an enemy filled cavern I'm finally free.  My companion then tells me that we really should separate and runs off.  Now I'm just stick with some leather padding and a couple of rusty daggers in the middle of nowhere.  Oh, and there's a dragon still around here somewhere.  What have I got myself into?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

I Was There!!!!! Game 2 of Bulls-Wizards

I just got back from game 2 of the first round matchup of the NBA playoffs between the Chicago Bulls and the Washington Wizards.  This also happened to be the first playoff game I’ve attended in person.  Here are my thoughts.

Entering the Promised Land (A.K.A. The United Center)

Man, the playoffs are popular.  The line into the arena goes well out the door, except once it reaches outside it is no longer a line.  It is a mess.  A lawless land, where the strong gain entrance and the weak perish.  (Actually, the huge glob of people outside were quite well behaved, especially considering that most were quite inebriated before the game.)  It also doesn’t help that it is around 35 degrees outside, and all I’m wearing is a light(ish) fall jacket? Why do I only have a light jacket on, you ask?  Because earlier in the day, the temperature was in the 60s (and the day before, it was in the 70s).  Chicago weather confuses and upsets me.

The First Quarter

We just miss the opening lineups, and the lights are coming back on right as we take our seats.  We do catch tip-off, and the following 12 minutes are a sight to behold.  The Wizards open on a tear.  Beal’s hitting his jumpers, Wall’s hitting his guys, and Nene is picking up right where he left off in the previous game.  Before anyone knows what’s happening, Dubs are up 15-6, and the arena is silent.

As the Wizards push their lead to as large as 17 in that first period, my mind starts to wander.  

First of all, I find it odd that from the opening tip, this was probably the quietest NBA game I’d been to in person.  Was this really playoff basketball?

Second, John Wall’s passes are actually wildly inaccurate.  His passes don’t hit his targets in the chest, but rather his recipients often have to stretch out to catch them.  Didn’t seem like a big issue at the time though.

After the quarter ends, with the Wizards leading by 11, I text my friend, the Wizards fan, that the Wizards are threatening to run away with this one.  My friend, the Wizards fan, ignores me.

Things Get Interesting

Things start to get a little chippy in the second quarter.  With around four minutes left in the period, Beal and Hinrich get into it, and they get called for double technicals.  The crowd erupts after this play.  Maybe it was because of the foul, or maybe it was because the Bulls just rallied to pull the game within 7, and are finally starting to play that hard-nose style we know and love and hate them for.  All I know is that THIS IS NOW THE PLAYOFFS (yes, that needed to be capitalized).  Joakim Noah, the instigator, runs over and tries to instigate things during the dead ball situation.  He is by far my favorite Bull right now.

During this spirited run, head official Joey Crawford becomes spirited as well, his calls becoming more and more exaggerated.  You can’t always expect good officiating from Crawford, but you can almost always be guaranteed entertainment.

A couple possessions later, the lead is cut down to 4.  This is when The Moment occurs.

The Legend Continues

Beal misses a decent look, but manages to secure the rebound.  He passes to Wall, who swings back it to Beal, who shoots a three.  And sinks it.  The crowd is stunned for a moment, before they realize that the play has been waved off.  Why do you ask?  Because the legendary coach Randy Wittman called a timeout a split second before Beal launched his wide open three, that’s why.  Beal just stands there, staring confusedly at his coach.  (Let’s ignore the fact that they managed to get two of those points back after the timeout.  The story is better if we ignore that)

All joking aside though, it is a rare day indeed that Randy Wittman out coaches Tom Thibodeau, but that is exactly what is happening in this series.  Even if he does nothing more that keep his guys calm through the storm (Wall’s inaccurate passes in the first quarter eventually turned into a whole lotta turnovers due to miscommunication, and Bulls went on a huge run to take a sizable lead), the fact remains that the Wizards have twice faced double digit deficits in this series, and were able to overcome both times to win the ball game.  Not to mention all the wide-open, confidence building looks that Wittman managed to get Beal in this game.  It’s hard to believe, the Wizards have found a way to consistently score against the Bulls’ heralded defense, and it’s all thanks to Randy’s solid coaching job (and Nene and Beal’s scoring.  But never mind that for now).

I tell my friend, the Wizards fan and Wittman critic, that Wittman could be getting an extension if they can make it to the second round.  My friend, the Wizards fan, is not receptive to this idea.

The Ballad of Kirk Hinrich

After a whole lot of back and forth (mostly forth, in the Bull’s favor), the Bulls lead by 3 with 1:47 left in the game.  Then Kirk Hinrich happens.  The following is Hinrich’s personal play-by-play for the final minutes of the fourth quarter and overtime.

1:06 90-91 Bulls Kirk Hinrich misses 25-foot three point jumper
0:31 91-91 Kirk Hinrich misses 22-foot jumper

End of Regulation

4:39 91-91 Kirk Hinrich misses 18-foot jumper
3:55 93-91 Dubs Kirk Hinrich lost ball turnover (John Wall steals)
3:40 93-91 Dubs Kirk Hinrich misses 4-foot jumper
2:24 97-91 Dubs Kirk Hinrich misses 26-foot three point jumper

Hinrich would also go on to miss a key free throw at the end of overtime that would have pushed the game into double OT, most likely.  Not to mention all of the possessions the he personally torpedoed by either throwing a pass that was deflected, or just by running the clock down to the point where the Bulls were unable to generate a clean look.  The loss was not entire on his shoulders, but I couldn’t help but wonder, “What if that was Derrick Rose playing, instead of Hinrich?”

Hometown Fans

The Bulls fans seemed pretty cool in general, but as usual there were some fans that were just plain rude, entertaining, or a combination of both. 

The hecklers seemed a little less that creative.  They cried, “Hey, Nene” in a sing-song, mock baby voice during his free-throws, and shouted “Washington sucks” when it became clear that the Wizards would go up 2-0.  I’m all for taunting the opponent, but c’mon guys.  Let’s come up with something a bit more imaginative, OK?

There were also the usual good-natured, yet slightly misinformed hometown fans.  At one point I heard (no sarcasm), “Get the ball to Jimmy [Butler].  He’s one of the league’s best three point shooters.”  He’s not.  I checked.  These are also the guys that cackle at 50-50 calls that go agains the Wizards, and boo spiritedly when they go against the Bulls (the officiating in general was pretty uneven for this game).  My favorite misinformed fan tendency is the customary “Run down the clock” shout when their team up 5 with 5 minutes to go.  Play to win the game, or play not to lose it.  Who knows?


My friend, the Wizards fan, texts me “Wiiiiiiiin” after the game ends.  As he has ignored most of my texts during the game, I ignore him for a bit.  Then think better, and respond with “Kirk Hinrich MVP”.  My friend, the Wizards fan, ignores this.  Ah, well.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Random Ramblings: Are Video Games Art?

If it were not obvious enough by the contents of this blog, I am rather obsessed with video games.  As such, I am occasionally asked, “Why do you bother playing video games?”  I usually explain that I use them to pass the time, or use them to relieve stress.1  I describe how I get lost in the game world and narrative, and come to care for the characters.  I also occasionally respond with, “You wouldn’t be asking me this if I were into film.”2  Of course, the common response to this statement is “But film is art.”  I usually answer back with “but video games are art”, which elicits a chuckle or a stare, but rarely a positive response.  So, the big question of the day is, should video games be considered art?

To ideally answer this question, we must first define what art is.  This task, of course, is quite difficult, and the many things that try to label what art is usually ranges from the pretentious to the trite.  My favorite description has always been, “art is something that says something about the human condition.”  Since this is my blog, and I can do what I want, this will be the definition that I will be using during this argument.

So a urinal can be art, but video games can't?  That makes sense.

This definition alone, however, may not be enough to classify a game as art.  Just because a game’s narrative contains a powerful message, it is not enough for us to fully classify the game as a form of art.  Take for example a game like The Last of Us.  The story is incredibly powerful, and the voice acting is superb.  Yet if this story were told through a movie or a mini-series, in television or comic form, it could have been equally powerful.  Does the main mechanic of the game, the game-play, actively increase the artistic value?  Certainly it helped the players bond with the characters, but that could have been achieved by solid character development alone, be it in film or text.  I believe that the story of The Last of Us is artistic, yet not because The Last of Us took the form of a game.  Yet it would be incorrect to say that all games’ form are independent of their message.

Powerful story, but not enough.

The most common games brought up by the pro-“video games are art” community are Flower and Journey.  Both games feature minimalist story-telling, intertwining plot with gameplay.  Watching the wind revitalize fields of flowers, or a lone figure wander across the desert, might have been incredibly dull in other forms of media, yet as a game these acts are breathtaking, emotional, and beautiful.  Other games feature far less subtle, yet equally integrated plots.  The Shadow of the Colossus and both Portal games all feature clearly defined themes, yet their stories are clearly best experienced via gameplay.  For Shadow in particular, the character only ventures down the dark path he takes because we, the players, will him to.  Unlike in The Last of Us, where the journey is told via cut-scenes, in Shadow of the Colossus, our actions directly advance the plot, as we personally corrupt the main character.

Simply Beautiful.

For me, however, what firmly cements the artistic significance of video games is their wide reach.  Admittedly, the previous games reached a (relatively) small audience compared to larger, AAA games such as Call of Duty or Halo.  Occasionally, however, these larger titles will have something to say beneath the death and destruction, and when they do (and the audience get the message), they have the potential to be far more influential.

Grand Theft Auto V released in September 2013, and proceeded to make $1 billion in its first ten days alone.  It was met with universal acclaim, as well as tremendous scandal.  Critics hailed the story and gameplay, while detractors decried the supposed glorification of violence and misogyny.  What opponents were missing, of course, was that the over-the-top violence in the game was the message.  In creating this ultra-violent, completely dystopian representation of Los Angeles, Rockstar delivered a scathing testimony, cynically observing everything from America’s obsession with fame and the famous, to the over commercialization of our country, to gamer’s and their obsession with violence.  Real art should incite true emotion while conveying a strong message about the human condition, and this game does just that.  Those opposed to video games may demonize this game for its infamous torture scene, yet by having the players control Trevor as he carries out horrendous acts leaves a far more lasting impression that if they had only detachedly witnessed it.

Yes.  The murder and mayhem (and strippers) all had a point.

Video game detractors must eventually face the fact that video games have long since entered the realm of art.  Protestors, such as the recently incarcerated Leland Yee,3 who argue against the dangers of video games only help bring awareness to the influence of video games.  If games were only meaningless time-wasters, without a strong message, then they would not have any influence.  The message may be lost on some, or misinterpreted,4 yet I believe it is just as unfair to accuse games of causing violence, as it was to accuse Catcher in the Rye of doing the same thing.  Of course, by simply mentioning Catcher in the Rye and Grand Theft Auto V in the same sentence, I have already proved my point.

This guy.

That is all. I’m out.

1 In some cases (ok, most cases), they can also cause stress.

2 Of course, I am also ridiculously into both film and television. #WinterIsComing

3 Such a swell guy.

4 As mentioned previously, I’ve seen many comments on GTA V in which detractors and supporters alike view the game as an advocation of violence.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Rapid Reactions: How I Met Your Finale

Spoiler Warning:  This post explicitly discusses the March 31 finale of How I Met Your Mother.  If you are interested in the series finale at all, and have not watched the episode yet, do not continue reading.  You have been warned.

Well, now that the mandatory spoiler alert is out of the way,  let me just begin with "Wow".  After nine long seasons (some great, most good, and couple that were borderline bad), the (arguably) most successful Friends clone, How I Met Your Mother, is over.  And what a ride it was.  Despite what anyone says about this episode (which is bound to be polarizing), there is no denying the series’ on pop culture significance over the past decade.  No, it was not groundbreaking like Breaking Bad, or consistently smart like Parks and Recreation.  Nevertheless, it helped to revitalized Neil Patrick Harris’s career,1 spawned a “Legendary” catchphrase, and had many genuinely clever, funny, and indeed, nerdy moments.  Ultimately, however, it told a sweet (albeit longwinded) story about love.

This love, of course, is bound to be the most controversial part about the finale.  I was never really bothered by the whole Robin-Ted dynamic.  I am sure there are those who are opposed (a quick search on Twitter should confirm this), though ultimately their reticence is the fault of the studio than the writing.  Consider if the series ended, with the same ending, after five or six years.  There would be far fewer “Ted/Robin” stories, far less resistance to the relationship, which might have led to it being far better received (again, a half hour after the finale aired the online response has been mostly negative).

Then again, perhaps it was just a poor choice of naming.  If the series had been named something else, if the mother had not been teased so much (though this choice would have significantly altered the motivation and structure of the show), people might have been more accepting.  As it was, we know that Robin was not the Mother, and so we did not care about her relationship with Ted,2 or, indeed (in some internet circles), her.

Before we examine the final sequence, however, let’s look at the rest of the episode leading up to it.  I have to admit, the first fifteen minutes did not grab me.  The scene outside of Barney and Robin’s wedding felt a bit stiff, and trying to be a bit too “finale-ish”.  Many of the other early scenes fell flat as well.  While the announcement of Barney and Robin’s divorce was surprising,3 it was not until the rooftop party that I felt the episode truly hit it’s stride.  Robin and Lily’s tearful exchange was one of first scenes that I found truly fitting a finale, serving as an nice balance to Barney’s antics.

Speaking of Barney, his arc in this episode was truly strange.  It was hard for me to believe that after two deep and meaningful relationships (Norah and Robin), he could just return to his womanizing ways.  His explanations that “if it couldn't work with Robin, it couldn’t work with anyone” sort of fell flat, and his friend’s acceptance of this behavior seemed equally strange to me, as well as their seeming aloofness in regards to Robin.4  Even his turnaround after the birth of his daughter seemed stiff, perhaps because it occurred too quickly to be believable.

Turning to Robin for a second, the tone of this episode was quite low-key, and at time downright depressing. Not the nostalgia tainted melancholy commonly associated with series finales, but a truly dreary sort.  Most of this tone is due to this episode’s treatment of Robin.  As she states in the episode, she never sees her best friend anymore, her ex-husband is out picking up nineteen year olds, and the man she “should have” been with is getting married to the mother of his children.  Robin had it rough in the years following her divorce, and apart from some cursory remarks by Lily, it seems like her friends have moved on (Marshall even makes a joke at her expense comparing her to the Abominable Snowman).5  That is one of the main reasons I feel that this was the ended we needed for the series but, again, more on that in a bit.

Taking a quick segue to talk about Lily and Marshall before moving on to Ted and the final scene, this episode continued of the theme of the rest of the season (and indeed for a couple years now), of pushing them further into the background.  Apart from Marshall’s announcement of his judgeship, and Lily’s third pregnancy, I’m having a hard time thinking of a significant incident about them this episode.  Perhaps the producers felt that they had just run out of ideas for these two, but it would have been nice to see them have a bit more to do here.

And now we have come to the end.  Some early reaction I’ve seen is that the finale was unfair to the mother,6 and I’m sure many felt that the series meant nothing, since they ultimately ended up where they began, with Ted stealing the blue french horn to give to Robin.  I would, however, disagree.  In fact, looking back and considering the series as a whole, I would argue that this was the ending that had to happen.  In fact, my immediate reaction as the scene shifted to the “present”, was that I finally understood it all.  If Ted and the Mother were to ride happily into the sunset, then his reactions when talking about her over the past couple seasons would seem overly dramatic, even for Ted.  If she just died, and Ted was in mourning, then the story he had been telling his children over the past nine years would have been extremely inappropriate, and depressing in an altogether different sort of manner.  There had to be a way to reconcile Ted’s sorrow with the story that he was telling.  This reconciliation was, as pointed out by his daughter,7 that this was not a story about Ted and the Mother.  It was a tale of Ted and Robin.

And I’m OK with that.  I again maintain that it was the length of the series (and trouble with the title), not the fundamentals of the relationship itself, that made their courtship repetitive.8  Ultimately, what I appreciated about the finale, was that in the end it did not have the nostalgic melodrama of most endings.  The ending, rather than be moody and depressing, was exhilarating and uplifting, which is why I watched this sitcom in the first place.9  Ultimately, this will be a series that I will be able to watch from the beginning, and eagerly await the satisfaction of the finale, rather than dread the end of the series as it approached.  Since in the end, though there were tears, and deaths, and goodbyes, this series was indeed about Ted and Robin.  And Love.  And a Blue French Horn.

1 Consider that between the end of Doogie Howser in 1993 and the beginning of How I Met Your Mother in 2005, NPH only had two relatively significant roles: Starship Troopers in 1997 and Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle in 2004.

2 Though I understood the complaints, I got especially annoyed when viewers started clamoring for the mother to “show up already”, especially in the early seasons. If they showed the mother in the first few seasons, the show would have to end. It was in the title, people. After the show started to outgrow it’s welcome, however, I concede that they had a point.

3 Though surprising, I guess you could argue that their divorce was realistic. One problem I that I had though (which many viewers probably share), was that it made this entire season pointless. All the growth that Barney, Ted, and Robin underwent seemed to be thrown under the rug for most of the episode. I guess some could argue that the last scene invalidates the series as a whole, but on that point, I disagree. More on this later.

4 I guess this lack of contact with Robin is explained a bit by her successful career,

5 Maybe I’m being too hard on the gang. Since the episode is told in time jumps, it is impossible to see how hard they fought to keep Robin in their lives.

6 Whom many correctly predicted was going to die. I would argue that the finale would have been even more unfair to Robin if she did not get her happy ending, which I must admit would have bothered me a lot more. Ultimately, I think it was more important that a character we knew for nine seasons have a happy ending rather than a character we’ve know for one.

7 Speaking of the daughter, I like it how Lyndsy Fonseca was essentially unknown when the series started, and now she is both Kick-Ass’s girlfriend and a kick ass assassin in Nikita.

8 Also remember that many argued that the Ross/Rachel dynamic had growth stale by the tenth season of Friends. Now it is mostly remembered fondly.

9 I go to Game of Thrones for my depressing melodrama.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Random Ramblings: On Trophies

So I’ll admit it, I’m a trophy whore.1 To those who do not know what a trophy whore is, or even a trophy looks like, I shall explain.  To those who know what a trophy is, forgive me while I launch into a rambling explanation.  I’ll try to keep it short.

Trophies (or achievements if you are in the Xbox camp) are tiny digital icons created by the Playstation gods and are awarded when video game players complete certain in-game tasks.  These tasks vary from the straightforward (complete a story mission in a game), to the simple yet time-consuming (obtain all collectibles in a game), to the downright insane (Dead Space 2 offers a trophy for completing the entire game using only three saves).  The difficulty in obtaining these trophies correlated to three grades: bronze for simple tasks, gold for tough ones, and silver for everything in between.  Certain games (normally the larger, more expensive ones) offer a special platinum trophy for obtaining all other trophies in the game.  A trophy whore is one who has an unhealthy obsession with getting these tiny, completely insignificant prizes.

Well, perhaps they are not completely insignificant. Each trophy awards the player experience points, for lack of a better term. These experience points are then used to raise the player’s trophy level.2 Others even more obsessive than I will know exactly how much each trophy is worth and, more importantly, how many points are needed to raise their own trophy level. I just know that bronze is worth less than silver, which is less than gold.3

So what do we get for our efforts?  Nothing really.  Sony recently launched a campaign where trophy points could be exchanged for physical prizes, but for the most part trophy levels are admittedly pretty useless (though I would argue that the trophy system is the best massively multiplayer role-playing game experience.  Think about it.  I might come back to this in a later post).
So why do I, and so many other players, care about these things?  Well for me, one reason is that I simply find distinctive ping that sounds every time a trophy is unlocked extremely satisfying.  This feeling of satisfaction is especially pronounced after a particularly difficult boss fight or arduous task.  A trophy serves as actual proof that a player actually completed the task, which actually leads into my next point.

As you readers may find out through reading this blog, I am quite proud, and surprisingly competitive.  However, I do not enjoy playing games online.4  Thus, my trophy collection serves as an outlet for both my pride and competitiveness.  The most interesting competition is with yourself.  Therefore, even though I definitely do not have one of the higher trophy levels on the Playstation Network (PSN),5  as long as I keep climbing the global ranks, and that level keeps going up, I’m happy.

Now I know that trophies have their detractors.  The most common arguments are that trophies distract gamers (some people are annoyed by that melodious ping), that they artificially prolong games, and that trophies actually take the joy out of gaming — there will be those only interested in playing the game for the trophies, and not take in the game itself.  While these arguments are not without merit, ultimately I believe that the “harm” caused by trophies is negligible.  It has been possible for sometime now to disable the “ping” sound when trophies unlock, and I am proud to say that I have never played a game purely for trophies.6  I am sure there are people out there who chased the easy platinum by playing something like Hannah Montana: The Game.  Good for them, but the world can see their trophy list, and everyone will know that they played that travesty of a game.7

I would however, disagree with the argument that all trophy hunting takes the joy out of gaming.  While some trophies are indeed tedious and pointless,8 others can open players up to a whole new way of playing.  Take a game like The Last of Us for example.  It is completely possible to run through the game (on easy and normal at least) without really scrounging around for supplies.  Yet by doing so, players are completely bypassing a huge portion of the game.  The trophies in this game encourage exploration (which players will need to do on the higher difficulties anyway), and gives players a strong reason to revisit the beautiful world that Naughty Dog produced.9

My point, and I do have one, is this.  Do not bash players for chasing trophies.  Trophies can arguably make games better, and certainly do not ruin a game.10  So let us trophy hunters do our thing.  It makes us happy.

That is all.  I’m out.

1 I’ll also admit that I love footnotes. You’ll see by the end of this post.

2 Playstation profiles only display the player’s experience in terms of overall level and percentage complete until the next level.

3 I think a platinum is worth about twice as many points as a gold trophy, but I’ve been wrong before.

4 Mostly because most of my gamer friends are on a different system than I am, and I do not enjoy playing with strangers.

5 In fact, at level 18 I would say that I am rather low on the PSN’s totem pole.

6 Probably goes back to the pride thing. Although, I have to admit that I’ve been swayed into buying a game based on the difficulty of the trophy list, though were games that I already had an interest in. The happiest case for me was the Walking Dead game. I was on the fence before I saw the easiest platinum in gaming. It is now one of my favorite games in terms of storytelling.

7 And point and laugh, I hope.

8 Like the (to me) infamous trophies in Uncharted: Golden Abyss, that required you to complete “bounties”, which were basically sets of treasure. Only the treasure was dropped by enemies. At random. More often that not, they would not drop anything, when they did, chances were that you already had that treasure. Seriously. I hated these damned trophies.

9 OK. Another admission to make. I’m a Sony fanboy, and I love all (well most) of the exclusive put out on their consoles. Anyways, the point is that I completely agree with the perfect scores IGN gave to both The Last of Us and Uncharted 3. I know lot of people disagree. I don’t care. Both of those games are masterpieces. Beyond.

10 With the exception of those bounty trophies in Golden Abyss. I really, really hated those things. Still a great game though. Probably my second favorite vita game right now. I’ll probably put out a list of my top 10 games on each of the Sony consoles later. Once, you know, the Playstation 4 starts to have something resembling an actual library.