Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The laurels of victory

Whether it's a Pinewood Derby “Participant” trophy, an oversized novelty check, or a  towering  gem-studded throne wrought from the very bones of your slaughtered enemies, everyone enjoys having something to commemorate their achievements and successes. I myself take great pride – or would if I could figure out where I've gort it stored- in the mug I won in a Star Trek trivia contest because I AND I ALONE knew the names of both of Worf's brothers.

(Nobody ever remembers Nikolai Rozhenko, poor Next Generation 7th season filler episode bastard. He's the Marlon Jackson of the 24th century.)

However, in the aftermath of the recent cracking and exposure of the Playstation 3's root key, there are now reports that someone has created a program allowing the user to claim the PlayStation Trophies for some PS3 games without actually playing them. This is a very small problem in the greater scheme of things, but it still irritates me. I earned my Battlefield: Bad Company trophy for shooting down an enemy helicopter with the JDAM laser designator, dammit. Earned it with my own blood and sweat and freakish good luck when I'd run out of rockets to fire at the damn thing and had decided to just screw around while I waited for it to kill me. I'd hate to see that cheapened.

Still, if you've always longed for a taste of the sort of glory and admiration that has been hitherto enjoyed only by the elite few who actually have the skill and dedication to seize Army of Two: The 40th Day's coveted “win three consecutive rounds of rock-paper-scissors” trophy, I suppose this is your chance.

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Friday, January 14, 2011

Here comes an angry mob of new challengers, part 2: The Quickening

We now return for the second half of our guest post by Kevin Folliard, screenwriter for the movie Press Start, the forthcoming Press Start 2, and the ongoing Press Start Adventures, owner of the largest collection of horrible direct-to-video shark movies in the Chicago Metropolitan Area, and the urbane, charismatic, Manhattan-sipping yin to my glowering, vaguely disquieting Wild Turkey-gulping yang.  

When last we left our protagonist, his journey into the mouth of madness in search of a chance to play Marvel Vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds had led him deep into the bowels of Capcom's Chicago Fight Club. Surrounded on all sides by a ravening horde of fanboys and barred from the object of his quest by the pitiless, inscrutable will of the guy handing out ID armbands, his journey's darkest hour has arrived...

I don't want to place blame solely on the antsy overgrown junior high kids who can't control the volume of their voices.  I'm not sure exactly who was in charge of planning this event, but a little crowd control would have gone a long way.  Blockades, red-ribboned stations, and competent security would have ensured some semblance of order.  Again, for as loud as the people screaming in your ear were, the actual instructions from Capcom's goons were as inaudible as a whispering breeze.

And front and center was the lead villain in this farce:  a stocky, bald white bouncer with a diamond earring and indeterminable tattoos being swallowed up by his neck rolls.  I guess Capcom saved money by bringing him to life from a bad 80s action movie with a magic ticket, and then granted him complete control over the entire event.

Once again, after the initial volley of wristband folks funneled in like bottlenecked traffic, my friends and I found ourselves about seven feet from the actual door.  Considering that we had arrived hours ago and had been herded by the angry masses, it seemed reasonable that gradually, as they let new batches of people in, we would inch forward to the entrance.  This was too much to hope for, and again I point to the timeless wisdom of my fictional role model Dr. Malcolm.

Admittance to "Fight Club" was apparently on random select, with our bouncer "Diamond Joe" calling out to those around him.  Tantalizing them.  Teasing them.  Forcing them to meet inane qualifications to be let in.  Enjoying his power over the obsessed.  Each time he emerged and made eye contact, scores of people lurched forward shooting their hands up in the air.  Desperate to be chosen by Diamond Joe.  One particularly short, particularly loud person directly to my left waved his cap in the air every time, calling out repeatedly:

"The guy with the hat!  The guy with the hat!  The guy with the hat!  The guy with the hat!  The guy with the hat!  The guy with the hat!  The guy with the hat!  The guy with the hat! The guy with the hat! The guy with the hat!" 

I think you can imagine the obnoxiousness… no… not quite yet…

"The guy with the hat! The guy with the hat! The guy with the hat!"

There you go.

Diamond Joe's utter randomness was overshadowed only by his sense of smug satisfaction.  If you had a pink shirt you could get in.  Then if you owned a pitbull.  Then if your car was in your grandmother's name.  If you were wearing a thong.  Things that could either not be proven, or that nobody would want proven in public.  Any asswipe could have claimed to have met Joe's demands with a simple lie.  Which is almost certainly what was going on.

Tension mounted as we grew weary of Diamond Joe's antics, and bitterness grew over the fact that one could not play the game they had been waiting to play for five hours unless they were an uncircumcised Jehovah's Witness (Okay, I made that one up, but it's the only embellishment in this story.  And it's not much of one).  Around 9:45PM, all couples were admitted and I suddenly wondered if I had been waiting to enter a goddamned roller rink.  Needless to say, over the course of two and a half hours it didn't matter how close you were to the door or how early in the evening you had arrived.   The crowd steadily thinned for reasons understood only by this bumbling jackass.  Suddenly Diamond Joe announced, coming across like a faux drill sergeant who had just polished off a bucket of KFC, that if any of us lowly maggots expect to be let in we would have to start picking up trash in the lot.

A gaggle of desperate nerds scrambled onto their hands and knees grasping for aluminum cans as if they were gold coins.  I am proud that my companions and I maintained our composure.  Having eaten and disposed of our garbage responsibly hours ago, it didn't seem fitting that those who had littered be rewarded for their prior carelessness.  But that's life.  In the end, all we have is our quiet dignity.

By the end of the night we were finally granted admittance to the Promised Land: a filthy hollowed out warehouse splattered with neon lights and plasma screens.  Empty pizza boxes and aluminum cans were piled up on a folding table in the center.  Apparently, there had been food at one point.  Throughout the entire evening, you could have counted the number of people on two hands that actually emerged from the warehouse.  Clearly, nobody was being asked to leave.  The gameplay time was never rationed, and player rotation was not enforced by anyone.  The long arduous wait became even more confounding.

But at last access to the legendary sequel was upon us.  There were no short lines on any of the sixteen or so consoles, so we headed for whatever random one we could find.  People were not lined up in an orderly two-by-two fashion, which would make far too much sense.  Rather, much like the warehouse courtyard, the preferred strategy was to crowd up as best you can and hope to wedge yourselves in.  By eleven o'clock, we had each gotten ourselves a minute's worth of Marvel Vs. Capcom 3.  And then everyone was asked to leave.

Was it worth it?  Hell no.  Does the game rock?  Yes it does.  When I was thirteen the giddy thrill would have carried me through the evening and playing as Super Skrull, Thor, and Chris Redfield would have left me with an endorphin high lasting for weeks.  I'd have doodled the characters in the margins of my biology notebook wishing for the opportunity to wait in a stinky crowd of loudmouths to do it again.  But I know better now.  Come spring I will use my hard earned money to buy the game, and my friends and I will enjoy it comfortably in our homes while sipping Manhattans.  I may be counting down the days and feverishly waiting for the character announcements.  But I'm officially, and proudly, not a fanatic.

Kevin Folliard is a writer in the Chicagoland area, having written several screenplays for Dark Maze Studios in Champaign which are available worldwide on DVD, including the acclaimed video game parody “Press Start.” He is also the creator and head writer for the companion monthly web series to the film “Press Start: Adventures.”  His short fiction has appeared in the literary E-zine “Burst”.  Kevin is currently an academic writing advisor for the Effective Writing Center at the University of Maryland.

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Monday, January 3, 2011

Bringing out all the stops

Konami recently re-released the classic side-scrolling arcade brawler X-Men, originally released in 1992, as a downloadable game for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. I spent an inordinate amount of my childhood playing arcade beat-em ups, so seeing it recently on a friend's PS3 brought back memories.

Back in the arcades, X-Men was conspicuous for its famously massive cabinet. The full-scale version of X-Men was quite the spectacle, with up to six simultaneous players and a giant double-wide screen composed of two adjacent monitors. Even the fact that the one at my local arcade had one monitor that was noticeably brighter than the other, which sort of made it look like half of the onscreen action was taking place in the standard Marvel universe and the other half was set in some darker, grittier alternate timeline, could not diminish its majesty.

And, of course, who could forget the six classic X-Men you could play as?

Cyclops, their heroic leader, whose very gaze can lay villains low with his devastating optic blast!

Storm, who commands the might of the elements themselves!

Wolverine, with the fury of a beast and claws that can cut through anything!

Nightcrawler, a mutant whose monstrous appearance belies his noble spirit, gifted with superhuman agility and the power of teleportation!

Colossus, a man made of living steel!

Dazzler, who... OK, who the hell is Dazzler?

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