November 1, 2007

Re: In Cyberspace, Games Play YOU

This started as a comment over on Random-Battle, but it got a little lengthy, so I moved it over here. Cameron was writing about all of the negative coverage video games get in the news, and how little good coverage there is.

You can't really blame politicians for taking up the anti-video game banner; by which I mean it's the only logical side for a politician to take on the debate.

It's far easier to argue against violent video games than it is to argue for them. You get to tout the "protect the children" card, and gods know you don't want to be seen as not caring about "the children."

You don't even have to go all Jack Thompson on the matter. Which is to say, be a completely illogical jerk on the matter. All you have to do is say, kids shouldn't play violent video games. "Common sense" tells us that playing interactive games MUST have an effect on feeble young minds. That effect, according to some, like anyone who believes Fox News is Fair and Balanced, must be that it teaches them to kill without mercy or awareness of the repercussions. Therefore, we shouldn't sell violent video games to children under 18 without parental consent.

Aside from the murder thing, you'll notice that these are statements that gamers are also ready to get behind. I don't want any young children playing Manhunt. Not because I think it'll turn them in to killers; I feel it's inappropriate for kids to witness murders, be they real or imaginary. It's too intense. I don't want kids watching CSI either. It's just when you start regulating the sale of violent video games with legislation that we raise the red flag. You'll notice we also have the backup of the courts on this one.

Seriously, State Legislatures, stop wasting my and other taxpayers' money with futile lawsuits. The video game industry can self-regulate just like the music and movie industries. We have a ratings system. Those ratings are clearly marked on the box, and are no more or less vague than the movie ratings. There are even parental controls built into some of the latest generation consoles. What more do you want?

October 24, 2007

On the newly announced Xbox 360 Arcade and the Wii

INTERVIEW: Xbox 360 Arcade Has Landed - via Next Generation

Microsoft has announced the Xbox 360 Arcade SKU, which will replace the hard drive-less Core SKU. It's Microsoft's attempt to steal some of that casual and family market share from Nintendo. It'll be priced at $279, and come with a pack of family games, one wireless controller and a 256 MB memory card. They're backing up this effort with Looney Toons cartoons and Nickelodeon shows becoming avaliable for download on Xbox Live Marketplace. You can read the posted article for more details.

I won't lie - I've become a bit of an 360 fanboy since I bought my system about a year ago. As one of the "core" gamers spoken of in the article linked above, I've looked at the massive sales of the Wii with some joy. I think it's good for the gaming industry overall. The competition should drive other companies to make better games. I think Microsoft is making an earnest effort to capture a piece of the casual games pie, and more money in their pockets from that means more money for development of the kinds of games I like to play. Besides, the console may be marketed towards families, but it can still play the games intended for older and more hardcore gamers. When the kids get a bit older and maybe more into video games, or if the parents decide they'd like to try it out, they'll be able to play Gears of War if they want to. Not to mention that some younger parents, some of the original core gamers who now have kids, should find this to be an appealing offer. This new system has an expandability that I feel the Wii lacks for the most part.

I myself own a Wii, but I honestly wish I had my $300 back for how often I've used the thing. In fact, it may go up on Craig's List pretty soon. I could use the cash. Outside of it's value at parties and Metroid Prime 3, it's just not what I want from a game system. The "innovative controls" seem to me to be little more than a gimmick for the most part. I don't think that's Nintendo's fault, necessarily; their first party games have done a better job with using the new control scheme effectively than any third-party developer. In fact, 7 of the 10 top rated games for the Wii over on Gamespot are in-house games. One of those is Super Metroid, though, a Super Nintendo game available for download via Nintendo's Virtual Console.

It seems like most non-Nintendo games for the Wii are crappy franchise tie-ins, ports from other systems with motion controls thrown in, and mini-game compilations. I feel third-party software development for the Wii up to this point has been little more than an effort to cash in on the "family-friendly" console, not an earnest effort to create quality software. Only Nintendo itself seems to have any interest in creating compelling gaming experiences for core gamers, which they did with Metroid Prime 3: Corruption.

I actually lambasted MP3:C in a previous post for it's poor graphical quality based on screenshots I had seen. After playing the game, I admit I was premature in my judgment. I still feel the graphics aren't up to snuff. But the art direction, as has been noted elsewhere, is very well done. It is by far the best looking Wii game I've seen to date. The gameplay is the shining achievement of MP3:C. It has a great blend of shooter and action and adventure and puzzles blended in. Though using the Wiimote in boss battles often left my hands cramped and unable to continue playing. But MP3:C is proof that the Wii is a viable platform for core gamers. But I don't believe it will ever become one, unless third-party developers step up their efforts to create that kind of experience.

It doesn't seem to me that they will. Why would they?

I think game developers know that if they want to reach core gamers, they should develop for the PC, 360, and PS3. But development costs on the Wii overall are cheaper than the 360 and PS3 to begin with, since it essentially uses last-generation hardware. It doesn't make good financial sense to put any sort of substantial time and money into developing a hardcore game for the Wii, when they can put out what amounts to little more than a compiation of polished tech demos (a la Wii Sports) and sell enough copies to turn a profit.

Anyway, there's still a lot of time left in the current generation Console Wars. I don't see any reason all three systems can't co-exist; like I said above, the competition is good for the industry.

The PS3 is still a punchline, though.

August 22, 2007

Metroid Prime 3: Corruption - OR - Why my Wii sits idle whilst daily I pleasure myself with other systems

Today I read a great preview of Metroid Prime 3: Corruption on IGN. It actually got me really excited for the game, as I've been looking for a compelling single-player core-gamer experience to renew my interest in the Wii. It mostly collects dust while I play Oblivion or Bioshock on my PC or Tiger Woods '07 or Gears of War or Overlord on my 360. When I have people over, the Wii shines, but otherwise... I was especially excited since the IGN folks wrote about how it's the crowning graphical achievement on the Wii.

I'm an admitted graphics snob. Don't get me wrong; it's not the only thing I focus on when I play a game. The gameplay definitely matters to me. That's why I recently played through Deus Ex and God of War II despite their being non-HD. I mean, Deus Ex is seven years old, and frankly looks awful by today's standards. But the flawless blend of FPS and RPG and the pretty compelling story line kept me playing.

A screenshot from Deus Ex for PC

The graphical quality of the games on the Wii has always bothered me. It's fine for the casual games that I currently own for the system, like Wario Ware and Mario Party. But anyone who says that Nintendo hasn't left the core gamers out in the cold just isn't paying attention. I often wonder why Nintendo didn't go the multiple sku route and offer an HD-capable version of their "next-gen" system. I understand that "next-gen" doesn't always mean improved graphics, but some kind of visible upgrade would have been nice. I've played a number of games on the Wii (Call of Duty 3, Red Steel, Super Swing Golf), and the Wii just doesn't cut it. Especially when I can get an amazing gameplay experience, and outstanding graphics on other systems.

So back to MP3:C - you can imagine my excitement when I read through this preview and about how awesome this game is to play and how it's the best looking game for the Wii so far. I crave an awesome experience on this machine that I purchased above cost on eBay and so desperately want to love. So you can further imagine my utter disappointment, nay, disgust when I saw this:

This is next gen? Seriously?

Notice the lack of definition on the face, the lack of life in the eyes, and the blocky sausages that I'd assume are fingers. But, hey, maybe this is an android! That'd explain the blocky look of her, right?

Another disappointing screenshot from MP3:C

Nope, still looks like crap. It's full of jaggies and the textures are washed out. It lacks the definition that should be a standard in a game intended for core-gamers.

The bottom line is, this game falls tremendously short of my standards for graphics in today's gaming market, just like every other game I've played on the Wii. A lack of refined visuals can really take me out of a game. It sounds like the gameplay and story are tremendous enough that I'll probably play it anyway. I know there probably won't be any backlash for the low graphical quality of this game. People will still turn out in droves to buy it, and it will be critically acclaimed, I'm sure. But don't we have a right to expect more in the visual department from the company that essentially resurrected the American video game market? Especially when they're supposedly not abandoning the core-gamers?

NOTE: Sorry about the images not being resized. I was lazy.

August 13, 2007

Bwahahaha!

Via Kotaku.

August 3, 2007

Rockstar continues its downward spiral

Take-Two Interactive, parent company to Rockstar, announced yesterday that they will be pushing back the release of Grand Theft Auto IV by a whole six months. Originally slated for an October release, the game won't see daylight until Q2F 2008. Take-Two execs made the decision after spending time with the current build of the game. As reported by Gamasutra:

Take-Two chairman Strauss Zelnick pegged the delay on its multi-platform release, saying, "Certain elements of development proved to be more time-intensive than expected, especially given the commitment for a simultaneous release on two very different platforms.�

I honestly don't see how Rockstar can expect to stay afloat with two major failures in the last six months. First the Manhunt 2 debacle, and now they're pushing back the latest game in their most popular IP. The gaming community is loyal, but impatient. We understand that development takes time. The greater issue here is Rockstar's name and credibility as a developer.

Manhunt 2 is off the table, and I think that pushing GTA IV back could have a detrimental effect on its sales in the end. Not to mention that sandbox games as a whole are suffering from stagnation. Rockstar may have perfected the sandbox game with GTA 3, but what have they added that's truly innovative since then? Flying vehicles? Girlfriends? It's not enough. I had more fun playing Crackdown than I had playing any GTA game.

They've stood on the back of GTA and an anti-establishment ideology for a long time. But now that the ESRB has made clear that there is a line that shouldn't be crossed, even for Rockstar, where will they go from here? If Rockstar doesn't do something astounding with GTA IV, especially after pushing it back, I think they're in a lot of trouble.

July 25, 2007

Video Game Voters Network Video

If you're not already a member, I suggest you join up.
Video Game Voters Network

July 11, 2007

Review: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

I went to a midnight showing of the new Harry Potter flick last night with Jen. I did a midnight showing for the Goblet of Fire when it came out two years ago. It was mostly a good time. The crowd was excited, but controlled. And the movie was good. Not as good as Prisoner of Azkaban, but very well done, and exciting. But last night something was different. Maybe it's just that seeing a midnight showing of a Potter movie in the Edina suburb of Minneapolis means that most of the crowd is white-bread kids who enjoy one-upping each other on how excited they are over Hermione and Ron getting it on. Maybe it's just that I'd been up since 6:30 that morning and I'm getting too old to go to midnight shows. Whatever it was, my first impression of Order of the Phoenix was somewhat surprising, even to me:

Utterly underwhelming.

Just to get it out of the way, I’ve not ready any of the Harry Potter books. Honestly, I think I had a better opinion of the movie than anyone who had. According to some testimony from my fellow movie-goers, the movie completely missed the mark on recreating the narrative from the book. So, I’m not even going to speak to any inconsistencies with the source material.

SPOILER ALERT! SPOILERS AHEAD!

If you haven’t read the books, or seen the movie, then you’ll want to stop reading here, because I will make references to key plot elements.

SPOILER ALERT! SPOILERS AHEAD!

But even evaluating the movie in its own right, I was not all that impressed. I expect entertainment media like movies, novels and video games to draw me in. Maybe it was the fact that the girls to my left kept squealing, but I found it very hard to really be absorbed in the story that was unfolding on the screen. Dolores Umbridge, the dictator in pink, makes life a living hell for the students at Hogwarts, and she does an outstanding job of eliciting pure, unadulterated rage from those of us who have a particular distaste for oppressive regimes. Likewise, the refusal of Cornelius Fudge, the Minister of Magic, to acknowledge the return of He Who Shall Not Be Named, was equally frustrating, and produced a bad taste in mouth similar to whenever I see footage of Alberto Gonzales before the Senate. Problem is, I didn’t really feel bad for the other characters, so much as an extreme hatred for Umbridge and Fudge, who was were so resolute in their ignorance and hatred that they couldn’t help but invoke, in my mind, images of the Klan and Hitler.

On that note, ultimately the movie failed to make me really care what happened to the characters at all. The character development was weak at best, and felt forced and unnatural at its worst. And honestly, the whole movie felt that way. All of the emotions that Daniel Radcliffe was supposed to be conveying as the deeply troubled Harry Potter felt, well, acted. Scripted. Fake. It’s why I couldn’t muster more than a shallow smile as Umbridge’s newly-appointed enforcers (namely, Draco Malfoy and those jerk-offs from Slytherin) were continually thwarted as they attempted to discover where Dumbledore’s Army was practicing Dark Arts defense magic. That’s why I failed to care when Umbridge forced the students to write with quills that burned moral absolutes into the flesh of their hands. It’s why I barely even noticed when Sirius Black bit the dust. Shouldn’t I have felt at least a shimmer of sorrow as he faded into the mist? Probably. But I didn’t, and that’s not my fault. It’s the job of the filmmakers to make me empathize with Potter’s grief and rage.

Not too mention that there were plot elements that were never explained in their entirety, although I suppose that could be chalked up to the fact that the book is over 800 pages long. But come on, why hasn't Draco Malfoy been questioned about his father's involvement with Voldemort? Why is his father hanging at the Ministry of Magic like he wasn't there the night Cedric was killed?

I think the worst part of the whole experience is that often the audience would burst into laughter or delighted squeals at seemingly random moments. I was often confused and distracted by their emotional response. Every awkward silence between the characters was apparently meant to be a joke. And Ron getting jealous about a mindless giant taking a childlike fascination with Hermione, and weakly shouting, “leave her alone,� means that they’re finally going to make babies or something, even though their love-affair is nowhere to be found in the books, and their characters are supposed to be 15 years-old. It’s as if the audience really, really wanted to love this movie, so they forced the laughs and the screams, just so they could tell their friends how super awesome the movie was and OMG! you have to go see it because Harry kisses Cho! With tongue and everything!

Look, in spite of all this criticism, I’m not saying that this movie isn’t worth your time. It was entertaining, albeit at a somewhat superficial level (i.e., the magic battles were pretty sweet). Then again, maybe it’s just because I was a tired, grumpy old man last night. But I wouldn’t want you to go into this movie with grandiose expectations just to be let down. Expect a movie somewhere between the gearing up of the series that Chamber of Secrets was, and the slick action of Goblet of Fire, and you’ll be in the right mindset to watch this film.

Rating: 3 of 5 stars - A better than average entry for the series, but not great, and certainly not as outstanding as Prisoner of Azkaban.

July 9, 2007

Rock Band Set List

Here it is: my dream set list for the new game Rock Band. For those of you who have been living in the untamed wilderness for the last 6 months, Rock Band is the upcoming game from Harmonix and MTV Games that seeks to do what Guitar Hero has done, but adding drums and a vocal track as well. Anyway, I'm figuring on about 48 songs divided into six-song groupings. Here's what I'd like to see:

Tier 1
1. Song 2 - Blur
2. Creatures (For A While) - 311
3. Good - Better Than Ezra
4. Nice Guys Finish Last - Green Day
5. Alcohol - Barenaked Ladies
6. Sunset Strip Bitch - Eve 6

Tier 2
1. Learning To Fly - Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
2. Kitty - The Presidents of the United States of America
3. Get Over It - OK Go
4. Summer of ’69 - Bryan Adams
5. Counting Blue Cars - Dishwalla
6. Seven-Nation Army - The White Stripes

Tier 3
1. Leaving Song Pt. 2 - AFI
2. The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows - Brand New
3. Simple Design - Breaking Benjamin
4. My Own Summer (Shove It) - Deftones
5. This Time - Depswa
6. Down - Fuel

Tier 4
1. Walk Away - Mad at Gravity
2. Rock You Like A Hurricane - Scorpions
3. At The Speed Of A Yellow Bullet - Head Automatica
4. Coming Back to Life - Blindside
5. Perfection Through Silence - Finch
6. Make Yourself - Incubus

Tier 5
1. The Outsider - A Perfect Circle
2. Do You Call My Name - Ra
3. Poem - Taproot
4. Let It Bleed - The Used
5. Shine - Sevendust
6. Rise - The Cult

Tier 6
1. And The Hero Will Drown - Story of the Year
2. Smooth Criminal - Alien Ant Farm
3. Narcolepsy - Third Eye Blind
4. Belief System - Doubledrive
5. Gimme Stitches - Foo Fighters
6. Hotel California - The Eagles

Tier 7
1. Ghost Of The Sun - Katatonia
2. Thrice - Under A Killing Moon
3. Dead Eyes See No Future - Arch Enemy
4. Layla - Derek and the Dominos
5. Tears Don’t Fall - Bullet for My Valentine
6. Kashmir - Led Zeppelin

Tier 8
1. Fixation on the Darkness - Killswitch Engage
2. Cliffs of Dover - Eric Johnson
3. Bleeding Mascara - Atreyu
4. Act of Contrition - Shadows Fall
5. Welcome Home - Coheed & Cambria
6. Master of Puppets - Metallica

Comments welcome and encouraged!

June 19, 2007

A short treatise on the banning of violent video games in the UK.

Breaking: Manhunt 2 Banned In UK

From the article:

Today, the British Board of Film Classification, the UK's independent regulator of film, video and gaming, announced that it has rejected both the PS2 and Wii version of Manhunt 2. Manhunt 2 was developed by Rockstar Games and is the sequel to Manhunt, a game that was banned in several different countries and linked to the murder of a 14 year-old boy. With this announced ruling, Manhunt 2 cannot legally be sold anywhere in the United Kingdom. This is the first game to be rejected since Carmageddon in 1997. We just got off the phone with BBFC's Sue Clark, who said, "We took a lot of time in examining Manhunt 2. Banning is not something we take lightly." She added that the regulatory board examines video games closer than its counterparts aboard.

No matter what you think about the Manhunt games, or Rockstar as a company, you have to admit that censorship of any kind of flies in the face of that most important (in my opinion, and that of the author's of the Constitution) facet of a free society: freedom of expression.

Yes, Manhunt 2 and its predecessor are violent, gory and wholly inappropriate for children. I'm not suggesting that we make these games readily available to children. In fact, I wouldn't be opposed to putting particularly offensive games in a special store or section of a store accessible only with a valid ID, like other materials that a lot of people find objectionable. And yes, some kids will get at them, just like you found your parents' porn collection when you were a kid. If you don't want the risk of your kids finding and playing these types of games, don't keep them in the house, and make sure their friends' parents don't keep them in the house. But, you can't protect children from every little thing every moment of every day, short of keeping them locked up inside the house.

I'm not suggesting that we legalize all kinds of offensive media. I'm not suggesting that depictions of child or animal pornography (computer-generated or otherwise) are appropriate for anyone. There are obvious victims in those types of media: children and animals don't have the capacity to understand what's going on or to truly say "no." There are all kinds of media (movies, music, video games, etc.) that depict events that are obviously direct violation of the laws already established. Those media should be distributed with a great deal of discretion, but not banned outright.

But I challenge you to find a real victim in the Manhunt games, when the player is an able-minded adult. Yes, murder is essentially the object of these games. Yes, the killings are over-the-top executions. It's not my cup of tea, either. But I don’t have to play the game or watch anyone else play the game if I don’t want to, and neither do you. Remember, it’s not any of your business what the adults next door do behind closed doors, whether it’s BDSM or playing violent video games, so long as it isn’t impinging upon your rights or the rights of others. If you're offended purely by the fact that material that offends you is available, then you should probably turn the sensitivity knob down a couple of notches. Or move to China.

As a legal adult in a free society you should be able to choose what media you wish to consume without governmental interference. Banning media, no matter how inappropriate (with the above exceptions), violates the right to free expression. The government is now deciding what is appropriate for you to view, that you're too ignorant to be able to decide for yourself. I feel that's a level of control that a government should never have over its people.

The regulatory body even points out that it's not just about protecting the children, which, by the way, isn't a valid argument anyway. Video games aren't just for kids, folks, and they haven't been for a while now. I despise the idea that any government would insult their adult (allowed to fight in wars, buy porn, and get pissed whenever they want so long as they don't drive home) constituents by implying they aren't intelligent enough to make a judgment call about what media to consume. If you're a citizen of any government that allows this (which, I guess is just about all of them), and you're not insulted by the fact that your government is treating you like a child, well, I guess there’s no hope for you.

June 4, 2007

Maximilian the Cat!

Just wanted to introduce y'all to the newest resident at the apartment. His name is Max, and he's three years old. Jenny and I adopted him from the Humane Society yesterday. He's very docile and friendly and he likes sleeping on people's stomachs. Come pay him a visit sometime!




May 18, 2007

"Trust me, you won't agree with this guy..."

GOP boss: Don't let candidate into debate
http://www.detnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070518/POLITICS/705180362/1022

"The chairman of the Michigan Republican Party said this week that he will try to bar Ron Paul from GOP presidential debates because of remarks the Texas congressman made that suggested the Sept. 11 attacks were the fault of U.S. foreign policy."

------------------------

This guy may be a Republican, but I support free speech for everyone.

The Surpreme Court has said over and over that you can't censor speech simply because it violates the status quo or because someone finds it offensive. In fact, those are good reasons to PROTECT said expression.

Granted, the GOP is a private organization, and I suppose they can ban whoever they want from their debates. But doesn't doing so seem to fly in the face of the ideals of our country, nay, in the face of the most basic principle upon which our republic is built, the freedom of speech?

I understand that they're not preventing him from expressing his views elsewhere, but don't they think it's possible that there are members of the GOP that agree with his view? Or at least want to hear what he has to say? Aren't they insulting the intelligence of their party members by deciding for them what they will and will not want to hear?

"Trust me, you won't agree with this guy," is what Anuzi is essentially saying to Republicans.

Of course, it's no real surprise to me that the GOP would want to distance themselves from a guy who says we may have been responsible in any way for 9/11. They never bothered to ask, "why did they attack us? What could we have done wrong?" An obvious answer is that we BOMBED THEM and interfered with their affairs as an independent nation-state. Paul's view is ultimately, I think, that we should take accountability for our actions in the world, and recognize that our foriegn policy and our activities abroad will have consequences. And we should thus excercise more discretion when considering things like, oh, I don't know, INVADING and OCCUPYING a country that presents no direct threat to us.

If nothing else, at least the guy stands out somewhat from the big bowl of righteous vanilla that is the Republican debates.

end(rant)

January 31, 2006

Nothin' could be finer...

As I type this, I am enjoying one of America's most delicious combinations. Is it a movie and popcorn? Good porn and some lube? A Republican and illegal campaign donations scandal? Nay, I say neigh. These horses have been sexually abused.

...

Rather, I am eating Oreos and drinking milk; "Double Stuft" Oreos, to be precise, with a Land O Lakes "Grip'n Go Milk", fat free skim (The contractions and misspellings are part of their marketability). Oreo really hit the nail on the head with their latest ad campaign, "Milk's favorite cookie." Sure, you can use milk to chase all kinds of delicacies: doughnuts, malted milk balls, cocktail sauce, etc. But, there really isn't another cookie that you can dunk in milk that tastes nearly as good.

In actuality, I don’t actually “dunk� Oreos; I’ve come by a strange habit for combining these cookies with delicious bovine lactose.

See, I used to dunk the Oreos directly into a glass filled with milk. But something that always bothered me about this process was that Oreo crumbs would naturally break off and collect in the bottom of the glass. Don’t ask me why it bothers me; it just does. I don’t have to defend my position (which happens to be sitting, at the moment); unlike Bush will be doing tonight. Another problem with dunking is you could potentially eat an entire bag of Oreos before running out of milk, since the cookies absorb very little even if you make a full dunk. Not to mention getting your fingers all milky in order to get the whole cookie wet.

…

You’re a sick fuck.

Anywho, in order to avoid all of the aforementioned adversities, I developed the following method:

1) Remove cookie from tray
2) Insert cookie into mouth
3) Masticate lightly
4) Lift glass
5) Open lips slightly
6) Pour milk into mouth
7) Enjoy the victuals of victory
8) You're finished eating when the milk is gone
9) I like to use sound devices in my writing

Wolf Blizter just used the word “flavor� in reference to the atmosphere following the President’s entry into the Capitol Building.

God damn, I hate Wolf Blizter.

November 9, 2005

Page Avenue it is not...

In the Wake of Determination showcases a grittier, crunchier Story of the Year than 2002's Page Avenue. It's almost their shot at thrash metal. The whole album centers around a theme of rebellion, a "we're pissed off, and we're not going to take it anymore" type mentality. It's a major shift from the subject matter of Page Avenue, which seemed to center more on dealing with personal hardships and growing up. A lot of bands have an angry, anti-institution album. Shit, that was every Rage album. The problem is that it's never made quite clear what exactly SOTY are rebelling against. The whole album seems to lack direction, and it shows in the lyrical content of this collection of fight songs.

It starts off well enough, with their latest single, "We Don't Care Anymore," a call to begin the rebellion. The lyrics aren't all that great, but neither were the lyrics of "Until the Day I Die," the first single on Page Avenue. Somewhat contrived lyrical content is forgivable, so long as it still turns out to be a catchy tune with something to offer. Problem is, the lyrical content never gets any better. I'll bet you can guess the kind of cliched crap held in songs like "Take Me Back," and "Wake Up the Voiceless." The awesome opening riff of "Our Time is Now," is practically ruined by lyrical excrement:

Today will be the day to start rising up and fighting back
And from this moment on we will live our lives
With open hearts and open eyes

That's very inspiring, guys, except that I still don't know what I'm "rising up and fighting back" against. Even the song notes contain trite drivel:

"Take Me Back" Song Notes
Dan : "Lyrically it is about growing up and finding out that ignorance is bliss. Sometimes you wish you could go back and start over."

It doesn't take a degree in musicology from Harvard to figure out what you were trying to express there, guys.

There are a few interesting things going on musically on this album. The guitar work is pretty impressive across the board. Their rhythm guitarist, while not particularly inventive, is damn fast, and he makes use of that repeatedly. The drumming isn't as solid as it was on the first album, which only follows considering the thrash-like feel of most of the album. It doesn't require much skill, just speed. Something that Story of the Year did so well on Page Avenue fails to appear here: making a complex song sound simple. These songs are merely simple. Not a lot of innovation going on here. It's as if, while writing the songs, they all said, "What's the most cliched thing I could do here. Yeah, let's do that."

Wake is garnering praise for being the "real" Story of the Year, apparently because of the change of producers, from John Feldman (Jimmy Eat World) to Steve Evetts (Hatebreed). Page Avenue is a much more lyrically and sonically solid album, if it is a bit "softer." If Wake is what Story of the Year truly is, I don't want any part of it. On the other hand, if you want straightforward, hardcore-inspired songs that don't require any sort of thought to digest, check it out.

Simply put, this latest effort simply falls short.

This Hurricane of Fucking Lies

The 2004 album American Idiot marked a turning point for the 16-year veterans of post-punk super-group Green Day. Not since the heyday of progressive rock, when bands like Yes and Genesis ruled the rock world, has such an ambitious project been undertaken, and never before in the realm of punk had a band attempted the opera contained in American Idiot's fifty-seven minute, eighteen second runtime. The opera chronicles the trials of a disenfranchised youth who becomes part of a subversive subculture to escape his disgust with American society. He later returns to mainstream society after losing everything and realizing that he is all alone. The catch is that, as complicated as this all sounds, it's an extraordinarily accessible album, and the songs also make sense as independent entities, which may be why there have already been 4 singles from the album (in chronological order): "American Idiot," "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," "Holiday," "Wake Me Up When September Ends." Let us also not forget that the album was nominated for seven Grammy's, taking home Best Rock Album, and also took home seven MTV Video Music Awards, including the coveted Viewer's Choice Award and Video of the Year. Also, it was certified triple platinum in March of 2005 (for those not in the know, that means it's sold over 3 million copies). While American Idiot still trails Dookie (released in 1994, and has since sold 7.1 million copies) as the best selling Green Day album, in my most humble of opinions, this is Green Day's best album to date, and the best album of the decade.

American Idiot accomplishes an incredible synthesis of musical prowess and social commentary. Green Day are masters of the three chord punk song, and they seem to perfect this method in American Idiot. The album opens with "American Idiot," a characteristically simple song driven by vocals and guitars which acts as an opening number for the journey of our "hero," Jesus of Suburbia, who comes to this realization that he no longer wants to be a part of this American culture. His eponymous song is the second track of the album, the first of two multiple movement pieces on the album, which formally introduces Jesus ("I'm the son of rage and love / The Jesus of Suburbia"), and goes more in-depth on his feelings of alienation in a false society ("In this land of make believe / That don't believe in me"), his witnessed decline of American society ("City of the Damned"), and his subsequent decision to become an exile ("Running away from pain when you've been victimized / Tales from another broken home / You're leavin' home"). This song is multifaceted, a blend of musical styles. They even use a xylophone during "Dearly Beloved." "Tales From Another Broken Home" has a perfect ending in pounded guitar chords and drums. The final symbol crash leaves you cheering for more, and fortunately, it's just gettin' started. "Holiday" plays like a military march, Jesus and his fellow rebels marching out of mainstream society and into the underworld, being sure to give a big middle finger to the establishment on their way out. The next two songs, "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" with its mournful tone, and "Are We the Waiting," with it's soaring chorus, convey a sense of being lost and disoriented out in this new world, and desire for direction. Then, about halfway through the album, our hero meets St. Jimmy, who seems to be a ringleader of sorts in the underworld. "St. Jimmy," a breakneck song, introduces this character. You can picture him standing on a soapbox above a crowd of rebels, inciting a riot. "Give Me Novocain" seems to be a plea to St. Jimmy to ease the pain of our hero's sense of isolation. Jesus finds comfort in having this character's friendship, reflected in the soothing quality of the music. It may even be that they are the same person. He then meets a woman simply known as Whatsername in the song "She's a Rebel," with whom he has a romantic relationship. We see his feelings for this woman in the ode "Extraordinary Girl." "Letterbomb," marks the beginning of the end for our protagonist; he realizes that St. Jimmy is a figment of his imagination, and Whatsername leaves him unable to live the life of a rebel any longer. "Wake Me Up When September Ends" is a moment of quiet reflection for our hero, pondering how he's come to this state, who he's become, and what he has lost in the process. "Homecoming" is the counterpart of "Jesus of Suburbia," the end of the protagonist's journey. "The Death of St. Jimmy" describes just that. The part of the hero that was St. Jimmy kills itself, the desire to be a rebel gone. Now floating, Jesus/Jimmy slowly comes to the decision during the next three movements of the song ("East 12th St.," "Nobody Likes You!," and "Rock and Roll Girlfriend") that he must return home. "We're Coming Home Again" is the end of Jesus/Jimmy's journey and it is a joyful one. With huge power chords, snare-drum pounding glory, and a chorus of voices singing "Home / We're coming home again!" The final song of the album is a catchy little tune remembering "Whatsername," perhaps the only thing he regrets losing from that time in his life. It provides an absolutely perfect ending to a wonderfully dynamic and catchy album.

The album denounces the American media culture, especially in the opening and title track of the album: "Don't wanna be an American idiot. / Don't want a nation under the new media. / And can you hear the sound of hysteria? / The subliminal mindfuck America." Later in the song: "Don't wanna be an American idiot. / One nation controlled by the media. / Information age of hysteria. / It's calling out to Idiot America." It's a scathing indictment of the American media for not fulfilling its responsibility to the American public, to protect them from the government and corporations by exposing corruption. Green Day, instead, see the media creating mass hysteria in the post 9/11 world by essentially telling us that there could be terrorists lurking in our own backyards. They see the media in the pocket of the institutions of which they are supposed to be critical. Green Day are acting as a watchdog for the media, which seems to have lost its sense of self-regulation, and they obviously don't like what they see. What's more is that Green Day are using the power of the institution that they are criticizing to broadcast their message, which is why it always amuses me to hear songs from American Idiot mixed into commercials and news reels. Truly, who better to lay open the problems of today's media culture than men who have been ingrained in it, contributed to its evolution, and yet remained skeptical of it, for the better part of two decades? Green Day truly capture an accurate and compelling snapshot of a moment in American society with this album.

All Your Base...

“All Your Base Are Belong to Us”
What follows is a transcript of the opening cut-scene of the English version of the Japanese videogame Zero Wing:
Narrator: In A.D. 2101, war was beginning.
Captain: What happen ?
Mechanic: Somebody set up us the bomb.
(spoken in the Flash animation as Someone set us up the bomb.)
Operator: We get signal.
Captain: What !
Operator: Main screen turn on.
Captain: It's you !!
CATS: How are you gentlemen !!
CATS: All your base are belong to us.
CATS: You are on the way to destruction.
Captain: What you say !!
CATS: You have no chance to survive make your time.
CATS: Ha Ha Ha Ha ....
(spoken in the Flash animation as Ha Ha Ha.)
Operator: Captain !!
Captain: Take off every 'Zig'!!
Captain: You know what you doing.
Captain: Move 'Zig'.
Captain: For great justice.

According to its Wikipedia entry, the phrase “All Your Base Are Belong to Us” (AYBABTU or AYB for short) first appeared on the Internet in 1998. It is part of “a poorly translated opening found in the English version of the Japanese video game Zero Wing, originally produced by Toaplan in 1989.” Following its introduction in subsequently spread like a virus, first appearing in Internet message boards. So, while it could have disappeared into the oblivion of the Internet, greater forces were at work. It soon promulgated itself into realms far beyond the web-geeks’ message boards, and even beyond the Internet. How did this random fragment of a poor video-game translation become a quasi well-known piece of pop culture?

“The cultural model of communication draws a very close connection between the processes of social communication and the production of a common culture” (Grossberg, et. al. 1998). The model essentially states that when humans communicate with each other, they are creating a culture of symbols and codes through their use of social language. Consequently, our ability to communicate with each other depends on our being able to understand and utilize a common social language. That assumes that humans have already established a common culture, which is often taken for granted. Additionally, the cultural language is endlessly expandable, a property that makes it possible to describe things that are outside of the established language with the established language. The growth of a cultural language, then, must involve already established aspects of our common culture. It must be noted, however, that the cultural model of communication is intrinsically paradoxical because it seeks to explain communications between persons based on a culture within which it is immersed. Nevertheless, it will be a useful tool for seeking an explanation for the seemingly unexplainable explosion of AYB into the mainstream media.
AYB falls into the category of an object that began outside of the common culture of the United States. The game Zero Wing in which it appears was never released in the United States. So why was it posted in the first place? Why on Earth did someone find it amusing? Using the cultural model, we can draw a couple of conclusions.

SomethingAwful.com hosts the forums on which the phrase initially appeared. Someone on the forums, who somehow gained access to the game, realized that AYB is a prime example of “Engrish,” which is a slang term for when Japanese media makers attempt to create English dialogue. Wikipedia explains: “Engrish is most often considered by English-speakers to be a humorous misuse of English.” Here we find the cultural basis for the humor of the phrase. The American culture finds the way that Easterners speak English to be humorous. The term itself pokes fun at the lack of differentiation in Eastern languages of the sounds for the English letters ‘r’ and ‘l.’ The difference is that AYB is not just one line, like examples found in assembly instructions for Japanese products (“LETS DECOMPOSE & ENJOY ASSEMBLING”); it is an entire dialogue.

Not to mention the fact that the Internet has an extremely large potential audience base, especially a site like SomethingAwful.com, which currently has over 50 million posts (includes posts that have been archived) in its forums. A post in an infrequently used message board would not have spawned such a phenomenon.

Additionally, the phrase appears in a videogame, a new media that continues to grow in size and force. More people play video games every year, especially since the current generation has grown up with video games. The user that originally posted the phrase more than likely did so when he played the game. The phrase never would have become known if video games had not been integrated into our culture.

These connections make what happened after the original post a bit less of a mystery. Soon web-geeks were Photoshopping the phrase into a plethora of pictures, some already almost famous from being circulated on the Internet. For example, there is a picture of confused construction workers who have just painted SCOOL on the road; the original letters are replaced with ALL YOUR BASE ARE BELONG TO US. Soon, the fad moved beyond the visual realm. “In 2000, Jared and Canadian Gabber group The Laziest Men on Mars created the song "Invasion of the Gabber Robots" using samples from the game theme by Tatsuya Uemura (including a robotic voice synthesis rendition of the complete cut-scene dialogue).” The flash video that integrated all of the modified images and the song pushed the phenomenon beyond the world of the geeks and message boarders and into the public eye. This was the final step for AYB in becoming a part of our cultural language. Wikipedia lists countless references, anything from a front page Boston Globe article in late 2002, to references in Futurama and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, to Easter eggs in a multitude of videogames. The phrase has also become a battle cry or victory cry in online games such as Counter Strike and World of WarCraft.

Word of mouth (or of keyboard) acts as a powerful tool for propagating even the most seemingly random catchphrase. Even so, not everyone will know what AYB is, or why it is supposed to be funny. It is important though, to examine the roots of a fad such as this in hopes of explaining the new media culture in which we now live. Through the cultural model it is easy to see that the humor that English speakers derive from Easterners attempting to speak our language, and the integration of video games and the Internet itself into our culture, are largely responsible for the AYB fad.