I think my favorite thing about Arkham City is that about half of the incidental dialogue seems to be made up of characters discussing just how implausible every single thing about the game is.
Tag: Paul Dini
Xboxin', Part 1
Welp, couldn't think of an entry to write this evening, and I got to thinking -- my brother just got an Xbox (rather like I did), and I was meaning to recommend some games to him. So hey, howzabout a blog post about my favorite Xbox games.
(Actually, I've mostly played the PC versions of these. Because, again -- just got the Xbox.)
Mass Effect -- I haven't played 3 yet, but the first two games are, straight up, my favorite games of the current hardware generation. It's the guys who made Knights of the Old Republic, but it's a new science fiction setting they've cooked up. Humans have begun exploring space and are treated as second-class citizens by the Galactic Council; your character is the first human to be selected for an elite special-ops position. Of course, as these things go, you uncover a threat to all of galactic civilization.
The first game's a not-quite-perfect hybrid of third-person shooter and RPG; it's got a wonky inventory system but is pretty great aside from that. The second game streamlines out all the crap and is more of a pure shooter; on the whole I'd say it's a better game but the first has the better story. I haven't played the third yet; from what I've read it's pretty good but the ending is so bad the company actually released a new ending at fans' insistence.
Batman: Arkham Asylum -- When this game came out it got the Guinness Record for the best-reviewed game of all time. It's easy to see why. It's got a script by Paul Dini and stars Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill. The gameplay is just perfect, and the enemy AI is a great touch; a lot of the fighting is focused on the idea of sneaking around and slowly picking off thugs one-by-one. (You can even hang upside-down from a gargoyle, wait until a guy walks underneath you, and drop down and tie him up.) As you take thugs out the remaining ones get more and more agitated and have different reactions; some start firing randomly into the air, others start traveling in pairs -- the AI's not exactly brilliant but it's a really nice touch. And that's before the game even starts messing with your expectations, playing with what you expect out of the world of Batman and even the mechanics of the game itself.
The sequel, Arkham City, is supposed to be pretty fantastic too, but I haven't gotten around to that one yet.
Guess that'll do for a start. Other stuff for later: Dragon Age, The Witcher 2, Sonic Generations, Sonic CD. And, hell, Ghostbusters. Because it may be mediocre as a game, but as a Ghostbusters sequel, it's pretty great.
Not My Batman
I've been talking about fanboys and entitlement. It's kind of amazing the extent to which fans can be territorial and proprietary about characters they don't actually own or control.
To wit: you've probably heard the phrase "That's not my Batman."
The wonderful thing about Batman is that he is, quite possibly, the most versatile superhero in all of comics. (The most versatile supervillain, on the other hand, is Dr. Doom, and Chris Sims did a great job of laying out the reasons why in a recent column.) He's been around for close on 75 years and has, in that time, appeared in virtually every kind of story. You've probably got a "your Batman", the one you consider definitive and canonical -- and it's probably the one from when you were a kid. I'm no exception -- more on that in a moment.
I saw an Amazon review of the Arkham Asylum game that gave us this great bit of That's Not My Batman:
No, this is not the BAM, WHAM, KA-POW batman you saw David West in and it's not the weird new batman from Batman the Brave and the Bold cartoon and that is such a relief !!
This is the TRUE Batman, the one Bob Kane had in his mind even in the late 30's[.]
Yes, who could forget the famous Batman TV series starring David West? It was a huge departure from the TRUE Batman who Bob Kane had in his mind in the late 1930's -- you know, the one who wore a red costume, wings, and a domino mask, and was called Bird-Man, because that was Bob Kane's pitch until Bill Finger suggested some changes. (There's more on the origins of Batman at Dial B for Blog, and I strongly recommend the book Men of Tomorrow by Gerard Jones.)
Of course, the funny thing is that the guy who wrote the script to Batman: Arkham Asylum, Paul Dini, also gave us the following exchange (on Batman: The Brave and the Bold, the one with "that weird new Batman" -- specifically, in the episode Legends of the Dark Mite):
(You can see the clip on YouTube, too, but the uploader prevents embedding.)
Because Dini doesn't just understand that there's more than one "valid" interpretation of Batman, he excels at jumping between them. He's a true chameleon like few Batman scribes in the character's history -- Grant Morrison springs to mind, as does Bill Finger himself, who wrote everything from Batman's earliest appearances and origin story to a two-part episode of that "BAM, WHAM, KA-POW" TV series with Adam "My Name is Not Even Remotely Similar to David" West.
And the funny thing is, playing Arkham Asylum, I've realized something: this isn't my Batman.
He sounds exactly like my Batman. And the Joker sounds exactly like my Joker. And the writing sure sounds a lot like my Batman too.
But it's meaner. It's more violent. An asylum littered with the bodies of murdered security guards. Batman himself sticks to the "no killing" rule in this version (unlike, say, the Burton movies), but he's brutal. The game features fetishistic slow-motion beatdowns that look like something out of the Watchmen movie; Batman may not kill, but he snaps bones and smothers perps until they lose consciousness.
Don't get me wrong -- I like the game. It plays fantastically; it's expertly designed, fun as hell, and it fits Batman -- at least, a version of Batman.
I guess that's what this comes down to: I can recognize a Batman as Not My Batman and still enjoy and appreciate it.
PC Gamer's Dilemma
Well, I finally got me an Xbox 360.
It was free. My fiancée got a new computer with one of those student "comes with a free Xbox" deals.
Here's the thing: I've got a pretty solid gaming rig. And another pretty solid media rig. So I haven't felt much need for Xboxin' up to this point.
The advantages and drawbacks of PC gaming are pretty well-documented. A PC can support crazy high-end hardware, but while the games are cheaper the gear is more expensive and fiddly and there's a whole lot that can go wrong.
Me, I'm something like a niche of a niche of a niche of a niche -- I run Linux on a Mac Pro as my primary OS and keep Windows around for gaming.
This is pretty cool when it works. But here's the thing: even a good Apple makes for a pretty crummy gaming system.
Last year I bought a pretty high-end Nvidia card. ATI has better Mac support, but I've had nothing but headaches trying to get ATI cards working with Linux. Nvidia's always run smoother for me -- galling considering their total lack of cooperation with Linux and the open-source community, but true.
But it's not an officially-supported card. It works under OSX (as of 10.7.3) but it's not entirely reliable under Windows -- when it gets taxed too heavily, I get a bluescreen.
It happened a few times when I played through Witcher 2, but, perversely, it's given me more trouble on Mass Effect 2 -- a game I had no trouble playing through with all the settings maxed out on a lower-end (but officially-Apple-supported) ATI card.
I thought it might be a heating problem but it occurs, consistently, even when I crank up all my system fans with third-party software.
The game worked fine up until Omega, and then started BSoDing randomly. I managed to recruit Garrus in-between crashes, but by the time it came around to Mordin's quest I couldn't get past loading the corridor.
I could just try some other missions, but seriously, you want me to put off getting Mordin? Hell no.
I've found, from searching, that this appears to be a fairly common problem with ME2, even among people not running eccentric hardware configurations such as mine. And I've found a few suggested fixes, but none have worked for me.
I've tried running the game under WINE on both OSX and Ubuntu. Under OSX it plods (I suspect my helper card may be to blame; maybe I'll try disabling it to make sure my higher-end card is the only one the system's putting a load on); under Ubuntu it runs fine up until the menu screen but then doesn't respond to mouse clicks or keystrokes (other than system stuff like Alt-Tab or Alt-F4). I haven't turned up any other reports of this same problem, so I can't find a fix -- maybe one of these days I'll try a full clean install and see if it still does it. Nuke my WINE settings too if I have to. (Or maybe I could set it up on my fiancée's new computer...)
Needless to say, I haven't tried Mass Effect 3 yet.
And that's before we get into all the DRM bullshit plaguing the PC platform.
Never played Batman: Arkham Asylum, largely because of the SecuROM/GFWL/Steamworks Katamari of Sucktitude. Similarly, I gave Dragon Age 2 a miss once I heard reports of people unable to authenticate their legally-purchased games because they'd been banned from BioWare's forums for saying mean things about EA. (Which obviously totally disproves that EA deserves to be called names.)
It's a great damn time to be a PC gamer for a lot of reasons -- a huge indie scene supported by the likes of Steam and the Humble Indie Bundle, with both pushing more gaming on OSX and even Linux -- but it's a lousy time for other reasons.
Anyway. Now I've got an Xbox. All else being equal, I still prefer to play games on the PC, but for cases where the Xbox has less restrictive DRM (like Arkham Asylum) or titles that aren't available on PC (like Red Dead Redemption) or just shit I can get for under five bucks (like a used copy of Gears of War I just picked up), well, it's kinda cool to have one.
Playing: Batman: Arkham Asylum.
Sometimes, Cartoons are for Kids.
We've been spoiled.
My generation, I mean.
We grew up on Batman: The Animated Series. A cartoon that was made for kids but which attracted a huge following among adults, won two Emmys, and still holds up twenty years later not only as an intelligent and sophisticated show, but as one of the high water marks in animation, period.
And if you think that spoiled us, well, consider this: by the time I was in college, Dini, Timm, Burnett, et al were still playing in that sandbox, still expanding that universe, with Justice League.
And there were more to follow. Teen Titans, The Batman, Batman: The Brave and the Bold -- they all had their detractors, but ultimately they were well-received by adults.
And then there's the Marvel side. Sure, the 1990's X-Men and Spider-Man may have been pretty bad in hindsight, but Spectacular Spider-Man was quite probably the best cartoon Marvel's ever put together, and Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes may very well rank at #2.
So that's a murderer's row of fantastic cartoons, enjoyable by adults -- so I suppose it's easy to see where some fanboys got to feeling so entitled that they're offended by the very idea of superhero cartoons for kids.
There's an article over at ComicsAlliance about Ultimate Spider-Man being picked up for a second season. For some reason this has made people in the comments section very angry.
It's not just that they don't like the show -- I mean, that's fine. I like it (it's got Agent Phil Coulson as the high school principal, it had a Frog Thor episode, and even a cameo by Doop!), but seriously, it's okay if some people don't!
That's different from being offended at the very idea that the show is written for children and not for you. I mean, dude -- get over yourself; of course it is.
The Beat had an article to that effect recently too: Area man surprised to find Spider-Man cartoon aimed at children. It featured this quote by a gentleman named Jim Mroczkowski, which I think strikes to the heart of the matter:
No, of course Ultimate Spider-Man doesn’t float your boat. You aren’t eleven years old.
In other words: no, I’m not enjoying this program about my favorite character by my favorite creative team, but what if this particular children’s show about a colorful superhero was a cartoon on the Disney Channel intended for little kids, as opposed to an epic meant for 37-year-old homeowners?
Now, back during the era of Superfriends, Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, and assorted other superhero shows which apparently were mandated by law to include the word "friends" in their titles, this observation would have fallen straight under the heading of "Well no shit." But again -- the Batman: The Animated Series generation is so spoiled it's lost track of that obvious point.
There is another aspect to this: the notion that this has displaced something we loved.
Spectacular Spider-Man was cancelled, and now we have Ultimate Spider-Man. Ergo, as far as fanboys are concerned, Ultimate Spider-Man is to blame for the cancellation of Spectacular Spider-Man.
Now, that's not actually true. But this is the Internet. Bring up Seiken Densetsu 3 and within five minutes someone will be along to rant about how it was cancelled for the vastly inferior Secret of Evermore. This is not actually true, and has long since been thoroughly discredited, but entitled fanboys don't like letting facts get in the way of simple explanations.
Spectacular Spider-Man was cancelled because the rights to animated Spider-Man reverted from Sony back to Marvel. That's the major reason. The bankruptcy of 4Kids Entertainment, the station that aired it, and Disney's purchase of Marvel, likely did not help, but it was first and foremost a rights conflict. Ultimate Spider-Man was made because Spectacular Spider-Man was cancelled, not the other way around.
Of course, muddying the waters a bit is last week's announcement that Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes has been cancelled in favor of a new Avengers cartoon series*. And this does look like a case where a cartoon got low ratings due to complete mismanagement (there were no episodes airing when Thor and Captain America came out last year, and the decision to pull the plug was clearly made before Marvel/Disney had the opportunity to gauge any ratings boost caused by the Avengers movie or the USM synergy) and replaced with something that looks like a potential Jeph Loeb Pet Project. So, you know, that is an actual example of the fanboys probably being right -- except, you know, the part where they declare the new series to totally suck based on one (admittedly sucky) promo image and absolutely nothing else.
And this has been the pattern. Teenage Batman in the future? The fanboys cried that that was a terrible idea. Teen Titans? When it was new the fanboys proclaimed that it was far too juvenile; now that there's a followup coming, those same fanboys are declaring that's too juvenile, and why can't it be mature and sophisticated like the old series?
Fanboys hated The Batman -- and admittedly, it took a couple seasons to find its sea legs, but it got pretty good after awhile.
Fanboys hated Batman: The Brave and the Bold, but it turned out to be an absolutely ingenious series, smart, funny, and firmly rooted in the works of Dick Sprang and Jack Kirby.
There's a phrase for this, in Transformers fandom, for people automatically hating a new series entirely because it's different and not because it's actually bad: "TRUKK NOT MUNKY!"
I guess I've drifted somewhat off-point.
My point is twofold:
- Don't declare that you hate a show until you have actually seen it;
- If you do hate it once you see it, that's okay, but maybe you can stop short of actually being offended that a cartoon featuring your favorite superhero is designed for children.
(Now if, on the other hand, an eight-year-old happens to be offended that there are five different monthly Batman comics and every single one of them is written for people over thirty, then yeah, I think that qualifies as a legitimate complaint.)
* Update 2012-06-19: According to Bleeding Cool -- a site itself best taken with a grain of salt --, Marvel has made no such announcement and the site reporting it is run by some guy who just really, really hates Ultimate Spider-Man. That said, Jeph Loeb did indicate, in a TV Guide interview, that there is a new Avengers cartoon coming, which grants some credence to the claim.