Monday, November 8, 2010

8-Bit Retro

Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a gamer by any means.  Even when I was a kid, I always had difficulty with games and needed help to beat them, whether it was getting tips from Nintendo Power or the guy across the street showing me how to find the warp zones in Super Mario Bros.  Later on, I fell out of love with video games entirely and the only things I seemed to play were Final Fantasy and Smackdown games.  Nowadays I don't even do that, not because I don't like Final Fantasy or wrestling, but because of a lack of new quality titles.  I got a PS3 a year ago, and I have still yet to find that one game that makes me glad I bought it. 

Recently, I've been having more fun with NES and SNES emulators.  Emulators have been around forever, but a couple of years ago I bought a controller to plug into my computer so I could play a PC Star Wars game that, surprise, it turned out I didn't like.  Now I needed to find an emulator that supported external controls, since I was sick of the NESticle (whose icon was shaped like a hairy ball sack.  No joke.)  NEStopia turned out to be a great one, and I downloaded roms of Zelda II, The Goonies 2 and Battletoads. 

Zelda II is one I played so many times as a kid that I can still play it by heart.  I looked at a few palace maps just for time expediency, but it is a fairly easy game as long as you have a map of the last palace handy.  Goonies 2 and Battletoads are probably in my top three of the hardest games I ever played on the NES, with the third being Blaster Master.  Goonies is my favorite movie ever, but I played the game long before I ever watched it.  There was a kid in my neighborhood when I was about six named Brandon, who had an NES.  One day I watched him play the original Legend of Zelda, Excitebike and Goonies 2.  So it was one of the first ones I ever played as well.  There's something nostalgic about that old Nintendo logic where yo-yos are instruments of death capable of knocking out grown men with guns and making giant snakes and spiders explode.  The game is more puzzle than platformer, as you play Mikey and have to rescue the rest of the Goonies and a mermaid named Annie (the fuck?) from the Fratellis. 

Every time you enter a door, the gameplay switches to a first person view and you have to use various tools to discover secret passages that lead to other areas or jail cells with your friends.  Sometimes hitting a wall with a hammer of your fist can make a door or tool appear for you to take.  The game's actually a lot easier once you get the candle, which you can use to light up dark rooms.  That's the hard part, in addition to a map that has two ends (front and back) that makes it impossible to tell where you are or remember where you've been before.  You would never know how to get the candle without help, because there's a very specific way to get it.  There are people living in some of these rooms hundreds of feet below the surface for some reason, like Konami Man, who restores your energy, or an eskimo, who helpfully tells you "I am Eskimo!"  There's a cranky lady in one of these rooms who will give you a candle if you, no shit, punch her in the face five times.  There are no clues to this.  Sure, it's fun punching these random people or taking a hammer to them, but all they ever do is repeat, "Ouch!  What do you do?" over and over, so there's no real inclination to keep wailing on them.  Later in the game it gets really weird, as it ups the ante from enemies who make sense in this environment (snakes, spiders, the Fratelli Brothers) and throws monsters like armed skeletons, knights and mini-Godzillas in your path. 

Battletoads is another impossible game that you will not beat without some kind of help, even if it's just using the cheat code at the start screen that lets you start with two extra lives.  Jim and I used to play this with the Game Genie so that we would take no damage, and we still couldn't beat the last level.  I think I managed to maybe once or twice back in the day.  Most of what makes this game difficult is the erratic controls.  There's nothing more frustrating than edging along an icy hill and then suddenly sprinting forward to crash into the spikes you were trying to avoid in the first place.  Sometimes performing one of the power moves, in which your character's fist or foot would briefly become comically gargantuan in size, the forward momentum would carry your character right off a platform, costing you a life.  In two-player mode, there is no distinction between your partner and the enemies, so you will often find yourself accidentally beating up the other player. 

That said, the game is a ton of fun to play.  Battletoads is a TMNT ripoff, but really good as far as TMNT ripoffs go.  It has a backstory that is somehow charming, simplistic and idiotic at the same time.  The Battletoads are Rash, Zitz and Pimple, and they have a vulture (named Professor Vulture) as their leader.  One day, Pimple and some broad named Princess Angelica "were out cruisin'" as the game puts it, in their cadillac/spaceship.  Their spaceship is eaten, literally, by a bigger one belonging to the forces of the Dark Queen.  Your job is to penetrate the planet where they were taken and rescue them.  Between the levels, Vulture will tell you what to expect, while the Dark Queen hurls insults at you. 

Each level itself is creative, keeping the gameplay fresh.  I can't think of any game before or since where a boss battle is fought from the POV of the boss itself.  Most of the levels are platformers, but there's a level where you have to ride robotic snakes while avoiding spikes and trying to find a hole that leads out of the area, one where you rapel down a crater avoiding electricity-emitting robots and beating up ravens, and of course the racing levels.  Ask anyone who played it about the Turbo Tunnel and watch the pain on their face.  Many never made it past that point.  The only way to beat that level was to crash and burn your way through it so many times that the correct movements become ingrained in your reflexes.  It took me a long time to master it, but to this day I can still beat it with minimal life loss.  I defy any game before or since to give me a level that gets the adrenaline up as much as that one. 

The animation is great for an NES game too, due to the game coming late in the system's life cycle.  In addition to the power moves, the king of which is the BT Battleball in the crater level, anytime a boss shows up the 'Toads stop to express their fear via cartoonish eye-bugging and tongue-wagging.  It has a great, memorable soundtrack as well.  All in all, it's difficult to see why this didn't become a much bigger franchise than it was.  There was a SNES Battletoads with even more problematic controls and a Battletoads/Double Dragon crossover, and after that, nothing.  Rare would go on to make other hit games like Donkey Kong Country for SNES and Goldeneye for N64, the latter of which created a revolutionary multi-player engine that has been used in games ever since, such as Conker's Bad Fur Day and TimeSplitters.

I think games are a lot easier these days.  Not just because of a plethora of walk-throughs you can find on any website, but because these days you have 3D games that enable you to move in any direction to avoid damage.  In the NES days, you only had three options:  jump, duck or run the other way.  Now that I don't have to akwardly play the emulator using a keyboard, I can look forward to rediscovering some of these games.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Let the Spice and Pink Ribbons Flow

I was going to blog about going to the World Fantasy Convention next week, but now I'm not even sure I want to go.   Sure, it's just an hour away this year, and I could try to meet some agents and editors and try to do some networking.  But honestly, I just don't know enough about these conventions to justify spending $165 to attend.  You can't even really give them samples of your work, because it's considered bad ettiquette.  You're supposed to send them through the mail like everyone else.  From what I can gather about programming, it mostly consists of authors reading from their own works for three days, and I can think of nothing more BORING than being read to.  I got over that when I learned to read by myself, thanks.  What's more, to attend the yearly awards banquet is an extra $55.  If I'm already paying almost $200 to attend a convention, the banquet should not only be free, they better have a fucking throne for me to sit on.

I'm thinking my time would be better served by preparing myself for National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, which is November 1-30.  I really want to use it to write the bulk of my fantasy wrestling novel (now there's a genre that hasn't been done yet) Babyface Fire.  It follows the adventures of Loebo Anders and Bleg, two characters who appeared in my first Geffia novel The Adventure Tournament.  Basically, Loebo finds out about a bounty put on his head and takes refuge with BOWW, the biggest wrestling promotion in Bolognia and somehow ends up in one of their angles.  He tours with them, while the rest of the Chosen Squad try to diffuse the situation behind his bounty.  I also have an idea for a novel starring another member of Team Bowel from the Adventure Tournament, Marie the Lock Collector.  But I may need some outside help with research, since I'm not sure how to write for a teenage girl, having never been one myself.  (My junior high wrestling coaches may beg to differ.)

In celebration of watching the Ronin Fox Trax iRiff of Dune ( check 'em out, I'm a part-time member as well and I've co-starred in three of his riffs) I've decided to reread the novel for the first time in ten years.  It's fairly easy to see why this story doesn't adapt to the screen very well.  It's very introspective, there are a lot of off-screen politics and action is not very prevalent.  This did not translate well to the screen.  Not even Sting and Patrick Stewart could save it.  And this was the theatrical cut, which somehow felt longer than the extended cut, which was a full hour longer in length but did help salvage the film quite a bit.  I remember marking certain passages in my book in pencil when I first read it in high school, because unlike the other genre fiction I was reading I considered this to be literature on the level of something that would be read in an English class, like Frankenstein or Paradise Lost.  Nowadays I just consider it entertaining genre fiction by a guy who was very good at coming up with deep, philosophical phrases and knows more big words than I know.

Actually, I have a story about Paradise Lost.  I had an English class in college devoted wholly to that book.  I found it completely unintelligible, one of the most painful things I ever had to read, right up there with Jane Eyre.  (Fuck you, Bronte sisters; I hope wherever you are now, you looked down, or up, and saw us defile and shred Jim's copy of JE back in high school.  I'd do it again and do it on your grave.)  Anyway, the pain caused by Milton is sort of like the literary equivalent to watching Highlander 2.  This class was capped off by a research paper, which I procrastinated on, big surprise, until the night before it was due.  Still having only a marginal inkling of what was going on in this story, it took me six hours to write six pages of the greatest bullshit I've ever written.  I never knew what I got on the paper, but I got a B for the class, and since this was 50% of the grade, I guess that means I did pretty well.  And this wasn't some teacher's aide teaching the course who didn't know how to filter out bullshit.  The class was taught by the head of the English department.

So here's my advice to college students who find themselves in that same situation:  just bullshit it.  Seriously.  They say they can tell if it's bullshit.  They can't.  Not if you have any kind of creativity whatsoever.  Come up with a bullshit hypothesis and some bullshit evidence to support it and you're gold. (Somehow my BSs are outnumbering my F bombs in this entry.  This is rare.)  I guarantee* you'll at least pass.

This last bit is about Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and let me preface this by saying that I have nothing against what is, in fact, a good cause.  (In other words, be prepared to be pissed the fuck OFF.)  What I do have something against, is the intrusiveness of this media campaign on my life.  Facebook friends putting pink ribbons on their profiles or turning their pictures pink in support of this cause is fine.  Holding marathons and rallies are fine.  These are voluntary events that I don't have to attend if I choose not to.  But when the fucking newspaper puts out a pink edition that looks like it got left in with the dark wash and is basically rendered unreadable because of it, and solicitors show up at my door to bother me, I've got a bit of a problem.  "We're not here to solicit donations, we just want you to spend $8 on two months' worth of useless coupons."  Fuck you.  In my book, that's a solicitation, even if it's not the technical definition of one.   Don't fucking lie to me, at least be honest about what you're doing.  And I'm not cheering on disease and misery here.  If I had a money tree I'd be the first to donate to this as well as many other worthy causes.  But I don't, so don't try to coax me into it at my own door, especially by rattling off a list of names of people who have decided to help out, since I have not a clue who any of these people are.  Again, I'm not saying breast cancer awareness is bad, just that some of it results in some very counterproductive bullshit.  I guess the point I'm trying to get across here is there are many causes worth trumpeting.  Donate to them, support them... just don't be completely retarded about it.

And with that last statement, my Political Incorrectness Scale has been tipped, so I'm out of here.  Join me next week and maybe I'll rail against starving children or mock the homeless.


*Any guarantees may be bullshit.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

It was one of *those* nights (or Adventures in the World of Wrestling)

So this story starts with my decision to go to the ROH show in Dayton last night.  I've been to every ROH show in that building over the past seven years with the exception of two:  the first one that took place before I was a fan, and this past April's show.  This was about seven months after ROH had stopped using me to make their DVD trailers and a couple of months after I officially parted ways with SHIMMER.  So I skipped the show because I just didn't want anything to do with wrestling at the time.  But last night's show featured the Dayton returns of Homicide and Christopher Daniels since they've come back to the company and my longtime friend Daizee Haze was wrestling on a Dayton show for the first time in almost three years, so I wanted to go.

A couple of months ago, I got back into watching ROH and starting getting the itch to do something again.  Around this time, Delirious, who used to wrestle in opening matches when he first came into the company six years ago and has since become one of the biggest creative minds in the locker room, was promoted to booker, which is sort of like the equivalent of being an executive producer on a television show.  He comes up with storylines and angles, yes, but he also books new talent and basically helms the direction of the company.  He's also one of only a few people in ROH that I know personally, and by that I mean he actually recognizes me on sight.  He knows me through his wife, Daizee, because she's the one who "discovered" me back in 2006 and gave me my first opportunity in the business, which was making a music video for her DVD of best matches.  (Many indy wrestlers make so little on their bookings that merch like this is a great way to supplement their income.  These DVD-Rs are cheap as hell to edit and put together, and they can sell them to fans at shows or on the Internet usually at $20 a pop.)  I also did one for Delirious later that year, and it wasn't long after that I got the opportunity to do SHIMMER, which led to FIP, which led to ROH.  The whole chain reaction started with Daizee, and we've become pretty good friends over the years.  Since she's a top star at SHIMMER, I've hung out with her many times at afterparties and such.  Delirious not so much since ROH hasn't really had official afterparties until recently, but he's someone who definitely is familiar with and appreciates the video work I've done.

All of a sudden, I have friends in high places.  D basically runs the company, along with owner Cary Silkin.  So I figure this would be a good way to get my face seen again and maybe get something going.  I went to the show, and the first half was really excellent.  Daizee had a good match with Lady JoJo (aka Josie aka TNA's Sojourner Bolt).  Colt Cabana had an awesomely funny match against Andy Ridge and Kevin Steen and Steve Corino had a great match with two young guys full of potential, Kyle O'Reilly and Adam Cole.  This match was even funnier than the previous one, not because of the antics in the ring, but because Steen and Corino's characters are such dicks and they make a great team.  Before the match, Corino grabbed the mic and railed at the fans and his opponents.  "Hey O'Reilly, I'm talking!  If you've been paying attention to Steve Corino for the last 17 years, you know this is going to be the best part of the match!"  He started picking out fans in the front row to rag on, and settled on one guy in a Cabana shirt and just would not let up on him.

Now, throughout the night, I had noticed some extra filming going on and not from the ROH crew.  There was a lady with a camera filming the security guy, Zack, right in front of where I was sitting.  I read previously that a crew from TruTV had been following Zack around at ROH shows documenting him for some reality series, but that was months ago and I didn't know that was still going on.  Anyway, they start filming this fan getting punked to hell and back by Corino and I start realizing this is a plant for the TV show.  The fan knocks over the corner chair and kicks the guardrail, then marches over to Zack and starts bitching about Corino saying all these disgusting things to him.  It was really over the top and so obviously a work, and Zack ended up escorting the "fan" out of the building.

After the match was over, they went to intermission.  I figure Daizee is probably out back behind the building smoking, so I make my way back there and I was right.  Her ring tights practically glow in the dark, and I could see her from fifty feet away.  Hell, the guys in the air rescue chopper circling Miami Valley Hospital probably saw her.  She was talking to some others who had come to the same conclusion as me, but stopped to give me a big hug.  I was excited to see her, since it had been almost a year since the last time.  That's what I've missed most about my participation in wrestling; the friends I never see anymore.  I told her what I'd been up to since then, and told her a little about the book I just finished.  Unfortunately I didn't get around to telling her that the next one in the series will be wrestling based and two of the characters I modeled after her and D.  But somehow this segued into us talking about the ending of LOST for the next ten minutes.  Eventually the second half started and she went back inside, and I went back around front.

...And walked right into the shot of the TruTV cameras.  Now Zack had a different "fan" down on the ground as if he'd just kicked the snot out of him and is telling him that he'll let him up once he's calmed down.  Wondering if I'd accidentally wandered onto an episode of Cops, I carefully stepped around the cameras and the boom guy and went back inside.  I missed most of the Metal Master (Chad Collyer) vs. Ricky Reyes match, but the rest of the show definitely delivered culiminating in Chris Hero and Claudio Castagnoli defending the tag titles against Davey Richards and Christopher Daniels.  This match was off the charts, with Claudio doing that no-hands airplane spin he always does with Davey, and at one point Hero was on the floor with Davey on the apron, and he gave Hero the LOUDEST KICK I've ever heard.  That fucker echoed off the walls.  After the show was over, I walked around the building again to see if D and Daizee were going to the afterparty and walked into the TruTV camera shot AGAIN.  Now they were filming the first "fan" from before, who was staging a one-man assault on the backstage area trying to get to Corino, with Zack and a couple of other wrestlers fighting him off.

This was an episode of Boston Public now.  If this were real, this would have been the worst wrestling crowd in the history of the world.  There were about five different incidents of Zack having to accost someone during the show.  Like I told Daizee, I've been going to wrestling shows in Dayton for twenty years, and I've never seen one incident that required interjection from security, let alone five in one show.  Not in ROH, WWE or even ECW (though it was a close call at Heatwave '99 when the Dudley Boyz almost started a riot.)  I told her these "reality" shows are just as much a work as any wrestling event.  She said that's even true moreso, and that TruTV had such a great experience filming at ROH shows that they basically want to spin Zack off into his own show, and that as the new booker, Delirious had to have meetings with these people for potential "storylines."  And people still have the gall to look down on wrestling because it's staged.  I saw D too, and he was wearing a mask even though he hasn't wrestled for ROH since being promoted.  I'm not sure why, since he was maskless outside the afterparty and with his beard it's not exactly a mystery as to who the guy in the hoodie is.  That was actually the first time I've seen his face in all the time I've known him.

We went to the bar, Blind Bob's, for the afterparty, but D decided to blow out of there since they have a show in Chicago tomorrow.  I did get his email address and will definitely see if I can get him to put a word in for me with Cary toward getting something going videowise.  I went into the bar, which is definitely not my comfort zone.  For one thing, I don't drink.  I can't talk to the wrestlers I want to talk to because of all the other fans there.  The women in the bar aren't looking my way because let's face it, I looked horrible.  I haven't had a haircut in forever, I'm wearing my dorky glasses so I can actually see, and tomorrow is laundry day so I'm literally wearing the only clothes I have left that are clean and are warm enough to wear outside on an October night.

I went back outside and talked to Colt Cabana, who I've met a couple times in the past, and denied ever making love to him.  (I'll let you wonder about that one.)  Then there arose a clatter right there on the sidewalk with two drunk gangsta wannabes, who were getting in Kenny King's face.  King, ever being a worker, decided to start antagonizing them and these drunken idiots are getting ready to fight.  I say idiots, because now they've got the attention of everyone outside, which amounted to King, Colt, Kevin Steen, Steve Corino, Rhett Titus (who climbed over the gate separating Blind Bob's veranda area from the sidewalk so he could get a piece), a group of fans and two heavies who I believe were part of the TruTV crew.  And then there was me.  I don't know about you, but if I've got to take off my glasses and get down with these guys, I'm on Team ROH.  Just as I'm thinking, "This is great!  Someone's going to get thrown through a fucking window!" a cop saddles up and diffuses it.

UPDATE 10/16:  The show is called "All Worked Up."  I had to look that up, since I asked the boom guy and even he didn't know what the show was called.  He was finally able to remember and told me, but then I forgot.  So I guess it's not a very good title.

Thinking that this night of oddly fantastical happenings couldn't get any better and probably could get a lot worse, I decided to bolt.  But not before I got this picture with a former TNA Superstar: