Friday, April 30, 2010

Long Live The Coco (Part 3)

Ratings tanked. Don’t talk about “lead-ins”, please…Conan did this all to himself.

I'm busting with so many things to say about this one that I'm finding it difficult to begin. Conan did this all to himself. I suppose that's true in an existential sense. This person seems to believe that Conan is currently in a terrible situation or that he's sitting quietly in a dark room somewhere feeling the horrific affects of his bad decisions (which contradicts the poster's later statement that he's a millionaire in a wonderful situation so we shouldn't feel bad for him). When John Doe finds himself alone in an alley scrambling for a crack fix, abandoned by all friends and family, you look at John Doe, nod and say, "Well he did it to himself." Conan O'Brien is not in a bad situation, at least not in terms of his future as an entertainer, I don't presume to know his personal life. This "did it to himself" statement is doubly inaccurate as, very simply and obviously, NBC played a part and Jay Leno played a part in Conan's current circumstances. So, very literally, Conan did not "do this all to himself".

Ratings tanked. Don't talk about lead-ins, please...

Why don't you want us to talk about lead-ins? Could it be that they're a good explanation for Conan's lower ratings and you don't like good explanations? Could it be that you simply like Jay Leno and want to ignore the fact that Jay's ten o' clock show was quite dull and uninteresting and shockingly dirtier than his Tonight Show? Could it be that Jay's dirtier sense of humor and horribly written "comedy" segments featuring comics no one knew or liked alienated Jay's older audience?

Do you not realize that Jay's ratings were bad? Do you not realize that if Jay's ratings are bad then that means everyone turns NBC off at ten o'clock and goes elsewhere? They do not watch the local affiliate news and then they will not watch Conan. Now lets consider those who simply want to watch The Tonight Show. They want the show, they aren't aware of host affiliation. But as far as they're concerned Jay has been and still is the host regardless of his move in programming. They're not aware of Conan, the real host of The Tonight Show. So far as they're considered there's nothing to watch at 11:30 because Jay is on at 10:00, the host they've always known. How is Conan to gain ratings when there's an entire segment of the population that is confused by a poor programming decision or simply doesn't know Conan is the new Tonight Show host?

This whole issue of ratings, touched on arrogantly by Jay in his Oprah interview, the idea that Conan was "destroying" the Tonight Show franchise, is so obviously idiotic and fallacious that I'm astounded when it's even brought up as a valid argument. Apart from the reasons stated earlier that contributed to Conan's lower viewership, let's consider the fact that it's rare for any new show of any kind to garner the audiences and viewership studios demand. Gaining an audience simply takes time. Transitions take time.

Furthermore, why do people care so much? I care about whether or not Conan is on TV or entertaining somewhere, but that's it. I'm not about to charge into NBC with demands. I'm not going to damn them or support them one way or the other. I don't care about NBC. I care about the quality of their shows. On the other hand, Conan's detractors seem to be rooting for NBC. I find this often amongst people who don't want their favorite video game bashed, their favorite movie bashed, or their favorite show bashed. They side with "the man" as if they're employees, as if they firmly believe NBC cares about what they think. Why do these people support conglomerates when they have no actual stake in them and use it as some kind of support for their arguments? Surprisingly enough, this is the course of action of youths more often than not. What in the name of Jesus Christ has happened to the youthful voice of dissent in this country?

And finally we come to this little gem.

The fact of the matter is that America made up its mind. Conan at 11:30 pm was HORRIBLE. It was unwatchable. It was awful.

It was unwatchable. It was awful.

You would have to have watched an episode to know this. On a very basic level that this poster is unaware of, they contradict themselves. You have to have watched something to formulate an opinion about it. If the poster watched even five seconds of Conan's show, they would have seen it, which proves that it is, in fact, watchable and that their eyes did not melt in their sockets upon viewing. I suppose "it was awful" is merely a matter of opinion; relative and therefore unable to be attacked. If you don't like Conan's silly sense of self-deprecating humor then you likely won't enjoy his show. However, I believe it's possible to prove, objectively, that The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien was not, in any way, awful.

Your head exploding is awful. Your boyfriend or girlfriend cheating on you is awful. Transformers is awful.

The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien always started on time. It delivered comedy. It delivered extravagant sketches and segments that featured an enthusiastic host getting crowds and viewers excited. It had movie stars and celebrity guests. It had a beautiful set and vivid colors. It fulfilled the definition of a late night talk show. Can it be considered awful then, in the way this poster so objectively and steadfastly states?

Conan at 11:30 pm was HORRIBLE.

I really wish people realized that putting words in all caps in no way enhances the quality of their statement or argument. Caps is good for positive email greetings to friends, but little else.

I get really, really thought it was bad so you touched caps lock with your pinky-finger (if you're using home row properly). But you get your emphasis across with your redundant followup statements, it was unwatchable, it was awful, which renders your caps-lock unnecessary. A good argument is one that presents an idea, explains the idea thoroughly, and offers it up for the rest of humanity to dissect. A good argument does not angrily pop out at you. It does not resort to cheap visual tricks to make itself heard.

The fact of the matter is that America made up its mind.

More often than not, to begin any statement with the phrase "the fact of the matter is" makes whatever words come after that statement entirely pointless. Simply put, America did not make up its mind because a country does not have a brain. A country is a piece of land with fictitous divisions implemented by a government. But the figurative way in which the poster means to express their notion lends itself to rebuttal just as easily.

I did not make up my mind that Conan's show was terrible. I did not contribute to his low ratings. I am an Americna. Even if 99% of Nealson families did not watch Conan there would still be a 1% margin that did. Is that 1% not American? Not to this poster. It's this kind of thinking that starts the long, painful road to segregation and fascism.

When there are large segments of the population that enjoyed Conan's show and tuned in to watch his final episodes, when there are protests in support of Conan, it's very clear that America's collective mind was not made up in opposition of Conan. If anything, there was a divide and that's good. Arguments are good. Discourse is good. But that's not what our poster is after. This poster made up their mind. NBC made up their mind. Conan made up his mind. When did America make up its mind? What clear evidence is there of any collective American mind being made up in a unanimous fashion?

In the end, let us realize that random expressions of anger and negativity are like slashes and punches upon a person's flesh. Perhaps they're small enough not to show, but they hurt, and eventually they become visible. Negativity on the whole is in no way beneficial or constructive. No one achieves anything worthwhile through hatred or self-abasement. No one achieves anything by saying, "I can't, I won't, you can't, you won't". Only hatred is achieved through hatred, destruction and pain.

In order to grow as a people we have to logically and kindly interact with each other, especially when interaction has now been so easily reduced to internet soundbites.

Inject a bit of honest good into humanity's system. See how it makes you feel. See how it can change someone's day. Conan O'Brien did this on a nightly basis, which is why I respect him so much.

Long Live The CoCo (Part 2)

Enjoy the college circuit.

This statement is fantastic. It contains just the right amount of biting sarcasm, unreasonable anger, and the perfect amount of idiocy. I assume the poster is attempting to undermine The Legally Prohibited From Being Funny On Television Tour.

It's not a college campus tour. It's a multi-city musical comedy show that spans the entire nation in sold out arenas and casinos like The Mohegan Sun. And even if it were just a college tour why is that something to snub your nose at? Did Conan O'Brien personally murder this person's dog?

Why should we care? In fact, we don’t. Adios Conan.

What's troubling here is that this person has taken it upon themselves to speak for the rest of humanity. Please, do not speak for me. You are a stranger and have no right to speak for anyone but yourself.

If anyone watched television for even five minutes back when the NBC fiasco was taking place, it was fairly clear that Conan had a large number of supporters who did care. I cared. I care because I've grown up watching this man. I care because this man and his troop of fellow comedians and musicians have provided me countless hours of joy.

To use adios instead of goodbye or bye-bye or so long is so blatantly obnoxious for two reasons:

1) people who like to pepper their sentences with foreign words are pretentious and have acid for blood.
2) If this person is saying "Adios Conan" as a reference to "Conando", Conan's Tonight Show Spanish sketch, that means this person watched Conan enough to witness this skit. You have to be fairly knowledgeable of the man's Tonight Show run to make such a reference. If the poster hated it so much, why watch it enough to be able to reference it? And how could anyone on this planet with eyes and a soul not like Conando?

Also, doesn’t the guy already have like tens of millions of dollars in the bank? Why should we care?

This is the only valid statement this person makes. It suggests that we shouldn't feel bad for Conan because of what happened between him and NBC. Of course we shouldn't. He is a millionaire and he can do basically whatever he wants and he will. Even he told us not to feel sorry for him. Even he is aware of this. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't care about what he does or be interested in his future as an entertainer.

Long Live The CoCo (Part 1)

Conan O'Brien will give an interview on 60 minutes this Sunday. I just finished reading an article describing bits of the interview and Conan's thoughts on Jay Leno's actions. The article and Conan's interview isn't what inspired me to write, however. It was the comments section below the article. The idea that every article written on the internet offers a comments section for its readers to articulate their opinions in an environment that permits them to spout off without repercussions--and without the pressure of a natural discourse which requires them to think on their feet--is infuriating. It is a symptom of a culture that revolves around self-importance and vanity, a culture of individuals whom study their digital reflection the way a self-absorbed yet ironically timid teen might study a mirror. We've come to love ourselves and our easily crafted quips so much that we've quickly lost touch with reality and humanity.

The comment I read that infuriated me so much was the following:

"The fact of the matter is that America made up its mind. Conan at 11:30 pm was HORRIBLE. It was unwatchable. It was awful. Ratings tanked. Don’t talk about “lead-ins”, please…Conan did this all to himself. Also, doesn’t the guy already have like tens of millions of dollars in the bank? Why should we care? In fact, we don’t. Adios Conan. Enjoy the college circuit. What a loser."

I'm going to address this comment from finish to start. "What a loser". Though it's too easy, I cannot avoid pointing out that anyone calling someone else a loser via a message board or comments section is wonderfully hypocritical. I can't simply stop there, however. There is a deeper problem with this statement, a problem that is yet another symptom of our vastly disgusting and insipid race of beings. "What a loser" is a remarkably hurtful comment. Why spread negativity so directly?

One could easily argue that I'm spreading negativity in a similar fashion by attacking the person that posted this and saying the human race is insipid. I contend there is a fundamental difference. You have the benefit of exploring my thought process because I'm explaining myself in a clearer, more controlled and detailed manner. There may also be a touch of irony in my writing. I am not reducing my opinion to an angry, hateful remark to be found in the internet ether.

What does this poster gain by spreading hatred in this manner? Does she/he feel as though they are victorious in some manner? If that's the case then they are grossly mistaken for there must be a conflict in the first place if there is to be a victor. There is no conflict save the one created by this person's mind to feel as though they, in some way, are at odds with Conan O'Brien due to some wrong he committed against them. Or perhaps the poster's purpose is simpler and does not in any way stem from a desire to gain anything. Perhaps this person just had a thought, an opinion, and wanted to share it with others without needing to defend it. The problem here, then, is that this person has simply launched hate into the world without provocation and without real reason.

I have had the phrase "what a loser" forced into my inner-monologue as a result of this person's post. Now, I chose to read it and that's my own idiotic mistake, but there are others that purposefully read others' comments to get a sense of what people are thinking. This means that all of these people, whether or not they're on Jay's side, Conan's side, or indifferent to the NBC situation have had the extreme negativity of the phrase "What a loser" infect their consciousness. This negativity has now been plugged into their brain by someone with no real purpose and with no awareness of their own actions. This is negativity for negativity's sake. It is negativity without the nuance of human interaction and without identity. Even a mob has an identity. Even a mob has a purpose and a justification for their hatred. Even a mob can be disbanded, humanized. But not this. Not internet comments. Not message board battles. It is a direct shot of hatred to the system.

What makes this so destructive and potentially harmful is that it can be found everywhere, but when people read such comments they don't consider the ramifications to the level which I am describing. They don't consider what someone else's hatred or anger does to their thoughts, because of how harmless and disconnected the internet allows it to appear. But it's not harmless. Negativity of any kind from any source, especially negativity without provocation and negativity that cannot be countered in a legitimate fashion, affects us deeply. It's like a small, unnoticeable seed slowly growing in the back of our brains of which we are not entirely aware. Even if this negativity does not manifest itself in our actions, it's still there, flowing through our minds and potentially compounding with previous forms of anger or hatred, resulting in bad moods that we simply do not understand.

Are you ever angry and you're not sure why? Have you ever felt sick as a result of a bad mood, stress, anger, or someone's illogical attempt to mess with your head? While I do believe in "negative waves, baby", I think that there is an even more practical, tangible application of this idea that people could respond to.

The internet allows us to think we are all little islands of information. We are not and have never been islands. We are not encouraged to consider the affect words and the thoughts of others literally have upon us. It is difficult to see how connected each of us are (reality does not literally unite us unless we're making love), but it is impossible, literally, to be completely unaffected by people. Their opinons and prejudices reveal themselves to the world in speech or action and both impact their listeners ineternally and sometimes externally. To read their negativity is to inject their negativity like a drug, without realizing it. It rests in your brain, a nasty cournel of hate destined to spread in some way. What's even more troubling is that this sort of negativity has gone mainstream and even been sanctioned by entire news/media organizations, allowing radio talk show hosts the chance to rant and rave incoherently to a sea of unquestioning followers.

And, finally, there's the very simple truth that undermines any validity of the statement "what a loser". Conan O'Brien is, simply, not a loser. Anyone who succeeds at their dream is not a loser.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Everyone seems to love Splinter Cell: Conviction. Reviews are unanimously positive, awarding the game scores in the low to high nines. Normally I take it upon myself to be a voice of reason in a din of easily fooled, overly enthusiastic gamers and this time...well...this time is unfortunately no different.

Yes it's pompous to consider my voice the only one of reason and yes it's closed-minded to be unable to accept any argument that suggests Splinter Cell: Conviction is a game worthy of a 9/10, but I simply cannot help myself. I don't want to be the overly critical, negative guy that doesn't like anything. But, imagine living in a world where getting punched in the face was the way people greeted each other as opposed to a hug or a handshake. But you are the only person on earth that finds this painful and infuriating. It is so obvious to you that it is wrong to punch someone in the nose that you cannot comprehend why other people aren't similarly bothered by such a greeting. Wouldn't you feel it your responsibility to stand up for yourself and say something? This is how I feel most of the time with regard to video games and the opinions of my fellow gamers.

Bad dialogue doesn't bother you? Bad dialogue you have to hear over and over again due to a bad checkpoint doesn't bother you? Not knowing where to go due to bad level design doesn't bother you? Contradictory artistic philosophies don't bother you? Annoying henchman who don't stop talking don't bother you? Not being able to find "the fun" in the game doesn't bother you? Bad control schemes don't bother you? Juvenile use of "bad language" and superficial attempts to be badass by beating women to earn that M rating doesn't bother you? The lies of game developers don't bother you? I find that most gamers are either after something different than I, don't care about such annoyances, or acknowledge that these things exist but are able to easily overlook them due to a few cool features like mark and execute.

Splinter Cell: Conviction is a game plagued by all of these problems and more.

Let me first say that I have no problem with an opinion that amounts, simply and clearly, to nothing more than "I thought it was fun", and then makes no attempt to convince me of the game's objective artistic or entertainment value. For example, the best explanation I've heard for why Assassin's Creed II is not a mediocre, pretentious bore-fest was "I just really like being Italian and running around rooftops". It's when someone attempts to argue that things like lute players and poor control-schemes and flawed game design aren't actually problems that I find myself in a confused rage, feeling as though I'm the only one that doesn't like being punched in the nose.

While Conviction might alienate many fans of the stealth series I found the game fits nicely in the franchise from a narrative and, in some ways, gameplay structure. The story should be focused simply and clearly on Sam's desire for revenge. Instead the game lumbers around a Tom Clancy-international espionage-heavy tale that gets duller and more convoluted as it goes, until the end when it finally refocuses on what's actually interesting, Sam and his past. It then negates any potential upswing in the story by having a final level that is literally right out of Modern Warfare 2.

The game's creative director stated that it's very much about Sam's quest for avenging the murder of his daughter, but it's a Tom Clancy game so there's got to be some political intrigue. Why? Why does there need to be a long-winded plot most gamers are going to completely ignore even if they are able to understand it? The beauty of a good story is more often than not it's simplicity. Just look at Taken, a fantastic action movie with a premise similar to Conviction's. Imagine an entire game that involved just searching for Sarah's killer, eventually leading you to the interesting revelation that actually is in the game. Also imagine the gruffer, angrier approach Sam adopts permeating every aspect of the game throughout, using improvised gadgets like the rear-view mirror from beginning to end, as opposed to getting all your gadgets back and being virtually no different than the Sam in Double Agent.

Having played every entry I can say that Conviction adheres to many of the series' conventions, but not necessarily the ones UbiSoft wanted to retain. Having watched this game's development since 2006 I've come away from the developer diaries with some basic and logical expectations based on what the developers said and the gameplay footage. The developers longed to create a game where stealth is a weapon, not a defense, where Sam Fisher is a predator. They specifically discussed how the game would not shut down if you were discovered by your enemies as previous entries did, but instead you would have to improvise, using a variety of awesome spy-abilities such as mark and execute and last known position to your advantage. Gone would be the trial and error days of memorizing guard's walking patterns and avoiding security cameras.

There's a point in the game where players infiltrate the Third Echelon Headquarters where Sam was originally trained. The level starts with player's in a garage near a camera that's sweeping left and right. I stared at that camera for a moment and knew the game wanted me to avoid it, and I wanted to avoid it because I thought that if I were spotted a barrage of soldiers would be unleashed and I'd have to deal with their poor AI and cliched one-liners. But the pessimist in me had a slightly darker thought. Were they telling the truth? Will I have to improvise if I'm spotted or will the game simply give me the finger, shut down and force me to start again? I honestly believed the game would not shut down, but I was curious. So I walked right into the camera's line of sight to test the game and the word of the designers. The game promptly shut down and a fail screen appeared, one curiously similar to those I witnessed in Splinter Cell, Pandora Tomorrow, Chaos Theory, and Double Agent. I know why this level has such a structure. It's a nice homage to the previous titles, and there are many such nods in Conviction. But this kind of explanation, "It's an homage!" is a common defense to my kind of gripes that in no way proves it's a good decision on the part of the designers.

Another example of contradictory design and artistic philosophy can be found in the games' visual presentation. Ever since Dead Space every game designer has been trying to figure out a way to integrate the HUD in a natural way that will permit a deeper level of immersion and Conviction is no exception. Light meters have been abandoned for a stylish shift from color to black and white to indicate Sam's visibility and OpSats have been abandoned for sleek flickering objectives projected on walls and other surfaces in the game. The game's shift from color to black and white is, very simply, ugly. It's jarring and removes me from the experience. It completely destroys the quality of the visuals, which is already surprisingly sup-par.

The intent of not having a HUD and enhancing immersion is further destroyed by the fact that there are constantly at least two or three different context sensitive icons on-screen telling you where to go, what cover to take, what ledge to jump over, what enemy to attack, and what light switch to press. Am I so stupid that I need a "Press A To Jump" icon to appear every time I approach a ledge or chest-high-wall to know that I can jump over it? Also, if every chest-high-wall, if every pipe, if every ledge is something I can interact with by pressing A, why, after the first level which makes me aware of this fact, do I need to see the icon throughout the entire game?

The practical reason they don't go away is that the context sensitive interactions are really choosy about letting you interact with them. Because of the revamped control scheme players no longer have the ability to jump. To jump, one must walk up to a pipe or wall, arrange Sam in the way the game wants you to so that the little A-icon appears, and then press it. The game could have easily done away with these issues by not stealing a basic action away from players and allowed the Y button to function as both jump and execute. Not only would I have the choice to perform a basic action I've been able to in every Splinter Cell prior, I wouldn't have to rely on and see the game's context sensitive icons that tell me when I can jump. And I wouldn't have to constantly shift Sam left and right until he was aligned perfectly with the object I wanted to jump on. What is immersive about this experience from a visual or interactive perspective?

Furthermore, the way the designers negate their attempt to do away with the HUD is by having a HUD! You're always aware of your ammo and your gadget count via a little HUD on the bottom right of the screen. I don't have a problem with that. In fact I don't have a problem with HUDs at all and it annoys me that designers seem to and end up making stupid choices as a result. Why not allow the actual shadows to show me I'm in shadows? Or, better yet, why not integrate the HUD the way Double Agent did, via a little meter perched on Sam's shoulder that blinked green, yellow, or red to indicate his threat level? That worked just fine. Instead this new team tries to do too much, be a little too artistic for their own good and provide a clunky experience that isn't ever quite sure what it wants to be.

This game would have been better if it had completely abandoned any and all attempts to integrate stealth and any series conventions. By walking a middle-ground, it walks a tightrope and cannot keep its balance. The high points of the game all involved straightforward third person-type shootouts (one being a firefight in Iraq, and another a far-too short sequence where the game gives you infinite mark and executes).

Like Batman:Arkham Asylum the game offers you up a suite of awesome maneuvers and the potential for using them in innovative, strategic ways. The reason Batman succeeds is that the systems in place, from level design to control scheme, are all structured in such a way that gamers have easy, fast access to "the fun", and are able to manipulate the system and experiment with noticeable and awesome results. Splinter Cell offers you the fun, makes you aware of the systems, but doesn't allow you to utilize them in a clear, uninterrupted and enjoyable way. Ironically enough this is the exact same complaint I had with the older Splinter Cell games.

Sam always seemed to have these great abilities but because the game needs you to play it in a specific way and be at specific places at specific times to execute these awesome maneuvers the gamer seldom gets to make use of such abilities. In Conviction you're able to make use of the legitimately good thing in the game "mark and execute" only after you've failed a few times. Only once could I actually improvise on the fly and was rewarded with an awesome series of flashy, fast kills. More often than not, I would have to run around a map, figure out where the desks, pipes and guard were, try something, die, and then go at it again and play it "the right way".

This, in practice, is no different from past entries in this series. It's the same old trial and error gameplay with a new coat of paint. It is possible to have fun in this game and make use of the awesome abilities it offers, but it never feels as though you're able to make use of them on your terms and in your ways on the first try. This is why the stealth in the game is a hindrance, not a weapon and why this game fails where Batman succeeds. There is no right way to play Arkham Asylum. It gives you the gift and lets you play with it. Conviction gives you the gift, but like an older sibling that doesn't want you to figure it out on your own, continually tells you what you're doing wrong.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Quick Kick-Ass Review

So I just saw Kick-Ass two days ago and it has taken me those two days to finally come to a solid conclusion on the movie. I went it ready for one of the best superhero movies of all time, mainly since I have been hyping it up for so long in my head and IGN gave it 5 out of 5, though I should know by now never to trust their movie judgement.

Anyway, after the movie I was happy with it but the ending left a very bitter taste in my mouth. The movie was realistic to a point and very fun to actually see how a real superhero would fair in today's world. The best part of it was that Kick-Ass wasn't a good superhero if you could even call him that. He sucked, was stupid, and got the shit kicked out of him. The thing I loved about that though was the message that the film carried. That it wasn't about being a superhero, it was just about helping each other out, that we should all be inspired to do good. To me that was the true message that this pubescent teen brought to the silver screen that really hit home with someone like me. Someone who has always wanted to be a superhero.

Nicholas Cage was awesome and extremely disturbing at the same time. Chloe Moretz was amazing the fucking awesome. And Aaron Johnson as Kick-Ass was getting a 40 year old pregnant.

Lost Finally Redeeming Itself

I've been getting emails, texts and phone calls from all my friends about Lost since it started. And its sad that I haven't had the heart to even write back. Lost, my favorite show of all time, has brought me to the breaking point. But right when I thought all was lost, it finds a way to bring me back. Like usual business, as soon as Desmond returns the show takes a momentum swing in the direction of good television. Movement and development and answers have finally started to come and most important of all, the alternate universe is finally relevant.

I felt the change when a friend of mine was complaining about the show and I started to defend it again! I was elated to finally find myself on the side of Lost once again, willing to rationalize and defend her to the end. I am genuinely excited now for what is to come and I feel my faith being restored that it will be a satisfying and amazing end to my favorite show of all time.

Lost Island Finally Answered!

I have finally figured out what the island is on Lost. CAUTION: SPOILER AHEAD!



May god help us all....