Monday, January 30, 2012

Spookymilk Survivor X: Unfortunate Strength

Vogons need to vogon over the next two weeks. Can they do it? Can I snag some sweet scores in the process? Read on, my friends.

This week's challenge was "Unfortunate Strength". The only requirement was that the protagonist had to have a strength that had drawbacks. A broad category, to be sure, but it had lots of potential. Did I live up to that potential? Did Vogons? Let's find out together.

My entry:

“I’m sorry to bother you…” the frail woman began. They were always sorry. They were usually scared, too, but mostly, they were just apologetic. Sorry to inconvenience, sorry to impose, so sorry to place the burden on Christine. If they were really so sorry, she thought, they wouldn’t be asking. They’d be looking into aromatherapy or herbal treatments – anything but this.

“You do understand what you’re asking for, don’t you?” Christine cut the woman off. “Can you live with what’s going to happen?”

They always, without fail, said that yes, they could live with it. Some of them actually could. Maybe they just didn’t understand the nature of the Balance, or maybe they understood it, but simply didn’t care what about the implications.

“Gather up a couple of Frank’s personal effects and procure a single vial of his blood. Bring those things to me three nights from now. You’ll need to spend that night in this house, so bring along a change of clothes.”

Some of Christine’s clients would then begin to worry about how they were going to get a vial of blood without their loved one suspecting anything. Some of them began to realize the full weight of what they were asking for around this time. If this woman did, she resigned herself to it with a sigh and a weary nod. They made their arrangements and the woman left.

Thursday came, and Christine set the basement up for the ritual. The woman came over at the appointed time and the pair went descended into the darkness.

“Do you ever feel badly for what you do?” the woman asked. Christine loathed conversations like this. What they about to do was soul-wrenching enough as it was without having a great deal of attention cast upon the particulars of it.

“I generally don’t think about it too much. If you’re ready, we ought to begin.”

“Why do you do it? You didn’t ask for much money, and you can’t possibly enjoy the heartache your actions cost.”

Christine opened her mouth to reply, but couldn’t find the words for an explanation. This woman was just as complicit as she, what was there to be gained from discussing it further?

“I don’t think we should talk about this any more.”

“I just don’t see how a human could…”

“Enough. Do you have the items I requested?”


“Then if you have nothing further to say, let’s begin. I will transfer your husband’s illness into this loaf of bread. Whichever eats the bread will take on his illness.”


The ritual was completed with no further incident. Christine gave the woman the cursed loaf of bread, instructed her that the sooner she found a target, the more effective the transference would be.

The woman nodded, she took the bread out of her purse and began to eat it.

Christine stared in disbelief as the woman took the curse upon herself.

“Why did you do that?” Christine asked. She had entertained a suspicion that others had done similar things throughout her time, but never had she seen a client do so in person.

“I couldn’t bear to see him slip away.”

“But you’ll force him to do it for you?”

“No.” replied the woman, as she briefly showed Christine the pistol she had hidden in her purse. With that, she left.

The next day, Christine’s new client was sitting at her table. “I’m sorry to bother you” he began…

No, Christine thought, you’re not, and after this time, I won’t have to be, either.

Here's what our fair judges thought.

K: Wow, another fable. Don’t play God, people. I like the concept and would like to see it extrapolated further, though it does seem somewhat familiar. 4

DK: Another good idea (these are all pretty good ideas) but something about it played out a little too familiar for me. It didn’t really grab me and keep me interested like some of the others. 2

My initial concept when I first read the outline of the challenge was the idea of a doctor who's too good at hopeless cases, and is constantly being saddled with no hope cases. This was discarded, because the story that was coming together was weirdly devoid of any sort of humanity (just as well, in retrospect, it reads kind of - like Beau said - a bad episode of House).

The sort of vague witch doctor-y thing I came up with didn't come together quite like I'd hoped, particularly the ending. I like the last sentence, but the lead in felt like it was lacking. I couldn't figure out exactly what that lack might be, but it felt flat-ish.

I have to believe that when both judges said it felt 'familiar' they were talking about the Stephen King story Thinner? Maybe? I dunno. They both said it, though, so that, combined with the 'changing horses midstream' nature of my entry this week makes me think that I might have unconsciously cribbed a plot detail from some other work. I'll have to be more careful about that in the future.

Regardless, not only did Vogons not have to eliminate anyone, they vogoned all over the place, with a snazzy 3.2 average.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Spookymilk Survivor X: Struggling With Decline

Last week, Vogons lost another member. This distressing turn of events was brought to you by JG (R.I.P.). Moving on...

This week, the concept was a struggle with decline. Make a story where the protagonist is having issues with declining... something. Could be physical, could be mental, could be metaphysical - doesn't matter. So long as somebody's struggling with the fact that something isn't what it was.

Here's mine.

I have seen so much in my time.

I’ve witnessed countless civilizations rise and fall. I’ve seen the far reaches of what a million generations deemed the edges of existence, and light years beyond them. I’ve watched creation itself burst forth with sights to glorious to imagine, only to wither and die when its season was through.

That was in eternity past. It’s been so long since the warmth that I can scarcely remember it. All that remains now is darkness and a cold that permeates everything. There is nothing left to see, and my seemingly eternal life has finally been spent.

It is finally time.

Gathering what precious little energy I have left, I prepare myself. My death will be the gateway to the birth of a new creation.

“Let there be light.”

And here's the judges' critiques...

K: I love the twist, and the length, I think, for this story is correct. However, because this week was so damned strong, an incredibly clever premise that’s over quickly just can’t hold up to some of the emotional resonance we’ve had to this point. 2

DK: I’m not going to say it’s too short, cause it’s not. It sells what it sets out to sell in an effective amount of space, but it doesn’t really draw me into its protagonist or the circumstances like a lot of the others here do. 2

I'm shocked that I got twos. I really thought I was getting worse than that for this one. I think this is my worst submission of the year. I liked the concept, but tinkering around with it all week, I couldn't find a way to make it resonate. DK isn't wrong here, there's no draw, no reason for the reader to care one way or the other. It's all concept and the twist at the end.

Regarding the twist, I do like the ending. "Let there be light", regardless of your religious beliefs, just has a perfect flow to it. It's the perfect way to open a book (in this case by closing the book to eternity past). I just wish that I would've found a way to make the rest of it a worthy lead-in.

Vogons didn't quite Vogon (we came close, though), but we won't lose anyone this week, so we get to party, anyway.

Top 50 Video Game Moments: Number 18

Video game moment number 18 comes to us from Half Life 2. I went on a tangent about the Half Life series in a previous post, but the games really do have some excellent moments in them. This moment really sneaked up on me, but it was extremely effective.

Top 50 Video Games: Number 18

Platform: Xbox 360
Absurdly Specific Genre: Punching evil in the face.
Difficulty: For as good a game as it was, it was pretty easy.I'd give it a 4.
Beaten: Yes.

To say that I was skeptical of Arkham Asylum going into it is an understatement. The only other Batman game I had ever played was the Batman Begins licensed game, and that was pretty bad. From the opening cutscene to Arkham Asylum, though, the game sucks you in. I greatly enjoy the "playable cutscene" style of plot advancement, where the game gives you control of the character during a cutscene and lets you look around and move during it. This game features that feature better than just about any game I can think of.

The gameplay is a great mixture of brawling and stealth (the stealth becoming particularly important later, as Joker's henchmen begin to amp up their firepower). There's a real feeling of badassery as you hide in the rafters of rooms, swooping down on the increasingly terrified thugs.

Currently: Terrified       About to be: Unconcious

While the Joker's nefarious plot is predictably not what it appears at first glance, the plot never really overdoes itself. The voice acting is all fantastic, with Kevin Conroy (Batman) and Mark Hamill (Joker) really playing well off of each other (particularly in one fantastic scene earlier in the game, where the Joker stands on a precarious edge and dares Batman to knock him off to his doom. We all know he won't do it, but as the game goes on, you get the feeling that he almost regrets not taking the opportunity). As the Joker takes over more and more of the asylum and reveals more and more of his plan, the stakes do actually feel effectively raised.

The brawling is great, but the boss fights unfortunately lag a little bit, with most of them falling into the "hit the boss with a batarang as he charges you, then wail on him once he runs into the wall". It would've been nice to have boss fights that felt as epic as the game that surrounded them (especially the final boss), but it's a comparatively minor quibble. When you've got a game as smooth and badass as Arkham Asylum, it's tough to argue for better.

If you're bringing a game like Arkham Asylum, it's a fair trade.

Other Notable Games in the Arkham Asylum Series: So, there's a fairly high profile sequel to this game, and I got it for Christmas from my brother in law. I haven't played it yet, because I was playing Chrono Trigger, then got busy with other real life concerns. I've heard a lot of good things, and some unsettling things (particularly unsettling, because these are the exact things I was worried about when I heard that Arkham City was going to be more open world. Arkham Asylum was great enough that I'll certainly play it, and I do anticipate that I'll enjoy it, but I can't see it being anywhere near as good as the first game.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Spookymilk Survivor X: Seemingly Useless Superpower

So, here we are. It's getting to be crunch time.Will Vogons blaze a glorious path to...erm... glory? Or will they make horrible choices and go down in flames?

This week's challenge was "Seemingly Useless Superpower". In it, a character was to have a superpower that seemed on the outset to be completely useless, only for it to come in very handy. I did pretty well at this one last time.

What about this time? Was I able to top "4 or 5 servings"? Well, that's doubtful, but maybe I did fairly well, anyway. Read on, faithful reader.

The spectral blade sliced effortlessly through the Crimson Crusader, instantly cleaving his boyish, yet devilishly handsome face from his perfectly chiseled torso. With that, Baron Parallax surveyed the scene. The heroes all lay dead – most of them in several pieces. 

“Perfect” he said to Bludgeoner, “just in time for the summoning.”

“Boss, there’s another one here. He’s just hiding behind the table.” replied Bludgeoner.

“Bring him to me.”
Bludgeoner shoved the hero toward the Baron.

“And just who might y…”

“I AM THE INTERJECTION!” cried the now-named hero.

“Why were you cowering behind the table. Why would they even bother bringing you if you w…”


“Excellent! A speech-themed super. You’re certain that you don’t turn into a hulking behemoth if expos…”


“Yes, yes… Now, believe it or not, I’m actually glad you showed up today. Bludgeoner and I are going to need a blood sacrifice to properly awaken the demon lord. Your friends are volunteered, but got a little excited and started things early, and Kil’zumall likes his sacr…”


“Anyway, the urge to murder you is only going up by the second, but we’ve got to wait for the proper time. If you’ll excuse me, I’ve got work…”


“That I doubt, but I’m eager to see how you try. Let’s begin.”
Parallax placed the spectral blade on the unholy altar as Bludgeoner tied The Interjection to an obelisk. The Baron sprinkled some red liquid in a circle around himself, then began to chant the dark rituals.

“Aggras… tolifas…. Arvelan…”


“Tos vali Kil’Zumall, arvas belias Kil’Zumall”


“Arved, scho’il…”


“Arved, scho’il… varmas scho’il… Kil’zumall varithras a… SHUT THE FUCK UP.” Baron Tiberon snapped at The Interjection, “wait… where was I?? Oh…”

Indeed, The Interjection had broken the sorcerer’s concentration just as he was specifying the target for the blood sacrifice. An enormous black cloud began to pour into the room from both doors.

“Bludgeoner, you might want to make your exit…”

The cloud materialized into a massive demon. Kil’zumall picked up the blade from the altar and instantly jumped across the room, killing Bludgeoner instantly. He began to walk toward the now terrified warlock.

“No no no no no no no… come on, the pronunciation wasn’t even all that close. I meant ‘shut the fuck up’, not ‘shada faku’. See? Nothing alike! For fuck’s sake, listen to him… you’d be doing the same thing within…”


“Interjection, so help me if one of my followers figured how to resurrect me. I will…”


“…Plankton won’t even be able to find any part of you to…” Baron Parallax’ words were cut off, along with his head, which rolled up to The Interjection’s feet. Kil’Zumall turned and approached The Interjection.


The abomination paused a moment, likely considering the fact that if he killed the bizarrely confident motormouth standing before him, that there was a good chance that his soul would be permanently bound to him. Kil’Zumall turned and trudged back up to the altar, before disappearing into a cloud of black smoke once more.

Here's the judges' take.

K: This one peaks early. I thought it was going to be the challenge of the week, but instead, it was 
just pretty good. This is a bit of a cheat, I suppose, since interrupting people is something that anyone can do, but I was amused enough to give it a break. 4

DK: I laughed almost as much as I did at the pronunciation one, but especially at the “pieced together” line. Dude’s not just non-contextual, he’s Captain Obvious. 5

Huh. I was not really expecting scores that high. After writing a few darker ones, I wanted to write something that was just out and out comedic. Of course, what I ended up with still had plenty of darkness (it does open with all of the superheroes, save our annoying protagonist, torn to shreds and dead), but it captured the feel that I was going for (Like Tapioca, The Interjection is weirdly over-confident and impossibly self-unaware). You can't see it here or in the version on Spooky's site, but The Interjection speaks in Comic Sans typeface. I thought that fitting, but I don't know if that helps or hurts it. It's probably just as well it didn't come through - the shouting was enough. I like "batty old wizard".

The ending kind of sucks. I kept thinking up and rejecting different things that could happen in the end. I almost ended it with Kil'Zumall (heh, Kills 'em all) killing The Interjection out of annoyance, only to have their souls bound together for all of eternity, but rejected it when I couldn't get the wording right.

Either way, it didn't matter. One week after voting out Zack, the person we saved in place of him went and nonsubbed. This is obviously horrible news. JG, how could you, man?? Vogons can't vogon if we've got nonsubs...

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Top 50 Video Game Moments: Number 19

Today's moment comes from Mega Man 2. It's not a spoiler - are there any spoilers in NES-era Mega Man games? I mean, it's Dr. Wily every time. If you honestly believed that Dr. Kossack was the main bad guy, I don't even know what to say.

Top 50 Video Games: Number 19

Platform: Playstation 2
Absurdly Specific Genre: Fun With Otsels
Difficulty: Not as annoying as 2, more challenging than 1. Maybe a 6?
Beaten: Yes.

The Jak & Daxter series took a strange right turn somewhere in there. The first game was an almost entirely angst-free puzzle-flavored platformer. The world you were put in was pretty, and the gameplay never really moved past the "taco sauce mild" level of spiciness (mild taco sauce has roughly the same 'zing' as watered down ketchup). Fast-forward the second game, and you suddenly have a frustrating-in-places angst-fest with a suddenly talkative hero. It almost didn't feel like the same series. Both were good games in their own way.

Jak 3 ended up being a better version of the second game. The angst felt a little less 'in your face', the weapons were cooler, and that one mission where you have to race the guy through a crowded city street didn't exist.

There are truthfully a lot of things I had forgotten about this game, though I remembered really liking it. The original list that I created in May had this one in the mid-30's. Since I did have a lot of holes in my memory, I gave it another try. It's actually a lot more enjoyable than I remember. The humor's decent, the plot is better than I remember, and the combat works pretty seamlessly.

...and non-annoying vehicle segments. Let me repeat. Non-annoying vehicle segments.
The Ratchet and Klank series is the obvious parallel, and I'm not sure Jak 3 quite matches up to that benchmark, but it is excellent in its own right. A worthy end to a fun trilogy (they made a racing game, a midquel, and a fourth game after this, but Jak 3 sort of closed the door on the original storyline).

Other Games in the Jak and Daxter Series: The second game is probably better than I remember it. I was a bit put off by the super-angstifying of the series, but I'm over that now, so it probably holds up just fine. The first game is a fun, if incredibly easy platofrmer. Both would probably fall in the mid 30's, maybe 40's for the first game.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Spookymilk Survivor X: Aladdin's Lamp

Last week, Vogons had to do the first non-trivial voting out of the competition. Everyone submitted again this week, so voting is actually important again this week. Will Vogons be voting another one of their number out? Or will they be Vogoning all over their competition? Read on.

This week's challenge was "Aladdin's Lamp", a twist on the old "three wishes" myth. The protagonist of the story was allowed three wishes - one had to have a good result, one a bad result, and one an ambiguous result. How'd I do with such a task? Let's find out...

Here's my story:

Caleb Parker was a cheerful man.
That he put a gun to his head and fired was shocking enough. That his estranged ex-wife wordlessly handed me a white business card with the word ‘Omni’ on it at his funeral was puzzling.
Omni Incorporated looked unimpressive – a medium-sized office building in an area full of medium-sized office buildings. The lobby was the same. Unused chairs, nondescript art, and a receptionist’s desk. I wondered what they actually did, since there was no indication anywhere.
“May I help you?” The receptionist asked.
“I’d like an appointment.”
“I’m afraid we can’t do that without a reference or prior agreement.”
I fumbled in my pockets, searching for the card. Finding it, I pulled it out. “I have this”.
“This way, please.”
The man led me down a corridor, past several doors. Finally coming to the one he was looking for, he opened it and ushered me in. In the center of the room was a hospital bed, with a great deal of computer equipment hooked to it via some cabling. “Make yourself comfortable. Doctor Henter will be in shortly.”
After a wait, a woman came into the room and introduced herself as Dr. Madison Henter. I shook her hand as she explained the process. I would be placed in a deep, medically-induced sleep for somewhere around two hours, while the machine (‘Eidolan’, she called it) would do its thing – whatever that thing might be (she wouldn’t elaborate).
“Are you sure you want to do this?” she asked “none of our first time users actually undergo the procedure on the first day.”
While the idea of being put into a coma didn’t entirely sit well with me, I needed to understand what happened to Caleb. “I’m quite certain” I said “Let’s do this.”
Dr. Henter placed the IV with the anesthetic and had me count down from ten. I don’t recall hitting seven.
“Hello, I am a digital construct here to ensure the merging process is as smooth as possible for all who would use Eidolan. You may call me Eve.”
I wasn’t in the medical room. Instead, I was in a room with no clear walls – only a fuzzy white expanse with no clear limit. In front of me stood a beautiful woman.
“Where am I?”
“It is designated ‘The Shimmering’, it is a white space where your subconscious can interface directly with Eidolan’s hardware.”
“What do I do now?”
“Eidolan can sense your innate desires and make them reality.”
“Any desire?”
“How is that possible?”
“It is not for the user to try to understand these things. Please, what is your deepest desire?”
I’m not even sure why Claire came to mind. I hadn’t seen her in three years, and we had not parted under good graces. I should have asked for a million dollars, or a private continent. Instead, my subconscious insisted on trying to get my ex-girlfriend back.
I woke up disoriented in the waiting room with a slight headache. I took the bus home. When I got to my apartment, I was shocked to see Claire sitting on the step.
“How is this possible?” I asked her as stepped forward and hugged me warmly.
“I was just thinking of you this afternoon” she said “I thought about everything, and I shouldn’t have left. I think we should try again.”
Claire and I talked for a couple of hours before I sneaked off to get some rest. I should have been skeptical. I should have disbelieved my ‘good fortune’. Instead, I slept like a baby.
The next day, I awoke to see Eve sitting in a chair at the foot of my bed.
“What are you doing here?” I demanded “you don’t even exist.”
“True, but the process that the Eidolan uses has some residual effects. Think of me as an afterimage, a sort of merging between the version found in the Shimmering and of your own mental biases.”
“How is all of this possible. The last time Claire and I spoke, she told me that she never wanted to see me again.”
“Whatever else you may do…never ask that question.”
“I can’t just let this go unanswered…”
“I know.”
Later that day, I went back to Omni and made another appointment.
Inside, Eve greeted me. “Welcome back, Josh. I trust you are happy with the results of yesterday’s session?”
“I am, but I need to know how this works.”
“It is not your place…”
“Yes, I know what your policy is” I interrupted “I just don’t know if I can accept it.”
“Surely there must be something else. Do you want a promotion? A private island, perhaps?”
“This is all impossible.”
“Impossible is such a limiting term. Expand beyond it.”
My better sense told me to be wary of answers like this. This had to be a scam, something dangerous, even. It had killed Caleb hadn’t it? Still, curiosity won out.
“Please. Anything is possible. Do not let your skepticism keep you from taking advantage of this opportunity.”
“I just… don’t know. What if I ask for a million dollars?”
“I want to be able to play the guitar.”
“You don’t have higher aspirations?”
“I’ve always wanted to play, but mostly, I need to know that this isn’t coincidence.”
“Fair enough.”
I awoke. On the way home, I stopped at a music shop and bought a guitar. That night, I serenaded Claire with the most beautiful guitar playing that she’d ever heard. Again, I slept like a baby.
I awoke the next day with the worst headache I’d ever experienced. I rushed to the bathroom to find my nose bleeding.
“My counterpart should have warned you about repeated use of the machine.”
“What in the fuck is this?”
“The process causes strain on the human brain. If spread out over weeks, it’s not serious. You’ve done it twice in the last three days…”
“Is this how Caleb died?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“What did it do to him? How does it work, Eve??”
“Do you really want to know what happened to Caleb?”
“You fucking know I need to…”
“Then you know what must be done.”
Omni Incorporated had closed for the weekend, and the only human presence was a lone security guard sitting at the front desk sipping coffee. With Eve’s help, I slipped by him easily. She led me to the Eidolan, and assisted me in turning it on. I slipped myself the sedative and quickly lapsed into The Shimmering.
Eve was there, as before. Her form was different than before – almost alien in its appearance.
“I cannot convince you to just accept this?”
“No. I want to know what happened to my friend Caleb Parker. I want to know how this works.”
Eve gave a slight nod. I woke up.
I was a cheerful man, once.

And here's the judge's critique:

K: I really like the opening and closing lines here. Stories that come around ending where they began can be a little hacky in less apt hands, but the use of the same dichotomous language made it pop. There are some pacing issues and the tension feels like it should be greater, but this concept is very strong. 2
DK: I like this template, with the hero who keeps going in a dangerous direction, but it too doesn’t strike me like some of the other ones do. Like most of these, though, there really isn’t anything wrong with it. 2

A couple notes on scoring. I'm actually very happy with these results for reasons I'll get into in a bit. Judging was done on a forced curve (so there were only two 5's to be given out, two 4's, and so on...) this was, to use, Spooky's words, one of the best weeks I've ever seen, so for both judges to think mine merited above a one is excellent especially considering...

It is truly astounding what one can't do with 1200 words. I had a grand idea for this story. Lots of exposition, lots of backstory, lots of character development. Writing the story the way I wanted to write it meant that by the second wish, I had already used 1800 words. I panicked, then wrote up a completely nonsensical submission just in case I wasn't able to make the sad story of Caleb Parker work (don't worry, you'll get to see that, too...) I went in with a hatchet and cleared away huge chunks of the story. The introduction has hit the hardest - entire scenes were removed. On the one hand, I guess it made the story a little leaner, on the other hand, motivations were obscured, characters weren't built up, and I had to axe some dialog that I liked a lot.

The final product was riddled with pacing issues because the cuts (I could've cut down further, but I had to have something to resonate, and 1200 words of "and then this happened" would've been awful). With ten minutes to spare, I essentially had a meltdown, said 'screw it', and submitted what I had. Truly disappointing.

Even if I had been able to shape this the way I wanted to, I don't know that I would've gotten very much higher a score. People brought it this week. When I saw my score, then saw Brooks' score, I knew that Vogons had another vote coming our way.

...only we didn't. Beau, Matt, and John brought the heat and the flavor, and our glorious team ended not only not finishing last, but winning outright. Granted it wasn't by much, but it was enough. Good going all around, gentlemen.

Break out the 'Vogons Gonna Vogon' tag!

Top 50 Video Game Moments: Number 20

We begin our top 20 with a doozy. It's from Red Dead Redemption, and contains end of game spoilers. If you haven't beaten Red Dead Redemption yet, don't view this. Instead, go play the game already. I think I told you this before, why are you waiting?

Top 50 Video Games: Number 20

Platform: Playstation 2
Absurdly Specific Genre: Stress-Relief by way of Deicide
Difficulty: Certain part were pretty hard, but most of the time a little persistence made it all work out pretty quickly. 6.
Beaten: Yes.

The appeal to the God of War series isn't hard to quantify. Its hacking and slashing is seamless, the controls are beautiful, the setting is epic (in every sense of the word), and the soundtracks have some of the best orchestral music ever featured in a video game. That's easy enough. All of that was featured in the first game. How do you top that?

Staging a fight against the Colossus of Rhodes is as good a starting point as any.
God of War 2 answered the question with better puzzles, more interesting locales, a more involved storyline, better graphics, more combos... and more. Killing every manner of mythological beasty never gets old. Swinging around the blades never gets tiring (after a while, you don't even wonder about the logistics of having boomerang blades permanently soldered to your arms). The game's mostly humorless atmosphere can be a downer, but there are bits of black humor that pop up occasionally.

It's an interesting thing for a game to give you no character with which to identify. The God of War series gives you Kratos as a protagonist. He's a reprehensible individual who at best comes off as "massive jerk" and at worst "completely psychotic bloodlust-filled mass murderer". The game forces you to inhabit this individual, and then has you not only watch him do all these bizarrely awful things, but actively forces you to do them yourself, by proxy (I only have to point to the puzzle which forces you to place a cage containing a live soldier over a device which immolates the soldier... this opens a door. You're not looking for a way to solve the puzzle without murdering a random dude, you're looking for a way to murder him in the quickest way possible).

Spoiler: The dude on the left is crazy, and the dude on the right is about to die.
How does a game like that have so much sway? If it were simply a matter of "do combos, kill stuff", I wouldn't have it as my 20th favorite game. Sure, the graphics were (for the time) beautiful, and the gameplay was relentlessly awesome, but at some point, I actually did buy into the revenge plot. Those gods done me wrong, and I'm going to kill them dead, even if I have to destroy the entire world to do it. It takes some narrative 'oomph' to get a player to do that in a normal game. To do that in a game where the protagonist is an insane murderer is a feat almost unmatched in the gaming world.

Other Notable Games in the God of War Series: Well, I loved the first one, and had this one not existed, it would've played out around 30th on this list (to answer Beau's question, yeah... I'm not including any games in the series more than once). I didn't have the problem with the spinning Hades blades like everyone else seemed to, I think they made me fall to the bottom maybe twice? An annoyance, but nothing like other people said.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Spookymilk Survivor X: Payoffs

A couple weeks ago, you'll remember we had to write cliffhangers. I wrote a pretty decent one (which apparently intimidated everyone, because no one paid it off, though I have no idea how I'd pay it off myself, so it's something like a season finale of a TV series in that way, since almost none of those end up paying off in a particularly fulfilling way).

This week, we had to pay off those cliffhangers. The only rule was that you couldn't choose your own (fine by me... I wouldn't have, anyway). I chose Matt Novak's, and never even considered another.

Here's my entry.

The battle raged on, but it quickly became apparent that it was a battle that the crew couldn’t hope to win. They fought valiantly, but were eventually boarded. Pirates poured onto the main deck and began to round up the survivors. Edward and James O’Leary were prodded below deck to show the pirates what the ship had to offer. One of the pirates was getting much too close to a door that Edward needed to keep him away from at all costs.

The marauder lingered for a moment near the door to Rashmi’s cabin. Another couple of seconds, and he would surely find her – Edward’s imagination recoiled at what would happen then. Edward had to act quickly. Bravery was going to have to come in an unorthodox manner.

“We’re carrying a supplies for the new colony!”

“Edward, no…” moaned First Mate O’Leary, but it was too late. The pirate moved away from the cabin door. Edward needed to keep him moving further. He shot O’Leary an apologizing glance.

“There’s plenty of food and fresh water to supply a ship like yours for at least three months.”

The man started toward him cautiously. “Why would ye be assisting us?” he motioned his sword toward Edward “what be in it for ye?”

Suddenly a booming voice came from the top of the stairs. “What, indeed?” as the pirate captain smirked down at them all, captives and pirates alike. “Still, if the boy be telling the truth…”

Edward led the pirates to the supplies. The pirate captain nodded approvingly. “It took minerals to give up yer cargo like that to save yer crew, especially when they’ll hate ye for it,” he said, “I’ve a proposition for ye.”

“Go on.” Edward said, eying him warily.

“I’ll turn a blind eye to whatever or whomever else might be aboard yer vessel on one condition. You come aboard my ship and live the life of a buccaneer.”

Edward startled – God, no… “And if I refuse?”

“My crew are quite thorough about tearing a ship and her crew apart to find what might be hidden.”

Edward thought of Rashmi’s kiss. Then he thought of her final words to him.

“…be waiting… you are the one to be brave”.

He made his choice, Edward the deck hand was gone. He would begin his life anew as a pirate. For Rashmi.

...and here are the judge's comments...

K: The ending lines felt a little hammy to me, and the dialogue is a little…obvious, but this story does have the excitement and scope of the lead-in. Once again, I want to see what happens beyond this installment. 4

DK: A logical direction for this story to end up going in, although the way it gets there (i.e. the content of dialogue of the pirates) feels a little perfunctory and (sorry Colin) on-the-nose. 3

Okay, some things were conspiring against me here...

a) It was late, late New Year's Eve Night (or early, early New Year's Day. take your pick), and I had been drinking beer, wine, and champagne since about 6. My sobriety wasn't gone, but it was compromised.

b) Matt's original piece (readable here)  had a great serial-like quality to it (it's why I chose his to payoff in the first place), and I didn't realize how difficult it was going to be to recreate that while still having that semi-unrealistic sheen that all of those old serials had. I came up short on that front.

c) My dialog writing skills, which have been pretty decent so far this season utterly failed me. Everything here was super on the nose. "And if I refuse?" come on, man... that exact line has been used no fewer than nine billion times.

I still mostly like where I took this, I just should have given myself the time to polish it a bit, since the dialog is rough, and it gets to the point too quickly. What I won't apologize for is the sappy, hammy feel that the whole thing has - that was the point. Matt's wasn't super hammy, but it had that cheesy "boy on the high seas" vibe of the old pirate serials or Treasure Island (which was a partial inspiration when I was writing this). Again, that's not a slam at all, that's why I picked it.

The unfortunate part about this whole thing is that if I would've cleaned it up even a little, I might've gotten a 4 from DK, which would have given us just enough to beat out Spoiler Alert. As it stands, we were in last place by a fraction of a point. It stands to reason that the dream team would have to evict a player on the first week that we actually got full submissions.

Vogons ain't vogonning this week.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Top 30 Most listened to Songs of 2011

Okay, first off, for the uninitiated, here's the deal.

I'm weirdly obsessive over things I shouldn't be obsessive over. One of the ways that manifests itself is that I keep track of every time I hear a particular song over the course of the year (assuming, of course, that I have it in my library). iPod, CDs in the car, radio in the car, radio in the wife's car.....all of it. Again, weirdly obessive.

All of that to let you know... when I say 'Top 30 most listened to', I mean it.

You already know this, but Spotify, Grooveshark, and YouTube for all of these.

Edit: This is what happens when your time gets all taken up, and don't remember to reschedule your post.

30. The National - Conversation 16
"I was afraid, I'd eat yours brains... cuz I'm evil..."

29. The Let Go - Nightfall (feat. P.O.S.)
A random rap group I'd never heard of, but this song has a pretty good P.O.S. verse on it, and that's usually enough to get me to listen.

28. Coldplay - Every Teardrop is a Waterfall
Mylo Xyloto wasn't nearly as good as Viva la Vida, but I'm still a sucker for Coldplay.

27. Bon Iver - Calgary
(12th favorite song of 2011)

My favorite song from my favorite album from this year.

26. OneRepublic - Good Life

This song was inescapable, and my wife loved it... so I heard it a lot. In fairness, it's not the worst song the radio has to offer, it's fairly inoffensive, even if it does boil down to Ryan Tedder talking about how awesome being rich and famous is. Still, if that's acceptable (and even welcomed) by people when discussing rap music, I won't hold it against pop music.

25. The National - Exile Vilify
(3rd favorite song of 2011)

I still have no idea what this song has to do with Portal 2.

24. The Vaccines - All in White
(11th favorite song of 2011)

I have to thank for this one. Their "best of 2011" tag didn't give me anything else that I hadn't heard before that I actually took to heart, but this song was worth it.

23. Foster the People - Helena Beat

The words make zero sense ("yeah, yeah, it's okay/I tie my hands up to a chair so I don't fall that way") and I had a hell of a time telling if the singer was a chick or a dude in the beginning (for the record, it's a dude), but this song is blazingly catchy. It was apparently a single, which makes wonder how on earth it didn't make any sort of impact, it has that feeling of classic MGMT.

22. Bon Iver - Beth/Rest

This song is so insanely 80's. The electronic piano, the light saxophone. I usually hate that style, so why do I like it here so much?

21. TV on the Radio - Second Song
(6th favorite song of 2011)

This song would've been much higher on this list if I'd heard it before June. For some reason, this album got no hype. It came and went, to the point where a lot of people simply left it off their year end lists. That couldn't have possibly been because it wasn't good, and it was certainly memorable. It's a mystery.

20. Lil' Wayne - Right Above It

I didn't like I Am Not a Human Being, and I really didn't like Tha Carter IV. For some reason, though, this song stuck with me.

19. jj - STILL

This song was released on the free Kills mixtape on December 30th last year. jj do a half decent job of mixing the chilly Scandinavian icy pop sound with hip-hop - never better than this song, though. As a bonus, it swipes a nice Dre sample.

18. Cinnamon Chasers - Lux Deluxe

This one was weird. I found the song via a music video (one of my favorite music videos in a long time). Even though the song wasn't anything special at the time, through repeatedly watching the video, I started to enjoy the song itself.

17. The Antlers - No Widows
(23rd favorite song of 2011)

I wouldn't have gotten into Burst Apart without this song. Perfect nighttime listening.

16. Tim Hecker - The Piano Drop
(30th favorite song of 2011)

My wife recently asked me to explain how on earth it was that I liked this song. It has no conventional structure, no melody - it's essentially a pitch-obliterated organ run through a million effects. I still don't know how to answer that question.

15. TV on the Radio - Caffeinated Consiousness

Heard this one first at Trinkenspiel 2011. It amped up my expectations for Nine Types of Light (unfortunately, as I noted earlier, those expectations were quickly forgotten). Thanks, Crat.

14. The Clash at Demonhead - Black Sheep

This band doesn't actually exist. Metric did the version of this song for the Scott Pilgrim vs. The World soundtrack, but this is the actual version you hear in the movie, only the full thing. I like this version a lot better, even though I love Metric.

13. Jonathan Coulton - Want You Gone
(27th favorite song of 2011)

Better than 'Still Alive'. How is Coulton going to top this?

12. Radiohead - Codex
(2nd favorite song of 2011)

The first song that really grabbed me from The King of Limbs. Still my favorite.

11. Yeasayer - Madder Red
(most played song of 2010)

Yup, I was still listening to this song a ton at the beginning of the year. Not so much as the year went on, but enough that it shows up here.

10. SALEM - Trapdoor

What a wretched song. It's misogynistic, it's got those annoying pitch-shifted vocals, and when it's performed live, the results are entirely horrifying.....and yet, I could not stop listening to it.

9. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - Belong
(7th favorite song of 2011)

Shame this was one of the only good songs on this album.

8. Anamanaguchi - Another Winter

Another Scott Pilgrim song, this time from the video game. It's one of the catchiest video games songs ever. It's one of those live band/8-bit video game song hybrids, only where every single other one of those bands is utterly awful, this one is awesome. The entire soundtrack is fantastic, but this song is really something.

7. Adele - Rolling in the Deep
(17th favorite song of 2011)

My wife's favorite album and favorite song of 2011. I really didn't mind, though, because it is a hell of a tune.

6. Foster the People - Pumped Up Kicks
(15th favorite song of 2011)

This one snuck up on everyone, but my favorite part about this song was how many people were saying prior to June/July "oh, dude... you have to hear this band Foster the People", and then after this song went insane, they were all trying to distance themselves from it. Lame.

5. ...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead - Summer of All Dead Souls
(10th favorite song of 2011)

Yup, I've said about as much about this one as I have to say about it.

4. SALEM - King Night

A lot of these plays were playing it for other people. Still, though, this song really stood out for me. I love the superdark style of it, I love the fact that it's woven around a farking Christmas carol, I love that little jagged synth line that ends every other line. I just love this song.

3. The Weeknd - House of Balloons/Glass Table Girls
(5th favorite song of the year)

The rest of the album is good, this is just on another level. The sample is responsible for a lot of that, but The Weeknd seems to realize that this song is going to be his 'big deal', so he takes everything up a notch. It's almost 7 minutes long, but goes by in a blur - a druggy, sex-crazed blur.

2. Tyler, the Creator - Yonkers
(4th favorite song of 2011)

I had no interest in Tyler after Bastard. His overly confessional, rape-fantasy filled, hyper-violent style held no interest for me. Then this song came out. It didn't change anything about his lyrical style - he's style talking about murdering Bruno Mars and his conscience committing suicide. The beat is an absolute monster, though, and he fills the song with enough clever lines to where I really really dug it. I thought that maybe he'd brought his game up a level or two, so I bought into Goblin.


1. The Go! Team - Buy Nothing Day
(favorite song of 2011)

No surprises here at all. It wasn't even remotely close (this one almost doubled 'Yonkers'). Beth Cosentino gives her best vocal performance, and gets a song out of it that no one associated with it will be able to top - or even really come close to.