You know, around the time a gentleman in the Ars Technica comments section compared me to a white supremacist because I did not like Batman v Superman, I got to thinking, you know what? I really should start blogging again.
Original Character Do Not Steal
I posted the other day about how much I loved Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. But it wasn't the only Spider-Man adaptation that I've thoroughly enjoyed over the past couple of months. You know what else is great? Spider-Man for the PlayStation 4.
But you know, as much as I loved it, it's got its weaknesses, and there's one in particular I'm thinking of; a weakness it shares with the Batman: Arkham series whose formula it copies.
And that weakness is this: Batman and Spider-Man have two of the best rogues galleries in comics. So why do you spend so much of the game beating up on generic thugs?
The generic enemies in the Arkham series fall along the lines of "thug", "thug in clown mask", "thug in Two-Face mask", that kind of thing. What's the difference between a Joker thug and a Two-Face thug? Not a hell of a lot.
Spider-Man does a little bit better. It's got its share of generic thugs, but the Demons and the Sable mercs are more memorable, and they have their own weapons and attack patterns that the other mobs don't share.
But I'd still like to see a little more color among the low-level enemies in the game. I'm not saying get rid of the street thugs entirely; Batman and Spider-Man are street-level heroes, and fighting ordinary thugs is definitely in their wheelhouse. But maybe increase the ratio of colorful costumed supervillains to generic muggers.
And here's my thought: they should copy the Nemesis system from Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor/Shadow of War.
I'm not saying copy it entirely. Like I said, Spider-Man's already got a fantastic stable of villains; he doesn't need a game built around pursuing new ones created at random.
But what I'm thinking is, those sidequests where you fight through a warehouse full of Kingpin thugs or whatever? Put some kind of randomized supervillain sub-boss at the end of those.
I'm also picturing the late, lamented MMORPG City of Heroes as a template. CoH let you choose a basis for your powers -- technological gadgets, scientific experimentation, genetic mutation, the usual superhero origin stuff -- and a power set related to that. It also had an extremely versatile character creation tool.
So I'm thinking, populate a Spider-Man game with minor supervillains whose names, costumes, powers, and origin stories are randomly pieced together from a set of stock supervillain tropes.
Silas Skinner was a lab assistant at Oscorp, until a lab accident caused his skin to begin growing out of control. When Mr. Negative offered him a chance at revenge on Norman Osborn, he joined the Demons. With the help of stolen unstable-molecule tech, he is now able to control his skin-stretching power, and runs the Upper-West Side as Epidermis Rex!
Dawn Dwyer was a ticket-taker at the Central Park Zoo, until she was badly injured in a stampede caused by Kraven the Hunter. In exchange for her loyalty, Wilson Fisk outfitted her with a mechanical suit that compensates for her injuries and grants her enhanced strength and speed. Now, she leads an animal-themed gang of enforcers as Bear Dawn!
Pointagar Stickagon is an Inhuman who owns a pointy stick. He terrorizes Midtown as Pointy Stick!
Here is a list of DC Comics I would have purchased today if they had not contained obnoxious half-page Twix ads:
- Batman Beyond #1
- Bat-Mite #1
- Bizarro #1
Here is a list of DC comics I purchased today:
DC, I do not have a fancy marketing degree. However, I can offer you a marketing suggestion for free: if one team of marketers suggests making money by releasing new comics that appeal to a different audience from the core DC line (albeit, granted, still pretty much just made up of spinoffs of Batman and Superman comics), and another team of marketers suggests making money through finding a really irritating and distracting way of putting advertisements in your comics, perhaps you might consider rolling out those two ideas separately instead of simultaneously. This is what is known as "isolating the variables".
I would also suggest that, if I were one of the writers, artists, editors, or marketers who had gone to considerable effort to create and market a new and different comic book to a nontraditional audience, I would be pretty unhappy right now with the people in management who had made a decision that actively sabotaged the appeal of that comic book.
I do not wish to be negative or ungrateful here. I greatly appreciate your decision to convince me to keep the nine dollars I would have spent on those three comic books. I went nextdoor and spent that money on beer instead. I had a Four Peaks Kiltlifter and a New Belgium Slow Ride. They were very good beers, and at no point in my drinking experience did they interrupt me and try to convince me to buy Twix.
Excellent Games with Lazy, Halfassed Interface Design
So Arkham City was on sale on Steam last weekend. Between that and the recent removal of GFWL and SecuROM, and my Xbox (and my copy of the game) being recently stolen, I went ahead and bought it.
Compared to the Xbox version of the game, well, it's got all the same benefits and drawbacks as every PC game does compared to the console version.
Including controller support.
It recognized my outdated Cordless Rumblepad 2 just fine -- I'm not sure if that's internal to the game itself or due to the compatibility layer Steam's added in Big Picture -- but either way, well, it recognized the controller but didn't actually work right with it.
All the button pairs were switched. A and B, X and Y, the bumpers and the triggers.
All of which I suppose I could have eventually reprogrammed my muscle memory to work around (hell, the Xbox's button layout is already backwards for a kid who grew up with a SNES). But the fact that the Y-axis was backwards on the left stick? Not so much. Try playing a game where up is literally down and see how far it gets you.
And here's my gripe:
There's no menu to reconfigure your controller in the game.
There could have been. There's a menu option to look at the controls. You just can't modify them in any way. (Well, you can invert the axes on camera and flight, I suppose. But not on regular movement, the thing where I actually needed to invert an axis. And no button remapping whatsoever.)
There's a configuration utility -- outside the game -- which lets you remap controls...for keyboard and mouse. If there's a way to change the button layout on a gamepad, I sure didn't see it.
Now, the good news about this being 2013 is I could type "arkham city" inverted controls into a search engine and find a trivial fix -- as it turns out, there's a config file in BmGame\Config\DefaultInput.ini that has straightforward, cleartext entries with names like XboxTypeS_LeftY and XboxTypeS_A. Simply swap the names of the axes and buttons, and that's all it takes.
Which is great!
But the bad news about this being 2013 is I can't help asking why the fuck I had to look this up on the Internet and edit a fucking text file instead of just configuring my controls from a menu.
The last time I had a problem like this, with The Walking Dead, I found a forum post by a Telltale staffer who had this to say:
Unfortunately we do not have access to all the various versions of controllers that logitech and other companies make.
Which sounds perfectly sensible, and also completely misses the fucking point.
Now, in Batman's case, there are a couple simple reasons that's a bad argument: first, this issue occurs with the authentic Xbox controllers that the game is specifically designed for. Second, this is not a new bug -- see the link to the fix a few paragraphs up? Take a closer look at the URL -- it's for Arkham Asylum, not City. This is a bug from the original game that was not fixed in the sequel.
But even leaving aside those two points (which is only fair, of course, given that I'm quoting a guy from a different company talking about a completely different game), the central issue remains: this is the twenty-first goddamn century and people are making games -- PC games! -- where they don't give you the option to remap your buttons.
Yes, I know that hardware inconsistency is the single most difficult thing about PC development. No, I don't expect you to design your game to work with every single controller ever made.
But I do goddamn-well expect you to let me map my fucking buttons however I want.
Mega Man X did that shit twenty years ago. What the fuck is your excuse?
New Simonson Thor and Other Con Announcements
I'm not terribly excited by all the big movie stuff, or really the DC/Marvel comics stuff either, at Comic-Con. But there have been some good announcements about things I do care about. Occasionally-reliable gossip site Bleeding Cool has told tales of new Bone from Jeff Smith, a Stan Sakai adaptation of War of the Worlds set in feudal Japan, and a history of Mad Magazine by Mark Evanier and Sergio Aragonés (Evanier himself responded by saying no that last one is not happening and he never said he was doing anything of the sort).
While I hold out hope that they really are going to announce that the '60's Batman TV series is finally coming out on DVD, here's one thing that has been officially confirmed: Walter Simonson is doing a new Thor comic. (But not a new Thor comic. See the importance of italics, kids?)
It's not for Marvel, and it's not Marvel's Thor. It's a creator-owned book called Ragnarök and it features good ol'-fashioned public-domain Norse mythology. Said Simonson: "Scott Dunbier and I first talked about me working on a creator-owned book involving the Norse gods 15 years ago, but as many of my former editors can tell you, I've always regarded deadlines as useful fiction."
I am so there.
Party Like It's 1994
I decided on FF6A with the music and graphics patches.
Though I'm not sure I'm getting the full effect emulating it on a PSP...
I've posted these bits from Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics before:
McCloud mentions, in one of his essays in the Zot! collection, that when he was working on Zot! he studied Peanuts and tried to figure out how Schulz managed to convey such a huge range of expression and emotion with such simple drawings -- and that this line of inquiry ultimately led to that chapter in Understanding Comics.
And you know who's got this whole "simple cartooning" thing down?
The other week my wife and I took our 2-year-old nephew to the comic store. He made a beeline for a display case full of Batman statues. He looked at all of them, excitedly chanting "Batman! Batman!" But there was one he focused on more than any of the others:
He was excited. He was tapping on the glass. He was enthralled.
He's a smart kid.
And I got to thinking, what is it about Aragonés's art that has that kind of appeal? That speaks to a two-year-old, even through two whole shelves' worth of Batman figures?
Just look at it -- the pose, the arms, the fingers, the teeth, the eyes, the nose, the cape, the skinny little legs.
It's expressive. It's funny. It's exciting. And it's exaggerated as hell.
A collection of body parts in a bunch of simple shapes, most of them big and round.
It speaks to us on a fundamental level. A level so simple a two-year-old can see it.
Aragonés is a master. He may be the greatest living cartoonist. I wouldn't argue with someone who suggested he's the greatest of all time.
I was at Phoenix Comicon last month. Most of the artists were approachable. Eastman and Capullo were the only two who had real lines -- and they didn't just have lines, they had three-hour ones.
So my TMNT #50 went unsigned, because there's no damn way I'm waiting in line for 3 hours to meet Kevin Eastman.
I guess that brings up the question of what artist I would stand in line 3 hours to meet.
And I think, maybe, maybe Aragonés. If he ever came to Phoenix, and was just sitting in Artists' Alley signing things instead of spending the entire time doing panels. He'd be the one guy I can really think of who I'd be happy to wait that long to meet. Not Spiegelman, not Clowes, not Crumb, not Los Bros Hernandez -- I love those guys, but I wouldn't wait in line three hours to get their autographs But Aragonés? Yeah, maybe.
And I guess maybe Jaffee, too.
Not much time to write this evening as my wife and I are taking care of our two-year-old nephew. So far we've made it through a Ninja Turtles (2012), a Yo Gabba Gabba (with Weird Al!) and a Batman: The Brave and the Bold.
That's after a trip to the comic shop -- I still haven't finished the comics I bought two weeks ago, but I had to grab the new Astro City.
Nephew made a beeline for the display case with the Batman figures in it. His favorite was the Aragonés one. He's got good taste.
The other day I was telling my family about my new job.
My wife chimed in, "I haven't heard him complain once. I've never seen him like this."
And I must say I'm enjoying it. It's not perfect but it's pretty good. It's challenging without being high-stress; it's corporate without being pretentious. It's crowded but the people there are people like me -- to my left, a guy with Batman figures on his desk talking about Kevin Smith movies, to my right, a guy with Daleks on his desk talking about Saga.
Got my first paycheck today. More than half of it, straight away, went to my bills. But the other half still made for significantly more money than I made in a week on unemployment.
I dunno if it's the best job I've ever had. But it might very well be the best job I've had since the summer of 2004.
The Big Little Moment in Batgirl #19
Expanded from a Brontoforumus post I wrote yesterday. Spoilers follow.
I haven't been reading Batgirl ('cept one issue a couple months ago). I don't really know Alysia Yeoh. I knew enough to know she was who everybody was figuring would be the trans character.
But y'know, coming into it as a new reader, I think Simone really nailed it. It's the wonderful little moment of "this is a big deal to this character but it doesn't really change anything". It's that peculiar mix of something that really matters and simultaneously doesn't matter at all.
That's Simone's strength: these little human moments.
I've been on the other end of an "I have something to tell you" coming-out moment a handful of times in my life. It's just like that. The moment of "I'm glad you're comfortable telling me, but from where I'm sitting it doesn't change a thing." Or, in some cases, "Well Jesus, dude, I knew that within five minutes of meeting you" or "Yeah, I just assume every woman on the Internet is physiologically male." It's something that's so big and so small, all at once.
And superhero secret identities as a metaphor for the closet is hardly a new idea, but I've rarely seen an actual superhero comic commit to it so fully and unambiguously. Alysia reveals her secret to Barbara, but Barbara doesn't reveal her secret to Alysia -- and indeed, while her brother and her mother know, she hasn't told her own father. Subtle it ain't, but deft and nuanced it is. Simone takes on a great tradition here, what the masks and the cowls really say about people -- and it bears remembering that superheroes are rooted in the American Jewish tradition. Taking on an assumed name, hiding your identity from all but a trusted few -- the experience of the oppressed outsider is deeply encoded in the DNA of the superhero. Simone pays homage to that heritage here, in a way that never distracts and always serves the story.
As for that story, as for the rest of the book -- well, it's more of the "Barbara's brother is a sociopathic serial killer" arc that I don't care much for. I think Gail does a fantastic job with it but it is so very much not my cup of tea.
She's promised things are going to get lighter in the coming months, but next month's cover has a super-creepy new version of the Ventriloquist on it and I'm not holding my breath.
Still, I expect I'll be along for the ride for a little while to come, at least. Even if the big stories don't interest me, the little ones do -- and there are few other writers working in mainstream superhero comics right now who are Gail Simone's equal at those.